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'(2A) In this Act, "Scottish adoption agency" means—

(a) a local authority, or

(b) a voluntary organisation providing a registered adoption service;

but in relation to the provision of any particular service, references to a Scottish adoption agency do not include a voluntary organisation unless it is registered in respect of that service or a service which, in Scotland, corresponds to that service.

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Expressions used in this subsection have the same meaning as in the Regulation of Care (Scotland) Act 2001 (asp 4) and "registered" means registered under Part 1 of that Act'.—[Jacqui Smith.]

Clause 132

Devolution: Wales

Amendments made: No. 281, in page 75, line 2, leave out "reference" and insert—

'references to the Adoption Act 1976 and'.
No. 282, in page 75, line 3, leave out from "1999" to second "as" and insert—

'are to be treated as referring to those Acts'.
No. 283, in page 75, line 6, leave out "that reference" and insert "those references".—[Jacqui Smith.]

Schedule 6


Amendments made: No. 249, in page 102, line 4, at end insert—

'enactment . . . section 131'.
No. 258, in page 102, leave out line 21.
No. 228, in page 102, line 21, at end insert—

'prohibited steps order . . . section 8(1) of the 1989 Act'.
No. 229, in page 102, line 32, at end insert—

'specific issue order . . . section 8(1) of the 1989 Act'.—[Jacqui Smith.]

Clause 135


Amendments made: No. 238, in page 75, line 16, after "except" insert—

'section 124, [Accommodation of children in need etc]'.
No. 239, in page 75, line 20, at end insert—

'( ) Before making an order under subsection (1) bringing sections 114 and 115 into force, the Secretary of State must also consult the Scottish Ministers and the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety'.
No. 240, in page 75, line 20, at end insert—

'( ) Before making an order under subsection (1) bringing sections 116 to 120, section [Use of an organisation as agency for payments] and section [Territorial application] into force, the Secretary of State must also consult the Scottish Ministers'.
No. 241, in page 75, line 21, leave out subsections (3) and (4) and insert—

'(3) The following are to come into force on such day as the Scottish Ministers may by order appoint—

(a) section 40(5) to (9), so far as relating to Scotland,

(b) sections 121, 122 and [Amendment of Adoption (Scotland) Act 1978: contravention of sections 29 to 35 of this Act],

(c) paragraphs 20 to 26 and 74 to 76 of Schedule 3,

(d) paragraphs 7C, 12A and 15 of Schedule 4,

(e) the entries in Schedule 5, so far as relating to the provisions mentioned in paragraphs (c) and (d),

(f) section 126, so far as relating to the provisions mentioned in the preceding paragraphs'.
No. 242, in page 75, line 27, after "63" insert—

'paragraphs 13, 57, 58, 100, 101 and 102 of Schedule 3 and paragraphs 2A and 2B of Schedule 4'.—[Jacqui Smith.]

20 May 2002 : Column 97

Clause 136


Amendments made: No. 243, in page 75, line 35, leave out "40(5) to (9)".
No. 244, in page 75, line 35, after "61(2) to (5)" insert—

'63(2)(a) and (b) and (2A)'.
No. 245, in page 75, line 37, leave out subsection (4) and insert—

'( ) The following extend also to Scotland—

(a) sections 40(5) to (9),

(b) sections 116 to 120, section [Use of an organisation as agency for payments] and section [Territorial application],

(c) section [Proceedings in Great Britain],

(d) section 126, so far as relating to provisions extending to Scotland.'.
No. 246, in page 75, line 39, leave out "paragraph 15 extends" and insert—

'paragraphs 12A and 15 extend'.—[Jacqui Smith.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Will hon. Members who are leaving the Chamber please do so quickly and quietly, so that we can get on with Third Reading?

Order for Third Reading read.

7.49 pm

Jacqui Smith: I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

We have had more than two days of valuable and constructive debate on the Report stage of the Bill, conducted in the positive spirit that has characterised the Bill's passage up to this point. Since the Bill was introduced last October, we have had wide-ranging debates on its principles and on the detailed provisions.

The Bill was referred to a Special Standing Committee, which gave Members the opportunity to hear from key stakeholders in the adoption community and acknowledged experts in the field. That consultative approach was a very positive experience, and it provides an example for the future. Following the evidence sessions, the Bill was considered in detail by the Special Standing Committee. I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friends, particularly those who brought their considerable expertise to the Committee. May I say what a pleasure it was to be surrounded by so many ex-social workers? Other hon. Members brought to the proceedings important experience of constituency casework and even personal experience of adoption. It was invaluable to take part in such an informed debate, and the Bill has undoubtedly benefited from it.

Throughout the process we have had as our focus the aim of ensuring that all children have the best start in life. Adoption can have an important role in providing a new start for many children, and can make the difference between a child having a loving, stable and permanent family or being left in the care of the local authority.

The Bill overhauls the outdated Adoption Act 1976 and modernises the whole existing legal framework for domestic and inter-country adoption. It is over a quarter

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of a century since the legislative framework was last reviewed, and I hope that the Bill will set out a new framework that will last well into this century.

The Bill tackles the issues that have troubled the adoption service for many years. The fundamental change that it makes, which is welcomed on both sides of the House and by stakeholders, is that it puts the needs of the child at the centre of the adoption process. It also recognises that adoption, while bringing great joy and satisfaction to many people, is a tough job. It will help to ensure that the support that adopters and children need is available by providing for the first time a duty on local authorities to put in place a range of adoption support services.

The Bill will help to cut harmful delays through the introduction of the Adoption and Children Act register and through timetabling of court proceedings. Importantly, as we have heard today, the Bill strengthens the safeguards around adoption, inter-country and domestic, and introduces a new special guardianship order to provide permanent families for children for whom adoption is not appropriate.

In Committee, genuine concerns were raised and suggestions were made about areas in which the Bill could be improved. We listened to those, and as a result we have been able to make changes as the Bill has made its way through the House. On access to information, concerns were expressed about the access for adopted persons to information that would enable them to obtain a copy of their original birth certificate. In light of those comments I tabled amendments to ensure that information from adoption agencies, which is required to access birth records, will be provided. With the amendments made on Report, the Bill will now put in place a system for disclosure of information about adoption that is both comprehensive and fair.

Considering the sensitivity about adoption, it is not surprising that there was concern about consent. It was felt that the provision stating that consent had to be given freely did not reflect the fact that, although birth parents may know that adoption is best for the child, coming to this decision means struggling against their own feelings. Although we have not had time to debate that, we have listened to those concerns and amended the Bill to reflect that.

Today we made amendments to enable social services to provide accommodation or the means to secure it. I am pleased that the Bill establishes local authority powers in this area beyond doubt. We have ensured that the care planning process, which is so important for children, is placed on a statutory basis with proper independent review.

The impact of domestic violence on the child has not been fully considered when courts consider granting contact orders under the Children Act 1989. In response, we tabled an amendment on Report to extend the definition of "harm" in the Act to make it clear that it includes any harm that a child may suffer or is at risk of suffering as a result of witnessing the ill-treatment of another. As hon. Members will have noted on Thursday, that was due to the work of several of my hon. Friends, but also to a willingness to respond on the part of the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster, Central (Ms Winterton). She should be congratulated not only on that, but on her efforts throughout the Bill's progress.

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While the Bill was in Committee, the Scottish Executive signalled that they wished to be able to participate in the Adoption and Children Act register. On Report, we tabled the necessary amendments to enable that to happen. The inclusion of Scotland in the register will benefit children and adopters throughout England, Scotland and Wales, and will provide an extensive infrastructure for finding families for children who need them.

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