Adoption and Children Bill

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Mr. Bellingham: Does the United Kingdom include the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man for those purposes?

Jacqui Smith: The hon. Gentleman can see that brows are furrowed. I doubt that the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man would make a significant difference to the trend, but I will try to find the answer for him.

To return to my point on international comparisons, the hon. Member for Canterbury said that he frequently emphasises the need to ensure that children out of care in this country have a route into adoption. We need to do more, but the fact is that 5 per cent. of looked-after children in this country are adopted, compared with 1 per cent. in Norway and 1.5 per cent. in France. We should be pleased about that.

The hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham raised the issue of fees, suggesting that they was somehow an example of prejudice against people engaging in intercountry adoption. The amendments would prescribe an upper limit for any fees charged by a local authority to anyone wishing to adopt a child who is habitually resident outside the British islands. However, under the legislation, agencies are bound to charge only reasonable fees. The hon. Gentleman.mentioned profiteering, but agencies may not make a profit. Our adoption guide published in April includes guidance on the type of costs that may be included. Each agency will have slightly different costs and it should be able to reflect those and recoup them in the fee charged. A nationally set fee might mean that some agencies received more than they needed, whereas other agencies could not cover their costs and might be discouraged from assessing intercountry adopters. Capping the level at which agencies could charge adopters would adversely affect agencies located in especially expensive areas such as London, where there is already great demand. That could result in extensive waiting lists.

Opposition Members were right not to argue that it should not be possible for local authorities and adoption agencies to recoup the costs of assessment from intercountry adopters. It would be difficult to suggest that social services departments should use income from services for which they can legally charge—for example, for home care services for elderly people—to subsidise the cost of assessments for people who want to undertake intercountry adoptions, important though those assessments may be.

The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy asked about how people could complain about the charges if they thought that a profit was being made. There are various options: they could use their local authority's complaints procedure; if there was fraud or criminal activity, they could go to the police; and if there was maladministration, they could go to the local government ombudsman. They could also make representations to the Department of Health, as we have powers to monitor and inspect local authorities and voluntary adoption agencies.

There is help for people who want to undertake intercountry adoption. Agencies may give advice and support to prospective adopters throughout the process and help them to decide whether a proposed match is right for them. I have already outlined what the Department of Health does. The Opposition's amendments reflect a misunderstanding that the provisions relating to adoption support do not extend to intercountry adoption. Clause 3 requires each local authority to continue to provide an adoption service in its area. The facilities that local authorities must provide as part of their adoption service include making and participating in arrangements for the provision of adoption support services. Those facilities will cover all types of adoption, whether they are intercountry, relative or step-parent, or foster care adoptions.

To answer to the point made by the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk, clause 4 makes it clear that anyone who is affected by any type of adoption may approach their local authority for an assessment of their need for adoption support services. I suspect that we will argue next week about the right to assessment and the duty to provide. All I will say for now is that the legislation gives people the right to request and receive an assessment from their local authority. Local authorities have a duty to provide an adoption support service, but they also have discretion as to whether and how they provide adoption support services to an individual following an assessment. Exactly the same provisions apply to people who are undertaking intercountry adoption. Finally, adoptive leave is available from 1 April 2003 for all domestic and intercountry adoptive families. I believe that the Opposition voted against that provision.

5 pm

Tim Loughton: That was a swift round-up a lengthy debate, and I would like to refute much of it. For example, the fact that Norway and France have poor records of internal adoptions is not an excuse for saying that we should counter it by having a higher level of internal adoptions and that we do not need a lower number of external adoptions. That is nonsense.

I specifically asked the Minister about what I called profiteering, even though I was not suggesting that authorities are making vast amounts of money from adoptions. However, the Minister does not know the figures. I asked how the system was regulated and whether she knew the different costs and charges of various authorities. I was not suggesting a nationally set down fee but a capped level—a maximum. Hopefully, many authorities will be well below the maximum for the reasons that she set out, which include the lower cost of living in some parts of the country. Again, she missed my point.

We will not press the new clause at this time, preferring to come back to the issue on Report, if the Speaker allows. We shall also press the issues in the light of the support service clauses that we still have to debate in the Committee, to which our new clause 3 is pertinent. I will leave it to my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Norfolk to decide whether he wishes to press his amendment.

Mr. Bellingham: I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 80 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Further consideration adjourned.—[Angela Smith.]

Adjourned accordingly at two minutes past Five o'clock till Tuesday 11 December at half-past Ten o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Roe, Mrs. Marion (Chairman)
Bellingham, Mr.
Blackman, Liz
Brazier, Mr.
Dawson, Mr.
Djanogly, Mr.
Gidley, Sandra
Llwyd, Mr.
Loughton, Tim
Love, Mr.
Moran, Margaret
Munn, Ms
Shaw, Mr.
Smith, Angela
Smith, Jacqui
Winterton, Ms Rosie

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Prepared 6 December 2001