Adoption and Children Bill

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Jacqui Smith: Clearly, the Department does not want to whisk business away from adoption agencies that function appropriately. In most cases in which a voluntary adoption agency or other adoption agency ceased operation, there would be a quite sensible process of transferring functions to another adoption agency. The provisions are safeguards for cases in which that does not happen.

It is not possible for voluntary adoption agencies to operate without some recognition of their existence, as they are inspected and approved by the social services inspectorate. From April 2003, they will inspected and regulated by the National Care Standards Commission in England and the National Assembly in Wales under part II of the Care Standards Act 2000. We can therefore be confident that they will be drawn appropriately to Ministers' attention, and any necessary safeguarding action will be taken.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 7 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 8

Adoption support agencies

Mr. Robert Walter (North Dorset): I beg to move amendment No. 2, in page 7, leave out line 17.

I suppose that the amendment is probing. The paragraph that I seek to delete contains a catch-all phrase—an Uncle Tom Cobbleigh phrase—that covers anyone else who happens to be thought of at the time. The clause is about adoption support agencies and defines bodies that should not be regarded as such. Subsection (2) lists entirely logical exceptions, although I note from an earlier discussion that paragraph (d), with which we are not especially concerned now, does not include local health groups in Wales alongside health authorities and others. No doubt we shall come to that subject at some other stage.

The phrase that I object to is in subsection (2)(f), which reads:

    ''any person, or description of persons, excepted by regulations''.

I thought that the explanatory notes might clarify who those people might be. About the providers in the list, they state that

    ''These providers are not to be registered under Part 2 of the Care Standards Act as they are already regulated'',

and that

    ''Subsection (2)(f) provides a power to make regulations to add to this list''.

We have had no sight of the regulations. We have no idea who the person or persons to be excepted by the regulations might be. If one were making simple law, it might be more logical to state that all the relevant people would be excepted in the regulations, rather than listing people in the clause and then adding anyone else whom we might want on the list under regulations. The drafting of the clause does not specify what we want it to achieve.

Mr. Bellingham: Before my hon. Friend moves too far from his point about regulations, will he fill me in on the impact that those regulations will have on the clause? I have been trying to work it out.

Mr. Walter: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention, which highlights the fact that we do not have sight of the regulations, so we have no idea what will provide for the exemptions. The Committee should have guidance on the subject. All that the explanatory notes say is that there will be power to introduce such regulations.

I object to catch-all phrases in legislation that give Ministers the power to amend the law in a way of which Parliament might not have conceived. I seek guidance as to what is meant by subsection (2)(f).

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy): I agree with what the hon. Member for North Dorset (Mr. Walter) said, and I hope that I pronounced his constituency correctly. Regulations and statutory instruments are part of the process of all legislation, but the Bill seems top-heavy in terms of legislating not by the back door, but not by the front.

If draft regulations exist, will the Minister supply the Committee with them by our next sitting? Time and again, on clause after clause, we hear of draft regulations that will be put together at some time in future for consultation, regardless of whether consultation like that that has recently taken place with members of the public or another form of it. If she did supply us with them, we would have at least an idea of some of the regulations.

I appreciate the fact that regulations are pieces of secondary legislation, and understand the legislative process, but I am sure that the Minister's officials will have some draft regulations in mind. If they do, surely it would be good to produce them for the Committee at this stage.

Jacqui Smith: I shall respond to the last point first. The Bill has emerged from a White Paper accompanied by national adoption standards that clearly set down what we want to see. It has been subject to significant scrutiny during its passage through Parliament, including our discussions in the Special Standing Committee. I recognise the concern that regulations that come out of the Bill should be properly consulted on, but we have had this argument before. The suggestion that we should prepare regulations in advance of a piece of legislation that sets the statutory basis for them is largely unworkable and unprecedented.

Mr. Llwyd: I have been in the House long enough to know that what the Minister says is right. I did not say that letting a Committee see regulations in advance was normal, but that it would be good in this case. The Bill is the second attempt to make such provisions. The Minister lists with great pride the number of consultations that there have been, so there is even less reason for not producing draft regulations.

Jacqui Smith: Regulations are secondary legislation. It is right that they be informed by the scrutiny of primary legislation as it passes through the House. It would be perverse for the Department to be so presumptuous as to determine in advance the likely result of the scrutiny then to be reflected in the regulations.

Clause 8 amends the Care Standards Act 2000 to make provision for the registration of adoption support agencies under part II of that Act. Later, we may discuss the significance of that. The hon. Member for North Dorset is concerned about the possibility of exemptions to the need to register. The thinking behind the clause is that adoption support providers already regulated through other means, such as approved voluntary adoption agencies, NHS providers and the Registrar-General, will be exempt from the requirement to register as an adoption support agency. That will help to avoid the unnecessary duplication of registration.

The providers that are exempt from the requirement to register are listed in subsection (2)(a) to (e). The hon. Gentleman suggested that it might have been better if we had not bothered to list them, but I suspect that we would once again have been criticised for not placing provisions in the Bill. However, it may not be appropriate for other organisations in the future to be registered in the way set out in the Care Standards Act. That is why subsection (2)(f) provides a power to make regulations to add to the list of adoption support providers that are not obliged to register as adoption support agencies. Why are they not listed in the Bill? Had we been able to see into the future and to know which providers would be affected, we would of course have been able to list them.

Mr. Walter: Surely, we could amend the Bill when legislation to create another statutory body is passed.

Jacqui Smith: We debate adoption legislation only rarely, and it is right that it should make it clear, as subsection (2) does, that it may not be appropriate to duplicate regulations for other organisations in the future. Had we not included subsection (2)(f), I suspect that we would quite rightly have been asked about future organisations that it might not be appropriate to register.

Those are the reasons for the clause taking the form that it does. On that basis, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the amendment to ensure that there is no unnecessary duplication of regulation, with its associated burdens.

Mr. Walter: I am not particularly comforted by the Minister's response. I thank the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy for his intervention and for pronouncing the name of my constituency correctly—at least he does not call it Dorset, North, as some do.

To return to the thrust of the amendment, I am not especially happy with the Minister's response. I understand that the Department of Health probably considers the provision to be a good way of proceeding, for reasons of administrative convenience. The Minister did not share her thoughts on this, and we can only speculate on what those other organisations might be. I fear, however, that one of them might be some form of English regional government, which could be added to the list without reference to the House.

Although I am unhappy and dissatisfied with the Minister's answer, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Brazier: I beg to move amendment No. 91, in page 7, line 17, at end insert—

    '(g) organisations operated wholly or mainly by adoptive family members.'.

I hope that the Minister will feel able to accept this modest amendment. I am struggling hard to improve my record on advocacy, and I had thought of getting a makeover, but I could not afford one. However, my barber did the best that he could at lunch-time with such raw material as remains.

Mr. Shaw: What did the hon. Gentleman have for lunch?

Mr. Brazier: It was instead of lunch.

All that I seek is an exemption. It is surely so obvious that no one could object. At our hearings during the earlier phase of this Special Standing Committee—unlike the hon. Gentleman, I did not keep statistics—I asked the representatives of one organisation after another whether they thought that small self-help adoption groups should be regulated; and in every case the answer was no. Several people gave similar answers, saying that bodies like theirs needed to be regulated but that families who provide their own self-help adoption services did not.

4.45 pm

I do not have to tell the Committee—most hon. Members are very knowledgeable about support groups—that whether it is a bereavement group, a group with alcohol problems or a mother and toddler group, bringing people together with a shared experience is an important part of building confidence. Adoption is a parallel. Bringing groups of adoptive parents together is a thoroughly sensible way of helping them through the problems associated with adoption, and many local authorities rightly encourage it.

It may be that the Minister will say—let us put our earlier discussions behind us—that the exemption is not necessary because local authorities will, of course, be light-handed in dealing with such groups. It seems to me, however, that an exemption needs to be placed in the Bill, and I shall make one analogy to illustrate why. We are forced to argue by analogy—[Interruption.] I will gladly give way to the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford.

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