Adoption and Children Bill

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Mr. Brazier: I shall finish my point. Although I should raise the matter during clause stand part rather than debate on the amendment, I imagine that we will hardly have a debate on clause stand part. I am sure that all members of the Committee agree that adopted

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individuals should be exempted from the charges, but it seems unfair that voluntary adoption agencies that are struggling to cover their costs and raise money are charged by the Government for providing information when, for perfectly sound reasons, they cannot recharge that fee to adopted individuals.

Tim Loughton: I should like to emphasise my hon. Friend's points. We want to know more about fees. I do not think that there is a clause under which we will have the opportunity to debate the subject. Other countries operate various registers for free, although we are getting mixed up because we are discussing different registers such as the contact register and the adoption register. Voluntary adoption agencies provide a public service and there is a case for direct Government funding.

There is a parallel with the recently introduced register—I forget what it is called—for the investigation of people who work with young people.

Jacqui Smith: The Criminal Records Bureau.

Tim Loughton: Indeed. The Government's original intention was to charge a fee to organisations, such as the scouts and guides, for each investigation of a youth worker. That would have placed a great financial burden on voluntary groups that do good work. Opposition Members including myself had to bring a lot of pressure to bear on the Government to change its heart. There is not a world of difference between that and the register that the Committee is considering.

Mr. Brazier: May I correct my hon. Friend, albeit by reinforcing his point? We are considering much smaller sums of money, because we are discussing only voluntary agencies, of which there are only 10, and they deal with only a few cases. The sums are tiny compared with the sums involved with the register that he mentioned on which the Government eventually and sensibly gave way.

Tim Loughton: I am sure that that is the case. I think that it was estimated that voluntary adoption agencies subbed the Government to the tune of £3.5 million with their work, which would otherwise have to be done by public bodies. Why must fees be attached to a process that ensures that more children are taken into stable adoptive homes, thereby saving local authorities an enormous amount of money in care homes and social services departments? What sort of fees are we thinking about, and has an estimate been made of the cost, in particular to voluntary adoption agencies?

What mechanism is there for reviewing the fees, how often will they be put up and will they ever be reduced? Will they reflect just the cost of running the system, or will they cover more than overheads? What happens if the cost of running the register turns out to be less than anticipated and the fees more than outweigh the costs? Would a refund be available to the agencies and would fees in the subsequent year be reduced? We need the answers to those questions and a bit more detail about the fees.

Mr. Bellingham: Subsection (2)(a) mentions regulations that

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    are to be made by the Scottish Ministers'',

but the Bill's provisions extend only to Scotland and Wales—

Mr. Llwyd: England and Wales.

Mr. Bellingham: Indeed; the provisions extend only to England and Wales except insofar as certain sections will extend to Scotland and Northern Ireland. Will the regulations mentioned in subsection (2)(a) require the Scottish Parliament to pass separate legislation? If so, how will that affect the provisions of Government amendment No. 211?

Jacqui Smith: On the subject of fees, Opposition Members have made the case for voluntary adoption agencies, and I have spelled out the relationships between the adoption agency and the Registrar-General, and the individual—who will not be charged fees—and the adoption agency.

The Registrar-General is a creation of statute, and the exercise of functions must recover the costs of providing information. Therefore, he must have the power to charge adoption agencies for information. Provided that he has that power, he will be able to exercise discretion about to whom fees may apply. I agree with hon. Gentlemen's points about the important role of voluntary adoption agencies, and I am sure that they will be considered when decisions are made about charges. The Registrar-General does not currently charge adopted people for information, but charges them and birth parents for registration on the contact register. Those fees are £15 and £30 respectively and are subject to review by the Secretary of State.

The hon. Member for North-West Norfolk raised a broad question. The crux of it was whether the Scottish Parliament would need to consider separate adoption legislation. The power of Scottish Ministers and the Northern Ireland Department of Health is to make regulations, which are secondary legislation subject to the procedures of the Scottish Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly—

It being Five o'clock, The Chairman, proceeded, pursuant to Sessional Order D [28 June 2001], and the Order of the Committee [27 November 2001], to put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair.

Amendment agreed to.

The Chairman then proceeded to put forthwith the Questions necessary to dispose of the business to be concluded at that time.

Clause 62, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 74

Adopted children register

Amendment made: No. 219 in page 40, line 14, at end insert:

    ( )The Adopted Children Register is not to be open to public inspection or search''.—[Jacqui Smith.]

Clause 74, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 1 agreed to.

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Clause 75

Searches and copies

Amendments made: No. 220, in page 40, line 34, leave out electronic''.

No. 221, in page 40, line 36, leave out from index'' to end of line.

No. 222, in page 40, leave out lines 38 to 41 and insert:

    ( ) But a person is not entitled to have a certified copy of an entry in the Adopted Children Register relating to an adopted person who has not attained the age of 18 years unless the applicant has provided the Registrar General with the prescribed particulars.

    Prescribed'' means prescribed by regulations made by the Registrar General with the approval of the Chancellor of the Exchequer''.—[Jacqui Smith.]

Clause 75, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 76

Connections between the register and birth records

Amendments made: No. 223, in page 41, line 11, leave out from must'' to traceable'' and insert make''.

No. 224, in page 41, line 15, leave out The index'' and insert:

    Information kept by the Registrar General for the purposes of subsection (1)''.

No. 225, in page 41, line 15, at end insert:

    and may only be disclosed in accordance with this section.

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    ( ) In relation to a person adopted before the appointed day the court may, in exceptional circumstances, order the Registrar General to give such information to a person''.

No. 226, in page 41, line 18, leave out from must'' to any'' and insert give the agency''

No. 227, in page 41, line 22, leave out from first the'' to Schedule'' in line 23 and insert appointed day''.

No. 228 page 41, line 36, after 'section', insert:

    'appointed day' means the day appointed for the commencement of sections 53 to 62, [Disclosing protected information about adults] and [Disclosing protected information about children]''.—[Jacqui Smith.]

Clause 76, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 2 agreed to.

Clause 77 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 78

Adoption contact register: supplementary

Amendments made: No. 229, in page 42, line 29, leave out from beginning to by'' and insert:

    who (but for his adoption) would be related to him''.

No. 230, in page 42, line 32, at end insert:

    or regulations made by virtue of section 61(4)(b)''.—[Jacqui Smith.]

Clause 78, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 79 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Further consideration adjourned.—[Jim Fitzpatrick.]

Adjourned accordingly at two minutes past Five o'clock till Tuesday 15 January at half-past Ten o'clock.

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The following Members attended the Committee:
Roe, Mrs. Marion (Chairman)
Bellingham, Mr.
Blackman, Liz
Brazier, Mr.
Brennan, Kevin
Dawson, Mr.
Djanogly, Mr.
Fitzpatrick, Jim

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Gidley, Sandra
Llwyd, Mr.
Loughton, Tim
Love, Mr.
Munn, Ms
Shaw, Mr.
Smith, Jacqui
Winterton, Ms Rosie

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