|Adoption and Children Bill
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
Column Number: 787individuals 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 registerI forget what it is calledfor 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
Column Number: 788
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 individualwho will not be charged feesand 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.
|©Parliamentary copyright 2002||Prepared 10 January 2002|