Adoption and Children Bill

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Tim Loughton: We are in full agreement with the clause. The Minister is right to say that legislation must prevent people from profiting from adoption. However, I query the wording of what is left after the amendment—perhaps I missed an amendment debated earlier that adds to subsection (1)(d). I appreciate the steps outlined by the Minister, but as it stands the amendment simply deletes the last parts of the last three lines of paragraph (d) so that subsection (1) reads, in part:

    ''This section applies to any payment (other than an excepted payment) which is made for or in consideration of . . . a person (who is neither an adoption agency nor acting in pursuance of an order of the High Court) taking any step mentioned''.

What is ''any step mentioned''? Surely, there must be a reference to particular eventualities in a previous part of the Bill; otherwise anyone who is not an adoption agency or acting in pursuance of a High Court order will be caught for ''taking any step mentioned''. I am sure that there must be a reason why the clause is worded in such a way, but it is not obvious without additional explanatory notes that explain some of the Government's amendments.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy): I might be able to assist the hon. Gentleman. The amendment deletes to the end of line 6, so the subsection will read:

    ''mentioned in section 88(2)''.

Tim Loughton: That is the sort of explanation that I was after. If it is correct, I am happy to proceed with the clause.

Jacqui Smith: Perhaps I can help. The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd)—

Mr. Llwyd: Don't start that again.

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Tim Loughton: Where's the bottle?

Jacqui Smith: The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy should deliver on his promises.

The amendment will leave out from ''in'' to the end of line 6 only, so that the subsection will refer to

    ''a person (who is neither an adoption agency nor acting in pursuance an order of the High Court) taking any step mentioned in section 88(2)''.

I hope that with that clarification we can proceed.

Amendment agreed to.

Question proposed, That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.

Tim Loughton: I have one technical query. How does the restriction in subsection (1)(c) relate to adoptive parents from abroad, who, making a payment for an adopted child from this country, then make a payment that covers travel expenses and other items? How is that excluded, so that they are not prosecuted for paying a fee that is not a profiteering fee?

Jacqui Smith: We shall debate clause 92, which relates to excepted payments, later. The intention of that clause is that precisely the sort of payment to which the hon. Gentleman refers would be included in the excepted payments, if it was ''reasonably incurred'' in relation to an adoption. For example, a payment made for the child's travel and for someone to accompany a child from one country to another would be excepted under clause 92, if that was done within the restraint of relatives or parents—I shall correct myself if that is not the correct restraint. The situation described by the hon. Gentleman would not be prohibited by clause 91.

Mr. Robert Walter (North Dorset): The clause is one of the more important clauses in the Bill, especially as it relates to intercountry adoptions. I should like to probe the Minister on the prohibition of payments. The clause is specific with regard to payments made in respect of

    ''removing from the United Kingdom a child who is a Commonwealth citizen, or is habitually resident in the United Kingdom'',

but not in respect of children coming in the other direction.

Some of the worst examples of payments for intercountry adoptions relate to children who have been ''bought'' in other countries. Excessive payments have been made to agents in those other countries, some of them masquerading as lawyers and claiming extortionate fees for arranging adoptions. Will the Minister give me some assurance that either this or another clause—I may have been remiss in not examining the Bill closely enough—will cover those payments that we would all like to prohibit?

Jacqui Smith: The hon. Member for North Dorset (Mr. Walter) rightly suggests that payments should not be made when bringing children into this country for adoption, if they are not under the auspices of an adoption agency or travelling with their adoptive parents. The hon. Gentleman's point is covered by the restrictions in clause 88 on arranging adoptions. There is a direct link between the restrictions on arranging

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adoptions and any payment that might be made for arranging them. I will correct myself if I am wrong, but I suspect that the situation outlined by the hon. Gentleman may be covered by the restrictions in clause 88. Therefore, it would be prohibited under clause 91.

There is no excepted payment for a child's travel into the United Kingdom, as we require it to be accompanied by its adoptive parents in those circumstances. If an intercountry adoption had happened abroad, the child would have to return with its adoptive parents. That and the restrictions in clause 88 deal with the hon. Gentleman's concerns.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 91, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 92

Excepted payments

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Walter: Again, I wish to probe the Minister a little. The clause suggests that other payments can be made to a registered adoption society by a parent, guardian or person who proposes to adopt a child. I remind the Minister of clause 11, which relates to fees and about which we had extensive discussions. I even proposed a couple of amendments to it. It states that

    ''Regulations under section 9 may prescribe . . . the fees which may be charged by adoption agencies in respect of the''

various provisions.

I wonder whether, under clause 92, the Secretary of State would also prescribe the excepted payments and some scale for them. If there is not some national scale or prescription, we leave the door open for adoption agencies to skirt around the law and tell prospective adoptive parents that a payment is excepted, and that they must write out the cheque as the matter is not covered elsewhere in legislation. Will the Minister state specifically what the excepted payments are, and whether a published scale will be available to those who are likely to be charged them?

Jacqui Smith: Once again, we repeat arguments about charges. I shall outline the point of clause 92 in excepting—making exceptions of—certain payments. The clause is necessary because of the strong restrictions that clause 91 rightly places on the taking of any steps involved in arranging adoption.

First, I shall respond to the point specifically made by the hon. Member for North Dorset. Under section 57 of the 1976 Act, adoption agencies can recover from adopters and prospective adopters expenses that they have reasonably incurred in connection with the adoption of a child. That applies to domestic and intercountry adoption but, in practice, adoption agencies do not recover expenses in cases of domestic adoption.

Under the Bill, as we discussed on clause 11, it is intended that local authorities will not be able to recover expenses arising from domestic adoptions. However, under clause 11(2) and (3), they will be able to charge for specific services in respect of intercountry

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adoption. We talked at some length about the justification for that and—I quoted the Department's guidance on intercountry adoptions—for the fact that such charges can be made only to recover expenses, so there can be no element of profit. We mentioned the disadvantages of setting a national rate, which would mean that some agencies might be given more in fees than their expenses. In some areas, agencies might not cover their expenses, which would make them even more averse to dealing with the problems of intercountry adoptions. It could lead to longer queues. That covers the hon. Gentleman's point.

11.30 am

Clause 92 provides that payments may be allowed, and so excepted from clause 91, in certain circumstances. Subsection (1) allows any payment made under the Bill when it is enacted, or under the equivalent provisions in Scotland and Northern Ireland—the Adoption (Scotland) Act 1978 and the Adoption (Northern Ireland) Order 1987. That therefore allows the payment of adoption support allowances to an adoptive family—unless such a family was excepted under the clause, it might be prohibited by clause 91—and for the agency to use its discretion to charge for tracing individuals.

The other intention in clause 92 is to allow payments to be made for reasonable expenses. That includes legal and medical expenses in relation to an adoption, such as when expenses are incurred for applications and proposed applications to the court for adoption orders, applications for placement orders and applications for contact under clause 25. Clause 92 allows for payments to a local authority or registered adoption society for expenses incurred for arranging the adoption of a child whose country of origin is outside the UK. Such payments could be for preparation classes, medical reports, legal expenses, home study reports, schedule 2 reports and post-„adoption reports.

The clause also covers reasonably incurred travel and accommodation expenses when a child is taken out of the UK for adoption, as is permitted by clause 82(2). For example, a child's travel and accommodation costs would be excepted, as well as those of a person escorting the child. As I suggested, we are aware of some intra-family adoptions from the UK to the Indian sub-continent. When those comply with conditions set out under clause 82—hon. Members will remember that it is about the transfer of parental responsibility before a child leaves the country—we do not wish to penalise families for making such payments.

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