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The Earl of Lindsay moved moved Amendment No. 159:

Page 71, line 24, leave out from ("of") to end and insert ("—
(a) section 64(3A) (a), section (Warrant for further detention of child) (2) or section 66(8A) (a) of this Act, in a warrant; or
(b) section 67(5) (a) of this Act, in a supervision requirement,

The noble Earl said: My Lords, I spoke to this amendment when moving Amendment No. 93. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 88 [Procedural rules in relation to certain applications etc.]:

The Earl of Lindsay moved Amendment No. 160:

Page 71, line 35, at end insert:
("(2A) Without prejudice to the generality of the said section 32, rules may make provision as to—
(a) the functions of a person appointed by the sheriff under section 40(1) of this Act and any right of that person to information relating to the proceedings;
(b) the circumstances in which any person who has been given notice in accordance with such rules of an application for a child assessment order, or any other person specified in the rules, may apply to the court to have that order varied or discharged;
(c) the persons to whom notice of the making of a child protection order shall be given by the applicant for that order, and without prejudice to that generality may in making such provision require such notice to be given to either or both of the child and any relevant person in relation to that child;
(d) the persons to whom notice of an application for an exclusion order or, under section 76(3) of this Act, for the recall or variation of such an order or of anything done under section 74(2) of this Act shall be given;
(e) the period within which a hearing shall be held under subsection (5) of section 73 of this Act after the granting of an order under subsection (4) of that section;

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(f) the service of any exclusion order on the named person and the appropriate person within such period as may be specified in the rules.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 89 [Legal aid in respect of certain proceedings]:

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie moved Amendments Nos. 161 to 163:

Page 73, line 45, leave out ("to the Court of Session").
Page 74, line 11, leave out ("granted") and insert ("made available").
Page 74, line 38, leave out ("spouse or").

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, these three amendments apply to the revised Section 29 of the Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 1986 which is incorporated in Clause 89. I beg to move.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 90 [Interpretation of Part II]:

The Earl of Lindsay moved Amendments Nos. 164 to 166:

Page 74, line 44, at end insert:
(""chief social work officer" means an officer appointed under section 3 of the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968;").
Page 75, line 39, at end insert:
(""relevant local authority", in relation to a child who is subject to a warrant granted under this Part of this Act or to a supervision requirement, means the local authority for whose area the children's panel from which the Children's Hearing which imposed the supervision requirement was formed;").
Page 76, line 18, after ("Act") insert (", and includes any condition contained in such a requirement or related to it").

The noble Earl said: My Lords, I spoke to Amendment No. 164 when moving Amendment No. 93, Amendment No. 165 when moving Amendment No. 20, and Amendment No. 166 when moving Amendment No. 131. I beg to move.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

The Earl of Lindsay moved Amendment No. 167:

Page 76, line 18, after ("Act;") insert (""voluntary organisation" means a body (other than a public or local authority) whose activities are not carried on for profit;").

The noble Earl said: My Lords, this is a self-explanatory amendment which adds a necessary definition of voluntary organisation to the Bill. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 92 [Welfare of child paramount consideration]:

Lord Macaulay of Bragar moved Amendment No. 168:

Page 78, line 34, at end insert:
("( ) In reaching any decision relating to the adoption of a child, a court or an adoption agency shall determine the matter without unreasonable delay.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment relates to the procedure for the adoption of children. At first flush it may appear an unnecessary admonition, if

5 Jul 1995 : Column 1216

I may so put it, to those involved (whether it be the court or adoption agency) to get a move on. The amendment provides:

    "In reaching any decision relating to the adoption of a child, a court or an adoption agency shall determine the matter without unreasonable delay".

I do not know how to describe that provision; it may be rhetoric. However, the amendment sends a warning to people dealing with adoptions to get on with them. I am advised by some people involved in the adoption business (if I may so phrase it) that even unopposed adoptions have taken four months to be ratified in the courts. There is no excuse or justification for that length of time to be taken in what is an extremely sensitive area. It is sensitive for the adoptive parents; it is sensitive for the child if the child is old enough to understand what is going on.

I hope that the Government will consider the amendment not as a piece of punitive legislation against the courts or adoption agencies, but to give people the right to come to court to ask why the adoption is not taking place as rapidly as it should, in particular where it is unopposed. The situation is entirely different where there is opposition.

The amendment provides a general warning to those involved in these sensitive matters to get on with them, so that people do not go through an unnecessary period of suffering in the broad sense of the word. I beg to move.

Baroness Seear: My Lords, as a miserable Sassenach, I hesitate greatly to intervene; and I do not claim to have any direct knowledge of the subject. The term "unreasonable delay" is extremely elastic. It could mean almost anything. However, I well recall that a close friend of mine who was concerned with adoptions found that it was often wise to monitor what was happening for quite a time before the adoption was confirmed. What on the face of it may look an extremely suitable adoption, in fact not infrequently turns out not to be so. It is only when the child has been in the home, sometimes for quite a long time, that it is safe to conclude that that adoption is suitable.

"Unreasonable delay" is, I agree, such a vague term that it could be interpreted in any way. But I should be extremely unhappy if adoptions were hurried in any way. On certain occasions it is extremely important that there should be time to see what is happening.

The Earl of Lindsay: My Lords, I have considerable sympathy with the aims underlying the noble Lord's amendment, as indeed I do with the comments made by the noble Baroness.

What I can say to the noble Lord—it is not for the first time—is that the amendment is unnecessary. The matter has been raised before. I remain of the view that the Bill adequately protects the interests of children for whom adoption might be under consideration.

Clause 92 inserts a new Section 6 into the Adoption (Scotland) Act 1978. The new section already makes quite clear that, in reaching any decision relating to the adoption of a child, the court or adoption agency must

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regard the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of the child throughout his lifetime as the paramount consideration.

There can be no denying that this is a serious requirement and it will require courts and adoption agencies to discharge their duties in an effective and efficient way. Clearly, any unreasonable delay would not be in the interests of the child and the court or the adoption agency would be failing to meet the standards set down.

I am sure that this is the kind of matter which would be better addressed in terms of specific guidance or court rules, if necessary, but it is not something which is required on the face of the Bill. With the assurance that we shall bring forward guidance, if it should prove to be necessary, I hope that the noble Lord will agree to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Macaulay of Bragar: My Lords, I was interested in the contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, who described herself as "a miserable Sassenach". I have called Sassenachs a few things but I have never called them miserable. I remember that an Englishman bought me a drink one night! Seriously, the noble Baroness raised an important point that the amendment should not be seen to be a hammer to rush the adoption procedure. I would not like it to be seen to have that objective and that is why I said at the beginning that we all know that it is a sensitive area of human relationships. I quite agree with what the noble Baroness said.

I listened with interest to what the Minister said. As always, I accept his assurances and look forward to seeing the rules in due course. On that basis, and with my thanks to the Minister for his clear explanation of how the Government approach the legislation, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 97 [Inquiries into matters affecting children]:

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