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The Government recognise the importance of ensuring that all relevant matters on the child's welfare are brought to the court's attention. Amendment No. 138 adds to the functions of CAFCASS the requirement that it report to the court, on the court's request, on matters relating to the welfare of the child. That is similar to provision under section 7 of the Children Act 1989. However, it improves the current position in respect of the work that CAFCASS officers can undertake in adoption, as it ensures that the child's welfare is the paramount consideration of the court, in line with clause 1.
Amendment No. 139 aligns provision in the Bill with that under section 7(2) and (3) of the Children Act, whereby the issues to be covered in a report on the child's welfare must include any matter prescribed by rules, unless the court orders otherwise. Reports may be made orally or in writing as the court requires. We will consult key stakeholders on the rules, following the passage of the Bill.
The Government acknowledge the importance of ensuring that the views of parties to proceedings are appropriately put before the court. The way in which the views of the partiesfor example, the birth parents or the childare put before the court will vary in different circumstances and in different types of proceeding. We have already said that the full detail on representation and party status in proceedings will be set out in secondary legislation, such as court rules. We have listened closely to Members' points in the Standing Committee and in today's debate and will consider them when we hold consultations on the detailed proposals.
We must not pre-empt the consultative process, but it is anticipated that the welfare report will include the views of birth parents. Currently, their views are reflected only in the schedule 2 report or in the reports of the children's guardian or the reporting officer. Amendments Nos. 138 and 139 will, therefore, reflect the current law by ensuring that the representation of the views of birth parents is included in the process of making, varying or revoking placement or contact orders, and in the making of an adoption order. I hope that reassures my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Dawson).
The clause, as currently drafted, also provides for the preclusion of certain persons from being appointed to safeguard the child's interests: in the case of placement proceedings, a person employed by the local authority that made the application, and, in the case of adoption proceedings, a person employed by the adoption agency that placed the child would be precluded from being appointed to safeguard the child's interests.
In Committee, the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) tabled an amendment that would have extended the category of people who may not be appointed. We felt that the provision went too far, but I informed the Committee that I would give the matter further consideration. Having looked more closely at the provisions of clause 98, I think that the specifications for those who could act in the matter could be extended. Amendments Nos. 140 and 256 will fulfil that requirement. I hope that gives the hon. Gentleman some reassurance.
Amendment No. 142 removes the provision that allows a CAFCASS officer to act on behalf of the child and to witness consents. That provision is no longer necessary as the functions of reporting officer and guardian have been combined.
The amendments address a number of the points made in Committee; they much improve clause 98 and I hope that the provisionsespecially those in respect of the role of CAFCASS officerswill give my hon. Friends some reassurance about
It being one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on consideration of the Bill, Madam Deputy Speaker, pursuant to Order [16 May], put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair.
'(1A) The rules may provide for the appointment of such an officer in other circumstances in which it appears to the Lord Chancellor to be necessary or expedient to do so.
(1B) The rules may provide for the officer'
'(aa) where the court so requests, to prepare a report on matters relating to the welfare of the child in question'.
(1C) A report prepared in pursuance of the rules on matters relating to the welfare of a child must
(a) deal with prescribed matters (unless the court orders otherwise), and
(b) be made in the manner required by the court'.
(c) is within a prescribed description'.
'( ) the making of an order under section 25, or the varying or revocation of such an order'.[Jim Fitzpatrick.]
Amendments made: No. 32, in page 65, line 41, leave out subsection (2) and insert
'( ) A person is not guilty of an offence under this section (other than one of distributing an advertisement or information, or causing it to be distributed, by electronic means) unless it is proved that he knew or had reason to suspect that section 114 applied to the advertisement or information.
But this subsection only applies if sufficient evidence is adduced to raise an issue as to whether the person had the knowledge or reason mentioned'.
Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. We have just had a very short debate on the last group of amendments, on which I had some important points to make. It is most unfair that we have timetabling motions on such non-controversial Bills, and we are getting very frustrated. Is there any way to extend some of these debates?
'(1) In section 17 of the 1989 Act (provision of services for children in need, their families and others), in subsection (6) (services that may be provided in exercise of the functions under that section) after "include" there is inserted "providing accommodation and ".
(2) In section 22 of that Act (general duty of local authority in relation to children looked after by them), in subsection (1) (looked after children include those provided with accommodation, with exceptions) before "23B" there is inserted "17".
(3) In section 24A of that Act (advice and assistance for certain children and young persons aged 16 or over), in subsection (5), for "or, in exceptional circumstances, cash" there is substituted "and, in exceptional circumstances, assistance may be given
(a) by providing accommodation, if in the circumstances assistance may not be given in respect of the accommodation under section 24B, or
(b) in cash.".'.[Jacqui Smith.]