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Mr. Brazier: I am grateful to the Minister for her clear explanation, but I would like to ask her one further question. Let us assume that the system has failed, the mechanism that she has described cranks into place, it becomes clear to the independent reviewing officer that the court's wishes have been ignored, and the reviewing officer then takes action. The crucial question then is: what sanction is there? The problem at the moment is that there is no sanction against the local authority. The Minister has put the mechanism in place, but how does the sanction work?
Jacqui Smith: It would be a pretty considerable sanction for a local authority to know that its care plan was being referred back to the court for review and a possible decision about the order. That would be a more significant sanction than currently exists.
Amendment No. 262 will remove from subsection (2) of new section 31A of the Children Act, as inserted by clause 113, the reference to a care order made on the application being in force. Where a care order is in force, the requirements for the review of care plans set out in new clause 15 will apply.
Taken together with new clause 15, this group of amendments is an important part of the framework that will ensure that local authorities address the needs of children in a systematic and robust way. The elements of assessment and care planning, implementation and review will all be vital if we are to get the corporate parent to act in a proper and flexible way to meet the needs of children.
The aim of new clause 15 and the amendments is to ensure that children, whether they are accommodated by the local authority or are subject to a court order, have a care plan, that the care plan is reviewed at regular intervals, that children have a say in the process, and that the review is overseen by an independent person, who has
Mr. Robert Walter (North Dorset): I am neither a smart lawyer nor a dim lawyer, just a simple Back Bencher. As a member of the Special Standing Committee, I have followed the Bill through all its proceedings and I feel that we should be looking to make good law that is understandable to those who have to implement it. Before the Bill leaves this place and goes to the House of Lords, where there are some smart lawyers, I would like the Minister to explain, if she can, why it is an improvement on the current wording for amendment No. 260 to insert "(a care plan)" after the word "plan", which seems terribly clumsy, when the following amendment will delete the words
Surely if we are going to mess about with the wording to make it clearer and more understandable, which I hope is the Government's intention, the wording in line 8 should be "prepare a care plan". We know what a care plan is because we have talked about it, defined it and everything else.
Alternatively, we should leave the wording as it is and the Government should remove their amendments Nos. 260 and 261. It seems unhelpful to the process of better understanding what we are about that we should mess around with the existing wording in proposed new section 31A, on care orders and care plans. The provision had begun to make some sense to me, but if the amendments are accepted it may not make as much sense to those outside this place.
Tim Loughton: We should never let my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Mr. Walter) do himself down by describing himself as a mere Back Bencher; his contribution to the Bill throughout all its stages has been considerable.
I have little to say about this group of amendments because the subject was largely covered when we discussed the previous group, and new clause 15 in particular. I can only agree with the Minister that in theory, the system that will be put in place is a good one in terms of the regular and ongoing review of care plans. Enabling children to have a say in those plans is an issue that Conservative Members, at least, raised on many occasions in the Special Standing Committee. Children are at the heart of that process, and they have every right to a say in it. In considering the previous group of amendments we debated whether the review should be overseen by an independent person. We also raised various questions concerning the integrity of independence, the reference to CAFCASS, and the fact that action will be taken at the end of the process.
There is no point in delaying the House further, as we have no objection to the amendments. They are largely consequential on earlier new clauses that the Minister moved, and to which the House agreed.
Jacqui Smith: As I may not have responded as fully as possible to the question that the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) asked about the sanction, I shall do so now. At the point at which a case is referred to CAFCASS, it can use existing remedies under the Children Act 1989. For example, it can apply for discharge of the care order, or for contact between the child and another person. Under human rights legislation, it can seek to injunct the local authority from taking a particular step, such as removing the child from an established placement. It can also seek a declaration that the local authority's plans are contrary to the child's human rights. That would require those plans to be rethought, and the child might also claim damages in respect of the impact of a local authority's action or inaction. Those are considerable sanctions.
The answer to the question asked by the hon. Member for North Dorset (Mr. Walter) is that there are two different types of plan. Clause 113 relates to a plan in which a care order is pending, whereas a plan under proposed new section 31A relates to the looking after of a child by the local authority, subject to a care order. After that clarification, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will feel able to support our amendment.
'(6) A plan prepared, or treated as prepared, under this section is referred to in this Act as a "section 31A plan"'.[Jacqui Smith.]
'After section 29 of the Adoption (Scotland) Act 1978 there is inserted
"29A Contravention of sections 29 to 35 of Adoption and Children Act 2002
(1) A person who contravenes any of the enactments specified in subsection (2) is guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months, or a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale, or both.
(2) Those enactments are
(a) section 29(1), (2) and (3) (removal of child placed or who may be placed for adoption),
(b) sections 31(2)(b), 32(2) and 34(2) (return of child by prospective adopters),
(c) section 33(1) (removal of child in contravention of placement order),
(d) section 35(1) (removal of child in non-agency case), and
(e) section 35(5) (return of child to parent or guardian),
Amendment made: No. 271, in page 53, line 28, after "order" insert
'or an order under section 25 of the Adoption (Scotland) Act 1978 (interim adoption orders)'.[Jacqui Smith.]
Amendments made: No. 252, in page 54, line 8, after "order" insert
'or an order under Article 26 of the Adoption (Northern Ireland) Order 1987 (interim orders)'.
No. 253, in page 54, line 9, at end insert
'( ) An order made under Article 17 or 18 of the Adoption (Northern Ireland) Order 1987 (freeing orders), or the variation or revocation of such an order under Article 20 or 21of that Order, have effect in England and Wales as they have in Northern Ireland'.[Jacqui Smith.]
Amendment made: No. 247, in page 54, line 30, leave out from "provide" to "any" in line 38 and insert
'(a) for a reference in any provision of this Act to an order of a court to include an order of a court in the Isle of Man or any of the Channel Islands which appears to the Secretary of State to correspond in its effect to the order in question,
(b) for a reference in any provision of this Act to an adoption agency to include a person who appears to the Secretary of State to exercise functions under the law of the Isle of Man or any of the Channel Islands which correspond to those of an adoption agency and for any reference in any provision of this Act to a child placed for adoption by an adoption agency to be read accordingly,
(c) for a reference in any provision of this Act to an enactment (including an enactment contained in this Act) to include a provision of the law of the Isle of Man or any of the Channel Islands which appears to the Secretary of State to correspond in its effect to the enactment,
(d) for any reference in any provision of this Act to the United Kingdom to include the Isle of Man or any of the Channel Islands.
( ) Regulations may modify any provision of this Act, as it applies to any order made, or other thing done, under the law of the Isle of Man or'.[Jacqui Smith.]