Adoption and Children Bill
Baroness Noakes (Conservative)
My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 68. Amendment No. 15 would add a new subsection to Clause 9 requiring the affirmative procedure to be used for regulations containing offences issued under that clause. Amendment No. 68 would do the same for regulations made under Clause 59.
As the Minister admitted a few moments ago, Clause 9 contains far-reaching regulation-making powers, covering a range of issues relating to adoption and adoption support. Those very wide powers can go into all sorts of areas, including fees charged, the management of the adoption agencies and extensive information provisions.
We discussed the regulations many times in Grand Committee. Members on all sides of the Committee regretted—if that is not too weak a word—the almost complete absence of detail on what would be included in the regulations. We are aware that consultation will take place before regulations are drafted and that much, if not all, of that consultation has yet to take place. Many of us were concerned not only about the lack of information on what the regulations would contain, but also about the timescale, which puts the implementation of the Bill—assuming it becomes law—into 2004 at the earliest.
I turn to the substance of the amendments. All of the Clause 9 regulations are subject only to the negative procedure, and the Select Committee on Delegated Powers found no fault with that. However, by virtue of subsection (3), the regulations can provide that a person contravening specified regulations is to be guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 5, which is currently set at £5,000.
The department sought to justify this to the Select Committee by saying that,
"it is inappropriate to make a provision for offences relating to the breach of requirements included in secondary legislation on the face of the Bill".
One can easily understand that position. I have a problem, however, with the creation of offences without proper parliamentary scrutiny. If the offences have to be dealt with in secondary legislation rather than in the Bill, I believe that the affirmative procedure would be the best way of dealing with those regulations.
We still have no idea of the nature of offences likely to be dealt with in the regulations. We do not know whether they will cover 10 per cent of the regulations, 90 per cent or something in between. We do not know whether the offences will involve matters that strike at the heart of effective adoption or mere petty bureaucracy. As we have none of those answers, the right course is to establish a proper ability to scrutinise these regulations, when they are introduced, under the affirmative procedure. I beg to move.