Work and Families Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:31 pm on 25th April 2006.

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Photo of Lord McKenzie of Luton Lord McKenzie of Luton Government Whip, Government Whip 4:31 pm, 25th April 2006

My Lords, I start by thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Bolton, for bringing this issue back on Report, and other noble Lords who have spoken in the debate. The noble Baroness hoped that we had made progress since Committee, and I hope that what I have to say will indicate that I believe that we have. Since Committee, officials from the DTI, alongside officials from the DfES, have been considering the regulations, and officials will consult stakeholders, including agencies and employers, as the next step.

When we discussed the matter in Grand Committee, I said that we would carefully consider the way in which concurrent placements were operating to see how the existing legislation on statutory adoption pay and leave might affect them. As we agreed in Grand Committee, there is no question that the role played by adopters in society is tremendously important. That is why this Government introduced, for the first time, the entitlement to statutory adoption pay and adoption leave in 2003. We are proud of having done so. Thousands of children and families have benefited as a result. The Government strongly support concurrent planning. Although only four adoption agencies currently operate the concurrent planning model, and although the numbers of adoptions by concurrent carers is relatively small—figures suggest that children adopted in this way have represented about 0.3 per cent of all looked-after children adopted in England—the benefits to children are in no doubt. Concurrent planning reduces the number of placements for children, identifies potential permanent families early on, reduces placement disruption and cuts the time needed to reach adoption where this becomes the plan.

The statutory adoption pay and leave regulations were drafted in line with the policy rationale for the new entitlements—that is, to support adopters in taking time off work when a child is first placed with them. This helps the adopter and the child to adjust to their new relationships. The Government's view is that this helps to reduce the number of disruptive placements and improves the life chances of looked-after children. We deliberately excluded adoptions—for example, adoptions by step-parents—that take place outside the formal process. In Grand Committee, I informed the noble Baroness that officials were examining the detail of concurrent placements and how that sat alongside more conventional adoption arrangements for statutory pay and leave. These detailed considerations continue. However, I am pleased to be able to tell the noble Baroness that officials have now concluded that we see no reason why such adoption arrangements are not compatible with the existing legislation setting out eligibility on adoption leave and pay. In concurrent planning arrangements, there is, as in more conventional adoptions, a readily identifiable date by which the adopter is matched with the child for adoption and by which the child is placed for adoption as required by the statutory adoption pay and leave regulations. That also fits the policy rationale for leave and pay.

During the rehabilitation plan, the child will typically spend time with both the birth parents and the foster carers. In the event that the adoption plan is implemented, we recognise that the nature of the relationship between child and adopter changes and it becomes more permanent, which is precisely the point made by the noble Baroness. We are still looking in some detail at the administrative arrangements and will need to consult employers and other groups on any changes that they might consider necessary, including what further guidance might be appropriate. The low numbers involved mean that it is likely that general awareness is not high. It is important that employers are given clarity over who is and is not included in the definition. Once that work is concluded, I would be happy to write to the noble Baroness with a further update and to let her know what changes we consider necessary to the official guidance.

The amendments tabled by the noble Baroness would obviously amend primary legislation. We do not consider such amendments are necessary in this case to achieve the desired effect. I should also point out that there is still a small drafting error in the amendments. While they would make changes in respect of statutory adoption leave and pay, and for ordinary paternity leave and additional paternity leave and pay, they would not, however, make the relevant change to the ordinary paternity leave adoption legislation that would be necessary in order for the employee to take the pay.

Given that we appear to be in agreement over the effect that we wish to achieve and given the need for us to conclude our analysis of existing administrative and guidance arrangements, I would ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendments. We have concluded that we do not need to change existing primary legislation for that to happen. As I have explained, a fuller analysis enables concurrent planning to be adopted in current legislation. I hope that that will satisfy the noble Baroness.