New Clause 5 - Consultation by the National Assembly for Wales

Part of Children's Commissioner for Wales Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 5:15 pm on 30th January 2001.

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Photo of Robert Walter Robert Walter Conservative, North Dorset 5:15 pm, 30th January 2001

The Committee has spent a lot of time considering the commissioner's powers with regard to institutions, but much less discussing fostering and adoption. The new clauses relate largely to adoption and to enhancing the commissioner's powers in that respect. They touch on the case that is at the forefront of our minds, although I do not want to embarrass the Minister, who has mentioned that the parents in that adoption case are his constituents and that his wife is chairman of the social services committee dealing with it.

We spent a lot of time considering amendments to the Care Standards Act 2000; the Adoption (Intercountry Aspects) Act 1999 is also relevant. I want to give the commissioner a key role in setting policy on international adoption procedures. The Act incorporates the 1993 Hague convention into UK law, but the Government have so far failed to implement the Act, which has left the way open for the case that took place in north Wales.

Our amendments would give the commissioner responsibility for advising the Government on the Act's implementation in Wales. It may help if I deal with the provenance of the two new clauses. Clause 1 relates to section 78 of the Care Standards Act 2000 and says:

``This Part applies to a child . . .to or in respect of whom regulated children's services in Wales are provided.``

Section 78(2) of the 2000 Act says:

``In this Part, [odq]regulated children's services in Wales'' means . . . services provided by local authorities in Wales in the exercise of relevant adoption functions or relevant fostering functions''.

We seek to amend two sections in the Adoption (Intercountry Aspects) Act 1999. Section 2 deals with central authorities and accredited bodies, and subsection (1) says:

``The functions under the Convention of the Central Authority are to be discharged—

(a) separately in relation to England and Scotland by the Secretary of State; and

(b) in relation to Wales by the National Assembly for Wales.``

New clause 5 would amend section 2(1)(b) and make it say ``by the National Assembly for Wales, after consultation with the Children's Commissioner for Wales.''

Section 16(1) of the 1999 Act says:

``Any function of the Secretary of State under section 1 or 18(3), or section 17 or 56A of the 1976 Act, is exercisable only after consultation with the National Assembly for Wales.

New clause 6 would streamline that procedure. If the Secretary of State—in this case the Secretary of State for Health—must consult the National Assembly, which then has to consult the commissioner, that important aspect may need short-circuiting. I do not want to take the National Assembly out of the loop, but the person charged with looking after such matters on behalf of the National Assembly and the people of Wales is the Children's Commissioner. We seek to delete the words ``National Assembly for Wales'' and insert ``Children's Commissioner for Wales.''

The new clauses would beef up the powers of the Children's Commissioner when dealing with international adoptions and particularly the sort of case that we have seen in north Wales. I remind the Committee that the Government signed the convention in 1993, but have not yet implemented it. In schedule 1 to the 1999 Act, the fourth statement in the convention says:

``The States signatory to the present Convention . . . Convinced of the necessity to take measures to ensure that intercountry adoptions are made in the best interests of the child and with respect for his or her fundamental rights, and to prevent the abduction, the sale of, or traffic in, children''.

That is exactly what most hon. Members want to prevent. We have seen evidence of that practice in the case in north Wales.

The Government have so far failed to implement the Act. The Bill could give the Children's Commissioner power as an advocate for children and their rights, including those who are being adopted. If we as Members of Parliament cannot persuade the Government that they should implement that convention, perhaps by giving the Children's Commissioner for Wales a power as an advocate for children—including those who are being adopted—and children's rights, we will enable the commissioner to convince them to implement both the 1993 Hague convention and an Act that was passed by the House two years ago, which would have prevented what I can only describe as the obscene internet procedures that have recently taken place.

The new clauses would enhance the role of the Children's Commissioner and that of parents in the safe adoption of children across frontiers. They would have enabled the Flintshire social services committee to oversee the home study report in the case of the Kilshaws. That report could have been lodged with the Secretary of State for Health and with the court in the United States, with the result that the adoption, if it were ultimately approved, would have been made with the approval of all the authorities involved. However, it was not. I should prefer that and similar adoptions to have approval and that is why I commend the new clauses to the Committee.