Clause 98 - Right of officers of the service to have

Part of Adoption and Children Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 6:15 pm on 4 December 2001.

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Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Parliamentary Secretary (Lord Chancellor's Department) 6:15, 4 December 2001

This has been a fascinating clause stand part debate, in which many detailed points have emerged.

I should like to start with the comments of hon. Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham), who was not present this morning. Herewith is the lesson of the day on how long agency records can be kept: 75 years. What would happen if an adoption agency became defunct? Regulation 14 states that records must be kept for 75 years. Under further measures, records must be transferred to another agency or a local authority. Information about where those records have been transferred and where they are being maintained must be passed on; the same provision as in clause 53(3) and clause 9.

We debated what constitutes reasonable time to examine and take copies of records. The provision is intended to ensure that unreasonable demands are not made on local authorities or adoption agencies in pursuit of their duties. If my interpretation is incorrect, I shall rectify it later. Current adoption rules provide that all information is confidential. The relevant officers of CAFCASS are likely to be a children's guardian or a reporting officer; two different hats that can be worn. One CAFCASS officer can carry out the role providing that there is no conflict of interest.

Provisions on the copying of records are permissive; it is allowed rather than required. That touches on the earlier point, mentioned by the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham, about the extent to which people would have access to everything.

We have not ruled out the possibility of storing documents electronically, but it is clear that adoption cases are highly sensitive and confidential, so we need to be satisfied that the chosen method is safe and secure. As part of the Government's modernisation of public services, my Department is reviewing all primary and secondary legislation relating to the court process in order to gauge the potential for greater use of e-mail and other electronic means of communication. I should again stress that we must first be completely satisfied about the question of confidentiality in these very sensitive proceedings.

I hope that I have dealt with most of the points that were raised, and I commend the clause to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 98 ordered to stand part of the Bill.