Clause 12 - Imposition of extra conditions in certain cases

Children and Adoption Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:00 pm on 14 March 2006.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Minister (Children)

Again, I am keen to tease out a bit more detail. Under subsection (3),

“A person who brings, or causes another to bring, a child into the United Kingdom is guilty of an offence if any condition required to be met by virtue of subsection (1)(b) is not met.”

I want to come back to the subject of private fostering. What would stop a prospective adopter bringing a child into the country on a temporary basis, having not progressed the adoption process in the child’s original country? If that child were allowed out of his host country, what is to stop someone bringing him here on a temporary basis? Would that still constitute an offence, even though the adopter had not gone through the adoption process, which has then been curtailed because the country has been banned?

On the basis that such individuals get through immigration because the thoroughness of checks at the port of entry is left wanting and they then disappear into the ether, the child would effectively be brought up in a private fostering arrangement, because the prospective adopter could not complete the formal adoption arrangements. Alternatively, and more likely, traffickers are bringing children into the country, then placing them with private fosterers or frustrated adoptive parents who were not able to   complete an adoption from that country. I fear, as I said earlier, that we could be causing another problem by incentivising the promotion of the trafficking of children for private fostering arrangements. I would be grateful if the Minister clarified either that she is happy that that is not the case or, if it is the case, how the Government will prevent it.

Photo of Maria Eagle Maria Eagle Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Children and Families)

The hon. Gentleman is asking what there is to prevent a prospective adopter from bringing a child into the country on a temporary basis and from that ending up as a private fostering arrangement. He did not specify this, but I assume that he means after the special restrictions have been declared.

Tim Loughtonindicated assent.

Photo of Maria Eagle Maria Eagle Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Children and Families)

Clause 12 makes it an offence, once the special restrictions are in place, to bring a child into the country from the country to which the special restrictions apply. The hon. Gentleman suggests that the host country, as he called it, would agree the departure. The UK, however, would not have provided entry clearance for the child. The hon. Gentleman suggests that there may be some laxity at ports and the child could be brought in. I am not saying that there are no circumstances in which the child might end up in the country because, as he said, there may be a situation in which it is not picked up at a port. None the less, the criminal offence set out in clause 12 would be being committed.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Minister (Children)

I understand what the Minister is saying, but what is to prevent the Cambodian equivalent of Mr. and Mrs. Smith from bringing young Johnny Smith into Britain on a holiday visa and then offloading the child to a private fosterer? This law will not prevent that child from coming into this country, whether or not the other country is on a banned list. It applies only if that is explicitly for the purpose of furthering an adoption. If the people merely arrive, say “We’re on holiday” and disappear, this legislation would not apply. Is my understanding right?

Photo of Maria Eagle Maria Eagle Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Children and Families)

I think that the hon. Gentleman is right about that. My officials will throw something at me if I am wrong, but I have not been hit by anything yet. The Bill is not designed to end private fostering arrangements or to end such arrangements in relation to countries to which special restrictions may apply. That is clear. However, the private fostering regulations would require any such arrangement to be notified to the local authority before and on commencement of the arrangement.

I know that some members of the Committee have long-standing concerns about how well private fostering arrangements work, but those arrangements are being strengthened on a voluntary basis, and the idea is that they may be strengthened further if necessary. We can argue about whether that will happen soon enough or whether it should be done now, but there is no doubt that some arrangements designed to regulate private fostering are in force. The Bill is not designed to do that further than the current law does. I hope that that assists the hon. Gentleman   and that I have answered his question. Clause 12 enables the special restrictions to be enforced by setting out the criminal offences.

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Shadow Spokesperson (Children, Schools and Families), Shadow Minister (Education), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I return to an earlier point to seek clarification. I appreciate that the Bill does not cover private fostering, but we return to the question whether there will be an unintended consequence. Yes, we are talking about only one country at the moment in relation to the change, but there could be more. Can the Minister address the fear that we might be increasing problems relating to private fostering through some of the restrictions? I suppose that the argument then is that we should deal with private fostering.

Photo of Jimmy Hood Jimmy Hood Chair, European Scrutiny Committee, Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

Before the Minister responds I want to make an important point: private fostering is not within the scope of the Bill. I hope that I have been generous in allowing discussion, but I am a little concerned that hon. Members are now focusing on something outwith the Bill’s scope.

Photo of Maria Eagle Maria Eagle Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Children and Families)

Thank you, Mr. Hood. The clause deals with the creation of a criminal offence, to enable us to enforce the arrangements under part 2 of the Bill. I hear the points that hon. Members have made about private fostering, but I have nothing further to say, in view of what you have said, Mr. Hood. I hope that I have been able to answer all the questions that have been asked, within the leeway that you have given, and that members of the Committee will agree to clause 12.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 12 ordered to stand part of the Bill.