Mrs Bottomley, Secretary of State for Health, said: 'I very much doubt whether there is any prospect of any kind of charge for domestic adoptions. There is no question of financial matters standing in the way of adoption.'
The latest Government U- turn means the White Paper on adoption, which had been expected this month, will now be re-examined and probably issued in the autumn. The department said: 'The White Paper has not yet been finalised. No publication date has been set.'
Last week, John Bowis, the health minister, said the paper would contain proposed powers for councils to charge would-be adopters for home- study reports by social workers. Labour immediately dubbed this a 'babies-for-sale' scheme. The cost of a home- study report is generally pounds 1,500.
Mr Bowis emphasised that he expected councils to charge what couples could afford and suggested that families adopting difficult-to-place children should not be charged at all. That provoked a charge of 'league-table mentality' from the Association of Directors of Social Services.
David Blunkett, Labour's health spokesman, welcomed the climbdown on what he called the Government's 'cash register' mentality. 'The idea of charging for adoption was one of the Tories' crazier notions and should not have been considered. Many people who would make excellent parents would have been deterred from adopting children. Adoption policy must put the child and the child's interests first.'
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