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Dr. Palmer: Does the hon. Gentleman feel that the arguments that he advanced for the deficiency of an arrangement in which one partner is the legal adoptive parent and the other is not also apply to a gay relationship? How confident is he that his amendment is compatible with the European convention on human rights.

Mr. Lansley: I shall make two points in that regard.

I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman has been listening to me carefully, as the essence of my argument is that, although I accept the case in respect of unmarried couples, we would create a whole new legal situation in relation to gay couples. It is not therefore directly comparable with the situation for unmarried couples, so we should not necessarily read across.

On the European convention on human rights, the case of Frette v. France gave effectively a margin of appreciation to the French Government not to allow a gay man to adopt. I think that that was wrong, and that it was probably incompatible with convention rights.

My amendment proposes that we do not create in UK legislation at this stage a possibility for there to be two legal mothers at the same time through gay adoption. I suspect that the European Court of Human Rights, were it to consider the matter, would allow at least that margin of appreciation, as we are not precluding gay adoption. Everyone has made that clear—gay adoption happens now. It was established in a case in Scotland, which points to exactly the situation in which gay adoption is most likely to happen.

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In the Scottish case, which established the principle, a nurse who had substantial experience of dealing with a child who had severe disabilities was able to adopt that child. Circumstances therefore exist in which gay adoption happens, and in which it may be in the best interests of the child. As a consequence of that, circumstances exist in which the partner in that gay relationship may seek a joint residence order. A joint residence order may not be all that gay partners want in such a relationship, but it is sufficient for the time being, while we think carefully about the consequences of trying to establish the proposition that one can have two legal mothers or two legal fathers rather than what we have understood to be the case up to now—that we should have parents, which, in British law, implies a mother and a father.

For that reason, I shall vote for the amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Wakefield—I hope that my colleagues will follow me—but I hope that he will understand if, on Monday, I seek to amend it.

Ms Munn: I shall be brief, because I believe that much has already been said in this debate, and I commend hon. Members on both sides of the House for the way in which this issue is being discussed.

One of the problems with adoption is that we tend to approach the issue as we would that of two people having a natural child. Years ago, that was perhaps how adoption was most frequently seen—a couple who were unable to have their own children would seek to adopt a child from somebody who could not keep a child. We are now in a very different situation, in which most children who are adopted come through the care system, most are older children, and most have experienced some form of abuse and are likely to have significant emotional problems.

Today, adoption is about looking for families for children. Nowadays, in our society, families come in many types. In my view, we should not rule out any adult who, after rigorous assessment, is thought to be able to offer a loving, lifelong relationship to a child. We have heard a lot about what is considered the ideal, and about what our ideal would be were we to have children, but that is not what we are talking about. The ideal would be to have enough adoptive parents for all the children who currently seek adoptive families and for all the children whom we would like to seek adoptive families.

That is not the situation. In fact, there are more children awaiting adoption than there are adoptive parents. It is nothing short of political correctness to rule out unmarried couples whether of different sexes or the same sex. To suggest, as did the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley), that it is okay for one person to adopt is wrong—we will be creating new legal relationships whether in relation to unmarried couples of different sexes or unmarried couples of the same sex. Indeed, it was those very technical and complex legal difficulties that delayed consideration of these amendments in Committee, as the Minister said, so I do not accept the arguments of the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire.

We must ensure that the needs of children are put first.

Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings): The hon. Lady says that we must ensure that the needs of children are put first, and the whole House shares that

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concern. Does she appreciate that not all types of family are equally likely to be stable? While she is right that there are many types of families, they are not all likely to offer the adopted child the same level of security, stability and consistency.

Ms Munn: I entirely accept that not all families are equally stable, but I reject the idea that certain types of family are less stable. We are talking about individual children being placed in individual family homes. Adoption panels and social workers spend a great deal of time trying to match children with people who can meet their needs.

I have been involved in placing children in same-sex couples. The process was particularly interesting and that was not because I found that those couples were very different from heterosexual couples. As hon. Members know, a rigorous assessment takes place. There is a full report—sometimes, it is considered to be too intrusive. I have read literally hundreds of those reports. One reads about people's life experience, childhood, work, relationships, what they do at the weekend and their experience with children. The few reports that I have read on same-sex couples struck me because they were extraordinarily ordinary. Their lives are the same as everyone else's.

Couples who are offering a home to children are focused on exactly that. They want to have children in their lives.

Mr. David Borrow (South Ribble): I read an article in an American newspaper some two months ago about a young child who was seriously ill and not expected to live and who had been adopted by a same-sex couple. Eventually, the child prospered. When the child reached the age of 10, the authorities decided that it should no longer be fostered but should be adopted. Under the law in that state—Florida—the authorities were not allowed to place the child with a same-sex couple. Legally, they had to take the child from the couple who had raised it since it was very young and place it with a different family.

Ms Munn: Clearly, in my hon. Friend's example the needs of the child were not properly considered. That has to be the bottom line. We do not have enough adults who want to adopt. We do not have enough people offering families. We have to widen the pool and look to the future by saying that anyone who can offer the love, care and stability that children in care need should be approved and enabled to look after a child.

Mr. Lilley: I approach this subject in the light of my experience as Secretary of State for Social Security, when it became clear to me, in terms of social problems, that children who had had the advantage of adoption tended to do as well if not better than average, whereas those who remained in care did far worse than average. Four times as many were unemployed. They were 12 times as likely to have no educational qualifications, 40 times as likely to go to prison, 60 times as likely to be roofless and 66 times as likely to have children who had to go into care, thus perpetuating the process.

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I start from a presumption that we should encourage more and speedier adoption. When the British Agencies for Adopting and Fostering wrote to me, saying

for adopting children, I was inclined to agree. I started from the position expressed by the hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Hinchliffe), which was also described very lucidly by the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Jonathan Shaw). Although marriage is undoubtedly preferable—the ideal is that children should be brought up in a loving, married family—if there are not enough loving, married families to go around, in principle I would be prepared to widen the scope. After all, we allow children in care to be brought up by people who may be married or single, cohabiting or not, homosexual or otherwise.

I agree with the BAAF that it would not make sense to exclude a significant proportion of the adult population from consideration for adoption. However, no one is, in fact, excluded. Under present law, no one is legally excluded from consideration for adoption: one may be married or unmarried, cohabiting or single, gay or lesbian, young or old, or black or white: one is legally entitled to adopt. Last year, 300 single people adopted children—about 6 per cent. of the total number adopting. I do not believe that the change proposed will increase by one person the number of people with the right to adopt. The numbers argument is therefore bogus.

5.15 pm

Having vaguely acknowledged the situation, but without making it clear, BAAF went on to say:

namely, that they cannot adopt collectively as a couple; they can only adopt if one of them acts as sole legal adoptive parent. I phoned BAAF to ask for the evidence and spoke to Mrs. Felicity Collier, the chief executive of the organisation, who wrote the letter. She said that there was no evidence to that effect as such. In the letter, she was referring to a study of 500 parents during national adoption week. At the beginning of the sample, 15 per cent. were unwed; at the end, only 8 per cent. of those who carried it through to close to completion were unmarried. A disproportionate number of unmarried people had dropped out, but they were not asked why. No information was gathered on that.

So the assertion in the letter was not backed up by evidence. Indeed, no hon. Member has produced evidence today to support the idea that a significant number of people are put off adopting by the legal situation. It is certainly the case that no one is legally excluded from adopting.

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