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4 Nov 2002 : Column 22—continued

Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. During Defence questions, the Secretary of State referred to use of the royal prerogative for the call-out of reservists. Indeed, it might be used for military action as well. That has serious constitutional implications on which I ask you to reflect, especially with regard to whether we could have a debate on using the royal prerogative.

Mr. Speaker: It is not for the Speaker to worry about that.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. In answer to the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), the Secretary of State for Defence used the words Xwell-established procedure". May I, through you, ask the Clerks to identify that well-established procedure, because I suspect that it was used but once, at the time of the Korean war, by Herbert Morrison in trying to manipulate his colleagues? Could some research be done on the matter, because some of us think—[Interruption.] I did not refer to his grandson; I referred to Herbert Morrison. The sins of a grandfather should not be inflicted on a grandson. Perhaps the Clerks Department could do some research and find out what the well-established procedures actually are in relation to the royal prerogative and reservists.

Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker: Order. Let me answer the Father of the House. I have noticed that he is a regular at getting advice from the Clerk of the House, so rather than me asking the Clerk for advice to give to him, perhaps he can go himself.

Mr. Gummer: Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. If the hon. Gentleman is right in what he just said, I hope that the Chair will reflect—although no doubt it cannot rule on this point—on the fact that it would make the whole of the answer that the Secretary of State gave to me totally otiose.

Mr. Speaker: We now come to the main business.

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Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Order (28th June 2001),

[Dan Norris.]

Question agreed to.

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Orders of the Day

Adoption and Children Bill

Lords amendments considered.

Mr. Speaker: I draw the attention of the House to the fact that privilege is involved in Lords amendments Nos. 1, 45 and 47, which are to be considered today. If the House agrees to these Lords amendments, I shall ensure that the appropriate entry is made in the Journal.

Clause 44

Suitability Of Adopters

Lords amendment: No. 26, in clause 44, page 27, line 38, after first Xa" insert Xmarried".

3.38 pm

Mr. David Hinchliffe (Wakefield): I beg to move, That this House disagrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Speaker: With this we may discuss Lords amendments Nos. 32 to 36 and 66 and motions to disagree thereto, and amendments (a) to (uu) in lieu thereof.

Mr. Hinchliffe: It is no surprise that we have returned to the topic with which the amendments deal. We had a lengthy debate on Report and, having studied in some detail the debate that occurred in the House of Lords, I take the view that the purpose of the original amendment was fundamentally misunderstood and misrepresented in another place. I should like to address my concerns about that misrepresentation of the purposes of the original amendment agreed to by this House.

I should like again to stress my personal strongly held belief in marriage. I do not want to cover ground that I covered in detail last time we debated the Bill, but I believe that if we had more marriage in society, we would have a much more stable society in which children are happier and perhaps stand a better chance in later life. Perhaps we as a society should spend more time considering how we support and promote marriage.

I shall set out the key objectives of the amendments. I believe that they will strengthen what is, in my view, an extremely good Bill. I pay tribute to the Minister for the way in which she has steered the measure through its various stages. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister is very much behind the proposed legislation and wishes to assist the many children within the care system.

First, I want to see a good Bill strengthened so that more children within and from the care system are able to live in stable, permanent families. We know that about 5,000 children are in homes awaiting adoptive placements. I hope that the amendments will assist them in the process of obtaining a proper family life.

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West): Has any estimate been made of the number of couples who will

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come forward to adopt children as a consequence of the amendments but who are currently unwilling to adopt as individuals?

Mr. Hinchliffe: There was an adoption week in 1999. I understand that about 10 per cent. of the inquiries were from unmarried couples who were excluded from the adoption process. I cannot answer the hon. Gentleman's question in detail, as I suspect he anticipated, but I know that in the past, unmarried couples have expressed a significant interest in adoption. That is why many of us feel that a significant number of children and adolescents within the care system could be assisted as a consequence of amending the Bill.

Ms Dari Taylor (Stockton, South): Will my hon. Friend acknowledge the work of the Nottinghamshire Catholic Children's Society? It states in a note to me that recognition should be given to the potential family resource provided by unmarried couples. The society has worked in adoption for more than 25 years and has excellent experience. Will my hon. Friend acknowledge the veracity of the society's statement?

Mr. Hinchliffe: I have not seen that information, but it is significant that the society should come forward with such a statement. Some people with a Catholic belief have concerns about the appropriateness of what we seek to do. Many of my friends are Catholics, and they are divided. Some are strongly in support of the amendments' aims and objectives. They understand that the supporters do not wish to undermine the institution of marriage. We are about strengthening children's ability to engage in family life and to benefit from it in the way that most of us in the Chamber have done.

The amendments seek to widen the adoption pool. The available evidence shows that a significant number of people will be willing to come forward as unmarried partners to offer adoptive placements to children in the care system.

I am less happy about making the point that we need to relate legislation to the world in which we live. Within the House and elsewhere in wider society, apparently more and more people choose to live in long-term stable relationships without going through the marriage ceremony. I do not defend that necessarily, but I respect the fact that people have the right to take that course if they so wish. Many of my colleagues will be aware of a number of Members who have that form of relationship and who bring up children in stable partnerships without going through the marriage ceremony.

3.45 pm

Ms Meg Munn (Sheffield, Heeley): Is not it true that, generally, adoption law is made every 25 years? Therefore, the measures that we put in place today need to reflect not only current society but how it will change and develop in the next 25 years. It is important to recognise changes in society now.

Mr. Hinchliffe: My hon. Friend is right. I cited figures in our previous debate to show that in 25 years, approximately 20 per cent. of couples will live together without going through a marriage ceremony. I do not defend that trend, but we must live in the real world and

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understand that, simply because people are not married, it does not mean that they cannot bring up children appropriately in stable relationships. If unmarried parents automatically meant instability, the child welfare organisations and social services would be more involved in removing children from such relationships.

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