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4 Nov 2002 : Column 32—continued

Mr. Andrew Lansley (South Cambridgeshire): My hon. Friend's point about various parts of the country is important. Under the current arrangements, Cambridgeshire social services—my hon. Friend and I are both Cambridgeshire Members of Parliament—reports:

My worry is that I have not heard my hon. Friend say yet how he proposes that the system should change positively for the 25 children in the area who are waiting to find adoptive parents.

Mr. Djanogly: I thank my hon. Friend for making that point and I will come to it shortly. However, our allowing unmarried people and homosexual couples to adopt will not necessarily address his point. Just because homosexual couples can adopt, it does not follow that more people will want to adopt older children. My hon. Friend's point is valid but not particularly connected.

Some 85 per cent. of the population are against same-sex couples adopting, and 95 per cent. of children are adopted by married parents. To a great extent, that means that the current system represents what people want. The supporters of the motion to disagree with the

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Lords' amendment would have us believe that, as the hon. Member for Wakefield said, non-married adoption is necessary to encourage adoptive parents to come forward and broaden the adoption pool. It could be argued that the proposals are the opposite of what is needed. Statistics show that there is no shortage of people who want to adopt. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Ms Munn) made the important point that it is a question not of who wants to adopt but of who is acceptable to the professionals.

Ms Munn: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Djanogly: I shall just finish my point, if the hon. Lady will allow me.

Last year, only 4,000 children were adopted in this country, of whom only 3,100 came from the 50,000 children in care. The hon. Member for Wakefield said that 5,000 children out of that pool of 50,000 were waiting for adoption. I suggest that the figure should be much higher than 10 per cent.

4.15 pm

I further suggest that accepting the proposals will not widen the pool. We need a new culture of adoption. We need a culture that insists on clinics for adoption as much as on clinics for abortion; that does not discriminate against white parents adopting black children; that stops patronising and blocking the efforts of decent prospective parents; and that does not force them through a system that often demeans and intimidates them and delays applications.

When the BBC ran a programme on adoption, there were 19,000 inquiries during its first year and 24,000 in the second year. What happened to all those people? Initial research by the BBC showed that most of them seemed to have been put off by local authorities.

To those people who hold the interests of the child paramount, I say that the proposals to allow same-sex and non-married couples to adopt are misguided. They will not work in the best interests of the child and, importantly, they will miss the root cause of the problem that faces us.

Mr. Michael Jabez Foster (Hastings and Rye): We must not allow the prejudice of those, however well-meaning, who oppose adoption by same-sex and unmarried couples to spoil the life chances of so many young people. We must always remember that the issue is not about the rights of potential parents but about the rights of young people languishing in care to be parented.

I acknowledge that the best option for bringing up children may be a man and a woman in a committed relationship, which will often mean marriage, but to suggest that marriage is the only relationship that will provide a satisfactory outcome is patent nonsense. I was brought up by my mother alone and although a father figure in the household might have been desirable—my mother always thought so—it is for others to judge whether she made a success of the venture.

In respect of the proposals, however, there is clearly prejudice against homosexuality, with the suggestion that same-sex couples are somehow damaging to the

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charges whom they seek to adopt. There is only one basis for such a belief. It is certainly not of the making of the individuals involved; it relates only to the prejudice created in society by some of those who oppose the provision—the homophobia that is so obvious in the other place.

Andrew Selous : Like the hon. Gentleman, I wholly abhor any form of homophobia; I want no truck with that. However, a Department of Health-funded study found that the average length of a close homosexual relationship is only 21 months. Is not that deeply worrying as regards the lifetime of commitment needed for a damaged child?

Mr. Foster: That is precisely why such couples are unlikely to succeed in an application. Surely, we must have some confidence in the professionals who make such judgments. It is not for us as Members of Parliament to take on that responsibility, but we must offer options. That is what the proposals do.

Mr. Brazier: The hon. Gentleman says that we should trust the professionals, but the whole reason for the framing of the Government's initiative—part of which is formed by the Bill—was because professional practice in a large number of local authorities was so completely dismal. Many of them failed to achieve even a 1 per cent. adoption rate for children in care.

Mr. Foster: That depends on the particular area. The record of my county, East Sussex, is relatively good. As hon. Members have pointed out, we do not know about the reasons for the refusal of adoption applications. There may be—and usually are—good reasons, but without knowing the facts, we cannot tell. I certainly do not agree that only adopters from the same ethnic background and so on should be considered, but that is a separate issue from the one that we are debating.

The bigotry against homosexuality and against couples who want to provide for young children has permeated throughout society because of what is being said. That has created prejudice that attaches not only to couples but to the charges whom they might want to take on.

It is true that many opponents acknowledge the right of individuals to live as they wish, but they simply consider that placing the precious lives of children in such a situation is wrong. I would go so far as to accept that, although this is not necessarily the case, the best chance of a successful adoption may be with a married couple including a mother and a father. That is in the main nature's way and, therefore, must have the greatest chance of success.

My wife Rosemary and I have two adopted sons, Damien and Luke, who have been a great joy to us. I hope that we have provided the stability in their lives that stereotype adopters can perhaps best and most easily provide. However, the issue is not who are the best adopters; this is not a competition, but a market. It is a fact that there are young people, many with disabilities and other challenges, who are not easily adoptable in terms of the stereotype husband and wife family, so if there are others who do feel the responsibility to take on more challenging youngsters, why should not the youngsters be given that opportunity?

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We really must not allow the perceived best to become the enemy of the good. We all know that young people who spend their lives in residential care suffer significantly greater challenges in their adult life than others who are brought up in their natural homes or in adoptive relationships. The figures speak for themselves.

Of course it is not surprising that youngsters whom society has rejected, at least to the extent that no one wanted them as part of their families, reject society in turn. I ask those who oppose this humanitarian piece of legislation to search their conscience as to the reasons why they oppose it.

I understand the deep-seated religious conviction of some of my constituents, who have written to me about their belief that homosexuality and relationships outside wedlock are wrong, but, even if that is their belief, I would ask them two questions. Do they in all honesty believe that the damage to a child in being brought up in what is still today a non-orthodox family is more damaging than being brought up in residential care? Is being in a family that is not the norm more damaging than not being in a family at all?

We may be right or wrong that the wife-husband married partnership is the best option for the placement of a child in most circumstances, but, again, that is not the issue. The issue is, as I say, choosing between an orthodox family perhaps and none at all.

I do however believe that some of those who have written to me make the very good point—it was made a moment ago by the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier)—that, sometimes, children are denied the opportunity to join families because families from their ethnic or religious backgrounds cannot be found. That is wrong. I would tell the adoption authorities that exercise that sort of policy that they, like those who oppose the provision today, need to put the children first. In my view, the ability to love and nurture a child has little to do with one's colour, creed or, for that matter, sexual orientation.

In conclusion, I would add that the present provisions do not prevent children from being brought up in homosexual relationships, as has been stated already. A single person who is already permitted to adopt may well have a hidden same-sex or unmarried partner or acquire one subsequently and, even if discovered, that would not be grounds for unravelling an adoption or removing the child from the parent's care. The changes that I support simply provide for an open and honest assessment of the suitability of the individuals to adopt rather than a judgment of the individual's sexual orientation or marital preferences.

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