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Earl Howe: My remarks were in the context of gay couples, not unmarried couples.

Earl Russell: In that case, the noble Earl is suffering from the case of John Stuart Mill's maxim of the inability of the unanalytic mind to recognise its own handiwork. A great many people—most of them supporters of this amendment—have strongly resisted the idea that gay life should be regarded as in any way equal to heterosexual life. If one puts that view over for long enough it is inevitable that some people will believe it. If they believe it, it is inevitable that in treating their school contemporaries they may react to

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it and behave accordingly. They ought to think about whether they are bringing about the situation of which they complain and, if they mind the resulting situation, whether the best thing they could do might not be to try and change it.

There has been a colossal change of culture on this issue. My younger son, to my great pleasure, is about to get married. They have decided they are going to buy the house first. They have just completed the deal and moved in last week. They are blissfully happy about it. They say that now they have moved in and have a house they are going to think about marriage. That is exactly the opposite way round from the way it used to be when I was young. This is a general change in society. If I were to talk to my pupils about it, they would not understand why anybody should insist on an amendment such as this. If the law gets out of line with public opinion, there is a point beyond which it becomes unenforceable.

We have a question about the protection of property of unmarried couples. There is such a thing as a pre-nuptial agreement, which California has made famous. There is also a Bill for civil partnerships, standing in the name of my noble friend Lord Lester of Herne Hill, which I believe is still formally before this House during this Session. Most of the answers to that question are in that Bill. If people have any different answers to it I am sure they will be considered. Among reasonable people agreements can be reached.

Baroness Seccombe: Is the noble Earl aware that the British Social Attitudes survey found that 84 per cent of the public are against homosexual men adopting children?

Earl Russell: Is that perhaps the result of the amount of propaganda that has been put out to keep Section 28? If so, would it be a good idea to think about the effects that that propaganda is creating? That information can be used in more than one way.

One should not treat being homosexual as if it were in some way contagious. After all, by definition all homosexual people are the children of heterosexual couples, so it is equally possible that the children of homosexual couples may turn out to be heterosexual. In any event, they deserve the right to choose. For the moment I will leave it at that.

Baroness Howarth of Breckland: I am aware of the eloquence of the previous speeches. I want to try to avoid repeating points that I might have made which have been made much better by others. However, I want to repeat, from a different angle, some of the arguments about the evidence base of the statistics, because that is crucial to making a decision on evidence rather than on feeling. There is a huge amount of feeling in this debate.

We do not have any true evidence-based statistics on whether adoptive families are more likely to break down. However, if we had that evidence, it is likely that the figure might be higher, because children in adoptive families can be much more difficult and are placed from very complex family backgrounds. I have

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spoken with people who are working in this field. A post-adoptive service in the Midlands had a group of married mothers who were initially supported through their adoption with their partners. By the time they were working through to the end of the placement, they were applying as single people because their marriages had broken down—their partners having said that they choose between the children, to whom they had become committed under the placement, and themselves. However, it is not always a choice between one or the other. If one did not allow those people to continue with their adoption, the choice in that situation would be to remove children who had already made permanent relationships with one partner. I believe that there are real complications when looking at statistics, and when considering who is making adoptions.

I reiterate the points made about the kind of families that we are counting, how we are counting them, and who is taking the evidence forward. I repeat: when this is all over, I hope that we continue to gather evidence. If I were wrong, I should like to take the evidence and base it in the future, so that we make the best placements for children. Placed as I am at the moment, taking evidence, if you like, from my practice and from the experience of others to whom I have spoken, it is my view that children need good, permanent family homes and that those permanent homes are not easy to find.

Certainly, there are many waiting-lists for babies who do not have disadvantage and who are not disabled. Many families wish to adopt that sort of child. The children with whom I usually deal have often worked through a number of placements. They are highly disruptive, and often have psychological problems that require support. This is why we talk all the time about the need for post-adoption support, because many of these children will tax the families to the nth degree. In this, I bring no blame to those children. They have usually had extraordinarily difficult experiences. I am absolutely clear that, with their experiences, I would have been equally difficult to place in a home. Therefore, we do not have these ideal children for whom there are long waiting-lists.

Most of all, these children need constancy, love, support and continuity. For that, they need the best families we can find. The problem is that they are often placed in these families, first, as adoptive children. They grow fond of their adoptive parents, some of whom might well be cohabiting families or single-sex families. I have personal experience of a youngster. She knew that people were concerned because she was living with a lesbian couple, but she became extremely fond of those two women. To have removed that child, therefore, would have meant taking away the only constant relationship that she had ever known. It was her wish that she should remain with the two people whom she recognised as her family.

When one comes to decide on adoption, one may well have an adolescent who has had several placements but who has succeeded in a foster home where the family has decided to make a commitment

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to that child, even though they are not what you might call a perfect, "married-with-a-licence" family; they are a different sort of family. There is a fantasy that social workers are going out and finding all these families that are not what we would call the "perfect" family. Life does not run like that. One is desperately trying to find that good, solid placement for a child who has had hardly any good, solid consistency in his or her life.

Finally, I realise that there are other agendas, but I know that there is a sort of belief that, if these provisions go through, they will undermine the institution of marriage. I do not believe that to be true. In my view, despite other statistics, large numbers of people in this country continue to marry and often do so after having lived together for a considerable time. I had intended to raise the same statistic as was mentioned earlier; namely, that people do not necessarily split up after two years, or so. They often get married.

So there is some confusion in people's minds. This part of the Bill will not undermine the institution of marriage. Opposing the provisions for that reason is to lose sight of children. We should listen to children in these situations and hear what they tell us. They do not want to lose the few relationships that they have managed to forge because of some dogma or principle that has not to do with their lives, their future and all that we can try to give them.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy: It seems to me that the Bill is not about propping up the institution of marriage, but about getting these wretched children out of care and into families.

Baroness Blatch: I support my noble friend, Lord Howe, in his main claim, which was to restrict the pool of those who wish to adopt to married couples. Stability and permanence was the other thread of my noble friend's case. Like him, I believe that those are important issues. As my noble friend said, the statistics show there is a higher chance of break-up among unmarried couples. If people are unwilling to make a legal commitment to each other in marriage, the end result proves to be lack of security and an increasing chance of breakdown.

I accept that everybody is speaking from a passionately held point of view, which I do not take away from anybody. One thing that unites us all is that there should be a suitable placement for a child who is to be adopted and, as far as possible, that placement should offer stability and security. The sheer evidence of the record that we have so far of both married couples and unmarried couples, whether heterosexual and/or same-sex simply does not argue the case for anything other than the amendment of my noble friend.

Baroness Howells of St Davids: I have listened to the noble Lady and suggest that hers is a very ethno-centric view. There are many stable cohabiting relationships in the Caribbean and here because of the

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legacy of slavery, when black people were not allowed to marry each other. To have an ethno-centric view in a multi-racial society is very damaging.

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