|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
The Earl of Listowel: I hesitate to come in at this point. We discussed the importance of marriage for children at great length two or three years ago. At that time I looked to see what might be learned from experience abroad. I noted that in one of the Scandinavian countries the incidence of unmarried couples separating was far lower than in our country. That suggests to me that in countries which support families better there is less break-down in families, whether the parents are married or unmarried.
It seems very clear from the figures that marriage is an important resilience factor. It is not surprising that a couple who are prepared to make a legal commitment to one another will often offer a longer term and more stable relationship. As I say, marriage is an important resilience factor but it is not the only factor; there are other considerations to be borne in mind.
Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen: I want to begin by saying that I respect the commitment of the noble Earl, Lord Howe, with regard to supporting adoption. I would certainly never accuse him of any kind of duplicity in this matter. I know that he has spoken sincerely. However, on this occasion I cannot agree with him.
I want to bring in a slightly different point which I think is important in the context of this debate. I hope that others will agree. I am not going to quote surveys or statistics. I want to concentrate on what actually happens when an adoption is occurring. It has already been said that no one has a right to adopt, nor should they have. We have talked of the couples involved in adoption, married or unmarried, and we have talked of family. Here I want to say that a family is comprised of more than just the couple involved. I want to share with the Committeeas I did at Second Readingmy and my husband's experiences when our daughter and her husband adopted a child.
I am pleased to say that we jumped through all the hurdles. Of course, my daughter and her husband were rigorously questioned, as they should be. They wanted to be parents and they wanted to look after a little human being. It is right that questions are asked. However, it is not just the couples themselves who are questioned but also some other members of the family. That included me, my current husband and my ex-husband. My ex-husband and I divorced when my
I do not believe that we have talked about this matter before in this context. However, if we are talking about families and family support, it is important to share that experience with the Committee to show that it is not just the couple themselves who are questioned and have letters written to them by the adoption authorities but rather the family as a whole. I believe that the key to the whole of this issue is the word "family". Children should have the opportunity to grow up as part of a loving family. I refer not just to the adoptive parents but to the wider family. I understand the concerns in this area but I repeat that adoptions are not entered into lightly. Many years passed before my daughter and her husband decided to adopt. As I say, adoption is not entered into lightly. Those who seek to adopt are closely scrutinised by those whose responsibility it is to assess whether or not they are suitable to undertake that. Great care is taken in these matters, as it should be.
I make these points because I am sure that, just as married couples or a single person who seek to adopt are rigorously assessed, single-sex couples and their families would also be rigorously assessed. I believe that all children should have a loving family unit. That is why I cannot support the amendment.
Lord Clement-Jones: Nearly all the points have been made today in a quite remarkable series of speeches. We have a clear division of opinion in the Committee. The noble Earl, Lord Howe, made his case in a forensic and balanced way although the temperature rose later in the debate. I characterise his approach as the risk management approach. That is appropriate for matters such as airline safety or financial services regulation but it tars all those in a particular category with the same brush. That is how I see him categorising all those unmarried couples because, statistically, they are eliminated from the potential pool of adoption. The same applies to gay couples. Although the statistics are by no means particularly well grounded, as some Members of the Committee have pointed out, they are, nevertheless, all tarred with the same brush on the grounds of risk management because of the possibilitynot probabilitythat certain relationships will not survive for longer than a certain period of time. That is why they are eliminated from the pool of those couples appropriate to be even considered as suitable adopters.
The second approach, which I make no bones about, is the balance of benefit approach. We are talking about whether individual children can benefit. We must set this against what I regard as being the rather pseudo-statistical approach that is being used, not only by the noble Earl, Lord Howe, but also by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. There will be an argument between us as to whether there really is a pool of unmarried couples and gay couples ready to take on the responsibilities of adoptive parents; or
However, that is not the point: the point is that these older children who are in care desperately need to be brought into adoptive families. Quite frankly, I do not want an experimental period where we have only married couples for a period of years, while we wait and see whether or not the pool comes forward. Quite honestly, I want to give those children the best possible chance from the day that this legislation is passed.
A number of points have been made during the debate. I shall not trade with the noble Earl, Lord Howe, on all the issues that he raised. However, he made an interesting point on the property issue. He said that, except in the case of the house, there is no proper arrangement for resolving property issues for children. However, the house is most people's main asset. Most people do not have stocks and shares, and all sorts of other assets. Therefore, the issue of the house as between unmarried couplesand, indeed, as between gay couplescan be resolved, provided that one of them has, or both of them have, beneficial ownership.
I fail to see the logic for using the property argument in these circumstances as an argument for saying that it is preferable for children to be adopted by one person, as opposed to an unmarried couple. Again, I fail to see the argument in life, but I certainly fail to see the argument even more when it comes to incapacity or death. Indeed, that point was made most powerfully by the noble Baroness, Lady Gould.
The noble Earl, Lord Howe, referred to the evidence of problems in the playground. I do not know on what basis he put that forward. Similarly, I do not know where the evidence comes from. It seemed to me to be some kind of cultural issue that the noble Earl was positing. To use another term, we have something of the Heisenberg effect here. Obviously, observed behaviour will change over time. If we believe that it is right for unmarried couples and gay couples to be able to adopt, we should try to ensure that society recognises that fact. After all, we do not want young children running around playgrounds talking about nutters, loonies, and so on, in mental health terms, no more than we want people talking about gay people and unmarried couples in derogatory terms. We have a responsibility to make sure that we have the right culture in our playgrounds. We certainly do not use that as an excuse, or an argument, for not allowing adoption by unmarried or gay couples.
Nowadays, the culture on surnames has entirely changed. In her inimitable way, the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, made the case in a very aristocratic way. After all, my father had a different surname from my grandfather. My grandfather doubled the barrel of my father's surname. So, there we are, we all have family secrets that we can reveal in Committee between these four walls. I do not believe that my father felt any stigma in probably one of the toughest public schools in the country where Dr Arnold was rife in the 19th century. I do not think that it did him any harm. So that is certainly not an argument either.
All this is about suitability. The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, in his humane way, put his finger on the point in the previous debateit is about suitability. If we have arguments, let them be about suitability. Put "suitability" in either secondary or primary legislation, or in guidance, or in the assessment procedure which the Minister talked about at our previous sitting. Then we can really see what we are talking about. However, we should be utterly frank about this. Mr Andrew Lansley, in the Commons, put it rather well. He said that it is wrong of those who support marriage to use the adoption of children as bait.
We should not be penalising those who do not wish to marry. If they do not wish to become married, that does not, ipso facto, eliminate them from the pool of those wishing to adopt. At least that is the argument on these Benches. It is highly circular to say that unmarried couples have not made a legal commitment to each other and are therefore unsuitable. That is begging the question of this debate. I very much hope that, on Report, we will make it utterly clear that the wording of the current provision is as we want it.
In supporting the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, I should say thathaving sat and listened to those who supported the amendment of the noble Earl, Lord HoweI find the use of statistics truly worrying. Earlier, the risk management approach very ably described. On that basis, and using statistics from the Office for National Statistics, I believe that it is very likely that social workers would not allow poor people to adopt. On the basis of the statistics on marriage and sustained partnerships among poor people, poor people would not be allowed to adopt.
Let us also take the statistics on certain geographical areas of the country, where marriage fails more often than not because of poverty. Those people also would not be allowed to adopt. Let us consider certain professions. I am the chief executive of a charity. However, I am not sure that chief executives of charities have a brilliant track record on marital relations. So we would not be allowed to adopt either.
I think that we are on a slippery slope if we take such a general, blanket approach to statistics in arguing a case. In some ways it hides a deeper andwith all due respect to the noble Earl, Lord Howe, and his supporterssomewhat sinister approach to this debate. We all agreeno one has disagreedthat this Bill is all about providing stable, loving, supportive families for children. That is not a problem. However, those who supported the noble Earl's amendments seem to have rushed over some unintended consequences.
Two points in this debate have been rushed over. The first was the idea that some of the remarks made by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, were ethno-centric. Although I accept that they were not intended
As the noble Earl, Lord Russell, aptly said, the amendment connects the issue of homosexual couples and their status as stable relationships with the bullying of children in schools. I was brought up in Wakefield and, as a black pupil in a predominantly white school, was bullied at school. The argument, therefore, could be used against allowing black couples to adopt, as their children may well be the object of bullying.
The arguments in favour of the amendment are weak. They have not dealt with the issue of unintended consequences. I can understand that some members of the public would like to live in a world where everyone was the same and everyone agreed that there was only one way of living. Although they think that such a world would be wonderfully smooth and acceptable for everyone, that is not the reality. If we do not accept the reality, we shall create a situation for childrenI have seen it too oftenin which their lives are blighted by the opinions of people whom they have never met. That is absolutely unacceptable. It is outrageous and inhumane.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page