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Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that explanation, as far as it goes. However, I shall put my question in a different way. Would a Church adoption society, for example, be allowed to reject a couple on the grounds that it was a same-sex couple and place children for adoption exclusively with married couples?

6.30 p.m.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, perhaps I may quote from the draft national minimum standards which, when we have concluded the consultations, will be issued as Section 7 guidance, colloquially known as statutory guidance—although I tempt fate by saying that in front of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway. The standard states:


I am happy to write further to the noble Baroness, but from my inquiries I am satisfied that the reputable agencies to which she referred should not be at risk if the Bill is passed as it is.

I say to the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, that this is not political correctness. The majority of legal, childcare and adoption organisations, such as the Law Society, BAAF and Barnardo's, agree that enabling unmarried couples to adopt would improve the life chances of more children. Those are not irresponsible organisations. They are serious organisations with years of experience in dealing with child issues.

At the end of the day we will each make individual decisions on the matter. It is a free vote as far as the Government are concerned. I believe that there is a strong case for accepting the Bill as it stands. I reiterate that it is legal for adoption to be undertaken by single people who nonetheless are in stable relationships, whether of an opposite-sex or same-sex nature. It is also clear that where such a single person is in such a

16 Oct 2002 : Column 909

relationship, the current adopter assessment process involves assessing both people in that relationship, even though only one person can adopt.

Surely the logic of that argument is clear. We would provide greater stability for an adopted child in those circumstances by allowing both parties of the couple to adopt. I am convinced that as a consequence we should enable more young people to be adopted; often young people who in the current circumstances have great difficulty in finding suitable adoptive parents. In doing so, we will improve the lives of countless young people both now and in the years to come.

Earl Howe: My Lords, this has been a debate of high quality. I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part, but particularly to those who have supported my amendment. We have collectively covered the ground on both sides of the argument and I do not propose to say much more.

I firmly believe that my amendment and not that passed in the Commons represents the best attainable deal for children. Anything else would represent a substantial risk; it would amount to social experimentation. That is why I maintain that it would be irresponsible of Parliament to take risks of this order with children's lives. Nothing that has been said against my position today has refuted the validity of the statistics that I quoted on the lack of durability in unmarried and gay relationships; all that has been said is that those figures are irrelevant because of the assessment procedure.

One cannot talk about the assessment—as the Minister did—as if it were established procedure. It is no such thing; the matter is currently out for consultation. It is wrong to assume that therein lies the vindication for proponents of the present Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, for example, is in no position to know what the assessment procedure will amount to; nor are any of us.

It is plain common sense that unmarried couples of whatever sex are different in one major respect from married couples: if they want to leave the relationship, all they need do is pack a suitcase and walk out of the door. We should not consciously allow children to be placed at heightened risk of family breakdown.

The Minister referred to the shortage of adopters. I question that. The White Paper on adoption contained no proposals to change the eligibility criteria for adopters. A shortage of married couples did not appear in the list of problems facing the adoption service. That is because there is in practice no shortage of married people wishing to adopt. It is true that there is a waiting list of children looking for adopters, but as my noble friend Lady O'Cathain pointed out, when the Prime Minister's review of adoption was published, it found that 90 per cent of married couples inquiring about adoption were either deterred from pursuing their application or rejected.

That finding suggests that there are large numbers of married people who, if the system were friendly to them, would enter the pool. It has been said, particularly by the Minister and the noble Baroness,

16 Oct 2002 : Column 910

Lady Gould, that cohabitation is now a normal feature of our lives and we should accept that. It is indeed a normal feature of life, but please do not be tempted to vote for the Commons amendment in the belief that to resist is somehow to row against the social tide.

If the Bill is approved in its present form, the UK will have gone out on a limb as regards other countries in the western world. The majority of European countries allow adoption only by married couples. Some countries have civil partnership schemes but these specifically exclude joint adoption.

I turn to the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Jenkin of Roding. It is grouped separately, although he spoke to it with mine. His amendment places heterosexual cohabitation on the same legal plane as marriage. As he knows, I cannot accept that for the reasons I have given. Furthermore, he did not address the argument I advanced on the absence of property rights for unmarried couples. That is a serious aspect of the debate. Schedule 1 to the Children Act 1989 is, I am advised, nothing like the kind of protection needed in these circumstances.

Lord Jenkin of Roding: My Lords, I do not with to interfere with my noble friend's argument. No noble Lord has supported my amendment. Therefore, I do not propose to move it.

Earl Howe: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for clarifying that point, as I am sure the House will be. In testing the opinion of the House I ask noble Lords to bear in mind one factor above all: the terrible damage done to vulnerable children by family instability and disruption and the risk we would be taking if we were to approve the Bill in its present form.

6.38 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 51) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 196; Not-Contents, 162.

Division No. 1

CONTENTS

Aberdare, L.
Ackner, L.
Ahmed, L.
Allenby of Megiddo, V.
Ampthill, L.
Anelay of St Johns, B.
Armstrong of Ilminster, L.
Arran, E.
Astor of Hever, L.
Attlee, E.
Beaumont of Whitley, L.
Bell, L.
Black of Crossharbour, L.
Blackwell, L.
Blatch, B.
Boardman, L.
Boothroyd, B.
Boston of Faversham, L.
Bowness, L.
Bridgeman, V.
Bridges, L.
Brigstocke, B.
Brookman, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L.
Bruce of Donington, L.
Burnham, L.
Butterworth, L.
Byford, B.
Campbell of Croy, L.
Campbell-Savours, L.
Carnegy of Lour, B.
Carrington, L.
Cavendish of Furness, L.
Chalfont, L.
Chan, L.
Chelmsford, Bp.
Cockfield, L.
Coe, L.
Colville of Culross, V.
Colwyn, L.
Cooke of Islandreagh, L.
Cope of Berkeley, L. [Teller]
Cox, B.
Craig of Radley, L.
Crathorne, L.
Cuckney, L.
Dacre of Glanton, L.
Davies of Coity, L.
Dean of Harptree, L.
Deedes, L.
Denham, L.
Dixon, L.
Dixon-Smith, L.
Donoughue, L.
Dundee, E.
Eccles of Moulton, B.
Eden of Winton, L.
Elles, B.
Elliott of Morpeth, L.
Elton, L.
Emerton, B.
Erroll, E.
Evans of Parkside, L.
Feldman, L.
Ferrers, E.
Fitt, L.
Fookes, B.
Forsyth of Drumlean, L.
Fraser of Carmyllie, L.
Freeman, L.
Geddes, L.
Glentoran, L.
Gray of Contin, L.
Greenway, L.
Griffiths of Fforestfach, L.
Hanson, L.
Hardy of Wath, L.
Harris of High Cross, L.
Harris of Peckham, L.
Hayhoe, L.
Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, L.
Hogg of Cumbernauld, L.
Howe, E.
Howe of Aberavon, L.
Howell of Guildford, L.
Hunt of Wirral, L.
Hussey of North Bradley, L.
Hylton, L.
Inge, L.
Islwyn, L.
James of Holland Park, B.
Jauncey of Tullichettle, L.
Jellicoe, E.
Jopling, L.
Kilclooney, L.
Kimball, L.
Kirkham, L.
Kirkhill, L.
Knight of Collingtree, B.
Laing of Dunphail, L.
Laird, L.
Lamont of Lerwick, L.
Lane, L.
Lane of Horsell, L.
Lindsay, E.
Liverpool, E.
Lofthouse of Pontefract, L.
Luke, L.
McColl of Dulwich, L.
McFarlane of Llandaff, B.
MacGregor of Pulham Market, L.
Mackay of Clashfern, L.
MacLaurin of Knebworth, L.
Maginnis of Drumglass, L.
Mancroft, L.
Marlesford, L.
Masham of Ilton, B.
Mason of Barnsley, L.
Miller of Hendon, B.
Milner of Leeds, L.
Mishcon, L.
Molyneaux of Killead, L.
Monro of Langholm, L.
Monson, L.
Moran, L.
Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Naseby, L.
Neill of Bladen, L.
Noakes, B.
Nolan, L.
Northbourne, L.
O'Cathain, B. [Teller]
Oliver of Aylmerton, L.
Oppenheim-Barnes, B.
Orme, L.
Owen, L.
Oxburgh, L.
Palmer, L.
Park of Monmouth, B.
Patel of Blackburn, L.
Peel, E.
Peyton of Yeovil, L.
Pilkington of Oxenford, L.
Platt of Writtle, B.
Plummer of St. Marylebone, L.
Powell of Bayswater, L.
Prior, L.
Pym, L.
Quirk, L.
Randall of St. Budeaux, L.
Rawlings, B.
Reay, L.
Renton, L.
Roberts of Conwy, L.
Rogan, L.
Rotherwick, L.
Ryder of Wensum, L.
Saatchi, L.
Seccombe, B.
Sharples, B.
Shaw of Northstead, L.
Shrewsbury, E.
Simon, V.
Skelmersdale, L.
Slim, V.
Stevens of Ludgate, L.
Stewartby, L.
Stodart of Leaston, L.
Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Strabolgi, L.
Strange, B.
Strathclyde, L.
Sutherland of Houndwood, L.
Swinfen, L.
Taylor of Warwick, L.
Tebbit, L.
Tenby, V.
Thatcher, B.
Thomas of Gwydir, L.
Tombs, L.
Trefgarne, L.
Trumpington, B.
Uddin, B.
Vinson, L.
Waddington, L.
Wade of Chorlton, L.
Wakeham, L.
Walker of Doncaster, L.
Walpole, L.
Weatherill, L.
Wilberforce, L.
Wilcox, B.
Williamson of Horton, L.
Winchester, Bp.
Wolfson, L.

NOT-CONTENTS

Acton, L.
Addington, L.
Alli, L.
Amos, B.
Andrews, B.
Ashton of Upholland, B.
Avebury, L.
Bach, L.
Barker, B. [Teller]
Bassam of Brighton, L.
Berkeley, L.
Bernstein of Craigweil, L.
Best, L.
Biffen, L.
Billingham, B.
Blackstone, B.
Borrie, L.
Bragg, L.
Brett, L.
Brightman, L.
Brooke of Alverthorpe, L.
Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, L.
Burlison, L.
Campbell of Alloway, L.
Carlile of Berriew, L.
Carter, L.
Chandos, V.
Christopher, L.
Clark of Windermere, L.
Clement-Jones, L.
Clinton-Davis, L.
Cohen of Pimlico, B.
Condon, L.
Corbett of Castle Vale, L.
Crawley, B.
Darcy de Knayth, B.
David, B.
Davies of Oldham, L.
Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, B.
Dholakia, L.
Donaldson of Lymington, L.
Eatwell, L.
Elder, L.
Falconer of Thoroton, L.
Falkland, V.
Farrington of Ribbleton, B.
Filkin, L.
Finlay of Llandaff, B.
Flowers, L.
Gibson of Market Rasen, B.
Gilbert, L.
Gladwin of Clee, L.
Golding, B.
Goldsmith, L.
Goodhart, L.
Goudie, B.
Gould of Potternewton, B. [Teller]
Graham of Edmonton, L.
Greaves, L.
Greengross, B.
Grocott, L.
Hamwee, B.
Harris of Haringey, L.
Harris of Richmond, B.
Harrison, L.
Haskel, L.
Hayman, B.
Hollis of Heigham, B.
Howarth of Breckland, B.
Howe of Idlicote, B.
Howells of St. Davids, B.
Howie of Troon, L.
Hoyle, L.
Hughes of Woodside, L.
Hunt of Chesterton, L.
Hunt of Kings Heath, L.
Jacobs, L.
Janner of Braunstone, L.
Jay of Paddington, B.
Judd, L.
King of West Bromwich, L.
Laming, L.
Lea of Crondall, L.
Lester of Herne Hill, L.
Linklater of Butterstone, B.
Lipsey, L.
Listowel, E.
Lloyd of Berwick, L.
Lucas, L.
Macdonald of Tradeston, L.
McIntosh of Haringey, L.
McIntosh of Hudnall, B.
MacKenzie of Culkein, L.
Maclennan of Rogart, L.
McNally, L.
Maddock, B.
Mar and Kellie, E.
Marsh, L.
Massey of Darwen, B.
Merlyn-Rees, L.
Methuen, L.
Montagu of Beaulieu, L.
Morgan, L.
Morgan of Huyton, B.
Morris of Manchester, L.
Newby, L.
Northover, B.
Norton of Louth, L.
Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay, L.
Patel, L.
Pendry, L.
Perry of Walton, L.
Peston, L.
Plant of Highfield, L.
Prys-Davies, L.
Radice, L.
Ramsay of Cartvale, B.
Razzall, L.
Redesdale, L.
Rendell of Babergh, B.
Rennard, L.
Richard, L.
Richardson of Calow, B.
Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.
Roll of Ipsden, L.
Roper, L.
Russell, E.
Russell-Johnston, L.
Sainsbury of Turville, L.
St John of Fawsley, L.
Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.
Sandberg, L.
Sandwich, E.
Sawyer, L.
Scotland of Asthal, B.
Scott of Needham Market, B.
Sharp of Guildford, B.
Sheldon, L.
Shutt of Greetland, L.
Smith of Clifton, L.
Smith of Gilmorehill, B.
Stone of Blackheath, L.
Tanlaw, L.
Taverne, L.
Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Temple-Morris, L.
Thomas of Walliswood, B.
Thornton, B.
Tomlinson, L.
Tope, L.
Turner of Camden, B.
Wallace of Saltaire, L.
Walmsley, B.
Warner, L.
Watson of Richmond, L.
Wedderburn of Charlton, L.
Whitty, L.
Wilkins, B.
Williams of Mostyn, L. (Lord Privy Seal)
Winston, L.
Woolmer of Leeds, L.
Wright of Richmond, L.

Resolved in the affirmative, and amendment agreed to accordingly.

16 Oct 2002 : Column 913

6.50 p.m.

[Amendment No. 51A not moved.]


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