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Baroness Blatch: The Minister will not be surprised to learn how disappointed I am with that reply and, indeed, how disappointed I am with the tone of this debate. The noble Baroness, Lady Barker, began by remarking that the issue of permitting same-sex adoption attracted "undue attention" in the Bill. I have always respected the views of others in this House and I have particular regard for everyone's opinions. After all, we are a House of Peers; each personal view is as legitimate as that of anyone else. I do not term as "undue" the remarks of anyone who thinks differently from myself about this provision. It is their right to hold their view.

In direct response to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, who asked whether it would be possible for such a social worker to work in the field of adoption, I say this: should a doctor be struck off simply because he does not like performing abortions? Should a teacher be prevented from teaching simply because they do not wish to take assemblies in schools? Their conscience clause is written into legislation and I believe that I am asking simply for the same form of conscience clause to be afforded to those social workers who in every other respect are excellent professionals. They should be allowed the same provision.

I resent very profoundly the Minister's comment that I am not concerned about the interests of the child. In this House there is no monopoly in concerns about the interests of the child. I have given years of my life to concerns about the interests of the child. If my means to that end are different from those of the Minister or different from those of the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, or different from those of other noble Lords, do not accuse me of being insincere in what I say.

For the record, in fact I mentioned the interests of the child in the second paragraph of my remarks, which would have been within the first 20 seconds of what I said. I repeated that in around the third minute when I said that the only issue was the profound belief of social workers that placing a child with a father and a mother would be in the best interests of the child. So the idea that I spoke for 11 minutes without once mentioning the best interests of the child is simply untrue.

The noble Lord invited me to look at Hansard tomorrow. I should prefer it if he will now accept that I argued not only for the best interests of the child—but not quite in a way that the noble Lord would agree with—but that I physically mentioned that a number of times. My only motive in this regard is to protect professionals who also believe that they are acting in the best interests of the child.

Nothing that the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, said was relevant to my amendment. I was not in any way invalidating the Adoption and Children Act. I spoke

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vigorously during the passage of that legislation but I accept the will of Parliament. Parliament decided, and I have accepted that decision. In so doing, I said that there was a residual problem for those professionals who feel uncomfortable in this regard. I fought for their right. The decision was taken by Parliament, and nothing in my amendment invalidates that. My narrow point was to ask for a conscience clause for those good professionals.

Parliament also passed the Abortion Act; but it was accepted, after the legislation had been enacted, that a conscience clause was needed for those doctors who felt unable, because of religious or other beliefs, whatever they may have been, that they could not actively work on the issue of abortion. The same happened with teachers.

I am grateful to my noble friend Lady O'Cathain and to the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for their support; I believe that they, too, were acting in terms of the best interests of the child. I ask those who oppose me: do they really agree with the level of harassment and intimidation that drove people out of their jobs simply because they profoundly believed that they would not have been acting in the best interests of the child? If that is what they believe, that would be outrageous. I did not argue with Parliament's conclusions on the Adoption and Children Bill. The point of my amendment was to come to the aid of good, competent professionals and allow them to exercise their conscience without fear of intimidation. I do not approve of such intimidation at all, and I certainly do not approve of it in this case.

I have enormous respect for the noble Earl, Lord Russell. Even if I do not always agree with his views, I always respect his right to hold them. However, to ask for a conscience clause for people who disapprove of placing a child with a heterosexual makes light of my amendment. There is an issue in this regard. That is rather like saying that someone might argue for a conscience clause for people who believe that there should not be abortions. The law is the law. Abortions are allowed under the law, as is adoption by same-sex couples. One is looking at trying to keep the best professionals in the profession. After all, social services departments and children's departments are very short of good professionals. We should not lightly set them aside—out of the profession—simply because they do not agree with this aspect of the Adoption and Children Bill.

In conclusion—again, I hope that I do not incur the wrath of the Minister—most children who are up for adoption are vulnerable. They are often emotionally damaged. Those professionals who take the view that the best long-term interests of the child are met by placement with a married couple should be supported. I cannot put the amendment to a vote at this stage but I shall return to it. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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Clause 114 [Standards committees and monitoring officers: delegation]:

Baroness Hanham moved Amendment No. 218:

    Page 66, line 20, at end insert "but shall consist of not fewer than three and not more than five members"

The noble Baroness said: The four short amendments that I tabled to Clause 114 all relate to standards committees. Amendment No. 218 would give some substance to the structure of the sub-committee that it is proposed should be appointed. I anticipate that the sub-committees will be promoted by and large to deal with matters that the standards board for England passes back to the local authority for cases of misconduct, or minor misconduct. If I am correct in that, there should be a limitation on the number of people taking part in the deliberations on that matter.

Standards committees in local authorities vary in terms of the number of people involved and the constitutions. It is proper and right to ensure that there is a limit to the size of the sub-committees of standards committees, especially if they are making a judgment on a member who may have been accused trivially. In fact, the member must have been accused trivially if the matter had been sent back by the standards board. I beg to move.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: We are opposed to the amendment for very sensible reasons.

[The Sitting was suspended for a Division in the House from 6.46 to 7.9 p.m.]

Lord Bassam of Brighton: Before I respond to the amendment, I should draw attention to a problem of time-tabling. We still have approximately 15 groups of amendments before us, and it is clear that we cannot finish by 7.30 p.m. After discussions among the usual channels, it has been suggested that we shall probably have to reconvene the committee tomorrow at 3.30 p.m. to complete the Committee stage. I realise that that creates problems with various Members of your Lordships' House with regard to diaries. However, it is generally acknowledged that it would be difficult to go beyond 7.30 because there is sufficient business of relative controversy which would probably take the Committee a long time to complete.

We shall probably have to give proceedings another day. That could affect the issue of time-tabling for the Report stage of the Bill. My understanding is that the usual channels will discuss the time-tabling as a matter of some urgency and importance. I hope that that covers the issue.

I was dealing with Amendment No. 218 which, as the noble Baroness explained with crystal clarity, seeks to limit the size of the standard sub-committee to three with a maximum of five. Our point is a simple one. We expect that that is exactly what would happen from time to time with standard sub-committees because, as the noble Baroness said, they are likely to deal with issues of discipline and misconduct. We do not believe that that is something for which we need to legislate on

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the face of the Bill. We have a provision that if regulations are required on that they can be made, and if it should prove necessary on the basis of experience—experience is important in this area—for a limited number to be introduced for certain circumstances, those regulations could be made.

We agree with and understand the issue, but we believe that there is sufficient flexibility here. We have the facility to use regulations to impose a limit if necessary, but we do not want to impose such a limit. We believe that to be unnecessary and restrictive, diminishing important flexibility. I hope that the noble Baroness feels able to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Hamwee: I had thought that the Minister would cover something that I wanted to put to him but did not ask before the Division was called. If a sub-committee is not mandatory—as I understand the clause it would not be mandatory but discretionary—would it be appropriate to prescribe numbers? Would it not be odd to say that one can have a sub-committee, but if you do, it must be of a certain type or size?

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