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Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, we support the noble Baroness: she raises an important point. When the noble Baroness responds, I wonder whether she can give us any idea of how well the system is operating in London. Also—and I am sure that this is dear to her heart—can the noble Baroness say, bearing in mind that we are not looking for a straight read across, whether the current regime requires fees to be paid and whether they cover the costs of local authorities in undertaking the licensing? The noble Baroness may not know and I appreciate that. Although it is important, it is not so important as ensuring people's health and their survival.

When dealing with the matter in another place, the Minister raised a concern about there being two different regulatory regimes if this measure were introduced. He said that there would be,

That is an important point to be ironed out. I hope that she will be able to say "Yes" to the fact that regulations will address and co-ordinate the regime.

The Minister of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (Lord Rooker): My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for raising this issue. She referred to it at Second Reading, but there was not an opportunity during Committee to discuss the matter. We are very

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sympathetic towards the concern that local authorities outside London should have powers to regulate cosmetic body-piercing businesses.

The Government are committed to giving local authorities outside London powers to regulate cosmetic body-piercing businesses so that the position across the country is consistent. We intend to bring forward an amendment to achieve that at Third Reading.

For the record, the proposed amendment does not take into account the existing legislation, which already gives local authorities outside London powers to regulate ear piercing, tattooing, electrolysis and acupuncture. That is contained in the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982, which needs to be amended and that is what we intend to do. We also intend that local authorities outside London should have powers to regulate businesses providing micropigmentation or similar services and our amendment will cover these activities.

I do not have advice at the moment on the question of consent. It is a double-edged weapon. I have brought with me to the House today my own catalogue of sophisticated body adornment products. It contains every product that one can think of for fitting on any and every part of the human anatomy. The House is a family place so I shall not read them all out, but these products are not just for young people.

The reason I have the catalogue is that there was an occasion when an issue arose regarding parents with young children aged three or four, and even babies, wishing to have them pierced. Consent could not be given by the child and that was the issue. I walked into the studio expecting a real towelling from various people and the parents. I was met by a couple of dozen people who had ball bells hanging from all the parts of the body which I could see and they assured me that they were hanging from all the parts which I could not see. I thought "Wow, I'm in trouble here". But, no, they said that they were on my side because they were adults who had gone into the matter openly and had made a free choice. They said that they had gone to places with air conditioning, clinically clean and where business was conducted properly. They said that children should not have it done to them. Therefore, consent works both ways.

I shall take advice between now and Third Reading, which will not be for some time because of the approaching Recess, and return to the issue. I have a line to take on the age of consent, but I am not really clear whether it meets the point. We do not have any plans currently to introduce a minimum age of consent for body piercing.

But that answers only one part of the question: it does not answer the question about parents with young children who cannot give consent to be pierced for the gratification of the parents. On the same television programme I was accompanied by a consultant from a hospital in the Midlands. He spent part of his time digging out attachments to bodies. There is a serious issue if the matter is not dealt with properly.

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In no way do we seek to curtail people's choice as regards what sophisticated body adornments they wish to have and on which parts of the body they wish to attach them. Nevertheless, it needs to be done safely and so that the attachments can be removed. It is made clear in the catalogue that some of the items are intended to be worn for a short period of time and also you must make sure that the internal diameter is correct. There are all kinds of caveats and warnings in such a catalogue. In view of the fact that I am going to return to the matter at Third Reading when I may share more of the contents of the catalogue with noble Lords, I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.

1.l5 p.m.

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I am extremely grateful for the Minister's reply. I am delighted to learn that there will be an amendment at Third Reading. I knew that we had got the Act wrong because I believe that the Local Government Act 1988 has been abandoned. I am tantalised by the Minister's catalogue. I did not know that he went to such lengths to conduct research. He is certainly one up on me in that regard.

If parents are voluntarily having their children pierced for the parents' gratification, that is quite difficult. My problem is those cases where children are having it done without their parents knowing about it and then running into all kinds of problems. I agree with the Minister that there are two sides to the question of consent. It may be that better brains than mine will be able to tangle with that. In the mean time, it seems to me that better brains are really tangling with the matter. I am extremely grateful and thank the Minister for his reply. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 14:

    After Clause 113, insert the following new clause—

(1) No person employed by, working for or acting as an adviser to a local authority shall be under any duty whether by contract or by any statutory or other legal requirement to participate in—
(a) any placement under section 18 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002 (c. 38) (placement for adoption agencies); or
(b) any application under section 49 of that Act (application for adoption)
to which he has a conscientious objection on either of the grounds specified in subsection (2). (2) The grounds referred to in subsection (1) are that the placement is with, or the application is made by—

(a) a couple who are not a married couple; or
(b) one person who is in fact part of a couple within the meaning of section 144(4)(b) of the Adoption and Children Act 2002 (general interpretation etc). (3) In any legal proceedings the burden of proof of conscientious objection shall rest upon the person claiming to rely on it.

(4) A local authority shall not treat less favourably any person who relies on subsection (1) above."

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The noble Baroness said: My Lords, we have some wonderful professionals involved in the work of placing children for adoption. Many are excellent, competent and effective professionals. However, Dawn Jackson and Nora Ellis were hounded out of their work as social workers because they held a conscientious belief that children for adoption should be placed with married couples.

My amendment simply asks for a conscience clause for such people like that enjoyed by doctors as regards abortion and by teachers as regards religious belief. Neither of these conscience clauses, which have been on the statute book for quite a long time, has caused difficulties in any way either to the medical or the education professions. No employee who is otherwise good in every respect in their work should be intimidated to the point of losing their jobs. A conscience clause would therefore be a way of helping to keep excellent professionals involved in the important work of placing children for adoption. I beg to move.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I have some interest in this matter because noble Lords will know that we debated the change in the adoption law extensively in the previous Session of Parliament. I believe that the measures taken will lead to a very great improvement in the way in which adoption procedures are conducted. Anyone who has looked at the outcome statistics comparing children in care to the outcome for children who had been adopted would find it very hard not to conclude that we should do everything we possibly can to increase the number of children who are adopted in this country.

Whatever one's view about the issue of same-sex couples being able to adopt, I believe that most noble Lords who took part in those very extensive debates agreed that there was a very good purpose in seeking to improve adoption procedures.

I do not want to re-open the question as to whether that was the right thing to do as regards same-sex couples: I believe very strongly that it was. As regards a question of conscience undertaken by individual social workers who do not agree with such adoptions, I do not believe that it is a matter of such moment that social workers should be given that ability. I hope that noble Lords will not agree to the amendment.

I do not think—and it is a value judgment after all—that one should be able to equate a matter of conscience in relation to the abortion law to a matter of conscience in relation to gay adoption. At the end of the day it is a matter of individual decision as to how one equates the issues and whether there is a hierarchy of conscientious objection, but as this Parliament approved the new adoption law that allows same-sex couples to adopt after going through a thorough process it does not seem reasonable to pass this amendment to allow an opt-out for social workers.

As for the alleged intimidation against social workers, I would always regret any act of intimidation by an employer against an employee under any such circumstances. One would always hope that adoption

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agencies and local authorities would be good employers and that where intimidation does take place, staff have recourse to the law. But accepting the noble Baroness's amendment would chip away at Parliament's intention when we passed the Adoption and Children Act in the last Session. I hope that noble Lords will not go down that path.

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