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Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, I oppose this amendment for the very close reasoning given by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath. I shall not reiterate parts of the reasoning. This is advanced as a conscience clause. It is a conscience clause that qualifies implementation of those provisions of an Act of Parliament contrary to the spirit of the enactment. As such, it is indeed the motivation. It is a wholly unacceptable position. That Act was brought in after a pretty tough dispute in your Lordships' House. I supported the provisions. My noble friend opposed them and we both have an interest to declare. I certainly declare mine. The reasons for retaining my position could not have been better put than by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath. The amendment expressly recognises an aversion to homosexuals as adopters or unmarried couples.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, indeed it does not. Just like the doctor who does not wish to be involved in aborting babies, the amendment refers to the profound beliefs of social workers in the way in which children should be placed. I made a specific point when I said it does not stigmatise homosexuals in any way. My amendment just protects the right of the social worker not to be given that work to do.
Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. I hear what she says and shall try to deal with it in a moment, but I really cannot deal with interruptions from a sedentary positionthey make it quite impossible to make a speech.
If one looks at the terms of the amendment, it is manifestly plain that it recognises an aversion to unmarried couples as adopters which extends, against the background of the whole debate in this House, to homosexual couples. Before this, a single homosexual could adopt. The amendment totally ignores the absence of any evidence of any untoward conduct by a single homosexual adopter in the past. That was a
The amendment also ignores the stringency of the vetting procedure, and another matter that was of considerable importance in the debatethe plight and interests of those thousands of children in care who seek the benefit of a home, education, prospects for a happy life and so forth.
It is understood that it is the intention to take the opinion of your Lordships' House with a free vote on these Benches. That is why I have spoken at a little length today, and I seek your Lordships' indulgence for having done so.
Baroness Richardson of Calow: My Lords, I should like to support the amendment. Your Lordships will know that I wholeheartedly agree with the adoption provisions, and I have spoken many times on the matter in this House. Some people have very strong convictions and I believe that their employment should not be put at risk because of them, although I do not share that viewpoint in any way.
My primary reason for supporting the amendment is to safeguard the rights of those couples described under proposed subsection (2)(a) and (b) who offer themselves for assessment. They have a right to be assessed without prejudice, whether acknowledged or unacknowledged, by those who do the assessment. They have a right to be judged by criteria that are as objective as they can be, and which would be better preserved if those with strong conscientious objections over the matter were allowed not to be put in the situation of having to make that judgment.
I shall deal with two points. First, in moving her amendment the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, said that those of us who oppose her do so on a misunderstanding of her intent. I believe that we do not do so, but that we understand entirely what the amendment seeks to do. It seeks not to overturn your Lordships' decision on same-sex couple adoption but to undermine it in practice. That is as unacceptable as seeking to overturn it.
We all know that principles have to be put into action. Anyone who has read at length the Climbie report will know what life is like in a social services department, particularly in a children's unit. The amendment would enable social services departments, which are already working beyond capacity in many cases, particularly in children's work, to keep on their staff people who absent themselves from part of their work. The net effect would be that all children would suffer.
The most dangerous thing about the amendmentas I said when we discussed it in previous debatesis the precedent that it sets that the beliefs of staff and social services departments take precedence over the needs and wishes of users. If noble Lords have read the Climbie report at any length, they will know what a dangerous precedent that would be. Tremendous work is being done in the social work profession to move in a way that is completely contrary to that.
Secondly, I want to address a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Richardson of Calow. I hold her in high regard, as I have done throughout all our decisions, and I have had similar thoughts to those that she has expressed. Ultimately, much though it pains me to disagree with her, I believe that she is wrong. I came to my conclusion after spending time reading a lot about the history of adoption and fostering in this country. During the passage of the adoption Bill, I spent considerable time talking to people who were coming to terms as adults with the effects of decisions made on their behalf by people who thought that they were acting with the best of intentions.
Adoption is always an expression of the views and philosophy of the society of the time. If one goes back into the history of fostering and adoption, one comes across instances where people of undoubted good faith and intentions made decisions because of their beliefs on matters of race and religion. From our standpoint now, we can see that those decisions have had the most damaging effect on children.
I am haunted by many of the letters that I received throughout the passage of the adoption Bill, but one in particular sticks in my mind. A man was trying to figure out why as a child he was moved on from a very happy placement. He said that the only reason he could possibly think of was that his foster parents were Jewish and that he was not; he wished that he had been left in that happy situation, Christian though he wasand still was when I spoke to himrather than being moved.
I have no doubt that in the course of our debates we were right to stick with the principle in Clause 1 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002 that it is the best interest of the child that is paramount. That is why I believe that the amendment moved by the noble Baroness is not only wrong but dangerous. I therefore hope that noble Lords will retain the decision that we have made on at least six occasions when we have discussed the matter.
Earl Russell: My Lords, the question of the rights of the individual conscience against the state is one that has absorbed some of the finest minds in our cultural tradition over some 2,000 years and more. Distilling all that into a few words is something of a challenge, but I believe that I can see something of a distinction, to which my noble friend Lady Barker referred.
Where, as an individual, one is commanded to do something that one thinks is sinful, one must not do it. But when one is taking part in the provision of a public service, as my noble friend Lady Barker said, the users
I have had to think quite hard about this because a great many of the changes imposed on universities by successive governments have involved me in doing things against which my conscience protested. In some cases I have managed to make the cup pass from me by the exercise of some ingenuity. But I have taken the line throughout that a public service is to an extent a seamless robe, and if one cannot do what is required in that service, then one must resign from it. Since the Education Act 1988 I have been several times very near doing that myself. But I would not have claimed the right to exercise my individual conscience to refuse to perform a service which I then knew had to fall on long-suffering colleagues who were desperately overworked already and who in many cases might dislike it almost as much as I did.
The point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Richardson of Calow, was one of great brilliance, but not therefore necessarily a point of truth. It is a point which only a very great and sensitive mind could have made. But if one thinks, for example, of the first women to attempt to enter public and political life, they also had to face assessment from people who took a very dim view indeed of the political powers of women. I believe that they were right in decidingand my grandmother was among themthat it was much better to face down these dangers at the earliest possible stage because equality would never be achieved until one took the bull by the horns, faced down the dangers and the hostility and defeated them.
I believe that the women who took that attitude were right. They suffered a good deal in doing it, but I believe that the suffering was shrewdly and deliberately chosen. I wonder whether these cases have some parallel element.
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