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Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, this has been a valuable discussion, revisiting an issue which has been debated twice already within the confines of this Bill, in Grand Committee and on Report. It would be unkind of me not to join in the congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady Batch, on her tenacity. I appreciate that and also her sincerity in these matters. But, like the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, and the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, is clear in her intent. She accepts the will of Parliament in these matters. She well understands that the impact of her amendment, were it to be carried by the House, would undermine the will of Parliament. I believe that is the case and that that view is generally shared in your Lordships' House.
At each stage of this Bill we have explained why the clause is inappropriate. We continue to resist the amendment for reasons that I intend to spell out very clearly. As we all appreciate, Amendment No. 13 would ensure that no person working for or on behalf of a local authority shall be under any duty, whether by contract or by any statutory or other legal
This refers to cases where children are to be placed for adoption with an unmarried couple or with one person who is in fact part of a couple living together as partners in an enduring family relationship. It also covers the processing of these adoption applications.
The Adoption and Children Act 2002 allows for the first time unmarried couples, regardless of their sexual orientation, to apply to adopt a child jointly. However, as we all understand, it has long been possible for a person in an unmarried relationship to apply to adopt as a single person.
The Adoption and Children Act does not therefore raise any fundamental new issues, so we do not believe that there is any need to make special provision for conscientious objections as a result of the change to enable unmarried couples to adopt jointly. Arguably, the key benefit for children of the change in the 2002 Act is that it enables a child adopted by an unmarried couple to have the permanence and security of having two legal parents. I believe that all Members of the House would welcome that.
The new clause raises employment issues that are more suitably addressed by the Employment Equality (Religion and Belief) Regulations 2003, which were approved by both Houses on l7th June. These regulations will prohibit discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief in employment and vocational training.
Local authorities have a duty to maintain an adoption service in their area that meets the needs of those who may adopt a child. This includes unmarried couples and individuals who are in fact part of a couple. As many noble Lords have said, the clause would make it more difficult for local authorities to provide a service and to meet their duties and could well lead to delays in the assessment of prospective adopters able to meet the needs of children waiting for adoption. I do not believe that anyone sees that as a desirable outcome. The Government believe that it is unacceptable to risk vulnerable children losing out on the chance of, or experiencing delays in, finding a new family.
I believe that the comparison drawn with conscientious objection to abortion in earlier debates is unhelpful in that conscientious objection to participating in an abortion procedure often raises strong ethical issues around the sanctity of life whereas objecting to non-married couples adopting is about judgmental attitudes on the lifestyle of individuals and their personal choices. There is a profound difference in that, which seems entirely inappropriate to the present.
As I said at the outset, I do not doubt the noble Baroness's sincerity and I certainly do not doubt her tenacity. But I hope that, having listened to the arguments, the noble Baroness will be able to withdraw the new clause.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I thank the Minister most strongly for at least not doubting my sincerity and motivation for tabling the amendment. My noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway and the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, do doubt my sincerity. They have attributed to me motivations which I find deeply hurtful and which are simply wrong. I want to protect people like Norah Ellis and Dawn Jackson, the lady I heard about today, and others whose jobs are now at risk. In fact, what those two ladies experienced was frightful. It was discrimination against them because of their beliefs, which I understand from what the noble Lord has just said gave
Earl Russell: My Lords, I speak on behalf of my noble friend Lady Barker. I never understood her to be referring to the noble Baroness's intentions. I have checked this reading with my noble friend. She acknowledges the noble Baroness's sincerity completely. What was being discussed was the effect of the amendment. Even after Pepper v Hart the mind of the mover is not the sole guide of the courts to the intention of Parliament. I believe that my noble friend Lady Barker is right about what will be taken to be its intention. I admit that the noble Baroness believes otherwise, but this is simply a difference of opinion between us.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, the noble Earl will receive a very apologetic letter from me tomorrow if I am wrong, but I remember the noble Baroness saying that she did not think that I was invalidating the previous Act of Parliament, but that my intention was to undermine it. That was personal against me. I shall read Hansard and I promise a profuse apology if I misinterpreted the noble Baroness.
My motivation is that, just like medical professionals, the professionals involved in adoption have a strong belief on two grounds. One is practical, and is supported by evidence that my noble friend said does not exist. I have not chosen to engage that argument because it was lost when the decision was taken by Parliament to allow same-sex adoption. However, I invoked the other argument: that their religious beliefs are such that they would find it in all conscience difficult to engage in processing and/or assisting in same-sex adoption.
I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Richardson, and I are not usually on the same side, but I thank her for what she said because she introduced a different argument. It would be difficult for someone holding strong views who was well known in the authorityas indeed they were in Sefton Borough Councilto be assessed knowing that someone had a prejudice or a belief. We can argue about the words. They would not feel secure that they were being judged or assessed fairly. That is a powerful argument for which I am grateful.
It was not my intention to undermine the will of Parliament, but I oppose this level of intimidation against good, honest people; highly experienced social workers working in the interestsas they feelof children. They should not be discriminated against simply because of their belief. I wish to test the opinion of the House.
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
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