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4 Nov 2002 : Column 29—continued

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hinchliffe: No, I have given way several times, and many Members want to speak. I must make progress.

A great deal of reference was made to the Commons amendments being motivated by political correctness, and I addressed that point when we discussed the matter on Report. The Lords seem to have swallowed hook, line and sinker all the tabloid tales of so-called politically correct social work decisions in adoptions. I have looked at a number of those decisions and I have talked to directors of social services about particular examples that were brought to light by the tabloids. As those directors always say, confidentiality prevents agencies such as theirs from saying why particular applicants are turned down.

I give an example. Can the House imagine a director of social services telling The Sun, XNo, Mr. X was turned down not as a Tory-voting smoker, but because medical reports from his GP show that he is being treated at a local genito-urinary medicine clinic for syphilis, which was picked up in his relationships with various sexual partners, unknown to his wife."?

That is the sort of stuff that occasionally emerges. Then we read in the tabloids that a person was turned down because he or she was a smoker, was too fat or was a Tory voter. We read all these stories, and sadly we may not be able to establish the truth; but it is not often to do with political correctness. Sound reasoning lies behind some of the decisions. I suspect that their lordships have fundamentally misunderstood the difficulties that may be involved in defending those decisions.

4 pm

Mr. Brady: The hon. Gentleman made a distinction between a succession of transient live-in boyfriends and a long-term cohabiting couple. Would he care to go a

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little further, and say when he thinks a relationship should be deemed long-term? That is not in the amendments.

Mr. Hinchliffe: The Department of Health has issued fairly detailed guidance. XTwo years" comes to mind, although the Minister is more familiar with the guidelines than I am. There is certainly a clear requirement in relation to the stability and longevity of relationships, which is why I believe that the existing system is strong enough to ensure that the amendments will work and will benefit children.

Another theme that came over loud and clear in the House of Lords was the suggestion that the House of Commons was engaging in social engineering in relation to gay relationships and unmarried partners. On 16 October, one peer said that my amendment would

Who is involved in social engineering? Should it not be the child about whom we are concerned? It seems to me that the House of Lords was focusing on the adoptive applicants rather than the children and their rights.

Their lordships also feared that our amendments would undermine Church-based adoption agencies. I was interested by what my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, South (Ms Taylor) said about the Catholic Society in support of the amendments.

Liz Blackman (Erewash): After the Nottinghamshire Catholic Society sent its letter, it gave evidence to the Select Committee; I think my hon. Friend was present. The woman giving evidence said that the society was actively reviewing the issue. It has clearly completed its review, as it has now stated that it does not think that the Bill ought to remain in its present state—as amended by the Lords—and that it should recognise the paramouncy of the needs of the children.

Mr. Hinchliffe: I recall that evidence. The Committee on which we both served heard significant evidence from other agencies suggesting that the Bill should be amended. There was broad support for the Bill, but there was concern about the whole issue of unmarried applicants.

I felt that the Lords failed completely to take seriously the welfare principle underpinning the Bill. That principle is, I think, the key to an understanding of why so many of us feel that our amendment must be restored. Their lordships presumably had other preoccupations; they did not appear to recognise that if their proposal were accepted, the best interests of a certain number of children—I will not say a significant number, but a certain number—would not be fulfilled.

I wonder how many of their lordships sat down with children in the care system and asked their views. I have done that, as have several other Members who are present now. Those children fully support the opportunities that would be given to them, and to many other children in care in the future, by our amendment.

Mr. Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon): The founding principle of the Bill is that the child should be of paramount importance in the adoption process—not the parents or the adoptive parents, be they married, not

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married, heterosexual or, indeed, homosexual. I believe that the proposals to allow adoption by unmarried parents give the wrong answer to the basic question of how we can ensure that more children in need of adoption are adopted.

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff, West): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Djanogly: No, I am not going to give way yet. I shall give way later.

There are more than 50,000 children in care in our country. The problem is not the type of person who can adopt, but our culture of adoption. It is a question not of discrimination against unmarried couples, be they opposite or, indeed, same sex, but of what is best for the child. What will give the child the best chance in the society of today—not the society of the future or the society that some hon. Members would like to see—in which the child will be brought up?

Michael Fabricant: Is my hon. Friend aware that today more than half of all couples under the age of 40 who live together are—rightly or wrongly—not married?

Mr. Djanogly: I appreciate that, but the incidence of adoption by such people is relatively small. Is the family with married parents still the most appropriate?

Jonathan Shaw: The hon. Gentleman mentions the evidence that was put before the Special Standing Committee, of which he and I were both members. Of the 30 organisations that presented evidence, 29 approved of the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Hinchliffe). What evidence does the hon. Gentleman want? Is that not enough?

Mr. Djanogly: I am sure that all hon. Members present have received an enormous amount of documentation from any number of organisations that maintains that marriage is the best state for adoptive parents. However, I do not necessarily take the advice of professionals working in adoption as the be all and end all of what is right for society as a whole.

From my experience, I admit that sometimes personal circumstances—perhaps if a strong foster or other relationship already exists—can mean that it is correct that a person, whether single or gay, or an unmarried couple, should be entitled to adopt. That is what the existing law allows.

Ms Munn : The present adoption law does not entitle anybody to adopt: it entitles people to apply to adopt. The whole point is the need for a rigorous process to ensure that people are fit to be adoptive parents, regardless of their marital status.

Mr. Djanogly: The hon. Lady has hit on one of the problems with the system and I shall return to it later.

Some 95 per cent. of adopted children are placed with married couples, because of the way in which the law operates at present. We need to appreciate that the vast majority of adopted children are not adopted as babies.

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Even if it were acceptable that non-marrieds should regularly be able to adopt—which I do not accept—most adopted children will know, by reason of their age, that children normally have parents who are married and not of the same sex. Indeed, only 0.1 per cent. of households are same-sex households.

Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon): The hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) made the point that half of all young couples are not married. Is the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Djanogly) saying that in some way they are weird and that their children should be considered abnormal?

Mr. Djanogly: I certainly am not, and for the hon. Gentleman to make that suggestion is outrageous. [Interruption.] Indeed, it is weird.

Encouragement of non-married adoption will, according to many surveys that right hon. and hon. Members have received, increase the instability of an adopted child and create a stigma.

Mr. Hilton Dawson (Lancaster and Wyre): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Djanogly: No, I am going to move on.

Surveys have proved that in such cases children will often keep the identity of their parents a secret, both at school and from their peers. Furthermore, as has been mentioned, couples who cohabit out of marriage are statistically almost twice as likely to separate as those who are married.

We must appreciate that different parts of the country will or may have different attitudes. That is reflected in the current system, in which most adoptions take place through local authorities. That means that elected, accountable representatives can dictate policy in the area of adoption.

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