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4 Nov 2002 : Column 86—continued

7.45 pm

Kevin Brennan : I wish to pay tribute to many of the speeches made in this debate, not least those by my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Hinchliffe), by the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley), who made a thoughtful contribution, and by the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow), who like myself is short of stature but whose speech cast a long shadow across the Chamber. Worryingly for Labour Members, he perhaps defined a way forward for his own party's attitude to social issues.

I also wish to pay tribute to the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), who spoke from the Opposition Front Bench. I have been involved with the Bill from the beginning and have heard many of the eloquent contributions made by him. Today's was no exception. He made a good job of a bad case, unlike the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris), who did exactly the opposite in making a bad job of a good case. Indeed, the last time that we discussed the issue, he did equally well.

The Bill is not about political correctness. One has only to consider the names of hon. Members supporting the motions to disagree this evening to see that they are not soft southerners or Islington wine bar politically correct types. Indeed, it would be soft southerners and Islington wine bar types who would run a mile from the motions, because they would be worried about headlines in the Daily Mail. That is not the case. The names include my hon. Friends the Members for Wakefield, for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Dawson), for Sheffield, Heeley (Ms Munn) and for Stockton, South (Ms Taylor), who is not a northerner by birth but is Welsh and from the Rhondda valley. Even my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Jonathan Shaw) is a horny-handed son of toil who is able to entertain hon. Members with Kentish drinking songs. So this is not a matter of political correctness. In fact, it has everything to do with common sense.

As has been said many times in the debate, no one has the right to adopt. This debate is about doing what is right for the individual child, not for children in general. The weakness of the Opposition's arguments is that they focus on the child as an abstract concept, not on the individual child and his or her circumstances. The issue is one of common sense. We are not arguing that adoption by unmarried couples is the ideal, but it is wrong to make the ideal the enemy of the good when we are considering the interests of the child.

In pursuing change, we do not have to argue that unmarried people, whatever their sexuality, should be allowed to apply to adopt. They may already adopt—but as individuals. Indeed, they can foster as couples, but they are not allowed to adopt as couples. The opponents of the motion to disagree have not tried to amend the Bill to stop single people adopting. Therefore, their case must be that it is all right for a single person to adopt, even one who has a partner and is in a stable relationship, but it is not okay for a couple to adopt, even when they are assessed to be in a long-term, stable and loving relationship. That leaves the

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opponents of the motion to disagree with only a statistical argument about the rate of failure of unmarried couples' relationships, but they have no moral argument to make.

The statistics that opponents of the motion are advancing are deeply flawed, because they are not comparing the right samples. They are considering only the generality of statistics on unmarried couples. They are not looking at the unmarried couples who are putting themselves forward as adopters. They are not comparing the level of failure of relationships between unmarried couples and the number of children who are in institutional care. For some children, institutional care can be the right thing. From time to time, it may be right for certain children to be in care, but the overwhelming evidence is that it is better for them to be adopted.

I shall cut short my remarks because I know that other hon. Members want to speak and I want to be helpful to them. I have studied the debates in the House of Lords, and I believe that for some this argument is about the fear of a gay contagion, as if somehow it is possible for children who are adopted by unmarried or same-sex unmarried couples—such occurrences are very rare and will still be rare when the Bill is passed—to catch homosexuality from their adoptive parents. That is absurd, but it seems to be an underlying factor. It is impossible, of course, to catch homosexuality from parents, since, by definition, the parents of homosexuals are heterosexual.

Mr. Bryant : Mostly.

Kevin Brennan: For the most part, as my hon. Friend says. However, the fear of that happening is an underlying theme throughout this argument.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Buckingham on his courage and integrity in supporting the motion to disagree tonight and sacrificing so much in doing so.

Mr. Huw Edwards (Monmouth): He has not sacrificed much.

Kevin Brennan: Perhaps the hon. Gentleman has not sacrificed so much—I accept what my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. Edwards) says. The hon. Gentleman's attitude contrasts starkly with that of the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans), who speaks on Welsh affairs for the Conservative party. The hon. Gentleman has chosen to be on an oil rig in the middle of the North sea rather than face the prospect of trooping through the Division Lobbies with his party this evening.

It is incredible that in the 21st century, a so-called modern political party should seek to corral the individual consciences of its Members of Parliament in the way that the Conservative party has done tonight. It is not worthy of being called the nasty party, because that suggests that what its members do is based on an ideology or a Machiavellian plan to get back into power. Perhaps the remarks that I understand were made recently by the right hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. Mackay) in the 1922 committee about Gerald

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Ratner's description of his company might be a more suitable description of the Conservatives than the nasty party.

Andrew Selous : I support my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) in resisting the motion to disagree. I have listened with great interest to the speeches this evening. I do not dispute the motivation or sincerity of right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House who have spoken in support of the motion; I simply ask that they extend the same courtesy to me as I try to make my case.

I believe, as we all do, that adopted children deserve the very best possible environment. We are all united on that—there is no dispute between us. Clause 1(2) states:

We all agree on that. Then come the three words Xthroughout his life", and that is the aspect on which I wish to concentrate.

Labour Members have criticised the statistics, but I would like to come to the defence of the statistics. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) referred to Disraeli's dictum about lies, damned lies and statistics. However, we know that married couples are more likely to stay together than unmarried couples. We know that the average length of cohabitation is only two years. We know that 83 per cent. of cohabitations will break up within 10 years. I am sure that everybody—married couples, unmarried couples or same-sex couples— starts their relationship hoping that it will be permanent. No one enters a relationship hoping anything else. However, we know from the statistics and the evidence, which we are not here to dispute tonight, that married relationships provide the most permanent form of security, and that is what we are concerned about for adopted children. Of course unmarried and same-sex couples start out intending their relationship to be permanent but, sadly, that does not prove to be the case.

Mr. Michael Jabez Foster : The hon. Gentleman mentions statistics. Is it not the case that many cohabiting couples have no intention of remaining together and have no children to care for? It is therefore misleading to compare them with married couples, who may well have children and may want them.

Andrew Selous: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making that point. However, I think that my argument is backed up by the fact that cohabiting couples are, sadly, six and a half times more likely than married couples to split up after the birth of a child. I am concerned about permanence and continuing stability for these very damaged children. That is not to make any judgment about what people do in their private life. I do not believe that anyone in this country is a second-class citizen, as my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham seemed to imply some of us might believe. Parliament deciding who has the care of adopted children is different from private individuals making their own choices.

Ian Lucas (Wrexham): With respect, it is not Parliament that is making the decision in individual

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cases but the courts. Rather than referring to generalities, why does the hon. Gentleman not concede the power to the court to look at each case, make its own assessment in respect of each child and reach a considered decision? He is seeking to deprive the courts of that right.

Andrew Selous: We deal with generalities in this place. I dare say that some young children of 12 or 13 years old would be perfectly capable of driving a car or exercising positions of responsibility, but we do not allow them that right. There are many issues on which this House, quite properly, generalises.

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