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Baroness O'Cathain: My Lords, why does the noble and learned Lord believe that married couples will be favoured automatically? If the Government's wish prevailed and they were automatically favoured, surely that would be discriminatory against heterosexual couples cohabiting or homosexual couples of whichever gender.
Lord Lloyd of Berwick: My Lords, it is important that we should get away from any notion of discriminating in the case of a married couple, an unmarried couple or a homosexual couple because that is not what happens in practice.
Lord Lloyd of Berwick: My Lords, that is so because a large number of all adoptionsI cannot remember the exact percentageare heterosexual adoptions. That is bound to be so. However, I assure the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, that what we are concerned with is not a question of discrimination; it is a question of finding the right people to adopt the particular child in question.
My point is that the actual increase in homosexual adoptionand I see no reason why this should not be the casewill not be great. I cannot say minimal, but it will not be great because whole number is not great. That is the position and if we can put that question on one sideand I ask noble Lords particularly on the Conservative Benches to try to do thatthe question is: what is left?
What is left is the widening gap between those who are suitable to adopt, willing to adopt and able to adopt and those who are in need of adoption. There may be other ways of making a start in filling that gapand in this very Bill we are making a good start in filling that gapbut we will make an effective impact on that gap only if we take what I argue is the
On that aspect, I agree with every single word spoken by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, on the previous occasion. However, with great respect, I do not agree with what fell from the Bishops' Benches on that occasion. I have no idea how many new adoption orders will be made if we widen the pool to include heterosexual unmarried couples. I have no idea, but, despite what the right reverend Prelates say, if there were only one unmarried couple suitable, willing and able to adopt one child in need of adoption who would otherwise spend the rest of his childhood in a children's home, that child's need must come first.
Although it has been said often, I need to repeat the fact that this has nothing whatever to do with the rights of unmarried couples to adopt. It has nothing whatever to do with the rights of homosexual couples to adopt. I regret very much the timing of the report of the Human Rights Joint Committee which can only muddy the waters. I will say nothing whatever about the contents of that report because we are not concerned with human rights in any shape or form. We are concerned with human needs; the needs of children to spend the rest of their childhood, if at all possible, in a loving home of their own.
Finally, I will conclude by quoting the very wise words of Lord Kilbrandon in a case which came before this House in 1977. I am pleased to be able to say that my noble and learned friend Lord Wilberforce was a party to that decision, although it seems a long time ago. Lord Kilbrandon said:
Lord Jenkin of Roding: My Lords, we have heard three very powerful speeches, particularly those from the Front Bench. They starkly showed up the differences of opinion which divided the House when we last debated the matter on 16th October.
The Motion which I have tabled with the amendment attached rejects this all-or-nothing approach. Both my noble friend and the Minister referred frequently to unmarried couples, drawing no distinction whatever between couples which consist of a man and a woman and couples which consist of either two men or two women. My Amendment No. 26AC, with Amendment No. 26AD attached to it, makes it clear that I agree with everything the Minister
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, was honest with the House when he confessed that he had got one case wrong last time. I, too, got something wrong last time. When I rose to intervene in the closing speech of my noble friend Lord Howe I said that no noble Lord had supported my amendment and indicated that in those circumstances I would not feel it right to try to move it. I could not have been more wrong.
I was right about what was said in the debate; no speech was made in favour of my amendment. However, as a number of noble Lords may have observed during the Division on my noble friend's amendment, I wasand I use the word advisedlybesieged by noble Lords from all parts of the House expressing their dismay that I was not going to move my amendment. Some, I know, went into my noble friend's Lobby very much as second best. They would much rather have voted for an amendment as I then had it on the Marshalled List and as I have it now.
In the past two-and-a-half weeks since that date, many other noble Lords have indicated that my amendment would have their support. I have therefore been encouraged to re-table it and it appears on the Marshalled List as Amendment No. 26AD.
Last time it would have been open to me to move it, whatever the outcome of the first vote. I was not pre-empted. This time, due to the technicalities of the drafting of the Motionsnot the amendments but the Motionsto agree or disagree, if my noble friend's Motion is carried, I will be pre-empted. The House will not have an opportunity to vote on the amendments that I have tabled. If noble Lords want to vote "yes" to an unmarried man and woman couple but "no" to a same-sex couple, it will be necessary in the first instance that my noble friend's amendment be not carried. If it is carried, I will not have a chance to put that question and seek the opinion of the House.
What about the case? I will try to be brief because I know that many noble Lords want to speak. The case for widening the circle of prospective adopters to include unmarried couples is based, as the Minister made very clear, on three propositions. The first is the need to find more stable families willing to adopt the difficult, older children and reduce the numbers in local authority homes. The state is not a good parent and anyone who has studied the Waterhouse report will have to say "Hear, hear" to that.
The second reason is that we live in a period of great social change in the patterns of family life. Sadly, a rise in broken marriages and a rising divorce rate are features of life today. Equally, there are many more
It does not help, as some noble Lords have said, to quote overall figures for the short-lived nature of unmarried unions because they include a very large number of young people who may live together for a while before they get married or live together and then move to another partner. We know that this happens. As I said on the previous occasion, noble Lords will have come across this kind of situation within their own families.
The third reason emphasised by the Minister is that single people in informal relationships can and do adoptbut it must be desirable that a child should stand in a legal relationship with both an adoptive father and an adoptive mother. I stress those two words. Adding unmarried couples consisting of a man and a woman to the pool of adopters available will achieve that, and we should accept that proposition.
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