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Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, I too have something to do with the matter. I shall not take much time, because I agree with everything the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, said, especially that the amendment seeks to chip away at the clear decision by the House in which I supported the Government and was opposed by my noble friend Lady Blatch. It was one of the toughest fights in which I have been involved, but we made it and it became an Act of Parliament. To come back here and chip away at the decision of both Houses by such an amendment is not playing the game. I oppose it.
Lord Marsh: My Lords, one of the problems of these debates is that we all know perfectly well that most of us could go around the Chamber and work out exactly who is going to go through which Lobby; none the less we go through the debate out of politeness. Not only do we know which way through the Lobby noble Lords will go, but we could precis all the speeches that will be made on each subject.
There is a pattern, an irreconcilable division. Some believe, for religious reasons, or what they call moral reasonsby which they mean their moral reasonsthat people should not be allowed to adopt children if they are homosexual. There are many arguments against this but the key issue is that everyone involved in the placing of children believes that it would be a disastrous decision because, although some people go away from the debate with a glow of satisfaction, a large number of children would fail to be placed with a loving couple.
The other issue that arises time and time again is that people who live together as opposed to having a formal marriage are somehow a sub-species. Yet the House has to recognise that a large and growing number of people, for different reasons, choose not to get married. For two and a half years my wife-to-be and I lived together because we regarded marriage as an important step that we did not want to take lightly. When we eventually did, it was primarily at the insistence of our accountants.
We do not all have the same religious beliefs and it is arrogant to seek to impose one's belief on people who do not share it on the simple grounds that, "I am right and you are wrong". I find it a sad situation that there is such intolerance of other people's opinions on these issues that many of us define as private matters for personal opinion.
Baroness Massey of Darwen: My Lords, I rise to say a few words about the needs of children being paramount as expressed in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Children Act. I declare an
As noble Lords have said, last autumn we debated the issue of unmarried and same-sex couples in adoption and agreed that it was right in the best interests of the child. I recall a great deal of evidence being considered during the debates and a well thought-out decision being made with the welfare of children at its heart. To attempt to go back on that decision is retrospective. I oppose the amendment.
Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I agree with almost everything in the last raft of speeches. The amendment is against the background of a recent decision. We have heard of the large numbers of children in care. I add to that the difficulty that social services departments have in struggling to cope with a variety of clients' needs. In the South East one might almost say that they are at crisis point. I wonder about the management of the organisation if there were an opportunity to opt out of certain matters on this basis.
I hope that good management in a social services department, as anywhere, would mean that people were directed to their skills being used for what they are best at. A social worker with an objection to a particular matter might not be so good at it. I am not suggesting that that would be deliberate, but it is human nature.
At the last stage I asked the noble Baroness if a social worker with a problem of conscience over the issue could work in adoption at all because by definition they would have to consider the whole pool of potential adopters. I cannot equate the matter with abortion. I have been trying to work out why not. One of the reasons is that abortion is a discrete procedure with many matters surrounding it other than the medical procedure. In the case of a child seeking placement one needs to consider all the child's needs.
Lord Rooker: My Lords, we have just heard six speeches in 11 minutes, so I will be as commendably brief in responding to the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, and the right reverend Prelate, the Bishop of Winchester. It seeks to ensure that no person working for, or on behalf of, a local authority shall be under any duty, whether by contract or statutory or other legal requirement, to participate in adoption placements or processing adoption applications to which they have a conscientious objection.
That 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 those adoption applications.
As noble Lords have said, 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, it has long been possible for a person in an unmarried relationship to apply to adopt as a single person.
Therefore, the Adoption and Children Act does not raise any fundamental new issues, and thus we do not believe that there is any need whatever to make special provision in terms of "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 gives a child adopted by an unmarried couple the permanence and security of having two parents.
Essentially, the proposed new clause raises an employment issue because it relates wholly to the adults concerned. As I suggested in Grand Committee, these matters are being more suitably addressed by the Employment Equality (Religion and Belief) Regulations 2003, which were approved by both Houses of Parliament on 17th June. Those regulations, when made, will prohibit discrimination in employment and vocational training on the grounds of religion or belief.
Local authorities have a clear duty to maintain an adoption service in their area that meets the needs of those who may adopt a child. That includes unmarried couples and individuals who are in fact part of a couple. The proposed new clause would make it more difficult for local authorities to meet their duties and could well lead to delays in the assessment of prospective adopters who are able to meet the needs of the children waiting for adoption. 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.
The comparison drawn at the Grand Committee stage with conscientious objection to abortion is wholly 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 a matter of judgmental attitudes towards other people's lifestyles and personal choices, which, in the current times, seems entirely inappropriate. Therefore, I invite the noble Baroness, on her own behalf and on that of the right reverend Prelate, to withdraw the amendment.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I am grateful for the full answer given by the Minister. My amendment does not cut across what Parliament has decided. Parliament has made a decision, and that is that. In the case of abortion, Parliament decided; and in the case of religious education, Parliament decided. No doctor loses his job simply because he will not take part in the abortion process, and no teacher loses his job if he will
The issue is simple: it is whether a professional should be refused employment on the ground of his conscientious belief. He is not imposing that belief on anyone else; he is simply saying that he does not wish to do something. He is not even arguing against the legislationthe legislation is what the legislation is.
But the logical conclusion that I draw from all that has been said in the debate is that, frankly, a professional who wishes to be involved in the adoption processes for all the right reasonsthat is, because he believes it is in the interests of the childshould be refused employment if he cannot accept that children should be placed in families other than those where the parents are married. That is the logic and, if the Government are really honest, that is the law that they should pass if that is what they mean. However, I should prefer to fight for Dawn Jackson and Nora Ellis, who have been hounded out of their jobs on those grounds. I consider that to be objectionable. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.