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Clause 41 — Child to live with adopters before application

Part of Orders of the Day — Adoption and Children Bill — [2nd Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 4:30 pm on 16th May 2002.

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Photo of Mr David Hinchliffe Mr David Hinchliffe Labour, Wakefield 4:30 pm, 16th May 2002

I cannot give an answer on individual cases. However, I know that BAAF and other organisations have had significant inquiries from unmarried couples. The information sent to all right hon. and hon. Members shows that during national adoption week in 1999, 10 per cent. of the inquiries received came from people who were unmarried and were actively considering adoption.

The figures discussed in Committee showing how many people cohabit rather than marry nowadays are worthy of note, too. I do not defend those figures—I have made my position clear—but the general household survey shows that in 2000, 11 per cent. of men and 12 per cent. of women between 16 and 59 were cohabiting, and 30 per cent. of women aged 18 to 49. I am told that according to the projections, in 20 years' time—no doubt this legislation will still apply then, because I suspect that, as has already been said, it will be 25 years before there is another Adoption Act, so we need to get it right—the figure for cohabiting couples will be 20 per cent., and may even be higher. Personally, I hope that marriage becomes fashionable—and under Labour, that may happen.

I want to emphasise the need for the thorough assessment that already takes place with regard to stability and long-term relationships. I believe that that can be delivered by the amended Bill and by regulation.

I have a lot of respect for the hon. Gentlemen who put their names to amendment (a) to amendment No. 158. I worked with them on the Health Committee, and I know their deep commitment to child welfare. However, I urge the House to oppose amendment (a). Sadly, the media interest in this debate has focused on the red herring of same-sex adoptions. Frankly, such arrangements are not my central purpose, but I believe that it could be in the interests of a particular child to be adopted by a same-sex couple, so that should not be ruled out.

I say that on the basis of the experience that I had in the late 1970s of approving, as de facto foster parents for a particular child, a lesbian couple. I had reservations and Leeds authority, which I worked for and which was in Conservative hands at the time, had very serious reservations. The decision on that placement went to the Conservative chair of the social services committee, and she agreed that the proposal was in the best interests of that child. The lady concerned is still around, and she will confirm what I say. I understand that the child was subsequently adopted by one of the women involved.

I appeal to right hon. and hon. Members to remember that we are here to deal with the best interests of the child, and those should be paramount in this debate.