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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 4:45 pm on 16th May 2002.

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Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley Conservative, South Cambridgeshire 4:45 pm, 16th May 2002

The hon. Gentleman takes me precisely to my next point. Thus far I have agreed with the hon. Member for Wakefield, and my purpose in speaking is not least to say that, if the amendments tabled by Dr. Harris were to be passed, I would want to press amendment No. 24, which is designed to define unmarried couples for this purpose as a man and a woman living together. However, if the hon. Gentleman's amendment is not passed, and amendment No. 148 and the consequential amendments associated with it were passed, I would want to press amendment No. 158(a), which is designed to remove same-sex couples from the definition of couples for this purpose.

My understanding—you will correct me if I am wrong, Mr. Deputy Speaker—is that the Division on amendment No. 158 will take place not now but on Monday, but we must make the argument now. I hope that hon. Members will understand that we can debate same-sex couples today, but we shall have to vote on Monday. I hope that, on Monday, having indicated that they are prepared to allow unmarried couples to adopt, hon. Members will not, for the reasons that I have explained, extend that to same-sex couples.

Some of the arguments that I have presented are exactly the same as those that Stonewall has put to me. I have great respect for its arguments and we have had some interesting discussions, but we have not reached the same conclusions. Stonewall says that if a child is placed for adoption with a couple who happen to be of the same sex, why should not both partners in that relationship have a long-term, lasting legal relationship? My purpose in speaking to the amendment is not perhaps the same as that of my hon. Friend Mr. Walter, whose view may be shared by other Opposition Members. Their view is that they would not wish children to be placed for adoption with a gay person in a gay relationship. That does happen—I am working on the basis of what happens now. On Second Reading, I noted—I probably did not refer to it—that last year's October issue of Be My Parent illustrated, at length, precisely such a relationship: a lesbian couple who had adopted, over time, four children. I hope that that is successful; I cannot say anything more than was set out in that newspaper.

This is the issue: why should we go on to create, for gay couples, a legal relationship that would not apply in a natural birth family? As a consequence of allowing unmarried couples to adopt, we will create, as one would normally expect, a legal mother and a legal father. As a consequence of the hon. Member for Wakefield's amendment, were it not amended as I propose, we would create two legal mothers or two legal fathers. Some other parts of legislation work on the basis of parents, but I am not persuaded that we have yet reached the point at which all our legislation should treat all parenting as wholly non-gender-specific.

I accept that there is a degree to which the parenting skill often crosses gender. Some fathers are better at being mothers to their children and some mothers are better at being fathers. By and large, however, most of our legislation, although it may be written in terms of parenting, is understood in terms of the respective responsibilities of mothers and fathers. There tends to be an understanding of how parenting works in that relationship. We should consider very carefully whether to take the novel step of creating two legal mothers or two legal fathers, especially when the provision may be used more often to assist the lesbian partner of someone who has given birth to a child through donor insemination than it ever will be to assist gay couples to adopt children, who may often be older or severely disabled and for whom there is a significant lack of adoptive parents.