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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 5:30 pm on 16th May 2002.

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Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Spokesperson (Health) 5:30 pm, 16th May 2002

I said that I wanted to make some progress.

We are now told that the Liberals were not due to be whipped to be here at all on Monday. They are interested only in the gay rights agenda as part of the Bill, which is disgraceful.

It is interesting that the BBC, which has been ringing round the expert adoption agencies asking specifically how many complaints they have received from unmarried couples who find that they are unable to adopt jointly, was rather surprised when it reached about the seventh of those adoption agencies to be told that it had not had any complaints about unmarried adoption, to which the BBC said that, funnily enough, nor had anybody else. That follows the findings in the Government's 2000 White Paper "Adoption: A New Approach" which listed the 10 main problems to overcome to improve adoption, including delays in the system, inconsistencies in the law and insufficient social worker training, but no mention of the marital status or otherwise of prospective adopters.

Despite this interesting debate, we shall urge hon. Members on both sides to vote against the amendments and to maintain the status quo, because this issue is a sideshow compared with the real concerns of promoting and improving adoption. All the research, all the statistics and all the sociological evidence show that a family that contains a married couple offers the best chance of providing a long-term stable environment for children in need of adoption.

Many may argue that long-term stable environments can also be offered by unmarried couples, whether of the opposite sex or the same sex. I am not arguing against that point here. But no one can refute the evidence that shows that married couples offer the best chances, in most cases by a long measure. Of course, it is not exclusively so and many problems still happen within those married families, as Mr. Hinchliffe and others have mentioned. But overall the record is much better.

Let me quote something.

"Children in my judgment, and I think it's the judgment of almost everyone including single parents, are best brought up where you have two natural parents in a stable relationship. There's no question about that. What we know from the evidence is that, generally speaking, that stability is more likely to occur where the parents are married than where they're not."

Those were the words of the Foreign Secretary when he was Home Secretary in 1998. I quote:

"Marriage is still the surest foundation for raising children and remains the choice of the majority of people in Britain."

That is from the Government's 1998 Green Paper.

I quote:

"The adoption law review, when considering this issue, concluded that joint adoption should remain limited to married couples on the grounds that adoption by a married couple was more likely to provide the stability and security that the child needed because married couples have made a joint, publicly recognised, legal commitment to each other. In addition, marriage provides for mutual legal and financial obligations, and importantly in the event of divorce, the couple must be prepared to have plans for the future of their children scrutinised by the courts. There is no provision in law to protect the child's interests when unmarried couples separate."

Those were the words of the Minister herself. Currently, 95 per cent. of adoptions are by married people. Seventy per cent. of children born within marriage will live their entire childhood with both natural parents, compared with 36 per cent. of children born to non-married couples. According to the Office for National Statistics, children brought up by married couples are statistically far more likely to have better health, to do better at school, to have fewer behavioural problems and to be less likely to commit a criminal offence.