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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 will not.

By contrast, cohabiting couples are six times more likely to split up than married couples, and, as my right hon. Friend Miss Widdecombe said, more than half of cohabiting couples split up within five years of the birth of a child. They split up most often when they have children. The statistics go on and on. The figures show that gay relationships are more transitory still. Married couples offer by far the best long-term chances of stability, statistically and sociologically, and that is what we should be concentrating on. We must make it much easier and quicker for married couples to adopt, which is what the rest of the Bill is all about.

Marriage is on the increase. In 2000, there were 263,515 marriages. About 22 million marriages currently exist. So if we want to increase the current 3,000 adoptees by at least 50 per cent., as we all do, there is plenty of scope in the existing material, and we need to concentrate on why more such people are not coming forward or being approved as adopters.

All the amendments—apart from amendment No. 24, which is different—miss the point. They would open up adoption to any manner of pick-and-mix couples, including heterosexual cohabitees—even brother and sister—and same-sex couples, who have the worst record statistically.

New clause 2 also has serious technical problems. How do we define whether people are in a stable relationship? The amendments would create a mess. They would also send out the wrong signals to local authorities, which might present the courts with more unmarried couples instead of concentrating on maximising the availability of existing married couples, against whom there has been too much obstruction from the political correctness brigade in the past.

We are spending all this time discussing amendments that tackle the wrong problem. In any case, keeping the status quo means that single parent adoptions, which currently constitute 5 per cent. of all adoptions, can still continue. We are not seeking to change that situation. Unmarried couples wanting to adopt have the solution in their own hands—they can commit to each other in a long-term relationship by getting married. I quote:

"Why would a cohabiting couple not see—not necessarily in church, but under the law—defining their relationship in terms of a more public, legal contract as being a precursor to actually adopting a child?"

Those are the words of Caroline Flint.

No one has a right to adopt, but every abandoned child or child in care has a right to get a second chance of a stable and loving upbringing. Yet I fear that too many Members here today who are interested in this part of the Bill are in danger of putting the interests of adults ahead of those of children. I fear that this part of the Bill is in danger of being manipulated to serve a different agenda that is all about the wishes of adults. I invite all hon. Members to join us in the Lobby to vote against all the amendments that open up adoption without qualification and to put the interests of children first. I invite the Liberals in particular to put aside their whipped agenda for gay rights and to concentrate on what is best for children by voting with us.

To do so is not to be anti-gay or pro-marriage—for marriage is safe—but to be for the best interests of children. I ask hon. Members to put aside political agendas, moral crusades and issues of equal opportunity, deserving as those may be in a different context. The only equal rights that we should be concerned with in the context of the Bill are those of damaged children to a second chance of a stable and loving upbringing. That is best achieved by keeping the status quo and considering all the other ways of improving and expanding the whole adoption system, which is what the rest of this large Bill is intended to do. We should be getting on with that.