Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:52 pm on 29th March 2007.

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Photo of Lord Campbell of Alloway Lord Campbell of Alloway Conservative 2:52 pm, 29th March 2007

My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, who has brought the UNICEF debate on the well-being of children right back home, into our own backyard. In that context, I propose to follow him with the question of adoption and to treat it with reason, as distinct from faith.

The reasoning is that which was before your Lordships on 21 March. It was in the conclusions of a most reverend Primate, two right reverend Prelates, my noble friend Lord Pilkington—a man of the cloth—the noble Lords, Lord Anderson and Lord Browne, and many others. That reasoning was the basis of their objection to the regulations, which were, first, misunderstood in argument and, secondly, not justified. They were in effect ill conceived in law and would probably be read down by our courts if one sought to enforce them.

The point made and taken so well by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham was: what is needed by the child? He said that in any sort of family there was love, support, fair treatment, and so forth. It does not appear to have been appreciated, as was said by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, on 21 March, that the courts routinely give adoption orders in favour of homosexuals where the circumstances of the case warrant it. That is because it is the accepted rule that the interests of the child are paramount, not the interests of the adopters. The situation referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, was a classic example of where the courts make the order, have made the order and will continue to make the order. The reason might be that the child could not cope with an ordinary family relationship or, to put it the other way, the family relationship would be broken up by the state of the child. In either of those circumstances and many others, the order is made.

Why should there be any justification for discrimination against the Catholic agencies? The whole process of adoption is perfectly sound. The application for an adoption order is afforded to anyone, rich or poor, of whatever faith—or none—ethnic origin or sexual orientation. It comes before a court, which is a lay tribunal, and is subject to appeal.

The adopters are assisted by the adoption agencies, but there is a total service for homosexual couples. If they cannot go to an agency direct, as we have heard from my noble friend Lady Morris, they are transferred. The point is that the services are available. So if they are available and are satisfactorily rendered—and nobody has said they are not—what is the justification for this discrimination?

If this matter were to come before our courts, it could well be read down because it failed to take due account of the balance of the relevant articles of the ECHR and constituted unjustified means to an unacceptable end. In those circumstances, it would be a good idea if reconsideration were given to the way in which these matters were dealt with on 21 March.