Fiona Hyslop highlighted the cross-party support for the position taken at stage 1 that there is no need to insert in the bill the provision that amendment 86 proposes, given that faith-based agencies will be able to continue to operate in the way that they do at present. At stage 1, it was suggested that there was such a legal opt-out in the equivalent legislation in England and Wales, but that is not the case. Neither the Adoption and Children Act 2002 nor the associated subordinate legislation contains any such opt-out. No one has presented evidence to suggest that faith-based adoption agencies in England and Wales have any difficulty operating within that legislative framework, so I do not see why they would have any difficulty working under the proposed Scottish framework. There is no need for amendment 86 to protect the position of faith-based organisations.
We have to address the issue of discrimination. The guiding principles of the Parliament require us to recognise the need to promote equal opportunities for all. If we want to be true to our responsibilities, we must reject amendment 86. Should we put in the bill a provision that says that it is okay to discriminate? Margaret Smith referred to the grounds on which it would be possible to assess a person as a prospective adopter. It would not be acceptable to discriminate on the grounds of race or disability—that would cause an uproar—but, apparently, it is okay to discriminate on the ground of sexual orientation. The proposed provision says, in effect, that the judgment of an adoption agency about who is suitable to adopt can be made on grounds that have nothing to do with whether they would provide a secure, safe and loving home for a child.
The bill will not prevent faith-based adoption agencies from continuing to operate according to their own faith-based criteria, but we should not put in the bill a provision that gives them a specific right to discriminate.