Section 31 — Adoption by certain couples

Adoption and Children (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3 – in the Scottish Parliament at 10:45 am on 7th December 2006.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour 10:45 am, 7th December 2006

Group 6 is on adoption by same-sex couples. Amendment 94, in the name of Roseanna Cunningham, is grouped with amendments 95 to 98.

Photo of Roseanna Cunningham Roseanna Cunningham Scottish National Party

I echo what Karen Gillon said—that there is no such thing as an absolute right to adopt for anyone, no matter what their circumstances are. Many heterosexual couples and single people are turned down for a wide variety of reasons. I presume that, if the bill is passed unamended, many same-sex couples will also be refused, for a wide variety of reasons.

Much of the debate that has raged over the past week has been based on the premise that this is something to do with gay rights. It is not. I do not believe that it has anything to do with gay rights. It is about what is in the best interests of the children—although, clearly, there is a difference of opinion as to what that might be. Is that difference of opinion not to be reflected in the chamber? The truth is that including same-sex couples in the category of those who can apply to adopt gives many people serious cause for concern. Indeed, if the results of the Executive's consultation exercise are an accurate reflection of the view in the country, that must include a majority of Scots.

I share those concerns, and I said so during the stage 1 debate on 13 September. I know that that came as something of a shock to people, as I do not suppose that I was ever in the category of the usual suspects. However, because I did not feel that what the bill proposed was right, I had a choice to make. I could have said nothing. Some people have suggested that that is what I should have done. That would certainly have been the easy way out. However, I believe that families matter. It is society's networks of families that are its strength—I assume that that is a given. The traditional family pattern is still what prevails throughout society in Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas. It is under stress, to be sure, but it still provides the basis for the upbringing of the vast majority of children, and society is the poorer when it breaks down, as we frequently debate in the chamber under different headings.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

I do not think that any of us would disagree with the member's assertion that we should protect the great majority of children; however, we should also protect the minority. Her amendments do not prevent children from being brought up by same-sex parents, as has always been the case—there have always been same-sex parents—but they remove the legal protection of both parents when the child has been adopted. Why is that the right way in which to protect that minority?

Photo of Roseanna Cunningham Roseanna Cunningham Scottish National Party

The amendments do not remove any existing protection; they simply reinstate the current scenario, to which I understand that the member objects.

In the early stages of the bill, the Education Committee noted that there was little evidence, one way or the other, in respect of same-sex adoption because of the lack of available research. It took that to mean that there should be no bar on same-sex adoption. I take it to mean that we should tread cautiously. Frankly, I feel reinforced in that view when even the Institute for Public Policy Research—not known for its right-wing approach on issues—has recently made it clear that all the evidence shows that

"children who grow up in an 'intact, two-parent family' with both biological parents do better on a wide range of outcomes" than those who do not. A Child Trends research brief from 2002, which may be where some of the IPPR's information comes from, summarises the position as follows:

"research clearly demonstrates that family structure matters for children, and the family structure that helps children the most is a family headed by two biological parents in a low-conflict marriage."

Those may be challenging assertions for some people but, frankly, if that is where the evidence takes us, I have to ask the question: do not children who are placed for adoption have the same right as those who have not lost their parents to have the chance to be taken into a family that accords with the traditional form?

Photo of Iain Smith Iain Smith Liberal Democrat

I am slightly confused by the logic of Roseanna Cunningham's argument, which appears to be that even if parents abuse their child or cannot cope with bringing up their child because they have drugs problems, they should stay with that child because they are the biological parents, and the child should not be taken away to be adopted by parents who would be safer.

Photo of Roseanna Cunningham Roseanna Cunningham Scottish National Party

I say with the greatest respect to Iain Smith that that is not the logic of my argument. He is arguing on the basis of false comparisons. We can all trade worst-case scenarios. I am trying to argue for the best case.

We already know that age limits apply to adoption and fostering. Perhaps that is age discrimination, but I presume that we set those limits on the basis of what we believe to be in the child's best interests. That is all that I am concerned about.

The language that I have used is deliberate, because I do not believe that people must believe in God to be persuaded by hundreds of thousands of years of human biology. We are what we are. I am heartened by the many messages of support that I have received. I note from The Scotsman yesterday that that includes support from no less than Professor John Haldane.

Photo of Roseanna Cunningham Roseanna Cunningham Scottish National Party

My colleague Linda Fabiani says, "Who is he?" She knows perfectly well who he is.

I do not expect everyone to agree with what I have said; I am simply doing what I believe to be the right thing.

I move amendment 94.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

I wish to call a considerable number of back benchers but I may not be able to call them all. Each speaker has a tight two minutes.

Photo of Jackie Baillie Jackie Baillie Labour

I speak against Roseanna Cunningham's amendments 94 to 98. Like many members, I have thought long and hard about the issue. It is important to set the discussion in context. Karen Gillon was right to say that absolutely no one—whether heterosexual or homosexual—has an automatic right to adopt. Adoption—never mind fostering—is not decided overnight. A comprehensive and detailed assessment is made of a family's suitability in the context of the child's interests. The courts decide every case on the basis of what is in the best interests of the child, not the adopter.

That is the nub of the matter. Children are of paramount importance in the debate. We all acknowledge that children need stable and loving families. Without question, they deserve the best possible start in life. It is worth reflecting on the known outcomes for children who live in care, no matter how good that care is. Those children have lower educational achievements and poorer health than children of the same age and they are more likely to have experience of the criminal justice system. Children of all ages and stages of development need love and support. Knowing all that, I find it difficult to think that anyone honestly believes that creating inappropriate barriers to adoption is right.

Somebody who came to the debate cold would be forgiven for thinking that we were considering for the first time giving homosexual people the right to adopt. Fiona Hyslop is right—the bill is entirely about the rights of children and not those of anybody else. However, homosexual people have been able to adopt since the 1930s—almost 80 years ago—so that is nothing new. A large number of same-sex couples are parents and many have adopted, but in such cases, only one person is legally recognised as the parent. The bill will allow both parents to be so recognised.

I have examined the bill's sections again and again. They do no more or less than afford both parents the right to be recognised as parents. They do not confer new rights to adopt, diminish the fact that the child's interests are of paramount importance or replace the detailed and comprehensive assessment of a family's suitability.

Photo of Jackie Baillie Jackie Baillie Labour

I urge the Parliament not to prevent any child from having the best possible start in life and I urge members to reject the amendments.

Photo of Margaret Smith Margaret Smith Liberal Democrat 11:00 am, 7th December 2006

I oppose the amendments in Roseanna Cunningham's name, which take us to the question that many have asked: what is the bill all about? It is about what is in the child's best interests and about providing children—many of whom are in care—with a safe, stable and loving family home. Set against that background, the amendments not only discriminate against gay couples, but are illogical and in children's worst interests.

The right of gay couples to adopt jointly is supported by the Parliament's Education Committee, the British Association for Adoption and Fostering, the Church of Scotland, Engender, children's charities such as Barnardo's, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender groups, the Equal Opportunities Commission and Unison. Some seek to portray the issue as being about the right of gay people to adopt. That might be the case if gay people had never been able to adopt but, as we have heard, that is not the case. The bill will simply extend to people the right to come forward as prospective parents as couples rather than individuals. The bill aims to expand the pool of prospective parents and to give children greater stability.

Today, I speak primarily as a mother of five children. I say on the record that I therefore have no intention whatever of using the bill myself.

Since the 1930s, the law has allowed single, unmarried and gay people to adopt children. In fact, couples are often assessed together, but only one partner can assume legal rights. People who put themselves forward to be adoptive parents know that they will be vetted strenuously—that is right—yet gay and single people have managed to adopt and no evidence suggests that they are anything other than loving parents.

The bill will help to clarify the situation so that a child can be adopted by both partners, unlike at present, when only one partner can become the legal adoptive parent. What happens when a parent dies or when a couple split up? Why add more trauma to a difficult time for a child by requiring the other partner to go to law to try to become a legal parent? Why continue to have households in which the state perpetuates unequal legal relationships between parents and their children?

Photo of Margaret Smith Margaret Smith Liberal Democrat

I hope that the Parliament will defeat the amendments overwhelmingly and send a clear message to Scotland's children that their welfare is our foremost concern. We want them to live in happy, stable and loving family homes in a tolerant and modern country in which discrimination of all kinds is tackled and defeated.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

The Scottish National Party rejects the amendments in Roseanna Cunningham's name and will vote against them, because they do not reflect the SNP's view. The debate must be about children's rights, not about adults' values. As Karen Gillon said, the debate is in danger of becoming a debate about values and about what adults think of other adults, when it should be about what is in the child's best interests.

I agree with Paul Martin, because I think that enduring family relationships and stable family units provide the best way to ensure continuing stability for children. That is right, but we did not need Paul Martin's amendment. We acknowledge that couples can provide an enduring family relationship. As Margaret Smith said, we must ensure legal stability if one member of a couple dies, so that children who are affected have a parent who can continue the enduring family relationship and the family unit. Precisely for the reasons that Paul Martin gave, we must ensure that same-sex couples can adopt as couples and not just as individuals.

We must reflect on the fact that we live in a world in which people are not queueing to adopt or to foster. People who wish to adopt or foster are valuable individuals and we must encourage, in a fair way, more people to adopt or foster.

I want a Scotland in which children's rights are paramount. I do not want to hear about the old arguments and the old ways of Scotland. I want a new, modern and progressive Scotland. Sometimes, it is easy to be popular and more difficult to be right. Let us be right.

Photo of Lord James Selkirk Lord James Selkirk Conservative

What I will say is exactly what I said when I took the Children (Scotland) Bill through the House of Commons: the child's interests must be paramount. Roseanna Cunningham's amendments are far too discriminatory. I will give just one example. In a close-knit family, if the father and mother were killed in a tragedy or a car smash, would it be right or appropriate to discriminate against the devoted uncle who happened to have a gay partner? It would not be, because the uncle and his partner might be the best people to act in place of the parents.

A blanket discriminatory ban is not in keeping with the spirit of the 21st century. No legislative bar should prevent social work professionals on the ground and experts in court from allowing the best and most suitable adoptions to proceed. I personally oppose the amendments.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

I am pleased that members from across the political spectrum are speaking against the amendments and labelling the amendments clearly as prejudiced. Prejudice is wrong not only because it is nasty and hurtful. It is wrong to prejudge same-sex couples as inadequate parents not only because it insults them, but because it removes the possibility of making the right decision in the circumstances when they are appropriate and worthy couples to be adoptive parents. The amendments are wrong in principle and in practice.

To read some of what has been said in correspondence that we have received and the coverage of the subject in the media, one might almost imagine that a gang of adoption agencies was going round knocking on the doors of every same-sex couple and billeting children with them at random. We are talking about making careful decisions about every couple and every applicant on their own terms. To allow joint adoption so that a person may become an adoptive parent with their partner is absolutely logical.

Some of the other nonsense that we heard in the media included phrases such as "against nature's design". That is obviously a religious argument and if one wants to make such an argument, one is perfectly entitled to, but nature does not have a design. In nature, sexual diversity is the norm everywhere—in all species, in all human societies at all times. Same-sex relationships have always existed; some same-sex couples have always been parents. We will do completely the wrong thing today if the chamber does not comprehensively reject the introduction of prejudice into the bill.

Photo of Scott Barrie Scott Barrie Labour

I, too, oppose the amendments in Roseanna Cunningham's name. The bill refers to the concept of enduring family relationships in numerous places and we have discussed that already. Before Roseanna Cunningham moved her amendments, she said that families matter. It is true that families matter, but they come in all shapes and sizes. As we pass the bill today, we have to recognise the Scotland of 2006 and not the Scotland of 1978, which was the last time that we had a major reform of our adoption law.

It is not the case, as other people have said, that single people cannot adopt; the difference is that they cannot adopt as part of a couple. If we are serious about giving young people the best opportunity in life to experience a stable family environment, it is important that people who live as a couple in a long-term relationship and who can provide that enduring family relationship are able to adopt as a couple. It should not be, as it is at the moment, that only one partner adopts and the other is just an added-on extra. That is the crux of the debate today—it is about providing young people with the best possible start and stable families. If that is what we want to achieve, we need to reject the amendments in Roseanna Cunningham's name.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

At this stage, I advise members that I am using my power under rule 9.8.4A of the standing orders to extend the debate on group 6 by half an hour. The debate requires to be concluded by 11.39 to incorporate the vote before question time.

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative

I congratulate Roseanna Cunningham on having the courage to stand up and say what she said today. We are debating a serious issue; we are talking about the future of our children and our society. It is right that there should be balance in the arguments that are presented in a place such as this. I believe firmly in her comments. In the light of the problems that we face in youth justice today, there is considered opinion that the best way to bring up children is in a heterosexual relationship. It is important that there is both a father and a mother influence and from that view I will not be dissuaded.

Patrick Harvie talked about prejudice, but the nastiness in the e-mails that I have received has been the opinion that everybody who is in favour of Roseanna Cunningham's amendments is some kind of religious bigot. I point out that in a chamber such as ours, religions of all persuasions have a place and should not be swept under the carpet or be something that is not to be spoken about.

I will vote in support of Roseanna Cunningham's amendments. Once again, I congratulate her on her courage in coming forward with her words and her amendments.

Photo of Elaine Murray Elaine Murray Labour

Although I recognise that it has probably taken a lot of courage for Roseanna Cunningham to lodge her amendments, I totally disagree with them. As others said, the Adoption of Children (Scotland) Act 1930 allowed single people to adopt whether they were in unmarried relationships and whatever their sexuality. Theoretically, those single adoptive parents could be involved in serial or multiple relationships with others. The bill extends the adoption process to include unmarried couples who are able to offer a child a stable, loving home with two people to love, support and continue to support them for the rest of their lives.

Most children who are adopted are not babies; they have come from difficult circumstances, they might suffer from disability, they might be vulnerable or they might have undergone terrific trauma. The opportunity to be involved in a caring, loving family where two people will love, support and protect a child's interests is a hell of an improvement for many of those children and might be something that they have never known. The fact that the adoptive parents might be an unmarried or a homosexual couple is far less important than the love and support that they are able to offer those children.

Photo of Iain Smith Iain Smith Liberal Democrat

I am saddened that we have to consider amendments 94 to 98, because the issues that they raise were thoroughly aired at stage 1 and roundly rejected by the Parliament when it approved the general principles of the bill.

It is important to state that the bill will not create a right for anyone to adopt; it removes certain restrictions on who can apply to jointly adopt a child. Every applicant to adopt will be required to go through the same stringent checks on their suitability, whether they are married, unmarried, a same-sex couple, in a civil partnership or a single person.

The ability of applicants to provide a safe, secure and loving home and to safeguard and promote the welfare of the child should and will be the determining factor of whether they can adopt. The bill is about the right of the child to have its life chances significantly enhanced and not about the rights of potential adopters.

As has been said, there is nothing in the present law that prevents a child from being adopted by a gay man or a lesbian in a long-term relationship. However, the current law prevents those partners adopting jointly and taking on jointly the responsibilities and rights of being adoptive parents, even if they already share those duties. The argument is about improving the rights of the adopted child in such circumstances. There might be problems if for some reason the adoptive parent is unavailable and his or her partner is unable to exercise parental responsibilities and rights. What happens if the adoptive parent dies? Is the child then to be taken away from the partner who the child considers to be just as much his or her parent as the adoptive parent was?

That situation was summed up by the Scottish children's commissioner, Kathleen Marshall, in her stage 1 evidence to the committee. She said that section 31 would help to clarify the existing situation as both partners would obtain legal status as adoptive parents. As both partners would have a legal relationship with the child, the child would benefit from the greater stability that that would bring and an enhanced level of security would result, as formal legal ties would exist between the child and both adults.

Once again, it is about the child and not the parents. Surely, if we believe that the rights of the child are paramount, it supersedes any other consideration. Any course other than to reject Roseanna Cunningham's amendments is just blind prejudice.

Photo of Linda Fabiani Linda Fabiani Scottish National Party

I decided to contribute today because of my concern about some of the letters and e-mails that I have received over the past week from people on both sides of the argument. They generally place the wrong emphasis on the issue. Indeed, in an awful lot of cases, they show no understanding of the current law. Some express views that might reflect their creed or morality and others feel strongly that we are dealing with an equalities issue. However, with the exception of a very few of the missives that I received, the main point has been missed, as other speakers mentioned. We are talking about children or young people who, for whatever reason, are not fortunate enough to live in a home that is neither institutional nor temporary and who may have to share attention and care with many others, even at the time in their lives when they most need that bit of extra individual attention. That happens despite the best efforts of those who care for young people in such circumstances—carers are drawn from all parts of society and walks of life and have varying beliefs and orientations, but their common ground in the majority of cases is commitment to those for whom they care.

If passed, amendments 94 to 98 would maintain the status quo instead of allowing a child to have two legal parents as part of a stable family relationship. As we heard from Iain Smith, two parents would offer a potential safeguard against any future disruption in the life of a child who might have suffered disruption enough.

I urge members to vote against the amendments, which I believe are clearly opposed to the best interests of the child.

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative 11:15 am, 7th December 2006

I wish to address not so much the substance of Roseanna Cunningham's amendments but the atmosphere of this morning's debate in the chamber and the wider debate that has taken place over the past week.

Whatever we think of these amendments, there is no doubt that Roseanna Cunningham has raised genuine concerns that are shared by many people. Many believe that children need male and female role models and they are concerned that adoption by same-sex couples excludes such a possibility and is simply not in children's best interests.

People who express such views are not homophobes, extremists or—as some suggest—religious nutters. They have genuine concerns that should not be dismissed with name calling and abuse. The point is that although such views might well be unpopular in the chamber, they reflect wider concerns throughout Scotland. We in the Parliament should take seriously and reflect on the views of people outside the chamber, even if we disagree with and subsequently dismiss them.

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

I am sorry; I do not have time.

I believe that we all want to live in a liberal and tolerant society; indeed, we have heard as much from different parts of the chamber. However, one old definition of a liberal is someone who allows all opinions to be heard, except those with which he disagrees. We are in danger of falling into that trap in this debate. The Parliament needs to be a bigger and better place than that and I commend Roseanna Cunningham for at least giving us the opportunity to debate these issues.

Photo of Ms Rosemary Byrne Ms Rosemary Byrne SG

I oppose this group of amendments. We are in danger of losing sight of the fact that, through the various stages of the bill, the principle that guided the Education Committee's work was the child's best interests. As many members have pointed out, under current legislation, a single person can already adopt a child. I cannot emphasise enough the point that, in agreeing to amendments 97 and 98, we will leave children in a vulnerable position, because there will be no arrangements to deal with them if, for example, a partner in a same-sex relationship dies. The bill takes the right approach and moves us forward.

The mainstay of the bill should be the provision of a loving and secure environment for children. The sexuality of and the nature of the relationship of those who adopt does not matter, as long as they can provide children with security and love. The provisions were unanimously accepted in the committee's stage 1 report and have been supported by many organisations, including BAAF Scotland and, as members have pointed out, various children's organisations.

If they are agreed to, these unhelpful amendments will introduce discriminatory provisions into the legislation. We should not be having a debate on whether people are being prejudiced against others. Instead, we should be having an open debate on how we can give these children the right future under the right circumstances. As members have pointed out, everyone who wants to adopt will be assessed to find out whether they are the right person. That should be all that is required.

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour

I oppose amendment 94, not because it is discriminatory per se but because it is not in the child's best interests and does not meet the challenge that we face.

I have always believed that the driving force behind the bill is to deal with the problem that too many of Scotland's children are in care and have no permanence or love in their lives. As step-parents and foster parents know, adopting or taking on other people's children is a huge commitment. I wish that it would happen, but the idea that huge numbers of lesbian and gay couples—or, indeed, other couples—will come forward to adopt because of the bill is simply a fallacy.

Couples are much more likely to have the resources and stamina that are required to take a child into a family. We should also remember that, in certain cases, more than one child might need to be adopted. However, the bill does not create any rights. Instead, it extends the eligibility of those who are suitable to adopt children to include unmarried and same-sex couples. Sexual orientation should not be a barrier to adoption and any decision must be based on the child's best interests.

Anyone who intends to adopt already undergoes a rigorous test that includes finding out who the role models are, what the extended family is like, and the durability of their relationship. If any same-sex or unmarried couples covered by the bill's provisions do not pass the existing test, they will not be allowed to adopt. I do not think that we are doing very much other than—rightly—extending eligibility. Such a move is in the interests of the 30,000 children who are in care and for whom we have a duty to provide a range of options.

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

I find myself opposing amendment 94 but in favour of amendment 96 which, after all, is in line with the principle of the stability of the family unit that was set out in amendment 84, in the name of Paul Martin, which the Parliament agreed to earlier. People who are married or who have entered into a civil partnership have made a legally binding commitment to one another, and I respect that. People who adopt a child are not acting as befrienders or foster carers. Instead, in becoming the child's parents, they are entering into legally binding commitments with the child. Why should we have adoption legislation in this country that allows people who are not prepared to make a legally binding commitment to each other to make a legally binding commitment to a child? That does not seem to be a rational way of promoting the stable family values that should lie behind any decision to allow a couple to adopt.

I urge members to vote against amendment 94 but to vote for amendment 96.

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

This has been a very good debate on one of the central issues that arose during the bill's consideration but which, I must point out, is not the bill's central purpose.

I have known Roseanna Cunningham for a number of years and profoundly respect her abilities, but I hope that she accepts that a number of members in the chamber profoundly disagree with her views. That said, she has done us a service in allowing us to debate the issue once again and, I hope, to reach some result. At the end of the day, the chamber is the premier forum for parliamentary debate and it is right that the issues should be raised here.

Amendments 94 to 98 seek to prevent same-sex couples from being eligible to adopt. However, they do not remove the possibility of individual homosexual and lesbian people applying to adopt, which can still happen under section 32. Although some of the amendments seek to narrow that provision, they do not change it. Paradoxically, if amendment 94 and the other amendments in the group were passed, people who had committed themselves to civil partnerships or who were in enduring relationships would be unable to adopt, whereas single people, people who perhaps might hide their situation or people who were in more incidental relationships would still be able to. Even the terms of these amendments contain an oddity.

Roseanna Cunningham's argument is very clear. It has nothing to do with testing the stability of relationships, nothing to do with finding out whether a relationship is enduring, nothing to do with the personal suitability of prospective adopters and nothing to do with what is in the child's best interests. It is all about dealing with a situation in which the proposed adopters are gay. The preference underlying the amendments is that rather than allowing children to be adopted by gay couples who are in a certified civil partnership, who have lived together faithfully for a number of years and who have decided to go through the rigorous adoption process—or even allowing them to be adopted by a gay individual—they should languish in residential institutions. As members have pointed out, the big issue behind the bill is to improve the lot of the many children who are born into difficult family situations. If Roseanna Cunningham has any qualms about gay couples adopting, I should point out that the logical consequence of her amendments is that children who live with same-sex couples should be removed from that situation. We have heard no evidence that suggests that there is any shade of support for either proposition.

Same-sex couples already raise adopted children. As a number of members have pointed out, having been assessed as part of a couple, one partner in that couple can adopt a child, while the other partner can apply for more limited parental rights and responsibilities.

The bill is about giving greater rights to children. By allowing such couples to adopt jointly, it will mean that children will have two adults with full parental responsibilities and rights to look after them. I take Lord James Douglas-Hamilton's point about the situation in which there is an accident and one parent is killed. The bill will provide more stability and support to children in such a position.

Homosexual and lesbian people already raise children—who are often their own biological children—with the same love and compassion as other parents. We should not discourage people who have given the decision to pursue adoption careful thought and who have gone through a lengthy and rigorous assessment process. After all, there is no magic ingredient to parenting. The skills and temperament that are required to raise a child come from a person's life experience, not from his or her sexual orientation. Children face many challenges as they grow up. Knowing that they have a family who loves and cares for them will be a bedrock for meeting those challenges.

As with all prospective adopters, same-sex prospective adopters will undergo a rigorous assessment process. It is right that not all applicants will be approved, regardless of their background. Many people come forward and some fail. Once they have been approved, prospective adopters must be matched with a child. A range of checks prevents an adoption order from being made when the child does not want to be adopted or when the prospective adopters are not suitable to raise that particular child. Any adoption order must be made by an independent court, on the basis of very full scrutiny and with advice from a curator ad litem who has been appointed specifically to protect the child's best interests.

The amendments raise European convention on human rights issues. Although there is no right to adopt, any provisions that seek to restrict people's ability to adopt fall broadly within the ambit of article 8 of ECHR, which provides a right to respect for private and family life.

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

In relation to that right, article 14, which prohibits discrimination on various grounds, comes into play. Unless there were objective justification for treating same-sex couples differently, doing so would amount to discrimination that breached the convention.

The central point is that the bill is about children and their rights and welfare. It is also partly about our ability as a society to remove children from a home environment that is profoundly damaging to them and to place them in a home where they will be valued, respected and encouraged and where they will thrive. It will provide a modernised framework for better assessing, supporting and approving or rejecting adoptive parents on grounds that boil down to ensuring that the best interests of the individual child are paramount. That is what inspires the whole bill. It is not about restricting the opportunities for children to be placed in a good home on general grounds, whereby certain types of family are de facto unsuitable. That would be discriminatory and, in modern Scotland, unacceptable. As we have heard, many of Roseanna Cunningham's SNP colleagues are distinctly uncomfortable with the amendments. I urge the Parliament to reject them and to do so overwhelmingly.

Photo of Roseanna Cunningham Roseanna Cunningham Scottish National Party

When I hear some members applaud my courage, if nothing else, I am sharply reminded of that famous "Yes Minister" sketch in which the politician's courage in pursuing a certain course of action is commended by civil servants who want to get the politician to do something else entirely. In today's debate, I have been told that I have courage by members on both sides of the argument.

At the outset, I said that these amendments were about my view of what is in the best interests of children. I am sorry that quite a lot of the debate—whether inside or outside the chamber—has not been about that. I believe that what I have proposed is in the best interests of children, although I accept that other people have different views. I notice that no one has referred directly to the evidence on what is in the best interests of children, which I quoted earlier.

This morning, I was told that about 60 per cent of adoptions break down. We are talking about situations that are highly unstable even as things stand. Throughout the debate, I have tried to keep my language and tone as calm and rational as possible. Notwithstanding the whispering campaign—or, in the case of Patrick Harvie, not so much a whispering campaign as a shouting campaign—the idea that somehow I am being a puppet for someone else is ridiculous. Anyone who examines my voting record on such matters will realise that that cannot be the case.

I said that some folk had suggested that I should have said nothing but, frankly, that is an extraordinary suggestion to make. First, as I have had occasion to say in connection with other bills, committees are not rubber stamps for Executive legislation, but neither is the Parliament a rubber stamp for committee deliberations. The fact that an issue has been dealt with in committee does not mean that there can be no debate on it in the Parliament as a whole.

Secondly, if the Parliament had had no debate on adoption by same-sex couples, we would have woefully misrepresented the views of voters, which cannot be right.

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative 11:30 am, 7th December 2006

The member will have noted the minister's reference to the ECHR and his lack of courage in failing to take an intervention on that topic. How many countries in Europe have adopted same-sex adoption practices?

Photo of Roseanna Cunningham Roseanna Cunningham Scottish National Party

I cannot answer Phil Gallie off the top of my head, but I know that only one or two other countries have done so. I do not know what debates are going on elsewhere.

I was talking about debate in the chamber. All of us need to remember that debate is only debate if there is more than one side of an argument. Many people inside and outside the Parliament have suggested that there should have been no debate about adoption by same-sex couples, but that would have been a ridiculous position in which to have found ourselves.

Thirdly, if we are not allowed to have such debates, that is tantamount to saying that the right of free speech does not apply—or, more to the point, that it applies only in circumstances in which people agree with one another's opinions.

Photo of Roseanna Cunningham Roseanna Cunningham Scottish National Party

I have to finish.

There are arguments for and against adoption by same-sex couples and I have some sympathy with what I have heard from some of the members who will not vote for my amendments. However, as I said at the outset, I was doing what I believed to be right. If I do not have the right to do what I believe to be right, what is the Parliament about?

I will conclude by reading from an e-mail that I received this morning from someone who wrote:

"I have two adopted children in their 20s, still coping with adoption issues. In adoption the interests of the children are paramount. They have to cope with rejection—starting when their chums taunt, 'That's not your real Mummy and Daddy.' Thank God mine don't also have to cope with their parental sexuality. I am comfortable with same sex legal partnerships—not my issue at all. But, just as adults over 38 are rejected as potential foster parents because the children would struggle with having older parents, so the interests of the child must rule out same-sex parents."

We already discriminate. All that I am saying is that I think that the rights of the children mean that we should not take the step that is proposed in the bill.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

The question is, that amendment 94 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members:

No.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

There will be a division.

While the vote is proceeding, I advise members that, in view of the number of extensions to individual time limits this morning, the Presiding Officers are likely, with the agreement of business managers, to be inclined to invite a motion from the floor this afternoon to extend the overall time available for today's business by 30 minutes, if necessary. That would mean that the debate on whether the bill be passed would start at around 4.30 pm, with decision time at 5.30 pm.

Division number 5

For: Adam, Brian, Aitken, Bill, Cunningham, Roseanna, Fraser, Murdo, Gallie, Phil, Matheson, Michael, Morrison, Mr Alasdair, Munro, John Farquhar
Against: Alexander, Ms Wendy, Arbuckle, Mr Andrew, Baillie, Jackie, Baird, Shiona, Baker, Richard, Ballance, Chris, Ballard, Mark, Barrie, Scott, Boyack, Sarah, Brankin, Rhona, Brown, Robert, Brownlee, Derek, Butler, Bill, Byrne, Ms Rosemary, Canavan, Dennis, Chisholm, Malcolm, Craigie, Cathie, Crawford, Bruce, Curran, Frances, Curran, Ms Margaret, Deacon, Susan, Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James, Eadie, Helen, Fabiani, Linda, Ferguson, Patricia, Finnie, Ross, Fox, Colin, Gibson, Rob, Gillon, Karen, Glen, Marlyn, Godman, Trish, Gordon, Mr Charlie, Gorrie, Donald, Grahame, Christine, Harper, Robin, Harvie, Patrick, Henry, Hugh, Home Robertson, John, Hughes, Janis, Hyslop, Fiona, Ingram, Mr Adam, Jackson, Dr Sylvia, Jackson, Gordon, Jamieson, Cathy, Jamieson, Margaret, Johnstone, Alex, Kerr, Mr Andy, Lamont, Johann, Livingstone, Marilyn, Lochhead, Richard, Lyon, George, MacAskill, Mr Kenny, Macdonald, Lewis, Macintosh, Mr Kenneth, Maclean, Kate, Macmillan, Maureen, Martin, Paul, Marwick, Tricia, Mather, Jim, Maxwell, Mr Stewart, May, Christine, McAveety, Mr Frank, McCabe, Mr Tom, McLetchie, David, McMahon, Michael, McNeil, Mr Duncan, McNeill, Pauline, McNulty, Des, Milne, Mrs Nanette, Morgan, Alasdair, Muldoon, Bristow, Mulligan, Mrs Mary, Murray, Dr Elaine, Neil, Alex, Peattie, Cathy, Petrie, Dave, Pringle, Mike, Purvis, Jeremy, Radcliffe, Nora, Robison, Shona, Robson, Euan, Rumbles, Mike, Ruskell, Mr Mark, Scott, Eleanor, Scott, Tavish, Sheridan, Tommy, Smith, Elaine, Smith, Iain, Smith, Margaret, Stephen, Nicol, Stevenson, Stewart, Stone, Mr Jamie, Sturgeon, Nicola, Swinney, Mr John, Turner, Dr Jean, Wallace, Mr Jim, Watt, Ms Maureen, Welsh, Mr Andrew, White, Ms Sandra, Whitefield, Karen, Wilson, Allan
Abstentions: Oldfather, Irene

Photo of George Reid George Reid None

The result of the division is: For 8, Against 101, Abstentions 1.

Amendment 94 disagreed to.

Amendment 95 moved—[Roseanna Cunningham].

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

The question is, that amendment 95 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members:

No.

Division number 6

For: Adam, Brian, Aitken, Bill, Cunningham, Roseanna, Fraser, Murdo, Gallie, Phil, Johnstone, Alex, Matheson, Michael, McLetchie, David, Milne, Mrs Nanette, Morrison, Mr Alasdair, Munro, John Farquhar
Against: Alexander, Ms Wendy, Arbuckle, Mr Andrew, Baillie, Jackie, Baird, Shiona, Baker, Richard, Ballance, Chris, Ballard, Mark, Barrie, Scott, Boyack, Sarah, Brankin, Rhona, Brown, Robert, Brownlee, Derek, Butler, Bill, Byrne, Ms Rosemary, Canavan, Dennis, Chisholm, Malcolm, Craigie, Cathie, Crawford, Bruce, Curran, Frances, Curran, Ms Margaret, Deacon, Susan, Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James, Eadie, Helen, Fabiani, Linda, Ferguson, Patricia, Finnie, Ross, Fox, Colin, Gibson, Rob, Gillon, Karen, Glen, Marlyn, Godman, Trish, Gordon, Mr Charlie, Gorrie, Donald, Grahame, Christine, Harper, Robin, Harvie, Patrick, Henry, Hugh, Home Robertson, John, Hughes, Janis, Hyslop, Fiona, Ingram, Mr Adam, Jackson, Dr Sylvia, Jackson, Gordon, Jamieson, Cathy, Jamieson, Margaret, Kerr, Mr Andy, Lamont, Johann, Livingstone, Marilyn, Lochhead, Richard, Lyon, George, MacAskill, Mr Kenny, Macdonald, Lewis, Macintosh, Mr Kenneth, Maclean, Kate, Macmillan, Maureen, Martin, Paul, Marwick, Tricia, Mather, Jim, Maxwell, Mr Stewart, May, Christine, McAveety, Mr Frank, McCabe, Mr Tom, McMahon, Michael, McNeil, Mr Duncan, McNeill, Pauline, McNulty, Des, Morgan, Alasdair, Muldoon, Bristow, Mulligan, Mrs Mary, Murray, Dr Elaine, Neil, Alex, Peattie, Cathy, Petrie, Dave, Pringle, Mike, Purvis, Jeremy, Radcliffe, Nora, Robison, Shona, Robson, Euan, Rumbles, Mike, Ruskell, Mr Mark, Scott, Eleanor, Scott, Tavish, Sheridan, Tommy, Smith, Elaine, Smith, Iain, Smith, Margaret, Stephen, Nicol, Stevenson, Stewart, Stone, Mr Jamie, Sturgeon, Nicola, Swinney, Mr John, Turner, Dr Jean, Wallace, Mr Jim, Watt, Ms Maureen, Welsh, Mr Andrew, White, Ms Sandra, Whitefield, Karen, Wilson, Allan
Abstentions: Oldfather, Irene

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

The result of the division is: For 11, Against 98, Abstentions 1.

Amendment 95 disagreed to.

Amendment 96 moved—[Roseanna Cunningham].

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

The question is, that amendment 96 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members:

No.

Division number 7

For: Adam, Brian, Aitken, Bill, Cunningham, Roseanna, Fraser, Murdo, Gallie, Phil, Gillon, Karen, Johnstone, Alex, Matheson, Michael, McLetchie, David, Milne, Mrs Nanette, Morrison, Mr Alasdair, Munro, John Farquhar
Against: Alexander, Ms Wendy, Arbuckle, Mr Andrew, Baillie, Jackie, Baird, Shiona, Baker, Richard, Ballance, Chris, Ballard, Mark, Barrie, Scott, Boyack, Sarah, Brankin, Rhona, Brown, Robert, Brownlee, Derek, Butler, Bill, Byrne, Ms Rosemary, Canavan, Dennis, Chisholm, Malcolm, Craigie, Cathie, Crawford, Bruce, Curran, Frances, Curran, Ms Margaret, Deacon, Susan, Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James, Eadie, Helen, Fabiani, Linda, Ferguson, Patricia, Finnie, Ross, Fox, Colin, Gibson, Rob, Glen, Marlyn, Godman, Trish, Gordon, Mr Charlie, Gorrie, Donald, Grahame, Christine, Harper, Robin, Harvie, Patrick, Henry, Hugh, Home Robertson, John, Hughes, Janis, Hyslop, Fiona, Ingram, Mr Adam, Jackson, Dr Sylvia, Jackson, Gordon, Jamieson, Cathy, Jamieson, Margaret, Kerr, Mr Andy, Lamont, Johann, Livingstone, Marilyn, Lochhead, Richard, MacAskill, Mr Kenny, Macdonald, Lewis, Macintosh, Mr Kenneth, Maclean, Kate, Macmillan, Maureen, Martin, Paul, Marwick, Tricia, Mather, Jim, Maxwell, Mr Stewart, May, Christine, McAveety, Mr Frank, McCabe, Mr Tom, McMahon, Michael, McNeil, Mr Duncan, McNeill, Pauline, McNulty, Des, Morgan, Alasdair, Muldoon, Bristow, Mulligan, Mrs Mary, Murray, Dr Elaine, Neil, Alex, Peattie, Cathy, Petrie, Dave, Pringle, Mike, Purvis, Jeremy, Radcliffe, Nora, Robison, Shona, Robson, Euan, Rumbles, Mike, Ruskell, Mr Mark, Scott, Eleanor, Scott, Tavish, Sheridan, Tommy, Smith, Elaine, Smith, Iain, Smith, Margaret, Stephen, Nicol, Stevenson, Stewart, Stone, Mr Jamie, Sturgeon, Nicola, Swinney, Mr John, Wallace, Mr Jim, Watt, Ms Maureen, Welsh, Mr Andrew, White, Ms Sandra, Whitefield, Karen, Wilson, Allan
Abstentions: Oldfather, Irene

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

The result of the division is: For 12, Against 95, Abstentions 1.

Amendment 96 disagreed to.