It is quite depressing to read through the twenty thousand words of debate which filled three hours in the House of Lords yesterday, as their noble Lordships debated and then voted against provisions which would legalise adoption by unmarried or gay or lesbian couples. But amidst the dross, two contributions stood out: the speech of Waheed Alli was widely reported; that of Conrad Russell less so, and it is reproduced in full below.
Earl Russell: My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady O’Cathain, will not misunderstand me if I join her in deeply regretting that we will not have the opportunity to hear Lady Young today. Lady Young was a parliamentarian to her fingertips. She was as devoted to the procedures by which we reach our decision as she was to her own principles. And that is saying something.I want to put two questions to the noble Baroness, Lady O’Cathain. First, will she concede that those of us who oppose the amendments today are quite as devoted to the interests of children as those who propose them? We merely see the interests of children in very different waysï¿½in many more different ways than time will allow me to expound today.
Secondly, will she concede that as regards Members on these Benches and, as far as I know, everyone else, this is nothing to do with political correctness or social engineering. Those are things I despise. People, not the state, are generally the best judges of their own interests. That is a fundamental principle behind the philosophy of these Benches. Were I am not convinced on those grounds, I would not be saying what I am saying now.
Parliamentary measures tend to get shorthand nicknames. There was a Bill that constantly occupied another place, in the 1580s, which became known as the Bill Against Wednesdays. I know that today is a Wednesday, but I have nothing against that. However, these amendments should be known as the amendments against couples. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, explained very clearly, it is perfectly legal for a single homosexual to adopt or for a single member of a cohabiting couple to adopt, but not for the two of them to do it together. That can only cause confusion.
I remember, when I was about 10, being struck down by appendicitis. The doctors decided that it was necessary to operate that night. They flashed a message on the screen at the nearest cinemaï¿½which, being in north Wales, was 40 miles awayï¿½to fetch the surgeon. The operation took place at midnight. I was assured the next morning that I would have been dead by then had the operation not been carried out. Medical people are rather careful about falling into legal traps. Had there been any doubt whether either of the people in charge of me was entitled to sign a medical consent form, I might not be addressing your Lordships now.
It is, I know, possible for the partner of an adoptive parent to apply for a parental responsibility order under Section 8 of the Children Act. However, that is a temporary order that may be withdrawn. Moreover, parental responsibility is governed by case law, which means that it is subject to change at any time. It is, I think, very much better to have two people in charge who are both clearly in a legal position of authority. Otherwise, we may find someone saying, “I’m sorry, darling, you know I cannot sign it, and Mummy is on the Front Bench”. That is going to cause a good many problems.
I was interested in an article in this Sunday’s Observer by Maureen Freely. She remarks:
“In 1974, when I left university, it still raised eyebrows to live with someone before marriage. Now it’s the norm, and the norm most people accept”.
She further said:
“If marriage is not the all-defining and confining institution it once was, it’s not just because a generation of Seventies upstarts decided to change the rules. It’s also because the legal and economic underpinning have changed beyond recognition. When marriage ceases to be the only way a woman can find her way in a world, when men no longer can or wish to treat women and children as chattel, when the penalties of divorce are no longer as cruel and inhumane as they used to be, relationships become defined by the degree and the quality of the personal commitment”.
I heard what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester had to say about the ecosystem. I think that the ecosystem was changing before the changes in the habit of cohabitation came in. I think that contraception changed sexual relations as permanently and as inevitably as nuclear weapons changed the nature of war. I think that there is no going back on that.When I talk to my female pupils, I realise that there is nothing in the world harder to understand than the time just before the time when one was born. I simply cannot bring them to conceive of a world in which women have the sort of total economic dependence on a man that used to be normal even when I was young. This means that there must be an element of choice in marriage which was often not there before. It also means that there must be, as Maureen Freely remarks, a concern about quality. That is why I make no apology to the noble Earl, Lord Howe, for using anecdotal evidenceï¿½because one cannot measure quality by quantitative evidence.
I entirely agree with what the noble Earl, Lord Howe, had to say about the virtue of permanence: it is very great. However, it is not the only virtue. According to John Chamberlainï¿½the Matthew Parris of the 17th centuryï¿½James I and his wife lived together “as well as a couple who do not converse can do”. They gave their children permanence; it did not seem to do Charles I very much good. As well as permanence, we need love and we need peace; not only love for the child, but also the example of love between the parents. Where those things are absent, the child is losing something which is in my view quite as precious as permanence.
Many statistics have been produced by the noble Earl, Lord Howe. I think that the question between those who marry and those who cohabit is whether we think it better to have a bad marriage or none at all. That is a question on which there may be two opinions, but I do not see a research method of testing them. How is one to collect the sample of bad marriages on which to do one’s research? Who is going to admit to belonging to it? I grant that people brought up in happy households are likely to do better than people brought up in unhappy households, but I do not understand how one brings that to bear on the evidence on whether the ceremony of marriage is in the interests of children.
The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, alleged that there was no research at all on the effect on children of homosexual couples. That is not in fact the case; there is a fairly considerable body of research. It was reported by Professor Gottman in 1999:
“Studies on children of lesbian mothers and gay fathers report no negative effects on children relative to their parents’ sexual orientation. Children did not appear deviant in gender identity, sexual orientation and social adjustment”.
Being gay is not contagious. The fact that, by definition, all gay children are children of straight parents would seem to me to be evidence to support that point of view. In so far as there is trouble, it is the result of stigma. Those who complain of the effect of stigma and use it as an argument against change are showing the inability of the unanalytic mind to recognise its own handiwork. I except the noble Earl, Lord Howe, from thatï¿½he has not used that argument today; but others have. It seems to me that it is inevitably a disadvantage to have a type of loving relationship that one cannot avow proudly and in public. If one thinks that children brought up by homosexuals are at a disadvantage, the way to remedy it would be to allow their parents to avow their love proudly and in public.We have had opinion polls quoted. I do not believe that I am the only person in this Chamber who was brought up on Burke’s address to the electors of Bristol. He said that a Member is not a delegate but a representative and that he owes his constituents not only his attendance but his judgment. If that is true in another place, of which Burke was speaking, then a fortiori it must be true here.
Finally, children need to be brought up by somebody or something that can hear them. There are two cases, at least one of them fictional, of children brought up by wolves: Mowgli in The Jungle Book and Romulus in Rome. We are not proposing anything as shocking as that.
To read through the list of peers who supported this shameful amendment is also to be reminded just how much human waste-product still sits and votes in the House of Lords — the Normans Lamont and Tebbit, Margaret Thatcher, David Waddington, and many others, hiding behind their stupid feudal titles — none of whom should have the slightest role to play in British public life.