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 ways�in 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 cinema�which, being in north Wales, was 40 miles away�to 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 evidence–because 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 Chamberlain–the Matthew Parris of the 17th century–James 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 sampe 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 that�he 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.

October Update

What’s on the minds of those who surf the internet? One way to find out is to take a look at some of the things people are searching for when they stumble across the Virtual Stoa. Highlights from the last few days include…

meta chants
canonization false opus
John Locke social contract theoretician
elephants sex
michael hardt wife
revolutionary anarchist clown bloc
Opus Dei comments
canonization Josemaria Escriva
bedford sex [again!]
W H Auden Funeral Procession
sexuality sideburns
edwina currie blow job
opus dei russia
wild crazy elephant sex

Interest in Opus Dei trumps elephant sex, by four queries to two. Most of these people, I suspect, would have been sadly disappointed with what they found here. And at least one of them is just sick.

Shadow Cabinet

How well do you know the Shadow Cabinet? (How well do you want to know them? I scored 9 out of 10, which seems an embarrassingly high score, really. Never having heard of Tim Collins was a problem).

Nick wrote [13.10.2002]: This has to be one of the cruellest things I have ever seen. 3/10, BTW. And I thought I was paying attention.

Martin wrote [14.10.2002]: I only managed 8/10, I fear, also never having heard of Tim Collins. I had no idea that Eric Pickles, that foul grotesque, was now in the Shadow Cabinet. Talk about scraping the bottom of the barrel. There really isn’t a single redeeming feature among the current Shadow Cabinet. By comparison, to remember figures like Denzil Davies is to remember an era of political Leviathans. What a sorry damn state we’re now in.

Josephine wrote [15.10.2002]: I got 3/10 too, and I had never actually heard of any of them, so I don’t think Nick was paying much attention. I had heard of Michael Howard, but I think I got that one wrong.

Nick wrote [17.10.2002]: Picky, picky, picky. So it’s somehow *my* fault the Tories today are a crowd of anonymous no-hopers, Josephine? I vaguely remember Michael Howard, too… “the worst Home Secretary since Henry Brooke,” or some such.

Tory Party Conference

Here are some of the better bits of Theresa May’s speech to the Tory Party conference earlier today. Every word is true, every promise credible, oh yes. (The whole thing is here, but you really shouldn’t bother.)

Some Tories have indulged themselves in petty feuding or personal sniping instead of getting behind a leader who is doing an enormous amount to change a party which has suffered two massive landslide defeats….And there are reasons for real optimism. The Conservative Party has made progress this year and has laid the foundation for sustainable progress ahead. The reason is clear. Iain Duncan Smith has had the courage to recognise the seriousness of our problems and the imagination to develop a programme for recovery…

And on Wednesday afternoon you won’t just have Oliver Letwin’s speech, you will have, in your hands, a campaign pack for you to take the message of this conference out onto the streets where the real battle is there to be fought…

Yes we’ve made progress.

But let’s not kid ourselves. There’s a way to go before we can return to government.

There’s a lot we need to do in this Party of ours. Our base is too narrow and so, occasionally, are our sympathies. You know what some people call us – the nasty party.

I know that’s unfair. You know that’s unfair but it’s the people out there we need to convince – and we can only do that by avoiding behaviour and attitudes that play into the hands of our opponents. No more glib moralising, no more hypocritical finger wagging…

Yes, indeed. There’ll be no more glib moralising, finger-wagging, petty feuding or personal sniping. From now on it’s straight forward to victory with Iain Duncan Smith!

Dan writes [15.10.2002]: I thought you might appreciate this.

Self-Parody Alert

I don’t usually like to reproduce items from other people’s weblogs in full, but Junius today raises a good question:

I wonder who selects the titles for the Independent‘s debate section? A few weeks ago they had “Stoning: Is it ever justified?”, today’s offering is “Saudi Arabia: It is [sic] democratic?”

Self-parody through headline writing seems to be quite a common phenomenon these days. I spotted a copy of Vogue the other day whose cover proclaimed, “DISCOVERED: Traffic-Stopping Trousers”. (But, sadly, they were very dull).

Film of the Week

There are only a few films which get better and better with repeated viewings: High Noon is one of them, and I was very pleased to see it for the third time earlier this evening. The excellent theme song, the action shot in almost-real time; the film’s reticence about just what did happen in the town when Frank Miller was around and before Amy had arrived in Will Kane’s life; the almost complete lack of dialogue after the clock finally does strike noon; and, above all, the complex moralities presented by the drama, lurking behind the simple good guy – bad guys opposition. (To scratch the surface of these matters, when the gang leaves the station, Frank Miller is in possession of a legal pardon, and Kane admits that he can’t do anything about the rest of his posse, since they haven’t broken the law. Yet Kane is the first to shoot, when he kills Ben Miller, with only the barest warning.)

But here’s a thing: the music is clearly the greatest Hollywood theme tune of all time — but why are there two separate versions floating around? In the film, the first verse contains the lines, “The noon day train will bring Frank Miller / If I’m a man I must be brave / And I must face that deadly killer…”, whereas the version I learned once upon a time goes, “I do not know what fate awaits me / I only know I must be brave / and I must face a man who hates me…”. Similarly, in a later verse, what I first knew as “You made that promise as a bride / Do not forsake me, oh, my darling, / Although you’re grieving / Don’t think of leaving / Now that I need you by my side.” is sung in the film with “… when we wed” rhymed with “until I shoot Frank Miller dead”. Clearly a song can be published in one version and performed in another – but in this case, why the changes?Incidentally but unsurprisingly, I see that High Noon references are already being incorporated into the discourse surrounding the War On Terror. Alastair Cooke — still alive, apparently — discussed the film in a recent of his past-their-sell-by-dates “Letters from America”.

Dan writes [7.10.2002]: Finally you address pop trivia. I believe the difference between the two versions is that a “single version” was recorded for commercial release, which sought to omit the film specific references. Certainly this is the suggestion here, which notes, “The “single” version of the song was rewritten as a more generic, and certainly less dramatic, western-pop ditty.” Doubtless this is not the only time such a thing as happened, although I can’t think of any other examples. Fans of (either of) Tex Ritter’s versions of the song may enjoy this page. Fans of the film itself are possibly best advised to avoid this one, certainly if Dr Henry S. Itkin’s analysis is correct…

Chris replies [7.10.2002]: I didn’t realise Dan’s domination of the Oxford pub quiz pop trivia scene would extended to movie soundtracks. This is splendid stuff. Since one of Dan’s other consuming passions is Kantian moral theory, I now have an exuse to mention something I remembered this morning, which is Christine Korsgaard’s wonderful essay, “Taking the Law into Our Own Hands: Kant on the Right to Revolution”, which was published in Reclaiming the History of Ethics: Essays for John Rawls, edited by Reath, Herman and Korsgaard (Cambridge, 1997). For people who like their cowboy films washed down with a dose of sophisticated moral theory, this is the place to look for a splendid attempt to show that Immanuel Kant really does defend a right to revolution (even though he consistently said that he didn�t in his published writings), by reference to the thrill we experience in the cinema when the hero in the Western picks up the gun in order to, er, take the law into his own hands. It�s improbable, imaginative, exhilarating, important stuff, and a very powerful argument — even if she didn’t quite convince me that it’s one of Kant’s.

Opus Dei

The Pope has just canonised the wretched Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer, founder of Opus Dei. The BBC report is here, Opus Dei’s own annoucement is here, the official Vatican canonisation website is here (which contains a link to the details of “the approved miracle”!), and — I’ve linked to this before — for those who want to know just why Opus Dei is regarded with such loathing and suspicion, the useful unofficial Opus Dei homepage is here, and the Opus Dei Awareness Network is here.


Brazil begins to elect a new President today — if you haven’t caught up with him already, let companheiro Hugh O’Shaughnessy introduce you to Luiz ‘Lula’ da Silva in today’s Observer. The news report in the Independent provides a nice summary of what’s at stake; too bad its leader-writers don’t seem to be too sure that President Cardoso isn’t actually a candidate in this election… Ho hum.

J W von Goethe Presiding Over the Introduction to Rome of Paedophilia and Cunnilingus

The weblog was idle in September largely because I was encamped in Rome, in the very congenial surroundings of the British School at Rome, writing some of the final sections of my PhD manuscript. (The end is in sight!)

Which reminds me that I wanted to post an image of the Goethe monument, which stands in the Borghese Gardens about five minutes walk from the school. As Nick pointed out to me back in 1994, when we both happened to be in Rome at the same time, the proper title of the statue should be “J W von Goethe Presiding Over the Introduction to Rome of Paedophilia and Cunnilingus”, on the left and right respectively.

Nick wrote [3.10.2002]: Gosh, I must have had a filthy mind when I was younger. Thanks for reminding me.