On 29 January 2007, I announced a way forward on the issue of faith-based adoption and fostering agencies and the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007. As I set out at that time, the interests of the child, and particularly the most vulnerable children, must come first. I confirmed that there would not be a specific exemption from the legislation for faith-based adoption and fostering agencies. However, there would be a transition period until the end of 2008, with a statutory duty for any faith-based agency which does not process applications from same sex couples to refer them to another agency. I am pleased that both Houses approved these Regulations, which provide a massive step forward in ending discrimination against gay people, and that the Regulations have now come into force.
In my announcement on 29 January 2007, I said that I would commission a regular independent assessment from adoption and child welfare experts on the impact of the Regulations on adoption in order to maintain the existing body of expertise. I have today asked Barbara Hutchinson, Executive Director of the British Association of Adoption and Fostering (BAAF), to chair the independent assessment process. As a body working across the UK, campaigning for better outcomes for children, BAAF is well-placed to engage with the whole sector and formulate workable recommendations for consideration by Government. Further details of the assessment team and its terms of reference have been placed in the Library of the House.
Faith-based adoption agencies provide an extremely valuable service, particularly for the most vulnerable children. It is very important that local authorities continue to work with and support these agencies given the vital work that they do. I am confident that proposals will be identified which ensure that all agencies comply with the Regulations and at the same time allow their services and expertise to be retained and developed.