My Lords, the Government are committed to adoption where this is in a child’s best interests. We have been monitoring the effect of the introduction of the regulations, and have made it clear to local authorities that they should work with the voluntary sector to maximise the number of successful adoptions. My honourable friend Mr Loughton is leading a drive to speed up adoption and remove potential barriers—for example, for children from minority ethnic backgrounds.
I thank my noble friend for his reply, but in light of the Times report of 2 May that five of the remaining Catholic adoption agencies have gone out of business rather than abandon their Christian beliefs, with the likelihood that this will make it harder for some of the most vulnerable children to be found a home, should not common sense and tolerance come before political correctness? With gay couples able to go to any number of agencies specialising in gay adoption, should not the law allow the Catholic agencies the same freedom of conscience as was allowed to conscientious objectors during the war?
I understand the point made by my noble friend and know the strength of feeling that he brings to bear on this. The department has approached adoption from the point of view of what is in the best interests of children by trying to have as a wide a pool as possible of potential adopters. No one on this side of the House is keen to do things that are driven by political correctness. That is one of the reasons why we are looking, for example, at the adoption of minority ethnic children. I understand the points that my noble friend makes, but at the moment we have no plans to respond directly to them.
My Lords, in welcoming the Munro report today, which talks about some aspects of social work but has implications for the whole field, does the Minister agree with me that the complexity of the task that Mr Loughton is taking on involves improving social work practice and the practice of panels, reviewing the court processes, and ensuring that guardians move quickly? All of those things will take time and are much more significant than the matter being raised.
I very much agree with the point about the complexity of the issue and the need to look at all the issues in the round. The points that have been raised to do with court processes, finding suitable adopters, speeding up the process and tackling obstacles are all extremely important. As the noble Baroness will know, in responding to Munro my honourable friend Mr Loughton will take advice from an expert group on precisely these issues. He will come back later in the year to pull the various strands together and, I hope, come up with solutions. The whole House, irrespective of from where we are coming on some of these issues, will share the view that we need to find more good adoptions for the children who need them most.
My Lords, voluntary adoption agencies such as Barnardo’s—I declare an interest as a vice president—welcome the Government’s focus on adoption. However, for adoptive places to succeed there needs to be long-term commitment. Are there any plans to ensure that specialist therapeutic services and multi-agency support for adoptive families are made more widely available so that adoptive placements succeed, especially for older children who come from a traumatised or abused background?
I agree with my noble friend about the importance of support services and specialist support services. Part of a good solution to the problems of adoption is finding a bigger supply of adopters, speeding up the process and supporting those families who have adopted children. On her specific point about what support might be available, I will follow that up with my honourable friend Mr Loughton and respond to her in more detail.
My Lords, as I said, I understand the point of view expressed by my noble friend Lord Waddington and always listen to him most carefully, as I do to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours. However, there is not much that I can add to my previous reply to my noble friend Lord Waddington.
My Lords, a significant number of faith-based children’s agencies are still providing adoption services in compliance with the Equality Act, while others are now restricted in that area to providing services after adoption. Does the Minister agree that, taken together, all these faith-based children’s agencies provide a key service to vulnerable children—one that could be further extended?
I very much agree with that. As we have said in previous debates and exchanges about adoption, the role of the voluntary adoption agencies is extremely important in this. One of the issues that my honourable friend Mr Loughton is looking at is encouraging the take-up of the services provided by the voluntary adoption agencies. Some local authorities seem more resistant than others to using those services. One would want to tackle that because the range of different performances from one local authority area to another is very wide. It would be good to narrow it. The role of voluntary adoption agencies in that is an important part of coming up with a solution.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that the application of the Equality Act, far from resulting in children losing the chance of being adopted, will open up new opportunities for a much more diverse group of prospective parents to offer a stable and loving home to children in care?
I reiterate my point that all sides of the House would agree that having a wide number of potential adopters—those with strong religious beliefs and those without—who can help children and provide loving and stable homes for them is what we would all seek to encourage.