» Tuesday, January 23, 2007


Asked if the Prime Minister felt, as Labour back benchers had suggested, that he was being blackmailed by the Catholic church over the issue of adoption, the PMOS said he did not wish to get drawn into commenting on what people have said. The factual situation is, as stated yesterday and this morning, that there are clearly sensitivities on both sides and what the Prime Minister wants to try and do is find a way through. The Archbishop points out sensitivities from the point of view of the Catholic church, others point out the sensitivities from the point of view of gay rights, what we want to do is find a way through which also however, looks after the interests of the children involved, because that should be key to this. There are discussions going on within Government, it is not straightforward, it is not black and white, but discussions are trying to find the best way is to resolve the dilemma, the Prime Minister is actively engaged in that process.

Put to the PMOS that you could not limit, water down or end a right against discrimination, if you substituted black for gay you would not be able to do so, the PMOS said that we are looking for a way through that respects the sensitivities on all sides, but also looks after the practical interests of the children that are involved. The PMOS went on to say that he did not wish to speculate on what the way through might be because it is better to quietly work through this, aware all the time that there are very strong conflicting views on both sides of this argument.

Asked if the Prime Minister was actively engaged and did that mean he was having bilaterals etc, the PMOS said that as everyone knew his doctrinal position was that he did not get into processology. Asked if the Prime Minister was looking for a compromise, the PMOS said it would be fair to say that the Prime Minister was looking for a way through that recognises and tries to address the different concerns on both sides.

Asked why the Prime Minister had not yet made up his own mind on this, as he had once said to John Major, ‘I lead my party you follow yours’, the PMOS said that the Prime Minister will make up his mind on this but he will do so having tried to work out what is the optimal solution and above all the optimal solution for the children at the heart of this. It is not a matter of, ‘he won’t make up his mind’, he will, but the time and effort is worth it to see what is the best way through.

Asked as the Prime Minister had said the first priority would be the children, did that not mean that he was leaning towards the Catholic church, the PMOS said no, they would hear the argument from both sides about what is in the interests of the children from both sides. Both sides can make their arguments in terms of the interests of the children, however you do need to think about in practice, what does any solution mean as well as the principles involved. A solution is needed which tries to address the principles of the issues but also looks after the practical side. It is worth the effort of trying to spend time to get through the issue.

Asked on that basis did it mean there would be some exemption or caveat for the Catholic church despite what Lord Falconer had said about the matter being black and white, the PMOS said that he fully recognised the reporter’s right to try and push him into changing what he had just said, but he was not going to speculate on what the outcome might be because it is better that we have the discussion within Government, decide on what the policy will be and then announce it. The reporter reiterated the questions again and the PMOS reiterated his answer, that he would not speculate despite being pushed to do so. The PMOS added that people knew what the principles involved were, what we have to try and do is find a way of getting through the conflicting sensitivities on both sides in a way that isn’t harmful to the children involved.

Asked that in 2003 the Government faced a similar problem with employment law and decided that the churches should have an exemption as you could not force a different doctrinal system or force them to accept, for example, a gay priest, what material difference is there here. Is it because it is public money being put into the adoption agencies, the PMOS said that the time to address those kinds of questions was when we have with what we believe is the right way forward and not before.

Asked if the Prime Minister was actively engaged had he met any Catholic church leaders, the PMOS said that it could be taken that the we are in contact with all sides of this issue at various levels, this was not a coded way of saying the Prime Minister personally, but at different levels. The important thing was that we sit back and consider carefully the way forward and that is what the Prime Minister will do. Asked if it was the intention to have this signed, sealed and delivered by April or would it be pushed off until October, the PMOS said that there was an issue, we know what the issue is, the Prime Minister will try to come to a conclusion but there was no timetable. Asked when the issue might go before Cabinet, the PMOS said again he would not get into speculating about timetables.

Asked given that the Prime Minister and the Chancellor were trying to encourage voluntary groups and civic society to run agencies and services shouldn’t churches be part of that despite their strongly held beliefs, and did this not contradict what the Prime Minister and Chancellor were trying to put across, the PMOS said equally churches were a part of society, but we have to be careful not to get into a situation where people are barred from certain activities either because of their religious or lack of religious views. There will be issues from time to time which come up like this where there are conflicting principles at stake and there is no point pretending that there are simple answers to these questions because there aren’t. Perhaps the one thing that people appreciate more today than they perhaps did earlier in this issue is that it is not straight forward, it is not easy, it is not simple, but there are real sensitivities that have to be addressed on both sides.

Asked if the Prime Minister accepted that the case outlined by the church is a real one, if these regulations were introduced there would be a drop off of adoptions, or is it still arguable, the PMOS said it was for the church to speak for itself and it was for the church to speak for its doctrinal position. It is not for us to sit in judgement on that, that was not our role and it would be entirely wrong for us to do so. There are sensitivities and there are principles on both sides of this argument, the easy ones are whenever the principles and sensitive are all on one side, on this that is not the case.

Asked if it was more about the practical applications of the law, the PMOS said that part of it was from the decisions of the church in terms of conditions under which it would be prepared to run adoption agencies, that in the end is a matter for the church, not the Government. The church could speak for itself he would not brief for them on the kinds of adoptions it undertakes which tend to focus on more difficult placements and the numbers of children involved.

Asked if No.10 or the Prime Minister had any understanding of why the Church of England could find the regulations acceptable but the Catholic church could not, the PMOS said it was a case of different churches, different doctrines. The PMOS added, from experience he knew it was best not to intervene in religious matters.

Asked why the Prime Minister had got involved and not just left it to Ruth Kelly, the PMOS said that there are different view points on this, there are different sensitivities and therefore it is not surprising that when you hit an issue like this you have to tread a very careful line through it and the Prime Minister can be helpful in trying to work issues through.

Briefing took place at 15:00 | Search for related news

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