» Monday, January 29, 2007


Asked what had led the Prime Minister to believe that he would not lose the expertise and services referred to in the last sentence of his statement, after 2008 once the transition period was over, the PMOS replied that as he had said this morning, we had been in discussion with both the churches and the gay rights groups and we believed that this was a sensible compromise. What it tried to do was strike the balance between ensuring the principle of no discrimination was upheld, and giving people the time and the space to ensure that those who were already in the adoption process, including pre and post adoption, were catered for. It also gave the adoption agencies that were affected, the time to decide how they would ensure the best interests of the children whilst finding a way to act in accordance with their position. The most important thing was that this gave a period of time but also in terms of the independent assessment panel, which would be appointed by the Prime Minister, it gave an overview that could then be used as a body of best practice that people could then consult. Everybody had started this discussion saying that what motivated them was the best interests of the children.

Asked if there were specific assurances from the Catholic adoption agencies of how they would behave during the transitional period as some bishops had said that they would close on day one rather than go through a transition period, the PMOS replied that it would be wrong for him to speak for others. All sides of the argument had said that their key interests remained the interests of the children. It was not in the interest of anybody that we lost that body of expertise, this was why the Prime Minister had worked so hard at this. Here was a practical way in which people could use the period between now and the end of 2008 to ensure that this did not happen. We hoped that everyone would take notice of that period and would use it.

Asked when regulations would come into force for non faith based adoption agencies, the PMOS replied that the statement said that Government would lay the regulations before Parliament shortly.

Asked to clarify if this included privately fundied adoption agencies, the PMOS replied that the reality was that the existing faith based organisations did rely on public subsidy, and there was no suggestion that they could operate otherwise. Therefore we would deal with the reality, not theory. Asked again that in theory could the adoption agencies not operate on a much smaller scale but funded by themselves and then would they be subject to the regulations, the PMOS replied that throughout this process he had not heard that anyone was suggesting that.

Asked to clarify that the transition period of 20 months was unamendable, the PMOS replied that his understanding of procedure in Parliament was sketchy, but such as it was, it applied as suggested.

Asked what proportion of the 3,000 children in aftercare mentioned this morning, would no longer be in aftercare by the 2008 deadline, the PMOS replied that if the journalists looked at the comments of the head of the adoption agencies in this country on the Today Programme last week, he talked about the process of transition taking years not months. This was not an arbitrary figure plucked out of the air; it was a figure was that we had worked through with the people involved as being necessary for the transition. These were children who in the first place were hard to place. Therefore what we did not want was a situation where those going through the process now had to stop, and start the process again with another agency. This would be very difficult. Secondly, the expertise that the Catholic agencies had built up was particularly focused on the aftercare adoption process. With hard to place children, more work was needed with the families to ensure that the adoption process bedded itself down properly. That would take another period. In terms of the time need for the agencies to adapt to this change, and for the children and parents being looked after by the agency, this was the necessary period that we had arrived at. It was not an exact science, but it was the best guess that we could make at what was necessary.

Asked if all the Cabinet, including Ruth Kelly, supported this, the PMOS replied that in terms of the Cabinet, what the Prime Minister would say was that he would pay tribute to Ruth Kelly and to others such as Alan Johnson who had quite rightly highlighted concerns on either side of this argument. What was important was that we had taken the time and the space, and the flak, to work this out. This was not easy, it never was when there were conflicting rights and principles. But above all, what everyone had at the heart of their concern was that the children did not suffer. In practice this meant finding a resolution that did not lose this body of expertise. We found one which may not have satisfied everyone, but which we hoped everyone could live with.

Asked if this was the agreed Cabinet position, the PMOS replied that the Prime Minister had consulted his Cabinet colleagues, but it was better that they spoke for themselves.

Asked if Jack McConnell was happy with the compromise and what would the Prime Minister say to those Catholic agencies in Scotland who were determined to defy the law on this, the PMOS replied that firstly he thought that Jack McConnell was in the same position as other Ministers, that whilst there had been consultations it was better that he spoke for himself. Secondly, in terms of the Catholic agencies, he did not want to get involved in a hypothetical discussion. What this did was give a substantial period of adjustment for all sides. Therefore people had to weigh up the balance, whatever their concerns or position, with the interests of the children. This provided a viable way forward for both the children and the parents.

Asked if there had been the suggestion by any of senior figures in this discussion that their position was now untenable, the PMOS replied that he was not aware of any.

Put to him that this was a compromise and a halfway house between what the adoption agencies wanted and what the gay rights people wanted, the PMOS replied that what mattered was that this did give a substantial period of time for adjustment, and gave certainty. That was important. People now knew the timeframe within which we were talking, and therefore people had a timeframe within which to make adjustments.

Asked if this was therefore a result from a Cabinet committee, the PMOS replied that the Prime Minister had been in fairly constant contact with his Cabinet colleagues over recent days about this issue and that he believed that this was a reasonable way forward. What the Prime Minister absolutely respected was that Cabinet colleagues were representing different aspects of what was a very difficult issue. But what he believed had been achieved was an end to discrimination, and also a way of dealing with the implication of bringing an end to discrimination.

Asked whether the Prime Minister knew how the Catholic adoption agencies would react to this decision, the PMOS replied that he in no way wanted to speak for others on this whether it was the adoption agencies, the Catholic church or gay rights representatives. They all had the right to speak for themselves. However, you could not work as long and as hard on an issue such as this without making yourself aware of the positions of all those involved. It would always be nice to arrive at a solution that everyone thought was perfect. Part of being Prime Minister was realising that this was unlikely to happen and therefore you were likely to arrive at a situation which you hoped most people could live with, but you also believed looked after the practical consequences of what was being proposed. That was where we were at and was the best result possible.

Put to him that whether we were talking about 20 months or 2 or 5 years, it was an absolute point of principle for some people that they would not place children with same sex couples, the PMOS replied that as the statement made clear, there was a statutory duty for agencies, once these regulations came into effect, to refer to other agencies. So the principle of ensuring that gay couples in practice are able to adopt children was upheld. However this had to be balanced with the principle of ensuring that the children who were already in the process were not affected by bringing this about, this was what we had done.

Put to him that surely after 18 months the principle would bite, and that whilst it was presented as a compromise, presumably the Catholic Church would reject this, the PMOS replied that the Catholic agencies should speak for themselves.

Asked what the Prime Minister’s specific argument for why it was in the best interests of children not to have that option open in the future, which was the situation we would be left with after 2008, the PMOS replied firstly the journalist was making assumptions about the response of the agencies. Secondly, it was right and proper in this modern age that we did not have discrimination against people because of their race, religion, gender or sexual orientation. Asked again in what ways was this in the best interests of children, the PMOS replied that it was in the best interests of the children that they grew up in a society in which this was the case. It was equally in the best interests of the children that we took account of the reality that if that principle were applied tomorrow, the result would be that those children who were in the process would suffer. However, what we had created was the time and space in which agencies, even though they may not like what we were going to do, had the space to work out how they would respond whatever that response would be. On the basis of our conversations with all sides, this was not necessarily a solution that any side would be universally happy with. But we believed it was one that they could work with in the interests of the children. That was what was important.

Asked if the Prime Minister expected any Catholic adoption agency to carry on working past 2008, the PMOS replied that it was a matter for them to decide, and a matter for them to decide how they would respond.

Put to him that the Prime Minister had presided over a decision that would close many Catholic adoption agencies, and asked whether he did this with a heavy heart, the PMOS replied that the journalist was making presumptions about how the adoption agencies would respond which he was not going to get involved in. What the Prime Minister had been very clear about was that firstly, there was a situation where there was a genuine end to discrimination. And secondly, that in doing so we would not harm the children who were in the process of adoption or aftercare, particularly those who were most vulnerable. That was why the Prime Minister believed that this was the right solution.

Put to him that since aftercare took 18 years and that this transitional period was 20 months, presumably the Prime Minister had asked what would happen to the 3,000 children who were currently in aftercare, after this period was over, the PMOS replied that aftercare was essentially about ensuring the process of adoption worked. This did not take 18 years. In other words, that the process of embedding a child with a family and giving that time to ensure that it genuinely settles down into a permanent relationship, that that worked. Secondly, if the agencies knew that this was going to happen, they then had a fixed period in which to make their decisions about the future. Whether they continued to operate as they had, but taking into account the regulations, whether they merged with others, or whether they changed their role, that was for them to decide. At least now there would be a period of certainty and a period of certainty that recognised the realities of the work that they were engaged in, and also the realities of the timeframe they needed if they wanted to change their profile.

Asked if there would be a free vote on this, the PMOS replied that this was a Government proposal and therefore would not be a free vote.

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

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