“Kevin Hague launches gay adoption bill”. Sigh. I’m gay, but that doesn’t make my bill a gay adoption bill. It’s true that in 2009 I did have a Bill in the ballot to extend the categories of people who could adopt to include same-sex and de facto opposite-sex couples. But I was persuaded that the Adoption Act 1955 was in need of complete replacement, and that making piecemeal changes of the Act would only be a distraction and a waste of time.
As a result, in 2009, I embarked on a process of translating the Law Commission’s recommendations about adoption into a Bill, and I launched that new Bill on Sunday. It incorporates adoption processes (and new processes for altruistic surrogacy) into the Care of Children Act, making the best interests of the child paramount in all decisions, and making “open” adoptions the usual form (the current law only provides for closed adoptions, where all relationship with, and knowledge of, biological family is severed). Certainly the Bill provides for any individual or couple to be able to make an application to adopt. Having all options on the table helps make for the best decision in the interests of the child.
This Bill is very big and complex. I believe that the cross-Party approach that I set up was the best way of proceeding, and have been very pleased that work in the last Parliament led me to be able to continue work with Nikki Kaye (and many others outside Parliament) to produce this Bill. Along the way we are certain to have made some mistakes or policy decisions that others disagree with. That is why I have indicated that while the Bill sits in the ballot waiting to be drawn I am very keen to get feedback, so that we can refine it and advance important law reform that has the broadest possible support.
“But your Bill and Jacinda’s are very similar. Why are you voting against hers?” To understand that you need to look at the Bills – they’re not similar at all. Jacinda’s Bill does not change adoption law in any way. While my Bill is a substantive reform of adoption and surrogacy law, Jacinda’s instead gets the Minister of Justice to ask the Law Commission to update the advice they have already given on adoption reform and turn that into a bill. With the best will in the world, that process will take at least two or three years to arrive at the point we have already reached, and will use valuable Law Commission money and time to bring us to where we already stand! Even then the notional Bill would require a well-disposed government to do something with it. Well if we had one of those, it would pick up my Bill and advance it as a Government one. And hers doesn’t deal with surrogacy.
Labour withdrew from the cross-Party process on adoption in order to advance Jacinda’s approach – a choice of unilateralism over multilateralism. In my opinion it is a history of unilateralism from successive governments that has led to the situation we have now, where everyone agrees the existing law is obsolete and harmful, but nobody has done anything about it. I told Jacinda at the time, and then said publicly, repeatedly, that we opposed her move, because what we really need is an approach that will actually takes us forward, not a bill that won’t pass and is instead a distraction from the goal of having adoption law that actually works for families. It should be no surprise to anyone that our position hasn’t changed. Supporting Jacinda’s Bill would undermine the cross-Party work we have been doing for the last 3 years.
Sometimes friends might agree on a destination but disagree about the route to get there. Jacinda’s Bill will be defeated at First Reading (and would have been regardless of how the Green Party voted). While that is happening we will be continuing to progress my Bill and make any required improvements. I am sure Labour people will have helpful suggestions for how to improve our Bill, and I hope they will be prepared to rejoin a cross-Party approach to securing this important reform.