The department bowed to Labour pressure - and ran into trouble with right-wing Tories - by admitting that there was no legal bar on homosexuals adopting children. It also said no bar would be created by legal changes foreshadowed in the White Paper on adoption, the first review of adoption law for 20 years.
Mrs Bottomley's statement was literally true because a couple must be married to adopt a child jointly. But single people - including those living with a partner - can undertake adoption if they assume sole legal responsibility.
The health department stressed that ministers had repeatedly called on councils to strive to ensure that children were adopted by stable, married, heterosexual couples.
It said that of an estimated 7,000 children adopted last year only between 3 and 4 per cent were adopted by single people and of these only a tiny proportion were adopted by homosexuals. Although social services departments carefully screen potential adoptive parents, there is no obligation on them to seek to establish the candidates' sexual orientation.
Meanwhile, Lady Olga Maitland, MP for Sutton and Cheam, claimed it would be 'contrary to the welfare of the child concerned' to be adopted by homosexual parents.