Previous Section Index Home Page

That was pretty convincing, so we then listened on the same day to Professor Susan Golombok, from Cambridge. When asked about the need for a father, she said:

That was pretty clear, but on Second Reading—

Dr. Evan Harris: Does the hon. Gentleman not recognise what Professor Golombok went on to say in the same session? She said:

She continued:

Robert Key: Yes, and she also said:

Mr. Phil Willis (Harrogate and Knaresborough) (LD): Was that not the very reason why the Committee came to its conclusion regarding two supportive parents? The overwhelming evidence that we got from Professor Golombok and, indeed, from the other academics, whether they were in support of a male figure within the household or whether they were giving evidence on lesbian couples—Golombok is the leading expert on lesbian couples—was that the supportive family unit was important, which is why we made the recommendation that we made.

Robert Key: I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who was the distinguished Chairman of the Joint Committee, which came to the conclusion that I started my speech with.

20 May 2008 : Column 181

Dr. Ian Gibson (Norwich, North) (Lab): Can the hon. Gentleman tell us what the vote was on that issue, and how it came out the way that the Chairman of the Joint Committee has just described?

Robert Key: Off the top of my head, I cannot remember the vote, I am afraid, but I would be grateful if the hon. Gentleman enlightened us.

Dr. Gibson: It was seven votes to seven, and the Chairman’s casting vote turned it the way it did.

Robert Key: The hon. Gentleman has the advantage—I cannot remember that bit of the story. However, that does not detract from the case I am making.

My final quote comes from the Second Reading of this Bill in the other place, on 19 November 2007. By this time, the Government had come to a number of conclusions and had rejected some of their earlier proposals. One of the arguments being proposed was that, if we did not do away with the need for a father, that would discriminate against all single mothers. That was attacked head-on by the Archbishop of York, who said:

He concluded by saying:

Dawn Primarolo: Does the hon. Gentleman therefore accept that, if single women and lesbian couples are driven away from regulated IVF clinics to other methods in order to have children, their children will never know who their natural father is because they will be outside the protection of the regulation of IVF services?

Robert Key: If the Minister’s nightmare were to come true, she would be right, but I do not believe that it is the situation or would be in the future. When I discussed the issue of parenthood among lesbian couples with a lesbian couple who are constituents of mine, they made it clear that this does not feature on their radar screen at all.

Dawn Primarolo: In that case, would the hon. Gentleman like to explain why it was necessary to amend the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 to prevent internet access to unscreened sperm for precisely the purpose that we are discussing?

Robert Key: That is a very important issue, but as far as I can see, it has nothing to do with this particular issue. The Science and Technology Committee in the previous Parliament, which was led by the hon. Member for Norwich, North, examined that issue specifically. We made recommendations accordingly, and I was pleased that the Government accepted them.

In conclusion, I have no desire to discriminate against single mothers, many of whom do an amazing job bringing up wonderful children in as close to a family
20 May 2008 : Column 182
atmosphere as possible—it is never their desire to do so in this way. I know that many same-sex couples also do an astonishing job and are very loving couples when it comes to fostering and adoption. I just hope that we will consider the offhand way in which, for legalistic reasons, the Government felt it necessary to introduce this entire clause into the Bill. In my judgment, it is simply not necessary and it is causing a great deal of distress to a lot of people. I hope that hon. and right hon. Members on both sides of the House will simply say to the Government, “Please think again. We think this is a bad idea.” I hope that such people will vote against this measure.

Dr. Desmond Turner (Brighton, Kemptown) (Lab): This is an equalities issue, whether or not anyone tries to deny that, because the provision bites only on lesbian couples. This House has established over recent years a very good and honourable record of ending discrimination on the grounds of sexuality or anything else. If the amendments were to be voted through, the House would be taking a step backwards, and it would clearly be in contravention of the Human Rights Act 1998.

Geraldine Smith: The provision does not just affect lesbians; it would also affect heterosexual single women who wish to have a child.

Dr. Turner: Okay, but the arguments have primarily been motivated by the fact that lesbian couples will want to have children; it is they who are at the root of this, and that must be completely wrong.

What would either a single woman or a lesbian couple have to do? If they were to fulfil the requirements of the current legislation or the requirements that would be in place if the amendments were to succeed, they would have to produce a token father, but there is no guarantee that such a person would have any part in the future of that child. We face a real danger, because there would undoubtedly be cases of women being forced or pressured into entering into informal arrangements, such as going to the pub to look for a likely temporary partner or receiving unlicensed, unregulated sperm, which carries all sorts of hazards to which I would not wish to see women exposed.

4.45 pm

Mr. Duncan Smith: Has the hon. Gentleman actually read the wording of the original Act that this will amend? Let me read it to him. It says,

to which we would add “and a mother”—

How does that provision act as an absolute device to refuse treatment?

Dr. Turner: In this instance, the need to take account of something strongly implies the requirement to produce a father figure, and that would be interpreted by many—including several hon. Members—to mean that a father, real or otherwise, would be required.

20 May 2008 : Column 183

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): I have a close relative who is a single woman who wishes to have a child by IVF. She is governed by the present regulations, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) simply seeks to preserve. If I thought that what my right hon. Friend proposes would lead to the results that the hon. Gentleman suggests, I would vote with the hon. Gentleman, but it has not. My relative has not had to go to the pub to pick someone up or to do anything that he would not want her to have to do. All she has had to do is take account of these factors. Account has been taken and she has been allowed to proceed. Speaking for myself, I hope with all my heart that she is successful.

Dr. Turner: I endorse that entirely, and I am glad that the system has worked in her case. However, it is much more realistic to retain the present wording of the Bill about supportive parenting, as that is much more important. We no longer live in a “Janet and John” world where everybody has an ideal father and an ideal mother. Let us be honest and admit that many fathers have been damaging. How many single parents are left without a supportive father for their child because the natural father has deserted them, often with associated domestic violence? I know of far more cases in which that is true than of lesbian couples having IVF.

If we follow the provisions of the Bill, we stand to guarantee supportive parenting. We are almost assured that that child will have two parents. Not only that, but should anything happen to one of those parents, there will be another clearly identified parent with parental rights to look after the child. I can see nothing wrong with that: it is entirely logical.

We do not apply such strictures to same-sex adoption. We have legislated for that and we allow lesbian couples to adopt, and be responsible for the upbringing of a child, without a father. Why should it be any different for a child produced by IVF?

Dr. Gibson: There is another inconsistency. If a woman has tubal or hormonal therapy for infertility problems, no one asks questions about parenthood. That only happens when it comes to IVF, which suggests that there is an element of discrimination behind this.

Dr. Turner: I agree with my hon. Friend and I thank him for his intervention.

Mr. Duncan Smith: The hon. Gentleman made the point that we do not make such provisions for adoption. He should recognise that adoption is a spurious example, because to go and adopt a child requires huge amounts of exhaustive inquiry into one’s background, social position and what one does. Far more requirements are placed on someone who wishes to adopt than on someone in the circumstances that we are discussing. With respect, I would not use that example if I were the hon. Gentleman.

Dr. Turner: The situations are entirely analogous, because they both involve the creation of a family with a child and two parents—in this case, with supportive parents. I do not accept the right hon. Gentleman’s point.

20 May 2008 : Column 184

Greg Clark (Tunbridge Wells) (Con): I think that the hon. Gentleman has been misled about what is possible now. Let me add to the example given by my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis). This weekend, I visited a lesbian couple who are friends of mine in my constituency. They are expecting a child within the next three months who was conceived under the present legislation, which has been entirely permissive in allowing them to do that. I wish them well.

Dr. Turner: I am very glad of that, but the hon. Gentleman is providing an example that illustrates the inadequacy of the wording of the present Act and the superiority of the wording in the Bill.

Greg Clark rose—

Dr. Turner: No, once is enough. The essential thing is supportive parenting. It does not matter whether that supportive parenting is delivered by a male or a female.

Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) (Lab): It is important that we put on the record what Baroness Deech, who after all has some knowledge of such things, said in the other place. She said:

So, what people have said about access being available is correct. However, I support my hon. Friend as there is postcode discrimination in the country. That is why I support the Bill as it stands.

Dr. Turner: I completely agree with my hon. Friend. The point about postcode discrimination is valid. We have heard about the example from Birmingham, and there will be many others. If we resist the amendments and stand by the Bill, we will eliminate that.

Mr. Willis: On discrimination, does the hon. Gentleman accept that the real discrimination takes place in the primary care trusts, which limit the number of treatments for IVF in different ways across the country? If we had proper access to IVF treatment that was fair and equitable across the whole of Great Britain, that would achieve more than our spending hours debating angels dancing on the head of a pin, as we are at the moment.

Dr. Turner: I do not disagree with the hon. Gentleman. I deplore the postcode discrimination in carrying out the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence recommendations on the provision of IVF, but that is another can of worms. I am simply concentrating on the matter before us this afternoon. In all earnestness, I ask hon. Members to resist the amendments. They are discriminatory in practice, whether that is the intention or not, and would perhaps lead to a worse situation than the Bill would. I therefore ask hon. Members to resist them.

Mark Simmonds: It is always interesting to follow the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Dr. Turner). The one issue on which he was absolutely correct is the disparity in PCT provision of IVF treatment, which causes a lot of angst and concern across the country.
20 May 2008 : Column 185
Something needs to be done about that. However, he was completely incorrect to say that the terms of the original clause in the 1990 Act, the amendments proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) and me, and those proposed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) are discriminatory. They are clearly not. Those Labour Members who have tried to defend the Government’s position are skating on very thin ice and dancing on the head of a pin, as I hope to demonstrate in my remarks.

No one disputes that that 1990 Act has worked well. It was thoroughly thought through, and it was a detailed and widely debated provision. It was agreed at the time that the need for a father was an important factor in the welfare of a child. Both the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) and the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown seem to be suggesting that we should ignore the welfare of the child, but that should always be a cornerstone of this aspect of the Bill.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green made a very knowledgeable, considered and well-argued speech. He talked about the significance of the need for a father, and I shall expand on that later. He was also right to say that the amendments under consideration do not contravene human rights legislation, but does the need for a mother have to be made explicit in amendments Nos. 21 and 22? Is not that need already explicit in the fact that it is a would-be mother who presents herself for treatment?

I hope that it will help the Committee if I explain what my amendments Nos. 12 and 13 set out to do.

Dr. John Pugh (Southport) (LD): Is there not another side to the argument? The hon. Gentleman warns about neglecting the needs of the child, but does he agree that no one who supports a clause that calls for supportive parenting can be called neglectful of the needs of the child?

Mark Simmonds: That is why my amendments would not remove the phrase “supportive parenting” from the Bill. I do not criticise those words, and that is why I did not put my name to the amendments tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green. My amendments would retain the phrase “supportive parenting”, reinstate the need for a father and add a requirement for a “male role model”. I shall explain why I have phrased those amendments like that.

My amendments recognise that supportive parenting needs to be provided, and that various types of family unit exist. It is also important that clinics disseminate information on these matters, and my amendments would also reinstate the need to consider the role of a father or, in the absence of such a person, a male role model. The amendments would thereby emphasise the importance of a father, while at the same time reflecting what happens in practice in clinics now.

John Parsons is the lead consultant at the assisted conception unit at King’s college hospital. He said:

Next Section Index Home Page