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First, let me strongly state that no Member disputes the love, care and commitment given to children by many lone and same-sex parents. That is not the issue; no one is questioning that. We have heard some third-hand evidence of cases where there may have been discrimination, but I have never been presented with the name of a woman or a specific case where someone has said, “I’ve been refused fertility treatment because of the need for a father.” I find it strange that we have had the Joint Committee and witnesses have been called, yet no one has come forward and said, “I’ve been discriminated against,” and that instead we only have vague third-hand examples. If any Member can offer a case or name
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someone who has been discriminated against—or tell me about that in private—I would be happy to hear, because I have never heard such evidence.

Ms Dari Taylor: This is an important point, and I wish to turn it around. I have asked such infertile women and couples time and again to write to their Member of Parliament and to speak loudly about the fact that they are discriminated against. On the whole, they will not do so. They are very shy, and they are seriously concerned. As they do not wish to express that publicly, the fact that they do not should not come as a surprise to my hon. Friend.

Geraldine Smith: If people suffer discrimination, usually someone somewhere is willing to speak out and say, “I’ve been discriminated against,” so I find it very strange that no one has.

Mr. Slaughter: I do not think any Member is going to get up and start naming names. My hon. Friend recently heard the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) give many examples from legal practitioners in the field of solo women and lesbian couples in that situation. We have all received those briefings, so my hon. Friend must have done so as well. Is she not trying to walk the same invisible line as the Opposition, which is to say, “We need these provisions, but actually they will have no effect”?

Geraldine Smith: First, let me say that this is not a party political issue. There will be a free vote tonight, and many Labour Members share my views.

In IVF treatment, the interests of the child must be paramount. IVF must not be about the potential parents; it must be about what is best for that child. I cannot see what harm is being done by saying to a lesbian couple or single woman who goes for IVF treatment, “For the welfare of the child, can you consider the need for a father? If there is not a father, is there a potential father figure?” Even having that discussion must do some good, and must make people think.

I suspect that there has not been a problem—or no one has come forward and said there is a problem and they have been affected—because most lesbians and single women going for IVF treatment are responsible. They take the decision that they want to have children and they look at what that involves, including whether there is a father figure—albeit, perhaps, a grandparent or someone else in the wider family—who could be a positive male role model for the child.

Mr. Willis: I do not think any Member doubts the hon. Lady’s sincerity, and when she took part in the consideration of the draft Bill she raised these points. Will she, however, be kind enough to answer the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris)? By putting this requirement back in, does the hon. Lady intend there to be criteria that a lesbian couple or a solo parent—or, indeed, a heterosexual couple—would have to satisfy, and that if they did not do so they would be denied treatment? Also, what would be the test to prove that there was a satisfactory male role model?

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Geraldine Smith: I am saying that, under the status quo, no one to date has come forward and said that they have been denied treatment. If the hon. Gentleman is aware of someone who has, perhaps he could tell me who they are.

The Government consulted on this issue. It is important to hear the views of the British public; as we represent them, we should take their views into consideration.

Stephen Williams (Bristol, West) (LD): Acts go unreported in many fields. Rape is an example; that goes unreported. The rape statistics are understated. Does the hon. Lady think that that means that we should not seriously deal with the issue of rape?

Geraldine Smith: I have moved on to the issue of public consultation. The consultation made it clear that most people thought the legislation should be left as it was—that it was okay, and it was not causing a problem. That was the response when the Government asked people what they thought. We could look at any of the opinion polls that have been conducted. The most recent one was in December 2007; 77 per cent. of people said that the need for a father should be taken into consideration.

Most people will think that this issue is about not discrimination, but common sense. I am sure that if we were to ask lesbians and single women, a great many would agree with my point of view and would not see a problem with it. This issue is more to do with vocal lobby groups making points.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): I have a great deal of respect for my hon. Friend and she often speaks good common sense, but I have to say that in this one instance she must understand that if she were to talk to most lesbians in this country about the amendment she is supporting she would discover that they find it profoundly offensive, because effectively it is saying, “You’re not enough. You’re not sufficient. Your family is not complete.”

Geraldine Smith: It might surprise my hon. Friend to know that I do talk to many lesbians, and quite a few of them have a great deal of common sense and would not find any problem with this. So it depends who we talk to; maybe lesbians in Lancashire are a bit more down to earth than lesbians in London.

I spoke on this subject on Second Reading, so I do not want to speak on it now for too long, but let me make the following appeal to all Members: this is about common sense and what is in the best interests of the child, and it is also about saying that fathers have a role to play. The hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) talked about instructing women about bringing children into the world, but may I finally say that women need a man if they are to bring a child into the world? That is a fact of life at the moment; science has not changed that yet, so there is nothing we can do about it. Therefore, fathers are pretty important.

John Bercow: The hon. Lady said at the outset of her remarks that she accepted readily that there were plenty of good and loving lesbian parents. However, she then
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went on constantly to reiterate the alleged need for the father. For the avoidance of doubt and in pursuance of the intervention of the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), may I ask her whether she is therefore saying that they are good parents only if a third person is introduced as well? If she is saying that, that is profoundly insulting, as well as having the disadvantage of being wrong.

Geraldine Smith: No, I am saying that it is common sense just to take into consideration the need for a father, and if a child has not got a father to realise that it might be a good thing if there were a father figure—a male figure—in their life, because that is important. Men and women are different; that is just a fact of life. They bring different things to parenthood. Sometimes when there are two same-sex parents, it is a good idea also to have someone who can act as a male role model. That is not discriminating against anyone. That is just enhancing the upbringing of the child; it is just helping. At the end of the day, this is not about discrimination; it is about the child.

Sir Patrick Cormack: The hon. Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (Geraldine Smith) speaks with a degree of refreshing candour and common sense, and she underlines the fact that this is not, never has been and never should be a party political issue. I am as far apart from my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (John Bercow), whom in other ways I admire very much, on this issue as I could possibly be from anyone.

I have listened to this afternoon’s debate with profound depression. When I entered this House in 1970, if somebody had told me that nearly 40 years thence, the House would debate the need for a father, I would have thought that that person had taken leave of his senses. What we are talking about is the natural order of things, and I make no apology for standing up for what I believe to be the natural order of things. [ Interruption. ] It may well be that people can barrack, but I happen to be the first chairman of the all-party committee for widows and single-parent families in this House. We came together and founded that group in 1974 because we believed in helping single-parent families as much as we possibly could, and a very good committee it was, too. My hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) became a member of it after he joined the House.

Another Committee that I was much involved with as long ago as 1970—with Lord Janner, then Greville Janner, the former Member for Leicester, North-West—had at its heart the preservation and advancement of proper human rights. That was the all-party parliamentary committee for Soviet Jews—for the release of Soviet Jewry—and we stood for what we considered to be those human rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness that have now been so distorted, so altered, so extended as to cover a whole range of things that really are not human rights at all. At the root of the Bill that we are discussing this afternoon is the Government’s realisation that if they did not insert certain words into it, they would be going against the Human Rights Act that we passed some 10 years ago, and which the House really ought to look at again. It is one thing to defend and advance the proper human rights that, for instance,
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the people of Burma, for whom my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham stands up with great vigour, are completely deprived of. It is another thing entirely to extend and distort that concept of human rights, so that some people in this place, and many outside this place, are afraid to say—that it is a natural thing for a family to consist of a man and a woman who have children, and who give those children a natural and a proper home.

When I listened this afternoon to some of the surreal exchanges that have taken place, I could not help but remember the immortal words of Mr. Bumble, who said:

We in this Committee this afternoon are responsible for the law and for trying, I hope, to bring a little balance into the law.

I listened with considerable admiration to my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) when he moved his amendment. He did it with passion and clarity and with a degree of real modesty, but I have to say that I do not think that he went far enough. Although I have many friends who are lesbian or gay, I nevertheless do not believe that a lesbian pair of women or a gay pair of men can provide the same degree of balance, harmony and domestic comfort as parents of the opposite sex can. That is not to say that there are not many parents—men and women, married and unmarried—who are very bad and very cruel to children.

We are talking about families—the Government have even elevated the word “families” into the title of one of the Departments of State. If we are intent on promoting the concept of the family, why do we run away from the importance of the role of the father?

6.15 pm

Mr. Vaizey: Given the logic of my hon. Friend’s case, if a mother and a father had treatment, the mother became pregnant and the father then left the mother, should the mother then be made to terminate the pregnancy?

Sir Patrick Cormack: That is a most fatuous intervention. I have never heard such a ridiculous intervention from a so-called intelligent man. Of course not, and the hon. Gentleman almost abuses himself by asking the question. It is a ridiculous question to ask.

There can be domestic problems between any people—of course there can. Within our own family in Parliament, there are those who have strong marriages and those who do not have marriages at all. We represent all sorts of conditions of men and women, but I make no apology for saying in this House that I believe that the natural family unit is the man, woman and children. There are cases where children do not have that advantage because the mother has been deserted. I suppose that I have as many cases in my surgery as colleagues do of women coming to ask for help with the Child Support Agency, and of women whose husbands have behaved utterly despicably. I have many examples in my constituency of single women who, with great courage and enormous sacrifice, skill and dedication, brought up their families. My cousins, twins, were 55 last week. Their father was so badly injured in the war that he died within weeks of their
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being born. My aunt brought those men up to be the fine men they are today. All of us can replicate that sort of experience, but in doing so and in relaying it to the Committee, we should not, out of a misguided concept of equality and fairness, pretend that there is an automatic right for anyone to have a child, regardless of sex.

John Bercow: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Sir Patrick Cormack: No, because I am conscious of the fact that I, too, wanted to get in to speak, and that others want to follow me, so I will try to bring my remarks to a close quite quickly.

I am happy to hold to the view that no one has the right to a child. I happen to believe that a child is God-given, but—

Chris Bryant: With assistance.

Sir Patrick Cormack: Assisted, yes—assisted by a man and a woman.

Chris Bryant: And a doctor.

Sir Patrick Cormack: And sometimes by a doctor, and sometimes by a test-tube. However, I say to the hon. Gentleman and to anybody else in this Committee that a child who is deliberately brought into the world with no desire that there should be a man and a woman as the parents is brought into it with a disadvantage. In so far as the amendment moved by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green goes some way toward redressing the balance in the Bill before us, it deserves the support of the whole Committee.

Ms Dari Taylor: This is obviously a passionate debate and people have serious concerns about the outcome of the vote tonight. I was delighted when the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) said that there were only a few studies that were up to date. That was a very important statement for all of us, because it told us that what we are attempting to assess is new and difficult, and that there are serious complications. He could have continued by saying that there are few new and up-to-date studies for us to use in making an assessment, and that many of the outcomes in terms of gay and homosexual family structures have been defined according to the author’s preference in the research, which has clearly defined the questions being asked. We know that we are in a very difficult area when we are examining research and hoping that it will give us objective judgments upon which we make a judgment as to whether we need to provide for the need for a father or for a stable home.

Much that has been said is important. The quality of parents is much more relevant than their gender to how they determine and deliver the emotional, social and educational achievements of their children. It is also important for us to accept that all the research that has been published—like many other hon. Members, I have looked at a mountain of it—references not homosexuals or heterosexuals who have benefited from IVF, but parents who have adopted or have fostered. We all face the serious problem of trying to unscramble the research to make a fair, representative and objective analysis.

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Mr. David Blunkett (Sheffield, Brightside) (Lab): My hon. Friend is making a thoughtful and profound contribution. I do not intend to repeat the speech that I made 18 years ago on this issue, but would she concede that there is a difference between the issue of same-sex couples being suitable to foster a child at a particular point in that child’s life in the interests of the child—that was agreed by the authority that I led 25 years ago—and the creation of a child, and the belief that the creation of that child is somehow a right, in circumstances outwith the normality of how we would proceed were we not able to implement IVF? That is quite different from the situation of those seeking a child through the course of a marriage or a separate relationship. Would she therefore agree that this is not about equality or rights, and that it is about the nature of procreation and the way in which we proceed in respect of a policy in the nation, rather than an individual right for a human being?

Ms Taylor: It might not surprise my right hon. Friend to learn that I do not agree with him. That which is appropriate for children who are adopted or fostered is equally appropriate for any who are produced by IVF; I see no difference at all, because parenting is parenting.

I wish to put on record some of my concerns about this debate. The debate is not just about whether every child needs a father or a stable home; it is about the IVF treatment available to couples or women. First and foremost, people have said that a serious disparity is involved. The absolute statement made is that the national health service produces very little in terms of National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence agreements; the great majority of women and couples have to access private clinics, and in so doing they have to stump up between £5,000 and £10,000.

Let us consider how women and couples access this treatment. They are attempting to do that which comes naturally for so many people: conceive a child. They put not only their investment, but so much of themselves on the line. I find it inconceivable——to use an unintentional pun—that they would not love, cherish, protect the child and provide it with a stable home.

The other statement with which the House should attempt to come to terms is the one that the hundreds and thousands of women who request this treatment have to face from medics on a regular basis: “The treatment has failed.” It does not just fail once; it fails month after month. Invariably, women do not access the treatment until they are over 30—often they are over 35—and there are a variety of other reasons why they are excluded from treatment. Such women have five years when their fecundity would support their conceiving naturally or with the help of IVF, so in agonising over whether a statement about a father should be placed in the Bill, we should get the rounded picture, because there is a rounded picture to be obtained.

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