Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill [Lords]

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Dawn Primarolo: I agree with the points that the hon. Gentleman has just made. I will answer specifically the questions I was asked by the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness regarding the Government’s position. The Bill allows for donor-conceived people, on reaching the age of 16, to contact the HFEA to find out non-identifying information about their donor. This information is, rightly, accessible to donor-conceived people, and has a direct impact on them.
The purpose of allowing donor-conceived people access to information about their donor is to fill a gap in the knowledge that they have about themselves. Many donor-conceived people feel they are missing important information about who they are and where they came from, because one set of genetic information is missing. Information, including identifying information about the donor, is intended to help to address that, and it is for those reasons that provisions are made to allow such people to find out about their donor. Donors sign up to donate on the understanding that such information will be available.
The Government said that they would give the issue very careful consideration since it was raised in another place. We remain of the view, having looked again and considered the issues, that access to the HFEA’s register should continue to focus on those directly affected, and that it should be up to the donor-conceived person to decide whether to access the information available to them and who they subsequently choose to pass that information to—including their own offspring.
While we realise that there may be compelling circumstances, it would be difficult to limit access to that specific situation, and wider access to the register would raise broader issues around access to sensitive and personal information. I am also of the view that, on donating, a donor is able to prepare for possible contact from a donor-conceived child, and to envisage the time span in which that may occur. I do not think that it is reasonable for the donor to be much older and unable to expect at what point in time a possible contact might be made.
Although I understand the point made by the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness, we must allow a donor-conceived individual to decide to whom they pass on information if they have accessed it. No one else should have the right to access that information. I hope that that clarifies the Government’s view for the hon. Gentleman. We consider this to be fundamental in terms of the rights of the individuals concerned and I hope that he will not press the amendment.
Dr. Harris: I rise briefly to say that I wholly endorse what the Minister has said, the reasons that she has given and the thinking behind it. The Government were right to say that they would reflect on this as it was raised with a great deal of support in the House of Lords. However, as I said, I do not think that the other place considered some of the points that the Minister has just mentioned. It was quite reasonable for the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness to raise the issue, but the Minister’s comments apply not just to this amendment, but to the whole area. I hope that we will have a chance this afternoon, albeit briefly, to discuss the implication of what she has just said for some of the other arrangements.
Mark Simmonds: I thank the Minister for her response. Sometimes if one moves probing amendments in Committee, one tends to agree more with the response rather than the initial amendment. At least the Minister has kindly put on the record that detailed consideration of the debate took place in the House of Lords, and she comprehensively set out the reasons for the decision that the Department, and she as the relevant Minister, have made in not changing the Bill. On that note, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment made: No. 44, in clause 24, page 23, line 7, leave out ‘any of’.—[Dawn Primarolo.]
Mark Simmonds: I beg to move amendment No. 36, in clause 24, page 23, line 42, at end insert—
‘(10) In this section “reasonable period” means a period of no longer than 3 months’.
The amendment relates to the definition of “reasonable period”. In this section there does not seem to be any definition of what is deemed to be a reasonable period, despite the phrase being used in subsections (6)(b) and (7)(b). I would be grateful if the Minister could clarify her perception of a reasonable period, and whether it will be specified and set down in regulations or whether it will be interpreted as and when appropriate by the HFEA.
Dawn Primarolo: We believe it right that if donors wish to ask for specified non-identifying information about the child, they should be able to do so. That right should be made clear in the Act. The clause sets out two possible routes for finding out that information. Information about the number, sex and year of birth of children born from donations is held on the HFEA’s register.
Where donors have donated through a licensed clinic or regulated sperm donation service, the most obvious route for their inquiry will be through that clinic or regulated service. Subsections (6) and (7) provide that the HFEA need not comply with the request from a donor if the clinic or regulated sperm donation service where the donor donated is still operating. That is unless the donor has asked for the information first and the clinic has failed to respond within a reasonable time period, or if it has notified the donor that the information is not held. In such cases, the donor can seek the information from the HFEA, which must comply if it has the information.
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The amendment would specify a reasonable time period, which would not exceed three months. If the clinic had not provided the information to the donor within the specified time period, the donor would be able to go straight to the HFEA. I recognise that three months might be considered a reasonable period in which to receive the information, but to specify it in the Bill would be over-prescriptive and bureaucratic, and would not allow the HFEA to determine the policy in the flexible manner that we have set out. I am sure that the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness can understand that it might not always be able to comply with three months, given the access points, the types of information that might be held and the different places that donors might have to go to. We would expect that to be done without unnecessary delay, but I would ask him not to press for a three-month limit to be put in the Bill.
Mark Simmonds: I thank the Minister for that clarification. I tabled the amendment to ensure that she and the HFEA understood the importance of the speed of provision of information and of putting pressure on clinics to provide it as quickly as possible. However, of course I understand her sensible points about being over-prescriptive in the Bill and thereby reducing flexibility. I very much hope that the HFEA will take on board comments made and perhaps even set out in guidelines an initial time scale for providing such information wherever possible. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury (Steve McCabe): I am advised that we will probably not be able to complete the clause stand part debate in the time that some of us might have hoped. Consequently, I beg to move that further consideration of the Bill be now adjourned.
The Chairman: Let me make the position plain. These are extremely complex issues and require a very high level of concentration, if we are to do them justice. I speak for nobody other than myself in saying that I find this quite difficult to follow, and the Chair needs to follow it very carefully. I believe that three hours in one sitting is long enough. I am perfectly happy to suspend the sitting and come back, but it seems that we have covered a great deal of ground today. I think that a period of reflection might refresh us all and allow hon. Members to have a good stand part debate on Tuesday morning.
Further consideration adjourned.—[Steve McCabe.]
Adjourned accordingly at two minutes past Four o’clock till Tuesday 10 June at half-past Ten o’clock.
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