Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill [Lords]

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Clause 42

Woman in civil partnership at time of treatment
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Mark Simmonds: I have a couple of examples that the Minister might like to consider overnight so that she can include them in her correspondence tomorrow. However, my first question does not relate to that matter. It is not clear what happens if a civil partner does not consent. Am I to assume that the same applies in civil partnership as with marriage—that, as we discussed earlier, consent is assumed?
I shall give examples of two complexities. First, what happens in a civil partnership in which both partners consent—by implication or otherwise—and the civil partnership is legally separated post-implantation of the embryo and one member of the original same-sex couple marries a man during the gestation period? Is that man the father? Does common law apply in that situation? Is that man therefore the parent?
The second example has the same initial set of circumstances. If there is a legal separation of a civil partnership, but a new and different civil partnership is then put in place, who is the parent? Is it the initial civil partner, when consent was assumed for the implantation to take place, or is it the new civil partner with whom the pregnant woman has entered into a civil partnership? Alternatively, is it up to the pregnant woman to make a choice between the two?
Dr. Pugh: It is probably my lack of attention to detail that prompts me to ask this question. The explanatory notes give the idea that there could be two sorts of arrangements: one in which civil partners happily consent to the arrangement, and the other in which only one partner does so. Similar provisions seem to apply to married couples, so the arrangements are equivalent. I understand that, and I know where everyone is coming from on that question. However, that might create problems further down the line for couples and civil partners.
If a child enters into the marriage or civil partnership but is not wanted, one would suppose that duties in relation to the child—whether imposed by the Home Office or others—were shared collectively.
Dawn Primarolo: It is not a question of whether a child is wanted; it is about who is mentioned on the birth certificate—that is all. The route that the hon. Gentleman is going down is about a child not being wanted. If there is a separation in a relationship and there are existing children, the question of how the family unit bonds is a matter for the couple. The Bill does not enter into that in any shape or form. Indeed, no legislation enters into the situation when there are stepchildren.
Dr. Pugh: I am grateful to the Minister for that clarification. What I think she is saying—I shall tell the Committee and she can say whether I have the gist of it—is that the clause does not alter any other piece of domestic legislation, family law or otherwise, but that it simply relates to the very technical, specific and precise matter of whether someone wants to go on the certificate.
Mr. Gary Streeter (South-West Devon) (Con): The clause is the first in a series of measures giving legal effect to same-sex couples—in this case lesbian couples—having IVF, in some cases on the NHS. I hope that the Committee will forgive me if I make a few comments to suggest why the clause should not stand part of the Bill. In doing so, I am speaking for myself—not for my party or as a Front-Bench spokesperson.
The clause should not be allowed to pass without making some comment to reflect a considerable amount of opinion in the country. As we legislate on behalf of the whole country, it is important that certain opinions are voiced, and I hope to do so in a reasonable manner.
I wish to express concern about the clause and subsequent clauses. Some people argue that because gay adoption is legal, it is only natural that same-sex couples should have the right to equal access to IVF treatment. The clause deals particularly with the birth certificate arrangements in that instance. I certainly understand the argument in terms of equality, but I believe that permitting IVF for lesbian couples is wholly different from lesbian adoption. I say that because when a child is conceived who is later adopted by a lesbian couple, they at least had the chance of having a father and might well have had a father for a certain period of time. That child already exists. We are talking about the state facilitating the process of a child being created who will have no chance whatsoever of ever having a father during the duration of his or her childhood, and the Bill has precisely that effect. Do you want to slap me down, Mr. Hood?
The Chairman: No yet.
Mr. Streeter: I am grateful.
I do not intend to repeat this speech during our proceedings on the remaining clauses in the cluster. That is why I hope that I can have my say on this clause, which leads us into the other clauses.
In clause 45, we have the chilling words
“no man is to be treated as the father of the child.”
I suggest that those words raise huge questions about child rights that have so far been given no attention in our deliberations. We are talking about two women creating a child who will never have a father. What is wrong with that? All my instincts are against that notion as it flies in the face of common sense and nature. I also believe that many of our constituents do not know that this is taking place through the single-woman route, or that it will be going on once the Bill becomes law. I think that many of our constituents would be puzzled by same-sex couples having IVF on the NHS, given the pressure that the NHS is under.
None of that may be enough to persuade the Committee that the clause should not stand part of the Bill, so let us consider some research on why the matter is so important. Of course, it is our responsibility as legislators to look at evidence and not to rely simply on our own instincts. Surely we must not do anything today that would prejudice the paramount interests of the child in light of the current balance of research. What, therefore, does the research say about how we should approach the subject? An extensive research base unequivocally demonstrates that fathers are important and bring something distinctive to the parenting process that is different from what mothers bring. The Minister might remember that after a few refusals, she allowed me to intervene on Second Reading to ask whether the Government thought there was any difference in the process of a loving same-sex couple—two mothers bringing up a child—and a loving mother and father bringing up a child? Is there no advantage at all in having a father? The Minister was good enough to say that that was not the Government’s position. She must therefore accept that having a father can be important in the circumstances that I have just described—[Interruption.]
The Chairman: Order. Hon. Members must give the hon. Gentleman the right to have a hearing.
Mr. Streeter: Thank you, Mr. Hood.
Fathers bring something distinctive to the party. One can only handle research in relation to children responsibly by concluding that we must assume that the best interests of the child are, on average—although we know of wonderful examples that buck the trend—less likely to be met in the absence of a father. In the light of the very extensive body of research, we have to conclude that it would be wrong of the state to facilitate the deliberate creation of children with the intention that they should be denied the chance of ever having a father for the duration of their childhood, yet that is what the clause does. The body of research is so extensive that I cannot refer to all of it, but I want to cite a few texts. They have not come to me from lobby groups, so I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury will be happy for me to mention them.
6.15 pm
The first document is called “Theorizing the Father-Child Relationship” and it was published in 2004. It states:
“Recent work suggests that fathers play a much larger role than mothers in the socialization of children’s emotions, especially in anger regulation.”
Another report called “Toward Disentangling Fathering and Mothering”—I am not sure who comes up with these snappy titles—states:
“there is support here for the relative importance of fathers’ (as compared to mothers’) support of both sons and daughters. Youth who report feeling supported by their fathers are better able to engage prosocially outside the home...Lastly, positive fathering tends to be linked to lower levels of later depression for early adolescent girls, whereas positive mothering tends to be linked to lower levels of later depression for early adolescent boys.”
In other words, mothers and fathers bring different things to children.
I have similar quotes, but I will give just one more:
“Our longitudinal findings for traditional families seem to point to a unique contribution of the father to the child’s emotional security”.
That is from a report called “The Uniqueness of the Child-Father Attachment Relationship”.
A smaller body of research focuses narrowly on studying same-sex parenting, about which we heard quite a lot on Second Reading. I think that the BMA sent all hon. Members a briefing on the subject, which refers to some findings. The BMA report states:
“A substantial amount of research has been carried out on the parenting skills of lesbian couples. In the early days, research focused upon women who had started a family in a heterosexual relationship but continued to raise their children in a lesbian relationship. More recently, research has concentrated upon lesbian couples who seek to have a child through donor insemination at a licensed fertility clinic”—
as would be permitted by clause 42. It continues:
“Social research on children born to these families has given similar findings to those children born to solo mothers. Their emotional and psychological development is comparable to children born of donor insemination to two heterosexual parents. In fact, the second female parent often has greater parent-child interaction than do the fathers in the heterosexual couples.”
That seems to be very supportive of the parenting skills of two mums, as opposed to a mother and a father. On the basis of that briefing, one might have presumed a supporting reference to a selection of key texts to define that “substantial amount of research”. In reality, however, the statement in question is backed by just one footnote, which cites just one 11-year-old journal article—hardly an extensive research base.
Jeremy Wright (Rugby and Kenilworth) (Con): My hon. Friend will tell me straight away if he intends to come on to this issue in his speech. Does he share my concern that as the child of such a practice grows up, he or she will instinctively understand that it cannot be right that both of his or her mothers were the only people involved in his or her conception? Is he therefore concerned about the effect on the child of that realisation and where it may lead?
Mr. Streeter: I did not intend to come on to that point in this speech; I made it on Second Reading. However, my hon. Friend is right. I think that I said on Second Reading that that realisation could only add to the turbulence of the teenage years—the self-discovery, the identity crisis that many hon. Members in this Room have clearly gone through and possibly one or two still are. That realisation certainly cannot help, and I am concerned about that.
There is other research on the subject, most of which is linked to somebody called Professor Susan Golombok, whom we heard quite a lot about on Second Reading. She has written extensively and almost exclusively—hardly anyone else seems to write on the subject with the same authority as her. A paper that she co-authored called “Children with Lesbian Parents”, published in the journal Developmental Psychology in 2003, stated that
“it may be the involvement of a second parent rather than the involvement of a male parent that makes the difference.”
Notice the use of the words “it may”. That is hardly conclusive. It could equally be argued that it may not.
In another journal, Golombok et al go on to say that the loss of a parent through relationship breakdown—
Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr. Hood. My understanding was that the House had been given a chance to debate the need for a father, admittedly not on this clause. As Chairman of the Committee, are you now allowing a debate on the need for a father, which the hon. Gentleman appears to be reopening? I would welcome your ruling.
The Chairman: The hon. Gentleman knows that specific clauses were given permission to be decided on the Floor of the House. The clause that we are discussing now is the business of the Committee. The hon. Member for South-West Devon is perfectly in order when speaking to a stand part debate.
Mr. Streeter: Thank you, Mr. Hood. I have nearly finished. I apologise for detaining the Committee for so long, but I think that the voice needs to be heard.
I am talking about the further research of Professor Golombok, who says that perhaps it is just the loss of a parent through relationship breakdown, whether heterosexual or homosexual, that is the real engine for prejudicing the best interests of the child. That is interesting and makes sense, but fails to take account of the fact that the only study of relationship stability within the context of civil partnership arrangements was done in Sweden, where such relationships have been legal since the early 1990s. That study showed that male gay couples are 50 per cent. more likely to break up than married heterosexual couples and that the rate of partnership break-up for lesbian couples is about double that for gay couples. It does not help the argument to postulate that the problem is discordant relationships, because that is much more likely to face the children who, sadly, might be coming into existence as a result of clause 42.
Dawn Primarolo: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that what counts in every circumstance is the quality of the parenting? For instance, where children are sent away to boarding school at an early age, they are removed from their parents, but the quality of their relationship continues, even though they are separated for long periods. The constant presence of a particular family mix is not the guiding point in the development of children, but rather the fact they are loved and valued and the quality of their relationships, regardless of the structure of the family.
The Chairman: Order. The Minister is taking a wee bit long over her intervention.
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