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General Committee Debates
Human Fertilisation and Embryology

Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill [Lords]

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairmen: Mr. Roger Gale, †Mr. Jim Hood
Clarke, Mr. Tom (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (Lab)
Gibson, Dr. Ian (Norwich, North) (Lab)
Harris, Dr. Evan (Oxford, West and Abingdon) (LD)
Iddon, Dr. Brian (Bolton, South-East) (Lab)
Jones, Helen (Warrington, North) (Lab)
Key, Robert (Salisbury) (Con)
McCabe, Steve (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)
McCafferty, Chris (Calder Valley) (Lab)
Moffatt, Laura (Crawley) (Lab)
Morgan, Julie (Cardiff, North) (Lab)
Penning, Mike (Hemel Hempstead) (Con)
Primarolo, Dawn (Minister of State, Department of Health)
Pugh, Dr. John (Southport) (LD)
Simmonds, Mark (Boston and Skegness) (Con)
Streeter, Mr. Gary (South-West Devon) (Con)
Turner, Dr. Desmond (Brighton, Kemptown) (Lab)
Wright, Jeremy (Rugby and Kenilworth) (Con)
Hannah Weston, Celia Blacklock, Committee Clerks
† attended the Committee

Public Bill Committee

Thursday 12 June 2008


[Mr. Jim Hood in the Chair]

Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill [Lords]

(Except clauses 4, 11, 14 and 23, schedule 2, and any new clauses or new schedules relating to the termination of pregnancy by registered medical practitioners)

Schedule 6

Amendments relating to parenthood in cases involving assisted reproduction
Question proposed [this day], That the schedule, as amended, be the Sixth schedule to the Bill.
1 pm
Question again proposed.
The Minister of State, Department of Health (Dawn Primarolo): I have one last point to make in response to the issues raised by hon. Members.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East asked about whether the fact that a child was donor-conceived should be on the birth certificate. In recognising the difficulty that others, such as the Joint Committee on Human Rights and the Royal College of Midwives, have with that being on a public document, he raised the prospect of whether one way round the problem would be to have two birth certificates—one public and one private. The private one would be longer and would indicate that the individual was donor-conceived.
I will not express an opinion either way, because we are discussing one of the options that we would need to consider when carrying out a review, which we have committed ourselves to doing within four years of the Bill coming into force. The question is whether there is a way in which the law can be changed to balance the issues that hon. Members have raised—the right to know of the donor-conceived child against the rights of the donor and anonymity—and to make progress. That is certainly the sort of issue that could be explored, and that was why the Government decided that it was better to consider it in the context of a review and to report back to the House.
The schedule is long because it deals with England and Wales; where the law varies in Scotland, it deals with Scotland, and it also deals with Northern Ireland. Much of it is duplication, but for different jurisdictions.
Dawn Primarolo: I am sorry to disagree, but I do not think that the hon. Gentleman’s point makes the case either. First, to say “Well, something could happen in the future, but we don’t know,” applies to us all. Secondly, the parents will have a duty and all parents will want to do the best for their child. If something happened before the individual was 18, the parents would clearly need to think very carefully about what steps they might be able to take in those circumstances. We are talking about screening for things that we do not know that we need to be screened for. With respect, it is a preposterous proposition to say that therefore this should apply to somebody else. Of course, when the child gets to 18, they have an absolute right to know the identity of the person. This is an interesting debating point, but it does not shed any light on the reasons why we would want to put the proposed information on the birth certificate.
I am not saying that the Government have set their face against the proposal. I am saying that this is a highly complex issue, which balances a whole series of rights, including those of the donor. We need to consider the possibilities in the light of the new legislation, and that was why the four-year review was proposed.
Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon) (LD): I agree with both the Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for Southport—[Interruption.] I know that that is hard to do, but I am trying to bring members of the Committee together.
There will be advances—perhaps even genetic chips—in the future, and we might be able to screen for diseases that we cannot screen for at the moment. Nevertheless, the Minister is right that we cannot future-proof things, and my hon. Friend’s point is not a good enough argument for changing the current position. Indeed, I do not think that it will ever be a good enough argument for invading the privacy of families. There is always a risk that we will inherit something—life is full of risks.
Dawn Primarolo: There is no end to the hon. Gentleman’s talents. He is—I say this genuinely, but also as a bit of a joke, so I hope that he takes it in the right spirit—a conciliator as well. He makes the important point that the distance between what I and the hon. Member for Southport are saying is not that great. We are both saying that we need to consider the issue properly and balance the rights of all those involved, and we should not do that in haste.
Mark Simmonds (Boston and Skegness) (Con) rose—
Dawn Primarolo: That was a good, conciliatory point to end on, but the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness wants to intervene first.
Mark Simmonds: I understand what the Minister says, and she is right that these matters are extremely complicated. Will she say a little more, however, about how the Government came to the view that four years was the appropriate length of time for the consultation? Although these are complex issues, four years is still an extraordinarily long time to take reaching a conclusion.
Dawn Primarolo: We made a commitment to carry the review forward within four years. As I said, the Government were seeking common ground by making it clear that we had not set our face against the proposal or decided on the issue in principle. We also clearly needed time to assess things such as “telling and talking”, the Donor Conception Network project and the extra work on counselling. Equally, we were trying to meet the legitimate concerns of Lord Jenkin, who proposed the four-year period in his amendment in another place. We picked that up, but included the caveat that the review would happen within four years. I assume that Lord Jenkin was looking for a sunset provision to ensure that the review would definitely be done by a certain time, although it could be done earlier if necessary. That was why we settled on four years. To follow on from the comments made by the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon, let me say that the Government were trying to be conciliatory—we were trying to find common ground.
Question put and agreed to.
Schedule 6, as amended, agreed to.
Clauses 57 and 58 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 59

Surrogacy arrangements
Mark Simmonds: I beg to move amendment No. 178, in clause 59, page 49, line 23, at end insert—
‘(2C) Not for profit bodies can only recoup the costs incurred—
(a) initiating or taking part in negotiations with a view to the making of a surrogacy arrangement, or
(b) compiling any information with a view to its use in making, or negotiating the making of, a surrogacy arrangement.’.
Clause 59 brings us back to surrogacy arrangements, which are not enforceable in law, as the Minister correctly said. The Surrogacy Arrangements Act 1985 prohibits organisations or people, other than intended parents or surrogate mothers, from undertaking certain activities relating to surrogacy on a commercial basis, and that is absolutely correct.
Not-for-profit bodies can charge a fee to initiate negotiations with a view to making surrogacy arrangements and compiling information about surrogacy. However, they are not allowed to receive payments for offering to negotiate a surrogacy arrangement or for taking part in negotiations about them. However, they are allowed to do such things if there is no charge. There is thus potential for cross-subsidisation, with not-for-profit organisations charging more for the activities for which they are able to charge so that they can undertake those activities for which they are not able to charge.
The amendment would ensure that cross-subsidy was prevented, and that charges that were allowed for initiating negotiations or providing information could be commensurate only with the costs incurred in fulfilling those specific roles, and not in generating revenue so that not-for-profit organisations could get involved in other things.
Dawn Primarolo: We have discussed various elements of surrogacy as it relates to the Bill. Clause 59 amends the 1985 Act to clarify the position in law of non-profit making surrogacy organisations. It makes clear that they may charge for their services on a non-profit making basis, and enables them to advertise the services for which they may charge. Such bodies get involved in initiating negotiations with a view to making surrogacy arrangements, and compiling information about surrogacy with a view to its use in making or negotiating a surrogacy arrangement. We recognise that it is difficult for surrogacy organisations to provide a service for a small number of people who seek advice and help with surrogacy in the UK if they are unable to recoup the costs of providing those services.
The amendment would ensure that non-profit surrogacy organisations could recoup the costs incurred only for initiating or taking parting in negotiations with a view to making surrogacy arrangements, or compiling any information with a view to its use in making surrogacy arrangements. I reassure the hon. Gentleman that that is what the Bill does, albeit in a slightly different way.
Clause 59 says that an organisation may charge for certain activities, but only if it is
“not carried on for profit.”
It may charge for: initiating negotiations with a view to making a surrogacy arrangement; enabling interested parties to meet each other to discuss possible surrogacy arrangements; compiling information about surrogacy with a view to its use in making or negotiating a surrogacy arrangement; and establishing and keeping lists of people willing to be surrogates or intended parents.
I can absolutely assure the hon. Gentleman that subsections (2), (4) and (5) insert provisions into the 1985 Act that achieve exactly the intentions behind his amendment. I make it clear that the measure will allow organisations to recoup the costs of providing these services only on a not-for-profit basis. The provisions would enable not-for-profit organisations to charge for putting couples in touch with each other, but not for any more direct intervention in the discussion. I appreciate that that is a fine line—it is exactly the line that the hon. Gentleman wants to ensure is in place—but I assure him and the Committee that the amendments to the 1985 Act are not intended to turn surrogacy into a commercial industry. The arrangements will be kept exactly as they are. The 1985 Act contained firm steps to ban any commercialisation of surrogacy and that principle has not been changed.
I hope that those strong reassurances will satisfy the hon. Gentleman that we have stayed on the correct side of the fine line. I am grateful for the opportunity to spell that out clearly.
1.15 pm
Mark Simmonds: I am grateful for the Minister’s constructive response to my probing amendment and for her reassurance that there is to be no movement away from the principle that surrogacy is prohibited from becoming a commercial activity in this country. I am assured from what she said that the point behind the amendment is covered elsewhere in the clause.
Before I withdraw the amendment, I want to point out that I am still somewhat concerned about something. I do not suggest that non-profit organisations in the surrogacy field would do so, but I am aware that there are other non-profit organisations that are good at increasing their cost base to make sure that they do not make any profit and that they therefore come within the guidelines, but they do so while increasing their revenue streams. We certainly would not want to deter people from participation in surrogacy for financial reasons and financial purposes.
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