|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Finally, these profoundly important issues deserve widespread consideration. The Government need to understand that many in my community are watching how this law proceeds with intense interest and growing concern.
Lord Selsdon: My Lords, I declare an interest in that I find this one of the most fascinating and interesting subjects that I have ever come across in your Lordships House. It confuses me in many ways because I am, or was, a member of the Joint Committee; I was actually the longest-serving member and the one who knew the least. I was drip-fed by my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern, who introduced me to the primitive streak; I was spoon-fed by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans, as we both had an understanding of Isaiah Berlin; and I was excited by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis of Heigham, who had that female enthusiasm for various activities. I learnt so much. My problem, however, was that I thought that this Bill was about saving life and curing diseases. I did not realise that it was such a social Bill or that it had the potential to create so many problems.
I declare another interest: in my own family, historically, we have had problems of fertility. Yet when it was suggested that there should be single-sex selection, I pointed out that the hereditary peerage would have welcomed that hundreds of years ago, as would many in the Middle East who would prefer to have only male children. My real sensitivity, however, came when I found that I had a problem. I saw a consultant, who said, You have a knee problem; obviously, you are not academic. I thought that that was a strange thing to say. Was I so stupid? He said, No, academics are so happy with their own thoughts that they never take any exercise. I went to see a surgeon in a well known hospital here and found myself sitting down waiting. There were a lot of women there and I was not sure where I was. Then I suddenly saw women coming in, one after the other, and then going out. Your Lordships will know what body language can be; you would see someone coming in nervously and going out with a spring in their step or looking more miserable. I was in the waiting room of a fertility clinic. I realised the importance of the child to a man and a woman and a family.
In the committee, I found two things missing. First, nobody could tell me what diseases or maladies this research would assist in. When I asked the Chief Medical Officer how many, he said, We dont actually know, but maybe about 10 million. I asked whether anyone knew where it was going, but no one was quite sure. I also thought that we were short of socio-economic data. I worked in that field some time ago and my great guru Mark Abrams, who was then my chairman and president of the Social Science Research Council, said to me, Always think in social trends, but dont forget that trends can be reversed.
Your Lordships will be aware of the publication Social Trends. I thought that I would look up some social data. As your Lordships know, we have 60 million people in this country, of whom 90 per cent are white and 10 per cent are black. Does that mean anything? Is that ethnic? No, but it means that there are different religions, and minority religions. We have 30.9 million women and 29.5 million men. We have an average age of 39, which is up from 34 over the last generation. These are just the basic statistics of a population. But 50 per cent are married; of another 10 per cent, my grandmother would have said that they live in sin, although it is now called co-habiting. You then look at the other trends and find that the fertility rate among women in the last generation has gone up from about 1.63 to 1.79: the average number of children has increased.
Perhaps more significant still is that the average age for giving birth is 27.3, up from about 23. In general, we have an older and older population, with people getting married laterwomen at an average age of 29, men at 31. This may not necessarily be relevant, but there is a change in the structure of our society in that 7 million people now live alone. A generation ago, 4 per cent were from single-parent families, and now the figure is 25 per cent.
These social changes have had an impact on me and I have wondered what has gone wrong. Are we talking about parents or families? So I thought that I would try something on your Lordships: I suggest that we stop talking about mothers and fathers, because, quite frankly, we need the mother just as much as we need the father and there is no mention of the need for the mother. We must start to look at the family unit.
As I pointed out, 50 per cent of the population are married. If they have children, they will do so by natural or assisted conception, or by adoption. The 10 per cent who are cohabiting can also have children. If you are married and have children, are they legitimate? Yes. If you are cohabiting and have children, are they illegitimate? I am not sure. I asked my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern this morning and he said that legitimacy does not come into it these days. People can have children naturally, if you call it that, or by assisted conception, or they can adopt. Then I came to a new classification of what I will call families: a family of two women cohabiting. They cannot have children by natural conception, but they can have children in assisted manners and they can adopt. I thought that maybe we should try to introduce into the law that we
21 Nov 2007 : Column 848
Here I shall make a political point, but not a party-political one. Over the past 10 years, I have noticed that in the political world people are paying more and more attention to the views of minorities, because, I suggest, they think that the minority vote might count. That may not be true, but the wishes and feelings of the majority are often ignored, including the moral feelings. When we look at that, my suggestion is that we have a few technical problems. The average age at which a male civil partnership is entered into is 47 and the average age for female civil partnership is 44. Therefore, the people involved are above the age at which it is normal to be given IVF treatment on the NHS.
Those are minor issues, but I come now to some of the other sides of the action. What diseases and afflictions can be cured? As your Lordships know, we have roughly 274,000 people in this country with heart problems, 275,000 with cancer, 700,000 with Alzheimers and 120,000 with Parkinsons. If you go further down the scale, there are some 2 million people with diabetes and other things. Which of these diseases or afflictions can be cured? No one has been able to explain it to me.
I thought that I should look at the other side. I have become so interested in this that I have become actively involved in adult stem cells. I really did not want to have a knee operation and I wanted to be able to regrow cartilage. I learnt that stem cells can be taken from embryos but that they tend to be allergenic; the body may react and the immune system may reject them. In the middle you have the foetal stem cells from the cord. I declare an interest, as my grandchildrens cords have been deep-frozen in case they may be useful in future. Then you have adult stem cells. I am told that they may be one of the best routes by which to go forward into the future because, although they are older and not so manipulative, they provide considerable benefits. In the cases that I am involved in, adult stem cells are used; they are extracted from the hip to regenerate heart muscle and to solve problems of diabetic foot, at a stage when possibly people can no longer have a heart transplant.
All of this I find fascinating, but it is a moral and ethical issue above all else. I am still not sure when life begins. I like the idea of the primitive streak roaming over something and of the single cell emerging that can then differentiatefrom that comes forth life. I believe that the ethics and the morality are the most important part of the Bill and I agree with everybody who subscribes to the belief that that should be supervised by an appropriate body. I believe that that body should be Parliament.
Lord Northbourne: My Lords, when I used to be involved extensively in agriculture, people used to ask me, What do you think about GM crops?. My answer was always the same: it depends who is using them and what they are using them for. I suggest that that is not a bad criterion for judging scientific discovery. All scientific discoveries are rather like the genie that you let out of the bottle: you know that you cannot put it back in again, and you know that the reason that you will be given for letting it out is that it will do all sorts of wonderful things. We have not really thought about the downside.
I will not say more on that subject, except that I very much support the proposal made by the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, and the noble Lord, Lord Turnberg, that we need a national standing committee on bioethics to see whether we cannot limit the damage that will ultimately be done by charlatans using the discoveries that we will have authorised for good.
I find it very depressing that this Government, who have introduced so many excellent initiatives to help children, propose to use words in the Bill that will undermine the role of fathers and families. Honestly, I do not believe that they mean to do so, but I fear that the words they have chosen will have that effect. As drafted, the Bill has major social implications, as I see it. I suspect that the Minister will say that the removal of the word fatherI take as the central example Clause 14(2)(b), which has been spoken about by other noble Lordsmakes no difference because the welfare of the child requirement will remain in place. I believe that he is wrong.
For most people, and especially for some fathers, the removal of that word will imply that the Government do not really think that the role played by fathers is important. It will also seriously downgrade the standing of the traditional family in the long term. It will downgrade the role of fathers to leave some children in limbo, not knowing their biological fathera point that has been made by many noble Lords. It will promote the idea that the mothers wishes are more important than the well-being of the child and it will encourage single parenthood.
Today, the state and local authority services are wildly overstretched and sometimes they have shown themselves not to be absolutely ideal surrogate parents. Our society surely needs more, not less, parental responsibility, especially more responsible fathers. It is not the moment to discourage fathers and suggest that they are not important.
During our debate on Monday, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, who is not in her place, drew attention to our societys growing need to look to fathers to be more responsible for their child or children. If we want fathers to be responsible, the last
21 Nov 2007 : Column 850
Why, then, are fathers important? Parenting is one of the most important jobs in the world. It is also one of the toughest, especially if you are poor. It is very expensive; it is hugely time-consuming; and it is often emotionally draining. It is scarcely surprising that the parenting job is easier and the chances of success greater if there are two partners working together, sharing the physical, financial and emotional burdens. To say that is in no way to criticise those mothers who have to bear the burden alone, and often do so with courage and success.
An accumulation of evidence shows the importance of a father in bringing up children. I suggest that the father has four roles. The first is giving physical, financial and emotional support to the mother. The second is as a secondary, but still very important, attachment figure for the child, adding to its self-esteem and sense of security. The third is as a role model, showing a boy what it means to be a man, building his self-esteem, encouraging him to work at school and developing by example his social skills. The fourth is as a role model to both boys and girls, showing them how a man and a woman can live and work together in a loving relationship.
It is possible, but not proven, that a second mother can perform the first two of the roles that were traditionally those of the father, but she certainly cannot substitute for the father as a male role model. When most boys reach the age of seven or eight, they instinctively start to ask themselves what it means to be a man. They seek out heroes to be their role models. If there is a father, the child will instinctively love and admire him and will turn to him. If there is not, however, he will look elsewhere. With so few male teachers in primary schools today, he may have little alternative but to find a role model in his computer game or, as he grows up, in a gang leader on the street.
I recogniseI am sure someone will say thisthat there are some bad fathers and some families with poor relationship skills. To be fair, some of us have been saying this for a number of years and have been pressing the Government to do more to encourage and empower young men and women to improve their relationship skills and to teach relationship skills as part of the schools curriculum. Of course there are also wonderful mothers who manage to bring up their child successfully on their own, but this does not alter the fact that the statistics show that, across the board, children who grow up with a dad, or with a committed surrogate dad such as a grandfather, are likely to have better chances in life, both at school and later.
My main concern is not so much with that small minority of children who will grow up in a lesbian household and who will have two women to look after them, but with the fact that Clause 14(2)(b) and other parts of the Bill will send a message to fathers that it does not matter if they abandon their child, and it will send a message to all prospective mothers that it does not matter whether their child has a dad. In this context there is a serious lack of government clarity
21 Nov 2007 : Column 851
Finally, the failure of boys to achieve in schools and in later life is tremendously linkedmore linked than we realiseto the lack of a father at home, a point that has been made by other noble Lords. This Government have, to their great credit, committed themselves to the principle that every child matters and to the principle that primacy must be given to the best interests of the child. In this context, they are making a very great mistake in giving the impression in the Bill that fathers do not matter. I shall be interested to hear how the Minister will square the primacy of the best interests of the child with the Governments decision to sideline fathers in the Bill.
Lord Clarke of Hampstead: My Lords, a while ago my noble friend Lord Ahmed said that he was the least qualified in the Chamber to speak on this subject. I should tell him that he runs a close second to me because I am probably the least qualified.
Since the debate on Monday, I have been troubled by a number of issues raised by noble Lords. As the Bill progresses through its various stages, I have no doubt that some of my concerns will be discussed in greater detail, and I sincerely hope that my fears will be somewhat reduced. One issue raised in Mondays contributions really frightens me: the plea made by my noble friend Lord Winston when he asked the Government to ensure,
It could be said that someone like me who has no scientific qualifications should not question what my noble friend said, but I want the most stringent regulation in the areas covered by the Bill. Many lay people like me would find it hard to accept that any easing of the regulations would be in the best interests of the researchers in this field. I suggest that they, like me, want just the opposite of a light touch.
As I said, many parts of the Bill cause me concern, but I have great concern about the fact that Members in another place have already made clear their intention to seek amendments to liberalise further the laws on abortionlaws that have led to almost 7 million abortions. It would be a pity if other controversial issues in the Billsuch as the creation of animal, human or hybrid embryos, or the deliberate removal of a father from the upbringing of a childwere overshadowed by issues never considered by the Joint Committee that scrutinised the draft Bill.
It is worrying to hear pronouncements that the Bill will be used to remove the two-doctors requirement on forms authorising abortion, to force nurses and midwives to undertake abortions, to extend the Act to Northern Ireland and to abolish the conscience clause. I was pleased that the noble Baroness, Lady Emerton, in her excellent speech on Monday, informed the House of the problems facing midwives and nurses. It is vital that the House has proper time
21 Nov 2007 : Column 852
In particular, I believe that we need to give fresh, objective and detailed consideration to the current upper time limit for abortions. As the House will know, the limit under the Abortion Act 1967 was initially 28 weeks but was lowered to 24 weeks as part of the changes introduced under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990. This change reflected changes in our understanding of intrauterine life and improvements in neonatal care which meant that more premature babies were surviving. Under the Infant Life (Preservation) Act, already mentioned today, it remains a crime to abort a baby who is,
There has been much debate about whether the upper limit should be lowered further, and public and parliamentary opinion on the matter is now very clear. In written evidence submitted to the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, it was noted that 63 per cent of MPs, nearly two-thirds of the public and more than three-quarters of women support a reduction in the 24-week upper age limit. Seventy six per cent of the public think that aborting a baby at six months gestation is cruel. The recent poll by Marie Stopes International, as reported in the Telegraph on 20 October, found that two-thirds of GPs want a reduction from 24 weeks.
Those results are striking because the BMA remains opposed to a reduction. The BMAs opposition suggests to me that it is out of touch with grassroots doctors opinion. The question has also been raised whether the BMA has been influenced by members of its ethics committee who have quite extreme views on the issue. Dr Evan Harristhe Liberal Democrat MP for Oxford, West and Abingdonplayed a major role, through his local BMA division and as a member of the BMA ethics committee which drafted the guidance on upper limits, in achieving this change of policy. I note that he was also on the Science and Technology Committee which recommended this policy. According to a national newspaper, he tabled 126 amendments to the chairmans original draft report. He is also secretary of the All Party Parliamentary Pro-Choice and Sexual Health Group and I believe that his partner works as a press officer for the BPAS, one of our countrys largest abortion providers. Might it be that we are being swayed by a small number of activists in this debate?
As a former union official I know how it is possible for a small group of activists to influence policies, not just in trade unions but within political parties. Abortion Rightsthe national coalition pushing for liberalisation of UK abortion law in order to bring in abortion on demand, nurse abortion and to make abortion available in doctors surgeries and at homeclaims the support of the TUC and a number of national trade unions. Given where public opinion is moving, I find it very hard to believe that grassroots members of trade unions are really this extreme in their views. I suspect that most of them are not even aware of what their leaders are claiming in their name
21 Nov 2007 : Column 853
It is not hard to understand why public opinion has changed. I am sure that we have all seen Professor Stuart Campbells amazing 4-D ultrasound images showing, in amazing detail, babies walking in the womb from 12 weeks gestation. In written evidence, stories of babies born alive after failed abortions were also presented to the Science and Technology Committee.
A paper published in May 2007 in the BJOG, an international journal of obstetrics and gynaecology, presented data on termination of pregnancy for foetal anomaly from a large population-based cohort of births that occurred in a 10-year period from 1995 to 2004 in the West Midlands. The authors found that of a total of 3,189 cases of termination for foetal anomaly, 1023.2 per centof the babies were born alive. Those live births following abortion for foetal anomaly occurred in 18 of the 20 maternity units in the West Midlands. The proportion of births at different gestation periods were: 14.7 per cent at between 16 and 20 weeks; 65.7 per cent between 20 and 24 weeks and 19.6 per cent at or after 24 weeks. These accounts have shocked the public, and quite rightly so.
Added to this growing perception of the humanity of the foetus is evidence showing that foetuses feel pain; and in the very best neonatal units, increasing numbers of babies are surviving below 24 weeks. We have all heard the amazing story of Millie McDonagh, who weighed just 20 ounces and measured 11 inches from head to toe when she was born in Manchester, in October, after a 22-week pregnancy. She was a week older than the worlds most premature baby, Amillia Taylor, who was born in the United States on 24 October.
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|