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If the amendment is successful and Clause 14(2)(b) is removed, it would not do any harm to single-sex parents or to single parents. It would recognise the vital contribution of fathers, not to every family—and we must acknowledge that single-sex couples and single parents bring up many children successfully—but to many families. We are looking at what message is being sent out. In my respectful view, the Government must not allow some groups to prevail over the welfare of children.

Lord Turnberg: We have heard some significant and impressive arguments in favour of fatherhood. As someone who will oppose this amendment, I should hate to be regarded as someone who is also against fatherhood; I am all for it. I am particularly interested in being a father and in having a father. I regard fatherhood as extremely important.

The question is not whether fatherhood is important for children but whether it should be made a legal obligation in the Bill in relation to IVF. That leads us into a series of illogicalities. The first relates to whether other forms of fertility treatments should be considered in the same light. I regard IVF as one of a series of

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treatments that patients who are infertile come to doctors for. Patients come because they might need hormonal therapy or tubal surgery to improve their fertility. Their parenting skills may be looked at but that is not a legal obligation at that stage. Only when they come, finally—having gone through many of these procedures—to IVF are they suddenly faced with having to answer questions about whether they are suitable parents and whether a father should be involved. That puts an illogicality into the system. Of course fatherhood is important but should it be part of the Bill? For example, a patient who has gone through the various treatments may come to IVF and suddenly say, “I am unsure whether this person is someone I wish to be the father of my unborn child”, casting doubt on the need for the father in that instance. What would if happen if they were turned down? That would create enormous problems for the doctor and the patient. That is an intolerable situation to put future parents in, so I oppose the amendment.

Lord Harries of Pentregarth: The noble Lord, Lord Warner, three times referred to the symbolic effect of this clause and the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, talked about the message that would go out from this House. But symbols can, of course, be interpreted in different ways, and they can be interpreted in very different ways by different constituencies. The noble and learned Baroness said that fathers’ organisations in this country would feel undermined if we no longer had in the Bill the phrase,

That may very well be so; I listened with great respect and attention to what she said. However, the symbolic effect of this clause bears most directly, year after year, on people seeking IVF. That is where the symbolic effect will come home with startling clarity. We must ask about the effect of agreeing to this amendment on people who are seeking IVF.

We are all agreed that fatherhood brings a huge amount to a family; that is not in doubt. As has been said time and again, the studies continually reinforce that. But we all know—I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Winston, will say something about this—about the studies that show the even more important effect of a stable and loving environment and of supportive relationships, whatever the sex. In weighing the symbolic effect of what we do today, I ask the Committee to take into account the symbolic effect not only upon the wider public, however this is reported, but on people who, year after year, seek in vitro fertilisation treatment.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: If anyone had come into Committee to listen to the debate without looking closely at the wording of this amendment, they would have presumed that we were debating a Bill or a clause to abolish fatherhood. Therefore, most of the speeches were in defence of the values and virtues of fatherhood. As the noble Lord, Lord Turnberg, rightly said, that is not what we should be arguing today. That is perfectly proper for general debate or possibly even at Second Reading, but we are looking at which words should be in the Bill—neither more nor less.



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I doubt that anyone in the Committee would dispute the value of fatherhood and the need for fathers or for good male role models—grandparents, uncles, or whoever—in the absence of fathers. I cannot believe that anyone would dissent from that view, so what are we arguing about? It is not about fatherhood, or about 80, 100 or 150 pieces of research. It is not about that at all. As for my noble friend Lord Warner saying that the joint scrutiny committee wished to keep the original words in, I recall that it was a straw vote of 7:7 and the chairman voted a second time to reinsert it, so, in all fairness, it was evenly balanced. That was the result, although it could have been different on a different day, as obviously some of that committee’s members were missing.

The question is whether these words are workable if they are in the Bill, and if they are—and I believe that they probably are not—whether they are also fair. If they are workable, they are not fair. If the words are meaningless they should not be in the Bill; some people might think them a message, but frankly these are vacuous words. We should not be using legislation to carry personal views in that way. We are operating by the law of the land, which has to be administered by clinicians in their day-to-day dealings. However much we may value fatherhood—as I certainly do and have done—empty rhetoric is not part and process of what those clinicians should be engaged in dispensing when dealing with their patients.

Let us say that the amendment is to be voted for and that this is not just about rhetoric but meant to have practical effects. Therefore, when a single woman presents without an obliging male in tow she is, presumably, to be refused treatment while a heterosexual woman presenting with an obliging male in tow is permitted treatment. Now, I know from eight years, work on child policy that the best predictor of good outcomes for the girl child of a lone parent is if that parent goes into work, while the best predictor for the boy child of a lone parent is if that boy is in active contact with his natural father. I know and believe those things, so I am being consistent with government policy. Yet I also know that the average time that a woman spends as a lone parent is not a lifetime sentence, but two and a half years. She is likely to re-partner—for good or bad, but I hope for good.

We also know that when a heterosexual woman comes with an obliging partner in tow, if that is the husband then 50 per cent of those marriages will end in divorce, and if they are cohabiting then two-thirds will break up. In other words, what happens at the point of presentation for IVF treatment bears little connection or correlation to whether a man or a male partner will, as a result, play a long-term role in the life of the child. If the woman is single, a male partner may come on to the scene and be with her. If that woman is partnered, it is unfortunately more than likely that their relationship will break up before that child even reaches their teens. Those are the facts; we do not know, and neither do they.

I do not doubt that they will seek to make it work. My point is about using IVF treatment as the litmus test of whether that woman will or will not have a child, without her knowing whether the man who is

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there at that point will continue to be an active, engaged father in that child’s life. Much as we would wish it, the facts are that the odds against that are more than even.

That is why we should not be engaged in high-flown rhetoric about the need for a father, which I share. We should not seek to put that in the Bill when in practice whatever we say in the Bill will not affect human behaviour. What it will do, to pick up the point made by the noble and right reverend Lord, is send out a different message. It will not say that fathers are necessary or desirable—it will not change that behaviour at all. It will send out a message that all families without fathers, whether the children were conceived through IVF or, even more widely, naturally, are second-class and second-rate. Those children face the reality of stigma.

More than one message would come out of the Bill if this amendment were accepted. Although I recognise, along with all of us, that fatherhood is important and that the welfare of the child is paramount, those words do not belong in the Bill.

5 pm

Lord Lloyd of Berwick: Does the noble Baroness accept that we ought to take account of the welfare of the child in these matters? If she does, is not the need for a father simply an aspect of the welfare of the child?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: I absolutely agree that the welfare of the child is paramount. The child thrives best where, if there is not a father, there are other male role models, and the child is part of an extended family. I am sorry if I did not make my point clear, which is that by including those words in the Bill we will have achieved nothing in terms of affecting people's behaviour except to stigmatise those children—either naturally conceived or through assistance—who do not have fathers. That is the wrong message for us to send out today.

Lord Mackay of Clashfern: It is important to remember that those supporting this amendment are not seeking to put these words into the Bill; they are seeking to prevent the removal of the phrase from an Act that has stood for 17 years. The phrase is incorporated within the provision about consideration of the welfare of the child, nothing else. Those who have spoken about this matter admit that an important aspect of the welfare of a child is the need for a father.

The House of Lords and the House of Commons in 1990 were not ignorant of the fact that fathers die and that there is no right to a father. Although that was 17 years ago and we are all getting a bit older, that was well understood in the Parliament of 1990 and I am sure that it is understood by everyone today. This amendment talks about an element of the welfare of the child. Parliament in 1990 and this Government wish to continue the requirement that, in IVF where a doctor is responsible for supervising the procedure, if I can call it that, in a way that he is not in other modes of conception, he should have regard for the welfare of the child.



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The statement occurs twice in the 1990 Act and once in particular in reference to guidance. The HFEA has published guidance since 1990 and continues to do so. It has modified that guidance over the years and, since 1997, Secretaries of State have continued to allow that guidance to go out. The evidence before the Joint Committee was absolutely clear that the inclusion of that phrase, when it is interpreted in the light of the guidance, has done no harm to anyone. What the doctor looks for, as the evidence shows, is some person who can be a role model—a model of male thought as distinct from female thought—in the life of the child.

As the noble Baroness said, we do not know what will happen tomorrow. That person might not be alive when the child is born. But even women who bear children by IVF may not necessarily live all that long. Nobody can tell. I thought that this was a very reasonable thing to include in 1990. It is not prescriptive in any sense. It does not debar people from getting IVF when no father is in the offing but it requires the child’s need for a father to be considered as a factor in the welfare of the child.

I make it absolutely clear that I well understand that often because of circumstances there is no father in a family. The father may have died. I have no doubt that in the vast majority of cases where that happens, but not all, and a mother is left on her own, she would dearly like to have had the support of the father, her husband, for longer. We know many examples—some in this House—of people who have been brought up by a widowed mother with outstanding success. I do not want anyone to think that this provision has any bearing on that matter. However, those who support the relevant provision in the Act accept the noble Baroness’s argument that a father is an important factor in the welfare of the child. That is what the 1990 Act stipulates and asks should be considered, without imposing any sanction if, for some good reason, that aspect of the welfare of the child cannot be provided.

My noble friend Lord Tebbit said that this matter arises at the preconception stage, but preconception must necessarily precede birth, so the phrase used by the noble Lord, Lord Warner, is perfectly in order. It is after birth that the welfare provision really takes effect, but you have to judge it before conception in this requirement. Thus an element of future judgment with very variable factors is involved, but the doctor makes the best judgment that he or she can and then acts on it.

The committee believes that these provisions, which have been in place since 1990, have had no detrimental effect. I humbly suggest that the wisdom of 1990, which I believe prevailed unanimously in Parliament at that time, is still pretty wise today.

Lord Winston: I find it very difficult to disagree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, for whom I have such respect, but I, too, sat on that committee. Just over a week ago, my 95 year-old mother died. She did social work with children all her working life and became one of the greatest experts on adoption in the United Kingdom. Her three children were left without a father at a very young age. I was the

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eldest. My two younger siblings did not know their father. As I grow older, there is hardly a single day when I do not think more about my father than I did as a child. Therefore, I am making this speech with great care because I want to make absolutely sure that I am not saying something unreasonable.

In moving the amendment, the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, said that the law had worked well. However, that is an assertion. How do we know that the law has worked well? I do not think that it has worked particularly well. I do not think that it is a workable law.

Of all the people who have spoken this afternoon, I am the one person who in the last 30 years or so has sat in front of infertile patients who want to have treatment. I absolutely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Turnberg, that it is not appropriate for doctors to police these things in our society. It is dangerous for us to do so and leads to all sorts of problems. It is one of the reasons why doctors recently have sometimes got into trouble, because they have tried to interpret what is in the interests of society rather than understanding above all the autonomy of the patient sitting in front of them. I know that this may sound like an exaggeration, but it is interesting to consider the position of the Nazi doctor. Nazi doctors no doubt were working with altruism in their hearts. They believed that what they were doing was in the interest of society. What they forgot was what was in the interest of their patient and the interest of the autonomy of the person seeking help at a time of great pain. That is a very important thing for us to remember.

There are unforetold consequences that have to be spelt out if we are to continue with this. I do not know whether or not this has happened before with in vitro fertilisation, but I must say to my noble friend Lord Warner that it is no good ignoring the evidence. You cannot simply say that you are not interested in the research. The research is fundamentally important to the argument. As the right reverend Prelate has pointed out, there is good research evidence to suggest that, for example, in the case of lesbian couples—

Lord Warner: Perhaps I may just correct the record. I did not say that I was not interested in the research; I said that I was not going to detain the Committee by wading through the research.

Lord Winston: Forgive me for saying so, but that does sound a little dismissive. However, I take back what I said.

Let me come back to the argument. In Britain we have only one good study of lesbian couples bringing up children in a controlled fashion; the study compares those children with children born naturally, by in vitro fertilisation and by artificial insemination. The work of Professor Susan Golombok of Cambridge University shows that after nine or 10 years the children brought up by these couples are showing signs of being better parented, are better adjusted to their peers at school and have better relationships with other children than many others in her study.



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It is not sufficient to look at studies of single women in our society, because single women in our society, even those such as my mother, have a whole range of other issues. Most women in our society are single because they are poor, because they have been abandoned or because they have been threatened, and they are in an environment that is very much below the standards that we would desire for ourselves. That is something that doctors cannot take into account either, but I suppose that we might be expected to do so if this kind of thing went through British legislation.

The Earl of Listowel: May I ask the noble Lord, Lord Winston a question on this research, which he has often referred to? As he rightly pointed out, there is not that much research; there is only one longitudinal study in this country. Would he agree that the sample for that research was quite small? At the age of roughly only 16 or 17, the young people going through this are still quite young, so we cannot really say yet what the results of the experience of having same-sex parents are. One thing that we can say is that, of the sample of 25 children growing up in lesbian families, six have had a same-sex relationship while growing up, whereas in the heterosexual sample none has had such a relationship. That may not mean very much, but it suggests that the research that he refers to is slightly more controversial than one might think on first looking at it.

5.15 pm

Lord Winston: I do not think that the research is at all controversial. It is widely accepted around the world. It is interesting that Professor Golombok is frequently invited to meetings in many other countries to show her work, which has been published by peer review in various journals—

Baroness Deech: I—

Lord Winston: May I finish my sentence? I have now been interrupted three times. It is reasonable for me to finish a sentence. Her work has been peer-reviewed and accepted by journals as being the best evidence that we have available. It is not perfect evidence; no research ever is. In general, unfortunately, it perhaps happens too often that Governments make policy without research evidence. It is far better to have research evidence when you are making social policy. I give way to the noble Baroness.

Baroness Deech: The work of Professor Golombok is frequently cited, but she is one alone in this country with a very small sample. Her work is vastly outweighed by the work of many others, whom I obviously cannot cite endlessly. However, one example is the Department for Work and Pensions, which says:

The work of Professor Golombok is known simply because it stands out from the enormous weight of evidence showing that children receive different inputs from fathers and mothers.



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Lord Winston: I am very sorry that the noble Baroness, who is a distinguished academic, cites anecdotal information. I would have thought that we would accept that information published by peer review after a proper study would be preferable. As far as I am aware—perhaps I am wrong—the Golombok studies in this country are the only ones that have been published on that basis.

I think that we should get on, so let me consider briefly two issues that follow if we do not accept the concept behind this. There are two potential consequences. First, there is a risk of a racist attitude in certain clinics. If I am a doctor in south London and I am dealing with a black patient who has a different social and cultural background where it is regular for fathers to leave mothers pregnant after these kinds of treatments, I could easily find justification for refusing that treatment. That is not just an airy-fairy idea; that is a practical proposition that really can and does happen.

Secondly, we should really think much more seriously about this major problem that is growing in our society. As women get educated, gain skills, increasingly pay taxes and contribute to our society, they grow older, getting more and more infertile, without finding a regular partner. That is not anecdotal; it is well known and published. Older women increasingly often seek help for their infertility without a male partner. They say, “I do not want a male partner yet; I hope that I might find one in time”. As my noble friend Lady Hollis said, that is a real problem that we frequently see in infertility clinics. From a practical point of view, it is not desirable to refuse treatment to those women. It cannot be desirable. We need to consider that when we are producing the legislation.


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