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I congratulate the Government on removing the sentence from the legislation. I do not think that it in any way undermines our collective recognition that there is a desire to look after, nurture and, above all, love children. Love is the key issue here, but it is something that we as practitioners and we as members of society who are looking on cannot measure.
Lord Warner: May I ask my noble friend a question? In the case of the 40 year-old woman who has put off having a child until quite a late age and finds that she is infertile, does my noble friend believe that it is still the responsibility of the doctor before he gives that treatment under this legislation to establish whether giving that woman the treatment will be in the interests of the welfare of the unconceived, unborn child?
Lord Winston: I am not certain what my noble friend is getting at. I thought that I had made it clear that it is very difficult to judge what the interests of the welfare of the child will be, but I hope that we will continue to take that into consideration when we make our judgments about treatment. The issue of the father is a separate question, which surprisingly is not what my noble friend asked me.
Lord Tebbit: I find this a difficult debate. I confess that I do not believe, in the way that the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, believes, that stigma is necessarily a bad
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Lord Tebbit: I felt stigmatised today by the noble Baroness because I have to tell her that I am one of those males who is an obliging partner in tow with my wife. I thought that it was a most extraordinary expression. I do go around in tow with my wife and I am an obliging partner. I thought that that was a pretty sneering, cheap and stigmatising remark to husbands who go around with their wives and support them.
I am also disturbed by the number of occasions in the debate when we have drifted away from the most important thing, which is not the skill of the technologiststhe doctors who provide IVF in this case. We always have to be careful about making policy on the basis of the views of the technologists. I happen to be a flying machine technologist, but no one in your Lordships House should take any more notice of my views on policy on aviation and commercial flying than the views of anybody else. I am but a technologist.
Lord Tebbit: That is exactly about the technology. The noble Lord has been talking about the moral issues behind the use of the technology. That is the important difference. On the moral use of the technology, every Member of this House has an equal standing in expressing a view.
We also seem to have drifted away from the concept of the intervention of the technologist in creating life. The status quo if a patient goes for IVF is that there is no child. When the technologist intervenes to change that, he has to take responsibility. The legislation on these matters is the guidance that society is saying to the technologist that he should use. That is what is important. I had hoped that we had all agreed in our hearts as well as in our mouths that it is of absolute importance that we are talking about the creation of a life that does not exist. Therefore, legislators and doctorsas the technologistshave that responsibility on their shoulders. It is exactly the same responsibility that we ask a man and woman to bear when they create a child naturally. Should they not consider whether they have the means to sustain the child? Should they not consider their own health and the possibility of the child inheriting ill health? Should they not consider whether one of the partners is very old and therefore likely to die when the child is young? These matters must be considered when a life that does not exist is going to be created.
Of course we can slip easily into the idea that there is a right to a child. There is no right to a child. A child has a right to a parent; in fact, a child has a right to two parents, preferably one of each sex. I hope that I am not stigmatised for that remark.
There is a responsibility here: the responsibility to ensure that, on balancefor there are no certainties in these matterswe give the child whose life we create the best possible chance. A child is not a consumer accessory, nor, as I say, does any of us have the right to have a child. A child is a great gift and a great responsibility; those who create that life carry the responsibility for ever. When the technician creates that life, he has on his shoulders the responsibility for what he has done as well as possibly feeling that he would have a responsibility if he did not do it.
We should bear these considerations in mind. Like my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay, I believe that they were pretty fairly balanced in the 1990 Act and that we would be wise to leave them as they are.
Lord Winston: Would the noble Lord be good enough to retract the word technician? It is nothing but insulting in this situation. People in my practice try to think carefully about the people in their care. Whether or not one has a right to a childI completely agree with the noble Lord on thatdoes he not agree that a patient seeking help has the right to be listened to without prejudice?
Lord Tebbit: If the noble Lord does not want to think of himself as a technologist because of the responsibilities that he has borne, I am happy to withdraw the expression. I am proud to be a technologist. I carried the responsibility for a couple of hundred lives at a time and I am not too proud to be called a technologist in that respect.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: We have heard a number of things in this debate about the importance of children having the opportunity to have a father. The noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, just made a powerful case in which he echoed something that the noble Lord, Lord Warner, said to us in the Queens Speech debate about how children can never be accessories. That is what my noble friend Lady Deech is getting at in the amendment this afternoon, as is the noble Baroness, Lady OCathain, in asking us to preserve the status quo.
Elsewhere in Part 2, it is suggested that it would be possible to remove the biological identity of a father from a birth certificate. My noble friend Lord Walton, who cannot be here this afternoon, specifically asked me to say on his behalf that he would be strongly opposed to that for medical reasons. He believes that a child has the need to know his biological, genetic make-up, which is why it should be preserved intact on a birth certificate. The settlement that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, arrived at in 1990 was a fair and good one. Although we have been invited, rather like Don Quixote, to tilt at imaginary windmills this afternoon, if anyone was seriously laying an amendment before the Committee asking, for instance, that women be interrogated when they went to IVF
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Baroness Hollis of Heigham: In what way does the noble Lord believe that a clinician should ask a woman about this? I apologise if the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, took offence about in tow, but I was talking entirely in terms of a woman who was savvy enough possibly to manipulate the system by producing a compliant male. I was not criticising those couples who devotedly want a child together. Can the noble Lord, Lord Alton, indicate the kind of question that he thinks could be asked which would not meet the criteria that he has laid down?
Lord Alton of Liverpool: I do not want questions to be asked. Here I echo what my noble and learned friend Lady Butler-Sloss said this afternoon about how the law has a symbolic value. I represented a constituency in the heart of Liverpool for 18 years before I stood down in 1997. In many of the overspill estates and in the inner-city areas, vast numbers of families have no men involved in the upbringing of the children. To add deliberately to that number would be ludicrous. For the law to send a signalnot to stigmatise othersthat we do not think men are very important in this equation plays into the arguments of male redundancy on which Dr Desmond Morris touched rather well this morning in the Times newspaper. Men are not redundant. They have a unique role to play in the upbringing of children. It is estimated that some 800,000 children in Britain do not have access to their fathers at present. We should think very carefully before unravelling and unpicking the very careful sentiments that the noble and learned Lord put together in 1990.
During the Joint CommitteeI was not a member, but I have read the proceedingsMr David Burrowes, the Member for Enfield, asked one of the witnesses the most important question of all: whether there were any examples of anyone who had been unable to receive IVF on grounds of sexual orientation. The answer was that there were no examples.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, but I do not think I am overstating it. The expert witness, who has been cited
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Lord Alton of Liverpool: That is the reverse of the argument. If the law has not been used to discriminate against people having IVF, why change it? I would simply say, as my noble and learned friend Lady Butler-Sloss says, that we send out signals if we change the law in a way that is not helpful.
I would like to draw the attention of the Committee to two newspaper articles that appeared last week. One was in the Law Report on Wednesday 5 December. It was a judgment by Lady Justice Arden and Lord Justice Lawrence Collins from 23 November 2007, stating that adoption agencies have no duty to consult fathers:
There was no duty on a local authority to make inquiries of a childs extended family or father about the possibility of their providing long-term care where mother wished to place the child for adoption.
Interestingly, on the same day, in the same newspaper, the Child Support Agencyanother government agencywas reported as pursuing a Mr Andy Bathie, who is not recognised as the legal parent of a child who was conceived by IVF by a same-sex couple. He is now being pursued to pay thousands of pounds and he is required to accept responsibility as the father of that child. The noble Lord, Lord Patel, shakes his head, but £400, as a result of a paternity test, was docked from his pay.
Without going into the details of the case, I use it to argue that we are getting into quite a muddle on the duties and responsibilities of a father. I think it would suit a lot of men to be told that they had no duty or responsibility. Is that not at the heart of the problem? The noble Lord, Lord Winston, was right to remind us that we all cherish the memory of our fathers, however long we have known them. If we were to remove the biological identity of a father from a birth certificate, that would be the state colluding in a deception, the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, and others on the Joint Committee. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, reminded us at Second Reading, even Acts of Parliament cannot remove the biological necessity of the father to be present. Do not let us reduce the role of men to the provision of gametes in fertility tests. It is important that we recognise the social role that men have to play as fathers as well. I am very pleased to be able to support the amendment so ably moved by my noble friend Lady Deech.
Lord Jenkin of Roding: I sense that the Committee wants to reach a conclusion and to hear the Minister, but I have two extremely short points. My noble and learned friend Lord Mackay referred to Members of the House who may have been brought up in fatherless households. I was one of them. My mother was widowed with four boys under 12. My youngest brother never knew his father at all. Of course, we are not typical. We had other relations; we had uncles and grandparents and we were extremely well looked after, but I would not for one moment argue that perhaps we would not have been better off if my father had survived. It is important to recognise that.
But we very firmly went on to say that we would not wish to exclude the possibility of women seeking in vitro fertilisation help where there is no father because a woman is single or because she is in a lesbian relationship. We did not want to exclude them. We recognise the case, but at the same time we said, as so many noble Lords have said today, that retaining the words of the 1990 Act is important and excluding them would send the wrong message. That is what the Joint Committee decided and put in its recommendation. It is important. It was not either/or; it was the desirability of retaining the words in the 1990 Act while making it perfectly clear that those who did not fit that pattern of a family should not automatically be excluded. Some things that have been said today have suggested that they would automatically have been turned away. That is not true.
Baroness Howarth of Breckland: I had not intended to intervene in this debate, mainly because I feel I am not as expert as I might be, although I know more than most about difficult families and the bringing up of children from my long career in social work. I stand to neither oppose nor support my noble friend Lady Deech, but to raise some questions about the way in which the arguments have been presented. I think that is the nature of the difficulty we are in. I would like interrogation of every family who has a child to ensure that that child has a stable family. I do not much mind how that stable family is constituted. There is more research in America showing that same-sex couples are able to give a sustained relationship to children, but that some break down, just as many families with fathers break down. I suppose that, along with my noble and learned friend Lady Butler-Sloss, having seen the difficult end of fatherhood adds to some of my prejudice about recognising that families with fathers are not as ideal as some of us would wish to say.
As a rider, I should say that I had the most terrific and wonderful father, who loved me to bits and gave me a great deal of what I am, so I do not come from the position of having had a father whom I did not adore. However, I know that there are many men who do not make good fathers. But who do we ask to interrogate anyoneof any sex or orientationwho turns up at a clinic? As the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, said, what kind of questions do you ask to
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Many of the families that I would rather not have children are the ones that will have the children anyway. I do not have the statistics before me, because I did not know that I was going to speak, but I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, would have exactly the same sense that I have from themIf only we had not got X number of single, young parents. We have, because intercourse and the birth of children are matters of chance. I hope that that chance can be planned. I hope that that plan can bring security to our children, because without a doubt the only thing that matters is the welfare of the child. However, many adults will not have that in mind when looking to have a child.
Why, when a person goes to a clinic, should we interrogate them about their family when we are not going to do that in a million other families across the nation? I have asked myself that, without conclusion. The answer may be that we do it because we have the opportunity. In that case, we should ask not only whether there is a father on the scene, but a whole range of other questions about whether people going for IVF have the capacity to be good families. I think that then we would end up referring to middle-class families; some of the criteria being put would be middle class. Those would be moral judgments from a particular, stereotyped set of moral views.
Having been in social care for 40 years, I know that that is the way it goes. There may be something about messages, and there may be something about the support of fatherhood that we need to look atwhich is why I am still looking at the issue, because I would not want to do anything that undermined men and fathers. They are important. They are one bit of the stability in families. However, our nation is extraordinarily complex. The family trees that I see are sometimes totally unbelievable. We live in that environment and that is the one in which we have to make those decisions.
Lord Tebbit: Why does the noble Baroness assume that middle-class morals and middle-class families are somehow better than working-class morals and working-class families? I was born into a working-class family. I think that our morals were a great deal better than those which we then saw in the upper and middle classes and which, unfortunately, are now descending into the working classes of this country.
Baroness Howarth of Breckland: That was exactly my point. I was born on a large, tough, working-class estate in Sheffield. All I am saying is what happens: the way that decisions are made, there are stereotyped views, which we may well not agree with. That is what gives me concern. I think that my working-class, estate values were pretty good, but I know that the way people look at things is often from a particular set of values.
Lord Elystan-Morgan: I wish to make one point, of thundering simplicity and already touched upon by the noble Lord, Lord Altonthat when we speak of a child having a right to a father, we are speaking not about one right but about two. One is the right to know who the father is. The second is the right to have the prospect of a relationship with that fatherif possible, as there are practical difficulties. Both rights have to be considered at a meaningful time in the age of the child.
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