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I was puzzled by the reference by the noble Lord, Lord Winston, to Nazis, which I thought was uncalled for. Also, I am afraid that love is not all in the upbringing of children. Love is a beginning. We all know that parents need to give their children more than just love.
Lord Winston: Let me explain once again what I was trying to say. When doctors forget that the most important person is the person in front of them whom they are treating, they forget their responsibility to that person. There is no suggestion that this is a Nazi amendment. Anyone listening to the debate will understand that I was not saying that. There is a risk in doctors thinking about their responsibility to society; they can forget why they are doing medicine. That is all that I was trying to say. If my remarks were taken in the wrong way, I must apologise, but that was certainly not my intention.
Baroness Deech: We agree on the responsibility to society, but many of us see it differently. The liberalisation, if it can be called that, of in vitro fertilisation treatment is continuing. It has continued apace since 1990 and it would be best if the law were left untouched. It gives clinicians the discretion to do as they see fit at the time. The compromise drafted by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, in 1990 has held fast and held well and we would be well advised to leave it the way it is. It is quite extraordinary to send out the message in this day and age and in the face of research and remaining government policy that men are unnecessary. In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, I should say that the research shows that both genders need to have an input into the successful upbringing of a child.
Baroness Howarth of Breckland: I do not think that at any moment I said anything about the kind of role models that a child will need right across the spectrum. It takes a village to bring up a family. I do not mind what the nuclear bit is.
Baroness Deech: I am all in support of the village, which of course consists of members of both sexes. Further research has been done by the child psychiatrist Professor Sturge on the effect on children of being brought up in same-sex families and there is much more research out there that I hope your Lordships will consider.
More amendments are to come and I do not wish to take up your Lordships attention for too long. There is, for instance, an amendment on birth certificates. For now, having made my pointsand having convinced many, if not all, that we should not in the interests of
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Clause 14, page 9, line 14, leave out paragraph (b) and insert and after father insert or other suitable male adult who is willing and able to make a long term commitment to safeguard and promote the childs health, development and welfare and to provide, in a manner appropriate to the age and development of the child, direction and guidance to the child.
The noble Lord said: Expert opinion and modern research tell usas we have heard many times already this afternoonthat, on average, a child who grows up in a single-parent family is likely to be less successful in school and later life than a child who grows up in a functional two-parent family. Of course, this is not true in every case. In a single-parent family where the mother is healthy, reasonably well off and supported by an extended family or an active and committed community, as my noble friend pointed out, the child may well thrive. Indeed, there are great differences in natural resilience from child to child. The Minister referred to the quality of parenting being of prime importance. Of course it is, but that does not alter the fact that the roles, structures and relationships within the family will affect the quality of parenting. None the less, for the majority of children who grow up in a single-parent family, there are real disadvantages, which can easily last for lifeand often do. I admit that remedial help is a possibility for children under those circumstances, but it is expensive, it takes time, it takes commitment and it does not always work.
Fathers and mothers both have responsibilities in their families. The contributions made by the mother and father may be different, but both are important. I am reminded of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which, I am delighted to say, has a new logo, which says: Women. Men. Different. Equal.
The purpose of Amendment No. 55A is to explore the possibility of a better solution that, rather than saying Yes, we do or No, we do not, looks for a better way of doing things. I suggest that we do not remove the word father, but leave it and add to it other classes of person who can effectively fulfil the role of a father. We all know that that is the situation in real life. There are step-parents, there are grandfathers, there are other surrogate fathers. If we wanted evidence, the success of adoption is the most obvious proof. Adoption, in the vast majority of cases, works extremely well where there is a committed father. I shall emphasise commitment again in a moment.
My amendment, therefore, provides for a suitably qualified and committed surrogate father to be acceptable, in lieu of a father, for the purposes of legitimising IVF treatment. Secondly, it would give reasonable assurance that the surrogate father, and all fathers who are put forward to IVF clinics, are prepared and able to make a commitment to give the child the father parenting he will need. Commitment and stability are at the very heart of successful parenting.
The conditions I have suggested would require a prospective surrogate father for an IVF child to make a commitment to accept the responsibilities of parenthood in relation to that child. What, then, are the responsibilities of parenthood? This, in a sense, is the question we all danced around in the previous debate. I have taken the liberty of suggesting very simple responsibilities of parenthood; please believe that these are not an invention. I have taken the wording from the Children (Scotland) Act 1995. Many noble Lords will be aware that the Parliament north of the border was bolder on the responsibilities of parenthood in its 1995 Act than we were in our Children Act 1989. We have not made up for the failing in the mean time.
The time may now have comeindeed, I suggest that it is long pastwhen we in England should define more clearly what we, as a society, expect of our parents. The responsibilities of a mother tend to be widely understood and accepted, but the same is not always true of a father. Many noble Lords who spoke to the previous amendment referred to that large group of fathers who would prefer not to accept that being a father carries with it inalienable responsibilities. To define these responsibilities would, I suggest, be in the best interests of both mothers and children.
Finally, my amendment would sweep natural fathers into the net. This may be objected to, but it seems to me perfectly reasonable that not only a surrogate father but a natural father should be expected to commit to being a good parent and should accept some simple terms about what it means to be a good parent. Alas, as we all know, and as some noble Lords have already said, too many families are affected by domestic violence, drug and alcohol addiction and many other failures that are extremely damaging to the children. I can see no reason why an IVF clinic should not be required to satisfy itself that the child it manufactures will not be entrusted to a dysfunctional family of that kind. It seems to me reasonable that, where there is a prospective natural father to the child, he too should be expected to commit to accepting the responsibilities of a parent, as defined in this amendment.
Baroness Finlay of Llandaff: I added my name to this amendment because I felt that it was very important to consider what children need. I confess that I am not particularly bonded to having the word male in there, because this should apply to parents whether they are same-sex couples or heterosexual. I feel strongly that we have reached a point where we need somewhere in a Bill to state what parents are expected to do. We brandish the term around based on biological definitions rather than ongoing duty.
My noble friend Lord Northbourne is being very reserved in talking about a long-term commitment, because the commitment is lifelongfor as long as that parent is alive. We know very well that children who are bereaved do better if they have more stable people around them to take on a parenting role. When children have been bereaved, godparents often become extremely important in providing stability. It is not a question of whether that parents name is written on a
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The Earl of Listowel: I was moved to put my name to this amendment as treasurer of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Children and vice-chair of the Associate Parliamentary Group for Children and Young People In and Leaving Care. As I have 10 years experience working with boys and young men, albeit much of it part-time, I am very interested in this amendment, particularly how it might begin to answer the concern expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, and my noble friend Lady Warnock, and how something like this might work. It may be helpful because it is more specific.
The Second Reading debate highlighted three inconvenient truths: first, that boys need fathers or, failing that, a proxy for a father; secondly, as the noble Lord, Lord Winston, said, parents are driven to have children and over-prescription may drive prospective parents away from licensed provision into the arms of we know not who, which the noble Lord amplified in Committee; and, thirdly, the concern of my noble friend Lady Warnock that current legislation in respect of the importance of fathers is largely ignored by clinicians.
Many of the boys without an interested father with whom I have worked have yearned for such a parent and I have found myself obliged on occasion to play that role. Lone mothers speak to me about the need of their sons for a father figure. A lone mothera teacher, who supports the education of children in childrens homes with great successtold me how helpful it would be for her 12 year-old son if his school could find a male physical education teacher, because he is growing up without a father.
The children referred to in the amendment have a very important advantage in that their parents very much want them to be born. Sadly, too many children in this country are not wanted and come about by chance. However, not having an interested male in ones life is often a contributory factor to failure. Time and again I have heard prison officers in the criminal justice system describing themselves as the first father-figures for their young male inmates. Only last week a 22 year-old man described to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Penal Affairs his long involvement with crime as a drug dealer. He described the lack of a positive male role model when he was growing up on his estate and firmly identified that as the root of his criminal behaviour. Important to his rehabilitation was his relationship with a male drama teacher, who inspired him to become an actor and an author.
That was also true for François Truffaut, the French director, who made a semi-autobiographical film of his early days, The 400 Blows, in which he described his lack of a father. Eventually, he ended upin the film and in lifein a French reformatory. It is a very sad story. François Truffaut admired a male film director very much. He became Truffauts mentor, and Truffaut went on to be very successful making his own films.
To ensure that a suitable male is engaged early in the lives of these children is very much to be desired. If the Bill can assist in doing that, it will serve these families extremely well. A constructive and effective framework needs to be set up by the Bill. On the basis that most parents consider the welfare of their children paramount, I hope that we can determine how these prospective parents will receive the right information and advice, which my next amendment will probe. Not to introduce this amendment, or to at least keep the wording of the 1990 Act, would be complicit in the popular fallacy that children do just as well without interested and responsible fathers. That boys need fathers may be an inconvenient truth, but it must not be ignored. I strongly support my noble friends helpful and explicit amendment.
Earl Howe: I am impressed by the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, and by the case that he made in support of it. He seems to have encapsulated what many of us feel is appropriate and right. The issue on which perhaps we need to reflect is whether these words are a matter for the Bill or for statutory guidance. On balance, I tend to feel that the Bill should be confined to general concepts rather than specifics and that the guidance should contain the detail. Nevertheless, I hope that the Minister will consider the amendment with care.
In very much the same vein, I have tabled Amendment No. 60. I confess that I find it odd that the 1990 Act should mention a childs need for a father yet not make any mention at all of something which for me is of even greater importance; namely, the childs safety. The Bill cannot possibly spell out all the criteria which bear upon the assessment of a childs welfare. The guidance and the code of practice must surely do that. But if there is one thing that we as legislators are entitled to insist is spelled out in the Bill, it is the requirement that, whenever IVF treatment is sought, an assessment should be made of whether the prospective child, when born, will be at risk of suffering serious harm. That consideration is, I believe, a legitimate concern of the state, and therefore of clinics, in every case. If accepted, my amendment would enshrine that principle.
Another question also should be asked. It is brought into particular focus by this Bill, but in many ways I am surprised that it was not included in the 1990 Act. The issue is stability. When an application for IVF services is made by a married couple or by a couple in a civil partnership, it is perfectly sensible for the welfare assessment to make an assumptionall other things being equalthat the marriage or the civil partnership will provide the basis of a stable upbringing for the child. Of course, no one can
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However, where a man and a woman who are not married apply for treatment, that assumption cannot reasonably be made. The same applies to a same-sex couple who are not in a civil partnership and to a single woman without a partner. Statistically, people who cohabit are at far greater risk of breaking up than those who marry. I am not saying for one second that unmarried couples or single women should be ineligible for IVF. I am saying that for these people there is an additional dimension of the welfare assessment that must be covered and an extra box to be ticked before the test is satisfied. This is not, I believe, an unreasonable suggestion. When assessments are made of prospective adopters of children it is precisely the likely stability of the childs upbringing which is central to any judgment about the suitability of the person or persons seeking to adopt. Quite rightly, the state sees this assessment as part of its duty of care to the child, whose best interests must be protected. Here, the state is instrumental, not in placing a child with adoptive parents, but in bringing a child into existence in the first place. The onus is therefore equally on clinics and clinicians to make an assessment of the stability of the home environment in which that child will find himself.
These two considerationsthe safety of the child and the stability of the childs upbringingare for me essential elements of the welfare test which cannot be consigned simply to the code of practice. I hope that the Minister will consider my amendment constructively.
Lord Winston: I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, and the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, for tabling the amendment because it allows me briefly to make an objection that I forgot to make in my speech on the previous amendment.
When I retired from clinical practice about two years ago, it had been quite common for me to see women who brought a male in tow who was not actually their partnerbut they made all sorts of assertions that they were. On one occasion, I was oddly pursued by a journalist who brought a male partner from a newspaper that was trying to discredit lesbian couples. She was not investigating my clinic; she was a lesbian and was very frightened that her editor might find out. It was a very strange event.
All of us in this House agree that there needs to be as much openness as possible in these arrangements. What troubles me about so much of this kind of legislation, and one of the reasons why I am opposed to the need for a father being written into the Bill, is that it encourages a degree of dishonesty among some couples that is surprisingly difficult to detect. It makes no difference whether it is an immediate act or somebody offering long-term support as a male, and that is the problem with this very good and well-meaning set of amendments.
The other issue, which we are coming to next and which was touched on by the noble Earl, Lord Howe, is that of requiring people to receive counselling. That seems to me a step too far. The offer of counselling is reasonable, but to require it will demand a huge amount of resources for people who will be resistant to it. It is also presumptuous as a requirement on one small group of couples and not applicable to the rest of infertile couples or other people with reproductive disorders.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: Could my noble friend help us, because I do not think that there is any disagreement in the House as to what most of us regard as the best environment for a child to flourish? That is, where many adults are attached or bonded to that child. I would like to see the father in play, or a male figure in play, as well as the mother. There was the point about the village. What worries meand this is probably a case of ex-ministerialitis and the workability of legislationis how these sorts of propositions will work. I do not disagree with their content, I just do not see how to translate them, if they are in the Bill, into practical policies for clinicians to adopt when investigating the well-being of clients and the appropriateness of fertility treatment.
I share with the noble Earl, Lord Howe, a concern for the safety of the child, the stability of relationship and their long-term well-being as well as the economic viability of the family unit, because we know that the real litmus test of whether a child will flourish is incomeat least as much as what type of parent and family structure the child has. I did some research on that because I think it is important.
Perhaps the Minister can tell me, and forgive my ignorance if it exists, whether we produce, with the consent of professionals and the HFEA, appropriate literature for prospective parents? I cannot believe that women would go in for such onerous treatment lightly, but do we ensure that women, and men, where they are active players, have in their hands the literature which indicates what they need to consider for the well-being of the child when going for this treatment? It would embody a lot of the principles of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne; it would not be in the Bill; and it would not necessarily be guidance to the clinician. What is important is that it is internalised and believed in by the parent, otherwise it is manipulation and smoke and mirrors. If we can ensure that the parents believe that this is the best way in which a child conceived in these circumstances will flourish, we would all have the outcome we would like. Therefore, can my noble friend tell me whether that literature exists and, if so, whether it could be revised or whether we could make it more appropriate? Perhaps at a very early stage, and with the offer of counselling, it would ensure that any older woman who thinks, wisely or unwisely, she could go it alone was aware of the circumstances that would best secure the childs most helpful and healthy development. I am sure that is what we all want and what she would want too.
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