Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

One of the purposes of the Bill is to ensure that same-sex couples may produce a child by donor, the arrival of the child being the very object of the exercise. I believe that its human rights are as important as, if not more important, than the rights of the same-sex couple. I shall certainly support the right reverend Prelate’s amendment, but must say that I find wholly objectionable the idea that by a legal fiction, a child should find itself with two women as its parents instead of a father and a mother. I do not believe that such a child’s human rights are being properly protected.

Lord Maginnis of Drumglass: My Lords, I very much welcome and support the right reverend Prelate’s amendment. It is deeply concerning that Clauses 42 and 43, which raise such profound human rights and welfare questions for children, were never debated on

29 Oct 2008 : Column 1637

the Floor of the other place. If we vote for this amendment today, that will at least result in the issue being sent back to the other place and then, I hope, in the provision of a proper debate by the elected Chamber on this far-reaching issue. I believe that that is our responsibility, regardless of what we think of the issues.

As previous speakers have pointed out, there is all the difference in the world, from the perspective of the rights of the child, between allowing a child to be adopted by a same-sex couple in preference to their remaining in an institution and the state providing for their deliberate creation with the intention they be denied a father for the duration of their childhood. It is not clear to me how we can sanction this without allowing the rights of the would-be parents to trump the rights and best interests of the child. As the right reverend Prelate noted, to this degree Clauses 42 and 43 invoke the failings of previous ages albeit in new contexts.

We need to pause. The Government need to study carefully the legal opinion of the noble Lord, Lord Brennan. We need to at least consider and carefully analyse how children themselves will feel about the future, deliberate creation of children with the intention that they be denied a father. There is an undeniable moral argument that, however powerful a Government may consider themselves to be, they should not embark on such a blatantly unnatural procedure as this Bill proposes. Since moral arguments seem to have less consequence today—not least within the higher echelons of new Labour—let me look briefly at a purely social contradiction.

It is a social requirement—I agree with it—that errant fathers should be pursued and legally obliged to provide for the upbringing of their children. How can that obligation possibly be sustained when the Government are today willing to decree that children can be denied a father? What is the essential difference to a child between its father avoiding the responsibility of fatherhood and the Government nullifying its right to have a father? Both are effectively the same. This Bill will create an absolute paradox as it currently stands. Nor do I hear any cogent case to support this contradiction coming from society in general.

Returning to my original point, it is absolutely clear that we must vote for this amendment and provide the opportunity for a debate on the Floor of the other place on the deliberate creation of children with the intention that they be denied a father. We owe this much to children here in the United Kingdom.

Lord Patten: My Lords, it is always a pleasure to listen to and to follow the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis of Drumglass. On this issue I can say to him, “No surrender”. I agree with everything he has brought to your Lordships’ attention. I will not repeat the views I have expressed earlier in Committee and on Report, although it is a sad reflection on the state of participatory democracy that, as the right reverend Prelate said in his splendid introductory remarks, another place did not find the time to discuss something of rather fundamental importance. History will look back sadly and judge this.

29 Oct 2008 : Column 1638

That said, I have two points to make. First, I recall not points that I made earlier but the whole drift of debate here in Committee and on Report from those who supported this approach. They have been highly utilitarian about supporting the needs, desires and wants of parents who choose not to include a father; they should have those desires satisfied now. No consideration at all has been given to possible adverse effects on children years or decades down the line. Those arguments were rather brushed aside as not being worthy of consideration in the times we live in now. I think that is sad. I am sure that if this particular provision passes into law, sociologists and others will quite quickly be starting generational studies to see what happens to children brought up in this way and how they turn out in 10, 12 or 15 years. I cannot predict the results of that but there are serious issues of concern in proceeding in this way.

7.15 pm

Secondly, I genuinely support the Government’s approach over the past 10 years to wider consultation. It has been good. It is sometimes hard to understand or interpret the results, but that is not the Government’s fault. The Government have been exceptionally good at consulting. There is a lesson there for future Governments. Yet I find it extraordinary that this Government, who are so keen on consultation, should choose not to consult children about this key issue. These are their rights. The children we would consult may not be born under these circumstances but when I have consulted those who are called children—albeit statistically a small group—they cannot believe that this sort of thing is happening without their opinion being sought.

It is extraordinary that the Government do not pause and think again on this issue. As the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis of Drumglass, said, we should send this back to another place so that they can look properly at it. They can at least demonstrate that they have given some consideration to something which in future years will be seen to be extraordinarily dismissive of the rights of children in a way that flies in the face of so much else that this Government have done concerning the rights of children.

Baroness Butler-Sloss: My Lords, I apologise to the right reverend Prelate for not being present when he started moving his amendment.

I do not want to repeat what I said earlier in Committee, but I remind the House that Section 1 of the Children Act says that the welfare of children is paramount. I am well aware that we are discussing something rather less than the rights of children. We are talking about the advice given to would-be parents going through the process.

I have experienced in my previous life extremely good care being exhibited by single-sex parents, both male and female. I also care about the situation in which two men may exclude women from their lives as I do about two women who may exclude men. We need to bear in mind the fact that if we take out the word “father”, the message that goes out to the public is that fatherhood—and to some extent perhaps motherhood—matters less than I would have thought this Government thought it did.

29 Oct 2008 : Column 1639

Baroness Barker: My Lords, it has become apparent over the past 10 months or so, as I have closely followed deliberations at every stage of this Bill both here and in another place, that it is the fate of us in this House to be considered heroes when we disagree with the House of Commons and largely ignored when we do not. I say that to make the point that the amendment of the right reverend Prelate is unnecessary for a number of reasons. His amendment to delay the implementation of these two clauses is effectively a wrecking amendment. It takes away the recognition of a woman who is a civil partner of a woman who had received treatment until there has been an 18-month consultation with young people. I will return to the nature of the consultation. To begin, I point out two things.

First, on 19 and 20 May, the whole of the House of Commons, on the Floor of the House of Commons—before the Bill was debated in Committee—discussed the issue we have come to know as the need for a father. They did so and, happily, reached the same conclusion as Members of this House: this legislation should reflect the fact that we now have civil partnerships in this country and that there are families of same-sex couples with children.

The amendment is unnecessary for another reason: this provision was debated extensively in your Lordships’ House. Many noble Lords took part in debates at Second Reading, in Committee, on Report and at Third Reading, where some made Second Reading speeches also. The matter was given a great deal of time. I say that to make the following point. Members of this House decided earlier this year that we should have legislation that acknowledges the existence of those families. It did not do so lightly or without consideration of the best interests of children. Members of this House bothered to read research findings that were presented to them. Some of it, such as the dossier provided by Christian Action Research and Education, turned out not to be research at all but merely anecdotal opinion. The sociological studies that the noble Lord, Lord Patten, mentioned have been going on for some considerable time. Professor Susan Golombok and other colleagues at Cambridge, who are the foremost academics on research into families and fatherhood, presented information that was made freely available to all noble Lords. Some of us, who are diligent enough to believe that it is our duty to look after the best interests of children, read that research and arrived at a conclusion.

Some Members of this House do not accept the conclusions that the majority reached and would rather that civil partnerships did not exist. I think that some Members of this House would rather that gay people did not exist, but they do. The whole point of this legislation was to ensure that children born into those families receive the same legal recognition and protection as other children. What will be achieved by doing what the right reverend Prelate asks? It will defer indefinitely protection for a very small group of children who live in families, meaning that they do not have the legal protection of both their parents. They will not be able to inherit property and financial support as other children do.

29 Oct 2008 : Column 1640

The right reverend Prelate talks about consultation. Which children and young people would he consult? What would he ask them, and what would he do with the results of the consultation? If we have learnt anything over the past 10 months, during which we have looked into all the matters in the Bill, it is that it is very easy for two groups of people to present the same issue completely differently and to elicit from the public diametrically opposite results. I do not believe that that is how we should treat matters of such importance. It is the role of Members of Parliament to consider all the best evidence before them and to come to what they believe is a legislative framework that will look after the rights of children.

We are where we are today in our society. The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, was right to remind us of Section 1 of the Children Act. The rights of children are paramount, and some of us who disagree with other noble Lords who have already spoken have kept that to the forefront of our mind throughout debates on this legislation. We have come to the conclusion that it would be right to reflect civil partnership in all its implications and to ensure that children who at the moment do not have the opportunity to grow up in stable and secure families can do so. I hope that noble Lords will recall our earlier discussions and resist the right reverend Prelate’s amendment.

Baroness Knight of Collingtree: My Lords, I cannot forbear intervening in this debate, though I will be very brief. I was moved by what the right reverend Prelate said and cannot help thinking that nothing said since has successfully rebutted what he alleged at the very beginning of this debate. I simply cannot understand why it can be right in any circumstances to put the child’s interests last; to my mind, they must be put first, as established in previous legislation. In this case, the legislation does not do that; it puts them in a secondary position. We all know how dangerous it is to break with an acknowledged fact—in this case, for instance, that children are very important and should be considered as such because they often have no voice of their own. Once we have agreed that, how can we go back on it? That is what we are doing.

I wish to make one further small point—it seems a big point to me. Surely we are denying children the right to a father not only during their childhood but throughout their life. I have found on many occasions, and many noble Lords will know this from their own family, how a young person over 18 can have as much need and love for his father as a much younger child. I cannot accept this.

The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, I support the amendment moved by the right reverend Prelate. I will not repeat the arguments I rehearsed at Second Reading and will be as brief as I can. A couple of years ago, I attended a course in child development. After one of the lectures I asked the lecturer his view on the very question that we are debating this evening. He said that he had no view but added that he was treating a young man who had been brought up in a same-sex partnership, by lesbian parents. He was treating the young man because those parents did not like men.

29 Oct 2008 : Column 1641

They found men objectionable and considered them violent so this young man was recovering from an experience where his gender, his identity, was seen as objectionable in his own family.

I hope that that is a one-off situation, but it is an interesting coincidence that the one time I asked the therapist that question, he pointed out that he was treating a young man who grew up in a same-sex partnership and had those issues. I would appreciate reassurance from the Minister. There must be a concern that at least some of those same-sex parents will have antipathy to the other sex. Does it not really reinforce the argument for ensuring as far as possible that there is at least a father figure for a son to turn to if he grows up in such a situation. That causes me concern.

I recognise that this is a very complex matter. The noble Lord, Lord Winston, raised the issue of how you implement legislation in this area. Emphasis should be put on the need to struggle with parents to get them to consider what the needs of the child will be if, for instance, a son is born to two mothers. What additional support will that family need in terms of having a male figure to take an interest in the son?

The noble Baroness, Lady Barker, asked how one would consult children on these matters. I understand that these things are difficult to do well, but the Children’s Commissioner for England, Professor Sir Al Aynsley-Green, is well equipped to do that sort of consultation, and Dr Roger Morgan of Ofsted is well used to doing that for young people in care.

I recognise and am grateful for the work of the Cambridge researchers in this area, Professor Susan Golombok foremost. This is clearly important work. However, to the best of my recollection, it was rather a small sample of families and the age range of children examined was only up to the age of 18. I think that it was observed that, within the two groups—the control group with non-same-sex couples and the other group with same-sex couples—incidences of young people having same-sex relations as they were growing up occurred within the group that had same-sex parents, but did not occur in the couples that were a man and a woman together. I remember the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, saying some time ago that we can always find a report to support whatever view we wish to put forward. I am sure that intentions here on all parts are of the best. This is a very emotive issue, but we need to be careful not to take just the evidence that suits us best to achieve our objectives.

7.30 pm

The Government have achieved so much for young people, in particular for young people in care. It is a very hard struggle to make a change in this area, as they are starting from such a low base, but the achievements of the Acts on children needing care, and schemes such as Quality Protects and Care Matters, are so important for these young people. I hesitate to criticise the Government in this sort of area because of those achievements. I listened this morning to the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, giving evidence on the future of children in care and the Government’s strategy on that. The key thing is that there will now be children in care councils, and children who are in the

29 Oct 2008 : Column 1642

care of a public authority will meet regularly with the leaders and other members of local authorities to tell them what their experiences of care have been and what they would like to see change. Her key principle is that the voice of children will be heard in future in this scenario.

The suggestion from the right reverend Prelate that we should take the opportunity to consult children on this matter, which will concern them very much, is a helpful one. This is a vexed and difficult issue, but I hope that the Minister can offer me some reassurance, particularly about the scenario of two women bringing up a son when they do not particularly like men. If the Minister cannot provide me with reassurance on that point, I regret that I shall have to support the right reverend Prelate if he decides to divide on this amendment.

Lord Mackay of Clashfern: My Lords, I associate myself with the remarks of the right reverend Prelate, and particularly the distinction that he makes between the situation on adoption and the situation being created here. It is highly important that the views of children on this matter are taken.

Lord Bates: My Lords, I support the right reverend Prelate in his amendment. The amendment does not seek to wreck the provisions, as some noble Lords suggest; it is calling for further reflection and consideration and seems entirely appropriate. The matters that we are debating today I regard as by far the most serious that we have considered. We have spent a lot of time talking about planning and pensions, which are huge matters—but what is at stake here are pure definitions of life, origin and family.

To follow on from what the noble and learned Lord said, a key issue here will be one of coherence. It is worth reflecting for a second on what Clause 45 as currently worded actually states, which the amendment seeks to change. The clause is entitled, “Further provision relating to sections 42 and 43”, and says:

“Where a woman is treated by virtue of section 42 or 43 as a parent of the child, no man is to be treated as the father of the child”.

I may not be a scientist, but as a father I am pretty aware that that cannot be true. There is a father to the child; the question is whether that father should be acknowledged or not. The father will be acknowledged over the age of 18, when the child will be entitled to seek out that person—so at that point he will be there. The question is whether the factual existence of the father is acknowledged.

When this legislation was first introduced, it was as a necessary amendment to the 1990 Act in this area, which stated very clearly that various factors had been taken into account, including the need of that child for a father. I am not sure what has changed since 1990 that would make it necessary to delete that sentiment and that fact from the legislation. On the contrary, much of the legislation that has come forward in the Children Act, as well as the Child Support Agency, puts huge pressure on fathers to take on board their financial and moral obligations to children. So we need to be very careful in all legislation that is passed through this House to ensure that we send out the right message. The message that is encapsulated in the

29 Oct 2008 : Column 1643

amendment as proposed by the right reverend Prelate is that fathers are important—they are a fact and they are essential.

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, Amendments Nos. 36A, 36B and 36C have been tabled by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham and look to delay significantly the enactment of the clauses of the Bill which enable a child born as a result of assisted reproduction to a same-sex couple to have two legal parents.

The Bill seeks to ensure that civil partners and other same-sex couples are recognised as the legal parents of children conceived through the use of donated sperm, eggs, or embryos, in line with married couples and unmarried heterosexual couples. In addition to this, the Bill amends the Births and Deaths Registration Act 1953 to enable the second female parent to be named on the birth certificate. This is consistent with the wider government policy on promoting equality, as evidenced by the Civil Partnership Act 2004 and the national legislation prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.

The provisions relating to the recognition of the female second parent are set out in Clauses 42 and 43, which bring the provisions for female civil partners in line with those for married couples, and the provisions for other same-sex couples with those for heterosexual couples who are not married. These provisions enable a child born to a same-sex couple to have two legal parents, which, I am sure your Lordships will agree, must be in the best interests of the child.

Amendments Nos. 36A, 36B and 36C would significantly delay the enactment of these very important provisions. The idea that we have had no time to debate this issue seems to me nonsense; the principle of same-sex parents was debated at length in the context of the need for a father, from the 1990 Act. This specific issue was debated on the Floor of the House in another place for almost three hours; it was also debated at length in this House and many noble Lords took part in those debates during that period. I remind the right reverend Prelate that this is something that has been subject to considerable valuable debate; the House has voted and made its position quite clear. The issue has been debated and voted on in another place and Members of that House agreed to the position in the Bill as it left this House. Therefore, let us be quite clear that the current position in the Bill on this issue reflects an agreed position between the two Houses. As your Lordships are aware, the purpose of today’s debate is to consider those changes made to the Bill in another place, not those issues on which the House has already decided.

I shall recap what these changes do. Clause 42 brings the provisions for female civil partners into line with those for married couples. The Archbishop’s amendments—sorry, I mean the amendments proposed by the right reverend Prelate. I am giving him a promotion that I am sure he deserves. His amendments would delay, perhaps significantly, the commencement of the Bill’s provisions, but would enable both members of the same-sex couple to be recognised as the legal parents of a child born to them following assisted reproduction. To delay this would be unfair to the

29 Oct 2008 : Column 1644

couple and also deprive the children of having two parents. I shall turn in a moment to some of the studies referred to, but the Bill protects the interests of the child by ensuring that it has two parents named on its birth certificate. A provision that would not give the child a father is simply removing the child’s second parent. This would not be in the child’s best interest and the Government are content that these provisions are compatible with the convention.

Noble Lords may not approve of same-sex couples being parents but the fact is that they are parents, and they are good parents. The suggestion which has run as an undercurrent through this debate, that same-sex parents are of less value than mixed-sex parents, is quite offensive and incorrect. We have had these discussions many times and we know that opinion on these issues runs high in your Lordships’ House, but it is sad to suggest in this day and age that having two women as loving parents is somehow to deny a human right to a child.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page