Tuesday, 20 May 2008

HFE Bill Commons Committee Stage


Sir Patrick Cormack
The hon. Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (Geraldine Smith) speaks with a degree of refreshing candour and common sense, and she underlines the fact that this is not, never has been and never should be a party political issue. I am as far apart from my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (John Bercow), whom in other ways I admire very much, on this issue as I could possibly be from anyone.

I have listened to this afternoon’s debate with profound depression. When I entered this House in 1970, if somebody had told me that nearly 40 years thence, the House would debate the need for a father, I would have thought that that person had taken leave of his senses. What we are talking about is the natural order of things, and I make no apology for standing up for what I believe to be the natural order of things. [Interruption.] It may well be that people can barrack, but I happen to be the first chairman of the all-party committee for widows and single-parent families in this House. We came together and founded that group in 1974 because we believed in helping single-parent families as much as we possibly could, and a very good committee it was, too. My hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) became a member of it after he joined the House.

Another Committee that I was much involved with as long ago as 1970—with the hon. Lord Janner, then Greville Janner, the former Member for Leicester, North-West—had at its heart the preservation and advancement of proper human rights. That was the all-party parliamentary committee for Soviet Jews—for the release of Soviet Jewry—and we stood for what we considered to be those human rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness that have now been so distorted, so altered, so extended as to cover a whole range of things that really are not human rights at all. At the root of the Bill that we are discussing this afternoon is the Government’s realisation that if they did not insert certain words into it, they would be going against the Human Rights Act that we passed some 10 years ago, and which the House really ought to look at again. It is one thing to defend and advance the proper human rights that, for instance, the people of Burma, for whom my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham stands up with great vigour, are completely deprived of. It is another thing entirely to extend and distort that concept of human rights, so that some people in this place are afraid to say—many outside this place are afraid to say—that it is a natural thing for a family to consist of a man and a woman who have children, and who give those children a natural and a proper home.

When I listened this afternoon to some of the surreal exchanges that took place, I could not help but remember the immortal words of Mr. Bumble, who said:
“If the law supposes that…the law is a ass”.

We in this Committee this afternoon are responsible for the law and for trying, I hope, to bring a little balance into the law.

I listened with considerable admiration to my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) when he moved his amendment. He did it with passion and clarity and with a degree of real modesty, but I have to say that I do not think that he went far enough. Although I have many friends who are lesbian or gay, I nevertheless do not believe that a lesbian pair of women or a gay pair of men can provide the same degree of balance, harmony and domestic comfort as parents of the opposite sex can. That is not to say that there are not many parents—men and women, married and unmarried—who are very bad and very cruel to children.

We are talking about families—the Government have even elevated the word “families” into the title of one of the Departments of State. If we are intent on promoting the concept of the family, why do we run away from the importance of the role of the father?
Mr. Vaizey
Given the logic of my hon. Friend’s case, if a mother and a father had treatment, the mother became pregnant and the father then left the mother, should the mother then be made to terminate the pregnancy?

Sir Patrick Cormack
That is a most fatuous intervention. I have never heard such a ridiculous intervention from a so-called intelligent man. Of course not, and the hon. Gentleman almost abuses himself by asking the question. It is a ridiculous question to ask.

There can be domestic problems between any people—of course there can. Within our own family in Parliament, there are those who have strong marriages and those who do not have marriages at all. We represent all sorts of conditions of men and women, but I make no apology for saying in this House that I believe that the natural family unit is the man, woman and children. There are cases where children do not have that advantage because the mother has been deserted. I suppose that I have as many cases in my surgery as colleagues do of women coming to ask for help with the Child Support Agency, and of women whose husbands have behaved utterly despicably. I have many examples in my constituency of single women who, with great courage and enormous sacrifice, skill and dedication, brought up their families. My cousins, twins, were 55 last week. Their father was so badly injured in the war that he died within weeks of their being born. My aunt brought those men up to be the fine men they are today. All of us can replicate that sort of experience, but in doing so and in relaying it to the Committee, we should not, out of a misguided concept of equality and fairness, pretend that there is an automatic right for anyone to have a child, regardless of sex.
I am happy to hold to the view that no one has the right to a child. I happen to believe that a child is God-given, but—
Chris Bryant

With assistance.

Sir Patrick Cormack

Assisted, yes—assisted by a man and a woman.

Chris Bryant
And a doctor.

Sir Patrick Cormack
And sometimes by a doctor, and sometimes by a test-tube. However, I say to the hon. Gentleman and to anybody else in this Committee that a child who is deliberately brought into the world with no desire that there should be a man and a woman as the parents is brought into it with a disadvantage. In so far as the amendment moved by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green goes some way toward redressing the balance in the Bill before us, it deserves the support of the whole Committee.
Dari Taylor gets it very, very wrong:

Ms Taylor

... That which is appropriate for children who are adopted or fostered is equally appropriate for any who are produced by IVF; I see no difference at all, because parenting is parenting.
And Tim Loughton gets it very, very right:

Tim Loughton

May I make a few comments to endorse the passion that we have heard from my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) and the comments of the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (Geraldine Smith), who spoke with enormous common sense? I do not want to vilify, or discriminate against, anybody, but I am concerned about how this debate has gone, and about the undermining of the role of fathers, the message that that sends out about fatherhood and the resulting effect on our children’s welfare.

The clause sits rather uncomfortably in the Bill, which is why I support the amendment tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith). This part of the Bill, unlike the rest of it, is not about the power of scientists; it is about the power of political correctness and it is about a misconceived notion of equality and fairness, which has been behind many of the objections that we have heard from those on the Labour Benches. There are echoes of the Bill on same-sex adoption from many years ago. I think that we have moved on a long way since then, but I should point out an essential difference. That Bill dealt with children in care who were born of, and may have spent time with, two parents but then needed to be given the opportunity for a stable upbringing. We are dealing with children who will, by design, never have a father. We are talking about artificially creating life that will become a child who will, under these terms, know no father and have no father’s influence in his or her upbringing, and whose only connection with a father will have been a momentary collision of gametes in a test tube at the point of conception. That is what will happen if the Government get their way.

I support this amendment not primarily from any religious or moral considerations, less still any intention to undermine the credibility and dedication of single mothers who have been left to bring up children on their own for whatever reason, or even the suitability of same-sex couples to bring up children. My primary concern is for the welfare of the child, as we are all bound to take into account under clause 1 of the Children Act 1989 and in practice because it is the right priority to have.

I am annoyed, more than anything else, by the constant talk of the rights of adults to have a child—not the rights of a child—as if they are the latest must-have accessory on a par with the right to water or warmth. The overwhelming right here must be the right of a child to enjoy and benefit from the society and nurture of his or her parents and family. Not to acknowledge that is to diminish the role of both parents.

Monday, 12 May 2008

HFE Bill Commons Second Reading

From: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm/cmtoday/cmdebate/05.htm

Norman Lamb:

Let me turn to the issue of whether the birth certificate of a donor-conceived child should have that fact recorded on it. There is considerable force behind the argument that the individual has the right to know. The issue was debated at length in the other place, and one of the possibilities that was considered was the use of a symbol to indicate that a child was donor-conceived. The Government are committed to carrying out a review of the law and practice, and I would be grateful if the Minister said, in her closing speech, where we are with that process and when the review is likely to reach a conclusion.
Robert Key:
One issue has not been mentioned so far: what should be put on a birth certificate? I think that the state has a moral duty not to be party to a deliberate deception about a person's genetic history. The evidence convinces me that everyone has the right to know the identity of their biological parents, and it also suggests that the best approach is for the social parents to inform their children at the earliest opportunity, at the most appropriate moment, of their origin. However, for the avoidance of doubt and to be fair to everyone, there is a case for printing on every birth certificate a notice of other state agencies that may hold additional information on a person's genetic history. Therefore, no one would be discriminated against and everybody would know that it might be worth checking, if there is any doubt and one's "parents" have not told one.

Dawn Primarolo:
On the question of birth certificates, and of telling children that they are donor-conceived, we have made it clear in another place that we would carry out a review within four years of the Bill coming into force. It is therefore a bit difficult for me to explain what has already been done, as I shall have to wait until the Bill has been passed.

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

HFE Bill Report Stage (Lords) day 3


Lord Jenkin of Roding

Why do the two representative bodies take such opposing views? The argument of the IDOA, which represents donor-conceived people, that the genetic and biological parents, as well as social parents, should be recorded, is based on six propositions. First, genetic heritage has existence. It is a fact, and has meaning and value in itself. Secondly, everyone has a moral right to know. While it cannot be universally enforced, the state should not connive in abrogating that right. Thirdly, because the state intervenes in assisted reproduction, it has a duty to give legal protection to that moral right and should not deceive the child or withhold information about its genetic parents. The genetic regulations give the donor-conceived child the right to find a donor’s identity, but this is meaningless if many parents continue to conceal the fact of donor conception. Fourthly, the truth must be put in the hands of the offspring for reasons of avoiding consanguinity or even incest. Fifthly, and this is an important fact, falsifying a birth certificate is illegal, so it is discriminatory if the state connives at concealing the fact of donor conception. Finally, only honest and accurate birth certificates would be consistent with the rest of UK law, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and case law under the European Convention on Human Rights.
Lord Jenkin of Roding proposed an amendment that the HFEA should periodically review the system of birth certification. This amendment was supported by Baroness Warnock, Baroness Knight of Collingtree, Lord Alton of Liverpool, Earl Ferrers, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, Baroness Butler-Sloss, Baroness Carnegy of Lour.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon, speaking for the government, said

this is currently an intractable problem but I assure noble Lords that we will continue to keep under review options about informing donor-conceived people about their conception, including continuing dialogue with the Donor Conception Network about the impact of its work. We will gladly involve noble Lords with a specific interest in this in our future discussions.
and Lord Jenkin withdrew his amendment.

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

HFE Bill Report Stage (Lords)

From http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld200708/ldhansrd/text/80121-0012.htm, or thereabouts.

Lord Tebbit
do not children have human rights? Does not an unborn child have rights? Indeed, perhaps one could extend it to the concept that a child not yet conceived, has a right? I think it does. It has a human right to a father and a mother. We should ensure that we do all we can to see that that is carried through.
Lord Jenkin of Roding
There is widespread agreement—it was apparent in the Select Committee and in Committee in this House—that it is highly desirable that a donor-conceived person be told of his or her biological origins at the earliest stage at which they can be expected to understand the situation.
Baroness Warnock
we must try to ensure that children are not brought up under a misconception about their genetic parenthood. That is one of the most obvious cases of immoral treatment of a child, and it can be embarked on only by parents who are thinking more of themselves than of the good of the child.
Lord Patten
I say to the Minister that it is totally wrong for the state to connive in a falsehood—and I know he does not wish to do so. Birth certificates must record the birth as far as it is possible. They must never encourage a deliberate falsehood by making provision for the registration of parents in a way not clear to their children. Birth certificates have the sole function of genetic history, not of saying who is carrying out the “parenting function”, if that is what it might be called.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon
The noble Earl, Lord Howe, asked about birth certificates and compatibility with the European Convention on Human Rights. Any proposal to amend birth certificates in the way suggested would have to be considered on the individual facts. However, broadly speaking, the Government’s view is that the human rights of donor-conceived children and their parents are likely to be engaged. Therefore, any interference by the state into this private realm would have to be proportionate and fully justified. It is our view that the interests of donor-conceived children in finding out about their genetic origins are best protected by a programme of information and education to support their parents in discussing this information with them.

Monday, 14 January 2008

Lords' proposed amendments to the HFE Bill



or there abouts, regarding amendments to



111* Page 9, line 14, at end insert—

"( ) In subsection (5) after the words "as a result of treatment" insert the words "including, in the case of a woman proposed to be treated with donated gametes or embryos, the need for that child to be told about his or her origins"."


126 Page 19, line 6, leave out subsection (2)

[This would retain the "need for a father" clause]

[As an amendment to amendment 128]

129* Line 8, at end insert—

"(2B) Information so provided shall in particular—

(a) make clear the importance of disclosing to any child resulting from treatment services the circumstances of the child's conception; and

(b) include guidance designed to assist a person in making such a disclosure."


130* Page 19, line 8, at end insert—

"(4) The code shall include guidance about the welfare of children born as a result of donal conception treatment and in particular the guidance should address the need for donal conceived children to be told about their origins."


145 Page 72, line 12, leave out paragraphs 1 to 9


146* Page 72, line 12, at end insert—

"(1) The Authority shall from time to time carry out a review of the law and practice concerning the inclusion in the birth certificates of donor conceived persons the fact of such conception.

(2) If the Authority, after any such review, and after consulting bodies representing the parents of donor conceived persons, and bodies representing donor conceived persons, recommends that the law and practice should be changed to provide for the inclusion of the fact of donor conception on the birth certificates of donor conceived persons, the Secretary of State may by order implement any such recommendation with such amendments as he shall think fit, and a draft of any such order shall be laid before each House of Parlaiment and shall only take effect if both Houses approve the draft."


151 Page 85, line 1, leave out paragraphs 41 to 44


153 Page 90, line 35, leave out paragraphs 59 to 65

Thursday, 13 December 2007

More from the HFE Bill committee


Baroness Barker:

Baroness Barker is severely lacking insight:
A longitudinal and international study by Liverpool John Moores University suggested that, were the population to be tested—and before eyes on the government Front Bench light up, I am not suggesting for a moment that it should be—somewhere between 10 per cent and 25 per cent of people would turn out to have a genetic father who is different from the person we consider to be our father.
Is this true? I am deeply skeptical and would like to see some hard evidence on it.
Why? It is partly because people have lied on birth certificates ever since birth certificates have been around. People have chosen either not to register information or they have at times put down false information. Why? It is for all the reasons that people exist. I suspect that when people chose to do it, they did it for one outstanding reason: they thought it was in the best interests of the child. In any type of relationship, truth can sometimes be very difficult to live with.
Rubbish! It's always in the best interests of the child to know who his or her true parents are. Anyone lying on a birth certificate has committed fraud. Lying about paternity is only in the best interests of the adults, to save them from an uncomfortable admission and to avoid them having to face up to the truth of what they've done.
A birth certificate is not a certificate of somebody’s genetic identity. We do not have such a thing, and never have had. The noble Baroness, Lady Deech, and I disagree here, but it is a record of who a child’s social parents are at any time.
False. The birth certificate has always been about biological and genetic origin. Millions of people who look up birth certificates to trace their family history believe them to record the truth about their genetic history.
It would be wrong to suggest to any child who was born into a family, and whose birth was planned, wanted and much desired by the two people constituting that family—that is, the two people in the partnership—that that was not so. It is not about trying to deceive people; on the contrary, it is a different kind of truth.
False. Donor conception has always created a social fiction, and putting incorrect names on the birth certificate introduces a legal fiction as well, one in which the state currently colludes.

The Lord Bishop of Winchester:

My understanding of the word “parent” is that it means a progenitor. It means a mother or a father in the strictest physical sense, whether by donation or whatever. It means, in the genetic sense, a mother or father. Although I recognise the interests of this Bill, I am very troubled by what I see as an untruthful widening of the meaning of “parent”.
I'm upset that it's only religious people who seem to be comfortable speaking the truth.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham:
... where secular, appointed officials hold down a job under parliamentary writ and authority, their conscience in good faith is to all of the ramifications of that job as laid down by law. They may not pick and chose to decide that they will or will not, for example, register somebody who is black or yellow or brown or too small or too large or gay. That is part of the responsibility that comes with holding office by law established.
But perhaps they could decide not to register a birth when they are presented with obviously false information, such as two female parents!

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon:
I understand that some see as a fallacy recording on a birth certificate that a child has a mother and a second parent who happens to be female. However, I must point out that a child born to a married couple by the use of donor sperm has recorded on his birth certificate that the husband is his father, although he is in fact not his biological father.
Yes, and the latter is an injustice. Let's forbid it rather than allowing more injustice by permitting the former!
The noble Baroness, Lady Barker, is correct to say that there is only ever one mother on a birth certificate and there can never be confusion about who is the mother.
False. Surrogacy and egg "donation" are two issues which cloud this area significantly.

Baroness Deech:
We should be focusing on the child’s origins, not the situation of the parents.

A birth certificate is not a social record but a historical record. The social situation of children, the legal responsibility for them, and questions of their maintenance and upbringing are quite distinct issues. The birth certificate is a historical record that ought to be as accurate as possible, and should not be used to achieve ends other than the facts.
Baroness Williams of Crosby:
if a birth certificate does not reflect accurately what such certificates are about—that is, a statement of biological origin—then, far from actually adding to the stability and happiness of the child, one raises huge issues and questions about how that child came to be.
I am terribly troubled about this—not because I have any prejudice against the matter, but about a legal acceptance of something that is not a fact suddenly becoming a fact because Parliament says so.

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

More from the HFE Bill committee

I've noticed that now the bill is no longer discussing merging the HFEA and the HTA, the bill is now known as the Human Fertilisation and Embryology bill.

Lord Davies of Coity
I understand that we want to regulate the arrangements in the most appropriate way, but I have to advise the House. I have four daughters and eight grandchildren, seven of whom were born in what my noble friend Lord Winston describes as, “the other way”.

However, one of them was born as a result of IVF, eight years ago. That child is a normal, beautiful grandchild of mine. She was born as a result of my youngest daughter devoting her eggs to my second daughter in order that that child could be born. The grief that my second daughter experienced, as a result of not being able to have a second child, was enormous. When my youngest daughter said, “I’ve got two children. I will devote my eggs to her”—the noble Lord, Lord Winston, knows about this because I discussed it with him at the time—this child was born and is now a beautiful, eight year-old youngster.

Whatever regulations and protection you want to introduce, for heaven’s sake, never destroy the opportunity for a young woman to have a child as a result of IVF, because that would be damaging to everyone. That is the circumstance I have experienced. I hope that the Government will recognise that.
I fear that since this poor girl is only eight years old, the full effects of having a mother who is actually her aunt, and an aunt who is actually her mother may not have yet become apparent.

I wonder if Lord Davies will be making the same claims in twenty years time.

HTE Bill Discussed by Lords Committee

The discussion of the HTE Bill in the House of Lords has reached the committee stage:


The discussion has been worrying and encouraging in equal measure. I have selected a few quotes to discuss.

Baroness Deech:
We must look at things through a child's eyes. Do we not call it a tragedy for a child if his or her father is killed, especially during pregnancy? Does the baby appreciate that his fatherlessness is planned rather than accidental?
The Baroness is correct that any form of fatherlessness is a tragedy, and the intentionality of fatherlessness that donor-conception implies only makes the situation worse.

Lord Winston:
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.
The noble Lord is confused. In the case of "fertility" "treatment" the most important person is not the "patient". It is the new, independent, autonomous human being who will be created as a result.
We are faced here with a woman who has gone through in vitro fertilisation, who has given up her eggs - possibly under some kind of duress because it was the only way in which she could pay for the treatment - who ends up feeling that at least she has tried but is infertile, but who then finds, potentially to her horror, that she had a child all along who she did not know existed and whom, in different circumstances, she would have liked to have nurtured herself.
How can Winston acknowledge this and continue to support donor-conception?
Practical experience at Hammersmith, which is a very large infertility clinic, shows that people undergoing donor arrangements tend to keep the matter secret from the children.
Tell that to the Donor-Conception Network!

Baroness Barker:

Although Baroness Barker has tabled an amendment suggesting that a "symbol" be added to the birth certificates of donor-conceived people it is clear that she does not understand the issue from the donor-conceived viewpoint, as these quotes illustrate.
If any Member of the Committee could find a way in which this intensely personal and private information could be communicated directly, and only, to the person to whom it had most meaning, I would be delighted to consider it.
The point of putting the truth on birth certificates is, tautologously, that birth certificates should record the truth! The fact that this will help donor-conceived people to find out about their status is simply a happy side effect. Lying on the birth certificate, but having some other means to inform donor-conceived people of their status is still discriminatory and singles us out as being different even more so than a symbol on the birth certificate would!
I was very heartened when the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, said that those children are special - that they are extremely wanted. They are.
The noble Baroness is misleading herself and others by perpetuating the myth that donor-conceived people are "special" and "wanted". We are not "special", we are abnormal, different from everyone else and in a very negative way. We are not "wanted". When someone has a baby by sperm donation they do
not want that baby. They want any baby. They don't even care who the father is! They don't care who half the child is. They do not want that baby, as a person, as an individual human being. They simply want the idea of a baby.
We have never said to people who are adopted that on their 18th birthday a letter would come through the post to advise them of that fact. Why? Because in all the time that our predecessors in this Chamber - we go back hundreds of years - were making laws on adoption, we recognised that what was happening was the creation of new families.
False. You cannot "create" a family. A group of people either is or is not a family based on objective factors: essentially because of genetics. Certain factors such as the existence of step-parents, half-siblings act to make this concept a blurry one, but not a subjective one! It may be difficult to define what a family is but that does not detract from the truth: that a family is or is not based on facts and not on actions. Adoption does not create new families. It simply "transplants" children into a family that is not their own.

Baroness Warnock:
Times will change and it will become recognised that being a child by donation is an honourable thing to be.
Hopefully being any sort of human will be recognised as an honourable thing to be. However, it ought to be recognised as thoroughly shameful that one's raising parents, the government and the medical profession acted to create a human being who would never have a meaningful relationship with one or both parents.

Lord Mackay:
The licensed clinic, or centre, or the HFEA could have an obligation to send a confidential communication to the child at a given age and, before it did so, it should warn the parents that that was going to happen.
Lord Mackay speaks with the best of intentions, but seems to fail to realise that this would perpetuate discrimination against donor-conceived people: they still would not have the truth on their birth certificate!

Baroness Royall:
As drafted, it would include the annotation on a birth certificate of any birth that was the result of IVF or other licensed infertility treatment. Infertility can be a difficult issue for people to come to terms with and I believe that they would not like it to be made public in this way.
Perhaps not, but remember this is an issue of Human Rights for the donor-conceived, not an issue of privacy for the infertile! Certainly these two issues are at conflict, but one is more important than the other.
If it were noted on a birth certificate that a child was the result of IVF treatment, or yet still that their father or mother was not actually their biological parent, would that not set them apart from other children as different? Is that something that children and parents would want to have openly displayed, even if they were aware of it themselves?
If there's nothing wrong with donor-conception, why be afraid of the information being on the birth certificate? [Hint: this is a rhetorical question]
The noble Baroness is right. These children are special and desperately wanted. That is at the nub of everything that we have been talking about today.
Baroness O'Cathain:
Given that the child's welfare is at the heart of the Bill, is not the issue here that the children born from this egg donor business are more desperately wanted than probably any other children? That should turn the matter on its head, as it is done in such a way as to make the child special. That is the way I feel about it.
Unfortunately the noble Baronesses have fallen into the trap of the "desperately wanted" fallacy.

Lord Howe:

I am just sorry that the noble Baroness did not warm to the amendments alittle bit more than she appeared to do. I simply invite her to read the evidence put before the Joint Committee, which convinced me, at any rate, that the rights of parents to privacy - rights that should certainly not be overlooked in this equation - are trumped by the right of the child to expect
truth from the state.
I add that encouraging parents to be open with their children really does not address the issue of human rights about which so many Lords spoke.