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.