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Mr. Tony Clarke (Northampton, South): I am grateful for the comments of the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris). He has been fair in seeking to clarify only that point, considering that he has concerns on many others.
Perhaps the Bill has progressed so speedily so far because it is intended to have a very narrow scope. Despite the amendments before us, the Bill does not necessarily deal with issues relating to human fertilisation and embryology but simply addresses the discrimination felt by those mothers and their children who are unable to register the name of the deceased father on the birth certificate.
I fully understand the concerns expressed by the hon. Gentleman and the issues that he seeks to address. Consent is an important issue; we wish to ensure that the Bill in no way detracts from the existing strict provision in the 1990 Act--clause 3 of which deals extensively with consent provisions--nor do we want to disturb the established common law rules on the subject.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the European convention on human rights and the UN convention on the rights of the child, article 2.1. Therefore, taking his comments into account, I would be more than happy to have further discussions with him to resolve any remaining concerns that he may have. However, I do not believe that it would be right for a vote to be called on the amendment at this stage.
I repeat that the intention of the Bill is not to extend the scope of the 1990 Act. Instead, it would give those 30 women and their children the right to have the father's name recorded on the birth certificate. I hope that that is helpful to the hon. Gentleman, and I look forward to his response.
Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch): It is not clear to me whether the hon. Member for Northampton, South (Mr. Clarke) is saying that he accepts the amendment because he accepts the reasoning behind it. It is perfectly open to him to do so.
Mr. Clarke: I am not saying that I accept the amendment in full at this stage. I accept that the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon has a point, and offer him the opportunity to discuss the matter at further length. The Bill would need to go through further stages before going on the statute book.
Mr. Chope: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for clarifying that point, but I find his response disappointing. I listened to the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) move his amendment, which seemed persuasive. The hon. Member for Northampton, South seems almost persuaded by it, but perhaps he lacks the self-confidence or the authority from someone else to accept it. Surely it would facilitate the Bill's progress if he accepted the amendment. Otherwise, for all he knows, it may be pushed to a vote.
Dr. Harris: I accept that the wording of the amendments is flawed. Amendment. No. 18, which refers to the lawfulness of obtaining sperm, would bring into statute law something that has not previously been covered by statute law, and there is a better wording that will achieve what I seek to do. My understanding from talking to the hon. Member for Northampton, South (Mr. Clarke) on several occasions is that the valid point made by the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) will be taken on board because the current wording is unsatisfactory. I do not ask any hon. Member to accept an unsatisfactorily worded amendment. There will be later stages in the Bill's proceedings and as all Members are indeed honourable, I certainly accept the assurances of the hon. Member for Northampton, South as a response to my amendments.
Mr. Chope: I am grateful for that clarification. I have sympathy with the hon. Gentleman's amendment and I am grateful that we seem to have an assurance from the promoter of the Bill that the problem will be sorted out at a later stage. On that basis, I shall sit down and say no more on the amendment.
Dr. Harris: I have dealt with my response to the hon. Member for Northampton, South (Mr. Clarke) in addressing the constructive comments of the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope). I am grateful to the hon. Member for Northampton, South and for the advice that I received from the Government on these points. I hope that we can find some way of ensuring that, while properly putting right an omission in the original Act that affects about 30 women--to whom we extend our sympathy and concern--we do not leave the law in an unsatisfactory state, based on advice received by the Government on the importance of stressing the need for consent and compliance with the law for downstream activities such as symbolic recognition of paternity.
Given the restrictions of time, I shall confine my speech to a few remarks. It is indeed an unexpected honour to be able to bring the Bill to a Third Reading; although its passage has not been uncomplicated, it has been complex inasmuch as the issues discussed, in many ways, fell outside the original intentions of the measure.
As I pointed out earlier, the intent is clear, simple and to the point--to ensure that those children born after their father has died still have the right to have his name placed on their birth certificate. With us in the House today, as on Second Reading, is Mrs. Diane Blood. People will be aware of the case of Diane, whose husband Stephen contracted meningitis--
For those people who may wonder why we are all in the Chamber merely discussing the question of a name, I draw the attention of the House to a recent newspaper article in which Mrs. Blood stated her hope that the law would be passed before Liam is old enough to ask why his birth certificate shows his father as unknown. She said that at present he points to a photograph of Stephen and says, "That's daddy, that's my father," but seems to have only a vague idea of what a father is.
Recently, Mrs. Blood applied for a passport for Liam and had to fill in the father's details before she could send off the form, which had to be accompanied by a birth certificate. She had to state on the form that on the birth certificate the father's name was given as "unknown". She was asked to lie. It is that untruth that we seek to redress.
Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West): Although I speak from the Opposition Front Bench, I point out to my colleagues that the Bill involves a conscience issue and, that as hon. Members might anticipate on an aspect of fertilisation, it is subject to a free vote.