Human Fertilisation and Embryology (Deceased Fathers) Bill

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Dr. Harris: I note that the Minister is not rising to speak, so I will sum up on the amendments.

On amendments Nos. 5, 6, 9, 8, 11, 12, 14 and 15, I understand the hon. Gentleman's point. I am concerned about two areas, although I agree that we do not have to go into them at any greater length now. I would be far more reassured about what will go on abroad if we could have a provision to ensure, at least in future, that consent and the removal and storage of gametes is lawful up to the point where it relates to this country.

We must try to satisfy ourselves on the issue of lawful consent where these things are undertaken abroad. However, we are making UK law, and the registration of the father on the birth certificate pertains to the UK. It is not clear that we should necessarily change our laws on the registration of births to fit in with practices that may be wholly unacceptable to us—

The Chairman: Order. The hon. Gentleman is becoming somewhat repetitious. I would be grateful if he brought his remarks to a close.

Dr. Harris: I apologise. I take your point, Mr. Sayeed.

In that respect, concerns remain to be answered. It has not been made clear to me why donor sperm can be used in the UK only when the couple are not married but anywhere—not just in the UK, but overseas—when they are. The protections that are required when donor sperm is used should not be completely done away with simply on production of a marriage certificate. Very quick marriages may occur, designed to circumvent restrictions in this area. That must be explored at greater length.

It is reasonable, during the Committee stage of the Bill, to request an explanation of the point that I raised about the inclusion of artificial insemination. It is unfortunate that I am going to be asked whether I wish to press my amendments in the absence of such an explanation, despite the assistance available to the Minister. Nevertheless, I look forward to that explanation.

As I have made clear, I am not satisfied by the undertakings that I have been given and it may be that the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority would not be satisfied in relation to amendments Nos. 7, 10, 13 and 16. For that reason I intend to seek to test the opinion of the Committee on amendment No. 7 only, and not on amendment No. 5. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment proposed: No. 7, in page 1, line 28, at end insert—

    `, and provided that the obtaining of the sperm was lawful, and that the storage, if any, and treatment were lawful under this Act.'.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 1, Noes 6.

Division No. 1]

Harris, Dr. Evan

Boswell, Mr. Tim
Clarke, Mr. Tony
Cooper, Yvette
Eagle, Maria
Henderson, Mr. Ivan
Shipley, Ms Debra

Question accordingly negatived.

Mr. Tony Clarke: I beg to move amendment No. 1, in page 3, line 18, at end insert—

    `(5DD) In the application of subsections (5A) to (5D) above to Scotland, for any reference to a period of 42 days there shall be substituted a reference to a period of 21 days.

    (5DE) The requirement under subsection (5A), (5B), (5C) or (5D) above to elect within a period of 42 days or (as the case may be) 21 days shall be treated as satisfied if the required election is made outside that period but with the consent of the Registrar General under subsection (5DF) below.

    (5DF) The Registrar General may at any time consent to the making of an election outside the required period if, on an application made to him in accordance with such requirements as he may specify, he is satisfied that there is a compelling reason for giving his consent to the making of such an election.

    (5DG) In subsections (5DE) and (5DF) above ``the Registrar General'' means the Registrar General for England and Wales, the Registrar General of Births, Deaths and Marriages for Scotland or (as the case may be) the Registrar General for Northern Ireland.'.

The amendment is a simple change to the Bill that recognises the difference in registration legislation between England and Wales and Scotland. Proposed new subsection (5DD) substitutes a reference to a period of 21 days for registration of births in Scotland. That will make the time limit in the Bill for registering births in Scotland consistent with existing legislation. Likewise, proposed new subsection (5DE) will enable one to make an election outside the 42-day period in England, Wales or Northern Ireland—or the 21-day period in Scotland—with the consent of the Registrar-General. That will allow the Registrar-General some discretion. Under proposed new subsection (5DF), the Registrar-General may consent to the making of an election outside that period if he is satisfied that there is a compelling reason for him to do so. Proposed new subsection (5DG) defines the Registrar-General.

12.45 pm

In essence, we are trying to ensure that the Bill is consistent with the existing legislation of England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland but also gives the Registrar-General discretion, so that where the mother has not applied within the set time, he may still use his discretion to allow the registration to take place.

Dr. Harris: May I clarify—the hon. Gentleman may have been stating this, although not in terms—whether without proposed new subsections (5DF) and (5DE), no retrospection would be available? By definition, such cases would fall outside the 42 or 21-day period. Is the amendment to provide not only for Scotland but a for mechanism by which retrospective cases may be considered, as they will almost inevitably occur hundreds or thousands of days after the birth?

Mr. Clarke: If it is helpful to the hon. Gentleman, there are separate circumstances for retrospective applications, which may be registered within three months of the Act coming into force—or longer, with the consent of the Registrar-General. That provision is not the same as the amendment, which relates to the difference in legislation for Scotland and Northern Ireland, England and Wales. The 90-day rule for retrospective applications will still be in force following the Bill's enactment.

Dr. Harris: Does the discretion to go beyond the 42 or 21-day limit concern cases where the woman is incapacitated after birth by medical problems, and will therefore not have had an opportunity to register, or does the hon. Gentleman envisage other circumstances?

Mr. Clarke: The circumstances that the hon. Gentleman mentions will be usual. The reason for the difference between the 42 and 21 days is simply the difference in law between the Acts. In all cases, the Registrar-General's discretion can be used for the purpose that the hon. Gentleman mentions and other purposes, if he feels that to be reasonable.

Amendment agreed to.

The Chairman, being of the opinion that the principle of the clause and any matters arising thereon had been adequately discussed in the course of debate on the amendments proposed thereto, forthwith put the Question, pursuant to Standing Orders Nos. 68 and 89, That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.

Question agreed to.

Clause 1, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 2

Consequential and retrospective provision

Mr. Tony Clarke: I beg to move amendment No. 2, in page 3, line 43, after `shall', insert

    `(in addition to any case where the sperm or embryo is used on or after the coming into force of this Act)'.

The Chairman: With this, it will be convenient to consider the following amendments: No. 3, in page 3, line 45, at end insert

    `and before the coming into force of this Act.'.

No. 4, in page 4, line 23, at end add—

    `( ) Where the child concerned was born before the coming into force of this Act, section 28 of the Act of 1990 shall have effect as if—

    (a) subsection (5DD) were omitted; and

    (b) in subsection (5DE), for the words ``42 days or (as the case may be) 21 days'' there were substituted ``three months''.'.

Mr. Clarke: The amendments are tidying up amendments. Amendments Nos. 2 and 3 make clear in clause 2, which deals with retrospective provisions, that the Bill applies to prospective as well as retrospective births, and to retrospective births between 1 August 1991, when the original Act came into force, and the date on which the Bill will come into force.

Amendment No. 4 amends the retrospective provisions in clause 2 that refer to the woman's election, in such cases, being made within three months of the new Act coming into force. The hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon made a point about that a little while ago. The amendment gives the Registrar-General discretion to extend the three-month time limit when there are compelling reasons, in the same way that he has discretion to extend the 42-day or 21-day time limits for new registrations. It could be used in circumstances when retrospective applications could not be made because the person was taken ill for a period that extended beyond the three months. That would be at the discretion of the Registrar-General.

Dr. Harris: I have two questions. First, from when will the period of three months be used? If someone was born in 1993 and the Act comes into force in 2003, for example, 10 years will have elapsed since the birth of the child. If the three months are timed from the Act coming into force, for retrospective cases since 1991, and if that differs from prospective cases, in which the time limit is 42 or 21 days plus discretion from the time of the birth, where is that made clear?

My second question is about the date of 1 August 1991. With your permission, Mr. Sayeed, I will deal with it here rather than in a stand part debate because we need to make progress. That date has been chosen as the one on which the 1990 Act came into force, so meaningful provisions date from then. Interestingly, however, the Act regulates the storage, and not just the use, of sperm and embryos. Should the beginning of the process of storage, rather than simply the process of use, be the cut-off point in order to ensure—as I am sure is the intention—that the produce of the measures are fully regulated under the 1990 Act, warts and all?

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