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We are talking about a very emotional consultation. I am explaining it, although I think most people in the Chamber know about it, because the amendment seeks to require the medic to demand one further qualification, and deliver another responsibility. He or she would have to ask the person seeking IVF treatment, Have you got a male? Is there a father figure who will be able to provide the stability that we
think is appropriate? A medic would have to ask that, on top of all the other things that they say to incredibly emotional women who are strung up about one thing only: their desire to have a baby. Does the amendment anticipate the woman taking along with her any male to fulfil that role, so that she has a partner? Will this be policed? Will the medics be asked to prove that they have checked that this qualification is in place? This afternoon, we are hearing a determination, or an attempt to say, that father figures are so important that medics must be made part of the judgment as to whether a woman has a stable relationship or not.
Ms Taylor: That is the whole point. The hon. Gentleman makes a good point, because how would we take account of these things? There would have to be a process by which people make a judgment. I am trying to say to the House that medics have a seriously difficult situation to handle, that we would be adding one more part to that and that that would be very problematic for them.
I chair the all-party group on infertility. I see women with serious illnesses and medical problems on a regular basisand their partnersso I have that one-to-one relationship with them. They are extraordinarily uptight people; they feel that there is something wrong with them, they do not want to expose it to others and they face enough problems without our adding this. They want, and will produce, a stable family. The amendment is discriminatory, but worse than that, it just does not make sense, and I shall support the Bills remaining intact tonight.
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 childrens 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. Here 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 fathers 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, which 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 childnot the rights of a childas 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.
The figures speak for themselves and many have been related to the Committee already, but the influence of a father is indisputable in the mental health of a child; in the educational development of a child; in the susceptibility of a child to fall foul of the law; in the likelihood that a child will live in poverty; in the likelihood that a child will be involved in teenage pregnancy; and so on. Those figures are incontrovertible. Statistically, depriving children born by IVF of the need to take account of a fathers role when considering the creation of that child is to condemn that child to a much greater likelihood of underachievement and unhappiness.
The amendment does not specify that the father has to be there, but regard must be given to the benefits that a father, or the alternative father figures that have been mentioned, can bring to bear for the good of the child. That is why opinion polls show that 80 per cent. of people are opposed to the changes in the Bill. I have not had a single letter urging me to vote any way other than against the existing provisions in the Bill and in favour of the amendments.
Fathers bring something distinctive to the parenting process and we should never forget that. They have been referred to as the forgotten contributors to child development. But the framing of the Bill sends out another damaging message that threatens to undermine fatherhood and the role of fathers. Many fathers feel sidelined after the failure of the Government to accept amendments on the presumption of shared parenting in the Children and Adoption Act 2006. I am also concerned by the many references in this debate to absent fathers who have done the dirty and run away. There are many absent fathers who are denied access to their children because they are the non-resident parent. They would like to be the resident parent or to have access to their children, but have been denied that by the courts. Let us not vilify all fathers who happen not to be resident parents.
Mr. George Howarth: I am sure that the statistics that the hon. Gentleman cites are correct, but does he agree that in some cases it is right that the father be excluded from a childs life because he would be a bad influence?
Tim Loughton: That goes without saying, but there are many fathers who lose contact with their children unintentionally after the break-up of a marriage. They are not all absent from the home because they have done a flit and forsaken their responsibilities. I want to introduce some balance to the debate, because many fathers feel aggrieved and undermined. Legislation that says that fathers are no longer necessary to the nucleus of a family reinforces that dangerous feeling that many fathers already experience.
We believe this proposal sends out an extremely worrying message that makes fathers redundant in the upbringing of children. In an environment where significant societal problems are caused by the lack of a father in a childs life, the Government should be making every attempt to consolidate a fathers position, rather than weaken it.
At a time when fathers are spending more time than ever with their childreneight times as much as they did 30 years agowhen fathers in families in which women work carry out a third of parental care, and when fathers are more eager than ever to play a central role in the daily lives of their children, is it not ironic that this Bill would undermine that important role? I support this amendment because it is balanced. It would send out an important message to cohabiting couples as well as to same-sex couples and anybody else interested in IVF. It is not discriminatory or vilifying. It is supported by the public. It is the right thing to do because it is in the best interests of the child. It is common sense in my constituency and in my world, and that is a good thing and the amendment should be supported.
Chris Bryant: There is a strange irony in this debate. Either the original clause in the 1990 Act has had some effect, in which case the logic is that the status quo should preclude lesbians or single women from receiving IVF treatment, or the clause has had no effect and the amendment is just a declaratory gesture that, as the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) has just said, its supporters wish to continue. However, that declaratory statement will not have the slightest effect on a young gentleman on a Friday night, when he has had a few pints. He will not say, Oh, I remember. That Bill that Parliament passed last week said that there has to be a father, so Im not going to have any unprotected sex tonight. Nor will it ensure that a single father participates in the raising of his child.
Many hon. Members on both sides of the Committee passionately want to ensure that the interests of the child are protected, but the amendment would do nothing to protect the rights of children. However, it would send the message out to lesbians and single women that they should not apply for IVF.
It may be that many lesbians have been allowed to have IVF over the past few years, and we have had evidence presented that that has been the case, but in some areas IVF clinics have told them that they do not qualify simply because of their sexuality and because a father would not be involved. I do not think that we should now restate the 1990 Act, thereby making the HFEA tell all clinics that they should start discriminating against people on grounds of their sexuality.
Both the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) and the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) referred to what they believed to be normality, and the views in the Dog and Duck in Yateley or wherever it was, and in Staffordshire. They also referred to the natural order and what is natural. The truth is that IVF is not, in the strictest sense, natural. It is assisted conception, and it is one of the great joys that doctors have been able to bring to many families around the country. I do not believe that lesbian couples or single women who have gone through the difficult process of deciding that they passionately want a child to bring up in a loving and caring environment are the problem that the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) suggested.
Judge not that ye be not judged.
Mrs. Iris Robinson: I speak tonight saddened by the approach taken by right hon. and hon. Members who wish to airbrush out the role of fatherhood. I notice that there are many grins on faces, but I stand by my faith and the word of God that man was created in the image of God and that woman was created from the rib of Adam to be his helpmeet and companion. That is the natural progression of procreation.
I am so sorry that hon. Members are abusing my position as a Christian and that they will not listen to me or give me due respect. I ask where the rights of the Christian people of this country are, because they have spoken. A recent poll reported in the press here showed that 80 per cent. of people recognise the need for the traditional family. Hon. Members can all breathe sighs of relief or indignation, but I am telling the House that the word of God says that procreation is through a man and a woman. We are moving mountains to facilitate immorality and to bring the rights of lesbians above all others in this country. It is a shame, and hon. Members ought to hang their heads in shame.
Mr. Duncan Smith:
I rise to sum up the issues before us. I will not follow on from the comments of the hon. Member for Strangford (Mrs. Robinson), but I will pick up on the comments made by the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), who said that we could not make our minds up about whether the current system has worked or not. That is a legitimate question. We can argue that the status quo has worked, to a degree. Of course, the Bill will make it easier for couples of all varieties to get IVF treatment, but in the more limited context of the 1990 Act, it can be argued that the advisory section on fathers had an effect. It has been part of the tapestry that has allowed people to
understand the need to take a balanced judgment about the importance of a father.
I find it intriguing that people say, If it is not any good, why not get rid of it? In truth, the point tonight is that the Governments position is far more complicated than that which was in existence until they introduced the Bill. We will be asking clinicians to make a judgment, after they have gone through a long list of criteria, about which group of parents is supportive or not supportive. That is far more complicated and judgmental than current practice and will lead, I anticipate, to a large number of problems. We are asking clinicians to do something that they do not really want to dothat is, to judge the way in which people interrelate. The idea of taking cognisance of the role of a father is simple. That requirement asks clinicians to discuss the issue, and as long as those who are seeking the treatment have taken it into consideration, that is fine. That is why there has not been a single case of anyone having the treatment taken from them.
I compliment my hon. Friends the Members for Salisbury (Robert Key) and for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), and the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (Geraldine Smith) on their excellent contributions. I think that the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) was on the wrong track. As gently as I can, I tell her that if an hon. Member uses a piece of evidence in Committee, they have to get it absolutely right.
In conclusion, I want to press amendment No. 21 to a vote. The hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) said that this is about fairness, not fatherhoodbut if the clause does not say that fatherhood is important, there will be no fairness in the Bill. I say to all those who are unsure or in doubt that those of us who tabled the amendment do not have to justify our position. The Government, who have made the radical move to change the provision, have to justify their decision. They have failed to do so. They will tear up the reasonable guidance and substitute a mess. I therefore want to press amendment No. 21 to a Division.
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