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These tears of frustration can be mimicked; they can be synthesised; they can be real. Most of the time, believe me, they are deadly real, and the pain is real enough. But there is no way in the space of a clinic that you can deal with that situation except to listen, try to understand, do your best to empathise and do what you feel is responsible and right. There will be occasions when you clearly have an indication that it would be wrong to treat a coupleperhaps they come from a known family with child abuse problems. But that is extremely uncommon; it is very rare indeed.
Fourteen years ago I saw a lady in my clinic who I came to just in the same way as the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, did, whose view I would unquestionably have shared 30 years ago without the clinical experience I have had. I was determined not to treat this lady. She was HIV positive and it was not clear what her relationship with her partner was. I was sure that it would be wrong to treat her because of the child. But, because I wanted to be open-minded, I gave her another appointment for three weeks time. Over the next months, I saw that lady five times in my clinicI am not exaggeratingand came to the conclusion that she was worthy of treatment. In 1993-94, the diagnosis of HIV was a death sentence, but there was always a possibility that there might be treatment around the corner. It was becoming clear that it might be possible to deliver babies to lower the risk.
I presented the case at our regular meeting in my clinic. When we have a clinic meeting, everybody attends, including the people who clean the clinic, because we want a general view of what everybody feels. Nobody is excluded. Eighty-five members of my clinic turned up for the discussion on this patient, and without a single exception, nobody supported my view that this woman should be treated. They were all prejudiced against the idea because, to them, treating somebody with HIV was abhorrent. I could not treat her single-handedly, and I worked on my team for six months. By the end of that period, it was interesting to see a massive change of view. We treated that lady, whom some of them thought might die or abandon her child. That lady is alive today and the child, who is a teenager, is well.
In her wonderful speech, the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, made a point about same-sex couples, but this matter goes much wider than that. The biggest single issue in our society is the woman in her late 30s and early 40s. This is increasingly common as women gain skills and education and contribute to society in all sorts of ways. It is not easy for these women to find a partner to live with, but they need treatment because their ovaries are running out of eggstwo or three a day, on average, according to the biological clock. By the age of 40 to 42, they cannot actually conceive. By the age of 42, something like two-thirds of women are seriously infertile. The chance of getting pregnant with IVF by the age of 45 is well under 4 per cent on average. It is not unreasonable, therefore, for these women to present to a clinic without a partner. What are they to do? What is the doctor to do? Of course I agree that the question of the father who gives the sperm is important, but it has nothing whatever to do with this debate. That is about another amendmentthe anonymity, or otherwise, is something that we must separate from this argument.
In this amendment, the best we can do is try to find something which at least raises the issue to the clinics and to those counselling in them, and recognises that there is a problem. To my mind, the Governments amendment does that admirably, and I shall support it.
Lord Tebbit: My Lords, I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, for interrupting him from a sedentary position. However, I was deeply concerned that a lawyer, above all, should say that which is not legally correct and which he must know is not legally correct. Civil partnership is not marriage. That was made explicitly clear by the Government during the passage of the Civil Partnership Act. Indeed, if they had declared it to be marriage, it might not have been passed by this House. It is a very great pity that the noble Lord should have said something which, as a lawyer, he ought to have known was not true.
The noble Lord also said that the campaign for responsible fatherhood was lost a couple of generations ago. If that is true, then let us fight the campaign again and win it. Let us not simply say, Its gone, its lost, forget it, its a new world. The noble Lord also said that science could change ethics. No, my Lords, science cannot change ethics. Ethics are ethics, morals are morals. What is right is right, what is wrong is wrong, and science cannot change that. If that were so, we would be living in a morass, in a world of moral relativism. If there is one thing that is going wrong in the world at the moment, it is that we are losing sight of the immutability of certain rights and wrongs and ethics.
We are all citing personal experience, and none more so than the noble Lord, Lord Winston. I would have been happier about some of what he had said had he not described those of his team who had disagreed with him as prejudiced. It might just have been that they took a different view from him. They might even have considered him prejudiced. It is possible. We have
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This legislationand particularly this part of the Billis about those circumstances in which a child is conceived by IVF through the use of technology that has been licensed by the state. Therefore the state has a responsibility of fatherhood. The child would not have been conceived without that. Indeed, those technologists involved in the conception have a responsibility of fatherhood too. We are tending to forget that.
Under those circumstances, there is no doubt in my mind, that, in generaland I emphasise, in generala childs life prospects are better if it grows up in a family, with a father and a mother, than if it lacks either of them. In general, these are indisputable facts. Of course, there are exceptions. There are thoroughly bad fathers, thoroughly bad mothers and extraordinarily good single parents. Of course, there are. However, we can only deal with it in general terms.
The noble Baroness, Lady Deech, implied, that this Bill, as drafted, tends to marginalise fathers. That is true, but it is not the worst of it. This Bill concentrates so much on the alleged right of a mother to have a child that it forgets the right of a child to have a pair of parentsa mother and a father.
As for human rights law, 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.
Amendment No. 108A rebalances the Bill, not so much in favour of mothers, or of fathers, or of parents, but in favour of the child. Surely, it is to the child that we owe the responsibility, as it is under this legislation that the child will be conceived. Therefore, collectively, we are, in that sense, its parent.
Lord Alli: My Lords, like a moth to a flame, I rise to support the Governments Amendment No. 108 and to set out my opposition to the subsequent amendments. Before doing so, I would like to say what a privilege it has been to read and listen to the debates in this Bill. If or those outside this Chamber or in another place wish to see justification of why we are here, I would ask them to look at the work done on this Bill.
It is easier to create legislation for the kind of world we wish to live in than it is to create laws for the world that we actually live in. The Government have done well in tabling their amendment and have tried to find a way through the issues of the clinics obligation to consider a male role model, while keeping the childs best interest at heart. That means supporting good parents regardless of their sex.
Equality for lesbian and gay people in Britain is a principle now established in law in a range of areas. It is an issue that this House has considered, in detail, in many previous debates and supported time and time againnot least when it approved civil partnership affording same-sex couples equal rights to those of married ones, a move which recognised the long-term commitment made by so many same-sex couples.
Provisions in this Bill would give greater legal recognition to same-sex partners and, more importantly, greater protection to their children. I read the speech made by the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, on Second Reading and have utmost respect for much of what she said. However, on this single point, I disagree with her. In my view, consideration of the potential need for a father should not outweigh the assessment of whether potentially a lesbian gay couple would make good parents or whether a single woman would make a good parent.
No one is trying to substitute the biological father. The Bill is simply trying to allow same-sex couples and single women to have equal access to fertility clinics instead of taking alternative informal routes. We argued that very point in this Chamber when looking at the access to goods and services Bill. It is with some regret that I read some of the claims made during Second Reading about the endurability of same-sex relationships and the suitability of lesbian and gay people as parents.
Let me briefly attempt to put the record straight. Many thousands of couples in long-term, stable relationships have formed civil partnerships but no dissolution figures exist. It is too soon. There is no credible evidence because it is too soon to suggest that they will be disproportionate to the rest of the population.
This Bill will, for the first time, enable two women in a committed relationship to consider starting a family withand this is the important pointthe support of the fertility clinic. That is at the heart of the issue. The Bill would allow the women to start their family with the support of the fertility clinic. The present requirement upon such clinics is to support the potential need for a father before granting the treatment. That can encourage some women to make informal arrangements outside the protection of formal healthcare and that should be avoided.
This is a narrow and specific question, not a broader one of fatherhood. No one is trying to replace the father. It will not deter many of these women from having children. It will simply drive them away from the services they pay for and have a right to expect.
I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, that while I respect her argument in principle and her motives in practice, she may have inadvertently ventured down a dangerous and rocky path. The noble Baroness, Lady OCathain, has also put her name to the amendment and has spoken already. I have spent many hours across this Chamber arguing the rights and wrongs of same-sex couples, gay rights, gay men and lesbian relationshipsthe debate has been well argued. I fear that it is that debate which is contaminating this Bill. The noble Baroness, Lady OCathain, is well practised in setting down persuasive arguments as to why equality
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The world is changing and will continue to change and I am pleased to say that, on many occasions, this House has changed with it. If we were to adopt the proposals put before us today, we would demonstrate that change in a very pragmatic way. The Government have listened to all that we have said and I hope that this amendment will succeed. We should lead and not always follow.
Lord Northbourne: My Lords, I degrouped my Amendment No. 111A so that we could have a good debate on it and I would have a chance to get back at the Minister, but he has completely undershot me by giving me everything I wanted in his opening speech. I shall therefore now speak to Amendments Nos. 108B and 108C, and Amendment No. 111A will come up in its proper place in the Bill.
Lord Northbourne: My Lords, every successful human society has some sort of social structure in place and sanctions to ensure, as far as possible, the effective nurture of its children. In some countries, that is done by the village or tribe. In others, it is done by grandparents. In a few, the children are mainly raised by the state. But the communist formula isand always has beenthat both parents should take principal responsibility for the children they bring into the world, sometimes helped by the state.
Over the past 50 years, in the context of what we are talking about in the Bill, we have to realise that important changes have taken place in our own society to which we have not yet fully adapted our parenting pattern. Today, more than a quarter of the nation's children are raised by a single parent and more than 40 per cent can expect their parents marriage or partnership to break up before they leave school. Grandparents and kin often live far away, but only a small, yet important, minority of parents are failing their children. I do not suggest for a moment that those are the committed single-sex couples.
This group of amendments is important not because it is about fathers and mothers but because it is about a question of principle. How can we ensure, as far as possible, that children born through IVF get the parenting and family life that they need? The Government have made a good shot at it by adding the words supportive parenting and I support government Amendment No. 108 in that connection, but it does not go far enough.
I will first speak to Amendment No. 108C and then to my Amendment No. 108B in this group. I believe in the importance of both a father figure and a mother figure in a child's life. Men and women are equal, as several noble Lords have said, but they are different. There are different talents, skills and qualities that they can bring to the parenting of a child. There is plenty of research to show that children as they grow up benefit from having the love and example of a woman and a man who are both committed to caring for them. For that reason, my Amendment No. 108C and others in this group would ensure that the Bill covers the advantages to the child of having a mother figure and a father figure in their lives.
The noble Lord, Lord Warner, wisely suggested that this matter could be dealt with in guidance and I draw the attention of the House to the fact that the existing guidance, at paragraph G.3.3.3, states:
Where the child will have no legal father, the centre should assess the prospective mothers ability to meet the childs/childrens needs and the ability of other persons within the family or social circle willing to share the responsibility for those needs.
If no reference to the father is included in the Bill, that will fall. Will the Minister assure us that some comparable guidance in relation to both a father and a mother will be included in the guidance?
I now turn to my Amendment No. 108B, which suggests that the words and family life should be added after the words supportive parenting. A survey of research carried out by Charles Desforges, which the Government have accepted, has shown that family life has a major influence on the child's educational outcomes and his life chances even after discounting all other factors. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child lays down that all children have the right to family life. I know that this Government have not signed up to the convention, but it is right to draw attention to the value of family life for a child, not in a restrictive definition of family lifethat must depend on the childs needs and family circumstancesbut at least a family life in which the child would have the opportunity to feel safe, have fun, to learn to interact in a secure environment with friends and relatives and to learn from them how to learn. That is why I tabled Amendment No. 108B.
Finally, I recognise that the inability to have a child, to which the noble Lord, Lord Winston, so movingly referred, often causes great pain and is emotionally damaging to the woman concerned. I suggest that in the majority of cases the conditions on which some of us have suggested the centre should make an assessment do not necessarily imply that that woman is denied a child by IVF. They put in place certain sacrifices that women must make for the sake of the child if they are to qualify for IVF treatment. After all, that is no different from the commitment that most of us make when we decide to have a child.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I will be very brief. I support government Amendment No. 108 and oppose the other amendments not because I do not believe that a father is important in the life of a
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Let us suppose that amendments other than the Government's amendment are passed today. What will happen? Heterosexual couples remain unaffected. We are obviously not going to prohibit the rights of single women and gay and lesbian couples to have fertility treatment because they already have that treatment and almost everyone has said that they expect and wish that situation to continue. The likelihood of single women or indeed a gay couple re-presenting themselves to the clinician as part of a heterosexual couple is impossible unless they are manipulating the legislation. So what have we achieved should we pass any of the amendments other than the government amendment? Heterosexual couples, single women and gay couples continue as before. However, we were told in several of the contributions today, which I respect, that we would be sending out a signal. What does that mean?
It has come to me in the course of the debate that we do not expect the world to be any different. We do not expect to change anything, but we feel better because we have put our views on the face of the Bill. That could be empty, bad law or rhetoric, but it would also do something else. It would send out a signal, which is what worries me most. The signal that would be received by the children mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Northbournethe one child in four currently in a family without a fatheris that we believe those families are inferior and those children are second-class children. As a result, we would be stigmatising them in the name of some family form that we wish them to have, but that they do not have, and cannot, as children, choose to have. Is that what we want to do? To stigmatise children with an amendment that will have no practical effect on any presenting client, but will impact on the children that may result. I cannot believe noble Lords want that to happen. I hope, as a result, that noble Lords will support the Governments amendment, which responds to the feeling of this House in Committee, but reject the other amendments.
Lord Mackay of Clashfern: My Lords, we know that a father has a special interest in his children. I proposed the clause that is now sought to be deleted from the1990 Act, so I have a certain filial affection for it.
First, on the moving account of the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, I should like to say that his eight-ninths of a grandchild apparently came under the existing law perfectly satisfactorily. Secondly, the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth of Breckland, said that we do not at all underestimate the value of a father. That is what this clause in the 1990 Act does: it just points to the value of a father as a factor to be taken into account in the welfare of the child. Everyone is agreedgovernment and all the others who have spokenthat the welfare of the child is something that the clinician has to take
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