Family Law Reform Bill [Lords]

– in the House of Commons at 10:30 pm on 7th April 1987.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mrs Jill Knight Mrs Jill Knight , Birmingham, Edgbaston 10:30 pm, 7th April 1987

I have no doubt that the Bill has been brought here this evening, and dealt with in the other place, with the best of intentions. Indeed, my right hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General has never introduced a Bill without impeccable intentions. However, I must say that I am worried about some of the Bill's implications.

Last December, a consultation document was presented to Parliament by a number of Cabinet Ministers. My right hon. and learned Friend was not among them, but the Lord Chancellor was. The document is entitled "Legislation on Human Infertility Services and Embryo Research". It concludes: The Government's intention is to introduce legislation on the issues dealt with in the Warnock Report but it believes that further detailed discussion is advisable before a Bill is brought forward. Whatever detailed discussion has taken place, it has not yet been concluded. I note in the consultation paper that views are invited up until the end of June this year. It must be at least a month since the Bill sprang to life in another place—long before the June deadline.

The Bill deals in one particular with precisely the matters to which that paragraph refers—with Warnock matters. However, it does not deal with them with the benefit of considered views, for which the paper specifically asks. Clause 27 is about AID, which was one of the principal issues dealt with in the Warnock report. However, instead of waiting for the results of consultations about AID, clause 27 repeats word for word a clause drafted by the Law Commission as far back as 1982.

My right hon. and learned Friend referred to that; but here is the clause, put down in the Bill with no regard to the discussion paper or to what it might throw up, no regard to the careful and detailed considerations in the Warnock report and no appreciation of the need to update a Law Commission document of 1982—with, in fact, no apparent knowledge that the Law Commission has now repudiated its original 1982 wording. The Law Commission is quite clear on that: it has recognised that the clause is now deficient, bearing in mind what has come to light since 1982 in Warnock. In October last, the Law Commission threw cold water on its own wording, saying that it deplored piecemeal measures which may later have to be reconsidered. I put it to the House that that is exactly what clause 27 is doing. I feel strongly that the clause is slotted into the Bill in a piecemeal way, and that, if it is passed in its present form, there will have to be changes later.

Photo of Mr Peter Thurnham Mr Peter Thurnham , Bolton North East

Does my hon. Friend accept that more than 1,000 children have been born by the AID process who would become legitimate with the passage of the Bill, and that, if it is felt at a later stage that the House should amend any part of the Bill, that can of course be done?

Photo of Mrs Jill Knight Mrs Jill Knight , Birmingham, Edgbaston

My hon. Friend does not seem to understand that AID is not just about illegitimacy. There is more than one aspect to AID; it should not be treated as though there were only one aspect to be considered. Lord Denning said about AID: The operation is fraught with tremendous consequences for husband and wife—and the child that is to be. However, clause 27 treats it as of no great account. Under that clause, AID can be practised without any explanation to either party. Even written consent is unnecessary. The wife can simply ask her husband privately if he consents to AID, and if he says he does he is bound to accept the child as his. Indeed, the clause is so lax in its treatment of AID that nobody would be able later to prove that the question had ever been asked. If the husband denied it, nobody could prove it one way or the other. No record is either made or kept.

Let us suppose that a child born as a result of AID were to be handicapped, or diseased. or of a different ethnic origin from the husband. He could very easily repudiate it. The consultation paper says : Counselling is seen as an essential element in the provision of infertility services. The Government accepts that couples should receive counselling and would be glad to have further views on the development of such services and whether such counselling should be a statutory requirement. I agree with that recognition of the importance of counselling. The Government agreed at one time about its importance, because they say so in the consultation paper. I wonder what made them change their mind. Who put it to them that none of these matters is of great importance and that they could easily be slipped in piecemeal later on? The consequences are enormous. Proper weight is not given to the matter in the clause as it stands.

As for the birth certificate, the consultation paper says: It is essential to maintain the integrity and reliability of the birth register as a record of biological fact. According to the Bill, the birth certificate will be falsified. I recognise that the intention is to do what is best in the interests of the child, but—

Photo of Mr Peter Thurnham Mr Peter Thurnham , Bolton North East

Will my hon. Friend give way on that point?

Photo of Mrs Jill Knight Mrs Jill Knight , Birmingham, Edgbaston

I hope that my hon. Friend will permit me to make some progress. I do not want to detain the House for long. I shall give way once more, but once more only.

Photo of Mr Peter Thurnham Mr Peter Thurnham , Bolton North East

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend. Is she aware that the latest medical research shows that approximately one fifth of the population does not have the genetic father whose name appears on the birth certificate?

Photo of Mrs Jill Knight Mrs Jill Knight , Birmingham, Edgbaston

That is totally irrelevant. First, we do not know it for a fact. Secondly, there is a great deal of difference between what happened in the past and legislating for a completely different set of circumstances. And that is what we are doing tonight.

Under these rather loose arrangements, the child will never know the truth. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham) may say that other children will never know the truth, either, but that does not mean that children whom we are permitting to be brought into the world should be denied what Warnock clearly stated was their right. A child would never be able to give a true answer about the family's medical history. It would know only half of it.

Warnock, speaking of children born as a result of AID, recommends that On reaching 18 the child should have access to basic information about the donor's ethnic origin and genetic health. Legislation should be enacted to provide the right of access. Those are wise words. Probably they followed on the heels of earlier legislation about adoption: that a child should have the right to know about its background and should be able to contact its mother.

The consultation paper regards it as absolutely essential that there should be a registration and recording system for children who are born as a result of AID and that a central record of AID births should be kept.

This carries out exactly the recommendation of Warnock which says: The clandestine practice of AID could be very harmful. It says that it should be available only on a properly organised basis. If hon. Members want to look this up, they will find it in chapter 13 of the Warnock report where the licensing arrangements are clearly described : We recommend that the provision of AID without a licence for that purpose should be an offence. It could not be much more clearly stated than that. Of course, it is not an offence now. That is one of the reasons why some of us are anxious that legislation on Warnock should be introduced. But it still will not be an offence if this Bill is unamended. The Bill gives, as it were, a blessing to AID without giving the child its rights.

In the Bill AID is given less importance than an anti-tetanus jab. A record has to be made of a child having an anti-tetanus jab. One knows what is in the syringe and where it came from, but at the moment any agency can provide an AID service. It can collect semen from a donor without asking him any questions or keeping any record. It can pay him and then take payment from a woman to be inseminated, without any details of the donor being made known to her. It could be a lucrative business. Dozens of women could be inseminated from the one donor. Wherever there is a way of making money in this wicked world, people will use it.

I dispute the figures given earlier. I understand that it is estimated that about 1,700 children are born every year by AID. There is no record of them; no one will ever know the secret of their birth. Perhaps that will be a good thing, but it would be good for them to know even if others do not.

The implications of clause 27 have not been thought through carefully. The production of a child by this method is far more important than the question of its legitimacy. If I am fortunate enough to be a member of the Standing Committee, I shall seek to amend the Bill.

Photo of Mr Alex Carlile Mr Alex Carlile , Montgomery 10:42 pm, 7th April 1987

I have not yet had the good fortune to come out in the top few in the private Members' ballot, but year on year, ever since I have been an hon. Member, I have given an undertaking to concerned groups that were it my good fortune to come high in the ballot I would present a Bill which would remove the stigma of illegitimacy.

The Bill that I would have presented probably would not have been as well drafted as the Bill before us, which has been drafted professionally; it has had the advantage of two Law Commission reports and has also been through the other place before coming to us. I congratulate the Solicitor-General and the Government on taking the initiative this year to bring this Bill before us.

It is an important Bill which will remove one of the major stigmata which still exist in our society and which discriminate against innocent people. I ask the hon.

Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Dame J. Knight), who has raised a serious and important issue, to bear in mind that what the Bill, including clause 27, is concerned with is not the niceties of medical ethics, nor the rules as how AID should be controlled, although they are important, but about what happens to the people who emerge after AID has taken place, people who never asked to be born but who find themselves in the world with an unpleasant and unhelpful stigma attached to them but for the Bill. It is right that the stigma should be removed in this way.

I seek to draw two anomalies to the attention of the Solicitor-General. One has been mentioned in detail by the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East (Mr. Brown). I do not think that repetition would improve the point. That point refers to the anomaly of children who are the illegitimate children of a British father and a non-British mother, yet who cannot acquire British citizenship. That is a very important, unfair anomaly which ought to be rectified and can be rectified in Committee.

The second anomaly I want to draw to the Solicitor-General's attention relates to Scotland. The place where one is born is often a matter of chance. A mother may be on holiday in Scotland on the day when her child is born prematurely. No doubt the waters of the braes can sometimes encourage an early and successful birth. Someone may live in Langholm where hospital facilities are available at Dumfries in Scotland and at Carlisle in England. If a child is born as a result of artificial insemination by a donor with the consent of the father, according to the Bill if the birth takes place in Dumfries or even one mile to the north of the Anglo-Scottish border, the child will be deprived of the advantage of clause 27. If, on the other hand, the child is born in Carlisle or even one mile south of the border, the child will gain the advantage of clause 27. The English-horn child will be regarded as legitimate and will have all the advantages, which I applaud and support, which arise from that clause.

My hon. Friends and I have received numerous representations from Scotland and particularly well argued representations from the Law Society of Scotland. It stressed what could sometimes happen when a child is born rather suddenly. On such occasions, a child may be born in an ambulance. What will the Government do when the child is born as the ambulance is crossing the Anglo-Scottish border? Artificial insemination in England and artificial insemination in Scotland are artificial insemination of the same nature. Birth in England and birth in Scotland should be birth of an equal standard. Those who are concerned with family law in Scotland can see absolutely no reason why clause 27 should not be extended to Scotland.

I invite the Solicitor-General to consider that point very carefully. It seems that although some arguments have been put forward by his hon. Friend the Minister responsible for industry and home affairs, no doubt concentrating on home affairs rather than industry, none of those arguments is convincing against the proposition that for everyone born in any part of the United Kingdom there should be a united standard for birth and legitimacy.

Photo of Mr Roger Sims Mr Roger Sims , Chislehurst 10:48 pm, 7th April 1987

As my right and learned Friend the Solicitor-General has explained, the effect of the Bill is to remove many of the distinctions that exist between legitimate and illegitimate children—or, to use the alternative phrase produced by the Law Commission which it subsequently decided to drop, "marital and non-marital" children.

It has been argued, especially by the Lord Bishop of London, that the effect of the Bill appears to undermine the status of marriage and the family. I can understand that view. I was critical of legislation passed by the House which reduced to one year that period after which divorce was possible. If that did not positively encourage entering into marriage lightly by making the break so easy, at least Parliament appeared to be saying that the bond of matrimony was not as serious or as important as most of us had believed it to be. The criticism that I made at that time was justified, because we were dealing with people who chose to get married or chose to get divorced. In this instance we are talking about the status of children who, as the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) said, have not even asked to be born, and who find themselves either legitimate or illegitimate.

It has been well argued that there is no such thing as an illegitimate child, that there are only illegitimate parents. Therefore, it is right to make what are mainly modest changes and to remove some of the disadvantages suffered by children born out of wedlock. Despite the arguments that have put forward, I do not think that doing that undermines the instutition of marriage. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General will make that point abundantly clear.

One of the surprising omissions from the Bill, has already been mentioned by the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East (Mr. Brown). It is the matter of nationality and I do not need to cover again the ground covered by the hon. Gentleman. The Lord Chancellor said in the other place that there were other complications in this matter, that it was too complex and would need a United Kingdom Bill that would have to be preceded by a good deal of consultation. Surely it is not too difficult to include nationality in the Bill. I shall return to that point.

I am especially concerned, as is my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Dame J. Knight) about clause 27. There are two grounds for objection to that clause. It allows for the husband of a woman who is the beneficiary of artificial insemination by donor to be registered as the father of the child. Surely that cannot be right. It is legalising a lie. The husband cannot be the father. That is the whole reason why the couple have gone in for AID, yet the husband is being recorded on a legal document as being the father.

If it is not a contradiction in terms, this surely creates a legal fiction. These are not my words, because for them we have the authority of none other than Lord Denning. Without repeating his arguments, I invite hon. Members to read his effective speeches in the other place on this topic. I was surprised that my noble and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor got very cross about this issue and allowed himself to be party to what is, in effect, legalising a deception. I hope that in Committee we can persuade my right hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General that that is the case and that this clause is inappropriate on those grounds.

My second ground for objection to clause 27 is that about which my hon. Friend the Member for Edgbaston spoke. To use shorthand, it seems to be anticipating Warnock, or rather the legislation that we expect in the fullness of time to stem from the Warnock report and the consultation document. My hon. Friend the Member for Edgbaston touched on only a few of the complex issues that surround this whole matter. It raises a lot of moral, religious and legal issues.

I am more sympathetic to the general thrust of Warnock than, perhaps, are my right hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General and some of my hon. Friends. However, the Government were absolutely right to say that this issue should be dealt with as a whole. We are dealing not only with this issue, but with many others, such as experiments on foetuses. There are many aspects with regard to this matter, yet, here one part of Warnock is being plucked out and popped into the Bill. As I mentioned a moment ago, the Lord Chancellor argued that nationality was too complex an issue to be included in the Bill. Yet here a tiny bit of AID—which is just as complex as nationality—is being included in the Bill.

Clause 27 refers only to AID. What about the donation of an egg or embryo? That apparently is not covered. Clause 27 is at best premature and is inappropriate to the Bill. That is not only my view. My hon. Friend the Member for Edgbaston has quoted from part of the consultation document, and I shall quote from another : The Government would find it helpful to have further views, therefore, on the way in which a system of registering and recording children born as a result of AID or egg or embryo donation might be set up which would:(a) best meet the child's need for access to the truth about his genetic origins and some information about his genetic father;(b) satisfy the family's need for privacy;(c) take account of the donor's wish for anonymity. The Government are saying that they would find it helpful to have further views, but they are apparently ploughing ahead with this legislation.

In its second report, after referring to the development of techniques, the Law Commission says : It may therefore be desirable to have a comprehensive scheme dealing with all these techniques, which raise similar difficulties in defining parenthood and have implications beyond family law. To avoid piecemeal measures which may later have to be reconsidered, we can see some advantage in deferring legislation on this subject until a comprehensive scheme can be achieved. To which I add, hear, hear.

I shall refer briefly to two issues, one of which is included in the Bill and one which is excluded. Schedule 4 repeals subsections (10) and (13) of section 20 of the Domestic Proceedings and Magistrates' Courts Act 1978, and thus precludes a young person from applying to a magistrates' court to revive a maintenance order. I do not understand why that should be. Perhaps it is a matter that we can pursue in Committee.

The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery referred to representations by the Magistrates Association and the Justices Clerks Society. They believe that the opportunity should be taken to extend the powers of the courts to make orders protecting from violence, or the threat of violence, co-habitees and illegitimate children, a power which at present is limited to parties to a marriage and their children. The Lord Chancellor's Department has resisted their pleas. I hope that in Committee we can persuade my right hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General Friend that such a move should take place and that the Bill is an appropriate vehicle for the change.

Photo of Mr Ivor Stanbrook Mr Ivor Stanbrook , Orpington 10:58 pm, 7th April 1987

I am profoundly unhappy about the Bill. It is curious that the Government, and indeed almost all Governments, stand aside from what most people regard as moral questions, such as abortion and obscenity, and relegate them to the initiatives of private Members. The social trends in society, which often are even more morally significant, are reserved for Government legislation. Thereby, the permissive society, which most of us deplore, has been advanced in the Government's own legislation with regard to matrimony and divorce law. Parliament seems quite unwilling or unable to arrest and even sometimes seems to encourage the moral decline which is in evidence in violent crime, lawlessness, sexual abuse and cruelty to children.

The Bill's objective is to remove the stigma of illegitimacy from children born outside wedlock. First, last and always that is a good objective which I shall always support. However, will the Bill remove the stigma? Whatever we do about changing the law on the legal status of such children, we cannot remove the social stigma which has no basis in law. I sympathise with the lady who said that the stigma is created by the poverty of the one-parent family.

Why do we have to do this laudable thing in a way which weakens the institution of marriage? I have no doubt that the Bill will lead to a decline in the number of marriages, and to a weakening of the institution of marriage generally and of the conventional family. Children should he born with the maximum chance of happiness within marriage.

It will be argued that it is no longer necessary to be married. Many people marry—they say—for the sake of the children. The Bill's objective is to make it unnecessary to marry for the sake of the children, because it lifts the moral stigma. but the Bill probably will not do that.

Unfortunately it is now all too common, even in public life, for people to live together, to have children but not to be married. We are told that 126,000 illegitimate children were born in 1985. I understand that 53,000 of them were born as the result of an unstable relationship, not to a man and woman living together as husband and wife in a loving relationship. In some cases the identity of the father is not known. That is one of the obstacles to granting British citizenship to the children of British citizens wo have had an illegitimate relationship. There is no right to British citizenship when the father is unknown. The 53,000 births resulting from unstable relationships is far too many and I believe that the number is rising.

The Bill's worst provision is contained in clause 27, with which my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Dame J. Knight) dealt so well. I adopt everything that she said about it. I emphasise the total rejection of the idea that one can legislate to make true a falsehood. It is an example of the end justifying the means. It was done in the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 under which we made it a criminal offence to tell the truth about a man's past, even though that truth was far more preferable to the legal fiction for which it was substituted. Here we have a proposal that a person who is not the father shall be declared to be the father for all legal purposes. Can that possibly be justified? Clause 27 is not justified for the reasons that have been adduced not only by my hon. Friend the Member for Edgbaston but by my hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims). I strongly support them in their rejection of that clause.

I hope that all those criticisms that have been made by my hon. Friends will be seriously considered before the Bill is allowed to become law.

Photo of Mr Peter Thurnham Mr Peter Thurnham , Bolton North East 11:05 pm, 7th April 1987

I should like to congratulate the Government on introducing the Bill. Some people may believe that it could have been brought in as a private Member's Bill. It is an excellent tribute to the Government that they have introduced the Bill. It is also a remarkable tribute to my right hon. arid learned Friend the Lord Chancellor who, in his 80th year, has brought forward a Bill containing not only all the measures recommended by the Law Reform Committee, but also clause 27. Although I have grave reservations about this clause, I believe that it is a remarkable tribute to the Lord Chancellor that he has grasped this nettle and attempted to tackle this difficult problem.

I was pleased that in the other place the Lord Chancellor said: To delay an agreed policy until full legislation on the Warnock Report could not, at any rate in my view, be justified.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 27 November 1986; Vol. 482, c. 652.] I fully endorse that approach.

I wish to speak to three issues that I have touched upon in interventions. First, I believe that it would be remiss of the House to pass legislation that prevented an adopted child from succeeding to a title when, in every other respect, the adopted child would be treated as a natural child. I believe that that measure had an easier passage in the other place than it deserves here.

I hope that test-tube children born as a result of a donor either father, mother, or even both—are treated in the same way as AID children are treated in clause 27. Dame Mary Warnock said in a letter to me that it would be totally illogical not to". The numbers involved are small, but I recognise the force of the Lord Chancellor's comments when he wrote to me to say that he feared that my suggestion is precisely the straw which would break my camel's back this year because of the need to get legislation through the House. I hope that in the urgency to progress legislation we will not sacrifice test-tube children on the altar of electoral expediency.

The main thrust of my remarks relates to clause 27 and how we regard the fathers of AID children. At present, the register of births stands, on the face of it, as the true genetic record. It is an act of perjury deliberately to give false information on registration. In clause 27 of the Bill the Lord Chancellor is suggesting that we give legal sanction to biologically untrue facts. Some hon. Members have said that it is giving legal sanction to lies. However, the Lord Chancellor is acknowledging the farce of the registration of births as it now stands.

As I mentioned to my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Dame J. Knight), there are some new blood tests available, working on the genetic DNA test, that can establish beyond all reasonable doubt to factors of one in a trillion the true parentage. It is known as genetic fingerprinting. I do not believe that it is widely known that such genetic tests have shown that, in this country and in the United States, approximately one fifth of the population appear to have a false father written on the birth certificate based on biological terms. Therefore, at present, one fifth of the population are under a delusion as to who their fathers are.

The evidence that I have——

Photo of Mrs Jill Knight Mrs Jill Knight , Birmingham, Edgbaston

I have been following my hon. Friend's remarks closely. How will that be known unless every child has a blood test for that purpose?

Photo of Mr Peter Thurnham Mr Peter Thurnham , Bolton North East

It is done only on a sample basis; but on that basis it has been established in tests in the United Kingdom and America that about one fifth of the population do not have their true fathers' names on their birth certificates. The interesting fact is that, apparently, the higher up the social scale, the worse the percentage is. That leads one to wonder whether some of their Lordships, who laid such stress on truth during their debate on the Bill, should have been in that House in the first place. Perhaps their arguments were a little confused on that point.

I mentioned the problem to the Lord Chancellor, who said that it would have constituted an even greater problem in Edwardian days. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) should bear that in mind when he considers the moral decline of today.

Birth registration is needed for two distinct reasons. One is to provide a true genetic record, and the other is to secure the legal position of the child. Understandably, if there is any potential difficulty, the legal position is bound to be uppermost in a mother's mind when registering the birth of her child. As the birth register is accessible to the public, the mother does not want to burden her child with a cruel social stigma if it is socially more acceptable to put down the name of the man who is to be the child's legal parent—usually, the husband.

The true identity of the father must always be regarded as an essentially private matter, and I should be much opposed to any attempt to require public disclosure of such information. As drafted, clause 27 sanctions an existing fact—that the register of births is not a true genetic record. However, if such a sanction is to be given, it should be given consciously, with full awareness of its implications, and provision must be made for its results.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor talked of our manifest duty under the Bill. Our duty must be to the children. Paragraph 30 of the Government's consultation paper—as my hon. Friend the Member for Edgbaston has just said—considers it essential to maintain the integrity and reliability of the birth register as a record of biological fact, and to ensure the child's right of access as an adult to an accurate record of the biological facts of his birth. That is an important part of an adopted child's search for his identity.

I suggest that clause 27 should be amended so as honestly and truthfully to provide for the legal status of donor children. I urge the Lord Chancellor not to admit implicitly that the register of births is a bundle of falsehoods but to establish a modern, accurate and workable registration system. It is not good enough to say that we must wait until the Warnock report has been implemented. The British Agencies for Adoption and Fostering have advocated that the ideal solution, if time allowed and resources were immediately available, would be to legislate now for the legal status of AID and ovum donation children, and, simultaneously, to provide a system of registration of births that would allow privacy to the families concerned without departing from the principle of a biologically accurate record of births.

In the absence of a statutory licensing authority of the type envisaged by Warnock, the British Agencies for Adoption and Fostering felt that it would not yet be possible to devise a satisfactory amendment to clause 27 and that, to use a child care term, the least detrimental alternative would now appear to be to omit clause 27 altogether, and to press for speedy legislation on all the Warnock proposals, with some prospect of retrospective legislation in the case of the legal status of the children concerned.

I suggest that we already have what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister described as an excellent voluntary licensing authority, which is now in its third year of operation and which could provide the basis for a satisfactory system of registration of donor births. There should be two registers: a publicly accessible register of legal parentage, and a separate confidential register of biological parentage which would be kept securely, with access given only to children who had reached the age of 18.

It is right and proper for us to use this opportunity to grasp the nettle. I support the aims of clause 27. I would not like it to be deleted; I would like it to be taken a stage further so that we have a register of legal parentage and another of biological parentage, which could be accessed by the individual concerned at the age of 18.

Photo of Sir Patrick Mayhew Sir Patrick Mayhew , Tunbridge Wells 11:15 pm, 7th April 1987

Notwithstanding the hour, which is a good deal later than the clock usually shows when that expression is employed in another place, we have had an excellent and highly informed debate which I am sure presages a high quality, although I hope not protracted, Committee stage.

I am grateful for the welcome that has been accorded to the Bill by the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East (Mr. Brown), my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham) and the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile). There is general understanding of the injustice of the stigma which attaches to the innocent product of an extra-marital union.

I know that that view is shared by my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook), who said that he would always stand for the removal of that unjust slur. He described it as a social slur. I am not sure to what extent social disadvantage exists today, but it is common ground that legal disadvantages should be removed whenever practicable.

The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East criticised the Bill, not for what it does but for omitting to make any provision for the acquisition of citizenship by a person who is currently regarded as illegitimate in law. It is important to remember that the Bill is designed to give effect to the recommendations of the Law Commission. We have to deal with one thing at a time.

If my right hon. and noble Friend the Lord Chancellor had tried to add to the Bill, provisions attaching to nationality, he would have had far less chance, by reason of its increased scope, of securing a place in the legislative programme.

I acknowledge with gratitude what my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, North-East said in praise of the Lord Chancellor for having succeeded in bringing the Bill before Parliament. There would have been less chance of success if the Bill's scope had been enlarged in a way which would have led to it avoiding the criticism that the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East and the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery levelled against it.

The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East raised two relatively minor matters which, no doubt, we shall explore in Committee, and mentioned a third to say, with his customary fairness, that he does not agree with it. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Dame J. Knight) spoke with feeling about clause 27. She was critical of the inclusion of the clause. I have no doubt that we shall have interesting and important discussions on this issue in Committee. It must be remembered, however, that my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor was bringing in a measure as comprehensive in its scope as it was practical in his view to introduce. To deal with the injustices that now afflict those who are regarded in law as illegitimately born would have produced a glaring omission if it were decided to leave out the aspect of the Warnock report that bore upon the legal consequences of AID. We are not talking about the difficult issues that surround the circumstances in which AID should be permitted, and, if permitted, regulated, and the Bill will not affect them. Many complex issues are involved upon which diverse and opposing views are held, and it is right that they should continue to be the subject of consultation.

We are concerned with the consequence in law of a human being who is the product of such insemination.Such a person, if the law remains unchanged, is regarded as illegitimate. I acknowledge the difficulty and complexity of the issues about which my hon. Friend the Member for Edgbaston is rightly concerned—AID and the thrust of the Warnock committee's report—but I do not believe that her strictures on the inclusion of clause 27 were wholly justified. I note the recommendation of the Warnock committee's report—I shall quote from the summary— which states: The AID child should in law be treated as the legitimate child of its mother and her husband, where they have both consented to the treatment. The Bill provides as it does only where there is consent. As for whether consent might be contested and withdrawn, for example, it is important to note in clause 27 that there is a presumption that unless it is proved to the satisfaction of any court by which the matter has to be determined that the other party to that marriage did not consent to the insemination, the child shall be treated in law". My hon. Friend the Member for Edgbaston makes an important point in law on the proof of insemination, and one to which I am sure that we shall be giving attention later.

Photo of Mrs Jill Knight Mrs Jill Knight , Birmingham, Edgbaston

I am grateful for what my right hon. and learned Friend has said, but if it is an argument for leaving clause 27 as it is and for saying that all the complications of dealing with AID can be dealt with outside the Bill, why not include all the children that my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham) is concerned about? If we are including AID, why not IVF and surrogacy, for example? What is good for one group of the infertility parent syndrome is surely good for all.

Photo of Sir Patrick Mayhew Sir Patrick Mayhew , Tunbridge Wells

The answer to my hon. Friend's question is that the recommendation to which I have referred relates to the AID child. I do not doubt that there were good reasons why the Law Commission did not extend the recommendation more widely, and I think that we should concentrate on the recommendations of the Law Commission. I have no doubt that the issue will be raised again, but I doubt whether my hon. Friend would wish to see the clause have a wider ambit. I think that the underlying reasons are sufficient for the drafting of the clause as it stands, and I hope that the House will agree to that.

The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery raised some interesting points about jurisdiction, and not the only ones that can be raised by reason of the separate legal system that is enjoyed, if that is the word, in Scotland. I am grateful for the welcome chat he gave the Bill.

I was particularly grateful that my hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims) said firmly that in his view the Bill did not undermine the institution of marriage. I spoke about that in my opening remarks and do not wish to repeat that except to say that I am sure that my hon. Friend is right and that I have the misfortune in this regard to disagree with his close neighbour my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington who took the view that it would. I do not believe that the provisions of the Bill are significantly going to reduce the number of marriages that are contracted. However, I share his great concern that we should not, in this legislature, do anything to accelerate any moral decline that may be taking place in this country.

I hope that I have dealt with all the interesting points that have arisen except for two questions raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, North-East. He asked about adopted children. Adopted children are treated as natural children for all purposes except in cases of succession to titles. That is the provision of the Children Act 1975. He also asked a question in connection with clause 27. That clause applies only where sperm was inseminated into the mother and it does not apply 10 embryo donation where fertilisation of the egg takes place in vitro.

I am sorry to have delayed the House, although I hope not unnecessarily, during my concluding speech at the end of a short Second Reading debate. I am grateful for the points that have been made and I hope that the House will see fit to accept my warm recommendation that the Bill be given a Second Reading.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time and committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 61 (Committal of Bills).