We shall consider the issue and all its implications, and the hon. Gentleman's point is a key implication.
The difficulty with new clause 2 is that it would place time limits on when a father can exercise his right to apply to the court for parental responsibilities and rights. It would also place a duty on the court to prevent the father from finding out the address of the mother, and also to require the father to reapply for parental responsibilities following any conviction.
Although I have considerable sympathy for the objectives of hon. Members in putting forward such a new clause, I am not convinced that it is necessary. Under the terms of clause 11, any person claiming an interest in the child can apply to the court for parental responsibilities and rights. In considering whether to make such an order, the court will have regard to the welfare of the child as its paramount consideration.
New clause 2(1) would restrict the circumstances in which a father who is not and has not been married to the child's mother could apply. We believe that the only cases in which a genetic father or mother should be prevented from having access to the courts for this purpose are in the circumstances described by the House of Lords in their decision in re D on 9 March 1995, and in analogous circumstances where parental rights and responsibilities have been extinguished by a court. That is achieved by Government amendment No. 127.
In other cases, we believe that it would be difficult, having regard to international obligations, to have a provision that prevents a genetic parent from applying for such an order at any time. I therefore think it would be preferable to allow the genetic parent to apply, but to leave it to the court to determine whether to make an order in all the circumstances of the case.
I am not persuaded that subsection (2) is appropriately drafted. It is not clear whether it envisages that a court would inquire into whether the mother wishes that the father should not have knowledge of her address in every case. I think that that would go too far.
In any event, it would not be practicable for the court to be satisfied that the mother's address would not become known to the father. The court could not necessarily control all the circumstances in which such information might be made known to the father, including by innocent third parties such as the children themselves. I have said that we will look at the issue with a view to considering it further for the next stage of the Bill, although I do not think that subsection (2) is appropriately expressed in its present form.
Finally, it seems discriminatory that new clause 2(3) should deprive the unmarried father automatically of parental rights and responsibilities in the event of a conviction as described, but to make no such provision in relation to the married father—or, indeed, the mother. Arguably, any person with parental responsibilities should be treated equally in relation to the possible risk to the child should he or she incur such a conviction.
For those reasons, I would ask the House to reject new clause 2.