Certain Deceased Men to Be Registered as Fathers

Orders of the Day — Human Fertilisation and Embryology (Deceased Fathers) Bill – in the House of Commons at 2:17 pm on 27th April 2001.

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Photo of Evan Harris Evan Harris Liberal Democrat, Oxford West and Abingdon 2:17 pm, 27th April 2001

I beg to move amendment No. 18, 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.'.

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 19, in page 2, line 25, 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.'. No. 20, in page 2, line 46, 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.'. No. 21, in page 3, line 18, 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.'. No. 17, in page 4, line 13, leave out subsection (2) and insert—

  1. (2) This Act shall apply to any case where the sperm or embryo is stored or used on or after the coming into force of this Act.
  2. (2A) This Act shall apply to any case where the sperm of a man, or any embryo the creation of which was brought about with the sperm of a man, was stored or used on or after 1st August 1991 and before the coming into force of this Act.
  3. (2B)In those circumstances where section 2(2A) of this Act applies, the provisions relating to the obtaining and saving of the sperm in section 28(5A), section 28(5B), section 28(5C) and section 28(5D) of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 shall not apply.'.
No. 22, in page 4, line 13, leave out subsection (2) and insert—
  1. '(2) This Act shall apply to any case where the sperm or embryo is used on or after the coming into force of this Act.
  2. (2A) This Act shall apply to any case where the sperm of a man, or any embryo the creation of which was brought about with the sperm of a man, was used on or after 1st August 1991 and before the coming into force of this Act.
  3. (2B) In those circumstances where section 2(2A) of this Act applies, the provisions relating to the obtaining and saving of the sperm in section 28(5A), section 28(5B), section 28(5C) and section 28(5D) of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 shall not apply.'.

Photo of Evan Harris Evan Harris Liberal Democrat, Oxford West and Abingdon

I am delighted to speak briefly on the amendments and to pay tribute to the tenacity of the hon. Member for Northampton, South (Mr. Clarke) in bringing the Bill to this stage. I support the Bill, with some limited concerns, and I hope that we can make some progress. If we are successful in doing so this afternoon, I wish him well with its passage in the other place.

The amendments seek to clarify the provisions regarding the use of sperm or an embryo in the future, as opposed to in the past when the need for consent was not as clear. I accept that the amendments are probably not in the necessary form to achieve my aims, and they may need further consideration in the other place. Amendment No. 18 seeks to ensure that the Bill will enable children who are the product of sperm from a deceased father and the mother's gametes to have symbolic recognition of paternity generally in circumstances in which the storage and use of the sperm were lawful under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 as it would be amended by the Bill. That is important because of the signals that we wish to send about not providing a benefit following actions that are now known, in the wake of legal action, to be unlawful if appropriate consent has not been obtained, although that is not the only basis on which such actions may be unlawful.

The other amendments in the group, specifically amendment No. 22, would ensure that where the law has not been clear on the need for consent in obtaining sperm, the provisions that would be inserted by amendment No. 18 will not apply. However, from the moment of the Bill's enactment, we are in new territory and, subject to such a provision being consistent with European convention law on discrimination and United Nations convention law on the rights of the child, we can be clear that such consent is needed.

I look forward to hearing the response of the Bill's promoter to the thrust of my remarks in the hope that some agreement can be reached on a way forward.

Photo of Mr Tony Clarke Mr Tony Clarke Labour, Northampton South

I am grateful for the comments of the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris). He has been fair in seeking to clarify only that point, considering that he has concerns on many others.

Perhaps the Bill has progressed so speedily so far because it is intended to have a very narrow scope. Despite the amendments before us, the Bill does not necessarily deal with issues relating to human fertilisation and embryology but simply addresses the discrimination felt by those mothers and their children who are unable to register the name of the deceased father on the birth certificate.

I fully understand the concerns expressed by the hon. Gentleman and the issues that he seeks to address. Consent is an important issue; we wish to ensure that the Bill in no way detracts from the existing strict provision in the 1990 Act—clause 3 of which deals extensively with consent provisions—nor do we want to disturb the established common law rules on the subject.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the European convention on human rights and the UN convention on the rights of the child, article 2.1. Therefore, taking his comments into account, I would be more than happy to have further discussions with him to resolve any remaining concerns that he may have. However, I do not believe that it would be right for a vote to be called on the amendment at this stage.

I repeat that the intention of the Bill is not to extend the scope of the 1990 Act. Instead, it would give those 30 women and their children the right to have the father's name recorded on the birth certificate. I hope that that is helpful to the hon. Gentleman, and I look forward to his response.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury)

It is not clear to me whether the hon. Member for Northampton, South (Mr. Clarke) is saying that he accepts the amendment because he accepts the reasoning behind it. It is perfectly open to him to do so.

Photo of Mr Tony Clarke Mr Tony Clarke Labour, Northampton South

I am not saying that I accept the amendment in full at this stage. I accept that the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon has a point, and offer him the opportunity to discuss the matter at further length. The Bill would need to go through further stages before going on the statute book.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for clarifying that point, but I find his response disappointing. I listened to the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) move his amendment, which seemed persuasive. The hon. Member for Northampton, South seems almost persuaded by it, but perhaps he lacks the self-confidence or the authority from someone else to accept it. Surely it would facilitate the Bill's progress if he accepted the amendment. Otherwise, for all he knows, it may be pushed to a vote.

Photo of Evan Harris Evan Harris Liberal Democrat, Oxford West and Abingdon

I accept that the wording of the amendments is flawed. Amendment. No. 18, which refers to the lawfulness of obtaining sperm, would bring into statute law something that has not previously been covered by statute law, and there is a better wording that will achieve what I seek to do. My understanding from talking to the hon. Member for Northampton, South (Mr. Clarke) on several occasions is that the valid point made by the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) will be taken on board because the current wording is unsatisfactory. I do not ask any hon. Member to accept an unsatisfactorily worded amendment. There will be later stages in the Bill's proceedings and as all Members are indeed honourable, I certainly accept the assurances of the hon. Member for Northampton, South as a response to my amendments.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury)

I am grateful for that clarification. I have sympathy with the hon. Gentleman's amendment and I am grateful that we seem to have an assurance from the promoter of the Bill that the problem will be sorted out at a later stage. On that basis, I shall sit down and say no more on the amendment.

Photo of Evan Harris Evan Harris Liberal Democrat, Oxford West and Abingdon

I have dealt with my response to the hon. Member for Northampton, South (Mr. Clarke) in addressing the constructive comments of the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope). I am grateful to the hon. Member for Northampton, South and for the advice that I received from the Government on these points. I hope that we can find some way of ensuring that, while properly putting right an omission in the original Act that affects about 30 women—to whom we extend our sympathy and concern—we do not leave the law in an unsatisfactory state, based on advice received by the Government on the importance of stressing the need for consent and compliance with the law for downstream activities such as symbolic recognition of paternity.

On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Order for Third Reading read.

Photo of Mr Tony Clarke Mr Tony Clarke Labour, Northampton South 2:26 pm, 27th April 2001

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

Given the restrictions of time, I shall confine my speech to a few remarks. It is indeed an unexpected honour to be able to bring the Bill to a Third Reading; although its passage has not been uncomplicated, it has been complex inasmuch as the issues discussed, in many ways, fell outside the original intentions of the measure.

As I pointed out earlier, the intent is clear, simple and to the point—to ensure that those children born after their father has died still have the right to have his name placed on their birth certificate. With us in the House today, as on Second Reading, is Mrs. Diane Blood. People will be aware of the case of Diane, whose husband Stephen contracted meningitis—

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for an hon. Member to refer to an outsider as being in the House today?

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

I did not catch precisely what the hon. Member for Northampton, South (Mr. Clarke) said, but I think perhaps that it was not in order.

Photo of Mr Tony Clarke Mr Tony Clarke Labour, Northampton South

If it is helpful to the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I correct my remarks and refer to Mrs. Diane Blood with whom I held discussions this morning within the facility of the House.

For those people who may wonder why we are all in the Chamber merely discussing the question of a name, I draw the attention of the House to a recent newspaper article in which Mrs. Blood stated her hope that the law would be passed before Liam is old enough to ask why his birth certificate shows his father as unknown. She said that at present he points to a photograph of Stephen and says, "That's daddy, that's my father," but seems to have only a vague idea of what a father is.

Recently, Mrs. Blood applied for a passport for Liam and had to fill in the father's details before she could send off the form, which had to be accompanied by a birth certificate. She had to state on the form that on the birth certificate the father's name was given as "unknown". She was asked to lie. It is that untruth that we seek to redress.

I commend the Bill to the House.

Photo of Desmond Swayne Desmond Swayne Shadow Spokesperson (Health) 2:29 pm, 27th April 2001

Although I speak from the Opposition Front Bench, I point out to my colleagues that the Bill involves a conscience issue and, that as hon. Members might anticipate on an aspect of fertilisation, it is subject to a free vote.

Although we have great sympathy with the rationale behind the Bill and with the difficult case to which it refers, there are wider reservations—

It being half-past Two o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed on Friday 11 May.