Moved by Lord Kamall
243A: After Clause 143, insert the following new Clause—“Human fertilisation and embryologyStorage of gametes and embryos Schedule (Storage of gametes and embryos)—(a) contains amendments to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 which make provision relating to the storage of gametes and embryos, and(b) makes transitional provision in relation to those amendments.”Member’s explanatory statementThis new Clause introduces a new Schedule relating to the storage of gametes and embryos.
My Lords, in moving this amendment I will also speak to the Amendments 313A, 314A and 315A standing in my name. Before I start, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, for her many years of advocacy on reproductive health and look forward to hearing the points she will raise today. I am grateful for the productive meeting that we had a few weeks previously and welcome the noble Baroness’s support of the government amendments tabled in my name.
As many noble Lords will be aware, fertility preservation is achieved through the freezing and storage of gametes or embryos; it is an increasingly common procedure in the UK. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act sets limits on the length of time that frozen gametes and embryos can be stored for. The current statutory storage limit is 10 years, with the possibility of an extension up to a maximum of 55 years for those who are certified as prematurely infertile. Extended storage limits were introduced to help those people who became prematurely infertile preserve their fertility, with the hope of starting a family in the future. This would include children who may have undergone treatment for childhood cancers.
However, this approach appears to discriminate between those who have a medical need to freeze their gametes and embryos, and those who do not. This message was clear in response to our 2020 public consultation, and we accept that the current approach creates unfairness. Therefore, we are introducing a new scheme for all who currently freeze or wish to freeze their gametes or embryos. The new scheme will consist of 10-year renewable storage periods up to a maximum of 55 years for everyone, regardless of medical need. It is for these reasons that I ask noble Lords from across the House to support the government Amendments 243A, 313A, 314A and 315A in my name.
Let me start by offering the Government what must be a rare and welcome tribute in these troubled days for bringing forward an amendment that reflects compassion and efficiency. They listened to the consultation and have picked up the result of at least two years of campaigning, in a way that I can only admire. As the Committee can see, my own miserable little drafting of Amendment 280 was really only an entry to allow the Government to do their own complicated drafting, which of course I will accede to—and there will be no need for my amendment.
I am profoundly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kamall, and, before him, the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, and the noble Baroness, Lady Blackwood, all of whom helped this along. It has the support of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the British Fertility Society, Progress Educational Trust and the specialist lawyers Natalie Gamble and Emily Jackson. Everyone is behind this amendment, and I am profoundly relieved that it has come forward just in the nick of time, because there was a possibility that later this summer women whose eggs were frozen for 10 years, and who took advantage of the two years’ extra time given them, might have run out of time.
This amendment will bring the UK’s law in line with advances in science and changes in modern society, and it will give individuals greater reproductive choices. It will also give patients more time to make important decisions about planning their family. On behalf of hundreds, maybe thousands, of women, let me express my gratitude to the Government for something that will be helpful in many years to come. I give my wholehearted support to the amendments in this group.
My Lords, it has been a great privilege to work alongside the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, and I can only admire the persistence with which she has stayed on this issue to get the change which so many people have wanted for so long, and for such good and compelling reasons. I am but one of several Members of your Lordships’ House who have taken part in debates on assisted reproduction over many years.
It was a privilege to discuss these matters in the presence of Baroness Warnock, who was responsible for setting the ethical framework, all those years ago, to which we still refer when dealing with these matters. She was a remarkable person and one of the most important things she did was to foresee that science, knowledge and society would change. What she did was to set down a basic ethical framework, to which we could return as knowledge and scientific understanding increased. This provision is one such part of that.
Other issues in the field of reproductive medicine are equally deserving of our attention. For example, we are starting to uncover the extent to which LGBT people face unfair discrimination when it comes to access to assisted reproductive technology. If, in a heterosexual couple, one of the partners happens to be HIV positive but it is undetectable, and therefore untransmissible, the couple will not be disbarred from receiving treatment; that is not so for lesbians and gay men.
In the last week, some of us who work on these issues have been engaging on the issue of access to telemedicine. In this field it is true, as it is right across the NHS, that it is important to make these services more widely and easily accessible to women by using telemedicine. I hope the Minister might confirm that on another important aspect of women being able to control their fertility, in access to abortion services, we may see the extension of the highly successful scheme which has been run throughout the pandemic to enable women to have consultations and receive treatment at home. In that vein, and in the hope that we may fairly soon have a more comprehensive review of advances in reproductive medicine, which is needed across the piece, it is very pleasing today to welcome this amendment.
It is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, and I too commend the noble Baroness, Lady Deech—my noble friend, really—for all her work in this area. I particularly thank my noble friends the Minister and Lord Bethell, who I know have listened carefully and responded in the most compassionate and caring way. They have done a great service for many women across the country. I thank my noble friend for these amendments.
When the Minister and I were discussing government amendments, on this issue I said: “If Baroness Deech is happy with this, then I am happy with this,” and indeed I am.
I can confirm that that conversation did take place. When we were dividing up the groups for today, I thought about offering this to someone else. One of my noble friends turned to me and said, “You’re going to be bashed around enough today, Syed, at least take something you’ll get a bit of credit for.” But I cannot take credit: that has to go to the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, and the many noble Lords who have pressed this issue. The noble Baroness has also demonstrated the power of persistence and continuing the argument in a constructive way. On many of the other issues noble Lords believe in strongly—even if they feel that the Government may not be listening today, or that we are not sympathetic—I hope they will continue to be persistent.
On the general point that the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, made about reproductive health, I ask her to be more persistent. One of the great things about technology, not only digital but science and biology, is that often, it challenges the basis on which legislation was made. That is one thing we always have to be open to. Thanks to advances in technology, we are able to bring forward this amendment today. I will not say much more; I just hope that noble Lords agree that the time is right to change the legislation because of the progress made since the 2008 Act. I beg to move.
Amendment 243A agreed.
Clause 144: Advertising of less healthy food and drink