HC Deb 26 October 1994 vol 248 cc971-4

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That the draft Legal Aid (Scope) Regulations 1994, which were laid before this House on 5th July, be approved.—[Mr. Sackville.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse)

With this, it will be convenient to discuss the draft Parental Orders (Human Fertilisation and Embryology) Regulations 1994 and the draft Parental Orders (Human Fertilisation and Embryology) (Scotland) Regulations 1994.

9.7 pm

Ms Dawn Primarolo (Bristol, South)

First, I congratulate the Minister; it is his birthday today, which probably explains the speed with which he moved the motion.

We are happy to confirm our support for the parental orders regulations. Basically, they provide a fast track for the adoption of children where surrogacy, which is not legally enforceable at present, has been part of the arrangements. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 clearly states that a woman who gives birth is the mother and, while I find this term difficult, the "commissioning couple"—that is, the natural mother and father; the parents who have donated the egg and the sperm—must adopt the child. The Act does not provide for that. The parental orders will speed up the adoption process.

The system of a guardian ad litem being appointed by the court is aimed at ensuring that the Adoption Act 1976 does not cause any difficulties or problems. The legal aid provisions —the only legal aid extension that the Government have provided recently—will assist in that process where there is a challenge.

We welcome the regulations. The issue was debated at length when the Bill was originally before Parliament. I understand that it is a complex issue which has now been settled. I hope that the House will have no hesitation in giving its full support to the regulations so that we can regularise a situation that has been unacceptable for many.

9.9 pm

Mr. Michael Jopling (Westmorland and Lonsdale)

I am glad to welcome the remarks that the hon. Member for Bristol, South (Ms Primarolo) has made from the Opposition Front Bench. I am also glad to add my good wishes to the Government and to thank them for bringing the matter on.

I think that I ought to say that those of us who have pressed for the matter to be dealt with for a long time have been extraordinarily patient. After all, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 was put on the statute book four years ago. As the Minister knows, I have pressed both him and his predecessor for a long time for the regulations to be produced. I hope that the Minister will say something about why it has taken this unconscionable length of time to bring the regulations before the House. It is not good government practice. The Government ought to be ashamed of themselves for the amount of time that it has taken. I hope that it will not happen again.

I remind the House of the reasons why the regulations are before us. It stems from an amendment that I suggested to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, as I recall, on Second Reading and to which I spoke both at that stage and on Report. The House might be interested to be reminded of the circumstances that caused me to become interested in the matter.

One of my constituents and her husband told me their story, which was an extremely sad one. The lady had been born without a uterus, but she ovulated in the normal way. Therefore, taking advantage of modern science, they had some ova taken from her and fertilised with the husband's sperm. The resultant embryo was implanted in a surrogate mother who had agreed to bear the child. No payment was made.

Ultimately, after the normal period—not the period that it seems to take the Government to move from an Act to regulations—the surrogate mother produced two bonny twins, whom I have met. Everyone was delighted. It was a joyous moment. My constituents were presented with the twins by the lady who had borne them. She said, "Look after them well. I have looked after them well for nine months. Take them away with my love and best wishes." That is what they did.

The couple returned to Cumbria and attempted to register the children as their own. The registrar said, "I am afraid that will not do. You will have to adopt them." They replied—I shall not repeat the words that I imagine they used—"Don't be so stupid. These are our children genetically. What are you talking about? There is no question of adopting them." Apparently the law said that in those circumstances the children had to be adopted to be taken into the care of their genetic parents. It was at that stage that I came to understand the case and moved changes in the law which ended up as section 30 of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990. May I pay tribute to the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, who was extremely helpful and understanding at that time?

Provided the House agrees to the regulations, as I passionately hope that it will, that couple, who are no longer my constituents, will be able to use the arrangements under those regulations. I hope that the Minister will confirm that one has to apply for a parental order, so that one can be deemed the proper parents of children in such a case. As I understand it, the regulations state that that must be done within six months; in the case of children born before the regulations came into play, the parents will also have six months to apply. That will mean that my constituents, whose twins were born five or six years ago now, will be able to apply and to be deemed the parents by the court under a parental order—similar to an adoption order, but crucially different—and that genetic parents will not have to apply to adopt their own children. That seems to be a sensible way out.

With the passing of the regulations, there will be much joy among parents who have the control and care of their genetic children although the mother may not have borne them. If it is passed, it will bring much happiness to a significant number of families.

9.17 pm
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

From conversations with the Minister and fairly lengthy ministerial correspondence, especially on the submissions of Sir Malcolm MacNaughton, professor of paediatrics at the university of Glasgow, I think that the hon. Gentleman can anticipate my concerns.

My locus in this matter is that I am one of the lay members of the biological sciences advisory committee at the university of Edinburgh, which is distinguished in the medical field not least in reproductive biology, as the Under-Secretary of State at the Scottish Office knows.

One does not criticise the Clerks of the House or its authorities so, in one sentence, I cannot comprehend how the amendment, which the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Dame J. Knight) moved late at night, got into the Criminal Justice Bill. Some hon. Members who were in Committee dealing with totally different matters were taken completely by surprise. In the circumstances, we did not wish to divide the House because we thought that, in the atmosphere that pervaded it at the time, ii would simply result in a humiliating vote, which would injure the cause.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell) and I interrupted the debate. I asked the hon. Member for Edgbaston a straight question as to whether her proposals would in any way affect research. When we talk about research, we are not talking about things which people do for fun. As the Minister knows, the research is into the very essence of Down's syndrome and other extremely crippling diseases.

What are the reflections and the position of the Department on the issue? How was it that decisions were made before the report of the Human Fertilisation and Embryo Authority? At the very least, one would have thought that the Secretary of State would wait until such time as the very expert organisation which she herself set up and in which there has been general trust had reported and until one had heard what it had to say.

My question tonight, which I think is relevant to these orders, is: what is the latest thinking of the Department on this very delicate and sensitive matter? What can be done to safeguard research into crippling diseases involving foetal tissue which, as I say, is very important and could stop a great deal of human and family misery?

9.20 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Mr. Tom Sackville)

First, may I thank the hon. Member for Bristol, South (Ms Primarolo) for her good wishes and for the skilful way in which she did my job and described what the Government are proposing tonight?

I must say to the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) that, while the subject that he raises is somewhat outside the scope of the regulations, I am familiar with the point that he is making. The amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Dame J. Knight) was not intended to ban research, and she has made that clear. The fact that it was passed is a matter for the will of the House on a free vote.

Mr. Dalyell


Mr. Sackville

I am sorry, but I would like to gel on.

Mr. Dalyell

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Sackville

No, I would like to proceed on the subject of the orders.

I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling), who described his interest in commissioning couples and how he became interested in that subject. It was due to my right hon. Friend's impetus that the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 was amended so that the interests of couples who had commissioned a surrogate birth were taken into account, and the mechanism has been proposed under the regulations for them to achieve parental rights with a much simpler system than a full adoption.

My right hon. Friend pointed out the time that has elapsed. It is regrettable, and it is the product of matters being considerably more complex than they first appeared. They have involved not only consultation between Departments on very delicate points of law, but consultation with outside bodies. A mixture of those procedural matters and some complicated policy decisions over matters to do with the guardian and curator ad litem have meant that it has taken longer than we would wish to bring the orders forward.

I say to those couples who been waiting for these regulations that I am aware of the anguish that they must have suffered during this time of anticipation and expectation. I hope that we see shall the regulations go through the House. They are also, I understand, to be discussed in another place tonight, and I very much hope that they will soon become law so that we shall have a system by which those couples can achieve the parental rights that they have so long sought.

Mr. Dalyell


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Has the Minister given way?

Mr. Sackville

indicated dissent.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the draft Legal Aid (Scope) Regulations 1994, which were laid before this House on 5th July, be approved.

Resolved, That the draft Parental Orders (Human Fertilisation and Embryology) Regulations 1994, which were laid before this House on 5th July, be approved.—[Mr. Bates.]

Resolved, That the draft Parental Orders (Human Fertilisation and Embryology) (Scotland) Regulations 1994, which were laid before this House on 11th July, be approved.—[Mr. Bates.]

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