Human Fertilisation and Embryology (Deceased Fathers) Bill

– in a Public Bill Committee am ar 25 Ebrill 2001.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

[Mr. Jonathan Sayeed in the Chair]

Photo of Mr Tony Clarke Mr Tony Clarke Llafur, Northampton South 10:30, 25 Ebrill 2001

I beg to move,

That, if proceedings on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology (Deceased Fathers) Bill are not completed at this day's sitting, the Committee do meet on Wednesday 2nd May at half-past Ten o'clock and at half-past Four o'clock.

It may help the Committee if I say that the sittings motion is a precaution rather than an expression of intent. I hope, having spoken to many members of the Committee before the sitting and there having been little opposition to the Bill, that progress will be reasonably speedy and there will not be too much disagreement.

Photo of Evan Harris Evan Harris Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol, Oxford West and Abingdon

I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Sayeed; it is the first time that I have served in Committee under your chairmanship. As the hon. Member for Northampton, South (Mr. Clarke) knows, I generally support the Bill; indeed, I am one of its sponsors. However, that does not mean that I believe that there are not significant issues to be discussed. The amendments that I have tabled, some of which are alternatives, need to be fully debated, not least because time pressure meant that there was not a full debate on Second Reading—which, as it happens, I could not attend because of a prior commitment. The fact that there was little opposition on Second Reading—although some questions of concern were raised by at least one hon. Member—does not mean that there are not significant issues to discuss.

Obviously, I hope that we will make rapid progress because the Bill in some form—I hope in amended form—must be on the statute book. We all have other pressures on our time at this time of year, but it may well be a wise precaution to make provision for further sittings. Unless we have a full debate, at later stages in this House and in the other place, it may be difficult to give reassurances, not least to expert opinion outside, which may give rise to similar questions about some aspects of the Bill, such as those that I have raised.

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

I hope that the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) will take it from me that we were keen to point out on Second Reading that we intended simply to mirror the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990. We have been careful to make hon. Members aware that the Bill does not in essence deal with fertilisation and embryology; it deals with the narrow aspect of why children born to deceased fathers, whose mothers have gone through fertility or in vitro fertilisation treatment, cannot be registered on the birth certificate. I hope that we will not involve ourselves too deeply in issues about the 1990 Act that should perhaps be revisited, but which are not relevant to the tight scope of the Bill, which concerns the registration of a child.

Photo of Tim Boswell Tim Boswell Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Education and Employment)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who is my constituency neighbour, for giving way. I also confirm that I have no intention of subverting this worthwhile Bill. Perhaps he can enlighten me on a point that has slightly troubled me. If the Bill purely concerns registration and goes no wider, why is it being handled by the Department of Health rather than, for example, the Department to which the Registrar-General reports?

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

The reasoning is clear, in as much as Professor McLean's report, which looked at various aspects of the 1990 Act, was dealt with by the Department of Health. In addition, the pressure for change was directed almost solely on that Department. The Department needs to be involved if the 1990 Act is to be amended, of course, but advice was also sought in respect of the Registrar-General as to the effect on Acts, not only in England and Wales but in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Professor McLean's recommendations went to the Department of Health, and their effect would be to amend the 1990 Act. As I have outlined, however, the Act would be mirrored, not changed.

Photo of Evan Harris Evan Harris Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol, Oxford West and Abingdon

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his explanation, but he needs to be careful. A full discussion of the matter is merited because the Bill is not simply a straightforward transposition of a recommendation in its entirety from the McLean report, which has had wide circulation, but a partial and amended transplant of just one of the recommendations. The McLean report was founded on the basis of case law moving on following a High Court judgment. Therefore, the situation following the 1990 Act has not been static—developments have taken place, and it is incumbent on us to bear those in mind.

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

With respect, many aspects of Professor McLean's report will need close examination and scrutiny. I am sure that the Government will recognise the need, at a later stage, to bring many of those matters forward. I reiterate, however, that the Bill's intent is narrow—to ensure that we do not continue to penalise those children who have been born since 1990 and whose fathers cannot currently be recorded on the birth register. That is the Bill's sole intent. I understand the deep concern in respect of a range of issues and topics connected with the 1990 Act, but I ask hon. Members to focus their attention, comments and thoughts on the small changes that would be introduced by the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Photo of Mr Jonathan Sayeed Mr Jonathan Sayeed Ceidwadwyr, Mid Bedfordshire

I remind hon. Members that adequate notice should be given of amendments. As a general rule, I do not intend to call starred amendments, including starred amendments that may be reached during the afternoon sitting of the Committee. Clause 1 Certain deceased men to be registered as fathers