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Aid Children (Legal Status)

Volume 934: debated on Tuesday 28 June 1977

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4.43 p.m.

): I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide legal status for children born as a result of artificial insemination by donor; and for connected purposes.
The purpose of my Bill is to write into the law that children born as a result of artificial insemination with the consent of the husbands of the women concerned shall be deemed to be legitimate. It may come as a surprise to many hon. Members that children conceived and born in this way are not recognised as legitimate in law. The actual legal proposition that I make is simply that the definition of legitimacy shall be extended to include a child born as a result of artificial insemination by a donor if the husband of the mother has consented, and that for the purpose of registration of the birth of such a child the husband shall be deemed to be the father of the child.

It is 17 years since the question of AID was before the House, when a departmental report commissioned by the Home Office made recommendations to improve the position of AID children but did not recommend that the law of legitimacy should be changed. The report contained a minority recommendation along the lines I am now proposing.

In 1975 Lord Kilbrandon moved an amendment to the Children's Act in another place to do what I am proposing, but his amendment was withdrawn on the promise that a working party of the Law Commission would be set up to look at this and other matters related to legitimacy. It took two years for that committee to be set up and it has only just begun its investigations.

I contend that we do not need to wait for the results of that committee before making this minor change in the law. I do not believe that we should have to concern ourselves with the legitimacy or illegitimacy of children.

In the past few years the House has passed much legislation on family law and other matters to try to rectify this situation. How a child conceived by AID can be illegitimate is beyond my understanding, but that is the present position. It is an offence for the husband of a woman who has borne a child as a result of AID, with the husband's consent, to register himself as the father of the child.

The instructions from the Registrar General's office were that in law, since the husband knows that he is not the father, he must leave blank the space on the form for the name of the father. It is argued that he should fill in his name only if he is the father or if he has no reason to believe that he is not the father. Since with artificial insemination the husband knows that he is not the father, he cannot register himself as such, and in law the child is technically illegitimate.

Members of the medical profession whom I have consulted, recent articles in medical journals, and an article on fostering and adoption agree that for obvious reasons most doctors who are aware that artificial insemination has taken place will advise the couple to register the husband as the father of the child. It is clear that this is done in almost all cases, but the difficulty is, as demonstrated by American experience, which is the best experience available, that such action has been contested in law. Whether the grounds of the case were heredity or maintenance, the fact is that where a baby has been born as a result of artificial insemination by a donor, that child has been held in law to be illegitimate.

From that it has followed that the child has not been allowed to inherit or, in some instances, has not been able to claim maintenance if the marriage has broken down. According to my researches, such cases have not yet reached the courts in this country, but we must clarify the position for reasons that I shall give briefly.

In the 1960s the Home Office's departmental report claimed that among the reasons for not legitimising such children were that very few children were born as a result of artificial insemination and that, for reasons I do not understand, the practice was to be discouraged anyway. The report stated that, because the number of children involved was not likely to grow, there was no need to change the law. Other reasons were given, but those were the main ones.

Now, 17 years later, the situation is very different. The number of babies available for adoption has fallen con- siderably. In 1967 12,000 infants under 12 months old were adopted by parents who would not otherwise have had children. In 1976 3,608 infants were so adopted. There is a shortage of babies for adoption—most people who want to adopt want to adopt a baby. With the advance of medical science it has been possible to establish in a large number of cases where a marriage is childless that it is the man who is infertile. It has also been possible to establish that there are certain illnesses from which a man may be suffering and which make it unwise for him to father a child.

It is the view of the British Medical Association and most people involved in adoption, and it appears from the evidence of the Department of Health and Social Security, that the practice of artificial insemination by donor is increasing greatly. The Department says that it has no figures, but I am endeavouring to obtain figures, and the House will appreciate the difficulties.

In America it is judged that roughly 10,000 children have been conceived as a result of artificial insemination. I regard this matter as urgent because, although AID has been practised for the past 50 years—but not to a very great extent in the past—we may be entering a period in which the legal battles that have taken place in America may begin to take place in this country. At least seven states in America have already legitimised AID children in this way. It is therefore important for the House to consider that this should be done without any further delay.

I do not wish to delay the House, because I know that there are important matters to be discussed. However, if we go back 17 years, much of what I am saying was said in the minority report to the Home Office. Medical science has improved. The number of children available for adoption has gone down and it is confidently expected by almost every industrialised country that the number of children conceived as a result of artificial insemination by a donor within marriage will increase. I therefore believe that it is not right that we place on all those children the stigma of illegitimacy while that stigma still exists in this country.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Miss Joan Lestor, Mr. Neil Kinnock, Mr. Neil Carmichael, Mr. Robert Hughes and Mr. Norman Buchan.