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Human Fertilisation and Embryology (Parental Orders) Regulations 2018

Volume 794: debated on Wednesday 12 December 2018

Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008 (Remedial) Order 2018

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved by

That the Grand Committee do consider the Human Fertilisation and Embryology (Parental Orders) Regulations 2018 and the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008 (Remedial) Order 2018.

Relevant document: 14th Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights

My Lords, by way of background, parental orders are an important mechanism that transfer the legal parenthood of a child born through a surrogacy arrangement from the surrogate and her partner, if she has one, to the intended parents. The effect of such an order is that the child born to the surrogate is treated in law as the child of the applicants for the parental order and that any parental rights of the surrogate and her partner are extinguished. This confers legal certainty of parenthood, parental responsibility and decision-making on behalf of the child to the intended parents. As noble Lords will be well aware, parental orders were introduced for married heterosexual couples only as part of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990. This was extended by the 2008 Act to same-sex couples, civil partners and couples in long-term relationships where the relevant criteria were satisfied.

I am sure we all agree that surrogacy has an important role to play in our society, helping to create much-wanted families where that might otherwise not be possible. It enables the provision of an altruistic gift to people who are not able to have a child themselves and can help people to have their own genetically related children. The UK Government recognise the value of this in the 21st century, where family structures, attitudes and lifestyles are increasingly diverse. We have also recognised that the existing legislative framework has not kept pace with this social change and have therefore asked the Law Commission to review all surrogacy-related law and make proposals for improvement as part of a three-year project.

In the meantime, a more immediate piece of legal reform needs to be addressed. As noble Lords know, in 2015 there was a legal challenge by a father who had a child through a surrogacy arrangement in the USA who could not apply for a parental order because he was single. The High Court found that the Act was in breach of Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights combined with Article 8. In May 2016, the court made a declaration of incompatibility. The declaration related to the lack of any provision enabling a person in the position of the applicant, who was not in a long-term relationship, to apply for a parental order. The Government of the day made a commitment to rectify the incompatibility by means of a remedial order made under the power in Section 10 of the Human Rights Act 1998. The order inserts a new Section 54A into the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008 to provide for and set out the criteria for parental order applications from one applicant. The new section largely mirrors Section 54 of the 2008 Act, which provides for applications from couples.

The Joint Committee on Human Rights considered a proposal for a draft remedial order in February, and the Government amended the order in the light of its report. The JCHR is now content with the order. It should be noted that the scrutiny process of the JCHR is rigorous and includes two separate stages lasting 60 sitting days, where the committee seeks evidence from all interested parties, takes expert views and makes recommendations.

The second draft instrument replaces the Human Fertilisation and Embryology (Parental Orders) Regulations 2010 in consequence of the changes made to the legislation by the remedial order. The purpose of these regulations is to set the legal framework for parental orders. They do this by making provision for matters such as the legal status of a person who is the subject of a parental order, how the Parental Order Register functions and the factors that a court must take into account when considering an application for a parental order. The regulations operate by applying, with modifications, adoption legislation to parental orders.

As an example, the regulations will ensure that the welfare of the child is the paramount consideration of the court when considering whether to grant a parental order. This emphasises the value of the child’s interests and is in line with the approach in adoption cases. In England and Wales, the welfare checklist, as set out in the Adoption and Children Act 2002, is applied, with modifications, to parental orders. This supports the family courts in specifying the matters they should take into account when considering, for example, the particular needs of the child.

I hope that I have given a thorough introduction to the content and purpose of the instruments and I hope they will be welcomed by the Committee. I beg to move.

My Lords, forgive me for a brief intervention. I do not have any problems at all with the basic notion of what is in front of us. It is possible that I was the first person to do a surrogacy agreement using IVF, so I have a certain amount of background in this rather murky subject.

One thing that slightly concerns me is the issue of paternity or maternity genetically, because we now have a situation where children can normally trace their genetic parent. That is on the birth certificate. Here we have a slightly odd situation. For example, particularly with a gay or lesbian couple, or where someone has not only had their uterus but their ovaries removed, someone may end up receiving a donor egg which is then implanted into the surrogate mother after fertilisation. So an embryo could be put into a surrogate mother who is happy with that, but it is not genetically her embryo.

I am just trying to raise the issue of clarity. Given that Parliament in its wisdom decided that people should be able to trace their genetic mothers, someone who had given an egg in that situation could suddenly be presented with a child they did not know they had, even though their own treatment had failed 20 years or earlier. When the Minister wraps this up, can he provide some clarity on what would happen, because there is human rights issue both ways here?

My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing this debate in the way that he did and giving the background to the instruments before us today. I should declare that I am a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Surrogacy. I have a long-standing interest, fuelled by many a night sitting listening to the noble Lord, Lord Winston, as we went through various bits of legislation but principally by the work done by Surrogacy UK in 2016 when it produced a report. There was a debate in December of that year. Baroness Warnock was no longer a Member of your Lordships’ House, but the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, was. Those of us who had been involved in legislation on this matter from the beginning in the 1980s accepted that the overall legislative framework we now have is not really fit for purpose, not least because of the many scientific advances that have happened in the intervening years. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, observed in that debate in 2016, there are now many more ways in which families, as well as children, are created.

The Minister was right that the original stimulus for the legislation was the case of a man who in 2015 had a child by surrogacy abroad, brought the child back and found that the child’s status was incompatible with our law at the time, which stated that parental orders could be made only in respect of a couple. That was two and a half years ago. In the meantime, others have found themselves in similar limbo. The courts have had to make what are essentially temporary orders. Those orders are above all for the welfare of a child: a child is being cared for by somebody who is not their legal parent and has no legal responsibility for them. We should not lose sight of that.

This measure is a welcome step forward which offers a degree of certainty not only to individual parents or intended parents who find themselves in this position but to the children. I am pleased that the Law Commission is now undertaking an extensive review of the legislation. The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Surrogacy is conducting its own hearings on the matter. For just a small all-party group, the hearings have been extremely interesting. We have had a huge number of people give evidence, some with very conflicting views. I think that we will end up with an interesting report that feeds into that work. My guess is that the Law Commission will take about two years to produce a report.

My reason for mentioning all that is that time ticks by for individuals as we debate these matters. I do not suggest for a moment that we should do anything in a rush, but, at the same time, it is incumbent on us to deal with some matters urgently, because to do so is in the interest of individuals.

There are some ways in which a single person applying for a parental order will be still be left outside these remedial orders. I understand that a case is before the courts at the moment of a woman whose relationship with the biological father of a child has broken down. She is now in the position of being a single person who has no biological relationship with the child but nevertheless wishes to have parental responsibility. Another tragic case is before the courts in which one member of a couple has died subsequent to the fertilisation process having taken place.

However long the Law Commission takes to do its work, which it should do extensively and thoroughly, I think that we will continue over the years to have a small number of cases that are intensely important both for intended parents and for children. It is therefore likely that we will find ourselves back in this House making more revisions of regulations of this kind before we get the comprehensive review of surrogacy law that we need so that practitioners, medics, intended parents and children all have a better understanding of where we should be legally in this day and age.

My Lords, I will say a few words, partly reflecting what the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, said. I spoke on this subject in her debate some time ago.

We should be extremely grateful to the Law Commission for taking on this, in my opinion, very difficult and rather controversial work. Only an organisation like that is going to bring this to some sort of conclusion, but as the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, said, it will take considerable time, and understandably so—we do not want to hurry it. However, one or two problems are going to slip through the net before it reaches its conclusion. The noble Baroness, Lady Barker, mentioned particular problems and some of them might be resolved, as she said, by further orders but some will still be in difficulties because some women simply do not have the time to spare in their reproductive cycles to wait for these problems to be solved.

There is another example, similar to what the noble Lord, Lord Winston, was saying. In rather rare cases of cancer, the treatment disallows women from being able to be genetically connected to the child who is being born. That is another example where we might be in difficulties over the long time period we have. I very much welcome these regulations, and I hope the department will keep an eye on difficult cases that come up. We will be looking after them as well.

My Lords, on this occasion I thought I would let the experts go first—it is called delegation. Like all other noble Lords, I welcome these regulations. I think it is my first experience of a remedial order. As a bit of an anorak in these matters, with 20 years in your Lordships’ House, it is very exciting when you find yourself with a parliamentary procedure that you have not come across before. It is also interesting that the remedial order has then led to the statutory instrument that flows from it. We have also made all the right authorities happy.

I welcome the fact that the Law Commission is reviewing surrogacy. It is a three-year project, so the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, is right in what she said. In the time that I have been involved in doing health work in your Lordships’ House, every year or so we come back to some or other tweak, which is either down to medical science having advanced or, as my noble friend Lord Winston has said, technology having advanced. When my noble friend was speaking, I was reflecting on the fact that you can use the website to track down your genetic relatives from all over the world. If they are there, they will pop up. I suspect that will happen—not that we can legislate for that—and I suspect that the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, is right when she says that we will probably be back before the Law Commission has finished its work and certainly before the results of its work have been considered by the Government—whichever Government it is by then—brought forward and put into legislation.

We know from the past that Parliament has to consider this sort of legislation very carefully indeed. We know that we are not looking at a short timeframe for the review of the surrogacy laws that needs to be undertaken. The Minister needs to assure us that the department will be keeping a watchful eye on this, because I think we might need to come back and deal with particular issues that we have not even imagined right now. I support these orders.

I am very grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken. One of the great joys of working in this House is that we are privileged to have access to such expertise, be it scientific, policy or legislative. We have had a very good, if short, debate in which there were some interesting questions which I shall try to answer. The noble Lord, Lord Winston, made a point about tracing the genetic parents in the case of a donated gamete. I shall read out what it says in my pack to make sure that I get the wording right and then I am going to make an addendum which I think is also correct.

If a child is conceived via an HFEA-licensed clinic with donor gametes, it may be able to access information about the donor in line with the responsibility of the clinic to provide information under the HFE Act, but this would depend on the parents informing the child of the circumstances of their birth. Of course, that would be so that the child was aware that they could ask, but at the point at which they became aware, via their parents or anyone else, they would then have a right to that information. I think the point the noble Lord made was that however the line goes to the genetic forebear, the child would have the right to pursue it. Of course, it would rely on the child being aware of the circumstances of their birth and so on, and we cannot force that on somebody, but they would be able to trace it.

Does that mean that the birth certificate would be like a normal birth certificate under those circumstances?

Yes, because the court retains a copy of the original birth certificate. I am going to need to clarify this because it is tricky and there is a danger if I try to describe it now. I do not want to do that. I think the noble Lord is asking for clarification, but I am going to need to write to him, if he will accept that, to clarify the situation.

I hope I am going to be helpful. If I am right, I think that at the point at which a parental order is given, a new birth certificate is issued. That rather mirrors the procedure under adoption, which is the same. The point is that a child always has the right to find out their genetic history but they may not know the means of their birth. From all the things that I have listened to in this House, that makes them probably like a good 40% of people who were not adopted or the result of fertilisation but who have a different father from the one they thought they had; I do listen.

I do not want to delay things, but surrogacy is a special situation because the child is developed in another uterus, so there are epigenetic factors which may act on that child’s development. We are now beginning to understand—for example, from the study that I am involved with in Singapore—that things which happen when the baby is in utero can affect cognitive development and other sorts of development later in life. It is therefore slightly different from a normal donated gamete in a usual IVF setting or simple artificial insemination. That is why I wondered whether there will be clarity about the exact nature of the bearing mother as opposed to the genetic mother, because that seems to be important. Is that recorded on the certificate?

I am glad that over the years I have had to do my homework because I am now going to be in debates with the noble Lord, Lord Winston. I think that the issue is covered by the licensing of the clinics which are under an obligation to maintain a record if they are HFEA-licensed in this country. I believe that in certain jurisdictions abroad to which people go for surrogacy, notably California and Canada, clinics are similarly required to meet certain standards of record-keeping.

That is absolutely right. It is fantastic to be able to bow to the wisdom of noble Lords. In effect, although this is a rather inadequate way of describing it, there is a paper trail of whether it is the surrogate parent—the original genetic donor, if there is one, that is different from the parent who subsequently gets the parental order—when that is done through licensed clinics. The child has a pre-existing right to pursue that information and they are able to do so, if they want to, when they become aware of the circumstances of their birth. I think I have got that right. The noble Baroness, Lady Barker, is nodding, which means I can be confident.

I congratulate the noble Baroness on her tenacity in pursuing this issue and I congratulate other noble Lords as well. It has taken longer than it should have done to make this remedial order; I can only reflect on how much has happened in the last two and half years, which may be some of the reason behind that. The department is very aware of the need to watch this space. There are court cases going on. Clearly it would be inappropriate for me to comment specifically on them but, as the noble Viscount, Lord Craigavon, pointed out, thorny and difficult cases will continue to emerge and we need to deal with them as they arise if they have policy implications. We also need to ensure that we keep up the impetus through the Law Commission review, which I understand will be two years of inquiry and then a year of drafting legislation. That is why it will take three years; these things have a natural pace to them. The critical point is that at the end of the process, the Government—as the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, pointed out, whoever is in government at that point—should then be in a position to take that legislation forward. One would hope that if the Law Commission has done its work, that is something on which there is a pre-existing consensus and we can all move forward.

I am incredibly grateful to noble Lords for their wisdom and sagacity. This has been a very high-quality debate. I will provide the specific clarification to the noble Lord, Lord Winston, and circulate it to other noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. I thank them once again for their contributions.

Motions agreed.

Committee adjourned at 6.07 pm.