Human Reproductive Technologies and the Law

Charles Walker calls for tighter Governmental controls over scientific research to ensure that a child's welfare is paramount.

Mr. Charles Walker (Broxbourne) (Con): Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak in this important debate. I will try not to inject too much emotion into it, but when we talk about human life, emotion is not always misplaced. I hope that the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis), my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Robert Key) and others will bear with me.

I am a little concerned that the subject has been broached by the Science and Technology Committee, because it sounds rather abstract to talk about human reproduction in terms of science and technology; that is a rather sterile heading. Nevertheless, that is the Committee that has considered the matter.

Mr. Newmark: As a member of that august Committee, I am curious about what name my hon. Friend would come up with.

Mr. Walker: Forgive my naivety, but I would have thought that this could have been considered by the Health Committee. Perhaps it would be a good start if we were revolutionary and established a Select Committee on the family. However, the subject rests with the Science and Technology Committee; those are the terms of our debate.

I share a growing concern with many of my constituents that children are often seen as the ultimate accessory. People used to have Gucci handbags or high-pedigree Dalmatians, but now it seems that people express their individuality by going around having children. On that basis, the child’s welfare is important. Not everyone has the right to have a child. I believe, although it might be unfashionable to do so, that children are a gift. I have spoken to many people in the homosexual community about the lifestyle that they choose to lead. Many of them are perfectly comfortable with the idea that their lifestyle choice excludes them from having children. Therefore, before we go down the road of supporting the idea that same-sex couples should have access to IVF, we should realise that it is the minority of such couples who are looking to do that.

Dr. Evan Harris: Will the hon. Gentleman clarify what he means by a lifestyle choice? Is he arguing that gay people make an optional choice and that they should just choose to be straight and get on with it, as he does?

Mr. Walker: Not in the slightest. I made the lifestyle choice of getting married and having children. People make such choices. If one chooses to live in a same-sex relationship, it is difficult to have children naturally. I have a good friend who is a homosexual. He and his homosexual partner found a surrogate mother and had a child. Those two men are excellent parents and I am fond of them both, but that does not mean that I believe that children’s best interests are served, in the main, by having two fathers, or that I subscribe to the idea that gay couples should automatically have the right to have children.

The scientific community seems to have its own agenda. We read in the newspapers today that Britain is about to have its oldest mother because a woman of 60—I believe—is about to have a child. Whose interests will that serve—those of the child who is born, the woman having the child, or the scientific community? What will happen next year? Will a woman of 70 or 80 be Britain’s oldest mother? The House needs to exercise control over what the scientific community is doing in this area, because the child’s welfare should be absolutely paramount.

Dr. Harris: How old does the hon. Gentleman think that the oldest father should be by law? Should we limit the reproductive capabilities of men?

Mr. Walker: Absolutely not, because as the hon. Gentleman knows full well, men are biologically able to go on having children into their 70s and 80s. However, what is proved by deliberately taking a woman who is past her point of fertility—perhaps 15 or 20 years past—and impregnating her?

Dr. Harris: On that basis, would the hon. Gentleman support preventing men over 50 from using potency aids, given that such aids are an intervention to help them to have children?

Mr. Walker
: If the hon. Gentleman really believes that giving 60, 70 or 80-year-old women the choice of having children is a good thing that will benefit the welfare of those children, I am afraid that we will have to disagree. Where we will disagree, time and time again, is about the idea that the welfare of the children should be paramount, and the fact that it is probably not in the interests of a one or two-year-old to have a 70 or 80-year-old mother.

When we have debates on reproduction in the future, I hope that we will remember that children live with the consequences of decisions made by adults. They do not ask to be born, but they will be with us for a long time. I also hope that we can have a bit of emotion in such debates, because when we talk about human life and small people, it is perfectly reasonable to get emotional about their future and their welfare.

5.59 pm



Mr. Charles Walker (Broxbourne) (Con): Does the hon. Gentleman not appreciate—I am sure that he does—that many people are deeply concerned about the idea of one operating theatre struggling to keep alive a 24-week-old foetus child, while in another operating theatre down the corridor, a 24-week-old foetus baby is being terminated and perhaps left to die on the operating table? That causes great concern to many people across the political and the religious spectrum.

Mr. Willis: I have deliberately tried not to enter into a debate of pure emotion— [ Interruption. ] That may well be fact, but the hon. Gentleman does not know the circumstances behind either of those cases. To hold that view is grossly unfair when one is unable to examine the circumstances behind why a woman is aborting at 24 weeks. If the hon. Gentleman believes that any woman does that lightly, I am sorry, but I profoundly disagree with him. It is important to examine the core issues, rather than just stating our own personal, emotive views.


Mr. Walker: I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Lady says that only 1 per cent. of abortions take place after 22 weeks. Can she give a rough breakdown to explain why those abortions take place so late?

Emily Thornberry: Yes. Women who have abortions late are very young, or women going through the menopause, women who do not speak English, women who come across the one fifth of GPs who say they are broadly anti-abortion, women who have had difficulty accessing services and women who are scared, ill educated or marginalised. It is those people who are confronted with such a decision and who, with the assistance and support of medical services, make that extremely difficult decision. It is for them and not for the hon. Gentleman to make that decision.


Mr. Walker: Does my hon. Friend agree that the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) was getting slightly confused when he talked about male erectile dysfunction? This is a serious point. If a man is treated for erectile dysfunction to improve his sex life, that is one thing, and I hope that, if two lesbians were having problems in their sex life, they would receive the necessary treatment. However, we are not talking about erectile dysfunction and sex lives here. We are talking about having children. I think that the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon was confusing the two issues.

Mr. Lansley: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. We are, of course, talking about children, and about the circumstances in which couples, and in some cases single people, have access to help to become a parent. From my point of view, a gay couple who go through the process of surrogacy are capable, and in some circumstances entirely capable, of providing a long-term loving home for a child. If a lesbian couple or a single woman wish to have fertility treatment—rather than, for example, donor insemination—that is a perfectly acceptable way of proceeding. Personally—I emphasise that I speak entirely personally—I would prefer that, legislatively, we enabled children to be brought into the world to parents who want to give them a loving home, using the welfare of the child as a continuing measure, rather than trying to restrict that. Too few children are being brought into loving homes, and too many are being brought into unhappy homes where they are not loved and not looked after.


Mr. Walker: My hon. Friend says that infertility is a disease. Is infertility in women who have passed the menopause a disease, or just a natural progression of age?

Ann Winterton: It is a condition.

Mr. Lansley: My hon. Friend says, from a sedentary position, that it is a condition. Something that causes people considerable distress is a disease, and it can be a consequence of what is clearly a disease. For example, one of the reasons we are fighting chlamydia is that in later life it will lead to an increased incidence of infertility. Members may say that infertility is a subsequent condition arising from a particular disease, but that is splitting hairs, and I do not want to split hairs in this context. We are dealing with couples who want to provide a loving home, and I think that one of our responsibilities as a society is to increase the number of such opportunities.

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Mother and baby