Would you fail Professor Calne's parenting test?: A controversial new book suggests children should be restricted to the mature and well-off. Sarah Strickland reports

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COULD having to pass an exam before even starting to think about decorating the nursery be a feasible way to stem the world spiralling population?

In hisbook Too Many People, to be published later this month, Sir Roy Calne, Professor of Surgery at the University of Cambridge and leading British transplant surgeon, suggests that in a world that is rapidly becoming more and more crowded, there is a strong case for limiting the number of births - and that legal controls on parenthood could be an answer to overpopulation.

One possible way, according to Sir Roy, would be a reproduction permit, obtainableon proof of 'sufficient maturity and financial resource to take proper care of the child.' Added to this, be a minimum parenting age could be imposed - Sir Roy suggests 25. He also suggests financial incentives for people to limit their children to two: anyone who insisted on having more would pay higher taxes.

'It would not be unreasonable, by analogy with a motor vehicle

licence, that a permit to reproduce should also be needed,' he writes.

How people would prove their eligibility is not elaborated on. Maturity and financial solvency do not come to everyone at the same time - and in an age where unemployment and low pay seem part of the status quo, wouldn't these ideas mean procreation and large families were limited to the well-off?

Had Sir Roy's vision been fact, Bobby and Lesley Brennan could not have had any of their five children.

Their eldest daughter was born a year after they married when he was 19 and the second when he was 22 - definitely failing on the maturity stakes, although at the time Bobby was employed.

By the time their third child was born, Bobby would have passed the age requirement but recession had hit the building trade badly and he was out of work and financially insecure. And anyway, having any more would then have been regarded as anti-social - while shouldering a financial penalty would have been way beyond his pocket.

'At times it has been a real struggle but it has been worth it,' said Bobby, now secretary for the TUC in South Sefton and a welfare advisor. 'We have had to live from week to week and got mixed up with loan sharks at one stage. We have always been careful and spent any money we had on the kids. We couldn't afford sweets and biscuits and Christmas was always hard. We got a car for the first time this year and went on holiday for the first time in ten years two years ago.

'We have managed to overcome the problems we had with the love we have for each other. It is stronger than what we are missing.'

He is horrified at the idea that he might have been forbidden to produce any one of his three daughters and two sons. 'If laws on parenthood were implemented I'd be out on the streets demonstrating. I would break those laws too, and so would a lot of people. Such suggestions border on facism. Having to prove you are financially solvent before you can have children is un- Christian. It would be the beginning of the end of society as we know it. My children have suffered, but from unemployment and a Tory Government, which is not their fault.'

The birthrate in Western countries including Britain is currently falling and the numbers of elderly relying on the young for support are increasing. While admitting that population growth is mainly a problem in developing countries, Sir Roy argues that the West must demonstrate that it too is willing to make sacrifices to save the world's diminishing resources. However, he admits that if he were starting a family today, he would not have quite so many children himself - Sir Roy is a father of six.

Too prolific

Margaret Dewer, 53, Conservative councillor and chair of the Grammar Schools Association, has 10 children. Her husband, a doctor, died two years ago.

I HAD my first daughter, Susan, when I was 23, after we'd been married a year. Then came Ann, Duncan, Elizabeth, Isobel, Joanna, Jane, Peter, Jennifer and Gillian.

The older children loved the babies and my husband was a superb father. He was such a kind, gentle and supportive man.

We were lucky to be in a position not to have to take from society, although they were all educated at state schools. We didn't have luxuries - no holidays apart from Bournemouth - and handed everything down apart from shoes. We spent all we had on the children.

I brought them up to realize they had to put back into society and they do. They all have useful, people-

orientated jobs: one's a doctor, one a teacher. None of them has been on the dole.

I'm lucky to have 10 healthy children. I find it high-handed of someone to say this is wrong. It's not what you expect from a democracy. Taking away people's choice, making us all conform, isn't right. It's up to people to have the family they can cope with.

Too young

Nicky Fleet and her husband Nigel have two children, Hannah, 10, and Matthew, 7. Hannah was born when Nicky was 21 and Nigel was 23.

WE HAD planned on having children early. I wanted to grow up with them and be able to understand what they were going through.

Also I'm physically strong and active now, which turned out to be a good thing because Hannah was born physically handicapped. The doctors said that having her earlier rather than later gave her a better chance. Both my children have benefited from having a young mother. I'm full of fight, which you need to be to get what is best for them.

I'm a firm believer in natural selection. I believe women know when they are ready to have a child. For some it comes early, for some later, for some never at all. You have to go with the flow and do it when you feel it's important. I knew before I left school that it was what I wanted to do. I was very aware of the age thing. A friend had an elderly father and that sealed it for me. I felt it was important to have them early.

I have gained a lot of strength of character and confidence having children and feel I could go on to do other things now - I'd like to be a physiotherapist. I shall be free by the time I'm 40 - older and wiser and still fit enough to do things with my children. They won't be having to worry about looking after me.

(Photograph omitted)

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