The government has paved the way to free up discrimination in fertility and IVF treatment after removing reference to the “need for a father” in new proposals outlined today.

The proposals follow an extensive public consultation exercise on the current law, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990, and are contained in a new White Paper.

They include a statutory ban on sex selection for non-medical reasons, explicit rules for embryo screening, and more scope for embryo research.

The Paper says clinics cannot deny treatment to lesbians or single women out of hand and must recognise both partners in a same sex couple as parents.

However, Public Health Minister Caroline Flint, insists that the removal of the “need for a father” does not mean same sex couples will automatically be entitled to NHS fertility treatment.

She said: “The changes we are talking about concern what the law allows or doesn’t allow, they are not about what the NHS provides.

“Access to NHS fertility services is based on clinical need. If there is a clinical need for fertility treatment, then the provision of NHS treatment should be considered regardless of the patient’s sexual orientation.”

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority recently revealed that the last five years have seen a 2.5 fold increase in numbers of single women having IVF and a 4 fold increase in lesbian couples having IVF.