The Government’s plans to allow lesbian couples to use IVF to bring up children without any lasting involvement from the father have come under fire from politicians and religious leaders.

The leader of Britain’s Catholic Church, Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor, criticised the planned Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill , saying that it is “profoundly wrong” to allow lesbian couples to conceive children in this way. In a letter to The Times, he claims that it subordinates the rights of the child to the desire of the women.

“The Bill proposes to remove the need for IVF providers to take into account the child’s need for a father when considering an IVF application, and to confer legal parenthood on people who have no biological relationship to a child born as a result of IVF.

“This radically undermines the place of the father in a child’s life, and makes the natural rights of the child subordinate to the desires of the couple. It is profoundly wrong.”

The Bill would also allow new cloning techniques to eliminate life-threatening inherited illnesses. In addition, “three-parent” children could be created for lesbian couples where DNA is taken from the couple together with the sperm of a donor.

Ben Summerskill, chief executive of Stonewall, said: “At a time when three million children in this country are growing up in single-parent households, it seems odd there should be this obsession with a few hundred who have an opportunity to have a second loving parent.”

Perhaps reflecting the wider view of the leadership of the Anglican Communion, the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu will oppose the Bill in the House of Lords.