Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill [HL]
Earl Howe (Shadow Minister, Health; Conservative)
My Lords, I am grateful to Members of the House who have taken part in this debate and to the Minister for her reply. I confess that I had hoped for a rather stronger assurance from her that the Government were in principle willing to go down this avenue. I did not quite hear that, although I am grateful to the Minister for her offer.
My noble friend Lord Tebbit is absolutely right that no amendment is likely to be perfect. My hope was that this amendment would take us forward in a useful and workable way. The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, is also correct in pointing to the shades of grey that are inherent in the word "serious". I believe that it is too flexible a term. We want a certain amount of flexibility, but the shades of grey in the amendment are not as wide as they would be if we left the Bill as currently drafted.
The noble Lord, Lord Winston, pointed out the differences between different manifestations of a particular disease, such as muscular dystrophy and cystic fibrosis, because of different types of gene mutation. That is precisely why I thought it right to leave an element of flexibility in the definition, dependent—perhaps inevitably—on a certain amount of subjective judgment. I note the reservations of the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss. As I suggested earlier, the intent behind the amendment was that the interpretation of the wording should be fleshed out by means of HFEA guidance. I suggest that that would reduce the scope for legal uncertainty.
The noble Baroness, Lady Masham, made a very telling point. We are not talking here about terminating life, but deciding on the criteria for embryo testing, which is rather different. If the Minister had been able to give an assurance about placing this definition in guidance, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, suggested, I would have wished to withdraw the amendment.