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Orders of the Day — Human Fertilisation and Embryology

– in the House of Commons at 3:41 pm on 19th December 2000.

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Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health 3:41 pm, 19th December 2000

I beg to move, That the draft Human Fertilisation and Embryology (Research Purposes) Regulations, which were laid before this House on 12th December, be approved. We have held two Friday debates on the regulations. I think that all hon. Members who participated in or listened to those discussions would agree that they have been very good debates. Although passions run high and emotions run strong on both sides of the argument, our debates in the House so far have been thoughtful and reflective. Perhaps most important of all, they have in most part been deeply respectful of the divides that remain between us. I hope that today's debate will continue in that vein of respect and reflection.

It has been clear from our debates so far that it is not a party political issue. We have heard strong speeches for and against the regulations from hon. Members on both sides of the House. Indeed, the principle of embryo research was established in the Hun tan Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990, which was steered through the House by a Conservative Government. For Labour Members, it is a free vote. I hope that Opposition Members will have a free vote, too.

It is not a party political issue, but it is not an easy issue either. Some hon. Members will strongly oppose the regulations on principle. Some are opposed to all forms of embryo research in all circumstances, no matter what the regulatory framework or what the benefits at stake are. They oppose the current law on the same basis. Some oppose in vitro fertilisation treatment on the same basis, too.

I have deep respect for those views. I have heard them argued in the House, often very eloquently. I will listen with care to those points today, but ultimately I disagree with them.

For those who do not take an absolutist position on embryo research, I believe that there are strong reasons to go ahead with the regulations. I want to set out five clear reasons why the regulations should go ahead.

First, there are immense potential benefits from allowing the research to go ahead, particularly for those suffering from dreadful chronic diseases. Secondly, given that those immense potential benefits exist, the regulations are a sensible extension of the current law. Those who support the current law and who support IVF should logically support the regulations, too.

Thirdly, I want to make it clear that adult stem cells are not yet an alterative to embryonic stein cell research. Fourthly, I shall set out the strict regulatory framework and why that will prevent any unnecessary embryonic research if it is no longer needed. Fifthly, I want to make it clear that this has nothing to do with human reproductive cloning.

I want to set out all the five points in turn, but before I do so I shall deal with the suggestion that the measure is being rushed through Parliament. The Donaldson report was published in August; it received a lot of media attention at that time. The Government's response was also set out at that time. We clearly aid that we would introduce regulations to extend the purposes for which embryos were used in research. We have given people many months' notice of our intention. On 10 November, Lord Hunt and I wrote to all members and peers setting out our intentions and summarising the key issues in the Donaldson report. We have also invited hon. Members to three detailed medical briefings from the chief medical officer over the past two months. We gave the House the opportunity of a five-hour debate on Friday 17 November and a further five-hour debate on Friday 15 December. Never before, in the memory of those working in the Journal Office, has a statutory instrument had so much debate before a vote.

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Conservative, Lichfield

The hon. Lady knows from Friday's debate that I support these regulations and believe that they should be passed today. However, she has not explained satisfactorily to the House why this is not primary legislation. Why is it being taken as secondary legislation?

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health

This is secondary legislation because Parliament considered the issue in detail in 1990, and set out a power in the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 to extend the purposes of research in this way. I shall deal in detail later with the restrictions that apply under the 1990 Act, but Parliament clearly decided at that time to give power to its successors to extend the purposes of research through regulations.

We set out the regulations on 27 November and we revised the wording slightly in response to concerns last Tuesday—a full week ago. There has been plenty of opportunity for hon. Members to debate and discuss the issues. I understand that many hon. Members will not have concentrated on the detail of the issues until the vote was looming because we are all extremely busy. I understand that many hon. Members may feel taken aback at the complexity of the issues, but that would have happened whenever the vote took place.

Many of those who claim that this is rushed are those who would be opposed to the regulations whenever they were put before the House. The idea that this is rushed is not true. We have had plenty of time for debate and it is now time for the House to make up its mind.

I want to set out why the Government believe that this research is so worth while and why the regulations are so important. The purpose of the regulations is to permit embryonic stem cell research. In such cells may lie the key to healing within the human body. Stem cells are cells at an early stage of development. They can differentiate into any number of different kinds of cells or tissues. They are extracted from embryos when they are but five to six days old, when the embryos are clusters of 100 cells that would fit on a pinhead. They are still before the implantation stage and before any sign of neural development. Embryonic stem cells in particular are regarded as pluripotent. They have the potential to become anything—brain cells, nervous tissue or heart tissue—and therein lies their power.

The human body heals and regenerates all the time, but some tissue does not regenerate—no matter what the drugs or the treatment, there is nothing that doctors can do. For the Parkinson's sufferer whose neural cells are destroyed by disease, drugs can alleviate the symptoms for a time, but they cannot put the cells back. For the woman who endures a dreadful stroke, therapy may help other parts of her body cope with the disability, but nothing can repair that tissue. For the child who falls from a horse or a bike and breaks his neck, no amount of medicine or physiotherapy can repair the broken spinal cord. The tissue simply will not grow and the paralysis cannot be cured.

In stem cells may lie the key to turning all that around. Those injuries, illnesses and diseases that have so far proved beyond the power of medical knowledge could come within our grasp, given the right kind of research. Because stem cells have the potential to become brain tissue, nervous tissue or heart muscle or any of the many tissues that will not regenerate in the body on their own, scientists believe that they hold the key to understanding how to regenerate tissue and how to heal. For those diseases where the tissues will not repair on their own, stem cells may be the only thing on the horizon that holds out any hope. Drugs for those diseases are mere palliatives.

It is little wonder that the Parkinson's Disease Society, Diabetes UK, the Alzheimer's Disease Society, the Huntington's Disease Association, the Royal Society and the British Medical Association back the regulations too.

The potential of stem cells goes far wider, however, as the big killers—cancer and heart disease—could be affected too. Stem cells could be a route to repairing heart muscle or the tissues destroyed by cancer treatment. That is why the British Heart Foundation, the Cancer Research Campaign and Breakthrough Breast Cancer are all supporting the regulations.

The human stories behind those patient groups and organisations make an even more persuasive case. The issue is about a boy paralysed in an accident in a rugby match who will never walk again. It is about a woman with Parkinson's disease who struggles with speech, so that she cannot sing nursery rhymes to her children. It is about a grandfather who cannot enjoy his grandchildren growing up because of a devastating stroke. It is about patients waiting for heart or liver transplants that will never come. For all those family tragedies, stem cell research may provide them with hope.

The regulations are an extension of the 1990 Act. Some people will feel that, no matter how great the benefits that stem cell research could bring, embryo research is always wrong. I respect that view, but I disagree with it; nor does current law embody that view. The chief medical officer's expert group, which drew up the Donaldson report, concluded that the regulations do not raise any new moral issues beyond those that have already been debated and discussed in passing the current law.

Parliament is not being asked to cross the Rubicon today. Given the benefits that such research could bring, I believe that those who support the current law and IVF should also support the regulations.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough

No one doubts for a moment the enormous advances that have been made in medical science or the enormous advances that may be made to relieve suffering. Everyone accepts those advances. However, is not the hon. Lady concerned that, to advance medical science, we shall be creating a new, cloned genetic blueprint of a human being—[Interruption.] The Secretary of State shakes his head.

However, if we allow it, we shall be creating a genetic blueprint that will result in a new human being that will then be destroyed. We shall be creating the blueprint simply to destroy it. Is that wise? Is it the right and ethical thing to do?

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health

I shall return to the issue of fears about cloning and the discussion on cell nuclear replacement later in my speech. As the arguments are complicated, I shall deal with them later. I shall also happily take another intervention from the hon. Gentleman then.

Now, I should like to address the issues raised by the current law, which already provides that embryo research is legal. However, it is permitted only under strict controls and in certain circumstances. Nevertheless, it is legal already. The fundamental principle of whether and in what circumstances embryonic research might be acceptable has already been debated and was enshrined in law 10 years ago.

Under current law, research can be conducted with a maximum 14 days' embryo development. Additionally, each research project must be individually licensed by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, and the HFEA must satisfy it self that there is no other way of doing the research, avoiding embryo use. The embryos must also be donated through informed consent.

Research can only be done for one of five purposes: advances in the treatment of infertility, increasing knowledge about congenital diseases, increasing knowledge about the causes of miscarriage, developing more effective contraception techniques or developing methods for detecting gene and chromosome abnormalities before implantation.

In 1990, Parliament saw fit to allow research to proceed under those circumstances and that strict regulation. However, Parliament also provided a power to extend those purposes should the development of medicine and science make doing so worth while in future. That is exactly what the regulations do. They extend the purposes for which embryos can be used in research. They do not change the regulatory framework, the strict limits, the 14-day limit or the need for an individual licence from the HFEA. They also do not permit research if there is any other way of doing the research without embryos. They also still require embryos to be donated with informed consent.

All the regulations do is to change the purposes of permitted research to include basic research into stem cells and research into the understanding and treatment of serious disease. The strict regulatory framework that exists for embryo research right now will apply also to the new research, and so it should.

Photo of Laurence Robertson Laurence Robertson Conservative, Tewkesbury

Before the Minister leaves the legal aspect of the matter, is it her understanding that the cell nuclear replacement technique is legal at present, even though it has not been attempted yet?

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health

Yes, our understanding of the current law is that the cell nuclear replacement technique is legal, but only under the strict regulations that apply, and only for purposes that are legitimate under the current law. I shall return to the matter later.

I do not believe that there are fundamentally new moral issues at stake that were not raised in the debate on the 1990 Act. If embryo research on infertility is acceptable, surely research for Parkinson's disease should be too? If embryo research for contraception is acceptable, surely research for muscular dystrophy should be too? That is especially true when the potential for sufferers from Parkinson's disease or muscular dystrophy might be so great.

We are not talking, either, about huge changes in the number of embryos that might be used. Between 1991 and 1998, 48,000 embryos were used in research after being donated by couples going through IVF treatment. A further 250,000 embryos created through IVF were simply destroyed. Given the nature of stem cells, scientists believe that very few embryos would actually be needed to extract the stem cells and generate the stem cell lines that could be used for many, many research projects.

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Conservative, Lichfield

I believe that there may be some confusion in the House on this matter. Will the Minister confirm that the blastocyst—the group of some 100 cells that is undifferentiated, with no neuron or muscular tissue—will not be grown into a fully formed foetus? Will she confirm that the technique is not cloning, but that individual types of cell will be developed from the blastocyst simply for the cure of disease?

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health

I can certainly confirm that embryos are not permitted to develop beyond 14 days. That is very clear under the law. Moreover, the stem cells, once extracted, cannot possibly develop into human embryos or babies.

As long as IVF continues, hundreds of thousands of spare embryos will be created. Most are destroyed. If Parliament votes against these regulations, hon. Members will deny couples the choice to donate their spare embryos to stem cell research for spinal injury or stroke. Those embryos will be destroyed instead.

Of course embryo research should not be permitted for just any old thing. That is why the regulations specify serious disease. We are talking not about the common cold but about spinal injuries, burns, osteoporosis, stroke, cancer, heart disease—about serious disease and disability.

I believe that those who support IVF, and those who support the current law, should support these new regulations too.

Photo of Ruth Kelly Ruth Kelly Labour, Bolton West

Does my hon. Friend agree that, although cell nuclear replacement, or cloning, may technically be legal under the existing regulations, that technique will become desirable only when the regulations are extended? In addition, does she agree with the Donaldson report, which stated that the prospect opened up by the technique may go further than was contemplated by the Warnock committee, or by Parliament when it debated these issues?

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health

It is true that Parliament in 1990 did not envisage the possibility of cell nuclear replacement. That technique has been developed since that time, and could not have been anticipated in the debates. However, it was anticipated in those debates that science and medicine would move on rapidly. That is why provisions for regulations were put in place in the 1990 Act.

Photo of Ian Gibson Ian Gibson Labour, Norwich North

Does my hon. Friend agree that in the early and late 1960s people were replacing cell nuclei from frogs, mice and other animals, with very positive results? Bob Briggs in Indiana and John Gurdon at Oxford did marvellous things with cell nuclear replacement at that time. We have waited 30 years to consider the question of whether the technique should be used on human beings. That is how science works: it takes a long time to move from work on lower organisms to work on higher organisms.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health

It is true that the pace of science moves on. It is because of our position in the scientific debate and, more importantly, in the medical and health debate, that Parliament is now being asked to consider these regulations and to allow the research to go ahead.

Over the past few weeks and months, some people have argued, in the House and outside, that adult stem cells provide an alternative. I agree that where alternatives exist, embryos should not be used in research. That is the position under the 1990 Act. However, adult stem cells are not yet a substitute for embryonic stem cells in research.

Some people have argued that adult stem cells are better, or at least as good, or at worst merely a year behind, and that embryonic stem cell research is unnecessary. However, the best scientific and medical advice we have is that that is fundamentally not the case. If it were, we would not need to put these regulations before Parliament. We would not need to spend time debating these issues today. The patient groups which have bust a gut lobbying Members of Parliament to support the regulations would not be bothered whether the regulations got through or not. But they are. They are very bothered—and for good reason.

At the current point in our knowledge, adult stem cells are not the easy alternative that some have suggested. Adult derived stem cells are few in number and hard to find. We do not know whether there are stem cells for every part of the body. Those that we can find take longer to grow and develop, and their potential to turn into a wide variety of different cells appears more limited.

Embryonic stem cells are a different story. They can renew themselves and develop into many kinds of cells and tissues. They could hold the key to learning how to turn the clock back on adult cells, and turn them into other cells instead.

Photo of Desmond Swayne Desmond Swayne Conservative, New Forest West

For many of us, the issue is one of principle. The hon. Lady has said that were there a choice, adult cells should be preferred. What is the principle that gives rise to that distinction, which she herself has drawn?

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health

I endorse the principle embodied in the 1990 Act and set out in the Warnock report—that a measure of respect should be accorded to the human embryo. However, the 1990 Act also provides that embryo research, under strict conditions and in certain circumstances where there are benefits to be had, is justified. I support those principles, which are embodied in the 1990 Act.

Photo of Mr Simon Thomas Mr Simon Thomas Plaid Cymru, Ceredigion

We have already heard how science has moved on in the past 30 years, and adult stem cell science could progress similarly. The hon. Lady prayed in aid the British Medical Association's report to parliamentarians, which chimed with our views that adult stem cell research was preferable, but that embryo stem cell research had to be done in order to get to that stage. How will the regulations ensure that further adult stem cell research will not be neglected because of the ease of embryology research?

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health

If the hon. Gentleman will allow me to make a couple of other points first, I will turn to exactly that point.

Many researchers and scientists agree with the hon. Gentleman's point that the eventual aim is to use adult cells. Perhaps that will mean adult stem cells, perhaps ordinary adult cells in which the clock can be turned back to make them stem cells again. However, we are not there yet. Many people believe that we will never get there until and unless embryonic stem cell research is carried out first. Those embryonic stem cells, with their power and potency, could teach scientists how cells grow and develop, and how to use adult cells as well. Until we make those breakthroughs—either from embryonic stem cells or from adult stem cells—the case for embryonic stem cell research is extremely strong.

Photo of Brian Iddon Brian Iddon Labour, Bolton South East

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is essential to understand the process of cell differentiation from the embryo to the adult? By not studying embryonic stem cell research, we might miss some vital chemical triggers that cause the important cell differentiation in the early stages of life. Does she also agree that learning the secrets of cell differentiation at that level may give us a clue about cell differentiation going wrong in conditions such as cancer?

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health

I agree with my hon. Friend's points, which are extremely important. Those were also the conclusions of the Donaldson committee. We have asked it to consider whether adult stem cells could provide an alternative. It has looked into all the new research on adult stem cells and it has kept looking—and we have kept asking the Committee, even since the report was finished, and it still maintains that that cannot replace embryo research.

Photo of Mr Jon Owen Jones Mr Jon Owen Jones Labour/Co-operative, Cardiff Central

On the difference in principle between research on adult and embryonic cells, is it not true that an individual could be cloned using a somatic cell—an adult cell? It may not be as easy, but we could still create new cloned individuals from adult cells, so there is not as great a difference in principle between embryonic and adult cell research as some people believe.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health

Some people will argue that there is a difference in principle, but in practice scientists feel that the embryonic cells are more important than adult stem cells. My hon. Friend mentioned the somatic nuclear replacement technique, to which I will return later.

Photo of Mr Tony McWalter Mr Tony McWalter Labour/Co-operative, Hemel Hempstead

Will my hon. Friend bear in mind the fact that her response to my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) is exactly what alarms many of us? He said that one must follow the process of cell differentiation all the way through. A considerable amount of differentiation goes on after an embryo has developed its primitive streak. Will the Minister, at the very least, withdraw her agreement with my hon. Friend and establish firmly that that is not what she has in mind?

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health

I will certainly clear up any misunderstanding that has arisen. There is a difference between tracing the cell development and what happens to cells as they develop and tracing the embryonic development. Under the 1990 Act, no research can take place beyond 14 days. The Government do not advocate any research beyond that point, as it is not appropriate. The safeguards in the Act are clear. A separate issue is understanding the development of cells—cells not embryos—extracted from embryos. It is important to understand how they develop, but it is important that any research does not involve embryos beyond 14 days. That is clear in the Act and the regulations.

Photo of Dr Michael Clark Dr Michael Clark Conservative, Rayleigh

The Minister has been generous in giving way. Her speech is a model of clarity and I am thoroughly enjoying it. Does anything in the regulations indicate whether, if work on adult stem cells progresses and could take over from work on embryonic stem cells, the use of the latter would automatically be reduced, or would new regulations or legislation be required?

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health

New regulations would not be necessary because the principle is embodied in the 1990 Act. I will deal with that in a minute.

Photo of Ms Jenny Jones Ms Jenny Jones Labour, Wolverhampton South West

Can my hon. Friend confirm that scientists who have successfully converted adult stem cells and differentiated cells into other types of adult cells have confirmed that it is premature to suggest that adult cells can replace embryonic cells in that research?

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health

My hon. Friend is right. Many of those in the vanguard of adult stem cell research do not believe that it can yet replace embryonic research. In previous debates, I quoted Professor Richard Hynes, the president of the American Society for Cell Biology. Also, Angelo Vescovi, who leads the Italian team, which has done pioneering work on adult stem cells and neural cells, says that he "completely disagrees" with the view that his research means that there is no need for embryonic stem cell research.

Professor Julia Polak, who is at the forefront of adult stem cell research in this country, told us: Like others we have conducted research using human bone marrow cells as a source of adult stem cells. We too have succeeded in differentiating these cells into bone and cartilage lines. But what is clear by the scientific evidence is that adult stem cells are scattered and hence difficult to find. While some research on bone marrow has shown its capacity to develop into liver cells, research has shown that adult cells are likely to be much more limited in terms of development potential than embryonic derived stem cells which are truly pluripotent. Without research on embryonic derived stem cells it is very unlikely indeed that adult stem cell research will ever realise its true potential. But let us suppose that the breakthroughs come thick and fast and that, as hon. Members have pointed out, there are new breakthroughs—perhaps in adult stem cell research. Perhaps early embryonic research will tell us all we need to know so that we can move on to adult cell research. Suppose that there are amazing, unpredicted breakthroughs in adult stem cell research.

Let us suppose that happens and that embryo research is not needed. That is no reason to vote against these regulations. If embryo research is no longer needed, under the 1990 Act it will not be licensed. That is the law.

The 1990 Act states that the HFEA must satisfy itself for each and every research proposal that the embryos are necessary for the research, if another way to do the research exists—through adult stem cells—the research cannot be licensed under the law. The checks are already built into the law, and so they should be.

Right now, the best scientific advice in this country and on the international stage is that adult stem cells do not have the potential that embryonic cells have. However, should that change over time, checks are already in place—in the Act—to ensure that adult stem cells rather than embryos are used in future research.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Opposition Whip (Commons)

One point that the Minister has not covered in her excellent and clear speech is how the safeguards will be enforced. Can she absolutely assure the House that there will be independent checks and audits when there is permission to use those embryos?

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health

Clear provisos are set out in the 1990 Act for checks on the embryo research that is carried out at present. The HFEA has responsibility for licensing and regulating all the research that takes place. It has to report yearly on its work. Those regulations are already in place; they will continue under these regulations—it is right that they should do so.

Photo of Howard Stoate Howard Stoate Labour, Dartford

My hon. Friend is extremely generous in giving way. Will she clarify a fundamental point on the difference between embryo and stem cell research? At the six-day stage, when the stem cells have been removed from the embryo, that embryo no longer exists, so the stem cells taken from it have no potential whatever to become a human being; they can differentiate only into different cell lines.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I shall clarify the matter for the House so that there is no misunderstanding. The stem cells extracted from embryos for research cannot develop into human beings; they are stem cells. They are in isolation and cannot possibly become human beings. Embryos cannot possibly be used in research after 14 days. The stem cells can be extracted—usually at about five to six days—and are then separate from the embryos; those stem cells can then be used in research.

Many Members have asked questions and expressed concerns about cloning. Opponents of the regulations have raised another important concern, and claimed that this is the slippery slope to human reproductive cloning. I could not disagree more strongly.

Let me make very clear the Government's position on this matter. Human reproductive cloning is illegal. It must stay illegal. Under these regulations it will stay illegal. These regulations have nothing to do with human reproductive cloning. I know of no one in the House who advocates human reproductive cloning. The idea of cloning babies is completely unacceptable to the House and to public opinion.

Some people have argued that cell nuclear replacement is the first step on the slippery slope to reproductive cloning. Cell nuclear replacement is a technique for creating stem cells that are genetically compatible with the donor. The nucleus is removed from an egg, and the nucleus from a donor adult cell is put in its place. By triggering the growth of an embryo, it is possible to develop and extract stem cells that are genetically compatible with the person donating the adult cell. The Donaldson report concluded that cell nuclear replacement could hold the key to growing stem cells that the diseased body will not reject—stem cells that are genetically compatible with the patient in need.

To answer the question asked by the hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown), the 1990 Act does not distinguish between research on embryos created through IVF and those created through cell nuclear replacement. That technique is legal under the current law, but only under the strict conditions of the current law. In other words, it is legal to carry out that technique for the purposes of research into infertility, contraception and so on, but it is only legal up to 14 days, only under licence from the HFEA, and only if there is no other way to do the research.

Like the 1990 Act, the regulations do not—and cannot—distinguish between one technique and another. They do not make cell nuclear replacement research legal because, strictly speaking, it is already legal. All they do is change the purposes for which cell nuclear replacement research can be carried out.

Photo of Laurence Robertson Laurence Robertson Conservative, Tewkesbury

I am grateful to the Minister for explaining that matter very clearly, but may I take her back one step? She said that cloning is illegal, but am I not correct in saying that that is dependent on the authority; it is not enshrined in primary legislation? If I am correct, when does she intend to introduce a Bill to enshrine in primary legislation the fact that cloning is illegal?

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that cloning is illegal. We have made clear our commitment, and our intention, to embed the ban on human reproductive cloning in primary legislation. We will do so as parliamentary time allows and obviously subject to discussion with business managers.

Some have argued that such research is the slippery slope to cloning human beings. I argue that that is absolutely not the case. It is illegal to develop embryos created through cell nuclear replacement beyond 14 days. It is a criminal offence to implant embryos created through cell nuclear replacement in the womb. Human reproductive cloning is illegal.

Photo of Ian Gibson Ian Gibson Labour, Norwich North

We should be aware that the public think that scientists are a bit arrogant and tend to disobey rules or to go beyond them. Some will try something with an embryo of 15 or 16 days that is beyond the pale. How do we control that? The Minister will understand how science behaves, so how can ensure that scientists obey the rules?

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health

It is the responsibility of Parliament to set the ethical framework in which science must operate. The 1990 Act sets out not only a clear ethical framework, but a structure for ensuring that that framework is enforced through the HFEA. Clearly, we shall expect all such issues to be monitored and enforced through the HFEA.

Claims that the regulations will lead to human reproductive cloning are based in science fiction, not in law. It would be dreadful if the fear of science fiction were to prevent research that promises to save lives.

Photo of Mr Andy King Mr Andy King Labour, Rugby and Kenilworth

Does my hon. Friend share my concern that the HFEA has behaved—[Interruption.] I am sorry; I want to respond to that aside. My question has not been planted by anyone; it comes from within me, not from some vested interest, unlike some others.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the HFEA has gone beyond its remit and, instead of being the safeguard that we want it to be on such sensitive matters, it is behaving like a lobby group and adding its name to memorandums, with other vested interests, to push through the regulations?

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health

No, I do not agree. The HFEA has a clear role to play, which is set out in the 1990 Act. It also has huge expertise, on which we rely to ensure that the 1990 Act is properly enforced.

So it is clear there are potentially huge benefits from such research. It does not involve a fundamental shift in principle from the current law. There are strict safeguards to prevent both unnecessary research and reproductive cloning.

Of course no one can guarantee when and whether there will be breakthroughs. No one can say how many lives will be saved. No one can say to how many people the power to speak, walk or run will be restored. No one knows how far stem cells will hold the power of healing in the human body. We do not know whether the process will take a year or 10 or 20 years. No one can guarantee where research will take us; if they could, we would not need the research at all.

We cannot say to the child who has been paralysed in an accident that we can find her a cure in her lifetime; we cannot guarantee her the chance to walk and run again. But we can say that we will try. We can look her in the eye and say that we will do everything in our power to promote research that gives her a fighting chance of walking again.

We cannot guarantee a cure for the man who is suffering from Parkinson's disease, who struggles to his constituency surgery and wrestles with his words just to plead with his Member of Parliament to support the regulations. But we can look him in the eye and tell him that we will do everything in our power to give him a fighting chance of receiving treatment that will help him to dress himself again. If such a breakthrough does not come in time for him, we can tell him that we have done all in our power to help the next generation and to prevent them from suffering as he does today.

Normally, such power lies in the hands of scientists. Normally, it lies in the hands of research funding bodies or experts who are in pursuit of a cure. Today, the power lies in the hands of Parliament. It lies in the hands of those who are considering their vote.

I believe that there are strong moral arguments for supporting the regulations. I recognise that some feel, as a matter of conscience, that they cannot support any extension of research involving embryos. However, I also believe that many in the House, such as me, do not feel that they can, as a matter of conscience, turn their backs on research that could relieve the suffering of so many. I commend the regulations to the House.

Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox Shadow Secretary of State for Health 4:22 pm, 19th December 2000

I am grateful to the Minister for once again setting out her case so objectively and precisely. It is helpful to the House, although I cannot help thinking that, since we had this debate just last Friday, this is a parliamentary version of "Groundhog Day". I state yet again that the motion will be subject to a free vote among Conservative Members.

The issues fall into the categories of process and substance. I shall be gin by saying a word about process. The decision to be taken is a major one. It will have profound consequences for both the science base and the ethics within which research occurs. Many outside the House will not understand why such a profound decision is before the House in a statutory instrument, which is not amendable, rather than in primary legislation. That may be due to the way in which we do business in the House, but we might need to think again about whether it satisfies those on both sides of the argument who would rather have more detail.

For example, let us consider the definition in the draft regulations of serious disease. On Friday, the Minister admitted that interpretation of that definition would very often be left to the courts. There is a strong feeling in the House that there is already too much interpretation by the courts and that we in Parliament should be giving greater direction on the exact meaning of terms in any legislation that we pass. Many will find the process rather unsatisfactory.

Debates such as today's lead all parliamentarians into difficult territory. We must make decisions about the future of our science base and set the moral and ethical parameters of our society. Too many believe that too many powers have been taken from the House. It is good to see a fine attendance in the House for a debate of great moral importance to the country.

We must beware the relativist's argument that, because different moral and ethical perspectives lead us to draw lines in the sand in different places, no lines can or should be drawn. The fact that different people make different judgments cannot justify the making of no judgment whatever. It is impossible to remain morally neutral on the issue irrespective of whether it would be politically expedient for us to do so. If we fail to consider where the ethical boundaries lie and we shy away from setting them in a legislative framework, we are, in effect, saying that there are none at all.

There is genuine and deep-rooted political unease in the House about many of the medical techniques that are employed. We have had debates on euthanasia and genetic research, and we are now debating cloning. They have all raised public concern, and we need to respond to that. The questions that the medical revolution asks are too important to be left to scientists and doctors alone. We must tackle them on behalf of the society that we represent. I hope that that can be done this afternoon in an atmosphere of tolerance and respect for the different and strongly held views.

We also need to remember that human knowledge is always developing and that it is far from infallible. There is always the danger of the unpredicted outcome or the unforeseen consequence. What might be regarded as a certain medical truth at one point can be discredited within only a few years. Examples such as thalidomide illustrate that point.

Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox Shadow Secretary of State for Health

As he did last week, the hon. Gentleman will get his own chance to contribute to the debate. As I said, I hope that the debate will be held in an atmosphere of tolerance and respect. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman might find that funny, but it is normally the basis on which we do business in the House of Commons.

The benefits of the medical revolution are immense—transplantation, limb grafts and the elimination of infectious diseases. That revolution has changed not only the way in which we live, but the way in which we think about living. With genetic research, we are dealing literally with the building blocks of life, and our perception of what it is to be a human being is literally being put under the microscope.

However, the medical revolution carries with it moral, ethical and philosophical consequences that we need to confront, but I am sure that I am not the only Member who often feels that our ability to deal with the moral issues sometimes lags behind our technical abilities and what science is capable of achieving. We all accept that just because we can do something does not mean that we should do something. Similarly, just because science is capable of doing something does not mean that it should be allowed to do it. We need to establish a clear framework within which to operate and we should be confident enough, as a society, to grasp the agenda back from the scientific community alone.

We must follow certain principles, and the Minister outlined some of them. We must avoid being alarmist; nothing scares people like ignorance and the fear of the unknown. Transparency, accountability and honesty are all essential. Our debate can be mature and considered only if it is also informed. Therefore, information must be freely available and explained in a way that makes its complicated concepts acceptable to the greatest number of people. It must be free from the crass distortions that, for a variety of motives, are all too common.

Photo of Howard Stoate Howard Stoate Labour, Dartford

The hon. Gentleman has raised an important point, and I wish to debate the issue in the spirit of mutual respect. An enormous amount of misinformation circulates, particularly outside the House, about the proposal. It is upsetting to read reports in the newspapers about human clones and monsters being created. Such reports are far from the truth. Does he agree that it is important that, instead of scaremongering, we should debate the real science and the real proposals?

Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox Shadow Secretary of State for Health

I have never believed that scare tactics on either side of an important argument are a substitute for proper, objective debate on the properly defined issues. I am grateful to the Minister for defining the terms of the debate.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough

Does my hon. Friend agree that the cell nuclear replacement process will create an embryo that is identically similar to the patient? That is the point of it. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Yes, we create a new cloned embryo identical to the patient, and it is then destroyed. Much as I respect my hon. Friend, if he were ill, we would be talking about creating a dozen new little Liam Foxes—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Yes, we would create embryos in order to destroy them. There is no other way of carrying out the process.

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. The debate has been very good natured so far, but I do not want shouting across the Chamber.

Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox Shadow Secretary of State for Health

I shall shortly come to the difference between therapeutic and reproductive cloning. It is an important distinction, which the House needs to understand. I shall also outline my personal view.

To return to the point made by the hon. Member for Dartford (Dr. Stoate), there is a need not only to deal with information but to respect public sensitivities, and that is particularly true for the scientific and medical communities. Legitimate concern should not be dismissed or sneered at, although, I am afraid, that all too often happens. Experts should not hide behind technical jargon and scientific gobbledegook. Public anxiety needs to be dealt with openly and sympathetically because recent high-profile cases have eroded public confidence in the judgment shown by the medical and scientific communities. It is important to restore that confidence; to achieve that, the public must be shown to their satisfaction that rigorous ethical guidelines have been put in place and are being policed.

Perhaps above all in this debate we must ensure that human privacy and dignity are protected. In our desire to eliminate disease and suffering we must, in particular, be careful to respect those who are already disabled or suffering from incurable diseases. They should not be made in any way to feel that their lives are inferior or valueless. When, as reported recently, a leading embryologist says that it will soon be a sin for parents to carry children with genetic diseases, alarm bells should start to ring. For "sin" in that context, we should read "crime" in 1930s Germany, and we soon get the picture. I am sure that every Member would utterly deprecate such sentiments.

There has been a great deal of consensus on one point—that reproductive cloning is utterly morally unacceptable and should remain illegal. The Minister was clear on that point, and I doubt that there would be a single dissenting voice in the House. However, we must be aware that some people have a different agenda from those who only seek new medical therapies, and we must be very vigilant.

In America last year, doctors succeeded in creating one human egg using cells from two different lovers and a father. The press dubbed that the three-parent family. The director of one of the clinics involved was reported as saying that she started in that line of work because she was interested in redefining the family. Those who consider the traditional family to be the basic building block on which a civilised society is based can only react to such sentiments with complete horror.

Photo of Phyllis Starkey Phyllis Starkey Labour, Milton Keynes South West

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that it is not within Parliament's purview to limit or control behaviour in another country such as the United States? Does he accept that our equivalents in that country must answer for the fact that they rate freedom of action so highly that they seek to limit such work only by not paying for it from public funds, rather than through effective legislation? Does he accept that we in this country have never taken that route, so extrapolation from the United States is wholly inappropriate?

Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox Shadow Secretary of State for Health

I did not intend to extrapolate directly from the United States. My point is that some people's agenda is different from that outlined by the Minister, so it is all the more important that we have strict regulation that is rigorously enforced. That is the best way to ensure that the Minister's arguments—which I do not personally agree with, but which she outlined clearly—are effective and that legislation is properly policed.

Photo of Andrew Miller Andrew Miller Labour, Ellesmere Port and Neston

Is the hon. Gentleman satisfied that the 1990 Act provides a sufficiently strong framework for existing work, or is he suggesting that we strengthen the Act, irrespective of the regulations before us?

Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox Shadow Secretary of State for Health

I am not suggesting that there has been a failure to police the operation of the 1990 Act, if that is what the hon. Gentleman is asking. Logically, however, if the Act is to be extended, or if the criteria according to which it operates are to be changed, we shall need to extend that policing.

Photo of Dr Peter Brand Dr Peter Brand Liberal Democrat, Isle of Wight

If the hon. Gentleman accepts, rightly, that we need to regulate and police the work, will he dissociate himself from the comments of the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr. Hammond) on 17 November who, when, speaking from the Front Bench, suggested that we could rely on the fruits of overseas embryo research being imported to this country? Is not that a complete failure to take a moral attitude?

Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox Shadow Secretary of State for Health

That is an argument about the maintenance of the science base. The hon. Gentleman confuses a practical argument about scientific development with the moral case. That does not necessarily help.

Several hon. Members:

rose

Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox Shadow Secretary of State for Health

I know that many Members want to speak. That being so, I shall move on to my next point.

The substance of the debate falls into two parts: first, medical technology, its control and its application; and, secondly, the origin of the cell lines involved. There are those who argue that the application of genetic technology is so immense that we should not allow it to develop. Leaving aside the fact that it will develop elsewhere and that it is an unrealistic argument, I do not believe that knowledge has any inherent moral value. Only the application of knowledge can be right or wrong. There is an argument for strong policing and strong legislation, and it would have been better to lay out those factors in primary legislation.

On the argument about the origin of cells, there are clearly three groups in the House. There are those who believe that embryonic cells should not be used for experimentation or treatment. They believe that it is a moral issue purely about respecting the right to life. That is the group into which I would fall, which is why I would vote against the regulations, as I have voted against similar proposals in the past. I am open about that.

Another group argues that the aims justify the means, and that we should therefore allow even more liberal experimentation than that proposed in the regulations. The largest group in the House probably finds the use of embryonic cells undesirable to an extent, but understands the potential medical benefits and wants to know whether there is a legitimate alternative route to them. That is where the House will ultimately make its decision.

Medical science is divided. There is much to commend adult stem cell research, not least the potential avoidance of rejection. It may be true, as medical science seems to indicate, that adult stem cells would not be as flexible as embryonic cells in this research, but they have a good deal more to offer than many have been led to believe by some distracting propaganda.

There is a strong case, therefore, for maximising our research, development and investment, but we must try to keep the debate in context. The Minister, in an impressively emotive passage in her speech, talked about the expectations and the hopes of being able to provide treatment for Parkinson's disease, diabetes, strokes and other illnesses that are all too common. No hon. Member would not like to achieve those benefits—to see cures and to see people made well. However, many people would regard the price of getting there by using embryonic cells as too high.

We must try to limit expectations and not have people believe that we are further ahead with research than we are. We are at an early stage in all programmes, and to pretend that cures are round the corner would be dishonest and, to a large degree, cruel.

Several hon. Members:

rose

Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox Shadow Secretary of State for Health

I will not give way again. I must let others speak.

We must accept that research will continue elsewhere. We are talking about what happens in terms of research in the United Kingdom. All too often, globalisation is confused with powerlessness, and we must not be afraid if the ethical and moral implications of what we are discussing make us want to slow down this area of scientific development. It is our job to do what we think is right in a United Kingdom context, and not to be swayed by what is happening elsewhere.

We are faced with a difficult decision, especially for Members who do not take an absolute position on the issue. Much is at stake. I will vote at against—

Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox Shadow Secretary of State for Health

I can explain my position to the hon. Lady, but I cannot understand it for her.

Much is at stake and I will vote against the regulations for the reasons that I have outlined. I have tried to put myself in the position of those who find themselves with a difficult dilemma. There has been too little time fully to consider the detail of what is proposed. There is too little definition in an unamendable statutory instrument, and too little analysis of the ethical consequences.

Most of all, before we are willing to use embryonic cells, we must be convinced that there is no alternative, and I could not be convinced of that. I recognise the magnitude and the importance of the decision. As hon. Members make the decision tonight, I hope that we will all understand fully the technical, moral and ethical considerations, and in all respects the costs of the decision that we are about to make.

Photo of Anne Begg Anne Begg Labour, Aberdeen South 4:40 pm, 19th December 2000

I was eager to speak in the debate today to explain to the House why so many groups representing people with serious diseases want scientists to be allowed to use stem cells from embryos in their research, so that they may discover treatments and cures for a range of conditions.

Hon. Members will have received communications from groups such the Parkinson's Disease Society, the Huntington's Disease Association, the Cancer Research Campaign, the British Heart Foundation and the Genetic Interest Group, which is an umbrella organisation of more than 100 charities and groups, such as the Gaucher's Association, and which represents people with my condition. All of them are saying the same thing: please allow the research to be undertaken, as it has such enormous potential.

Almost all scientific opinion is in favour of the research and wants it to take place. Almost all medical opinion is in favour of the research and wants it to go ahead. Almost everyone who suffers from a degenerative disease is desperate for the research to go ahead, including many for whom the results of the research will come too late because their condition is too far advanced.

Indeed, people who have one of the degenerative diseases are, perhaps, most vocal in their support for stem cell research. They know at first hand what it is like to live with Parkinson's disease or multiple sclerosis, and they do not want future generations to suffer what they are going through, which is often described as a living hell. They think that scientists should be allowed to explore whether they can unlock the technology to provide a treatment or even a cure for some of the big diseases of our time. It is not for ourselves but for those who come after us that people like me are speaking out in favour of embryonic stem cell research being allowed.

As I said in the debate on Friday, I realise that I will not persuade hon. Members who have strong moral objections to the use of embryo cells in any research and for any reason, no matter how noble or critical that research may be. I can make the best case in the world for the research to be allowed, as I hope that I am doing, but those hon. Members will never agree that embryo cells of any kind should be used, and are against the existing legislation. They have an honourable and consistent position.

However, the hon. Members whom I want to persuade to join me in the Aye Lobby are those who support the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 and agree that in some cases, and under the right and tight regulation, embryos can be used in research, but perhaps, for one reason or another, are uneasy about the regulations. I address myself to those in the House who fall into that category—those who accept that adult stem cells cannot be used, because the technology has not reached the point where such cells can be substituted.

I see the use of stem cells from in vitro fertilised embryos for research into the treatment and cure of serious diseases as a logical extension of the existing categories that are allowed under the 1990 Act. I am convinced that had the potential for such research been known about in 1990, it would have been included in the existing legislation.

I appreciate that the use of fertilised embryos in the conventional sense is not the sticking point for many people; it is the use of embryos created by cell nuclear transfer—the so-called therapeutic cloning—that causes concern. Because the words "cloning" and "embryo" are so emotive, there has been much misinformation about what is proposed and the uses to which such knowledge could be put by unscrupulous scientists. I assure hon. Members that this is not the start of some slippery slope.

The embryos created by nuclear replacement are not fertilised. They will never grow into a human life because it is illegal for anyone to try to do that. In fact, we do not know whether such embryos have the potential to grow into a human foetus and no one is going to find out, because to implant such an embryo into a womb would also be illegal. Human reproductive cloning is a criminal offence, and quite rightly so. The Minister has gone even further today, in promising to introduce primary legislation to enshrine that principle in law and to make doubly sure that such practices remain illegal.

The embryos created by nuclear transfer will not be experimented on; it is the stem cells from them that will be used in the research. It is, therefore, wrong to say that these cells have the potential for human life. The embryo may have, but the cells do not. They are individual cells or clusters of cells.

Why can the in vitro embryo stem cells not be used? Why bother with all the debate about the stem cells from embryos produced by nuclear replacement? The answer is simple: it is these stem cells, which use the genetic material contained in the nucleus of the adult cell taken from the potential recipient of the treatment, that hold the most potential. If scientists are able to work out how to turn these stem cells into tissue cells, nerve cells or skin cells, they can be used to replace damaged cells without fear of rejection, as they contain the person's own genetic material. There could come a time when the nucleus from one of my cells could be used to begin the process of growing new bone cells to replace my damaged bone. Just think of it—my own cells being used to help my body to heal itself.

If the vote is lost today, I and other hon. Members will have to go back to our constituents who have Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis or Huntington's disease and say, "Sony, embryo cells can be used for research into improvements in contraception but cannot be used to find a treatment for what is wrong with you." We shall have to say, "Sorry, a group of unfertilised stem cells can be created with your permission, using your own genetic material, but these cells cannot be used to find a treatment for what is wrong with you." We shall have to tell them, "Sorry, a group of cells in a laboratory dish, which will die because they have no means of sustaining themselves, has the same status as you. These cells are so important that they cannot be used to help alleviate your suffering." That will be the position in the United Kingdom if the House votes to reject the regulations. I would find it impossible to explain the logic of that position to my constituents who have lobbied me to support the extension of the use of stem cells.

Many claims have been made for medical science over the years. How often have we heard announcements of miracle cures, which turned out to be no such thing? I am very sceptical about many of those claims, especially those made by drug companies. However, there have also been occasions when what appeared to be a small advance for medical science became the impetus for enormous improvements in the human condition: the discovery of the cowpox vaccine, which led to immunisation, the discovery of penicillin, and the first organ transplant.

Today, we stand at such a threshold. Stem cell research has the potential to act as the key that will open the door to many advances in our knowledge and ability to treat some of the most heart-rending conditions, which are presently untreatable. I ask the House please not to step back from that threshold. The only slippery slope is the one that leads to making many people's lives so much better. I urge the House to vote to allow this vital research to proceed.

Photo of Nick Harvey Nick Harvey Shadow Spokesperson (Health) 4:48 pm, 19th December 2000

This is the third and, for the foreseeable future, final opportunity for the House to consider these matters. Hon. Members have now had several hours of parliamentary time in which to do so.

I have become familiar with the arguments only over the past few months and have—like hon. Members in all parts of the House—received many representations from people on both sides of the argument. They include those who want this research to be given the go-ahead, namely, patient groups who see the potential to alleviate suffering, and those with great misgivings—often, although not exclusively, coming from a religious standpoint—who point out the ethical difficulties and complications involved. I take seriously both sets of representations. I consider that the burden of proof is on those who want to go ahead and change the regulations, so I took seriously the objections of my constituents and others. In each case, I attempted to see whether or not there was a satisfactory answer—or at least an answer that would satisfy me—to the points that were made.

Members will all see the great potential of this area of research. Members on both sides of the House will have some experience, within their families or social circle, of people who are suffering from long-term degenerative diseases. They will have seen them suffering and witnessed the gradual removal of their powers. They will also have seen the slow death which, frankly, those conditions involve. I do not think that anyone would want to thwart any area of research that could help victims of Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, multiple sclerosis and other conditions which cause untold misery both to those who suffer from them and their families and friends, who have to provide care and support.

The hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) was right to say that we must be wary of giving any impression that immediate remedies or solutions for those conditions are just around the corner. Were we to do so, we would raise an awful lot of hope that would not be fulfilled.

Photo of Mrs Anne Campbell Mrs Anne Campbell Labour, Cambridge

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that there is no certainty about the outcome of that kind of research. However, does he agree that it is the only hope for people suffering from those degenerative diseases?

Photo of Nick Harvey Nick Harvey Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

The hon. Lady makes a good point. In many cases, that is the only hope, although in some cases it may not be. For those who have recently been diagnosed with conditions that take a long time to develop fully, there will be huge anxiety—as well as hope—that some of the science will perhaps develop quickly enough to help them. As the Minister rightly said, we do not know where any of the research will get to and at what pace. However, if we were to prevent it from going ahead, we would have to have good reasons for doing so.

I accept that some of the representations that I have received and some of the speeches in the House derive from the viewpoint of not accepting the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990. I fully respect the fact that some people do not accept the basis on which that legislation was made. However, if one has accepted that basis and the fact that it is acceptable to use embryo research—and, indeed, embryos—in fertility treatment, logically one must accept the extension to the potential treatment of all those serious diseases. I am therefore coming to the conclusion that we must allow that research to proceed.

I accept the 1990 Act, which is well founded and well considered, and believe that it is right to allow the extension of the areas of research for which it provided. That Act sets down the mechanism by which we can do that. I have had concerns about the argument about the slippery slope, which I raised in the debate on Friday. The Minister gave a clear response then, and did so again today, when she said that the Government's intention, as far as time allows, is explicitly to legislate to clarify and to embed—she has been using that verb—a ban in law. I and others depend on that reassurance in arriving at the conclusion that the regulations should be supported.

People have expressed other concerns, especially about the use of adult stem cells. I imagine that virtually everyone would, instinctively, be more comfortable with the use of adult cells, rather than cells from embryos, when that is an option. As the Minister pointed out in response to an earlier intervention, the existing legislation already provides for that situation. I cannot make scientific judgments, but I find persuasive the range of scientific opinion suggesting that the use of adult cells will not be perfected as a technique unless and until research is conducted using cells from embryos. I have no way of judging that.

Photo of Ian Gibson Ian Gibson Labour, Norwich North

Does the hon. Gentleman concede that adult cells might have progressed too far as, with age, mutations can develop that might not be adaptable for some cures? Does he agree that more research might be needed on adult cells than on embryonic cells?

Photo of Nick Harvey Nick Harvey Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

I have read that argument, which seems convincing and has been advanced to me before. I hesitate to pontificate on matters scientific as I cannot boast even a science O-level, but I am reassured that it is not down to the likes of me to make the judgments. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, with all its expertise, will grant licences only where it is satisfied that there are no alternative.

Photo of Ian Gibson Ian Gibson Labour, Norwich North

Would the hon. Gentleman leave it to the European Commission to make those decisions? It seems that it has already made decisions on the matter and that it will conduct research with funding from the framework programme.

Photo of Nick Harvey Nick Harvey Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

I would prefer to leave those decisions to the HFEA, but I have no doubt that even the European Commission has much greater expertise than I can possibly boast—at least, I dearly hope that it does.

I have heard logical responses to most of the concerns expressed to me, both from people in the sciences and from the Under-Secretary in Friday's debate. On the basis of arriving at a balance between the benefits that could accrue—I accept that we do not know how quickly or on how wide a front—and many people's misgivings about the use of embryos and cells derived from them, I am satisfied that we should proceed. I worry about the vocabulary that is sometimes used about the research and about the assumptions that underlie some of the letters sent to me. The latter are so mistaken that we must accept that, for a time, some people will not understand what we have agreed or why we have agreed to it. It is incumbent on everybody to try to make the information clear.

Today's debate was clear and hon. Members on both sides of the argument have acknowledged the points made by those with different opinions. We have a duty to try to allay fears and anxieties outside the House and to make clear what has been agreed. It is with some trepidation that I make my comments. I know that some of my hon. Friends have arrived at other conclusions, but we, like other parties, will have a free vote. However, having weighed up both sides of the argument and considered the warnings that have been sounded, I am persuaded that we must agree to the regulations. We do so in the light of the Under-Secretary's reassurances, which, I have no doubt, will be the backdrop against which the science will progress in future.

Photo of Howard Stoate Howard Stoate Labour, Dartford 4:58 pm, 19th December 2000

This is proving to be an excellent debate. I am pleased that all sides of the argument are being put responsibly and in a considered manner. I am especially pleased that no hon. Members sought to use the motion on the business of the House to try to stifle an excellent debate. That allowed us the maximum possible time in which to set out the arguments.

I am one of only a small number of medically qualified hon. Members so I am especially pleased to speak in this debate. As a doctor, I see the whole spectrum of human misery, from the infertile couple to the aged person suffering from Alzheimer's. I see at first hand the misery and suffering that is caused by many of the long-term conditions to which hon. Members have referred. However, I also have the opportunity to see the enormous sense of joy, pride and achievement that is felt when patients can benefit from a breakthrough in medical science that completely transforms their lives in circumstances that might otherwise have seemed irredeemable. That is why the research is so important. As other hon. Members have pointed out, although it may be a long shot for some patients, it is often the only chance that they have. That is why allowing the research to proceed and enabling scientists to consider its viability must be the way forward.

I do not want to take up too much of the House's time because I know that many hon. Members on both sides of the House want to speak and the Minister made an excellent speech which covered many of the issues that I wished to raise, but four issues need to be aired. They are: do we need the research? Can the research be done only with foetal stem cells? Should the research be allowed; and, if so, in what way can we ensure that it is properly regulated so that it is carried out correctly?

Hon. Members have mentioned many chronic long-term conditions, but I do not know how many of them realise the scale of the problem. I have worked with the Long-term Medical Conditions Alliance, and it seems that one in three adults in this country suffer from a long-term chronic illness of one sort or another. The numbers are staggering. The general household survey of 1996–97 showed that the previous figure of one in four of the population was probably an underestimate; there are more than that. The Office for National Statistics stated: Two in five of both men and women in Great Britain reported having a long-standing illness or disability in 1996–97. Therefore, the number of people who suffer from long-term medical conditions of one sort or another is truly staggering. A vast number of people suffer from conditions that could potentially, with the right research and the right breaks, enjoy enormous benefits.

We have already discussed alternatives. I do not wish to dwell on the fact that we need to research adult stem cells. Of course hon. Members would feel happier and more secure if it were possible to achieve the same level of research with adult stem cells. Currently, the scientists tell us, it is not possible. As hon. Members have already said, a period of foetal stem cell research may be what is needed to achieve the necessary breakthroughs in adult stem cell research, which could go on to achieve the benefits that we are hoping for.

Other sources of stem cells exist. Cells from umbilical cords of new-born babies are a source of stem cells, but, as far as we know, they are not of the same quality or of the same potential and so cannot be used as a substitute. Therefore, it seems that it is necessary to carry out that research. There are enough people who suffer from long-term medical conditions and it seems that embryonic stem cells are probably the way forward, so those two conditions are satisfied, but the next and overriding question is whether it is right.

That puts me in a great dilemma as a doctor. Doctors are under a dual duty. On the one hand, we have Paré's dictum, which states that we should cure sometimes, relieve often and comfort always. There is always the imperative on doctors to do what they can with whatever technology exists to try to alleviate the patient's suffering and, if possible, to cure them. On the other hand, we have the dictum of non-maleficence, the primum non nocere dictum—above all, do no harm. Therefore, we must ensure that we do the minimum harm not just to the patient but to society, and preferably no harm at all. That gives rise to a difficult moral dilemma because it raises issues as to whether it is morally right to carry out research on foetal cells to benefit other people.

That debate will flow backwards and forwards. Many hon. Members have made excellent points already, but I dwell on the difference between reproductive and therapeutic cloning because that is fundamental. People have said to me that they do not want me to support the regulations because they mean experimenting on human beings—on embryonic cells. The question is whether the research actually involves experimenting on human beings. Obviously, hon. Members will have to arrive at an answer for themselves, but I do not believe that the research that I am particularly interested in—the nuclear replacement technology—cuts across that issue too closely.

The reason for that is that the technique involves taking an unfertilised human egg. That egg in itself has no potential for being a human being. Women produce, on average, 12 eggs a year in their reproductive life, which is perhaps 25 or 30 years long. The vast majority of those eggs never achieve the status of being a human being. It would be impossible for them to do so. In the same way, men produce many millions of sperm every day, which again do not go on to produce human beings, so the human egg, in itself, is not a person.

If we take out the nucleus from that cell so that it has no nucleus at all, but introduce a nucleus from an adult cell from someone suffering from Parkinson's disease for example, that also, in my opinion, does not create a human being. It creates a nucleus from an adult in an empty egg. That is a fundamental point. That is not a human being, either.

If we develop those cells for six days into a blastocyst of perhaps 100 cells, that also is not a human being. If we take out the stem cells from that blastocyst and develop them into a stem cell line, those stem cells are not a human being, either. Those stem cells can be differentiated by a number of chemical techniques into any tissue in the body and can be reimplanted in the patient to replace cells that have been damaged or lost. Therefore, we have a great moral duty to ensure that we are as transparent, open and honest as possible. It is important to have these moral debates in the public eye so that our constituents and those who are interested can watch what we are doing.

I have studied medical ethics in some detail and have been the chair of an ethics committee. Over many years, I was involved in these issues and debates and often had to make decisions about whether research was ethical and viable. When we talk about the cell nuclear replacement technique, we are not talking about research on human beings as such, and I do not believe that we are even talking about research on potential human beings. The caveats that my hon. Friend the Minister has already laid out mean that a cell whose nucleus has been replaced would not have the potential to be a human being because it would be illegal to experiment beyond 14 days or to implant it into a womb where it could potentially give rise to life.

Photo of Ian Gibson Ian Gibson Labour, Norwich North

I am interested in what my hon. Friend is saying about what we can do now. Can he tell me why we should not produce 15 David Beckhams that I could use in the parliamentary football team and 659 Betty Boothroyds to service this place and the public? What is philosophically wrong with that?

Photo of Howard Stoate Howard Stoate Labour, Dartford

The only answer to that is, "Perish the thought", but I do not want to make light of this because it is extremely serious. We must try to stick to the moral and ethical arguments.

Photo of Frank Roy Frank Roy Labour, Motherwell and Wishaw

On the serious question of what is or is not life, does my hon. Friend agree that the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 treats embryos as entities, whereas the Donaldson report would break up the embryos for use as, for want of a better term, spare parts? Does my hon. Friend believe that, under the Donaldson report, the special status of the embryo is under threat?

Photo of Howard Stoate Howard Stoate Labour, Dartford

I respect my hon. Friend's opinion. He has a deeply held view to which he is fully entitled, and I am listening carefully to views of that sort. We need to be careful about the moral issues. However, for the reasons that I have given, the nuclear cell replacement technique does not create a human being and so we do not have the same difficulties.

Photo of Mr Simon Thomas Mr Simon Thomas Plaid Cymru, Ceredigion

For the benefit of those of us who are following his argument and trying to find our way in the middle ground, will the hon. Gentleman explain that the nuclear cell replacement technique, which he says does not give rise to a human being, is the same putative technique that could be used in cloning if it was allowed, although I accept that it is not? The fact that it is the same technique is what has given rise to so many difficulties for the public and it is why we must approach the issue with caution and concern.

Photo of Howard Stoate Howard Stoate Labour, Dartford

That is an extremely valid point. It is important to air all these issues. It is right that Dolly the sheep was produced using this technique and it is theoretically possible for such work to be done. That is why it is important to ensure that the law, the framework and the policing mechanisms are watertight so that nobody will ever find out whether it is possible for the technique to produce a human being because nobody will be allowed to try. That is a matter of policing.

Once the House has deliberated and reached a decision, it is up to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority to ensure that the regulations are implemented in a watertight way. I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Minister has already laid out the framework under which a licence will be granted, with plenty of opportunity for policing. Each individual research project has to be justified and properly regulated and inspected.

Photo of Brian Iddon Brian Iddon Labour, Bolton South East

Does my hon. Friend agree that cell nuclear transfer is the only hope for people suffering from any of the up to 50 mitochondrial diseases that have developed in society?

Photo of Howard Stoate Howard Stoate Labour, Dartford

Exactly. My hon. Friend is a scientist and has made an excellent point. There are unusual mitochondrial diseases of which we understand very little. This technique seems to be the only logical way forward if we are to make breakthroughs. For the reasons I have given, the many people suffering from chronic diseases with limited hope, will potentially benefit from this.

The human body has an enormous capacity to regenerate and to replenish damaged cells. With degenerative disease, however, the disease process overwhelms the body's capacity to regenerate and to replace cells, leading to destruction. Therefore, the only hope for patients affected by such disease is a method of replacing those damaged cells. That is why we have to take this very difficult decision in a positive way, to ensure that research is made possible. Such research would benefit not necessarily the current generation of sufferers but the future generation of sufferers.

For those reasons, I shall support the change. Although I have looked extremely hard at the issues and taken full account of the moral and ethical dimensions of the issue that have been expressed by hon. Members and members of the public, I as a scientist and a doctor believe that the potential benefit to humanity of such research far outweighs the many difficulties facing us in ensuring that the moral argument is not forgotten.

Photo of Robert Key Robert Key Conservative, Salisbury 5:10 pm, 19th December 2000

I salute the Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), who has shown unfailing courtesy, the patience of Job, accuracy and sensitivity in her speeches, and great clarity of purpose. That is more than can be said for the Government's business managers, who have shown all the forensic skill and delicate footwork that we have come to expect from a Whips Office struggling to get the business through with a majority of only a few hundred.

The Minister has, no doubt without being aware of it, been fighting her own Whips on the issue. I cannot recall another occasion in my time in the House when at least one senior Government Whip, who is personally opposed to the measure, has been drumming up opposition and was heard to say in the presence of Opposition Members, We can defeat this business. That is a novel line for a Government Whip.

As Labour Members are at least as divided as Conservative Members and other Members on the issue, the prospect of inflicting the first defeat of this Parliament on the Government will, I suspect, be too great an opportunity to miss for many of my hon. Friends. I dare say, however, that, as usual, hon. Members who are in the Chamber taking a serious part in the debate are not those who fall into that category at all. Nevertheless, it is true that one of my hon. Friends recently said that he voted for the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990, but would not support the regulations until there had been more time for debate.

Another hon. Friend said that she would not support the legislation because I do so hate all this stuff. Has the business been rushed through? No, I do not believe that it has. I believe, however, that it was a misjudgment to have two Friday debates. I also believe that there is no substitute for a mid-week, prime-time debate on this type of issue. I sympathise with the Minister on that. It is also questionable, given opposition among Labour Members, that the Leader of the House and the Government Chief Whip have relied on the statutory instrument procedure.

The business has not been rushed through. We have had the chief medical officer's report for five months. We should also not complain that the Government amended the regulations very swiftly in response to consultation. There have been masses of discussion about the subject in the national press and other media. I particularly single out for praise BBC News Online, which, since 16 August, has been carrying a debate and argument from all sides of the issue.

Photo of Robert Jackson Robert Jackson Conservative, Wantage

Would my hon. Friend like also to draw attention to the very valuable briefs that hon. Members have received particularly from medical charities on the issue? We have received very extensive and full information from many concerned people.

Photo of Robert Key Robert Key Conservative, Salisbury

My hon. Friend is quite right. I would simply extend his comments to say that I am grateful for the many briefs that I have received from many quarters and from all types of people with whom I do not necessarily agree. It has been very helpful to have the views of particular denominations of the Christian faith, for example. It has been very helpful to me, as a fully paid-up member of the Church of England, to understand how other Christians think about the issue.

Photo of Desmond Swayne Desmond Swayne Conservative, New Forest West

Do Church of England members believe in God?

Photo of Robert Key Robert Key Conservative, Salisbury

Perhaps we can debate that on another occasion.

There has also been a rewriting of history in relation to the issue. I admired very much the speech made last Friday by the hon. Member for Bolton, West (Ms Kelly). It is wrong to think that there was no discussion or debate on human cloning 10 years ago, in the run-up to the passage of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990. There was a great deal of debate, as was noted a few moments ago. It was precisely because of the debate at the time, especially in the scientific community, that the Government of the day thought it wise to bring in the 1990 Act in the first place.

Others have argued that we did not discuss the moral or ethical dimensions properly. We did, and at very great length. The hon. Member for Bolton, West said on 15 December: it is clear from reading these debates that no one envisaged that the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 would also allow human cloning to take place—[Official Report, 15 December 2000; Vol. 359, c. 899.] In fact, we did discuss that, as it was perfectly clear that things were moving in the direction of cloning, even though the matter was not covered in the 1990 Act.

I served on the Standing Committee considering the 1990 Act as it passed through the House, and I can confirm that many of the moral and ethical dimensions were considered.

Photo of Ann Winterton Ann Winterton Conservative, Congleton

Does my hon. Friend recall, from the debates on the 1980 Act, that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) ruled out human cloning? He said that the legislation was not about human cloning and would not include it. At the time, human cloning was the equivalent of science fiction.

Photo of Robert Key Robert Key Conservative, Salisbury

My hon. Friend is wrong to suggest that human cloning was science fiction at that time. It was not. I was the lay member of the Medical Research Council at the time, and human cloning was far from being science fiction. Indeed, the scientific community in 1990—I am sure that my hon. Friend made a slip when she referred to the 1980 Act—was asking Parliament to help it get to grips with the issue.

My hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton) merely reinforces what I was saying, because my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) made the positive decision not to include cloning in the 1990 Act, because it was judged that no one—not scientists, Parliament or the country—was yet ready. That is why we have had to return to the matter now, and why the 1990 Act was designed in such a way that it contained a mechanism that would allow the House to go straight back to the matter. That is what we are doing now.

I return to the point about the debate held 10 years ago. I found the minutes of the meeting of the public affairs unit of the centre of medical law and ethics at King's College, London. The meeting was chaired by Professor I.M. Kennedy, who was assisted by Dr. Sophie Botros, a lecturer in medical ethics. For month after month, Members of both this House and of the other place met to discuss the issues surrounding the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill. The agenda for the meeting of 31 January 1990 contained three items:

  1. 1. The 14 day limit on embryo research: what is its moral justification, what are its legal implications? How does it relate to the person/chattel distinction in law?
  2. 2. How do we define infertility and genetic abnormality? What are the moral implications?
  3. 3. Should children be allowed to know of their genetic origins (the moral and legal perspective)?
We had debates and briefings on research on specially created" or only "spare" pre-embryos, and on the moral Status of the Embryo. In the run-up to the 1990 legislation, those hon. Members who so chose could be fully appraised of the issues.

This morning, I received an e-mail. It contained no address, so I do not yet know whether it came from a constituent, but it sums up the problems that many constituents raise. It states: I am very concerned about the unrelenting pressure that a few scientists and pharmaceutical companies are putting on legislators, like yourself, to approve Embryonic Stem Cell Cloning (also called cell nuclear replacement). They are using carefully selected statements rather than the whole truth to convince Parliament that their vested interests are for the common good. This is a terrible abuse of democracy. My correspondent went on to say that the technology is unnecessary, but that is not the case. More than 100 charities and patient groups are fighting desperately for the Bill tonight it. Thousands of people in each constituency will be affected by the legislation in their lifetimes.

Of course it is wrong to suggest that the technology is unnecessary. I have considered the issue of adult stem cells very carefully and come to the conclusion that because they do not differentiate as much as embryonic cells, that is a severe medical and scientific disadvantage. We do not quite know how to explain it, but if I understand it rightly—and I defer to the scientists present—it is a bit like taking photocopies. After a time they start running out of toner and getting a bit dim. That is one of the problems of the system, to use a commonplace analogy.

I hope that we will take a civilised view, like any civilised country, and build up a bank of 20 or 30 stem cell lines which could be used as a renewable resource, rather like a blood bank. It is accepted that we have blood banks, which differentiate the different blood groups. The Medical Research Council has offered up to 50 such stem cell lines, because that is what is needed to overcome different immuno-responses.

A number of people are concerned about the policing aspect. I have thought very carefully about that. I know what happens in scientific communities; for 17 years, I have had the honour to represent Porton Down. If anyone thought that they were going to get away with anything, it would not last long, even under the Official Secrets Act, at Porton Down. Conspiracies never work, in my experience. Speaking as a former Minister, I can tell the House that the cock-up theory of Government always wins. However, in the scientific community, where there is peer pressure and peer review, conspiracies are attempted and fail They never work—someone always blows the whistle.

I shall not repeat my views on therapeutic cloning. I spoke in the debate in November. I made my views very clear and have published them on my website ever since, for all to see. I have, of course, consulted my bishop and the Bishop of Oxford, and I agree with them. We take the developmental view that human life is a continuum. I cannot say that human life starts at any particular moment, but I distinguish between human tissue and a human person.

Incidentally, the Bishop of Salisbury is concerned that the Government should reassure us that the benefits of stem cell therapeutic cloning will eventually be available to all on the national health service, not just to those who can pay. I hope that the Minister can confirm that. I go further than the bishop in seeking an assurance from the Minister that the benefits of any new therapy resulting from cloning will be available to all, and that there will be no postcode rationing and no need to refer it to the National Institute for Clinical Excellence.

I am also convinced that not everything that can be done by science should be done by science, and that is where Parliament comes in. I believe, too, that the moral arguments for and against permitting research using human embryos turn on the status accorded to the pre-14-day embryo. I have no doubt that they are human, but are they human tissue or human persons?

As I said in the debate on 17 November, I share the view of the former Archbishop of York, John Habgood, who has argued that the value that we attach to the lives of human beings—a value that is the root of all morality— increases as human life develops, and that we are therefore entitled, morally, to hold the life of a recently fertilised egg as less to be protected than that of a foetus at a later stage or a baby when it is born. The archbishop argued that not only is that morally acceptable, it is in fact what we do. Can those who think that there should be no distinction or degrees of human sanctity explain why we have saints?

Nature is profligate. We do not mourn for wasted sperm and eggs, alive though they are, nor for the three quarters of fertilised eggs that are lost before implant, half of which are genetically impaired. As the Bishop of Oxford has said: If every fertilised egg was indeed a soul, that is, an immortal spiritual reality created independently of the biological process, then, according to these figures, three quarters of heaven would be populated by souls that lived for less than a week. This does not seem congruous with what we know of a God who has chosen to create persons through a process of development. What of the slippery slope argument? First, it depends on whether we believe that the slope is going up or down. For science, the slope is mostly uphill—two steps forward and one step back. Even if one believes that the slope is downhill, if the first step is taken it is not inevitable that the next step should follow. Is it morally right to prohibit that first step? In logic, there is certainly no need—no necessity demands that second or third steps should follow the first—but that is Parliament's job and, in general, it has been well done.

Considering not the religious but the ethical or moral view, I can do no better than quote Baroness Warnock, who has written: We are not nothing but our genes. We must recognise that we are conscious beings able to form our own purposes, with powers both to understand and to control the laws of biology, as well as of physics. It may be our moral duty to scrutinise, criticise and regulate the projects of biological scientists in the light of our concept of a common good. It cannot be our moral duty to repress and prohibit altogether the exercise of their inventive and creative genius. I believe that the human intellectual abilities that allow us to understand and manipulate our world are God-given powers. To scientific knowledge and the powers that it confers, we must add wisdom to accept the good and refuse the bad. The benefits that may be achieved in healing the sick in this case outweigh the down side of using cells that may have the potential for a full human life. If we can hold out hope for some alleviation of the miseries of diseases such as Alzheimer's then, being human, we have a duty to do so. If that involves cell transplants or genetic manipulation, let us pursue such goals. Let us recognise that in changing some genes in some human beings we are not changing human nature.

As the Bishop of Oxford said on "Thought for the Day" last Friday, we are not playing at being God—we are being human. A human being does what human beings should do, which is to show a sense of respect for the miracle of human life and use our miraculous capacity to make human life better.

Photo of Mike Gapes Mike Gapes Labour/Co-operative, Ilford South 5:27 pm, 19th December 2000

It is a real pleasure to follow that speech from the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key). He has spoken so much sense that many of us will keep our remarks much shorter than they would otherwise have been.

As someone who has not had an opportunity to speak on the issue because I was away with a Select Committee on Friday when the debate was held, I want to offer the perspective of someone who has seen members of his family suffer from Alzheimer's disease, diabetes and cancer, but who has been lobbied vigorously in the past few weeks by a variety of organisations.

I am not surprised that I am being targeted by the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children yet again. It has done so several times at different elections and it will no doubt do so again. However, I take offence when I receive a letter that suggests why we are debating the issue today, stating that it is a matter of grievous concern that the Government should have selected dates for the debate and the vote on an issue of such profound ethical importance when many MPs may have left for the Christmas recess. That was from Phyllis Bowman of the Right to Life campaign. For her information, I and many other hon. Members will be working hard to represent our constituents throughout the year. She may have long Christmas recesses, but some of us have casework and letters to respond to, including those that she has incited for many weeks.

I have received correspondence, as no doubt have many hon. Members, from constituents who ask me please to vote against human cloning. I am delighted to be able to say that I shall do so on many occasions. If the vote today—on the basis of what the Minister said earlier—is also a vote against human cloning, I will vote against cloning today. However, I will also support stem cell research. The two are very different. Unfortunately, some people who are campaigning against the proposal are deliberately confusing and muddying the waters, which leads people to believe that we are going to create a human Dolly the sheep through our vote today. Many people have already explained why that is completely untrue—so I shall not repeat what has been said. However, it would be helpful if some pressure groups and organisations considered the facts of an issue, rather than trying to whip up the fears and prejudices that are so easy to foster because people are afraid of science.

The hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) tried to clarify three positions on the issue, although many of us think that there are many positions and that the world is more complicated than he portrayed it. He said that he would vote against the proposals. In that case, what does he think that we should do with the 273,000 embryos created through in vitro fertilisation, which are destroyed and not used for any purpose? Is he saying that we should not use IVF?

Constituents tell me that they are desperate to have a child, after years of effort; they want the local health authority to agree to further national health service expenditure on IVF. A consequence of IVF is a large number of "surplus" embryos. At present, they are not used in any way to benefit anybody, yet—so we understand—there is a potential for medical research that might lead to benefits for people suffering from Alzheimer's disease, cancer or diabetes.

Photo of Ian Gibson Ian Gibson Labour, Norwich North

The number of such embryos is about 30,000 a year. That gives us a large choice, because we need only about 500 for the work we are discussing.

Photo of Mike Gapes Mike Gapes Labour/Co-operative, Ilford South

I am grateful for that information from my hon. Friend, who knows more about the matter than me.

These issues are difficult for Members of Parliament, but we do not live in a theocracy; we live in a multicultural, multi-religious and secular society. At times, we have to use our own judgment—regardless of the correspondence we receive or the pressure put on us by particular lobbies or groups. The political consequences of that may not always be easy, but it is the only course that Members of Parliament can follow on matters of conscience such as this. For those reasons I shall proudly support the motion, as I have also said on my website—to follow the hon. Member for Salisbury. The proposals are in the interests of millions of people in this country and potentially throughout the world. The legislation will lead to a better life and future for families.

Photo of Ann Winterton Ann Winterton Conservative, Congleton 5:33 pm, 19th December 2000

An editorial in The Daily Telegraph today puts in context precisely why so many people in the House and outside it believe that these important matters should have been introduced through primary legislation. If you will allow me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall quote briefly from the editorial: When, in 1990, the law was changed to permit embryo research, cloning was still science fiction; there was no debate about its ethics. It was never Parliament's intention to allow cloning, even if it had been conceivable. The new regulations are being presented as if they merely clarified the existing law, whereas in reality they mark a radical departure from it. This is a serious abuse of parliamentary procedure. I could not have put it better myself.

I have no doubt whatever that a vast majority of those who will vote in favour of the instrument will do so in the genuine belief that it holds the greatest promise for scientists to find cures for many genetic diseases and other disorders that beset our society. However, I passionately believe that they are wrong and that they are being misled. We must consider the evidence. The evidence available to the House suggests that it verges on the nonsensical for us to believe the many claims that embryos are the most likely source of stem cells for treatments for such diseases. Many scientific papers have been published showing that adult stem cells are already proving of great value in treatments for several disorders—for example, cancer, heart abnormalities and degenerative diseases, including Parkinson's.

Photo of Ian Gibson Ian Gibson Labour, Norwich North

Can the hon. Lady tell us how those cells have been helpful in cancer research? Cord cells, which come from blood systems, work on leukaemia, but they are no good for any other cancers. Which is she referring to?

Photo of Ann Winterton Ann Winterton Conservative, Congleton

The hon. Gentleman refers to an important area of research into cancers. I shall write to him if he wants other examples, but he has cited an important field, and I assume that he agrees that leukaemia is classified as a cancer. I have no doubt that he would be pleased that progress is being made using umbilical cord tissue. That is an ethical way forward, and it is to be welcomed.

Photo of Ann Winterton Ann Winterton Conservative, Congleton

I should like to make a little progress, then I will certainly give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Some scientists claim that the use of adult stem cells will not involve the complications that could arise with embryonic stem cells. As long ago as February this year, a paper in Science magazine made it clear that adult stem cells could be easier to manage and, if transplanted to their normal environment—for example, brain cells into brain tissue—would produce only the cell types necessary for that tissue. Perhaps that is not so flexible as embryo stem cell methods, but it is probably more effective.

Photo of Evan Harris Evan Harris Liberal Democrat, Oxford West and Abingdon

We would all welcome the potential that adult stem cell research shows, but can the hon. Lady cite the names of any of the scientists involved in such research who believe that the other avenues that might aid their work should be closed? I have found no statement to that effect from those scientists. On the contrary, they know that they rely on insights from embryological research to carry out their work. Indeed, the greater the potential of adult cells, the more necessary they think insights from embryological research to be.

Photo of Ann Winterton Ann Winterton Conservative, Congleton

It is perfectly obvious that scientists who have an interest—vested and otherwise—in carrying out such research will never want that avenue to be closed, but many distinguished scientists in this country, America and Europe would disagree with the view that the hon. Gentleman espouses. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson) is not sure about that, but I can assure him that many papers have been published in distinguished scientific journals that bear out that point.

We have already lived through a similar debate. In fact, I have a strong sense of déà vu; we have previously examined claims similar to those being fired at us today in connection with the justification of cloning. The previous occasion was in 1990, when the House debated the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill. Many promises were made, but nothing of any substance has ever materialised. On this occasion, however, a different tack will be adopted; from now on, my colleagues and I will make a point of regularly checking the claims and promises with which we are being bombarded today.

Photo of Phyllis Starkey Phyllis Starkey Labour, Milton Keynes South West

The hon. Lady will know that the original legislation allows research mostly to improve assisted reproduction. Is she suggesting that there has been no improvement in the success rate of assisted reproduction in the intervening period? Is she denying the value of the research that has ensured that assisted reproduction is more successful than it used to be?

Mrs. Wintertont:

Assisted reproduction is little more successful than it used to be. [Interruption.] It may be more successful not because of the research that has been done, but because more cases are being funded by health authorities and more is being done. It is a cruel hoax to think that it is the answer for people facing fertility problems. It seems such a shame that the main cause of infertility—life style—should not have more research into it. [Interruption.] This is perfectly true.

Photo of Ian Gibson Ian Gibson Labour, Norwich North

Whose life style? Single parents'?

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Lady, but the hon. Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson) must contain himself. We do not want that element entering the debate.

Photo of Ann Winterton Ann Winterton Conservative, Congleton

I should also like to say to the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Dr. Starkey) that the numbers of cases of infertility have not fallen. Perhaps that also shows that the research has not been as successful as she would like to imply. Bearing in mind the fact that many hon. Members want to speak—

Photo of Ann Winterton Ann Winterton Conservative, Congleton

No, I will not give way because I am in the middle of a sentence. Perhaps the hon. Lady might like to resume her seat—thank you. [Interruption.] I am sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I apologise; I should not be playing your role. I was in the middle of saying that although many Members are trying to intervene, I should like to make some progress, which would allow others to make their contributions.

I feel as though I am in the middle of a horrible Grimm—in more ways than one—fairy story. It is both untrue and unspeakably cruel to tell families who suffer from genetic disease and other problems that a vote against cloning is a vote against providing them with any hope for the future. Our hearts must go out to those who plead, "Do not deny us a chance to be cured." Those at the Department of Health know full well that that is not so. Professor Donaldson himself has made it clear, when he told us: it is the view of the Expert Group that the long-term promise of stem cells from adult tissue could equal or surpass that of embryonic stem cells. There is no evidence, other than wishful thinking, that research on human clones can kick-start that process.

Whence have we obtained evidence that stem cells hold such great promise? The evidence comes from successful experimentation in the use of adult stem cells, and from nothing else. We are confident only because of the successful work that has already been done with adult stem cells. Here I must add that, so far, we have no evidence—none whatever has been forthcoming—of whether embryo stem cells will achieve what is required and what has been predicted. We must therefore ask ourselves why we find the public and the press bombarded with cruel stories that those of us who oppose cloning are denying the sick their greatest hope for cures.

Photo of Ann Winterton Ann Winterton Conservative, Congleton

I will not give way; I am continuing with my speech.

I have been involved in these matters for many years and therefore have little doubt that money is involved: the crude commercial potential that the use of the human embryo will open up to our £50 billion science industry.

Every human embryo is a miracle. As we have said before in these debates, he or she initiates, controls, sustains and directs his or her own development. Although the embryo is no bigger than a pin point, every kind of cell and tissue that is necessary for skin, muscles, bones, nerves and organs is there from the start.

It is because of those properties that each embryo holds such promise for the biotechnological and other sections of our science industry. The industry could make enormous profits if it were able to extract cells for use in medicine, pharmaceuticals and biotechnology, but I find horrifying the manner in which we are held to ransom by its misleading claims. They are nothing less than disingenuous and a cruel hoax on those who are most vulnerable—those suffering from degenerative and other diseases, who understandably seek an instant cure for their condition.

If we lose the vote, I have no intention of going away. Month in and month out I will be joined by colleagues, and others in another place, to table and publicise questions on work with adult stem cells and on research on the human embryo and his brother or sister the clone. We have a remarkable number of friends in the scientific and medical community, and I know that they will join us in ensuring that we see every published paper. We will make a point of drawing them to the attention of the House and the public as a whole.

I draw attention to the claims made, primarily by members of the Government, that they have heard from families and the victims of disease—the people who have to carry the burden. I, too, have heard from such people and those who have written to me have made it abundantly clear that they are appalled by the idea of cloning or of using embryonic stem cells in their treatment. I have certainly heard from groups such as the Parkinson's Disease Society, but the people suffering from Parkinson's disease who have written to me complain that the society has never written to its members or groups to consult them and to check on their feelings on the issue.

I well remember disabled people coming to the House in 1990 to lobby in favour of the use of embryos for experiments. Without exception, they had all been assured that embryo research would provide them with cures and, without exception, the same cruel hoax was played on them. They were used in a callous and unscrupulous way as a means to an end.

I repeat what I said earlier and in other debates. To treat people who are suffering as so much fodder in a campaign that denies them the facts is, to my mind, cruel. Neither my colleagues nor I will stop trying to make those who are responsible for the present propaganda ultimately having to answer for their claims.

The course that the Government are pursuing with so much determination, despite the opposition of so many in the House and outside, is an affront to the dignity of human life and flies in the face of the traditional Judaeo-Christian moral ethos of our nation.

Photo of Mrs Anne Campbell Mrs Anne Campbell Labour, Cambridge 5:46 pm, 19th December 2000

I do not want to detain the House long, because I had the opportunity to speak on Friday. I reiterate that I approach this issue as someone whose mother suffered for 34 years from Parkinson's disease. I know at first hand what a terrible disease it is.

Although current therapies and treatments can relieve the symptoms of the disease to a great extent, they do not cure it. When my mother stopped taking the drugs, the symptoms of the disease returned even worse than before. Although she appeared to be getting better, the disease was progressing. The drugs simply relieved the symptoms, and that is true of many degenerative diseases. We have drugs that will cope with the symptoms, but we do not have drugs that attack the disease itself. Research holds out the hope of providing them.

Over the past few days, I have talked to many hon. Members because of my anxiety to see the regulations accepted. Not only my mother but two of my aunts suffered from Parkinson's disease, so I consider myself very vulnerable. I want to be certain that, when or if I ever develop the symptoms of the disease, there will be hope of a cure.

People have asked me how much hope we can pin on the research. One of the problems is that we do not know that the research will ultimately lead to a cure. In fact, if we knew that, we would not have to carry out the research. It is uncertainty that we are trying to explore. There is a degree of uncertainty, and only by carrying out the research can we resolve the doubts and problems.

Other people have told me, "Even if the research can produce a cure, it will take at least 10 years." The implication is that we should not bother if it is to take that long. In 10 years' time, I would find it hard to say to someone who had developed the symptoms of the disease that we did not take a decision now when we could have done so. It is terribly important that we make the right decision today to allow the research to progress.

Several Members have remarked that if we do not pass the regulations, the research will be done elsewhere. I am sure that it will be done elsewhere, and I find that rather frightening because this country's regulation of such research is probably the best in the world. We have the Conservatives to thank for that, because they passed the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act in 1990 and provided a sound basis for the research that continues today. I am sure that such research will be done abroad, but I want it to be done in this country.

Photo of Dr Michael Clark Dr Michael Clark Conservative, Rayleigh

If the research were to be done abroad, that would of course be disappointing for science in this country. Does the hon. Lady agree that it would also be moral hypocrisy to allow the research to be done abroad and then to use its findings in this country after we had failed to pass the regulations?

Photo of Mrs Anne Campbell Mrs Anne Campbell Labour, Cambridge

I could not agree more. The words "moral hypocrisy" would describe such a situation very well. As with other research, such as that conducted on animals, many people do not want embryo research to be done in this country but are prepared to derive the benefits from research done abroad. That is hypocrisy.

People have asked me how we can trust scientists. That is difficult because there is a mistrust of scientists, possibly because of the disasters that we have all experienced, such as the BSE crisis. However, those who study such matters will know that the BSE crisis was due not to scientists but to people who did not listen to scientists and those who refused to fund scientists' important research into scrapie-like diseases. If we had continued that research we might have found a solution to the BSE problem much earlier.

A constituent rang me at lunchtime and asked me to make the point—because he did not think it had been made in the House—that adult stem cells could be used instead of embryonic stem cells. I told him that the issue had been fully debated in the House last Friday and on Friday 17 November. I also said that although adult stem cells offer great hope for the future, they do not offer a solution at present, and more research into embryonic stem cells is needed to understand the processes by which adult stem cells may be used. I still hold that view, and I told him that that was what I would say in the debate. I am pleased that I have had the opportunity to say it.

We should continue the research, and I implore hon. Members to vote for the regulations.

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne 5:53 pm, 19th December 2000

Like the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Gapes), tonight I plan to follow my conscience rather than my mailbag, which is why I welcome the opportunity to put my conclusions on the record. If in doing so I help one or two other hon. Members, that will be a huge bonus.

I am not a scientist, a medical professional or an expert on morals and ethics, but like my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key), I served on the Standing Committee that considered the Bill that became the 1990 Act. I am also a committed Christian—a very bad one, but a seriously committed one none the less. However, it did not occur to me to consult the bishop of Spelthorne, as my hon. Friend consulted his bishop. It is in those two capacities—as a member of that Committee and as a committed Christian —that I wish to speak now. My views are entirely my own and are personal, and I make absolutely no claim to speak for anybody else.

When I served on the Standing Committee, I found myself in a curious position. At various times, I voted with those who were for experimentation and with those who were against it because I could not persuade myself that all experimentation was wrong as a matter of principle. However, I found myself wanting to hedge it about with adequate and very strict safeguards. Looking back, I believe that that is exactly what we achieved in 1990.

Like my hon. Friend, during those Committee proceedings, I thought long and hard as we debated what it is that makes us human. We found ourselves debating when our humanity begins, and I have wondered about that since. Does it begin when the first two independent cells fuse together or when we finally become capable of independent existence? Does it begin somewhere between those two extremes? As is so often the case with such conundrums, it is far easier to categorise the two extremes than the grey area that lies between.

I concluded then and continue to believe that a small bundle of cells has yet to acquire the essence of our humanity—what some people choose to call a soul. I freely admit that I have not the slightest idea when that change happens, but I am persuaded that it does not offend against our humanity to use human embryonic cells in the first few days of their existence in the way proposed in the regulations, provided that—I stress the words "provided that"—the use of those cells is for the benefit of humankind and is strictly controlled.

Ten years on, I have no regrets that are relevant to this debate, but I have one anxiety about what has been taking place in the past few weeks and what is happening today. As a committed Christian, I am always profoundly uncomfortable when I hear other equally committed Christians advance absolutist conclusions to moral dilemmas. I have to say in passing, however, that I envy them in one respect: I would lose a great deal less sleep if I could see such issues in black and white because I would be spared the huge amount of agonising that I do over the seemingly infinite number of shades of grey, which is what we are confronting.

The moral dimension of the debate, however, requires me to attempt to balance two seemingly contradictory imperatives. On the one hand, I readily accept the duty to respect human life. For me, all human life is sacred, which means that I need to think long and hard about using human embryos for experimental purposes. On the other hand, I equally accept the duty to care for the sick. Those who argue that such experimentation as we are considering tonight could help people who suffer from, for example, Huntington's or Parkinson's disease, need to be taken very seriously.

Just as in 1990, I believe that somehow or other I must strike a balance between two competing moral imperatives. As I am neither a scientist nor a medical professional, who am I to judge the merits of scientists' claims? The best that I can do is to ask myself whether I am entitled to stand in their way if they really believe that they can help humanity through their research and if they are willing to accept the strictest controls that we will impose on them. As I am not an expert on morals or ethics, who am I to offer a definitive view of what is right and what is wrong? The best that I can do is to ask myself whether I am entitled to allow my subjective religious views to stand in the way of those who desperately need a cure for their suffering.

My personal conclusion is that I shall vote for the draft regulations, having first given notice to the House and to anyone else who will listen to me that scientists, medical professionals and the Government of the day must implement the strictest possible controls, that those must be kept under constant review, and be observed and enforced to the letter.

6 pm

Photo of Fiona Mactaggart Fiona Mactaggart Labour, Slough

I am glad to follow the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire), my constituency neighbour. A letter that I wrote to a community of nuns in Slough reads: One of the things that I envy in people like the members of your community, who have a faith, is that you have the comfort of having certainty about these questions. I have to try to work out how to balance the different arguments and I am still struggling with that. As most Members will know, I concluded that struggle and spoke about it on Friday. It has been strange. I suppose I came out, as some would call it, as having multiple sclerosis. It is known that I am infertile. It is odd that I have suddenly been treated, in the words of The Times, as the "disabled MP". I have become defined by my condition. When we decide on these issues, we need to ensure that we do not let that happen. We must ensure that people with disabilities have rights, and that their rights and views are respected.

I was upset by the speech of the hon. Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton), in which she said that most people who are infertile are guilty of something called life style. It is true that sexually transmitted diseases lead to infertility in many instances, but there are many other reasons for it. Many people who have a restrained life style acquire sexually transmitted diseases. I admire the energy with which my hon. Friend Minister for Public Health is tackling that issue.

We must ensure that we do not allow ourselves to be pushed off course by a debate that does not form the basis on which a decision should be made. Strangely, most of the discussion on this subject in the newspapers has been about cloning. We shall vote on a set of regulations that simply allow three more purposes for research of embryonic material. Those are to increase knowledge about the development of embryos; to increase knowledge about serious diseases; and to enable any such knowledge to be applied in developing treatments for serious disease.

Let us consider the purposes for which such research is already permitted. It is already permitted to improve the efficacy of contraception and to deal with infertility and genetically inherited diseases, but it is not permitted to deal with many of the other diseases which, we have learned through stem cell research, could be subject to substantial new treatment.

Whatever our view, if we accept the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 and the existing regulations, it would be unforgivable not to vote for the proposed extension. Members have rightly been worried about the potential of cell nuclear replacement, but it has been said this afternoon that that could not lead to a developed human being. Although that is scientifically impossible now, it is not conceptually impossible. However, it is illegal. We need to be honest with ourselves and recognise that there is a difference between something being impossible and something being illegal.

In theory, cell nuclear replacement could lead to a developed human being. That is why we are all anxious, and why we are discussing that possibility rather than what the debate is supposed to be about. It is right for Members to urge the Minister to seek primary legislation at an early opportunity, before the theoretical possibility becomes a real one. We are all deeply concerned about the theoretical possibility and about ensuring that the rigorous protection that exists in the 1990 Act is backed up and strengthened further by primary legislation. I believe that we should be talking to other countries about their framework for research. In Britain, we have pioneered a framework that provides that, in every case, the scientist must show that there is no substitute for embryonic material. That is the right way to deal with these matters because the embryo deserves special status.

Apart from Members, such as the hon. Member for Congleton, who think that there is never any reason to carry out research on embryos, none of us can in conscience vote against the regulations. We can, however, continue to press the Department to introduce primary legislation at the earliest opportunity.

Photo of Dr Michael Clark Dr Michael Clark Conservative, Rayleigh 6:06 pm, 19th December 2000

At this stage of the debate, many of the things that one wants to say have already been said. Prior to the debate, I read the speeches that were made on Friday. I found the Minister's speech on Friday illuminating, as I did the speeches of my Select Committee colleagues, the hon. Members for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson) and for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon), who are experts on these matters. They were able to put a strong scientific emphasis on all that we are now debating.

Last Friday and today, the Minister told us about embryonic stem cells and the fact that they are pluripotent. They are therefore capable of generating brain cells, heart muscle, skin tissue and nervous tissue, all of which is important for finding cures for appalling degenerative diseases, such as multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, Parkinson's disease, cancer, stroke and Alzheimer's.

We accept that embryo stem cells may have a special status compared with adult stem cells. We would all prefer, as the Minister and others said, to be able to use adult stem cells for research if that were possible, but there are limitations. If there were no limitations and we could do all that we want to do with adult stem cells, I would vote against the regulations, as I suspect the Minister probably would. It is because we do not have confidence that we can do all that we want with adult stem cells that we must ensure that there are proper regulations to allow us to continue work with embryo stem cells.

I understand that there are moral issues; of course there are. However, science has always troubled people; it has always upset the establishment and challenged the status quo. When Galileo looked beyond the hills and through the clouds, he was accused of looking for heaven. When Darwin decided that he would explain how we came about, and said that it was not through creation but through evolution, he, too, got into trouble with the establishment and the Church. I dare say that those two were accused in their day of playing God.

The self-appointed assessors of science now, if they approve of scientific work, say, "Aren't scientists humanitarian? Isn't it marvellous how science can extend life and the quality of life?" However, if they do not like the scientists' work, they say that the scientists are playing God—the ultimate disapproval. Yet those scientists who ensured that we had purified drinking water, developed pharmaceutical drugs, ensured greater crop yields or pioneered life-saving operations seem to be excused from the charge of playing God. But they were doing just the same—assisting human beings to have a better life than they would have if nature were left to run its course.

We must accept that science is a continuum. One cannot pick and mix in science. One can stop science and make a break anywhere along the line of scientific development, but not without repercussions somewhere along the continuum of the scientific chain. I accept that there must be some limitations on scientific development, but any limitation must be justified. We must say why science should be limited and the case for limiting it must be strong.

The word "science" means knowledge. It is the study of nature and everything around us. Scientific knowledge has been accumulated over a long time: it was gleaned in small quantities; gained in greater quantities; stored, amplified and conjoined with other information until it was developed and could be turned to practical use.

I accept that some practical uses are not good and should not be further developed. However, as human beings, we have the ability to judge between good and bad, to choose and to decide, as we are doing in this debate. But—and it is a very big "but"—there is another type of morality that comes from having knowledge and information that can cure, but not using it. It is a serious moral issue when information that can help people who are distressed with disease is available but not used. It poses not just a moral issue, but a moral dilemma.

My pro-life friends and constituents are against therapeutic research using embryo stem cells. I respect their views and hope that they will respect mine. I am sorry to disappoint them tonight, when I vote in favour of the regulations. If I voted against the regulations, I might please some of my pro-life constituents, but I would disappoint many, many constituents who are suffering from degenerative diseases and have written to tell me that this research is their only hope of progress. People in their 20s and 30s hope that, within the next 20 or 30 years, something might alleviate their suffering.

I disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton), who said that we are playing a hoax on these people. We promise to try, but we never promise to succeed. If we do not promise to try, we will never succeed. I do not believe that we are hoaxing people and they do not believe it, either. They know that we will do our best; they will give us time and be patient. God knows that they have been patient long enough, given the suffering that they have had to endure.

I say to the pro-life people that, in my attitude to abortion and euthanasia, I have tried to show that I respect life. However, I am also pro-life with respect to those who are already born and who are suffering. That is just as pro-life as being pro-life in respect of small embryos and cell clusters, about which others may speak.

I know that many other hon. Members want to speak, so I shall conclude by dealing with IVF treatment, to which the Minister and others referred. The hon. Member for Dartford (Dr. Stoate) has left the Chamber, but I greatly enjoyed and appreciated his speech.

The Minister told us on Friday and again today that, of the 750,000 embryos that were created between 1991 and 1998, 48,000 were used in research and 237,000 were destroyed. They were produced to help infertile couples to have children, and were later destroyed. That was the decision of those who donated the embryos and it must be respected. We all know that more than one embryo is required if IVF is to have any chance of succeeding. Five or six embryos may be necessary, and four or five will, by definition, be wasted. If no embryo can be created unless it is allowed to develop to its full term, we must, to all intents and purposes, stop IVF now. IVF cannot proceed on the basis of guaranteeing that every single embryo goes full term and becomes a human being.

I suspect that most people do not want to stop IVF. Even some hon. Members who will vote against the measure tonight may still believe that IVF treatment should continue. If so, what is the logic of continuing with IVF treatment, producing 237,000 embryos more than we need, and destroying them rather than allowing them to be used for research that could benefit others?

For those who suffer from degenerative diseases, and in the expectation that stem cell research will help them, I shall vote in favour it of the regulations tonight.

Photo of Mr Bill Tynan Mr Bill Tynan Labour, Hamilton South 6:16 pm, 19th December 2000

I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in an important debate. The fact that so many hon. Members are in the Chamber this evening demonstrates the huge interest in the subject both in the House and in our constituencies. The telephone calls and correspondence that I have received also demonstrate the importance of the issue.

If there is a cure for today's dreadful diseases, I certainly want to be part of it. However, a decision seems to have been taken that there is only one route—developing embryonic stem cell research. I disagree. I believe that adult stem cell research is an option that we should embrace. We seem to have given up the hope that we can develop from adult stem cells cures for today's diseases.

Having listened with great interest to this afternoon's debate, I do not want us to re-run the debate on the 1990 Act. We should debate how we see the way forward. We have spoken today about increasing knowledge about the creation and development of embryos, increasing knowledge about diseases and enabling any such knowledge to be applied in the development of treatments for disease. I support that. However, the argument is about whether we proceed on the basis of embryo research or of adult stem research.

The study of adult stem cells over the past 30 years has clearly demonstrated that many adult tissues contain stem cells. However, such stem cells have been thought capable of producing only cells that are proper to that tissue. It was not thought that such cells could be reprogrammed. More recently, pluripotent stem cells have been discovered in various types of human tissue—bone marrow, brain, connective tissue of various organs and umbilical cord blood cells. Those cells are capable of producing different types of cells, mainly blood cells, muscle cells and nerve cells. As the British Medical Association has reported, the findings raise the possibility that adult stem cells might some day be coached to grow into organs, regenerate damaged tissue or reconstitute the immune system. The problem of immune rejection might be circumvented if an individual's own cells could be used.

In June, Science magazine reported: The more research is done, the more scientists seem to realise the potential of adult stem cells. They are able to turn into different types of muscle and nerve i.e. they are pluripotent. Swedish scientists have discovered that stem cells from bone marrow have grown into nerve cells. Blood-producing stem cells can grow into muscle cells, and vice versa. Adult stem cell research is progressing at enormous speed and has moved on significantly, even since the publication of the Donaldson report. Increasingly, this research is demonstrating that adult stem cells may have the potential to be as effective as embryonic stem cells. Professor Donaldson himself, reporting on research carried out on adult stem cells in mice, said that the research contradicts the conventional wisdom that stem cells derived from adult tissue have restricted potential to differentiate. A number of arguments have been put forward in favour of adult stem cell research. First, it has been increasingly demonstrated that adult stem cell research rivals embryonic stem cell research in its capacity to provide a wide variety of tissue. Studies in recent years suggest that stem cells in different adult tissues may be more similar than previously thought and, perhaps, in some cases have a development repertoire close to that of embryonic stem cells. It has increasingly been demonstrated that an adult neural stem cell has a very broad developmental capacity, and could, be used to generate a variety of cell types for transplantation in different diseases.

Italian scientists have revealed that adult neural stem cells have been found to be unexpectedly pliable, and have been successfully converted into muscle tissue. Stem cells from the brains of adult mice were reprogrammed to behave like muscle cells, by being placed in close proximity to mature muscle cells.

It is important that we examine all the options. There has been a tremendous debate, but the regulations have been introduced on the basis that the only alternative is for embryonic stem cell research to be used. I ask hon. Members to consider putting funding into adult stem cell research, as I believe that that would result in some success.

Photo of Evan Harris Evan Harris Liberal Democrat, Oxford West and Abingdon 6:22 pm, 19th December 2000

The speech by the Minister for Public Health was one of the best speeches that I have heard, in what I accept is my short time here, in terms of her grasp of a complex subject and the clarity with which she put her case. That was extremely helpful.

May I also say, on behalf of some of those who urged the Minister to do so, that it was wise and sensitive of her to have amended the regulations slightly, to make it clear that we were talking about research into serious diseases, rather than carte blanche for medical research generally? The proposals contain a balance of benefits. Even those who take a different view of them will accept that.

We heard powerful speeches from the hon. Members for Aberdeen, South (Miss Begg) and for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart), on both Friday and today. We also heard persuasive and clear arguments from the hon. Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton) and, on Friday, from the hon. Member for Bolton, West (Ms Kelly). It is useful that the Minister heard those contributions, because certain issues will come down the line in later years, and the House will have to address them.

The fact that we are discussing the matter today is proof that there is no automatic slippery slope. We cannot go beyond the point laid down in the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 without obtaining parliamentary approval within a democratic and accountable system. Those who say, in debate, that this process would create a slippery slope are, by definition, contradicting their own point. The House may vote against the regulations—although I hope that it does not—and that would prevent our moving down what those people see as a slippery slope. I agree with the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) that the slope can go up or down, and I believe that in this instance it is going up, and that we should not be concerned about that danger. However, I am delighted that we are having this debate and that we shall have the chance to vote on the issue.

There are people here who have made it clear that they will always oppose any work on embryos. That view has to be respected, because it is clear, precise and well put, not only in the Chamber but in the organised processes by which it is communicated to MPs across the country. However, that argument is not an exclusive moral argument. I do not believe that the moral arguments are all on that side. Those of us who do not take the view that the spirit enters the human being at conception, or that that is when life begins, are also under a moral imperative, once we have found out about all the other issues, to support the regulations. That is an equally ethical approach, given one's starting point.

The religious arguments are not all on the other side. I do not claim to be an expert on religion, but I take advice from those who are. The hon. Member for Salisbury made it clear that opinion in the Church of England is, at worst, split. At best, it understands the ethical basis on which this kind of research can be carried out. In a paper produced for the Church of England's board of social responsibility, Canon Dr. John Polkinghorne—a well respected theological ethicist—set out the developmental approach to the status of the embryo. It is the approach that I take, and, from what the Minister said, I believe that it is the approach that she and others also take. The paper states: This stance accords the embryo a profound moral respect on the basis of its potential to develop into a human being, but it sees that ethical status of human personhood as being something that develops with the increasing complexity of being. While an absolute stance is the present official teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, a developmental view of human personhood has not historically been absent from Christian thinking. St. Thomas Aquinas held the Aristotelian opinion that 'ensoulment' (presumably, human personhood) took place at 40 days for a male foetus and at 90 days for a female foetus. As I understand it, their current view was not adopted by the Catholic Church until some point during the 19th century. The paper goes on: The developmental view underlay the majority opinion in the Warnock Report and it is the basis for the HFE Act of 1990, with its restriction of embryo growth in vitro to 14 days and its permission to use embryos within that limit for tightly defined and specifically licensed research purposes. The embryo is being regarded as very much more than a 'speck of protoplasm', for it may only be manipulated for serious purposes that otherwise would be unattainable. The limit of 14 days is based on the end of the possibility of natural splitting (producing identical twins from a single embryo) and the beginning of differentiation with the onset of the primitive streak. It might be held to be a limit judged with some degree of conservative caution. That shows that there are people who can describe themselves as religious who do not automatically oppose the regulations.

Photo of Brian Iddon Brian Iddon Labour, Bolton South East

Is not there a serious moral difficulty here for people who hold a deeply religious point of view? If embryonic stem cell research produced a breakthrough, and it became likely that we could cure one of the many diseases mentioned in the debate, how would we advise such people if they were suffering from that disease? Would the Churches, having objected to the regulations—if they are passed—recommend that they should not accept treatment resulting from the research?

Photo of Evan Harris Evan Harris Liberal Democrat, Oxford West and Abingdon

Accepting treatment is a personal decision. It is quite reasonable that some people already do not accept certain treatments—vaccines derived from embryonic cell lines, or from foetal cell lines from aborted foetuses, for example. The whole point about the regulations is that they are permissive—I shall come to the question of consent in a moment. They will not force people to accept the treatment resulting from the research for themselves, or, if they were in the position of having to make such a decision, for their families.

Photo of Mr Tony McWalter Mr Tony McWalter Labour/Co-operative, Hemel Hempstead

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the smallpox inoculation was discovered partly as the result of Semmelweiss injecting a small child with the disease and finding that the child's resistance was improved? It does not follow that people who have smallpox injections now are behaving unethically, even though it all started unethically.

Photo of Evan Harris Evan Harris Liberal Democrat, Oxford West and Abingdon

I agree.

Earlier in our debate, a question was asked about the effectiveness of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, as some considerable responsibility lies with it. Generally, it has not been more lax than society in general, as was suggested. The famous case of Diane Blood, who wanted to use, posthumously, the sperm of her husband to procreate, was opposed down the line by the HFEA, even though that went against public opinion, particularly as portrayed in the tabloid media. The HFEA was unbowing in its opposition to that proposal, even though there was an uproar that that poor lady—as, indeed, she was as the result of her bereavement—could not start a family because she did not have her husband's written consent, as required by the regulations that were then in force. People who are concerned about the HFEA should therefore be reassured that it will not merely yield to public pressure on some of these matters.

One recommendation in the Donaldson report was that the HFEA should deal with the question of consent. Research will not be done on any embryos, and cell nuclear replacement—if it takes place—will not be done with any eggs without the consent of the donors of the embryos and eggs. That will be a personal decision for individuals who will or will not subscribe to the balance of benefits that we are discussing.

Some of the points about adult stem cell research made by the hon. Member for Hamilton, South (Mr. Tynan), and also by the hon. Member for Congleton, completely miss the point. I hope that they will be reassured on their concerns about scientific opinion, the potential of adult stem cells, the role of the HFEA and the likely path of scientists themselves. It is not correct, as a previous speaker said, that science is split on the subject. There will always be scientists who, perhaps for their own religious reasons, will express a view—such as that held by anti-evolutionary creationist scientists—which they do not claim as scientific per se, but rather the opinion of a scientist. It is not reasonable to get a scientist to state that view and then say that science is split, simply because there are scientists on both sides. One must look at peer-reviewed overviews of the literature and the state of science. The opinion of, for example, the Wellcome Trust, the Royal Society and the British Medical Association must have more resonance than the opinions of individual scientists.

I have challenged speakers previously, and said that scientists who are working on adult stem cells recognise the need for embryological work to continue at the same time. Indeed, many scientists derive their results from putting adult stem cells in animal models into embryological environments. It would therefore be illogical for them to oppose embryological stem cell research. Those scientists who, perhaps, have the most to lose from research grants going to embryological work will not come out with the views that their science has been cited as backing. Indeed, many have said that they are appalled that their research has been cited by those who describe it as an exclusive alternative to work with embryonic stem cells.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough

The hon. Gentleman is entirely honest in the way in which he promotes his point of view and does not take any prisoners, which is good. Does he accept that the purpose of cell nuclear replacement is to create an embryo that is genetically identical to the patient so that cells derived from it are perfectly matched to the patient? Cell nuclear replacement is a technique that was used in the cloning of Dolly the sheep. Therefore, it is scientifically clear that cell nuclear replacement is a technique for the cloning of humans although, admittedly, it is at the first stage. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that?

Photo of Evan Harris Evan Harris Liberal Democrat, Oxford West and Abingdon

Yes.

Another key point about adult stem cells is that their potential is the very factor that makes work on embryonic stem cells so critical. It will be possible to realise the potential of adult-derived stem cells and adult-derived stem cell therapies only if we get answers from the embryological work. The more papers that suggest that, eventually, adult stem cells might work somewhere down the line, the more important it is, in the short to medium term, to allow embryonic stem cell research to take place. That makes the point, but people in the debate have not understood that.

Photo of Ruth Kelly Ruth Kelly Labour, Bolton West

What does the hon. Gentleman make of comments by Professor Scolding of Bristol university, who works in the field of adult stem cells? He says that recent peer-reviewed work done since the publication of the Donaldson review undermines the comments of the Royal Society that it would be at least a decade before scientists could overcome the hurdles blocking the therapeutic use of adult, as opposed to embryonic, stem cells.

Photo of Evan Harris Evan Harris Liberal Democrat, Oxford West and Abingdon

Professor Scolding came to speak at a meeting on Monday night, which was also attended by the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) and my researcher. I have it on good authority that Professor Scolding said that his view, although that of a scientist, was based not on his science but on his religious perspective. He was fair enough to admit that, and scientists should be allowed to speak about their religious views. However, they should make it clear when they are speaking on a scientific basis.

The HFEA exists to ensure that if adult stem cell research is an obvious alternative to research proposals using embryonic stem cells, it will be encouraged and the embryonic line of research, because of the special status accorded to embryos, will not be allowed. We can trust the HFEA to keep control, as it has done with great success in the past 10 years.

Hon. Members will find that scientists themselves will follow the successful science. Working on embryos will not be easy. One speaker said that there will be a rush to use embryos because the work is easy. It is extremely difficult to derive eggs for cell nuclear replacement. As the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Dr. Starkey) has said to me on several occasions, it is not a trivial matter for a woman to donate eggs, whether for embryos for IVF or for this sort of research. Eggs are in extremely short supply. Eventually, there may well be a better supply of adult stem cells, and science will go where the ease of work and the best results are likely to be. Consent will be needed to do that research, as I have said before. Individual women will have to give consent for their gametes to be used for this sort of work.

Finally, it is likely that if, eventually, there are therapeutic advantages from adult stem cells, that is where the therapies will be. Scientists will flock to that line of work because it will be available in the scale that we need. I maintain that the citing of adult stem cell research as an argument for voting against the regulations is not based on a rationale or science. Some people will oppose the regulations anyway, but it is wrong of them to seek to create a pseudo-scientific argument to justify what is otherwise a respectable opinion.

Photo of Sally Keeble Sally Keeble Labour, Northampton North 6:38 pm, 19th December 2000

I am grateful to have a chance to speak in our debate. I do so on the basis that I, too, have had IVF treatment which, in my case, was successful. I am also a theologian, and this must be the only occasion during my entire time in the House on which I can put those two experiences to use.

The Minister's speech was wonderful, but I take issue with her because I do not agree that ends can justify means—the ends and the means have to be justified. In this instance, I believe that both are. Perhaps the Minister does as well, and I have misrepresented her. However, I believe that the ends and the means are completely justified.

A big argument used by people who do not agree with the measure is not so much about cell replacement but the fact that embryos are destroyed in the process, which is equated with the destruction of life. Clearly, however, that is not the case, as has been shown in the Warnock report, the Polkinghorne report and all the regulations. We are talking about embryos that have the potential for life, which is not the same as being alive. An awful lot of circumstances have to intervene to enable them to become human beings. We should not, therefore, treat them as people, although as human embryos they are worthy of special respect. It has been clearly set out that they have special status and deserve special respect. Indeed, that is partly why the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority was established. It has served the country startlingly well and has provided a forum for ethical debates and public consultation. It has ensured that, in comparison with people in most countries around the world, we can take the ethical dimension carefully into account.

For people who are concerned about the family life aspect of the IVF equation, I point out that the right of the child is one of the factors that must be taken into account in the provision of treatment. The needs of any child born of the treatment must be considered, including the right of that child to a father. As I said, the regulatory framework is in place. The hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) spoke about policing, but I have no worries whatever on that score.

Time is short, so I shall keep my remarks brief in the hope that more hon. Members can speak. However, I should like to speak about the ethics of medical research and whether another form of research should be used. With regard to the criteria and qualifications that should be taken into account, I am again satisfied that the means and the ends are justified. It seems to me that medical research should cost as little as possible in terms of human and other life. Of course, that point leads to a consideration of animal rights.

Medical research should also be as non-invasive as possible and should be the most likely option to achieve success. Thus, if embryonic cells will produce a better result than adult stem cells, it is preferable to use the former, as research on them is most likely to achieve success. Medical research should also occur in an environment that replicates the human condition as closely as possible. Animal research is sometimes appropriate, but if an environment is available that is more closely related to the person who is to be treated, there is pressure and impetus to consider it first.

Embryo research will occur only with the consent of the people who have created the embryos. That is a major consideration. People already donate their organs for transplant, but there is an obvious difference between donating a liver or heart and providing genetic material to be used for a non-procreative purpose. Indeed, that is a dramatically different step, which is why informed consent is important and why people must consider the implications carefully.

I have been through that process and know what it is like to look at embryos that are part of one's genetic material and which have the potential for life. In the circumstances in question, they could never create life. In my case, they could not be used for donation because they are not of good enough quality, as I am too old, although I might not want to give them away as they are part of my genetic material. However, I must ask what the embryos will do if they cannot create life or reproduce something of my husband and me. Is not it special that, although they cannot create a child, they might help to save somebody's life, improve the quality of somebody's life or stop illnesses for future generations?

All those processes and considerations can be strange. It can be a huge journey to think through all the issues while sitting in front of a form. Of course, those issues are already tried and tested. It is for people to make a decision in their hearts and to make up their own minds on what they can and cannot accept.

For all those reasons, I believe that the means and ends are justified. I hope that the House will agree to the regulations and enable the science to proceed. It has already given people such as me the chance to have a child, and can now give other people a chance to live.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough 6:45 pm, 19th December 2000

This has been a good debate. Our discussion has generally been good natured and both sides of the argument have been put across well. It is difficult for somebody such as me to make the speech that I am about to make, for only five minutes or so, as one is faced with people who are suffering appallingly. They look at people such as me and ask how we can stand in the face of medical science that could relieve their suffering.

First, I shall try to meet halfway some of the proponents of the regulations. I accept that embryo-based research is superior at the present stage of scientific development to that based on adult stem cells. Although I acknowledge that, I ask those who take a stance that is different from mine to accept that science is moving quickly and that there are alternative views, which were well articulated earlier by the hon. Member for Hamilton, South (Mr. Tynan). I shall not repeat them, as the hon. Gentleman spoke on them at length.

However, I should like briefly to refer to a view expressed in Science on 25 February this year by Dr. Vogel, who wrote that adult stem cells become different types of cells only when they are given new signals to do so. When they are placed in their usual environment, they seem to produce only the cell types of that particular tissue, which is exactly what is needed to repair such tissue safely. Dr. Vogel wrote that besides skirting the ethical dilemmas surrounding research on embryonic and fetal stem cells, adult cells … might have another advantage: they may be easier to manage. I fully accept the validity of arguments advanced by other hon. Members with different points of view, but I point out for hon. Members who are concerned about the moral and ethical dilemmas that much scientific opinion suggests that adult stem cell research may be superior to embryo research in future.

Secondly, it is important to decide how the debate is defined and to get the definitions right. Surely we must accept that we are not discussing an instant panacea. People who are currently cruelly afflicted by illness should not believe that we are discussing a panacea in respect of their serious conditions. Paragraph 4.31 of the Donaldson report states: it is not known whether the cell nuclear replacement technique will be successful in creating an early human embryo. It cannot therefore be claimed that research on cloned human embryos I has overwhelming potential. The Donaldson report admits that gaining knowledge about how stem cells differentiate, and on how this process might be controlled to produce the particular kinds of tissue needed for treatment, is only just beginning. An article published in Science on 1 December states that the human embryonic stem cells and fetal germ cells that made headlines in November 1998 because they can, in theory, develop into any cell type have so far produced relatively modest results. I hope that we can all agree that the research would not produce an instant panacea.

My third and strongest point relates to cloning. I hope that I may refer to the definitions provided by the European Parliament, which is not filled with people who will always agree with my point of view. It defines human cloning as the creation of human embryos that have the same genetic make-up as another human being, dead or alive, at any stage of their development, without any possible distinction regarding the methods used. I was grateful to the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris), who has been a leading proponent of the regulations, for accepting the point that I put to him. I asserted that the purpose of cell nuclear replacement is to create an embryo that is genetically identical to the patient, so that the cells derived therefrom are perfectly matched to the patient. The technique of cell nuclear replacement was used to clone Dolly the sheep. Thus it is scientifically clear that cell nuclear replacement is a technique for the cloning of human beings. Let us at least accept that point of view.

Every hon. Member is opposed to reproductive cloning, but let us get our definitions right. As the European Parliament and many experts have accepted, we are discussing the same process that would be used for the cloning of human beings. Although cell nuclear replacement and embryo stem cell research are different things, I believe that they are none the less being used as euphemisms for cloning. In fact, the Donaldson committee was originally called the chief medical officer's expert group on cloning, but that title was dropped when it reported to the Department of Health. Dr. John Wyatt, professor of neonatal paediatrics at the Royal Free and University College medical school in London, has written: The redefinition of human embryos as mere biological material or "totipotent stem cells" in order to allay public concerns smacks of semantic trickery rather than responsible debate. Let us get our point of reference clear; then I will sit down and allow the Minister to speak. We are talking about an opportunity to advance medical science and to relieve human suffering to an enormous extent—although we do not know how far as it is not an instant panacea. We are talking about the creation of an embryo that is genetically exactly the same as the patient. That embryo, if allowed to implant—which I agree the Government do not want to happen—would result in the creation of a human being.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough

No. I have been told that I must allow the Minister time to reply to the debate.

What we are doing today is therefore very important. I urge the House to pause very carefully before it makes its final decision. It is quite different from what we talked about in 1990 because, for the first time, we are saying to the science community that we shall create cloned human beings—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Yes, just listen. We shall create cloned human embryos which, if allowed to implant in the womb, would grow into human beings. That is what we are voting on tonight. [Interruption.] It is. There is no point hon. Members shaking their head. I have read out the scientific evidence. The whole point of the process is to create an embryo that is genetically identical to the patient so that when stem cells are grown from it, it will not be rejected by the patient.

I accept that we do not have to have a religious view on the matter. We do not have to worry about that. We do not have to talk about whether the embryo has a soul or not, but it is entirely new. Where will it all end? Have we not got a right in the House to say to the science community, "Just pause; wait; listen to the other voices"? Let us have primary legislation and do the thing right. We should not take a step that we may live to regret.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health 6:52 pm, 19th December 2000

With the permission of the House, I shall reply to the debate.

We have had an excellent debate. It is perhaps the most thoughtful and considered of all that I have listened to in the House. Given the strong views that people hold and the emotive issues involved, I pay tribute to all those who have spoken in this debate and in the Adjournment debates for the respect that they have shown for opposing views.

I welcome, too, the cross-party nature of the debate. We have heard eloquent and well-argued speeches from hon. Members on both sides of the House in favour of and against the regulations, including from those involved in the 1990 Act, such as the hon. Members for Salisbury (Mr. Key) and for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire). We have heard the view of those who could be affected and whose family could be affected by the research, such as my hon. Friends the Members for Aberdeen, South (Miss Begg), for Ilford, South (Mr. Gapes) and for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart); the view of those who morally oppose the regulations, including the hon. Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton), my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton, South (Mr. Tynan) and the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh); and the view of doctors—the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) and my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Dr. Stoate).

It has been a powerful debate and a measured one, too, but it is clear that the science is very obvious now. The research shows that embryonic stem cells have immense potential to help us understand serious degenerative disease and to research cures or treatments, too. In particular, they offer great hope for the treatment of disease and injury where tissue is destroyed and will not repair, such as with Parkinson's, spinal cord injury, heart disease and cancer.

Hon. Members are right to say that we should not promise immediate cures. As I have said, the research could take a year, 10, 20 or 30 years. We do not know how long it will take, but it holds considerable potential. For many diseases and conditions, it holds out the only hope anywhere on the horizon.

The science is clear that embryonic stem cells hold far more potential than adult stem cells, even though work with adult cells is the holy grail for many scientists. As many eminent scientists and medics have made clear and as many hon. Members have argued, important breakthroughs in adult stem cell research may never take place without embryonic stem cell research first.

With the greatest respect, I caution hon. Members who oppose embryonic research against arguing that adult stem cell research has just as much potential as embryonic stem cell research. I understand that many hon. Members who oppose embryo research in principle are pinning their hopes on adult stem cells instead. It is legitimate to argue that embryonic stem cell research is wrong, and that therefore the only potential that we have is from adult stem cell research, but that is different from arguing that the science shows that adult stem cell research has more potential. The science does not show that. I caution hon. Members against believing that they can support all the most exciting potential breakthroughs in this area and vote against the regulations at the same time. They cannot.

The science is clear, but what is at stake today is not simply the science but the ethics. It is a debate not between ethics and science, but about the ethical framework within which scientific research should take place. That in the end is what it is about.

Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox Shadow Secretary of State for Health

The Minister has said that it is perfectly legitimate for hon. Members to want adult stem cells to be used. Were we to get to the most optimistic view and were adult stem cells to show great potential, would it be the Government's intention to stop the legal use of embryonic cells?

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health

We have already covered that clearly in the debate. The 1990 Act clearly sets out that if there are breakthroughs in adult stem cells and if there are breakthroughs in embryonic stem cells that allow us to move to adult cell research, the embryonic stem cell research is no longer necessary. If it is no longer necessary, it will not be permitted under the Act. It will not be licensed. The Act provides those protections and constraints, and it is absolutely right that it does so.

Some hon. Members believe that all research on embryos is unjustified on principle. I respect the eloquent arguments that they have advanced to that effect. They argue that the embryos should be accorded the same respect and rights as human beings. Others argue that that is not the moral position that we should take. For example, the Warnock report said: The human embryo is entitled to a measure of respect beyond that accorded to an embryo of other species. Such respect is not absolute and may be weighed against the benefits arising from the proposed research. My hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Ms Keeble) said that we should not argue that the ends justify the means. I agree. I would not support a utilitarian approach that says that so long as the ends are good enough, any means is justified. That is why I strongly support the constraints that are set out in the 1990 Act, which says that research can be done only up to 14 days, only where embryos are essential to the research and only where there is a proper licence. Constraints exist on human reproductive cloning, so that no research on cell nuclear replacement can take place beyond 14 days. The cells cannot be implanted in the womb. That is illegal.

It is right that those constraints are in place, but I remind the House of the strong moral case in favour of doing the research. In an earlier debate, I quoted a woman with Parkinson's disease. She said that those considering their votes on the issue ought to have a word with my little girl and ask her about the value of life. All she wants is that I am freed from this awful disease so that she has a mother able to care for her throughout her young life, rather than one who is increasingly disabled by a disease for which there may be a cure if this research is allowed to proceed. That is the choice for the House.

Watching at home with bated breath and in the Gallery are many who hope that the research will deliver the cures and treatments to turn their lives around. Many of them know that the research comes too late for them, but they are here on behalf of the next generation, hoping for the research that will allow future generations who walk in their footsteps to walk tall, freed from pain and disability. We cannot guarantee to them that the research will transform their lives, but we can tell them that we did not turn our backs on the possibility that it might.

It being Seven o'clock, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER put the Question, pursuant to Order [this day].

The House divided: Ayes 366, Noes 174.

Division No. 12][7 pm
AYES
Abbott, Ms DianeArbuthnot, Rt Hon James
Ainger, NickArmstrong, Rt Hon Ms Hilary
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy
Alexander, DouglasAshton, Joe
Allan, RichardAtherton, Ms Candy
Allen, GrahamAtkins, Charlotte
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale)Austin, John
Bailey, AdrianCryer, John (Hornchurch)
Banks, TonyCummings, John
Barnes, HarryCunningham, Rt Hon Dr Jack (Copeland)
Barron, Kevin
Bayley, HughCunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Beard, NigelCurry, Rt Hon David
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs MargaretDalyell, Tam
Begg, Miss AnneDarling, Rt Hon Alistair
Benn, Hilary (Leeds C)Darvill, Keith
Benn, Rt Hon Tony (Chesterfield)Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Bercow, JohnDavidson, Ian
Beresford, Sir PaulDavies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Berry, RogerDavies, Quentin (Grantham)
Betts, CliveDavies, Rt Hon Ron (Caerphilly)
Blackman, LizDavis, Rt Hon Terry (B'ham Hodge H)
Blair, Rt Hon Tony
Blears, Ms HazelDean, Mrs Janet
Blizzard, BobDenham, John
Blunkett, Rt Hon DavidDobson, Rt Hon Frank
Blunt, CrispinDoran, Frank
Boateng, Rt Hon PaulDorrell, Rt Hon Stephen
Boswell, TimDowd, Jim
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)Drown, Ms Julia
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs VirginiaDunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Bradley, Keith (Withington)Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Bradshaw, BenEllman, Mrs Louise
Brake, TomEmery, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Brand, Dr PeterEnnis, Jeff
Brooke, Rt Hon PeterEtherington, Bill
Brown, Russell (Dumfries)Fabricant, Michael
Browning, Mrs AngelaFisher, Mark
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)Fitzpatrick, Jim
Buck, Ms KarenFitzsimons, Mrs Lorna
Burden, RichardFlint, Caroline
Burgon, ColinFlynn, Paul
Burstow, PaulFollett, Barbara
Butler, Mrs ChristineForth, Rt Hon Eric
Caborn, Rt Hon RichardFoster, Rt Hon Derek
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)Foster, Don (Bath)
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)Foster, Michael J (Worcester)
Campbell, Rt Hon Menzies (NE Fife)Foulkes, George
Gapes, Mike
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)Gardiner, Barry
Caton, MartinGarnier, Edward
Cawsey, IanGeorge, Andrew (St Ives)
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet)Gerrard, Neil
Gibson, Dr Ian
Chaytor, DavidGidley, Sandra
Chidgey, DavidGilroy, Mrs Linda
Church, Ms JudithGolding, Mrs Llin
Clapham, MichaelGordon, Mrs Eileen
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Clark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands)Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh)Grocott, Bruce
Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Rushcliffe)Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)
Hancock, Mike
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)Harman, Rt Hon Ms Harriet
Clelland, DavidHarris, Dr Evan
Clifton-Brown, GeoffreyHarvey, Nick
Clwyd, AnnHawkins, Nick
Coaker, VernonHealey, John
Coffey, Ms AnnHeath, Rt Hon Sir Edward
Cohen, HarryHenderson, Doug (Newcastle N)
Coleman, IainHenderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Cooper, YvetteHendrick, Mark
Corbett, RobinHepburn, Stephen
Corbyn, JeremyHeseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Corston, JeanHewitt, Ms Patricia
Cousins, JimHill, Keith
Cran, JamesHinchliffe, David
Cranston, RossHodge, Ms Margaret
Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas
Home Robertson, JohnMates, Michael
Hood, JimmyMaxton, John
Hoon, Rt Hon GeoffreyMeacher, Rt Hon Michael
Hope, PhilMerron, Gillian
Hopkins, KelvinMichael, Rt Hon Alun
Howard, Rt Hon MichaelMichie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Howarth, George (Knowsley N)Milburn, Rt Hon Alan
Howells, Dr KimMiller, Andrew
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)Mitchell, Austin
Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)Moffatt, Laura
Humble, Mrs JoanMoonie, Dr Lewis
Hutton, JohnMoore, Michael
Iddon, Dr BrianMoran, Ms Margaret
Illsley, EricMorgan, Alasdair (Galloway)
Jack, Rt Hon MichaelMorgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)
Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)Morley, Elliot
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)Morris, Rt Hon Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Jackson, Robert (Wantage)
Jenkin, BernardMorris, Rt Hon Sir John (Aberavon)
Jenkins, Brian
Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)Mountford, Kali
Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)Mullin, Chris
Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)
Johnson Smith, Rt Hon Sir GeoffreyNaysmith, Dr Doug
Oaten, Mark
Jones, Ms Jenny (Wolverh'ton SW)O'Hara, Eddie
O'Neill, Martin
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)Öpik, Lembit
Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)Osborne, Ms Sandra
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)Ottaway, Richard
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)Page, Richard
Jowell, Rt Hon Ms TessaPaice, James
Keeble, Ms SallyPearson, Ian
Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)Perham, Ms Linda
Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)Pickthall, Colin
Keetch, PaulPike, Peter L
Kemp, FraserPlaskitt, James
Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Key, RobertPrescott, Rt Hon John
King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green)Primarolo, Dawn
King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)Prior, David
Kirkbride, Miss JulieProsser, Gwyn
Kirkwood, ArchyPurchase, Ken
Ladyman, Dr StephenQuin, Rt Hon Ms Joyce
Lait, Mrs JacquiRadice, Rt Hon Giles
Lammy, DavidRammell, Bill
Lansley, AndrewRapson, Syd
Laxton, BobRaynsford, Nick
Lepper, DavidReed, Andrew (Loughborough)
Leslie, ChristopherRendel, David
Letwin, OliverRobertson, John (Glasgow Anniesland)
Levitt, Tom
Linton, MartinRobertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Livingstone, KenRobinson Geoffrey (Cov'try NW)
Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)Roche, Mrs Barbara
Lock, DavidRogers, Allan
Love, AndrewRooker, Rt Hon Jeff
McCabe, SteveRoss, Ernie (Dundee W)
McCafferty, Ms ChrisRowe, Andrew (Faversham)
McCartney, Rt Hon Ian (Makerfield)Ruddock, Joan
Russell, Bob (Colchester)
McDonagh, SiobhainRussell, Ms Christine (Chester)
MacGregor, Rt Hon JohnRyan, Ms Joan
McIntosh, Miss AnneSalter, Martin
McIsaac, ShonaSavidge, Malcolm
MacKay, Rt Hon AndrewSawford, Phil
Maclennan, Rt Hon RobertSedgemore, Brian
MacShane, DenisShaw, Jonathan
Mactaggart, FionaSheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Madel, Sir DavidShipley, Ms Debra
Mahon, Mrs AliceShort, Rt Hon Clare
Major, Rt Hon JohnSimpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Mallaber, JudySkinner, Dennis
Maples, JohnSmith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)Smith, Angela (Basildon)
Martlew, EricSmith, Rt Hon Chris (Islington S)
Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Smith, John (Glamorgan)Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)Turner, Neil (Wigan)
Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Soames, NicholasTyler, Paul
Soley, CliveTyrie, Andrew
Southworth, Ms HelenViggers, Peter
Spellar, JohnVis, Dr Rudi
Squire, Ms RachelWalley, Ms Joan
Stanley, Rt Hon Sir JohnWard, Ms Claire
Starkey, Dr PhyllisWatts, David
Steinberg, GerryWhite, Brian
Stevenson, GeorgeWhitehead, Dr Alan
Stoate, Dr HowardWicks, Malcolm
Strang, Rt Hon Dr GavinWigley, Rt Hon Dafydd
Straw, Rt Hon JackWilliams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Stringer Graham
Stuart, Ms GiselaWilliams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Wills, Michael
Wilshire, David
Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)Wilson, Brian
Taylor, Matthew (Truro)Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)Wood, Mike
Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)Woodward, Shaun
Thomas, Simon (Ceredigion)Worthington, Tony
Timms, StephenWright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Tipping, PaddyWright, Tony (Cannock)
Todd, MarkWyatt, Derek
Tonge, Dr JennyYeo, Tim
Townend, John
Tredinnick, DavidTellers for the Ayes:
Truswell, PaulMr. Mike Hall and
Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)Mr. David Jamieson.
NOES
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)Day, Stephen
Amess, DavidDismore, Andrew
Ancram, Rt Hon MichaelDobbin, Jim
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)Donaldson, Jeffrey
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E)Drew, David
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)Duncan, Alan
Baldry, TonyDuncan Smith, Iain
Beggs, RoyEvans, Nigel
Beith, Rt Hon A JFaber, David
Bell, Martin (Tatton)Fallon, Michael
Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough)Fearn, Ronnie
Bennett, Andrew FField, Rt Hon Frank
Benton, JoeFoster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)
Bermingham, GeraldFox, Dr Liam
Borrow, DavidGale, Roger
Brady, GrahamGalloway, George
Brazier, JulianGill, Christopher
Breed, ColinGillan, Mrs Cheryl
Brinton, Mrs HelenGodsiff, Roger
Browne, DesmondGoggins, Paul
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)Gray, James
Burns, SimonGreen, Damian
Butterfill, JohnGreenway, John
Cable, Dr VincentGrieve, Dominic
Campbell-Savours, DaleGrogan, John
Cann, JamieGummer, Rt Hon John
Casale, RogerHague, Rt Hon William
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)Hammond, Philip
Chope, ChristopherHayes, John
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)Heald, Oliver
Collins, TimHeath, David (Somerton & Frome)
Colman, TonyHeathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David
Cotter, BrianHoram, John
Cox, TomHowarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
Crausby, DavidHoyle, Lindsay
Curtis-Thomas, Mrs ClaireHunter, Andrew
Davey, Edward (Kingston)Hurst, Alan
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)Jones, Rt Hon Barry (Alyn)
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice)Jones, Mrs Fiona (Newark)
Dawson, HiltonJones, Helen (Warrington N)
Kaufman, Rt Hon GeraldMarsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Kelly, Ms RuthMarsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)
Kidney, DavidMarshall, David (Shettleston)
Kilfoyle, PeterMaude, Rt Hon Francis
King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian
Laing, Mrs EleanorMay, Mrs Theresa
Leigh, EdwardMeale, Alan
Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)Mudie, George
Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Lewis, Terry (Worsley)Murphy, Rt Hon Paul (Torfaen)
Liddell, Rt Hon Mrs HelenNicholls, Patrick
Lidington, DavidO'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
Lilley, Rt Hon PeterO'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)
Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)Olner, Bill
Llwyd, ElfynPaisley, Rev Ian
Loughton, TimPendry, Tom
Luff, PeterPickles, Eric
McAvoy, ThomasPope, Greg
McCrea, Dr WilliamPound, Stephen
Macdonald, CalumPrentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
McFall, JohnQuinn, Lawrie
McGuire, Mrs AnneRandall, John
McKenna, Mrs RosemaryRedwood, Rt Hon John
Mackinlay, AndrewReid, Rt Hon Dr John (Hamilton N)
Maclean, Rt Hon DavidRobathan, Andrew
McLoughlin, PatrickRobinson, Peter (Belfast E)
McNulty, TonyRoe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
McWalter, TonyRooney, Terry
Malins, HumfreyRoss, William (E Lond'y)
Rowlands, TedTaylor, Sir Teddy
Roy, FrankTouhig, Don
St Aubyn, NickTrend, Michael
Sanders, AdrianTwigg, Derek (Halton)
Sayeed, JonathanTynan, Bill
Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs GillianVaz, Keith
Singh, MarshaWalter, Robert
Smith, Miss Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale)Wardle, Charles
Wareing, Robert N
Waterson, Nigel
Spelman, Mrs CarolineWebb, Steve
Spicer, Sir MichaelWells, Bowen
Spring, RichardWhittingdale, John
Steen, AnthonyWiddecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Streeter, GaryWilkinson, John
Stunell, AndrewWillis, Phil
Sutcliffe, GerryWinterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Swayne, Desmond
Syms, RobertTellers for the Noes:
Taylor, David (NW Leics)Rev. Martin Smyth and
Taylor, John M (Solihull)Mr. Kevin McNamara.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved,That the draft Human Fertilisation and Embryology (Research Purposes) Regulations, which were laid before this House on 12th December, be approved.