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Orders of the Day — Human Fertilisation and Embryology

Part of the debate – 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.