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Orders of the Day — Human Fertilisation and Embryology

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:10 pm on 19th December 2000.

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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.