Orders of the Day — Human Reproductive Cloning Bill[Lords]

– in the House of Commons at 3:19 pm on 29th November 2001.

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Order for Second Reading read.

Photo of Hazel Blears Hazel Blears Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health) 3:32 pm, 29th November 2001

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

As the House will know, the other place passed the Bill without amendment on Monday.

It might help if I explain some of the terminology at the outset. For the purpose of the debate, "human reproductive cloning" means the creation of a new human being through the use of an embryo that has not been created by fertilisation—that is, by the use of sperm and eggs. Cloning may involve the process of cell nuclear replacement, as described in the report of the chief medical officer's expert group, or it may involve another technique such as parthenogenesis. The Bill deals with reproductive cloning—and reproductive cloning alone.

So-called therapeutic cloning is the use of cloned embryos for research. I shall deal with the background shortly—in particular, I shall refer to the effect of the recent judgment in the High Court—but I shall say now that, although the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 lays down strict rules for the use of embryos in research, as the law stands, as a result of the judgment, those rules apply only to embryos created by fertilisation.

The deliberate approach adopted in the Bill is not to be prescriptive in regard to cloning techniques. This will ensure that the ban that we seek applies to embryos created in any way other than by fertilisation. It will ensure that we include techniques that may currently be considered unachievable or impossible.

Photo of John Gummer John Gummer Conservative, Suffolk Coastal

Would the Minister be willing to find a word that is closer to reality than "personalisation"? The trouble with the whole debate is that, in all circumstances, nice comfortable words are used rather than words denoting the reality. The fact is that what is proposed is the banning of something that is unnatural and unacceptable, and which most people find disgraceful. Can we try to use the proper words? "Personalisation" is surely a fabricated term—similar to "termination of pregnancy", which is used in preference to "killing babies".

Photo of Hazel Blears Hazel Blears Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health)

I do not think that I have used the word "personalisation". I am trying to be careful, accurate, clear and focused in describing exactly what we are trying to achieve. The Bill is simple and straightforward, and I am attempting to use language that is not capable of misinterpretation.

The Bill's purpose is to ban human reproductive cloning by the placing in a woman of an embryo that has been created in any way other than by fertilisation. The effect is, of course, that only an embryo created by fertilisation may lawfully be placed in a woman. The Bill is short and tightly drawn, in order to meet that aim, and that aim only.

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

What consideration has the Minister given to the reproductive cloning of human beings outside a woman's body, in vitro, in animals or even—10, 15 or 20 years down the line—in a man's body? The Bill should take such possibilities into account. Is not the Minister merely plugging the gap when the flood is on the horizon?

Photo of Hazel Blears Hazel Blears Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health)

Those issues have been raised, and I shall come to them. They are important.

The hon. Gentleman suggests that I am merely plugging a gap. In fact, I am trying to plug a legal loophole. I fully acknowledge the existence of other matters that, if the Government's appeal against the judgment fails, will need to be revisited extensively. I want to record the Government's commitment in this respect: if the appeal fails and a whole area of activity is unregulated, we must clearly ensure that it is properly and rigorously regulated in future. The Bill's purpose is to plug the legal loophole that has arisen as a result of the judgment, and to bring back an arrangement that I think that all Members want—the outlawing of reproductive cloning.

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

The Minister says that clarity is important. One of the main reasons why the Government lost the recent case related to the definition of "embryo". What is the definition of "embryo" for the purposes of the Bill? Is it the same as the definition in the 1990 Act?

Photo of Hazel Blears Hazel Blears Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health)

Yes, it is.

The reason for the court judgment was the construction that the judge put on the terms of the statute. He said that he would take a literal construction of the words used: because of the reference to embryos created by fertilisation, embryos created by cell nuclear replacement or, indeed, other methods would not be covered by the regulatory framework in the 1990 Act.

The Bill provides the definition of

"a human embryo . . . created otherwise than by fertilisation".

We seek to replicate the language used in the 1990 Act, so that confusion is not created by the use of different terms in different pieces of legislation. The framing of the definition in the Bill, however, is intended to bridge a gap that might otherwise exist. The 1990 Act refers to all embryos created by fertilisation; our Bill refers to all embryos created other than by fertilisation. I hope that that will ensure a seamless transition.

Photo of Patrick Cormack Patrick Cormack Conservative, South Staffordshire

The Minister listened to the earlier debate, and knows of concern in the House about the speed with which the Bill is being passed. Can she give a categorical undertaking that, if the Government lose the appeal to which she has referred and further legislation is called for, that legislation will not be rushed through in the same way?

Photo of Hazel Blears Hazel Blears Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health)

If the Government lost the appeal, a series of issues—many of which Members have mentioned today—would need to be considered. Another likely factor is the report of the House of Lords Stem Cell Research Committee that has been examining a range of matters. We may not be able to deal with both those things until January or February next year. We shall need to consider the issues very carefully, especially if there are areas of unregulated activity in what is admittedly an extremely important and sensitive moral, ethical and political issue.

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

We all welcome the Government's attempt to plug the gap. I do not think that a single Member present would say "I am in favour of human cloning". Our concern, I feel, relates to ensuring that we get this right.

The Bill may be straightforward, but some of us think that it does not go far enough. I welcome the Minister's confirmation that, if we fail to win the appeal, we are committed to revisiting the issue and ensuring that legislation is in place to stop the harvesting and the use of that dreadful technology to subvert current legislation.

I have no problem with—

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. The hon. Gentleman has been in this place long enough to know that he cannot make a statement in an intervention; he must put a brief question. I think that enough has been heard.

Photo of Hazel Blears Hazel Blears Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health)

As I said, I am trying to ensure that United Kingdom law reflects—

Photo of Hazel Blears Hazel Blears Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health)

I shall when I have managed to complete a sentence.

We are trying to ensure that UK law adequately reflects what Parliament has tried to achieve. The Bill's purpose, therefore, is to enable us to ban human reproductive cloning, for which I think that there is broad support, and to look at the issues, depending on the outcome of the legal process.

Photo of Ann Widdecombe Ann Widdecombe Conservative, Maidstone and The Weald

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way. I tried to intervene earlier because I did not want to lose the answer given to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack). His question was not whether there will be issues to be discussed—there are issues today to be discussed—but was very specific. He asked the Minister to give a cast-iron guarantee that if we have to discuss those issues further because the Government lose the appeal or for another reason, a proper structured consideration will take place with proper standard time between the various stages of any consequent Bill. That is the question.

Photo of Hazel Blears Hazel Blears Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health)

I assure the right hon. Lady that there will be full and proper discussion and consideration. These are very important and sensitive matters that are important to the whole community.

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

The key issue that I should like the Minister to address is what the Government will do if they lose the appeal. Is she saying that if they lose, they will not appeal to the House of Lords, but legislate? What will happen if the Government win and the other side appeals to the House of Lords? If there are further appeals that continue to reverse the judgment, the unclosed loophole may long remain a no man's land.

Photo of Hazel Blears Hazel Blears Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health)

I am keen to avoid getting into that position. There is clearly tension in the issue; some people say that it is urgent and that we should debate it next week while others say that we should wait until we see all the implications once the result of the appeal is known. It would be wrong of me to say that I can anticipate the contents of the Court of Appeal decision. We want to see that judgment before deciding whether it is appropriate to appeal to the House of Lords. If the Government win the appeal, the other side may wish to appeal; I certainly cannot comment on its possible decision. However, we shall seek to expedite the legal process and make our decisions as quickly as we possibly can. We recognise the issue's importance and urgency.

Photo of Glenda Jackson Glenda Jackson Labour, Hampstead and Highgate

Does not my hon. Friend find it ironic that Opposition Members spent more than two hours castigating the Government for affording insufficient time to examine a very small and tightly focused Bill but are now attempting to bounce the Government into making a commitment based on the hypothetical result of a case that is yet to be heard?

Photo of Hazel Blears Hazel Blears Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I think that we need to try to make some progress on the substantive matters in the Bill.

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley Conservative, South Cambridgeshire

As someone who sat through the previous debate without contributing to it because I wanted to get on to the substance of the issue, I am grateful to the Minister for giving way now. I must press her, however, to return to of the implantation of a cloned human embryo in an animal or artificial womb. She seemed to suggest in an earlier reply that the Bill would create seamless provision should the appeal be lost, but it would not do that because another loophole would arise: the implantation of a cloned embryo not in a woman but elsewhere. How do the Government intend to deal with that gap in the legislation?

Photo of Hazel Blears Hazel Blears Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health)

I have made it clear that, should the appeal fail, the Government will have to return to a number of issues—not only that raised by the hon. Gentleman—to ensure that all such activity is properly regulated in a legal framework. We are seeking in this legislation to address the most important issue for Parliament and the public: a ban on human reproductive cloning. I acknowledge that the other issues are important, but they will have to be addressed in the light of the legal judgment and the House of Lords Select Committee report. We can then ensure that the legislation that we pass is robust and properly grounded and addresses the issues that are causing concern.

Photo of Patrick Cormack Patrick Cormack Conservative, South Staffordshire

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I apologise to you and to the Minister for making this point of order, but I think that it might help the House. Could you make it plain that we will have an opportunity to vote on the reasoned amendment at the end of this debate?

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. I did not, it is true, announce that at the beginning of the debate but was going to do so when the Minister finished speaking. Mr. Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of Mr. Leigh. That job is now done; thank you.

Photo of Hazel Blears Hazel Blears Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health)

No, I am not giving way now.

The Bill's purpose is to ban human reproductive cloning by the placing in a woman of an embryo that has been created in any way other than by fertilisation. I should say a little about the background including the judicial review brought by the ProLife Alliance.

The judicial review challenged the Government's view that the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 governed all embryos—those created by cell nuclear replacement as well as those created by fertilisation. As hon. Members will know, the High Court decided in its judgment of 15 November—just two weeks ago—that cell nuclear replacement embryos were not governed by the 1990 Act. I shall deal later with the judgment's effect and some of the concerns that have been expressed about the Bill.

I am not sure that I need to set out a short history of the subject as hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber seem to have a full, in-depth grasp of the issue and the current position.

Photo of Hazel Blears Hazel Blears Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health)

No, I shall press on a wee bit.

Hon. Members will know that we had various inquiries, White Papers, Green Papers and legislation before the passage of the 1990 Act. That legislation has lasted us for more than 10 years and provides one of the world's most comprehensive systems of control on the use of embryos in treatment and research.

The Warnock committee considered cloning, although in the 1980s and early 1990s the science had not developed as it has today. The committee recognised that there would be such developments and discussed the possibility of reproductive and, indeed, therapeutic cloning. Its conclusion on those issues was that

"public anxiety about these techniques centres, not so much on their therapeutic use, but on the idea of the deliberate creation of human beings with specific characteristics."

That concern is widely shared today.

In February 1997, the news of the birth of Dolly the sheep showed for the first time that embryos could be created by the process of cell nuclear replacement that would lead to a live birth in a mammal. It involved replacing the nucleus of an egg—which contains almost all the genetic material—with nucleus taken from an adult cell. The implications of the technique for humans were discussed in the March 1997 report of the Science and Technology Committee, which recorded the fact that the Government and the HFEA were seeking counsel's advice on whether embryos created by cell nuclear replacement would be governed by the 1990 Act.

The problem with the 1990 Act is that it says, among other things, that embryos governed by the Act are

"live human embryos where fertilisation is complete".

The process of cell nuclear replacement, which leads in the normal way to a birth, clearly does not involve fertilisation. Our advice from counsel was that, if challenged, the courts would look at the purpose of the Act—that is, to regulate the creation and use of embryos—rather than look literally at the words used.

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

Given the awful muddle since 1997 and the failure so far to reflect the will of the House then and now, would not the Minister be well advised to produce a rather stronger measure today, or at a later stage if she cannot do so immediately? I fear that we shall go through precisely the same dreadful process all over again because she is not listening carefully to the very real concerns of hon. Members and the public.

Photo of Hazel Blears Hazel Blears Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health)

I am listening carefully, and I have tried to make it clear that this is a narrow, tightly drawn and focused Bill that will make human reproductive cloning illegal in the United Kingdom, which is what I believe that the public and Parliament want.

Photo of Brian Iddon Brian Iddon Labour, Bolton South East

Does the Minister agree that if the HFEA granted a licence, it would prevent the production of an embryo other than by fertilisation, and its export? In other words, the licence is granted carefully to control the research. Many of the criticisms of the Bill are therefore false.

Photo of Hazel Blears Hazel Blears Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health)

Yes. I am trying to make it clear that the Bill has the specific aim of plugging the legal loophole. I fully recognise that hon. Members have a range of other concerns that may well need to be addressed, but the important priority today is to ensure that we pass the Bill.

In the previous debate several hon. Members mocked the fact that the Government had received advice that the courts were likely to construe the legislation in a purposive way. In fact, Mr. Justice Crane, in his judgment two weeks ago said that the Government had a powerful argument for a purposive construction and he has given us leave to appeal. The Government did not receive bad legal advice and were not caught out by the judgment. The judge himself said that there was a powerful argument for a purposive construction but, in the circumstances, he chose a literal construction and was not prepared to infer that the 1990 Act covered embryos created by means other than fertilisation. Therefore, I do not accept that the issue is clear cut or black and white. Litigation occurs precisely because issues are unclear, and the Government were right to take counsel's advice and proceed accordingly.

Photo of Martin Smyth Martin Smyth UUP, Belfast South

It was the lack of clarity about which Bernard Braine, when he was a Member of Parliament in the 1990s, was worried. Some of us are still concerned that issues other than the narrow one covered by the Bill need to be dealt with, which is why we ask that the legal brains in the Department of Health come back in the near future with a Bill that will tighten the law properly.

Photo of Hazel Blears Hazel Blears Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health)

I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that the brains in the Department will be focused on all the issues raised by hon. Members in their contributions today.

Photo of Ian Paisley Ian Paisley Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party

In the previous debate, I mentioned Europe. If the Minister intends to revisit the matter in further legislation, it is important to decide the Government's attitude to the different approach being taken in Europe.

Photo of Hazel Blears Hazel Blears Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health)

The hon. Gentleman said in the previous debate that he was pleased that the issue was one for national competence, as am I, but we will take into account the views of the European Parliament temporary committee, which is in plenary session today. Its deliberations will form part of the information that we will consider, but we will continue to deal with the matter as part of our national competence.

On the basis of proper legal advice, the Government took the view that all embryos that have the potential to become human life are regulated by the 1990 Act and subject to all its protective provisions and regulation by the HFEA—that anyone who wanted to create an embryo by fertilisation or in any other way, such as by cell nuclear replacement, would require a licence from the HFEA and would have to satisfy the stringent conditions laid down in the Act. Anyone who created or used embryos without a licence would be subject to the Act's criminal sanctions, involving a fine or imprisonment or both. Our approach to the definition of "embryo" also meant that the creation of embryos by cell nuclear replacement for research, which has enormous potential for finding cures for serious diseases, could go ahead subject to the full rigour of regulation of such research under the 1990 Act, including licensing by the HFEA.

In the event, in the judicial review brought by the ProLife Alliance, Mr. Justice Crane, while acknowledging that the Government had a "powerful case", decided to adopt a literal interpretation of the words used. The effect of his judgment is that embryos created other than by fertilisation are not regulated by the 1990 Act. In practical terms, that means that as the law stands anyone may create an embryo by cell nuclear replacement and use it either for reproductive cloning or for research purposes without regulation under the Act. We were given leave to appeal against the judge's decision. We have lodged that appeal this afternoon and we intend to pursue it.

It is important to note that the judgment, while limiting the type of embryos to which the 1990 Act applied, did not affect the operation of the Act in any way: nor did it affect the Research Purposes Regulations 2001. The Act and the regulations continue fully to protect embryos created by fertilisation and used in treatment and research.

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

What will be the position in respect of the exportation of CNR embryos after the passage of the Bill, taking into account the 1990 Act and the requirement for the issue of licences?

Photo of Hazel Blears Hazel Blears Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health)

As the law stands today, the creation of embryos by cell nuclear replacement and their use is not regulated. The hon. Gentleman raises an important matter that will need to be taken into account, but the purpose of the Bill is to deal with human reproductive cloning in the UK.

As hon Members are aware, the purposes for which embryos may be used in research were extended earlier this year, following considerable debate in this House and in another place.

Photo of Brian Iddon Brian Iddon Labour, Bolton South East

Assuming that the Bill is enacted, it is important to establish whether the HFEA would have the power, under the licences that it grants, to prevent the situation mentioned by Dr. Fox.

Photo of Hazel Blears Hazel Blears Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health)

I have just answered that question. As the law stands, the HFEA would not have that power. Those matters need to be addressed, but the Bill is an urgent measure designed to deal with a particular issue.

Earlier this year, the Research Purposes Regulations 2001 extended the use to which embryos could be put. Both Houses voted by very large majorities to permit embryos to be used for stem cell research in the light of evidence of the enormous potential benefits of such research for treating some very serious and disabling conditions.

I have said that the aim of the Bill is to ban human reproductive cloning. That meets the Government's aim, announced in August 2000, to introduce legislation to place the ban on reproductive cloning on a statutory footing. Previously, the ban was based on the HFEA's decision not to issue a licence should anyone seek to carry out reproductive cloning, but under the law as it stands following the judgment anyone could clone embryos in the UK without having to apply for a licence. That is why we need the Bill.

Photo of Paul Goodman Paul Goodman Conservative, Wycombe

The essence of the Minister's case is that we need the Bill today to fill a legal loophole. Will she please explain why we need that loophole filled today, why it is being filled in such a short time and why she is refusing to address in the Bill the concerns raised by my right hon. and hon. Friends and others?

Photo of Hazel Blears Hazel Blears Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health)

I explained in the previous debate that we must take these measures urgently because of the stated intention of people from overseas to come here and undertake human reproductive cloning. Another factor is the developments in the US last week, which show that the technology has moved on. If we allowed a lengthy delay, human reproductive cloning could take place in this country, despite the fact that all hon. Members and the public agree that they do not want that to happen. Therefore, it is right to introduce a tightly drawn measure to ensure that it cannot happen.

Photo of Ian Taylor Ian Taylor Conservative, Esher and Walton

Will the Minister confirm the irony of the fact that it is the ProLife Alliance that has left us in this confusion? The consequences of our unregulated state are a direct result of its actions.

Photo of Hazel Blears Hazel Blears Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health)

It is unfortunate that the current position is that an embryo created by fertilisation has the full protection of the law and regulation by HFEA, but one created by cell nuclear replacement technology does not. That is a matter for concern.

Of course, with any judgment in the High Court, we would in the ordinary way await the outcome of the legal process before deciding on the best way forward. If the outcome proves to be in the Government's favour, all embryos, however they are created, would continue to be governed by the protective provisions in the 1990 Act, and reproductive cloning would continue to be banned by the HFEA.

In this case, however, the Government have made absolutely clear on many occasions their opposition to reproductive cloning and their intention to introduce a Bill on the matter. As other hon. Members have noted, that was a manifesto commitment, and it is what concerns the House today.

The prospects of leaving unregulated—in the light of the judgment—the safety and ethical issues involved in bringing into the world artificially a cloned human being are such that the Government have decided to introduce a Bill to address the issue, on which there is overwhelming public and worldwide support.

Of course we need to have a debate, but I doubt that we will hear in the House today, or in another place, any real argument that we should not ban reproductive cloning, or that we should not be proposing one today. However, the wider questions relating to the research use of embryos created by cell nuclear replacement, although very important, do not require an urgent response in the same way as reproductive cloning and we shall, as is absolutely proper, await the outcome of the Government's appeal.

If the Government lose that appeal, we have made it clear that we will introduce further legislation when parliamentary time allows to ensure that cloned embryos have fully the same protection as embryos created by fertilisation.

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

The Minister makes a powerful case for committing us to the legislative seas, and I welcome what she has said about the Government's intentions, but would not it be better to go to sea in a boat than in a sieve? She has also admitted that there will be many loopholes in the legislation that she is proposing, and she has not explained that.

Photo of Hazel Blears Hazel Blears Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health)

No, I have made it clear that the Bill is aimed at preventing the mischief of human reproductive cloning in the UK, and I have explained that the Bill will succeed in doing so.

The Government's view on the regulation of CNR embryos used in research is that the practice should not be banned, but that it should be allowed to continue under the strict regulatory scheme of the 1990 Act. That will properly put into effect the will of Parliament, which was decided after lengthy debate on the research regulations earlier this year.

Photo of Lynne Jones Lynne Jones Labour, Birmingham, Selly Oak

The problem is that human reproductive cloning does not begin when the embryo is implanted into the woman. The process involved is similar to that used in therapeutic cloning, which is completely unregulated in this country, as my hon. Friend the Minister has acknowledged. That is a far more urgent matter than banning the implantation of such an embryo. No one has so far created an embryo ready for implantation, but we allow people to experiment in that direction. That is the big loophole that the Bill does not close.

Photo of Hazel Blears Hazel Blears Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health)

My hon. Friend would be the first to acknowledge that the science in this area is moving on very quickly indeed. We must take measures to ensure that no embryos are implanted in women in the way that has been described.

Photo of Lynne Jones Lynne Jones Labour, Birmingham, Selly Oak

Will my hon. Friend give way on that point?

Photo of Hazel Blears Hazel Blears Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health)

No, I want to make progress, and deal with the provisions of the Bill.

The Bill is very simple, with just two clauses. The first clause deals with the offence, and provides that a person who places in a woman a human embryo that has been created otherwise than by fertilisation is guilty of an offence. The wording is very similar to that used in the 1990 Act, which, for example, makes it an offence to place in a woman an embryo other than a live human embryo.

If the embryo has been created by fertilisation—that is, using sperm and eggs—it will fall into the definition of "embryo" under the 1990 Act, and will be subject to all the protection of that Act. However, if the embryo has been created in any way other than by fertilisation—and that includes techniques such as cell nuclear replacement and parthenogenesis—it may not be implanted into a woman. As I mentioned earlier, by not defining or listing these techniques we have ensured that the Bill bans any procedure that is currently known about, and those that may be developed in the future.

Any attempt at listing or defining banned procedures would almost certainly ensure that this Bill would be out of date within months, given the advances taking place in this area. We have therefore adopted the approach that makes it an offence to place any embryo into a woman other than one created by fertilisation. That is a sensible approach in the current circumstances.

The Bill provides also that a person who commits the offence is liable on conviction on indictment, in a Crown court, to a term of imprisonment not exceeding 10 years, or a fine, or both. However, as with offences under the 1990 Act that also raise particular issues of public policy, a prosecution cannot be brought under the Bill without the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Photo of Michael Weir Michael Weir Scottish National Party, Angus

Clause 1(3) provides that a prosecution can be brought only with the consent of the DPP. I have tabled an amendment for consideration in Committee because I am concerned that there is no provision to ensure that, in Scotland, such a prosecution may be brought might only by the Lord Advocate. There exists in Scotland a procedure that allows private prosecutions to be brought, although its use is extremely rare. I am worried that the Bill does not specifically close that loophole.

I should be interested to know what the Minister thinks about that, as I can think of two such cases that have been brought in the past few years.

Photo of Hazel Blears Hazel Blears Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health)

I am aware that the hon. Gentleman has tabled an amendment on this matter, so it might be helpful if I deal with the point now.

In Scotland, the Lord Advocate heads the prosecution system. Constitutionally, he is the only person who can institute criminal prosecutions, unless someone has applied for a Bill of Letters to be issued in the High Court of Justiciary for permission to bring a private prosecution. That course of action is extraordinarily rare.

The situation in Scotland is therefore different from that in England. In Scotland, it is normally the Lord Advocate who brings prosecutions, whereas in England prosecutions can be brought by local authorities and a range of different enforcement authorities. In England, therefore, in connection with matters of public policy, legislation must provide that the DPP will be consulted. In Scotland, the person normally bringing proceedings is the Lord Advocate, so the Bill need not contain an equivalent requirement. The constitutional difference means that the Lord Advocate will normally be the person bringing the prosecution, so there is no need to seek his consent or involve him in the proceedings.

It is a technical, legal distinction, but an important one, given the different legal systems in Scotland and England.

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley Conservative, South Cambridgeshire

I recognise that in clause 1(3) the Minister is simply following the provisions of section 42 of the 1990 Act, but would not it have been simpler and more targeted for the Government to amend section 3(2) of that Act? That would have brought the placing in a woman of an embryo created otherwise than by fertilisation under the short list of prohibitions contained in that section. The result would have been that an offence would have been created in the same way as is provided for in the Bill. Why do the Government prefer to have two pieces of legislation, when one could have been amended?

Photo of Hazel Blears Hazel Blears Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health)

I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman is correct. The 1990 Act is extensive, with many clauses and schedules and many definitions. I am not convinced that his suggestion is a more accurate drafting point. The Bill is drafted to achieve an objective. I believe that it will achieve that objective, and that the House should support it this afternoon for that reason.

Clause 2 extends the provisions of the Bill to Northern Ireland, and provides that it may be extended to the Channel Islands if an order is made. The Bill is a UK Bill, and so of course extends to Scotland and Wales. That makes the extent of the Bill the same as that of the 1990 Act.

Questions have been asked about the extension of the Bill to Scotland. I should like to reassure hon. Members that the Bill does extend to Scotland, and that the offences under the Bill cannot be prosecuted in Scotland without the permission of the Lord Advocate. The convention for Westminster Bills that apply to Scotland in this way is that they all apply to Scotland unless the converse is stated on the face of the Bill.

These are wholly reserved matters. Mr. Beith asked whether a Sewel motion would be needed on this issue, but I can assure him that it is a wholly reserved matter. Schedule 5, part II, head J3 to the Scotland Act 1998 covers embryology, surrogacy and genetics, and specifically refers to the subject matter of the 1990 Act. It is therefore covered perfectly properly in the Bill.

The Bill does not use terms such as "cell nuclear replacement" or "cloning" because such terms may mean different things both now and in the future in an area of rapidly developing science, and because the Bill is aimed at preventing anything other than fertilised embryos using sperm and eggs from being implanted into a woman. That is the mischief at which it is aimed.

The additional and very significant benefits of that approach arise from the fact that all embryos created by fertilisation—which are the only embryos that may be implanted under this Bill—are automatically subject to the full protection of the 1990 Act. That means that the only embryos that may be implanted into a woman are those that are subject to licensing by the authority.

The only question that needs to be asked, therefore, is: how was the embryo created? If the answer is by fertilisation, the embryo may be implanted, but only in accordance with a licence. If the answer is by a means other than fertilisation, as a result of this Bill the embryo may not be implanted at all. This approach means that current and future techniques that may not be described as cloning will be fully covered by the ban.

As we have seen with the 1990 Act, the science is developing. What is not thought possible as an embryo today may well be an embryo tomorrow. This Bill concerns reproductive cloning. It addresses those embryos that may develop to become a human being. There is absolutely no reason why we should seek to restrict the definition of what an embryo created other than by fertilisation is, because any such attempt is likely to become out of date in a short time. Nor is there any point in trying to define what we mean by an embryo created by fertilisation because that is fully covered by the 1990 Act.

Photo of David Cameron David Cameron Conservative, Witney

Perhaps the Minister can help to clear up the confusion. It concerns to the point made by my hon. Friend Mr. Lansley. If the problem is that cloned embryos are not subject to the restrictions that embryos produced by sperm and egg are, why not make cloned embryos subject to the 1990 Act by amending that legislation?

Photo of Hazel Blears Hazel Blears Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health)

I have already dealt with that matter in my answer to Mr. Lansley. Extensive amending legislation might be required, but today we are considering urgent emergency legislation to deal with a particular issue of great concern to people inside and outside the House. It is a small, direct Bill, not extensive amending legislation.

Photo of Hazel Blears Hazel Blears Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health)

No, I want to make some progress.

There was considerable debate in the other place about whether a one-cell embryo was an embryo. This Bill is clear that it governs any embryo created other than by fertilisation. Any embryo is a human embryo if it has the potential, should it be implanted, to develop into a human being from the moment it is created. That includes a one-cell embryo. I hope that that clears the matter up.

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

I understand the Government's difficulty in not seeking to outline further definitions. A question has been raised about a dedifferentiated cell that was originally produced from an embryo formed by fertilisation but that has been taken back to the embryonic stage by a method of dedifferentiation. Would that fall within the fertilised regulation or the other- than-created-by-fertilisation provision in the Bill? If the Minister does not know, does she accept that that is a problem?

Photo of Hazel Blears Hazel Blears Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health)

I am not entirely sure what kind of cell the hon. Gentleman refers to, but I will certainly endeavour during today's proceedings to ensure that he gets a full and comprehensive answer to his point.

Photo of Hazel Blears Hazel Blears Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health)

No, I will not give way at this point.

Several hon. Members have expressed concern about the prospect of taking a cloned embryo abroad. It is true to say that following the judgment there is nothing to stop someone creating a cloned embryo in the UK and sending it for use by a woman in treatment abroad. I am not aware that anyone wants to do that at this stage.

As the law stands, the 1990 Act governs only embryos created by fertilisation, but the Act gives the HFEA control over practices in licensed clinics that are not strictly regulated by the Act. Obviously it is a matter for the HFEA to decide, but I hope that if that situation were to occur it would take that into account in looking at how clinics and individuals are licensed to carry out such activity.

The possibility of placing embryos in animals, men or artificial wombs has been raised. I understand hon. Members' concerns about those matters. If the judgment is lost, all the issues will need to be considered.

The Government appreciate that there may be concern about the potential research uses of a variety of techniques. We have promised, therefore, a legislative response on the research use of embryos created by cell nuclear replacement. We will certainly commit ourselves to doing that, should we lose the appeal. There will be a whole range of issues to consider, and we hope that we will also have the benefit of the conclusions of the House of Lords Select Committee report to help us with that consideration.

In summary, the Government take the view that the Bill is necessary to ensure that no one considers the United Kingdom as an option for undertaking human reproductive cloning. In the light of the High Court judgment, it is important that we pass the Bill. There are, of course, other issues that flow from the judgment relating to the use of cloned embryos in research. The Government are concerned that those embryos are given the same protection as embryos created by fertilisation. For that reason the Government are appealing against the High Court decision. If the appeal succeeds, the cloned embryos will also be protected by the 1990 Act. If the appeal fails, the Government will introduce legislation to ensure that research on cloned embryos is properly and rigorously regulated.

The Bill encapsulates the views of the vast majority of British people who find the possibility of human reproductive cloning abhorrent and I commend it to the House.

Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox Shadow Secretary of State for Health 4:16 pm, 29th November 2001

There is a difference of approach between the Government and the Opposition on this issue in that the Government have a three-line Whip in operation and the Opposition have a free vote. Perhaps it would be useful at the outset if I set out why the Opposition take this view.

Our decision not to oppose the Bill is based on three separate reasons. First, during deliberations over many months the House has repeatedly made it clear that there is no wish for reproductive cloning to be legal in the United Kingdom. The second reason relates to the perceived threat of such reproductive cloning taking place pending the Government's appeal in the Quintavalle case, especially given the length of the legal process that may be involved. I hope that the Government will further clarify their intentions should they fail in their action. The third reason is the need to bolster public confidence in bioscience in the United Kingdom. To undermine that is to damage our research and development.

It is no secret that I personally oppose embryonic stem cell research in all its forms, but the Bill is not an appropriate vehicle for those of us who seek to go further in that direction. If the Government lose the appeal, they will need substantial primary legislation to deal with many of the issues that have already been raised. For the sake of clarification, will the Minister give a firm commitment to take a full primary legislative approach to the issues raised in the debate? Many of us could not support the Government if we thought that they might renege on that promise.

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

I take the Minister's nod as assent to my proposition.

The Bill is at best a stop-gap measure, to use the term of Lord Hunt in the other place. Even if the Government win their appeal, it is obvious that many issues will remain to be tackled, so they will still need to introduce primary legislation.

The intervention of Dr. Iddon was instructive. He mistakenly believed that the Government's change of definitions in the short Bill today would bring export and experimentation under the HFEA. The Minister pointed out that that would not be the case. That is one of the strongest arguments for further legislation, a useful model for which would be the procedure that we used for the Adoption and Children Bill. Substantial pre-legislative scrutiny of anything that the Government propose in this area would be useful because there is much expert knowledge that the House would like to draw on before we further debate these matters. If that is good enough for adoption legislation, it is certainly good enough for an important ethical matter such as this.

We need clarity, definition and honesty from the Government in this debate. We also need to put the debate into the appropriate ethical perspective. In the other place, Lord Winston said:

"it is my view that science—knowledge—does not have a moral dimension".—[Hansard, House of Lords, 26 November 2001; Vol. 629, c. 25.]

All hon. Members believe that any application of knowledge has a moral dimension, and that we in the House have an absolute right to set the moral and ethical limits within which science in the United Kingdom is allowed to operate, and that any moral free-for-all, simply because science was capable of it, would be wholly unacceptable.

There is another argument that needs to be tackled: many say that we should not stop such research in the United Kingdom because it will be undertaken elsewhere, and we should not put our science base at a disadvantage. The problem there is that we confuse globalisation with powerlessness. We can at least set proper ethical limits for our own country; the House of Commons is the appropriate place to do that.

The Government's approach to much of this area has been sloppy and contradictory. I refer specifically to the debate on this subject on 15 December 2000, in which we received assurances from the Government about the state of the regulations that we were discussing. The Under–Secretary of State for Health, Yvette Cooper, said:

"I turn to the issues surrounding cell nuclear replacement technique. Many have said that the regulations will open the door to human reproductive cloning. I cannot say more strongly that human reproductive cloning is illegal; it will stay illegal. The regulations do not permit it. They do not even permit research into it."—[Hansard, 15 December 2000; Vol. 359, c. 883.]

It is clear that the advice given to the House on that day was wrong. It is also clear that the Government did not believe it. If they did, why did their manifesto state:

"we will ban by law human cloning."

If the Government already thought that that was illegal, why did they feel it necessary to introduce further legislation? That is a legitimate question for the House to ask because we have been given assurances by a Minister in the House of Commons. The Government got it wrong. When did they realise that the regulations that they had guaranteed would not allow cloning would in fact allow it? It is important to know that if we are to bolster confidence in the advice that the Government receive from their advisers.

Photo of Mrs Anne Campbell Mrs Anne Campbell Labour, Cambridge

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that in the debate on human therapeutic cloning that took place several months ago, the Minister made clear her intention to introduce primary legislation at an early stage to ban human reproductive cloning?

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

I refer again to Hansard. The Minister said that such cloning was

"illegal; it will stay illegal. The regulations do not permit it."

At some point between then and the publication of the Labour manifesto, the Government must have realised that that would not hold up in court. It would thus be helpful if the House could know when they realised that. Today, we are listening in good faith to specific legal advice given to the Government. If their legal advice on the issue was not watertight then, what faith can we have in it today? That is a reasonable point for the House to make to a Minister. Definitions are important.

During that debate on the embryology regulations, we discussed another point that the Government need to tighten up: the definition of "serious disease". The Minister said:

"Ultimately, it will be for the HFEA or the courts to interpret the term 'serious disease'."

When asked for a better definition, because that would be required by the courts, the Minister said:

"Clearly, the House will have its own view of what 'serious disease' means . . . It is not something that the HFEA and ultimately, the courts, if necessary, will have a serious problem in determining."—[Hansard, 15 December 2000; Vol. 359, c. 879-83.]

The Government will have to draft much tighter legislation than they have done previously in that policy area. That is true of the Bill, but the point also applies much more to the necessary legislation that they will have to introduce whether or not they lose their appeal.

There is a further question about the definition of embryos. Had the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 included a different definition, the Government would have probably won the Quintavalle case. That was clear from the judgment. However, I return to the question put by my hon. Friend Mr. Lansley: why not simply amend the primary legislation? The Minister's answer was that speed was the issue and that the measure offered a speedy way to do that. However, she must already realise that trying to provide a speedy answer to the Government's dilemma has produced as many problems as are being solved by this method of blocking the loophole that we all want plugged. The Government should have considered that before they rushed out the Bill.

Photo of Lynne Jones Lynne Jones Labour, Birmingham, Selly Oak

When the Science and Technology Committee considered the matter, it decided that the 1990 Act was robust but that the definition of "embryo" should be amended. We recommended that it should include any manipulation of cells that results in an organism potentially capable of growing into a human. Such an amendment would have more successfully blocked all the loopholes than the Bill.

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

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her expertise in the matter. She makes an important point: the Government should have given more thought to how they wanted to close the loophole. During my time as a Member, I have known the hon. Lady to be more robust than most in making her points to Ministers, so I shall endeavour to keep my comments as short as possible to ensure that she gets the opportunity to do so.

Another reason given by the Government for rushing the measure through the House was the case of Professor Antinori and others—a point referred to by my hon. Friend Mr. Goodman. If the Government are speeding the Bill through to stop the professor and others who might want to rush to the UK to carry out this type of research, they should realise that the HFEA can already refuse a licence to anyone to store eggs for any research under the 1990 Act. I do not understand why that would not stop anyone who wanted to undertake research that the Government deemed unsavoury because of what that person had done elsewhere. A specific answer on that point would be most useful.

Many of my hon. Friends have points to make, so this is my final comment. The Bill prevents only the implementation of CNR embryos. It does nothing to prevent widespread research, experimentation and even exportation. That is one of its biggest failures. Those of us who support the Government's aims are disappointed at the quality of the Bill and many of those who support their aims have grave doubts as to their competence and will require further legislation before our fears are laid to rest.

Photo of Anne Begg Anne Begg Labour, Aberdeen South 4:28 pm, 29th November 2001

I intend to keep my comments brief, as I appreciate the lack of time that is constantly being mentioned and that many Opposition Members want to make important points. However, it is worth clarifying exactly what we are debating.

As hon. Members can read in Hansard, it is clear from my contributions to the debates last December that I strongly support therapeutic cloning but, like probably all hon. Members, find reproductive cloning abhorrent. I made a detailed case for why we should allow therapeutic cloning, and I shall not rehearse those arguments today. However, I was reassured by the Minister's statement then that primary legislation would be introduced to outlaw reproductive cloning. That is what we are discussing today and I want to keep the two issues separate.

Such legislation was promised, regardless of any High Court judgment but such a judgment has produced confusion in today's debate. Perhaps it is also the reason for the speed with which the measure has been introduced. However, such a measure would have been introduced at some time, and probably in much the same terms. There is no argument but that the Bill is necessary and that most hon. Members agree with that.

Most hon. Members want the implantation into women of cloned embryos that could grow into human beings to be clearly outlawed. No one would argue about that, but confusion and much obfuscation has been caused by the fact that, two weeks ago, the High Court judgment cast doubt on the interpretation of what exactly constitutes an embryo, as defined by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990.

I hope that the Government's appeal will be successful and that all the assurances that cloned embryos are covered by the 1990 Act that we were given when we considered the regulations to allow therapeutic cloning in December were correct. The appropriate time for the kind of detailed debate that we are having today will be when that appeal is determined. I hope that the Minister will ensure that, if the Government lose the appeal and it is necessary for them to propose further legislation to amend the 1990 Act, sufficient time will be allowed to discuss all the issues that hon. Members have consistently raised today.

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

Does the hon. Lady accept that it has become clear in today's debates that, even if the Government win the appeal, the Bill will not cover many of the issues that hon. Members have raised and that further legislation will be necessary in any case?

Photo of Anne Begg Anne Begg Labour, Aberdeen South

We must await the report of the House of Lords Select Committee on Stem Cell Research before considering whether those issues are covered by the 1990 Act. When we debated the issue in December, it was clear that the Government's legal advice was that the 1990 Act indeed covered all aspects of embryos created in this way. Mr. Lansley said that if that were not the case, a simple amendment to the 1990 Act could be made. I do not know the Act in enough detail to say whether he is right that the definition of the word "embryo" could be changed in that way, although my hon. Friend Lynne Jones suggests that that might be possible. If so, that is how the change should be made, and I hope that it will be that easy.

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley Conservative, South Cambridgeshire

If the hon. Lady will forgive me, I shall clarify my suggestion. I was suggesting not that a change should be made to the definition of the word "embryo" used in the 1990 Act, but that a specific prohibition should be introduced, such as that which exists on the placing into women of live embryos other than human embryos. Similarly, prohibiting the placing into women of embryos created otherwise than by fertilisation would deliver exactly the intention of the Government in the 1990 Act.

Photo of Anne Begg Anne Begg Labour, Aberdeen South

I understand the hon. Gentleman's suggestion that the Bill is unnecessary because changes could have been made by amending the 1990 Act. I would accept that point, but I felt, especially given the reassurances that the Minister gave in December, that we would introduce separate primary legislation, if necessary, because that was a matter of public confidence.

There has been much reference today to the tabloid press determining what happens in the House, but the tabloid newspapers have had an effect on public opinion. I know from the discussions that I have had that there is much confusion about the issue, which is not helped by the way that the tabloid press has suggested that there will be lots of cloned individuals in future. The cartoons directed at the Government and our Prime Minister that appear not only in the tabloid but the quality press have helped give the impression that we are one step away from cloning lots of people in our own image. We find that abhorrent, as do hon. Members on both sides of the House, and we must deal with that public confidence issue.

I accept the need for separate primary legislation, such as that proposed in the Bill, to restore public confidence in scientists so that we can distinguish between human reproductive cloning, which we all find abhorrent, and human therapeutic cloning, which people, such as myself, think has great potential to do a huge amount of good, especially in fighting neurological degenerative diseases. That is why I hope that the rest of today's debate will focus on the Bill, not on the interpretation of the 1990 Act, which should be considered if the Government lose the appeal that is currently before the courts.

My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak is right that such legislation is urgent and important, but the Government cannot introduce it until the legal position is settled. That will happen only when the appeal has been heard and a final decision taken, so I accept the Government's position on that issue. However, as I have already suggested to the Minister, such issues need to be properly aired if the appeal is lost, and we must then ensure that the legislation is leak-proof. I appeal to the House to concentrate on the Bill because we all agree that it is wrong for scientists to embark on human reproductive cloning. Please let us debate that issue, because that is what we must outlaw, and we must not take our eye off the ball.

Photo of Evan Harris Evan Harris Liberal Democrat, Oxford West and Abingdon 4:36 pm, 29th November 2001

I should first like to explain that there will be a free vote for Liberal Democrats on this issue, as did Dr. Fox from the Conservative Front Bench. The Liberal Democrats have always thought that such matters should be subject to a free vote, so our Whips do not compel us to turn up, or to vote one way or the other. However, the party does debate such matters, has policies on them and advises Liberal Democrat Members on how they should vote if they wish to follow the conference policy. Nevertheless, we recognise that this is a matter of conscience for individual Members. Although I speak from the Front Bench and have strong views on pro-life and pro-choice issues and reproductive cloning and therapeutic cloning, I take pains to make it clear to colleagues that they are by no means bound by what I have to say about our policies.

I agree with a further, clear statutory separate ban on human reproductive cloning, and have done so for some time. That was my view well before last year's debates, because the Liberal Democrats had said that we wanted such a separate definitive ban. In that respect, it will be difficult for me to oppose the Bill on Second Reading, and I shall certainly support it on Third Reading, because we agree with it. However, we are concerned about the way in which the Government have gone about the issue. We are concerned about what is not in the Bill, rather than what is in it. Indeed, I find that I share a viewpoint with people who take an opposite point of view from me on the legitimacy of therapeutic cloning and on whether embryos should be used at all. I do not find that difficult or embarrassing. We cannot choose our allies in any parliamentary debate, and it is not reasonable to say that we should not take a view in case we find that we have allies that we previously did not have.

Many reasonable concerns have been raised by those whom I shall call the pro-life lobby. I do not use that term in a negative nor, indeed, a positive way because I suspect that, in many cases, they are not necessarily pro-life. However, I do not believe that their concern that the Bill does not include measures further to restrict therapeutic cloning is reasonable. That is one of the reasons why I cannot support the reasoned amendment, under which the Bill would not be given a Second Reading because it does not reopen the issue of therapeutic cloning.

We had lengthy debates in the House last year. Indeed, many hon. Members who took part in those excellent debates are present. There were lengthy debates on the issue in the House of Lords, and there was extensive coverage of the issue. As I said at the time, I regret that those debates were not on amendable legislation. They were on regulations or were held under an Adjournment motion. Substantive amendments would have focused the debates. Nevertheless, I believe that this House and the House of Lords have given a view on the matter by large majorities, although the House of Lords did so with the caveat that a Select Committee should be set up.

The Select Committee has taken extensive evidence and, by all accounts, has done its work extremely thoroughly. It is due to report shortly. People on both sides of the question should reasonably expect any recommendations that the Committee makes to be the subject of separate legislation. I am positively hostile to the view that this Bill—which is designed to close, however unsatisfactorily the loophole created by the judgment three weeks ago—should seek to reopen other issues.

I wish to say something positive about the Bill on Second Reading, and I shall do so. When we pass the Bill, as I suspect that we will, and it becomes an Act, it will strengthen the position of those of us, including those on the Government Front Bench and many Members in all parties, who support the principle of research being allowed to be carried out on early embryos that are obtained from both fertilisation and from cell nuclear replacement. That will assist research into cures for serious diseases.

That is not what are debating today, but one of the arguments against the position that the Government and I take is that there is a slippery slope that leads inevitably to human reproductive cloning. The fact that this Bill draws a line in the sand undermines that argument. I would not have accepted that argument in any event, but I hope that the Bill will persuade people that it is possible to legislate for limits and that one can delineate and debate appropriate regulations on embryos short of the abomination that is represented by human reproductive cloning.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Shadow Attorney General

In the light of the earlier debate, will the hon. Gentleman tell us why he is in favour of other therapeutic research but appears not to disagree with me when I say that stem cell research provides an alternative when it involves adults rather than embryos? With his qualifications as a distinguished doctor, will he answer that question?

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

In the main, I speak without using those qualifications. One does not need to have medical qualifications to debate this issue, as the hon. Gentleman has done expertly.

Although the subject that the hon. Gentleman raised probably falls within the remit of Second Reading, I am not keen to go into it, except to say that, assuming that the Government win the appeal, the regulations that were passed made it clear that the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority will not offer a licence for stem cell work on embryos—whether through fertilisation or by cell nuclear replacement—if there appears to be an alternative that does not involve the use of embryos. I share the view that this and previous Governments have taken since the Warnock committee reported—that embryos have a special status. Although that does not give them complete protection when there are therapeutic benefits to be had from their use at an early stage, their use should be avoided if at all possible.

Allowing embryonic stem cell research—when there is no alternative—and adult stem cell research to go together will enable us to ensure that we get the best research. I think that everyone's hope is that therapies will, in the end, be based on adult stem cells, because they will be easier to obtain in some cases. We will not be faced with the shortage of eggs that might limit the supply of tissue for transplantation. The general scientific view is that we need the research from embryonic stem cells to inform research on stem cells of all kinds. This is not the time to go into that debate in detail, but I hope that we shall have the opportunity to do so in the future. The House should consider that subject regularly. When the House of Lords Select Committee reports and when the Government introduce other legislation—as they will have to do to implement the Donaldson report recommendations that they have not yet implemented—that debate will take place. I welcome the opportunity to have that debate, but I fear that the Government do not. That is why they often appear so unwilling to discuss the issues.

The Bill shows that a line can clearly be drawn. The second argument in its favour is that it will restore public confidence. In the debate on the timetable motion, I asked whether it was appropriate to assume that there is no public confidence on the basis of some adverse media coverage of a judgment. I asked whether introducing legislation that is not as complete as it might have been and that has not been consulted on as widely as it might be does restore public confidence or, rather, provides momentum to those in the public and the media who feel that the Government do not have a grip on the situation. The fact that we are debating an emergency Bill in one day sends the signal that there is a problem here. That would not have happened if the Government had approached the issue in a more measured way.

The third argument for the Bill is that there is the real and present danger of the implantation of a cloned embryo into a woman with a view to human reproductive cloning. That view has been expressed by Conservative Members, but I do not believe that a real and present danger exists. For it to be possible, there would have to be a reliable way of producing a human embryo from cell nuclear replacement, and there is not. First, even the news from America in the past week suggests that there is not a reliable way of getting an embryo to the stage where it continues to develop into a blastocyst. The case developed by Advanced Cell Technology was a pre-blastocyst human embryo.

Secondly, an Italian self-publicist would have to find collaborators in this country to carry out such work. As Lord Winston said in the House of Lords debate—I paraphrase him—someone who had a licence in this country to do the work regulated by the HEFA would be working outside that licence if he did such work with Professor Antinori. The fact that, since 1990, no one working in the field has lost their licence shows just how seriously they take their obligations under the existing law.

Thirdly, I do not believe that eggs are easily available to do such work. The storage of eggs for the creation of cloned embryos is still covered by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990. Therefore, this Bill is not required to stop those eggs being used; the law already exists for that. Fourthly, I do not believe that Professor Antinori would find a medical doctor, as opposed to a scientist, who is willing to get involved with the process of implanting such an embryo into a woman with a view to making her pregnant, let alone find a woman prepared to accept the significant risks of miscarriage and worse that such a procedure involves.

Putting all those factors together, it seems to me that there is no realistic prospect—not even a possibility that the Government might feel that they should legislate for—of that happening within the time scale of considered legislation or an appeal. The fact that an Italian self-publicist has been wholly unregulated in Italy—there is no regulation there—and has not been able to make any progress towards his desired aims provides further evidence of the fact that he is publicising himself rather than significant work. On that basis, the Government did not need to bring us to this stage.

Should we be here at all? Despite the advice that the Government received, should they have predicted that they would lose the High Court judgment? When we discussed the matter previously, I did not take issue with the legal advice—I do not claim the advantage of foresight. Although it was not the main topic of our discussion, I want to be honest and admit that I cannot say, "I told you so." However, others can. Apart from the reason that I raised in the discussion on the timetable motion, it is worth briefly exploring others for why it seemed unlikely, in retrospect, that the Government could win. Some of those reasons may give them pause on appeal.

Section 1(1)(a) of the 1990 Act states:

"In this Act, except where otherwise stated"—

I emphasise those last four words—

"embryo means a live human embryo where fertilisation is complete".

I rely on the work of Mr. Lee and Mr. Morgan in their book on the subject, but the words that I have emphasised make it clear that the Government could have provided for the inclusion in the statute of embryos created other than through IVF. However, they did not.

To read the Act as providing for embryos created through cell nuclear replacement, we must take "embryo" to mean

"a live human embryo where fertilisation is complete" unless the context requires otherwise. However, the Act does not provide for that. The Act uses the words "except where otherwise stated", but omits to "state otherwise." That makes it more difficult for a judge to give "embryo" a purposive rather than a literal interpretation. I fear that the Government may run into trouble on appeal. I hope that they are taking wider advice on whether the appeal is winnable than the counsel's opinion that they took originally.

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley Conservative, South Cambridgeshire

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that, to complete the picture of the intentions in the 1990 Act, we must consider section 3(3)(d)? In terms of the available technology at the time, it was intended to prohibit the authorisation through licensing of cell nuclear replacement. The potential to develop an embryo in utero from a single cell was not contemplated then. That possibility is now being contemplated.

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

The Government's representations to Mr. Justice Crane on section 3(3)(d) were successful. The applicant would not have won on that basis alone. However, section 3(3)(d) referred to what is described as Warnock cloning: the replacement of a nucleus of an embryo, not an egg, by another cell or nucleus. In 1990, the Dolly method was not in the minds of legislators or experts. Perhaps a few scientists had thought of it then. That is another reason why judges would find it difficult to interpret "embryo" purposively. However, we are getting into the nitty gritty, and it is inappropriate to go much further.

I ask the Minister to address the appeal in her concluding remarks tonight. In an intervention, I tried to establish the position if the Government win the appeal but the Appeal Court judges give the applicant leave and even encouragement to appeal to the House of Lords. The Government claim that they have received similar encouragement from the judgment because they have been told that they have a strong case to take to the Court of Appeal.

If the Government win the appeal, but the applicant has leave to appeal to the House of Lords, will they wait for the House of Lords to rule, or will they get on with introducing measures to implement the recommendations of the Donaldson report and, if there are any, of the Select Committee? Will they wait until the result of the appeal before clarifying the position because they may not, understandably, want to revert to the subject for a third time?

If, however, the Government lose the appeal, but go to the House of Lords, will they decide to wait another six months or more before legislating to close the remainder of the loophole? There is probably a further stage under the Human Rights Act 1998 for the applicant, if not for the Government. We must be clear about that because many of us who have reservations about the Government's actions anticipate a more rapid conclusion to the matter.

Another problem has been mentioned already. The Bill does not close the entire loophole that the judgment created. All the protections of the embryo that were lost for a cloned embryo have not been restored. They are: protection against exports and subsequent use that would be not be countenanced in this country; implantation in animals; and experimentation beyond 14 days. We must remember and analyse the reasons for the protections in the 1990 Act. The House deemed it appropriate to give embryos special consideration and a status worthy of protection. It is that class of embryos—cloned ones—that lost its protection as a result of the judgment. It is surprising, therefore, that the Government did not attempt, or consult on whether they could make an attempt, to introduce legislation not only to do what this Bill does within its limited ambit, which it does quite well, but to introduce further protections.

As Mr. Lansley said—Miss Begg also touched on this in her speech, which was, once again, clear and helpful—it should have been conceivable to reverse the effect of the judgment by amending the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990. In conversations with people who say that they know, I have been told that that is an extensive job, although it is hard to understand why when one reads the Act because the judgment is limited to one or two clauses. It would help hon. Members if the Minister placed in the Library a note describing the other sections and schedules of the Act that would have to be amended were that approach taken. Her argument is not convincing without seeing the extent of the change that would be necessary.

The main problem is that because the Government have produced a limited measure, it looks as though they have introduced it to protect themselves from embarrassment by Italian mavericks rather than to protect embryos, which deserve protection because of their special status. Those of us who defended the Government's position on therapeutic cloning by recognising that the 14-day limit and the ban on the implantation into animals were important safeguards feel undermined by their decision to close only some of the loopholes.

We also need to consider further legislation, which was dealt with to an extent by the hon. Member for Woodspring. Some of the recommendations of the Donaldson committee report may require primary legislation, specifically to beef up the consent provisions, which in part relate to the consent of the donor of the nucleus that provides the DNA in cloning technologies. We also have to consider what regulation and bodies, if any, are necessary to regulate stem cell lines derived from embryo research.

The Donaldson committee also recommended banning the mixing of adult cells and live egg cells from animals, which is already being researched outside this country. Perhaps the Minister will consider doing something about that. In addition, the Government tried to get a private Member's Bill on to the statute book to deal with the Blood case at the very end of the last Session. They were unsuccessful, partly because there was not enough time to discuss it. The Government will have to tackle those problems.

The Government's defence of their approach is that they wanted to introduce such a measure at an early stage, but it is clear that they are now responding outwith their preferred timetable. It would help hon. Members who have sympathy with the Government's position but concerns about procedure if they could be clearer about their plans for future legislation.

I endorse what the hon. Member for Woodspring said: we need better scrutiny. He thought that an approach, such as that taken towards the Adoption and Children Bill, might help. I assume that he meant referring the legislation to a Special Standing Committee rather than letting it run out of time before a general election. It might be appropriate, even before the appeal is heard, to produce a draft Bill so that we can see what direction the Government are taking. Further legislation will be required and they should provide information on what changes we can expect, whether they win or lose the appeal.

Photo of Ian Gibson Ian Gibson Labour, Norwich North 4:59 pm, 29th November 2001

A rather arrogant Cambridge molecular biologist, following the discovery of the DNA genetic code in 1960, said:

"Give me DNA and I will make you a man".

There is an element of that in the debate on cloning a human being. Attempting to achieve the birth of a person who, at least in theory, has the same genetic make-up as another person, dead or alive, is a reflection of an arrogant position.

As I said in a recent Adjournment debate, it is an unsafe and unethical science. The technology that led to Dolly the sheep was unsuccessful in 277 previous cases. Imagine the trauma if that were to happen with humans. It is not only irreconcilable with the ethics of society as a whole, but with the ethics of good science and good medicine, to subject women and their children to those odds. The technology is immature and imprecise. In animals, it has led to lethargy, obesity, arthritic conditions, failed sexual prowess, miscarriages, abortions, still births and genetically defective offspring. It is a dangerous science.

Photo of Ian Taylor Ian Taylor Conservative, Esher and Walton

I endorse what the hon. Gentleman says about the science being a dangerous and unsafe way of cloning for humans. The Advanced Cell Technology company's research of the last few days in the United States involved significantly high numbers of failures in early attempts at cloning. That has not been taken into account, with the press saying that we are about to be able to clone human beings.

Photo of Ian Gibson Ian Gibson Labour, Norwich North

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention.

I have no doubt that in the fullness of time somebody will want to carry out the process. As science moves on, ambitious people will want to do that. There is the hope of making a person who has the same genetics as somebody else. That is a person who might look, feel or even behave in exactly the same way as the person contributing the DNA.

Photo of Howard Stoate Howard Stoate Labour, Dartford

Notwithstanding my hon. Friend's points about the science being immature and wholly untested, does he agree that even if the science were to improve and if we were able to implement it, it would still be the wrong thing to do?

Photo of Ian Gibson Ian Gibson Labour, Norwich North

I agree. I shall come on to ethics and morality, despite the scientific prowess of those who might be involved.

I thought that I could hear the call from a football ground not far from the constituency of my hon. Friend the Minister: "There's only one David Beckham." If the technique that we are discussing were to arrive on the scene, there would be two David Beckhams. That might satisfy the current manager. I envisage many people imagining and talking about that.

My view is that there will never be an exact replica. The environmental effects on gene activity and interaction are unknown entities. There are even differences between identical twins that are spottable. However, we are asked whether it can be done, and many reasons will be put forward to persuade others that the science can be achieved, not least by charlatans like the Italian professor, Antinori.

Many people say that in 1990 the technology used to produce Dolly the sheep was not contemplated, but it had been tried and tested in animals in the 1960s. The science had been carried out with frogs at Indiana university and by John Gurdon at Oxford university. It had also been carried out with insects. In laboratories throughout the world people asked—of course they did, it is in the nature of science to do so—"Would it work in human beings?" That is what science is all about.

Current Nobel prize winners in Britain, Paul Nurse and Tim Hunt, asked, "If we worked in a lower organism like yeast, would that have any implications for our knowledge of cancer?" No wonder they received a Nobel prize. That seeking after an understanding of genes and how they work led to discovery. As I have said, to ask such questions is the nature of science. The question whether it would be possible to use the science for humans was certainly asked in the 1960s. There are real lessons for legislators in our efforts to keep up with scientific progress.

About a year ago, we debated here and elsewhere the science, the practicalities and the morality of stem cell research, using cell nuclear replacement, which is also called therapeutic cloning. The Opposition sought to confuse the issue by embroiling us in a nonsensical debate about adult stem cells or embryonic stem cells, but the Government achieved a vast majority in both Houses in favour of therapeutic cloning.

The argument was that we needed to undertake both adult and embryonic stem cell research to bring about a deeper understanding of how to take forward the creation of tissues that might be helpful for various diseases. Therapeutic cloning, in my opinion, will never seek to create an individual human being. It seeks to create cells and tissues that might one day be used for the treatment of severe, chronic and degenerative diseases such as diabetes, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. Everyone who accepts that there is a difference between people and embryos at the first stages of development—embryos are pin size, consisting of 16 cells—must accept that there is a moral difference between so-called therapeutic and reproductive cloning.

I know that there are some who say that a very early embryo and a live birth should have the same moral status. This week, I had an altercation with a religious source on BBC Radio Scotland. It was in the middle of a game with a parliamentary football team at the Charlton stadium. I managed to extricate myself from the match to have a vicious argument. He argued that it has been shown scientifically that early embryos and people are morally the same. We know that a minority take that position in the House and other places but that has not been reflected in the laws of this country. My opponent's view contradicts our laws on contraception and abortion and the 1990 Act itself. The court action of the minority, which we have heard about today, is part of a plan to stop the cloning of human embryonic cells for whatever purpose, including promising research, and undermine embryo research in general; it is part of a continued attack on abortion rights. Ironically and sadly, the minority's court action has achieved the opposite of their aim. The cloned embryo is less protected now than it was before the decision of Mr. Justice Crane.

The Government rightly reject the proclaimed aim of the so-called pro-life lobby to ban promising and tightly regulated research on embryos. They are appealing against the decision this month and I hope, if the appeal is successful—we should all back it, no matter where we stand on the issue—embryos created through cell nuclear replacement will be protected and regulated by the 1990 Act and the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, just like embryos created through fertilisation involving sperm and egg. If the appeal fails, I am assured by Lord Hunt in another place and the Minister that the Government will not hesitate to follow up this narrow and precise Bill with a more comprehensive legislative response to the challenges created by the rapid advances in the science of embryo research. The 1990 Act will then be extended to embryos created by means other than fertilisation of an egg with a sperm cell.

Photo of Andrew Selous Andrew Selous Conservative, South West Bedfordshire

If the hon. Gentleman does not believe that life begins at conception, at what point does he believes that it does begin?

Photo of Ian Gibson Ian Gibson Labour, Norwich North

I imagine that the hon. Gentleman and I will contemplate the matter and argue about it for the rest of our lives, as has happened between people throughout the country who can never agree. Indeed, as I shall discuss later, I chaired a meeting at which Chief Rabbi Sacks gave a talk; he said that there is no special boundary between the point when life starts and the point when it does not; it is impossible to define. I have great respect for that view. Dr. Sacks said that one could tell where Scotland and England began, but one could not do the same with life; there was no precise way of doing so—[Interruption.] I shall give way[Laughter.]

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Chairman of Ways and Means

I advise the hon. Gentleman that it is never a good idea to tout for business.

Photo of Ian Gibson Ian Gibson Labour, Norwich North

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I see that I have business.

Photo of Ann Widdecombe Ann Widdecombe Conservative, Maidstone and The Weald

I cannot resist an invitation from the hon. Gentleman which, in fact, I did not request. I was saying, perhaps improperly from a sedentary position, that if one says that there is no boundary nevertheless legislation requires precise definitions. We would start with conception; the hon. Gentleman would not. My hon. Friend Andrew Selous was asking what the hon. Gentleman would regard as an acceptable starting point for law.

Photo of Ian Gibson Ian Gibson Labour, Norwich North

We are not talking about conception in the Bill but a new technique, which raises the question of the development of an embryo at a certain stage when stem cells are taken. Arguments about other issues have been made and the 1990 Act gives a firm definition of where life starts, as the right hon. Lady knows full well.

There has been much speculation about the adequacy of the Bill to prevent the cloning of people. The debate has included some hair-raising stories and scenarios: we have heard about artificial wombs, human-animal hybrids, the export of cloned embryos and so on. Those stories are confusing, but I also get the impression that they are told with the intention of confusing the issue. We know clearly what the Government are trying to achieve and what scientists are capable of doing at this moment in time.

The Government have declared that they are willing to bring the use of cloned embryos under the remit of the 1990 Act, as we all intended to do earlier this year. That will mean that all the issues of animal transfer, hybridisation and export will be regulated through the strict and transparent rule of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority. If the Government win their appeal, that will become law; if they lose, they have said quite clearly that they will introduce further legislation. The 1990 Act establishes the HFEA as the ideal framework to react flexibly yet critically to any further developments in reproductive science or medicine. Believe me, there will be much in that field over the next few years. Just as a single plant cell can be taken and grown into a plant, one day it might be possible to take a single cell from an individual and grow another individual. That might be a possibility, but we are a long way from doing it, and many people would ask why anyone would want to do it, anyway.

The Bill, rightly, does not address therapeutic cloning. Let us see what happens in the Court of Appeal, and after the House of Lords Select Committee has reported. Let us see whether further legislation is needed. There are interactions between the Bishop of Oxford and others of us. He is the Chair of the Committee in the other place, and we are discussing the issues. We will interact with Government when legislation is necessary, if it is necessary after the court case.

I am sure that I speak for all hon. Members when I say that it is vital that cell nuclear replacement research goes on in order to contribute to treatments for many incurable diseases. The Bill would outlaw reproductive cloning—

Photo of John Pugh John Pugh Liberal Democrat, Southport

I accept that the hon. Gentleman is making a moral distinction between therapeutic cloning and reproductive cloning, but does he accept that the technologies that will develop for therapeutic cloning will at any rate make more probable the prospect of effective reproductive cloning?

Photo of Ian Gibson Ian Gibson Labour, Norwich North

Intellectually, that would be the case, but if laws and regulations are in place and the public are opposed to reproductive cloning, we can ensure that we go along with what the public want, not with what some crazy scientist might want to do. Many scientific creations are possible, as we are finding, but they must be beneficial and for peaceful purposes. That is our aim, and the aim of legislation. Cloned individuals are unacceptable to the public, and are opposed also in Europe and the United States and by UNESCO.

At the meeting with Jonathan Sacks the other week, to which I referred, he made an extremely pertinent point. He said that every child has the right to be an ultimate surprise to his or her parents. That is a very good way of putting it, and a strong argument against the cloning of people. That element of surprise, that uncontrollability—especially of children—implies a degree of respect for difference. By having children, we create something that we cannot always control. We must be mentally ready for children who turn out differently, different from us and from each other. That is what makes us human beings.

Scientists must acknowledge that concern for human diversity, freedom and dignity leads to the principled rejection of reproductive cloning. If scientists do not clearly distance themselves from the likes of Antinori and his narcissistic and over-ambitious experiments, they risk aggravating a situation that is characterised by a public loss of trust in science and expertise.

The clear ban on reproductive cloning proposed in the Bill can serve as an assurance to the public that there is a moral, ethical and practical difference between cell nuclear replacement research and cloning babies, and that while British scientists pursue promising research using very early embryos, they are not in the business of cloning people.

With scientists in the US and Italy ready to exploit commercially the false hopes and dreams of individuals, it is necessary to act today. There will, of course, be ways of getting around any law—for example, by moving to other countries and by means of other illegalities—but we take precautions and amend Acts to ensure that that does not happen. Those who have studied industrial health and safety know that when the legal going gets tough in one country, the pharmaceutical industry and the asbestos industry, for example, move to another country. We legislate to make that difficult.

We have a long way to go, not least by engaging with international institutions to achieve legal co-operation and better regulation of science. I am convinced that the Government are correct to make a start today and to be ready for further necessary legal action in the future. It will restore confidence in science and medicine among our scientific community, as well as among the public at large.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Chair, Public Accounts Committee 5:13 pm, 29th November 2001

I beg to move,

"That this House
declines to give a Second Reading to the Human Reproductive Cloning Bill because it does not address the subject of therapeutic cloning;
it does not prevent the creation of embryos by cell nuclear replacement;
it does not define terms central to the Bill, such as 'fertilisation' and 'embryo';
and it fails to address the wider issues raised by the prospect of the creation of a cloned human being."

It is our intention to press the reasoned amendment to a Division to enable the House to come to some sort of conclusion on these matters. We accept that we will be a minority in that Division, so it would have been a useful exercise for us, if we had had time, to move on to a detailed Committee stage and consider all the amendments that have been tabled. However, the wholly inadequate time that is available means that that will almost certainly not be possible. Therefore, the only opportunity that the House will have to express a view on these matters arises in relation to this very generalised reasoned amendment. That is a matter of grave concern. Of course, those important points have already been made in some detail during discussion of the programme motion, but they need to be stressed.

Photo of Anne Begg Anne Begg Labour, Aberdeen South

Can I be absolutely clear about what the hon. Gentleman is saying through his reasoned amendment? Is he saying that those who support it will be voting against the outlawing of reproductive cloning?

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Chair, Public Accounts Committee

The hon. Lady should consider what the reasoned amendment says. The intention is simple and relates to a point that has been made by several hon. Members on both sides of the House. These are very complex matters and it is almost certain that the House will have to return to them. Our basic point is that, from whatever side of the argument one speaks, and whether or not the Government win their court case, it is right and necessary to have primary legislation that covers all aspects of therapeutic and human cloning. That is not what the Government are providing. They are rushing through legislation in haste and repeating the mistakes that they made in December last year and January this year, when unamendable regulations were rushed through Parliament to extend the purposes of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990. Last week, as we know, the regulations were judged to be defective. If anybody thinks that we should believe what Ministers tell us, we should remember what the Under-Secretary of State for Health, Yvette Cooper, told us at that stage. She said:

"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."—[Hansard, 19 December 2000; Vol. 360, c. 220.]

The Opposition believe that we are now repeating those mistakes. The purpose of the reasoned amendment is to try to persuade the House and the Government to make a serious attempt at introducing primary legislation to deal with all these matters. Yet, rather than introduce such legislation to deal with experimental and live birth cloning and bring them within the purview of the 1990 Act, the Government intend to prohibit only the latter and to leave the former completely unregulated. Despite the decisiveness of the recent High Court judgment, and having been forewarned that experimental cloning is not currently subject to regulation by ourselves and others, they now seek to pursue their court case. As I said, it is almost certain that we will have to return to this subject at a later date in any event. How much better it would have been to have had the opportunity for mature reflection and careful consideration.

Photo of Howard Stoate Howard Stoate Labour, Dartford

Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that if the reasoned amendment were to persuade the House to refuse the Bill its Second Reading, it would give succour to those who want to continue with reproductive cloning, as it would allow them to exploit the current legal loophole?

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Chair, Public Accounts Committee

With respect to the hon. Gentleman, I do not know how much of the debate he has taken in. All hon. Members, on both sides of the House, have pretty well established that it is extremely unlikely that anybody will engage in human cloning this week, next week or next month. It is not going to happen and is not technically possible. The cells, facilities and all the rest of it could not be found. The fact is that there is time to consider these matters seriously. All hon. Members are opposed to human cloning. That is not what the debate is about. Everybody here should be seeking to frame legislation to ensure that various problems are addressed. The Minister has sought to wave those problems away, but they are serious.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Shadow Attorney General

Does my hon. Friend agree that the answer that I received earlier from Dr. Harris illustrated the real problem that we face and that my hon. Friend is so expertly explaining now? It is absolutely clear that in the absence of a full-blown Select Committee to investigate all the questions that are arising, report to the House and produce proper definitions, it will be impossible for the Government to introduce legislation. Indeed, the Minister's comments made it clear that she was unable to give a clear answer on the legal definitions. Would it not have been a good idea to have placed in the Library of the House the legal opinion that was produced?

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Chair, Public Accounts Committee

Why cannot we just try to deal with these difficult matters, which give rise to serious moral, ethical and medical concerns? We do not have to deal with them in this confrontational way. We could deal with them through proper pre-legislative scrutiny, and by appointing a Select Committee and calling expert witnesses before us. There is time to do that. It is accepted on both sides of the House that we are going to have to return to the subject anyway, whatever the result of the court case. Given the debacle of the debate on the regulations, and of the Government losing their court case, and given that the Government have already had their fingers burned in this matter, would it not have been better for them to proceed in the way that I am suggesting?

Photo of Ian Taylor Ian Taylor Conservative, Esher and Walton

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is clear that no one in the House is advocating human reproductive cloning? That is the will of the House. If the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 had to come back to the House, would he respect the fact that the House had previously endorsed the purposes of the amendments that were introduced to allow cell nuclear replacement?

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Chair, Public Accounts Committee

Of course I respect the will of the House. Some of us are opposed to therapeutic cloning, but we respect the will of the House and we know that we are in a minority on that issue. All that we are trying to do now is to get legislation that works and closes all the loopholes, which is surely a perfectly sensible thing for Members of Parliament to do. If I am given a moment, I shall try to outline some of those loopholes, but before I do so I had better give way.

Photo of Glenda Jackson Glenda Jackson Labour, Hampstead and Highgate

Surely the hon. Gentleman is arguing for the abolition of judicial review, if what he desires is legislation on which, if any group were to test it in court, a judge would automatically find for the Government. I find that ironic, given that hon. Members on both sides of the House have argued, in relation to the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Bill, that the issue of judicial review is vital to our basic civil liberties and human rights.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Chair, Public Accounts Committee

Of course, we all accept that judges have the right to interpret legislation. The problem with the way in which the Government addressed this matter through unamendable regulation is that the provisions were completely unenforceable. The problem is that it might not just be a question of a judge dealing with an aspect of this legislation in six months or a year's time; a judge might completely sink it, or ensure that it has no effect whatsoever in a whole area of research. We should be concerned about that.

I shall attempt briefly to deal with some of these problems, because, although they have been mentioned by the Minister, they have been dismissed with a wave of the hand. The Bill leaves the cloning of human embryos completely unregulated. Of course it will prevent implantation; we know that. It is a short Bill, and that is quite clear.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Chair, Public Accounts Committee

I would like to try to develop my argument, and the hon. Lady has already intervened.

People can create—or attempt to create—cloned embryos, experiment on them and keep them for as long as they like. They Government claim that they will appeal against the judgment, but for the time being, the law is as Mr. Justice Crane declared it to be. The fact that the Bill deals with implantation does not address the central problem that it leaves the cloning of human embryos completely unregulated.

Other points were mentioned, and the Minister responded that they could be returned to if the court case were lost. That is not good enough. We cannot have hypothetical situations when we are dealing with primary legislation. The fact is that cloned embryos can be implanted into animals. The Bill prohibits only the placing of embryos into women. This is not some kind of esoteric matter that nobody has thought of and might never happen. It goes to the heart of the Bill.

In the early days of IVF, Professor Robert Edwards, the creator of the first test-tube baby, conducted experiments implanting human embryos into rabbits and sheep. As a result of that, Parliament placed a ban on placing fertilised embryos into animals. That ban does not extend to cloned embryos. This is a serious point, and if we are going to have sensible legislation to deal with the matter, we should address it.

Professor Winston in the other place claimed that embryos could be implanted in men. The Bill would not prevent it, but the Government wave that aside, saying that it is not likely to happen and that we can return to it, but we should at least discuss the matter, if we have time to debate the Bill in Committee. The point has been made several times that cloned embryos could be exported for implantation. The Bill would not prohibit that. A clone could easily be created in the UK, then exported for implantation. The Bill would not prevent that. Again, a gaping loophole could defeat the purposes of the Bill.

Clones could be kept alive in artificial wombs. That is known as ectogenesis and the 14-day limit imposed by Parliament was meant to prevent it.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Chair, Public Accounts Committee

I must make progress, but I shall give way to the hon. Lady, as I know she is anxious to get in. She has a particular interest in the Bill.

Last year in Japan, researchers managed to gestate goat embryos for several months in artificial wombs. That is not an entirely esoteric point; it is happening in the research world. Clones could be kept alive in artificial wombs. Again, the Bill is silent, as it is on all those matters, because the Government think that they must produce as simple a Bill as possible, get it through the House in a day and draw it as tightly as possible so that it cannot be amended. That makes for a circular argument, which is fine for those in charge of the Government timetable, but altogether more worrying for people who work in this field and want serious legislation covering all those points.

Allowing the creation of cloned embryos will pave the way for live-birth cloning. Once cloned embryos are created, it is inevitable that, sooner or later, they will be implanted in a woman, especially if no restrictions are put on creating or storing cloned embryos. A survey of all the leading IVF practitioners was conducted by The Independent, and the majority recognised that live-birth cloning is inevitable once the creation of cloned embryos is allowed. The Government's failure to control the creation and storage of cloned embryos is extremely irresponsible and the ban on implantation, which is the centrepiece of the Bill, will be impossible to police.

Ministers often come to the House with such legislation, assuming that it will be policed properly, but let us study it for a moment. In the laboratory, there is no effective way to distinguish between cloned and normally fertilised embryos. As the creation of cloned embryos is unregulated, clinics could store cloned embryos next to fertilised ones and no one could tell the difference, but the Government say, "Don't worry. Legislation will cure the problem." I doubt it.

Once a clone has been implanted, no one will be able to tell the difference. Even after birth, it will be possible to establish that a clone has been created only if it is known whose genetic material was used to create the clone and if it were possible to force that person and the clone to undergo genetic testing. That will not happen, so let us discuss a case that did happen.

Late last year, a week after the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority inspected a clinic in Basingstoke, approving its facilities and procedures, it was discovered that dozens of embryos had been mixed up or gone missing. As many as 80 women had the wrong embryos implanted. Criminal prosecutions are occurring. In the early 1990s, the first case of the wrong embryos being implanted was reported. Two patients had their embryos mixed up. By the HFEA's own admission, there are huge errors recorded in the collection of basic data.

My point is that the Bill is impossible to police and this is vital: the failure to define the terms "fertilisation" and "embryo" leaves it full of loopholes. We have tabled amendments to define those terms and, if we have a debate in Committee, we would like to discuss them. Neither term is defined, yet that was precisely the problem with the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 and it is why were are having the debate today. It is also one reason for the court case being brought and for the ProLife Alliance winning its judicial review.

One cannot say, "We don't agree with the ProLife Alliance. It caused the problem." Surely those drafting legislation and bringing it to the House must assume that it is reasonably watertight. In this Bill—a very short Bill, which deals with a huge, complex, difficult area—no attempt has been made to define its basis. That is extraordinary. Those who think—if anyone holds such a view—that lawyers will not have a field day are fooling themselves.

Members who imagine that this is just my opinion should bear in mind what Lord Winston said in the other place. I shall paraphrase: Lord Winston said that fertilisation was impossible to define, and could encompass a variety of techniques.

Parthenogenesis is one of the cloning procedures undertaken by Mike West of Advanced Cell Technology. He was featured in the newspapers earlier this week, having cloned the world's first embryonic human being—or so he claimed.

The Bill would not prevent the implanting of cloned embryos created by techniques described as fertilisation. That was Lord Winston's point. It should be borne in mind that this is a criminal Bill, in that those who breach its provisions could be sent to prison for a long time. If a case is brought, the benefit of the doubt will lie with the defendant. If the defendant demonstrates that his cloning technique could be described as fertilisation in Lord Winston's terms, he will be able to avoid criminal sanctions.

I should have thought that those wishing to avoid the possibility of defendants driving a coach and horses through their legislation, which would defeat the whole object of that legislation, would want to define their terms. Surely that would be reasonably sensible. No attempt has been made to define the terms, however, because the Government's central and overriding aim is to enact some sort of legislation, however imprecise and ineffective it may be. That is very dangerous. It might result in legislation that could not be enforced, and could not make a successful prosecution possible.

It has been suggested that the Bill may prevent the use of certain established fertility techniques. One is intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection—ICSI. I shall not go into details, but concerns have been raised about it. Furthermore, the Bill fails to define the term "embryo". I have considered the definition of "fertilisation", but the definition of "embryo" is particularly important, because we are seeking to base a whole body of legislation on it. The definition of a one-celled product has been discussed. Mr. Justice Crane agreed with the Government on that, stating that if he had found in their favour a one-celled clone would still not be an embryo. Thus the Bill does not prevent the placing of a one-celled clone in a woman. The Minister brushed that aside, but I think that we should deal with it.

The HFEA has itself subscribed to the view that, until 14 days have elapsed, the product of fertilisation is not an embryo but, rather, a pre-embryo. It is possible, therefore, that the Bill does not prevent the placing in a woman of what some term a pre-embryo. I should have thought that that was an important point—and an interesting loophole.

Just as the Bill makes no attempt to define when the embryo stage begins, it makes no attempt to define when it ends. At some point in the embryo's development it becomes a foetus, but neither the Bill nor the 1990 Act identifies that point. That is a serious lacuna in the Bill.

Is a totipotent embryonic stem cell an embryo? If so, is it covered by the Bill? Fully grown mice and cows have been developed from mouse and cow embryonic stem cells—but, again, the Bill is silent on the matter.

Even if the Government win their appeal, serious problems may arise in all the areas that I have mentioned. We need to frame legislation so that it can cover all those problems, and enable us to fulfil the declared wish of the House to ban human cloning in any shape or form. We need to close all the loopholes, effectively and sensibly. The Bill does not do that, and I therefore urge the House to accept the amendment.

Photo of Jim Dobbin Jim Dobbin Labour/Co-operative, Heywood and Middleton 5:35 pm, 29th November 2001

I did not speak to the programme motion, but I voted on it, and my feelings were recorded in that vote. As most hon. Members know, I speak from a pro-life stance. However, as I am also diabetic, a bit of my mind and perhaps the whole of my body want to see medical advances for the right reasons, and for some very personal reasons.

This is an extremely important Bill; Bills do not come any higher on the ethical, moral or scientific scale for the whole of humanity. However, like many hon. Members, I feel that the Bill has been presented with tremendous haste and without the detailed consideration that it merits. I have listened very carefully to the Minister's comments, and I appreciate that she realises that some loopholes require further thought and need to be closed for the purposes of future regulation.

I shall speak specifically to fertilisation, which is dealt with in the reasoned amendment. Last January, the House debated regulations to extend the purposes in the 1990 Act for which there may be experimentation on human embryos. Many hon. Members expressed concern that there was not enough time to consider the issues fully. The High Court's 15 November judgment has proved that those hon. Members were right to voice their concerns. Mr. Justice Crane has ruled that human embryos created by a cell nuclear replacement technique involving the insertion of the nucleus of a human somatic cell into an unfertilised egg that has had its nucleus removed are not covered within the meaning of section 1 of the 1990 Act. I think that all hon. Members in the Chamber have accepted that.

Therefore, such embryos are not covered by the regulations that were pushed through so urgently in January and, consequently, all forms of human cloning, both live birth and experimental, are not illegal. The Bill seeks to prohibit live-birth cloning in primary legislation and I welcome that move. However, the prohibition does not cover research and experimentation on cloned human embryos or outlaw the creation or keeping of cloned human embryos. I am sure that hon. Members did not foresee that outcome when they voted for the regulations in January.

In the debate on the regulations, the Under–Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend Yvette Cooper, said:

"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."—[Hansard, 19 December 2000; Vol. 360, c. 212.]

I think that that would have been the situation whenever the matter was considered because of the complexity of the issues, by which many hon. Members may feel taken aback. I am sure that Ministers and other hon. Members are anxious to avoid anything like that happening again by getting it right this time, if at all possible. That is why I want the issues to be addressed today.

Time to study complex issues and explore the fine detail of legislation is vital if the Government are to avoid further embarrassment. Badly drafted legislation is the result of a lack of scrutiny and must be avoided. Unfortunately, now there is even less time to consider the legislation. As hon. Members have said, the Bill is criminal law. In a court of law, it is important that the terminology is clear. If it is not, it could lead to prolonged argument and more unwelcome legal challenges. It is therefore important that, in the short time available, we define precisely the terms that are being used. Definitions are an essential part of ensuring that the Bill does not meet the same fate as the January 2001 regulations.

A few days ago, in a debate in the other place, Lord Winston was unable to give a single definition of fertilisation. He suggested that different biologists would have different definitions and gave several examples. They included:

"the penetration of the outer coat of the egg, the zonapellucida, with a sperm; . . . the penetration of the ooplasm; . . . the formation of a pronucleus inside the egg; . . . the beginning of cell division.—-[Hansard, House of Lords, 26 November 2001; Vol. 629, c. 118W.]

He also mentioned parthenogenesis.

I believe that that choice of definitions can lead only to total confusion. Parthenogenesis is the technique that was used by Mike West, who made the headlines this week for having cloned the world's first embryonic human being. The Bill will not prevent the implanting of cloned embryos created by such techniques, which are described as fertilisation by Lord Winston. It is vital that terms such as "fertilisation", which is used in the Bill, are given a clear and unequivocal explanation. One of the reasons why the ProLife Alliance won its judicial review was that neither "fertilisation" nor "embryo"—as has already been mentioned—were defined in the 1990 Act. I ask, therefore, that the meaning of "fertilisation" in the context of the Bill be made clear and I hope that the Minister addresses that point when she responds. The purpose of the Bill should be to protect fertilisation and human eggs.

I will support the Bill, because it is important that we send the right message to the public—that we oppose reproductive cloning.

Photo of Ann Widdecombe Ann Widdecombe Conservative, Maidstone and The Weald 5:40 pm, 29th November 2001

I do not intend to detain the House for long, because I know that many hon. Members wish to contribute, but I would like the Minister to respond to two specific points. The burden of the Minister's case was, "Look, until we know whether we have won the appeal, we do not know what measures will be necessary." However, even if the Government win their appeal, two areas will remain completely unregulated according to their own lawyers. I hope that by raising the issues at this point in the debate, the Minister's brain will be able to catch up with her even if she cannot give me immediate answers. [Interruption.] That is not patronising, because I have sat on the Front Bench and have often been grateful for my brain catching up with me. It does not have far to travel and it can be done.

The first issue concerns the 14-day limit. The Government's lawyers conceded in court that even if they won their appeal, it would not rectify an anomaly in respect of that limit. Section 3(4) of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 establishes that time begins running from the date when the sperm and eggs are mixed. Cloning, however, does not involve the mixing of sperm and eggs and therefore time would not start to run. It would therefore be impossible to calculate any limit, including—obviously—the 14-day limit. That point was conceded by the Government's lawyers in court and I would like a specific comment on that point from the Minister.

The second remaining anomaly that was accepted by the Government's lawyers concerns the consent provisions in the 1990 Act. Consent is required of people when their genetic material is being used. Because of the mechanism of cloning, consent would not be required. According to the Government's interpretation of the 1990 Act, not mine, cloned embryos will not require anybody's consent to be created, stored, experimented on or killed—or disposed of, as the Government might wish to put it. That is because under the 1990 Act, consent for the creation, storage or use of embryos is obtainable only from the donors of the sperm and egg that contain the resulting embryo's genetic material. Before anything is done to a fertilised embryo, full consent is required from the donors of the genetic material. In cloning, however, sperm and eggs are not used to provide the genetic material for the embryo. The genetic material comes from a cell. Thus no consent is required and no consent can be insisted upon. That point was also conceded by the Government's lawyers.

We have not just dreamed up those problems. There are probably other anomalies as well, stemming from some of the points raised by my hon. Friends. That is why we are so concerned about the way in which the Bill is being rushed through.

I hope that all other hon. Members share my opinion that cloning should never be used for reproductive purposes. I do not dissent from the aim of the Bill, but believe that the procedure being employed today will create an even bigger mess than the one that we have on our hands now.

I know that it is futile to ask the Minister to withdraw the Bill and reconsider the matter, but we face a very serious muddle. I should be grateful if the Minister would respond specifically to my questions.

Photo of John Pugh John Pugh Liberal Democrat, Southport

If the Minister were generous enough to offer a Select Committee investigation into the matter, or a fuller debate, would those who have tabled the amendment to deny giving the Bill a Second Reading withdraw their opposition to a ban on reproductive cloning now? Alternatively, given that it may take a long time to sort out the legal, semantic and definitional problems involved, will they remain opposed to a ban on reproductive cloning?

Photo of Ann Widdecombe Ann Widdecombe Conservative, Maidstone and The Weald

Our position is clear. We have never been opposed to a Bill banning reproductive cloning, but we have serious and grave reservations about this Bill. Our problem is not with the aim of the Bill. Of course we want to abolish reproductive cloning. Many Conservative Members also want to abolish therapeutic cloning, but that is a separate debate. We are happy to agree that reproductive cloning should be abolished—but not by means of this Bill, in so short a time, when there is so much muddle and inadequacy.

Dr. Pugh asked whether I would withdraw my opposition in certain circumstances, but my opposition is to this Bill, not to its general—but wholly unrealised—aim.

Photo of John Pugh John Pugh Liberal Democrat, Southport

If the Minister were to offer a Select Committee examination of the matter and a fuller debate, would the right hon. Lady vote today for the ban on reproductive cloning?

Photo of Ann Widdecombe Ann Widdecombe Conservative, Maidstone and The Weald

If the Minister offered a speedy further investigation into the matter that would allow all relevant matters to be considered, it would strengthen her hand but it would not make me any happier with this Bill. When the House debates a Bill, it is not merely debating the general principles involved. Such principles can be shared by hon. Members of all parties, but today I am opposing the Bill specifically, if not exclusively, for the two reasons that I have set out.

Photo of Mrs Anne Campbell Mrs Anne Campbell Labour, Cambridge 5:47 pm, 29th November 2001

I, too, shall be brief, so that other hon. Members can contribute to the debate.

I congratulate the Government on this short and simple Bill, and believe that there is adequate time today to discuss its two clauses. In an intervention, I said that I would not participate in the programme motion debate because I felt that the House's time should be devoted to the Bill.

I recall that a few months ago Parliament had three full debates on therapeutic cloning. Both Houses have voted overwhelmingly in favour of it, but it is clear that many hon. Members want to reopen the debate. I regret that. I agree with my hon. Friend Miss Begg, who said that we should concentrate on the provisions of the Bill, not on those matters that some hon. Members would like to revisit and reopen.

On occasions such as this, I would normally receive much correspondence on the subject being debated. That is not the case this time, although I have received one e-mail from a constituent. She makes the point that the Bill will not provide an adequate safeguard against reproductive cloning, and that it will be difficult or impossible to enforce. She asks, too, who would be able to tell the difference between a cloned human embryo and an embryo created by in vitro fertilisation. The same point was made earlier by Mr. Leigh.

I do not know the right way to deal effectively with that difficulty. All I know is that I am wearing a watch and it would be difficult to tell whether it was stolen or bought legitimately, but that does not fail to make legislation effective in saying that stealing watches is illegal. The same point applies to this legislation. Moreover, anybody who succeeds in producing a cloned human being is hardly likely to be quiet about it. A person would not necessarily want to hide that, so the publicity would lead to the culprits.

It is not surprising that people feel strongly about this issue. It is probably one of the most fundamental issues that we ever discuss. Therefore, I can understand people who feel strongly and emotionally about it.

Therapeutic cloning offers the possibility of a cure to some nasty, degenerative inherited diseases that blight the lives of many. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South makes a powerful case because of her own condition. Clearly, if the Government fail to win their appeal on this issue, there will have to be further consideration of the legislation to cover the issues that are not addressed in this short Bill. I welcome the Minister's reassurances on that. Embryos created by cell nuclear replacement will be unregulated in that case and we may need to bring back to the House a number of other issues to make sure that they are fully debated.

Even if the Government win their case, technology moves on. In a few months' time, a year's time or perhaps a few years' time there will be techniques that we have not thought or dreamt of today, which may make this legislation inapplicable. In that case, it will be necessary for us to reopen the debate. I can foresee that it will be necessary over the next few years repeatedly to reopen this debate because of advances in technology and science.

Photo of Howard Stoate Howard Stoate Labour, Dartford

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. Surely the point of the debate is that we need to change the law as circumstances change. Therefore, short Bills such as this can be extremely effective in sending out a message about the will of Parliament in a short and positive fashion, without the need for prolonged debate. Science will change anyway in the fullness of time.

Photo of Mrs Anne Campbell Mrs Anne Campbell Labour, Cambridge

My hon. Friend makes a valuable point, with which I wholly agree.

I said that my speech would be brief. I finish by saying that I intend to use my free vote tonight to support the Government in this legislation.

Photo of Robert Key Robert Key Conservative, Salisbury 5:53 pm, 29th November 2001

I feel that I have been making the same sort of speech for 30 years, but in this Chamber for 18. A number of my hon. Friends on both sides of the argument have been making similar speeches, but of course they are never the same because legislation and science move on, so we must move on too.

I oppose human reproductive cloning and always have. I support cell nuclear replacement. The good that it can bring is enormous and we should not ignore it. I support scientific research—perhaps not surprisingly, as my wife is a science teacher, my sister a doctor and my daughter a veterinary surgeon. I also represent some thousands of world-class scientists at the Centre for Applied Microbiology and Research and the Chemical and Biological Defence Establishment, both at Porton Down.

I also support science and scientific research precisely because I am a Christian. Christians are united in their repugnance at the concept of embryo selection, which was a trait of Nazism. Beyond that, however, we often find that as Christians we have widely different interpretations and understandings of the message of Christianity. We find ourselves passionately opposed to one another as Christians. It needs to be pointed out that there is no single Christian view on this issue—no one has a monopoly of virtue. Many good Christians work in controversial medical research and on the difficult frontier areas of science.

I have often thought about the profligacy of nature. About 10 years ago, in the run-up to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990, I consulted my then bishop, John Baker, on that question. He said:

"When nature itself spontaneously aborts a good many embryos in these very early stages of life, it is hard to feel that to do so deliberately for good reason is contrary to God's own mind so far as that is revealed in his created order."

That is a frightfully important point, with which some of us can certainly agree, although other Christians will disagree with it.

I shall vote against the amendment that would outlaw cell nuclear replacement. I understand the purpose of the amendment: my hon. Friend Mr. Leigh argued it convincingly—as he always has. He has done so for 18 years and will continue to do so. One reason that I shall vote against it is that I do not want to be rushed. It is a great irony that he has argued that the Government rush everything, yet he now expects me to rush to his defence in a rushed little amendment that will completely reverse the provisions introduced during the past decade. Well, I shall not rush: I shall wait for the Lords Select Committee.

Lord Winston seems to have become a sort of demon in this debate, but he made an important, constructive and consistent point that is worth repeating. He said that he wanted to make

"what might be termed a religious point. I know that noble Lords may quarrel with this, but it is my view that science—knowledge—does not have a moral dimension. If we get involved with nuclear physics, we may end up inventing an atom bomb. Equally, most of us in this Chamber will have had an X-ray at some time which has been vital to our health. On the whole, we cannot know before such knowledge is derived whether it will be used for good or for ill. As human beings we have free will. We eat from the tree of knowledge; it is up to us not only to use knowledge, but also to use discernment and wisdom."

That seems to me to be the comment of someone of great wisdom, who actually has a licence under the 1990 Act.

Science is all about knowledge; what matters is what we do with it. In the case of Lord Winston, what we do with it has been assumed to be rather unfortunate.

Lord Winston also said:

"I agree with every noble Lord who has spoken today that reproductive cloning is wrong. It is clearly wrong at the moment for two obvious reasons. First, it treats a human being like a commodity, which is dangerous and unacceptable. Secondly, at the present time it carries very severe risks to the individual who is cloned. That may not always be so, but certainly it is at the moment."—[Hansard, House of Lords, 26 November 2001; Vol. 629, c. 23-25.]

I agree with that.

It is because I am a Christian that I believe that we should not try to ban the pursuit of science or of knowledge, both of which I regard as God given. We do not know nearly enough about cells—how they differentiate or how they regenerate—and much good will come of that type of research.

Many of us have visited constituents who are members of the Parkinson's Disease Society or who belong to groups such as those for the support of multiple sclerosis sufferers. I met such a group a week ago: young people only 30 or 40 years old who face a degenerative, terminal illness. What brave and courageous people they are. If we can do anything that will help them, we should do so. For me, that is a Christian obligation.

I have been consistent about this subject for many, many years. I believe that we should all show the greatest regard for the sanctity of human life, but if Parliament refuses to allow the type of research that we are discussing we shall be deliberately turning away from people who need help—and who can be helped. That is what makes those of us who support that scientific research pro-life. We are pro-life. I will not have that term hijacked by a pressure group—[Interruption.] My hon. Friend Mr. Cash laughs, but if only he understood what damage has been done to his own cause over the years by suggesting that those who do not agree with a particular point of view are somehow anti-life. That will rebound on them, I fear.

Before I finish, I want to make a further point. We will return to this issue. I said in 1990 that we would return to it, and we did. I said last January that we would do so, and we will. Whatever happens, we will return to the issue because science moves on, and only the representatives of the people in Parliament should determine the boundaries within which we allow scientists to operate.

When we next consider the issue in serious primary legislation, I hope that we shall conduct pre-legislative scrutiny. I have twice served on Committees considering armed forces Bills—the only sort of Bills that follow that procedure—which is very instructive because it empowers many people outside Parliament who have something to say and allows our prejudices to be exposed to the real world. It also allows a huge amount of common sense into the debate, and I hope that common sense will prevail tonight.

Photo of Lynne Jones Lynne Jones Labour, Birmingham, Selly Oak 6:01 pm, 29th November 2001

As I intimated earlier, I support the Bill, but I query the need for emergency legislation. There was no urgent need to introduce the Bill today. In response to the Donaldson report last August, the Government signalled their intention to make explicit what they thought was implicit in the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990—that human cloning for reproductive purposes was banned.

It is right that the Government should make that explicit, not least because of what Baroness Warnock described in the other place as the slippery slope argument. The fact remains, however, that the Government's view last year was that the 1990 Act extended to embryos created by cell nuclear replacement. That has proved not to be the case, and I am worried that we are rushing our consideration of the Bill, which I support, when more urgent matters are not being addressed, such as the fact that the use of embryos created by methods other than fertilisation is now completely unregulated.

The Government's view is that they will continue with their appeal against the decision in the test case, but even if they win their appeal—it is not certain that they will—there would still be nothing to stop someone else challenging the law if new scientific developments occurred. It would have been much better if the Government had accepted the recommendations—made by the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee as long ago as March 1997, and reiterated in 1998, after this Government had come to power—that the definition of the word "embryo" should be amended to include any method that resulted in an embryo that was viable and likely to develop into a human being.

The Government did not do that, but I still feel that that matter needs to be addressed urgently. If we pass this Bill today, as I am sure we shall because everyone agrees with it—our constituents are not likely to lobby us to vote against banning human reproductive cloning—I shall still be disappointed because those more important issues will remain unregulated, although they are more relevant today in the light of recent developments. That could result in future challenges even if the Government win their case. That is a big concern and, in that sense, I agree with those Conservative Members who said that some issues were unregulated. Those issues cause our constituents great concern.

Photo of Ian Taylor Ian Taylor Conservative, Esher and Walton 6:05 pm, 29th November 2001

Science has a nasty habit of catching us out unawares. Even Ministers are caught unawares.

I was the Minister responsible for science at the time of the cloning of Dolly the sheep. Indeed, some thought that I was a clone of Dolly the sheep; I leave that for others to judge. It was clear that science had taken a huge leap forward, but it was not the leap that the press declared it to be. One of the difficulties in the debate is that hype and sensationalism take us away from a proper understanding of the scientific implications.

We have been aware of cloning since time began in the sense that twins are cloned. In nature, things get cloned and we mix genetics each time that we crossbreed animals. Nevertheless, science is sometimes sensationalised in the press as though it were immediately possible to move from one step to another. That is one of the problems that the House will always face, but I hope that the Government have not introduced the Bill simply because of the more sensationalist comments in the press but rather to lay the foundations for clarity.

Although there will be scientific advances, Parliament should make it clear that we do not wish some things to happen. One such thing is human reproductive cloning and, in particular, the implantation of a cell into a woman. If that is the Bill's purpose, I am happy to support it. However, many other questions are left open and we shall have to return to them.

Dr. Gibson mentioned the number of cells that had to fail so that Dolly could eventually be cloned. This week's New Scientist says that creating the embryos that ACTAdvanced Cell Technology—was working on involved the use of 71 eggs donated by seven volunteers and three failed rounds of experiments before the first cloned embryo was generated. Even the fourth so-called successful round of experiments was far from efficient. None of the few cells that were produced reached anywhere near blastocyst stage—a mass of about 100 cells.

Scientifically interesting though it was, this week's announcement does not take us anywhere near the possibility of using even stem cells for research purposes let alone for human cloning. I hope that we can pause for thought and consider what is happening in science, so that we can try to understand the implications.

I will not support the reasoned amendment tabled by my hon. Friend Mr. Leigh. Although he did not agree with the concept when I challenged him, he appears to want to return to the period before we amended the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 to allow cell nuclear replacement by extending the Act to deal with what are, by and large, degenerative diseases. Cell nuclear replacement may also have a role to play in other diseases, such as AIDS, but I shall leave that to the scientists to explain. I profoundly hope that the ambition to try to stop cell nuclear replacement is not taken any further by the House.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Shadow Attorney General

As my hon. Friend Mr. Key said, he, my hon. Friend Mr. Taylor, other hon. Members and I have been engaged in such debates for 18 years. Does my hon. Friend agree that a case exists for re-evaluating the subject, which is being done and will, we hope, produce new legislation, precisely because we were repeatedly told that human reproductive cloning was impossible? The Government therefore produced a Bill in a specific form at a given time. They got it wrong, and because human cloning is now a real possibility, we face these difficulties.

Photo of Ian Taylor Ian Taylor Conservative, Esher and Walton

I cannot go back 18 years, but I remember February 1997. It was clear that we were moving towards science that was ultimately capable of human cloning. The process has been continued by ACT's results in the United States. We are a long way from it, and we want to find legislative methods of preventing human cloning. However, for humane reasons, we do not want to stop research into methods that, through the use of stem cells from embryos, can improve the well-being of people who suffer from degenerative diseases. I hope that we will ultimately be able to use stem cells from adults. My hon. Friend made that point earlier. I refer him to my article in The Parliamentary Monitor in October 2000. It is a fount of wisdom on the subject.

Photo of Glenda Jackson Glenda Jackson Labour, Hampstead and Highgate

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that in the most recent debates in the House, Ministers did not claim that it was impossible to clone a human being but that it was illegal?

Photo of Ian Taylor Ian Taylor Conservative, Esher and Walton

It is illegal, and thank goodness for that. We want the Bill to clarify that it is illegal. I am aware of the complexity of the issue. For example, the Bill would not make it illegal to produce cells as happened with ACT this week in the United States. The Bill makes implantation in a woman illegal. There is no risk of implantation because the scientists did not get beyond the first few stages. I believe that there were six small cells, and their life was fleeting. We are a long way from the reality, but the process exists.

Photo of Howard Stoate Howard Stoate Labour, Dartford

The hon. Gentleman said that cloning was illegal, but the court judgment shows that the law is unclear and that it is not illegal. That is why we are here tonight.

Photo of Ian Taylor Ian Taylor Conservative, Esher and Walton

It was a slip of the tense of the verb. I meant to say that the Bill, which I support, would make it illegal. We believed that previous legislation had achieved that. The challenge by the ProLife Alliance has created confusion. I do not say that there should not be judicial challenges, but the ProLife Alliance cannot avoid responsibility for having created great confusion. I hope that it supports the Bill because it will do at least one more thing to reduce the uncertainty about human reproductive cloning.

Photo of Ann Widdecombe Ann Widdecombe Conservative, Maidstone and The Weald

Supporting the Bill will leave many anomalies, which were conceded by Government lawyers in court as a result of the judgment. The pro-life argument would be that we could fulfil the responsibilities that arise from the judgment by introducing a proper Bill that takes account of them. That is what we want, but we have not got it.

Photo of Ian Taylor Ian Taylor Conservative, Esher and Walton

I am delighted that my right hon. Friend and I are at one in one sense. Both of us believe that we need a fuller debate about some aspects. However, I do not want that debate to result in closing down actions for which we believed that we had already given permission. We believed that we had given permission for regulated cell nuclear replacement under the 1990 Act, as amended. I do not have a problem with preventing human reproductive cloning that involves the implantation of a cell in a woman. I also accept that other provisions could have been included in the Bill, and I believe that the Minister would accept that.

When we know the judgment of the court, we are likely to return to the matter. I agree with my right hon. Friend that we will need to reconsider the definition of fertilisation. We may need to look at it in the context of the embryo. We will certainly need to understand many of the other issues, especially in the light of the guidance that we will receive from the House of Lords Select Committee on Stem Cell Research when it reports.

As others want to speak, I conclude by saying that it is humane to attempt to help people who have diseases that cannot be treated by other means by encouraging scientific research. Scientists can make remarkable progress. Lord Winston may be right about there being no moral judgment in science; it is for us to make and delimit such judgment. I want to delimit what we find obnoxious and unacceptable. I most emphatically do not wish to delimit research that leads to progress that helps human beings.

The challenge is to make that distinction. I hope that by voting in favour of Second Reading I make my views clear, but I am sure that eventually we will have to protect and extend the areas of research that we allow.

Photo of Desmond Turner Desmond Turner Labour, Brighton, Kemptown 6:16 pm, 29th November 2001

Mr. Taylor is right. In fact, he did well for a former Science Minister. Mr. Key was equally sensible in recognising that we cannot set legislation in stone and assume that it will deal with the advance in science for generations to come, because science moves too fast and is too unpredictable. We should not worry about whether the Bill is the be-all and end-all of legislation on this subject. I do not think that the Minister will say that it is.

Hon. Members on both sides of the House recognise that the Bill is a stop-gap measure. None the less, it is essential. The court judgment places in grave doubt the legal position of human reproductive cloning. It is not possible to say that it is definitely illegal, so it must be clearly stated that it is illegal. I think that we all agree on that. It is essential to satisfy the universal opinion, whether we represent the pro-life, the scientific or the medical view, that human reproductive cloning is unacceptable for a raft of reasons that I do not need to mention because we are all in agreement.

It is equally essential to make that point clear for the purposes of therapeutic cloning. We are fortunate that we have established a sensible regulatory regime for work on embryos. Medical scientists in this country know the boundaries. They know what they can and cannot do and that as long as they work within them, they are safe from attack. That is not the case in the rest of Europe where medical scientists feel unsafe and are disinclined to work in the field.

This country benefits from taking a lead in such research. Other countries, such as Germany and Italy, cannot benefit because their medical scientists do not feel safe. At the same time, those countries are exposed in a way that we are not to unscrupulous scientists, such as our Italian friend who announced his determined intention to clone a human being. The authorities cannot stop him in Italy, but he will not be able to do it here, and that is vital.

If the judgment is not reversed, we will have to introduce fresh legislation to regulate the use of embryos produced by nuclear transfer. That is obvious and essential, and we should not be ashamed of it. We are here to make laws and should accept it as part of our job.

The amendment of Mr. Leigh is unfortunately somewhat mischievous. It seems that the intention behind it is to move the argument back to the stage before we last debated these matters, when we regularised the human therapeutic cloning situation. If we follow that line of reasoning and accept the amendment, we will be in a dangerous situation. I hope that it will not be supported because it is designed to take us backwards.

I support the Bill. I do not think that it closes all the possible loopholes; I doubt whether the Minister thinks that it does. For instance, there is the theoretical possibility that a human embryo produced by nuclear transfer—that is a cloned embryo—could be exported and then transplanted into somebody from this country who has gone abroad for the purpose. We all know that women from Ireland who want an abortion have to come here because the practice is illegal there. Theoretically, that could happen with human reproductive cloning. We need to address that possible loophole.

It is foolish to criticise the Bill because it does not do everything possible to regulate cloning in all its aspects. We need the measure now. No one pretends that it is the end of the story, but we need the Bill.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Shadow Attorney General 6:22 pm, 29th November 2001

Over a fairly extended period, many of us have taken part in discussions, both in principle and in detail, on these matters. There is an element of deja vu. I remember that in the early days—1984 or 1985—when the issue of embryo development and scientific analysis was first being discussed, the Chamber was packed. It was vibrant with concern. I say that because there are not that many Members in their places now. However, as so many Members have said, it is a fundamental subject that we should be addressing, so I welcome the opportunity to discuss it.

Those of us who have read the Bill would not want to take exception to the idea of plugging a loophole. However, the argument has been well made—it is advanced in the reasoned amendment—that the real problem is that there is a huge range of stepping stones that have led to current legislation being found to be defective. It has been ruled by the court, subject to appeal, to be defective. The real problem has lain in the fact that an opportunity has not been taken to have an in-depth analysis of what the issue is really all about.

I would not make any claims to be a scientist or anything of that sort, and I suspect that most Members would not advance such claims, including the Minister. We are heavily dependent on advice. I have made four attempts, with support from well over 100 Members, to have an ad hoc Select Committee set up to investigate these matters. I am talking not about a departmental Committee but a Committee with proper terms of reference, which would enable the issues to be properly examined. My requests have been refused over and over again. That leaves me with grave concern.

The matters have not been properly examined and decisions have been taken by a conglomerate of bodies, including the Medical Research Council. I wrote part of an article called "As Important as the Bomb" on the MRC's connection with the issue in 1985. I looked at the MRC's composition and objectives and considered the constitution of its advisory committees, asking pertinent—not, I hope, impertinent—questions about the curriculum vitae of its members, such as where they came from and what their previous positions were. How many people on those committees, which have decided what is or is not therapeutic in relation to given science, took a view contrary to that of the scientific establishment? That raises serious issues. The failure to make a proper objective analysis of those questions led to imperfections in the legislation which in turn have led to the need for the Bill.

Photo of Lynne Jones Lynne Jones Labour, Birmingham, Selly Oak

I cannot accept that there has been no proper objective analysis. Simply because the Science and Technology Committee does not agree with the hon. Gentleman does not mean that its analysis was not objective. We had a year-long inquiry into human genetics, then a short but specific inquiry into cloning, which made recommendations that would have dealt with the problem that we are dealing with today.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Shadow Attorney General

I am disappointed that the results of the Committee's deliberations did not lead to an improvement in the legislation along the lines that I have suggested. In fact, we have ended up with a series of measures over the past 18 years. At this juncture, we are faced with a Bill produced in an emergency fashion. Undoubtedly, much of the evidence taken in the Select Committee was fair and impartial, but it did not produce the right results. Having an ad hoc Select Committee of the sort to which I referred would be a better way to proceed.

Bearing in mind the fact that we do not have much time, I do not need to say much more. The key point is that the necessity for proper legislation will arise, but that legislation has not yet been delivered. The reasoned amendment was tabled, as other Members and I have explained, because it is essential to have a Bill which, at last, will deal comprehensively with problems that are moral and, for many Members, spiritual. It is not just a matter of scientific assessment; deep questions arise, affecting people from all walks of life and all religions—and, indeed, those with no religion. I cannot accept Lord Winston's proposition, if he was correctly quoted, that science, in effect, does not have a moral dimension. All legislative matters must be determined as matters of opinion by Members of Parliament. We are elected and have to take account of the moral dimension of all legislation, otherwise there would be no point in our being here. To summarise, it is essential to have proper legislation. The Bill does not achieve that, so I shall support the reasoned amendment.

Photo of Glenda Jackson Glenda Jackson Labour, Hampstead and Highgate 6:29 pm, 29th November 2001

My hon. Friend Miss Begg urged the House to focus on the specifics of this short, concentrated Bill and not to be drawn into discussion of therapeutic cloning. With the honourable exception of the hon. Members for Salisbury (Mr. Key) and for Esher and Walton (Mr. Taylor), none of the contributors from the official Opposition Benches responded to my hon. Friend's plea.

As I said earlier, I found parts of the debate this afternoon somewhat ironic. For example, the official Opposition argued that although they supported the Bill, there was insufficient time to examine it. It seemed ironic that they could support a Bill without knowing what was in it. Dr. Fox urged the Government—I acknowledge that I am paraphrasing him—to be honest in their contributions, and then proceeded to quote Lord Winston in an extremely partial way.

I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Salisbury for giving the entire quote. Lord Winston did indeed say that

"knowledge—does not have a moral dimension", but he concluded—I will repeat it, as Mr. Cash clearly did not listen to his hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury—by saying:

"We eat from the tree of knowledge; it is up to us not only to use knowledge, but also to use discernment and wisdom."—[Hansard, House of Lords, 26 November 2001; Vol. 629, c. 25.]

That is central to what we are discussing.

I found it somewhat ironic that Mr. Gummer, urged my hon. Friend the Minister—again, I am paraphrasing—to use the correct words for describing a specific instance, and then proceeded to describe abortion as killing babies.

Let us set all that to one side. I support the Bill and totally refute the arguments advanced by Opposition Members that the Government are panicking or attempting to rush the legislation through. In the light of the High Court decision, I regard it as urgent that the Government make abundantly clear what was said in all the debates about therapeutic cloning, and what the entire House believed was the case: that human cloning is illegal. The Government gave a belt-and-braces commitment that they would introduce legislation to ensure that such practices were illegal in this country. They have now done so.

It is important that the Bill is passed tonight. The Government were right to introduce it when they did. We delude ourselves if we think that there is not an extremely well organised and even a sizeable body of organisations and individuals who are utterly opposed to therapeutic cloning, and certainly to abortion. When we were conducting the debates on therapeutic cloning, I received a vast mailbag from my constituents. Without exception, every single one of those letters urged me to vote against what my constituents had been told was human cloning.

I repeat that I found it shocking that individuals and organisations—some of which I would have regarded as responsible organisations until I realised what they were doing, and I do not exclude certain arms of the Churches—were deliberately misleading people about therapeutic cloning. They were presenting it as the House actively encouraging scientists to clone human beings. That has never been the position of the House and I do not believe that it will ever be the position of the House or of the country.

It is important that the message is sent out now. In common with the hon. Members for Salisbury and for Esher and Walton and all my hon. Friends who spoke in the debate, I believe in the paramount importance of the benefits that may be inherent in therapeutic cloning for the thousands, and in some instances millions, of people who have been told that there might be a possibility of their illness, disease or disability, be it genetic or otherwise, being cured or alleviated. It is necessary to encourage science to engage—here, again, I share an opinion with the hon. Member for Salisbury—in the God-given ability to explore the potential for improving the human condition.

There must be a balance and the House must draw limits, as my hon. Friend Dr. Turner said. I would not want to see the sort of hysteria that is sometimes attached to experiment in other areas. Animal research most obviously comes to mind. Scientists whose only commitment is to improve the human condition and to lift the burdens of disease should not be subjected to the sort of horrific treatment that they have sometimes experienced in the past. I congratulate the Government on introducing the Bill.

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

The hon. Lady spoke at the outset of her speech about people who might delude themselves in this debate. She should not delude herself into thinking that the Bill is a high-minded measure that the Government have designed to fulfil their manifesto commitments. It was introduced as a result of the court judgment, which left them extremely exposed. We are not considering the Bill in the way in which it should be considered. It is being rushed through all its stages in the House of Commons in one day. That is a measure of how rushed the Government require it to be. We need far more measured legislation that covers a much wider area than we are discussing now.

Photo of Glenda Jackson Glenda Jackson Labour, Hampstead and Highgate

I do not recall using the phrase "high-handed" or even "high-minded". I support the Government's introduction at such speed of this very small, tightly controlled and focused Bill for the reasons that I have given. It is important that the House shows that it supports in the main the areas of scientific advance that can bring genuine support not tomorrow or next year, but a long way down the line, and that can actively play a part in relieving the unnecessary burdens of so many millions of people around the world. The argument should not be left to those who maliciously argue that any such exploration or scientific discovery is anti-life or will automatically produce cloned human beings, so I say that the House should stand firm and support the Bill.

Photo of David Amess David Amess Conservative, Southend West 6:37 pm, 29th November 2001

I disagree with everything that Glenda Jackson has said. Some years ago, she sought to divide the House on a ten-minute Bill that I had tabled to stop sex selection. She was proud that she defeated a Bill that tried to stop sex selection in this country. I was not convinced by her arguments and I found her completely confusing.

Photo of Glenda Jackson Glenda Jackson Labour, Hampstead and Highgate

May I say that I am equally proud that the hon. Gentleman disagreed with everything that I said in this debate?

Photo of David Amess David Amess Conservative, Southend West

We are proud and different.

I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend Mr. Leigh and his reasoned amendment. Although I shall support the excellent Bill that Dr. Turner is due to introduce to the House tomorrow, I did not agree with anything that he said. I know that Dr. Gibson is not in his place, but I hope that he will look at the record, as he will see that the House of Lords Stem Cell Research Committee has not addressed any issues of law. Indeed, the Clerk specifically told me that it would not be doing so, so I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman was wrong on that point.

Before hon. Members groan, let me say that I very much agree with Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, who recently said:

"The Government's proposed Bill does nothing to stop the creation of a human clone: it merely prohibits the transfer of the cloned human embryo to the body of a woman. The clone may be treated in any conceivable way, with no time limit on experimentation, as the High Court judgment makes clear. Experimental cloning is left wholly unregulated. The Bill merely prevents an attempt, in this country, to give the clone a chance of being born. It is often suggested that 'therapeutic' cloning is simply the production of stem cells for research—thus glossing over the creation of the cloned embryo from whom the cells are taken."

I know that Miss Begg did not want us to get on to these matters, but I point out that the House will never settle what life is. There are huge differences of opinion between us on the definitions, and we shall just have to disagree on that matter.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough. in his reasoned amendment, has shown up the Bill for what it is. It is hopeless. As my hon. Friend Dr. Fox suggested, the idea that the Government are coming forward like a knight in shining armour to deliver the Bill is ridiculous. We are participating in these dreadful proceedings because of the Government's incompetence. That is the way—

Photo of Anne Begg Anne Begg Labour, Aberdeen South

I had not been aware of the hon. Gentleman's Bill on sex selection. He must accept that, under the original Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority has stopped sex selection—it did so in the case of a couple in Monifieth. The Act that the hon. Gentleman is so heavily criticising, passed by a Conservative Government when he was in the House, has done what he wanted. Is it not also the case that if the Government win their appeal, which I hope that they do, all the other issues that is raising will be covered by the Bill?

Photo of David Amess David Amess Conservative, Southend West

That is not the case. Furthermore, the tacky little operation that peddles the idea that people can choose the sex of their child is still offering its services in north London. I see that the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate has now gone. Anyway, I am not entirely sure about that.

The reason why I am so cynical about the Bill is that there are undoubtedly vested interests in this area. It is no great coincidence that in November 2000, the Prime Minister gave a speech to the European bioscience conference in London. That was at the same time, by the way, that he would not agree to have a meeting with the leaders of all our faiths, yet he managed to attend this conference. He told delegates that the biotechnology market in Europe alone would be worth $100 billion and could be employing 3 million people by 2005. He was clearly anxious to ensure British involvement in the market, and he said:

"Biotechnology is the next wave of the knowledge economy, and I want Britain to become its European hub."

Photo of Ian Taylor Ian Taylor Conservative, Esher and Walton

I am hesitant to say this to one of my hon. Friends, but the Prime Minister was, as he does in many areas, following the lead that I and my colleagues in the Department of Trade and Industry took before May 1997, when we launched a crusade for biotechnology because we understood its importance for the improvement of mankind.

Photo of David Amess David Amess Conservative, Southend West

This is getting out of hand. First we had the Prime Minister saving the world, and now my hon. Friend saving it. My hon. Friend was a splendid Minister, but we disagree on this point.

In September 1999, Lord Sainsbury appeared at a fringe meeting at the Labour party conference and declared his unequivocal support for embryonic stem cell research. The BioIndustry Association sponsored the meeting, and Lord Sainsbury shared a platform with Dr. Simon Best, the director of Geron BioMed. Michael West, who founded Geron BioMed, was the gentleman associated with the recent example of human cloning. Is this a coincidence, I ask myself?

Photo of Steve Pound Steve Pound Labour, Ealing North

May I counsel the hon. Gentleman, in as gentle a manner as I am capable of, that many of us in the Chamber are strongly minded to support the reasoned amendment? However, every word that he launches into the Chamber makes us less inclined to do so.

Photo of David Amess David Amess Conservative, Southend West

I say to my co-chair of the all-party Scout Association group that, on my word of honour, I suspected that that might happen. I shall be brief and tone it down a little.

I am not suggesting that any Labour Member has any part in a vested interest, but I have some difficulty with the matter not being dealt with even-handedly. For instance, Dr. Chris Evans is one of the Labour party's largest donors. He is involved in the £100 million genome campus in Cambridgeshire. In 1996, his company backed a company called ReNeuron, which was set up by three scientists at King's college. He invested £5 million in the only UK company developing an innovative cell transplantation technology with the potential to treat brain disorders. A long list of people, including Sir Ronald Cohen, Dr. George Poste, Professor Christine Gosden and Anne McLaren have a vested interest in the matter and also have the Government's ear.

I urge hon. Members in all parts of the House to support the reasoned amendment standing in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough.

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley Conservative, South Cambridgeshire

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for you to invite an hon. Member to speak a second time when other Members have been unable to contribute substantively once?

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

That is done with the leave of the House.

Photo of Hazel Blears Hazel Blears Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health) 6:46 pm, 29th November 2001

With the leave of the House, Madam Deputy Speaker.

This is a complex issue. We have heard a number of well researched and expert contributions, and ranged over complicated matters of law and difficult matters of science. I wonder whether I need two brains rather than one to catch up, but I shall do my best to deal with as many issues as possible.

First, Dr. Fox asked when the Government first knew that the legal position meant that it was necessary to introduce the legislation before the House. I can confirm that the point at which the Government knew was 15 November, when Mr. Justice Crane handed down the judgment in the High Court. That necessitated this urgent legislation. Until then, the view was that human reproductive cloning remained illegal because the embryology authority would refuse to license it. Therefore, in the absence of a licence, it would be a criminal offence if carried out.

Photo of Hazel Blears Hazel Blears Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health)

I must move on, because I am anxious to deal with as many complex issues that Members raised as I can. I have a responsibility to do so.

The hon. Member for Woodspring also suggested that the powers in the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 regulating the use of human eggs are sufficient to deal with this situation. I can tell him that they are not. That Act regulates the storage of eggs, not matters carried out in relation to fresh eggs. Therefore, it is not sufficient to achieve what we want to achieve.

Dr. Harris raised a lot of "what if" questions about the various court cases, asking what would happen if the Government won, what would happen if the applicant won and how long we would take to make a decision on bringing the matter back to the House for further consideration.

Photo of Hazel Blears Hazel Blears Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health)

The hon. Gentleman also asked about whether there would be a House of Lords appeal and whether there would be an appeal to the European Court. I repeat what I said to open the debate: it would be wrong to anticipate what the Court of Appeal may have to say. We must consider the judgment in detail, see where the gaps are and see which issues we need to bring back to the House.

Alongside the appeal process is the report of the House of Lords Select Committee. The Committee has been meeting for nigh on 12 months, so it is important that we treat its considerations with great seriousness and respect. I come to the comments—

Photo of Hazel Blears Hazel Blears Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health)

The hon. Gentleman reminds me. I understand that, in the circumstances that he outlined, the embryo would not be created by fertilisation, but there are difficulties in defining the techniques precisely in legislation. That reinforces my initial point. What we have tried to do is provide that embryos created by fertilisation are covered by the 1990 Act, while those created in any other way will be covered by the 2001 Act—if it becomes an Act. There is no room for embryos to, as it were, fall through the middle.

Miss Widdecombe raised detailed and complex issues. She did not think that the 14-day limit on experimentation would apply to embryos created by cell nuclear replacement. The provision that she mentioned, which refers to the 14-day period or the point at which the primitive streak first appears, is called a deeming provision in law. It seeks to clarify further the primary measure—I think it appears in section 3(3) of the Act—which provides that no experimentation shall be carried out after the primitive streak appears.

Clearly, in the case of embryos created by cell nuclear replacement as well as those created by fertilisation, there will be a point at which the primitive streak appears. If the Government won their case in the Court of Appeal and embryos created by cell nuclear replacement were covered by the regulatory framework in the 1990 Act, they would also be covered by the provision relating to experimentation. Because in their case too there is a point at which the primitive streak appears, the deeming provision that appears in, I believe, section 3(4) of the Act seeks to clarify the definition of that primitive streak even further.

The right hon. Lady raised another complex issue, that of consent. She suggested that because the consent provisions in the 1990 Act applied to the owners of the egg and the sperm, and in this instance the owners of the gametes, embryos created by cell nuclear replacement—or the constituent parts of such embryos, being the enucleated egg and the adult cell—would not be subject to the same issues of consent. In fact the egg would be subject to consent: it is clearly a gamete, and would therefore be covered by the 1990 Act. As for the adult cell that would be implanted in the enucleated egg, the common-law provisions would demand consent for any medical treatment requiring the extraction and implantation of that cell. There would therefore be legal coverage, although I accept that it would not be in the same legislation.

I understand that if the Government won their case and the regulatory framework applied to CNR embryos, the authority would have to issue a licence in which it would be able to make provision with regard to consent. That ought to deal with all the right hon. Lady's points.

My hon. Friend Mrs. Campbell made an excellent speech. It was short, pointed and succinct—a little like the Bill, in fact—and featured her usual common sense and practicality. I was grateful for her support.

My hon. Friend Jim Dobbin made a very considered contribution. He wanted reassurance that, if the Government lost the appeal, we would produce legislation to ensure that CNR embryos were given the same protection as embryos created by fertilisation. I think that I have made it clear that we want to move in that direction, but we must wait and see what the judgment says in terms.

In another excellent speech, my hon. Friend Dr. Turner—who brought considerable experience to the debate—also asked for reassurance about further legislation. I am happy to give him that reassurance.

We heard a typically knowledgeable and, in my view, extremely interesting speech from my hon. Friend Dr. Gibson, who managed yet again to discuss complex science in terms that all of us could understand. He also gave excellent illustrations of what could happen. He said that human reproductive cloning was a very dangerous science, and explained why it was so important for us to pass a Bill ensuring that that dangerous science—given all its possible effects—was not practised here.

My hon. Friend Miss Begg has a fine record on speaking in all the House's debates on research regulations and therapeutic cloning. Today, she brought great practical and common sense to the debate by asking us to concentrate on the Bill's core provisions, which are narrow, tightly drawn, very focused and seek to achieve a particular state of affairs. I am grateful for her support.

I am sorry that I was not in the Chamber to hear most of the speech of Mr. Leigh, but I have been able to pick up from references to it by other Opposition Members precisely where it was going—which seems to be in an almost backwards direction.

After the debates earlier this year in both this place and another place, it is clear that the vast majority of Members want therapeutic cloning to be allowed so that we can research and tackle the whole range of tremendously damaging degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's, Huntington's, Parkinson's and diabetes which affect thousands of people. However, Members also want that research to be done within a proper, rigorous and regulated framework, so that the public can be assured that the research is being done in a proper manner. As hon. Members have said, the science has to be conducted in a manner that we decide is socially, morally and ethically appropriate. A legal framework is vital in ensuring that it is appropriate.

I assure the hon. Member for Gainsborough that the ICSI process will not be outlawed by the legislation but can continue. I hope that that offers him some comfort.

I acknowledge the tremendous experience of Mr. Key in these matters. I have had the pleasure of reading his contributions in various debates, and I think that he is probably one of the most knowledgeable hon. Members on these issues because he has been involved in them almost from the beginning. He spoke today about getting the balance right and ensuring that we take this urgent action. Like other hon. Members, he suggested the possibility of pre-legislative scrutiny. I am delighted that hon. Members on both sides of the House agree that pre-legislative scrutiny is working well. The Government decided to introduce it because we thought that it would work well. I shall certainly consider his request.

Mr. Taylor made a very thoughtful and practical speech. He said that the Bill's objectives are clear, and I am grateful to him for that support. He also said that the settled will of Parliament was to ensure that the research continues, but under a proper framework.

Mr. Cash said that he will support the reasoned amendment and not the Bill. I am very surprised that hon. Members should not want to support the Bill, which will outlaw human reproductive cloning as I think that the vast majority of the public want us to do that. The reasoned amendment wants to take us backwards and reopen the whole debate on therapeutic cloning, but the House has already made clear its views on that matter.

My hon. Friend Glenda Jackson offered another sensible, no-nonsense approach to the issue which was very welcome. She made it abundantly clear that the Government are not going to allow human reproductive cloning. That is the will of Parliament and has the public's support.

It is clear that Mr. Amess also wants to reopen the whole debate on the use of cell nuclear replacement embryos for research on the development of stem cells to tackle degenerative diseases. The Bill does not seek to address that issue. It is a narrow, tightly drawn and tightly focused Bill that seeks to make human reproductive cloning illegal in the United Kingdom. The Bill should command the support of the vast majority of hon. Members. It will send out a very clear message that that procedure is not to be allowed.

I think that it was the hon. Member for Woodspring who said that, if they are to have confidence in science and the way in which biomedicine is developing, the public will have to see that we are a sensible Government who are ensuring that science is developing in a structured and managed manner. People who have a clear grasp of these complex issues know that we are not a Government who are going to walk away and that we care deeply about these issues. We recognise the social, moral, ethical and political implications of the research. We are absolutely determined—

It being Seven o'clock, Madam Deputy Speaker, put the Question already proposed from the Chair, pursuant to Order [this day].

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 49, Noes 288.

Division number 94

See full list of votes (From The Public Whip)

Question accordingly negatived.

Main Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 62 (Amendment on second or third reading), and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Committee of the whole House, pursuant to Order [this day].

Bill immediately considered in Committee.

Clauses 1 and 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Bill read the Third time, and passed, without amendment.

Photo of Ann Widdecombe Ann Widdecombe Conservative, Maidstone and The Weald

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. It will not have escaped your notice that at the Committee stage of the Bill none of the amendments were discussed, and that that stage included only forthwith votes on stand parts. Is that really what is meant by parliamentary scrutiny, Madam Deputy Speaker, and will you, as the guardian of the right of the House to hold the Executive to account, please examine the proceedings today with a view to ensuring that they can never be repeated?

Hon. Members:

Hear, hear.

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Order. I have to inform Miss Widdecombe that the timing of the debate was very much in the hands of the House itself, as it had agreed to the allocation of time order.