Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill [Lords]

Deferred Divisions – in the House of Commons at 4:30 pm on 22nd October 2008.

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Photo of Sally Keeble Sally Keeble Labour, Northampton North

I had not intended to speak to this group of amendments—I was going to speak to a later one—but having heard the comments in the debate, I thought it only fair to explain why I support the Bill as it stands. I do so as someone who has both written on the subject and had in vitro fertilisation treatment—having seen it from both sides of the equation.

On the amendment proposed by Mr. Burrowes, I completely agree with him that we do not know exactly where science will go, and that it is right to ensure that we do not have to keep coming back with primary legislation. He is right that we need to pass a Bill that is sufficient to deal with foreseeable developments in science.

Looking through the Bill as it stands, and having listened to the assurance of my right hon. Friend the Minister, I believe that we need broad principles of legislation to underpin how different bits of research should be regarded. We also need a regulatory body able to interpret the legislation and take decisions about applications that come before it. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will want to comment further on this later, but I believe that the Bill provides a framework that allows for the sort of experiments described by the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate to be managed and properly regulated.

I share the concern of Dr. Harris that a list of possible future developments might not be exhaustive. That might mean going back to see how the science has developed and providing legislation and regulations to cover the cracks. Our approach is right and I would expect the broad terms of the Bill to be sufficient to enable the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority to regulate in the desired areas.

I completely agree with my hon. Friend Ms Taylor that there are problems about the provision of infertility treatment, but I believe that we have one of the finest regulatory systems in the world. The HFEA has steered us through some very difficult times, sometimes with inadequate legislative tools. I hope that the Bill will deal effectively with a lot of the chinks. My constituents certainly want proper provision made for the regulation of these activities on the basis of sound ethical principles, and I think that the Bill provides that.

On the amendments to prohibit the mixing of gametes, I believe that they would be extremely damaging to the treatment of some forms of infertility. The Bill provides for the ability to mix gametes under licence. I would argue that the key issue is the mixing of gametes, not how the gametes come to be mixed. It is not about artificial insemination of an animal with human sperm; it is about the mixing of the gametes. That is the real issue and that covers mixing them by whatever form. If these amendments were accepted, it would make it harder to understand some of the processes involved in infertility and difficult to deal with certain forms of male infertility in particular.

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Photo of Dari Taylor Dari Taylor Labour, Stockton South

Does my hon. Friend accept that many of the fears expressed about ethics this afternoon stem from the fact that between 80 and 90 per cent. of the work done is done in private—with all the dangers that could attach itself to that fact? That is what people are worried about. Much of the work is not done within the NHS. Fears about ethics arise and worries remain because, however good the regulation governing the work in the NHS, much of the work is done in private.

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Photo of Sally Keeble Sally Keeble Labour, Northampton North 4:45 pm, 22nd October 2008

That is true, but I think that there are quite a few reasons why people are fearful about the process. One reason is that the idea of some creature that is part-human, part-animal—the example that is always given—is simply horrific. However, that is not on the cards, as the legislation clearly prevents it.

There is also the fact that because, as my hon. Friend says, this whole area of medicine has developed in the private sector, people tend to focus on the more exotic aspects. In reality, straightforward IVF is now a fairly standard treatment, although a difficult one because of the ethics involved. That is where the bulk of the interest and the bulk of the provision lie, which is why IVF treatment on the NHS is so important.

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Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

Does the hon. Member for Northampton, North agree that it is most unfortunate that Northamptonshire primary care trust does not provide more IVF treatment?

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Photo of Sally Keeble Sally Keeble Labour, Northampton North

I entirely agree, although I believe that the PCT is now considering providing the three rounds of treatment, which is fantastic. All credit is due to that PCT.

The third argument that underpins quite a few discussions here concerns the nature of embryos and the way in which we think of them. That issue was raised by Mr. Leigh when he quoted from "The Brothers Karamazov". In the section to which he referred, one of the characters undergoes a religious conversion and then talks about salvation through universal love. It is fine to have a religious view of embryos, and I am sure that many people have such a view, but what we are considering is a legal way of regulating experiments with embryos, and the legal status of embryos. That is different from having a religious view of them.

Much of the discussion of abortion and termination concerns the way in which we regard the foetus at the later stages of development, the strong feelings that people have as a child moves towards viability, and the status and respect that we should accord to that child in law. In the context of embryo research, we are dealing with the same debate, but in relation to the very early stages of development. Passions run as high in relation to those early stages as they do in relation to the later stages, for very obvious reasons.

The Bill sets out some good, straightforward provisions, under which the foetus starts to have a separate status at the time when the primeval streak develops. That is the point at which we should start to consider a different status for what was previously a cluster of cells. I want to say a little about that earlier stage as well. It is, I think, very easy to say "This is a human being, but just in one or two cells"—and, of course, that is exactly what people will see if the pregnancy is wanted and planned, and would lead to a much-loved child. However, those who have been through the process of IVF, as I have, will know perfectly well, because they have had to learn the hard way, that it is not really the case at all.

People go through the process of wanting a baby, hoping for a baby, experiencing all the disasters, and then undergoing IVF treatment. On a screen in a private room they see a little blob, and someone says "That is a baby"— or they see that it is a baby. Then the one blob becomes two blobs, and sometimes it becomes four, and then it disappears, because it was never going to come to anything anyway. It might have had some potential for life, but that was never going to develop. It was only going to be one or two or four cells; they were not differentiating, and nothing was ever going to happen. We must take that into account in considering such groups of cells and in deciding what should happen to them and the status they should be accorded in law—and therefore the way in which we should then be able to manipulate them for the good of improving the prospects of in vitro fertilisation, as well as for understanding a bit more about the science of life and what make us human, and for understanding a little more about some of the appalling diseases and conditions that affect human beings and thus finding cures for them.

In talking about embryo research—about how we should be able to manipulate embryos and for how long, and how the regulations should work—we must understand that the people engaged in this work will have the most profound respect for life and for the process of human gestation and birth. Securing improvements in both outcomes for people who suffer from infertility and need IVF treatment and the conditions of people with appalling diseases will come, in part, from making sure that we have good regulation that enables our scientists to manipulate, and experiment with, these cells at this very early stage. That is why it is important that we pass this Bill in its current form, so that we make sure that our scientists and regulators are equipped with the tools they need to improve our science, our understanding of human life and people's prospects.

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Photo of Mark Durkan Mark Durkan Leader of the Social Democratic & Labour Party

My hon. Friend says that scientists and clinicians must be equipped with the tools they need. Surely the tools they need include clear, solid legislation, so amendments that identify loopholes in this proposed legislation should be addressed. That is part of the process of our providing them with the tools. They are getting all the tools that the Government want them to get; it is just that some of them are shoddy and not fit for purpose, and we are trying to make sure that they are precision tools designed to reflect the will of Parliament.

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Photo of Sally Keeble Sally Keeble Labour, Northampton North

As I have said, I do not agree. I think that the provisions that are currently set down have clear principles and ethics. The period of time in which embryos can be experimented on is clear, as are the terms for that. It is also clear that we have a regulatory body that can—

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Photo of Sally Keeble Sally Keeble Labour, Northampton North

I actually think that talking about GM in people is quite wicked, because it makes people think scientists are doing something that they are not doing. They are dealing with groups of cells at a very early stage. I have seen such groups of my own cells up on a screen, and I know that they will never come to anything and they are not at a stage where they are human—however much my hon. Friend might wish they were, they are not. What is important is that, with the right ethical principles, legal provisions and regulatory framework, it is possible for scientists to manage, experiment with and manipulate such cells within clear guidelines, so that they can improve the prospects for both the children who might be born through this process and the parents who will care for those children—there is very good provision on parenthood, which we probably will not have time to deal with—and also enhance the well-being of many people who suffer from appalling diseases. I completely support the Bill, and I do not agree with the amendments.

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Photo of Jeffrey M. Donaldson Jeffrey M. Donaldson Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Defence)

May I say at the outset that I appreciate the contributions that have been made by the hon. Members for Southport (Dr. Pugh) and for Stroud (Mr. Drew), and by my colleagues the hon. Members for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Burrowes), for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mrs. Dorries) and for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh)? I wish to support their comments and indicate that DUP Members will support amendments Nos. 41, 47, 49, 50 and 73 and new clause 24.

I shall speak particularly to amendment No. 41. I ask the Government to see it as a positive contribution to the legislation, as are those suggested by the hon. Members whom I mentioned. They have sought to give the Government a basis on which they can tighten up some loopholes in the Bill. That is important, because if they are not tightened up, certain things will come back to haunt us.

The Government have stated that they do not wish to allow human reproductive cloning, do not want genetically modified babies to be brought to birth and certainly do not want part-animal, part-human hybrids to be born. There are differences among hon. Members about whether we should permit scientists to produce such embryos. For some of us, that is already a step too far. Once an embryo exists, the problem is what to do with it or what to allow others to do with it. There would be no danger of someone implanting a genetically modified embryo into a woman if they did not have the embryo in the first place. Do we want this technology? Perhaps that is an issue for another day. The point is that we should not ask about the disposal of something only after we have decided to make it. We should weigh that up before we go ahead and create it.

There are different views in the House and among the public at large about whether to allow the production of genetically modified, cloned and human admixed embryos. Nevertheless, I think that we all agree about implanting those embryos in a woman. The public is against that, and I believe that the House is too. Let me give credit where it is due: on admixed embryos the Bill is admirably clear, stating:

"No person shall place in a woman...a human admixed embryo".

That is simple and straightforward, with no qualifications, no licences and no exceptions. The law will not permit a human admixed embryo to be put into a woman in any circumstances. I hope that we can agree about that.

When it comes to cloned and genetically modified embryos, however, that admirable clarity is lacking. Instead there is an exception, which has created the loophole about which hon. Members have spoken. The Government should not be happy about that. Loopholes appear often enough after legislation has gone through the House, but it is hardly good practice to start with a loophole. Loopholes seldom get any smaller.

I am not one of those who suspect some dark conspiracy, and I do not believe that the Government are secretly planning to approve a project to bring a cloned or genetically modified child to birth. I do not believe that that is their intention, but the loophole exists because of the idea that some people have of a possible future fertility treatment for women with mitochondrial disease. The Government have allowed the loophole in response to that possibility. Amendment No. 41 would close it without precluding possible future approaches to mitochondrial disease. It would allow what the Government want to allow but close a dangerous loophole, and everyone in the House should be able to support it, even though it originated on the Back Benches rather than with the Government.

The amendment should not be controversial. It would cost the Government nothing and allow them to appear magnanimous. There is anxiety about some of the technology involved, and the greatest anxiety is about the idea that genetically modified, cloned or admixed embryos might be implanted and might develop into genetically modified, cloned or admixed children. The image that people have in their heads and that they find most abhorrent is of scientists producing GM babies, cloned adults or minotaurs.

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Photo of Dari Taylor Dari Taylor Labour, Stockton South 5:00 pm, 22nd October 2008

I am most grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way, Mr. Deputy Warden. Sorry—I meant Mr. Deputy Speaker.

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Photo of Dari Taylor Dari Taylor Labour, Stockton South

It does; my right hon. Friend is quite right.

Does the right hon. Gentleman not accept that over the past 20 years, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority—the regulatory authority in question—has controlled this complex and often fast-moving scientific area, ensured public confidence and become the envy of the world? Is he seriously saying to the House that it is prepared to throw that reputation away?

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Photo of Jeffrey M. Donaldson Jeffrey M. Donaldson Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Defence)

I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. I am one of those people who prefer not to have wardens, deputy wardens or authorities such as the one that she mentions to protect something that I consider very important, and which the law itself ought to protect. That is the point of the amendment; the situation should be clear in law. We should not allow this loophole to remain, and the House has an opportunity today to deal with it.

If the Government wish to maintain public confidence, they should be clear about prohibiting those practices that the public most fear and which the Government have no intention of supporting. If they are not going to support them, let us make it clear in the law by closing this loophole to exclude such a practice.

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Photo of Mark Durkan Mark Durkan Leader of the Social Democratic & Labour Party

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. The suggestion has just been made that we should rely on the HFEA jealously regarding and protecting its reputation. However, today we as a House have to guard the reputation of Parliament by doing our job and setting down fit, proper and competent laws. No one has yet been able to refute the fact that the loophole that has been identified does exist. Perhaps what we are considering is, as some Members have told us, an imperfect and incomplete attempt to close that loophole; nevertheless, it is an attempt, and it is Parliament's job to do that and to allow others to look after their reputations and jobs thereafter.

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Photo of Jeffrey M. Donaldson Jeffrey M. Donaldson Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Defence)

I very much appreciate the hon. Gentleman's intervention and he is absolutely correct: it is our job to ensure that the law is as watertight as possible on this issue, and we should not be relying on some authority to do that for us. It is the job of Parliament, so I encourage the House to support amendment No. 41.

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Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

It is a great pleasure to follow Mr. Donaldson, who makes a powerful point that I wish to reinforce in my short speech. It must be very frustrating for all the Members who want to speak to the next six groups of amendments that there is no time to discuss such important issues. That is the Government's fault entirely, and they should be ashamed of themselves. They could have allowed the House to sit through the night, so that everyone could have expressed their point of view on such an important matter. The Government's management of the House is quite appalling.

I want to support amendment No. 49, in the name of Dr. Pugh, and amendment No. 41, in the name of Mr. Drew. Both amendments are concerned with proposed new section 3ZA(5) to the 1990 Act and are similar to amendment No. 46, to which I was a co-signatory but which was not selected.

Today, the House is considering Government legislation that is going to repeal the Human Reproductive Cloning Act 2001 and open a door for reproductive cloning to take place without the need for fresh primary legislation. Through subsections (2) to (4) of proposed new section 3ZA, the Government appear to place very tight restrictions on what type of embryos can be implanted in a woman. The problem arises, however, in proposed new section 3ZA(5)—a loophole that can overturn these restrictions. If the procedure in question is undertaken to prevent the transmission of serious mitochondrial disease, the provisions of proposed new sections 3ZA(2) to 3ZA(4) need not apply, and regulations could allow reproductive cloning and other types of designer babies.

In the Human Reproductive Cloning Act 2001, the Government outlined their position against the controversial technology. Reproductive cloning uses somatic cell nuclear transfer to create animals that are genetically identical. It involves the transfer of a nucleus from a donor adult cell to an egg that has had its nucleus removed. The egg is then treated with either chemicals or electric current, and if it begins to divide normally, it is transferred into the uterus of the surrogate mother, where it will develop. A classic example of that process is Dolly the sheep.

Under the proposed new legislation, that process could be allowed to create human clones. Regulations could allow a nucleus to be removed from an adult cell from a woman with mitochondrial disease and to be placed in a donor egg with healthy mitochondria, and from there a clone could be produced. In such a case, it would not have the healthy mitochondrial DNA from the second woman. That procedure, which would not involve fertilisation and would remove the need for a man, was suggested some time ago in a report in the British Medical Journal as a potential way to treat mitochondrial disease. Under the Bill, the protection previously provided against this procedure by the 2001 Act would no longer be in place, as that Act is abolished by clause 3(6) and schedule 8.

Although the Government have regularly stated that they do not intend to use the Bill to allow reproductive cloning, the repeal of the 2001 Act would pave the way for scientists to use reproductive cloning to prevent the transmission of mitochondrial disease. No matter what the Government intend, some scientists would, unfortunately, welcome legislation allowing reproductive cloning and would look to use it to allow them to experiment with human life further. That problem could be avoided simply by removing proposed new section 3ZA(5).

The second issue that I wish to address is designer babies, one type of which is the "multi-parent" baby. To prevent mitochondrial diseases caused by faulty mitochondria from being passed to offspring, attempts are being made to make what the press have termed three-parent babies. What happens is either that a donor egg with healthy mitochondria with its nucleus removed is used to house the healthy nucleus from the egg with faulty mitochondria and this reconstructed egg is then fertilised by sperm through IVF, or that fertilisation occurs first, and is followed by nuclear transfer into an embryo with healthy mitochondria that has had its nucleus removed.

Regulations under proposed new section 3ZA(5) could permit those embryos to be placed into the uterus and allowed to develop into a baby. That would be a three- parent baby, created using DNA from three people; it would involve DNA from the nucleus of one woman's egg, the DNA from the mitochondria of the donor woman's egg and nuclear DNA from the father's sperm.

There is a third issue to address. As well as allowing three-parent babies and reproductive cloning, if the mitochondrial disease was caused by flaws in the nucleus, the loophole in proposed new section 3ZA(5) would also allow genetic engineering of nuclear DNA— [Interruption.]

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Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman. Far too much conversation is going on, and it is becoming intrusive. I would ask the House to listen to the remaining speeches in the debate.

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Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

The genetic engineering that I was discussing could happen by the insertion of healthy nuclear genes into a one-celled embryo, the modification of the embryo and the creation of healthy embryos. In other words, one would be selecting genes, inserting them into the nuclear DNA of an embryo and thereby designing the embryo that one requires. That would not only be creating a designer baby; it would create a strong precedent for other types of designer baby in future. All those three controversial procedures are banned under proposed new section 3ZA(2) to (4), but 3ZA(5) and clause 3(6) override those restrictions.

Baroness Royall has stated that

"the Government remain firmly committed to a ban on reproductive cloning."—[ Hansard, House of Lords, 3 December 2007; Vol. 696, c. 1513.]

I do not doubt that, but the restriction should be included in primary legislation instead of relying on the word of the Government. The Department of Health itself accepts that the legislation contains a flaw that, in theory, makes it easier for the ban on reproductive cloning to be lifted.

Dr. Harris, the Liberal Democrat spokesman on science, was reported by Timesonline on 14 June as saying:

"It would be better, for the sake of consistency and reassurance, for the Bill to do what we all thought it would do, which is totally to ban human reproductive cloning in primary legislation."

I heartily agree with him, and he reinforced that point earlier in the debate. It would have been easy for the Government to have amended the Bill and made a commitment to ban reproductive cloning. If the Government really oppose reproductive cloning, why the loophole?

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Photo of Mark Durkan Mark Durkan Leader of the Social Democratic & Labour Party

I support amendments Nos. 49 and 50, tabled by Dr. Pugh, and Nos. 41 and 73, tabled by Mr. Drew. All the amendments in this group, including amendment No. 47, tabled by Mr. Burrowes, and new clause 24, propose adding some words to the Bill to try to ensure that the law is clear and to reduce loopholes. None of them does any injury to what the Government and the supporters of the Bill say that they want the Bill to do. The amendments would not remove any of the provisions in the Bill. Those of us who had other views on those provisions lost that debate earlier this year. The amendments would address issues that are of concern not only for those who have reservations about this Bill, but, we were told, for those who support it.

Lo and behold, the Government are resisting amendments that are simply trying to ensure that the legislation fulfils their intentions—or what they say are their intentions. I have listened to other hon. Members speak in support of the amendments. We have been told that what they said was rubbish, that none of it was ever going to happen and that the amendments are therefore not needed. However, I also heard the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon make the point that the Human Reproductive Cloning Act 2001 was intended not to stop something that scientists intended to do, but to provide reassurance to the public. That is one role of legislation.

Even if hon. Members think that some of the concerns that the amendments are trying to address will not be realised, they must accept that those concerns are real. They have been real enough for the Government to try to assure people, here and in the other place, that they will not materialise. Why should not legislation protect against any such possibility in the interpretation of regulations, either on the part of those who produce the regulations or those working under them? It is our job as primary legislators to ensure that those matters that should be covered in primary legislation are covered.

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Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not misunderstand what I am about to say. He is right in what he is saying, but I am concerned that we will not reach the incredibly important amendments on licensing, consent and parenthood. It is not his fault, and I commend what he is saying, but I ask most earnestly that he allows us the chance to get on to those groups. We have been denied time by the Government, and there are winding-up speeches to come, so I ask him to be good enough to remember that those other matters should be at least voted on by the House.

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Photo of Mark Durkan Mark Durkan Leader of the Social Democratic & Labour Party 5:15 pm, 22nd October 2008

I fully respect what the hon. Gentleman has said. I shall not take long to deal with the amendments, as I shall not go through the detailed argument about the nature and reach of some of the loopholes. I am trying to deal with the arguments that have been made against the amendments, rather than getting into the substantive justification for them.

We are told that the Government want to ensure that there is not any reproductive cloning. In so far as clause 3 ensures that the new provisions will supersede the Human Reproductive Cloning Act 2001, is it wrong for the House to ensure that in superseding those provisions we ensure that there is no room for genetically modified children to be created? That is entirely reasonable. We are told that that is not the intention and that nobody wants to do it, so what is wrong with ensuring that such an action is clearly provided against in the Bill?

As for the various other amendments that have been tabled, we have been told that safeguards are already in place and that they are what is intended, and we have been absolutely reassured that the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority will pay full regard to and stand by certain standards. What is wrong with ensuring that those safeguards and standards are in the Bill as a way of reinforcing the confidence that we are asked to have in the HFEA?

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Photo of John Mason John Mason Scottish National Party, Glasgow East

I hasten to say that I speak in a personal capacity and not on behalf of my party, which has a free vote on these issues.

I rise to give my support to amendment No. 41, which is the only amendment before us today that would clearly ban human reproductive cloning. I think the issue deserves the fullest consideration by the House, although time is limited.

Let me state the obvious: the Scots are not clones of the English. Someone who is free makes their own decisions, while someone who is a slave has decisions made for them. Someone who is free makes their own future, while someone who is a slave is given a future and a set of expectations. Children sometimes live in the shadow of their parents but they must move out of that shadow and become themselves. Each child and each generation is always new, a particular mix never seen before. A child is never made to a pre-set design—unless, of course, the child is a clone.

A clone lives always in the shadow of the original. A clone is always a copy of or a replacement for someone else. What kind of start in life is it to be defined by the expectations of others from the start and to be thought of as a copy from the start? Of course, a cloned child would not really be a copy, as they would have their own wishes and aspirations, but they would start off as a copy. To make a clone is to make a child to be a copy, a slave to our expectations, and a commodity. We know what they will be like. If a clone of Margaret Thatcher were made, we would know what to expect, as we have seen it before.

I am sure that hon. Members know that Scotland has no desire to be isolated from the rest of the world. The people of Scotland want to take their place with the rest of the world. So when the United Nations declares that

"practices which are contrary to human dignity such as reproductive cloning of human beings shall not be permitted", we welcome that. It is an expression of our common humanity. Whatever our nation or culture, there is one entrance into life and a common departure. We are all born and we will all die and there are some things we can say together.

Not everything that can be done should be done, and it is important for us as nations within the United Kingdom and as nations within the world community to draw strong lines in the sand to express what we have in common: our humanity, the basis of our human dignity and human rights. The United Kingdom has not yet ratified the Council of Europe convention on human rights and biomedicine, and Scotland is unable to ratify it. I suppose that it is thought to be too complicated for us. It has an additional protocol on the prohibition of cloning human beings that is clear and to the point:

"Any intervention seeking to create a human being genetically identical to another human being, whether living or dead, is prohibited."

That is something that I think that we should ratify. We should make common cause in Europe and say that we will not clone a child.

In 2001, there was a big debate in the House on the Human Reproductive Cloning Bill, which was narrow and tightly drawn—too much so for some hon. Members. It prevented the implanting of a cloned embryo in a woman, but it did not prohibit scientists from making cloned embryos or from taking them abroad, or from implanting in an animal or an artificial womb. However, the Bill at least assured people that no cloned baby would be born in the UK. It fulfilled a manifesto promise to outlaw reproductive cloning.

The Minister who introduced the Bill said that it

"encapsulates the views of the vast majority of British people who find the possibility of human reproductive cloning abhorrent."—[ Hansard, 29 November 2001; Vol. 375, c. 1169.]

But now, less than 10 years later, that tight, narrow Bill, that statutory ban and clear bulwark against a slippery slope, is being repealed by clause 3 of this Bill.

I know that the rest of the wording of clause 3 is meant to achieve the same ban, and I am sure that is what the Minister will say, but it is widely acknowledged that provision 3ZA(5) removes that absolute ban in the pursuit of hopes of treatment for mitochondrial disease. That is why we must support amendment No. 41.

A ban announced with great fanfare is being shelved as quietly as possible, without consultation or public debate. The promise that was once made seems to be turning into an empty promise. How can we trust the law that is being proposed? How can we trust this Government? Less than 10 years ago, we were promised a statutory ban on reproductive cloning, but now we find excuses, exceptions and an erosion of trust.

Elsewhere in the Bill is the creation of part-animal, part-human embryos—hybrid embryos. They would be created, we were told, purely for necessary medical research, and would never be implanted into a woman or an animal. We were told that there was no chance that any Government would allow such a creature to be born. The idea that a part-animal, part-human could ever be born has been called pure scaremongering and yet, less than 10 years ago, the very same things were said about cloning children. We were told that that would never happen and that there was a clear, tight law to which there could be no exceptions—but now the exceptions are beginning, and cloning a child is one huge step forward.

The Human Reproductive Cloning Act 2001 was brought in because people in this country and across the world regarded human cloning as an affront to human dignity. They considered it to be unfair to the child and to compromise the relationships of parent and child.

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Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman has not been in the House for very long, but some of us hope to move on to two other groups of amendments. All hon. Members would like to speak for a considerable time, but will he be kind enough to take into consideration the fact that the other groups of amendments deal with hugely important questions of informed consent and parenthood? The House ought to have an opportunity to be able to divide on those issues.

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Photo of John Mason John Mason Scottish National Party, Glasgow East

I totally accept the hon. Gentleman's point. The debate has been compressed into the impossibly short time of half a day, but those are the rules that we are playing to and I am the first person in my party to speak in the debate. However, I do accept his point and I will try to cut out some of my speech.

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Photo of Jim Sheridan Jim Sheridan Labour, Paisley and Renfrewshire North

The hon. Gentleman is new in the House, so may I give him some advice? He should take no advice on brevity or cutting his speech from Mr. Cash.

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Photo of John Mason John Mason Scottish National Party, Glasgow East

I appreciate that supportive comment, and I think that Mr. Cash was repeating himself when he made that intervention.

A House of Lords Select Committee report on stem cell research was clear on the case against human cloning, stating that the high risk of abnormalities rendered the scientific objections to human reproductive cloning overwhelming. I shall omit some of what I was going to say, but the Committee set out other strong ethical objections, and stated that it

"unreservedly endorses the legislative prohibition on reproductive cloning now contained in the Human Reproductive Cloning Act 2001."

The Government have already lost the trust of the people of this country on the economy, crime and other things. The danger is not just that people will lose trust in the Government, but that they will lose trust in scientists and the regulation of science. Mr. Barron seemed to put great faith in the scientific community, but others have put great faith in the banking community and that was found to be misplaced.

If, instead of a clear and simple ban, the public are given subtle exceptions, they will see that their safeguard has been taken away—that there is no longer any line that stands between us and full reproductive cloning. They will think, and they will be right, that we are legalising reproductive cloning.

When the United Kingdom found itself in a minority in the UN on cloning, the then Health Secretary, John Reid, complained bitterly:

"It is a shame that the UN could not agree to a legally binding worldwide ban on reproductive cloning, simply because a small group of countries intransigently refused".

We lectured the world on how marvellous our law was and how important it was to have a legally binding ban, and yet the same Government are about to overturn our own ban on cloning, with not so much as a public debate.

This little exception will put a hole in the dam; it will breach the defence. If one exception is made, who in this House believes that it will be the last exception, or that things will remain there? If we make this exception, we repeal the Act and suddenly the line is crossed, and if this line is crossed there are no other lines. If we pass this law there will be clones. If we pass this law we will be even more isolated from the common humanity of the rest of the world. If we want to stop something happening, we must have a law against it, a clear law, a straightforward law that people can understand—no exceptions, no thin end of the wedge, no foot in the door. We need to keep the clear law that says we will not go there—we want to help parents but we will not sacrifice children. We will not make children to order; we will not make children to a pre-existing blueprint. We will not have clones.

To conclude, we value democracy, we value independence not because we will always make a better job of it—though we think we will—but because they are our decisions. G.K. Chesterton said that democracy was like tying one's own shoe laces; it is part maturity—maturity of an individual, maturity of a nation.

I commend to this House and especially to Labour Back Benchers that they defy the Whip, for the sake of the country, for the maintenance of trust in science and for the sake of the people. I say, "Do not go back to your constituents and explain why you voted to allow reproductive cloning; go back and say why you upheld the ban. Please support amendment No. 41."

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Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (14-19 Reform and Apprenticeships)

It is a pleasure to follow John Mason, particularly as he quoted Chesterton, who is too rarely quoted in the House. My hon. Friend Mr. Leigh spoke about the godly extension of love having a worldwide effect. Chesterton said:

"Those thinkers who cannot believe in any gods often assert that the love of humanity would be in itself sufficient for them; and so, perhaps, it would, if they had it."

This debate, on these amendments, has obliged the House to consider how we define human life and how we regard humanity, as the hon. Member for Glasgow, East said.

Surely humanity means that we regard other human life as we regard our own. Such is the ethics of humanity. So it is our shared humanity that distinguishes us from animals; that determines how we should behave to one another; and determines especially that we should not deliberately distort the lives, or expedite the deaths, of fellow humans, whether those fellow human beings are born or unborn. There has been too little debate in this House about that definition of human life in relation to the Bill, too little clarity about the nature of human life, as my hon. Friends the Members for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Burrowes) and for Gainsborough identified.

It seems to me that the expectation of living human beings and the unborn—those incapable of conscious choice—is the same because of their shared humanity, and that is the prevailing view that should underpin our considerations of this Bill and these amendments to it. Each person is bound to respect the humanity of others, as they are bound to respect their own humanity. But humanity, or that view of it, is under great threat.

The work of Peter Singer, a moral philosopher who is now at Princeton, is most important, in contextual terms. For Singer, the ethics of humanity is objectionable because it amounts to what he calls "speciesism". We have heard a great deal about the blend of animal materials and human cellular materials. Of course, if one does not believe the orthodox view of how to define humanity, and if one defines it around the idea of personhood, when personhood itself is defined by the ability to exercise autonomy and choice, it becomes entirely permissible to manipulate human cellular material in the way the Bill will allow.

It is not self-consciousness, capacity for reason or autonomy that make us human, but something altogether more fundamental. All that the amendments would do is introduce greater clarity. Of course science matters, and of course scientific research is important, but, frankly, morals matter more. We should not define human cellular material in such speciesist terms. We should certainly not abandon our orthodox assumptions about those things that bind us together, born or unborn.

A great Jewish theologian said:

"A religious man is a person who holds God and man in one all times...Whose greatest passion is compassion...Whose greatest strength is love and defiance of despair."

The Bill marks the malign abandonment of those values. By confusing or avoiding the definition of what is, or what is not, human, and by blurring the fundamental and profound ethical divide between ourselves and animals, it does immense damage to our humanity. It will do little for the reputation of the House among a wider public who will be bemused that we can consider some of the things that the Bill will make permissible and some of the things that will result from its extension.

The winding-up speeches are about to begin, so I will bring my remarks to a conclusion by repeating that science matters, but morals matter more.

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Photo of Mark Simmonds Mark Simmonds Shadow Minister (Health) 5:30 pm, 22nd October 2008

The House will be delighted to hear that I will savagely reduce and synthesise my remarks to give the Minister as much time as possible to respond to our important debate. However, first I must say that the debate has demonstrated that the programme order is a disgrace and a misuse of parliamentary procedure, given that many significant amendments that should have been considered have been completely negated.

The Minister needs to clarify whether the insertion of the word "cytoplasm", as proposed in amendment No. 49, which was tabled by Dr. Pugh, would introduce an additional safeguard against the manipulation of nuclear DNA. The right hon. Lady also needs to reaffirm the commitment that she made in Committee that future regulations would not be introduced to extend mitochondrial manipulation to the nucleus and that that could be achieved only by primary legislation. I assure the House that when Conservative Members are in government, we will not allow human reproductive cloning by regulation.

The Minister needs to explain in detail how the Human Reproductive Cloning Act 2001, which bans reproductive cloning, is replicated in the Bill. Why does clause 3(6) use the word "superseded"? If it is correct that there are loopholes in the Bill, as we have been told, the Bill does not supersede the 2001 Act.

It is thought that amendment No. 41, which was tabled by Mr. Drew, should prohibit future Governments from permitting reproductive cloning. We have heard the Government's reassurances that they would never pass regulations to permit that—a Conservative Government would not do so—but if a form of wording could be included in the Bill to ensure that that could never happen, the Government should work to find it. It is not acceptable to leave that to regulation.

Clearly, one of the challenges in the Bill concerns the balance between primary legislation and regulation. One of the reasons why the Bill is before us today is that medical technology has advanced. The Bill is partly about updating the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990. The onus is on the Minister and the Government to show that amendment No. 41 is harmful. It has been cleverly drafted so as not to interfere with mitochondrial donation techniques. It would prevent the legalisation of only those techniques that there is a strong public and international consensus against.

My hon. Friend Mr. Burrowes made a passionate, interesting, detailed speech that demonstrated key, fundamental understanding of the issues. He highlighted a potential—I use the word advisedly—loophole relating to the technological advances in question. Of course, there cannot be an exhaustive list. There was a great debate in the other place about that. However, the Minister needs to understand, and to clarify today, the interaction between the Bill, the 1990 Act that the Bill amends, and the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986. She needs to say which piece of legislation will be responsible for which licence, and whether one is more permissive than another. If it is, she must say whether the Government will consider tightening the relevant licensing procedures.

Again, amendment No. 50 and new clause 24 were tabled by Mr. Donaldson was absolutely right to say that the Bill prohibits admixed embryos being placed in an animal. If there were a total ban, however, it would clearly affect mitochondrial technological advancements, and I am in favour of those advancements. Members need to understand that mixing human and animal gametes has taken place for some considerable time. Mr. Barron and Dr. Harris made the point clearly that there have been significant advances in infertility research because of what has been called the hamster test. Hon. Members need to be very careful about trying to ban and prohibit any mixture of animal and human gametes.

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Photo of Mark Simmonds Mark Simmonds Shadow Minister (Health)

I will not, if the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, because I want to give the Minister time to respond. Common themes have emerged today. First, it is clearly the view of many Members, on all sides of the debate, that there are potential loopholes that may need to be closed. Secondly, it is vital to get the balance between primary legislation and regulation correct. I suspect that the Minister will have to address that clearly. The key element that we must not lose sight of as we discuss this part of the Bill is the fact that the special status of the embryo must be put above everything else. That must not be lost in our debate.

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Photo of Dawn Primarolo Dawn Primarolo Minister of State (Department of Health) (Public Health)

I start by saying clearly—I will return to this point, as Mark Simmonds asked me to—that the Bill sets out a clear prohibition on human reproductive cloning and the genetic modification of gametes or embryos that are to be used for treatment purposes. It does that through the provisions set out in clause 3. At the end of my comments on the amendments, I will return to the subject to lay that out clearly.

Amendments Nos. 41, 49 and 73 seek to restrict the provisions in the Bill that aim to prevent the transmission of mitochondrial diseases. Research is currently being carried out, under a Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority licence, on ways to avoid those devastating diseases. To remind ourselves, we are talking about dementia, respiratory problems, gastro-intestinal disorders, stroke and brain atrophy. In recognition of the severity of those conditions and the potential for such research to provide effective treatment, the Bill provides, through a regulation-making power, for eggs or embryos that have had applied to them a specific process enabling them to avoid serious mitochondrial diseases to be considered "permitted". They can therefore be used in treatment. The particular process and the circumstances in which that would be appropriate would be detailed in regulation. I take the caution given by Dr. Harris about acknowledging the sensitivities and difficulties in that area.

The safety of using the techniques has not yet been established. They would need to be assessed carefully before being deployed as options for patients in treatment. The regulating power would allow for that consideration through a full consultation, to gather the views of the public, ethicists and relevant stakeholders on the appropriate use of using donor eggs for that purpose. For example, as some hon. Members have pointed out today, and as has been raised in the House before, there would need to be consideration about the status of the egg donor if donations from which only the mitochondria is used were made.

In addition to the public consultation, we believe that Parliament should not be asked to decide on this issue now, for precisely the reasons that have been mentioned: the facts should be before Parliament before it makes a decision. It should be asked to take the decision only when all the facts are clearly available.

Amendment No. 41 seeks to limit the regulating powers so that embryos or eggs that have undergone cell nuclear replacement could not be permitted for use in treatment. Following debate in another place and in this House, the Government carefully considered the drafting of proposed new section 3ZA of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990, and whether it needed to be amended.

After careful consideration, the Government's view is that the drafting is clear and does not require amendment. The precise process by which mitochondrial diseases may be treated is not yet clear, and amendment to the regulating powers would inadvertently risk and reduce the scope and the process for treatments to be allowed. Secondly, the regulation-making power is limited to the treatment of mitochondrial diseases only. Thirdly, the regulations would be subject to considerable public consultation and then to debate in Parliament. That would enable all the concerns to be raised. In taking that forward, the Government are balancing the need to have the facts before taking decisions with the recognition that the power is about helping couples conceive a child that is genetically theirs, but without the fatally flawed mitochondria that affect the maternal line. That is the balance that we are trying to strike; we have left things open for further consideration. That is why we are proceeding as we are.

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Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour, Stroud

I hear what my right hon. Friend says, but does she understand the concerns that some of us have? We are being asked to trust the Government, and, more particularly, to think that any future regulation, over which we would have no control through primary legislation, will be fit for purpose. In the context of these issues, that is quite a leap of faith.

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Photo of Dawn Primarolo Dawn Primarolo Minister of State (Department of Health) (Public Health)

I am asking my hon. Friend to think about being involved in the consultation, participating in the public debate and improving the draft regulations if and when they come forward. He should then fully participate in an affirmative resolution debate in the House before the regulations are passed. I am asking hon. Members to think—and that is a reasonable thing to do.

Amendment No. 49 seeks to limit the regulating power so that only embryos or eggs that have been subjected to processes to prevent the transmission of mitochondrial diseases through cytoplasm could be permitted for use in the treatment. I absolutely understand and appreciate the intention behind it. I have to say, however, that the amendment is ambiguous—a point that has been touched on in the debate. Everything in a cell could be considered to be cytoplasm, including the mitochondria and the nucleus, and restricting regulating powers to prevent the transmission of serious mitochondrial diseases via the cytoplasm would not necessarily achieve the aim of excluding transmission via the cell's nucleus. For that reason, there was no need to put the amendment before the House.

There are other more appropriate ways in which mitochondrial disease transmitted via a cell's nucleus could be treated. We are looking specifically, through pre-implantation, at genetic diagnosis of the embryo. On that basis, I hope that Dr. Pugh will accept that we are attempting to strike the right balance, while leaving open the final decisions until the information is available and this House has taken a final view, following consultation.

Amendment No. 73 would prevent any research from being undertaken in the UK the purpose of which is to develop techniques of germ-line genetic modification. It would have the effect of prohibiting research projects from being licensed by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority where the purpose of the research was to develop techniques for the genetic modification of human embryos. In addition, the amendment would restrict the regulation-making power to prevent the research. We are not aware of any researcher who would want to undertake such research, particularly in the light of the international agreements in place to prevent such activities from being applied for reproductive purposes. The Bill clearly sets out a prohibition on the reproductive application of such practices, and any research licensed by the HFEA would also need to satisfy the criteria that the use of embryos was necessary for the research, and that the research was necessary or desirable.

Amendment No. 50 and new clause 24 would introduce a regulating power that requires the Secretary of State to make it an offence to place human gametes in an animal. The Bill does not change the legal position achieved by the 1990 Act, which made no prohibition on the artificial insemination of an animal with human sperm. Such a prohibition was believed unnecessary at the time because of the inability for humans and animals to produce offspring successfully. Equally, the 1990 Act legislated on the creation of human embryos in vitro and on reproductive services. The subject matter was very different from that of the artificial insemination of animals. Since 1990, our knowledge of the ability of humans and animals to procreate has not changed, and there is still no published evidence to suggest that any insemination of an animal with human sperm, whether as part of a scientific study or not, has resulted in pregnancy. Members touched on the regulations that exist and support the legislation in the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986. The Government believe that the combination of the existing legislation in this area is sufficient, and we are not aware of any developments that require revision of that position.

Amendments Nos. 51 and 52 relate to the regulation-making powers in the Bill to extend and alter its definition of embryo, eggs, sperm, gametes and human admixed embryos. They provide that those powers can be used by the Secretary of State only on condition that they are necessary and desirable. It is important that hon. Members understand exactly how that would interact with the rest of the Bill.

Amendment No. 47 has been substantially debated this afternoon with regard to a definition of human admixed embryos that include a catch-all category. That category refers to an embryo containing both human and animal DNA in which the DNA of the animal does not predominate. In other words, those embryos are more human than animal. I touched on the conditions under which a licence would have to be sought in an earlier intervention.

Amendment No. 47 refers to embryos containing human and animal cells created by a process of tetraploid complementation. In the type of embryo created by the process to which the amendment refers, the cells of an early animal embryo are altered, so that they contain twice the usual complement of DNA. Such cells are destined to give rise to only extra-embryonic tissue. When placed with those altered animal cells, human cells would give rise to the embryo proper, because the animal cells are capable of forming only extra-embryonic cells. The implantation of the embryo created in that way is therefore prohibited by the Bill.

Amendment No. 47 seeks to add a further category to the existing categories. Hon. Members have talked about their fear of a loophole that needs to be closed. In looking at the range of issues that have been raised, the Government believe that the embryo created by the process that I have described should be considered as a human admixed embryo, which is regulated under the definition in proposed new section 4A(6)(e) of the 1990 Act, so there is no loophole.

In conclusion, let me return to the point about cloning. The Government are absolutely clear that we are committed to banning human reproductive cloning, and the Bill continues to provide for that.

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Photo of Jim Devine Jim Devine Labour, Livingston 5:45 pm, 22nd October 2008

Will my right hon. Friend place it on record that the Bill has nothing to do with Stalinist or Nazi tests, which is what we heard from the Opposition earlier?

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Photo of Dawn Primarolo Dawn Primarolo Minister of State (Department of Health) (Public Health)

Hon. Members know that the Bill is about helping the one in seven couples who need assistance with their fertility. It is about research to deal with the dreadful diseases and the debilitating attacks on their health from which many in our society suffer. The Bill is about combining science with an ethical framework that works on behalf of humankind, and I think that the House knows that.

The provisions of the Bill continue to prohibit reproductive cloning and retain the existing penalty of up to 10 years in prison for anyone attempting reproductive cloning. I say this to all hon. Members, whatever their fears: please be reassured that the penalty is there. The prohibition continues. The Bill contains specific powers to allow the House to return, when the information is there and the consultation has been completed, in order to be clear about whether we would permit any further expansion in that area of research.

We have had a long and extremely important debate. Much of the ground has been covered in previous debates. It is always important to clarify the Government's intentions. Every Member of the House has a free vote tonight. I urge them to support the Bill and to reject the amendments, as the best way forward to ensure that science prevails in an ethical framework that is acceptable to the House.

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Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 215, Noes 299.

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Question accordingly negatived.

It being after Six o'clock, Mr. Speaker then proceeded to put the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that hour, pursuant to Order [this day].

Amendment proposed: No. 41, page 3, line 26 , at end insert—

'(5A) Regulations made under subsection (5) may not provide for an egg or embryo whose nuclear genetic material has been altered by genetic modification, or whose nucleus has been replaced by the nucleus of a somatic cell, to be a permitted egg or a permitted embryo.

(5B) In this section, "genetic modification" includes the alteration of the nuclear genetic material of an egg or embryo by—

(a) recombinant nucleic acid techniques which change the DNA sequence of nuclear chromosomes of the egg or one or more cells of the embryo, or

(b) the introduction into the egg or into one or more cells of the embryo of a stably-maintained artificial chromosome, virus or plasmid.'.— [Mr. Drew.]

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 206, Noes 298.

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Question accordingly negatived.

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