Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill [HL]

– in the House of Lords at 3:08 pm on 19th November 2007.

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Photo of Lord Darzi of Denham Lord Darzi of Denham Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Health, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health) 3:08 pm, 19th November 2007

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. The United Kingdom is at the forefront of developments in human reproductive technology. This country has a proud record of pioneering new techniques for the alleviation of infertility and for exploring new avenues of scientific research. The final breakthrough in innovation now known universally by the letters "IVF" took place here. Key developments in new research techniques, such as the creation of Dolly the sheep, happened in British laboratories. These and other developments have brought hope to countless thousands of people who might otherwise have been unable to have children, and offer enormous potential for the future treatment of serious disease.

Alongside this enviable record of innovation stands an equally pioneering history of effective regulatory oversight. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority was the first body of its kind in the world. The creation of the HFEA made for the first time an area of medical practice subject to the control of an independent regulator, replacing professional self-regulation. The UK and this Government implemented the first statutory ban on human reproductive cloning anywhere in the world. We also introduced legislation paving the way for scientists to reap the benefits of embryonic stem cell research. Specialist regulation of reproductive technologies, together with clear legal boundaries, has united scientific breakthroughs with public confidence in their development and use.

Among other things, this represents a considerable triumph for parliamentary debate. The existing law, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990, was the product of consultation, a committee of inquiry, and then extensive scrutiny here and in another place. Many Members of your Lordships' House have played, and continue to play, a direct role as legislators and experienced practitioners in the fields of philosophy, science and medicine. The Bill provides a further opportunity for that expertise to be brought to bear.

In 1990, Parliament set out the legal boundaries and parameters of a scheme of regulation. It was based on the principle of active monitoring of technologies that raised a range of profound social, legal and ethical questions. Finding answers to those questions arguably goes straight to the heart of our existence as individuals, families and society. Sincerely held views and opinions differ widely, and sometimes fundamentally, in this area. However, there was also in 1990 an evident desire for some principles and somedefined limits. The 1990 Act represented a will to find common ground in a framework broadly acceptable to society.

In January 2004, the Government announced a review of the law. We recognised that the 1990 Act had worked well, but, like any cutting-edge legislation, needed to be reviewed from time to time. Our aim in undertaking the review was to ensure that the law remained effective and fit for purpose in the 21st century. In particular, we thought that a review was timely given the pace of scientific developments and public attitudes associated with them. The noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, remarked that,

"we were conscious of an increasing sense of urgency that controls should be introduced where none exist, and that the law should be brought up to date, so that society may be protected from its real and very proper fear of a rudderless voyage into unknown and threatening seas".

That remark was written in 1985. Our sea charts have been partly filled in since then, but there are also new rocks and reefs. We are navigating strong currents of reproductive freedom and responsibility, patient safety, public accountability and professional autonomy, and questions of how best to safeguard the welfare of children.

The Department of Health undertook a public consultation in the summer of 2005, taking account of the extensive inquiry into reproductive technologies by the Science and Technology Committee in the other place. It produced more than 500 responses from a wide range of stakeholders, including from the medical profession, patients' representatives, faith groups, scientists, academics and other members of the public. An independently produced summary of the responses was published in March 2006.

This was followed in December 2006 by the Government's White Paper, setting out our legislative proposals to update the existing law and including the proposal to establish a single regulatory body for tissue and embryos. The resulting draft Bill, then entitled the Human Tissue and Embryos Bill, was published for pre-legislative scrutiny in May this year. A Joint Committee of both Houses was appointed to scrutinise the Bill, and considered a wide range of evidence from stakeholders as part of its deliberations. Nine members of your Lordships' House served on the committee, bringing to bear varied experience in law and ethics, research and regulation. The Joint Committee published its report and recommendations on 1 August.

The Government responded to the Joint Committee's report on 8 October. We accepted the spirit of the report, and many of the recommendations. We recognised the strength of the committee's reasoning in relation to replacement of the HFEA and the Human Tissue Authority by RATE, the Regulatory Authority for Tissue and Embryos. This proposal had originated in the Department of Health's 2004 review of its arm's-length bodies, which has, overall, been a successful programme, releasing savings for front-line care.

On balance, and in the light of the Joint Committee's report, the Government decided to drop the proposal to establish RATE. A number of noble Lords drew attention to this matter during debate on the gracious Speech, and I am pleased to note that it has been warmly received. The Government will, however, be working with both the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority and the Human Tissue Authority to ensure that regulation is streamlined. Separately from the Bill, we will be reviewing, together with the Treasury, the fees charged by the HFEA and the Human Tissue Authority.

The Bill has benefited from pre-legislative scrutiny, and clearly demonstrates the value of that process. Development of the Government's proposals have also benefited from the reports of other parliamentary Select Committees published during the intervening years, including, for example, the 2002 report from your Lordships' Committee on Stem Cell Research, produced under the chairmanship of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries. The Bill is therefore the product of a considered and deliberative approach. It will update the regulation of assisted reproduction, ensuring that it is effective and reflective of modern society. The Bill is needed to ensure that legitimate medical and scientific uses of human reproductive technology can continue to flourish.

The Bill will help maintain the UK's position as a world leader in ground-breaking research for the treatment of serious diseases, including through embryonic stem cell research. Its provisions are an overhaul of the existing law and will promote public confidence together with best regulatory practice. We have not, however, proposed to abandon the basic foundations on which the existing law is based. We have not tried to fix what is not broken, nor have we thrown the baby out with the bathwater. Rather, we have kept to the fundamental underpinnings of the regulatory scheme based on the report of the committee of inquiry chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, on which the original legislation was based. Nevertheless, technology has moved on and so have attitudes. There are, for example, novel ways of creating embryos for research, a much increased capacity to screen embryos for serious genetic diseases, and at the same time legal recognition for different family forms. These developments demand a rigorous examination in Parliament of the regulatory framework, and a resetting of the controls and boundaries for the future.

The Bill was introduced on 8 November, a month after our response to the pre-legislative scrutiny report. It comprises 69 clauses and eight schedules, arranged in three parts. The first part consists of amendments to the 1990 Act, amending, for example, the definitions used. Part 2 consists of provisions relating to legal parenthood in certain circumstances, for future cases involving assisted reproduction. Part 3 contains miscellaneous and general provisions, including amendment of the Surrogacy Arrangements Act 1985. As well as the Explanatory Notes relating to the Bill, the department has also prepared an illustrative text of the 1990 Act, showing how it would look if the amendments proposed in the Bill were made. This text also incorporates changes to the 1990 Act made by various other instruments, including the regulations made earlier this year to implement the requirements of the European directive on tissues and cells.

The Bill's main provisions will ensure that all human embryos outside the body, whatever the process used in their creation, are subject to regulation. The existing law refers to the process of fertilisation, which has cast doubt on whether embryos produced by more novel processes are within the regulator's remit. It is important for the future of embryo research that there should be clarity about what is regulated, and moreover to ensure that human embryos cannot be created and used lightly.

The Bill will clarify the regulation of interspecies embryos for research. The original legislation was concerned almost entirely with human embryos. It banned the mixing of human and animal gametes, other than for the limited purposes of testing the fertility of human sperm. Beyond this, the 1990 Act does not mention embryos combining human and animal material.

Technology has moved on and promising avenues of research have expanded. For example, scientists now wish to use animal eggs in place of human eggs for the purpose of creating embryos for stem cell research, in part to overcome the shortage of human eggs available for research. The aims of such research would be, for example, to explore the potential for treatment of degenerative conditions such as Parkinson's disease. Again, it is essential that the law and regulations are clear about what falls within the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority's remit. We are proposing that interspecies embryos can be created for research, subject to the HFEA's decisions to license individual research projects as being necessary or desirable. These are exactly the same controls as apply for embryo research projects using human embryos, and subject to the same safeguards. The embryos cannot be kept beyond 14 days' development, nor can they be placed in a woman or an animal.

Besides interspecies embryos, the Bill will also increase the scope of legitimate research activities, while retaining strong regulatory controls and oversight. The existing legislation is not, for example, as clear as it could be that basic research using embryos—the type of research that underpins more advanced applied research into serious diseases—is permitted. Similarly, the restrictions on the use of data collected by the HFEA are overly restrictive and make it difficult for the success of treatments to be followed up through good research. The Bill contains enabling powers to make access to those data easier, while allowing full attention to be given to proper confidentiality controls.

The Bill will impose a statutory ban on the sex selection of offspring for non-medical reasons. This will put on the face of the legislation something which is at present a matter of HFEA policy, giving Parliament the opportunity to fully debate the provisions. The Bill will also make explicit the basic parameters for screening and selecting embryos. Again, the intention is that this should be undertaken only on the grounds of avoiding serious disease, and the Bill preserves some flexibility for how that is to be determined. The current situation, which has been the subject of legal challenge, is not sufficiently clear, and again the opportunity is presented for Parliament to give a clear steer for the future.

The Bill includes clear recognition of same-sex couples as legal parents of children conceived through the use of donated sperm, eggs or embryos. This will mean, for example, that the woman who gives birth and her civil partner will both be recognised as the parents of a child conceived via assisted reproduction. At present, the partner would have to apply to adopt the child. Similarly, two men will be able to apply for a parental order to become parents of a child conceived through a surrogacy arrangement. At present, parental orders are open only to married couples. In considering these matters we must ensure that we do not overstress concerns and anxieties, or depart into the realms of science fiction. Similarly, we must be careful not to overhype promising areas for future exploration.

The Bill contains a number of secondary legislative powers, as well as areas of discretion for the regulator, that are intended to allow scope for flexibility where appropriate. This is to enable a rapid response to new developments as well as attention to detail in different cases. There is also in the Bill the capacity to recognise in practice when developments have become commonplace. We are, for example, imposing on the regulator an explicit duty to act always in accordance with the principles of better regulation. The Bill also provides for a more streamlined approach to administration by the regulator. For example, it removes the current requirement that the membership of HFEA licence committees must be limited only to members of the authority.

I must also briefly mention two things that the Bill does not do, and that the Government have no intention of doing. It does not—as has been claimed by some observers—deviate from the Government's position that human reproductive cloning is illegal. The Bill's provisions replace the Human Reproductive Cloning Act 2001 by putting new controls directly into the 1990 Act. I am sure that we will have extensive discussions in Committee about precisely which activities are permitted in relation to eggs and embryos, but let me be quite clear from the outset that the Government's policy remains not to allow reproductive cloning.

Another issue on which we have been quite clear from the inception of the review of the law on assisted reproduction is donor anonymity. Under the 1990 Act as originally passed, donors are anonymous. A change was made by regulations in 2004 so that where donors of gametes or embryos were registered from 1 April 2005, the donor-conceived person will have the right of access to information, including the name of the donor, from the age of 18. The Government have made clear that we have no intention of altering this position, arrived at as a matter of principle, and put successfully into practice. In fact, the Bill will enable greater access to information by donors and donor-conceived people, recognising the importance placed on genetic origins and relationships.

I look forward to an interesting debate on the extremely important issues raised by the Bill. Once more the eyes of the world are upon us. In this and subsequent stages of the Bill I believe that this House will provide, as it has in the past, the considered and expert scrutiny that is vital.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Darzi of Denham.)

Photo of Lord Mackay of Clashfern Lord Mackay of Clashfern Conservative 3:26 pm, 19th November 2007

My Lords, I declare an interest as an honorary fellow of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh and of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh. I am also patron of the Lawyers' Christian Fellowship and a member of a number of other Christian bodies.

I had the great honour of presenting to this House the 1990 Bill, which became the 1990 Act, and I retain a feeling of fatherhood towards it. I also had the honour of serving on the Select Committee of both Houses that scrutinised the draft Bill under the very distinguished chairmanship of Mr Philip Willis, an honourable Member of another place.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Darzi of Denham, for his clear exposition of the Bill and its principal features. At the outset I should say how pleased I am that the Government have decided to abandon the suggestion of amalgamating the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority with the Human Tissue Authority. I believe that to be a thoroughly wise decision and, as the noble Lord said, it is warmly supported by the Joint Committee.

It was said that the 1990 Act required fertilisation to be part of the definition of an embryo. I think that it is right to say that that was argued, but the court decided that the wording of the 1990 Act was sufficiently broad to capture an embryo however it was created.

I wish to deal with certain points in the time allotted to me as a Back-Bench speaker because, as the noble Lord indicated, many issues of great concern and importance are dealt with in the Bill. When an activity is to be licensed, it is necessary to define the activity in question. In the draft Bill, the Government expressed a desire to license the creation and use of interspecies hybrids. They did this in a list corresponding generally to paragraphs (a) to (d) of new Section 4A(5), which they propose to insert into the 1990 Act. However—this is crucial—they added what was described as a catch-all provision, which they modified in manuscript in a letter to the Select Committee. They were attempting an exhaustive definition of interspecies embryos.

Unfortunately, the scientific experts who came before the Select Committee found the catch-all provision to be incomprehensible. Because of that difficulty, the Select Committee hoped to afford the Government some help by suggesting lines that they could take. We therefore proposed a draft definition of interspecies embryos, which we recognised required work before being finalised. When the Government came to work on it, they dropped it altogether and replaced it with a power on the part of the Minister to make regulations. The difficulty with that is that if an activity is not restricted by the licensing conditions that are already in place, it will not be restricted at all. A ministerial regulation that comes thereafter will be rather late and rather retrospective, which is highly undesirable.

It would be much better to have a working definition of interspecies embryos as a whole—one that was not only a list of particular cases but a description of what is meant by the phrase in the Bill. We managed to do that in 1990 for embryos in a way that has lasted and I am sure that the present Government have at least as good resources and qualified Ministers to do that as we had. Ours has lasted for 17 years; I hope that theirs will last somewhat longer. The Minister is of course an expert in the science associated with medicine and surgery. I therefore look forward to hearing him explain in his response what he understands by the words "interspecies embryo". I shall then be very happy to pick that up and table it as an amendment to the Bill when it reaches Committee.

Although this is Second Reading and I should not be getting too deeply into Committee points, I should point out that one sees the force of this in two provisions in the Bill. The first is in new Section 4A, which it is proposed should be added to the 1990 Act. It says:

"No person shall place in a woman ... an embryo other than a human embryo".

However, there is already a provision in Clause 3 that says:

"No person shall place in a woman ... an embryo other than a permitted embryo".

As I understand the definitions—I hope that I have understood them correctly—every permitted embryo is a human embryo, but every human embryo, since "human embryo" is not defined, is not a permitted embryo. Therefore these two provisions do not stand together. Some misunderstanding underlies them, and I suggest that reconsideration of the definition provisions would not be out of place.

The Select Committee also suggested that the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority should be given the power to grant an exemption if a given application before it did not really include the need for embryonic consideration—or the consideration of the embryo—because the definitions are very wide. Just as a planning authority may find with regard to certain applications for planning permission, it may find that no permission is necessary. We suggested that. I think that the Government thought that we were trying to provide for the authority to exempt IVF treatment altogether. Certainly from my point of view—and I think that I represent the committee's views—that was not the point at all. The evidence shows that this could catch basic science that does not involve consideration of matters particularly related to an embryo. We therefore thought that this was a good power and I have the impression that much of the respected scientific community thought the same.

I shall now pass, in the last two minutes available to me, from these rather technical matters to the point about removing from the 1990 Act the provision that required, in considering the welfare of a child in IVF treatment, consideration of the child's need for a father. That provision in the 1990 Act was negotiated here in this House with considerable care and it was accepted unanimously here and I think also in the House of Commons. As I understand the process, male material is still necessary for the procreation of human life—I hope that I am right in that; I think that I am. If it is necessary, it seems extraordinarily undesirable, the very moment when the child comes into existence, to leave that out of account altogether.

The provision in the 1990 Act is a very general one and does not prescribe anything. It just says that the need for a father has to be kept in view. However, so urgent is the desire to change this that the Government want to miss out entirely that very innocuous provision. I did not understand why that was so during the previous Committee stage and I do not understand it now. From my point of view, it would be much better left in place. We should recognise that nature requires male material in a living human being as well as female. That should be recognised in considering the welfare of a human being about to be brought into the world regardless of whether that human being will ultimately have a father in any ordinary sense of the word, though a male who is within the framework of his society and friendship may well be the one who would be sufficient to satisfy the condition, as the evidence before us showed.

Photo of Baroness Tonge Baroness Tonge Spokesperson in the Lords, Health 3:37 pm, 19th November 2007

My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to speak in this debate. I suspect that none of us will be able to do justice to it on Second Reading but I should like to highlight a few issues on which I feel strongly and on which my party has a position.

Before I do so, however, I want to pay tribute to the work done by the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, and her committee which led up to the 1990 Act. Every time I pass the noble Baroness's office, which is next to mine in 2 Millbank, it reminds me what a privilege it is to be in this place rubbing shoulders with people such as Mary Warnock. The 1990 Act was a masterpiece of legislation and has made this country the envy of medical scientists all over the world. Our regulatory system and liberal approach to embryology research have put the UK in a lead position in this field.

However, advances in the field make it imperative for the 1990 Act to be reviewed. Here I also congratulate the researchers in the field in the UK on their restraint, especially, recently, the team lead by Professor Steven Mingh at King's College and the team at Newcastle led by Dr Lyle Armstrong. They both wish to use stem cells to grow cell lines in an attempt to treat conditions such as Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, diabetes and spinal injury—very common conditions that will affect many noble Lords. They are waiting for the passage of this Bill and I commend them on their patience.

This research could transform the lives of huge numbers of people if successful. All of this research is so exciting. Reading up over the weekend on the latest discoveries on mitochondria—those little specks in the cytoplasm of human cells—I realised that we were very close to finding out how life emerged from the chemical soup that was on this planet millions of years ago. It is the biological equivalent of looking up at the night sky, as one does, and thinking about what lies beyond the Milky Way, and beyond that, and beyond that, until the mind boggles. This is on the same level and it is thrilling. The Government must also be congratulated on the wide consultation on the Bill and on the fine work of the committee that scrutinised the draft Bill. My noble friend Lady Neuberger was a member of that committee. I wish all legislation could be dealt with in this way in this House.

The main field under consideration in the Bill that interests me is the creation of cytoplasmic hybrid embryos or cell lines—I wish we could call them cell lines, not embryos. It is done by using the nucleus of a human somatic cell and implanting it into an animal cell from which the nucleus has been removed, so using the energy from those magical bodies called mitochondria to do the work. Precious human eggs have been used for this. They have to be harvested from women's ovaries in an invasive and occasionally dangerous procedure, so using animal cells would be much better.

Other interspecies embryos, or cell lines, covered by the Bill are true hybrids. I have to commend to noble Lords the Enchanted Forest at Groombridge, to which I am dragged by my family every Halloween. There is a Zeedonk there, which is a hybrid of a donkey and a zebra. It is worth going just to see the expression on the animal's face. He stands there looking as if he is thinking, "I feel a little silly". He is worth seeing, and it is worth being reminded of what can happen with true hybrids. The Bill also considers chimera and human transgenic embryos.

I understand the horror that some people feel when talking about these things, bombarded as we are through our televisions and cinema screens with monsters of all shapes and sizes. Probably the most important provisions of the Bill, which cannot be emphasised enough, are that any embryo must not be kept or used after 14 days or when the primitive streak first appears, which is at around 14 days, and that no interspecies embryo—human embryo or interspecies embryo: the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, made a very fine point—must be implanted in a woman's uterus. It must not happen.

That is one line of research, but there are others. At the weekend, Professor Wilmut, who created Dolly the sheep, was said to be working on turning somatic cells directly into stem cells. That is another very interesting line of research, but we need all avenues of research if we are going to conquer the diseases that persecute the human race. We must encourage, and we must regulate while we encourage.

The objectors will say human life is sacred, full stop. The difficulty is to define exactly what is human life. The sufferers of the diseases I mentioned are certainly human, and their lives could be transformed if this work is successful. Do we want to deny them that? What about all the eggs from my ovaries and the embryos of less than 14 days that I might have lost in the course of over 40 years of happy marriage? Was that human life? We get into very difficult areas when talking in these terms. People worry about the transmission of infection via mitochondria but, if that is a possibility, the only way we can develop ways to combat it is to allow the research to go ahead to find out what happens. What of rogue scientists acting outside the law and creating monsters? There have always been rogue scientists, which is why the law and regulations must be in place to ensure that they are caught and stopped. I shall not get carried away at this stage. Suffice it to say that my party supports this research, but we will have a free vote when the time comes.

I shall touch on other issues very briefly. Clause 14(2)(b) removes the reference in the 1990 Act to the child's need for a father. I say to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, that of course every child needs a biological father—thank goodness—but children can be brought up well without either parent in some circumstances. Two of my grandchildren have been brought up without a mother for the past three and a half years, but they have been surrounded by a loving family and a social network, the requirement for which is also mentioned in the 1990 Act and remains in the Bill. That network of support for any future child is more important than either parent; there must be a social network and an extended family. Our party has never discriminated against gay people, which is what this debate is really about, and we will therefore support the removal of those words. There will also be a prolonged debate on the child's right to information about parentage and the effect that this may have on the availability of donors. I have a lot to say on that subject, but I will leave those arguments for the Committee stage.

I confess to sometimes feeling a little anxious about the treatment of infertility, having spent the past 10 years studying the effects on world resources, food supply and climate change of the population explosion all over the planet. At the same time, we are helping desperate, childless people to have babies. We must spend much more on making contraception available to those people who cannot stop having babies. That is not the last that I shall say on this subject.

Finally, we do not think it appropriate for us in this House to put forward amendments to the Abortion Act. That must be the prerogative of the House of Commons, Members of which are the elected representatives of the people of this country. However, if there are noble Lords here who are distressed at the number of abortions in this country—who is not?—I hope that they will support my party in our call for good statutory sex and relationship education in all of our schools and for a halt to the closure of family planning clinics nationwide, as the primary care trusts balance their books and use what they see as the easy option for cuts.

This is an exciting and fascinating Bill and there will be great debates. I look forward to the Committee stage, where I suspect that I will probably learn much more than I contribute.

Photo of Baroness Deech Baroness Deech Crossbench 3:47 pm, 19th November 2007

My Lords, I declare an interest as a former chair of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority for more than seven years.

I welcome the periodic review by Parliament of this area of the law. I note that in the Bill there is confirmation in every respect of decisions taken by the authority. All the scientific provisions in the Bill, which I regard as excellent, confirm decisions already taken by the authority. There is evident respect for the way in which the authority has approached its job and I hope that noble Lords are pleased that the HFEA is not to be amalgamated with another body.

It is where the Bill crosses over into the organisation of family life that I have more concerns. There is a risk in the unfolding of IVF and the consequent science that our humanity and the respective roles of men and women are ignored. It would be extraordinary if this House were to ignore the contribution made by half of the human race towards the upbringing of the next generation. It is important that this House should reaffirm the importance of parenting; both mothering and fathering.

There would be fewer concerns if the NHS provided more IVF and if such provision as there is were spread more evenly across the country. It is important to note that the public do not take IVF for granted. Treatment rolls on into new areas and blurs into research. I hope that the House will resist the siren voices that say that IVF has become commonplace and there is no need to regulate it. Clause 7 requires regulation to be proportionate. However, I should tell your Lordships that, speaking from experience, the pressure from politics and the media are such that, whenever a relatively small but unavoidable human error occurs—for example, a lost embryo—there is a hue and cry and a call for more regulation, and it would be wise to err on the side of safety. Furthermore, private doctors in this field are among the wealthiest clinicians in the country. It is of course in their interests to ensure that, by using many embryos, the woman becomes pregnant, but the costs of multiple births fall on the National Health Service. This is unfair and I look forward to the day when no more than one embryo at a time may be used.

In this field, the law is paramount but we should not forget the need for money—proper resources to enforce, to register and to fight cases—because all the time judicial review is being used to challenge interpretations, no matter how watertight the definitions may seem. Then of course there are ethics. The authority has indeed worked out ethical principles: autonomy, safety, welfare, respect for the embryo and the saving of life.

In the scientific field, the Bill confirms the wider use of pre-implantation genetic diagnosis. That is good. I hope that your Lordships will be pleased that the deliberate choice of an embryo that is, for example, likely to be deaf will be prevented by Clause 14. The Bill confirms saviour siblings, no selection of sex for social reasons, and extended purposes for research in embryology, first allowed in the 2001 regulations. That research, once legitimated, put the UK at the forefront of world stem cell research. Interspecies embryos will be legitimated and I think that that is right. The Bill reaffirms the importance of consent. There is to be no use of gametes taken from comatose or dead persons without their prior consent, as set out in paragraphs 5, 9 and 10 of Schedule 3. I also welcome the cooling-off period of one year when consent is withdrawn to avoid further sad cases such as that of Natallie Evans, which went to the European Court of Human Rights.

However, I feel that I should take issue with two clauses. Clause 14 would omit a child's need for a father as a consideration in the assessment of welfare that has to be carried out by the doctor proposing to treat a woman. I hope that this new clause can be removed so that we revert to the law as it stands—the careful and sensitive compromise worked out in 1990, as described by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, which has held firm for all that period. The requirement is, after all, only to consider the need; it is not an absolute ban on treatment by any means, and it is well known that many single women and gay couples receive IVF treatment at clinics and have children. The argument for removing it is that it is now public policy to treat all families equally and to avoid any discrimination between persons on grounds of gender and sexual orientation and because there are inconsistencies and unknowns in the way that the provision is applied. There is no need for a father, it is said, especially given that there is provision in the current Bill for two women to be the legal parents of a child.

Does a child really not need a father? Clearly, the need for a mother remains unchallenged—it is implicit in the way that the law works. I think that a child needs a father. First, we are where we are. To remove the requirement that a child needs a father is to make a fresh statement to the effect that a child does not need a father. It sends a message to men, at a time when many of them feel undermined as providers and parents, contrary to government policy in this field. Government policy is that men should pay for their children after divorce and separation and that they should take responsibility. Divorce law judges hold that contact with a father after divorce is a good thing. Recently, the Government have sought to encourage single women to name the father of their babies on the birth certificates. We are told that children who find out that they are adopted or created by donor insemination need to know their fathers. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child says that every child has the right to know and to be cared for by both parents and of course anonymity has been removed from sperm donors, which must mean that they are important.

The current law does no more than require that a doctor checks whether there is a male in the social circle—for example, a grandfather—and causes parents to reflect on how to cope with the situation. Indeed the requirements have been much watered down by the HFEA code which has done its utmost to ensure that there is no discrimination without good reason. I would argue that the present law is not discriminatory. It applies to men and women: heterosexual couples, homosexual couples, married, cohabiting and others. Even if it were discriminatory, it is justified on the ground that the welfare of the child is paramount.

There is a wealth of research showing that children need fathers, not just a parent. Children need to see complementary roles, the relationship between the sexes, a microcosm of society as they grow up. There is also research showing that children born to lesbian parents do well, but it is limited research, mostly carried out by one researcher in this country and of necessity the children are very young. Some research shows that those children suffer from the inevitably confused and secretive family relationships that occur.

Recent reports have placed Britain at the bottom of the international league tables for the welfare of children and we know that boys without parents fail at school, that they turn to worse role models and that fathers play a great part in the upbringing of their children as well. A survey reported this morning shows that 77 per cent of the public would keep the law the way it is. After all, if a woman is pregnant and her husband dies during the pregnancy, do we not say that is a tragedy? Do we not allow her to claim damages? Many of the same arguments apply to naming two women on the birth certificate but time does not permit an exploration of that at the moment.

Finally, I put in a plea. It takes courage to stand up for what is right for children; women have won respect for their bodies and their roles in the past few years; but it is time to take care of and to support men in this enterprise as well.

Photo of The Bishop of St Albans The Bishop of St Albans Bishop 3:57 pm, 19th November 2007

My Lords, I have the very considerable privilege of being a member of the Joint Committee which met for a few weeks in the early summer of this year. I too want to put on record not only my appreciation of the chairmanship of Mr Phillip Willis but also the work of the Clerk to the committee. We were all working under great pressure and they were outstanding. To meet the deadlines we had to put to one side some of the ethical issues that underlie the Bill, although in the time available we were able to consider briefly just a few.

It is relatively easy to expose the ethical issues by asking a simple question: does the kind of scientific endeavour and therapeutic treatment which this Bill allows need regulation at all and why not let scientific and therapeutic market forces rip? As soon as one asks the question one begins to realise what some of the ethical issues are. Unregulated research and treatment could jeopardise our common understanding of what it means to be human; it could jeopardise our understanding of what we believe to be the meaning and purpose of human life; it could jeopardise our understanding of human relationships; and an unregulated free-for-all could and might lead to the unscrupulous treatment of the most vulnerable and could and might lead to some appalling abuses of power.

I outline again the four major philosophical ethical areas: first, the meaning of our humanity; secondly, the meaning and purpose of our lives; thirdly, the meaning, purpose and value of human relationships; and, fourthly, the right use of power. Those four ethical issues are accompanied by others—for example, because we have the ability to carry out research and treatment, how do we decide whether we should, and what criteria should we use to determine this? How are we to decide whether the kind of research and treatment outlined by the Bill is likely to harm or enhance individuals in society? And, conversely, what might be the effects on individuals in society if we fail to carry out the proposed research and treatment? In my view the moral questions inherent in the Bill tumble over each other in rapid succession.

I again remind noble Lords that our ability in the Joint Committee to tackle some of those questions was hampered by two things—first, as I have said, lack of time, and, secondly, having to spend time on whether the HFEA and the HTA should be coalesced into RATE. That proposal has wisely been abandoned, but the time the Joint Committee spent on that could have been spent on some of the ethical questions. In that committee some of us became aware of both the significance and the accuracy of what Sir Liam Donaldson described as the,

"deficit in medical ethics in this country".

Some consider that medical ethics are somehow subservient to the science being undertaken. The then Minister said in her evidence to us:

"It is a mixture of science and ethics in these areas and part of getting the ethics right is taking public opinion with you in terms of support for the science".

I do not share that utilitarian view of ethics.

Our lack of time as a committee also meant that we were unable to explore in as much depth as some of us would have liked not only the questions I have outlined, but the one that is key to this whole enterprise: what is the moral status of the human embryo? Does every embryo from the moment of fertilisation have a unique indelible moral status or does the moral status of the embryo change as the embryo develops? I recognise that the Warnock report—and many philosophers and theologians have before and since—debated this question, but ethically that question lies at the heart of this Bill, and, because of changes in science and technology and changes in public attitudes, it needs to be debated again.

I have read something about the science involved in human fertility research and treatment. I found much of that science breathtakingly interesting. I recognise that it is carried out in some instances with remarkable humility—it is very moving—but I am among those who believe that this Bill is of such fundamental importance that greater and further consideration of the ethical issues should and must be given.

I share the view of the Joint Committee that a joint bioethics committee of Parliament should be set up. If noble Lords want the details they should look at paragraph 295 on page 77 of the Joint Committee's report. I hope that that recommendation will be acted on as a matter of urgency. Such a committee should be appointed not to provide retrospective reflection on legislation but to provide a lot of prospective thinking.

We hear much—even today we have heard much—about impact assessments. What is the point of impact assessments if they do not include the ethical dimensions of the issues before us? Of course I recognise the beauty and humanity of much of the science, but it would be tragic if that beauty and humanity were to be damaged by any deficit in ethical thinking in this Parliament. It would be even more appalling if those who might be brought to birth as a result of the proposals outlined asked of us: "Why? Why were they in such a rush? Why didn't they have the courage or the wisdom to give deep and long consideration to the morality of the proposals before rushing into law?".

The Bill is not only about us in our generation. It is not only about our place in the world scientifically and technologically. It is also potentially about generations of people yet to come. It seems to me that we owe it to them to ensure that we give as much attention to the ethics as we do to the science and to the regulatory mechanisms. It is for their sake that we must get the ethics, and therefore the legislation, right.

Photo of Baroness Jay of Paddington Baroness Jay of Paddington Labour 4:06 pm, 19th November 2007

My Lords, the House will be very grateful to the right reverend Prelate for raising the basic moral issues that lie behind this important legislation. I rise, in this debate of experts, as a lay person who has none the less followed the issues closely for 20 years, to say that I very much welcome the Bill as the latest and most sensible step in a process that has been exemplary of good governance since the 1980s. After all, in an era when Parliament, the Executive and even independent regulators are often under fire for various inadequacies, it is good that we can be confident that in this very complex area of IVF and embryo research, we have been extraordinarily well guided and organised, both in policy and in practice.

As the Minister said in his introduction to the Bill, we are now a world leader in this field. Importantly, the strength of the relationship that has grown up between scientists, policymakers and regulators has meant that as technology has developed, the ethical debate has continued and the Government have not—as is so often the case—lagged behind advances in science or changes in public opinion, but have been able to keep pace with and reflect exciting new opportunities and differences in people's views.

That is obviously the purpose of the Bill. I must congratulate the Government, as other speakers have done, on the process of extensive consultation and pre-legislative scrutiny that has produced these very thoughtful proposals. Particular thanks are obviously due to those Members of your Lordships' House and Members of another place who took part in the Joint Scrutiny Committee on the draft Bill, most of whose substantive recommendations I agree with and, much more importantly, the Government have accepted. Noble Lords who were members of the Scrutiny Committee have spoken and will speak about the specific changes from the draft Bill that they welcome. I simply say that I am delighted to see the disappearance of RATE. It is my very strong view that the right architecture for providing a clear statutory framework based on the principles of devolved regulation is now the backbone of the Bill.

In the context of both clinical practice and research, I have always personally supported the flexibility of permissive legislation plus, needless to say, very firm regulatory boundaries, with the boundaries derived—here I perhaps part company with the right reverend Prelate—from the gradualist approach to the developing moral status of the embryo, which I was first convinced of by the report produced by the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock. I appreciate of course that others prefer a more explicit, absolutist approach, but I am happy to continue with the way in which we have satisfactorily reached the position that we have during the past 17 years. None the less, I would agree with the right reverend Prelate that the suggestion made by the scrutiny committee of the joint standing bioethics committee in Parliament has attractions, which I hope we can debate further at later stages of the Bill.

It is the pure research questions which will continue to throw up the most tricky problems for both those concerned with ethics and the regulators. We have all witnessed—we have heard examples today—an extraordinary acceleration of what can be done using IVF technology and the questions of what should be done follow equally quickly. I vividly remember visiting Monash University in Australia in the mid-1980s and being shown its pioneering work in embryo freezing. The images of human live tissue in vats with swirling dry ice arising from them have stayed with me since. At the time, it was obviously a controversial procedure, and at first seemed alarmingly futuristic and possibly dangerous.

However, clinical advantages of being able to use stored embryos in many social situations quickly became obvious. On the medical research side, the possibilities of using spare frozen embryos were already opening up. Today, freezing and storing are common practice. This Bill, in dealing with today's realities, expands the definitions of so-called permitted embryos to include, as we have heard, interspecies embryos, which were unthought of at least by this lay person in the 1980s.

I was very appreciative of the strictures that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, addressed in his contribution about the definitions of those interspecies embryos and I hope that we will return to that at a later stage. I clearly understand that the very existence of interspecies embryos can create the sort of apprehensions that I felt when I first saw those steaming vats of frozen embryos two decades ago.

However, I believe that some of the same arguments about offering better solutions to the infertile, as well as significantly improving disease research, apply here at least as strongly to the new technologies as they did to some of the older ones. As I understand it, the most convincing argument for using specially created interspecies embryos is that there is a shortage of specially created human embryos donated for research. The research potential is simply too valuable to be limited in this way. After all, we have already seen early progress in understanding such complex conditions as Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease. I am particularly impressed by the valuable insights from pre-implantation genetic diagnosis. If assisted reproduction techniques can help to diminish the appalling burden of inherited genetic diseases, such as Duchenne muscular dystrophy or Huntington's Chorea, it will rightly seem a medical and social triumph. I am grateful to those members of the Medical Research Council and other scientists who have given me very detailed briefing on this, to which again I hope we will return in detail when we consider some of these possibilities.

It is interesting that the general public appear broadly—as we all know, this does not always happen in today's world—to support the work of scientists and doctors in this field. Tolerance, presumably, is based on the appreciation of the practical help given by IVF to infertile couples and hope for a breakthrough in some of the familiar, intractable diseases. I suspect that public confidence is also based on the record of good governance in this field.

None the less, the scrutiny committee was right to look critically at the way in which evidence of public opinion is reported in such a complex area. It noted at paragraph 21 of its report that polling questions on complicated scientific issues can be oversimplified,

"if they require a 'yes-no', or 'multiple choice' answer".

I was pleased that the committee also noted that those of us who served on the earlier committee on the assisted dying Bill introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Joffe, had similar problems when trying to assess the weight of public opinion on relevant questions. It is a very important issue, particularly in sensitive policy areas where stakeholders and interest groups may be loudly vociferous and appear to be numerically strong, but do not necessarily represent the broad democratic position. I agree with the scrutiny committee that the Government should take a more proactive approach in supporting public awareness and understanding of these issues, and look, too, closely at how public opinion is sampled and reported in this and other areas of bioethical interest.

On practical service provision, I follow the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, in saying that I would like to see IVF provided by the National Health Service to many more people. It would mean not only an improvement in service equity, but it might also, as the noble Baroness suggested, lead to regulatory advantage. In the past and no doubt in the future, I understand that the activities to have caused the HFEA the greatest problems have usually been found at the margins of the commercial sector where services are offered to women who are desperate for any form of treatment. I have no doubt that as the technology develops, it will be here that the ethical horror stories, such as cloning and inappropriate implantation, will be found. The more that can be done by the NHS, the easier it will be to squeeze out dubious commercial practice and regulate more thoroughly.

The question of the role of fathers has already arisen this afternoon, and for myself I take an unusually agnostic position. I listened with great interest to the contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, and I look forward to the speech of my noble friend Lady Hollis of Heigham, who I believe is to speak in the gap. She, too, was a member of the committee on this Bill.

In conclusion, the process which led to this Bill was rightly described by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth—who has also been closely involved in this field—in the Queen's Speech debate as a "model of good practice". The principles of permissive statute backed by tight regulation have brought us very successfully from the early days of IVF technology to today. Now I hope that those same principles can take us forward to the next stages, both in clinical practice and in scientific discovery. In my view, it would be a very great pity if this model of good practice was diverted or distorted by attempts to introduce other matters such as abortion into our consideration of the Bill. I was glad that it appeared that all Front Benches were agreed on this. I look forward to further discussion on these very complex issues, and to the Committee stage.

Photo of Lord Alton of Liverpool Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench 4:17 pm, 19th November 2007

My Lords, the topicality of today's debate was underlined in the headlines in the weekend newspapers, saying that the stem cell revolution has ended the need to use human embryos. I should like to turn back to that question in the substantive part of my remarks, but before doing so I should like also to touch briefly on one point just alluded to by the noble Baroness, that of the prospect that this Bill might be extended to include abortion provision, and to refer to the issue of the welfare of children.

Like the noble Baroness, I do not believe that it would be appropriate for this Bill, which gave no opportunity in committee to consider the abortion question, to extend the Abortion Act 1967. As the author of that Act, the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, said recently, 200,000 abortions a year are too many. We have laws that have allowed 7 million abortions in the past 40 years, some 600 every day, and thus 200,000 every year. We have laws that allow abortion up to and even during birth on the disabled. Many noble Lords will have seen a recent newspaper story from the south-west region of the country indicating that over a three-year period, some of the babies aborted with disabilities included those with cleft palate, club foot, hare-lip, webbed fingers and webbed feet. They numbered some 100.

These are contentious questions, but even more contentious is the proposal being put forward by Members of another place that this Bill should be used like a Trojan horse to introduce the abolition of the requirement for two doctors to certify an abortion and the extension of the Act to Northern Ireland. Attacks have also been made on the conscience clause, as well as reports that nurses and midwives are being required to carry out abortions. Without considering those issues in great depth and detail, rather as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans indicated to the House a few moments ago, it would be wholly inappropriate to be rushed pell-mell into them.

I think that all noble Lords had great confidence in the way that the Select Committee, chaired so ably by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, looked at the equally contentious issue of assisted dying.

Photo of Lord Mackay of Clashfern Lord Mackay of Clashfern Conservative

My Lords, I should point out that the chair was taken by Mr Phil Willis of another place.

Photo of Lord Alton of Liverpool Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

My Lords, the noble and learned Lord may have misheard me. I was talking about the equally contentious issue of assisted dying in order to make the point that that Select Committee, which inevitably did not reach a conclusion, was nonetheless able to inform the debate by producing weighty documents based not entirely on taking soundings on public opinion, as the noble Baroness just said, but also on taking huge amounts of evidence. It thus informed the debate in your Lordships' House, and I would argue that before we proceed to any changes in abortion law, the right way to proceed would be by the creation of a similar Select Committee so that we can look in detail at those contentious questions.

I turn next to the welfare of children. As my noble friend Lady Deech has said, there are serious concerns about the issue of "saviour siblings" and about the need for a father. The Bill extends the creation of saviour siblings to the treatment of serious disease rather than just life-threatening disease. To deliberately leave it open for children apparently to be created for the sole and explicit purpose of being available to provide any type of tissue at all for an existing sibling is appalling. This is truly dehumanising society, and is a serious development. I am currently awaiting an answer to the Parliamentary Question I tabled to the Minister on this subject, but will he say today where the Bill uses the words,

"umbilical cord blood stem cells, bone marrow or other tissue", what "other tissue" means? The phrase in the Bill does not seem to exclude anything specifically. I was deeply concerned to hear these words from Dr Simon Fishel, the managing director of the CARE Fertility Group, who is also an inspector, peer reviewer and external adviser to the HFEA:

"You might start looking at organs".

Given that the chairman of the Joint Committee, Mr Phil Willis, bewilderingly suggested that autism was also a condition that a saviour sibling might in future be created for, Parliament surely deserves to know what the Government have in mind in extending the definitions from "life-threatening" to "serious". Also, precisely what in the Bill itself would unequivocally ban the creation of a child to be a kidney donor, for instance? Instead of creating saviour siblings for umbilical cord, how much better it would be if we were routinely collecting umbilical cord and cord blood. Only four National Health Service facilities do this at present, while 98 per cent is routinely destroyed. That would save lives immediately.

I intend to ask your Lordships to amend the Bill in Committee to ensure that harvesting causes no harm to the donor. I would also like all references in the Bill that seek to create a legal fiction around parenthood to be deleted. As the Joint Committee rightly said, to deny to a child that he or she had a real biological father would be nothing short of the state colluding in a deception. An estimated 800,000 children in Britain already have no contact with their father. To deliberately add to that number is downright irresponsible. One of the deepest questions that we ask ourselves is, "Who am I?". The right to lineage affects us all, and uncertainty over parentage can profoundly unsettle people. The popularity of television programmes such as "Who Do You Think You Are?" illustrates the natural desire to know one's family history. The guidance of the Oracle of Delphi to the Lydian King Croesus was that to be happy, he must know himself. That is true for us too.

The Government's decision to remove the reference to the "need for a father" from law and social policy is a huge error. Women should not be interrogated at IVF clinics about their sexual orientation or their marital status and many single women are loving and exceptionally good mothers, but the need for a father, and the right to know who he is, are the issues. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Warner, in the debate last week on the Queen's Speech, when he said,

"children are not accessories to adults' preferences".—[Hansard, 8/11/07; col. 157.]

Like my noble friend Lady Deech, I urge the Government to delete those references from the Bill.

I turn to the issue of embryology. I want to challenge the provisions in the Bill that will add to the 2 million human embryos that since 1990 have been destroyed or experimented upon. The new Bill goes even further, permitting the creation of hybrid animal-human embryos. Many of us have previously pointed to the futility and lack of progress of embryonic stem cell research, but the argument has now shifted to the new methods for producing stem cells with the same potential as embryonic stem cells. Those committed to human embryonic stem cells now have no excuse to work with—that is, to destroy—embryos for the purpose of deriving new or patient-matched pluripotent cell lines. Last Saturday Professor Ian Wilmut, who famously cloned Dolly the sheep, declared cloning work with human embryos needless. He said:

"The work which was described from Japan of using a technique to change cells from a patient directly into stem cells without making an embryo has got so much more potential".

However, the justification given for this new Bill in the recent Queen's Speech was that we have to,

"ensure that Britain remains at the forefront of medical research".

It is clear from what Professor Wilmut said that interspecies cloning is not the way ahead.

As yet, no therapies anywhere in the world use embryonic stem cells. Strikingly, an editorial in NatureBiotechnologyin 2005 stated:

"Meanwhile, forward steps continue to be made in the field of adult stem cell therapy", for which there are no moral hazards. It continued:

"One estimate is that there are currently over 80 therapies and around 300 clinical trials underway using such cells".

When I divided the House on this issue in 2001, many of those who voted for embryonic cloning, and who will vote for animal-human hybrids, did so out of a genuine humanitarian desire to help those who suffer from disabling diseases. The state of stem cell research led them to believe that they had to choose between the ideal of helping to cure disease and the equally cherished belief of many that it is unconscionable to destroy nascent human lives in experimentation. Six years on from the hype of 2001, not only is it clear how the hopes of the desperate have often been cruelly and falsely raised, not least by the scandal of fraudulent cloning claims, but it is apparent that the supposed ethical dilemma may have been rendered redundant. In June 2007, three separate publications heralded the successful creation of embryonic-like cells from adult stem cells. This allows for the creation of a middle ground in the debate. Ethically uncontroversial stem cell techniques are where the future lies.

In the House of Lords debate in 2001, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, the then government Minister, said that,

"the 1990 Act already provides the answer to the question of what happens if and when research into adult cells overtakes research using embryos: embryonic research would have to stop because the use of embryos would no longer be necessary for that research".—[Hansard, 22/1/01; col. 120.]

It is no longer necessary. I hope that, instead of ending the unnecessary destruction of human embryos and advocating the creation of animal-human hybrid embryos, we will agree to that simple test—let us call it the Hunt test—which I will seek to move as an amendment in Committee; that is, licences will not be granted unless applicants can prove that no alternative is available, and applicants should have to demonstrate that embryos from no other species could be used for the same purpose and that their proposals are well founded and based on prior work from other species. In these controversial areas of embryology, child welfare and abortion, the House should proceed with great care and be prepared, if significant improvements are not made, to reject this Bill outright at Third Reading.

Photo of Lord Jenkin of Roding Lord Jenkin of Roding Conservative 4:27 pm, 19th November 2007

My Lords, like the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans, I was a member of the Joint Committee. I join him in saying that pre-legislative scrutiny of what is by any standards a complex and controversial Bill has proved its purpose.

Perhaps I may refer briefly to two matters that are not in the Bill. The first, the amalgamation of the HFEA and the Human Tissue Authority into RATE, has already been referred to. From the very moment that the merger was announced, I thought that it was a rotten idea—I am on record as saying it. The idea survived for some three and a half years, but the Select Committee, and the evidence that it heard from almost every witness who referred to it, has put paid to it. I hope that the Minister will give a firm assurance that no attempt to resurrect RATE will be made. One reason for rejecting the proposal which certainly impressed me was that to treat human tissues and embryos as though they were equal entities, which the original title of the draft Bill and RATE would have provided for, would seem to devalue the importance of the embryo. Therefore, I am glad that that provision is not in the Bill.

However—this is the second matter to which I wish to refer—one of the consequences of that is that what the Select Committee recommended about amendments to the Human Tissues Act, I am now firmly advised cannot be done, because of the terms of the Long Title of the Bill. This is a very great pity.

We were told by some witnesses that the way in which the Human Tissue Act is drafted, with its reference to anything containing cells, means that, for instance, blood and human faeces and urine, even if taken from living people, are all subject to the legislation. In Scotland, they do not do that; they make it perfectly clear that the equivalent of the Human Tissue Act applies only to the products of post-mortems. There are some 200 million instances in England per annum because of the ridiculous definition that crept into that Act, compared with 140,000 post-mortems. We cannot deal with that in this Bill. I hope that the Minister can tell us when the Government will introduce legislation to put that right, as well as the other points that were drawn to our attention, principally by the Royal College of Pathologists. If noble Lords want the details, they are in paragraphs 106 and onward of the Joint Committee's report.

On some of the issues that we are now being asked to consider, a third issue that is not in the Bill but has been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, is abortion law. I was astonished to find that we can expect—perhaps not in this House but certainly in the other place—amendments to the existing abortion legislation. The Select Committee simply had nothing whatever to do with that; it was not in the Bill and not part of our terms of reference. Why have we ruled out human tissue reform when we will have to discuss abortion reform at some stage? It is because the existing law on abortions, dealing with late abortions and the time limits, is to be found in the 1990 Act. Of course, because we are amending the 1990 Act, hey presto, we can discuss abortion. There is something wrong with our rules that make this distinction, but it is not for me to recommend what should be done to put it right. This Bill, with human tissues out and abortion in, seems a very strange way in which to proceed.

I turn to one matter that has been mentioned by a number of people and one other matter that has only been touched on. In the Joint Committee, we set out what I can only call the repeated tergiversations of government policy on human animal embryos. I refer to paragraphs 152 to 154 of the report. The Joint Committee unanimously described those tergiversations as "extremely unhelpful"—and I can only add to that. At the time when we began to consider the matter, the White Paper said one thing while ministerial letters said another.

Finally, we were left with the position that cytoplasmic hybrids, sometimes called cybrids—although I like the other expression used this afternoon—and true hybrids were different things. The committee could see no difference whatever, and we regarded the Government's distinction as,

"misguided and resting on no sound point of principle".

What do we find now? In the Bill, the Government have accepted that position. We have come full circle, and all those entities are now to be regarded as within the competence of the regulator and permitted subject only to regulation. The point has been made, but I emphasise again that the safeguards built in to that—the 14-day rule, no implantation and so on—stand and are statutory and provide the main barrier against abuse. This last change of view by the Government is welcome, but one has to say that it was a tortuous way in which to get there.

I recognise that there are strong views—we have heard some of them this afternoon—about joint human and animal embryo research. We heard about that at some length, as the right reverend Prelate will remember, at the evening forum, where we met representatives of a lot of the bodies that advised us and gave us their views on these issues and I am sure that I am not alone in having had a great deal of correspondence on the issue since then. Having said that, I am persuaded that the view put forward by the Minister this afternoon and by our scientific advisers—particularly the Medical Research Council, the Royal Society and the Wellcome Trust—is correct: this work is necessary for the advancement of research. This is not only blue-sky research to try to unfold the mysteries of life, which was referred to this afternoon, but to provide ways of curing some of the most debilitating, damaging and unpleasant diseases from which the human race suffers. That therefore justifies such research, subject to proper ethical and regulatory control.

I have two minutes to deal with the other issue, and I want to talk about the children born of donor conception. We heard some interesting and moving evidence from some of those who fell into that description. There are a bewildering number of provisions in the Bill to deal with parenting and so forth. My concern is about the right of a donor-conceived person to know his or her genetic origins. Do they have a right to be told? Is there a duty on parents to tell? What should go on the birth certificate? One point that was made to us was that, if a person is conceived by donor conception and the birth certificate shows someone else as the father—perhaps the husband of the wife—is not the state conniving in a deception?

We examined these problems at some length—it is all in the report—but we said that we recognised that these are complex issues. We called on the Government to give urgent attention to addressing this and to come to a conclusion. The Government said in their response that they are reviewing the position. That is not enough. We know what that means in Whitehall-speak. We are entitled to ask the Government to come to conclusions on these issues in time to be able to table amendments to the Bill. I hope that the Government will be able to reply to that.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Crosby Baroness Williams of Crosby Liberal Democrat 4:38 pm, 19th November 2007

My Lords, I am conscious that the Bill has been given the most careful overview and pre-legislative scrutiny, and I begin by echoing the remarks made by the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, when she said that this Bill is a remarkable example of the attempt to involve the legislature in great detail in the drafting of a Bill. Although there are aspects of the Bill that I cannot pretend to like, it is a remarkable example of how the legislature should be brought in to the drafting and scrutiny of Bills to a much greater extent than is generally true. We all know that there is a great deal of ill-drafted and ill-thought-out legislation and this Bill is a remarkable counter-example of how to involve people in the deepest discussion on a matter of such complexity and importance.

I was not on the Joint Committee and I have been struck by the remarks of those who were who have obviously thought very deeply about this, so I shall restrict my remarks to four particular points, the first three of which I will end by asking a direct question of the Minister, because they directly affect the Government's intentions.

The first thing that I want to mention goes back to the debates that we had in this House in January 2001 at the initial stages of our discussion of embryo cell research, when two Members of this House—I believe that the other Member will speak about this as well—raised on more than one occasion the success of adult stem cell research and the indications that adult stem cells had two great advantages. They are pluripotential—as embryo cells can be—but, more importantly, they are proof against immune reaction, which is not the case with embryo cell therapy when used without very careful matching of the therapy to the patient. At that time the scientific community broadly took the view that embryo therapy was much more useful and significant and had much greater potential than adult stem cell therapy. Since then leaps and bounds have been made in the field of adult stem cell therapy, not least in the repairing of heart muscle, the possibility of transplantation of bone marrow—which is rather more long standing—and the discovery of the extreme usefulness of umbilical cord blood in repairing and helping with therapies that are, and have been shown to be, extremely successful.

One reason for the superior view taken of adult stem cell therapy was due to the strongly argued case in the scientific community—this was partly fired by the sometimes ignorant opposition in some circles towards embryo cell therapy—that it was the superior way to go. So the first question I ask the noble Lord is: have we now put behind us any bias between these two different kinds of research? Exactly what financial support has been given for adult stem therapy, and with what results, in the nine years since we discussed this matter?

One of the reasons I am so concerned about this is because at that time I raised the case of a researcher, Dr Abuljadayel, who was unable to get her work on adult stem cells printed in any major scientific publication in this country. That troubles me a great deal. As it turned out, she had a very important contribution to make. As I say, she could not get her work published in any major scientific journal and was able to do so only when her professor at Cambridge agreed to associate his recommendation with it. That troubles me and I would like an assurance from the Minister that we shall look with open and unbiased attitudes at the different therapies that can be useful. From those in this field whom I have spoken to my understanding is that so far embryonic cell research has not produced any remarkable therapeutic results although it has challenging possibilities in the research field. The Minister may be able to say a little more about that.

The second issue that I want to address is that of cloning, which has received the resilient response from the HFEA and others that it will be controlled by the unwillingness—that is quite proper—to transplant a cloned embryo into a living female surrogate, or woman capable of carrying that embryo to term. That is fine as far as it goes, but what bothers me is that in the emphasis that we place, and have placed, on the leading role of the United Kingdom in research, we have not so far mentioned that any attempt to try to ban the cloning of human beings by refusing to allow reproductive cloning takes no notice at all of the fact that we live not only in a global scientific community but one which is intensely competitive and driven to a great extent by profound commercial interests. That means quite simply that we need to hear—this is my second question to the Minister—exactly what position the United Kingdom Government take towards the United Nations' attempt to get some form of global banning of reproductive cloning, because without that we all know perfectly well that rogue scientists will be perfectly happy to go round the back of their own national prohibitions in order to get the chance to carry out their research elsewhere. The reason is obviously that such research could be immensely valuable commercially. There will be people, driven either by egotism or by the desire to try to ensure that they can provide designer babies to those who have the ability to pay for them, who will be only too ready to put out their shingle and respond by providing the necessary technological knowledge. That is not science fiction. If you look at the way in which the disgraceful trade in organs has grown in our society in the past few years, you will see that what I am saying is not untrue. Ethical considerations may be overleaped by the personal hunger to deal with particular therapeutic and medical conditions. I understand that—we all do; we are all human beings—but it is an extremely dangerous road to go down. Will the Minister therefore say whether Her Majesty's Government will support the United Nations in its effort to get some form of global ban? I recognise that this will be a long and hard struggle. In particular, will he say whether they share the view of Dr Zakri, who works for the United Nations University, that the crucial path to take is:

"A legally-binding global ban on work to create a human clone, coupled with freedom for nations to permit strictly controlled therapeutic research"?

This, in his view, has the greatest possibility of being accepted by the United Nations.

Thirdly, and briefly, I strongly support what the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, had to say about retaining the original 1990 reference to the need of a child for a father. I recognise—I have some friends and relatives in this position—that a pair of men or women, or for that matter a woman on her own, can be marvellous parents. That is not my main concern at the moment. My main concern is that research shows conclusively in fields such as education and educational achievement that a child who has a male model as well as a female model is likely to do considerably better than one who does not have that male model, because, as the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, so rightly said, our society is made up of men and women. They often have rather different approaches, even rather different language: women's language is much more often associational, and men's language is more often directly related to a particular issue.

Be that as it may, I refer in this context to the very interesting research done by Professor Carol Gilligan in the United States and her book In a Different Voice. She goes at length into the ways in which little girls and little boys develop. In no sense is one more able than the other. Simply, one is rather different from the other, and a child will benefit from understanding from its babyhood what a man and a woman constitute and how they should complement each other. I have a deeper purpose, however. I believe that one of the ways forward for the family—it is no good thinking that we can go back to a traditional family structure of a very old fashioned kind—is that men and women alike have to bear a much greater part of the responsibility for raising children, for looking after elderly relatives, and for caring for those members of their family who are needy in one way or another. Traditionally, that has fallen largely to women, but it will be less true in future. Unless we give men a full sense of what it is to be a father, a member of a family, and a proud and in many ways very rich potential, we will simply find ourselves with more and more dysfunctional families, and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, rightly said, with boys who do not quite see what their place is in society and the family. I strongly recommend to this House that we think very carefully about taking a step that looks trivial but could be serious in changing the atmosphere and the attitude towards fatherhood.

Finally, on abortion, I strongly support the argument that we should consider not amending this Bill but rather sending it to a bioethics committee along the lines suggested by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans, as there is certainly something objectionable about using abortion as a form of contraception, and the price that we all pay in human and social terms is very grave indeed.

Photo of Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Government Whip

My Lords, in view of the fact that the two opposition spokespeople are not here for the Statement, may I suggest that perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, would like to make his contribution to the current debate before we move on to the Statement?

Photo of Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick Crossbench 4:49 pm, 19th November 2007

My Lords, I am delighted to take the opportunity to stand in for Northern Rock on this occasion and to provide, I hope, some useful insight in the light of the absence of the opposition spokesmen.

I am at the same time extremely delighted to see the Bill come to the House but also dismayed. I am delighted because, like all of us, I want to see effective, quality research that will alleviate the difficulties that many people suffer from Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, muscular dystrophy and many cancers. All of us wish to see effective research completed, conducted and foreseen for those who struggle, for there to be greater dignity in places of pain.

However, I am dismayed by the Bill because of a number of factors already referred to by the right reverend Prelate and because of some other matters which I will come to. One is the sense of rush, even super-urgency, about the legislation. I was deeply concerned to hear the right reverend Prelate who had taken part in the committee say that there had been a considerable lack of time to give proper scrutiny, even consideration, to ethical matters. He raised a number of points, he said, concerning the meaning of humanity, life, relationships and even power. I should like to add to that list a few other points which the Minister—and we as a House—might want to reflect on.

These points include the meaning of vulnerability and need in the cases of parents and of children from gestation onwards. What is common consent when it comes to partnering and support for children? What do we mean by a commitment to the undiminished support that we as a society say we wish to pay for people who are weak, ill and suffering? Do we simply want to screen the problems out or to continue to support those who struggle with medical issues?

What about an intelligent approach to pro-life? I hate the fact that that term has been so closely associated only with those who are said to be anti-abortion. I cannot believe that any noble Lord is not pro-life. We are all pro-life because we all wish to see life supported, provided for, enhanced, enriched and bettered, whether by the resources of the state through medical services or the support of families. All of us must be by nature pro-life. I wish to recapture that phrase and not have it limited off only to those who are seen to be, as it were, anti-abortion. We also need, in ethical considerations, some clarity on when the period of gestation is effected. When is a child created and through which circumstances? All of those are ethical matters that the previous committee had not time to consider and that deserve consideration by this House and another place.

I think it also raises the question for all of us of whether, in the light of the absence of sufficient ethical consideration and the of proper public understanding of these issues, the Bill is not simply jumping too far ahead for many of us. If one looks at the period separating the report of both Houses—it reported on 1 August, not only when both Houses had gone into recess but when, as many would see it, the silly season had begun—the government response, the Government's publication of the legislation, and this debate today on Second Reading, one will see that it has been inordinately rushed.

I had the opportunity yesterday to discuss the issues raised by the Bill with some very good friends who are involved in charities working with seriously ill elderly people and who work also at the most senior levels of the National Health Service in the care of patients with cancer. I found among them—I am sure they will not mind my saying so—levels ignorance that even they felt embarrassed by, as did I. Given the seriousness of the issues raised, how could we believe that a Bill of this magnitude and significance, which does not have wide public understanding, should be rushed through this House or another place?

I hear many reacting by saying that detailed consideration has indeed been given, and I am that sure in many ways it has. However, I have read both the proposed legislation and the Explanatory Notes—which, although elegant and thoughtful, are in some ways very confusing. I shall refer simply to page 30 of the notes, on Clauses 36 and 37, which gives the definition of "fatherhood conditions". If I read that definition to the House I am sure that bemused bewilderment would appear on the faces of many noble Lords. I urge noble Lords to read it. If those who are advising us cannot explain in plain English what the conditions of fatherhood mean, how can the public possibly understand the seriousness of this legislation? My first thought is to ask this House and the Minister not whether we should ditch the Bill but whether we should have a period to allow proper public understanding of the depth of these issues, the significance of the provisions that we are being asked to consider and whether we should take more cautious care. I agree that there should be a joint bioethics committee, but what a tragedy that it comes after the legislation has been developed, not in advance. Ethical considerations should be at the heart of how we think about all these vital life issues.

This week it is 16 years since the Government of this country ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. It is interesting that when that UN declaration was considered by the Government, discussed in public, signed and known about, it had a critical provision that the child has a right to know its parents and to be sustained by them. How does this legislation stack up with that commitment? The intention to remove the necessity in certain cases to name the father, in particular, is not consistent with other obligations.

In the light of that, I am drawn to the statement made in the Department of Health press release issued on 8 November. It is closely allied to what was said in the gracious Speech. It is that this legislation will place Britain at the forefront of scientific research. We would all welcome that, within limits. It also states that it would do that,

"in the light of developments in technology and society's attitudes".

It is clear to me that society's attitudes have moved towards a desperation, not just an understanding, for fathers to be consistently committed to the children whom they are responsible for creating in whatever form they are created. A recent survey indicated that 82 per cent of people think that children are adversely affected across between one and eight categories of well-being by the absence of a father and that 81 per cent of people aged between 18 and 24 and 80 per cent of women share that view. Society's attitudes are increasingly in favour of acknowledging the power of fathers, of naming fathers and of fathers' duties and responsibilities. If that is the case, some measures in the Bill seem to be inconsistent with society's expectations and the changes that have taken place.

I asked about ethical thinking, the necessity for greater clarity on ethical questions, timing and whether we have not been too rushed on these matters, the necessity for redefinitions and an appreciation that pro-life is not anti anything but is in favour of all of us. I want to make one small point. It is not to raise the critical and complex issue of abortion—enough has been said about that—but in this House on 19 July I asked the Minister responsible at the time whether we should not give greater consideration to the importance of greater support for adoption in the light of the amendments to this legislation that also cover adoption law. At the time, I was given a dismissive, possibly even curt, response:

"We are talking about sexual health and reproduction; we should not look at unintended pregnancies as a source of babies for adoption".—[Hansard, 19/7/07; col. 367.]

My point is very simple: given that the Bill will create new categories needing further requirements on adoption because of the way in which children may be brought to life, and given that there are amendments to adoption, is it not time that we are also very serious about talking up the options of positive adoption, not as a consequence of children brought into life that we must find some radical solution for but simply because it is another choice for another life already existing, a child who is already there for whom the state already pays? Therefore should it not be a more creative and positive approach to some of the options that should be provided?