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Mr. Cryer : The hon. Gentleman says, "So what?" This week Mr. Speaker said that the House cannot discuss the sale of 50 residential homes in Bradford because the matter is sub judice and subject to judicial review. May I have your assurance, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that the issue of a writ will not prejudice a statement being made in the
Column 1224House on Monday by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food or the Prime Minister or any personal statement by the Minister involved?
Mr. Deputy Speaker : The hon. Gentleman will understand that I cannot give rulings on hypothetical situations. There are Ministers present and I am quite certain that they have heard all that has been said in these exchanges. I call Mr. Wigley.
Mr. Wigley : I did not expect to be interrupted in the way that I was. On this rare occasion, had I not been speaking when the points of order were raised, I would have come in on them myself. A chicken farmer in my constituency has already had to slaughter a third of his birds and expects to slaughter another third very soon, so I have every sympathy with the points that have been raised, albeit at my expense. One thing that clearly emerges is the greater interest in chickens than in the debate about the protection of the unborn child. I am not sure what we should read into that.
It is clear from what has been said by the three hon. Members who have spoken so far that basically the same arguments have been advanced at this time towards the end of 1988 as were advanced in earlier debates on this subject. Of course, that does not in any way debase the argument. I respect the sincerity of hon. Members who put forward such arguments. I wondered why the debate was taking place now and thought that it might be because there were new arguments and points to be considered. Hon. Members have spoken about Professor Lejeune. He seems to be the perennial professor put on parade in such debates. Given the amount of attention that hon. Members have paid to the Carlisle case, it might have been better for the motion to refer directly to that case rather than in general.
Once again, we have had debate about the legitimacy or otherwise of pictures that were used in the previous campaign, and we have had debate about parliamentary procedures. It seems that we are going round in the same circle. I want to speak about one or two new developments that may well help the argument more than the points that have been made so far. Before doing so, however, I should like to refer to two other matters. One concerns the votes that have taken place in the House. I accept that the hon. Member for Mossley Hill had a vote for a Second Reading of his Bill, and I know that many hon. Members voted in favour of Second Reading and wanted to see amendments to the Bill about a different termination time. I talked to colleagues on both sides of the House, and it seemed that the most favoured time limit was 24 weeks. That came through loud and clear. The hon. Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe) shakes her head, but I spoke to at least three or four dozen people who voted in favour of the Bill but who were in favour of a limit of 24 weeks.
Mr. Nicholas Bennett : If the hon. Gentleman believes that to be the case, why was it that the opponents of the Bill made sure that the House did not have an opportunity to vote on the longer time limit, through obstructing the vote by tabling bogus amendments?
Mr. Wigley : Those who prevented the vote taking place were those who supported the Bill and wanted the votes to be taken in a certain order to ensure that the vote on the 24-week limit did not take place earlier. One can cast aspersions on both sides of the House, but that is a
Column 1225reflection of the unsatisfactory ways in which we deal with such matters. The hon. Member for Mossley Hill made an error of judgment in the way that he handled that vote, and as a result, he lost the Bill. The House might have passed a Bill introducing a limit of 24 weeks. I doubt whether a 22-week limit would have passed, but I accept that other hon. Members think that it would. From what the hon. Member for Mossley Hill has said today and before, a Bill imposing a 24-week limit would not be acceptable to him. In other words, what appeared to be the judgment of the House was not what he wanted.
The motion, and the debate, have linked two different matters. One is research into and using embryos, and the other is abortion reform. Those who tabled the motion have a fundamentalist approach on these matters. In other words, it is a question not of drawing a line at 22, 20 or 18 weeks, but of not drawing a line at all. If that were not so, the two matters would not have been linked as they are. We have already heard comments about the sanctity of clusters of cells at an early stage of development.
Mr. Barron : That fundamentalist approach would be honest if those who advocated it were prepared to test the House on it and instead of playing games with the number of weeks introduced a Bill to stop abortion to see what the House thought about that.
Mr. Wigley : The hon. Gentleman is right. Some hon. Members do not take a fundamentalist view but believe that there is a need to examine the abortion laws. If a Bill to amend the abortion law were introduced on a bona fide basis that included taking note of the changes in medical science since 1967 and 1969, with a view to reducing the abortion limit from 28 to 24 weeks, or whatever is appropriate, rather than on the basis of a fundamentalist attack on the whole law, there would be more sympathy in the House towards it. I voted against the Abortion (Amendment) Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Mossley Hill on Second Reading not because I would oppose consideration of cutting the limit to 24 weeks but because it was the thin end of the wedge and if the hon. Gentleman had had his way the limit would not be 18 weeks or 12 weeks--there would be no limit at all. He has acknowledged that his Bill was a compromise, and he would like to go further.
Mr. Alton : It is a bit like the nuclear arms race. I should like to see the dismantling of all nuclear weapons systems, but if we could get rid of one I would regard that as progress. The hon. Gentleman implies that there is something dishonest about saying that one is opposed to abortion but recognises that there should be changes in the light of medical advances. Surely it is legitimate for an hon. Member to test the attitude of the House about a matter of public policy, which is all that my Bill tried to do.
Mr. Wigley : I am explaining to the hon. Gentleman why some who might be willing to consider moderate changes to the 1967 Act will vote against Bills in principle, although some will vote for them on Second Reading but be sympathetic to stopping them, as happened with the hon. Gentleman's Bill, because of the fear that such Bills would be a vehicle for going very much further than is wanted.
Column 1226The hon. Member for Mossley Hill cannot have it both ways. He cannot pander as a fundamentalist to the extreme lobby with which he is associated and at the same time appear as a moderate reformer. I understand the passion with which he holds his beliefs and I hold my beliefs with an equal passion, but if there is a move to reform the 1967 Act, with a reduction of the limit from 28 to 24 weeks, it will have to be done differently from the way in which it has been done so far.
Unfortunately, the motion does not address this problem in any detail and there is no reference to the exact changes that those who tabled it wish to see. The terms are general, and the generality provides an umbrella for people of many different persuasions. Some may be uneasy about the workings of the Act and whether resuscitation equipment is available, which is a legitimate concern, while others want to see the end of abortion altogether because they believe that the abortion of an early embryo only a few days old, is murder. Hon. Members will have received letters and correspondence earlier this year suggesting that that is so, and I respect people who have such religious beliefs, but that is a belief that neither I nor, I believe, the vast majority of hon. Members share.
Mr. Wigley : I am sure that that is so. Nevertheless, many hon. Members and others campaigning on this issue are wholly opposed to contraception. That is the great irony. Because of the lack of contraception and contraception advice, many young women become pregnant when they do not want to be. That is a basic inconsistency in the position taken by some, though not all, hon. Members taking part in this debate.
I find the reference to "private profit" strange. I am opposed to the making of private profit out of abortion or any other NHS service, but the argument should be that the NHS must provide a better service so that people do not have to resort to private health provision.
There is also the question of research into congenital handicap. I find it strange that people who are willing to accept, even as a compromise position, a limit of 18 weeks for abortion are not prepared to countenance any period during which research can be undertaken on early clusters of cells. In other words, they take a fundamentalist position on that, but a compromise position on abortion. We know that in the in vitro fertilisation work that is undertaken, half a dozen clusters of small cells may be produced, of which only two or three will be used for re-implantation. Some are frozen and held for possible further use, some may be used for research purposes, and some may be thrown away.
If restrictive legislation were passed along the lines of Bills introduced in earlier Parliaments which have had no support yet in this Parliament, there would be a block on valuable research that is being undertaken. On 14 December, The Guardian published a report on research being undertaken at Hammersmith hospital. It said : "Those facing cystic fibrosis, muscular dystrophy and haemophilia are the individuals who will benefit from in vitro genetic screening, a technique first described on Monday at a meeting of scientists at the Royal Society."
Column 1227In other words, rapid progress is being made on this medical frontier. The questions and the potentials change from month to month and the potential is immense. The report continues :
"The work about to be carried out at the Hammersmith, which may eventually benefit thousands of families plagued with inherited and incurable diseases,falls within the present guidelines laid down by the Voluntary Licensing Authority. This means it would be done before the embryo reaches 14 days, when, it is thought, the cells that will eventually form the baby organise themselves along a line called the primitive streak.' This could not even have been attempted if Enoch Powell had had his way in 1985 with his Unborn Children Protection Act.".
In other words, exciting research of major relevance to people who are suffering from genetic diseases of that sort would be threatened if the type of legislation supported by the hon. Member for Slough (Mr. Watts) were to reach the statute book.
There is public concern that abuse could take place. I still accept the Warnock recommendation of 14 days. One can argue about where to draw the line. I accept that some people want legislative safeguards so that the decision is not left wholly to the voluntary sector. For that reason, the motion is a bit of mixture and I am not opposed to many parts of it. I want legislation that does not ban vital research which holds out the possibility of cures for some congenital handicaps and conditions.
Given the advances in medical science, made even since our earlier debate in February of this year, I urge the Government to give greater weight to the alternative clause in the White Paper which allows research to take place for up to 14 days. An overwhelming majority of people would accept that as a reasonable compromise. I urge hon. Members, although there are few in the Chanber at the moment, who seek an 18-week limit for abortion but who say that they would regard 20 or 22 weeks as preferable to 28, to search their consciences when they say that they are not prepared to compromise in that way on research which has such an effect on so many people. Those questions are of considerable interest and we need specific proposals before the House if we are to reach decisions on them. The motion facilitates debate but does not take the argument much further forward. The best result of the debate would be some sign of the Government's most recent thinking on controls on research in view of the enormous progress that has been made even during the past year.
Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East) : I am glad to have this opportunity to follow the hon. Member for Caenarfon (Mr. Wigley) who made an excellent and helpful speech. His stance on the subject has been clearly stated and is helpful. Hon. Members from both sides of the House know that his views are sincerely and personally held. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Mr. Watts) on his success in the ballot. I have entered the ballot whenever I have had the opportunity, but I have never reached anywhere near first place. I am a little surprised that my hon. Friend should put forward a motion linking the Abortion (Amendment) Bill and the Unborn Children (Protection) Bill. They deal with
Column 1228separate issues and it is only because of the confused attempt to follow matters of principle right through that my hon. Friend has linked them.
Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras) : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I apologise to the hon. Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham) for interrupting his speech. May I make it clear that I am in no way challenging the good faith of the Minister when he assured us earlier, when we raised points of order about whether there would be a statement on what the Government are to do about eggs and chickens, that there was no question of the Government making a press statement or issuing any briefing outside the House before a statement was made to the House on Monday. It has come to our attention that, while that assurance was being given, Mr. Bernard Ingham's deputy from the Cabinet press office was in the Press Gallery briefing journalists and saying that the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is to make a statement outside the House this afternoon. Since then the MAFF press office has been in touch with other press people to tell them that that is indeed the case.
I am sure that the Minister, the hon. and learned Member for Putney (Mr. Mellor) was speaking in good faith earlier, but I think that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will agree that it is essential to get this matter cleared up. We must establish who is deciding policy. Is it the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the Department of Health or Mr. Bernard Ingham? We are entitled to know. We must have a statement at 2.30 pm. This is a gross abuse of the House and of egg producers who are bothered about their future. Some of them may have to make desperately difficult decisions about their flocks and how to dispose of their eggs during the weekend. They will want to know whether, if they gas 10,000 chickens this weekend, they will receive compensation, but they will not know until a scheme is announced on Monday. It is imperative that we have a statement. This is the grossest abuse of the House and of the poor Minister of State who was put up to tell us something that turned out not to be true.
Mr. Steel : Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I hope that you will be able to convey to the Government before 2.30 pm the strength of feeling on this matter in the House. It is not simply, a question of how the House has been treated, but fundamental ministerial responsibility to the House that is at the heart of the argument. With great respect to the Minister, even having him here will not do, because this issue concerns the damage that a Minister has caused to the interests of taxpayers whom we are elected to represent and protect. That is at the root of the argument. I hope that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will relay that and the strength of feeling in the House to the Government so that they might reconsider the decision to delay the statement until Monday.
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. The House will appreciate that these are not matters for the Chair. I am sure that what has been said will have been noted by those on the Government Front Bench. I do not think that we can carry the matter any further. We are taking valuable time out of
Column 1229a private Members' day. I hope that we can leave the matter there and that these clearly important issues will be pursued in other ways.
Mr. Dobson : Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and other hon. Members know, I am interested in, and recognise, the fundamental nature of the debate about the protection of the unborn child--as it is described--so I do not wish to interfere with that debate at any great length. However, an assurance was given to the House and to Mr. Speaker, but at the time that assurance was being broken. The matter affects the Chair directly. The understandings on which you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, based your response to the point of order turned out not to be true. That was not your fault, nor that of the Minister, but the Government appear to be in total chaos. We must have a statement in the House today to clear up who is making the policy and what the policy is. We would like a statement from the Minister now, if he can give it, that he will set about getting the matter clarified. I am not accusing him of doing anything wrong. The Government are wholly at fault and the matter must be sorted out in the House today.
Mr. Mellor : Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) for what he said about my earlier intervention. I assure him that it will be honoured to the letter.
Mr. Allen McKay rose --
Mr. Thurnham rose --
Mr Deputy Speaker : Order. I recognise that there is a problem here. There may or may not be misunderstandings. Whether there are or not, they will not be sorted out on the Floor of the House. The most prudent course, and that most likely to bring satisfaction to all involved, is to have discussions elsewhere to try to get the matter sorted rather than taking up valuable time in this debate.
Mr. Thurnham : I am grateful for the opportunity to continue with the debate. I was saying that I regretted that my hon. Friend had linked two Bills which I saw as being quite separate. It would, however, be unfair for me to blame him for moving his motion on a day when we have become tangled up with another "eggs" issue. We are talking here about the development of the human embryo and the child, and I trust that we can concentrate on that. I look forward to hearing the reply from my hon. and learned Friend the Minister, and I hope that he does not continue to be harassed about other matters which I am sure would be better dealt with on Monday, when a full House will be here.
I intend to concentrate mainly on in vitro fertilisation research. I do not intend to say much about the Abortion (Amendment) Bill. However, public opinion--a question that is constantly raised by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton)--is quite clear on the issue. A Marplan poll carried out in 1987 for the Abortion Law Reform Association found that 79 per cent. of those questioned thought that the decision whether a woman should continue her pregnancy should be left to the
Column 1230woman, in consultation with her doctors. Let me remind the hon. Gentleman and his friends that that is the position, and that I shall continue to support it.
That public feeling is reinforced by a British attitudes survey which shows that attitudes in general have become more liberal since 1983. There is, in fact, a clear global trend towards the liberalisation of abortion laws. Over the past 20 years 65 jurisidictions have liberalised the laws, and only four have subsequently restricted them. Many countries now place much less restriction on abortion than does this country. It is grossly unfair to suggest that a freak Act in 1967 led to today's laws, which the public support.
The debate on IVF research is not taking place in this country alone ; it is taking place worldwide. The more informed people are, the better they are able to make wise judgments. As new medical technology improves, so do the chances of survival both before and after birth. This country is a world leader in the field, and I should like to pay tribute to all who have made that possible. We lead the world not only in medical science but in the philosophers and religious thinkers who found a basis on which the research could be carried out in a proper and moral way.
Let me pay tribute especially to the Rev. Professor Gordon Dunstan, and refer hon. Members to his recently published book "The Status of the Human Embryo". In it he sets out the moral justification for such research, commenting not only on the position of the Church of England--which has come down in favour of the research--but on that of the Roman Catholic Church. There is a useful chapter written by Dr. Brendan Soane which illustrates the extent of disagreement within that Church.
We should pay the greatest possible regard to the care of those who are born as well as those who are unborn. We should remember that in this country alone more than 10,000 babies are born handicapped each year. We are still waiting for the report by the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys on handicapped children. The data are not very clear, but the figures that I have seen suggest that more than 2,000 severely handicapped children are born each year, many of whom end up in institutional care if their parents are unable to cope with their afflictions and if adoptive or foster parents cannot be found. Thousands of children are still in institutional care in this country.
The risk of congenital handicap is very real. Premature babies are more prone to such handicap, and the younger the baby--the closer its age to the lowest age at which survival is possible, whether it is 24 weeks or any other age--the greater the risk. One of the most important recent developments, referred to by the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley), is in pre-natal genetic diagnosis. A meeting of the Royal Society this week discussed the good work that has been done at Hammersmith hospital. Such work provides a chance for fewer children to be born with congenital handicaps as the research proves. It will also mean fewer abortions at 20 weeks on the ground of foetal diagnosis. I should have thought that those who want fewer abortions would therefore favour it.
In the 10 years in which IVF babies have been produced 10,000 have been born throughout the world, but that was only possible because of the 10 years of research that preceded it. I ask those who condemn the research what harm has come from it. Is the world a worse place because of it? I do not think so ; I think that it is a much better place. We must face the challenge, not run away. Throughout the history of mankind we have faced up to technological advance. We discovered fire and learnt to
Column 1231use it, but there is of course an attendant risk. We discovered the use of the wheel. That has benefited mankind, but there is still a risk, as is shown by the recent rail disaster at Clapham Junction. We have come to terms with such risks and learnt how to control them so that we can use technology for our benefit.
The secrets of the atom were discovered earlier this century at Cambridge. Much of the IVF research has also been done there. We should be proud of that work, and not run away from it. We should try to establish exactly what limits and controls there should be and how they should be exercised, rather than attempt to introduce legislation to ban the work.
Mr. William Cash (Stafford) : My hon. Friend and I have crossed swords on this subject for many years. Does he agree, in the context of his analogy with the nuclear bomb and the uses of nuclear power, that the manipulation of human characteristics by genetic engineering falls into about the same category of importance? Whereas it is possible to reorganise and scale down nuclear power, human genetic engineering, once engaged in, is irreversibly built into the future. If there are benefits to be derived, they must be weighed most seriously against the incredible dangers.
Mr. Thurnham : My hon. Friend is talking about genetic engineering. The voluntary licensing authority which sets down the criteria for research work in this country has listed that as one of the four criteria that it is not allowing. There are arguments in favour of genetic engineering if it can be shown to reduce the incidence of illnesses such as diabetes. I believe that work has been done in America to show that it is possible to work on a mouse embryo and to remove the gene responsible for diabetes. If that could be done in this country and we could reduce the suffering that results from the common illness of diabetes, that would be welcomed.
However, I agree with my hon. Friend that we should think carefully about genetic engineering and, indeed, the voluntary licensing authority lists genetic engineering as one of its key criteria. We should bear in mind that the voluntary licensing authority is recognised throughout the world as an excellent institution. It is a British institution and one founded on common sense and on a practical approach to how we should manage the new developments that are taking place in that area.
I look forward to hearing what my hon. and learned Friend the Minister for Health will say about the voluntary licensing authority. I hope that he feels that its work is as excellent as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said that it is. It is funded largely from private resources. I hope that my hon. and learned Friend will say a little more about how the Government can help its work. I am sure that we are all in favour of the licensing authority being made a statutory licensing authority so that if it needs to have more teeth than it has been given so far, it can have them. As I have said, its work has been excellent and I hope that the Government will reinforce it by announcing some help with funding.
The voluntary licensing authority has laid down a limit of 14 days for work on embryos. That limit is beyond any period for which an embryo has been kept alive, as far as I am aware. I believe that eight or nine days is the maximum period for which an embryo or pre-embryo can be kept alive in a test tube, so 14 days is beyond what is
Column 1232practical anyway. By that stage an embryo would naturally have to be planted in its mother's womb to develop fully. Therefore, the 14-day limit is perfectly sensible and practical for research work. The other criteria involved limitations on the use of any other species for gestation and on cloning. Although cloning is used in the animal world, I am sure that we would all agree without the slightest hesitation that that criterion should be strictly enforced. If we had a statutory authority, it would have the legal right to do that. Only those people who believe that our scientists and doctors are malevolent in some way would imagine that such things could occur at all.
The issues that we are discussing are being debated also in America, Australia and Europe. I should like to draw hon. Members' attention to Science magazine of 25 November in which an article is headed : "Europe Split on Embryo Research".
A statement beneath that heading runs :
"We cannot have a situation in which the same research might lead to a Nobel Prize in some member states of the European Economic Community, and to prison in others."
I very much regret that people should feel that scientists should be sent to prison for conducting research that is within the limitations laid down by the voluntary licensing authority. I am sure that when the time comes for this House to consider legislation on such matters, hon. Members will want to support a statutory licensing authority as the way forward because by laying down limitations, a statutory licensing authority could allow research to continue in a way that would be beneficial not only to the people of this country, but throughout the world on the basis that we lead the world in that sphere.
Mr. Cash rose --
Mr. Thurnham : No, I have already given way once to my hon. Friend. I am sure that he will have his own opportunity to speak later. I hope that the restrictions that may be brought in for some European member states, such as Germany, will not be enforced throughout the whole Community because that would be a mistake. I do not think that anybody in this country wants to take lessons in moral ethics from Germany. There is no doubt that some of the German proposals are reactions to the dreadful state of affairs there during the last war when 20 medical officers were sentenced for experiments carried out in concentration camps.
I am sure that we could approach this matter with a commonsense attitude. I hope that we shall not have any restrictive European legislation imposed on us. It is tempting to imagine that there might be restrictions in other European countries, but none here, which would give us a competitive advantage. However, I do not advocate such a policy because it would be risky. I would rather see developments throughout the whole of Europe, rather than just in one part of it.
The voluntary licensing authority has licensed 38 research projects, many of which were mentioned at the Royal Society meeting this Monday. I understand that at Hammersmith hospital 400 embryo experiments have taken place and that the hospital hopes to have a preventive system shortly for couples who are suffering from the disorder known as Lesch Nyhan-syndrome, which is a most grievous affliction. Anybody at risk of having children with that disorder would need every
Column 1233possible help and encouragement. I do not understand the attitude of hon. Members who want to stop research which could help couples who suffer from such a dreadful plight.
There have also been arguments about the use of foetal tissue in the treatment of Parkinson's disease. I remind those who condemn doctors for doing that work that they do so only after their hospital ethical committee has given careful consideration to whether that should take place, bearing in mind the particular circumstances of the patient and those prepared to make the donation.
Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone) : Does my hon. Friend accept that the surgeons and doctors involved in the experiments can and do sit on the ethical committee? Does he agree that Parliament should consider whether we need to revise that, so that no man can be judge in his own case?
Mr. Thurnham : I tabled a question on that a while ago, and the Government have said that they are reviewing the way that ethical committees work. That is only sensible and right. I would not for a minute advocate that ethical committees should consist solely of people who do not know what they are talking about. They must consist of people engaged in the work as well as lay members of the community who can offer wise, informed judgments. It is absurd to imagine that ethical committees could consist of people who did not know about the work.
Parliament should not be arrogant and prohibit research. When the time comes to consider legislation I hope that it will agree to appoint a statutory licensing authority and that, meantime, the work of the voluntary licensing authority can be well supported. Hon. Members who have spoken should stop and think what more they can do to care for the born--who are with us. The considerations of those working in this area--the scientists and philosophers who put forward the arguments--are guided by a concern for the born, not by highly principled, remote, aloof consideration of what may or may not happen to the unborn. Let us face up to what is happening to the born. That is the hallmark of a civilised society.
Mr. Doug Henderson (Newcastle upon Tyne) : I did not originally intend to speak in this debate, but I was concerned to see that the House was again to consider the question of abortion and in vitro fertilisation in the same debate. Since I have been a Member of the House I have been convinced that it does better when it considers specific rather than general matters. This morning the debate has been general.
I wish to address my comments to research on human pre-embryos. The wording of the motion is emotive and talks of
"concern about experiments on unborn children."
I could take issue with the hon. Member for Slough (Mr. Watts) on that wording, but I shall desist and stick to some of the more substantial issues.
I am not sure that this debate is necessary at this time. On 4 February we had a useful debate and it would have been best for each side to reflect on the arguments about in vitro fertilisation for a while. I know that the Government are reflecting on these issues. More reflection and perhaps less debate might have been a better way
Column 1234forward at this time. As we are forced into considering the matter once again, we have a chance to express our views on the nature of any legislation.
I am in no doubt that the main issue about in vitro fertilisation is whether research can continue and whether the research work of devoted scientists, working with minimum facilities, using their talents and endeavouring to help those people referred to by the hon. Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham) should be allowed to continue.
I was not clear what position the hon. Member for Slough (Mr. Watts) took on research. I note that he has left the Chamber, but I will give way to him if he comes back and will make his position clear. I know that some hon. Members on both sides of the House believe that research should cease. They must test their consciences against the denial of treatment. They must consider what would happen if treatment was denied to couples who face a high risk of passing on genetic diseases to their offspring or what would happen if treatment was denied to couples who want children but have a family history of genetic disease. Those people face the anguish and morality of bringing a child into the world who may have a high risk of disability and they may fret over their right to bring that child into the home. Couples so afflicted must consider whether they can look after a disabled child in future and endure the physical, social and psychological effects that that may bring. If we deny treatment, we deny those people a better chance in life.
I will not dwell too long on that aspect because the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) put the case clearly and eloquently in the debate in February for research to continue. He wanted to help people afflicted by diseases such as those mentioned today by the hon. Member for Bolton, North -East.
Treatment may also be denied to people who are in despair because they want children, but discover that they are unable to conceive. If we deny those people treatment, we will deny them any hope of relieving their anguish, soul searching, sense of inadequacy and mental pain. I hope that those who would outlaw research will weigh the feelings of those people against their own ideological beliefs. I hope that the people who would deny treatment are aware of the scale of childlessness in this country. They should know how many of their constituents suffer that anguish, soul searching, and sense of inadequacy. They should know how many of their constituents will seek help from local medical practitioners and hospitals.
The White Paper published in 1987 made it clear that one in six people have some form of infertility problem. It also showed that one in 10 couples need major hospital help to relieve infertility. That means that there are 6 million couples of child-bearing age and 1.25 million are childless.
Medical science has advanced significantly and it can bring relief and hope and, in many cases thankfully, joy. By 1987, more than 2,000 babies had been born in this country through in vitro fertilisation treatment. That is quite a substantial proportion of the number who have been born in that way throughout the world--about 30 per cent. or 40 per cent.--and reflects great credit on our own medical science. However, the success rate is still low. The Voluntary Licensing Authority made it clear in its statistical analysis in 1986 that of the 4,687 couples who had received a treatment cycle, out of a total number of treatment cycles
Column 1235of more than 7,000, over 1,000 had failed before the stage of egg collection, another 2,200 had failed at the point of entry transfer and only 754 pregnancies had resulted. Of those, 605 live births occurred. That is a success rate of less than one in 10 of those who received in vitro fertilisation treatment.
I am not clear what position the hon. Member for Slough is adopting. Is he against IVF in any circumstances? He and others who share his view will not choose to support either of the options in the White Paper. I concede that their position has some internal logic, although I do not agree with it and they must weigh their logic against the logic of others. But I do not accept that there is any internal logic in the view that was outlined in a debate in February by the right hon. Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine). I am not picking him out for special comment, but he and others said that they accepted option one in the White Paper, which was to agree on implantation when it occurred immediately and in relation to a woman, but that they did not accept any embryo research.
I repeat the point that I made then, that there is no internal logic in that argument. If one accepts that some IVF treatment can take place, one is effectively endorsing scientific developments in the past that involved research on embryos. When hospital authorities first mixed sperm and eggs, it did not result in a baby. Ten years of research took place before any major developments occurred and they required historic research. If one says that it is acceptable for a form of IVF treatment to take place to have an immediate and intended impact on fertility, one must say, to be consistent, that within the rules, regulations and agreed framework, one accepts that there should be further research to try to improve on success rates. Those who argue for the centre position have no logic on their side. Those who are fundamentalists and who are opposed to any idea of IVF treatment are being logical, but those who adopt the centre position should agree that some research is essential.
Mr. Cash : That is one of the most intelligent arguments that I have heard from those who take the opposite view to mine. However, I want to ask the hon Gentleman a question. If he looks at the statutory framework proposed by the new White Paper--we have had several previously on the subject--does he not agree that, even within the areas of constraint, where there is an absolute ban connected with a criminal offence, the constraint is merely on the basis of a temporary ban pending further research? Is that not, even to the hon. Gentleman, incongruous and highly dangerous?
Mr. Henderson : I understand the hon. Gentleman's point, but I fear that, if the centre option is chosen, so many restrictions will be imposed on research in future that it will prevent any meaningful discoveries from taking place, and therefore make a breakthrough unlikely.
If we are to continue to have in vitro fertilisation, we need further research, if for no other reason than that it is crucial to try to save medical facilities. Much medical time and many facilities are tied up in treatments that the medical authorities themselves recognise have only a one in 10 chance of succeeding. Because they believe that they can help some people, however, they feel compelled to give the maximum opportunity to those who visit them. I have
Column 1236observed the work done at King's College hospital in south London and I am impressed by the facilities there and at some other hospitals.
Research is crucial to identify the factors in pre-embryos that can help to explain why there is still such a low rate of fertilisation, and to discover how possible causes of damage to the pre-embryo can be evaluated during in vitro culture. The third, equally important, aim is to reduce the risk of multiple pregnancies. We all know that there is such a risk in IVF and associated treatments. While most families will very much welcome the birth of a young child, they would prefer not to undergo a high risk of multiple pregnancy. We need research to investigate pre-implantation diagnostic techniques on human embryos which can reduce the risk of children being born with genetic diseases and help to reduce terminations by allowing diagnosis and treatment before a pregnancy is established. Research is needed to show that these techniques are safe, to determine that the pre-embryo is not irreparably damaged by the removal of small cells for diagnosis, to examine how many cells can be removed in that process and to determine the optimal stage of development for the removal of the cells.
Research is required further to investigate treatment for male infertility. At the moment, much of the treatment for male infertility has to involve the active participation of a woman. It would be much better if an in vitro system could be used to remove not only the women's direct involvement but the anguish and pain that go with it.
I do not expect all hon. Members to agree with me that there is scope for research to investigate new forms of contraception and that that is important. People at the forefront of medical development say that blocking agents can be tested in vitro very successfully, and that would be an efficient use of medical research and resources. I could have referred to the need for better facilities all round, and to the need to reduce regional inequalities in facilities and improve public sector provision. I could have dealt with the licensing authority and said that I support the 14-day limit. We need to consider all those matters, but I am conscious of time. I passionately believe that when we consider introducing legislation we should address ourselves as dispassionately as possible to the real issues.
I accept the need for a legislative framework. It is somewhat incongruous that the Government, who argue in favour of having voluntary arrangements in many areas, should argue that there is a need for statutory arrangements in this case. I agree with them. I hope that the guiding principle behind that statutory framework will be the liberty of the 1.25 million childless people in this country who seek help.
Mr. Andrew MacKay (Berkshire, East) : I hope that the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson) will not complain if I do not pursue his arguments on embryo research. I agreed with every single word that he said in an outstanding speech that will need careful reading in Hansard on Monday.
I shall concentrate on abortion, which was the other issue mentioned in the motion so ably moved by my hon. Friend and neighbour the Member for Slough (Mr. Watts). I defend my hon. Friend from an allegation made by the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer), who suggested that after the fall of the Abortion (Amendment)
Column 1237Bill last Session, my hon. Friend said that Parliament had been brought into disrepute and that the wrong tactics had been used. I share two local newspapers with my hon. Friend and I know that he has always behaved correctly. He has made none of the slurs or insinuations that we have heard from the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) and his friends in the anti-abortion lobby. My hon. Friend is the acceptable face of some pretty unacceptable people.
I was pleased that my hon. Friend came first in the ballot and that he chose this subject for discussion, and I am delighted that I was able to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, so that I can say a few words.
The hon. Member for Mossley Hill is not in his place now, but I am sure that he will return in due course. It was disingenuous of him to suggest that because there was a substantial majority for the Second Reading of his Bill, it had overwhelming support in the House. The hon. Gentleman has been in the House for several years and was for some time the Chief Whip of the Liberal party and the alliance. Sadly, he is not the Chief Whip of the Social and Liberal Democrats because he does not support the new leadership of that party. The hon. Gentleman should be aware that a vote on Second Reading is a vote on principle. Many of my hon. Friends and many Opposition Members voted for the Second Reading of the Bill because they believed that the issue should be taken a stage further into Committee. They believed mistakenly--I warned them of it during the Second Reading debate--that they could persuade the hon. Member for Mossley Hill to amend his time limit from 18 weeks to 22 or 24 weeks. He gave them some woolly undertakings. They were deliberately woolly, because the hon. Gentleman is not normally a woolly speaker. Somewhat naively, they accepted those promises and he was able to slide out of them in Committee.
I am confident that had there been a vote on 24 weeks, as set out in an amendment that I tabled on Report, it would have been passed overwhelmingly. The House should recall that my early-day motion attracted many signatures and widespread support throughout the House, which shows that 24 weeks, with medical exceptions, would have been a reasonable compromise that would have been passed and widely supported.
If that be the case, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you may ask why the hon. Member for Mossley Hill did not agree to my amendment and why we do not have on the statute book a law that abortions may not take place after 24 weeks except in exceptional medical circumstances. The answer is that those who sponsored his Bill, and the hon. Gentleman himself, are anti-abortion. They do not want limits of 24 weeks or even 18 weeks. They want abortion to be made illegal. There are a few extremely honest people on their side, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe), who is good enough to admit that she believes that abortion should be made illegal, and I respect her views. My hon. Friend is fortunate to have been drawn fairly high up the ballot, as I have been. I am slightly more fortunate than her as I was drawn fourth and she seventh. No doubt, she will be introducing a Bill in this session of Parliament, which, I am told will be similar to the Bill that was introduced by the hon. Member for Mossley Hill.
Miss Widdecombe indicated assent.