|Previous Section||Home Page|
Mrs. Dunwoody rose --
Mr. Clarke : Mr. Crosby described two cases. In the first, a station refused to respond to a call to what turned out to be a stillborn baby found in a ditch somewhere in London. The hon. Member for Livingston used a report in the Daily Mirror about that incident as a source of attack upon me. I read the story in the Daily Mirror, which did not support its editorial. The newspaper had clipped extracts from a telephone conversation in which a London ambulance service controller plainly confronted the person in the station with refusing to accept a call, which was answered by another station.
In another case, a station refused to answer a call to a man who had been shot and the police were obliged to take the victim to hospital. As far as I am aware, that claim has never been challenged. A similar event took place in Birmingham. A man who had lost a foot was refused by one station and taken to hospital by a crew from another station. For 48 hours, Bristol road station did not accept 999 or emergency calls. I trust that, having reached that stage, common sense and civilised behaviour will prevail on both sides of the dispute.
Column 461If the national union leaders mean what they say and do not wish to threaten the accident and emergency service, they will ensure that their men follow the guidelines, answer 999 calls and take doctor emergency referrals to hospitals which are just as important. I hope that the unions will stop fooling about with 14-point work-to-rule plans and arguing about how one works a radio telephone. I hope that we can return to normal operation of the accident and emergency service. That is what ambulance men in most services are doing. The extremists in the unions are represented by Opposition Members who, when I said that ambulance staff should resume their duties, replied, "Pay them." They support the extremist view that workers in the accident and emergency service have no obligation to respond to calls unless they get their money.
The management of the NHS has tried to resolve the dispute in every possible way. It proposed a greatly improved pay offer to the union leaders about a week ago, which was rejected angrily and aggressively by Mr. Roger Poole. An organisation called the Association of Professional Ambulance Personnel is not represented on the staff side of the Whitley council.
Mr. Clarke : It is regarded as a joke by the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) because it is not affiliated to the TUC or the Labour party. It represents many more ambulance men and women than most of the trade unions involved in organising the industrial action, which are on the staff side of the Whitley council. The association has produced convincing evidence that it represents more than 20 per cent. of ambulance men and women. However, it is excluded from all staff side participation because it is not politically acceptable to the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends. Therefore, I have proposed--it is only a proposal at this stage--that it should begin negotiations with management through a separate negotiating council. It must be a separate council, because the TUC unions bar it from the Whitley council. To make sure that we all know what is on offer, the management have made the sensible decision to embark on a limited period of advertising--just one day--to set out clearly the nature of Duncan Nichol's offers for ambulance men and women who do not know what their union refuses to discuss.
Mr. Allen : The Secretary of State knows, as everybody in the country knows, that there is a clear, easy and simple way to resolve the dispute, allow ambulance staff to return to full working and ensure that all calls are answered. He should allow the matter to go to arbitration. Will he now allow the dispute to be settled or explain why he insists that the dispute must persist?
Mr. Clarke : If a future Labour Government run the National Health Service on the basis that, every time a group of workers takes strike action, the claim is referred to arbitration to settle the difference between the claim and the offer, they will reduce it to the same shambles as when they were last in power. To be fair to the previous Labour Government, I do not recollect that they ever referred an industrial dispute in the Health Service to arbitration. Clearly, it is an absurd way to manage such a huge service.
Column 462It would result in group after group undermining the management's ability to control NHS funding by going to arbitration.
The claim must be resolved satisfactorily, but the nature of the claim supported by the unions' extreme action is clearly excessive. Many employers could not afford 11 per cent. pay settlements in last year's pay round, and NHS management are clear that they are one of them. Unlike other employers, they cannot put up prices. They cannot afford to increase fares like British Rail. They cannot afford to increase the community charge as local government can. They would have to cut services to accommodate the increased pay of ambulance staff.
The comparisons with the ambulance service are fanciful and optimistic. The public have suddenly begun to realise that only one mile in 10 covered by ambulances is for an accident or emergency and only one patient in 10 is an accident victim. The bulk of ambulance staff carry out the caring and responsible work of taking non-emergency patients to out-patient clinics. That work is not distinguishable from that of countless other groups of dedicated and caring Health Service staff. As an observer of the dispute, I cannot see why, if nine tenths of patients go to out-patient clinics, ambulance staff can be compared with fifth-year firemen or any other such group.
I was asked about the future of the service and I shall answer that before I finish my speech. The management have already said what they see as the future of the service. They have suggested a two-tier service with separation of accident and emergency from non-emergency services. We need more paramedical personnel in the accident and emergency service and more extended training of the type already provided. The status of men and women in that part of the service must be recognised, as the management acknowledge in their proposals. Duncan Nichol has offered to make available an extra £500 next year--new money in anyone's book--for all staff with a specified level of extended training.
The TUC unions dismiss that. They say that it is elitist and divisive. Many of their members do not have such training, so they do not want such an arrangement. But many people see it as a way forward. People may make comparisons with other groups, but the main determinant of pay must be not comparison but freedom to recruit and obtain the quality of staff needed to work in a dedicated paramedical accident and emergency service.
The second tier should be paid better, but in some cases it will be contracted out. That has happened in Wiltshire and Northumberland. I know that people are worried about that and that the unions are opposed to it, but the industrial action is hastening the day when managers move in that direction.
Mr. Clarke : They are not threats. The history of the past 10 or 15 years shows that irresponsible industrial action pressed too far has cost many groups of staff money and many jobs. I hope that that can be avoided in the NHS, particularly with the introduction of a more responsible trade union into the negotiating process, and that we can achieve a satisfactory outcome.
Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Cromarty and Skye) rose
Column 463Mr. Clarke : I have spoken for too long, yet not given way nearly enough to the many hon. Members who wish to intervene. Clearly, we have had a taste of the controversy and of the conclusions. The Labour party will not introduce an original, serious proposition on the reform of the NHS, or give any sign of how it would change the way in which the NHS is run. It is more anxious to preserve the 1948 system as a museum piece and to exploit the understandable uncertainties about change for party political reasons. Its real enthusiasm is reserved for strikes in the public sector. That has been its greatest contribution in the past as it will be in the future, until such time as we hear a Labour party spokesman condemn industrial action in the NHS.
Mr. Clarke : I share the hon. Gentleman's predilection. I have here some pages on embryo research which I abandoned when I realised that the number of interventions and my responses to them would run me out of time. The public will draw our attention to embryo research more than to any other subject this winter, and we shall have opportunities to discuss the matter.
In all these subjects we are concerned about our quality of life, which depends on the quality of great public services such as the NHS. We have never spent so much money on them. We are spending as much as we can afford. We never employed so many doctors and nurses or treated so many patients. The service has never received so much attention from a Government determined to improve how it is run and to prepare it for greater things.
A healthy welfare state cannot simply be preserved. It needs to evolve to meet the changing needs of society. Under this Government, our welfare state will change for the better. Our programme for this Session set out in the Gracious Speech will help us to achieve the aim of making the NHS, which is already a great public service, a greater service still in the decade ahead.
Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe) : The short but conclusive answer to the Secretary of State's speech is that he is still totally unable to persuade even a substantial minority of the British people to support him. Time is at a premium, of course, and I shall move quickly in my speech to address, for reasons the House will understand, some implications of the Government's health and community care proposals of special concern to people with disabilities, their families and others who care for them day by day.
First of all, however, I must challenge the Government on their contemptuous treatment of the House last Thursday, shown by the way in which they announced the woefully inadequate ex gratia award of £20,000 to people with haemophilia who, tragically, in the course of treatment under the National Health Service, were infected with the AIDS virus. It is utterly disgraceful and scandalous that an announcement of such importance was made in reply to a ministerially inspired question for
Column 464written answer, thus avoiding the detailed questioning of the Secretary of State on the Floor of the House that should have followed the announcement last Thursday.
The Prime Minister and her unelected news manager-in-chief in Downing street apparently now insist that, except for "Question Time" and "Any Questions?", most Ministers must not appear on television or radio with shadow Ministers. For the Government to have insisted in the crucially important case of last Thursday's announcement that such direct exchanges are impermissible even in this House must be the most damaging outcome to date of the Prime Minister's known opposition to the televising of our proceedings.
Nothing proves more conclusively than the handling of that announcement the Prime Minister's sense of shame about the sum offered to the 1,200 victims of a monumental catalogue of mistakes that has already killed more than 100 of them. Many more, young people as well as older victims, have scant hope of living to see a court settlement of their claims to just compensation. The judgment of The Sunday Times yesterday is irrefutable. In striking reproof of Ministers, the paper states :
"The quality of the Government's mercy is so strained as to be morally reprehensible. £20,000 is hopelessly out of proportion to the nature of the injury'. The latest criminal injuries compensation board awards show that £20,000 was the sum paid to a 60-year-old man with a crushed hand and to a 20-year-old woman psychologically damaged by facial scars."
How do the Government respond to the statement of John Williams, administrator of the Macfarlane Trust--the charity which has been told to handle the ex gratia payments? Mr. Williams says that the trust has been put in an "impossible situation". A spokesman for the Charity Commission has described as "outrageous" the Government's decision that the trust must "lend" £5 million of the cost of the ex gratia payments from its existing funds. Is that not a shocking indictment of the Government's handling of this deeply grievous affair? Can we at least have today a definite guarantee that the ex gratia payments will be made before Christmas?
Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury) : I find it upsetting that the right hon. Gentleman takes this line. What impressed me last week was the speed with which the Government were not just prepared to provide the sum of money which, I agree, can never be sufficient, but decided to abandon the principle to which they had previously held, which was that the Government could not make ex gratia payments in a lump sum non-means-tested. That was an enormous move forward and the Haemophilia Society acknowledged it.
Mr. Morris : The hon. Gentleman will have heard from both sides of the House concern about his odd use of the word "speed". I quoted only from The Sunday Times, but may other organs of opinion have expressed very strong reservations.
Voluntary organisations that work to help disabled people and their families are worried about the Government's NHS and community care proposals. The Association of Crossroads Care Attendant Schemes, of which I am a patron, fears that inadequate funding will lead to "crude and insensitive service provision",
even for people with the most severe disabilities, and that
Column 465"carers will remain a low priority for hard- pressed local authorities faced with a growing demand for services from the increasing numbers of elderly and highly dependent people living in the community."
The John Groom's Association for the Disabled speaks of "The enormous reluctance of doctors to be involved with disabled people, who they regard as wanting more care."
The association quotes a letter from the Essex family practitioner committee to the effect that, if disabled people need extra services, the general practitioner is entitled to demand a fee.
Maggie Oxby of the Snowdon award scheme, of which I am a trustee, quotes the case of Colin Hughes, who has muscular dystrophy and uses a wheelchair, to demonstrate how cruel is the lot already of young disabled people whose problems the community care proposals do nothing to address. She reports to me that Colin, a university graduate who worked for the BBC :
" may now have to move back into care from his adapted flat because he just cannot afford to keep going."
In a letter to the trustees earlier this month Colin said : "I now no longer work at the BBC in Cardiff. Extremely disappointingly for me, I was forced to give up the job because I was unable to secure suitable accommodation in the Cardiff area I was also relying on the independent living fund granting me an allowance to fund the cost of the care I need.
However, despite the fact that I applied in early June, I still have not received confirmation that I will be receiving help from them. Thus sadly the combination of those two factors has made it impossible for me to continue working for the BBC in Cardiff. I am now unemployed."
That unemployment is not his fault and it is certainly not the fault of the BBC.Yet none of the Government's proposals gives any promise of immediate help to Colin Hughes, while some of the NHS proposals, as the John Groom's Association has said, could make his plight even worse.
Recent briefings for the all-party disablement group quote the fear of Arthritis Care that "budget holding" could bring actual disadvantages to patients with chronic diseases, while Mencap says : " A healthy emphasis on costs will become unhealthy if not accompanied by an equal emphasis on quality."
It strongly criticises the NHS review on the grounds that mental handicap and other community care issues are left almost entirely to the reader's imagination with no real indication that they will be considered.
Moreover, what do any of the Government's proposals do for people dying of AIDS whose principal financial need--I have written to the Minister with responsibility for the disabled about this and have not so far received a definitive reply--is for adequate nutrition and not attendance? In 1988, when prices were much lower than they are now, the Royal Victoria infirmary estimated that £32.75 was the cost of a diet for someone with AIDS/ARC. That compares with the current total basic income support of £27.40 for someone under the age of 25. That is a cruel anomaly and for many, in the view of experts, it can have fatal consequences.
The document "Caring for People" is really two documents that are interleaved. One displays the professional social work approach. The other has been written by the finance department of the Department of Health on instructions from the Treasury and is designed to ensure that the model of care never works in practice. The sole purpose of the authors of the second document is to stem the current outflow of public funds to residential
Column 466homes. Unfortunately for them, their contributions incorporate an approach that has been shown to be unlawful.
The Bill, on the other hand, pays little attention to the White Paper. It is significant that much of the philosophy, and even the language, of the White Paper echoes that of the Disabled Persons (Services, Consultation and Representation) Act 1986 which was introduced and piloted through the House by my hon. Friend the Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke). But the Government are still dragging their feet over the full implementation of that important Act. The paragraphs on assessment, in paragraph 3.2, are very similar to section 3 of the 1986 Act, although they do not include an appeals procedure.
Only a few days before the White Paper on community care was published, the Under-Secretary of State for Health finally said that discussions would soon begin with local authority associations on implementation of sections 1, 2 and 3 of the Act. Perhaps when he is replying the Minister will tell us how the discussions will mesh with those mentioned in paragraph 3.2.13 of the White Paper. I trust that the discussions on sections 1, 2 and 3 will not mirror the farce of those on section 7 where the Department has prevaricated for two years. Even now it is not clear whether the Government are refusing to implement section 7 because it goes too far or not far enough. Over the past two years, Ministers have usually quoted the figure of £100 million as the cost of implementing the assessment procedures of the 1986 Act. I have failed to find any costings of the approach recommended in chapter 3. Will extra money be given to local authorities? Ministers have also recently received guidelines for assessment of people under section 7 from the organisation Act Now. The vital difference between those guidelines and drafts emanating from the Department of Health is that they tackle all of a person's needs in the community, including housing, education, employment and social security.
Ministers are fully aware of the existing requirements of section 1 of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970, as amended by section 9 of the Disabled Persons (Services, Consultation and Representation) Act 1986. Will they insist in any guidance that assessments cover all of a person's social and health needs, such as those of Colin Hughes, and not just those for which the Department of Health is ultimately responsible?
I was pleased to receive a letter dated 14 November from the Minister of Health. It says :
"People's rights under existing disablement legislation will remain unaltered."
I must therefore tell the Minister that, in relation to the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act, paragraph 3.2.12 of the White Paper skates very close to recommending unlawful action. The key sentences state :
"Assessments will, therefore, have to be made against a background of stated objectives and priorities determined by the local authority. Decisions on service provision will have to take account of what is available and affordable.
In August 1970, the then Sir Keith Joseph, who was Secretary of State for Social Services, issued circular 12/70 on the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act. The circular included the sentence : "Criteria of need are matters for the authorities to determine in the light of resources."
It took five years and a change of Government before that sentence was officially admitted to be a grave misstatement of the law.
Column 467I draw the Minister's attention to the sixth report of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration 1975-76, case 12/k, House of Commons Paper 665. The Ombudsman reported that the Department of Health had admitted that mention of resources in the circular might have "muddied the waters" and that its legal advice now was that
"A local authority could not plead lack of money as a reason for not meeting need."
That was also my legal advice when I became Minister for the Disabled, and subsequent Ministers have told me in parliamentary replies that they have had exactly the same advice.
The Bill, by way of clauses 41 and 42, creates even more confusion, although the Government's lawyers may be attempting to evade the illegalities that I have just mentioned. Clause 41 lists the "community care services" and there is one blatant omission--section 2 of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act. This creeps in at clause 42(2) through the references to section 4 of the Disabled Persons (Services, Consultation and Representation) Act. However, as section 2 services of the 1970 Act are technically provided under section 29 of the 1948 Act, the loophole does not exist.
Section 2 of the 1970 Act is, of course, one of the welfare enactments covered by the provisions of the 1986 Act. If section 3 of that Act is implemented, two of the community care services will be covered by its procedures--part III of the National Assistance Act 1948 and schedule 8 of the National Health Service Act 1977--but not section 45 of the Health Services and Public Health Act 1968. Clause 42(4) contains the magnificent statement :
"This section is without prejudice to section 3 of the Disabled Persons (Services, Consultation and Representation) Act 1986." Ministers should recognise that the job of local authorities is to provide services and that it is quite impracticable for them to operate different procedures for different pieces of legislation when they often refer to the same services but for different people. The only sensible course is to extend section 3 of the 1986 Act to all community care services.
Paragraph 8.24--the Treasury paragraph par excellence--makes it clear that the good intentions of the Minister for Health may be hamstrung even before the new arrangements come into effect. However, I can assure the Government that any whiff of illegality will be relentlessly pursued by hon. Members in all parts of the House. In that context, I ask for an assurance now that the revised default powers of the Secretary of State in clause 44 will give people with disabilities equal rights of complaint to him as does the current section 36 of the 1948 Act. Will he have a duty to conduct a formal inquiry as at present?
Mr. Tom Clarke (Monklands, West) : My right hon. Friend has outlined the various Acts which the Government are not prepared to implement urgently. Will he invite the Minister of State, the right hon. Member for Chelsea (Mr. Scott), or the Secretary of State, who presented two versions of section 7 of the Disabled Persons (Services, Consultation and Representation) Act 1986--first, to the all-party group and, secondly, while that measure was passing through the House, both of them different from the White Paper--to explain what has influenced the Government to desert their clear commitments?
Mr. Morris : My hon. Friend makes a valid point. He does so authoritatively as the Member who piloted the 1986 measure through the House. I hope that there will be a positive response to him from Ministers in this debate. There is a most pressing need now to allay the fears of people with disabilities, their families and their carers on the issues to which I have referred. I urge Ministers to do so tonight.
Sir Bernard Braine (Castle Point) : Health is a subject of enormous importance to every family in the land, and on this occasion we are debating it in the context of the Gracious Speech. I shall make a brief reference therefore to a Bill that is concerned not merely with health but with life itself. I welcome the Human Fertilisation and Embryo Bill. We are told that it will deal with the issues raised in the Warnock report. It is not before time. Legislation to control experimentation on the human embryo is long overdue. More than five years have passed since the Warnock committee reported to Parliament, albeit with a divided voice. There was an immediate outcry against its recommendations. More than 1 million people signed a petition protesting against the recommendations. Both Houses of Parliament--I participated in the debate in this House--were highly critical of the recommendations.
The Warnock report was followed by the attempts of several Members to introduce legislation prohibiting the creation of human embryos purely for research. The House has demonstrated repeatedly its support for such measures and yet on every occasion has been frustrated by a few opponents, with the Government of the day standing on the sidelines and not prepared to lift a finger. The will of the majority in the House on this subject has never been allowed to prevail. In the meantime, experimentation with embryos has continued unregulated.
No one knows what has been done behind closed doors. There have been voluntary watchdogs, but who appointed them? What have they discovered about such research and the means by which it is carried out? It is a relief therefore to many of us that the Government have at long last honoured their commitment to introduce a Bill. We shall debate the Bill later, and this is not the time to talk in any detail about it. However, having read the Bill it is essential for me, as chairman of the Pro Life committee of both Houses, to sound a warning note now. In clause 11, which is crucial, there appear the alternative clauses that were promised by the Government. We are to be given a choice between provision for treatment, service, storage and research, or treatment and storage without research. That is not a clear choice, as I shall show, and it was not what we were promised.
Let us consider the activities that will be licensed, whichever way we vote. The treatment services outlined in schedule 2 include "practices designed to secure that embryos are in a suitable condition to be placed in a woman or to determine whether embryos are suitable for that purpose".
What does that mean? It must involve research--which, incidentally, is not defined anywhere in the Bill. There then appears the following passage :
"Such other practices as may be specified in, or determined in accordance with, regulations."
What does that mean? What shall we be voting for? This is nothing more than a thinly disguised attempt to introduce research on human embryos no matter what
Column 469Parliament decides. To borrow the words of Winston Churchill--my Pro Life Committee and I--"Up with that we will not put."
Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon) : Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that opinion polls show that an overwhelming majority of 2 : 1 is in favour of continued research into congenital diseases--research of a kind that would be banned if he had his way?
There is not an overwhelming majority for experimentation on human embryos. There is a deep sympathy and understanding, which we all share, for the plight of those who have handicapped children, but there are other ways of dealing with the problem. My committee is advised by some of the most prestigious names in science and medicine in the world. They tell us that it is not necessary to experiment on the human embryo, and certainly not up to the 14 days recommended in the Bill. Incidentally, I remember Baroness Warnock saying in an unguarded moment that 14 days would do for a start.
To cite just one example, fundamental research has been taking place into Down's syndrome. Some of the most important discoveries have been made by the eminent French scientist Professor Jerome Lejeune, who managed to achieve his results without any experimentation on the human embryo. I sympathise with the position of the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley), but I think that we shall have to differ on the methods by which we arrive at the goal that he desires.
I wish also to make clear the Pro Life committee's position on the proposed statutory licensing authority. The committee has no faith in the sort of authority that is proposed in the Bill. That would involve an intricate system of an authority, licensing committees, sub-committees and the involvement in some of the committees of people who not members of the authority. That is the best recipe for a quango that I have seen in nearly 40 years in Parliament. I suspect that it is designed to ensure that no one can get at what is really going on.
Worse still, after its first year of operation the authority will have to report to the Secretary of State only biennially. That simply will not do. We in the Pro Life movement believe that it is essential that the issuing of licences for any lawful procedures for creating human embryos should be in the hands of the Secretary of State, and that any licensing authority should act only as a watchdog. Furthermore, an effort should be made to secure a balance between known differences of view within the authority. There is no provision for that in the Bill, but there is a precedent for such powers to be exercised by the Secretary of State.
Licences for animal experimentation are issued through the Home Office, making the Secretary of State for the Home Department directly responsible for deciding the purpose of each experiment and the methods by which it is to be undertaken. It is wholly reasonable to request that a similar system be enacted in respect of experimentation with human embryos. It would be wholly incongruous if we did not accord to human embryos at least the same
Column 470degree of protection that we give to animals --not that the protection that they receive in this respect is satisfactory. Indeed, recent revelations in respect of animal experiments have alarmed and sickened many right hon. and hon. Members and a large number of our constituents.
I turn now to the danger of a statutory licensing authority being dominated by those who, for whatever reason, support experimentation on human embryos. If that is allowed, effective control will be lost and might not be recovered for many years. If the composition of the Warnock committee is anything to go by, our fears are well founded, for it did not include one human embryologist, although I concede that it did include a zoologist. The two eminent gynaecologists who served on that committee are both well known pro-abortionists. It is hardly surprising that a minority report was presented by the distinguished professor of neurology, John Marshall, and there were other dissentients. As a result, the Warnock report, which appears to be the basis for the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, received the support of only the smallest possible majority of the committee's members. The committee's report gave rise to expressions of dissent by seven of its 16 members.
I also note the shifting of the goal posts in the definition of the word "embryo". The Bill states :
"fertilisation is not complete until the appearance of a two-cell zygote."
That is a significant departure from the definition given in the Warnock report, which defines an embryo as beginning with the meeting of sperm and egg at fertilisation. That change of definition is important to note.
With regard to the upper time limit for abortion, we understand that that aspect can be decided at a later stage, although the Bill as drafted makes no reference to it. Happily, it is so drafted that an amendment or amendments can be tabled later. It would be not just morally repugnant but totally ludicrous if Parliament decided to give protection to the human embryo, or even the very limited protection of allowing experimentation only up to 14 days, yet denied any protection to a child in the womb, at a later stage of its journey into life when it is already a recognisable and sentient human being who recognises its mothers voice and can feel pain.
Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone) : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Polkinghorne report, which was implemented without any parliamentary debate, also deals with the use of foetal parts at a later stage of life, and that we are wrong to restrict ourselves to repealing the law only in respect of the earliest stage of pregnancy?
Sir Bernard Braine : My hon. Friend is right. I hope that there is no question of restricting ourselves. Parliament is the grand forum of the nation. The public expect us to focus attention on such issues, to confront them courageously, and to speak our minds. I feel certain that my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe) and right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House agree. This is not a party issue. Indeed, it is one that even unites all elements in Northern Ireland, where there is a remarkable degree of unanimity between Catholics and Protestants on the matter. I am glad to report that the pro-lifers' arguments have the support also of Christian leaders and the Jewish and Islamic communities. My hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone is right, and I and many others will combine to ensure that these grave issues are faced properly for the first time.
Column 471For years, successive Governments fudged the issue and were frightened to face up to it. Whenever there has been a vote in the House, immense majorities have been in favour of reform. That was the case with Mr. Enoch Powell's Bill and other Bills which followed. Did the Government respond? No, they stood back--yet the Abortion Act 1967 itself could not have reached the statute book had not the Administration of the day given Government time to its completion. I have a long memory in this matter, and many of us are determined, for as long as we are in Parliament, to see things through. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone for her intervention. I remind the House of the fundamental principles of medical ethics, which have stood the test of time and have guided medical practice for many years. First, there is the Geneva convention code of medical ethics, which was adopted by the World Medical Association in 1948. A modern restatement of the principles of Hippocratic medicine, it says simply ;
"I will have the utmost respect for human life from the time of conception."
There is also the Helsinki declaration of the World Medical Federation, which was adopted in 1964 and amended in 1983. It states :
"In research on man the interests of science and society must never take precedence over the well-being of the subject."
Those restrictions apply to all areas of medical research, and they should apply also to research on the human embryo. There is no justification for rewriting them now.
I hasten to add that we in the pro-life movement do not oppose research into infertility--we do not even oppose the idea that some research should be undertaken on human subjects--but we are concerned that all research on human subjects should be governed by the accepted principles of medical ethics worldwide. The human embryo is, from conception, a living member of our species and must be treated as such.