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Mrs. Ann Winterton: Would it not be better to have primary legislation before the House, as the Government propose for moves on reproductive cloning, which is already illegal? We could then have a proper debate and Members would be able to table reasoned amendments and new clauses. Would not that be a better way to proceed than by affirmative resolution?
Dr. Harris: When primary legislation is published on reinforcement of the ban on reproductive cloning, the hon. Lady may find that she has an opportunity to discuss the issues. The 1990 Act, however, which was introduced on a free vote by the Conservative Government whom she supported, set out in a schedule, amendable by secondary legislation, a list of purposes for which embryos could be used. Indeed, that Act foresaw the use of cell nuclear replacement--the hon. Lady would rather say "cloning techniques"--to create embryos, where some eggs are available, which is not the case in many circumstances. As long as we have a good debate in Parliament, I think it is reasonable to bring these matters forward in secondary legislation.
I have tried to prompt a debate on the matter, and the short debate on my ten-minute Bill attracted many more Members than are here today, even if not many relative to the full membership of the House. I regret that we cannot have this kind of debate in prime time.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight, I want to make it clear that the Liberal Democrats have a free vote on this matter. It is worth pointing out that our party debated the matter in public at our party conference in September 1999. Ours was the first party to consider cloning and to produce a policy that was clearly against reproductive cloning. Indeed, we called for it to be outlawed. At the same time, however, we envisaged
If those who oppose that policy take the view that a fertilised embryo has the full rights of a baby or an adult human being, there is no way I can see eye to eye with them. I respect their view, as does the Minister, but those people should not subvert scientific opinion. Opinion on what can be achieved with adult stem cells rather than embryonic stem cells falls clearly on the side of allowing embryonic stem cell research as a short or medium-term method of getting adult stem cells.
To those constituents who have, rightly, written to me on the matter, I have to say that I am morally unable to agree with their views. Those of us who sit in Parliament have a duty to respect their views; to examine, as I have done, the issues before reaching a decision; and to be clear and frank about where we stand. I look forward to measures being produced and to opportunities for the provision of therapy for the sometimes voiceless people who suffer serious diseases for which there is no immediate hope of cure.
The debate has been extremely interesting, thoughtful and measured, and has covered some complicated issues. I welcome those discussions. Contributions from both sides of the House make it clear that this is not a party political issue; strong views are held in all parties. I am glad that the debate is being conducted with that very much in mind.
The hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr. Hammond) set out the arguments on both sides, and expressed his personal concern at the pace of scientific change. My hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson) pointed out that firm regulation will continue under the measures. The hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Dr. Brand) described the value of scientific progress in this sphere. My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas) described, with some passion, the pain and suffering of people afflicted by Parkinson's disease, and talked of the hope inspired by the possibility of the treatment and cure that the regulations might facilitate.
The hon. Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton) expressed her concerns about cloning and about the value of adult stem cell research. My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock) pointed out the value of giving couples the right to donate their embryos, under proper safeguards, to research that they believe will be worth while.
The hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) pointed out that science moves fast; laws become out of date and need updating. Parliament must take the responsibility of deciding where on the slope--be it upward or downward--we should take our position. The hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) set out the case for embryonic stem cell research as opposed to research into other matters.
I should have made it clear earlier that the regulations would implement recommendations 1 and 4 of the Donaldson report, concerning research to increase understanding of human disease and treatment, and research into treatment for mitochondrial disease--we have not discussed that in detail today and I shall not do so now. The report's other recommendations are either already covered by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 or by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, or involve matters not for legislation, or matters that could be dealt with only through primary legislation.
The hon. Member for Congleton mentioned the timing of the publicising of the report and the debate about these issues. I am sorry that she chooses to see conspiracy everywhere. I strongly disagree with her analysis. The Donaldson report was published in August and received much media attention--rightly so. It was also right that there was a proper focus on the recommendations of that expert committee, in order to begin the debate. It would have been wrong for us to hold that report and delay it until the recall of Parliament in the autumn; we wanted the debate to begin and to be promoted not only in the House but throughout the country.
If the Government were able to co-ordinate the views of the Royal Society, the Medical Research Council, the Nuffield Council on Bioethics and--especially--the BMA, it would certainly make the lives of those in the Department of Health easier, but I can assure the House that that idea is far from the truth.
Mrs. Ann Winterton: The hon. Lady may care to reflect on the fact that the Department of Health received the Donaldson report some considerable time before it was published. Will she contrast that with the fact that although the previous Conservative Government published the Warnock report at the end of a parliamentary Session, they gave Members of Parliament the opportunity to question the Government about it?
Yvette Cooper: We took the decision that we wanted to publish the Government's response to the Donaldson report at the same time as we published the report. We are giving the House plenty of opportunities to debate the issues; that is absolutely right.
Yvette Cooper: Indeed; it is several months since publication of the report. The matter has thus been discussed in the media, and Members have had the chance to discuss it and to receive letters from constituents before we initiated the parliamentary debate.
It is important to make sure that we have a proper parliamentary discussion before the vote takes place. That is why we have held today's debate, and why we will need to hold a further debate on the Floor of the House of Commons before the vote takes place. We have held briefings this week--open to Members and peers--with
The hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge went through the arguments on both sides of the debate in detail, and set up a tension between science and ethics. I would strongly disagree; there are ethical arguments on both sides, as has been clearly argued throughout the debate. This is not about science on the one hand and ethics on the other. There are separate scientific arguments that we need to address about how research can take place, and whether it should use embryonic stem cells or adult stem cells. That is the first question, and it is a scientific question on which we rightly take the advice of experts.
There is a second set of questions, concerning the ethical arguments about whether this is the right thing to do. Whatever science says is possible, is it the right thing to do? Is it right to use embryos in research? Is it right to destroy embryos if they are not used in IVF? Is it right, as my hon. Friend the Member for Deptford said, to give couples the chance to donate their embryos for research if they believe it to be the right thing to do? Is it right to turn down the prospect of a cure for Parkinson's, diabetes, multiple sclerosis and other diseases? These are ethical questions which rightly must be considered by the House.