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Mr. Swayne: I am glad that the Minister has recognised that this is primarily an ethical argument on both sides, rather than a scientific argument. Does she agree that there is no difference in principle or in practice between therapeutic cloning and reproductive cloning, apart from the use to which one subsequently puts the procedure?
Yvette Cooper: There is a huge difference between therapeutic cloning and reproductive cloning. A particular cell nuclear replacement technique to create an embryo that is used only for 14 days is one issue. Whether or not to implant that embryo and allow the creation of a cloned human being is a completely separate issue. On the second issue, the morals and ethics are completely different. However, the science is also different, as we go through a separate process of implantation. I agree that the cloning of human beings to create new human beings is morally wrong and unacceptable, not just to this House but to the majority of the public in this country.
Mr. Swayne: I understand that point, and I agree with the Minister to a large extent. However, I was trying to get to the bottom of the actual techniques used in cloning, whatever purpose the result may be used for subsequently. Are the techniques the same or different?
Yvette Cooper: The hon. Gentleman is right that there is a technique called cell nuclear replacement which has been used in experimentation on animals to try to produce cloned animals. But there is a moral and scientific difference between the use of cell nuclear replacement for therapeutic cloning for the purposes of research up to 14 days, and the prospect of any kind of reproductive
There are two separate arguments before us--the scientific and ethical arguments about stem cell research, and the prospect of regulations. The key scientific arguments have been raised several times in the debate. Is it possible to do the type of stem cell research that most people agree has huge potential to treat Parkinson's disease and other degenerative disorders, without carrying out embryonic research? Is the Donaldson report, as the hon. Member for Congleton suggested, already out of date? We have asked the Donaldson expert group to keep an eye on all the changing research, and it agrees that adult stem cells have huge potential; its report made that point clear. However, it also strongly supported the idea that much of the research will be possible only through the use of embryonic stem cells.
The key questions are how we understand the use of adult stem cells, and how we make the breakthrough not only in the narrow areas in which such cells have proved that advances are possible, but for a wide range of diseases and disorders where embryonic stem cells are thought to have the potential to make a huge difference. It is thought that they will increase the speed at which we obtain knowledge, increase the range of diseases that we can treat and trigger the first breakthrough that is required.
Hon. Members have asked about the probability of the research providing benefits. On that point, we have to accept the advice of the scientists, who argue that the research already undertaken in other areas suggests that stem cell research shows great promise. However, if we knew the answer to the questions, there would be no purpose to the research. We would not need to conduct it if we already knew what it would be able to deliver. That is why major scientific bodies, including most recently the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, have endorsed the considerable benefits that embryonic stem cell research could bring. They have accepted the idea that we should go for embryonic, not just adult, stem cell research.
The other major issue is the ethical one. I urge hon. Members to use their consciences to reflect on what is the right thing to do. People will take different views, but I believe that science for good and not evil means science that takes place in an ethical and legal framework. That is what the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 provides. It was introduced by the previous Conservative Government, debated thoroughly and accepted on a free vote. We need a clear regulatory framework for such research, and that is why I support the 14-day limit, and regulation by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority.
The hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge asked whether science was out of step with society, and whether science has run beyond the ethical debates that we can have. I understand people's anxieties about the pace of scientific change, BSE and genetically modified foods. However, I strongly urge Members not to vote against the regulations simply to make a statement expressing their anxiety about the BSE inquiry or GM foods. This is a different issue. I agree that we must have moral and ethical restraints on science, but Members should not vote against regulations that could bring huge
It would be a dreadful tragedy if the BSE crisis--which has led to enough dreadful tragedies as it is--affected Members' judgment of the regulations. They have nothing to do with BSE or the problems that led to the BSE inquiry, so Members should not make their decision about the regulations on the basis of other issues.
The public's views are important, and we must ensure that the issue is sufficiently debated. I hope that today's debate will lead to further debate in the public and the media. Many newspapers have already considered the issue, particularly over the past six months. It is true that the public are strongly opposed to reproductive cloning. There is no question about that. I am strongly opposed to it myself, as, I believe, are most hon. Members--but the regulations will not introduce reproductive cloning.
Mr. Hammond: The Minister has twice referred to her assumption that there is strong public objection to reproductive cloning, and said that that would be decisive in determining her view. If it turns out that there is strong public objection to therapeutic cloning, will she take a similar line and withdraw from her current position?
Yvette Cooper: All hon. Members need to be cognisant of the public's views and take into account the representations and discussions that they have with constituents when they make decisions. It is also right that constituents elect us to represent them in Parliament and to hold debates about important issues. However, we should not only reflect their views, but reflect on those views, and on the debates in the House.
We often talk with pride about the importance of the House in discussing matters of huge import to people throughout the country. We do not hold a referendum on every issue as it arises, because we understand the value of Parliament in debating important issues. Parliament can play an even more important role when there is a free vote, by airing the issues as they arise. We need to promote public debate but we also need to take responsibility for what we think is the right thing to do, so that we make the right final decision when we vote.
The hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) asked about Europe. He is no longer in his place, but he apologised to me for having to leave and said that he would look for the reply in Hansard. The European Parliament discussed the issue and passed a resolution--by a narrow majority, I believe--against research using embryos created by cell nuclear replacement. However, the European Commission has confirmed that there is no European Union competence in this matter.
Some member states have no legislation on this issue. Research is carried out in Belgium and the Netherlands, but there is no legislation to regulate it. Portugal also has no legislation, but research is not carried out there. Other member states, such as Austria and Germany, prohibit
The hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge said that the research would go ahead, and that the only question was where it would take place. If it did not go ahead here, it would take place somewhere else, and he suggested that that was an industrial issue, because it concerns the United Kingdom biotech industry. I disagree, although I accept that there are important questions about where and how the research takes place. It is true that if the regulations are not introduced, the research is likely to continue in other countries where there may be no regulatory framework to govern either the way in which licences are applied for and research takes place, or the purposes of the research.
Research will go ahead in other countries, predominantly in the private sector, without the prospect of publicly funded research. That would deny the possibility of United Kingdom expertise and brilliance in the subject being involved in potentially huge breakthroughs in, for example, Parkinson's disease. Hon. Members have also expressed anxiety about biotech research and the exploitation of human tissue being carried out entirely in the private sector, in the context of the human genome project.
I believe strongly that it is important to have a publicly funded research role, and that there is a strong case for public-private partnerships to ensure that the right sort of ethical framework is in place for the application as well as the initiation of research.
I conclude by reminding the House that stem cell research could lead to immense human health benefits. It could save lives and dramatically improve people's quality of life. Although adult stem cells have potential, scientists believe that embryonic stem cells hold the greatest promise. The regulations that provide for no research beyond 14 days and the HFEA controls will remain. In most cases, we are talking about creating, through IVF, embryos that would otherwise be destroyed.
Cell nuclear replacement techniques will not lead to human reproductive cloning, because that is illegal and will remain so. We have the opportunity to extend our clear regulatory framework so that research is possible, not simply into contraception but into Parkinson's disease. We have the potential to open the door to huge benefits for those who are suffering.
The alternative is to reject the opportunity. Many hon. Members will take a strong ethical position. It is right that they should do so, but I warn the House of the consequences. Research that takes place outside a proper regulatory framework denies us the opportunity to take part in providing huge benefits for the future.
Considerable responsibility lies on the shoulders of Members of both Houses. I look forward to the debate that we shall hold before hon. Members make their final decision on the matter through a free vote.