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Mr. Fabricant: Does my hon. Friend accept that every scientist to whom I have spoken on the subject says that if we are to be able to use adult stem cells, we will have to do research on embryonic stem cells first, in order to get to that stage?
Mr. Leigh: I accept what my hon. Friend says. There is no point in overstating my case. I must accept that the process would be made much easier and would advance much more quickly if we could use embryos. For the sake of argument, I accept that, but I believe that one must take an ethical stance. Although the process will take longer, adult stem cells are more difficult to deal with and it would help the entire process if we could use embryos, we must nevertheless be prepared to be patient. There are great moral and ethical arguments around the issue.
Yvette Cooper: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He accepts that embryonic stem cells have more potential, and I am grateful to him for accepting that. If adult stem cell research reached a dead end, and if there were research areas for which it was not possible
Mr. Leigh: If I were a better politician, I would say that that was a hypothetical question and I would refuse to answer it. I do not want to take an absolutist point of view. If the situation described by the Minister became clear and I was advised by eminent scientists that embryonic stem cell research was the only way forward, I would have to accept that and agree with the hon. Lady. I am not sure that that is the present position.
I fear that if we proceed as we are doing, we will open the floodgates. We should take the matter carefully and do as I propose. We should acknowledge that there is doubt about the 1990 Act. Of course, the Minister is right that, in 1990, no one envisaged the process. When people spoke about cloning, they probably meant full human cloning. I accept that, although the words that the hon. Lady used refer to cloning, not to human cloning, and the process that we are discussing today is cloning.
As research is moving forward so quickly, is there not an argument for dealing with the matter by way of primary legislation? We all think that there might be a general election fairly soon. Let us wait for the new Parliament to return in May. Let us have a Bill mentioned in the Queen's Speech. Let us have a Second Reading and a Committee stage, and deal with the arguments in detail and in an entirely new Act. Why the rush? Why are we pushing the matter forward now? Why can we not wait until a new Session of Parliament and deal with the issues by way of a Bill?
If the amendment is allowed, scientists will be able to use embryos for the purposes of research. That will involve the removal of the nucleus from a human egg and the implantation of the nucleus from the cell of another human. Although the Minister is entirely right to say that she rejects human cloning, that is the first part of the process.
Scientists are just like politicians. Scientists are also motivated by fame, and there are huge profits to be made in this branch of science. I know that the Minister is under enormous pressure from pharmaceutical companies. She shakes her head. All right, she is under pressure from many medical organisations and pharmaceutical companies. Many people have an enormous interest in this. However, surely the Minister is big enough to stand firm, and say that the House needs to take a considered view of these matters. We are moving into an entirely new area, which involves cloning.
Mr. David Lammy (Tottenham): The hon. Gentleman may be aware that I am a member of the Archbishops' Council, the new executive body of the Church of England. He began by making a religious point, but towards the end of his speech he seemed to be demonstrating flexibility, suggesting that we might wait until after the election to have greater debate. Is he moving away from the basic position that life has begun, the sanctity of life is sacred and that, if one takes a religious position, the amendment should not go through?
My views are clear: this is an ethical issue and we cannot use embryos in this way. I accept that my view is probably not shared by the majority of hon. Members. However, if we are to change the law, at least let us do it properly. Procedure on the matter has been rather cockeyed. There has been a ten-minute Bill, an Adjournment debate on one Friday and this debate--although many Members cannot come on Fridays. We are also to have a short debate on Tuesday. Is not the whole thing a tiny bit confusing and messy? Will the Minister reconsider one last time before Tuesday, taking the matter away and coming back with primary legislation?
Dr. Ian Gibson (Norwich, North): I must apologise to the House as I regret that I have to leave at some point during the debate. Constituency work calls, and the trains to Norwich are slightly delayed these days, which is a problem.
I am pleased to speak in the debate, and had that pleasure, last time that we debated this matter. The issue of stem cell research has gone up the scientific and medical agenda, and many people want to know why, which is a fair question. There are several reasons, and I can provide three. First, animal experimentation and the use of stem cells in mice and other organisms have raised expectations that we can repair the effects of disease, not only in animals such as mice but in human beings. We have reached that stage, and questions must be asked.
Secondly, the human genome project, which will revolutionise medical research and health services in this country, will give us an inner knowledge of how genes operate to make cells migrate, grow and populate other tissues, as well as how they make cells differentiate into different cell types. Understanding genes and how they operate together will give us new knowledge and insights into how disease develops and how we can eradicate some of the basic causes and mechanisms involved.
There is one final important aspect. In France, Prime Minister Lionel Jospin has announced his intention to introduce a Bill in the French Parliament to permit stem cell research. In that French way, he has described human embryonic cells as cells of hope. The world is moving on and, in the scientific and medical field, other countries realise that there is much work to be done and much knowledge to be gained. We cannot sit back and allow that to go on in the world of international science and medicine, without playing the dominant role that we have had for many years.
I want to make two major contributions to the debate: one concerns the mechanism for getting adult stem cells and the other the tightness of regulations. Professor Anne McLaren, who is perhaps the most eminent embryologist and who works at Cambridge university and sits on international committees, came to the House to discuss the issues with us. I am pleased to relate some of her experiences. Professor McLaren said that she would not allow this research and would not support the Government's line unless tight regulations were in place
It is not well known that the isolation of embryonic stem cells does not require the continuous use of human embryos. Once one has the cells, one can multiply them, freeze them and keep them in liquid nitrogen sources under the control of the Medical Research Council, as the Donaldson report stated. The cells are monitored for viral diseases or other problems and there will be a pure cell line that people can grow and use for experimentation approved under the 1990 Act as well as the experimentation that, I hope, we shall subsequently approve.
How many independent cell lines does one need to start research? The experts in the field say that they need no more than five to 20 cells to get the work going, so we are not talking about continuous embryo usage. Because the research is not novel and we do not know what is going to happen, we do not know when we will get the results. Individuals on the Donaldson committee said that as we learn more, we will never need to go beyond 500 cell lines. When one takes cells and transplants them into an individual, there is an immune response, as there is with the transplant of organs. Using 500 cell lines can overcome immune response, which allows one to use fewer immuno-suppressive drugs, which have bad effects on patients during organ transfer and so on. Those cells will be engineered to ensure compatibility between 500 types of immunological classes. That will allow research to proceed.
Dr. Gibson: Absolutely; that would be the best way. I was coming on to that. However, as has been explained, we have not yet reached that position. There is no reason why we cannot expect to do so in the fullness of time, but the lessons and tricks that we learn in growing the cells and allowing them to differentiate will manifest themselves when we are able to use adult cells. It is not an either/or position, as the opposition try to say. We want to work with adult cells as well as embryonic cells. However, the difference is that adult cells have been around a lot longer and mutations are more likely.
It is difficult for adult cells to grow and multiply like embryonic cells. Rather, as with cancer cells, one cannot stop embryonic cells multiplying. There are vast numbers of cancer cells lying about all over the country, which people use in experiments for drug treatments. There is nothing new in cloning five, 20 or, at most, 500 cell lines. Thousands of cancer cell lines have been taken from patients, grown up and used, legally, to test drugs and so on.