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Dr. Iddon: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the very nature of scientists' work means that they cannot work in isolation? If one scientist in a group was working in an unacceptable area, I am convinced--I hope that the hon. Gentleman is, too--that the other members of that group would blow the whistle.

Mr. Harvey: The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. However, the public's fears still need to be allayed. Enacting legislation would at least show serious intent on the Government's part--it would put people's minds at rest. Although I find his point convincing, many do not. If society is to be comfortable with the regulations, the Government must undertake the approach that I suggested as a matter of priority.

I have listened to the argument about whether adult stem cells rather than embryo stem cells would be viable for use in experimentation and therapeutic treatment.

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I wish that that were so, but, on balance, I am convinced that it is not. It may become viable only by going through an initial period of research using embryo stem cells. The hon. Member for Gainsborough appeared to accept that, although he said that he did so for the purposes of the argument. That is the principal justification for going ahead with that approach.

I hope that it is not unreasonable to seek the assurance that embryonic stem cells will be used only when no alternatives exist and that they will not be used simply because doing so is convenient. If adult stem cell technology develops to such an extent that it is no longer necessary to use embryo stem cells, I hope that the matter will be revisited. If the public are to accept the regulations, they need to be reassured on those matters.

I sympathise with the point about definitions of a serious disease, which was made in an intervention by the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox). I concede that our debate today is not simply about resolving that, but I am concerned about leaving the decision entirely to the courts for interpretation. The House should not be quite so willing to back out of those difficult areas. As I said earlier, the fact that we already allow the use of embryos for infertility is a benchmark from which we could define what was and was not a serious condition.

My final concern is about how the situation will be policed. I accept the point made by the hon. Members for Norwich, North and for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon): that the pressure that the scientific community can put on colleagues involves self-policing. However, in view of the fact that further developments will continue to be made, I am concerned about whether there are adequate mechanisms to police all that scientists do. To summarise the concerns that I have heard and to which I am sensitive, we should remember Einstein's point about the danger that

These are complicated issues, and there are strong arguments on both sides. I recognise the strength of the scientific argument, but I also have great respect for the concerns of constituents and many others, including those hon. Members who have spoken powerfully today and on previous occasions. Having wrestled with both of those lines of argument, I have come to the conclusion that we must allow the research to happen, but that we should keep it under constant review. I look to the Government for reassurance on the points I have raised today, which echo representations that have been made to me. The House should continue to review those matters. We are pushing the regulations through in something of a hasty manner.

10.58 am

Ms Ruth Kelly (Bolton, West): I welcome the opportunity to take part in this extremely important debate. As my hon. Friend the Minister said, our debate should not be about science versus religion; it is about ethics and the creation of an ethical framework within which proper scientific inquiry can be undertaken.

Recently, the Prime Minister said in a speech on biotechnology:

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We all feel for the people who suffer from serious and incurable diseases. Many hon. Members experience such suffering in their own families. We are today exploring the best way to conduct research into the causes of degenerative disease, how to allocate our resources and the appropriate limits of scientific inquiry.

I shall make several points. My first is a comment about process and, in particular, the use of a statutory instrument to achieve the changes under discussion. I thank the Government and my hon. Friend the Minister for allowing us at least to debate the statutory instrument--

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I apologise for interrupting the hon. Member for Bolton, West (Ms Kelly), but 11 o'clock is the time to make points of order. You would have been in the House on 22 November when I raised with the Prime Minister the case of Stephen Downing, who has been in jail for some 27 years and whose case has been referred by the Criminal Cases Review Commission to the Court of Appeal. The Prime Minister replied that, in the light of my raising the point with him, he would

This morning, in court No. 5 at the Royal Courts of Justice, an application for bail was made. Counsel for the Crown admitted that he had not received notification of bail until 4.30 pm yesterday and, therefore, was not in a position to make a substantive case before the court.

Can a Minister, preferably a Law Officer, come to the House today to explain why the Crown was not informed until 4.30 pm yesterday that an application was to be made, and therefore was not in a position to make a case before the judge? Bail for my constituent, Mr. Stephen Downing, who has already served an extraordinarily long prison sentence, was refused. That is outrageous. Bearing in mind the fact that the Prime Minister said that he would take a personal interest, the least that I can expect is for him to make a personal statement to the House on the incompetence of the Crown Prosecution Service.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Sylvia Heal): I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that point of order, but I have received no indication from Ministers that they wish to make a statement to the House on that matter.

Ms Kelly: I return to my point about process. I thank my hon. Friend the Minister and the Government for allowing the statutory instrument to be debated in prime parliamentary time, especially as the original intention was perhaps not to allow that. However, I still feel very strongly that a statutory instrument does not represent the best way to proceed.

Although the 1990 debates on human fertilisation and embryology provided for an extension of the purposes for which research on embryos could be allowed, it is clear from reading those debates that no one envisaged that the

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Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 would also allow human cloning to take place: that it was even possible to use cell nuclear replacement to produce a clone was not known until Dolly the sheep was produced. However, the Act prohibited the substitution of one nucleus for another in an embryo. At the time, that was thought to be the method by which clones would be produced. It is not unreasonable to assume that, had the technique of cell nuclear replacement been known, it, too, would have been banned.

The Warnock committee, whose findings formed the basis for the Act, assumed that the vast majority of embryos used in research would be spare embryos created during IVF treatment, but no longer required for that purpose. As Donaldson himself pointed out:

Some Members of the House might, for example, want the law to be extended to allow research on embryos created in IVF treatment to include the treatment of serious disease, but they might also want to outlaw the cloning of human embryos altogether. That position is impossible to uphold under a statutory instrument. Other serious issues are at stake: it will be impossible to amend the regulations, there has been very little debate on many of the serious issues involved and we are being asked for a simple yes or no. That is clearly insufficient.

I shall speak briefly about mitochondrial diseases and their potential effects for future generations, which I have not heard mentioned today. However, if the regulations are passed, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority will be able to grant licences in accordance with the chief medical officer's report. Mitochondrial diseases are rare but severe disorders caused by genetic abnormalities--not in the nucleus, but in the cytoplasm of egg cells. By taking a donor egg and substituting the mother's nucleus before fertilisation and implantation, such disorders can, theoretically, be avoided. In a sense, the child would have two mothers and one father.

That in itself might be considered to be a serious disadvantage for some, but all of us should be concerned about the process as a form of germ line gene therapy--the manipulation of future generations. As far as I can tell, that extraordinarily important result has not been debated at all, although Members across the House will have different views on it.

The Donaldson report explains its thinking regarding that technique:

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that research. However, if regulations were made under the Act to permit research into possible treatments for disease, and that research successfully developed treatment for mitochondrial diseases, such treatment could be licensed by the authority. In other words, under the regulations a pregnancy could be created.

On cloning, whatever position Members want to take on using cloned embryos under 14 days old for research into diseases, we should all be concerned about how closely such research will be regulated. As Donaldson points out:

My view is that effective regulation is almost impossible: not only is the competence of the regulatory authority open to question--given the recent scandals, which have been all over the media, relating to frozen embryos, their identification and whether they have been inserted into the right mother--once human clones are produced and the technique is published, others in less regulated environments, or the original pioneers of the technique, will, by going overseas, be able to start reproductive cloning.

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