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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 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
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.
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
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
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:
The creation and use of embryos in this way for research where there can be no intention of ever implanting them, may appear to some people to deny their human potential and moral status and treat them merely as an object and a source of human tissue. This 'instrumentalisation' of embryos, treating them merely as a means to an end, is unacceptable to many. This includes some in the middle ground of ethical opinion, who may otherwise be sympathetic to the current research uses of embryos and even the broader uses of spare embryos proposed for the extraction of stem cells to promote further understanding of diseases and possible treatments.
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.
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: