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Dr. Gibson: I am interested in what my hon. Friend is saying about what we can do now. Can he tell me why we should not produce 15 David Beckhams that I could use in the parliamentary football team and 659 Betty Boothroyds to service this place and the public? What is philosophically wrong with that?

Dr. Stoate: The only answer to that is, "Perish the thought", but I do not want to make light of this because it is extremely serious. We must try to stick to the moral and ethical arguments.

Mr. Frank Roy (Motherwell and Wishaw): On the serious question of what is or is not life, does my hon. Friend agree that the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 treats embryos as entities, whereas the Donaldson report would break up the embryos for use as, for want of a better term, spare parts? Does my hon. Friend believe that, under the Donaldson report, the special status of the embryo is under threat?

Dr. Stoate: I respect my hon. Friend's opinion. He has a deeply held view to which he is fully entitled, and I am listening carefully to views of that sort. We need to be careful about the moral issues. However, for the reasons that I have given, the nuclear cell replacement technique does not create a human being and so we do not have the same difficulties.

Mr. Simon Thomas: For the benefit of those of us who are following his argument and trying to find our way in the middle ground, will the hon. Gentleman explain that the nuclear cell replacement technique, which he says does not give rise to a human being, is the same putative technique that could be used in cloning if it was allowed, although I accept that it is not? The fact that it is the same technique is what has given rise to so many difficulties for the public and it is why we must approach the issue with caution and concern.

Dr. Stoate: That is an extremely valid point. It is important to air all these issues. It is right that Dolly the sheep was produced using this technique and it is theoretically possible for such work to be done. That is why it is important to ensure that the law, the framework and the policing mechanisms are watertight so that nobody will ever find out whether it is possible for the technique to produce a human being because nobody will be allowed to try. That is a matter of policing.

Once the House has deliberated and reached a decision, it is up to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority to ensure that the regulations are implemented in a watertight way. I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Minister has already laid out the framework under which a licence will be granted, with plenty of opportunity for policing. Each individual research project has to be justified and properly regulated and inspected.

Dr. Iddon: Does my hon. Friend agree that cell nuclear transfer is the only hope for people suffering from any of the up to 50 mitochondrial diseases that have developed in society?

Dr. Stoate: Exactly. My hon. Friend is a scientist and has made an excellent point. There are unusual

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mitochondrial diseases of which we understand very little. This technique seems to be the only logical way forward if we are to make breakthroughs. For the reasons I have given, the many people suffering from chronic diseases with limited hope, will potentially benefit from this.

The human body has an enormous capacity to regenerate and to replenish damaged cells. With degenerative disease, however, the disease process overwhelms the body's capacity to regenerate and to replace cells, leading to destruction. Therefore, the only hope for patients affected by such disease is a method of replacing those damaged cells. That is why we have to take this very difficult decision in a positive way, to ensure that research is made possible. Such research would benefit not necessarily the current generation of sufferers but the future generation of sufferers.

For those reasons, I shall support the change. Although I have looked extremely hard at the issues and taken full account of the moral and ethical dimensions of the issue that have been expressed by hon. Members and members of the public, I as a scientist and a doctor believe that the potential benefit to humanity of such research far outweighs the many difficulties facing us in ensuring that the moral argument is not forgotten.

5.10 pm

Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury): I salute the Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), who has shown unfailing courtesy, the patience of Job, accuracy and sensitivity in her speeches, and great clarity of purpose. That is more than can be said for the Government's business managers, who have shown all the forensic skill and delicate footwork that we have come to expect from a Whips Office struggling to get the business through with a majority of only a few hundred.

The Minister has, no doubt without being aware of it, been fighting her own Whips on the issue. I cannot recall another occasion in my time in the House when at least one senior Government Whip, who is personally opposed to the measure, has been drumming up opposition and was heard to say in the presence of Opposition Members,

That is a novel line for a Government Whip.

As Labour Members are at least as divided as Conservative Members and other Members on the issue, the prospect of inflicting the first defeat of this Parliament on the Government will, I suspect, be too great an opportunity to miss for many of my hon. Friends. I dare say, however, that, as usual, hon. Members who are in the Chamber taking a serious part in the debate are not those who fall into that category at all. Nevertheless, it is true that one of my hon. Friends recently said that he voted for the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990, but would not support the regulations until there had been more time for debate.

Another hon. Friend said that she would not support the legislation because

Has the business been rushed through? No, I do not believe that it has. I believe, however, that it was a misjudgment to have two Friday debates. I also believe that there is no substitute for a mid-week, prime-time debate on this type of issue. I sympathise with the

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Minister on that. It is also questionable, given opposition among Labour Members, that the Leader of the House and the Government Chief Whip have relied on the statutory instrument procedure.

The business has not been rushed through. We have had the chief medical officer's report for five months. We should also not complain that the Government amended the regulations very swiftly in response to consultation. There have been masses of discussion about the subject in the national press and other media. I particularly single out for praise BBC News Online, which, since 16 August, has been carrying a debate and argument from all sides of the issue.

Mr. Robert Jackson (Wantage): Would my hon. Friend like also to draw attention to the very valuable briefs that hon. Members have received particularly from medical charities on the issue? We have received very extensive and full information from many concerned people.

Mr. Key: My hon. Friend is quite right. I would simply extend his comments to say that I am grateful for the many briefs that I have received from many quarters and from all types of people with whom I do not necessarily agree. It has been very helpful to have the views of particular denominations of the Christian faith, for example. It has been very helpful to me, as a fully paid-up member of the Church of England, to understand how other Christians think about the issue.

Mr. Swayne: Do Church of England members believe in God?

Mr. Key: Perhaps we can debate that on another occasion.

There has also been a rewriting of history in relation to the issue. I admired very much the speech made last Friday by the hon. Member for Bolton, West (Ms Kelly). It is wrong to think that there was no discussion or debate on human cloning 10 years ago, in the run-up to the passage of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990. There was a great deal of debate, as was noted a few moments ago. It was precisely because of the debate at the time, especially in the scientific community, that the Government of the day thought it wise to bring in the 1990 Act in the first place.

Others have argued that we did not discuss the moral or ethical dimensions properly. We did, and at very great length. The hon. Member for Bolton, West said on 15 December:

In fact, we did discuss that, as it was perfectly clear that things were moving in the direction of cloning, even though the matter was not covered in the 1990 Act.

I served on the Standing Committee considering the 1990 Act as it passed through the House, and I can confirm that many of the moral and ethical dimensions were considered.

Mrs. Ann Winterton (Congleton): Does my hon. Friend recall, from the debates on the 1980 Act, that my

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right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) ruled out human cloning? He said that the legislation was not about human cloning and would not include it. At the time, human cloning was the equivalent of science fiction.

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