Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Key: My hon. Friend is wrong to suggest that human cloning was science fiction at that time. It was not. I was the lay member of the Medical Research Council at the time, and human cloning was far from being science fiction. Indeed, the scientific community in 1990--I am sure that my hon. Friend made a slip when she referred to the 1980 Act--was asking Parliament to help it get to grips with the issue.

My hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton) merely reinforces what I was saying, because my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) made the positive decision not to include cloning in the 1990 Act, because it was judged that no one--not scientists, Parliament or the country--was yet ready. That is why we have had to return to the matter now, and why the 1990 Act was designed in such a way that it contained a mechanism that would allow the House to go straight back to the matter. That is what we are doing now.

I return to the point about the debate held 10 years ago. I found the minutes of the meeting of the public affairs unit of the centre of medical law and ethics at King's College, London. The meeting was chaired by Professor I.M. Kennedy, who was assisted by Dr. Sophie Botros, a lecturer in medical ethics. For month after month, Members of both this House and of the other place met to discuss the issues surrounding the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill. The agenda for the meeting of 31 January 1990 contained three items:

We had debates and briefings on research on

and on the

In the run-up to the 1990 legislation, those hon. Members who so chose could be fully appraised of the issues.

This morning, I received an e-mail. It contained no address, so I do not yet know whether it came from a constituent, but it sums up the problems that many constituents raise. It states:

My correspondent went on to say that the technology is unnecessary, but that is not the case. More than 100 charities and patient groups are fighting desperately

19 Dec 2000 : Column 238

for the Bill tonight. Thousands of people in each constituency will be affected by the legislation in their lifetimes.

Of course it is wrong to suggest that the technology is unnecessary. I have considered the issue of adult stem cells very carefully and come to the conclusion that because they do not differentiate as much as embryonic cells, that is a severe medical and scientific disadvantage. We do not quite know how to explain it, but if I understand it rightly--and I defer to the scientists present--it is a bit like taking photocopies. After a time they start running out of toner and getting a bit dim. That is one of the problems of the system, to use a commonplace analogy.

I hope that we will take a civilised view, like any civilised country, and build up a bank of 20 or 30 stem cell lines which could be used as a renewable resource, rather like a blood bank. It is accepted that we have blood banks, which differentiate the different blood groups. The Medical Research Council has offered up to 50 such stem cell lines, because that is what is needed to overcome different immuno-responses.

A number of people are concerned about the policing aspect. I have thought very carefully about that. I know what happens in scientific communities; for 17 years, I have had the honour to represent Porton Down. If anyone thought that they were going to get away with anything, it would not last long, even under the Official Secrets Act, at Porton Down. Conspiracies never work, in my experience. Speaking as a former Minister, I can tell the House that the cock-up theory of Government always wins. However, in the scientific community, where there is peer pressure and peer review, conspiracies are attempted and fail. They never work--someone always blows the whistle.

I shall not repeat my views on therapeutic cloning. I spoke in the debate in November. I made my views very clear and have published them on my website ever since, for all to see. I have, of course, consulted my bishop and the Bishop of Oxford, and I agree with them. We take the developmental view that human life is a continuum. I cannot say that human life starts at any particular moment, but I distinguish between human tissue and a human person.

Incidentally, the Bishop of Salisbury is concerned that the Government should reassure us that the benefits of stem cell therapeutic cloning will eventually be available to all on the national health service, not just to those who can pay. I hope that the Minister can confirm that. I go further than the bishop in seeking an assurance from the Minister that the benefits of any new therapy resulting from cloning will be available to all, and that there will be no postcode rationing and no need to refer it to the National Institute for Clinical Excellence.

I am also convinced that not everything that can be done by science should be done by science, and that is where Parliament comes in. I believe, too, that the moral arguments for and against permitting research using human embryos turn on the status accorded to the pre-14-day embryo. I have no doubt that they are human, but are they human tissue or human persons?

As I said in the debate on 17 November, I share the view of the former Archbishop of York, John Habgood, who has argued that the value that we attach to the lives of human beings--a value that is the root of all morality--

19 Dec 2000 : Column 239

increases as human life develops, and that we are therefore entitled, morally, to hold the life of a recently fertilised egg as less to be protected than that of a foetus at a later stage or a baby when it is born. The archbishop argued that not only is that morally acceptable, it is in fact what we do. Can those who think that there should be no distinction or degrees of human sanctity explain why we have saints?

Nature is profligate. We do not mourn for wasted sperm and eggs, alive though they are, nor for the three quarters of fertilised eggs that are lost before implant, half of which are genetically impaired. As the Bishop of Oxford has said:

What of the slippery slope argument? First, it depends on whether we believe that the slope is going up or down. For science, the slope is mostly uphill--two steps forward and one step back. Even if one believes that the slope is downhill, if the first step is taken it is not inevitable that the next step should follow. Is it morally right to prohibit that first step? In logic, there is certainly no need--no necessity demands that second or third steps should follow the first--but that is Parliament's job and, in general, it has been well done.

Considering not the religious but the ethical or moral view, I can do no better than quote Baroness Warnock, who has written:

I believe that the human intellectual abilities that allow us to understand and manipulate our world are God-given powers. To scientific knowledge and the powers that it confers, we must add wisdom to accept the good and refuse the bad. The benefits that may be achieved in healing the sick in this case outweigh the down side of using cells that may have the potential for a full human life. If we can hold out hope for some alleviation of the miseries of diseases such as Alzheimer's then, being human, we have a duty to do so. If that involves cell transplants or genetic manipulation, let us pursue such goals. Let us recognise that in changing some genes in some human beings we are not changing human nature.

As the Bishop of Oxford said on "Thought for the Day" last Friday, we are not playing at being God--we are being human. A human being does what human beings should do, which is to show a sense of respect for the miracle of human life and use our miraculous capacity to make human life better.

5.27 pm

Mr. Mike Gapes (Ilford, South): It is a real pleasure to follow that speech from the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key). He has spoken so much sense that many of us will keep our remarks much shorter than they would otherwise have been.

19 Dec 2000 : Column 240

As someone who has not had an opportunity to speak on the issue because I was away with a Select Committee on Friday when the debate was held, I want to offer the perspective of someone who has seen members of his family suffer from Alzheimer's disease, diabetes and cancer, but who has been lobbied vigorously in the past few weeks by a variety of organisations.

I am not surprised that I am being targeted by the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children yet again. It has done so several times at different elections and it will no doubt do so again. However, I take offence when I receive a letter that suggests why we are debating the issue today, stating that it is

That was from Phyllis Bowman of the Right to Life campaign. For her information, I and many other hon. Members will be working hard to represent our constituents throughout the year. She may have long Christmas recesses, but some of us have casework and letters to respond to, including those that she has incited for many weeks.

I have received correspondence, as no doubt have many hon. Members, from constituents who ask me please to vote against human cloning. I am delighted to be able to say that I shall do so on many occasions. If the vote today--on the basis of what the Minister said earlier--is also a vote against human cloning, I will vote against cloning today. However, I will also support stem cell research. The two are very different. Unfortunately, some people who are campaigning against the proposal are deliberately confusing and muddying the waters, which leads people to believe that we are going to create a human Dolly the sheep through our vote today. Many people have already explained why that is completely untrue--so I shall not repeat what has been said. However, it would be helpful if some pressure groups and organisations considered the facts of an issue, rather than trying to whip up the fears and prejudices that are so easy to foster because people are afraid of science.

The hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) tried to clarify three positions on the issue, although many of us think that there are many positions and that the world is more complicated than he portrayed it. He said that he would vote against the proposals. In that case, what does he think that we should do with the 273,000 embryos created through in vitro fertilisation, which are destroyed and not used for any purpose? Is he saying that we should not use IVF?

Constituents tell me that they are desperate to have a child, after years of effort; they want the local health authority to agree to further national health service expenditure on IVF. A consequence of IVF is a large number of "surplus" embryos. At present, they are not used in any way to benefit anybody, yet--so we understand--there is a potential for medical research that might lead to benefits for people suffering from Alzheimer's disease, cancer or diabetes.

Next Section

IndexHome Page