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5.46 pm

Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge): I do not want to detain the House long, because I had the opportunity to speak on Friday. I reiterate that I approach this issue as someone whose mother suffered for 34 years from Parkinson's disease. I know at first hand what a terrible disease it is.

Although current therapies and treatments can relieve the symptoms of the disease to a great extent, they do not cure it. When my mother stopped taking the drugs, the symptoms of the disease returned even worse than before. Although she appeared to be getting better, the disease

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was progressing. The drugs simply relieved the symptoms, and that is true of many degenerative diseases. We have drugs that will cope with the symptoms, but we do not have drugs that attack the disease itself. Research holds out the hope of providing them.

Over the past few days, I have talked to many hon. Members because of my anxiety to see the regulations accepted. Not only my mother but two of my aunts suffered from Parkinson's disease, so I consider myself very vulnerable. I want to be certain that, when or if I ever develop the symptoms of the disease, there will be hope of a cure.

People have asked me how much hope we can pin on the research. One of the problems is that we do not know that the research will ultimately lead to a cure. In fact, if we knew that, we would not have to carry out the research. It is uncertainty that we are trying to explore. There is a degree of uncertainty, and only by carrying out the research can we resolve the doubts and problems.

Other people have told me, "Even if the research can produce a cure, it will take at least 10 years." The implication is that we should not bother if it is to take that long. In 10 years' time, I would find it hard to say to someone who had developed the symptoms of the disease that we did not take a decision now when we could have done so. It is terribly important that we make the right decision today to allow the research to progress.

Several Members have remarked that if we do not pass the regulations, the research will be done elsewhere. I am sure that it will be done elsewhere, and I find that rather frightening because this country's regulation of such research is probably the best in the world. We have the Conservatives to thank for that, because they passed the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act in 1990 and provided a sound basis for the research that continues today. I am sure that such research will be done abroad, but I want it to be done in this country.

Dr. Michael Clark: If the research were to be done abroad, that would of course be disappointing for science in this country. Does the hon. Lady agree that it would also be moral hypocrisy to allow the research to be done abroad and then to use its findings in this country after we had failed to pass the regulations?

Mrs. Campbell: I could not agree more. The words "moral hypocrisy" would describe such a situation very well. As with other research, such as that conducted on animals, many people do not want embryo research to be done in this country but are prepared to derive the benefits from research done abroad. That is hypocrisy.

People have asked me how we can trust scientists. That is difficult because there is a mistrust of scientists, possibly because of the disasters that we have all experienced, such as the BSE crisis. However, those who study such matters will know that the BSE crisis was due not to scientists but to people who did not listen to scientists and those who refused to fund scientists' important research into scrapie-like diseases. If we had continued that research we might have found a solution to the BSE problem much earlier.

A constituent rang me at lunchtime and asked me to make the point--because he did not think it had been made in the House--that adult stem cells could be used

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instead of embryonic stem cells. I told him that the issue had been fully debated in the House last Friday and on Friday 17 November. I also said that although adult stem cells offer great hope for the future, they do not offer a solution at present, and more research into embryonic stem cells is needed to understand the processes by which adult stem cells may be used. I still hold that view, and I told him that that was what I would say in the debate. I am pleased that I have had the opportunity to say it.

We should continue the research, and I implore hon. Members to vote for the regulations.

5.53 pm

Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne): Like the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Gapes), tonight I plan to follow my conscience rather than my mailbag, which is why I welcome the opportunity to put my conclusions on the record. If in doing so I help one or two other hon. Members, that will be a huge bonus.

I am not a scientist, a medical professional or an expert on morals and ethics, but like my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key), I served on the Standing Committee that considered the Bill that became the 1990 Act. I am also a committed Christian--a very bad one, but a seriously committed one none the less. However, it did not occur to me to consult the bishop of Spelthorne, as my hon. Friend consulted his bishop. It is in those two capacities--as a member of that Committee and as a committed Christian--that I wish to speak now. My views are entirely my own and are personal, and I make absolutely no claim to speak for anybody else.

When I served on the Standing Committee, I found myself in a curious position. At various times, I voted with those who were for experimentation and with those who were against it because I could not persuade myself that all experimentation was wrong as a matter of principle. However, I found myself wanting to hedge it about with adequate and very strict safeguards. Looking back, I believe that that is exactly what we achieved in 1990.

Like my hon. Friend, during those Committee proceedings, I thought long and hard as we debated what it is that makes us human. We found ourselves debating when our humanity begins, and I have wondered about that since. Does it begin when the first two independent cells fuse together or when we finally become capable of independent existence? Does it begin somewhere between those two extremes? As is so often the case with such conundrums, it is far easier to categorise the two extremes than the grey area that lies between.

I concluded then and continue to believe that a small bundle of cells has yet to acquire the essence of our humanity--what some people choose to call a soul. I freely admit that I have not the slightest idea when that change happens, but I am persuaded that it does not offend against our humanity to use human embryonic cells in the first few days of their existence in the way proposed in the regulations, provided that--I stress the words "provided that"--the use of those cells is for the benefit of humankind and is strictly controlled.

Ten years on, I have no regrets that are relevant to this debate, but I have one anxiety about what has been taking place in the past few weeks and what is happening today. As a committed Christian, I am always profoundly uncomfortable when I hear other equally committed

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Christians advance absolutist conclusions to moral dilemmas. I have to say in passing, however, that I envy them in one respect: I would lose a great deal less sleep if I could see such issues in black and white because I would be spared the huge amount of agonising that I do over the seemingly infinite number of shades of grey, which is what we are confronting.

The moral dimension of the debate, however, requires me to attempt to balance two seemingly contradictory imperatives. On the one hand, I readily accept the duty to respect human life. For me, all human life is sacred, which means that I need to think long and hard about using human embryos for experimental purposes. On the other hand, I equally accept the duty to care for the sick. Those who argue that such experimentation as we are considering tonight could help people who suffer from, for example, Huntington's or Parkinson's disease, need to be taken very seriously.

Just as in 1990, I believe that somehow or other I must strike a balance between two competing moral imperatives. As I am neither a scientist nor a medical professional, who am I to judge the merits of scientists' claims? The best that I can do is to ask myself whether I am entitled to stand in their way if they really believe that they can help humanity through their research and if they are willing to accept the strictest controls that we will impose on them. As I am not an expert on morals or ethics, who am I to offer a definitive view of what is right and what is wrong? The best that I can do is to ask myself whether I am entitled to allow my subjective religious views to stand in the way of those who desperately need a cure for their suffering.

My personal conclusion is that I shall vote for the draft regulations, having first given notice to the House and to anyone else who will listen to me that scientists, medical professionals and the Government of the day must implement the strictest possible controls, that those must be kept under constant review, and be observed and enforced to the letter.

6 pm

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough): I am glad to follow the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire), my constituency neighbour. A letter that I wrote to a community of nuns in Slough reads:

As most Members will know, I concluded that struggle and spoke about it on Friday. It has been strange. I suppose I came out, as some would call it, as having multiple sclerosis. It is known that I am infertile. It is odd that I have suddenly been treated, in the words of The Times, as the "disabled MP". I have become defined by my condition. When we decide on these issues, we need to ensure that we do not let that happen. We must ensure that people with disabilities have rights, and that their rights and views are respected.

I was upset by the speech of the hon. Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton), in which she said that most people who are infertile are guilty of something called life style. It is true that sexually transmitted diseases lead to infertility in many instances, but there are many other reasons for it. Many people who have a restrained life

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style acquire sexually transmitted diseases. I admire the energy with which my hon. Friend Minister for Public Health is tackling that issue.

We must ensure that we do not allow ourselves to be pushed off course by a debate that does not form the basis on which a decision should be made. Strangely, most of the discussion on this subject in the newspapers has been about cloning. We shall vote on a set of regulations that simply allow three more purposes for research of embryonic material. Those are to increase knowledge about the development of embryos; to increase knowledge about serious diseases; and to enable any such knowledge to be applied in developing treatments for serious disease.

Let us consider the purposes for which such research is already permitted. It is already permitted to improve the efficacy of contraception and to deal with infertility and genetically inherited diseases, but it is not permitted to deal with many of the other diseases which, we have learned through stem cell research, could be subject to substantial new treatment.

Whatever our view, if we accept the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 and the existing regulations, it would be unforgivable not to vote for the proposed extension. Members have rightly been worried about the potential of cell nuclear replacement, but it has been said this afternoon that that could not lead to a developed human being. Although that is scientifically impossible now, it is not conceptually impossible. However, it is illegal. We need to be honest with ourselves and recognise that there is a difference between something being impossible and something being illegal.

In theory, cell nuclear replacement could lead to a developed human being. That is why we are all anxious, and why we are discussing that possibility rather than what the debate is supposed to be about. It is right for Members to urge the Minister to seek primary legislation at an early opportunity, before the theoretical possibility becomes a real one. We are all deeply concerned about the theoretical possibility and about ensuring that the rigorous protection that exists in the 1990 Act is backed up and strengthened further by primary legislation. I believe that we should be talking to other countries about their framework for research. In Britain, we have pioneered a framework that provides that, in every case, the scientist must show that there is no substitute for embryonic material. That is the right way to deal with these matters because the embryo deserves special status.

Apart from Members, such as the hon. Member for Congleton, who think that there is never any reason to carry out research on embryos, none of us can in conscience vote against the regulations. We can, however, continue to press the Department to introduce primary legislation at the earliest opportunity.

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