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Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire): In January, did not senior lawyers in the other placeLord Rawlinson, speaking for the Conservatives, and Lord Brennan, who is of a different political persuasionwarn that the interpretation that has now been accepted by the courts was likely? Is it not wrong that, in the 10 months since those clear warnings, the Government have done nothing to present the change to the House and correct a risky and worrying situation?
Ms Blears: I shall deal with the legal position later. The Government took advice from senior counsel on the interpretation of the 1990 Act, and on whether it covered all kinds of embryos, including those created by cell nuclear replacement. We were advised that the Act was likely to involve a purposive construction, and that therefore all embryos were covered. Mr. Justice Crane held otherwise in the High Court, which is why we need to introduce the Bill today and why we need the allocation of time motion.
Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed): The Minister is not merely allocating time, but trying to take all the Bill's stages in one day. What is the basis for her belief that in the time that it would take to handle the Bill properly, with intervals between its stages and consultation outside, this Italianor anyone elsewould manage to break what we thought the law was before the court decision? Surely it is unrealistic in the extreme to imagine that anyone could engage in that process during the time that it would take to scrutinise the Bill properly, rather than rushing it through.
Ms Blears: It is difficult for me to speculate on what might happen, but we know that this individual has been threatening to use such a process for a long time. If he perceived a legal loophole here in the United Kingdom,
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): That does not answer the question. If the Government made a firm declaration of intent, and if it were knownas it would be knownthat their passing of a sensible measure would be widely supported in the House, the Italian and anyone else would be deterred. There is no excuse for rushing the Bill through today, especially as many of us consider it very defective.
Ms Blears: I think that it is a sensible measure, and I think it difficult for any of us to say that a message sent from the House will deter individuals from taking action. We have no way of knowing that. The only way to ensure that they are deterred is to pass the Bill today, and enshrine it in our law.
Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone and The Weald): If the real danger is represented by the activities of this Italian, the Home Secretary has adequate powersI have counsel's opinion to this effectto exclude him under the Immigration Acts. That would give us time to devise some sensible legislation.
Ms Blears: The appropriate course is to look at our legislation, impose the ban on human reproductive cloning that we promised as long ago as August 2000, and ensure that the Bill constitutes a clear legal statement of our position. Powers may well exist under other legislation, but they do not relate to banning human reproductive cloning; they relate to one individual. This is a much more sensible way to proceed.
Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): The hon. Lady will know that I generally support the Bill, but because up to three hours may be spent debating the allocation of time motion we may have only two and a half hours to debate its remaining stages. Although I wish the Bill to be passed, does she not accept that those arrangements are an outrage?
Ms Blears: The solution lies in hon. Members' hands: we can debate the motion as quickly as possible and thereby maximise the time available to debate these very important issues. On Monday, the other place passed the Bill unamended in about five hours. I hope that we can achieve something similar in this place.
Mr. Heald: Did the hon. Lady read the debate in the other place and note the cacophony from Lords on both sides of the House? Time and again they pointed out how rushing the Bill through was a contempt of Parliament.
Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak): I support the Bill. The problem is that the Government's proposals cover actions that are not imminent, whereas they exclude imminent associated actions such as the use of embryos created by cell nuclear replacement techniques.
Dr. Ian Gibson (Norwich, North): Does my hon. Friend agree that immediate public reassurance on the point that she has just made is important, given the scare tactics that we have seen in the media and elsewhere? We need a decision right now, particularly on reproductive cloning.
Ms Blears: My hon. Friend is right. Any hon. Member who has read the press reports in the past week or so will have been appalled by some of the scaremongering. It is vital that we give the public reassurance now.
Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon): The Minister's answer to the previous question confirms what many of us feel: that the Government's legislative programme is driven more by their fear of press reports than by rational argument. If the Leader of the House was right in saying at last week's business questions that the Government's intent is to restore the status quo ante on embryo protection that preceded the judgment, why does the Bill provide only one form of protection for cloned embryos, which I support, but not for others?
Ms Blears: Like any proper Government, we are rightly responsive to public opinion. The proposals were announced in August 2000, when we said that we would enshrine in statute a ban on human reproductive cloning. We intend to do that.
As for the therapeutic uses of embryos created by cell nuclear replacement, we are appealing Mr. Justice Crane's judgment; I understand that it will be lodged this afternoon. We want to await the outcome of that legal process before determining what action we must take to ensure that embryos so created have the same protection as the 1990 Act offers embryos created by fertilisation.
Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion): The Minister correctly reminds us that the Government promised us this legislation in August 2000. Meanwhile, have not hon. Members on both sides of the House been urging the Government to introduce it much more quickly? I raised the issue in business questions four months ago but was told that a Bill would appear in good time. Have not the Government been caught out by a court case? Has not the Government's poor legal judgment forced us into this position? Why cannot we have enough time to consider the Bill and its implications such as those mentioned by the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris)? Although I support the Bill, it is very flawed.
Ms Blears: As I have explained, it is important that we act urgently. We intend to deal with the other matters when the outcome of the appeal is known. It is not a matter of rushing legislation that we promised to introduce or of our being caught out by the judgment. Counsel's advice, on which we acted, was that all embryos were covered by the 1990 Act. After proper
Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher and Walton): The Minister has been generous with her time, and I am grateful to her for giving way. The issue underlines the problem with rapid scientific advances. She is right that the judge took a literal interpretation of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 rather than taking account of the way in which cells are created. The House must consider whether this narrow Bill will give the protection against human reproductive cloning that all of us would like to see. We can revert to the importance of trying to protect and encourage therapeutic cloning.
Ms Blears: The hon. Gentleman raises some of the matters that I will address later in the debate. He makes an important point: in this fast-moving scientific world, we need to ensure that our legislation canencapsulate that dynamic process as well as capturing the law at a particular moment in time.
As hon. Members will know, our concernsreflected in this short Billwere proved right when, at the weekend, we saw the outcome of research in the US, where researchers successfully created embryos by cell nuclear replacement as well as by parthenogenesis, which involves stimulating an egg to develop into an embryo without the use of sperm. The Government are lodging an appeal against the court decision this afternoon, but on an issue such as this, which has such considerable safety and ethical dimensions, immediate action is required, even though there is already considerable pressure on the parliamentary timetable. That is why the Bill, announced last year, has been introduced now.
The Bill was debated in the other place on Monday and approved without amendment. It is a short Bill and its aim is clear. No one, as far as I am aware, has said that reproductive cloning should take place. I know that some people believe that the Bill should be wider, to include therapeutic cloning, but those issues are properly left for the outcome of the Government's appeal. The Government's immediate concern is that no one should think that they can come to the UK to exploit the current situation.
The Government recognise the concerns of those who seek a wider debate, but we make no apology for the fact that the Bill has been introduced quickly after the judgment on 15 November, which raised doubts about the lawfulness of the ban imposed by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority. The introduction of the Bill reflects the concerns raised frequently by Parliament and the public about the importance of ensuring that reproductive cloning cannot take place in the UK.