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Mr. Redwood: Given the awful muddle since 1997 and the failure so far to reflect the will of the House then and now, would not the Minister be well advised to produce a rather stronger measure today, or at a later stage if she cannot do so immediately? I fear that we shall go through precisely the same dreadful process all over again because she is not listening carefully to the very real concerns of hon. Members and the public.
Ms Blears: I am listening carefully, and I have tried to make it clear that this is a narrow, tightly drawn and focused Bill that will make human reproductive cloning illegal in the United Kingdom, which is what I believe that the public and Parliament want.
Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East): Does the Minister agree that if the HFEA granted a licence, it would prevent the production of an embryo other than by fertilisation, and its export? In other words, the licence is granted carefully to control the research. Many of the criticisms of the Bill are therefore false.
Ms Blears: Yes. I am trying to make it clear that the Bill has the specific aim of plugging the legal loophole. I fully recognise that hon. Members have a range of other concerns that may well need to be addressed, but the important priority today is to ensure that we pass the Bill.
In the previous debate several hon. Members mocked the fact that the Government had received advice that the courts were likely to construe the legislation in a purposive way. In fact, Mr. Justice Crane, in his judgment two weeks ago said that the Government had a powerful argument for a purposive construction and he has given us leave to appeal. The Government did not receive bad legal advice and were not caught out by the judgment. The judge himself said that there was a powerful argument for a purposive construction but, in the circumstances, he chose a literal construction and was not prepared to infer that the 1990 Act covered embryos created by means other than fertilisation. Therefore, I do not accept that the issue is clear cut or black and white. Litigation occurs precisely because issues are unclear, and the Government were right to take counsel's advice and proceed accordingly.
Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South): It was the lack of clarity about which Bernard Braine, when he was a Member of Parliament in the 1990s, was worried. Some of us are still concerned that issues other than the narrow one covered by the Bill need to be dealt with, which is
Rev. Ian Paisley: In the previous debate, I mentioned Europe. If the Minister intends to revisit the matter in further legislation, it is important to decide the Government's attitude to the different approach being taken in Europe.
Ms Blears: The hon. Gentleman said in the previous debate that he was pleased that the issue was one for national competence, as am I, but we will take into account the views of the European Parliament temporary committee, which is in plenary session today. Its deliberations will form part of the information that we will consider, but we will continue to deal with the matter as part of our national competence.
On the basis of proper legal advice, the Government took the view that all embryos that have the potential to become human life are regulated by the 1990 Act and subject to all its protective provisions and regulation by the HFEAthat anyone who wanted to create an embryo by fertilisation or in any other way, such as by cell nuclear replacement, would require a licence from the HFEA and would have to satisfy the stringent conditions laid down in the Act. Anyone who created or used embryos without a licence would be subject to the Act's criminal sanctions, involving a fine or imprisonment or both. Our approach to the definition of "embryo" also meant that the creation of embryos by cell nuclear replacement for research, which has enormous potential for finding cures for serious diseases, could go ahead subject to the full rigour of regulation of such research under the 1990 Act, including licensing by the HFEA.
In the event, in the judicial review brought by the ProLife Alliance, Mr. Justice Crane, while acknowledging that the Government had a "powerful case", decided to adopt a literal interpretation of the words used. The effect of his judgment is that embryos created other than by fertilisation are not regulated by the 1990 Act. In practical terms, that means that as the law stands anyone may create an embryo by cell nuclear replacement and use it either for reproductive cloning or for research purposes without regulation under the Act. We were given leave to appeal against the judge's decision. We have lodged that appeal this afternoon and we intend to pursue it.
It is important to note that the judgment, while limiting the type of embryos to which the 1990 Act applied, did not affect the operation of the Act in any way: nor did it affect the Research Purposes Regulations 2001. The Act and the regulations continue fully to protect embryos created by fertilisation and used in treatment and research.
Dr. Iddon: Assuming that the Bill is enacted, it is important to establish whether the HFEA would have the power, under the licences that it grants, to prevent the situation mentioned by the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox).
Ms Blears: I have just answered that question. As the law stands, the HFEA would not have that power. Those matters need to be addressed, but the Bill is an urgent measure designed to deal with a particular issue.
Earlier this year, the Research Purposes Regulations 2001 extended the use to which embryos could be put. Both Houses voted by very large majorities to permit embryos to be used for stem cell research in the light of evidence of the enormous potential benefits of such research for treating some very serious and disabling conditions.
I have said that the aim of the Bill is to ban human reproductive cloning. That meets the Government's aim, announced in August 2000, to introduce legislation to place the ban on reproductive cloning on a statutory footing. Previously, the ban was based on the HFEA's decision not to issue a licence should anyone seek to carry out reproductive cloning, but under the law as it stands following the judgment anyone could clone embryos in the UK without having to apply for a licence. That is why we need the Bill.
Mr. Paul Goodman (Wycombe): The essence of the Minister's case is that we need the Bill today to fill a legal loophole. Will she please explain why we need that loophole filled today, why it is being filled in such a short time and why she is refusing to address in the Bill the concerns raised by my right hon. and hon. Friends and others?
Ms Blears: I explained in the previous debate that we must take these measures urgently because of the stated intention of people from overseas to come here and undertake human reproductive cloning. Another factor is the developments in the US last week, which show that the technology has moved on. If we allowed a lengthy delay, human reproductive cloning could take place in this country, despite the fact that all hon. Members and the public agree that they do not want that to happen. Therefore, it is right to introduce a tightly drawn measure to ensure that it cannot happen.
Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher and Walton): Will the Minister confirm the irony of the fact that it is the ProLife Alliance that has left us in this confusion? The consequences of our unregulated state are a direct result of its actions.
Of course, with any judgment in the High Court, we would in the ordinary way await the outcome of the legal process before deciding on the best way forward. If the outcome proves to be in the Government's favour, all embryos, however they are created, would continue to be governed by the protective provisions in the 1990 Act, and reproductive cloning would continue to be banned by the HFEA.
In this case, however, the Government have made absolutely clear on many occasions their opposition to reproductive cloning and their intention to introduce a Bill on the matter. As other hon. Members have noted, that was a manifesto commitment, and it is what concerns the House today.
The prospects of leaving unregulatedin the light of the judgmentthe safety and ethical issues involved in bringing into the world artificially a cloned human being are such that the Government have decided to introduce a Bill to address the issue, on which there is overwhelming public and worldwide support.
Of course we need to have a debate, but I doubt that we will hear in the House today, or in another place, any real argument that we should not ban reproductive cloning, or that we should not be proposing one today. However, the wider questions relating to the research use of embryos created by cell nuclear replacement, although very important, do not require an urgent response in the same way as reproductive cloning and we shall, as is absolutely proper, await the outcome of the Government's appeal.
If the Government lose that appeal, we have made it clear that we will introduce further legislation when parliamentary time allows to ensure that cloned embryos have fully the same protection as embryos created by fertilisation.