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Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that in the debate on human therapeutic cloning that took place several months ago, the Minister made clear her intention to introduce primary legislation at an early stage to ban human reproductive cloning?

Dr. Fox: I refer again to Hansard. The Minister said that such cloning was

At some point between then and the publication of the Labour manifesto, the Government must have realised that that would not hold up in court. It would thus be helpful if the House could know when they realised that. Today, we are listening in good faith to specific legal advice given to the Government. If their legal advice on the issue was not watertight then, what faith can we have in it today? That is a reasonable point for the House to make to a Minister. Definitions are important.

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During that debate on the embryology regulations, we discussed another point that the Government need to tighten up: the definition of "serious disease". The Minister said:

When asked for a better definition, because that would be required by the courts, the Minister said:

The Government will have to draft much tighter legislation than they have done previously in that policy area. That is true of the Bill, but the point also applies much more to the necessary legislation that they will have to introduce whether or not they lose their appeal.

There is a further question about the definition of embryos. Had the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 included a different definition, the Government would have probably won the Quintavalle case. That was clear from the judgment. However, I return to the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley): why not simply amend the primary legislation? The Minister's answer was that speed was the issue and that the measure offered a speedy way to do that. However, she must already realise that trying to provide a speedy answer to the Government's dilemma has produced as many problems as are being solved by this method of blocking the loophole that we all want plugged. The Government should have considered that before they rushed out the Bill.

Lynne Jones: When the Science and Technology Committee considered the matter, it decided that the 1990 Act was robust but that the definition of "embryo" should be amended. We recommended that it should include any manipulation of cells that results in an organism potentially capable of growing into a human. Such an amendment would have more successfully blocked all the loopholes than the Bill.

Dr. Fox: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her expertise in the matter. She makes an important point: the Government should have given more thought to how they wanted to close the loophole. During my time as a Member, I have known the hon. Lady to be more robust than most in making her points to Ministers, so I shall endeavour to keep my comments as short as possible to ensure that she gets the opportunity to do so.

Another reason given by the Government for rushing the measure through the House was the case of Professor Antinori and others—a point referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. Goodman). If the Government are speeding the Bill through to stop the professor and others who might want to rush to the UK to carry out this type of research, they should realise that the HFEA can already refuse a licence to anyone to store eggs for any research under the 1990 Act. I do not understand why that would not stop anyone who wanted to undertake research that the Government deemed unsavoury because of what that person had done elsewhere. A specific answer on that point would be most useful.

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Many of my hon. Friends have points to make, so this is my final comment. The Bill prevents only the implementation of CNR embryos. It does nothing to prevent widespread research, experimentation and even exportation. That is one of its biggest failures. Those of us who support the Government's aims are disappointed at the quality of the Bill and many of those who support their aims have grave doubts as to their competence and will require further legislation before our fears are laid to rest.

4.28 pm

Miss Anne Begg (Aberdeen, South): I intend to keep my comments brief, as I appreciate the lack of time that is constantly being mentioned and that many Opposition Members want to make important points. However, it is worth clarifying exactly what we are debating.

As hon. Members can read in Hansard, it is clear from my contributions to the debates last December that I strongly support therapeutic cloning but, like probably all hon. Members, find reproductive cloning abhorrent. I made a detailed case for why we should allow therapeutic cloning, and I shall not rehearse those arguments today. However, I was reassured by the Minister's statement then that primary legislation would be introduced to outlaw reproductive cloning. That is what we are discussing today and I want to keep the two issues separate.

Such legislation was promised, regardless of any High Court judgment but such a judgment has produced confusion in today's debate. Perhaps it is also the reason for the speed with which the measure has been introduced. However, such a measure would have been introduced at some time, and probably in much the same terms. There is no argument but that the Bill is necessary and that most hon. Members agree with that.

Most hon. Members want the implantation into women of cloned embryos that could grow into human beings to be clearly outlawed. No one would argue about that, but confusion and much obfuscation has been caused by the fact that, two weeks ago, the High Court judgment cast doubt on the interpretation of what exactly constitutes an embryo, as defined by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990.

I hope that the Government's appeal will be successful and that all the assurances that cloned embryos are covered by the 1990 Act that we were given when we considered the regulations to allow therapeutic cloning in December were correct. The appropriate time for the kind of detailed debate that we are having today will be when that appeal is determined. I hope that the Minister will ensure that, if the Government lose the appeal and it is necessary for them to propose further legislation to amend the 1990 Act, sufficient time will be allowed to discuss all the issues that hon. Members have consistently raised today.

Dr. Fox: Does the hon. Lady accept that it has become clear in today's debates that, even if the Government win the appeal, the Bill will not cover many of the issues that hon. Members have raised and that further legislation will be necessary in any case?

Miss Begg: We must await the report of the House of Lords Select Committee on Stem Cell Research before considering whether those issues are covered by the 1990

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Act. When we debated the issue in December, it was clear that the Government's legal advice was that the 1990 Act indeed covered all aspects of embryos created in this way. The hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) said that if that were not the case, a simple amendment to the 1990 Act could be made. I do not know the Act in enough detail to say whether he is right that the definition of the word "embryo" could be changed in that way, although my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Lynne Jones) suggests that that might be possible. If so, that is how the change should be made, and I hope that it will be that easy.

Mr. Lansley: If the hon. Lady will forgive me, I shall clarify my suggestion. I was suggesting not that a change should be made to the definition of the word "embryo" used in the 1990 Act, but that a specific prohibition should be introduced, such as that which exists on the placing into women of live embryos other than human embryos. Similarly, prohibiting the placing into women of embryos created otherwise than by fertilisation would deliver exactly the intention of the Government in the 1990 Act.

Miss Begg: I understand the hon. Gentleman's suggestion that the Bill is unnecessary because changes could have been made by amending the 1990 Act. I would accept that point, but I felt, especially given the reassurances that the Minister gave in December, that we would introduce separate primary legislation, if necessary, because that was a matter of public confidence.

There has been much reference today to the tabloid press determining what happens in the House, but the tabloid newspapers have had an effect on public opinion. I know from the discussions that I have had that there is much confusion about the issue, which is not helped by the way that the tabloid press has suggested that there will be lots of cloned individuals in future. The cartoons directed at the Government and our Prime Minister that appear not only in the tabloid but the quality press have helped give the impression that we are one step away from cloning lots of people in our own image. We find that abhorrent, as do hon. Members on both sides of the House, and we must deal with that public confidence issue.

I accept the need for separate primary legislation, such as that proposed in the Bill, to restore public confidence in scientists so that we can distinguish between human reproductive cloning, which we all find abhorrent, and human therapeutic cloning, which people, such as myself, think has great potential to do a huge amount of good, especially in fighting neurological degenerative diseases. That is why I hope that the rest of today's debate will focus on the Bill, not on the interpretation of the 1990 Act, which should be considered if the Government lose the appeal that is currently before the courts.

My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak is right that such legislation is urgent and important, but the Government cannot introduce it until the legal position is settled. That will happen only when the appeal has been heard and a final decision taken, so I accept the Government's position on that issue. However, as I have already suggested to the Minister, such issues need to be properly aired if the appeal is lost, and we must then ensure that the legislation is leak-proof. I appeal to the House to concentrate on the Bill because we all agree that it is wrong for scientists to embark on human reproductive

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cloning. Please let us debate that issue, because that is what we must outlaw, and we must not take our eye off the ball.

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