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Dr. Gibson: I imagine that the hon. Gentleman and I will contemplate the matter and argue about it for the rest of our lives, as has happened between people throughout the country who can never agree. Indeed, as I shall discuss later, I chaired a meeting at which Chief Rabbi Sacks gave a talk; he said that there is no special boundary between the point when life starts and the point when it does not; it is impossible to define. I have great respect for that view. Dr. Sacks said that one could tell where Scotland and England began, but one could not do the same with life; there was no precise way of doing so[Interruption.] I shall give way[Laughter.]
Miss Widdecombe: I cannot resist an invitation from the hon. Gentleman which, in fact, I did not request. I was saying, perhaps improperly from a sedentary position, that if one says that there is no boundary nevertheless legislation requires precise definitions. We would start with conception; the hon. Gentleman would not. My hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) was asking what the hon. Gentleman would regard as an acceptable starting point for law.
Dr. Gibson: We are not talking about conception in the Bill but a new technique, which raises the question of the development of an embryo at a certain stage when stem cells are taken. Arguments about other issues have been made and the 1990 Act gives a firm definition of where life starts, as the right hon. Lady knows full well.
There has been much speculation about the adequacy of the Bill to prevent the cloning of people. The debate has included some hair-raising stories and scenarios: we have heard about artificial wombs, human-animal hybrids, the export of cloned embryos and so on. Those stories are confusing, but I also get the impression that they are told with the intention of confusing the issue. We know clearly what the Government are trying to achieve and what scientists are capable of doing at this moment in time.
The Government have declared that they are willing to bring the use of cloned embryos under the remit of the 1990 Act, as we all intended to do earlier this year. That will mean that all the issues of animal transfer, hybridisation and export will be regulated through the strict and transparent rule of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority. If the Government win their appeal, that will become law; if they lose, they have said quite clearly that they will introduce further legislation. The 1990 Act establishes the HFEA as the ideal framework to react flexibly yet critically to any further
The Bill, rightly, does not address therapeutic cloning. Let us see what happens in the Court of Appeal, and after the House of Lords Select Committee has reported. Let us see whether further legislation is needed. There are interactions between the Bishop of Oxford and others of us. He is the Chair of the Committee in the other place, and we are discussing the issues. We will interact with Government when legislation is necessary, if it is necessary after the court case.
I am sure that I speak for all hon. Members when I say that it is vital that cell nuclear replacement research goes on in order to contribute to treatments for many incurable diseases. The Bill would outlaw reproductive cloning
Dr. John Pugh (Southport): I accept that the hon. Gentleman is making a moral distinction between therapeutic cloning and reproductive cloning, but does he accept that the technologies that will develop for therapeutic cloning will at any rate make more probable the prospect of effective reproductive cloning?
Dr. Gibson: Intellectually, that would be the case, but if laws and regulations are in place and the public are opposed to reproductive cloning, we can ensure that we go along with what the public want, not with what some crazy scientist might want to do. Many scientific creations are possible, as we are finding, but they must be beneficial and for peaceful purposes. That is our aim, and the aim of legislation. Cloned individuals are unacceptable to the public, and are opposed also in Europe and the United States and by UNESCO.
At the meeting with Jonathan Sacks the other week, to which I referred, he made an extremely pertinent point. He said that every child has the right to be an ultimate surprise to his or her parents. That is a very good way of putting it, and a strong argument against the cloning of people. That element of surprise, that uncontrollabilityespecially of childrenimplies a degree of respect for difference. By having children, we create something that we cannot always control. We must be mentally ready for children who turn out differently, different from us and from each other. That is what makes us human beings.
Scientists must acknowledge that concern for human diversity, freedom and dignity leads to the principled rejection of reproductive cloning. If scientists do not clearly distance themselves from the likes of Antinori and his narcissistic and over-ambitious experiments, they risk aggravating a situation that is characterised by a public loss of trust in science and expertise.
The clear ban on reproductive cloning proposed in the Bill can serve as an assurance to the public that there is a moral, ethical and practical difference between cell nuclear replacement research and cloning babies, and that while British scientists pursue promising research using very early embryos, they are not in the business of cloning people.
We have a long way to go, not least by engaging with international institutions to achieve legal co-operation and better regulation of science. I am convinced that the Government are correct to make a start today and to be ready for further necessary legal action in the future. It will restore confidence in science and medicine among our scientific community, as well as among the public at large.
Miss Begg: Can I be absolutely clear about what the hon. Gentleman is saying through his reasoned amendment? Is he saying that those who support it will be voting against the outlawing of reproductive cloning?
Mr. Leigh: The hon. Lady should consider what the reasoned amendment says. The intention is simple and relates to a point that has been made by several hon. Members on both sides of the House. These are very complex matters and it is almost certain that the House will have to return to them. Our basic point is that, from whatever side of the argument one speaks, and whether or not the Government win their court case, it is right and necessary to have primary legislation that covers all aspects of therapeutic and human cloning. That is not what the Government are providing. They are rushing through legislation in haste and repeating the mistakes that they made in December last year and January this year, when unamendable regulations were rushed through Parliament to extend the purposes of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990. Last week, as we know, the regulations were judged to be defective. If