Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Dr. Pugh: If the Minister were to offer a Select Committee examination of the matter and a fuller debate, would the right hon. Lady vote today for the ban on reproductive cloning?

Miss Widdecombe: If the Minister offered a speedy further investigation into the matter that would allow all relevant matters to be considered, it would strengthen her hand but it would not make me any happier with this Bill. When the House debates a Bill, it is not merely debating the general principles involved. Such principles can be shared by hon. Members of all parties, but today I am opposing the Bill specifically, if not exclusively, for the two reasons that I have set out.

29 Nov 2001 : Column 1194

5.47 pm

Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge): I, too, shall be brief, so that other hon. Members can contribute to the debate.

I congratulate the Government on this short and simple Bill, and believe that there is adequate time today to discuss its two clauses. In an intervention, I said that I would not participate in the programme motion debate because I felt that the House's time should be devoted to the Bill.

I recall that a few months ago Parliament had three full debates on therapeutic cloning. Both Houses have voted overwhelmingly in favour of it, but it is clear that many hon. Members want to reopen the debate. I regret that. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Miss Begg), who said that we should concentrate on the provisions of the Bill, not on those matters that some hon. Members would like to revisit and reopen.

On occasions such as this, I would normally receive much correspondence on the subject being debated. That is not the case this time, although I have received one e-mail from a constituent. She makes the point that the Bill will not provide an adequate safeguard against reproductive cloning, and that it will be difficult or impossible to enforce. She asks, too, who would be able to tell the difference between a cloned human embryo and an embryo created by in vitro fertilisation. The same point was made earlier by the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh).

I do not know the right way to deal effectively with that difficulty. All I know is that I am wearing a watch and it would be difficult to tell whether it was stolen or bought legitimately, but that does not fail to make legislation effective in saying that stealing watches is illegal. The same point applies to this legislation. Moreover, anybody who succeeds in producing a cloned human being is hardly likely to be quiet about it. A person would not necessarily want to hide that, so the publicity would lead to the culprits.

It is not surprising that people feel strongly about this issue. It is probably one of the most fundamental issues that we ever discuss. Therefore, I can understand people who feel strongly and emotionally about it.

Therapeutic cloning offers the possibility of a cure to some nasty, degenerative inherited diseases that blight the lives of many. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South makes a powerful case because of her own condition. Clearly, if the Government fail to win their appeal on this issue, there will have to be further consideration of the legislation to cover the issues that are not addressed in this short Bill. I welcome the Minister's reassurances on that. Embryos created by cell nuclear replacement will be unregulated in that case and we may need to bring back to the House a number of other issues to make sure that they are fully debated.

Even if the Government win their case, technology moves on. In a few months' time, a year's time or perhaps a few years' time there will be techniques that we have not thought or dreamt of today, which may make this legislation inapplicable. In that case, it will be necessary for us to reopen the debate. I can foresee that it will be necessary over the next few years repeatedly to reopen this debate because of advances in technology and science.

Dr. Stoate: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. Surely the point of the debate is that we need to change

29 Nov 2001 : Column 1195

the law as circumstances change. Therefore, short Bills such as this can be extremely effective in sending out a message about the will of Parliament in a short and positive fashion, without the need for prolonged debate. Science will change anyway in the fullness of time.

Mrs. Campbell: My hon. Friend makes a valuable point, with which I wholly agree.

I said that my speech would be brief. I finish by saying that I intend to use my free vote tonight to support the Government in this legislation.

5.53 pm

Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury): I feel that I have been making the same sort of speech for 30 years, but in this Chamber for 18. A number of my hon. Friends on both sides of the argument have been making similar speeches, but of course they are never the same because legislation and science move on, so we must move on too.

I oppose human reproductive cloning and always have. I support cell nuclear replacement. The good that it can bring is enormous and we should not ignore it. I support scientific research—perhaps not surprisingly, as my wife is a science teacher, my sister a doctor and my daughter a veterinary surgeon. I also represent some thousands of world-class scientists at the Centre for Applied Microbiology and Research and the Chemical and Biological Defence Establishment, both at Porton Down.

I also support science and scientific research precisely because I am a Christian. Christians are united in their repugnance at the concept of embryo selection, which was a trait of Nazism. Beyond that, however, we often find that as Christians we have widely different interpretations and understandings of the message of Christianity. We find ourselves passionately opposed to one another as Christians. It needs to be pointed out that there is no single Christian view on this issue—no one has a monopoly of virtue. Many good Christians work in controversial medical research and on the difficult frontier areas of science.

I have often thought about the profligacy of nature. About 10 years ago, in the run-up to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990, I consulted my then bishop, John Baker, on that question. He said:

That is a frightfully important point, with which some of us can certainly agree, although other Christians will disagree with it.

I shall vote against the amendment that would outlaw cell nuclear replacement. I understand the purpose of the amendment: my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) argued it convincingly—as he always has. He has done so for 18 years and will continue to do so. One reason that I shall vote against it is that I do not want to be rushed. It is a great irony that he has argued that the Government rush everything, yet he now expects me to rush to his defence in a rushed little amendment that will completely reverse the provisions introduced during the past decade. Well, I shall not rush: I shall wait for the Lords Select Committee.

29 Nov 2001 : Column 1196

Lord Winston seems to have become a sort of demon in this debate, but he made an important, constructive and consistent point that is worth repeating. He said that he wanted to make

That seems to me to be the comment of someone of great wisdom, who actually has a licence under the 1990 Act.

Science is all about knowledge; what matters is what we do with it. In the case of Lord Winston, what we do with it has been assumed to be rather unfortunate.

Lord Winston also said:

I agree with that.

It is because I am a Christian that I believe that we should not try to ban the pursuit of science or of knowledge, both of which I regard as God given. We do not know nearly enough about cells—how they differentiate or how they regenerate—and much good will come of that type of research.

Many of us have visited constituents who are members of the Parkinson's Disease Society or who belong to groups such as those for the support of multiple sclerosis sufferers. I met such a group a week ago: young people only 30 or 40 years old who face a degenerative, terminal illness. What brave and courageous people they are. If we can do anything that will help them, we should do so. For me, that is a Christian obligation.

I have been consistent about this subject for many, many years. I believe that we should all show the greatest regard for the sanctity of human life, but if Parliament refuses to allow the type of research that we are discussing we shall be deliberately turning away from people who need help—and who can be helped. That is what makes those of us who support that scientific research pro-life. We are pro-life. I will not have that term hijacked by a pressure group—[Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) laughs, but if only he understood what damage has been done to his own cause over the years by suggesting that those who do not agree with a particular point of view are somehow anti-life. That will rebound on them, I fear.

Before I finish, I want to make a further point. We will return to this issue. I said in 1990 that we would return to it, and we did. I said last January that we would do so, and we will. Whatever happens, we will return to the issue because science moves on, and only the representatives of the people in Parliament should determine the boundaries within which we allow scientists to operate.

When we next consider the issue in serious primary legislation, I hope that we shall conduct pre-legislative scrutiny. I have twice served on Committees considering

29 Nov 2001 : Column 1197

armed forces Bills—the only sort of Bills that follow that procedure—which is very instructive because it empowers many people outside Parliament who have something to say and allows our prejudices to be exposed to the real world. It also allows a huge amount of common sense into the debate, and I hope that common sense will prevail tonight.

Next Section

IndexHome Page