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6.16 pm

Dr. Desmond Turner (Brighton, Kemptown): The hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Mr. Taylor) is right. In fact, he did well for a former Science Minister. The hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) was equally sensible in recognising that we cannot set legislation in stone and assume that it will deal with the advance in science for generations to come, because science moves too fast and is too unpredictable. We should not worry about whether the Bill is the be-all and end-all of legislation on this subject. I do not think that the Minister will say that it is.

Hon. Members on both sides of the House recognise that the Bill is a stop-gap measure. None the less, it is essential. The court judgment places in grave doubt the legal position of human reproductive cloning. It is not possible to say that it is definitely illegal, so it must be clearly stated that it is illegal. I think that we all agree on that. It is essential to satisfy the universal opinion, whether we represent the pro-life, the scientific or the medical view, that human reproductive cloning is unacceptable for a raft of reasons that I do not need to mention because we are all in agreement.

It is equally essential to make that point clear for the purposes of therapeutic cloning. We are fortunate that we have established a sensible regulatory regime for work on embryos. Medical scientists in this country know the boundaries. They know what they can and cannot do and that as long as they work within them, they are safe from attack. That is not the case in the rest of Europe where medical scientists feel unsafe and are disinclined to work in the field.

This country benefits from taking a lead in such research. Other countries, such as Germany and Italy, cannot benefit because their medical scientists do not feel safe. At the same time, those countries are exposed in a way that we are not to unscrupulous scientists, such as our Italian friend who announced his determined intention to clone a human being. The authorities cannot stop him in Italy, but he will not be able to do it here, and that is vital.

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If the judgment is not reversed, we will have to introduce fresh legislation to regulate the use of embryos produced by nuclear transfer. That is obvious and essential, and we should not be ashamed of it. We are here to make laws and should accept it as part of our job.

The amendment of the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) is unfortunately somewhat mischievous. It seems that the intention behind it is to move the argument back to the stage before we last debated these matters, when we regularised the human therapeutic cloning situation. If we follow that line of reasoning and accept the amendment, we will be in a dangerous situation. I hope that it will not be supported because it is designed to take us backwards.

I support the Bill. I do not think that it closes all the possible loopholes; I doubt whether the Minister thinks that it does. For instance, there is the theoretical possibility that a human embryo produced by nuclear transfer—that is a cloned embryo—could be exported and then transplanted into somebody from this country who has gone abroad for the purpose. We all know that women from Ireland who want an abortion have to come here because the practice is illegal there. Theoretically, that could happen with human reproductive cloning. We need to address that possible loophole.

It is foolish to criticise the Bill because it does not do everything possible to regulate cloning in all its aspects. We need the measure now. No one pretends that it is the end of the story, but we need the Bill.

6.22 pm

Mr. William Cash (Stone): Over a fairly extended period, many of us have taken part in discussions, both in principle and in detail, on these matters. There is an element of deja vu. I remember that in the early days—1984 or 1985—when the issue of embryo development and scientific analysis was first being discussed, the Chamber was packed. It was vibrant with concern. I say that because there are not that many Members in their places now. However, as so many Members have said, it is a fundamental subject that we should be addressing, so I welcome the opportunity to discuss it.

Those of us who have read the Bill would not want to take exception to the idea of plugging a loophole. However, the argument has been well made—it is advanced in the reasoned amendment—that the real problem is that there is a huge range of stepping stones that have led to current legislation being found to be defective. It has been ruled by the court, subject to appeal, to be defective. The real problem has lain in the fact that an opportunity has not been taken to have an in-depth analysis of what the issue is really all about.

I would not make any claims to be a scientist or anything of that sort, and I suspect that most Members would not advance such claims, including the Minister. We are heavily dependent on advice. I have made four attempts, with support from well over 100 Members, to have an ad hoc Select Committee set up to investigate these matters. I am talking not about a departmental Committee but a Committee with proper terms of reference, which would enable the issues to be properly examined. My requests have been refused over and over again. That leaves me with grave concern.

The matters have not been properly examined and decisions have been taken by a conglomerate of bodies, including the Medical Research Council. I wrote part of

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an article called "As Important as the Bomb" on the MRC's connection with the issue in 1985. I looked at the MRC's composition and objectives and considered the constitution of its advisory committees, asking pertinent—not, I hope, impertinent—questions about the curriculum vitae of its members, such as where they came from and what their previous positions were. How many people on those committees, which have decided what is or is not therapeutic in relation to given science, took a view contrary to that of the scientific establishment? That raises serious issues. The failure to make a proper objective analysis of those questions led to imperfections in the legislation which in turn have led to the need for the Bill.

Lynne Jones: I cannot accept that there has been no proper objective analysis. Simply because the Science and Technology Committee does not agree with the hon. Gentleman does not mean that its analysis was not objective. We had a year-long inquiry into human genetics, then a short but specific inquiry into cloning, which made recommendations that would have dealt with the problem that we are dealing with today.

Mr. Cash: I am disappointed that the results of the Committee's deliberations did not lead to an improvement in the legislation along the lines that I have suggested. In fact, we have ended up with a series of measures over the past 18 years. At this juncture, we are faced with a Bill produced in an emergency fashion. Undoubtedly, much of the evidence taken in the Select Committee was fair and impartial, but it did not produce the right results. Having an ad hoc Select Committee of the sort to which I referred would be a better way to proceed.

Bearing in mind the fact that we do not have much time, I do not need to say much more. The key point is that the necessity for proper legislation will arise, but that legislation has not yet been delivered. The reasoned amendment was tabled, as other Members and I have explained, because it is essential to have a Bill which, at last, will deal comprehensively with problems that are moral and, for many Members, spiritual. It is not just a matter of scientific assessment; deep questions arise, affecting people from all walks of life and all religions—and, indeed, those with no religion. I cannot accept Lord Winston's proposition, if he was correctly quoted, that science, in effect, does not have a moral dimension. All legislative matters must be determined as matters of opinion by Members of Parliament. We are elected and have to take account of the moral dimension of all legislation, otherwise there would be no point in our being here. To summarise, it is essential to have proper legislation. The Bill does not achieve that, so I shall support the reasoned amendment.

6.29 pm

Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate): My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Miss Begg) urged the House to focus on the specifics of this short, concentrated Bill and not to be drawn into discussion of therapeutic cloning. With the honourable exception of the hon. Members for Salisbury (Mr. Key) and for Esher and Walton (Mr. Taylor), none of the contributors from the official Opposition Benches responded to my hon. Friend's plea.

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As I said earlier, I found parts of the debate this afternoon somewhat ironic. For example, the official Opposition argued that although they supported the Bill, there was insufficient time to examine it. It seemed ironic that they could support a Bill without knowing what was in it. The hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) urged the Government—I acknowledge that I am paraphrasing him—to be honest in their contributions, and then proceeded to quote Lord Winston in an extremely partial way.

I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Salisbury for giving the entire quote. Lord Winston did indeed say that

but he concluded—I will repeat it, as the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) clearly did not listen to his hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury—by saying:

That is central to what we are discussing.

I found it somewhat ironic that the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), urged my hon. Friend the Minister—again, I am paraphrasing—to use the correct words for describing a specific instance, and then proceeded to describe abortion as killing babies.

Let us set all that to one side. I support the Bill and totally refute the arguments advanced by Opposition Members that the Government are panicking or attempting to rush the legislation through. In the light of the High Court decision, I regard it as urgent that the Government make abundantly clear what was said in all the debates about therapeutic cloning, and what the entire House believed was the case: that human cloning is illegal. The Government gave a belt-and-braces commitment that they would introduce legislation to ensure that such practices were illegal in this country. They have now done so.

It is important that the Bill is passed tonight. The Government were right to introduce it when they did. We delude ourselves if we think that there is not an extremely well organised and even a sizeable body of organisations and individuals who are utterly opposed to therapeutic cloning, and certainly to abortion. When we were conducting the debates on therapeutic cloning, I received a vast mailbag from my constituents. Without exception, every single one of those letters urged me to vote against what my constituents had been told was human cloning.

I repeat that I found it shocking that individuals and organisations—some of which I would have regarded as responsible organisations until I realised what they were doing, and I do not exclude certain arms of the Churches—were deliberately misleading people about therapeutic cloning. They were presenting it as the House actively encouraging scientists to clone human beings. That has never been the position of the House and I do not believe that it will ever be the position of the House or of the country.

It is important that the message is sent out now. In common with the hon. Members for Salisbury and for Esher and Walton and all my hon. Friends who spoke in the debate, I believe in the paramount importance of the benefits that may be inherent in therapeutic cloning for

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the thousands, and in some instances millions, of people who have been told that there might be a possibility of their illness, disease or disability, be it genetic or otherwise, being cured or alleviated. It is necessary to encourage science to engage—here, again, I share an opinion with the hon. Member for Salisbury—in the God-given ability to explore the potential for improving the human condition.

There must be a balance and the House must draw limits, as my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Dr. Turner) said. I would not want to see the sort of hysteria that is sometimes attached to experiment in other areas. Animal research most obviously comes to mind. Scientists whose only commitment is to improve the human condition and to lift the burdens of disease should not be subjected to the sort of horrific treatment that they have sometimes experienced in the past. I congratulate the Government on introducing the Bill.

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