Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120-139)|
31 JANUARY 2007
Q120 Chairman: There was this morning
when we spoke to the scientists.
Angela McNab: I am very glad they
had a consensus but certainly the expert group we consulted in
our early work on this did not have a consensus about the stage
at which the full human genome was present and, therefore, that
would relateand I am not a scientistto the definition
or the terminology that one used.
Professor Haites: The full human
genome is transferred in but the contents of the cell remain the
protein, the mitochondria, et cetera, of whatever was in that
egg when it was first created. We do not have enough evidence
yet as to the exact time points at which the cellular contents
become more humanised, nor do we have full evidence on how humanised
it eventually becomes.
Dr Spink: We need to do the research
to find that out.
Q121 Dr Turner: In any event, I am
not sure how relevant that is to the question of the genetic material.
There is no doubt it is 100% human genetic material.
Professor Haites: We have had
this discussion before. There are two points that both the Chair
and the CEO have tried to point out: we do not have a full knowledge
of the implantation potential, and we are going with the 1990
Act. We, like all of you in this room, wish to see science in
the UK prospering and well supported by regulation. Were we to
make a decision that was judicially reviewed to be contrary to
the Act, and if that was not a well informed decision that we
had made, we would be jeopardising research. As an unfortunate
individual who had some involvement in the GM foods discussion,
I am very concerned to make sure we have a full, fair, open debate
to inform this research in the future.
Q122 Dr Turner: The sort of definitional
problem we are discussing right now is precisely the sort of thing
which clouded the GM debate. The journalists got the wrong end
of the stick and we had headlines about Frankenstein foods. You
have to be very clear, and if the HFEA setting out the consultation
is not clear the results are liable to get very muddied and could
go down the same kind of unfortunate route as the GM debate. There
is a very serious risk.
Professor Haites: The reason we
will consult with scientists initially in this consultation is
to ensure that we are absolutely clear in our consultation.
Q123 Dr Turner: You have not consulted
with them yet.
Professor Haites: We have had
numerous discussions with them and with different ones. As you
know, there is a wide range of scientists across the UK involved
in this work. I personally certainly have not consulted with the
three you saw today.
Q124 Dr Turner: How much weight will
media reaction and lay public reaction, not the scientific public
community, weigh in your final decisions?
Ms Harrison: We will take account
of all the evidence we receive, as I said earlier. It is important
to know what people think. Can I colour in that question about
definitions again? I am a very simple non-scientific person. What
I want to know is what do scientists want to do and why do they
want to do it. In a way, what you call "it" does not
matter; we can have our own definitions. It is what they want
to do we need to understand and what would be the expected outcomes,
and that, I think, is quite simple to understand.
Q125 Chris Mole: Except surely if
we are overlapping here. It seems to me part of your evidence,
as suggested to us, you have the cases of the current applications,
which has generated your consultation, which may usefully inform
what the Government are doing with the White Paper heading towards
legislation. The definitional problems are crucial, would you
agree, to resolving the legislation that allows us not to return
to this problem in the way that we are facing it at the moment?
Ms Harrison: Certainly. One of
the things in which we and the Select Committee were in agreement
in the consultation prior to the White Paperand I was looking
at it before I came in and it is word for word the same thingwas
we would like there to be clear definitions of hybrids and chimeras,
and whatever else, and also we would like there to be clear rules
about regulation in there. We stick by that and we do want that
to be in the legislation. We have said we will share the results
of our consultation and our evidence gathering with the department
and hope that it informs the pre-legislative scrutiny stage.
Q126 Chris Mole: Given that you believe
there is a lack of clarity amongst the scientific community about
the definitional language that should be used, does the HFEA have
an opinion about terms such as cybrid and whether using those,
and being clear about what you can and cannot do with those once
you define what they are, is going to help the legislation being
Ms Harrison: At the moment there
are Australian definitions and the Canadians have made definitions.
There is something to work with certainly.
Q127 Dr Harris: Could I say, for
the record, that I met Ms Harrison and Angela McNab, before the
Committee decided to do its inquiry, in early January and discussed
this issue and indeed made representations to the HFEA meeting
on behalf of a number of people keen on this science, again before
the Committee decided to it do this inquiry. I feel sorry for
Ms Harrison since she only just started in the post and it is
a baptism of fire. I do recognise that. Do you advise the Government
or does the Government advise you?
Ms Harrison: We have a role in
providing advice to the Minister; certainly it is one of our remits.
Q128 Dr Harris: Does the Government
advise you at all?
Ms Harrison: We have links with
the Department of Health and we have our regular meetings with
them and discussions with them and so on, but advise us I am not
sure that is the right way of putting it.
Q129 Dr Harris: Parliament set you
up to advise the Government, and indeed Parliament, therefore
is it right that the Department of Health observers at your meetings
express a view they are happy going down this consultation path.
You reported that earlier. If they reported they were unhappy,
would that have influenced your decision to have the consultation?
If not, what is the relevance of asking if they were happy?
Angela McNab: Routinely the Department
of Health observe our meetings and they are obviously welcome
to express their views when they hear us make decisions or decide
upon a particular course of action. I have to say no; it would
not have made a difference. If the Authority had considered the
issue, they have clear advice. You have the draft minutes of that
meeting and you can see from those minutes their advice was not
sought nor were they asked to ratify or agree with the course
of action the Authority wanted to go ahead with.
Q130 Dr Harris: We are limited because
we are told we cannot comment in the public session on these confidential
draft minutes so I cannot respond to that. They are your minutes
so you are entitled to cite them but I cannot challenge you because
of the conditions you put on giving us this information. On this
question of legal advice we covered earlier, you will be aware
that legal privilege is a qualified privilege under the freedom
of information and you have to balance those factors. One is,
for example, furthering the understanding or participation in
the public debate on issues of the day if disclosure would allow
more informed debate of issues under consideration by the Government.
I do not think you could have a stronger argument on that score
for promoting accountability and transparency by public authorities
to decisions taken by them and balanced against that is prejudice
to legal proceedings which are neither pending nor even threatened
at this point. Are you able to tell us, perhaps in a letter, because
I believe that is what you are supposed to do when you cite qualified
legal privilege, what it is that balances you towards this concern
about legal proceedings rather than being able to help Parliament
and Government debate an issue that you are wanting to see debated?
Angela McNab: I am sure we can
come back to you with that letter. It is worth acknowledging,
as you see, we are between a rock and a hard place. We are very
keen to give you a good summary of the legal advice we received,
and I hope we have provided you with as much of that as we can
in the draft minutes which you have, but equally we are subject
to the legal advice we get from our own lawyers which says that
at the moment this is subject to privilege and there are risks.
Q131 Dr Harris: It would be useful
if you could write to us and give us the legal advice which says
you cannot give us your legal advice. If I were to ask what your
current policy is at the moment with regard to this particular
research regarding the nuclear transfer of human cells into enucleated
animal ova, do you have a policy position?
Ms Harrison: The position at the
moment is we will be formulating our policy in September on the
basis of the additional evidence we will have received. We did
have, as I think we mentioned, two sessions: one of the Scientific
Group and one of the Ethics and Law Committee. I think you have
the appropriate extracts from the minutes in your written material
there. You will see there have been recommendations from both
of those groups which will inform our policy and we are at that
stage at the moment.
Q132 Dr Harris: It is not right to
say you have an existing position as you go into the consultation.
Are you neutral or do you have an existing position?
Ms Harrison: We have the information
that we have given so far through the Horizon Scanning, the Ethics
and Law Committee and the Scientific Panel as a starting point.
Q133 Dr Harris: Has the position
you put to the Government's consultation been retracted?
Ms Harrison: Do you mean the consultation
on the White Paper?
Q134 Dr Harris: You have expressed
a view publicly in response to the Government's consultation,
which is on the Government website, saying clearly that you support
Ms Harrison: No, that stays the
same. Our position is exactly the same as it was then.
Q135 Dr Harris: You support this
research and want to see it go ahead. The reference the Chairman
was thinking of was the HFEA's agreement with the need to define.
You agreed with us that we need to define those entities.
Ms Harrison: Yes.
Q136 Chairman: I understood you went
further than that to actually saying you were supportive. You
felt that these two pieces of research could go ahead under the
1990 Act but you wanted clarification and public support. That
was the position I thought.
Ms Harrison: That is right. We
said in our response that the creation of human animal hybrids
is permitted until the two cell stage under the current Act and
we consider research within the constraints outlined by the Government
should be permitted as long as it can be ensured that such entities
will never be implanted, and 14 days, et cetera.
Dr Harris: That position was not in your
press statement. Your press statement after the meeting did not
tell the public that your existing position, pending the outcome
of the consultation, was, as you have just said, to support this
research, not just thinking it is within your remit but actually
Chairman: We have made this absolutely
clear. We have this on the record that you are supporting it.
Q137 Dr Harris: My question is why
did you not put that in your press statement?
Ms Harrison: The press statement
was about what had just happened in the Authority not about something
historic. That might be an editor's note or for a journalist to
look up but we were giving a statement on our Authority meeting.
Q138 Dr Harris: In your press statement
you said there is not clear agreement within the scientific community
about the need for and/or benefits of this science. Which scientists
have you got on record saying they do not think this research
should be permitted to go ahead? The previous panel said they
did not know of any.
Professor Haites: I do not think
I can give you any specifics on that at all. If you look broadly
across the professional groups, including ethicists and philosophers,
et cetera, that is where we will find a wider range of opinion
about these issues.
Q139 Dr Harris: I certainly agree
with that. But Angela McNab repeated this on The World at One.
She said it is clearly a highly controversial area of science
and it is very clear there are differing views both within the
scientific community as well as in the public at large. Therefore
there must be some scientists, because we would like to talk to
them, who think this research should not go ahead. Not who think
it might not work but who think it could and should be banned.
Angela McNab: Certainly I am aware
that within the expert group and conversations we have had, there
have been some views expressed that it may not be necessarily
desirable to proceed with this type of research right now. I do
not have the names with me and I am not entirely sure whether
I should give you those names without consulting and letting those
individuals know that I am passing them on if they have been part
of a private group we have consulted with. May I come back to
you on that point. I would very much like to do that.
Dr Harris: If you could write to us.
I have read the evidence and so far no scientists have given that