Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140-151)|
31 JANUARY 2007
Q140 Chairman: What would be more
helpful, from our point of view, is if the scientists you are
quoting could speak to the Committee directly and give us evidence.
Angela McNab: I am sure you will
appreciate my difficulty. I do not want to give you a name without
Chairman: We would like a name because
we cannot find one.
Q141 Dr Harris: I have a final question
about the issue of how you handle the consultation, which you
have touched on already. We have written evidence, including from
an individual, saying these scientific proposals are completely
groundless and bad science. They go on to say they are worried
about experiments being at the whim of unscrupulous scientists.
That view does not explain why they think it is bad science or
what evidence they have that the scientists are unscrupulous.
We have also had evidence from the Biosciences Federation, which
represents 50 organisations, including one organisation that represents
another 50 organisations with tens of thousands of members, who
support this research, yet at the end of the Government's consultation,
which is a similar exercise, they said, on the one hand, there
were 350 against and 50 in favour, when the 50 in favour included
the Academy of Medical Sciences and so forth. Do you accept how
difficult it is to have any of sort of quantitative feel from
Ms Harrison: Absolutely. I think
I answered this question in a different form earlier on. We are
going to take account of what people say to us, who they are,
what they have to say, and we will weigh what they have to say
accordingly. It will not be vote counting or weighing responses
on the scales; we will be taking it into account.
Q142 Dr Spink: The HFEA permit procedures
that are ethically very controversial, for instance the creation
of new human life with a specified purpose, and yet now it seems
to be preventing this research which promises so much for mankind
in a way that would certainly damage our competitiveness, which
is nothing compared to the need for these disease groups to find
solutions if it is possible. Does this inconsistency worry you
Ms Harrison: I do not think there
is any suggestion we are preventing anything at all. That is the
whole point of having a consultation and coming to a decision
later in the year. There is no question of preventing.
Q143 Dr Spink: Delaying?
Ms Harrison: In order to be able
to do it properly.
Q144 Dr Iddon: The government are
going to publish a draft bill this March. Your policy will not
be formulated until September 5 at the earliest. What do you expect
to see in the draft Bill, particularly on the issues we have been
discussing this morning, when clearly the scientists who have
been in front of us have convinced me we are not talking about
hybrids, we are not talking about chimeras. We are talking about
a completely different entity for which we need a clear definition.
What are we going to see in the draft Bill regarding this area
Ms Harrison: Clearly we do not
know what will be in it but we have given some advice.
Q145 Dr Iddon: What would you like
to be in it?
Angela McNab: We gave advice,
as part of the review, and that is what we would like to see in
the draft Bill. We would like to see greater clarity. We would
like to see the issues of definitions and scope well clarified.
We would like to see this research permitted within the usual
restrictions, within the usual controls.
Q146 Dr Iddon: Government Ministers
currently are coming out with the line that they will ban research
on hybrids and chimeras, which we are not talking about this morning.
How on earth is a Government with that view going to frame legislation
that is acceptable to you?
Angela McNab: You asked us what
our advice had been and what we would like to see, and I think
I have expressed that to you. In the meantime, we have to work
within the current legislation.
Q147 Dr Iddon: It will be interesting
to see it when it is published. I have heard at least one scientist
in my presence discussing this area of research suggesting we
might have to go beyond the 14 day limit on the grounds that if
you want to see how cell differentiation and chemical triggers
actually work, 14 days is not enough. Is your horizon scanning
pulling that suggestion up, that scientists will push at the boundaries
Professor Haites: I do not think
I have ever seen that reported from our horizon scanning but that
may be based on the fact that it is known under the current Act
it is a total prohibition, and that is pretty consistent around
the world where new Acts have been brought into place. In Canada
and Australia that 14 days remains; hence the reason there is
seen by many scientists to be an enormous need to continue to
study other animal models, rather than using human models, to
actually ensure we have the full biological detail in this area.
This is the coming together. I certainly have not seen that being
Q148 Dr Iddon: I can assure you there
are some scientists now making those proposals I have just suggested.
What do you mean by recommending that the Government has "proper
consideration of the diversity of views on this issue" and
how would that be achieved?
Angela McNab: We are going to
put together a consultation which will aim to reach a vast number
of different audiences, and we would be very happy to share that
plan for the consultation with you as soon as it is complete,
which will be very soon. Our aim would be to ensure that rather
it be just those who typically respond to this type of consultation
and who have a well-known interest in it that we actually reach
the wider public and the wider groups. We will do that through
a variety of mechanisms. I hope very much, and we have already
indicated this to the scientists who have put applications in,
that the scientists themselves will take part in encouraging that
kind of debate and be involved in sessions and use it as a way
of informing people.
Q149 Graham Stringer: What worries
me about statements like this, and it comes back to the questions
I was asking before, when you say proper consideration for diversity
of views on this issue, does that mean to say that you are going
to take seriously creationists and other anti-science people who
make representations and give those views equal weight? That is
what that statement, as it is written, means to me: that somehow
you should balance up the creationists, for want of a collective
word, with the people who are carrying out this very valuable
Ms Harrison: There are some ethical
issues in addition to the scientific issues in this area and we
will take account of them. As I said before, it is not a question
Q150 Graham Stringer: That is a different
issue. How ethics and the science meet is a different question
which we have not asked yet. How do you take into account and
balance the diversity of views that involves one extreme, the
creationists, and, on the other side, the people who are doing
Ms Harrison: It is a question
of judgment really. I cannot say any further than that.
Q151 Graham Stringer: Of course it
is a question of judgment. You are saying, because it seems to
contradict what you said earlier, that those views will be put
into the mix and will influence the final outcome.
Ms Harrison: They will be taken
into account in the same way as everybody else's will be taken
into account. Obviously some views will have more weight behind
them than others and that will also be taken into account.
Chairman: Thank you for that. You have
been excellent witnesses this morning and very patient with the
Committee. You understand that we do regard this as one of the
key areas for the Committee at the moment. It is an issue which
the previous Committee began work on in terms of its human technologies
and the law and we are seeing that through. Shirley Harrison,
Angela McNab and Neva Haites, thank you very much indeed. I also
thank my Committee this morning.