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I am aware that there are scientists who rightly want greater clarity in the law, for an entirely understandable reason that reinforces the importance of the legislation and its success so far: scientists feel far more confident about the nature of what they are doing, and of public support for it, when Parliament has provided an ethical and legal framework. That was true in 1990, it has remained true and it is important for us to provide that assurance now. It is partly for that reason that my colleagues and I will propose a number of amendments. First, we will do so to secure improvements to the future scrutiny of regulations
made under the legislation; secondly, to maintain the ethical values reflected in the 1990 Act, which we believe are unnecessarily being dispensed with by the Bill; and thirdly, to ensure that licensing by the HFEA carries necessary safeguards.
I turn to the major issues in the Bill, again reiterating that I do so on the basis of my personal views, rather than the view of the official Opposition as a whole. I turn first to the clauses on human admixed embryos, as they are described. I note that the Governments expert advisory group reported in July 2000
that the use of eggs from a non-human species to carry a human cell nucleus was not a realistic or desirable solution to the possible lack of human eggs for research or subsequent treatment.
We can say that it is now realistic, but the question is whether it is desirable. In January 2007, the Department of Health gave evidence to the Select Committee on Science and Technology. The Government said that
we have not seen so far a firm consensus within the scientific community...about precisely which human-animal creations should be allowed, any immediate imperative for doing so, or the availability and interpretation of supporting evidence.
As recently as last year, therefore, the Governments intention was to prohibit human-animal embryos while creating an order-making power by which Parliament could subsequently sanction such research under licence should a consensus emerge.
In February 2007, just one month later, the Governments position had changed, and they proposed to legislate to permit such hybrid embryo research. When we debate the changes in more detail, the Government will need to explain their change of mind. I accept that there is a need to pursue different models by which stem cells can be created or reprogrammed to provide potential therapeutic benefit. Although research on reprogramming adult stem cells is encouraging, it would be foolhardy to block embryonic stem cell research and it is increasingly evident that the availability of human eggs for research purposes will be a serious constraint on the conduct of such experiments.
Mr. Burrowes: Does my hon. Friend acknowledge that it is important when considering animal-human hybrid research to demonstrate that it is necessary and that all other avenues and alternativesadult stem cell research, induced pluripotent stem cells, umbilical cord researchhave been considered? Will he commend Lord Hunts test that the HFEA must be satisfied that there is no other way of conducting the research avoiding embryo use? Would it help if that were made explicit in the Bill?
Mr. Lansley: I am grateful to my hon. Friend and, from reading HFEA minutes, I believe that the HFEA applied that test when it considered projects in January. Those who promote such projects must demonstrate that they are necessary and desirable. It is clear from the structure of the Bill that, if an alternative routenot using embryoswere available, the HFEA should not license such a research project.
Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire) (Con):
Will my hon. Friend comment on the future storing of umbilical cord blood and whether he would like that to
be greatly increased, as proposed in the private Members Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Burrowes), as a possible alternative to some of the avenues that he has discussed?
Mr. Lansley: In principle, yes. However, in practice, that route implies considerable NHS resource constraints about which I am not in a position, nor do I necessarily want, to make a commitment at this stage.
The Minister of State, Department of Health (Dawn Primarolo): As an individual Member.
Parents will want to consider the proposal and, if they can meet the resource implications, I personally believe that it would be acceptable for them to do that.
Dr. Evan Harris: The hon. Gentleman raised the interesting question of why the Government changed their mind on human-animal hybrid embryos. Was it not because a scientific consensus emerged among the Academy of Medical Sciences, the Medical Research Council, the Wellcome Trust and the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, in a unanimous report, supported by people who do not often agree with anyone, such as the hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink), who supported the recommendation that the Bill should appear as drafted?
Mr. Lansley: I am interested in that point. My constituency of South Cambridgeshire probably has as many scientists engaged in stem cell research as any constituency in the country. From the many people to whom I have spoken in my constituency, I believe that the consensus rests on the proposition that embryonic stem cell research is one of several models of research, which may deliver substantial therapeutic benefit in future, and on the fact that constraints emerged on the availability of human eggs, which meant that there were significant benefits to be derived from using animal eggs. However, that belief did not extendand I have not heard scientists in my constituency arrive at a consensus on the matterto human-animal embryos in which there is a substantial mix of human and animal nucleic DNA.
The document that the Government presented to the Science and Technology Committee in January 2007 stated that
there may be different argumentsboth scientific and ethicalapplying to creation of hybrids by cell nuclear transfer which in terms of their nuclear DNA are ostensibly human,
that applies to the research projects that have been licensed so far
and to embryos containing both human and non-human nuclear DNA.
I therefore find it perverse that the Government have not structured the Bill around the scientific consensus. They have not based the measure on the proposition that embryos that are ostensibly human can be created, and, by virtue of the use of animal eggs, may enable embryonic stem cell research to make progress. Instead, they have structured it in such a way as to permit the creation of embryos with both nucleic human and nucleic animal DNA. As the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (Geraldine Smith) said, that is a 50:50 embryo, as it were.
That is precisely the ethical judgment that was considered back in 1990, on the basis of the Warnock report. The conclusion reached then was that such a form of embryo research should not be contemplated. We need to consider whether we should amend the Bill to exclude embryos created by using human gametes and animal gametes or a human pronucleus and an animal pronucleus, as the Government propose under clause 4.
Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that the work of Professor Shinya Yamanaka, which has apparently been adopted by Sir Ian Wilmut, demonstrates that the Bill could and should be amended? If their research, on induced pluripotent cells, was to become the main way of dealing with such matters, we could eliminate any prospect of cloned human-animal embryos being used.
Mr. Lansley: My hon. Friend may be interested to know that my hon. Friend the Member for Boston and Skegness (Mark Simmonds) has visited Kyoto to inform himself about that. For my part, I have been to the Roslin institute. Although we do our level best to understand, absorb and internalise the work of scientists, we are laymen. We should be careful not to preclude different models of research that have the potential to deliver effective therapies for life-threatening diseases. That is not to say that we should accept every model of research, if it contravenes what we would regard as an ethical boundary. Indeed, that was the purpose of the legislation in the first place.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) makes his point, but I do not know to what extent it will be possible to proceed with research in a way that minimises the necessity of embryonic stem cell research. To an extent, I hope that it will bemy hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate made exactly this point. It would be the job of the authority, when undertaking its licensing, to ensure that embryonic stem cell research was minimised, not that it was excluded. That is the balance that I seek.
Mark Pritchard: Given the scarce resources in the NHS, which both my hon. Friend and the Secretary of State have mentioned, would it not make more sense to put them into areas of research that we know have had results, rather than into alternative avenues of research that to date have produced no results whatever?
Mr. Lansley: My hon. Friend will know that it is the responsibility of the Medical Research Council to make judgments about the effectiveness of research proposals of that kind and to weigh them up together.
Dr. Ian Gibson (Norwich, North) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Mr. Lansley: Of coursehow could I refuse the hon. Gentleman?
On the hon. Gentlemans point about the Medical Research Council, is it not a fact that there is no differentiation, and that 50 per cent. of the research effort goes equally into adult stem cell work and embryonic stem cell work? The MRC is playing it both ways, because as the hon. Gentleman said himself, it is
not clear which will win out in the end. In fact, adult cells cannot make neurites and are exactly the cells that one would want for brain damage to be repaired.
Mr. Lansley: I understand that the figures are, broadly speaking, 60 per cent. for embryonic stem cell research and 40 per cent. for adult stem cell research. In any case, there are other options, too.
As we debate therapies for treating diseases such as Alzheimers and Parkinsons, I am reminded that only three years ago I was at the laboratory of molecular biology, which was doing groundbreaking work for the MRC, of which it is an intramural institute, that was based not on stem cells, but on understanding and manipulating the underlying molecular structure of the brain. I cannot judgeI could barely understand, let alone interpret and predictwhich avenue of research will be most successful. The important thing is that they should be properly judged, one against the other.
To complete the point, I understand fully that any embryos created under those circumstances could not be implanted in a womanthe Bill makes that prohibition clearnor could they be kept beyond 14 days. However, the view taken consistently in framing the Bill in the first place is that embryos that are true hybrids and therefore not capable of being characterised simply as human should not be created.
Let me turn to embryo testing. We understand that the interests of the child to be born must be paramount. The dignity of life demands that a life should not be created simply to serve the interests of another. However, the testing of embryos to prevent the implantation of an embryo with an inherited or genetic condition will, in many cases, be in the best interests of that child if the condition is life-threatening or would severely impair their quality of life. We will table amendments to ensure that the measures are restricted in that way.
Likewise, we believe that the so-called saviour sibling provision should be tightly restricted to life-threatening conditions and those that would seriously impair the life of a sibling [Interruption.] The Bill says serious medical condition, but it does not specify in sufficient detail the criteria to be applied. The balance of advantage against ethical constraints must be judged case by case, and we need to provide strong language in the legislation to ensure that the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority does not allow the boundary of what is to be permitted under the saviour sibling provision to be stretched too far over time. We will invite the House to consider amendments for that purpose.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) and I had an exchange with the Secretary of State about the need for a father. We wanted to know whether there is a problem to which a remedy is required, but he did not answer that or offer evidence. I know that, through the code of practice, the HFEA has arrived at a point at which same-sex couples can access assisted reproduction through regulated clinics. It demands that prospective parents offer supportive parenting and a male role model.
When responding to interventions, the Secretary of State said something that was inconsistent with the Bill, but that showed the direction in which it should
go. Same-sex couples and single mothers can be successful parents, but if we enable a child to be born in circumstances in which a natural conception would not be possible, we have an ethical responsibility to ensure that the welfare of the child is fully protected. It is in the interests of every child to have a mother and a father, but if no father is presentas is, unhappily, the case for many children todaya male role model should be available. For that reason, I, personally, do not regard the substitution of supportive parenting for father as sufficient. The reference to the need for a father, which has not been reflected in the code, should be recast in the legislation as the need for supportive parenting and a father or a male role model.
Emily Thornberry (Islington, South and Finsbury) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Such a change would not be to discriminate against same-sex couples or single parents, but would ensure that the responsibility that we all have to children, through the legislation, is properly discharged. I will give way to the hon. Lady now.
Emily Thornberry: Does the hon. Gentleman envisage that the new family unit will somehow be assessed by a doctor when such people come and ask for artificial insemination? Will the doctor need to say, Show me Uncle Jim; I want to sit down and talk to him to find out just how much of a commitment he is making to this family, and how long he is likely to be around? Does he expect doctors to do that?
Mr. Lansley: I do not know whether the hon. Lady has talked to fertility clinics about this issue, but Bourn Hall clinic is in my constituency, and I know it extremely well. I know that it discharges its current responsibilities under the HFEA code responsibly. When assisted reproduction is provided, it is for clinics to look at the parent or parents and ensure that they can meet the criteria in the code of practice. All that I suggest is that current practice, based on the code of practice published by the authority, should be reflected directly in the language of the legislationno more or less.
Mr. Duncan Smith: Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government have got themselves twisted into knots over this issue? Only 2 per cent. of IVF treatments are to single parents or gay couples, but the problem is wider than that, even if we put those people to one side. By making this change, we send a powerful signal to everyone involved that fathers no longer matter. We know of the difficulties of breakdown when fathers are absent; the guidancefor it is only guidanceis there simply to remind everyone of the necessity and need, where possible.
Mr. Lansley: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that intervention. He will know that writing legislation is a bit like writing contracts; we have to legislate not only for the great majority of cases but often for a small minority as well.
If the Government had not proposed a change in the legislation, I do not think that I would have suggested such a change and I do not believe that anyone would have regarded it as necessary. The present legislation is being implemented by the authority in a way that, in practice, is not discriminatory to same-sex couples. However, given that the Government have introduced the Bill, I believe that it is better to reflect the practice in clinics today than to try to resist language that accurately describes what is being done across the country.
Ms Dari Taylor (Stockton, South) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Mr. Lansley: No. I want to complete my speech quite quickly because there are many Members waiting to speak.
The Secretary of State said, perfectly correctly, that the Government were proposing no changes to abortion legislation. Indeed, speaking from the Conservative Front Bench, I do not think that we are. However, when we come to consider amendments on abortion, I hope that the House will bear in mind three issues.
First, there continue to be far too many abortions. We have the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in western Europe. We fail too many young people through family breakdown, poor parenting, inadequate social support and poor education. Lack of self-esteem has a corrosive effect on young people, and I have no doubt that the high numbers of teenage abortions are a symptom of this wider malaise. This is a central challenge that we have to face in repairing our broken society, and we should not debate this matter in isolation from that challenge. Furthermore, far too many abortionsabout a thirdare repeat abortions. We must look at the effectiveness of sex education and of contraceptive services. Personally, I also believe that many more young womenwomen of any age, for that mattershould be made aware of, and offered, long-acting reversible contraception through the national health service.
Secondly, if a woman needs an abortion in terms sanctioned by the Abortion Act 1967, it must surely be better for it to be an early, medical abortion than a later, surgical one. I therefore hope that the House will consider whether the requirement for two doctors to consent to an abortion being performed, and the restrictions on nurses providing medical abortions, need to be maintained.
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