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Mr. Kenneth Clarke (Rushcliffe) (Con): As several hon. Members have reminded me, I had the pleasure of moving the Second Reading of the 1990 Bill. I am glad that we all look back on that as a rather successful and groundbreaking piece of legislation on which we can now build. In case it be thought that this is causing an unusual degree of immodesty on my part, I must concede that—in common, I suspect, with the present Secretary of State—although I presided over those activities and played a leading part in taking the Bill through the House, my Minister of State, Virginia Bottomley, had played a far larger role in putting it together than I had, as had a large number of medics and officials in the Department. It was a necessary piece of legislation, and I am glad to say that, as a result of a very long and careful production process, it has been a success. I was Minister of State when my then boss, Norman Fowler,
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asked Baroness Warnock to consider the problem in 1982, before it had become a matter of major public controversy, and her recommendations created a virtual consensus that has remained until now and lies behind this Bill.

It is important to bear in mind what the Bill is about, now that we are updating it as we undoubtedly must. Embryo research had been carried out in this country for about 20 years before we legislated in 1990. The first test-tube baby had been born in 1978 and IVF was becoming widespread. In the 12 years before the 1990 Act, such research was an entirely voluntary, unregulated activity, where each researcher made his or her judgment about the ethics involved and how far they should go. We had introduced a licensing authority in co-operation with the royal colleges, but its role was purely voluntary and advisory. Most respectable researchers allowed themselves to be guided by its views.

The purpose of the 1990 legislation was to establish a regulatory and statutory framework. It was precisely because everybody agreed that the human tissue in question had to be treated with particular respect, and because everybody realised that serious ethical concerns were being raised about what was being done, that we set up the new authority. It was decided that the judgments involved should be made, to a certain extent, independently of Parliament, politicians and Ministers, when it came to particular areas of research, but it was set up for the purposes of control.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) made the point that a happy side effect of the 1990 legislation was that it made this country one of the leading places in the world for research into degenerative diseases, genetic diseases and research of all kinds connected to the human embryo. It was not the purpose of that legislation, and it should not be the purpose of this Bill, to enable us to have a more permissive regime in order to compete with other jurisdictions. The point is to reassure citizens that Parliament has had regard to the need to set a proper legal and ethical framework within which the best scientists and medics can feel confident to proceed.

That leads me to touch on the way in which the Bill is being handled, about which I have some criticisms—though none of the Secretary of State. I hope that I presented the Bill in 1990 in the same reasonable and sensible way that he just has. The Bill seems quite devoid of any party political or ideological content. In 1990, because of the very sensitive nature of the subject and the strong religious and philosophical views that people held, we introduced a quite different way of handling the legislation. A complete free vote was allowed to every Member of the Government—each and every Minister and not just each and every Back Bencher. Although as Ministers we presented the Bill to try to ensure that there was some sort of sensible, workable, well-drafted legal framework, we left it entirely to the House as to what the contents were.

There was no question of Ministers being given permission to absent themselves on particular issues if they wanted. Ministers went into both Lobbies at various stages. When I spoke from the Front Bench, along with my colleagues who happened to be Ministers, I made a clear distinction—as the Secretary of State just did—between what I was saying on behalf of the Government, based on the advice of medics, or
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perhaps parliamentary draftsmen, and what I was saying as the Member of Parliament for Rushcliffe, which was my own ethical judgment that would determine the vote that I would cast. That is what should be done.

My friend Geoffrey Howe, who was then Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the House, had the biggest part to play in this matter when he insisted that we should table alternative amendments. The Government tabled a whole list of contradictory amendments.

Robert Key: It was absolute hell.

Mr. Clarke: It was confusing for those who do not normally look at the amendment paper. People published guides to it, as I recall, and we invited the House to choose from a range of options after how many weeks an abortion should be permitted. We asked for people’s views on that, and it was an important way of proceeding. Contrary to my wishes, because I had other things to do at the time, the then Leader of the House insisted on the amendments being drafted in such a way that we could get into the debate on abortion at length.

I do not make the point simply out of concern for Roman Catholic and other opponents of parts of the Bill on the Labour Benches, although I have the highest respect for their views, because no one can feel that they have absolute moral authority on the matter. However, I am concerned about the reputation of Parliament, and even about that of whipping votes. I believe in party discipline, and one sometimes needs to enforce the Whip on administrative, financial and legal matters—Members should revolt only now and again, and on serious matters of principle. However, the moral authority of legislation is affected if people are allowed to argue that it was pushed through with too much party political control.

It is amazing that the 1990 Act lasted for 18 years, when we all know people who believe passionately that some of the things that it permits render it almost evil because they hold religious views that I simply do not share. I take a secular view of such matters. I am a social liberal, who is on the social liberal side of most of the arguments that the Bill presents. If it were simply a matter of realpolitik, I would tell the Secretary of State, the Prime Minister and the Chief Whip, “I don’t know what you’re worried about. If you allow a free vote, you’ll find that the socially liberal majority of the House of Commons is enormous, entirely in line with the opinion of the citizenship at large.” Governments often get a bigger majority with a free vote.

I believe that the House of Commons should be given the right to demonstrate that all parties have the same range of views—on the Front and Back Benches—and the only possible expression of that in our constitution is through a free vote.

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con): I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for giving way—it means that he gets a bit of extra time, from which the House will benefit.

I am not sure that the mood in the country is exactly as my right hon. and learned Friend has expressed it because 77 per cent. of people said that the obligation
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to have regard to the child’s need for a father was either important or very important. Those of us who oppose the “father” provision speak on behalf of more people than perhaps the social liberals do.

Mr. Clarke: I commend members of the general public who are interested—as many are—in the matter to study our debates and discover the current position. If we asked most people how many single women and lesbian couples were allowed assistance under current law, they would be astonished at the reply. The matter should be examined in some depth. I shall comment on that shortly.

We cannot deal with every issue at this stage and I therefore want to explain to those, mainly those of my constituents, with whose views I do not agree, what I believe to be the fundamental ethical point. We go into much detail, but the fundamental issue at the heart of the debate is the ethical argument about what represents a human personality and what regard we should pay to the embryonic tissue with which we deal in research or medicine. I understand the concept of natural law, but much medicine and science is an unnatural intervention in the order of things, and one is constantly making ethical judgments about the extent to which that is justifiable to ease human suffering.

Of course, I accept that human life begins at the moment of conception—that is obvious. However, at what stage of development should one grant the protection of the civil and criminal law to an embryo as if it were a living adult? I cannot for the life of me accept that that applies simply to a fertilised embryo—millions die naturally every day and never become implanted in the womb. I believe that the judgment of 14 days or the emergence of the primitive streak has held up well for the past 18 years and we should stick to it. Then, we must consider how to deal respectfully with human issue and how the Bill should protect it. However, we should not strive to go beyond that. That applies to one’s views on abortion embryo research and everything else.

Judy Mallaber (Amber Valley) (Lab): Has the right hon. and learned Gentleman read—as I have, with interest—the representations from Catholics for Choice? Like him, I take a secular position, but the representation states:

and that that has been the subject of debate among theologians for centuries.

Mr. Clarke: Once we start arguing about when the human personality acquires a soul or when it becomes recognisable as such—personally, I would not get involved in debating that—there is great difficulty. I understand that a majority on General Synod of the Church of England have confirmed that they do not regard the fertilised embryo in the first 14 days as a human personality deserving of the complete protection of the criminal and civil law. I respect the Roman Catholic view, but I do not believe that every Roman Catholic shares it. The House needs to establish a consensus.

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Briefly, with inter-species embryos, we go beyond the theology and get into people’s strangely uneasy, but almost superstitious views about where we are. We always had the hamster test in the past, and people have already talked about the cow’s egg with the human skin tissue in the centre—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. I am afraid that the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s time is up.

5.45 pm

Geraldine Smith (Morecambe and Lunesdale) (Lab): I will try to confine my remarks to the three main issues that we have been discussing today: the need for a father for any child resulting from IVF treatment, human-animal embryos and saviour siblings.

On the need for a father, clause 14(2)(b) removes the provision in the 1990 Act under which IVF clinics must have regard for the need of any child resulting from IVF treatment for a father. I consider that removal to be one of the most ill-conceived measures to be put before the House while I have been a Member. The law as it stands provides an important safeguard for the unborn child, as well as recognising and promoting the generally accepted notion of the ideal family unit—the one designed by nature, that of a mother, father and child. There is abundant evidence showing that children raised in a stable unit of that nature develop much better socially and emotionally, and attain higher levels of educational achievement than their counterparts in other types of family unit. I make that point as a simple statement of fact. In making it, I in no way wish to disparage the love, care and commitment given to their children by most lone or same-sex parents.

The current law does not prevent or obstruct single women or lesbian couples from obtaining IVF treatment. Indeed, we have not heard one example today of a lesbian woman who has not been able to receive IVF treatment. The law simply emphasises the importance of a father to a child and encourages women without a male partner to make provision for a father figure to be involved with the child, such as a grandfather. To me, that seems pure common sense. The best interest of the child should be of paramount importance in this debate. Surely a discussion of the benefits that a child gets from having a father and an examination of how the void created by not having one could to some extent be filled should be a minimum requirement for the IVF treatment assessment process.

The state, through either the NHS or a licensed clinic, in effect licenses the creation of life that would not otherwise exist. It therefore has a responsibility to ensure that all relevant factors are taken into consideration before a decision to proceed is taken. The Government’s decision to remove the requirement for the need for a father to be considered is a clear abrogation of that responsibility.

My final point on this matter relates to the Government’s intention to airbrush out of existence the biological fathers of the children of lesbian couples. I believe the measure is unfair to the child and potentially harmful. It smacks of the state colluding to fulfil a fantasy of parenthood and should be removed from the Bill.

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On embryology, I want to challenge the provisions in the Bill that will add to the 2 million human embryos that since 1990 have been destroyed or experimented upon. The Bill goes further, permitting the creation of hybrid animal-human embryos. It provides for full hybrids, which would be created by fertilising human eggs with animal sperm, or vice versa. The resulting embryo would be 50 per cent. animal and 50 per cent. human. I find this aspect of the Bill revolting, and if my postbag is anything to go by, it also horrifies a good number of my constituents.

I have always had serious misgivings about the ethics of this issue, as well as a real concern about the lack of progress in embryonic stem cell research. It is time that the argument shifted to us putting resources into the new methods that have been developed to produce stem cells with greater potential than embryonic stem cells. I have no doubt that many of those who voted for embryonic cloning in 2001, and those who will probably vote for animal-human hybrids in this Bill, did so and will do so out of a genuine humanitarian desire to help those who suffer from disabling diseases. They believe that this is about choosing between the ideal of helping to cure disease and the belief, which is equally cherished by many, that it is wrong to destroy nascent human life in experimentation.

Six years on from the hype of 2001, not only have the hopes of those who were desperate for a cure for their illness been raised and dashed, but no therapies have been developed anywhere in the world using embryonic stem cells. Ian Wilmut, who famously cloned Dolly the sheep, has declared that cloning work with human embryos is needless. He has said:

At the weekend, Lord Winston said that it was “no shakes” if scientists were not allowed to use part-human, part-animal embryos for experiments.

The Joint Committee heard evidence from scientists about full hybrids. Dr. Lovell-Badge told the Committee:

Professor Bobrow has said:

The Nobel laureate, Sir Martin Evans, who discovered mouse embryonic stem cells a few decades ago, recently said:

My final quote is from the evidence that Sir Liam Donaldson, our chief medical officer, gave to the Joint Committee. He said:

“it” being to experiment with pure embryos. He went on to refer to

I certainly agree with that.

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Advances continue to be made in adult stem cell therapy, which involves no moral hazards. Indeed, there are more than 80 therapies and about 300 clinical trials under way using such cells. Worldwide, children are being treated successfully for leukaemia using stem cells obtained from cord blood. There are also early clinical trials using adult stem cells in the treatment of diabetes, heart disease, multiple sclerosis and spinal injuries.

Dr. Evan Harris: The hon. Lady has mentioned several people, including Sir Martin Evans, Robin Lovell-Badge and Sir Liam Donaldson, but does she accept that every one of them, including Martin Bobrow, want the Bill to go through in its current form? Can she explain why that is the case, unless she is guilty of selective quotation or of selective interpretation in the quotes she has given?

Geraldine Smith: They have said that they are puzzled as to why such experiments should take place. I sat on the Committee, so I know what they said. Those are their quotes, and if that is what they think and that is what they have said, the hon. Gentleman would have to ask them why they want the Bill to go through.

Surely, the future lies in the development of ethically sound, adult stem cell research techniques.

Finally, I wish to address the creation of saviour siblings for the treatment of serious disease, rather than just life-threatening disease. Deliberately leaving open the option for children to be created apparently for the sole and explicit purpose of providing any type of tissue for an existing sibling is appalling. What about the child’s right? What about consent? That child has not agreed to be a donor, and it will not have the chance to do so until it is 18.

I readily understand and appreciate the willingness of parents to do almost anything in their power to save the life or relieve the suffering of their seriously ill child. To be completely honest, if I were in that situation, I might want to do the same. The difference here is that we are legislators; we are supposed to make rational decisions based on the arguments. We should not put parents in the awful position of having to decide whether to create a child for the sole purpose of helping another child.

Mr. Burrowes: I have the pleasure of sitting on the Joint Committee with the hon. Lady. Does she agree that a concern with saviour siblings is that their creation is often said to be about just cord blood or bone marrow, but that the reference to other tissue opens the way for the use of regenerative tissue such as that in kidneys or in livers? That is of great concern to parents in relation to existing children and their siblings.

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