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So we should be cautious. We should not ignore the fact that Australia, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Belgium have banned what the Bill would like us to permit. Rather than being in the lead, the UK stands out on a limb as regards proposing animal-human hybrids.

The major problem with the Bill is that the Government are marching us up to the top of the hill of embryonic research. It is as if they are saying, “We will reach the summit, where there will be treatments for Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, cystic fibrosis and so on.” That sounds attractive—obviously, we would all want to sign up to cures for those debilitating illnesses. I need only think of my brother-in-law, who has recently been diagnosed with MS, and how much we would love him to be able to have a cure. However, this is not new—as a country we have been marched up the hill since 1990. At that time, people discounted the alternative arguments for supporting adult stem cell research. Funding was restricted, although it has now been restored to some degree of balance. The summit of treatments is still far off, as it was in 1990. The Government are saying, “We know we have been on this hill since 1990. We’ve invested millions in limited stem cell lines. We know that there have been no treatments to date and that the problems of immune rejection have yet to be conclusively overcome. Stay on this path—we will get there by a new route, through animal-human hybrids.”. Everyone agrees, though, that the prospect of treatment and clinical trials is a long way off. Faced with that long journey, with many obstacles, we naturally wanted to seek reassurance from the scientists who came to our Joint Committee, who said that they were unable to establish any scientific evidence at this stage.

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It does not give us reassurance when we look at the summit, which many would say is over-hyped and could well be false. The real progress has been made with adult stem cell research and umbilical cord blood stem cells. Funding has been rebalanced, but umbilical cord blood is the poor relation of the stem cell therapy world. We should be marching up a different hill to ensure that we have regenerative medicine that produces results, relieves suffering and reduces health care costs. Cord blood is producing more than 80 treatments in leukaemia and other areas of immune deficiency and moving into degenerative diseases. If the Government took umbilical cord blood collection and banking seriously, controversial parts of the Bill would not be necessary. Professor Peter Braude has acknowledged that if banked widely and efficiently, umbilical cord blood would obviate the supposed need for saviour siblings. The wide storage of cord blood would increase the availability of matches, not just with siblings and other members of the family but beyond. There is a wonderful opportunity to collect and use that resource that is not being grasped sufficiently by the Government. We are lagging behind other countries in that area of stem cell research. It frustrates me that the Bill condones the creation of commodity humans and part animal, part human entities, but refuses to make provision for the valuable resource of cord blood, which is simply treated as waste in 98.5 per cent. of all cases. When we look at good scientific endeavour, surely we want to look at what produces results, and we are missing an opportunity in this country in the area of umbilical cord blood and adult stem cells.

An issue that greatly concerns me, which threads through the Bill, is how we view life in the context of seeking cures and treatments to degenerative or disabling illnesses. We need to take great care to ensure that we are not casting judgment on the basis of quality of life, which values some lives more than others. That has particular resonance when looking at the issue of embryo selection and abortion on the grounds of disability. Jean Rostand, the French biologist, said:

According to that judgment, the Bill will, I am afraid to say, make us less civilised through a lack of respect for life. I urge the Government to think again.

My children would describe the Bill as a Humpty Dumpty type of Bill—it is broken and ethically flawed. The king’s horses and all the king’s men have sought to put Humpty together again, but it is flawed fundamentally. Amendments will not be able to do it; the Bill is too short on sound ethics and sound science and it undermines human and family life. We should vote against it.

8.1 pm

Mrs. Claire Curtis-Thomas (Crosby) (Lab): Over the past weeks and months, I have read the Hansard transcripts of the many hours of debate on the Bill in the House of Lords, and I have followed the subsequent debates and
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controversies in leading newspapers and on the television. Before immersing myself in Hansard, I had only a broad, under-informed view of the issues. My understanding and preconceptions have been significantly augmented by the Lords’ debates.

Unfortunately, to my mind, few peers understood the biology and the law involved, which meant that only on issues such as saviour siblings, which could be properly understood because they did not have a scientific background, did we see a healthy debate in which all peers could take part. This Government have failed to heed the assessment of the Joint Committee on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology (Draft) Bill that the Bill lacked an ethical underpinning. The Committee suggested a joint bioethics committee of both Houses to consider bioethical issues, such as the ones raised by the Bill, and a Lords amendment, which was not voted on, suggested a national bioethics committee. Neither of those ideas was adopted, which means that neither the House of Lords nor the House of Commons will have received a vitally needed, scientifically independent bioethical viewpoint on the Bill. I believe that the Bill should not have proceeded without one.

There has been much discussion on the topic of animal-human hybrids, and I support the views of the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Burrowes), which put the matter very well indeed. Most reasonable people would say that to combine an animal and human embryo is, by definition, monstrous. I regret that individuals who expressed such views have been accused of hype. If anyone was guilty of hype it was Professor Winston and his colleagues who favoured embryonic stem cells, which have not produced any therapies despite 18 years of research, over adult stem cells, which have already produced more than 80 treatments.

The scientific community, which sees the embryo as nothing more than a clump of cells, denies any respect for the sanctity of life or human dignity. In my mind, a human embryo is a potential human being, the personhood of which needs to be respected. In France, the personhood of embryos has recently been recognised by allowing women who have miscarried between 18 and 20 weeks the right to register a name.

I am pro-life, but being pro-life does not necessarily mean being religious, and pro-life organisations are not normally religious. The dictionary definition of pro-life includes the phrase “opposed to abortion” Many of the proposals in the Bill are anti-life because many embryos will be killed to achieve the aims of the research and procedures. Most quality of life arguments lead to the conclusion that life of a lower quality ought to be terminated or that a life that might reduce the quality of another ought to be snuffed out. I cannot agree with those proposals.

The creation of animal-human hybrids is based on a utilitarian mentality that human life can be treated simply as research material if it benefits the common good. Most crucially, it violates the dignity of the human person. The United Kingdom has already breached article 18 of the European convention on human rights and biomedicine by the creation of human embryos for research purposes. Many European countries would not even consider the creation of animal-human embryos. The shortage of eggs should not be used as an excuse for such research; only ethical avenues of research should be allowed. Countries such as Australia, Canada and
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the USA have legislation to prohibit such research. China, Japan and South Korea may allow experiments in this area, but the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority has failed to give details of any other country that has legislated to allow it. There is little appreciation of how far out on a limb the UK is in relation to the creation of human admixed embryos.

Ethical concerns about abortion and embryology mean that advances should be treated with additional caution. Launching into ethically dubious areas will not solve the ethical problem—it will compound it. “Progress” in this area is actually a backwards step that takes us further down the slippery slope of moral decline by crossing the species barrier and treating humans no better than animals. In fact, legislation in this country gives animals better protection than the human foetus because under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986, an animal embryo becomes a protected animal after half its gestation period, which is equivalent to 20 weeks for a human being.

The press statement issued by the HFEA on 5 September 2007 said that the public expected animal-human embryos for research to be tightly regulated. The evidence is that two applications that allow for animal-human hybrids were not required to have any additional safeguards. Even the Select Committee on Science and Technology argued for risk management because of the concerns raised by the Scottish Council on Human Bioethics that scientists undertaking such research risked creating new diseases. No consideration has been given to safety issues in the Bill, and cow eggs are simply obtained from local abattoirs.

I come to the deliberate removal of an explicit reference to the father on a child’s birth certificate. The Bill will not only allow for designer babies, but for designer artificially created families. Such registration of children on birth certificates will result in the creation of two-father and two-mother families. No account is to be taken of the child’s right to a mother and a father. That right should never be outweighed, particularly not by the supposed rights of adults to choose to engineer the structure of their family as they please. The rights of adults are paramount in the proposals before us, while the best interests of the child are totally ignored. The effect on the child’s identity, or their gender confusion, has not even been considered. A child is to be treated as a mere commodity, where someone can opt to become the other parent simply by giving notice. That child product, like a washing machine, can be registered by two mothers as parents on the birth certificate.

There are genuine religious concerns, and plenty of biblical passages support the family. They should not be constantly devalued or perceived as old fashioned. It is not old-fashioned homophobia to support the traditional family. I oppose unjustified discrimination against homosexuals, but I must protect the traditional notion of a family. Homophobia means a fear of homosexuals and the term is not appropriate in our current discussion. Opposition to the creation of same-sex parented families does not imply a fear of homosexuals or rejection of homosexual relationships; it is the simple assertion of the rights of a child.

I cannot support Second Reading. Hon. Members of all parties have expressed well the same arguments against it as I have, but I wish to register a further
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concern. Three hours is not sufficient to debate abortion or to discuss saviour siblings and all the other contentious issues that have been raised this afternoon. I ask the Government to consider extending that time. Without such reassurances, I shall also vote against the programme motion.

8.10 pm

Mrs. Jacqui Lait (Beckenham) (Con): It is a privilege to follow the eloquent plea for the status quo that the hon. Member for Crosby (Mrs. Curtis-Thomas) made. She and the hon. Member for Strangford (Mrs. Robinson) put the traditional case for opposing developments in stem cell research, embryology and abortion. It is one of the House’s strengths that we can disagree with one another dispassionately. The red lines in the Chamber show how we manage not to come to physical blows, but the issue is difficult for everybody, whatever their beliefs, and I am therefore grateful that we respect one another’s views.

I add my congratulations to those of others to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Mr. Taylor) and others who got the 1990 Act through. Before that, there was no regulation and I understand that experiments were conducted on embryos that we would regard with horror today. It is a relief to have the 1990 Act, and I congratulate the Government on recognising that the science has moved on and that we must therefore ensure that regulation also moves on. I shall vote for Second Reading but against the timetable motion.

The hon. Member for Crosby mentioned the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986, with which I was closely associated when I worked for the chemical industry. I learned from that experience that the calibre of the scientists working on such difficult matters is high. They apply the highest moral and ethical standards while existing in a world of regulations of which we, as ordinary citizens who complain about red tape, have no concept. It is complex and onerous and I have huge respect for anyone who works in that field. I have no concern about the atmosphere in which the scientists will work under the Bill.

John Bercow: Does my hon. Friend agree that those of us who were fortunate enough to attend the briefing on the matter and the question time session on 23 April in the Jubilee Room, which several scientists as well as the Minister for Public Health attended, were privileged to witness scientists giving such an outstanding account of themselves? I wish that more hon. Members had heard the rational and compelling way in which they made their case for the Bill.

Mrs. Lait: I agree. I am pleased that members of the scientific community, after many years of coaxing, are beginning to put their heads above the parapet and tackle publicly the issues with which they have to deal.

The hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis) expressed the age-old scientific conundrum that we do not know the question until we have got the answer. That is the fundamental reason for ensuring
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that hybrid embryos are available for research under the strictest regulatory regime. I am loth to deny the opportunity for the development of new science and technologies by restricting the ability to use embryonic stem cells.

There is an unspoken demand for instant results from embryonic stem cell research. After decades of expensive research using mechanical and chemical means, we are still trying to deal with cancer. It could well take decades before there are results from embryonic stem cell research, but let us go with it. All the science that I understand suggests that the opportunities of getting perfect results could be greater through using embryonic stem cells. I therefore believe that we should ensure that the opportunity to conduct embryonic stem cell research is available to the scientists who need it.

One of the few letters that I received in support of the Bill—I have had many that oppose it—was from one of my constituents who has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. He movingly wrote:

That is an admirable ambition, especially given that the gentleman is 65. We need to ensure the way forward.

There has been much debate about the use of siblings for replacement therapies. I understand the difficulties and I am glad that the Secretary of State pointed out that the Bill does not allow the use of organs. Sadly, I have been struck by how negatively the parenting aspect has been perceived. All the comments have implied that the sibling will be regarded as a victim, instead of praising intelligent parenting, which could allow the child to think, “Actually, I’m doing something really good”, and to feel proud of helping to keep their brother or sister alive. I believe that we should adopt a much more positive approach to the matter.

I am conscious of the points that have been made about fathers. Having listened carefully to the arguments, I will probably support the amendments that my Front Benchers table. In this day and age, we are confronted with the fact that so much of the breakdown of parenting is due to the lack of fathers. It is symbolically right for the House to reiterate fathers’ importance in the family.

We all know that we will have extensive debates about abortion. I have grown grey discussing that subject, given that I first made a speech about it when I was at university in the 1960s and have been going on about it ever since. I will support the 24-week limit. I believe that the evidence shows that there is no difference between survival rates at 24 weeks now and those when the House reduced the limit to 24 weeks. I supported that reduction. I am primarily concerned about the women who are most likely to have to have a late abortion. They are the women who find, very late in a pregnancy, that there is a foetal abnormality; the women in the middle of the menopause who cannot believe what is happening; the women with mental health problems; and the underage girls who dare not admit to themselves that they are pregnant. Taken together, those groups are exceedingly vulnerable. We should be supporting them, not condemning them.

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I was so pleased to hear my hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) say that we should improve abortion services for women in the first trimester. I shall be supporting the proposal to have a single signature on the consent document, which is the normal process anyway.

The flip-side of our discussions about abortion is this: why do we have so many abortions? We have to answer that our sex and relationship education is somehow not of the quality and calibre that it should be. I hope that the positive message that emerges from our discussions on abortion—sadly, they will be far too limited by the timetable motion and will generate an enormous amount of heat and distress, both inside and outside this Chamber—is that we ought to be examining where the failure is. Why do so many women have to resort to abortion? Many of them know no better. That is the real failure in our society. Our girls should know better. We shall be failing as a society if we do not ensure that in future they do know better.

8.21 pm

Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon) (LD): I declare an interest as a member of the British Medical Association medical ethics committee and a member of the former Select Committee on Science and Technology, which conducted two relevant inquires in this Parliament. One was on hybrid embryos and the other was on scientific advances relating to abortion law. I was also a member of the Science and Technology Committee in the previous Parliament, as was the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon), that conducted a wide-ranging inquiry into the issues, which presaged the Government’s consultation, which led eventually to the White Paper.

We have heard some powerful speeches in this excellent debate on both sides of the argument. There are strongly and sincerely held views on both sides. However, it is important to stress that we are not discussing a matter that pitches science against morality. In my view, there are morality and ethical codes on both sides. I feel, for example, morally obliged to support the Bill. I do not accept the view that it is only science that is in favour of the measure and that the opposition to the Bill has all the moral and ethical arguments. In fact, I would obviously say that that opposition was wrong—although I respect the views taken—and that it is ethically wrong to seek to stand in the way of some of that research.

I was particularly pleased to see scientists standing shoulder to shoulder with patients at lunchtime today, in a show of support for the Bill in Old Palace Yard, opposite Parliament. Often we see only the protest from people who feel strongly against something, particularly measures such as this Bill. It is appropriate that Ministers should know not only that there is public support for embryo research for medical purposes—indeed, I think that the Government do know that—but that people are willing to come out and show themselves publicly in support of the measure.

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