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19 May 2008 : Column 21

Point of Order

3.32 pm

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I ask your advice about the High Court’s determination on Friday that Members’ private home addresses should be published under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 when requests are made. As I have tried to indicate previously in the House, I believe that such a policy would be extremely dangerous in the present security environment, and my belief is shared by Members from all parties in the House. Until now, as the matter has been sub judice, we have understandably been prevented from discussing it in the House. We have not been able to discuss it in the press, because the press is in the driving seat of applications for addresses to be disclosed. What can we do properly to air publicly, in the Chamber or outside, our justified concerns about the security implications of this foolish decision?

Mr. Speaker: That was not a point of order, but the hon. Gentleman is right to say that the question of sub judice has now been lifted. Therefore, he or any other hon. Member can now table parliamentary questions or raise the matter in the usual way, perhaps through a debate. I thank him.

19 May 2008 : Column 22

Orders of the Day

Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill [Lords]

[1st Allotted Day]

(Clauses Nos. 4, 11, 14 and 23, Schedule No. 2 and any new Clauses or new Schedules relating to the termination of pregnancy by registered medical practitioners)

Considered in Committee.

[Sir Alan Haselhurst in the Chair]

Clause 4

Prohibitions in connection with genetic material not of human origin

3.34 pm

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): I beg to move amendment No. 1, page 4, leave out line 5.

The Chairman of Ways and Means (Sir Alan Haselhurst): With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments:

No. 2, page 4, line 6, leave out from ‘authorise’ to end of line 12 and insert—

‘(a) the mixing of human gametes with animal gametes,

(b) the bringing about of the creation of a human admixed embryo, or

(c) the keeping or using of a human admixed embryo.’.

No. 42, line 13, leave out subsection (4).

Government amendment No. 33.

No. 10, line 14, at end insert—

‘(4A) A licence cannot authorise the creation of an embryo using—

(a) human gametes and animal gametes, or

(b) one human pronucleus and one animal pronucleus.’.

No. 11, line 22, leave out paragraph (b).

No. 44, page 4, leave out lines 25 to 27.

Government amendments Nos. 34 and 35.

No. 3, in schedule 2, page 54, line 31, at end insert—

‘(ca) omit paragraph (f)’.

Government amendment No. 36.

No. 43, page 58, line 2, at end insert—

‘(4A) A licence for research cannot authorise the creation of an embryo by the introduction of a sequence of nuclear or mitochondrial DNA from any species into one or more cells of the embryo or into gametes used to create that embryo.’.

Government amendments Nos. 37 to 39.

Mr. Leigh: Mr. Deputy Leader, amendment No. 1—

The Chairman: Order. I had not meant to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but “Deputy Leader” is a new term.

Mr. Leigh: I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I shall start again.

Amendment No. 1 addresses probably the most radical proposal in the Bill, which is to create part-animal, part-human embryos. The main contention of the amendment’s supporters is that that is ethically wrong and almost certainly medically useless—or, if it is not useless, that there is no evidence as yet to substantiate it.

19 May 2008 : Column 23

It is said by those who resist the amendment that we can rely on regulation, but we do not believe that regulation is enough. We believe that the move is a step too far and should therefore be banned. Indeed, the Government support the contention that some things are so ethically dangerous that they should be banned. For instance, the Bill will not allow the use of embryos for sex selection or to allow deaf people to have deaf children. Occasionally, the House makes a firm decision that something is ethically wrong. The House long ago decided, for example, that it did not want better to regulate capital punishment; it simply stopped capital punishment. The amendment is a call for these experiments to be banned.

It is said, too, that the embryos will be allowed to live for only 14 days. We do not believe that that answers the point that we are now crossing an entirely new ethical boundary. Many claims have been made for this research. On Second Reading, the Secretary of State cited Lord Winston as a supporter of the Bill. Indeed, Lord Winston is a supporter of the Bill, but he is also a lukewarm supporter of such research. He said:

Let us compare that lukewarm support from Lord Winston, who is admittedly a supporter of the Bill, with what the Secretary of State said:

I emphasise the use of the word “essential”—

Indeed, no one in the House denies that those are appalling diseases. How wonderful it would be if we had some realistic way of curing them, but there is no overwhelming or large-scale body of scientific evidence that suggests that such research, which crosses the ultimate boundary between animals and humans, will cure anything. That is our point.

My point of view is backed up by a letter written by scientists from “across the world”, to quote the Secretary of State. It was written by Professor Scolding of Bristol, Professor Chopp of Detroit, Professor Franz of Munich, Professor Mackay-Sim of Queensland and Professor Martin of Melbourne and was published in The Times only this Friday. What did it say? It said:

19 May 2008 : Column 24

I very much hope that all right hon. and hon. Members have a chance to go to the Library to read that important letter.

The public have been misled—cruelly, in many cases—into thinking that such research could lead to early and useful cures by exaggeration, misinformation and hyperbole.

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): My hon. Friend has studied these matters carefully and is making an interesting case. Does he think that the Prime Minister, too, is being misled, when he thinks that many people might be better off if such research were allowed to continue? Does my hon. Friend think that the Prime Minister’s intervention will probably mean that more people support my hon. Friend on this important issue?

Mr. Leigh: I do not want to get involved in the politics of the issue. I have already made the point that there is no overwhelming body of science to suggest that useful research will result.

Contrary to what has been said, the provisions apply not only to cybrids—when the nucleus is removed from an animal egg and replaced with a human nucleus—but to the creation of chimeras, which are a mixture of animal and human cells, and true hybrids, which are created by fertilising an animal egg with human sperm or vice versa. That is truly pushing the boundaries, and I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Member for Boston and Skegness (Mark Simmonds) has tabled an amendment on that point. It is true that all those creatures have to be destroyed within 14 days and they cannot be implanted in a woman or an animal, but to listen to the press one would think that only cybrids were involved. In fact, the Bill legalises true hybrids, which are genuinely and absolutely 50 per cent. animal and 50 per cent. human.

It is not entirely true, as we so often read, that cybrids are only 0.1 per cent. animal. Roger Highfield, who is the science editor of The Daily Telegraph and does not normally support my views on many things, says that at the early stages of embryo development animal DNA is as much as 50 per cent. of the mitochondrial DNA. Of the mitochondrial DNA created in cybrids, as much as 50 per cent. might be animal, so it is not quite true that such early creatures are 99 per cent. human. Of course, if that is true, they are not just things; although they are anormal, they are potentially like human embryos—they have all or most of the genetic make-up of a human being.

Dr. Ian Gibson (Norwich, North) (Lab): Can the hon. Gentleman inform the House of the difference between animal DNA and human DNA—for example, in terms of the number of base sequences? Is there much difference? Is he 99 per cent. related to a monkey?

Mr. Leigh: The hon. Gentleman is trying to blind us with science, and his science is not even correct. I have cited the science editor of The Daily Telegraph. All I can say is that he thinks that in the early stages as much as 50 per cent. of the mitochondrial DNA might be human. That is his view. I accept that there is no overwhelming scientific consensus one way or the other, but for that reason we should be extremely cautious about how we proceed.

19 May 2008 : Column 25

On a slightly lighter note, I was today e-mailed by a scientist, who told me that I had got it wrong and that I should not worry about admixing animal and human embryos because we have a large number of animal genes. He told me that I was 30 per cent. a daffodil and 80 per cent. a mouse. I am not sure that even my greatest political enemies would say that I was 30 per cent. a daffodil and 80 per cent. a mouse. I do not believe, with my soul or my brain, that I am 80 per cent. a mouse or 30 per cent. a daffodil. I think that the human race is special and different from the animal race, and that we should take the issue seriously for that reason.

3.45 pm

Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon) (LD): I am keen to defend The Daily Telegraph: Roger Highfield said that 50 per cent. of a cybrid’s mitochondrial DNA might come from a human and 50 per cent. from an animal, but that is not inconsistent with a very small percentage overall coming from the animal. Over 95 per cent. of the DNA in such a cybrid is nuclear DNA. He is talking only about the split of less than 5 per cent.—probably less than 1 per cent.—of the mitochondrial DNA.

Mr. Leigh: The science editor went on to say that mitochondrial DNA is very important. As a medical doctor, the hon. Gentleman knows full well that tiny changes in DNA can cause very serious illnesses in adults, so the point is not minor. Even if he does not agree with me on that issue, if he is absolutely convinced that we are talking about a cybrid that is 99 per cent. human, surely he must accept the argument that it is ethically a being, and not just a thing. We should therefore be careful about how we treat it.

As regards true hybrids, Sir Liam Donaldson said in his evidence to the Select Committee that

and that there was

It is said that there is a shortage of embryos, but we know that there is no such shortage because there are many left from IVF treatment. It is said that there is a shortage of eggs, but eggs are needed for cloning only. There is enormous difficulty even in animal-animal cloning—more than 270 attempts were necessary to create Dolly the sheep—and there are enormous difficulties with therapeutic cloning. How much greater will be the difficulty in creating an animal-human clone! I therefore do not necessarily accept the argument.

Various red herrings have been brought up, such as the hamster test. The House was told on Second Reading that the research that we are discussing is already being done, but the hamster test was used only to test human sperm; a human entity was not being created. Today, we are talking about creating a new entity, so we should be very careful about what we do. We should ban what 21 other countries have banned. No other country in Europe is going down this route yet. In terms of embryonic research, we will almost be like a rogue state.

19 May 2008 : Column 26

Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman tell the House why he is talking about entities, species and beings? The stem cells will be harvested at the blastocyst stage, so there will be 50 to 150 cells at the most. At that stage, there is no sign of development of an entity, being or species. Why is he misleading the House?

The Chairman: Order. This is a profound debate on which people hold very strong views, but I hope that it can be conducted with good humour and in good order. No hon. Member misleads the House. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw that remark.

Dr. Iddon: I withdraw it.

Mr. Leigh: Of course I am not trying to mislead the House. I genuinely believe that what I am saying is the truth, as my conscience tells me. I would not dream of trying to mislead the House. My conscience tells me that an embryo is not a thing. It has been fertilised, and I believe that human life begins at conception. That is my personal view. It may not be the view of the whole House, but I think that I am entitled to put it forward, and it is the view of many scientists and moral philosophers. It is not a completely unusual view.

It is said that cybrids are needed for research, but we know that no animal-human embryo will ever be developed into anything significant in any true sense. As we know, it cannot develop in anything like the way a human embryo can. For instance, Professor Newman of New York medical college was quoted on Second Reading. He has stated that the

Particularly in the public mind, the debate has been clouded by the sense that there are diseases out there waiting to be cured. Enormous advances have been made on stem cells—there have been 70 successful treatments with adult stem cells—but for the past 10 years, we have been told that useful developments on embryonic stem cells are just around the corner. I sat through most of the Second Reading debate, when the fact that 70 successful treatments have arisen from adult stem-cell research was mentioned several times. The hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) has mentioned the prospect—we have heard this again and again—of two early clinical trials in the United States. We have heard that for many years, but nothing has happened.

Mr. David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): I also attended the Second Reading debate, when reference was made to those clinical trials. This month, the United States Food and Drug Administration refused to allow clinical trials using embryonic stem cells.

Mr. Leigh: Let us make no mistake—what we are doing this afternoon is unique. No other country has gone down this avenue yet. When there is obviously no scientific consensus, no public consensus and no overwhelming proof that any good will come of it, do we really want to take that step?

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