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The hon. Member for Southport (Dr. Pugh) described how the Bill completely fails to prohibit the placing of human gametes in an animal, and has questioned why we cannot address this issue. Given that the Bill has been put together so inefficiently, perhaps we should be thankful that the Government have been alert enough
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to prohibit the insertion of an admixed embryo into an animal, and the placement of non-human gametes in a woman. What have the Government been playing at, given that this loophole was pointed out to them a long time ago? What would it take for them to make this amendment? Why do we need to deal with an issue so basic, and which has been pointed out so frequently to the Government?

Of all the experimental possibilities debated during consideration of the Bill, surely none is quite as utterly repulsive as seeking to inseminate animals with human sperm. Yet despite all the Government’s fervent assurances about safeguards and regulations, this procedure remains entirely untouched by the Bill’s prohibitions. The Department of Health has argued that the insemination of animals with human sperm could never lead to a viable foetus. How can it know? Surely the nature of science and scientists is that they are incredibly experimental and inquisitive and constantly attempting to push back the barriers. How do we know what this would lead to in one, five or 10 years’ time?

Mr. Cash: My hon. Friend might be interested to know that when we debated the Warnock report in 1984, I drew attention to this very question. Of course, I was treated with complete ridicule and contempt, because it was regarded as ridiculous nonsense that anyone would try to do this. However, I had read articles in obscure journals in the Californian medical field indicating that scientists were doing exactly the experiments that my hon. Friend has described.

Mrs. Dorries: I thank my hon. Friend for illustrating the point far better than I could. Who would have thought only a few years ago that attempts would be made in an underground tunnel in Switzerland to re-create the big bang? That is happening today, but we would have thought it ridiculous a few years ago—that it would not be possible. However, as I said, the Department of Health is arguing that the insemination of animals with human sperm could never lead to a viable foetus, and that therefore there is no need to legislate. It is just not an issue, the Department says. I think that it is a huge issue, as do many people.

The hon. Member for Southport asked what our constituents will think of us when we shuffle through the Lobby today to vote for some of the Bill’s provisions. I would find it very difficult to justify to my constituents why I had voted to allow human sperm to be inseminated into an animal. If a constituent asked me “Why did you do that?” I would find it very difficult to explain my motives. When a Bill purporting, as we heard the Minister say today, to set global standards of regulatory efficiency fails to mark out such a fundamental ethical boundary, that is a very serious matter indeed. Moreover, it is a sinister matter.

Ms Keeble: Does clause 4(2)(a) not exclude what the hon. Lady is talking about, because human gametes would be mixed with animal gametes?

Mrs. Dorries: That does not excuse the situation at all. The provision to which the hon. Lady refers prohibits the placement of a human admixed embryo in an animal and the placement of non-human embryos or gametes in a woman, but it does not prevent human gametes from being implanted into an animal.

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Ms Keeble indicated dissent.

Mrs. Dorries: If the hon. Lady wishes to argue that point, perhaps she would like to make her own speech.

3.45 pm

Mr. Gummer: Do we not come back to exactly the same thing? If the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Ms Keeble) is right, it does not matter if we repeat things. If she is wrong, it does matter that we say so. Some in this Chamber want to include in this Bill something that is not explicit, so we need to insist on the amendment to which my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mrs. Dorries) is referring.

Mrs. Dorries: I thank my right hon. Friend for that clarification. I wish to ask the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Ms Keeble) why we should not clearly state in the Bill that it prohibits the insemination of human sperm into an animal. What is the problem with including such a provision in the Bill? [Interruption.] No, the Bill prevents things from happening the other way round, but, as I said, the hon. Lady can make that speech herself.

Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): The point that my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Ms Keeble) made was raised in error, because the new subsection to which she referred does not ban the activity she mentions, but licenses it. It would be banned

Those were the words that she failed to mention. The new subsection states in full:

It licenses the very activity that my hon. Friend is trying to say is not permitted by the Bill.

Mrs. Dorries: That makes my point even more coherently for me. Perhaps we need to legislate to ensure that this activity cannot happen even in pursuance of a licence. I cannot believe that anybody in this House believes that inserting human sperm into an animal would be a good thing to do, so why do we not clearly state in the Bill that it will not be allowed to happen? This argument is not a surprise to the Government, because it has been pointed out over and over again that the Bill would allow this activity to take place in the seeking of a licence. One has to ask why they have not addressed the issue.

This is a sinister matter, because of the connotations. It is impossible to discuss insemination of animals with human gametes for very long without considering the infamous Soviet hybridisation trials of the 1920s. There are a huge number of historians on the Conservative Benches—I do not know how many there are on the Labour Benches—and one of the great pleasures for me, since becoming an MP, has been listening to some of those amazing and learned historians. I am sure that they will forgive me if I get anything wrong in the following paragraph.

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At that time, the Soviet authorities were struggling to rebuild Stalin’s red army after it had suffered many deaths and huge defeats. Stalin told his top scientist, Ilya lvanov, to turn his skills to breeding an ultimate soldier by crossing human beings with apes. Stalin told him to breed a soldier who would not be fussy about what he ate, who did not feel pain and who was invincible. Stalin told Ivanov to use all his scientific knowledge and know-how to cross apes with humans and breed that soldier for him.

Many people in this House might think that it is ridiculous my even mentioning what Stalin did in the 1920s, but his ideas found credence among many in the scientific community and even became quite popular among evolutionary biologists in America; as my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) said, the idea that perhaps we could cross humans with apes and thus have almost a “humanzee” took root.

Mr. Jim Devine (Livingston) (Lab): The hon. Lady does her case no favours when she goes down this hysterical line. Over the past few weeks, we have celebrated the 10,000th birth of an in vitro fertilisation baby. If she reads the Hansard record from the time when IVF was being introduced to this place, she will see that the debate was exactly the same. It was about breeding animals, hybrids and everything else. We should stick to the debate and the issues, and hon. Members should stop being hysterical.

Mrs. Dorries: I am terribly sorry, but it is historical not hysterical. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to rewrite the history books and what happened in that era, he is at liberty to do so, but I am citing factual history. Stalin said that he wanted an invincible human being, insensitive to pain and indifferent to the quality of food he ate. That is what his scientists went off to do, and that is what took root in scientific thought in much of the western world in the 1920s.

In Ivanov’s proposed research, there was never any consideration of the potential ethical problems of such experiments. Far from condemning his proposals, Ivanov’s western colleagues and patrons were fascinated by them—and that is the point that I am trying to make. The Department of Health says that what we do today will never be abused or subject to experimentation in the future, but I would not be so sure. By their very nature, thank goodness, scientists push back the boundaries of research, and they may decide to see what would happen if they put human gametes into animals. They may see that as a valuable line of research.

Mr. Cash: Would my hon. Friend be interested to learn that the United States had a commission to study ethical problems in medicine in 1982, and in its report “Splicing Life” it called into question the issue of human-animal hybrids? It asked whether genetic engineering could be used to develop a group of virtual slaves, partly human, partly lower animal, to do people’s bidding, so that is not as fanciful as some Labour Members seem to think.

Mrs. Dorries: I thank my hon. Friend for his valuable intervention.

I am not for one moment suggesting that the Government intend to follow the example of Stalin in the 1920s. I am not suggesting that they will select a team of experts and dispatch it to inseminate chimpanzee females with
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human sperm to obtain, if possible, a hybrid of the two species. I do not believe that it is the Government’s intention to do that. However, let me point out several important comparisons with the Soviet experiments.

Ivanov’s experiments were legal. I suppose that should hardly surprise us—he was working under one of the most brutal totalitarian regimes the world has ever known, at the personal behest of one of history’s bloodiest dictators. He was allowed to experiment with humans and chimpanzees. Soviet scientists had precious few personal freedoms in the 1920s—they could not buy their own homes or shop for the food that they wanted—but they enjoyed the legal freedom to carry out experiments involving placing human gametes in animals.

Such was life in Stalinist Russia, but of course no enlightened 21st-century western democracy would ever countenance allowing such things in law. Of course it would not, because its Government would ensure that they learned a key lesson from history and what happened in the 1920s, and would legislate to ensure that it could not and would not happen again. I am using the example of those 1920s experiments to say that that is what we should do today. We should legislate today to ensure that such experiments will never be legal.

The Department of Health insists that inseminating chimpanzees with human sperm could never produce hybrid offspring, and therefore no scientist would ever try, but the Ivanov episode shows that there is just enough hypothetical possibility in such a proposal to entice a certain kind of scientist. The chromosomal differences between some animals that can mate—such as goats and sheep—is greater than between humans and chimpanzees. There has been reference to a press article in which scientists speculated whether inseminating chimps with human sperm could produce offspring, and predicted that were it legal, some of their less squeamish colleagues were bound to try it. So we actually have members of the scientific community saying that if this is allowed to go through today, some of their colleagues will try it. The scientists are saying that themselves—

Mr. Devine: Rubbish.

Mrs. Dorries: The hon. Gentleman is shouting “Rubbish” from a sedentary position. He is not saying that I am talking rubbish, but that the scientific community is talking rubbish. There are those in the scientific community who have said that their colleagues will try to use this loophole if it is allowed to remain in the Bill. It is not I who say that, but the scientific community.

Members of the scientific community said that some of their less squeamish colleagues were bound to try to insert human sperm into an animal. The reporter was even able to find a professor of applied philosophy at a UK university who claimed to see no ethical objections to the creation of “humanzees”. A professor in a UK university used that terminology! The hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Devine) can shake his head as much as he wants. I despair to think that a scientist would believe there were no ethical objections to such behaviour. Like many people, I applaud scientists for their inquisitive nature. Thank goodness they exist and experiment constantly. However, the role of the House, the Government and Parliament is to legislate to curb that enthusiasm and that inquisitive nature. That is why the Bill should and must close the loophole to protect us all from the creation of “humanzees”, as the professor calls them.

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When it comes to placing a human admixed embryo into an animal or of a non-human embryo or gametes into a woman, the Government have taken the wise steps of ensuring that such procedures remain strictly hypothetical, because they are banned by law. If the placement of non-human embryos or gametes into a woman is to be prohibited by the Bill, why are we allowing this loophole to go through? Whether there are any budding Ivanovs working in Britain’s research facilities becomes irrelevant if new clause 24 and amendment No. 50 are passed. For that reason, I hope that the House will have the opportunity to divide on them.

In conclusion, I cannot help reflecting on the farcical nature of the topic under discussion. We are in the midst of the remaining stages of what is supposed to be benchmark legislation of impeccable ethical and technological integrity, but Members such as I have to support a new clause as basic and ethically uncomplicated as the one before us. Plenty of intricate and huge ethical issues are as yet not satisfactorily resolved in the Bill—the subject of saviour siblings will not even reach the light of day. How ludicrous it is, in those circumstances, that we are debating the placing of human sperm into an animal. How absurd it is that the Government, by failing to close the loophole, have allowed themselves to stand shamed by direct comparison with the most distasteful ethical excesses of Stalin’s Russia.

I thank the hon. Member for Southport for his good sense in tabling new clause 24 and supporting amendment No. 50. I hope that I have the opportunity to vote on them in due course.

Mr. Barron: I rise, briefly, to speak against new clause 24 and amendments Nos. 50 and 47. I was involved with the 1990 Act when it came through the House, and I sat through the first two and a half hours of the debate thinking that things had moved on in some areas. The presentation that we have just had from the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mrs. Dorries) has knocked me back 17 years in terms of how we compare modern-day science and get it into context. As legislators, we have a responsibility to do that.

Comparisons to Stalin’s Russia and to what Hitler did have never helped this debate from a scientific point of view in the years that I have been a Member of this House—including in debates on private Members’ Bills and other legislation. Saying that the scientific community is on one side or another is not a helpful case. If there are two scientists in a room, they are likely to hold three different opinions. In a sense, it is the same with politicians. Over the years, I have listened to many scientists give evidence to the Health Committee, and other Select Committees also sometimes call in eminent scientists to put their arguments. However, we must accept that there will never be a consensus among scientists.

4 pm

Mrs. Dorries: If it is well known that scientists never agree, does not the onus then fall on Parliament to ensure that there are no loopholes in legislation? The law must provide the boundaries that scientists who disagree with each other cannot cross.

Mr. Barron: I was about to explain why I oppose amendments Nos. 47 and 50 and new clause 24. Earlier, I intervened on the hon. Member for Southport (Dr. Pugh),
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who is not in his place at the moment. In the past 48 hours, all hon. Members will have received a short briefing from the Medical Research Council. The text was agreed by the Academy of Medical Sciences, the Association of Medical Research Charities, the Wellcome Trust and the MRC itself. There is a consensus on different issues among those organisations that we, as legislators, have accepted for many years. I know that various hon. Members have sat on some of those bodies, as lay or other members, and that they have brought their experience back to the House. We have a duty to recognise what the collective voice of the scientific community says about different pieces of legislation.

The scientific community has said that it believes that the two amendments and the new clause to which I have referred should be rejected. I do not know what my right hon. Friend the Minister of State thinks about that recommendation—we will have to wait and see—but I am happier to accept the advice in that brief than the advice in some of the other briefs that have been read out in this debate. I would not always accept the argument put forward by these organisations, but I shall briefly explain why I accept it today.

The brief states:

Many reasons are given in debates such as this for looking at different areas of research, but the briefing note says that this particular research

Time constraints today mean that we will not be able to discuss male infertility, but it remains a major issue in society. I have been very lucky in my life to be able to have children and grandchildren without ever having to worry about whether I could be a father, but many of our constituents go through the torture of infertility. Some of them, unfortunately, find it hard to afford treatment in the private sector, and Ministers will know that over the years I have spoken about the deficiencies of NHS infertility provision. However, the most important thing is that scientists should continue their research into these matters, as that is how they can help citizens who have not been as lucky as I have been when it comes to having a family.

Dr. Evan Harris: I agree with what the right hon. Gentleman is saying. Another example of the sort of research to which he has referred is the process by which ovarian tissue, for example, is engrafted on to an animal and then tested for the effects of chemotherapy. That is impossible—or at least very difficult—to do in vitro, without that sort of animal model. For good reasons, the Bill defines gametes as cells in the ovary or the testes at any stage in their development, including their very early stages. That is why banning the placement of human gametes in animals would prevent research, currently being done in this country, that involves research into the effect of chemotherapy on those cells’ development. Clearly, that research would play into the issue of infertility.

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