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Moreover, valuable science is being done, as the Academy of Medical Sciences, the Medical Research Council, the Wellcome Trust and the Association of Medical Research Charities have said, involving the use of early germ-line cells in animal models to explore how they develop in a in-vivo system—in a living system. We cannot do that in humans for all sorts of ethical reasons, but we permit the practice, under tight regulation, in animals. We do so to explore what causes infertility and, for example, what the impact of certain types of chemotherapy might be on infertility. The Bill’s drafting means, for good reasons, that “gametes” includes germ line cells at any stage of their development, including immature germ-line cells found in the ovary and the testes, which
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are subject to such experiments. One could list—but I will not do so—papers that have been published in peer review journals using such work, and I have no doubt that such work is being done in this country. My hon. Friend’s new clause would prevent that work, and he accepted in Committee, on the record, that that would be an unintended consequences of what I describe as an unnecessary step. I hope that the House is reassured that the amendment is unnecessary, but if that does not make the argument, the speech that we heard from the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mrs. Dorries) put the fact that it would be inappropriate beyond any doubt.

4.30 pm

The third point is about the interesting issue that the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate raises in amendment No. 47. We must accept—I hope that the Government will accept this—that it has not been possible to produce an exhaustive list of admixed embryo types. I do not believe that it is possible to do so; indeed, the Academy of Medical Sciences accepts in its paper that it is probably not possible. The Government have made the best attempt that they can and it is only right that we should accept that the list is not guaranteed to be exhaustive.

The hon. Gentleman’s amendment is a good example of some of the debates that we could have, but that is why we have the HFEA. It is there to ensure that scientists understand that there is a need to fall within the regulations where at all possible. I cannot imagine any scientist in this country seeking to identify types that would not come before the HFEA, so that they could argue in a court of law, “Well, it’s not human enough at the point at which we were seeking to implant it to be covered by the HFEA.” That is not how science works.

Mr. Cash: To pursue that line of argument, does the hon. Gentleman not agree that exactly the same kind of argument that he is presenting was presented to me when I suggested that we would move into research into animal-human hybrids? That was 25 years ago, and now we are where we are. Does he recognise that because people have an enormous amount of knowledge, it does not follow that they will not later do things that are unacceptable to society as a whole?

Dr. Harris: It is certainly possible, but it is also possible that new primary legislation could be brought before the House if that was felt necessary, as happened over human reproductive cloning. In that case it was felt necessary to reassure the public through primary legislation that something that was not envisaged and not possible would also be illegal. So, we are not in an “It’s now or nothing” situation.

Let me also deal with the issue of definitions. A huge amount of effort has been put in, especially by Members of the House of Lords and the Government Bill team, to try to find an appropriate definition. A tribute must be paid to Lord Mackay in particular, who has struggled, even though he was not necessarily a huge fan of the legislation to start with, to find a way to deal with the issue. The Government have engaged on the subject and done the best that they feel they can.

It would not be appropriate for the Government to argue—indeed, I hope that the Minister does not argue—that the list is definitive. However, it is as good as one
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can get while preserving the ability of scientists to do the research in a way that will be regulated. There is no scientist in the country who does not understand that such research will have to apply to the HFEA under one of the categories set out in the Bill.

There are two potential gaps, one of which the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate mentioned. Proposed new section 4A(6)(e) talks about an embryo that does not fall within paragraphs (a) to (d) which

The key question, however, is at what point we are talking about the animal DNA not being pre-dominant, because that could vary. The hon. Gentleman rightly said that the scientists pointed that out in evidence to the Committee. That is not a secret, which is why it would be appropriate for the Government not to recognise that the list is not perfect. Indeed, it cannot be perfect, but I argue that it is good enough.

That is one problem. The second problem is that even if the hon. Gentleman is right that the tetraploidal complementation process that he mentioned falls outwith the provisions, his amendment does not solve the problem. It is quite possible to have complementation that does not involve tetraploid cells. One could inject into a more developed, normal diploid embryo a less developed human embryo, which would then predominate, causing the original embryo to become the extra-embryonic endoderm and the trophectoderm—the stuff that forms the placenta—as has been done in mice. His amendment does not refer to such an entity, however. So the hon. Gentleman is merely demonstrating that the clause is never going to be perfect, but it is clear that anyone attempting to implant an entity which arguably does not fall within the definition in clause 4 will have to apply for a licence to the animal procedures committee to implant it.

When I spoke to the hon. Gentleman outside the Chamber, he conceded, I hope it is fair to say, in answer to my question, that if one created an entity with human cells in an animal envelope—I do not believe that that is likely outside HFEA regulation in any event, for reasons that the Minister will explain—a licence would still be needed to implant it into an animal. One cannot just grab a pig from a farm, drag it into a lab and implant something into it without a licence.

Mr. Gummer: As somebody who was responsible for that animal legislation, may I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that animal legislation is designed to protect animals and their welfare. One of our concerns must be, therefore, that it is not reasonable to use that legislation to deal with the problems under discussion. He may be right that that is not necessary, but it does not seem sensible to say that animal legislation of the kind that we have properly covers these circumstances. Surely if we find some gaps in the law, we might deal with those and make the law that much better. There may still be other gaps, but why is he not willing to accept that the gaps that have been identified should be covered now, rather than left to the organisation outside or to secondary legislation?

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Dr. Harris: I am in almost 100 per cent. agreement with the right hon. Gentleman. It is possible that there are gaps in the definition. I hope the Minister will accept that that is the case and that it is necessary for ongoing work to be done. The academy has indicated a willingness to continue to do that work so that if, down the line, something that is not covered by these definitions is felt to be useful and therefore needs to be covered by the HFEA legislation in order not to fall completely outside or under animal procedures, amendments can be made to the legislation. That is a mature, sensible approach.

If amendment No. 47 closed all potential gaps, I would recommend supporting it. I have already demonstrated that it does not even close its own potential gap because it does not cover diploid complementation, as just one example. The Minister said in an intervention that the specific example that the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate cited was covered by the Bill, presumably because at the relevant point the entity would not be predominantly animal—the embryo would be human and the animal cells would form the non-embryonic part of the entity. It would therefore fall under subsection (6)(e).

Dawn Primarolo: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for allowing an intervention. An application to the HFEA for a licence would have to be made at the outset if it was believed that the human DNA would become predominant, so it would be covered. Whether that was predominant at the start or whether its development would lead to its becoming predominant, a licence from the HFEA would be needed before the process started.

Dr. Harris: I leave that to stand. I would also say that if a scientist wanted to avoid a criminal charge, it would be wise to apply for a licence. Even if the scientist felt that the circumstance would not be covered by the definition, if it turned out to be covered, he would be liable under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act, as amended, which contains stiff penalties.

Although I have some sympathy with the broad point made by the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate, his amendment No. 47 is not comprehensive, it does not deal with the gap that it is intended to cover. I will not support amendment No. 47, but I hope the Minister will agree that ongoing work is needed in order to ensure that if gaps emerge, they can be covered. That is what the scientists want and, as I understand it, that is what the Department of Health seeks as well.

deferred divisions

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): I now have to announce the results of Divisions deferred from previous days .

On the motion relating to the Political Parties and Elections Bill (Carry-over), the Ayes were 285, the Noes were 216, so the motion was agreed to.

On the motion relating to Competition, the Ayes were 424, the Noes were 64, so the motion was agreed to.

[The Division Lists are published at the end of today’s debates.]

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Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill [Lords]

Question again proposed , That the amendment be made.

Ms Keeble: I had not intended to speak to this group of amendments—I was going to speak to a later one—but having heard the comments in the debate, I thought it only fair to explain why I support the Bill as it stands. I do so as someone who has both written on the subject and had in vitro fertilisation treatment—having seen it from both sides of the equation.

On the amendment proposed by the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Burrowes), I completely agree with him that we do not know exactly where science will go, and that it is right to ensure that we do not have to keep coming back with primary legislation. He is right that we need to pass a Bill that is sufficient to deal with foreseeable developments in science.

Looking through the Bill as it stands, and having listened to the assurance of my right hon. Friend the Minister, I believe that we need broad principles of legislation to underpin how different bits of research should be regarded. We also need a regulatory body able to interpret the legislation and take decisions about applications that come before it. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will want to comment further on this later, but I believe that the Bill provides a framework that allows for the sort of experiments described by the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate to be managed and properly regulated.

I share the concern of the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) that a list of possible future developments might not be exhaustive. That might mean going back to see how the science has developed and providing legislation and regulations to cover the cracks. Our approach is right and I would expect the broad terms of the Bill to be sufficient to enable the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority to regulate in the desired areas.

I completely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, South (Ms Taylor) that there are problems about the provision of infertility treatment, but I believe that we have one of the finest regulatory systems in the world. The HFEA has steered us through some very difficult times, sometimes with inadequate legislative tools. I hope that the Bill will deal effectively with a lot of the chinks. My constituents certainly want proper provision made for the regulation of these activities on the basis of sound ethical principles, and I think that the Bill provides that.

On the amendments to prohibit the mixing of gametes, I believe that they would be extremely damaging to the treatment of some forms of infertility. The Bill provides for the ability to mix gametes under licence. I would argue that the key issue is the mixing of gametes, not how the gametes come to be mixed. It is not about artificial insemination of an animal with human sperm; it is about the mixing of the gametes. That is the real issue and that covers mixing them by whatever form. If these amendments were accepted, it would make it harder to understand some of the processes involved in infertility and difficult to deal with certain forms of male infertility in particular.

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Ms Dari Taylor (Stockton, South) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend accept that many of the fears expressed about ethics this afternoon stem from the fact that between 80 and 90 per cent. of the work done is done in private—with all the dangers that could attach itself to that fact? That is what people are worried about. Much of the work is not done within the NHS. Fears about ethics arise and worries remain because, however good the regulation governing the work in the NHS, much of the work is done in private.

4.45 pm

Ms Keeble: That is true, but I think that there are quite a few reasons why people are fearful about the process. One reason is that the idea of some creature that is part-human, part-animal—the example that is always given—is simply horrific. However, that is not on the cards, as the legislation clearly prevents it.

There is also the fact that because, as my hon. Friend says, this whole area of medicine has developed in the private sector, people tend to focus on the more exotic aspects. In reality, straightforward IVF is now a fairly standard treatment, although a difficult one because of the ethics involved. That is where the bulk of the interest and the bulk of the provision lie, which is why IVF treatment on the NHS is so important.

Mr. Bone: Does the hon. Member for Northampton, North agree that it is most unfortunate that Northamptonshire primary care trust does not provide more IVF treatment?

Ms Keeble: I entirely agree, although I believe that the PCT is now considering providing the three rounds of treatment, which is fantastic. All credit is due to that PCT.

The third argument that underpins quite a few discussions here concerns the nature of embryos and the way in which we think of them. That issue was raised by the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) when he quoted from “The Brothers Karamazov”. In the section to which he referred, one of the characters undergoes a religious conversion and then talks about salvation through universal love. It is fine to have a religious view of embryos, and I am sure that many people have such a view, but what we are considering is a legal way of regulating experiments with embryos, and the legal status of embryos. That is different from having a religious view of them.

Much of the discussion of abortion and termination concerns the way in which we regard the foetus at the later stages of development, the strong feelings that people have as a child moves towards viability, and the status and respect that we should accord to that child in law. In the context of embryo research, we are dealing with the same debate, but in relation to the very early stages of development. Passions run as high in relation to those early stages as they do in relation to the later stages, for very obvious reasons.

The Bill sets out some good, straightforward provisions, under which the foetus starts to have a separate status at the time when the primeval streak develops. That is the point at which we should start to consider a different status for what was previously a cluster of cells. I want to say a little about that earlier stage as well. It is, I
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think, very easy to say “This is a human being, but just in one or two cells”—and, of course, that is exactly what people will see if the pregnancy is wanted and planned, and would lead to a much-loved child. However, those who have been through the process of IVF, as I have, will know perfectly well, because they have had to learn the hard way, that it is not really the case at all.

People go through the process of wanting a baby, hoping for a baby, experiencing all the disasters, and then undergoing IVF treatment. On a screen in a private room they see a little blob, and someone says “That is a baby”— or they see that it is a baby. Then the one blob becomes two blobs, and sometimes it becomes four, and then it disappears, because it was never going to come to anything anyway. It might have had some potential for life, but that was never going to develop. It was only going to be one or two or four cells; they were not differentiating, and nothing was ever going to happen. We must take that into account in considering such groups of cells and in deciding what should happen to them and the status they should be accorded in law—and therefore the way in which we should then be able to manipulate them for the good of improving the prospects of in vitro fertilisation, as well as for understanding a bit more about the science of life and what make us human, and for understanding a little more about some of the appalling diseases and conditions that affect human beings and thus finding cures for them.

In talking about embryo research—about how we should be able to manipulate embryos and for how long, and how the regulations should work—we must understand that the people engaged in this work will have the most profound respect for life and for the process of human gestation and birth. Securing improvements in both outcomes for people who suffer from infertility and need IVF treatment and the conditions of people with appalling diseases will come, in part, from making sure that we have good regulation that enables our scientists to manipulate, and experiment with, these cells at this very early stage. That is why it is important that we pass this Bill in its current form, so that we make sure that our scientists and regulators are equipped with the tools they need to improve our science, our understanding of human life and people’s prospects.

Mark Durkan: My hon. Friend says that scientists and clinicians must be equipped with the tools they need. Surely the tools they need include clear, solid legislation, so amendments that identify loopholes in this proposed legislation should be addressed. That is part of the process of our providing them with the tools. They are getting all the tools that the Government want them to get; it is just that some of them are shoddy and not fit for purpose, and we are trying to make sure that they are precision tools designed to reflect the will of Parliament.

Ms Keeble: As I have said, I do not agree. I think that the provisions that are currently set down have clear principles and ethics. The period of time in which embryos can be experimented on is clear, as are the terms for that. It is also clear that we have a regulatory body that can—

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