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Session 2007 - 08
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General Committee Debates
Human Fertilisation and Embryology

Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill [Lords]

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairmen: Mr. Roger Gale Mr. Jim Hood
Clarke, Mr. Tom (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (Lab)
Gibson, Dr. Ian (Norwich, North) (Lab)
Harris, Dr. Evan (Oxford, West and Abingdon) (LD)
Iddon, Dr. Brian (Bolton, South-East) (Lab)
Jones, Helen (Warrington, North) (Lab)
Key, Robert (Salisbury) (Con)
McCabe, Steve (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)
McCafferty, Chris (Calder Valley) (Lab)
Moffatt, Laura (Crawley) (Lab)
Morgan, Julie (Cardiff, North) (Lab)
Penning, Mike (Hemel Hempstead) (Con)
Primarolo, Dawn (Minister of State, Department of Health)
Pugh, Dr. John (Southport) (LD)
Simmonds, Mark (Boston and Skegness) (Con)
Streeter, Mr. Gary (South-West Devon) (Con)
Turner, Dr. Desmond (Brighton, Kemptown) (Lab)
Wright, Jeremy (Rugby and Kenilworth) (Con)
Hannah Weston, Celia Blacklock, Committee Clerks
† attended the Committee

Public Bill Committee

Tuesday 3 June 2008


[Mr. Roger Gale in the Chair]

Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill [Lords]

(Except clauses 4, 11, 14 and 23, schedule 2, and any new clauses or new schedules relating to the termination of pregnancy by registered medical practitioners)

10.30 am
The Chairman: I have a few announcements to make. Hon. Members may wish to remove their jackets. As long as I am in the Chair, that will be in order, but I cannot speak for my co-Chairman, who will be joining you next week. Will members of the Committee and others in the room please ensure that their mobile phones, pagers and other electronic devices are switched off during our proceedings—by “off”, I mean off? The Committee may wish to be reminded of the money resolution in connection with the Bill, copies of which are available in the room.
I remind members of the Committee that adequate notice must be given of amendments. As a general rule, Mr. Hood and I will not be calling starred amendments; neither do we intend to call amendments that are not signed by members of the Committee, because we would presume that they would not be moved. I mention that now because a number of amendments have already been tabled by hon. Members who are not members of the Committee. If members of the Committee wish to pick them up, they will need to add their names to them so that they can appear on the amendment paper for the next sitting.
I also remind hon. Members about the procedure at the start of today’s sitting. The Committee will first be asked to consider the programme motion, on which debate is limited to half an hour. We will then proceed to a motion to report written evidence before starting the clause-by-clause scrutiny of the Bill. I hope that everything is clear.
The Minister of State, Department of Health (Dawn Primarolo): I beg to move,
(1) the Committee shall (in addition to its first meeting at 10.30 a.m. on Tuesday 3rd June) meet—
(a) at 4.00 p.m. on Tuesday 3rd June;
(b) at 9.00 a.m. and 1.00 p.m. on Thursday 5th June;
(c) at 10.30 a.m. and 4.00 p.m. on Tuesday 10th June;
(d) at 9.00 a.m. and 1.00 p.m. on Thursday 12th June;
(e) at 10.30 a.m. and 4.00 p.m. on Tuesday 17th June;
(2) the proceedings shall be taken in the following order: Clauses 1 to 3; Clause 5; Schedule 1; Clauses 6 to 10; Clauses 12 and 13; Schedules 3 and 4; Clauses 15 to 22; Clauses 24 to 28; Schedule 5; Clauses 29 to 56; Schedule 6; Clauses 57 to 65; Schedule 7; Clause 66; Schedule 8; Clauses 67 to 69; new Clauses (not relating to the termination of pregnancy by registered medical practitioners); new Schedules (not relating to the termination of pregnancy by registered medical practitioners); remaining proceedings on the Bill.
(3) the proceedings shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at 7.00 p.m. on Tuesday 17th June.
I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Gale, as I will welcome Mr. Hood when he joins us for this important Committee. The Bill has received its Second Reading and certain clauses have been debated on the Floor of the House. It has been subjected to consultation and pre-legislative scrutiny, and it has attracted great attention from the Science and Technology Committee. We are fortunate that members of the Committee have extensive knowledge and expertise in respect of the Bill. I welcome, in particular, the presence of the hon. Members for Salisbury and for Oxford, West and Abingdon, and my hon. Friends the Members for Bolton, South-East, for Brighton, Kemptown and for Norwich, North, who served on the Science and Technology Committee. Indeed, the hon. Member for Salisbury and my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North also served on the pre-legislative scrutiny Committee. Their wisdom and expertise will benefit our consideration of the Bill.
I am also joined by my hon. Friends the Members for Warrington, North, for Calder Valley, for Crawley, for Cardiff, North and my right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill. They are all experienced parliamentarians with a great interest in such matters and various views on the subjects that we shall be discussing. I welcome the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness, who has so far led his team in adopting a considered, thoughtful and diligent approach to this important Bill. I am grateful for the way in which he and his colleagues will bring great expertise to our proceedings and will continue to debate matters that we know are of importance.
I hope that the Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty’s Treasury, my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hall Green, and the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth will not have much work to do and that we shall proceed in an orderly, timely fashion. I am sure that you intend to make sure that we do so, Mr. Gale.
When my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North was referring to his considerable knowledge of science during the debates on the Floor of the House, he said that he knew “science backwards”. That caused considerable discussion among journalists who asked whether there was any other way to consider science. The Bill regulates important areas of research science that are of crucial importance to our communities.
I assure the Committee that we do not intend to start at the back and work forward. We shall start at clause 1 and work logically through the Bill. Our proceedings will be challenging and I am confident that the excellent debates that took place on the Floor of House will continue in Committee and that, at the end of our deliberations, we will have a Bill that is worthy of the House. I commend the motion to the Committee.
Mark Simmonds (Boston and Skegness) (Con): I join the Minister in saying how pleased I am to see you in the Chair, Mr. Gale. I look forward to working under your guidance and that of Mr Hood during the passage of this Bill. You will be aware of the view of the Opposition that this Bill deserves completely free votes, and therefore there will be free votes for Conservative Members in all Divisions in Committee. It is a shame that the Government do not have the same policy.
I acknowledge the points that the Minister made about the very thorough and detailed pre-legislative scrutiny that took place prior to the introduction of this Bill. There was full debate and discussion, and many hon. Members who took part in that scrutiny are members of the Public Bill Committee, which is to be welcomed. We all look forward to benefiting from their expertise and experience in this area.
May I thank the Minister for her kind remarks? I have been impressed by her detailed knowledge and understanding of these very complex issues, both ethically and scientifically. I hope that we can continue the constructive dialogue that we have had so far to ensure that the Bill is as good as it can be. When it passes into law, I hope that it will have as good a reputation as the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 and that it lasts as long as that Act, if not longer, despite many fast-moving scientific discoveries and advances.
I welcome to the Committee my hon. Friends the Members for Rugby and Kenilworth, for Hemel Hempstead, for Salisbury, and for South-West Devon, who will make their own points in their individual ways. Of course, we have a very wide range of opinions on this side of the Committee, which will become evident as the Bill progresses. I would finally like to say that there are a large number of issues in the Bill that were not debated on the Floor if the House and I hope we will discuss them in Committee. I have no problem with the programme motion.
Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon) (LD): I join those who have already spoken in welcoming you to the Chair, Mr. Gale. It has been about 18 months since I last served on a Public Bill Committee, but that was under your chairmanship and I, at least, had a good time, even if I cannot speak for you.
I echo the comments that have been made about the scrutiny that has been undertaken. The Government must be commended for issuing a consultation paper, a White Paper and a draft Bill. Throughout that process they made a number of changes, following the scrutiny by the Science and Technology Committee, which was initiated under the chairmanship of the hon. Member for Norwich, North, who chaired the big inquiry of 2005. I pay tribute to his work and that of the hon. Members for Bolton, South-East, for Salisbury and for Brighton, Kemptown, who are all veterans of that Committee and subsequent inquiries. While there was not always unanimity on that Committee, it is the case that in the first inquiry, all of us present who served on that Committee took a common view and we have lasted the course by seeing it through to this stage.
As the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness said, there will be free votes on this side of the Committee. Although the Liberal Democrats generally have policies in support of scientific progress in this area, there are different views from mine, as is exemplified by my hon. Friend the Member for Southport, who will seek to catch your eye, Mr. Gale, or kick me when he disagrees with anything.
Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (Lab): In view of what both Opposition spokesmen have said, I would like to make it clear that when I accepted the invitation of the Government Whips to serve on the Committee, they had the full knowledge that I did not support the Bill on Second Reading. They know that I intend to vote in accordance with the merits of the arguments as I see them.
Dr. Harris: I welcome that, and I think it is good that at least one person on the Government side of the Committee has different views from the Government line. I hope that we will not be dividing in Committee, but that we have the opportunity for Divisions on Report. Having Divisions in Committee, with just a few of us here, would not give scope for the free votes that we would want to have.
My hon. Friend the Member for Southport and the hon. Members for Boston and Skegness and for Hemel Hempstead made excellent speeches during earlier stages of the Bill’s passage. I pay tribute to them and hope that all members of the Committee, including those who do not speak from the Front Bench, will play as full a part as I expect that they will. I hope we will be able to make good progress, because it would be a tragedy if we had to rush any new clauses and amendments towards the end of our proceedings.
Question put and agreed to.
The Chairman: Before we proceed, may I indicate that when the Programming Sub-Committee met last night, we discussed the possibility of needing more time. I think that hon. Members on both sides of the Committee have broadly agreed that that is unlikely to be necessary, but I have indicated that, as far as the Chair is concerned, I would be willing to sit on a Tuesday evening, in addition to Tuesday morning and afternoon, should that become necessary. If that were to happen, I would expect negotiation through the usual channels to ensure that both members of the Committee and, more significantly, the staff of the House, have adequate notice so that they can adjust their diaries.
That, subject to the discretion of the Chairman, any written evidence received by the Committee shall be reported to the House for publication.—[Dawn Primarolo.]
The Chairman: Copies of the memoranda that the Committee receives will be made available in the room. I know that one has been received already, and if we receive any more, they will be placed on the table.

Clause 1

Meaning of “embryo” and “gamete”
Mark Simmonds: I beg to move amendment No. 16, in clause 1, page 1, line 10, after second ‘embryo’, insert ‘where fertilisation is complete’.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments:
No. 17, in clause 1, page 1, line 14, at end insert—
‘(c) for this purpose fertilisation is not complete until the appearance of a two cell zygote.’.
No. 18, in clause 1, page 2, line 5, leave out from second ‘eggs’ to ‘but’ in line 6.
No. 19, in clause 1, page 2, line 10, leave out from second ‘sperm’ to ‘and’ in line 11.
No. 20, in clause 1, page 2, line 12, leave out ‘be read accordingly’ and insert ‘live human gametes’.
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