Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill [Lords]

[back to previous text]

Dawn Primarolo: I agree about the importance of that. I should also have made something clear to the hon. Gentleman about attempts at a cross-subsidy—something that he touched on—by showing that costs were very high for the introduction, on a so-called not-for-profit basis. If there was seen to have been a cross-subsidy in the arrangements, in any way, that would be an offence under the Surrogacy Arrangements Act 1985, and would be dealt with accordingly. I hope that I have reassured the hon. Gentleman about that.
Mark Simmonds: I am grateful for that point, which clarifies the only outstanding point I had to raise about the amendment. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Mark Simmonds: I beg to move amendment No. 179, in clause 59, page 49, line 38, leave out subsection (7).
The amendment relates to advertising. At present, there is an outright ban on advertising for surrogacy services. The purpose of the amendment is to extract from the Minister what positive changes she believes will come about as a result of the changes to the 1985 Act. I understand that the clause would not allow profits to be used for advertising services, except with regard to initiating or negotiating an agreement, or compiling information. My understanding is that those concerned would be able to advertise that they had a list of people who were willing to be involved in surrogacy, for example.
My amendment would return the rules on advertising to the existing ones under the 1985 Act and prevent not-for-profits from advertising any particular services. I cannot see—and I have not heard anywhere, prior to our discussion now—any defence of, or justification for, the change. Presumably people who were thinking of using a surrogate would be able to find the information anyway, without advertisements, because they would have been interested in it and thinking about it for several years. It would also be wrong to influence people by advertisements.
Would the offences in relation to contravening the ban on advertising under the clause be the same as for contravening other provisions of the 1985 Act, or would that be something additional to be included in a subsequent Bill?
Dawn Primarolo: The hon. Gentleman’s probing amendment deals with the extent of what can be advertised and whether there is variation from the provisions of the 1985 Act. I shall deal with those specific questions.
As I said, clause 59 amends the Surrogacy Arrangements Act 1985 to clarify the position of non-profit making surrogacy organisations. It allows them to charge for their services on a non-profit basis, and it also enables them to advertise the services for which they may charge. The activities that those bodies carry out involve the following: initiating negotiations with a view to making surrogacy arrangements, thus enabling interested parties to meet each other; and compiling information about surrogates, with a view to using it in making or negotiating surrogate arrangements—to establish and keep lists of willing surrogates and intended parents. Those two activities have to be considered together. The question is how to put the intended surrogate, the woman who is prepared to be a surrogate, and interested parents in touch.
The amendment would remove the provision on advertising. At present, it is unlawful for anyone to advertise that they are or may be willing to enter into a surrogacy arrangement. It is also against the law for people to advertise that they are looking for a surrogate or for intended parents. Those provisions are contained in 1985 Act, and the Bill does not change them. Clause 59(7) amends the 1985 Act to allow non-profit-making bodies to advertise the services for which they may charge—for initiating or taking part in negotiations, or compiling information with a view to making surrogacy arrangements.
I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Bill clarifies what a not-for-profit organisation can do without undertaking commercial surrogacy activities. It can advertise its own services, but it would need to be very clear about the fact that it has to stop at that point. What is still prohibited is individuals advertising the fact that they are looking for a surrogate and the publishing of names. Such specific services are still covered—the Bill has not changed that.
I hope that the Committee recognises that the provisions are not intended to make surrogacy into a commercial business. We recognise that, for some, surrogacy is an option of last resort and that the organisations that provide them with advice and information need to be able at least to publicise the fact that their services may be of assistance. It seems unnecessary to make things more difficult than they already are, but it is necessary to clarify matters and to ensure that the 1985 Act prohibitions stand. I hope that the hon. Gentleman accepts my explanation.
Mark Simmonds: I am grateful to the Minister for her response. It might be that the confusion—if that is the right word—rests on what “advertisement” means. Is it the same as making information available, or does it mean promulgating a service and attracting an audience to a service provision? There is no problem if it means information, but the word “advertisement” has a commercial connotation. The Minister gave a clear explanation of the meaning of proposed new subsection (1A) to section 3 of the 1985 Act means and the difference that applies, but she did not explain why the measure has been drafted or what positive difference it will make. I have not had any experience of, or been contacted by, anybody, either from my constituency or elsewhere, who has not been able to find out about matching and commissioning people who are prepared to be surrogates, so there is no failure in the structure of the 1985 system. I am therefore not sure that the word “advertisement” adds anything.
The Minister was right to reconfirm that the measure does not amount to a commercialisation of surrogacy, and I agree with her. However, what difference would the measure make to those who were trying to access surrogacy services by allowing those who provide the service to advertise over and above the current provision of services? The measure does not seem to make any difference, so I do not see the point of it.
Dawn Primarolo: My answer will take longer than a normal intervention. The Government are aware that a number of agreements—the number is small rather than vast—are reached each year, as I mentioned in my contributions to debates on other surrogacy measures, which is linked to the point that the hon. Gentleman made on what can be advertised.
However, the point is that bodies can make a charge, on a non-profit making basis, for initiating negotiations with a view to making a surrogacy agreement and, as I said, enabling interested parties to meet each other. Some organisations would find it difficult to present such services—they are not commercial, which is to say that they are not for profit—under the 1985 Act. The Government are clarifying the difference between what we consider to be commercial and not for profit. We are not going to see adverts on television because we are talking about a specialised area and small group of people. The advertising can draw the public’s attention, but charging people who want to initiate negotiations is not for profit.
I accept what the hon. Gentleman said. He said that those parents who have taken the big step, for whom surrogacy is the last resort, are more than likely to be aware of everything. It could be considered churlish to make things more difficult just because we can when we are limiting what is provided by the 1985 Act. This is about the difference between what organisations are allowed to provide on a non-profit making basis and thus charge for, which is basically the introduction, and the commercial aspect. Individuals are not allowed to advertise and we do not allow the publication of a list of individuals, or for people to say, “I’m an individual looking for a surrogate”. That type of advertising is not permitted. That is the fine line that we seek to draw. That is a slightly elongated attempt to pick up the points, but I hope that I have clarified the situation.
1.30 pm
Mark Simmonds: I am grateful to the Minister for that further clarification. She is absolutely right to highlight the difference between non-profit-making and charging elements. However, I ask that she and the relevant civil servants monitor the situation carefully, because there is concern that it might be possible to stretch the envelope in ways that were never intended for the advertising and marketing of services. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 59 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 60

Exclusion of embryos from definition of “organism” in Part 6 of the EPA 1990
Dr. Pugh: I beg to move amendment No. 152, in clause 60, page 50, line 1, leave out from ‘(2)’ to end of line 2 and insert
‘after “or human embryos”, insert “but includes human admixed embryos”.’.
I move the amendment on behalf of the right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Mr. Clarke). It would incorporate human admixed embryos into the definition of genetically modified organisms in the Environmental Protection Act 1990 as organisms that need to be regulated in case of any foreseeable danger to the environment or dissemination of dangerous developments. Clause 60 specifically excludes human admixed embryos from the Act. Part 6 of the Act, which deals with genetically modified organisms, states that it exists
“for the purpose of preventing or minimising any damage to the environment which may arise from the escape or release from human control of genetically modified organisms.”
Section 106(2) says:
“In this Part the term ‘organism’ means any acellular, unicellular or multicellular entity...other than humans or human embryos”.
As I understand it, clause 60 adds to that “or human admixed embryos”. The amendment would change the wording to read:
“In this Part the term ‘organism’ means any acellular, unicellular or multicellular entity...other than humans or human embryos but includes human admixed embryos”.
The rationale came as much as anything else from that august body the Select Committee on Science and Technology. When it recognised the possibility that new diseases could arise from mixing human and animal material and recommended cytoplasmic hybrid embryos, it said:
“In the event that research using cytoplasmic hybrid embryos is authorised, we urge the Government to ensure that appropriate risk management procedures are established and implemented”.
The Government responded:
“The Government agrees with the Committee that researchers will have to apply appropriate risk management procedures for research that involves the mixing of human and animal materials. We will keep the current procedures under review.”
What we are looking for in this probing amendment is recognition from the Government that they have considered all possible safety concerns and whether the Environmental Protection Act 1990 is the appropriate vehicle for addressing them.
The Science and Technology Committee received submissions from the Scottish Council on Human Bioethics, which told us that by undertaking such work, scientists risk creating new diseases and that it is
“well known that many animals may harbour in their organs, cells and genome, microbiological and other entities which may cross the species barrier and develop in the host”.
Given their concerns and those expressed by the Select Committee, the amendment is a probing one designed to find out whether the Government have taken those concerns on board, particularly as we all recognise, having read the legislation, that human admixed embryos is a fairly wide category.
Dr. Harris: As a member of the Science and Technology Committee that compiled the report, I can say that the quotes are correct. However, I would interpret the report slightly differently from my hon. Friend. We cite, as Select Committees do, evidence that we receive. The only evidence that we received on this point—I remember reading it—was from the Scottish Council on Human Bioethics, which is a mixed body. The council is not exclusively religious, but it is not recognised as a body that has the status of a peer review scientific or academic organisation. We noted what it said, but we did not share its conclusion. Its conclusion was that much stronger restrictions were needed. We merely pointed out a statement of the obvious, and the position was shared by the Academy of Medical Sciences. The academy’s report says that there needs to be risk-management procedures appropriate to the status of the scientific knowledge about the risks. There are already those procedures in labs and we welcomed the Government’s response on that. Again, we stated the obvious, that there needs to be risk management. I share my hon. Friend’s view that this should be a probing amendment because whatever the risk management procedures are, treating this as a genetically modified crop does not seem to be the appropriate practical measure and runs the risk of allowing other people to argue that the issue is being trivialised, which is not the intention.
As far as I am aware, environmental release of human admixed embryos is not envisaged in any laboratory. While I am delighted that the Science and Technology Committee report has been cited—and cited accurately—the conclusions that my hon. Friend draws are not necessarily the ones that we would need to draw.
Mark Simmonds: Despite the disparity of interpretation of the Select Committee quotes by the two hon. Gentlemen, can the Minister clarify whether this amendment, if it were to be included in the Bill, would undermine the special status of the embryo, which is the cornerstone of this particular piece of legislation?
Dawn Primarolo: Let me answer that question. Yes, it would undermine the legislation, and I shall explain why. It conflates two different issues. Genetically modified human embryos are presently excluded from regulation on genetic modification of organisms in the Environmental Protection Act 1990. The 1990 Act regulates the use of genetically modified organisms for the purpose of preventing or minimising any damage to the environment, which may arise from the escape or release from human control of genetically modified organisms.
The hon. Gentleman asked whether an embryo or human admixed embryo could cause damage to the environment if it was released. The answer is an unequivocal no. A pre-14-day embryo would be incapable of entering into the ecosystem as it would be insufficiently developed to survive. However, safeguards are provided. Clause 60 ensures that genetically modified human admixed embryos are excluded but that they are properly regulated in protocols and research laboratories with regard to their disposal. The clause prevents dual regulation that is not necessary and ensures that the HFEA requires centres to have a documented procedure for disposal of embryos, which is appropriate and takes into account the special status of human embryos. Therefore, it is a different set of requirements. I hope that I have clarified why we do not need the cross reference. I trust that the hon. Member for Southport is satisfied by my explanation and will withdraw the probing amendment.
Previous Contents Continue
House of Commons 
home page Parliament home page House of 
Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index

©Parliamentary copyright 2008
Prepared 13 June 2008