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Baroness Hayman: My Lords, very soon I shall turn to the position of the Government on reproductive cloning which is very much the same as that of my noble friend; namely, that we do not envisage that possibility or find it ethically acceptable.
Perhaps I may refer to the suggested profligacy in the use of embryos, particularly very early ones. Of the total of just over 600,000 embryos created in the six years between 1991 and March 1997, which is the latest date for which verified figures are available, nearly half have been used in treatment; one-quarter stored for future treatment and some 43,000 used in research. Therefore, we are not talking about hundreds of thousands of wasted embryos.
Much of the debate today has centred on the joint Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority and Human Genetics Advisory Commission report Cloning Issues in Reproduction, Science and Medicine. The Government received that report in December last year and are considering its recommendations. Perhaps I may seek to clarify what we mean when we talk about human cloning. Human reproductive cloning would involve the birth of a baby who had an identical genetic makeup to another individual, which is the situation to which my noble friend refers.
My noble friend Lord Stallard asked for a clear statement as to where the Government stand on such techniques. I can give him that. It has been made clear in another place and in your Lordships' House, but I make no apology for repeating what we have said before. Our position on human reproductive cloning remains firmly that such cloning is ethically unacceptable and will not be permitted within the United Kingdom. There is recognition of this in the joint HFEA/HGAC report, and the public support given in response to the consultation on that report demonstrated that public consensus to which the noble Earl referred. There is no ambiguity in the Government's position.
I should like to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Alton, of that lack of ambiguity. Nothing sinister should be inferred from the fact that we have not signed the cloning protocol to the Council of Europe Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine. Perhaps I may add to what the noble Viscount, Lord Craigavon, said on this point. The Government played an active role in the development of this protocol, which was opened for
We have to consider the responses to this consultation before we can address the question of signing the Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine. But that is the reason for that position rather than any issue on cloning. As the noble Earl, Lord Perth, suggested, a broader international community beyond Europe is also addressing the issue of human cloning. In November 1997 the member states of UNESCO unanimously agreed the declaration of human rights and the human genome which includes a prohibition on human reproductive cloning. I hope that I can reassure the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on that point.
I wish also to reassure him that there is nothing sinister in the fact that the report was placed in the Library of the House, and that, in accordance with usual practice, individual responses to consultation were not placed in the Library. It has been made clear that, in line with normal practice and where respondents have not asked for confidentiality, individual submissions to the consultation may be viewed by arrangement with the HGAC secretariat.
Some doubts have been cast on the membership of the working party which undertook some of the preliminary work for the report. I stress that Ministers make appointments to the bodies fully in accordance with the guidelines issued by the Commissioner for Public Appointments. The report is a report of the two bodies, not simply of the working group. If noble Lords look at the lists included in the report, they will note that membership of those bodies represents a wide range of knowledge, background and experience. It brings together people from many different areas, adding expertise to the subject, and ensures transparency in further consultations which take place.
While I speak of reassurance, reference has been made to an article in the Sunday Times about a doctor who said that he wishes to clone embryos in order to store a back-up embryo to recreate a child to ease the parents' grief in the event of the first child's death. I shall clarify the position. While one form of cloning is specifically banned by the 1990 Act, as regards embryo splitting a licence would be required from the HFEA. The authority has made crystal clear that it will not licence cloning by embryo splitting for treatment purposes. I should make clear that the authority has received no such application, as reported in the Sunday Times.
The recommendations made by the report would require changes to the regulations under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act and would require careful consideration. The use of cloning techniques for research into therapy or treatment is a very different issue to that of human reproductive cloning. I have made the position clear on that. These techniques, which involve the replication of individual cells, have long been used in medical research and treatment--for example, in the development and use of vaccines, and for producing skin grafts for burn victims. We would not wish to disturb the long-existing arrangements in medical research and treatment which have brought and continue to bring so many benefits to so many people.
I emphasise that any decision to extend the currently permitted purposes of research involving human embryos requires the most careful consideration. I believe that the tenor of today's debate has been that the Government should not be rushed into giving their response on such a sensitive and wide-ranging issue. The HFEA and HGAC consulted widely before making their recommendations. It is right that we take full account of the views expressed in the course of that consultation. The Government's response will be made in due course. Today's debate has been a timely occasion for Members of your Lordships' House to put their views.
These are exciting times in terms of potential developments in science, technology and medicine. We hear regularly of advances; for example, research into treatments for cancer, heart disease and other serious debilitating illnesses. The human genome project, which is close to completion, offers literally amazing potential for better understanding of the genetic contribution to many diseases and the developments of safer medicines. We must not be carried away on a tide of enthusiasm for what might be and allow it to undermine the basic need for a clear-sighted ethical, moral and social evaluation of the consequences of these potential changes. Neither should we be so frightened that we do not make advances which have enormous potential benefits for medicine and humanity.
I thank the Minister for her remarks about the debate with which I entirely concur. It has been balanced and measured. It has been a timely contribution to the debate about whether cloning of human beings should be permitted. The noble Baroness said that there should be proper access to, and transparency of, all the arguments. I agree. She will be concerned, as I was, that when my research assistant sought to see the submissions he was told that he could do so only under supervision for a period of two hours and could take written notes but could not photocopy the documents. When I requested that the documents be placed in the Library of your Lordships' House, I was told that that would not be
I believe also that just as the Government were right recently to replace their advisers on environmental matters because they were seen in the wake of the controversy over GM food to be too close to the industry, they should think carefully also about those who have been advising them on these matters.
I am sure that noble Lords will want me to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady O'Neill of Bengarve, on a magnificent maiden speech. We have a mutual friend who is an academic at St Andrew's University where I am a visiting Fellow. He told me that we could expect erudite contributions from the noble Baroness. We have not been disappointed today. Hers was an authoritative contribution which I know will be weighed by your Lordships. I was especially struck by what she said about the ambiguous and confused heritage which might be the fate of clones were we to proceed down that path. We look forward to her future contributions.
Today, we have heard voices from all parts of the House ranging across many different traditions, ideologies and religions. I was struck by the speeches of my noble friend Lady Ryder of Warsaw; the noble Earls, Lord Longford and Lord Perth; my noble friend Lord Jakobovits and the noble Lord, Lord Stallard. Those voices speak to us out of the din of the hard lessons of the 20th century. They embody wisdom gleaned from this, the bloodiest of centuries. I hope that Members of your Lordships' House who were unable to be present today will read those contributions and ponder their wise advice.
The noble Lord, Lord Jakobovits, told us that we should at all times be prepared to think again and to exercise caution. He called for a moratorium, which I am sure all of us who have spoken today will take to heart and, it is to be hoped, agree with.
The noble Lord, Lord Ashbourne, and the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, raised many moral questions embodied in the debate. My noble friend Lady Knight--she is my noble friend for the purpose of these debates--with whom I co-operated in another place on many such issues, has often been vilified for raising them. She was one of 29 who in 1967 voted against the Abortion Act. Four years ago in another place, we worked together when there was an attempt by scientists at the Rosslyn Institute to take embryos from aborted baby girls to use in fertility treatments. What an extraordinary way that would have been to have come into this world if your Lordships and Members of another place had not decided to use the Criminal Justice Bill to outlaw such a proposal. What a way to come into the world, to have an aborted foetus as your mother, her life having been taken by your grandmother. Just because something may be scientifically possible does not make it right.
The noble Lord, Lord Winston, who I admire enormously and with whom I am often a combatant on these questions, both here and outside, inevitably disagreed with me today. But that does not diminish my respect for him. Indeed, his is a voice to which people will listen and I hope that he will weigh the awesome
"I don't know if cloning human beings could bring benefits, but I think probably, yes". Therefore, we are entitled--
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