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The Earl of Longford: My Lords, will the noble Lord give way? Is he saying that the Christian Churches and the other Churches and religious leaders are all wrong?

Lord Walton of Detchant: My Lords, I was about to say that, while I read, of course, the circular from clerics of many Churches, there are still a great many noted theologians who take my view and not the view expressed in that letter.

We are not debating today the question of whether embryo research should be allowed. Parliament decided in 1990 under the Act that such research, under licence and under the very strict supervision of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority,

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could be carried out. For that reason, I believe that it is important to consider the potentially massive benefits which could accrue from the orders and regulations we are debating today.

I do not propose to go into a great deal of detail, except to say why we wish to cultivate embryonic stem cells. May I remind the House that, under licence from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, at the moment it is possible to carry out work on human embryos, spare embryos which have been created in an in vitro fertilisation programme. More particularly, it is possible to carry out work on embryos which carry the risk of serious genetic disease. There is a technique called pre-implantation diagnosis. Under licence, it has been legal for the past 10 years to remove a single cell from such an early embryo, at the eight or 16 cell stage, and to determine whether the gene for a serious inherited disease such as cystic fibrosis or--not yet feasible but almost certainly coming--muscular dystrophy is present; and, if so, to allow that embryo to degenerate, as many do, as I have said, in the course of normal human conception; or, if it is not there, to implant the embryo and allow the mother to have a normal child.

But why is the culture and harvesting of embryonic stem cells so important? Many experiments have been carried out, with the full consent of patients, transplanting foetal nerve cells into the brains of patients with Parkinson's disease and Huntington's disease. But it takes about seven foetal brains to produce enough cells for one transplantation. It is simply not feasible. To grow cells derived from a human embryo in culture, having removed them from such an embryo at an early stage, brings up the possibility of those cells being subsequently influenced to change into brain cells, muscle cells, liver cells and kidney cells. Those cells at the embryonic stage are multi-potential; they have the potential to be influenced to develop into a whole range of different cells and tissues.

This does not mean, as many noble Lords have said today, that work on adult stem cells should not continue. There are adult stem cells in bone marrow, but they are difficult to harvest. There are some cells which can be derived from cord blood and from the placenta, but mostly the evidence is that they will be useful in the treatment of blood diseases and not of the wide range of conditions to which we have referred in the course of the debate. In some of my earlier research, I personally found it very difficult to grow adult muscle cells when I was doing research on muscular dystrophy, but embryonic muscle cells were very easy to grow, grew rapidly and were capable of being harvested in considerable quantities.

I do not believe that there is any reason to oppose research on adult cells--it is essential that it should take place--but all the scientists to whom I have spoken have made it clear that in their view it will take many years of fundamental research before those differentiated cells, which have been differentiated into adult tissue, can be persuaded to revert to an embryonic stage and therefore be used in these transplantation programmes.

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I am not going to say anything in detail about nuclear replacement except in regard to--and here I part company with the noble Lords, Lord Brennan and Lord Alton, and my noble friend Lord Habgood--mitochondrial disease. I am sorry to delay your Lordships, but I must explain what this means. Every cell in the human body contains a nucleus; that nucleus is the repository of 99.5 per cent of the genetic material, the DNA; thousands of genes which convey inherited characteristics. But the nucleus is surrounded by cytoplasm, like a jelly, which in turn is confined by a nuclear membrane. Within that cytoplasm are tiny structures called mitochondria, which are responsible to a large extent for energy production in the cell. A very small proportion of the human genome, less than 0.5 per cent, resides in the mitochondria; and since mitochondria are present in the ovum (or egg) and not in the sperm, they are passed on purely through the female line.

No fewer than 50 mutations causing mitochondrial disease have been described. I have seen patients with mitochondrial disease. I have tried to do my best for them. These diseases cause progressive blindness, fits, strokes, progressive muscle wasting and paralysis and are inevitably fatal. Can noble Lords imagine the distress that is felt by women who know that they have passed on these diseases to their children?

What can we do about mitochondrial disease? It is possible to take an ovum from a woman who is carrying abnormal mitochondria, to remove the nucleus containing 99.5 per cent of her DNA and then--and despite what the noble Lord, Lord Winston, says, there are women who are prepared to volunteer to be ovum donors--to take out the nucleus from a donated ovum and put in the nucleus from the woman with the mitochondrial disease, who will then have her DNA in the nucleus but normal mitochondria in her cytoplasm. And, contrary to what the noble Lord, Lord Habgood, said, this is not germline research because this is not yet an embryo. One will then take that ovum and have it fertilised in vitro by the sperm of the woman's husband or partner and then implant the embryo.

This is not merely science fiction. My former colleague and friend, Professor Douglas Turnbull, a world expert on mitochondrial disease working in the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, tells me that this technique has been used with animals and he believes that the prospect of preventing mitochondrial disease in the offspring of these women will be feasible within the next two to three years. It is not a technique that is in the distant future; whereas it is true that work on stem cells for transplantation will take substantially longer.

I agree with those noble Lords who have said that a great deal of discussion on the various reports referred to has taken place. There has been a great deal of public consultation. I believe that if we were to reject these regulations we should send an unfortunate signal to patients, their families and their carers, to people suffering from a wide variety of degenerative diseases.

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This type of research is a beacon of hope on the horizon. I fervently believe that we must not fail these people.

The research referred to is difficult. There are many hurdles and problems to be overcome. Approval of the regulations would enable researchers, funding organisations and the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority to begin considering programmes of research and to plan for the future. But it would take nine to 12 months for the authority to be able effectively to do that. I have every faith in the ability of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority to see that the research which it in the end approves is necessary and essential; and that if embryo research is required, that is a matter that the authority will, after the most careful consideration, review.

It must be remembered that the centres involved in such work are inspected regularly by the authority. As the noble Lord, Lord Turnberg, said, there is no way in which a rogue scientist in a backroom could undertake such work and clone human beings. I agree that the whole idea of reproductive cloning is abhorrent and I am delighted that the Government propose to make any attempt to do that a criminal offence. Already, as has been said, the National Institute of Health in the United States is not allowed to put public money into such research. But there are a great many laboratories in the private sector working in this field.

Already, produced by stems cells, certain nerve cells have been transplanted into the brain of people with stroke, producing temporary benefit. This is early work, but I believe that the passage of these regulations would ultimately allow this country to be in the forefront of research into this very important field.

Why have I suggested the establishment of a Select Committee after approval of the regulations? The reason is simple. I have recognised and heard the concerns being expressed on all sides of the House suggesting that these regulations have been brought forward with indecent haste. I do not agree. There has been massive public consultation. But those concerns, sincerely held and lucidly expressed by so many Members, have persuaded me--in advance of this debate, because I have had a large number of informal discussions--that if the regulations are approved, bearing in mind the long time-scale that would result in relation to research programmes, it would be right and proper to appoint a Select Committee to review their implementation--with, I hope, full agreement over issues such as those referred to by my noble friend Lord Habgood over the use only of donated embryos. I should add that 48,000 donated embryos have been used in research since the Act was passed in 1990. Many public-spirited people will continue to donate them for this purpose. I believe that the Select Committee could define the limits and offer very much more precise advice to government--and, indeed, to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority--than exists at present. For that reason, I

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believe it would be right to reject the amendment of my noble friend Lord Alton. I hope that the House will approve my amendment for that purpose.

I end by quoting from a poem, because I heard what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans said. Many years ago, William Cowper said:

    "Knowledge and wisdom, far from being one, have oft times no


    Knowledge dwells

    In heads replete with thoughts of other men;

    Wisdom in minds attentive to their own.

    Knowledge is proud that he has learned so much;

    Wisdom is humble that he knows no more".

I believe that this House, in its wisdom, will support my amendment.

9.21 p.m.

Lord McColl of Dulwich: My Lords, I speak in the gap because my name was mysteriously transplanted from the Speakers' List--perhaps my colleagues were trying to tell me something. Those who do speak in the gap are obliged to do so briefly, which is just as well because most of what I planned to say has already been said.

I very much agree with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans who spoke about the exhilaration of science and new techniques, especially in medicine. In the earlier days of transplantation, I remember, when undertaking my first kidney transplant some 30 years ago, how exciting it was, first, when connecting the vein and then the artery and, finally, seeing the cold, lifeless kidney springing to life and secreting urine immediately. It was the French kidneys that secreted urine immediately, the English ones were more sluggish. I was told that that was due to the wine, but I later discovered a rather different explanation.

Some years later we experimented with part of the human after-birth, called the amnion. We showed, first, that if we injected it into ourselves it was not rejected in the usual way. It is immunologically privileged tissue. Noble Lords will be glad to know that scientists try experiments on themselves first, before the patients. However, to be fair to the noble Lord, Lord Winston, that might prove more difficult for him. We then injected the amnion into young children who were dying of an enzyme-deficient disease. Noble Lords can imagine our joy when the children began to improve as the amnion that we had injected began to secrete the missing enzyme. Unfortunately, that improvement lasted only for a few months.

I know well the excitement of research and the eagerness to try new techniques and thereby find new treatments. But I should be most hesitant to proceed with any research that was opposed by a large section of the community, and especially opposed by the leaders of all the main religions in this country. I agree with all those who have drawn attention to the indecent haste of the Government. I especially agree with the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, who said that there is no imminent cure for diseases such as

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Alzheimer's disease and that, therefore, to raise false hopes among these patients and their relatives is really rather a sad deception.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans was absolutely right when he said that we need humility and wisdom in this field. Could it possibly be, by some quite unimaginable stretch of the imagination, that perhaps there are too many in this field whose motto in life seems to be, "I may not always be right but I am never in any doubt"?

The news that the Government are happy to establish a Select Committee was rather encouraging at first but to have it after these inadequate regulations are put in place is probably a waste of time because there will be no effective way of making the Government change their views. I therefore strongly support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool.

9.25 p.m.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, we have had a good and wide-ranging debate which has offered us a chance to hear a great many views from many different sides. My job is to begin the process of winding up the debate from these Benches.

We start with the fact that we are being asked to approve a regulation which would extend the current regulations on embryo research to allow research in three areas: first, to increase knowledge about the development of the embryos themselves; secondly, to increase knowledge about serious disease, and, thirdly, to enable such knowledge to be applied to the development of treatments for serious disease.

We have before us two amendments, one of which seeks to delay approval of the new regulations until after a Select Committee of the House has considered the issues involved in human cloning and stem cell research; the other seeks our immediate agreement to the regulations but promises that a Select Committee will be set up to report on these issues and then to reconsider the regulations in the light of that report. The key issue, therefore, is whether we approve the regulations now and then reflect on their appropriateness or whether we delay that decision until after a period of reflection.

There are those who have spoken who view any research on embryos as unacceptable. For these, any embryo, however young, should be viewed as a human being or a potential human life and is endowed with the sanctity of human life. It is, therefore, morally unacceptable to treat this young human being as an instrument of research, a means to an end rather than an end in itself. Such a view precludes any research that is not directed to the benefit of the embryo itself. The removal and cultivation of any cells from an embryo is, from this viewpoint, unacceptable, irrespective of the use to which those cells are put. This is, if I may say so, a "fundamentalist" point of view. Like others who have spoken, I respect it even if I do not agree with it.

The fundamentalist point of view was aired at length at the time of the debate in the 1980s and early 1990s on the Warnock report. But at that time, in passing the

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Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act in 1990, Parliament took a different view, implicitly that an embryo up to 14 days old and before cell differentiation had begun was not a human being, and accepted that embryo research was morally acceptable for specific purposes. It limited research to 14 days after fertilisation and also laid down that no embryo subject to such research procedures was to be reimplanted in the womb. The specific purposes included improving IVF treatment methods; the treatment of congenital disease; investigating the causes of miscarriage; research into contraception and into the pre-implantation of genetic disorders but it did not include research into serious diseases and possible therapies. The debate today is about extending the regulations to cover such research.

Why should there be any hesitation? Logically if you accept that some experimentation on embryos is acceptable and that the same constraints on research are maintained--constraints which have shown themselves to have been robust and effective over a 10-year period--why hesitate about this extension, which, as many speakers in the debate have argued, has enormous potential to do good?

There are three main reasons for hesitation that we have heard. The first concerns whether we need to use embryonic stem cells. Could we instead use adult stem cells or stem cells extracted from other sources such as umbilical cords or placentas? I do not wish to repeat any of the arguments that we have heard. However, in general the conclusion of the debate is that none of those other sources of stem cells is satisfactory. It is clearly research which may in the long run enable us to develop the use of adult stem cells directly and not to have to use embryonic stem cells. But we should also bear in mind that the 1998 Act specifically prohibits the use of embryonic research if other research avenues are possible.

The second reason for hesitation is the commodification of embryos. If stem cell research proves to be, as people suggest, a fruitful line of research, would we not quickly run out of the current supply of fertilised embryos which are unused in IVF treatment and find ourselves creating embryos specifically for research? Let us note, however, that the creation of embryos is specifically allowed under the 1990 Act if the project cannot be carried out on donated embryos. But it is clear that there is an adequate supply of fertilised embryos at present; and, furthermore, we are talking not so much about experimentation on those embryos as the extraction of stem cells from those embryos and the cultivation of lines of stem cells.

Nevertheless, there may be the danger in some people's minds that that will lead to a trade, with payment for those prepared to donate eggs and sperm for research. But that is illegal. The regulatory framework of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act prevents that in this country although it does and can occur abroad. One of the reasons for this research to be carried forward here is because in other countries the issue is unregulated. It is surely better that the research is carried forward

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within a clearly regulated environment such as we have in this country. Ultimately we have to be prepared to trust that the regulatory framework will work. The aim to cultivate lines of stem cells in the laboratories means that the demand for embryonic stem cells may be limited.

The third and perhaps key reason for hesitation is that cell nuclear transfer involves transplanting into an unfertilised human egg the nucleus of foreign cells, the growing of a cluster of cells--what is called by some an embryo or even a pre-embryo--from the hybrid cell, the extraction of the stem cells from that cluster (as from the embryo in embryonic stem cell research) and the cultivation of that line of cells. It means that we are creating an embryo specifically for the purposes of research, with all the problems of commodification discussed previously. But it also poses the problem of cloning, because, essentially, this was the technology which has, in part at least, given us Dolly the sheep and Andi the monkey. Is it the thin edge of the wedge of human cloning? If it is, surely we need more time to think about it.

That is the crux of the arguments that we have heard. The answer given by those who support the passing of the regulations now is that the cell nuclear transfer creates, as the Donaldson report puts it,

    "a new form of early embryo".

But this is far from being human reproductive cloning. First, as with embryonic stem cells, research would be allowed only for the first 14 days after fertilisation, after which the embryo is destroyed. Secondly, this research has to be undertaken under licence and closely monitored by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority--a form of regulation which is now tried and tested and generally held up worldwide as exemplary.

Thirdly, the embryo could grow into a foetus only if it were implanted into the womb, a process which is illegal and a criminal act in the UK. In other words, there is a three-fold barrier which prevents any possibility of the technique being used in this country for human reproductive cloning. I strongly echo the words of my noble friend Lady Williams of Crosby that such a regulatory framework does not exist in some other countries. We badly need to begin to talk about establishing a common regulatory framework worldwide.

The great advantage of using stem cells created by stem nuclear transfer is that growing stem cells that incorporate, for example, the DNA of an adult suffering from Parkinson's disease so that his body does not reject any therapeutic injection of the stem cells helps to overcome the rejection problem that the noble Lord, Lord Winston, talked about that might arise from using implants from other stem cells. The same is true of the use of adult stem cells. The hope is that, in the long run, research using embryonic and nuclear transfer stem cells will enable direct use to be made of adult cells, but such research is a long way down the road. For the moment, the trade-off is

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between the risk of abuse of the research, despite the clear and proven existing regulatory framework, and the benefits in therapy that the research would bring.

After considering the issues, the Nuffield Council on Bioethics concluded:

    "We consider the proposed creation of embryos using CNT for research into the derivation of stem cells offers such significant potential medical benefits that research for such purposes should be licensed".

The report goes on to point out that research involving "early embryos" derived from cell nuclear transfer has been legally permissible under the 1990 Act, provided that it was for the purposes of that Act. It recommends that those regulations,

    "be amended to permit research involving embryos for the additional purpose of developing tissue therapies from the derived embryonic stem cells. If adopted, this recommendation would permit research on embryos derived by CNT to be licensed for that purpose as well".

In other words, if we have no objection to extending the regulations to include research on embryonic stem cells, we should be prepared to allow embryos developed through cell nuclear transfer to go ahead and we should have no objection to research proceeding on stem cells from those embryos.

The case for passing the regulations now is that they hold the potential for developing therapies for many chronic diseases of our age. We cannot know whether the potential will be realised unless we do the research. The sooner we do the research, the sooner we are likely to be able to explore that potential. Many people will benefit from it. The case for delay is that, particularly by permitting experimentation with embryos developed through cell nuclear transfer, we are experimenting with a technology that may be abused. That is true of many technologies. Electricity can be used to electrocute people and gas to poison people, but we have not stopped using either of them. Moreover, in this case we already have a good regulatory framework for control that has shown itself to be effective and is regarded as exemplary worldwide. If we do not do the research here, others will do it. Without the regulatory framework that we have, the risks of abuse will be far greater.

It has been argued that we have not considered carefully enough the full ethical implications of the research, yet the recommendations come after careful consideration in 1998 by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority and the Human Genetics Advisory Commission--the two bodies that have been established as watchdogs and advisers for the Government on the subject. They suggested that their proposals be further examined by an expert group, including ethicists. That expert group was convened by the Chief Medical Officer, Sir Liam Donaldson. It considered at length the scientific and moral issues involved. Its unanimous conclusion was that the regulations should be amended to allow embryonic stem cell research for the treatment of serious illness to proceed. It was backed by an expert committee convened by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics.

Let us by all means carry out our own inquiries and satisfy ourselves that we have the relevant regulations in place. Let us reinforce the regulations with a law

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which explicitly prohibits human cloning. But let us now send out the right signals. We should support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Walton, pass the regulations today and allow the thousands of people who are waiting on this research to begin know that we recognise their plight. The research will not bring quick or immediate remedies. The wait has been long enough. Let us not prolong it unnecessarily.

9.40 p.m.

Earl Howe: My Lords, it is almost an anomaly to speak from the Front Bench at the end of a debate of this kind. The fact that I do so should not be misinterpreted. There is no Conservative Party position on the issue of stem cell research. There is nothing that even resembles a party position. That is deliberate and exactly as it should be. The issue is one for each of us to decide upon in a free vote according to our individual beliefs and consciences. Therefore, I begin by emphasising to all noble Lords, but perhaps particularly to my fellow Peers on this side of the Chamber, that the views that I am about to express are my own; they are in no sense to be taken as a signal of an official or corporately held opinion.

Indeed, if there is one attitude of mind appropriate to a topic such as this, it is surely an attitude of humility and mutual respect. The contributions to today's debate demonstrate amply what many of us must feel: that we are considering one of the most significant ethical issues to have come before the House in many years. I join other noble Lords in believing that the ethics of this issue must be our starting point.

We have all been lobbied by those who feel passionately that stem cell research should be legalised without hesitation because of the unrivalled opportunities that it offers to uncover treatments and cures for diseases which hitherto have proved untreatable and incurable. We can all understand why those individuals and patient groups are anxious for the research to be permitted without further ado. For myself, I need no convincing of its potential.

But the benefits, however big, cannot be a sufficient justification in themselves for a vote of "Content" on the affirmative order. It cannot be right to say that the end justifies the means. The means, as well as the ends, must be justified. And until we properly understand what the means amount to, we are in no position to make any kind of rounded moral assessment. Therefore, although it may sound a perverse thing to say to patients who currently suffer from serious illnesses and who regard their moral case as self-evident, I believe that there are other aspects of this question which we have a duty to confront first.

In 1990, Parliament approved the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act following many years of public debate on the issues. As we have heard today, the Act permits research to be carried out using early-stage human embryos under tightly controlled conditions and for a strictly limited number of purposes. Some Members of the House, like my noble

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friend Lady Blatch, feel strongly that the proposals contained in the order before us are of such novelty and significance that they should have been made the subject of primary legislation.

Although I greatly respect that argument, I confess that I cannot agree with it. I shall speak in a moment about cell nuclear replacement. However, once the principle has been accepted by Parliament--as it was--that early-stage human embryos which are surplus to an IVF procedure may be used in certain types of medical research, I see nothing intrinsically inappropriate in the proposition that other, closely allied categories of research activity should be added to the list, as the Act specifically allows for.

Yet, there is another dimension to this matter. An order of this kind may well be legally permissible, but is it premature? The noble Lord, Lord Alton, my noble friend Lady Blatch and others, such as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans, have spoken eloquently of their misgivings on that score. They feel acutely that there is a need for Parliament to reflect further before it acts.

For many of us, the 1990 Act, although certainly a helpful guide to our thinking, is not enough on its own to reassure us of the moral acceptability of the proposals before us. It is certainly not enough to reassure us of the acceptability of cell nuclear replacement. It is therefore appropriate and understandable that some noble Lords should now wish to revisit what one might call the ethical underpinning of the 1990 Act. As we have heard today, there is perhaps one issue that precedes all others; it is that no stem cell research using human embryonic tissue can be acceptable if there is an alternative, non-controversial means of meeting the same objectives.

I have listened to and read a very great deal about the possible use of so-called adult stem cells as a viable substitute procedure. I feel I must say to my noble friend Lady Blatch that this is one issue on which she need not worry as much as perhaps she does. It is true that, depending on to whom one talks, one gets a different slant on the question of adult-derived stem cells. I accept the advice of the Chief Medical Officer and other authorities that such techniques do not yet offer the prospect of a useful outcome and that therefore there is indeed no practical alternative to research using stem cells derived from blastocysts. That research is needed to inform our knowledge of adult stem cells.

Even if I am wrong in accepting that suggestion, and even if the science of adult stem cells is more advanced than I have been led to believe, there is a safeguard already in place, which will forestall the unnecessary use of embryos; that is, the HFEA. There is one big difference between now and 1990; it is that since 1990 the HFEA has had the opportunity to prove itself as a scrupulously thorough and conscientious body. I note the strictures of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, but I believe that the HFEA has fulfilled its remit with the utmost professionalism. If the HFEA is presented with a proposal for a piece of research involving early stage

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human embryos, it has a duty to satisfy itself that there is no viable alternative. If a viable alternative exists, it must not--indeed, it cannot by law--sanction the proposal. We have a tightly regulated system.

That said, there are clearly two decisions before us: one relating to the substance of the issue, and the other to the parliamentary process. On the substance of the issue, many who contemplate the idea of medical research using early stage human embryos believe that that involves a fundamental disrespect for human life. For many of those people neither the regulations nor the 1990 Act is likely to commend itself as being ethically acceptable. That is perhaps particularly true of Roman Catholics who believe that human life in its meaningful sense begins at fertilisation.

Personally, I am not of the Roman Catholic view. I accept the Anglican Church's thesis that the ethical status of personhood is something that develops with the increasing complexity of embryo growth. It seems to me that we can quite properly draw the distinction that was articulated by the Warnock committee between a blastocyst, which is defined as a collection of human cells up to 14 days old, and an embryo, which has been allowed to develop for longer than 14 days. To be respectful of human life is, to me, to be respectful of an individual or person. I follow the noble Baroness, Lady O'Neill, in believing that a collection of a very few human cells, which are so new and so few that they have not even differentiated themselves into cells that may develop into a placenta or an embryo, and which have no neural features whatever, certainly have a special moral status, but they cannot be accorded the status of a person. While I respect those who take a different view, I cannot go along with them.

What, then, of cell nuclear transfer or so-called "cloning"? I know of nobody in your Lordships' House who does not find the idea of reproductive cloning to be repugnant and utterly unacceptable. Today's regulations do not permit reproductive cloning. The issue is whether, for research into stem cells, it is permissible to create and use a blastocyst of no more than 14 days that is genetically identical to a living person. A blastocyst that is genetically identical to a living person seems to me to warrant exactly the same protection under the law as a blastocyst that is the product of a fertilised egg; no more, no less.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, that what matters is the 14-day rule. It is difficult for me to find additional ethical difficulties in the proposition that a potential human being and a living person might share the same genetic make-up. If I were to worry myself about that, I should have to worry myself about the existence of identical twins.

The concern about cloning that I cannot fully resolve is the slippery slope argument. Reproductive cloning may remain illegal but to permit cell nuclear transfer for therapeutic ends could, it is said, pave the way for reproductive cloning.

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But what does that mean? Like the noble Lord, Lord Turnberg, I cannot envisage Parliament falling victim to the slippery slope by legalising reproductive cloning. It is a million miles away from doing such a thing. That means that the risk, in so far as it exists, lies with those who might seek to break the law and in so doing, escape the watchful gaze of the HFEA. That is certainly a risk, albeit, perhaps, a remote one.

But here is one issue where, for me, moral relativism of a sort has a role. If I am asked to choose which should count for more, the chance of bringing treatment and cures to many thousands of people who are seriously ill or the risk that there may be bad men or women who, at some point in the future, took the law into their own hands, I really do not believe that there can be any contest. Indeed, I believe that I have a clear moral duty to open the way to the alleviation of human suffering. For those reasons, if the House divides on the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Walton, I feel I must vote in favour of it.

That leaves unanswered the question posed in the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, which, if carried, would defeat the order. I began my speech by emphasising the importance of mutual respect. Even though my mind may be made up on the substantive issues, I now urge my own advice on myself. When I receive, as I did, a letter signed by the leaders of this country's Churches and non-Christian faiths urging caution, when I listen to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford, a proponent, as I understand it, of stem cell research, advocating a period of further reflection through a Select Committee, when I listen to the noble Lord, Lord Habgood, speaking so powerfully, I feel bound to sit up and take note.

There are public anxieties. That is why, when we come to vote on the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, while I should not be true to myself to support him, I know that it would be equally wrong for me to stand in his way and I shall not do so.

9.53 p.m.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, we have had a truly excellent debate--nearly seven hours, with 42 speakers--which has been of a high quality and wide ranging. We certainly explored the emotions, as my noble friend Lady Warwick said. But the debate has also been good-tempered, and I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for that, a person for whom I have great respect.

We have considered in a very sober way the complex, scientific and ethical issues involved. We have also perhaps had a little of the wisdom for which the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans called.

The question before us is whether embryonic research may be extended to serious diseases like Parkinson's disease, cancer or Alzheimer's disease.

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It has been suggested that the Government are seeking to force through this research because it is being introduced by way of a statutory instrument. But in 1990, Parliament clearly recognised, as did the Warnock committee in 1984, that scientific knowledge would advance. As the noble Lord, Lord Walton, suggested, legislators in 1990 clearly anticipated that the five research purposes may be extended to cover human diseases because a regulation-making power was specifically provided for that purpose.

This is not a whim of the Government. It is the proper use of a power already provided by Parliament in primary legislation. Because of that, it means also that the regulations will be subject to the full panoply of safeguards built into that primary legislation.

Noble Lords who argue that point surely ignore two other important features. I refer first to the thoroughness of the work that has been undertaken by a number of important and reputable committees since 1997. There has been a long debate which has involved the public and I believe that it has explored all the issues.

The thought that there is a rush also ignores the robustness and vigour of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority. During the time that it has been in existence it has received 130 research applications, all of which have been considered with great care. Seventeen were turned down. The authority has an international reputation. Surely we are fortunate in having a regulatory framework that is robust, that works, and that provides the safeguards required by many noble Lords.

Overriding much in this debate is what the noble Earl, Lord Howe, described as fear of the slippery slope. That is entirely understandable and should be set against the enormous potential of scientific developments. If I thought that we were embarking on a slippery slope tonight, I should not be standing at this Dispatch Box.

It is worth recalling that in the debates on the 1990 Act there was much discussion about the 14-day rule and fear that the slippery slope would lead to 18 days, 28 days and more. That has not happened. Those issues are quite properly controlled by Parliament through the 1990 Act and through the authority that regulates such activities and which is accountable to Parliament. The authority has said that it will not license reproductive cloning and the Government have announced that they will introduce primary legislation to put the matter of reproductive cloning beyond doubt.

I repeat that commitment tonight. There is no slippery slope here. The position is simple. Reproductive cloning will not take place in the UK and these regulations cannot in any way make it happen. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, that legislation will be brought before the House as soon as possible. Of course, there are pressures on the parliamentary timetable, but this primary legislation is most certainly one of our priorities.

22 Jan 2001 : Column 118

There have been some suggestions that undue influence has been brought--

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