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African Union-EU Summit

2.58 pm

Lord Blaker asked Her Majesty’s Government:

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Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, the answer is yes. The Prime Minister will not attend the forthcoming summit.

Lord Blaker: My Lords, I am sure that noble Lords will be glad to hear that statement and will welcome the fact that the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, will take the Prime Minister’s place. Should we not be ready for Mugabe to repeat his favourite accusation at the conference—that the ruin of Zimbabwe’s economy is due to sanctions suggested by this country and put in force by the European Union? As we all know, the reality is that the main measure—which is not a sanction but a targeted measure—is travel restrictions on some of Mugabe’s cronies. It is regrettable that that allegation and others seem to have been swallowed by the leaders of SADC, who are inclined to rise and cheer Mugabe whenever he speaks at an international conference. Have not Her Majesty’s Government been outspun by Mugabe? Should we not be putting more skill and effort into getting the truth across, especially to the leaders of the SADC countries? I expect that we should be aware of another Mugabe ploy at the conference.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I am grateful for the welcome from the noble Lord, with his long interest in Zimbabwe, for the position that the Government are taking. Like him, I can think of no one better to be at the conference than my noble friend Lady Amos. In respect of the travel ban, noble Lords will know that part of the common position allows Mugabe and his cronies to attend these meetings should they seek the permission of people from the European Union. It is extremely important that we convey our views to the SADC countries and to all countries in the African Union and the European Union to explain why we feel so strongly. We take every opportunity to do so, and we did so in the margins of the CHOGM meeting.

Lord Lea of Crondall: My Lords, has my noble friend noted the fact that the African Union is not at this stage a membership organisation that can restrict people coming to a conference? It is not like the Commonwealth; it may have to get there. Is it not vital that we press ahead with the important agreements between the African Union and the European Union, on which the House of Lords recently received a report? Unless we can build up the competence and confidence of African countries in the African Union, which is what this summit is all about, we will not improve governance standards, of which Zimbabwe and many other African countries are not good examples.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, it is extremely important that we press ahead with these agreements. That is why, notwithstanding the fact that the Prime Minister and Ministers will not be at this conference, we have been very firmly behind the conference, and we have done everything that we can to ensure the success of the summit so that the agreements can be made and can be followed up appropriately.

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Lord Avebury: My Lords, has the Minister noted the remarkable statement by President Mwanawasa of Zambia yesterday, who is the current head of the AU? It follows similar statements by President Museveni of Uganda and President Yar’Adua of Nigeria, perhaps indicating a change of attitude to the Zimbabwe crisis by African leaders. In view of the fact that there is now very little prospect, if any, of reaching an agreement between the Government and opposition in Zimbabwe on the conditions under which an election could be held in March, is there any prospect of SADC handing back its mandate to the African Union so that firmer action can be taken to ensure a level playing field when the time comes?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I am afraid that I cannot comment on whether SADC will hand back its mandate to the African Union; that is a matter for it. I note all the developments to which the noble Lord has referred.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the crucial point is that President Mugabe is not allowed to use this meeting to say that his quarrel is only with the British Government and not with the rest of the European Union, and that only the British Government are leading the criticism of him? Are the Government satisfied that if he does make remarks of that sort it will be contested by the EU presidency of Portugal and by other Europeans there, including the noble Baroness, Lady Amos?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I trust very much that our partners in the European Union will put forward our point of view and counter anything put forward by Mugabe. The first two plenary sessions of the summit will be devoted to human rights and governance, in which case people can make known their views on the position of Zimbabwe and the situation there.

Lord Hughes of Woodside: My Lords, although it may seem that a solid phalanx of southern African countries and their politicians support Mugabe, is my noble friend aware that, in fact, Kader Asmal, a prominent Member of the South African Parliament and a member of the African National Congress executive, has spoken out strongly, has roundly condemned Mugabe and what is happening in Zimbabwe and, indeed, has apologised for not speaking out earlier? Does this not show that there is a distinct volume of opinion within southern Africa that does not swallow the line that Mugabe is all powerful?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I was aware of the position of the gentleman to whom my noble friend referred, and I very much hope that the fact that he has been willing to voice his fears about Zimbabwe will give courage to other people in his country and in the whole of SADC to ensure that action is taken against the regime in Zimbabwe.

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Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, I welcome the fact that the Prime Minister is not going to the meeting to meet Mugabe. Can we be sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, will be briefed to talk, for instance, with Bernard Kouchner and one or two other really positive members of the EU, and make sure that it is well known how disgraceful and terrible the situation is in Zimbabwe? The people of Zimbabwe will be expecting something of that sort and it must be made absolutely clear. Kouchner is one of the people most likely to support us rigorously. I hope that that will be done, because otherwise it will be an entire victory for Mugabe.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I am confident that my noble friend Lady Amos will be briefed appropriately and that she will in turn take it upon herself to have a dialogue with people like Bernard Kouchner to ensure that they are fully appraised of the situation and that we can, I hope, encourage others publicly to adopt our views after the conference.

Examiner of Petitions for Private Bills

3.07 pm

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Brabazon of Tara): My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That, in accordance with Private Business Standing Order 69 (Appointment of Examiners of Petitions for Private Bills), Mr A Sandall be appointed an Examiner of Petitions for Private Bills.—(The Chairman of Committees.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Regulatory Enforcement and Sanctions Bill [HL]

Lord Bach: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in the name of my noble friend Lord Jones of Birmingham on the Order Paper.

Moved, That it be an instruction to the Grand Committee to which the Regulatory Enforcement and Sanctions Bill [HL] has been committed that they consider the Bill in the following order:

Clause 1Schedule 1Clause 2Schedule 2Clauses 3 and 4Schedule 3Clauses 5 to 26Schedule 4Clauses 27 to 36Schedules 5 and 6Clause 60Schedule 7Clauses 37 to 59Clauses 61 to 73.—(Lord Bach.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

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Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill [HL]

3.08 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Darzi of Denham): My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The LORD SPEAKER in the Chair.]

Clause 1 [Meaning of “embryo” and “gamete”]:

Lord Patel moved Amendment No. 1:

The noble Lord said: I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 2, 10, 11, 13 to 15, 17, 18 and 52. The purpose of these amendments relates to the Bill’s extension of the definition of “gametes” under the 1990 Act to include germ-line cells at any stage of maturity. It is not clear to me why this is necessary or desirable. The extended definition is out of line with the ordinary scientific meaning of the term. Biologically, a diploid germ cell, with a full complement of 46 chromosomes, needs to undergo DNA replication before the DNA divides to become a haploid gamete, with 23 chromosomes. Gametes are germ lines that have at least initiated meiosis—the process of halving the number of chromosomes to create a haploid cell. Therefore, the definition under the Bill extends “gametes” to cover germ lines in the early stage of development which have not reached the stage of becoming gametes. This creates considerable confusion, but with no obvious rationale for treating early-stage germ-line cells in the same way as gametes. Extending the definition of gametes brings immature germ cells under the remit of the Bill and presumably out of the Human Tissue Act. Why is that required?

The first two amendments would remove the extension to early germ cells from the definition of gametes, reverting to the terminology used in the current Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act and Human Tissue Act. That is in keeping with the scientific understanding of the term and keeps those two Acts in line in this respect.

The next seven amendments are consequential, ensuring consistency of approach in the definitions of, and division between, gametes and other cellular tissue. The changes to the definition of gametes and the consequential amendments to the interpretation of cells in new Section 4A(6) will affect the interpretation of the definition of interspecies embryo in new Section 4A(5); for example, some creations such as cytoplasmic hybrids, created by replacing the nucleus of an animal egg with the nucleus of a human germ cell, will now be covered under paragraph (b) of the definition rather than paragraph (a). However, I do not believe that the changes will alter the scope; rather, in my view they will enable a more natural reading of that definition. That covers Amendments Nos. 10, 11, 13 to 15, 17 and 18.

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Finally, I turn to Amendment No. 5, which is also in my name. The background to this amendment is that eggs are naturally formed in the ovary and sperm in the testes. Developments in stem cell biology indicate that it is possible to make sperm from embryonic or other stem cells. These are being called artificial gametes, and early studies in mice confirm the reproductive potential of these cells. They are thus seen as a potential cure for some forms of infertility; for example, in cases where the testes no longer function as a result of cancer treatment or where sperm production is defective. Although it may be several years before the use of artificial gametes in clinical trials can be initiated, it is most likely that this will happen within the next five to 10 years. The Bill must take account of this likely development, and I am told that the UK is now leading the international field in this respect.

The 1990 Act makes no mention of artificial gametes but, in the 2005 consultation on the review of the Act, the Government state:

However, in the White Paper, the Government proposed a ban on the use of artificial gametes—a view which they stated was well supported by the responses received to their consultation. As it stands, the Bill prohibits the use or treatment of gametes other than those that originate from the ovary or testes.

The Government also considered introducing a regulation-making power to permit the future use of gametes. The White Paper stated:

The problem is that the Bill does not permit the use of gametes which do not originate from testes or ovaries for the purpose of creating a permitted embryo under a treatment licence from the HFEA. Furthermore, there is no regulation-making power in the Bill to enable such treatment to be permitted in the future as there is, for example, for the use of mitochondrial transplant embryos, which we shall discuss later under the amendment of my noble friend Lord Walton of Detchant. Several leading researchers are already working in this area in the United Kingdom. In fact, the United Kingdom has managed to recruit scientists from overseas because of our legislative support. If we do not allow that to continue, research in this area will stop.

3.15 pm

The following consequences will flow from the current position under the Bill. UK researchers are pursuing research projects to develop treatments for infertility which will become illegal in primary legislation and require further primary legislation to permit them in the future. That could have inevitable consequences such as difficulty in obtaining funding

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for such research and consequences for the future of clinical trials and for infertile patients who wish to have their own children.

It must also be remembered that artificial gametes could be derived from bone marrow stem cells, other adult stem cells or adult cells in which pluripotency has been induced. Therefore, it does not refer only to embryonic stem cells. That makes the potential use in therapy even less controversial, especially in the case of derivation from adult stem cells where no genes are inserted to reprogram the nucleus.

If such treatment were not banned—and this is important—several safeguards remain. First, the use of such gametes for fertility treatment would require a licence. Secondly, the HFEA has powers to ensure that the procedure used for the creation and use of embryos for fertility treatment takes account of the welfare of any child that may result. The Bill thus requires that safety issues are the priority consideration of any treatment license application that would use artificial gametes for fertility purposes. If regulation-making powers were included in the Bill, as the noble Lord, Lord Walton, suggests, additional oversight by Parliament would be available.

I do not suggest that a therapeutic application of this technology is imminent, but it is likely to emerge at some point in the foreseeable future. A clinical trial may be proposed and Parliament needs to be in a position to permit the HFEA to license at that point—hence my amendments. These amendments, on which the noble Lord, Lord Winston, may wish to comment, are supported by those who work in the clinical infertility area, such as the British Fertility Society and the British Medical Association.

I turn to Amendments Nos. 51 and 53. The Bill as introduced uses the term “human cell” throughout Schedule 3 but does not fully clarify its meaning in that context. This creates ambiguity as to its scope, and as to the meaning of the phrases in which it is used in the schedule, including “a person’s human cells” and “a person providing human cells”. It is unclear to me whether the term refers to cells from an individual, in line with the approach taken in the Human Tissue Act 2004, or to cells artificially created in vitro; that is, cell lines. By extension, it is unclear whether references to “a person’s human cells” are to cells from the body of a person or cells, such as cell lines, that may be personal property and are owned by the person who generated them in vitro.

In my view, clarification of that definition is pivotal to the consent provision in Schedule 3. Cell lines created in vitro are currently outside the scope of the 1990 Act. They are also outside the scope of the Human Tissue Act 2004. This approach is entirely logical and sensible. If the consent requirements of the 1990 Act were extended by the Bill to cell lines, vast stores of valuable cell lines currently held in public, charitable and commercial collections of cell lines would become unusable for the purposes set out in Schedule 3, contrary to the interests of patients and public. The approach adopted to cell lines to date has significant support and we see no reason to change it. I presume that that is not the Government’s intention.

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The amendment would make it clear that a “human cell” in Schedule 3 is a cell from the body of a person and that references to a person in the phrase “a person’s human cells” are to the person from whose body the cell has come. The amendment also makes it clear that the requirements of Schedule 3 do not apply to cell lines generated in vitro from human cells.

Briefly, on the other amendments in this group, I support the amendment of my noble friend Lord Walton and Amendment No. 5, which would clearly define a permitted egg, sperm and embryo. I shall reserve my comments on Amendment No. 2A, tabled by my noble friend Lord Alton. I beg to move.

Lord Elton: Somewhat surprisingly, it may be appropriate to speak now to Amendment No. 2A, which has been tabled in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and myself. The noble Lord, Lord Patel, has lucidly illustrated to your Lordships the intimate relationship between the use of language and the activities of researchers; that is what the Bill is concerned with.

The noble Lord, Lord Patel, has three sub-groups within this group. In the first he refers to a series of provisions that, possibly unintentionally, affect the research procedures that may be embarked on, and in the second he refers to developments that can be expected to take place in five to 10 years, a period in which the Bill is expected to continue, as an Act of Parliament, to provide for the contingency of those developments. It must be clear to all of us that, in the next 10 years, many unforeseen developments will arrive in this fast-moving field of research. It is undoubtedly with that in mind that the Bill’s drafters included Clause 1(5) to give the Secretary of State the power to intervene to change the meanings of terms which are already understood to be defined in the Bill as your Lordships have it. That is in fact a power to change, possibly dramatically, the effect of the Act of Parliament that we have in mind should be put on the statute book.

It is appropriate to raise that point now in order to ask Members of the Committee to have at the back of their minds throughout the discussion of this group, and every time a question of a definition or change of definition arises, the question whether that definition or change would fall under the provisions of Clause 1(5). If it would, one would have to think carefully whether some politician—not necessarily a member of a Government, let alone this one—shall be given the power to decide what shall be the effect in the years to come of what your Lordships are doing today and in the next three Committee sittings. I would submit that that is a power that we should not surrender. The reason that the Bill has attracted so much public interest and filled your Lordships’ in-trays with petitions is that it closely affects the emotions as well as the genes not only of ourselves but of future generations.

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