Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

In fact, the letter that my right honourable friend sent to the noble Lord explains the delay. In it, he said:

10 Dec 2007 : Column 8

The Secretary of State went on to say that he would be happy to meet the noble Lord to explain that. Perhaps I should point out that whether my right honourable friend is meeting the noble Lord or working on other matters, he is the Secretary of State 24 hours a day, seven days a week, every day of the year.

Lord Boyce: My Lords, I do not doubt that Mr Des Browne, the Secretary of State for Defence, is both hard-working and extremely conscientious, but this is not a matter of clearing one’s in-tray or managing one’s diary. We are at war, and this is about leadership. Does the Minister accept that the perception of our soldiers, sailors and airmen—I meet many of our servicemen and servicewomen—is that their commitment, which sadly sometimes involves the ultimate sacrifice, is not matched by this Government in a number of ways, not least by their extraordinary unwillingness to have a full-time Secretary of State at these times of high levels of war fighting?

Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, if the role of the Secretary of State for Defence was simply to clear his in-tray, I suspect that a figure could be put on the number of hours he spends doing that, but it is clearly much more than that. There is never a day, an hour or any time when the Secretary of State is not fully conscious of his very significant responsibilities. At the moment, my right honourable friend is in Afghanistan visiting the troops there yet again. I think that this is his fifth visit to Afghanistan. He has made seven visits to Iraq, which makes his visits at least once every two months into theatre. That commitment is extremely high and shows how seriously he takes his responsibilities. I also reject the idea that he has not delivered in other ways through welfare packages and compensation for those with multiple injuries, and in tackling some of the legacy problems that have been around for many years involving such issues as housing and accommodation generally. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State has a record of which he can be proud, which shows his full commitment to the responsibilities that he holds.

Lord Addington: My Lords, as the Secretary of State for Defence has on several occasions said publicly that the job for Scotland does not take up much time, would it not be appropriate if someone else did that job?

Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, that is a matter for the Prime Minister.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My Lords—

Lord Snape: My Lords—

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Ashton of Upholland): My Lords, it is the turn of the Labour Benches.

Lord Snape: My Lords, can my noble friend confirm that the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, is an expert on having two jobs? In the 1980s, he was not only Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster but chairman of the Conservative Party. He managed to fall out

10 Dec 2007 : Column 9

with the then Prime Minister. Could my noble friend ascertain from him which job caused the difficulty at that time?

As for the words from the Cross Benches, will my noble friend accept from me as a former corporal in the Royal Engineers in the 1960s that most of us did not give a bugger who the Secretary of State was?

Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, as a new Minister, I am not sure how far I should follow the suggestions of my noble friend. I am aware that the noble Lord had more than one job and that he was not unique in that. I am also aware that my noble friend is very talented and often gets straight to the point on many issues. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State made it clear that in all his visits—as I said, he is a regular visitor to the Armed Forces—no one has raised the issue of his Scottish role. His record and the reaction from the ground stand him in good stead. It is acknowledged that he is generally serious in his responsibilities and does a good job.

Human Rights: UN Conventions

3.05 pm

Lord Ahmed: asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Malloch-Brown): My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for the opportunity to discuss the Government’s international human rights work on International Human Rights Day. The Government are fully committed to promoting respect internationally for the core UN human rights conventions. We work actively with Governments, both bilaterally and in multilateral bodies, to promote respect for all those conventions to which the UK is party. We also lobby Governments who have not yet signed these conventions to consider doing so.

Lord Ahmed: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. Is he aware that many Governments around the world use the war on terror as a pretext to abuse human rights? Will the Government promote adherence to international human rights and democracy whenever the Department for International Development gives aid to developing countries?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, my noble friend is very familiar with some of those cases. He has demonstrated, through his own travels and action, his support for human rights around the world. It is certainly in the dialogue between DfID and our partner countries to ensure that there is respect for human rights in those countries.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, the Joint Committee on Human Rights, on which I serve, has been trying for some time to persuade the Government to accept the right of petition under the First Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to allow our people to complain to the committee about breaches of the covenant. It has done the same with regard to the Convention on the Elimination of

10 Dec 2007 : Column 10

All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Is the Minister aware that the Government’s alibi is that they are not convinced of the practical value of this? If that is still the position today, on International Human Rights Day, can he explain how it is in the best interests of the United Kingdom to be alone in the European Union in taking that position and almost alone within the Council of Europe? Why do we allow women to take their cases under the CEDAW mechanism but not black people and not the rest of us under the other mechanisms?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, the noble Lord draws attention to the optional protocols on individual petitions. On women’s rights, we have, as a matter of experimentation, signed up to the optional protocol to allow women to bring such cases. We have not done so more broadly because these optional protocols are not a judicial process and do not allow the awarding of damages. We believe that we can more effectively address these issues through other arrangements.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, is the report correct that Mr Mugabe signed a document in Lisbon on human rights, democracy and their worth? Does that not make a farce of that procedure? Could your Lordships’ House have at an early opportunity a good report of what went on at that acrimonious and apparently totally unsuccessful meeting?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, I am not aware that Mr Mugabe signed such a document, but am not surprised if he did. Double standards do not seem to trouble him. We will be delighted to brief the House on the meeting.

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, on this anniversary day celebrating human rights, can the Minister tell the House anything about the situation in Burma and North Korea? In Burma, Aung San Suu Kyi remains under house arrest and we have seen Buddhist monks mowed down by the military in the past few months. In North Korea, despite some progress in the six-party talks on nuclear disarmament, little progress seems to have been made on human rights.

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, I am glad that the noble Lord draws attention to both cases on this particular day. We continue to be active with Burma’s neighbours, as well as with the international community, to try to ensure more effective action. We hope that the Secretary-General’s special representative will return to Burma in the coming weeks and allow a dialogue to proceed. In the case of North Korea, the human rights situation remains appalling. We hope that, if there is progress on the six-party talks, one consequence may be a gradual liberalisation of the political situation inside that unhappy country.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, the Minister did not answer my noble friend’s question: why are we the only the nation in the European Union with a reservation on the right of petition? May I also ask whether the Government will reconsider their reservation on the Convention on the Rights of the Child in view of the numerous reports of the violation of children’s rights in immigration detention, of which there was an outstanding example this morning?

10 Dec 2007 : Column 11

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, we will continue to keep the rights of the child under review, but we do not feel at this stage that it would help in addressing the kind of case to which he refers. More broadly, this is not an absolute position on our part. We empirically review this, and do not believe that this is a way to further the protection of the rights of children or the other groups referred to. However, we are not ideological about this, and if there is evidence to the contrary, we will certainly reconsider it.

Lord Roberts of Llandudno: My Lords, is the Minister satisfied that the UK is not in breach of the United Nations convention, especially under Section 9 of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, the Minister is certainly not certain, and will look into it.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, every other EU state, and most Commonwealth democracies, allow people to take their cases to Geneva under the ICCPR. Their experience is all the empirical experience in the world, so I do not understand why, on Human Rights Day, the Government could not have got credit in the international community for saying that we will follow the rest of the democratic world. Could the Minister explain?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, the noble Lord is deeply committed to this issue, and I am not the first Minister to respond to him on it. Our view remains that we can more effectively protect those rights without availing ourselves of the individual protocol arrangement. As I say, however, we are happy to continue to discuss and review this.

Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill [HL]

3.12 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 again 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.]

Schedule 2 [Activities that may be licensed under the 1990 Act]:

[Amendment No. 49 not moved.]

Clauses 12 and 13 agreed to.

Schedule 3 [Consent to use or storage of gametes, embryos or inter-species embryos etc]:

Lord Patel moved Amendment No. 50:

“Consent in relation to children for storage and use for research

10 Dec 2007 : Column 12

The noble Lord said: Amendments Nos. 50 and 54 relate to consent for research into children, and would be inserted after new paragraphs 12 and 16(4) of Schedule 3 to the 1990 Act as new paragraphs 12A and 16(5) of the schedule, as amended. The Bill provides that consent to the storage and use of a person’s gametes, human cells or embryos—and, for that matter, interspecies embryos created from such a person’s gametes or human cells—must be obtained from that person. The Bill does not make provision for consent to be obtained for such purposes from parents on behalf of their children. This amendment makes provision for those exceptional cases where research into childhood diseases and other serious conditions involves taking gametes and human cells or a skin cell—a fibroblast—from a child, through an embryonic stage, to develop embryonic stem cells or embryonic-like stem cells. This cannot be carried out using gametes or cells obtained from adults, or children with the capacity to consent.

A number of childhood diseases—I am sorry to burden noble Lords with the medical terminology—such as Batten disease, lissencephaly, non-syndromic renal hypodysplasia, some types of syndromes called Alport or Alpers’ syndrome and polycystic kidney disease, affect the development of the brain and therefore motor neurones, and are associated with serious kidney diseases. The child typically dies within the first two years of life. The ability to create disease models for such diseases from tissues obtained from a child is necessary to further our understanding, and our ability to treat and prevent such diseases. To develop these diseases, scientists need to be able to take somatic cells from these children through an embryo phase in order to generate embryonic stem cells or embryonic-like stem cells, which, in turn, would allow the disease models to be studied.

Somatic cell nuclear transfer technologies—or SCNTs, as they are known—can be used to generate embryonic stem cells that are customised to specific patients, including children with leukaemia, immune deficiency and sickle cell anaemia. That could be done using the new science of induced pluripotent cells. Using these cells, researchers hope to be able to correct the genetic defects in the patient’s specific cells, direct their differentiation into blood, and ultimately identify future

10 Dec 2007 : Column 13

clinical treatments. Research using this material from children is therefore important. It should not be undertaken lightly. It needs to be subject to the strictest safeguards of the 1990 Act, but also to the further conditions set out as part of these amendments.

These conditions borrow from other sources, including some of the protections in the research provisions of the Mental Capacity Act 2005. The amendment will allow embryos or stem cells to be created using gametes or cells from children, to be used in research into serious childhood diseases or conditions, with the consent of a person with parental responsibility and subject to the fulfilment of certain additional conditions. These include, most importantly, the necessity test, which will ensure that such work is only carried out where it could not be carried using the cells of gametes from adults or children with capacity. I hope that, with these conditions, this amendment can go ahead. I beg to move.

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My noble friend Lord Patel has just said that there should be the strictest safeguards. He has also said that we should not proceed to incorporate these amendments as a light undertaking. He has recognised the seriousness of what is proposed in these amendments. Like him, we all want to see cures for the sorts of diseases that he has just enumerated. However, the Committee also needs to consider whether this is the right way to do it.

These amendments in the name of my noble friend would overturn most of the current prohibitions and would enable gametes and cells of non-consenting children to be removed from their bodies and used to make interspecies embryos or human embryos for research. Proposed new paragraph 12A(1) would permit all types of hybrids specified in new Section 4A of the 1990 Act to be made from these children’s gametes, including true hybrids at new Section 4A(5)(a), interspecies cloned embryos at new Section 4A(5)(b), human animal- transgenic embryos at new Section 4A(5)(c), animal human chimeric embryos at new Section 4A(5)(d), and such other things as may be specified in regulations at new Section 4A(5)(e). It would also permit human embryos, including cloned human embryos, to be made from their gametes and cells. These could be made from the gametes and cells of non-consenting children for research, using them in combination with human or animal eggs. These interspecies or human embryos could also be stored and used without consent. That is the issue on which my noble friend and I will part company. It raises a number of objections on which the Committee will want to reflect.

For instance, later in life, a non-consenting child might feel considerable antagonism that their gametes and cells were taken and used to create interspecies embryos without consent. Whatever the benefits that may be cited, where is the principle of autonomy that is so frequently cited in other debates in your Lordships' House? I can imagine the anger of a young adult who felt that their very personhood had been violated and sacrificed to a supposed greater scientific good. For example, how would a teenage girl feel if a true hybrid had been made between her eggs and animal sperm? Alluring scientific possibilities should never be allowed to corrode our sensibilities.

10 Dec 2007 : Column 14

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page