HC Deb 15 February 1985 vol 73 cc637-702

Order for Second Reading read.

Mr. Speaker

Before I call the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) to move the Second Reading of his Bill, I must tell the House that more than 40 right hon. and hon. Gentlemen have have indicated their wish to take part in this debate.

I propose to apply the 10-minute limit on speeches between 11.30 and 1 o'clock, but I hope that those right hon. and hon. Members who are called both before and after that time will bear that limit broadly in mind.

9.48 am
Mr. J. Enoch Powell (South Down)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The Bill has a single and simple purpose. It is to render it unlawful for a human embryo created by in vitro fertilisation to be used as the subject of experiment or, indeed, in any other way or for any other purpose except to enable a woman to bear a child.

Almost as important as what the Bill seeks is what the Bill does not seek to do. At this early stage in my speech I want to bring that firmly to the attention of the House. The Bill does not concern itself in any way with questions such as those of surrogacy, abortion, or the source of the gametes of a fertilised ovum. All that side of this great question lies outside the scope of the Bill, from which it is my opinion wholly capable of being separated.

The second thing which the Bill does not do is to interfere in any way with the procedures which are in use at present for enabling women who would not otherwise be able to do so to bear children. The Bill is deliberately and carefully drawn so as in no way to interfere with those procedures.

At this point I invite the attention of the House to the successive provisions of the Bill. It had been my original intention, as is the ambition of most hon. Members who are lucky in the ballot for private Member's Bills, to be able to frame a single-clause Bill which would outlaw the mischief at which the Bill is aimed. But both advice and reflection convinced me that that would be neither effective nor right. It is not possible for this House to proscribe as unlawful a particular action but to provide no means whereby its will can be carried out and the execution of its intentions subjected to surveillance and policing. It was necessary to set up under the Bill a mechanism which would ensure that the purpose of the House and its objective, if it accepts the Bill, is carried out.

That is not a difficulty which is unique to this Bill. Those who sought to frame legislation to carry out the recommendations of the Warnock report, to permit experimentation under licence upon a human embryo, would find themselves equally obliged to establish a system of notification in order that the licensing might be effective. In order to permit, it would also be necessary to prohibit. It is not a vice of this Bill that it is obliged for its purposes to create the machinery which is set out in the Bill. The Bill proceeds, then, by prohibiting the procurement of a fertilisation or the possession of a human embryo except under specific authority. The remainder of the Bill is concerned with the definition and the operation of that authority.

The authority is the authority given by the Secretary of State, subject to the conditions that are set out in the Bill.

Mr. Robert Jackson (Wantage)

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether it is his intention, because it is not made clear in the Bill, that the provider of the ovum and the person who receives the embryo should be the same person? Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that if that were to be the case it would severely limit the range of infertility problems that could be treated?

Mr. Powell

I am much obliged to the hon. Member for Wantage (Mr. Jackson). I had hoped I made it clear in my introductory remarks that there was no question of the origins of the gametes from which the fertilised ovum proceeds being in any way controlled or regulated by the provisions of the Bill, nor is there any power in the Bill to do so.

The over-arching requirement of the authority is that it be given solely for the purpose of enabling a named woman to bear a child. The reason why the woman has to be specified is that if the authority were to be for the general purpose of promoting childbirth or fertility, it would not be possible for the intention of the House, if it accepts the Bill, to be seen to be carried out: the process has to be authorised as specifically for the benefit of a certain woman in order to enable her to bear a child. That is a condition which the Secretary of State has no power to limit or to modify. The law would lay that down as an overriding condition.

The Secretary of State's authority would automatically be given upon the application of two medical practitioners. This is essentially a trigger mechanism. It does not entrust to the Secretary of State, or impose upon him, any discretion to pick and choose between one such request and another. It is an automatic compliance with an application duly made.

However, the Secretary of State does have certain duties in respect of the authority which he gives, namely, to specify the persons by whom the operation is to be carried out and also the place or places where it is to be carried out and the persons who may have possession of the embryos produced by fertilisation. Those requirements are necessary for it to be possible to establish that the provisions and intentions of the Bill are being carried out.

Perhaps I should say at this stage that I accept that, if the will of the House and of Parliament is clearly made known in terms of legislation, I do not impute it to the medical profession that it would be looking for ways to evade the will of Parliament. The procedure laid down in the Bill is necessary so that it may be seen that the will of Parliament, if the Bill is enacted, is being carried out.

As to the duration of the authority, that is deliberately so chosen as not to intefere with the procedures at present being carried out to enable women who would not otherwise be able to do so to have children. But should the periods that are set out in the Bill not be satisfactory in a particular case — should, for example, a series of mischances make it impossible for the insertion to take place within the four or the extended six months—no limitation whatsoever, no inhibition, is placed on a renewed application de novo for a new authority.

The Bill proceeds to make provision for the details of the application for authority and of the granting of authority—details that will need, in the terms of the Bill, to come before the House before effect is given to them. They are clearly necessary so as to ensure that the Secretary of State has the power to obtain the necessary particulars in order that his authority may be duly and appropriately given.

Subsection (5) is a penalty clause. Again I must confide to the House that my original intention was different from that which appears in the Bill. I had originally thought that a merely nominal penalty would be appropriate to what I have already said about my view of the attitude of the medical profession. But again, upon reflection and advice, I was convinced it would be inappropriate for this House to identify a matter of such great gravity that it should be prohibited by law without the infraction of that legislation attracting a penalty appropriate to such a serious offence. However, I say again that I do not regard the penalties as the real nature of the deterrent or of the authority which I am asking the House to give. It is in the opinion of the country, as I hope this House and Parliament will express it, that the real sanction and the real authority reside.

Of finance, hon. Members will understand that I had no alternative, unless I was to seek a money resolution from the Government, to make the Bill as it stands self-financing. I do not like this. If the House gives a Second Reading to the Bill, I shall ask the Government, in view of the decision of the House, to provide a money resolution so that the actions of the Secretary of State in implementing the Bill can be carried out under the same financial conditions as the other duties laid upon him by law.

Such, then, are the provisions of the Bill. Hon. Members will have seen that it has been drawn with a jealous care to ensure that it inhibits or prevents no one from obtaining the blessing of a child by means of in vitro fertilisation through any process which is at present in action. Indeed, it would be true to say that the Bill in no way inhibits the future improvement of those processess by those who are engaged in carrying them out.

If within his clinical responsibility the practitioner in charge decides, with a view to increasing the chance of success in enabling a woman to bear a child, to use a process which has not hitherto been used, in good faith and with the intention that it should increase the chance of the embryo surviving and of a child being born, there is nothing in the Bill which will prohibit it.

Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon)

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. I declare an interest in the matter. Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the Bill will prevent medical research into in vitro embryos of up to 14 days, research which is central to the overcoming of many genetic disorders which are transmitted down the female line, and in so doing will end the hopes and aspirations of countless thousands of families of disabled children and prevent doctors from undertaking research which can be accomplished successfully within the next few years?

Mr. Powell

I hope that it will be the hon. Gentleman's good fortune to catch the eye of the Chair later in the debate, but I trust he will credit me with not having intended to conclude my speech without referring to so substantial a matter as that which he has mentioned.

I was making it clear that no new methods, no alterations in procedure, which are adopted in order that the process of insertion may have a better chance of succeeding for the purpose of enabling a woman to bear a child are excluded in any way by the Bill.

Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge)


Mr. Powell

I am anxious not to take too much of the time of the House. May I ask for the patience of the hon. Gentleman, because I may clear his point? If I appear not to be doing so, I shall gladly give way to him at a later stage.

There is an essential and visible difference between what I have just described and the process of experiment. There is a difference between adopting a procedure hitherto not tested with a view to a greater prospect of success in enabling a woman to bear a child and on the other hand using a human embryo, normally to destruction, in order to increase the sum of knowledge. There need be no quibble or doubt about the boundary line between progress in the fertilisation procedures and what is meant by experimentation which the Bill intends to eliminate.

The question may now be asked — it has been anticipated in a sense by the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley)—why should a Bill be brought forward to forbid the use of a human embryo thus produced from becoming the subject of experiment? If I may, I should like to begin to answer that question in personal terms.

When I first read the Warnock report I had a sense of revulsion and repugnance, deep and instinctive, towards the proposition that a thing, however it may be defined, of which the sole purpose or object is that it may be a human life, should be subjected to experiment to its destruction for the purpose of the acquisition of knowledge.

I formed that view and it was strengthened by my indignation at the suggestion that the House might be asked to surrender its judgment and powers in such a matter to the judgment of a body of persons, however eminent or distinguished, however expert or inexpert, who would, from case to case, decide whether a process inherently repugnant should be performed.

I soon discovered, having formed that opinion for myself, that it was widely shared. It came to my knowledge that it was shared inside as well as outside the medical profession, that it was shared among all classes and callings and throughout the people of this country. That early impression has been abundantly confirmed by the expressions of public opinion since it became known that there was a possibility of this legislation.

I do not appeal to some abstract principle from which such deductions can be drawn. I do not appeal to a definition of the embryo which would seek to settle the probably impossible question of the stage at which a human being becomes a human being. That question is unanswerable, because it goes to the heart of the great unanswerable question: what is man?

Many of those who wish the Bill well, many of the millions out of doors who we know want to see the Bill reach the statute book, believe that it is authorised by and in accordance with their religious beliefs. I have no complaint or criticism of that. On the other hand, I have a great envy of people who have that faith and certitude. Yet I must tell the House that I would make the plea that I am making this morning exactly as I am doing if I were addressing an assembly of atheists in an atheist country. [Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

Perhaps the right hon. Member will continue. This is an important debate and we do not want it to be interrupted if we can avoid it.

Mr. Powell

The repugnance with which those of many religious persuasions or none view the actions that the Bill would forbid is of a more fundamental character. It is an instinct implanted in a human society. This is the recognition by a human society of its obligation to itself, to future generations and to human nature.

It is argued—and this is the principal case as the hon. Member for Caenarfon said against the Bill—that to permit the use of the fertilised embryo for research would open the way to new and useful medical knowledge. I do not stand here as a layman to dispute that. True, I must admit I have a suspicion that the inquiring human spirit will, if denied one avenue of arriving at truth and information, speedily find other ways of doing so. I have also been impressed to see a profound difference of opinion on this very point among people apparently equally qualified in the medical profession and in the sciences.

Nevertheless, I do not ask the House to reject that proposition. On the contrary, I ask the House to face it. I ask the House, in coming to its decision, to make the assumption that by means of what the Bill will prohibit, useful and beneficial knowledge could in future be obtained. I ask the House to exercise a choice—it is indeed making a choice — and to decide that nevertheless the moral, human and social cost of that information being obtained in a way that outrages the instincts of so many is too great a price to pay.

There is at issue that sense in all of us which we inadequately describe as a sense of what is owed to the dignity of man. In that remarkable compilation of thought and wisdom known as the Talmud, I found a principle enunciated and argued that seemed to crystallise the very essence of that which this Bill asks—"Gadol kavod haberiot". Those three Hebrew words mean, "In case of doubt or difficulty, of conflict of authority or interest, let the dignity of man always prevail". I hope that the decision of the House on this Bill will accord with that principle. I believe that it is a principle which the country preponderently wishes to see affirmed by its representatives in Parliament. I ask them to uphold and assert the dignity of man by giving the Bill a Second Reading.

10.11 am
Ms. Jo Richardson (Barking)

In some senses the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) has put his finger on the essence of the debate in assuming that it concerns only the dignity of man. However, it also concerns the dignity of women, and that should not be forgotten. I am not being frivolous. At the beginning of the debate, Mr. Speaker announced that more than 40 hon. Gentlemen wished to speak, and in so doing ignored the fact that there were several women in the House who also wanted to contribute to the debate.

Mr. Ian Mikardo (Bow and Poplar)

It may help my hon. Friend's case if I inform her that the word "beriot", used by the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell), does not mean men but creatures, and thus includes women.

Ms. Richardson

I am not sure whether that intervention helps my case, but it shows that there is some difference of interpretation of the Hebrew words as between my hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Poplar (Mr. Mikardo) and the right hon. Member for South Down.

Today, the House could take a most serious step, and that is why it is so full. The private Member's debates that we hold on a Friday are quite different from the debates held on other weekdays. Unfortunately, we usually know the outcome of debates held on other weekdays, because they are predetermined, but on Fridays we all have an opportunity to make our individual view known, and the outcome is not certain. Nevertheless, we could take a very serious and retrograde step today, which would enshrine in law what the magazine Nature—not exactly a Leftist feminist magazine — described in its editorial of 7 February as home-made and half-baked legislation. The right hon. Member for South Down, with his knowledge of the House, his command of drafting and his meticulously prepared speeches, is listened to with the greatest of respect, although we do not always agree with everything that he says. I am sure that he would be offended by that description in Nature, but it represents the views of many practitioners and laboratory researchers who have been working for years to help infertile women and to try to eliminate the miscarriages that cause so much physical and emotional suffering, and who have tried to make some progress towards the prevention of congenital malformations in future generations. They have also been working to help male infertility. Indeed, male infertility accounts for about half of the problems of infertility.

Although the right hon. Member for South Down and his supporters claim that the Bill will not interfere with research into infertility, that is not the opinion of distinguished men and women who are qualified in a way that we are not. Having read the Bill, they believe that it will have the effect of outlawing such research. Even if the right hon. Gentleman is right, and the Bill does not close the door on infertile couples, and the doctors are wrong, the Bill will impose the most serious and alarming procedures on the practice of in vitro fertilisation, under which the infertile woman will have to be named in advance by physicians and will have to await the Secretary of State's express permission.

That procedure, which is incredibly bureaucratic, represents a serious threat to the civil liberties of the women concerned. Hon. Members should note that yet again women are not to be allowed to decide for themselves, in conjunction with their doctors, but will have to await the Secretary of State's express consent.

Mrs. Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Ms. Richardson

I shall give way in a moment.

The right hon. Member for South Down said that such consent would be absolutely automatic. I accept his word for that, and that was no doubt his intention, but that is not what the Bill says.

Mr. Leo Abse (Torfaen)

Although the Bill states certain rules specifically, it does not withdraw discretion from the Secretary of State. Thus the proposition is being put to the House that we should have licensed motherhood at the behest of anonymous bureaucrats in Whitehall.

Ms. Richardson

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and that is my point. The Secretary of State is not a doctor but a politician. Neither he nor his officials—after all, very few of them are doctors—could possibly have the expertise to say yes or no to such a request. Under the Bill, the decision would be quite arbitrary, no matter how many forms the doctor and patient had to complete.

The Bill restricts to four months the period in which any woman can have in vitro fertilisation and requires a further application for this to be extended by two months. There is no medical or justifiable reason for that. The criminal offence hanging over the medical profession will literally mean the end of the observation of human embryos. No one in their right mind would be willing to risk making a paperwork mistake because of the fear of prosecution. The Bill brings the criminal law and the threat of prosecution into yet another area of reproduction, paving the way for more and more restrictive laws that limit a woman's choice.

Hon. Members and the public have understandable pictures in their minds of genetic engineering—a sort of Hammer movies nightmare version of manipulation that would produce a race of Frankensteins. Of course Parliament must control and monitor the activities of practitioners and researchers. Indeed, that is what the Warnock committee, with all its months and months of deliberation, came to a conclusion about. The practitioners and laboratory researchers have said time and again that they want to be accountable for their actions. But to rush into legislation, as we are doing, that will close the door entirely on the beneficial effects of the years of patient research — which has resulted not in a generation of Frankensteins but in a movement towards eliminating the pain and suffering of children and their parents—is a cruel and unnecessary blow to the hopes of infertile couples, and will deprive us all of the benefits of properly controlled research.

Mr. Nicholls

The hon. Lady is making a powerful speech in which she is asserting the rights of women. Does she intend to speak about the rights of the embryo—the rights of one human being not to be subjugated to the interests of another—or is she saying that the human embryo has no rights?

Ms. Richardson

If the hon. Gentleman will be patient, I shall come to that.

We are repeatedly told that 2 million people have signed petitions opposing all experimentation. I do not dispute the figures, though I have in mind a picture of organisations—I do not know who or what they are—in back offices totting up the totals. This morning we heard about petitions containing thousands of signatures and, as I say, I do not dispute the figures. However, I am willing to bet that few of the signatories—and I do not doubt their sincerity in signing—were given all the facts and had all the beneficial effects explained to them.

Like other hon. Members, I have discussed this matter with groups of people in my constituency and elsewhere. Their mental picture of experiments, I found, was of doctors and technicians chopping away at perfectly formed miniatures the size of tadpoles. Of course that idea revolted them, just as it revolts me. When I explained to them that an embryo was one of 1,000 or even 100,000, the rest of which died anyway, and that it was at day one smaller than the point of a pin and invisible to the naked eye, they were nonplussed.

I am not suggesting that size necessarily affects the argument if one believes that, from day one, the embryo —or the conceptus, which is the correct word to use—should have the protection of the law. I am sure, however, that many of those honest signatories might have taken a different view if the picture had not been painted for them of evil scientists chopping up little babies, because that impression has been given.

I prefer to take not just the emotive views of people but the informed view, for example, of the National Federation of Women's Institutes. That body took the trouble to debate at its county federations the issues arising from Warnock. They represent about 350,000 women of all denominations and political views, and 51 of the 70 federations presented their views. Those views were divided, some being on one side, others being disturbed by some issues raised by Warnock and others being concerned with other matters in Warnock. However, on in vitro fertilisation, they agreed that IVF and artificial insemination by husbands should be available, subject to the controls proposed by the Warnock Committee. Regarding research on human embryos, they were almost unanimously repelled by the idea of research, but they were divided on the nature of any future policy. They therefore reluctantly agree with the Warnock Committee recommendation that research on human embryos should be permitted only under licence, up to the fourteenth day after fertilisation." That is a sane and sensible point of view to hold.

Mrs. Elizabeth Peacock (Batley and Spen)


Ms. Richardson

I hope that the hon. Lady will permit me to continue my argument.

The federation has approached this issue in a serious way, respecting and acknowledging the reactions of many of its members who, though totally opposed, are adopting a common-sense attitude. The House would do well to follow that example today.

The Government could immediately legislate to set up a licensing authority providing that research teams should disclose their plans and obtain approval for them. There would be nothing against that, and most hon. Members would agree that that would be a sensible step to take. It would give us a breathing space in which to give proper consideration not just to the problems created by research but to the beneficial effects, which take a considerable time to become clear. We cannot tell in a matter of weeks or a few months what those beneficial effects will be. However, if we gave ourselves a breathing space, we could examine the beneficial effects and then, with a balanced picture before us, consider permanent legislation.

I find it hard to understand the moral argument that is put forward about the protection of the embryo. There appears to be no suggestion of protecting all embryos—for example, those which are lost through the use of the IUD, the interuterine device; there is no suggestion that all conceptuses should be protected. It is accepted that millions are lost, and there is no law to collect them, as it were; they die naturally and there is no feeling for them.

The moralists are being selective in their approach. I am selective, too. I am selective about the future well-being of all children. That, I believe, should take precedence over the protection of individual embryos. I hope that all in this House want healthy children born free from possible disorders which hamper them and their parents and cause so much distress.

Mr. Albert McQuarrie (Banff and Buchan)

When the hon. Lady says that she wants to protect children, is she saying that she does not believe that the embryo becomes a human being at conception? In other words, does she not consider that the embryo, within the first 14 days, is a human being and of life?

Ms. Richardson

Some embryos become humans and others die. I pointed out that hundreds of thousands get lost, anyway.

Mr. Peter Bruinvels (Leicester, East)


Ms. Richardson

I shall not give way. I am anxious to conclude my remarks so that others may contribute to the debate.

The Bill, if passed, will not only endanger the prospects of healthy and happy parents and children. It will prevent that. I urge hon. Members to look into their hearts and ask themselves if that is really what they want. The Bill represents an attack on one of the most promising forms of infertility treatment for women, on the small amount of work that is being done on male infertility, on the doctors and scientists who do that work and on the value of research in general.

Couples anxious to have children — I heard two of them speaking in a moving way on Radio 4 this morning — are listening to today's debate with apprehension. They are waiting to hear what this House, in its inexpert way—I emphasise that—decides.

Mrs. Renée Short (Wolverhampton, North-East)

This male-dominated House.

Ms. Richardson

As my hon. Friend points out, this is a male-dominated House. I beg hon. Members to think carefully before taking what is an extremely serious step.

10.28 am
Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas (Chelmsford)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Bow and Poplar (Mr. Mikardo) on his intervention on the Hebrew language. At a time when slanging matches in this House are, alas, becoming common, it is comforting to find that the art of parliamentary debate is not yet quite dead.

I congratulate the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) on introducing the Bill. He has moved in where angels fear to tread, although some of the noises he aroused from above—from the Strangers' Gallery—were the reverse of angelic. He is tackling one of the most complex and intractable problems of our time. I do not believe that the right hon. Gentleman is always on the side of the angels, and if I were to say so, he would not thank me for it. However, I believe that in this case he is, and —if he will allow me to say so—his speech matched the importance of its theme with its rationality, clarity and, above all, restraint.

There are very great procedural difficulties with such a controversial Bill. I know that from experience. My National Audit Bill reached the statute book only by a combination of extraordinary luck and unpredictable events, including the calling of a general election. The right hon. Gentleman's Bill deserves a Second Reading. I hope and believe that it will get it. But the rock on which private Members' Bills founder is not Second Reading, but Report. The right hon. Gentleman asked for a money resolution. May I add a plea to that—that if the House passes the Bill today, the Government will give a clear undertaking that they will provide time for its further consideration on Report? There is precedent for that. It was done on such an issue by a previous Government. I hope that the present Government will follow their example. Better still, let them introduce a Bill of their own.

Ms. Clare Short (Birmingham, Ladywood)

Hear, hear.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

That view is shared in different parts of the House. There are certain points that we have in common, and it is well that they should be stressed.

The complexities of the whole situation are so great that the matter needs to be tackled by Government legislation. Today we are dealing with only one small part of the problem. Of course, there must be a free vote on any Government Bill. There can be no doubt about that. But it is only the Government, who have the drafting resources behind them, who can produce such a Bill. However, I hope that when the time comes for the Bill to be introduced, the Government will take fully into account the expressions of opinion made in the House during this debate and in others and the result of any vote that may be taken today.

I think that the right hon. Member for South Down was very wise to stress what the Bill does not do. It is concerned with only one aspect of a complex problem. It does not deal with the emotive but minor question of surrogate motherhood. Whatever moral reservations there may be about that, at least it has the merit that it is dealing with a life-creating, not a life-depriving, situation. Let me quote a distinguished clinician, Professor John Marshall, professor of clinical neurology in the university of London, who makes the distinction in these words: To bring the embryo into existence with a view to implantation as a way to relieve the burden of a couple's infertility is one thing. To bring it into existence with a view to its destruction through experimentation, albeit in the pursuit of useful knowledge, is something quite other.

Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East)

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I should like to continue because so many hon. Members want to speak.

The hon. Member for Barking (Ms. Richardson) made a valid point when she expressed fears about the future of research if the Bill is passed. There is controversy on that point. We must discuss it fully in the House, because while there is a body of opinion that supports the hon. Lady's view, there is also a body of opinion that takes a contrary view. I quote a leading genetic medical research scientist, Mr. Ryn Johnson, and Professor Jerome Lejeune, the professor who discovered the extra chromasome responsible for Dow's syndrome, who hold that such research is not necessary to relieve the tragic predicament of infertility. Let the evidence come out and let it be discussed and considered.

I wish to consider the Bill against the complex and difficult moral background of the issues that it raises. I do not believe that public opinion in Britain on the issue is either amoral or obscurantist. There is not so much a rejection of the sovereignty of morality in this area as much moral confusion and bewilderment. It is a similar situation with morality in general. I do not subscribe to the view that there has been a great moral decline in Britain. There is widespread uncertainty about moral standards and values. That is quite another matter. However, what people are seeking in relation to this subject are some clear moral principles to guide them through this labyrinth. That is the principal reason why the Government rightly appointed the committee under Lady Warnock, which laboured for two years to provide that guidance.

I do not agree with all the conclusions of that report, but I pay tribute to the unselfish and unremitting work that was done by the chairman and members of that committee. Lady Warnock herself is an outstanding academic. She is one of our leading educationists and philosophers, but not even she—and she has a mind as sharp as Occam's razor—could produce a consensus from the differing opinions expressed on her committee.

If we are looking to that report for clear moral guidance on this matter, we simply will not find it. Therefore, the task of clarifying the issues and leading public opinion is passed to Parliament. It is essential that public opinion give the law to law. That cannot happen unless those matters are thoroughly debated in the House. Of course, one cannot look to the House of Commons for infallible rules of moral guidance, but one can look to it to show where, as a society, we should draw the line. That is what the House of Commons has to decide.

The first principle that can assist us in reaching a judgment on the matter is the principle of respect for human life. We need not bother ourselves about recondite questions of when the soul, if there be a soul, enters the body. That is a theological question. It does not provide the opportunity for a final answer. Nor need we, in my opinion, discuss when a human personality is present in an embryo. Again, that is a metaphysical question.

Let us stick to the scientific facts that we know. We know beyond the faintest scintilla of doubt that the embryo is a unique form of matter, that it is human, that it is alive and that it has the full potential to become a human person. That being so, it is morally wrong to stimulate its creation, to bring it into existence for the purposes of experiment or dissection, or merely to discard it as useless into a dustbin.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I will when I have finished this point.

That was basically the view of seven of the 16 members of the Warnock committee.

The first thing that the law should do—it is what the Bill seeks to do—is to bring all experimentation to an end. The Warnock committee wanted a ban after 14 days, but it gives no logical basis for that. Such a limitation would be ineffective and open to abuse and there would be endless pressure for its relaxation.

Mr. Greenway

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the hon. Member for Barking (Ms. Richardson) conceded that life exists from conception when she said that, within the 14-day period, some embryos live and some die? To die, one must have lived.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I listened carefully to what the hon. Member for Barking said, and I noted that point. Hers was a complex speech containing a number of ideas, one qualifying the other, so I do not think that it is entirely fair to her to take one sentence of what she said and draw conclusions from it. Nevertheless, I appreciate what my hon. Friend said.

The second principle that can help us is recognition of the paramount welfare of the child. Throughout the tangled web of British family law, there is one golden thread which is always to be found—the interests of the child come first.

Mr. Wigley

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Let me finish this point.

Infertility should certainly be relieved if it can, but not by any means. Parents exist for children, not the other way round.

The final issue that I should like to discuss——

Mr. Wigley

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Many others wish to speak. I normally give way, but I shall not this time as nearly 40 hon. Members want to get in. The hon. Gentleman looks so annoyed, I shall give way.

Mr. Wigley

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. It was not annoyance but disappointment at not having the opportunity to press him on the well-being of the child. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the well-being of the thousands of handicapped children who are born each year and those who are doomed to die at an early age —I suffered the loss of my son six weeks ago—should also come into the equation? In balancing one against the other, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that there is a need for medical research, which should be facilitated?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I accept entirely the sincerity and importance of the hon. Gentleman's intervention. There is a conflict of evidence on this matter, as I said when commenting on the speech of the hon. Member for Barking. We must continue to debate the matter. I hope that the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) will have an opportunity to speak on whether this type of research is necessary.

Will our society deal adequately with the extraordinarily difficult problem with which we are now faced? Aldous Huxley, not George Orwell, has been proved the prophet of the 1980s—1984 has come and gone and we have survived, but 1985 has hardly dawned and we are at the beginning of the "Brave New World". I confess to some uncharacteristic pessimism. I look with dismay at a society that combines a low level of thinking and feeling with a high level of benevolence and good will, and which is, on the whole, unwilling to accept any forms of self-restraint.

Like Janus, technology has two faces. Technology gives mankind an opportunity of an escape from the dreadful treadmill of poverty, want and famine, which has been the lot of the majority of the human race throughout the centuries. We have all been rightly shocked by the terrible events in Ethiopia, yet the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs was told that it would be possible, by the end of the century, to make hunger only a memory in Africa. All we need is the will.

However, technology can also be destructive. We have the threat of destruction from a nuclear war and, more subtly, there is the threat that we are discussing today. I am glad that we are facing it seriously. We are confronting the complexity of the problems that are raised by legitimising a technology that promises benefits perhaps, but which could end by destroying the essential humanity of man. If the power is there, why should it not be used? In the end, we have to go back to traditional values to protect ourselves. We have a tradition on which to draw. We have a true Koinonia, a community made up of the Judao-Christian tradition, the experience of a long and tried democratic tradition and the detached and cool judgments and reflections of the common law.

Man is not the absolute master of his own fate. We are the created, not the creators. We are limited and contingent beings, holding our lives on trust for higher purposes. The technology that promised a paradise now shows signs of delivering a hell. Our responsibility is to proclaim the old values of the dignity and uniqueness of all human life. That is the only effective way in which to encourage the pursuit of knowledge, which, I agree, is a vital part of the vocation of man, and to erect barriers beyond which the tyrannies of scientific techniques shall not pass.

10.46 am
Ms. Clare Short (Birmingham, Ladywood)

The Warnock report was an extremely good piece of work. It analysed the new issues that are raised by developments in the treatment of infertility, which I understand affects about one in 10 couples in Britain. It would be wrong and dangerous for the Bill to be given a Second Reading. I should much prefer to wait for a Government Bill to be presented after full consultations on the Warnock report, rather than hurry through this dangerous legislation.

There is a moral contradiction at the root of the Bill. If it had been passed years ago, developments in vitro fertilisation would not have happened, yet the House says that it wants to protect the right of infertile couples to benefit from that technique. How can the House maintain that it wants to protect that technique while wanting to outlaw the process that led to its development?

At the moment, in vitro fertilisation is a chancy business. I understand that only about one in 10 implantations succeed. We should consider the emotional trauma experienced by couples who are trying to have children through that technique. If the technique is morally acceptable, why is it not all right to continue work to perfect it, so that it might be successful most of the time?

The House must also face the problems thrown up by hereditary defects. Are people to be given the right to have children, knowing that they will not inherit a defect? Further research is necessary if that is to be achieved. The House appears to be saying that couples who might pass on hereditary defects must allow the foetus to develop for 24 or more weeks, and then possibly to be aborted as, at the moment, that is the only way in which couples can prevent a damaged child from being born. Is the House really outlawing research which could detect whether defects might be passed on a few hours after conception?

If the Bill is passed, the House will be contradicting its morality. Hon. Members will be saying that in vitro fertilisation is good and that they want to help infertile couples, but by passing this legislation they will prevent development of the technique which we all agree is acceptable and desirable.

Mr. Richard Tracey (Surbiton)

I am listening carefully to the hon. Lady. Does she deny that the research can be done by means other than experimentation on embryos? In other words, does she deny the opinions of Professor Lejeune and Mr. Brinkworth that the research can be done on human gametes?

Ms. Short

Yes, I deny that. Obviously some methods of research do not require experimentation on conceptuses in the early stages of their existence, but all the work cannot be done in that way, and the House must face that. The technique could not be improved and we could not screen out genetic defects at an early stage of conception, if the Bill were passed.

Mr. William Cash (Stafford)

Does the hon. Lady admit that the research that has so far been conducted on the removal of abnormalities and congenital defects is not sufficiently proved and that the entire matter is covered with ifs, buts and maybes?

Ms. Short

Obviously that is so. If we had all the answers, further research would not be needed. All hon. Members believe that research must be extremely carefully controlled. Experimentation on conceptuses, although they are only a few cells in the early stages of life and not minute babies as many people imagine, must be limited to research that is absolutely necessary. The House cannot have it both ways. Unusually for the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell), he fudged the issue by suggesting that the development and improvement of the techniques would be possible within the limits set out in the Bill. The Bill states that such fertilisation can take place only for a specific woman and a specific conception. That outlaws all the research to which I have referred.

Many people who signed petitions on the matter are confused about the facts. I received between 20 and 40 letters from constituents before the Bill was drafted and after the Warnock report was published. In each case I replied and asked whether the person was suggesting that children such as Louise Brown and the other 250 children who are living in Britain and were born to parents who desperately wanted children and who love them, should not have been born. I explained that if that were so, they were in favour of outlawing the sort of experimentation that made the birth of those children possible. I received further letters which stated, and I met people on the street who said, "Of course not. We think that it is wonderful that those children were born. We are in favour of life and children." That shows that people can draw different conclusions from the same facts. I do not believe that the people who signed the petitions understood that they would be outlawing the development of the techniques that have led to the birth of such babies.

The priest who baptised me and comes to the house to give communion to my father preached a sermon which led to another spate of letters which connected the protection of life in Ethiopia with the outlawing of experimentation. I say that to show the religious and cultural roots from which I come. In each case I replied to the individual, including some of my relatives, and spelt out the arguments that I am now putting to the House. Many committed Roman Catholics who had written at the request of their local priest wrote back to me to say that in that case they took a different view. I think that that would be true for large numbers of people if they knew the facts.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)

I support the hon. Lady's view. I expect that we shall all reach different judgments on the Bill today. This is not a simple issue. Many people would regard the Bill as a holding measure at best. Whatever one's straightforward morality and theology, the issues are often over-simplified outside the House. Often we need a debate such as this to get to the real issues, which otherwise are avoided.

Ms. Short

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. I do not wish to detain the House, but I wish to amplify the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Ms. Richardson). Women understand these matters in a way that men do not, because they deal with them in their daily life. They menstruate, conceive or do not conceive, worry about whether they will have children, sometimes have to face the question whether to have a abortion, and so on. Women are more familiar with the subject, whereas men set it up as a set of moral principles and logical constructs. Women know that thousands of conceptuses are wasted by nature. It is not the case that each conceptus becomes a perfectly formed human being. Nature has organised fertility wastefully. Conceptuses are destroyed month by month, through miscarriages, the use of the coil and for all sorts of reasons. Men must face that.

The Bill should be opposed, and the Government should introduce comprehensive legislation which will set up the licensing authority which the Warnock report recommends. I emphasise my point that the public have been misled about the development of the techniques. I appeal to the House not to disappoint all the infertile women and couples who desperately want children and want the techniques to be improved. More important, I appeal to the House not to disappoint the couples who know that they are carrying a genetic defect and want to have whole and healthy children, because that is what the House will do if it passes the Bill.

10.57 am
Mrs. Ann Winterton (Congleton)

I support the Bill, not because it will tackle all the problems which arise from the wish of some of our scientists to experiment on human embryos, nor because it deals with all the issues raised following the publication of the Warnock report, which we debated some time ago, but because it represents an attempt by the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) and those of us who are sponsors to step where the Government have been too slow or lacked the moral courage to tread.

I do not in any way criticise the Secretary of State for Social Services for initiating the Warnock report. In doing so he showed an awareness of the multitude of difficulties for the House and society as a whole, which the recent welcome advances in medical science and the treatment of infertility have made apparent. However, I criticise the Government for having failed to act quickly and decisively on the issue of experimentation on the human embryo. Nearly every hon. Member has recently been asked to present a petition seeking to outlaw such practices. Indeed, a massive record-breaking petition was presented earlier today by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas). That is a clear and unequivocal sign of the desire of British people for a moratorium on what they see as unnecessary and unjustified experimentation. Furthermore, a recent MORI poll established that no less than 85 per cent. of respondents felt that experimentation should be banned now.

That is not to suggest that it is the duty of the House always to legislate in accordance with what is perceived to be the majority feeling of the electorate. There are always minorities to be considered, catered for and, above all, protected. The Bill seeks to do precisely that. It has the clear support of British people. It considers infertile couples who wish to conceive through the technique of in vitro fertilisation. Most important of all, it gives protection to that weakest sector of our society, the unborn child, who is unable in his own right to influence this Chamber.

The Bill has what every proposed piece of legislation must have if it is to be effective — the support of society. It is not just the religious groups that have made representations on it. The weight of correspondence from hon. Members' constituents has shown the growing unease with which they view the recent direction that medical science has taken.

I remind the House of a recent declaration of the World Health Organisation at Helsinki: In research on man, the interest of science and society should never take precedence over considerations related to the wellbeing of the subject. That is a welcome and perhaps long-overdue restatement of the Hippocratic principles on which our medical professions have for so long based their actions. The medical professions have not as a whole denied that fundamental principle, although there are several horrendous historical examples where they have done just that. I am sure that I do not need to remind the House of the barbaric practices which were carried out under the guise of medical and scientific research by Nazi and Japanese doctors. [Interruption.]

I have a great deal of respect for our own medical professions, as I am sure all hon. Members have. Therefore, I welcome the efforts by the Royal College of General Practitioners, whose members know best the needs of their patients and the effect that medical advances can have on them, and the society in which they live, in seeking a moratorium on such techniques.

The Royal College of Nursing has recently restated its belief that embryo research should be banned immediately, that from the earliest moment of life the embryo should be treated as a human being and that only research which will enable the particular embryo to come to full term should be permitted … The idea that spare embryos would be generated by super-ovulations specifically for research programmes was felt to be repugnant and unacceptable and in direct conflict with the Royal College of Nursing's view that basic human rights are applicable from the moment of conception. It is exactly in those terms, in the vacuum of inactivity left by the Government, that the Bill was drafted. Immediately it became apparent that such experimentation was an issue, the Government should have introduced a moratorium on such procedures until this House had adequately considered the issues involved and acted to introduce the necessary safeguards for the medical professions, for society as a whole, and for the individual embryos concerned.

The tortuous logic used in the Warnock report to justify experiments upon human embryos leads to the totally unacceptable conclusion that some human beings should be subjected to utilisation and death simply because some good consequences may ensue for other human beings. The rejection of civilised traditions in that conclusion is readily apparent. Surely civilised tradition must exclude the killing of the innocent, no matter what their age, size, status or accomplishments. But we must ask ourselves why such experimentation should be deemed necessary in the first place, and question the claims that such techniques are essential in the study and treatment of infertility and the study and elimination of genetic disorders. I readily accept that there is a great need for further research into infertility, but I do not accept that experimentation on the human embryo is either necessary for that purpose or even acceptable to the people of the country as a whole.

Time does not permit me to elaborate further, except to mention the tremendous and inspiring progress in genetics by such scientists as Professor Lejeune, and to stress his repeated claims that such experimentation on human embryos is absolutely unnecessary and unjustified.

Great steps have been taken in the treatment of those suffering from genetic disorders. Down's syndrome is the largest single cause of mental handicap worldwide, with approximately 6 million cases. Mr. Rex Brinkworth, director of the Down's Children's Association, and an internationally acclaimed expert on the treatment of Down's sufferers, has made his position totally clear. In reference to a point that was raised earlier, may I tell the House that this gentleman has a handicapped child—his daughter is a mongol — so he has great personal experience, apart from his interest in science and experimentations. He says: whatever justification scientists wish to use for experimenting on human embryos, they cannot justly say that their studies will benefit those with Down's Syndrome. In any event they would have to examine at least 200 embryos to find one with Down's Syndrome (as far as I know not one has been found yet by Steptoe and Edwards), and the examination itself would kill that embryo —scarcely something to its advantage. So there are eminent people in the field who agree that such experimentation will not necessarily improve research into genetic disorders.

I conclude with the chilling thought that it should not be left to some members of the medical profession, no matter how eminent or how responsible, to play God and decide who is to live and who is to die. We are all aware of the dreadful consequences and possibilities of genetic engineering. It is because I respect human life in its most vulnerable and innocent form at conception that I support the Bill wholeheartedly. I believe that it deserves the support of the whole House in its specific aim to protect the unborn child.

11.6 am

Mr. David Crouch (Canterbury)

I am sorry that the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) is not in his place at the moment, because I wanted him to know that I regard him—as, I am sure, does every other hon. Member—as never doing anything lightly and never tackling anything in other than a very serious and considered way. I do not happen to support his Bill and will seek to say why not, but he has treated the subject, as he always does, with the seriousness of his intellect.

The right hon. Gentleman has not introduced a small Bill. It is a very profound Bill, with enormous interest outside the House in the whole country, measured in millions. In some ways that interest is reflected by the large attendance of hon. Members here today. It would have been so much easier for many of us to keep our heads down today and not to be present. It is clear that the many hon. Members who are present are not afraid to put their heads above the parapet on either side.

I respect the views that have just been expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton) in speaking so strongly in favour of the Bill. Indeed, I respect all hon. Members who have advanced their views today. It is not an easy matter on which to hold a view or to make a decision.

As the House knows, I am the parliamentary member of the Medical Research Council. That does not determine my views. I am not a scientist; I am a parliamentary lay member of that council. I do not have to follow what it does. I may be influenced, I may be instructed, and I may be a little more aware than other people of what the council does. In the field that we are talking about, there are many more professors, scientists and researchers — in the Medical Research Council and the units under its direction in our universities—than the Professor Lejeunes who have been mentioned today, but they keep their light under a bushel. We do not hear enough about them.

The object of our interest in medical research into embryology and human fertilisation is to help humanity, not to work against humanity. It is to help those who are infertile and to help to control fertility. Above all, it is to help to prevent congenital abnormality and to try to do something to cure the tragedies in our midst. We are all concerned—perhaps not all of us are as well advised as some hon. Member who have spoken today — having given thought to the problem raised by Warnock and precipitated by the right hon. Gentleman's Bill.

Researchers are seeking to provide society with techniques to overcome certain medical problems. One of these is infertility. Today, in Britain, 250,000 couples cannot have children because they are infertile. The Bill will allow them to be helped. It will allow in vitro fertilisation to be performed. Test tube babies will be permitted. We must acknowledge that. The right hon. Member for South Down is not denying that that technique should continue. The process is quite safe, but it is not sure. It is simply a means of bringing the sperm of the husband to the wife's egg and fertilisation takes place in vitro—not strictly in a test tube, but in a dish. Once the fertilised egg has started to grow it is transferred back to, or implanted in, the mother. It is by no means an easy, exact or certain process.

Pregnancy is not easily achieved for many couples, and certainly not by the medical and clinical help which is provided by IVF. For that reason, and for that reason alone, more than one fertilised egg or embryo are transferred back to the mother's womb. Perhaps two, three or four are returned to the mother, because the scientists and clinicians are not sure what will happen. Some of the fertilised eggs will be rejected by the mother. We do not know enough about the matter.

We must rest on the clinical judgment of the doctors, with the consent of the mother. The mother might reject some of the embryos. That is a human and natural process. Perhaps only one will develop into a foetus, become a human being and a child will be born. However, more than one of the implanted embryos might be accepted, resulting in twins, quads or even more human beings. A high risk is involved for the mother if she is to bear twins or quads successfully. Greater social and economic problems than were anticipated or are welcome will have to be faced by the married couple.

Research into IVF is new. The world has barely 15 years' experience of it. We need to know much more to help the childless couple. The Bill allows us to proceed as far as our present knowledge permits, but very little further. There is still too much that we do not know that we need to know. The Bill permits us to continue with IVF as it is, which means that we shall have to continue taking a chance with mothers. We shall be experimenting with mothers. The Bill permits that, with the mother's consent. She will be warned that it might not work, or that it might work too well.

Mr. John Butterfill (Bournemouth, West)

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Crouch

I hope that my hon. Friend will excuse me, but so many hon. Members wish to take part. Perhaps I shall give way later.

The mother might accept the fertilised egg and have a healthy baby. On the other hand, she might not, or she might have quads. Infertile couples so yearn for children that they will clutch at straws. They will accept the risk of a multiple birth. Medical science should be able to do more than offer such couples guesswork, which is all that we can do today.

It is estimated that before the end of this year about 1,000 babies will be born in the world by this new technique, but the technique that I have described is inefficient, and only one in 10 of the implanted fertilised eggs will produce a baby. That is not a good success rate. If we knew more we could offer a better medical solution to infertile couples.

The Bill requires us to stop research the moment that the measure becomes an Act. We must pause and consider all the arguments — the ethical, moral and scientific arguments. This House in its wisdom, as a collection of people representing the nation, has a responsibility in its lay fashion to weigh in the balance the ethical, moral and medical judgments.

We can fertilise an egg and implant it in the mother —but no more—under the Bill. We can help to produce babies, but we are required to stop there. It is argued that we should not be allowed to go further in studying the fertilised egg—the embryo—to see what happens to it. It is said that we should not be allowed to study the nutrients needed by the embryo, to examine it for deficiencies or abnormalities. Should we allow ourselves to stop there? Should we give authority to stop there?

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Crouch

I cannot. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me.

Some people who support the Bill argue in all honesty that we must not study an embryo other than to produce a baby. To study an embryo and not transplant it in the mother would be a crime under the Bill. It would be a criminal offence. It would be regarded as the destruction of life in its earliest form.

This is not an easy debate. Many people consider that such an action should be regarded as the destruction of life. The Bill permits the transfer of the fertilised egg back to the mother, but what about the spare fertilised eggs implanted in the mother and rejected by her? What about the eggs that are not used and are still in the laboratory? They too must be rejected by the researcher. Under the Bill he must not study them, but he must allow them to die.

The researchers are not monsters, but scientists. They are medical scientists working in response to a great human need. We should be very proud of them. The infertile parents who have been helped are grateful to them. The scientists are also responsible people. They want to respond to society's needs and restraints. They are aware of the delicacy of their work. They are helping in the creation of human life. They want to help when that process is imperfect and inefficient.

However, they do not want to be left alone. They want acceptance under the law, control and supervision. They want approval of everything that they do by an authority comprising lay and church members as well as scientists. They want licences and inspection. In short, they want their work to be legitimate. We must not ban them. We shall not control the progress of science if we attempt to ban them. That might even drive them underground into private clinics. This work must go on in public. It must be under control and strictly licensed.

I have spoken about the need to improve our knowledge and techniques in in vitro fertilisation, but we seek two other aspects of knowledge in research. Helping couples to have children is a wonderful objective, but today society places a duty on us to control fertility as well as to assist it. Abortion is the last resort in controlling fertility. Parliament has permitted abortion for medical and social reasons, but it is a fearsome and tragic solution.

Contraception is encouraged and taught. I believe that to be right, but it is not perfected. It is not always acceptable in various forms, on medical, social, moral or religious grounds. The intrauterine coil is a device for the destruction of the human embryo. We must not forget that. We have already permitted it.

We could perhaps find a more acceptable method of contraception if we knew more about the early events in fertilisation. It could be more effective to control conception at the point of fertilisation, but we cannot find out without studying the embryo in its very early days, before the placenta is formed, and before it develops into the embryo proper. In the first 14 days it is invisible to the naked eye, with no development of heart, brain, limbs or any tissue. It has no recognisable components of a human foetus.

Mr. Cash

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is extremely difficult for anybody to make an assessment of congenital defects that may be observed in an embryo that is less than 14 days old?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I hope that the House will bear in mind that interventions prolong speeches.

Mr. Crouch

Research is also needed into congenital abnormalities such as Down's syndrome and spina bifida. It is thought that such abnormalities originate during sperm and egg development, at fertilisation or during early development. If we knew more about what is happening at those stages, we might be able to find a way of preventing such abnormalities.

Virtually nothing is known about the metabolism and nutritional requirements of the embryo. We should not be denied the opportunity for further study of the human embryo.

We have already debated the Warnock report and we are indebted to that committee for its meticulous study of delicate and difficult questions. Warnock recommended: The embryo of the human species should be afforded some protection in law. Of course. The Committee also recommended: Legislation should provide that research may be carried out on any embryo resulting from in vitro fertilisation, whatever its provenance, up to the end of the fourteenth day after fertilisation". There was a division of opinion on the committee and, in an expression of dissent, three members declared against research on the embryo. They said that embryos that were surplus to the mother's requirements should be allowed to die.

It is clear that we need much more thought from the Government about the Warnock recommendations and about the study and response of the Medical Research Council. We need legislation, not just a code of practice. We need a Government Bill covering human fertilisation and embryology. This Bill is not enough and it is not good enough. It is harmful to the progress of human knowledge and it would be a barrier to the relief of human suffering. We should not allow it to become law.

11.22 am
Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)

I congratulate the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) on introducing his Bill. I had hoped and prayed that I would have an opportunity this year of introducing a piece of life legislation. I believe that the legislative role of Parliament has not moved with public opinion on life issues. My Bill would have dealt with surrogate motherhood, the embryo and an amendment to the Infant Life (Preservation) Act 1929.

The problem with life legislation is that we cannot hide behind our political philosophies; we spend most of the week doing that. But when we debate and analyse life issues in private Members' time on a Friday, we take subjective positions. Our difficulties on Bills such as this are little different from the difficulties that we face on life issues generally. Whether it is abortion, surrogate motherhood, life support machines, euthanasia or the embryo, political parties and philosophies have not managed to embrace those issues.

Some confusion exists in the House because hon. Members do not have the discipline of political guidance on these matters. The only concessions made to political concepts are on abortion, where the debate has become tangled with a political argument about the right to choose, and on murder, which is also a life issue and requires life considerations but which has become embroiled in political arguments about law and order.

For politicians, life issues are fraught with difficulties. It is easy for the Church to pronounce on these matters. A Christian need do no more than pronounce his article of faith. He says, "I believe in the sanctity of life." For those of us who subscribe to such views, they may be sufficient justification for supporting the Bill, but I do not believe that that approach, without the intellectual base that requires deliberation and evaluation of the merits, is sufficient to convince the House. Therefore, it is not a basis on which an hon. Member could make up his or her mind during the debate.

Therefore, we have to look elsewhere for justifications. During the considerations of the Warnock committee, there was much discussion about where life begins. That is a good question. But Warnock refused to define both when life begins and the position of the embryo at its inception. Perhaps the committee had a good reason for refusing to make those definitions. Perhaps it recognised that if it had defined when life begins it would have put the arguments about abortion on a different plane and would have brought the law on abortion into the area of absurdity. The whole life lobby interested in the further restriction of abortion in the United Kingdom would have turned its argument on Warnock's findings.

In ducking that issue, Warnock destroyed an opportunity for a far wider debate on another issue, which is equally important to hon. Members. I believe that life begins at conception and with the creation of the embryo, but that is but an article of faith and I do not believe that the House will necessarily subscribe to my view. If we are to argue the case, we must look for a justification that we can rationalise and that will appeal to the atheist. His position is crucial, because he must be convinced, for a reason, that there is justification for legislation.

It is interesting to note that the arguments on medical and scientific advance fall within the territory of the opponents of the Bill. They claim that the Bill will impede medical and scientific advance.

To some extent, I accept that view on abortion. I have moved from the moral case to the one that was put, though perhaps not very well, in the film "The Silent Scream". Whatever one thinks of the background and presentation of that film, it drew attention to the pain felt by the embryo. The case put by the doctor in that film was that the embryo felt pain.

Ms. Clare Short

I understand that during an abortion the embryo is normally frozen and that the movement shown in that film is not normal. Other films show that the embryo feels no pain.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Many interpretations are being placed on that film, and I hope that the Government, as they have been requested to do, will make a statement. We would all like to know the truth. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) may be correct. It is not my view that she is correct, but all that we want to know is the truth. If the truth is that the foetus feels pain, the public and the country should be told, because it will transform the argument. Let all the information be made available.

This has become my approach to abortion. With the embryo, the argument should turn on a medical, scientific factual argument. The question is, what is the effect on, and what is the response of, the embryo, and what is the experimenter seeking? He maintains that one can safely carry out experiments on the embryo that one would otherwise wish to carry out on the human being. Therefore, one must make the assumption that the experimenter expects a human response from the embryo. That is that the response of the embryo would be similar to the response of the person if he or she were the subject of the experiment.

Ms. Clare Short


Mr. Campbell-Savours

In that assumption rests a concession to our argument. The experimenter is treating the embryo as if it were a human being. The response that he expects is indicative of a human response. If that is nonsense, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ladywood says, why does he not carry out the experiment elsewhere? Why does he always pick a human embryo? Is there something characteristic to a human embryo that allows him——

Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras)

I hope that my hon. Friend will recognise that there are characteristics of the human embryo and the human womb that are characteristic of humans and not of any other animal.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

That is the point. If the experimenter were not setting out to achieve a human response, his research would be pointless. The question is whether such experiments are necessary. I do not wish to cite the cases that have already been drawn to the attention of the House, such as Down's syndrome. Suffice it to say that there is a belief within the medical profession that there are alternative forms of research, and the right hon. Member for South Down pointed out that it was within the intelligence of the human being to find other ways to extract this information. It may take time, but they will be found.

To secure the right to experiment, the onus is on the experimenter, within his own argument, to prove that the embryo is essential as against an alternative basis for research; but where is that proof? It has not surfaced today. We are told that the truth is in advanced implantation technology and the repairing of the genetic defects. The experimenter says that he must research to find a way to repair genetic defects. Genetic defects are at the heart of the argument.

Where are we going? If we take the rectification of genetic defects to its logical conclusion, one day we shall live in a society in which medical developments applied to in vitro fertilisation will be so advanced that facial appearance, physical strength, skin colouring, IQ and intelligence will all have become the subject of laboratory experiment, so much so that one will be able to book an embryological configuration — tall, dark, handsome, short, intelligent, athletic, shrewd or perhaps even a Frankenstein monster if that is what one wants. One would sign a form and book what one wanted.

Ms Clare Short

Only if we allow it.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

I shall come to that.

I perceive a society where perfection in procreation is such that one simply cannot afford natural childbirth. The in vitro conditioning of the embryo will be an essential prerequisite for the individual to be able to compete on equal terms in society, to look good, to be bright or athletic. The natural process will entail the risk of a fallibility that society may scorn as a sort of super-race is forged.

There may be those who say that we could prevent that by controlling it. How would they set out to contain the argument of the scientist who, after another 10, 15 or 20 years, says that the scientists have fully exploited the potential of research on an embryo of up to 15 days and that they see great new horizons and advances if only the time limit is extended? He will ask for another 15 days so that the scientists can give us even more scientific advances. In such circumstances, my hon. Friend the Member for Ladywood might be returning to the House in a decade or so to argue for a few more days. At what stage do we say no, particularly when we know that we cannot control the scientists in the way that some hon. Members believe that we can? The problem is that we know that controls will not work. If they do not work, what is there to insulate society against the excesses of scientists?

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

Order. Before calling the next hon. Member, I remind the House that the 10-minute limit on speeches is in operation. To assist right hon. and hon. Members, I shall use some sign language when they have about half a minute left.

11.37 am
Sir Gerard Vaughan (Reading, East)

I am mindful of Mr. Speaker's request that we should limit our speeches, so I shall be as brief as possible.

I am concerned about the number of interviews in the media, both yesterday and today, with couples who have either had a child by in vitro fertilisation or who want to have one by that method, and who have been mistakenly led to believe that somehow the Bill will prevent them from having such an opportunity in the future. That view has been supported by a number of hon. Members today. It is mistaken. As the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) made clear in a lucid presentation of the Bill, it will ensure that the infertile couple will be able to benefit from such treatment. It will ensure that research and experimentation designed to enable a particular couple to have a child are allowed to continue.

Mr. Michael Meadowcroft (Leeds, West)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, as I understand the problem of the time limit. He said that some couples thought that the Bill would prevent the birth of a child by such a method. Does he accept that Dr. Steptoe and Dr. Edwards have stated categorically that had the Bill been enacted before they began their research in vitro fertilisation would not have been possible?

Sir Gerald Vaughan

I shall be coming to that point.

The Bill will make it illegal to carry out experimentation on human embryos simply for the sake of experimentation. It will make it illegal to breed and produce embryos simply for the sake of experimentation. It will stop the incidents and the possibilities, to which I have referred before, of cloning and cross-species experimentation. I believe that all hon. Members would wish such experimentation to be made illegal and unlawful.

The argument against the Bill which the House must consider carefully is that in some way it will damage research. It is said that it will prevent valuable research from producing improvements for society which override moral and other issues. I have been looking carefully at what research has been done and at proposals for future research. My conclusion is to support those experts who say that to date the benefits have been very marginal. Of course, it cannot be said that there could not be some research in the future which would be of benefit. But these experts—and notable among them is Professor Lejeune — say that it is very unlikely and that, when one considers congenital conditions, the most profitable lines of research all lie in the chemical and vitamin field, many of them dealing with the mothers and not with the embryo.

I hope that the Bill will be given a Second Reading and go into Committee. If there are such serious objections from researchers, I hope that they will come forward with detailed statements of the research that they envisage. That is not evident at the moment, and a Committee stage will give us an opportunity to look again at these matters. Meanwhile, I am made extremely worried by the dogmatic statements of some scientific people that there will be a restriction on research. At this stage I do not believe it.

It is unarguable that at the point of fertilisation something occurs which is not present in the sperm or the unfertilised ovum. What occurs is the potential for human life — not for life in general, but life for a specific person. That fertilised ovum carries the structure for a specific human being — the height, the colour, the colour of his or her eyes and all the other details of a specific person. I do not think that there can be any argument against that. The fact that the embryo at that stage does not bear a human form seems to me to beg the issue and to be quite irrelevant. It carries the potential and, just as the child is to the adult human, so the embryo must be to the child.

I ask the House to look carefully at this aspect and to support, as I do for example, the Royal College of Nursing when it says that human rights are applicable to the embryo at that stage. I cannot agree, for example, with the doctor interviewed last night who said that the mass at that early stage was not the embryo but the substance which later will become the placenta. I agree that 90 per cent. of it is, but 10 per cent. is the embryo. I cannot agree either with those who say that many embryos die, anyway. That is not the point. Perhaps it would be desirable if they did not die, but we are discussing embryos which are born with the purpose of being deliberately killed, to destroy them for experimental purposes.

When the House comes to weigh these considerations, I believe that it will take the view that we are a civilised society, that civilised societies are judged by the way that they treat other human beings, and that this is an area where the moral issues, the potential life issues, firmly outweigh considerations of possible speculative research in the future.

I hope that the House will support the Bill and let it go into Committee. I hope, too, that from the Bill will come the wish of such people as Professor Ramsay, who hopes that we in this country will give a lead to the rest of the world in setting moral and ethical standards in these matters.

11.45 am
Mr. Michael Meadowcroft (Leeds, West)

I, too, commend the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) for the manner in which he presented his Bill, which is in contrast to some of the arguments that are to be heard both in and out of the House.

The petitions that we have all received and presented to the House rightly demonstrate a deep emotional concern about the sanctity of life, and that belief is not exclusive to one side of the argument. All right hon. and hon. Members will share that view and deep feeling about what life is and should be. Those who oppose the Bill are not only equally concerned but believe that it is not possible to take the same exclusive view of what life is.

Also, many supporters of the Bill and some of its opponents have deep religious beliefs. But I suspect that there would be immense problems if the House attempted to legislate solely from a theological standpoint. I doubt whether it was ever possible to draw definitive and watertight definitions determining ethical and moral positions. It is certainly vividly impossible to do so today, given the advancement of medical science.

Some years ago there was an urgent debate on the definition of death because of the development of transplant surgery and concern about control over the taking of organs. This Bill and the related issues of the Warnock report are a mirror image of that debate, as they hinge upon a definition of life. The fact of the debate and conflicting specialist opinion demonstrate that there is neither consensus nor clarity over that definition. The right hon. Member for South Down said that the question of what was life was unanswerable, and I accept his opinion.

I oppose the Bill because I believe that there is a difference between the potentiality of life and the actuality of life. Both are aspects of life but, if we are to be sensitive and helpful to those who feel desperately unhappy and deprived because they are unable to have children, we need to accept a hierarchy of values put on those different aspects of life.

I share the right hon. Gentleman's repugnance about some of the issues raised by in vitro fertilisation and other aspects of different methods of conception. I read the Warnock report with the same repugnance. But I believe that if the preparation of legislation and deliberation upon it was determined by the amount of repugnance that we felt, we would hardly be assisted in the way that we drafted legislation.

Unlike the right hon. Member for South Down, my feelings went the other way thereafter. The more that I studied the key question involved, the more that I believed that the Bill as drafted was unhelpful. It is particularly unhelpful to those who suffer from infertility, and the potential evil that it seeks to inhibit is by no means the threat that it is represented to be.

Aside from the key issue of research on embryos, I find it astounding that a Bill can come before the House in 1985 which forces a woman requiring assistance to conceive through IVF to have to get the approval of the Secretary of State. That is intolerable.

It is fortunate for the right hon. Member for South Down that the explanatory memorandum is not part of the Bill. If the first paragraph were accurate, it would outlaw the intrauterine device as a method of contraception which, despite many fears about it, is still widely used.

The fourth specific question is whether the right hon. Gentleman assumes that defective eggs have to be reimplanted into the woman. If not, what is to happen to them? Dr. Steptoe told me that he would refuse to do it, whatever the law was, and he wanted to know what he should do thereafter with those embryos.

The crux of the debate is whether in vitro fertilisation is compatible with the exclusive view of the sanctity of the embryo that the Bill requires. I do not believe that it is compatible. As I said during an intervention in the speech of the hon. Member for Reading, East (Sir G. Vaughan), I asked Dr. Steptoe and Dr. Edwards whether the development of IVF would have been possible had the restrictions in the Bill been in force some years ago. They said categorically that it would not have been possible. Therefore, I believe that it is not consistent to support IVF but to ban research on embryos.

Perhaps more to the point, IVF is far from perfect. Successful implantation rates have improved but are still little more than 10 per cent. The Bill is likely to impede the potential development of IVF which would improve that implantation rate. Paradoxically for the life lobby with which the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) is concerned, further research would reduce the production of spare embryos and the need for further research and would also reduce the demands for abortion because of the improved understanding of the nature of the child that is conceived.

Mr. McQuarrie


Mr. Meadowcroft

The hon. Member may say "Nonsense", but that is so. It is interesting that the work of Dr. Steptoe and Dr. Edwards has shown that women who could not have benefited personally from their work willingly donated eggs to help with that research. Of course there is a need to regulate research and the whole of the medical profession is desperately anxious to do so, but the arguments of the hon. Member for Workington, although they have logic in essence, do not have logic in the way that research develops and in the way that we look at aspects of public and personal health. If the hon. Member were right, we should not have eliminated smallpox or polio, nor should we be able to look at ways and means of getting rid of genetic diseases such as haemophilia and Huntington's chorea.

At some point it is conceivable that a Bill will have to be introduced if there is abuse of research, although that research is aiming to abolish genetic defects which nobody suggests ought to be retained if they can be removed. Therefore, it is not a legitimate objection to the Bill to suggest that future scientists may take research beyond acceptable grounds. The question before us is whether we have reached the limits of benevolent knowledge and research in relation to infertility. I believe that the balance of the argument lies against the Bill.

11.51 am
Sir Bernard Braine (Castle Point)

I agree with the hon. Member for Barking (Ms. Richardson) at least in one respect. Each of us in a debate of this kind has to look into his own heart and decide where the truth lies. For me the starting point is the nature of the human embryo. If it were not a member of the human family from the moment of conception, there would be no need for the Bill; but I believe that it is an embryonic human being and that it deserves our protection.

It is not only essential to grasp this point from the outset but imperative to understand that the Bill is a response to the invitation of eminent doctors and scientists that Parliament should give its blessing to experiments which for the first time in the history of this country are not in the interests of the individual upon whom they are performed. Even the Warnock committee, which throughout refused to discuss the nature and status of the embryo, was forced to concede that a moral dilemma faces us, since it recommended: The embryo of the human species should be afforded some protection in law. Yet the committee went on to recommend that experiments on human embryos should be permitted under licence up to 14 days after fertilisation.

The majority of the committee also recommended that embryonic human beings should be produced specifically for experimental purposes. Just how Warnock could recommend that the human embryo should be afforded some protection in law but could also be used for experiments which result in its destruction, or, if it survives the experiments, could be put to death by the experimenters is almost impossible for the moral mind to grasp. Warnock offers no rational basis whatever for such mutually exclusive propositions.

If we consider the basic requirements of a truly civilised society, we can surely agree that at least in their constitution our American cousins got it about right when they declared that all human beings have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But note that the right to life comes first. There can be no right to liberty or to the pursuit of happiness if first there is no right to life. There is no protection in law worth having unless we are first guaranteed the right to life. It is a condition of all human rights. If this House were to reject the Bill and thereby to endorse the Warnock proposals, we should have accepted the principle that some human beings, albeit at a very early stage in their development, are to be regarded as "non-persons" if it suits the interests of science and is held to benefit others.

Nobody could argue that embryonic human beings represent a threat to the rights or interests of anyone. On the contrary, they are isolated, incapable of threatening anyone and innocent of any wrongdoing. To argue that spare embryos used in experiments will die in any case is morally no different from justifying the use of any of us as a guinea pig if, say, we contracted some incurable disease, on the ground that our death was inevitable because of that disease. Ethical medicine has always upheld the principle that experiments, even in terminal cases, can be conducted only on the ground that they might be of benefit to the patient.

The Nuremberg trials roundly condemned a whole regime and its servants on the ground that it ignored this principle. The Nazis were condemned for treating some human beings as non-persons and using them as experimental objects for so-called scientific purposes, for the so-called good of society and for the benefit of a so-called master race. We are all familiar with the argument that the end justifies the means. That idea did not die with Hitler in his bunker; it is alive today. Only a fortnight ago the police captain Piatrowski, one of the murderers of Father Popielusczo, told a Polish court, apparently without any remorse: I believed that a small evil was necessary to end a larger one. To justify a very small evil we are now told that it is necessary, if we are to make progress in discovering more cures for infertility, more abortifacients and more efficient methods of contraception, to experiment on human embryos. That kind of suggestion does not tug at the heartstrings to the extent that its advocates would wish. We are now told that only experimentation on the human embryo can find the cures for chromosomal diseases and other congenital handicaps which distress us all.

It was in this very House that William Pitt the younger, one of the greatest parliamentarians of all time, warned: Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants. It is the creed of slaves. Necessity is undoubtedly the argument of those who do not wish to be constrained by ethics or even doubt as to where their monstrous new techniques for freezing, cloning, manipulating and killing human embryos are leading mankind. I salute the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) for bringing out into the open the direction in which such research is proceeding all over the world. The Medical Research Council is not a body to which I would entrust 100 per cent. the task of self-regulation of research or preventing decline in medical ethics. Ironically, the need to experiment with human embryos to find the cure for, say, Down's syndrome is not proven. Through Warnock, Parliament is being asked to grant to scientists the right to play God for up to 14 days when it is well known that the claimed results could not be obtained in so short a period.

There is the rub. Bolder spirits among the experimenters are already declaring publicly that 14 days is of no use to them. They demand 30 days. There are others who want 42 days. Believe it or not, there are others still, including a member of the Warnock committee, who have already been experimenting on live aborted feotuses. That takes place in this country.

Mr. Kevin Barron (Rother Valley)


Sir Bernard Braine

It is all in the medical literature. The hon. Gentleman can see for himself. I have only 10 minutes, but it is all in the medical literature. I shall lay it on the Table of the House for any hon. Member to see. I repeat that a medical researcher——

Ms Richardson

Name him.

Sir Bernard Braine

Professor MacNaughton—has conducted experiments on live aborted foetuses. He has injected them with steroids.

Ms Clare Short

That is illegal.

Sir Bernard Braine

Apparently it is legal. Apparently, under the Medical Research Council, such research is permissible.

A number of us were privileged to hear Professor Jerome Lejeune when he spoke in the Grand Committee room last week. He is one of the most eminent geneticists in the world. It is clear from what he says that it is misleading nonsense to assert that experimentation up to 14 days can add anything at all to our knowledge of diseases such as muscular dystrophy which affects the muscles, because the muscles are not there in the embryo up to 14 days, or cystic fibrosis which affects the lungs because there are no lungs in the foetus up to 14 days. The moment one examines this in any detail, one sees the falsity of the claims.

There is only one body in Britain which can safeguard the embryo and save the honour of our people and that is Parliament. Here the buck stops. Either we accept that the right to life incorporates the right not to be experimented upon for the sake of others, or we lose all moral credibility and history will judge us as decision makers who ran away from their most fundamental duty. The Bill gives us a chance to stop the rot.

12.2 pm

Mr. Leo Abse (Torfaen)

In the 10 minutes that are now available to each of us, I want to direct the attention of the House to two matters. The first of these is the Bill itself. I challenge the unequivocal assertion by the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) that the Bill in no way interferes with existing in vitro procedures. I say that it does. In fact, if the Bill went through it would mean that in vitro pregnancies in Britain would be likely to come to an end.

The second point with which I shall attempt to deal is the foundation upon which the right hon. Gentleman rests the Bill—his belief, not in religion as he frankly says, that his instinctual reaction is one which should govern his Bill and the opinion of Britain.

Each of us knows, or should know, that so far single-egg collection, the limitation of the fertilisation to one ovum, has led in almost all cases only to misery of miscarriages. I am informed that in the last 28 cases in which it was performed in a National Health Service hospital, at probably the best infertility unit in the country, only one pregnancy resulted. Therefore, we must accept that the existing clinical practice requires that an attempt is made, first, to fertilise six or seven eggs in the hope that the end result will yield at least four embryos for transfer. Sometimes, of course, fertilisation of all the eggs takes place. Although there may be seven, it would be reckless even to think of disposing of the extra embryos until the transfer procedure was believed to have been successfully completed, lest, as sometimes happens, mishaps and difficulties arise in the transfer.

The Bill traps the gynaecologist. According to the Bill, from the moment that the embryo insertion has been completed, the authority for the gynaecologist to have an embryo in his possession immediately and automatically ends. He is left with two or three extra embryos in, according to the Bill, his unauthorised possession. That means that he is immediately liable to a two-year sentence of imprisonment. That is the effect of the Bill.

I challenge the right hon. Member for South Down to deny my assertion, even as I challenge him to tell the House what the gynaecologist is able to do with the two or three embryos that may be left. He will not be able to utilise them for research. He will not be able to freeze them with the mother's consent in order that they perhaps could be used to produce a child for another infertile couple. No.

I challenge the right hon. Gentleman. What happens to what are unhappily called the spare, but which I prefer to call the extra, embryos? I challenge him directly. Is it not the case that every gynaecologist who, under the Bill, attempts an in vitro pregnancy will, immediately on the successful completion of that, be placed in jepoardy of imprisonment?

Let me give a second reason why in vitro fertilisation will come to an end if the Bill becomes law. There is a gap between the clinical practice and the abstract principles of the Bill. Characteristically, the right hon. Gentleman's idiosyncratic approach and idiosyncratic logic leaches him away, as so often, from reality. He affirms—no one has mentioned it yet except for him—the time limit of the authority to be granted. He talks of the four months and the two months.

I could not understand why the right hon. Gentleman came to those conclusions. I went to the man who is generally regarded as probably the leader in the in vitro field within the NHS, at the University of London institute of obstetrics and gynaecology. I went to Mr. Winston and I have his authority to give the House his comment on the four-month rule. He said: The four-month rule, even with extension for two further months, makes an impossible"— I repeat— an impossible restriction on our services. Good treatment often requires many months of preparation, finally choosing the most suitable mentrual cycle in which to collect the eggs. We put our patients through a series of assessment cycles and may decide at short notice to collect eggs because of propitious hormonal omens … Currently in our programme, it takes an average of 14 months from the start of assessment for i.v.f. until pregnancy is established. Of course, some women are much luckier than this; others may need longer. What has to be done when that is the actuality of the situation? The right hon. Gentleman is insisting that again and again applications would have to be made. The doctor in each case would have one eye on the clock to make sure that he did not suddenly become a criminal, and one eye on his work. He would be choked with a bureaucratic procedure which would go on for ever. No self-respecting doctor, in my judgment, would be able to tolerate continuing in that way.

There is a third reason why I say that in vitro fertilisation will undoubtedly be arrested by the Bill. The Medical Research Council, through Mr. James Gowans' letter to The Times a few days ago, made it clear that as the Bill would stop all research aimed at improving in vitro fertilisation it would indirectly lead to the shutting down of many of the best IVF clinics. This is simply because many doctors will not continue providing a relatively inefficient service if they are prevented from improving it. They will not be able to feel justified in making any woman take on that heavy burden when there is such a slim chance of her having a baby. That is the third reason why in vitro fertilisation will be brought to an end by the Bill.

But there is a fourth and final reason why in vitro fertilisation will be brought to an end. The right hon. Member for South Down confidently said that under the Bill the Secretary of State could make an automatic grant, once two doctors had made an application, but I do not see anything in the Bill to suggest that the Secretary of State's discretion is so limited. The Bill lays down certain mandatory provisions which the Secretary of State must observe, but it does not state what he can or cannot do beyond those provisions.

As I have already said, any woman who wanted in vitro fertilisation following the Bill's enactment would have to go through the process of making an application to the Secretary of State for permission to be a mother. The right hon. Member for South Down is saying that we should introduce licensed motherhood and that the decision should be made in Whitehall by a faceless and anonymous bureaucrat. That is an intolerable suggestion — [Interruption.] In my view, a Bill which makes such a suggestion and which piles such humiliation upon a woman should be rejected.

The right hon. Member for South Down says that he is guided by his instinct. He does not plead religion, and is honest and frank about that. But my instincts are different. I come from a different culture from that of the right hon. Gentleman. I am a secular Jew, not a religious Jew. I do not share the view of the orthodox, whether they are rabbis or bishops or cardinals. I was brought up to believe that it was a wonderful thing, in accordance with the Old Book's injunction, to multiply as the sand on the seashore and the stars in the sky. That is a wonderful adage. Thus my instinct is different from that of the right hon. Member for South Down with his monkish habits. Some days ago I observed him challenging a young black girl. He was promising her a future of fear because he was concerned, as he always is, with the disproportionate number of blacks that will come along. He is always interested in birth. It is no surprise that he should have introduced the Bill. He has always been interested in the births of blacks — [Interruption.] That is his statistical — [Interruption.] His interest is founded on his prurient curiosty about their sexual habits.

Mr. McQuarrie

Wind up!

Mr. Abse

I shall do so, if the hon. Gentleman will let me. In this case, the same instinct is at work. The machoism of some men is being threatened, because men who are not confident in their sexuality fear in vitro fertilisation. If there were fewer eunuchs in the country, there would be fewer Enochs in the House.

12.12 pm
Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

I rise to speak after one of those paranoid demonstrations which the House sees performed from time to time by the hon. Member for Torfaen (Mr. Abse). When the arguments are analysed, it will be seen that there has been a lot of sound and fury, but that there is very little substance to them. An examination of what has been said will show that red herrings have regularly been drawn across the Bill.

I sympathise with those with human problems and with the tragic position of the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley). I am also aware, from my pastoral and personal responsibilities, of the problems of parenthood. Although I respect the general practice of medical science, I realise that doctors may differ in their opinions and that patients may die. On the subject of foetology, I am reminded that if my family had accepted the medical opinion given 23 years ago, and had accepted, after a test had been performed, that the child in the womb was dead, we would not now have a healthy daughter of 23.

My point is that some of the arguments that have been put forward are questionable. Although opinion was divided, Warnock asked for 14 days for experimentation. However, others working in the area have said categorically that that view is doubtful. I should like to quote a witness who submitted recent evidence to the Northern Ireland Assembly Committee which examined this issue. He is a specialist, and is consultant paediatrician at the Royal Maternity hospital, which does a tremendous amount of work in genetic research and the care of children. He said: As a practising paediatrician prevention of these abnormalities would be highly desirable. They remain a major cause of neonatal and infant death in Northern Ireland. However, I am not convinced that research during the first 6 weeks after fertilisation will provide the wealth of knowledge that some researchers claim. Furthermore, there is a danger that if human embryos are kept alive for this period of time that new drugs would be tested for their effects in causing abnormalities. This would clearly be a misuse of human embryo research. The time has come to lay down guidelines for the researchers. At an earlier stage in the development of medical science there were some who encouraged researchers not to go down the road of in vitro fertilisation for humans. But researchers went down that road and Warnock has now requested legislators to get them out of their difficulty and to legalise the proceedings. It is now for us as legislators to say that they have travelled far enough along that road. Despite the comments of the hon. Member for Torfaen — who has now vacated the Chamber — we are dealing not with the question of infertility, but with that of research that uses embryos.

Mr. Barron

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Rev. Martin Smyth

I am trying to keep my speech within the 10-minute limit. I do not want to be unfair to any hon. Member, so I hope that right hon. and hon. Members will not press me to give way to them.

We have already been told that if we restrict further research in Britain it will be carried on elsewhere. Several countries have already been named. The same argument could have been used when Members of Parliament wanted to abolish slave trading—if we abolish it, it will go on elsewhere. Thank heaven, on that occasion the House gave moral leadership to the world. Today we have an opportunity to give similar moral leadership to other nations.

If others go wrong, we should not follow their example. Accordingly, I urge hon. Members, especially those who have argued against the Bill, to think again. I say that in particular to those who have spoken largely from the point of view of women. I appreciate their arguments, but I suggest that if we followed the road that some of them would have us travel, there could be fewer women in the future crying out for the place of women because of the process of selection through genetic engineering.

We are arguing today, not on behalf of male or female, but, following the quotation from the Hebrew given by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Down (Mr. Powell), on behalf of humanity. It is important to consider the matter, not from one point of view or another in terms of male and female, but from the point of view of humanity as a whole. Men and women are created in the image of God and are brought into the world distinct from any other form of creation.

At the time of the Nuremberg trials certain guidance was given. That guidance stated that there should be a preparedness on the part of the scientist to terminate the experiment at any stage if the experiment is likely to result in injury, disability or death to the experimental subject. The subject is the important word there, for while we may talk about a potential human being, or a human being with potential, we are discussing the future of a human subject. The question of research for genetic defects is not involved in the Bill. Let us continue to try to help those with an infertility problem.

12.22 pm
Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)

I support the motion. When we consider a Bill on Second Reading, we are concerned primarily with its principle and general intent. The intention of this measure is set forth in its title — the Unborn Children (Protection) Bill — and it is vitally necessary at this time that we should have a measure with that title.

The title of the Bill recognises that the human embryo is a human being, and proof of that cannot be gainsaid. The fundamental strength of the Bill lies in its title. So long as the title is retained, there will be a platform for clarification and, if necessary, for the strengthening of the measure at later stages. If the title of the Bill is forgotten —if it is lost—or if the solemn basis disappears, society will be at a disadvantage. Thus, we must retain the title of the Bill.

A frightening and terrifying situation has come about in our country when a scientist can boast that he possesses 300 embryos in cold storage. To pick up a newspaper and read that Dr. Edwards has pleaded "Let embryos grow in pigs" is utterly repugnant to the people of the nation, be they of no religion or of strong religious faith. The Guardian reported on 19 December 1984 that Dr. Edwards had said that he had not put human embryos into animals … But the work might become necessary to improve the technique of in vitro fertilisation (IVF) and to minimise abnormalities in babies. It might be necessary to put an embryo in the oviduct (the tube leading from the ovary to the womb) of a pig or a rabbit for six to 12 hours and then take it out again. Dr. Edwards claimed that that needed to be done in the interests of his research. As I say, that is totally repugnant to the people of Britain. The Guardian also reported Dr. Edwards as having said: the first British frozen baby is expected early next year. What sort of child will that turn out to be? Science has run wild and we in this House must do something about it. That is why I support the Bill.

The measure would make it an offence to produce, or have in one's possession, a human embryo without the authority of the Secretary of State, which authority must be expressly given for the purpose of enabling a child to be born by a named woman. That would be an immense step forward from the present position, where there is no regulation or control.

I should like the Bill to be amended in Committee to ensure that no human embryos would be created which were not transferred into a woman, except in exceptional circumstances—for example, where life might be put at risk. Under the Bill as drafted I fear that many embryos could be produced which would not need to be used for a named woman. The question, therefore, is what will happen to them. We must face up to that question.

Believing, as I do, in the sanctity of the marriage bond, I cannot accept that embryos should be donated to women outside the marriage relationship. Experimentation, freezing and the purchase and sale of embryos are repugnant practices and should be outlawed.

The Royal College of Nursing and the Royal College of General Practitioners are 100 per cent. against all embryo experimentation. Two million people have petitioned Parliament against it. Today scientists are trying to play God. I reject that right of science to usurp the authority of God Almighty.

The hon. Member for Torfaen (Mr. Abse) quoted from the Bible. I, too, will quote from the Old Testament scriptures, reverenced by both Jews and Christians. The right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) said that the unanswerable question was, what is man? I disagree, because the Revelation in the Bible gives us the answer to that question. That is what the whole Christian revelation is about. The Psalmist tells us: Thou hast possessed my reins, thou has covered me in my mother's womb. My substance was not hid from thee when I was made in secret. Thine eyes did see my substance. I am fearfully and wonderfully made. I plead today on behalf of the unborn child that cannot speak. It cannot defend itself and it is a prey to the whims of scientists. It is the plaything of their experiments.

In the name of these helpless, defenceless, voiceless human beings, whose rights must be protected — especially their right to live—I urge hon. Members to support the Second Reading by an overwhelming majority. By so doing we can take a first step against the exploitation of this section of the human race. All human embryos are equal and should be equally protected in law.

12.28 pm
Mr. Willie W. Hamilton (Fife, Central)

The longer the debate goes on, the more convinced I am that this subject, at this time, is singularly inappropriate to be dealt with a private Member's Bill.

I have sat through the proceedings on all the abortion Bills from 1967. We have had the usual and entirely predictable emotional language about playing God, about Hitler and the Nazis and all the other things from eunuch to Enoch. We have heard it all from my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours), who was outstripped by the right hon. Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine). All conveyed the message that those who oppose the Bill are guilty of a heinous offence. They say that we are murderers. I have been accused of that before. Roman Catholics in my constituency have accused me at public meetings of being a mass murderer of children because I happen to take a contrary view to theirs.

I have not presented a petition in the House. One was sent to me, signed mostly by Catholics, although I suspect that others signed it, too. I did not present it to the House; I sent it to the Minister for his considered reply. That was performing as useful a function as has been performed by the meaningless exercise of bringing forward a great wad of signatures. If one counts all the signatures, by definition at least 50 million of our population have not signed. Therefore, I take no account of that except to say that there are, of course, very acute divisions of opinion in the country and the House, and no amount of logic or emotion on either side will resolve those differences.

The right hon. Member for Castle Point said that to reject the Bill is to endorse Warnock. That is simply not true. There are organisations——

Mr. McQuarrie

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hamilton

I am sorry, but I shall not give way.

There are organisations and individuals who say that they oppose the Bill but who also have reservations about Warnock. It would be surprising if that were not so. I should like to make one simple point. The Warnock report made 64 recommendations, excluding the two expressions of dissent, which were signed by two and three members of the committee respectively out of a total membership of 16. Even the Warnock committee, composed of all sorts of experts, objective people with no political axe to grind, was also divided in the majority of the recommendations.

The 64 recommendations included nine on the legal limits on research and 14 on the legal changes deemed to be necessary. That is a measure of the complexity of the problem that we face and the controversial character of the recommendations.

All that makes the issue singularly inappropriate to be dealt with piecemeal by a private Member's Bill. However competent the Member is who introduces it—the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) is no more competent in these matters than any Member of the House——

Mr. J. Enoch Powell

I have never claimed otherwise.

Mr. Hamilton

I was just saying that, however eminent and eloquent the right hon. Gentleman might be, he has no qualifications whatever for playing God, if I might say so. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] It is exactly right. The right hon. Gentleman sought to create the impression — perhaps unconsciously—that somehow, because we take a contrary view to him, we are guilty of some kind of offence. [HON. MEMBERS: "He did not say that."] All right. I am simply saying, and I repeat the complaint that I made, that this is a matter that is not appropriate to be dealt with in this way. I suspect that the Minister will say that, too.

It is only seven months since the Warnock report was produced. The Government have asked for organisations to make their representations to them on those matters. According to an answer given to the House a few weeks ago, no fewer than 120 organisations have already made their representations to the Government. I forecast that there is no unanimity among those 120 representations received by the Government so far. I do not know what consultations the right hon. Member for South Down made when he drafted his Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Mr. Abse) showed that he has not consulted some of the experts who might have something worth while to say on the matter. It is extremely important that, before reaching any decisions, this democratic assembly should take careful account of lay hon. Members—that is what we are — and of the multifarious organisations with a point to make. Only then should we attempt to legislate. Only after the Government have conducted nationwide consultations are we likely to get the type of legislation that will cover the problems that Warnock investigated. I hope that the House shares my view. It would be disastrous for infertile men and women and others who might pass on defects if we act, as I believe we are acting, with unseemly haste on deeply controversial issues.

12.35 pm
Mr. Donald Stewart (Western Isles)

The hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) makes light of 2 million signatures, but that is the biggest collection that I have seen in my time in the House. The number shows that there is vast public disquiet about the implications of the Warnock report.

We are here not to rubber-stamp the views of the public, but we cannot ignore them. We can safely assume that the majority of those who signed the petitions are equally worried about childless couples and congenital malformations, although I do not concede that allowing research to continue would help to solve those problems.

I share the revulsion and repugnance felt by the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) on reading the Warnock report. I am thankful for the fact that he has been fortunate enough in the ballot to introduce the Bill. It does not seem inappropriate that the Warnock report was published in 1984. One of the organisations that support the Bill put it well when it wrote: Warnock's view of the human race is chilling. Human eggs, semen and embryos are little more than materials for laboratory manipulation. Human sexuality is simply a biological phenomenon of the animal kingdom … love is not mentioned. Children are products. We are in a sanitised, clinical and dehumanised world. There is no awe, little reverence, less concern for dignity". I take it that the Bill prevents experimentations with the human embryo. That is a worthwhile aim. Like abortion, experimentation with the human embryo is a grave sin. Some sections of the scientific world would have no restraint if some curb were not put on their activities. That is part of the spirit of the times in which we live. The right hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) said that he did not believe that there had been any fall in the moral standards of society. I regret that I have to disagree. He also said that society is unwilling to accept restraint. The arrogance of man knows no bounds.

It has been claimed that ending some forms of research would end investigation into certain diseases, such as Down's syndrome. One of the leading experts on Down's syndrome says that there is no evidence to suggest that the lack of experimentation on embryos would affect research into that syndrome. The right hon. Member for South Down answered the question about infertility. Right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House have argued that there should be a Government Bill. Meanwhile, we must maintain the position. I hope that when the Government's Bill is presented to the House, it will incorporate the aims of this Bill for the protection of unborn children, as nothing could be worthier than that.

12.40 pm
Sir Hugh Rossi (Hornsey and Wood Green)

I welcome the Bill and congratulate the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) on tabling it and for the way in which he presented it. I have reservations which I shall mention shortly, but I fully endorse the proposition that experimentation on human embryos should be treated by the law as a grave offence, because a human embryo is a human being with a genetic code for its full development as an individual from the moment of conception. I therefore hope that the title of the Bill will remain unchanged.

It has been suggested that experiments on human embryos are justified because of the knowledge that may be gained to save the suffering of others. I recognise the sincerity of the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) and I am aware of his deep concern for the disabled, born of personal family tragedy. However, as many hon. Members have said, there is grave doubt whether experiments are or could be of value. We have heard that leading experts on Down's syndrome and spina bifida, who are responsible for important discoveries in these fields, say that human embryo experiments have no validity and are unnecessary. At the end of the day we are left with the question whether it is right for one human being to experiment on another, and for me that is the sticking point.

To legislate on in vitro fertilisation, the right hon. Gentleman has had to tiptoe extremely carefully in order not to offend too many sensibilities. Infertility causes great anguish and distress. If a married couple have physical difficulties in conceiving naturally a much-wanted child, it is hard to deny them the opportunity of overcoming those difficulties by artificial means. However, that is not a cure for infertility, but a substitution.

One of the weaknesses of the Warnock report and, if I may say so, of the speech of my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister for Health in reply to the debate on 23 November is that, although great play was made of the need to overcome the consequences of infertility, nothing was said about effecting a cure or seeking medical research into the causes.

In vitro fertilisation has been evolved as a clinical technique to overcome the problems of infertility mainly caused by tubal occlusion, the commonest causes of which—accounting for 90 per cent. of all cases—are previous abortion, the use of intrauterine devices and sexually transmitted diseases. That is not to say that all cases of infertility result from such avoidable causes, but their significance is such that we should perhaps do more to make vulnerable members of our society more aware of the dangers that they face. We should seek to avoid causes rather than to bypass them, as in vitro fertilisation seeks to do, in the distressing circumstances in which the need arises.

However, may I say to the right hon. Gentleman that the weaknesses of the Bill seem to be in the conditions under which in vitro fertilisation may take place. I am nervous of leaving it to the Secretary of State to determine the criteria and circumstances in which an embryo may be inserted. The Bill gives no guidance on that matter to the Secretary of State or to his officials who will be advising him in individual cases. Also, the Bill leaves it possible for human embryos still to be bought and sold. It does not give any directions as to the provenance of the gametes to be used. No consideration is given as to whether the Secretary of State should keep a register of donors. I mention that because the Bill is giving for the first time legal sanction to the creation of children by artificial means; therefore, account has to be taken of all the legal consequences of that sanction.

At some time in a child's life, medical questions in which hereditary factors are important will need to be examined. If there is no register of donors, and the woman who has given birth to the child did not necessarily produce the ova, or if the man to whom she is married did not produce the sperm, how can one trace the hereditary factors which may be vital in determining the medical conditions that may arise in the later life of that child? Also, for the very reasons that I have mentioned, considerable problems of inheritance could arise. Does the child inherit from the donor of the sperm or from the father of the family into which the child is born? Does he inherit through the mother from whose womb he came or from the mother who provided the ova? Those questions of inheritance cannot be tackled in a Bill of this kind, but the law must address itself to those social problems in due course.

The creation of spare embryos and their being kept in frozen storage remain possibilities under the Bill. I regard both as objectionable practices detracting from the dignity of human life. Moreover, I understand that, since the development of techniques for the painless retrieval of ova with ultrasonic guidance and without general anaesthetic, at the Manchester NHS IVF unit, the need for spares and storage for implantation purposes has gone. However, those are matters than can be more fully discussed at a later stage of the Bill, and it would be churlish of me to dwell on them too long and to detract from what I regard as the inherent value of the Bill.

At present there exists under our law no protection for the human embryo. Scientific developments have intruded at a pace into areas where the law did not see the need for its application. Once again, I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on seizing the opportunity, and I wish his Bill well.

12.48 pm
Mrs. Renée Short (Wolverhampton, North-Eat)

Several hon. Members who have spoken in support of the Bill have referred to Professor Lejeune, who works in Paris and has made several pronouncements about the care of disabled babies. For example, he has suggested that spina bifida can be cured by the intake of large quantities of vitamins. Scientific information in Britain does not wholly support that view, and the Medical Research Council has set up a nationwide trial to prove the authenticity or otherwise of Professor Lejeune's claims. Professor Lejeune is trying to treat the abnormal conditions that occur after birth; he is not carrying out research to prevent those abnormal conditions from arising. His experience and views, therefore, are not relevant to the debate.

The right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell), who was fortunate to win a place in the ballot for private Members Bills, could have chosen more wisely. He has chosen a Bill that will deny medical research scientists of distinction and high ethical values the right to continue research into one of the most distressing conditions that can affect a marriage — infertility. I protest at the attitude displayed on both sides of the House by hon. Members who support the Bill and at the denigrating remarks that have been made about scientists.

The hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Sir H. Rossi) referred to the problem of abnormality. It is a heartbreaking and unaccountable tragedy for many families when a child is born suffering from a hereditary disease or a congenital abnormality.

on Members have referred to in vitro fertilisation, but I wonder whether they realise how long it took to develop that technique. Research went on for 15 years. It takes a long time and much devoted work to produce new techniques to deal with the problem with which the Bill purports to deal.

The success rate is still low, so research must continue. If the right hon. Member for South Down has his way today, that vital work will cease. Work on the treatment of patients suffering from recurrent miscarriages, for example, following normal conception will cease if the Bill is passed. The Medical Research Council says that at least 10 per cent. of ill health in man is a direct consequence of inherited defects in our genetic make-up. Some of the defects are trivial, but others are very serious. I refer to inherited diabetes, blood-clotting diseases, blindness and deafness. Hon. Members have not mentioned those today. Inherited diseases cause enormous distress in families.

Some inherited diseases are even more catastrophic. There are inherited cancers, lethal blood conditions and defects responsible for gross physical and mental abnormalities or abnormality in the number of chromosomes, for example, which is responsible for Down's syndrome. These conditions are a common and intractable part of the burden of childhood abnormality that must be borne by some unlucky, unfortunate people and by the families who have to bring up such children.

Mr. Tracey

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Short

No, I am sorry.

Few of the serious inherited diseases are curable, and we are still unable to cure some of the less rare diseases such as cystic fibrosis and muscular dystrophy, which again no one has mentioned today.

Many genetic disorders can be diagnosed during pregnancy by amniocentesis. That is frequently performed on older women fairly late in pregnancy. The alternative to abortion if the tests are positive is a deformed child. If such tests cannot be carried out, the woman is condemned to bearing a deformed child. How much better it would be if we could make that selection much earlier in pregnancy—the earlier the better. That is the point of much of the medical research.

If research cannot continue, late terminations of pregnancy certainly will. Is the right hon. Member for South Down content with that? Has he faced up to that? Relief from such abnormal conditions lies in research which has been going on for some time. In vitro fertilisation can provide the means of checking an embryo to ensure that it does not carry an abnormal gene before the embryo is transferred into the mother. That has not yet been done, but it is possible. Then the pregnancy can continue with the knowledge that the child will be born perfect.

In relation to cystic fibrosis, I understand that one in every 20 people has one copy of the abnormal gene. Though those people are normal, they are carriers of the abnormal gene. One in 2,000 babies has the disease because he or she has two carrier parents. If two carriers marry, one in four of their children will have the disease. How can hon. Members say that we must not carry out the research that is needed?

The Warnock report does not define an embryo, and a great deal of misguided fuss has been generated by the bizarre belief that the human sperm-hamster egg fertilisation system is one step towards the creation of a part-human, part-animal hybrid. But that process develops a zygote, not an embryo. It will not develop into an embryo, but it provides a simple and useful system to measure the fertility or otherwise of the human male. That is why the experiment is being carried out. It is an important test which provides information about the chromosome content of the donor's sperm. It can also reveal information about the effect of radiation or exposure to chemicals on human sperm. Clearly, it will provide important information when a man claims damages against his employer after an industrial accident.

That is an important area of research which has nothing to do with human embryos. It has been misrepresented by those who put out inaccurate, misleading and irrelevant propaganda against the Warnock report as a whole.

The most immediate research area is fertility, the treatment of infertility and the understanding and improvement of methods of contraception. I hope that the Minister will emphasise that a voluntary code of practice was introduced following the Peel report on the use of foetal material. He knows that it works effectively and is under strict control.

If the Bill succeeds today, we shall retreat along the road of bigotry and intolerance, turning our backs on the misery and lasting damage to families of infertility or genetic disease blighting their hope of a normal family life. I hope that the House will vote against the Bill.

12.57 pm
Mr. Robert Jackson (Wantage)

I start by declaring an interest, or perhaps a cause of bias, similar to that declared by the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley).

The Bill seeks to prevent the possession or procurement of an embryo except under licence, and we can all agree with that. However, it restricts the grounds on which a licence may be granted exclusively to the purpose of enabling a child to be born by a particular woman. I disagree with that, because it is possible to adduce a number of other purposes that might be legitimate and should not be made unlawful.

I shall concentrate on only one of those purposes, one which other hon. Members have spoken about — the procurement and possession of an embryo for the purpose of research into the causes and prevention of congenital abnormalities. We must not underestimate the scale and seriousness of the problem. The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Short) has given us sufficient data on that.

The emotive short title of the Bill is the "Unborn Children (Protection) Bill." This expresses the idea that an embryo is an unborn child which should be protected from any human intervention which would prevent it from being born. But are there not other hazards, such as the intervention of nature, which is sometimes unkind, against which we may seek to protect unborn children? Might it not also be said that research that could prevent serious congenital abnormalities also constitutes the protection of unborn children — their protection from such abnormalities, which may deprive them of the opportunity for a full life, or even of the opportunity for life itself?

Of course, as many hon. Members have said, there is controversy among scientists about the necessity for experiments on embryos for the prevention of congenital abnormalities. I believe that the answer to this point is that as long as there is a possibility that such a line of inquiry may produce results, we are taking a grave responsibility on ourselves if we prevent it from being followed. For those hon. Members who stand for the right of unborn children to a normal passage into the world must surely admit that there may also be a right for unborn children to benefit from advances in medical techniques which may assure for them the possibility of a normal life.

It cannot be said that the right hon. Member for South Down—I cannot help but think of him as a right hon. Friend—is taking his stand on the principle of respect for nature, although this is the principle which some hon. Members have adduced in debate, and it may perhaps attract some of them into the Lobby with him. After all, as he as made clear, the Bill is designed to license the unnatural procedure of conception in vitro. Not only that, but it permits behaviour that is inconsistent with current social norms, for it is silent, as has been pointed out, on the question of the legal relationship of the sperm to the ovum, so that it permits the possibility not only of artificial insemination by donor but of artificial insemination by husband, and of surrogate motherhood—practices which some of my constituents who have writen to me have described as nothing other than a species of prostitution.

I do not agree with these constituents on this point, and I am glad that the Bill does not exclude these possibilities. However, having admitted that these unnatural and unsocial methods of conception may be tolerated and licensed, one is obliged to ask on what principle the Bill is based. The right hon. Member for South Down sought to answer this question. He admitted that there was no principle but that there was prejudice—his instinctive revulsion. It is true that Dr. Johnson once said that one prejudice is worth 20 principles. But however that may be, if there is a principle underlying his case it is that the embryo is a human life, and that this life cannot, in any circumstances, be legitimately terminated by human intervention.

I respect the point of view of the right hon. Member for South Down, just as I respect the views of those hundreds of constituents who have been in touch with me and whose petitions I have presented to the House. However, in the context of the abortion law—this point was made by the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours)—the House, after long consideration, decided not to accept that principle. Parliament has licensed the termination of the life of embryos by abortions up to the 28th week after conception. In short, the House has previously considered and rejected the principle upon which this Bill is based.

Among the circumstances that are implicitly allowed to permit an abortion is the possibility of serious congenital abnormality in the unborn child. Parliament has thus recognised the legitimacy of terminating the prospect of human life for a defective embryo. Should it now turn its back on the emergence of technical possibilities which might enable such an embryo to come to a normal and natural life with its abnormalities corrected or prevented in the womb? These technical possibilities, as hon. Members have pointed out, might make it possible to avoid procuring an abortion. In these circumstances we must surely ask which stance is "pro-life" and which is "anti-life".

I say this with trepidation, but I must say it: the position of the right hon. Member for South Down lacks logic, and in this it reflects the reality of a public opinion which has not yet found its balance, and which has not yet matured to the point at which legislation can be said to express its inmost convictions. At various times, and in various guises, the right hon. Gentleman has presented himself as speaking from the depth of public opinion, and frequently when he has adopted that pose he has subsequently been found to be mistaken.

For my part, at this stage of the public debate about these issues, I can only say yes to the compulsory licensing of the procurement and possession of embryos—but I cannot follow the right hon. Member for South Down in his limitation of the circumstances in which such licences may be given. I shall therefore vote against the Bill.

1.4 pm

The Minister for Health (Mr. Kenneth Clarke)

I shall first inform the House that the Government, as a Government, are neutral on the policy of the Bill, and it is my duty to explain briefly the reason for that, although I am sure that all hon. Members who have given a thought to the matter will have found the reason to be apparent.

In the debate, it has been obvious that many hon. Members on both sides of the House are speaking with passionate intensity about matters on which they have strong feelings. There are deep issues of moral conscience involved in the Bill, and differing hon. Members of all political persuasions are coming to different views.

The present Government, like I am sure the Opposition Front Bench, are composed of people with a wide range of views on the issues posed by the Bill. Not only would it be impossible for the Government to claim that they had come to a collective and disciplined moral judgment on the matter; it would also be quite wrong to do so. At the end of the debate, I expect that Ministers in the present Government will probably be found in both Division Lobbies. It is obvious from the debate that many members of my party will be found in both Division Lobbies voting against each other. On this occasion, Ministers are behaving as Members of Parliament representing their constituents and answerable to them, but they are also exercising their own judgment of the issues, and that is how the House will divide at the end of the debate.

The Government did not stand wholly aside from the preparation of the Bill once the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) decided that he would bring this issue before the House, having won his place in the ballot. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will not object when I say that I thought it right that he should be offered some drafting assistance and certainly discussions to add to the discussions and drafting assistance that he had already had from outside, and also that he should have access to medical opinion inside the Department, the reason being that it seemed right that the right hon. Gentleman should present the issue in ways which could not be clouded by unnecessary arguments about the technicalities of drafting or obscurities about the medical basis on which he was acting.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell

I express my gratitude to the Minister for making that statement. It was my wish that the facts that he has disclosed should be known, but I did not think it proper to disclose them myself.

Mr. Clarke

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. It has helped to focus the attention of the House on the issues which Parliament has to determine.

During today's debate, from time to time hon. Members have expressed a certain dissatisfaction that the Government are not giving a firmer lead, although it has to be said that those expressing that desire have asked for leads in opposite directions from the Government at various times.

I believe that the Government can claim that they have given a lead to the country in helping the debate on these great issues to its present stage. The Warnock committee was set up more than two years ago to address itself not only to this issue of research on the embryo but to a wide range of related issues arising out of recent medical advances in dealing with infertility. I believe that the Government were well ahead of public opinion and that the public should be grateful that this work was done in advance of the right hon. Gentleman's Bill.

When my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services announced that we were setting up the Warnock committee, no petitions were being presented to the House. At that time there were no in-depth exposés on the television, and there was no press pressure. The Government anticipated that a huge collection of moral and legal issues were piling up, and my right hon. Friend thought it right to bring together the widest possible range of people not to determine this matter, because it can be determined only by Parliament, but to give their considerable time and effort to it and to present a reasoned agenda within which the debate could take place.

No one has attacked the members of the Warnock committee, and I believe that it would be wrong to do so. The collection of people on the Warnock committee not only shared one thing in common, which was distinction in some field or other, but represented a wide range of expertise, opinion and religious conviction, which is why they were not able to come to complete unanimity on this issue. However, they published an extremely reasoned report.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) and others wondered why no Government Bill had been forthcoming since the Warnock committee reported last July. I should have thought that today's debate was in part an answer to that. As the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) said, we are not short of representations on Warnock, and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr. Jackson) pointed out, the debate is still in full flood.

One of my hon. Friends said that if my right hon. Friend and I were to approach the Leader of the House and say that we had put together a simple Bill on the recommendations of the Warnock committee and that we thought it was time to present it to the House for the decision of the House, he would beg leave to doubt our judgment.

The Government owe the House a full response in due course to all the recommendations of the Warnock committee. Most of us appreciate that in due course Parliament will have to address itself to a major Bill covering a large number of these issues. However, I do not believe that any hon. Member should be amazed that such a Bill is not yet forthcoming. I cannot tell the House when such a Bill will be introduced. Therefore, on the one point which the right hon. Member for South Down has identified we have to decide whether it is right at this time to change the law. Also, we have to address ourselves to the question: what consequences would follow from such a decision being taken?

Mr. W. Benyon (Milton Keynes)

My right hon. and learned Friend has told the House that he cannot say when such a Bill is likely to see the light of day. That affects our view of the Bill. The problem is that events are moving so rapidly that we cannot afford to wait for too long.

Mr. Clarke

Because of the complexity of the subject, I can only say that a Bill will be introduced in due course. If such a Bill, commanding a general consensus, could have been introduced by now, the Government, as would have been wished by every hon. Member, would have done so. I can only repeat that the complexities that have been highlighted by the debate, even though the right hon. Gentleman has chosen only one specific narrow point from the committee's recommendations, demonstrates that nobody should underestimate the difficulty of the task upon which we have embarked in order to produce a Bill for the House to consider.

I am not arguing that the existence of the Warnock report and of all the work that went into its production excludes the right hon. Gentleman from presenting his Bill in an effort to change the law now, if that is the view of the House. However, the House must bear in mind that the report of the Warnock committee is in the background. The Government, having asked the Warnock committee to make recommendations, and knowing that diverse views have been put forward by sincere people about the consequences of the proposed changes, must hesitate before saying that a hole should be knocked through the central recommendation of Warnock relating to embryo research and that all further research should be made illegal by means of the introduction of this Bill.

Mr. McQuarrie

When my right hon. and learned Friend replied to my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes (Mr. Benyon), he said that a Bill would be brought forward in due course. Is he prepared to say whether a Bill will be introduced during the lifetime of this Parliament, or are the representations so complex that it is impossible for him to say when it will be introduced?

Mr. Clarke

Our aim is to introduce such a Bill during the lifetime of this Parliament and, indeed, to introduce it as soon as is feasible, but it is not possible for me to say when such a Bill will be introduced. The Government cannot put themselves under timetable constraints. If this narrow point is to be addressed, I believe, having followed the thread of the argument so far, that first we must consider the nature of the being which the Bill seeks to protect, namely, the embryo which is described in the title to the Bill as the unborn child. It is argument about the nature of that being that is causing passion in the debate and leading to different judgments about whether research should be allowed to continue.

All those who have addressed themselves, however briefly, to the religious issues have backed away on this occasion from making judgments as to when the soul enters the personality or when it can be said for certain that human life commences. Sonic hon. Members obviously feel stronger certainty on that matter than others.

I have endeavoured to take the best medical advice that is available to me, but even the best medical advice occasionally varies. The process of birth appears to be continuous. It is a continuum, in the middle of which one can make no artificial break, all the way through from conception to emergence from the womb.

The sperm, whether or not it has fertilised an ovum, is a living cell. If it does not fertilise an ovum, it dies. The ovum, before it is fertilised, is a living cell, and if it is not fertilised it dies. The sperm and the egg, already alive in advance of fertilisation, combine and the ovum is fertilised. All one can say with certainty is that that fertilisation has brought into existence a genetically novel kind of cell. That cell has the potential, if it gets through the next stage of successfully implanting in the womb, of being a human being. A cell that will become a human being—an embryo or conceptus—will do so within 14 days. If it is not implanted within 14 days, it will never have a birth.

The majority of embryos do not implant. No one knows exactly how many. It is one of the things that no one knows how to research, so no one has researched it. The hon. Member for Barking (Ms. Richardson) said that the figure was as small as one in 1,000. A modest estimate would be that 60 per cent. of embryos do not implant. In those cases the woman never knows that she has conceived. No one ever knows of the existence of the embryo. It passes from the body and dies. That is the nature of the being — some implanting, some not — which the House is debating.

I find the certainties——

Mr. Nicholls


Mr. Clarke

I shall give way in a moment, because my hon. Friend is one of those who have been expressing no doubt at all that that is a human being.

I find some of the certainties rather difficult to follow. There is no doubt in the Bill. The embryo is described as an unborn child. Others have said that it is a human being. People have talked of the civil liberties of the embryo which may or may not be implanted in the first 14 days. That leads to the sombre thought that we are members of the minority of the human race, because the vast majority of the human race never got past the first hurdle. They were never implanted in the womb. They passed away and we know not where they have gone.

Mr. Nicholls

A few moments ago my right hon. and learned Friend described a process which he said started with conception and ended wth the emergence of a child from the womb. He talked about the sperm and the ovum having a life. It is clear from those two statements that even if those essential ingredients had life, they did not have human life until they were fused. The moment that my right hon. and learned Friend talks about a time span between conception and birth, surely it is completely bogus to try to draw some particular significance from the fact that sometimes they take, in the sense of implantation, and sometimes they do not. The relevant point is that my right hon. and learned Friend has described a point which starts with conception.

Mr. Clarke

Obviously, the potential for life is there. One has a potential human being. One must ask whether it is a human being and whether it is deserving of the respect that the Bill says. I have made it clear that I cannot regard that as a human being and as an unborn child requiring the protection of the law.

I find it easy to understand why the Synod divided on a narrow basis. The Committee for Social Responsibility went one way yesterday by a not overwhelming majority and the Synod of the Church of England went the other way. It is an extremely difficult problem.

Let me explain how the majority of the Warnock committee came to their decision and chose 14 days. That may or may not be the correct decision. That must be decided. The majority of the Warnock committee came to the same conclusion as I did, which I think everybody shares, that the embryo cannot be treated as another piece of human tissue. All kinds of cell samples can be taken from the human body. The embryo, or conceptus, call it what one may, is a fairly unique piece of tissue and needs to be treated with some respect.

The committee thought that experiments should be licensed as long as no embryo was kept alive for more than 14 days in vitro. The basis for the 14-day limit was that it related to the stage of implantation which I have just described, and to the stage at which it is still uncertain whether an embryo will divide into one or more individuals, and thus to the stage before true individual development has begun. Up to 14 days, that embryo could be one person, two people or even more.

Mr. Mikardo

The Minister referred to the Synod's proceedings yesterday. Is it not significant that after that narrow vote the Synod said, "Let us hold back, because we are going to have a more considered debate in July."? Is that not evidence that a bit more thought and research are needed before the House is ready to legislate?

Mr. Clarke

I think that the Synod has shown more care in its approach to the issue and a more restrained approach to a timetable than some hon. Members wish Parliament to take. The hon. Gentleman has therefore made a perfectly valid point.

I come to the last basis upon which the Warnock committee chose 14 days. Fourteen days is the stage before the rudiments of the nervous system have been laid down. In answer to the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours), I would say that that means that, as far as anyone can tell, pain does not enter into these experiments. The size and appearance of the embryo are relevant matters, though not decisive. From this Dispatch Box I can only describe, on the basis of the best information that I have, the nature of the entity which the Bill addresses and to which it is said we should give the protection of the law.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Is the Minister suggesting that the embryo may feel pain after 14 days?

Mr. Clarke

I shall not answer that, because the hon. Gentleman is moving on to the question of the abortion Acts and his views on that——

Mr. Campbell-Savours

I asked a straight question.

Mr. Clarke

I shall not be led into a debate on "The Silent Scream" and so on. I agree with the hon. Gentleman when he points out that, given the view that Parliament and the law take about abortion, the Bill has an astonishingly different attitude towards the sanctity of human life.

Mr. Peter Bruinvels

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that to a large extent an embryo is a human being? As one of the dissenters on the Warnock committee said, an embryo is not just a collection of cells. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that it is a living body within a human being, because that is what many of us on this side believe it to be?

Mr. Clarke

I have tried to address myself to that point. My hon. Friend has come to his conclusion, and I shall come to mine.

Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Bristol, East)

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the question is not when does life begin, but what type of respect should we accord to the living thing at each stage of its development?

Mr. Clarke

I quite agree. No one is arguing that an embryo of up to 14 days should be treated with total disrespect or purely as the object of scientific curiosity. People on both sides of the argument are asking for regulated research

However, I do not want to speak for too long, so I shall turn to the subject of research, which it is said is threatened. After all, that is the other major issue. The House must first decide whether the being that we are protecting is an unborn child, demanding the protection which the right hon. Member for South Down seeks. Secondly, it must ask itself what research and possible beneficial consequences for society as a whole will be forgone if we agree with the right hon. Gentleman and decide to end research in this area.

I do not want to go into too much detail, as it would make my speech too long, but those who support the Bill must face the fact that they are probably stopping beneficial research. With respect to the right hon. Member for South Down, he did not retreat from that. The right hon. Gentleman sometimes shocks me with his intellectual rigour, but he certainly does not duck arguments. At one point he seemed to say that there might be beneficial research. He went on to conclude, "Nevertheless, respect for human life leads me to the view that we should not explore in that way."

Some hon. Members have tried to duck that issue. It is no good citing Professor Lejeune of Paris and saying that, in his opinion, there is no worthwhile research to be done in this area. Indeed, Professor Lejeune is not the only one who could be cited. It is no good picking and choosing through the medical establishment, finding those who conveniently say, from the point of view of one's argument, that there is not a worrying problem here when it comes to the question of medical research.

There is a body of medical opinion which takes the opposite view, and it, too, comprises respectable and eminent people. Only last night I met the president of the Royal College of Obstetricians, a reasonable and eminent man, and it was clear from what he told me that he does not take the view that no worthwhile gains are to be made by medical research in this area.

I respect the conclusion of the right hon. Member for South Down. He is prepared to face the prospect—not the certainty, but the possibility—that there might be some worthwhile breakthrough by research in this sphere, but he says that his instinctive feelings about the embryo and the unborn child lead him in the opposite direction.

It is evading the issue to try to produce arguments to the effect that there is no worthwhile medical research in this area. If one wants to ban medical research, one must face that and say that one has good moral reasons for doing SO.

Mr. Tracey

Does my right hon. and learned Friend believe that there are no other possibilities for this research? Apart from Professor Lejeune, Mr. Brinkworth of the Down's syndrome centre, Dr. McLean, and a list of signatories to a letter to The Times two days ago have pointed out that human gametes could also be used for the same type of research. In other words, there are alternatives.

Mr. Clarke

I agree with my hon. Friend that there are alternatives. Research normally involves exploring alternative avenues of the widest possible range in the hope of achieving a worthwhile result. The effect of the Bill would be to rule out one route—a substantial route in the opinion of many medical and scientific people—by which one might come to conclusions. I agree that by alternative routes one might come to those conclusions, but it is a drastic step to rule out an area of research which people wish to follow.

Sir Bernard Braine

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that most of us are concerned about the direction in which research is going? What comment has he to make about that member of the Warnock committee who, apparently quite legitimately and within the law, has in the past been experimenting on live aborted foetuses? Is that the direction in which we should be going?

Mr. Clarke

The choice—of course, if the Second Reading is not approved there will not be a choice—is between regulation of the research and a criminal ban.

As for experiments of foetal material, as the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Short) said, that has been authorised in this country following the Peel report. That has been accepted for some time, but if people wish to challenge it, they can.

What the Bill proposes is infinitely more rigorous than the practice that has been permitted for some time, following the Peel report, in relation to research with foetal material taken from a foetus at a much later stage.

Sir Bernard Braine


Mr. Clarke

I appreciate that my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) holds strong views on this and similar matters.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Clarke

I shall not give way, because hon. Members who wish to intervene are in danger of making me talk other hon. Members out of the debate.

I shall not go further over the three main areas of research that are affected, because other hon. Members have spoken about them. There was doubt about whether research into in vitro fertilisation would be stopped by the Bill. At present, it is not a particularly successful technique. Only one in 10 implantations by IVF leads to a birth.

The right hon. Member for South Down said that his Bill would not exclude experimentation for the purpose of improving the technique. In a sense, he is right. If a new technique were used with the consent of the woman concerned—her consent would be needed—it would be possible to keep trying out methods by which one might achieve a better rate of implantation. The secretary of the Medical Research Council, in his letter to The Times a few days ago, said firmly that he did not think that either doctors or mothers would be likely to agree to such experiments. However, the right hon. Gentleman is clear that any experiment aimed at improving implantation rates that involved experiments on the embryo without implantation would be ruled out by his Bill. That is one of the areas which people might like to explore with regard to improving IVF.

The choice which the House faces now, or later if the matter is not resolved today, is between regulation and criminal law and a ban; whether it is all banned, or somehow it is regulated in a way yet to be determined. This is a purely personal opinion, which is not shared by many of my hon. Friends in or out of the Government. I urge the House to be extremely cautious about rushing into using the criminal law in particular in this narrow area. The criminal law is a difficult and uncertain weapon in such areas.

One thing on which I am sure everyone will agree on reflection is that it is no good saying that the moral law, approved of even by the majority of the population, should automatically become the criminal law of the country. All sorts of moral dangers and evils do not go into the criminal law. I do not want to be flippant, but I recollect that not one of the seven deadly sins, which include lechery, gluttony and avarice, is against the criminal law in the United Kingdom. Each deadly sin can be indulged in without criminal penalty.

The law is happiest when it confines itself to dealing with physical assault on the person of another citizen or dishonest appropriation of the property of another individual. Once the law goes into areas of moral uncertainty, it gets into difficulty. Laws that have been based on the moral judgment even of the majority of the population have sometimes proved difficult and uncertain areas. There are the laws of homosexuality and pornography, and I could cite others. Those are areas where, even if one wishes to legislate, one is entering an area which can become a legal quagmire as one seeks to get it right. This area may not be different.

No one is saying that in the end there will not need to be a criminal law restricting research in that area. If Warnock were implemented, and if Warnock's advice were accepted that licensing should restrict research up to 14 days, the implication is that it should be a criminal offence to experiment after that. I am not denying that most people eventually advocate the criminal law being there as a back-up sanction at some stage to make sure that the scientific community pays heed to the strong moral feelings of the majority of the population, but this is a difficult and uncertain area in which to get that law right. I have made it clear that I feel that the Bill is precipitate: it comes too soon and has not yet been adequately debated and thought through. It is extreme and fundamentalist in its consequences for a great deal of medical and scientific research. I shall vote against it, but members of the Government who are able to be here will exercise their free vote. It is the judgment of the House as a whole that will prevail in the end.

1.33 pm
Mr. Michael Meacher (Oldham, West)

Like many other hon. Members who have spoken, I am highly conscious of the fact that this is potentially a highly emotive Bill for two main reasons. One is the absolutist moral view adopted by many of those who passionately oppose all embryo experimentation in principle, and the other is the fear of the unknown, the bizarre and the unnatural that is sometimes conjured up by ignorance and prejudice concerning the recent rapid advances in the biotechnology of human fertility.

I pay tribute to the careful and measured speech of the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell). On the first count, in no way did he seek to inflame such passions, although on the other count his moral determinism has an inner certainty that at least some of the rest of us lack. However, I concede the sincerity and conviction with which those views were propounded.

Like the Minister, I speak as an individual rather than as a Front Bench spokesman. This is in no way a party political matter. However, I insist that, for all those for whom the moral a priori does not carry an automatic override, the balance of argument is tilted heavily against the Bill on two grounds. Before considering them, I should like to dispose of two obstacles which seem frequently to encumber dispassionate debate.

The first is the dread that scientists are somehow running amok and that, unless they are reined in by immediate legislation, science fiction nightmares such as human-hamster hybrids, carbon copy cloning by nuclear transplantation or wanton torture of living foetuses in the laboratory might see the light of day. Apart from the fact that cloning and inter-species constructs are pure research myths which can never happen, I must make it clear like the Minister, that those who oppose the Bill do not regard simply leaving matters as they are as the alternative. I and, I believe, many others of my persuasion believe firmly that Parliament must establish a framework for rigorous control and scrutiny of all such research, including a licensing authority such as Warnock suggested.

We should like legislation to go much further than the Bill. We should like a comprehensive package of legislation that embraces embryo experimentation, surrogacy, legitimacy—which has hardly been discussed today — and the other main issues that Warnock considered. I agree with the Minister that the Bill is precipitate. We—I mean those who share my views—do not believe that it should be allowed to pre-empt that wider legislative package.

As my hon. Friends the Members for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) and for Bow and Poplar (Mr. Mikardo) said, there has been little time for the public and Parliament seriously to consider what anyone who is listening to the debate must realise are contentious matters. We are a little disappointed that the Government have been unable to outline their intentions, but we are adamant that the system of monitoring and control must be tight, detailed and open.

The licensing authority must have a lay chairman and sufficient lay members to ensure that it is not controlled by the scientists. Each researcher, each research establishment and each research project should be licensed in advance and subject to inspection. Such information should be made public, as should the purpose and result of each embryo experiment. In that context, I do not believe that anyone can say that research will be allowed to run rampant.

If the 14-day limit, which has figured strongly in the debate, were finally adopted, any idea that it might be tampered with or surreptitiously increased to satisfy the scientists should be blocked by the time limit being enshrined in primary legislation. It could then be extended only with the explicit agreement of the House.

Another obstacle which undermines dispassionate assessment of this issue is the emotive canard that the subjects of these experiments are, in terms, human beings. It has been said many times with great sincerity and passion that human life begins at fertilisation, and I wholly understand that view. Since it is also said that all experiments on human beings other than for their own welfare are morally wrong, all experiments on human embryos should be automatically prohibited. However, hon. Members should respect the argument that there are several different, alternative and equally sustainable views on when human life starts and a human being exists.

The proponents of the Bill believe that that is at the moment of fertilisation. That is well understood and has frequently been stated in history. Others, equally seriously, believe — I was glad that the Minister emphasised this view, and I wish to endorse it—that the mere existence of a fertilised egg does not in itself entail the necessary and sufficient conditions for development to humanness. It will need, for example, a sympathetic womb.

There are many other views. I conclude that this is a moral issue not susceptible in the last analysis of rational determination. The right hon. Member for South Down had the grace to make that clear. It is emotive and prejudicial to talk of experiments on human beings in this context.

Moreover, the proper moral question is not at what point life begins, but at what point in the development of an embryo we attribute to it the protection due to a human being. [AN HON. MEMBER: "At conception."] That is one view, but other views can perfectly reasonably and properly be held. That attribution is made by human reason or conscience, not by scientific determination. Although I fully recognise the sincerity of all those who hold a different view, I believe that the Warnock conclusion is reasonable. It is not the only one, but it is reasonable. That conclusion is to afford full protection to an embryo at the point at which, in a meaningful way, it has achieved status as an individual. Individuation as a process is not complete until about 14 days after fertilisation.

Mr. Cash

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there should be a presumption in favour of human life?

Mr. Meacher

The hon. Gentleman misses the point. Those who oppose the Bill have no doubts about that proposition. The issue is not whether we agree that there is human life, or even at what point human life begins, but at what point we attribute to a growing embryo the protection that is fully and rightly given to a human being.

With those two major caveats, I shall deal with the central implications of the Bill. We reject them on two grounds. First, experiments on embryos, carefully regulated as we would require them to be, hold great potential for remedying infertility and genetic disorders. No one will make certain predictions about the result of research which is carried out precisely to find out what can be done for the welfare of all.

It is estimated that one in eight couples in Britain—1 million people—are infertile. Infertility strikes at the essence of what is culturally defined as femaleness. Any research that holds the prospect of reducing the blight on the lives of so many people should be welcomed and certainly not blocked. Moreover, such work may reduce the incidence of miscarriage, as half the foetuses which abort spontaneously have major chromosomal irregularities, which may be preventable by further research.

The gains from research that the Bill would block could go further still. Research could help to remedy genetic disease, which affects as many as one in every 50 children. There are also distressing birth defects, such as haemophilia, muscular dystrophy and cystic fibrosis. They might—I would not put it higher than that—at last become remediable, but only if human embryos are studied, because those conditions are unique to human beings. Similarly, many other serious birth defects, such as deafness, cataracts and heart problems, which are known to be caused by environmental factors such as radiation, alcohol, nicotine and addictive drugs, can be systematically studied only in vitro, since all too few women, I fear, are likely to subject themselves to the kind of scrutiny that such clinical trials would entail.

Mr. Thurnham

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that those of us who believe in the dignity of life are opposed to the Bill because society clearly does not want handicapped children? There are many thousands of handicapped children still in care who have been advertised for months on end as wanting parents. My wife and I have adopted a handicapped foster child who had been advertised for 18 months as wanting parents.

Mr. Meacher

I do not think that there is any dispute in any part of the House that the answer to the problem is to try to prevent handicap in the first place. I understand the distressing and human points that the hon. Gentleman has raised. Under the Bill, human embryo research would be prevented, which would perhaps stand a better chance than research through any alternative means.

Mr. Ian Grist (Cardiff, Central)

We may be able to prevent such research from taking place in Britain, but can we prevent it in other countries? Would it not be hypocritical to prevent research here and to accept the results of research carried out in other countries that would benefit our citizens?

Mr. Meacher

That is an interesting argument that the hon. Gentleman may wish to make in his own way to the promoter of the Bill.

I think that there are other compelling reasons, apart from infertility and genetic disorder, why all further research should not be blocked. One is to improve the test-tube baby technique, which has a low success rate. I think that it was my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) who said that only about one in 10 embryos transferred to the womb produce a baby. Further research on human embryos is surely needed to improve that rate, since animal analogues offer no alternative model.

Another object of further research would be to achieve better understanding of, and hopefully a remedy for, male infertility, which is the cause of about half the childless marriages. I think it was my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Ms. Richardson) who made that point.

Further research into infertility may lead to more effective forms of contraception. Many women produce antibodies against sperm, which prevent fertilisation. The Medical Research Council believes that a contraceptive vaccine could be developed, after a study of embryo culture, which might be more effective and cheaper than current forms of contraception.

The other major area of misgiving for opponents of the Bill concerns the procedures that it would implement. Under the Bill, permission would be required from the Secretary of State for IVF treatment. What expertise, clinical or social, does the Secretary of State have on which to base decisions whether women should or should not undergo treatment?

The Bill requires a woman requesting treatment to be named. There has never before been a legal requirement that doctors should breach medical confidentiality, and I do not believe that there should be now.

What should be done with embryos found to be abnormal after fertilisation? It can hardly be right, under the Bill, to replace an embryo which might threaten the life of the mother or develop into a grossly abnormal child. Indeed, there are other significant gaps in that area in regard to which crucial questions remain unanswered. What happens if a woman becomes pregnant quickly and there are spare or "extra" embryos, as they have been called? What do doctors do when the four or six months expire and there are still spare embryos?

Furthermore, no mention is made in the Bill about whether any treatment of the embryo can be attempted prior to implantation. That is a significant omission since as many as one third of embryos fertilised in vitro have chromosomal abnormalities.

The Bill is objected to on wider grounds. Some people fear that if the right hon. Member for South Down wins the argument about embryo experimentation, he will establish the principle that the foetus should be protected from interference from the moment of fertilisation. We all take different views about that—and perhaps it is right—but it would call into question post-coital forms of contraception and, whether deliberately or not, the whole question of abortion. The explanatory memorandum states: The provisions of the Bill do not involve any issue concerning abortion, surrogacy or legitimacy. Many people will wonder just how disingenuous that is as a declaration. For many people, that in itself might be the reason for rejecting the Bill.

I unreservedly respect the motives of those who promulgate the Bill, but I still firmly believe that the wiser course is to reject it, partly because it is premature and preempts the wider Warnock package, which is surely needed, and partly because the framework that it proposes is pitted with questionable or unclear procedures. Above all, we should reject it because it puts an unqualified block on research, the scientific case for which is compelling and the potential benefits of which are enormous, especially in remedying infertility. The Bill would also undermine the prospect and the fundamental human right of infertile couples to have children.

For all those reasons, which together are conclusive —to me at least—we should reject the Bill. I believe that legislation in this sphere is needed, but this is not the Bill for it.

1.51 pm
Mr. J. F. Pawsey (Rugby and Kenilworth)

I hope that the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) will forgive me if I comment first on the speech made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister for Health. I wish to make three points about his speech. First, I was pleased to hear him say that Government assistance would be made available to the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell). I am sure that that will be of help in formulating developments in the Bill. Secondly, the gist of my right hon. and learned Friend's remarks was that the embryo does not suffer pain under 14 days because it does not have a nervous system. That suggests that the embryo will suffer pain after 14 days, which has implications elsewhere. Thirdly, I should like clarification. I was not sure when a Government Bill might be introduced. Was my right hon. and learned Friend saying that it might be introduced in the lifetime of this Parliament or that even that was in doubt?

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

I am not too sure about the timetable for a Bill, either. The Government will present their considered reactions to the Warnock report as soon as possible and present a Bill in due course, again as soon as possible. Our aim is to make as much progress as we reasonably can in a huge and complex matter.

Mr. Pawsey

I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend.

We often debate matters affecting the quality of life, but today's debate is about life itself. The concept of experimenting on the unborn child was unthinkable just a few years ago. It was unthinkable on ethical, moral and certainly technical grounds then. But science has advanced at a speed which has left church and religious leaders, educationists and philosophers struggling behind. The Bill seeks to remedy that.

The Bill seeks to provide a safeguard a breathing space and to give protection to a particularly defenceless section of humanity. That is worth stressing since the embryo is certainly human. It is not abstract tissue. It is a living, growing, developing human being, requiring only time and nourishment to develop into a mature adult.

The title of the Bill includes the words "Unborn Children". The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) was right to stress that the title is unambiguous. The Bill prohibits the making, keeping or use of a human embryo for any purpose other than enabling a child to be borne by a particular woman". Substantial safeguards are built into the Bill. For the first time, a legal framework is being forged to protect what was thought until recently to be inviolate. The Bill's title describes briefly and succinctly what the legislation is about, and it should not be changed.

The Bill may not go as far as some would like. For example, it does not tackle the other issues raised by the Warnock report. However, a private Member's Bill that sought to deal with those issues would have great difficulty in getting through the House. My hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) touched on that aspect. Any Bill's chance would be in inverse proportion to its complexity and length.

The right hon. Member for South Down is to be applauded for tackling the central issue — the most important issue — of the Warnock report and for confining himself to that area. A Bill on the Warnock report would be too large for a private Member to introduce with any hope of success. I hope that this Bill will receive the Second Reading that it deserves.

The Bill charts clearly a fundamental course of great significance and provides a sound foundation for further legislation should that be thought to be necessary in future.

The embryo is human and that is why experimentation should not take place. Paradoxically, I recognise that that same reason—the uniqueness of the human embryo—is why some hon. Members argue that experimentation is necessary and even desirable. It seems that their case is that the use of small human beings or, as the Bill calls them, unborn children will enable science to discover the reasons for and, more importantly, the answers to some abnormalities in human beings. Their case is that there is no alternative. That assertion is, to say the least, open to argument.

There are distinguished scientists on both sides of the argument, but Professor Lejeune believes that more orthodox scientific methods will discover the reasons for and answers to such conditions as Down's syndrome and that, therefore, it is unnecessary for unborn children to be used in laboratory experiments.

My objection to experiments on human beings is not so much that science will make such experiments unnecessary but that there are moral and ethical objections. I believe that such experiments are unacceptable. The prospect of producing human embryos for laboratory experiments is repugnant.

The Helsinki declaration of the World Health Organisation said: In research on man, the interest of science and society should never take precedence over considerations related to the wellbeing of the subject. That puts the matter in a nutshell.

I do not support the argument that life suddenly commences at 14 days and that what is right on the 14th day is wrong on the 15th day. In logic, surely new life starts at fertilisation. If that is so, how can a civilised state legalise or legitimise experiments on human life, for whatever reason? The end, no matter how good or well intended, cannot justify these means. Again, which hon. Member believes that experiments will cease at 14 days? That is unenforceable. Even now, it is being suggested that the time limit should be extended and that 14 days is too restrictive.

Someone once said that war is too important to be left to the generals. I believe that life is too important to be left to the scientists and researchers. I shall vote for the Bill.

2 pm

Dr. Jeremy Bray (Motherwell)

I think that we are all agreed that the line has to be drawn somewhere in experimentation on the embryo. The Minister made great play of the probability that 60 per cent. of fertilised embryos do not implant, but it is not so long since the probability of the child not growing up to reach childbearing age was considerably higher than 60 per cent. We cannot say that the stage of fertilisation is not incomparably the stage at which there is the biggest leap in probability of being born, growing up and reproducing. This is obviously a significant stage.

The subject is fraught with moral considerations, and properly so. I take the view that it is wrong to experiment on human embryos, and I shall vote for the Bill. However, I recognise the impact on research, and medical research and clinical treatments in particular, and it is about that that I shall speak.

Genetics, embryology and developmental biology are moving extremely fast. Every week, in Nature, there are articles reporting scientific advances, and there is one this week. The experiments are being done not on humans, apes, monkeys, frogs or mice but on fruitflies. We seem to be getting near to identifying the string of bases in DNA which controls the development of the embryo. That string in the DNA molecule is found in all vertebrates, including human beings. As the work progresses, and as we come to understand how the molecular structure of DNA controls the development of the embryo, all the methods of clinical research and treatment will change drastically. There is no question of the Bill holding up any of the directions of this fundamental scientific and medical research.

The right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) acknowledged that the Bill diverts the current course of clinical research in the short term, but it is a very short term. Such is the pace of development—I commend a recent review article in The New Scientist of 10 January, if hon. Members wish to look at the work on the fundamentals of developmental biology—that the basic control mechanisms on the growth of the embryo are likely to be cracked in the next five years. To sell the pass on the fundamental issue of experimentation on the human embryo when we are dealing with such a short time scale in the development of scientific knowledge would be, to say the least, a pity.

Where can we go? I hope that, in passing the Bill, we shall not reflect the strongly anti-science element that there was in the speeches of many hon. Members on both sides of the House. However, if, in the pursuit of their science, scientists neglect the basic moral considerations that clearly move the majority of people, they will be building up the misunderstanding, the misrepresentation and the undervaluation of science that has done so much damage to our society. To give way to any appearance of undervaluing the unique dignity of each human being would be gravely to damage the support of scientific research. That is being gravely damaged at the moment, most of all by the restrictions on the science budget by the present Government. Only yesterday we had the announcement of another 900 jobs cut in the staff of a research council. It is vital that we allow science to proceed. I do not believe that the Bill will block it in any way, and I hope that the House will give it a Second Reading.

2.5 pm

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

I am very glad to be called immediately after the hon. Member for Motherwell, South (Dr. Bray), who brings to these issues his own experience in and knowledge of scientific matters and helps to illustrate the obvious point that there are people in scientific disciplines on both sides of the argument just as there are laymen on both sides of it and that it is futile to start counting heads or challenging the reputation of one against the other.

For the most part, the debate has followed the pattern of debates in the House on those issues which cut across party lines. It has been a debate of some quality and one in which arguments have been presented seriously and conscientiously. We should get away from and dispense with the charges and counter-charges about motive and who has what reason for taking which point of view.

It is not part of my case in favour of the Bill to question the motives of the scientists and doctors who carry out work in the disciplines which may be in some way restricted by the Bill, some of whom approve of the Bill and others of whom are opposed to it. Their motive is the advancement of humanity and the advancement of knowledge, and they pursue those objectives with a determination and single-mindedness which from time to time inevitably brings them up against the test of what the law should tolerate and where the boundaries should be drawn. But I do not quesion or challenge the motives of their work, for which I have the highest regard.

It does not follow from saying that that everything which anyone working in any of these fields might feel should be done should be sanctioned. Our experience over the years is that there will always come a point where the researcher wants to do something which society thinks should not be done, and the argument is about where those boundary lines should fall.

Equally, it should be no part of the case of those who oppose the Bill similarly to question the motives of those who are in favour of it and strongly believe that it should be on the statute book. To have the Bill described, as I heard it described by someone amongst the medical opposition to it, as an evil Bill is an illustration of precisely the way in which we should not debate the matter. I do not question the motives of those who feel that the Bill might unduly restrict the work that they do, and I do not expect them to question the motives of those who want to see it on the statute book.

To assume, as some have in this argument, that those of us who support the Bill are all strangers to the problem of infertility in marriage suggests that some of them do not know the individuals with whom they are dealing.

When considering this matter we have to come up against the fundamental question and how we answer it as individuals, and I cannot speak to the generality of the Bill without first saying how I view the issue. The fundamental question has been posed by many right hon. and hon. Members, including the Minister: what is the nature of the being about whom we are talking—the embryo or the fertilised ovum? That is sufficiently clearly the starting point of distinct human life that it deserves protection in law and sufficiently clearly the starting point of distinct human life that it deserves that the approach of medicine to it should be that of seeking to assist its survival and full development. To reverse those assumptions so that the protection of the individual life is secondary to the benefits that experiment with that life might bring to others is to throw the basis of law and medicine into reverse.

Those considerations are not just mine. Presumably they were the considerations which led the majority of the members of the Warnock committee to believe that a line had to be set somewhere and to set that line at 14 days. They would not tolerate experiments on the embryo after those 14 days. My view is that the 14-day limit is insufficient to give the degree of protection that clear and distinct human life ought to have. That view is shared by many hon. Members and by many millions of people outside the House. Although that is my fundamental presumption, it is not necessarily the fundamental presumption of all those who support the Bill and who will vote for it.

I join the Minister in saying that the setting up of the Warnock committee and the conclusions that it reached have been of considerable value, even though I disagree profoundly with one of the committee's conclusions. The evidence that it took was extremely valuable. Clearly it has helped us to discuss the issue with greater knowledge. Of course, the report could not resolve the issue; that was impossible. However, the views of the members of the Warnock committee are set out in its report. It has provided the material with which to reach the decisions that Parliament ultimately will have to take.

I wish to examine some of the anxieties about the Bill expressed during the debate. The reasons for supporting the Bill have been stated clearly by many right hon. and hon. Members, but the first difficulty that has been raised is whether the Bill will prevent the in vitro fertilisation process from being used to help couples to have children. If that had been the objective of the Bill, it would have been a very different Bill. It might have been easier to draft a Bill that wholly prevented experiment on the developing foetus if no allowance had to be made for the maintenance of the IVF technique which has clearly brought the blessing of parenthood to many who otherwise would not have enjoyed it. The Bill does not seek to take away those benefits. That is why it is drafted as it is. The Bill does not restrict the process of fertilising embryos outside the womb and storing them for the specific purpose of enabling couples to have children. The sponsors of the Bill are firmly of the view that they do not wish that process to be discontinued.

As for the restriction of the IVF process by the Bill, its purpose is to prevent the embryos so produced from being diverted to any other purpose. The procedures which may seem to be difficult and irksome for those who are involved in carrying out this work are there for a purpose. If those procedures were absent, there would be no control over the use to which the embryos could be put. It is then that wider possibilities open up for the use of embryos for experimental purposes, for trading in embryos and for the wide transfer of embryos between those who are involved in different types of research.

There would be no restriction upon the way in which the IVF process is carried on and the various permissions that have to be obtained if it were not that the primary objective of the Bill is to confine the handling of embryos to the proper purpose of enabling couples to have children. That is why consent must be given.

However we set out to prevent the experimentation which the Bill's most fervent opponents seek to pursue, we cannot avoid the fact that somebody must have the power to prevent the IVF process from being carried out. If nobody has that power, nobody has the ability to regulate its misuse. The point has been made that for that power to be in the hands of the Secretary of State may not be altogether to the good. However, upon this issue, above all others, we have to ensure that power ultimately resides in Parliament.

There are attractions in setting up a separate body which has no direct line of authority and responsibility to Parliament. It may appear that thus is entrusted to a body of experts, perhaps associated with some layman, decisions in that area. But that is to pass the value judgments away from the Chamber altogether and away from the people who ultimately have to take responsibility for them. We have all seen from our various political points of view that, although it is possible and although Governments are ready to set up bodies that are at a distance from ministerial supervision, when such bodies exist Parliament is pushed out of the picture and can no longer establish its authority on the issues involved. Judgments on those issues must be made by Parliament.

The Bill is so drafted that the Secretary of State is required to give his consent and not to make choices between various people to whom the technique of IVF may be made available. It is no part of the purpose or drafting of the Bill to give the Secretary of State any rights of choice as to who should benefit from the process. That would be absurd and wrong. His responsibilities relate to how the process is carried out and whether it is carried out according to the directions in the Bill. No one wants the Secretary of State to be involved in the essentially personal decisions made between the couple and the doctor about whether to use this technique.

Nor does the Bill in any way preclude a reapplication for the use of the techniques after the expiry of the initial six months. The Bill is drafted as it is because if there were no time limitation there would be no limitation other than a natural one on the indefinite storage of embryos and the possibilities which that opens up. Once one goes beyond six months, nine months or a year, one of the participants might, in some tragic circumstance, have died. Where would we go from there when we have the storage and possession of embryos created by persons no longer living?

Mr. Peter Bruinvels


Mr. Beith

I prefer not to give way at this stage because there are some key points that I wish to make. If time permits, I shall give way later.

Even the recommendations of the Warnock committee would require law and policing. Those who criticise the law and the policing which is provided for in the Bill need to recognise that they would be engaged in exactly the same difficult test of finding procedures, laws and policing in order to implement a recommendation which limits experiments to 14 days. Hon. Members need not be as concerned about that area as they initially were.

The second and perhaps even greater worry which niggles in the minds of some hon. Members, and indeed must concern all of us, is whether the Bill would prevent essential research into diseases and handicaps such as Down's syndrome, spina bifida, congenital defects and many of the other things that we find so worrying. However, I do not go the way of one hon. Member who said in an intervention that society does not want handicapped children. He chose his words rather carelessly when he said that. Society has shown how much it can give handicapped children and that in its care of them individuals and the community are made that much greater. However, that is not the issue I want to deal with. If we are to consider whether the Bill will prevent essential research, we must use our language less loosely.

No distinction has been drawn during the debate between research and experimentation. They are not the same thing. Not all research is experimentation in the sense that it involves manipulation of or the ultimate destruction of human life in some form. Much research is observation and much observation can be carried out with no threat to the well-being of whoever is being observed. Much scientific research which is carried out on human beings, children or adults, is in the nature of the observation of procedures which are designed to benefit the human being concerned.

I say that no distinction has been drawn between research and experimentation. Equally no distinction has been drawn between experimentation and improvement of the procedures by which a doctor seeks to preserve, sustain or enhance the life of the individual whom he is treating. Again, there is a distinction there.

I do not think that it is the object of those who support the Bill to prevent the medical practitioner from doing what he has always sought to do, which is to use whatever procedures he thinks necessary to enhance, preserve or maintain the life of the individual form of human being that he is dealing with. Therefore, when we talk about what research could be limited by the Bill, we must draw our net a little narrower. However, having done so, we must then consider the value and extent of available research on the embryo. That is a disputed issue. I do not seek to contend that no valuable research could be undertaken on an embryo of less than 14 days. However, there are those who argue that. But there is a great deal of dispute about whether much of value can be obtained within that period.

Most of those involved are bound to concede that much more of research value could probably be obtained after 14 days, when the foetus has a spine, nervous system and other features upon which research can be carried out, than before then. But the entire Warnock committee rejected the idea of experimenting after 14 days, and no hon. Member today has sought to advance the cause of experimentation after 14 days. It is at least in dispute whether there is extensive research to be done in that area. There is certainly dispute about whether there is no alternative to such research and I am certainly not satisfied that there is no alternative.

I concede, as the right hon. Member for South Down did, that there might be some research to which there is no alternative that might bring value to other humans if it was carried out on an embryo of less than 14 days. The most compelling argument in favour of that was put by the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) in his two intervations.

There is a very powerful case for research to deal with the problems of congenital defects and some of the major handicaps that children suffer from birth. If it is viewed in isolation, it is so powerful that it sweeps away almost any barrier that we might seek to erect to almost any procedure. That is the problem about it. When we consider the difficulties faced by a handicapped child or by a child whose period on this earth may be but a few years because of the extent of its congenital abnormality, all barriers are swept away, and in that moment of looking at, and crying over, the anguish of that child and his family there must be few things that most hon. Members would not contemplate doing if it would for one moment ease that child's lot.

Yet we cannot view that case in isolation, because we are always considering what barriers must be put up and what can be done to one human being in order to benefit others. Those barriers will crumble if we view the plight of those who suffer from some of those handicaps in isolation. I have already argued that the case that the only way to tackle such problems is by research on an embryo of less than 14 days is not proved. But when we consider that we might have to move further and further towards experiments on human life, it is clear that we must then set one value against another. There is no harder task for any individual, let alone the House, to carry out. But I believe that the law cannot be based on the principle that we experiment on one human in order to benefit others. That is not a principle upon which we can safely or reasonably found the law.

Would it not be better to await a Government Bill that would represent a comprehensive package of all the issues involved? I say to those who have just come into the Chamber, but who did not hear the Minister speaking earlier, that the right hon. and learned Gentleman gave neither promise nor prospect of a Government Bill within any defined time scale. There is no sign that a Government Bill will be introduced. As the Minister quite properly conceded, any such Bill would be some comprehensive package. It would embrace all the other issues raised by Warnock as well as those that have arisen since, including surrogacy, paternity, legitimacy and possibly even abortion. It would be a Bill so great—in view of the great number of differences of view on the various issues with which it would have to deal—that it would face many problems in its progress through Parliament. Hon. Members who think that they can safely put aside the matter because it will be dealt with in a Government Bill are basing their judgment on an illusion.

If we do not legislate now, we shall create a presumption in favour of widening what research is now done. That is why we cannot wait and why the Bill should receive a Second Reading.

2.26 pm
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Grantham)

In a speech of singular force, the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) identified the issues that are before the House. He did that with the lucidity and restrained eloquence which is so much his hallmark. However, the question is not whether he was eloquent and lucid, but whether his conclusions were right. That is the issue before us.

The right hon. Gentleman made a fundamentally important concession and he asked the House to make a fundamentally important assumption. He said that in the sphere of serious medical disorders, some useful and beneficial progress would or could be obtained from experimentation on human embryos. That was the concession he made. He went on to say that there was another consideration—the sense of moral outrage that many people felt. Those are the two counterbalancing considerations that hon. Members must take into account.

I believe, as does my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister, that the evidence favours voting against Second Reading—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] We must understand the advantages that will flow from continued experimentation, because unless we understand them we cannot form the moral judgments that are required. My right hon. and learned Friend identified them in broad terms: progress in the treatment of infertility; progress in the treatment of miscarriage; greater understanding of chromosome abnormalities; greater understanding of genetic disorders; and advancement in methods of contraception. Those are all of vital importance to mankind, and anybody who does not appreciate that cannot understand what we are discussing today. Therefore, the benefits that may accrue from continued experimentation are real and tangible.

Against that one must set the moral outrage that many people feel, and on that issue there are two important points to bear in mind.

First, those of us who argue against the Bill do not call for unfettered or unlicensed experimentation. We adopt, approve and support the apparatus of supervisory control and licensing contemplated by Warnock. We have never asked for and we do not want unlicensed or unsupervised experimentation.

Secondly, I support the remarks of my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister about the nature of the being with which we are dealing. I must tell the right hon. Member for South Down that to call this the Unborn Children (Protection) Bill is misleading——

Mr. Ian Campbell (Dumbarton)

rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Question put, That the Question be now put:—

The House divided: Ayes 233, Noes 56.

Division No. 108] [2.29 pm
Adams, Allen (Paisley N) Clarke, Thomas
Alexander, Richard Clegg, Sir Walter
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S.)
Alton, David Coombs, Simon
Amess, David Cope, John
Ancram, Michael Cowans, Harry
Anderson, Donald Craigen, J. M.
Ashdown, Paddy Cranborne, Viscount
Atkins, Rt Hon Sir H. Dewar, Donald
Atkins, Robert (South Ribble) Dixon, Donald
Atkinson, David (B'm'th E) Douglas, Dick
Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset) Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.
Baldry, Tony Dover, Den
Beggs, Roy Duffy, A. E. P.
Beith, A. J. Dunn, Robert
Bendall, Vivian Durant, Tony
Benyon, William Eggar, Tim
Bevan, David Gilroy Ewing, Harry
Biffen, Rt Hon John Eyre, Sir Reginald
Biggs-Davison, Sir John Fallon, Michael
Blackburn, John Favell, Anthony
Body, Richard Fenner, Mrs Peggy
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Bottomley, Peter Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey
Bowden, A. (Brighton K'to'n) Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Boyson, Dr Rhodes Forsythe, Clifford (S Antrim)
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard Franks, Cecil
Bray, Dr Jeremy Fraser, Peter (Angus East)
Bright, Graham Freeman, Roger
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes) Galley, Roy
Bruinvels, Peter Garel-Jones, Tristan
Burt, Alistair Glyn, Dr Alan
Butcher, John Goodhart, Sir Philip
Butterfill, John Grant, Sir Anthony
Campbell-Savours, Dale Greenway, Harry
Cash, William Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)
Chapman, Sydney Ground, Patrick
Chope, Christopher Gummer, John Selwyn
Churchill, W. S. Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)
Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th S'n) Hamilton, James (M'well N)
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S) Hancock, Mr. Michael
Hardy, Peter O'Brien, William
Hargreaves, Kenneth Onslow, Cranley
Harris, David Oppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs S.
Harvey, Robert Paisley, Rev Ian
Hawkins, C. (High Peak) Parry, Robert
Hayes, J. Patten, Christopher (Bath)
Hayhoe, Barney Patten, John (Oxford)
Hayward, Robert Pawsey, James
Heddle, John Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Henderson, Barry Pendry, Tom
Hind, Kenneth Pike, Peter
Hirst, Michael Pollock, Alexander
Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth) Powell, Rt Hon J. E. (S Down)
Home Robertson, John Price, Sir David
Hordern, Peter Proctor, K. Harvey
Howard, Michael Pym, Rt Hon Francis
Howell, Rt Hon D. (G'ldford) Raison, Rt Hon Timothy
Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath) Rees, Rt Hon Peter (Dover)
Howell, Ralph (N Norfolk) Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Hughes, Simon (Southwark) Rifkind, Malcolm
Hume, John Rippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey
Hunt, David (Wirral) Robertson, George
Hunter, Andrew Robinson, Mark (N'port W)
Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas Robinson, P. (Belfast E)
Irving, Charles Roe, Mrs Marion
Jessel, Toby Ross, Wm. (Londonderry)
Jones, Robert (W Herts) Rossi, Sir Hugh
Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
Kennedy, Charles St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon N.
Key, Robert Shelton, William (Streatham)
Kilfedder, James A. Silvester, Fred
King, Roger (B'ham N'field) Skeet, T. H. H.
Knight, Mrs Jill (Edgbaston) Smith, Rt Hon J. (M'kl'ds E)
Lambie, David Smyth, Rev W. M. (Belfast S)
Lang, Ian Soames, Hon Nicholas
Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh) Spearing, Nigel
Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Speed, Keith
Lewis, Sir Kenneth (Stamf'd) Speller, Tony
Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Spence, John
Lewis, Terence (Worsley) Stanbrook, Ivor
Lilley, Peter Stanley, John
Lloyd, Peter, (Fareham) Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford) Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Lofthouse, Geoffrey Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)
Lord, Michael Stewart, Rt Hon D. (W Isles)
Luce, Richard Sumberg, David
McCartney, Hugh Taylor, Rt Hon John David
McCrea, Rev William Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
McCurley, Mrs Anna Temple-Morris, Peter
McCusker, Harold Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)
MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire) Thornton, Malcolm
McNamara, Kevin Tinn, James
McQuarrie, Albert Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Maginnis, Ken Tracey, Richard
Major, John Trippier, David
Malins, Humfrey Twinn, Dr Ian
Marland, Paul Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Waddington, David
Martin, Michael Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Mather, Carol Walden, George
Mawhinney, Dr Brian Walker, Cecil (Belfast N)
Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Waller, Gary
Merchant, Piers Ward, John
Meyer, Sir Anthony Watts, John
Millan, Rt Hon Bruce White, James
Mills, Iain (Meriden) Whitney, Raymond
Mills, Sir Peter (West Devon) Wilkinson, John
Moate, Roger Winterton, Mrs Ann
Molyneaux, Rt Hon James Winterton, Nicholas
Monro, Sir Hector Wood, Timothy
Montgomery, Sir Fergus Wrigglesworth, Ian
Morris, M. (N'hampton, S) Young, David (Bolton SE)
Neubert, Michael
Newton, Tony Tellers for the Ayes:
Nicholls, Patrick Mr. Christopher Murphy and
Nicholson, J. Mr. Ian Campbell.
Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Abse, Leo Meacher, Michael
Adley, Robert Meadowcroft, Michael
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack Mitchell, David (NW Hants)
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)
Barron, Kevin Nellist, David
Beckett, Mrs Margaret O'Neill, Martin
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Buchan, Norman Pavitt, Laurie
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Rhodes James, Robert
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Richardson, Ms Jo
Cohen, Harry Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N)
Cook, Robin F. (Livingston) Rooker, J. W.
Corbett, Robin Sayeed, Jonathan
Corbyn, Jeremy Sedgemore, Brian
Crouch, David Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Dobson, Frank Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood)
Dubs, Alfred Short, Mrs R. (W'hampt'n NE)
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G. Silkin, Rt Hon J.
Fatchett, Derek Skinner, Dennis
Flannery, Martin Smith, C. (Isl'ton S & F'bury)
Fraser, J. (Norwood) Soley, Clive
Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald Straw, Jack
Garrett, W. E. Thurnham, Peter
Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife) Wheeler, John
Harman, Ms Harriet Wiggin, Jerry
Hicks, Robert Wigley, Dafydd
Jackson, Robert
Leighton, Ronald Tellers for the Noes:
Madden, Max Mr. Ian Mikardo and
Maynard, Miss Joan Mr. Douglas Hogg.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Question put accordingly, That the Bill be now read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 238, Noes 66.

Division No. 109] [2.40 pm
Adams, Allen (Paisley N) Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th S'n)
Alexander, Richard Clark, Dr David (S Shields)
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)
Alton, David Clarke, Thomas
Amess, David Clegg, Sir Walter
Ancram, Michael Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S.)
Anderson, Donald Coombs, Simon
Ashdown, Paddy Cope, John
Atkins, Rt Hon Sir H. Cowans, Harry
Atkins, Robert (South Ribble) Craigen, J. M.
Atkinson, David (B'm'th E) Cranborne, Viscount
Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset) Deakins, Eric
Baldry, Tony Dewar, Donald
Beggs, Roy Dixon, Donald
Beith, A. J. Douglas, Dick
Bendall, Vivian Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.
Benyon, William Dover, Den
Bevan, David Gilroy Duffy, A. E. P.
Biffen, Rt Hon John Dunn, Robert
Biggs-Davison, Sir John Durant, Tony
Blackburn, John Eggar, Tim
Body, Richard Ewing, Harry
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Eyre, Sir Reginald
Bottomley, Peter Fallon, Michael
Bowden, A. (Brighton K'to'n) Favell, Anthony
Boyson, Dr Rhodes Fenner, Mrs Peggy
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Bray, Dr Jeremy Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey
Bright, Graham Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes) Forsythe, Clifford (S Antrim)
Bruinvels, Peter Franks, Cecil
Burt, Alistair Fraser, Peter (Angus East)
Butcher, John Freeman, Roger
Butterfill, John Galley, Roy
Campbell-Savours, Dale Garel-Jones, Tristan
Carlisle, John (N Luton) Glyn, Dr Alan
Cash, William Godman, Dr Norman
Chapman, Sydney Goodhart, Sir Philip
Chope, Christopher Grant, Sir Anthony
Churchill, W. S. Greenway, Harry
Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N) Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Ground, Patrick Martin, Michael
Gummer, John Selwyn Mather, Carol
Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom) Mawhinney, Dr Brian
Hamilton, James (M'well N) Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Merchant, Piers
Hancock, Mr. Michael Millan, Rt Hon Bruce
Hardy, Peter Mills, Iain (Meriden)
Hargreaves, Kenneth Mills, Sir Peter (West Devon)
Harris, David Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)
Harvey, Robert Moate, Roger
Hawkins, C. (High Peak) Molyneaux, Rt Hon James
Hayes, J. Monro, Sir Hector
Hayhoe, Barney Montgomery, Sir Fergus
Hayward, Robert Morris, M. (N'hampton, S)
Henderson, Barry Moynihan, Hon C.
Hind, Kenneth Neubert, Michael
Hirst, Michael Newton, Tony
Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth) Nicholls, Patrick
Home Robertson, John Nicholson, J.
Hordern, Peter Normanton, Tom
Howard, Michael Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Howell, Rt Hon D. (G'ldford) O'Brien, William
Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath) Onslow, Cranley
Howell, Ralph (N Norfolk) Oppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs S.
Hughes, Simon (Southwark) Paisley, Rev Ian
Hume, John Parry, Robert
Hunt, David (Wirral) Patten, Christopher (Bath)
Hunter, Andrew Patten, John (Oxford)
Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas Pawsey, James
Irving, Charles Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Jessel, Toby Pendry, Tom
Jones, Robert (W Herts) Pike, Peter
Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine Pollock, Alexander
Kennedy, Charles Portillo, Michael
Key, Robert Powell, Rt Hon J. E. (S Down)
Kilfedder, James A. Price, Sir David
King, Roger (B'ham N'field) Proctor, K. Harvey
Knight, Mrs Jill (Edgbaston) Pym, Rt Hon Francis
Lambie, David Raison, Rt Hon Timothy
Lang, Ian Rees, Rt Hon Peter (Dover)
Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh) Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Rifkind, Malcolm
Lewis, Sir Kenneth (Stamf'd) Rippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey
Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Robertson, George
Lewis, Terence (Worsley) Robinson, Mark (N'port W)
Lilley, Peter Robinson, P. (Belfast E)
Lloyd, Peter, (Fareham) Roe, Mrs Marion
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford) Ross, Wm. (Londonderry)
Lofthouse, Geoffrey Rossi, Sir Hugh
Lord, Michael Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
Luce, Richard St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon N.
McCartney, Hugh Shelton, William (Streatham)
McCrea, Rev William Silvester, Fred
McCurley, Mrs Anna Skeet, T. H. H.
McCusker, Harold Smith, Rt Hon J. (M'kl'ds E)
MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire) Smyth, Rev W. M. (Belfast S)
McNamara, Kevin Soames, Hon Nicholas
McQuarrie, Albert Spearing, Nigel
Maginnis, Ken Speed, Keith
Major, John Speller, Tony
Malins, Humfrey Spence, John
Marland, Paul Stanbrook, Ivor
Stanley, John Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton) Walden, George
Stewart, Allan (Eastwood) Walker, Cecil (Belfast N)
Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood) Waller, Gary
Stewart, Rt Hon D. (W Isles) Ward, John
Sumberg, David Watts, John
Taylor, Rt Hon John David White, James
Taylor, Teddy (S'end E) Whitney, Raymond
Temple-Morris, Peter Wilkinson, John
Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N) Winterton, Mrs Ann
Thornton, Malcolm Winterton, Nicholas
Tinn, James Wood, Timothy
Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath) Wrigglesworth, Ian
Tracey, Richard Young, David (Bolton SE)
Trippier, David
Twinn, Dr Ian Tellers for the Ayes:
Vaughan, Sir Gerard Mr. Ian Campbell and
Waddington, David Mr. Christopher Murphy.
Abse, Leo Leighton, Ronald
Adley, Robert Madden, Max
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack Mates, Michael
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Maynard, Miss Joan
Barron, Kevin Meacher, Michael
Beckett, Mrs Margaret Meadowcroft, Michael
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Mitchell, David (NW Hants)
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)
Bryan, Sir Paul Nellist, David
Buchan, Norman O'Neill, Martin
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Ottaway, Richard
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe) Parris, Matthew
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Pavitt, Laurie
Cohen, Harry Rhodes James, Robert
Cook, Robin F. (Livingston) Richardson, Ms Jo
Corbett, Robin Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N)
Corbyn, Jeremy Rooker, J. W.
Crouch, David Sedgemore, Brian
Dobson, Frank Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Dorrell, Stephen Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood)
Dubs, Alfred Short, Mrs R. (W'hampt'n NE)
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G. Silkin, Rt Hon J.
Fatchett, Derek Skinner, Dennis
Flannery, Martin Smith, C. (Isl'ton S & F'bury)
Fowler, Rt Hon Norman Soley, Clive
Fraser, J. (Norwood) Straw, Jack
Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald Thurnham, Peter
Garrett, W. E. Wheeler, John
Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian Wiggin, Jerry
Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife) Wigley, Dafydd
Harman, Ms Harriet
Hicks, Robert Tellers for the Noes:
Jackson, Robert Mr. Ian Mikardo and
Lee, John (Pendle) Mr. Douglas Hogg.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read a Second time and committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 42 (Committal of Bills).