HC Deb 21 October 1986 vol 102 cc971-7 4.51 pm
Mr. Ken Hargreaves (Hyndburn)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the law relating to human embryos produced by in vitro fertilisation; and to make additional provision in relation thereto. Eighteen months ago, the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) introduced the Unborn Children (Protection) Bill. It is a great privilege for me this afternoon to follow such a distinguished and respected Member of this House. I cannot match his eloquence, but I can perhaps match his strength of feeling.

During the past 20 years, the House has been instrumental in passing a series of laws which have devastated and, in some respects, barbarised our society. All attempts to fight back have been blocked by the use of parliamentary procedure accompanied by jingoistic rhetoric in which precisely the same formula is used in statement after statement. Every Bill which attempts to reverse this so-called permissive legislation is described as ill thought out or hastily drafted. All manner of sinister motives or abuses are outlined.

Having sat through a number of debates on ethical issues, I sometimes feel as though precisely the same statements and press releases are used with simply the headlines and nouns changed to alternate between abortion, pornography, sex education and the use of the embryonic human being as a guinea pig. The whole matter would be laughable were it not for the fact that the tactics none the less succeed in ensuring that the will of Parliament is thwarted by the minority.

Britain must be the only country in the western world in which Bills which have a huge majority do not reach the statute book because of the tactics of the minority. When the right hon. Member for South Down presented the Unborn Children (Protection) Bill it was given a Second Reading by 238 votes to 66. There is still a huge majority in the House and elsewhere in favour of legislation which will protect the human embryo from non-therapeutic experiments. However, when I presented the measure as a private Member's Bill earlier this year, it soon became obvious to me and to the other supporters of the Bill that our opponents were determined that there would not be a debate, let alone a vote, on the subject.

We have no intention of seeing democracy baulked any longer, and we are determined today, even at this late stage in the parliamentary year, to have a vote to show the British public that the majority in the House is concerned to see something done to protect the human embryo. Any party or Government which pays lip service to democracy has a duty to defend democracy and to protect the House and the country from campaigns which seek to obscure the truth about what is happening.

It is fair to say that the Government set up the Warnock committee when they recognised the dangers of the developments in embryology in an attempt to clarify the position. The Government deserve to be congratulated on that. But let us be frank. All the members of the Warnock committee admitted at the outset that they favoured the use of the human embryo for experiments. However, even they were forced to admit that the human embryo is undeniably a member of the human species. Page 65 of the report states: From the moment of fertilisation there is no particular part of the development process which is more important than another; all are part of a continuous process and unless each stage takes place normally, at the correct time, and in the correct sequence, further development will cease. Thus biologically there is no one single identifiable stage in the development of the embryo beyond which the in vitro embryo should not be kept alive. The report of the Australian Senate Select Committee on human embryo experimentation states: In this situation prudence dictates that, until the contrary is demonstrated 'beyond reasonable doubt ' … the embryo of the human species should be regarded as if it were a human subject for the purposes of biomedical ethics. Every declaration of medical ethics — be it the Hippocratic oath or the updated declaration of Geneva —categorically states: I will maintain the utmost respect for human life, from the time of conception: even under threat, I will not use my medical knowledge contrary to the laws of humanity. The declaration of Helsinki, adoped by the 18th World Medical Assembly in 1975, to provide guidelines for doctors in biomedical research involving human subjects, states: In research on man, the interests of science and society should never take precedence over considerations related to the well-being of the subject. Yet what do we witness happening in this country? Scientists can carry out open-ended research on embryonic human beings with no legal upper limit. Even the Warnock committee urged that a legal limit of 14 days should be imposed. Every argument favouring the use of the embryonic human being for experimentation includes a rosy picture of the benefits for society if only we allowed scientists freedom. There would be cures for cancer and muscular dystrophy. According to some of the world's most outstanding scientists in this area, these claims are highly suspect, if not downright ridiculous. In finding cures for genetic diseases by gene manipulation, one has to be able to assess the effect on the target tissue, which in no case is present by 14 days — the limit recommended by Warnock and supported by some members of the Medical Research Council.

Moreover, I stress that those of us who oppose the destruction of unborn children, at all stages, for reasons of handicap, are at least equally concerned to find cures for genetic diseases as are those who oppose us. Having failed to convince the public with their justifications for using the embryo, scientists have now resorted to the invention of a new word — "the pre-embryo" — to describe the human who has not yet implanted in his or her mother's womb, albeit that they cannot deny that from the moment of conception it is an individual and genetically unique human which, if safeguarded, will develop its full potential just as a new-born baby will.

The term "pre-embryo" is a Humpty Dumpty word. You will recall, Mr. Speaker, how in "Alice in Wonderland", Humpty Dumpty used all manner of words wrongly, justifying himself by claiming, "I pay 'em extra". The term is used persistently by the Medical Research Council, I regret to say, to diminish the status of the newly conceived embryo in the minds of the public and so justify its actions.

However, David Davies, the former editor of Nature magazine and a member of the Warnock committee—who is certainly not sympathetic to my case—stated in Nature on 20 March 1986 that the term "pre-embryo" was never used or put before the Warnock committee, and he added that the scientists using the term "pre-embryo" were manipulating words to polarise an ethical discussion. I have tried to address myself to criticisms made by opponents of the Bill and to show that we are beyond doubt talking about a human being when we refer to an embryo of the human species and that cures for genetic diseases will not be forthcoming from experimenting on human embryos.

The other major claim made by the opponents to the Bill is that it will put an end to in vitro fertilisation and prevent an infertile couple from having a much-wanted child. That is not the intention of the Bill, nor would it be its effect. Last year the right hon. Member for South Down said that the Bill does not in any way interfere with the procedures which are at present in use for enabling a woman, who could not otherwise do so, to bear a child. The Bill was deliberately and carefully drawn so as not to interfere with those procedures, and that view was confirmed by the Department of Health and Social Security. I deeply regret that infertile couples have been worried by some of the claims made about the Bill.

The use of the embryonic human being is without doubt one of the most dangerous developments facing humanity this century. We in this House have a duty to protect society and humanity. The consequences of doing nothing will be far-reaching. The Bill in no way restricts existing IVF procedures and it does nothing to prevent the discovery of cures for genetic diseases, but it gives the human embryo the right to the legal protection that the rest of us enjoy. It has the support of many organisations, from the Salvation Army to the Royal College of Nursing and Women for Women, and it has widespread support throughout the country. We have an opportunity to give a moral lead to the world. Passing the Bill today would be a first step. I commend the Bill to the House.

5.1 pm

Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East)

I wish briefly to oppose the Bill. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn (Mr. Hargreaves) on gaining time for a ten-minute Bill, but I regret that I cannot agree with the proposals that he has put forward because they fly in the face of the vast majority of medical opinion not only in this country but in all countries. The Fertility Society of America has followed the recommendations of the Warnock committee, and those recommendations have also been accepted in Australia, where a great deal of work has been done. Having visited Japan last week, I can also report that the Japanese Academy of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists also approves the work and recommendations of the Warnock committee in seeking to continue research into the causes of infertility and congenital handicap and to provide treatment for those who suffer.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn speaks for a vociferous minority fomented by religious doubters, but he flies in the face of majority public opinion which has been expressed clearly in favour of human embryo research aimed at prevention of congenital handicap. I speak today for the silent minority who suffer grievous personal hardship through problems of infertility or inherited disorders. One in 50 of all children born suffers from a congenital handicap. I wish to speak especially for the forgotten minority of children so handicapped that their parents are unable to care for them—children who are therefore in institutional care. It is surprising that those who express so much concern for the human embryo have not been able to band together to offer fostering or adoptive homes for those children so deserving of parental love and care, as children born with such grievous handicaps should surely have even more parental devotion and loving care than normal children.

The right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) has spoken of the dignity of man and his instinctive repugnance for research, but what dignity is there for those handicapped children for whom society is unable to care as it should? God gave us heads that we should use them and not bury them in the sand. Religious objections have been mentioned, but my hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn should remember that the Church of England Synod rejected a motion calling for a ban on research. Father John Mahoney, president of the Catholic Theological Association, has written an excellent book on "Bioethics and Belief". I am sorry that Cardinal Hume has had to withdraw his imprimatur, showing the depth of division within the Catholic church.

Of course there should be limits. The Warnock committee put forward strict guidelines and called for a statutory licensing authority. In the absence of legislation, a voluntary licensing authority — a uniquely British institution—has been set up, composed of eminent lay members and representatives from the Medical Research Council and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. That authority, which is the envy of the world, has visited 24 IVF establishments in this country and its work has been praised by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. I hope that Members on both sides will join my right hon. Friend in praising its work in authorising research in this country.

No research means no test-tube babies. My hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn seems to think that test-tube babies can be produced without research. This country leads the world in pioneering research in this area. The establishment at Bourne hall has now announced the thousandth successful pregnancy. As there have been only 3,000 worldwide, that shows the extent of our lead in this area. Does my hon. Friend wish our research teams to have to go abroad to continue their work, which is so urgently needed to improve the success rate of IVF, currently only about 20 per cent., and to discover possible methods of preventing congenital handicap through embryonic biopsy? My hon. Friend seems unaware of the significance of recent developments in genetic diagnosis for cystic fibrosis and muscular dystrophy.

I thank the 150 right hon. and hon. Members who supported my early-day motion 32 on the prevention of congenital handicap, drawing attention to the launching of the Progress group which brings together 41 organisations concerned with medical charity work and medical work generally which support the need for further research.

I ask the House to reject the Bill and to await the Government legislation that has been promised as soon as possible and which I hope will be along the lines of the Warnock committee's recommendations.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 15 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and Nominations of Select Committees at Commencement of Public Business):

The House divided: Ayes 229, Noes 129.

Division No. 281] [5.10 pm
Adams, Allen (Paisley N) Ground, Patrick
Aitken, Jonathan Gummer, Rt Hon John S
Alexander, Richard Hamilton, James (M'well N)
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Alton, David Hannam,John
Amess, David Hargreaves, Kenneth
Ancram, Michael Harris, David
Arnold, Tom Harrison, Rt Hon Walter
Ashby, David Harvey, Robert
Aspinwall, Jack Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael
Atkins, Rt Hon Sir H. Hawkins, Sir Paul (N'folk SW)
Atkins, Robert (South Ribble) Hawksley, Warren
Atkinson. David (B'm'th E) Hayes, J.
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Hayhoe, Rt Hon Barney
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Hayward, Robert
Beith, A. J. Heddle, John
Bendall, Vivian Henderson, Barry
Bennett, Rt Hon Sir Frederic Hill, James
Benyon, William Holland, Sir Philip (Gedling)
Best, Keith Holt, Richard
Bevan, David Gilroy Hordern, Sir Peter
Biffen, Rt Hon John Howard, Michael
Biggs-Davison, Sir John Howell, Rt Hon D. (G'ldford)
Blackburn, John Howell, Ralph (Norfolk, N)
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Hubbard-Miles, Peter
Body, Sir Richard Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Boscawen, Hon Robert Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas
Bowden, A. (Brighton K'to'n) Irving, Charles
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Jessel, Toby
Boyson, Dr Rhodes Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard Jones, Robert (Herts W)
Bray, Dr Jeremy Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine
Bright, Graham Kennedy, Charles
Bruinvels, Peter Key, Robert
Budgen, Nick King, Roger (B'ham N'field)
Burt, Alistair Lambie, David
Butterfill, John Lamond, James
Campbell-Savours, Dale Lamont, Rt Hon Norman
Cash, William Lang, Ian
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Latham, Michael
Chapman, Sydney Lawrence, Ivan
Chope, Christopher Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)
Churchill, W. S. Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Lightbown, David
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S) Lilley, Peter
Clegg, Sir Walter Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Cocks, Rt Hon M.(Bristol S) Lofthouse, Geoffrey
Cope, John Lord, Michael
Cormack, Patrick McCurley, Mrs Anna
Craigen, J. M. Macfarlane, Neil
Cunliffe, Lawrence McGuire, Michael
Dickens, Geoffrey MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute)
Dicks, Terry Maclean, David John
Dixon, Donald McLoughlin, Patrick
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J. McNamara, Kevin
Dover, Den McQuarrie, Albert
Duffy, A. E. P. Malins, Humfrey
Dunn, Robert Malone, Gerald
Durant, Tony Marland, Paul
Eggar, Tim Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Evennett, David Marshall, Michael (Arundel)
Eyre, Sir Reginald Martin, Michael
Fallon, Michael Mason, Rt Hon Roy
Favell, Anthony Mather, Carol
Fenner. Mrs Peggy Maude, Hon Francis
Fletcher, Alexander Mawhinney, Dr Brian
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Fox, Sir Marcus Mayhew, Sir Patrick
Fraser, Peter (Angus East) Merchant, Piers
Fry, Peter Millan, Rt Hon Bruce
Gale, Roger Miller, Hal (B'grove)
Galley, Roy Mills, Iain (Meriden)
Garel-Jones, Tristan Moate, Roger
Glyn, Dr Alan Monro, Sir Hector
Gow, Ian Morris, M. (N'hampton S)
Greenway, Harry Morrison, Hon P. (Chester)
Gregory, Conal Moynihan, Hon C.
Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N) Mudd, David
Neubert, Michael Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Nicholls, Patrick Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)
Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon Stewart, Rt Hon D. (W Isles)
O'Brien, William Stokes, John
Onslow, Cranley Sumberg, David
Page, Richard (Herts SW) Tapsell, Sir Peter
Park, George Taylor, John (Solihull)
Patten, Christopher (Bath) Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Patten, J. (Oxf W & Abgdn) Temple-Morris, Peter
Pawsey, James Thompson, Donald (Calder V)
Pollock, Alexander Thompson, J. (Wansbeck)
Porter, Barry Thorne, Neil (Ilford S)
Portillo, Michael Thornton, Malcolm
Powell, Rt Hon J. E. Tinn, James
Powell, William (Corby) Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Powley, John Tracey, Richard
Price, Sir David Trippier, David
Proctor, K. Harvey Trotter, Neville
Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon Twinn, Dr Ian
Ridsdale, Sir Julian Waddington, David
Rifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Roe, Mrs Marion Waller, Gary
Rossi, Sir Hugh Wardle, C. (Bexhill)
Rost, Peter Warren, Kenneth
Rowlands, Ted Watts, John
St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon N. White, James
Shelton, William (Streatham) Whitney, Raymond
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford) Wilkinson, John
Shersby, Michael Wilson, Gordon
Shields, Mrs Elizabeth Winterton, Mrs Ann
Skeet, Sir Trevor Woodall, Alec
Smith, Cyril (Rochdale) Woodcock, Michael
Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick) Wrigglesworth, Ian
Soames, Hon Nicholas Young, David (Bolton SE)
Speed, Keith
Speller, Tony Tellers for the Ayes:
Spicer, Jim (Dorset W) Mr. Kenneth Hind and
Stanbrook, Ivor Mr. Ian Campbell.
Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)
Abse, Leo Fields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn)
Adley, Robert Fisher, Mark
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Flannery, Martin
Ashdown, Paddy Foot, Rt Hon Michael
Ashton, Joe Forrester, John
Atkinson, N. (Tottenham) Forth, Eric
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Fraser, J. (Norwood)
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Freud, Clement
Barnett, Guy Garrett, W. E.
Barron, Kevin George, Bruce
Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh) Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian
Bidwell, Sydney Golding, Mrs Llin
Boothroyd, Miss Betty Gourlay, Harry
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Grist, Ian
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Hamilton, W. W. (Fife Central)
Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E) Harman, Ms Harriet
Brown, R. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne N) Haselhurst, Alan
Buchan, Norman Heffer, Eric S.
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Hicks, Robert
Cartwright, John Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Howells, Geraint
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe) Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Clay, Robert Jackson, Robert
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick
Cook, Robin F. (Livingston) Jenkins, Rt Hon Roy (Hillh'd)
Critchley, Julian John, Brynmor
Crouch, David Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly) Knowles, Michael
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l) McDonald, Dr Oonagh
Deakins, Eric McNair-Wilson, M. (N'bury)
Dobson, Frank Madden, Max
Dormand, Jack Maples, John
Dorrell, Stephen Maxton, John
Dubs, Alfred Maynard, Miss Joan
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G. Meacher, Michael
Eastham, Ken Meadowcroft, Michael
Farr, Sir John Michie, William
Fatchett, Derek Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)
Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes) Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Neale, Gerrard Short, Mrs R.(W'hampt'n NE)
Needham, Richard Silkin, Rt Hon J.
Nellist, David Sims, Roger
Nelson, Anthony Skinner, Dennis
O'Neill, Martin Smith, C.(lsl'ton S & F'bury)
Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Osborn, Sir John Soley, Clive
Ottaway, Richard Spencer, Derek
Owen, Rt Hon Dr David Squire, Robin
Page, Sir John (Harrow W) Steel, Rt Hon David
Patchett, Terry Strang, Gavin
Pavitt, Laurie Straw, Jack
Prentice, Rt Hon Reg Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Prescott, John Thorne, Stan (Preston)
Raffan, Keith Thurnham, Peter
Raynsford, Nick Wainwright, R.
Renton, Tim Wareing, Robert
Rhodes James, Robert Weetch, Ken
Richardson, Ms Jo Wells, Bowen (Hertford)
Roberts, Allan (Bootle) Welsh, Michael
Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N) Wiggin, Jerry
Rogers, Allan Winnick, David
Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Sackville, Hon Thomas Tellers for the Noes:
Sayeed, Jonathan Mr. Ian Mikardo and
Sedgemore, Brian Mr. Dafydd Wigley.
Sheldon, Rt Hon R.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Ken Hargreaves, Mr. David Amess, Mr. A. J. Beith, Sir Bernard Braine, Mr. Peter Brunivels, Mr. Ian Campbell, Mr. David Evennett, Mr. Michael Hancock, Mrs. Elaine Kellett-Bowman, Dame Jill Knight, Mr. James White and Mrs. Ann Winterton.