HC Deb 02 April 1990 vol 170 cc914-85

Order for Second Reading read.

Mr. Speaker

Before we begin this very important debate, I say again to the House that, because of the late start and the fact that a great number of right hon. and hon. Members wish to participate in it, I shall place a limit of 10 minutes on speeches between 7 and 9 o'clock. However, I hope that that limit will be borne in mind by those who are called to speak before then. There is great pressure to participate in the debate.

4.51 pm
The Secretary of State for Health (Mr. Kenneth Clarke)

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

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill is, in my opinion, one of the most significant measures to be brought forward by a Government in the last 20 years. It is a complex and sensitive Bill that deals with matters that are fundamental to the well-being of our society. It proposes a new and detailed system of statutory regulation of certain types of infertility treatment. If the House agrees with the view taken in another place, that regulation would extend to research involving human embryos

On that matter, my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House proposes to give the House an opportunity to vote later this month on the Floor of the House on an issue which both the Government party and the other main parties in the House regard as a matter of individual conscience. Such matters will be raised several times during the debate on the Bill.

We all know that the subject matter of the Bill raises important legal and social issues. It also raises important scientific and medical issues. At the heart of the Bill, however, there are also important ethical questions. The House is divided as to the ethics, but in the end, it will have to make an ethical judgment on behalf of the community at large.

As the Bill is so unlike other measures that Governments usually introduce, I am sure that our debates on it will differ from our normal debates, and will cut across the ordinary party political lines. We are all aware of the fact that people outside Parliament are, more than is usually the case, looking to the House to debate the measure calmly. I am sure that the quality of the debate on these highly sensitive and controversial matters will live up to the strong feelings of the many people who regard these matters as of the deepest significance.

Those who have read the debates in another place will, I am sure, agree with me that they were of a high quality. I share in the tributes that have been paid to my right hon. and noble Friend the Lord Chancellor for the way in which he steered the debates through another place. Changes were made during those debates, which I shall describe during my speech.

The Bill is the end product of a long period of public debate and reflection. Some people have argued that the process has been over-long. I do not share that view. We can all see, with hindsight, that the Bill has benefited from the time that has elapsed. That can be seen from the fact that, at each stage of the discussion process, more common ground has opened up.

There are some exceptions, particularly on the subject of research involving the human embryo. Because of its very nature, there will never be a consensus on that subject, or a solution that is acceptable to all shades of opinion. There can be no doubt, however, that there is genuine agreement about the need for statutory regulation in this highly sensitive and fast developing area of science and medicine. Many of the Bill's provisions now command, I am confident, a broad measure of public support.

It may be helpful if I remind the House of the origins of the Bill and describe its main principles. The birth in Oldham in 1978 of the world's first baby born as a result of in vitro fertilisation, Louise Brown, ushered in a whole new era in the treatment of infertile couples. However, that birth has brought in its wake a series of complex legal and ethical issues which, it became apparent, would require to be addressed in legislation. It is not unknown for Governments of any complexion to shrink away from tackling difficult legislative problems, but this Government felt that it was a responsibility that we could not shirk.

In 1982, we set up a committee of inquiry, chaired by Mrs. Warnock, now Baroness Warnock, the distinguished philosopher, to study all the implications that the advent of the test-tube baby technique brought in its train, including that of research involving human embryos. As a Minister, I was answerable to the then Secretary of State for Health and Social Security, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) who set up the inquiry.

I should remind the House that, when the Government decided to ask Lady Warnock to head the committee, there was no wide public controversy or even wide public knowledge of the issues. Enoch Powell had not introduced his Bill and the newspapers had not drawn attention to the issues. The considered view of Ministers in this Government was that serious problems were arising that Parliament and the Government would have to address. We addressed the issues responsibly by asking Lady Warnock and her committee to advise. I believe that we have acted responsibly ever since.

I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the work of Lady Warnock's committee. It was not given an easy remit. It was asked to address the subject at large. The fact that the Bill reflects in many of its provisions the thinking of that inquiry is a commendation of its foresight and of the firmness with which it tackled its task.

The committee reported in 1984. There immediately followed an extensive round of public consultation. That brought in a number of responses—indeed, a scale of responses that was quite out of the ordinary for the kind of public consultation exercises that accompany many measures before they are brought before the House. We received views not just from organisations and lobbies and the leading medical scientific, legal and religious bodies, but also from many individual members of the public who feel deeply. on one side or the other, about the issues.

We quickly introduced the Surrogacy Arrangements Act 1985. That quickly and effectively quelled the prospect of the development of commercial surrogacy agencies in this country. There was unanimous agreement on that; the Bill was brought before the House and passed quickly. In the same year, 1985, I well remember, as one who took part in the debates, Enoch Powell's introduction of the Unborn Children (Protection) Bill, which sought to prohibit research involving human embryos. The Bill did not complete all its stages, but it focused public attention on this highly important and sensitive matter. In the next week or two, the House will finally return to the decisive debate on the issue and come to a decision one way or the other.

The Government issued a consultation document in 1986, the responses to which formed the basis for the White Paper entitled "Human Fertilisation and Embryology: A Framework for Legislation" which we published in November 1987. The White Paper was debated in this House and, shortly thereafter, in another place. The Bill that we introduced in another place last November closely follows the policy set out in the White Paper, except as regards a small number of points of detail.

I shall soon turn to a description of the main provisions of the Bill and will refer to the changes made to it during the debates in another place. First, however, I ought to make clear what will be the role throughout our debates of my hon. Friend the Minister for Health, my right hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General, who will be taking part in the Standing Committee debates, and also my role and that of other Ministers who may be called upon to speak from the Dispatch Box during the proceedings on the Bill.

For the most part, the Bill is presented to the House on the same basis as any other Government measure. Ministers will speak for the Government in their capacity as Ministers on the majority of issues and in the majority of debates. But I am conscious that in the embryo research debate and on some other matters that we know may arise in Committee, the normal rules of party discipline will not apply. The Government will certainly allow a free vote on these matters to all those who normally take our Whip and to members of the Government.

I have never made any secret of the fact that I am an enthusiastic supporter of properly regulated embryo research and, by coincidence, so is my hon. Friend the Minister for Health, but that does not mean that that is a Government position on the matter. When I speak on the merits of the case, I shall make it quite clear that I am not speaking with the authority of the Government behind me. Usually, outside the House, I talk about taking off my hat as Secretary of State for Health and putting on my hat as the Member for Parliament for Rushcliffe. That will be the case for all members of the Government and of my party. On some of the great issues of conscience, I have no doubt that members of the Government and the Conservative party will be found in both Division Lobbies, just as I confidently expect that the views of members of other major parties in the House will be divided.

In the debates on matters of conscience, our approach will be the same as that of Ministers who dealt with such issues in the past. We shall stress that the Government do not take a collective position. Any opinions on the merits of the case will be, strictly speaking, our own. However, as Ministers, regardless of our personal views, our role is to serve the House to the best of our abilities by providing factual information in as neutral and objective a way as possible, so that the full implications of proposals are set out, and by explaining the implications of particular amendments—in both cases using the range of expertise available to Government.

The other principal duty of Government is to ensure that the House produces legislation which has been so drafted that, whatever the decision of the House one way or the other on the great issues, the result is practicable and effective to administer and enforce, and can be applied by the courts.

Before turning to consider the Bill in detail, I should remind the House of one other background to the Bill—the considerable unhappiness and stress which childlessness can cause individual couples. One of the benefits that I hope will flow from the public attention given to those issues in recent years is a greater understanding and sympathy for their plight.

The numbers are far from insignificant. About one in 10 couples are thought to be infertile, and a greater number are estimated to seek specialist help at some stage in their desire to have a family. More than for most groups, it is sometimes hard for childless couples to draw public attention to their problems. Those of us who are lucky enough to have had children naturally should not forget the considerable stress and strain posed for childless couples. Obviously, it is a perfectly legitimate medical and scientific activity to enable them to satisfy the wholly worthy objective of having families of their own.

As far as I am aware, the Bill is the first comprehensive measure dealing with all the issues addressed by the Warnock committee concerning the legal, social and ethical implications of new methods of assisted reproduction attempted anywhere in the world. Some countries have enacted legislation dealing with some of the issues—for example, Spain and the state of Victoria in Australia. Others, such as Canada and West Germany, are actively considering legislation. In West Germany, legislation has already reached the Bundesrat.

I should like to refer hon. Members to the recently published research project funded by my Department. It was prepared by Dr. Jennifer Gunning, who, until last summer, was secretary to the interim licensing authority. As a result of her field visits and desk research, she has produced an up-to-date account of the legal framework of issues such as in vitro fertilisation, artificial insemination by donor embryo research, abortion and research involving the use of foetal tissue covering a broad range of north American and European countries, as well as Australia. Although it is not always possible to deduce the exact implications of a particular law, the House will find it a useful document to add to scientific, medical and ethical literature produced on the subject.

Sir Michael McNair-Wilson (Newbury)

What will be the effect if the Bill fails to receive a Second Reading? Am I right in believing that embryo research will continue as at present, or would the end of the Bill mean the end of that research?

Mr. Clarke

If the Bill fails to get a Second Reading, the law will remain as it is. As I hope most people in the House will agree, whatever our personal opinions on the merits or otherwise of research into the human embryo, the present law is totally unsatisfactory. Undoubtedly, we shall be divided on the contents of the legislation, but I believe that a broad range of opinion, including those in the medical and scientific community who carry out such research, accepts the need for legislation so that everyone knows exactly what is allowed and what is not allowed under British law.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

Precisely what under present law is unsatisfactory in relation to embryo research? Many of us could guess what it is, but we should like to hear from the Secretary of State what the Department considers to be unsatisfactory.

Mr. Clarke

It will be left totally to the individual judgment of each researcher to decide at what stage of the development of the embryo they should be debarred from carrying out research. The Warnock committee concluded that research should be permitted up to 14 days, the reasons for which it set out. As there is no express legal prohibition of research, as things stand, it will be open to each researcher to make his or her personal judgment, first, about the stage of development at which he should cease the research and, secondly, about the purpose of that research.

Those carrying out the research at present are quite content with the 14-day limit, as that is a late enough stage at which plainly an individual person would emerge. Whatever views one has on the status of a human embryo, it should not be treated as just another piece of human tissue to be researched upon purely in the spirit of open scientific inquiry.

All responsible people feel that Parliament has a duty to set out precise limits and to establish a licensing authority, if it is the decision of both Houses of Parliament that research should be permitted.

The most controversial aspect of the Bill sets out the statutory framework of control for the treatment of infertility and the storage of gametes and embryos. I do not wish to anticipate debate, but I believe that the vast majority of right hon. and hon. Members would like there to be some statutory control.

The new statutory body, an independent body to be called the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, covers four main treatments to be licensed—artificial insemination by donor, in vitro fertilisation and egg and embryo donation. If the House agrees with the decision reached in another place, the authority will also license research involving human embryos.

When the Bill was introduced in another place, it contained a very significant drafting innovation. Clause 11 contained alternative provisions, as the Government had promised in the 1987 White Paper, one permitting such research and the other prohibiting it. The other House was invited to reject one or the other. In the event, the proposition permitting research was carried, and an amendment moved by Lord Jakobovits, with support from the Duke of Norfolk and the Bishops of London and Southwark, which sought to restrict such research to so-called spare embryos as a result of infertility treatment, was not accepted.

The Bill we are now debating contains, in clause 11 and related parts of schedule 2, provisions which, if enacted in their present form, would permit such research in specified circumstances. The Bill has returned to the House in the way in which the Lords preferred it, with authority for research contained in clause 11.

The Government are anxious to give the House precisely the same choice as was presented in another place. We are therefore arranging for amendments to be drafted by parliamentary counsel which would have the effect of deleting research from the functions of the new authority. The amendments will be tabled by my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord President in the interests of securing orderly debate. He will table them in his capacity as Leader of the House to offer hon. Members the same clear choice as noble Members in the other place had and not as an expression of his opinion or of Government policy. I do not know how he will exercise his vote, but he is best placed to put before the House the choice that was rightly put before Members in the other place.

Mr. William Cash (Stafford)

Will my right hon. and learned Friend consider establishing a Special Standing Committee to consider these complex issues? People on both sides of the argument who are concerned about the issue should have the benefit of the detailed examination that that procedure provides. Furthermore, will he consider a free vote on provisions relating to regulations? Those provisions could become open-ended, because they could extend research beyond the point at which prohibition currently stands.

Mr. Clarke

I understand my hon. Friend's first suggestion. I recall that a Special Standing Committee was established to consider the Mental Health Act 1983. It was useful in helping members of the Committee to form views on issues that cut across party political lines and covered detailed ethical and other judgments. The Bill is before the House after one of the longest periods of consultation and discussion that I can recall. When we asked the Warnock committee to consider the subject in 1982, neither my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield nor anyone else believed that it would be 1990 before a Bill was being given its Second Reading.

Given all the private Members' Bills that have been before the House, hon. Members have had quite a few opportunities to debate the subject. It will be the general will of the House —this can be argued on the timetable motion—that key decisions should be taken on the Floor of the House before the Bill is considered by a Standing Committee.

In Committee, Ministers will seek to reassure my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Cash) that they will not take to themselves open-ended, wide regulation-making powers. We shall be specific about the circumstances in which we contemplate such powers being used.

Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)

The House will welcome the Secretary of State's remarks about key issues being discussed on the Floor of the House. Is he aware of the deep feeling in the country that the Department and the Secretary of State should be responsible for this complex issue? They should be answerable to hon. Members on these vital matters.

Mr. Clarke

I shall deal with the nature of the authority, but I think that I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman has made. It has been argued that, rather than having a completely independent authority, Ministers should be responsible for these matters. We decided against that, because it would place Ministers and the House in a permanently difficult position if, as a semi-political issue, it was said that Ministers should take this or that view on medical or scientific matters. The Secretary of State, who is answerable to the House, and having consulted ministerial colleagues, will appoint members of the authority. The code of practice of the authority will have to be submitted to the Secretary of State and laid before the House, but some independence, in medical and scientific matters is in the interests of Parliament and the Secretary of State.

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

Will the Secretary of State confirm that the proposals in the Bill are in conflict with two resolutions that were carried last year by the European Parliament?

Mr. Clarke

The proposals in the Bill will contain two options, and it will be for the House to decide how much weight to give the proposals of the European Parliament. I am aware of the reports from the European Commission, but they reach no clear or specific views. It is unwise for the European Parliament to reach conclusions intended to determine the policies of all member states. I am an extremely keen European, but I cannot conceive of a common European policy on this subject. The day that the states of Denmark, Spain, Italy and Britain reach a common view on abortion, embryo research and so on will be a considerable surprise to me and to many others.

Before continuing with the issue of embryo research, may I draw attention to one significant change made to the Bill in the other place that would significantly affect the scope of licensing arrangements for embryo research? On Report in the other place, the Government tabled amendments, principally to clause 1, to ensure that the licensing provisions of the Bill cover research, storage and treatment not only from the point where a two-cell zygote appears for the first time—a useful point of reference that can be observed clearly—but the period of up to 30 hours when the human egg is in the process of fertilisation after the mixing of sperm and eggs. That amendment commanded general support in the other place and is useful clarification of the scope of the new authority. I hope that the House will agree that it satisfactorily resolves an issue that has concerned many members of the public since the Bill was first presented.

I should draw attention to the clear and tight restrictions that will confine the use of embryos. Clause 3 makes it clear that no person shall bring about the creation of an embryo or use an embryo, except in pursuance of a treatment, storage or research licence issued by the new authority. I am confident that all hon. Members would like to prohibit certain activities, which include cloning or the creation of hybrids or other science fiction possibilities. There can be little doubt that infringing such prohibitions by attempting to create hybrids should attract the severe penalties provided in the Bill.

The arguments of both sides on embryo research will be most properly deployed if we accept the advice of my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House for a day's debate on the Floor of the House in the next few weeks.

The principal consideration of those who oppose embryo research is that any embryo, even the large percentage lost through natural processes during a woman's menstrual cycle, is a potential human being with the prospect of life. Any idea of research into an embryo at the early stages of life is repugnant to many of our constituents and to many hon. Members. They believe that the law should prohibit those activities because they affect the rights of a third party—the human embryo—whose existence should override other lesser rights. I do not share those views, but I look forward to listening to them with respect and attention when they are deployed. The arguments in favour of research are becoming well known to most hon. Members. There is broad consensus among medical and scientific opinion that such research should be permitted and that, if Parliament prohibits it, scientists will either turn to other avenues of study or go to countries where early research is allowed.

There are five main purposes for which it is argued that research involving human embryos is medically essential and ethically justified: first, to promote advances in the treatment of infertility; secondly, to increase knowledge about the causes of congenital disease; thirdly, to increase knowledge about the causes of miscarriage; fourthly, to develop more effective techniques of contraception; and, fifthly, to develop methods of detecting the presence of gene or chromosome abnormalities in embryos before implantation. Research in this country into pre-implantation diagnosis is well advanced, and I understand that the first pregnancies involving that method may soon come to term. This technique could take embryo research beyond the treatment of infertility and into the prevention of inherited genetic diseases such as muscular dystrophy and cystic fibrosis.

I suppose that on Second Reading I should do no more than set out as part of the framework the arguments on both sides which will be debated on the Floor of the House within the generous time scale proposed by my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House. I am sure that, when we make our decision, hon. Members will wish to consider all those arguments, both for and against, in considerably more detail, not just on their medical and scientific merits but on ethical grounds. It is important that each side respects the strongly held views of the other side. Neither can claim to have exclusive moral virtue on its side. Both profoundly believe that their judgment is ethically correct and will argue and vote with a clear conscience for the best solution and the legal framework that they think is best for our society.

Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill)

On the subject of laying the scientific facts objectively before the House, will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that no cures for any inherited genetic diseases have been found as a result of any experimentation? Does he accept that leading geneticists, such as Professor Hymie Gordon and Professor Ron Taylor, who holds the chair in obstetrics and gynaecology at St Thomas's hospital, have all confirmed that other primates on which this research can be conducted are available—not human beings?

Mr. Clarke

I am sure that those who are carrying out the research are all well motivated and responsible scientists who are doing that work only because they believe that they can alleviate human suffering and can discover much more about the nature of genetically inherited disease and therefore try to avoid it.

The hon. Gentleman's second point is a controversial one which, no doubt, will be raised in argument on the Floor of the House. There is no scientific agreement on this point. A broad body of scientific opinion is sure that experiments with human embryos are required. That is obviously a matter of judgment and of fact upon which scientific opinion is divided and about which we shall hear much more.

In the cause of our concern about research into embryology, we must not overlook the other important parts of the Bill. Under clause 8, the authority will have the important function of advising Ministers about new developments with infertility and embryology. Since the publication of the Warnock report, there have already been major advances in what is possible. I am sure that future Secretaries of State will take full opportunity of seeking the authority's advice on such matters. The authority will oversee a detailed scheme of licensing and a large portion of the Bill is given over to spelling this out in considerable detail.

There are provisions in clause 11 to 22 for the granting of licences by licence committees of the authority; for varying, suspending and revoking licences; and for appeals to be made to the full authority against decisions made by licence committees. The authority may also issue directions on matters such as the information to be recorded by licensed treatment centres where import or export of embryos or gametes is involved.

Clause 25 and 26 require the authority to produce a code of practice for the guidance of those seeking and holding licences. That code of practice will need to be agreed by Ministers and, once agreed, Ministers will place it before Parliament. Drawing up that code of practice will be one of the most important tasks for the authority in its initial phase. I envisage that it will cover matters such as the counselling of patients and donors, the confidentiality of records and the collection of data.

Clause 25 contains another important new provision, which was added to the Bill on Report in another place, on the welfare of children who might be born as a result of the treatments to be licensed by the Bill and any existing children. This arises from the question whether single women, for example, should be allowed to have infertility treatment. The consultant considering licensed treatment is required to take account of these welfare issues in deciding whether licensed treatment is suitable. The code of practice must offer him guidance in taking this decision. The addition of this requirement was greeted enthusiastically on all sides in another place, and I am sure that this improvement will significantly add to the legislation's effectiveness.

Schedule 1 deals in detail with the composition, powers and functions of the authority. It makes it clear that its chairman and deputy chairman must be lay people, in the sense of being neither doctors nor embryologists, nor should they be, or have been, directly involved in commissioning or conducting embryo research. Of the remaining membership, the majority, but no more than two thirds, should also be lay people. Together with other ministerial colleagues, I shall devote a great deal of attention to securing a careful balance in the membership of the new authority, which will have a United Kingdom remit.

The authority will have an important job of public service to carry out. Our objective is that, when the legislation is enacted, it should assume its full powers as soon as practicable, and we are working towards a target date of summer 1991. I hope that the new authority will begin to meet as soon as Royal Assent is given, as it will have much preparatory work to do. In the meantime, I very much hope that the interim licensing authority, sponsored by the Medical Research Council and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, can continue the work that it began at our request in 1985. That interim body, as it is now called, has shown that an effective system of licensing embryo research and IVF can be maintained. Its members have found themselves facing a longer task than I am sure they first expected and their work load has grown. I pay tribute to their energy and determination in holding the fort and upholding standards until the time was right for the Government to introduce their own measure to create a statutory licensing system.

Clauses 27 to 29 deal with the status of children born as a result of treatments to be licensed by the Bill and carry forward the work which has already begun in the Family Law Reform Act 1987, which provides that an AID child born to a married woman is to be treated as the child of her husband. As a result of an amendment on Third Reading in another place, in the case of so-called social fathers—I know of no better description for the male partner where an unmarried couple are living together—of children born as a result of donation, where an unmarried couple are treated together, the man is to be treated as the father of the child.

Given the commitment of the House to the family, it is right that, where treatment is given to unmarried couples after consideration of the welfare of the children which I have described, social fathers should be required to undertake full responsibilities, especially that of maintaining the child to whose birth they were party.

Time does not allow me to deal with the Bill's many other provisions, which obviously will be carefully considered in Standing Committee, quite apart from the major issues that are to be considered on the Floor of the House.

Mr. Dalyell

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman prepared to put it on record that there has been no complaint whatever about the licensing authority's interim work?

Mr. Clarke

As far as I am aware, that is a fact. The authority took on an extremely difficult task in this highly sensitive and controversial matter. No one has complained about the way in which it has carried out its responsibilities, given the position in which it was placed.

I remind the House why the Government consider it right—indeed essential—to introduce the Bill. At present, there is no statutory regulation of the treatments to be licensed under the Bill and no statutory regulation, even if Parliament decides that it should continue, of research involving human embryos. Whatever reservations or opposition some people may feel both about the treatments or, more usually, the research, there seems to be universal support for the need to provide a clear and comprehensive system of statutory control. After several unsuccessful private Members' measures, it is our duty to decide what the framework of law should be.

It is worth perhaps pausing to reflect on the size of the step that is being taken in relation to statutory regulation of medical treatment. There are only a few other examples of such control, including abortion, female circumcision and, following the legislation which we enacted last year, human organ donation. In none of those examples, however, is the treatment regulated. In that sense, what the Bill seeks to do is very much a first.

Few people would dispute the idea that it is normally wise to leave doctors entirely free to carry out their clinical tasks to the best of their ability without feeling the need always to look over their shoulder to see whether they are infringing some regulation or statutory provision. It is therefore a sign of the particular seriousness of the issues which arise from these new techniques that we have taken this unprecedented step.

The other main reason for introducing the Bill is the lack of any adequate statutory framework to cover the status and legal position of children born as a result of treatments licensed under the Bill. Whatever our views about the treatments, I am sure that all hon. Members will agree that it is wrong that there should be uncertainty about the position of children born as a result of them.

Everyone, of almost every opinion, believes that we need a Bill. The Second Reading of this Bill will pave the way for the detailed consideration of these matters and will enable the House to reach the decisions that must now be taken one way or the other so that everybody knows where we stand as a society.

The Government have already made it clear that we intend to help to secure that aim by proposing splitting and timetable motions for the orderly debate of any amendments that may be tabled. These are matters for my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord President of the Council, who will be speaking to the procedure motions later this evening. My earnest wish, which I believe is shared by all hon. Members, is that the House will take full advantage of the opportunity to reflect calmly and deeply on these important matters and come to a clear and sustainable conclusion one way or the other in the end. That is what is expected of us by those outside the House, and it is our duty to live up to that expectation.

5.30 pm
Ms. Jo Richardson (Barking)

The Secretary of State said at the beginning of his speech that the Bill had taken some time to reach the House of Commons; he was right. Ever since the Warnock report, the first consultation paper and the White Paper, a great deal of pressure has been mounted, not only by those who want to prohibit research but by those of us who want research to be continued in a controlled, regulated and monitored way. I pay tribute to the work of Baroness Warnock, which has been most valuable and which has been the subject of great acclaim in this House and in the House of Lords. We owe Baroness Warnock and her committee a debt.

The long waiting period has, I believe, led us to a greater understanding of the issue —that is certainly true in my case—but it has been an anxious time for scientists and clinicians and especially for infertile couples who have had to wait to know their fate. I am sure that other hon. Members will have received a large number of letters from infertile couples or those anxious that their child may have a chance of excaping some hereditary abnormality, saying that they may at least stand a chance of having a healthy, happy baby.

We have received an enormous amount of material, too, from interest groups on both sides of the argument. I do not think that I can recall ever having seen such mountains of paper. I pay tribute to those bodies for sending us the material, which has been extremely useful. We have received material from distinguised scientists, from doctors and from prestigious organisations such as the royal colleges and the Royal Society. Theologians on both sides of the argument have also written to us. We should all put on record our thanks for all the help that we have had in trying to understand this complex issues.

Their Lordships have now completed their consideration of the Bill and many wise words have been said in the other place over the past four months. The Bill first reached the House of Lords in December and emerged only a couple of weeks ago, on 21 March. I am much heartened that their Lordships should have decided so positively—in a vote of almost three to one—in favour of continued research, and I hope that right hon. and hon. Members will have noted that response.

At last, then, the Bill has reached us. From the flavour of his speech, I judge that the Secretary of State shares my hope that we shall conduct our debate in the same measured way as their Lordships did, even though to many the issue is emotive. My position is clear: I hope that we shall vote decisively to allow research to continue under the strict rules of the new statutory licensing authority.

I do not propose to delve into the technical complexities of embryo research. We shall have an opportunity to do that when we come to debate clause 11 in more detail. Instead, I want to consider the overall issue without resorting to the detail. Research has been going on for more than 20 years. We sometimes forget that and think that it all started just before Baroness Warnock's committee was set up.

It is entirely right that a strong independent statutory licensing authority should be set up to supersede the interim licensing authority, sponsored by the Medical Research Council and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaelocologists, which came into being five years ago on a non-statutory, voluntary basis. That voluntary authority has done an excellent job in monitoring research, and its report on research, published last November, is a valuable document, which I commend to those hon. Members who have not read it.

I think that we should first dispose of the horror stories told by some who say that scientists are eager to engage in cloning and other unethical practices. Reproductive technology, like all technology, is open to abuse as well as use, and the prevention of abuse is a major purpose of the Bill. As I said research has been taking place in Britain for 20 years with no real controls. It is the scientists and doctors involved—who, in my opinion, have behaved most responsibly—who have been calling for legislation that will control research, and that is what the Bill that has reached us from the House of Lords would achieve.

The Bill would outlaw genetic engineering and cross-species fertilisation, with the important exception of the hamster test—an important clinical technique used to assess male fertility, which was the subject of a debate in the House of Lords. The World Health Organisation warmly commends the test and it is accepted throughout the world as the most accurate test available. There is no possibility of the fertilisation having developmental potential because the human and animal cells are genetically incompatible. I hope that hon. Members will bear that in mind and put the horror stories that we so often hear out of their heads.

Outside the technicalities of research, I know that some people are worried about whether, from whatever ethical standpoint they have, any research should continue or whether, by allowing research to be carried out up to 14 days, they put into question their view that a human being exists from the moment of conception. The question whether an embryo of 14 days—or, for that matter, of one day—should be accorded the status of human being has exercised minds much more brilliant than mine. The board of social responsibility of the Synod of the Church of England said in its report as early as 1984: We have already expressed our view that a fertilised ovum should be treated with respect, but that its life is not so sacrosanct that it should be accorded the same status as a human being". I am sure that hon. Members will have read the interesting speech on this matter by the Archbishop of York.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)

Is the hon. Lady aware that 700 clergy have written to us to dissociate themselves from the views of the Archbishop of York, with which they totally disagree?

Ms. Richardson

I have never suggested that all the theologians are on the same side. I have simply quoted, from a Library research document, what the Anglican Church said through its Synod, in 1984. Of course, people have different views on both sides of the ethical and moral argument—if we want to call it that. Some people have changed their minds over the past few years.

While for some the issue presents a big dilemma, I must state that many millions of fertilised eggs die naturally every day. Taking the trouble to identify the fertilised egg with the most chance of being implanted and producing a much wanted baby is surely to be welcomed. Research that helps to identify that embryo holds out hope for the thousands of women—one in eight of the women in this country that we know of—who are infertile and want a child. The many women who have benefited from research so far have been able to achieve motherhood when it was denied them before.

As research progresses it can offer a choice to women who previously had no choice but to remain childless. Research also gives hope to the large number of women who have multiple miscarriages. They are perhaps even more stressed and pained than those who have not been able to conceive. Research into miscarriages is beginning to show that they can be helped to carry through to term.

Perhaps the most disputed and emotive part of embryo research is that which is working towards helping a woman to give birth to a healthy baby. No one questions the joy that many parents derive from caring for their handicapped children. I am president of an organisation in my constituency called the good neighbour unit scheme. That small organisation was set up by half a dozen parents of handicapped children who met from time to time to give each other support. Because of my close connection with that organisation, I have seen the depth of love that they give to their children.

However, we must not overlook the desperate strain that those parents face when caring for their disabled children and looking after their families, perhaps including the disabled child's brothers and sisters. I have talked to all those families, and not one of them would have preferred their handicapped child not to be born whole and healthy and free from pain and frustration. I do not question their caring or love for the child who was born to them. However, each of those families told me how much they would have preferred their Liza or Jenny to be born whole, happy and free of disease.

Dame Jill Knight (Birmingham, Edgbaston)

I am following the hon. Lady's argument with great care. Obviously the parents of those children would have liked them to have the great blessing of full physical health as most of us have in this place. Surely she is not saying that the parents of those children would rather not have them to look after.

Ms. Richardson

I hope that the hon. Lady will listen to me. I did not say that. I simply said that the parents of those children have told me that they wished that their children, whom they love, were healthier. Of course we all agree about that. We are trying to ensure that in future they have a choice and that children are free from pain and frustration.

We can all deplore the restrictions on funding for research to alleviate and perhaps cure the cruel suffering that many children face. However, it must be right that embryo research should continue with increasing understanding of the genetic defects that cause such cruel suffering. The aim of much of the research is to diagnose genetic disorders and to provide those at risk with an element of choice.

No patient is forced to participate. Those who want to take a chance are free to do so. After all, an amniocentesis test can take place later in pregnancy. I find it very difficult to understand those who deny the opportunity for tests at a much earlier stage. No one will prevent a woman from bearing a handicapped child if she and her partner are ready to undertake that burden. However, neither should anyone compel a woman to run the risk of having a handicapped child if she does not want that. Outlawing research would have that effect. We bear a heavy responsibility in reaching our decision.

Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone)

Will the hon. Lady clear up a confusion on that point? The parents concerned are not being offered the choice of a child being born handicapped or healthy. They are merely being offered the choice of the child who might be born handicapped not being born at all. That is selective quality control of the human race. If the hon. Lady wants to defend that, we should be clear that that is what it is.

Ms. Richardson

I do not follow that line at all. Research offers the woman and her partner, who may perhaps already have a handicapped child, the opportunity to eliminate the hereditary gene or disorder and so enable the couple to have a whole and healthy child. We should allow the woman that opportunity and that choice.

I remind the House that the first thing that a doctor or midwife says when he or she sees the mother after the birth of a baby is, "Don't worry. The baby's okay. It's whole and healthy." So many women and their partners want to know immediately that they have a happy and healthy child even though a defect might become apparent later.

Mr. David Tredinnick (Bosworth)

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Ms. Richardson

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will allow me to make progress, and I know that he wants to speak later.

Before I discuss other points about the Bill, I want to refer to the dangers of allowing the separate subject of abortion to be included in this Bill. Those who are fervent in their desire to restrict women's choice by reducing the grounds for an abortion and the number of weeks beyond which a woman may be denied an abortion have had more than enough vehicles in the shape of private Members' legislation to argue their case. There have been many attempts over the past 20 years, and traditionally the House has kept that issue to Back-Bench opportunities for legislation.

Mrs. Ann Winterton (Congleton)

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Ms. Richardson

No. I am sorry, but I shall not give way at the moment.

My hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Ms. Harman), many others and I deplore the fact that the Government have apparently given in to pressure from the vociferous lobby that has already sought to add its personal prejudices and beliefs to a number of unsuitable Bills. Indeed, I wondered at one stage whether it was going to include its prejudices in the poll tax. The Government have allowed the Bill's long title to be extended to enable abortion to be considered.

Mrs. Winterton

Give way.

Ms. Richardson

I shall give way in a moment. Just be patient.

The Secretary of State for Health did not mention that point, but it is important that we should consider it. The subject of abortion is so far removed from the overall intention of the Bill, which is to control research, that amendments, to any of the clauses are impossible. There will have to be new clauses and new matter. To tack abortion on to the end of the Bill, which as it stands is a humanitarian step forward, will serve only to confuse the issue of research and increase emotions.

Mrs. Winterton

Is the hon. Lady aware that the Abortion Act 1967, which was introduced by the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Sir D. Steel), got on to the statute book only because the previous socialist Government gave time for a private Member's Bill?

Ms. Richardson

The hon. Lady is perfectly right. The Labour Government of the day allowed time for a private Member's Bill to go on to the statute book. It was not tacked onto the end of a public Bill. Please let us be clear about this matter. We have a public Bill. It could be about anything. It could be about electricity privatisation, or it could be the poll tax Bill. [Interruption.] I am not being flippant. It is a public Bill; it is not a private Member's Bill. It is now proposed that the long title should enable private Members' legislation to be tacked on to the end.

Miss Widdecombe


Mrs. Edwina Currie (Derbyshire, South)


Ms. Richardson

I am not giving way again. The two subjects are not the same.

Mr. Alton

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Ms. Richardson

I am not giving way again. I have given way already, and I am taking up the time for Back-Bench Members.

On the difficulty of marrying the two pieces of legislation together, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill covers Northern Ireland, but the Abortion Act 1967 does not cover Northern Ireland. I do not know how we shall get around that. The House of Lords behaved sensibly and correctly. It took Lord Houghton's Bill alongside and not as part of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, and debates were thus conducted in a sensible and comprehensive way.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South (Ms. Primarolo) has provided the House with a similar opportunity. She introduced a ten-minute Bill that is now before the House, and amendments on abortion would best be discussed under her Bill, quite separately from this one. Under her Bill, we could address the problems of late abortions, about which many hon. Members are concerned, we could talk about better access to pregnancy testing, we could examine more information to encourage women to come forward as soon as possible, we could examine the reduction of delays in referral and treatment once women come forward, and so on. But those are not matters for a Bill about human fertilisation and embryology—they are separate issues.

We learned from the press over the weekend that the Government may use the Houghton Bill as a means of facilitating debate. As it stands and as it was passed in the House of Lords, that Bill is a progressive measure and is worthy of consideration as an entirely different piece of legislation. If we take abortion—I have the feeling that I am up against the combined might of the Government and those who are fanatically determined to include it; and I am not necessarily including all members of the Government—there is no guarantee that the Bill will go through as Lord Houghton proposes. In itself, it is a progressive measure, but there will be nothing to stop Members of the House of Commons who are opposed to abortion, who want to bring down the upper limit on abortion from, say, 28 weeks to 18 weeks, from trying also to alter the grounds of Lord Houghton's private Member's Bill. Whatever the House decides, it is unlikely or could be unlikely that Lord Houghton's Bill will survive intact.

I hope that right hon. and hon. Members will not be deluded into believing that they will see the issue settled once and for all. The Government will have set a precedent that will encourage abortion amendments to future Government Bills. I appeal to the Government and to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and beyond you to Mr. Speaker, even at this stage not to allow the Bill to be confused and overshadowed by an unconnected issue.

Mr. Alton

Before the hon. Lady leaves that point—

Ms. Richardson

I have not finished yet. I want to make one further point about abortion.

The Labour party has long been on record as in support of the Abortion Act 1967. Although we acknowledged the right of conscience, successive annual conferences have been clearly on record in support of a woman's right to choose what to do with her own body. If we are faced with the abortion issue, I appeal to Opposition Members, at a time when there is greater understanding that women want to make choices for themselves, to heed conference decisions and not to ignore women's wishes.

Mr. A. E. P. Duffy (Sheffield, Attercliffe)

Will my hon. Friend confirm that it has been a long-standing tradition of the Labour movement—perhaps its oldest tradition —that, on ethical questions of faith and morals, the conscience consideration comes first? From her acquaintance with her own party, does she not know that whatever party decisions are made, conscience considerations still weigh very heavily with some of her hon. Friends?

Ms. Richardson

I have said—and I mean it—that the conscience clause exists. We allow hon. Members to make up their own mind. We have a free vote. However, I remind hon. Members that there is a conference decision on this matter. Here in the House of Commons, it would be good if hon. Members considered the many people who, on a different wavelength, have thought about their attitude to abortion. I beg my hon. Friends to consider that women within the Labour party and outside it feel extremely strongly about a male-dominated House of Commons taking a view on that point.

Mr. Alton

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Ms. Richardson

I have given way many times. I ask the hon. Gentleman to let me finish my speech. [Interruption.] All hon. Members wish to speak—they can have a go later. I wish to refer to one or two other issues in the Bill that concern me.

The Bill needs careful examination in respect of the composition and fundings of the licensing authority. It is only right that those directly affected by research and treatment—that is, infertile people and those who carry genetic disorders—are represented on the authority. I hope that matter will be considered carefully in Committee. Women who are infertile and who want to ensure that their child will be free from a hereditary genetic disorder that they may pass on, as well as people from the National Association for the Childless, are entitled to be considered. They all have a view about this matter. They will want to be assured that their views are taken into account. Thirty-six organisations subscribe to the prestigious organisation, the Genetic Interest Group, including some that are concerned with a particular hereditary disease. They too, want an opportunity to contribute. I hope that the Secretary of State can give an undertaking that he will consider people in those groups as well as organisations such as Mencap.

Another point that I raise with the Secretary of State is the current proposal in the Bill that the licensing authority should raise funds from clinics. That seems to be quite wrong. The full costs should be met from the public purse. Inevitably, charges will be passed on to patients. There is a serious lack of provision within the National Health Service for infertility treatment, with only two NHS-funded IVF centres in the country. Many patients are forced to resort to the private sector. Such extra charges amount to discrimination against the infertile and, in effect, a tax on infertility. There is considerable anxiety that clinics may not be able to continue.

I am also concerned because the Bill does not include GIFT—gamete intra-fallopian transfer. In many ways, it is close to in vitro fertilisation, which is covered. The difference between the two techniques is that in GIFT, fertilisation takes place inside the woman, whereas in IVF, it takes place in the laboratory. GIFT has been under discussion for many reasons and many people feel that it should be included in the Bill and properly controlled. I believe that it would be dangerous to leave the technique out of the Bill. The clinicians involved in the treatment are concerned, and the interim licensing authority has made it clear that any such Bill should take GIFT into account. Unless GIFT is included in the Bill, couples who are considering whether to undergo the procedure will not have the statutory right to counselling, for example. Such copies need help in considering the risk that the procedure may result in a multiple birth and the implications of that for them. I do not know why the Government have not included GIFT, but I hope that we shall have an explanation from them.

Finally, I reiterate how very much I welcome the Bill. It has been a long time coming and relates to something that causes a lot of emotion on both sides of the argument and will continue to do so. I hope that we shall consider it in Committee as clearly and in as measured a way as we can, in trying to reach a correct measure that is understandable to the general public. I hope that right hon. and hon. Members will give the Bill an unopposed Second Reading so that we can do just that. I profoundly hope that abortion amendments will not be tabled. If they are tabled, I hope that they will not be taken. When the time comes to discuss clause 11, on the contentious issue of allowing research to continue, I hope that hon. Members will vote as resoundingly as did their Lordships.

I repeat what I have reiterated so many times today: that controlled research will bring hope and perhaps the chance of fulfilment—I put it no higher than that—to infertile couples and to those who are carrying genetic disorders. Let us not deny them that hope.

6.2 pm

Sir Bernard Braine (Castle Point)

Human embryo experimentation is an emotive and controversial issue, raising questions which, for many of us, strike at the very heart of our beliefs about human life. Therefore, I begin by congratulating the Government on giving us a free vote on whether to allow such experimentation or not. I congratulate them also on providing the Bill with a long title that will enable us to table amendments to make a decision at long last on the scandal of late abortions, on which issue the House has pronounced before. Because of the tricks of some people, and because we were dealing with private Members' legislation, our will was frustrated.

On both these issues, which were previously left to private Members' legislation, the majority in the House has been repeatedly frustrated. That must not happen again, and on that I should like to give the Government a mild warning. I hope that there is no truth in the press hints of the past few days that the Government will seek to table an amendment on the Houghton proposal on late abortion that would have the effect of allowing abortions up to birth. That would be totally unacceptable. The mere suggestion that it might happen—I hope that there is no truth in it—would cause immense anger in the country.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

The Government will not table any amendments on that subject that express a policy decision on behalf of the Government because the Government do not have a collective view on the Infant Life (Preservation) Act 1929, or its amendment. We must consider how we marshal the debate because, beyond doubt, hon. Members will want to discuss pro-Houghton, anti-Houghton, 26-week, 24-week, 22-week amendments and so on. The problem for my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House is how to ensure that we can have an ordered debate because, no doubt, the House will have many propositions on which to vote on a free vote.

Sir Bernard Braine

I am glad that I have drawn that assurance from my right hon. and learned Friend We are all grateful, because what he has now said is clear. I should make it plain straight away that I am speaking not only for myself but for many of my hon. Friends who, on this issue, come from all parties, when I say that we shall not vote against the Bill on Second Reading. We shall reserve our position until we see how the votes proceed in Committee on the Floor of the House.

At long last, we have the Bill for which we in the all-party pro-life group have been calling since the publication of the Warnock report six years ago. As we know, the report recommended that experiments on human embryos should be allowed up to 14 days after fertilisation. However, what is often forgotten—it has not been mentioned so far this afternoon —is that the Warnock committee was not unanimous; there were sizeable dissenting voices. One of my advisers, who was a member of the Warnock committee, produced a minority report that came out against all destructive human embryo experimentation. Not surprisingly —as I was here at the time I can well remember this—the report was coolly received in both Houses of Parliament.

Let me come straight to the heart of the matter. What is the human embryo? Incidentally, the Warnock report refused to answer that question and skipped over it as though it did not really matter. As a consequence, much of the debate surrounding this issue has been concerned with the possible benefits of such research. However, for me and many others, that is the wrong starting point. Before talking about benefits, we must decide upon what or whom we are experimenting.

I ask myself two questions. First, is the embryo human? The answer is undoubtedly yes. It comes from a human sperm and a human egg, so what else could it be but human? Secondly, is it alive? Again, I have to answer yes. It is growing and developing at a tremendous rate. It has an orientation towards growth and is thus different from the previously inert sperm and egg. The simple fact is that the human embryo is a tiny human being, which has all the potential to become a foetus, a baby, a child and an adult, given a favourable environment and appropriate nutrients.

Having established what the human embryo is, I should like to make clear the position on experimentation arid research of the all-party pro-life group, of which I have been chairman for some years. We are not against all experimentation on human embryos. We are not against scientific research. What is in question is not research as such, but destructive research. The distinction is important. We have no problem with therapeutic experimentation that will help a particular embryo to live and grow.

What is immoral, in our view, is experimentation that uses one embryo—that is, another human being—as a means to an end. We are not against experimentation on human subjects. If a scientist requires human cells, he takes a graft and cultivates the cells. Provided that consent has been given, we have no objection to that. Such an experiment would not be fatal. We object to experimentation that kills the patient.

That is not an extreme position, as it is sometimes portrayed. Rather, it is the only logical and responsible position to take. We are not seeking to place unreasonable restrictions on scientists. We are not saying, "No research." All that we are saying is that such scientists should abide by the same principles of medical ethics as apply to every other area of medicine. No other area of medical research demands the right to perform destructive research upon human subjects. No other area of research claims that progress cannot be made without the right to destroy. No other area of research comes to Parliament to ask us to suspend the usual rules of medical ethics for their benefit so that they can use human beings as they would use experimental animals.

Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East)

Tens of thousands of families have benefited from the pioneering research that has been carried out by Patrick Steptoe and Robert Edwards. Can my right hon. Friend name anyone who has suffered from such research?

Sir Bernard Braine

No, but my hon. Friend has not been listening to what I have been saying. His point has little to do with experimentation on the human embryo. I do not wish to detain the House for long, but I wish to set out clearly—beyond any doubt whatsover —where the all-party pro-life group stands on this issue. We have been frustrated for six years. We have succeeded in obtaining majorities on the Benches of the House for our beliefs and for what we stand for, only to be frustrated. Therefore, I wish to be brief, sharp and to the point.

The Bill, as it has come to us from another place, proposes research up to 14 days. My first question is, 14 days after what? Something must have started 14 days previously to enable us to begin evaluating time. What was it that happened? The sperm fertilised the egg and a completely new entity was formed, directed towards its own growth and development. That was the beginning of a new human life. None of us claims that it is now fully formed. The only difference is one of size, not of humanity. Indeed, I would charge those who support embryo experimentation with improperly discriminating against another human being on the grounds of size.

What can be said of this proposed 14-day limit? If Parliament were to sanction 14 days, would that be the end of it? I think not. Already some leading experimenters tell us that they want to go further. For example, Professor Bob Williamson has said: It should perhaps be noted here that organogenesis—(that is the development of the organs) … for the most part occurs at between 14 and 28 days of embryonic development. It is this area of research, which is central to the understanding of congenital malformation, which in my view would be most inhibited were a strict 14 day rule to be implemented.

In its paper on the development of the human conceptus, the Royal Society lists the possible benefits of research from day one to the end of the fourth week. That is well beyond 14 days. Why are such benefits listed when we are supposed to be dealing with a limit of 14 days? The answer is that Baroness Warnock herself stated on the day that her report was published in 1984 that 14 days would do for a beginning. That is what we are faced with here.

Therefore, the conclusion that I reach is that, far from a stringent control on experimentation, 14 days will be the thin end of the wedge. I cannot accept that the Bill constitutes strict guidelines. On the contrary, apart from cloning, genetic engineering and producing animal hybrids, the scientist will be able to do what he likes under the Bill. It is laudable that those extreme forms of human manipulation will be outlawed, but there is nothing at all to protect embryos from destructive procedures.

When one bases decision-making on the proposed benefits of a type of research, rather than its morality, one will always be under pressure to extend that limit when greater benefits are envisaged. That is no way to make law. The anticipated benefits of research seem compelling, but they are misleading. The case for permitting embryo research rests heavily on the benefits that it will allegedly bring in prevention of handicap.

Let us consider the word "prevention". The normal use of the word suggests that the person in question avoids a disease. However, the word as employed in this context has changed its meaning. Here it means eliminating the individual with the disease and in that way preventing it. We all want to see diseases and handicaps eliminated, but this is totally different from preventing the handicapped from living. That is what is involved in embryo research. It is the "search and destroy" mentality—searching out the imperfect and destroying them just because they do not match up to our ideas of perfection. On that basis, Beethoven would never have been born.

It is a fallacy, too, that without destructive research on the human embryo, research into genetic diseases will be brought to a halt. Great advances have been made in treatment of genetic and chromosomal diseases without the use of human embryos. Crucial developments in sickle cell anaemia, cystic fibrosis, muscular dystrophy and congenital adrenal hyperplasia have all been achieved without human embryo experimentation. Genuine help for sufferers and families will come from advances in treatment of the disorder, not from the destruction of those who are identified at the embryonic stage. The pro-research group Progress has admitted: Research using human pre-embryos is not, and never has been, concerned with the treatment of genetic or chromosomal abnormalities".

Mr. Seamus Mallon (Newry and Armagh)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Sir Bernard Braine

On the question of language I would point out another semantic difference that has entered this debate. That is the term "pre-embryo". It did not appear in the Warnock report. One would look for it in vain in any medical dictionary. The distinguished scientific journal Nature recommended the banning of the term and said: Put simply, this usage is a cop-out, a way of pretending that the public conflict about IVF and other innovations in human embryology can be made to go away by means of an appropriate nomenclature. The term "pre-embryo" was invented to confuse and baffle and to dehumanise the early embryo.

Let us also get rid of the fallacy that all doctors and scientists are in favour of destructive embryo research. I am advised by a distinguished group of scientists and doctors. I shall mention a few. Professor John Marshall is emeritus professor of clinical neurology at the university of London. He was a member of the Warnock committee and signed the expression of dissent. Another is Professor Erwin Chargaff, who is emeritus professor of biochemistry at Columbia university. He is probably one of the most distinguished figures in medicine in the United States. His work in the 1940s provided crucial information that was to lead to Watson and Crick's formulation of a model of DNA. Professor Sir John Dewhurst was president of the Royal College of Obstretricians and Gynaecologists and is now emeritus professor at Queen Charlotte's hospital in London. I could keep the House here all night if I mentioned all the doctors who have written to me—and doubt to other hon. Members—in support of our position.

The media have created the impression that all scientists are in favour of destructive embryo research. That is a lie. I assert that here on the Floor of the House. They are not. Despite all our protests, the BBC in particular continues to peddle that line.

I am also perturbed by the proposal in the Bill to establish a statutory licensing authority. At present all the decision-making in this important area is given to a body which will be far from the reach of Parliament and the public. If I may adopt Winston Churchill's words, "Up with this we will not put."

Let us contrast the proposed procedure with the licensing of research work involving animals. In animal research, the Home Secretary has to grant a licence to the scientists involved and for each separate experimental project that they wish to conduct. That makes the Home Secretary directly responsible to the House for the licences that he issues. Even in this context the human embryo would have no more protection than the laboratory rat. The granting of licences for research involving human embryos should therefore be in the hands of the Secretary of State for Health, who in turn should be directly answerable to the House. The subject is so important that we would find no other arrangement acceptable.

May I remind the House of a few basic principles of medical ethics that have stood the test of time and are now in danger of being forgotten? I am sorry that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State did not refer to them or explain how the Bill fitted into what most people would regard as medical ethics. The Helsinki declaration states clearly: In research on man the interests of science and society should never take precedence over consideration relating to the well-being of the subject.

A distinguished paediatrician, Dr. Anthony Cole wrote to me recently. He said: On the question of human embryo experimentation the onus is upon those who support it to demonstrate that the interests of society and its values are not endangered. I am not convinced that those who support such experimentation have done this or, can do so. Indeed, one leading pro-experimenter, Dr. Robert Edwards, has remarked blithely, Scientists make ethics as they go along. There is a short answer to such arrogance, and Parliament must give it. Although the issues may seem complex to the lay person, the question posed by the Bill is very simple. It is, do we favour the destruction of human life, or not?

6.19 pm
Sir David Steel (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale)

The members of my party, in common with those of other parties represented in this House, have a free vote on the Bill. I shall advance only my own views. I believe that they carry the support of the majority of my colleagues, but by no means all of them. In particular, I am conscious that my vocal hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) is anxious to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to put a very different point of view.

I welcome the tone of the opening speech of the Secretary of State for Health, and particularly the fact that the Bill is presented to the House with a timetable motion attached. Many right hon. and hon. Members have sat through the progress of legislation when clauses 1 and 2 have been exhaustively debated but the remainder rushed through under a guillotine, and we have long argued for such a sensible reform as the attaching of a timetable motion. If the House could proceed with more timetable motions on an agreed basis, the quality of our legislation would improve. Let us hope that the Bill sets a welcome precedent that will be followed in future.

I do not propose to speak on the arguments about abortion. The other place was sensible to keep the two issues separate. If that is not to be, and if the Government are determined to introduce a clause on the entirely different subject of abortion, I shall address myself to it at the appropriate time. Meanwhile, I shall confine my remarks to the Bill as it stands.

I read carefully and welcomed the Warnock report, which was lucidly and logically argued—but time has moved on since that report was published in 1984. I take up immediately a point made by the right hon. Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine), the Father of the House, because, unlike him, I believe that the phrase "pre-embryo" has a definitive and useful meaning that helps to clarify our debates. A paper submitted by the Medical Research Council makes this point: In vitro fertilisation has made the early stages of development more important to scientists and as a consequence there is a need for a precise term to denote the conceptus in the first fourteen days after fertilisation prior to the appearance of the 'primitive streak' (the first sign of a human individual). The MRC also quotes the words of the Reverend Professor Dunstan: For upwards of two thousand years the embryo has been used to denote growth of the organism in the womb from the time of the first formation of the body parts until their completion followed by the fetal stage in which the completed baby grows to viability. Now that science has revealed a vital pre-embryonic stage of cellular activity before orgariogenesis can begin an appropriate name should be given to it. Pre-embryo seems a proper name to describe this stage in development. I agree, and the right hon. Member for Castle Point skipped over that point in his description of the development of the embryo.

I am in agreement also with the Archbishop of York and the majority of the bishops in the other place when they argue that, as the pre-embryo is, up to the 14th day, a cell over whose destiny no decision has yet been made as to whether it ever becomes a human being, or indeed, twins, or triplets, there is no sense in which it cart be claimed that it can have an identity or a human personality, or that it can be treated as a human being in the way that the rhetoric of others attempts to suggest. Because the pre-embryo has no identity, it must have a special legal status, as set out in the Bill.

I am unable to accept some of the language used by certain organisations and lobbyists. I could even read across the Chamber a leaflet in the hands of the right hon. Member for Castle Point that used the words "human vivisection". That is a total misnomer when applied to the Bill before us.

Sir David Price (Eastleigh)

Does not the hon. Gentleman make a distinction from the moment of implantation? To me, no such clear distinction has been made in any of the debates in another place. I believe that there is a distinction to be drawn between the fertilised egg before implantation and after implantation. Many of the problems that arise with twins, for example, occur at the earlier stage, not the latter.

Sir David Steel

The hon. Gentleman is probably perfectly correct. I do not claim any great wisdom in matters of medical science, and I acknowledge that there are different stages of development. It is quite wrong to pretend that it is one continuous, unaltering process from day one to the ninth month. The Bill attempts to draw a line at a particular recognised point.

In view of regular scientific developments and the strong views held by right hon. and hon. Members, it would be useful if the Government would accept an amendment to provide for an annual debate on, for example, a report from the licensing authority. I hope that the regulations may be altered to allow for that.

It is important that the public should be clear on the issues and not be misled as to what the Bill will and will not permit. It will not allow experiments on the foetus, cross-genetic breeding with other species, or destructive experimentation of a kind that the whole House would find repugnant. Those who argue against any research do so on the basis of establishing their own certainties—which they are perfectly entitled to do, but which they are not entitled to inflict on others.

At the time of the Warnock report, my brother, who is a research doctor, told me that an aspect of the opposition to its proposals that puzzled him was that one of the purposes of such research is to discover the reason why certain women suffer repeated, spontaneous miscarriages. I thought that those who value life, in the sense that they use the word, would also be concerned to stop the waste of life that is represented by repeated miscarriages.

I do not deny that individual scientists, doctors and clergymen, as well as right hon. and hon. Members, oppose the Bill, but we should acknowledge also that the organisations who support it include the National Association for the Childless, the Cystic Fibrosis Research Trust, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaeocologists, the Royal Society, the Medical Research Council, and the Genetic Interest Group, which comprises no fewer than 36 organisations dealing mainly with the disabled. They all urge the House to support embryonic research and its legalisation.

I conclude by quoting a letter that I received from the father of four severely handicapped children—one of whom died: In many of these illnesses, our own among them, there is every hope that the couple in question can produce healthy children at subsequent pregnancies. In our case, the probability of any given pregnancy resulting in a genetically damaged child is 50 per cent. The statistical chance is the same at each subsequent pregnancy. We were just very unlucky that all four of our children were born with Von Hippel-Lindau syndrome.

He adds: For our condition there is no cure, but prediction and prevention may very soon be possible. Genetic research is on the point of a breakthrough into techniques which will enable doctors to advise young parents about the future of any children as yet unborn.

He concludes: This progress, and our hope for our families, is threatened by people who oppose genetic research without reservation, or much reason. Frequently their argument is based on emotion, rather than logic. I accept their right to hold those views, but I do not accept their right to impose them on others. Members of our families are having to undergo laser treatment to their eyes, kidney operations, spine operations, and brain operations. In spite of these treatments some of us go blind, and a few of us die. It is against this background that I am writing to ask for your support.

6.28 pm
Sir Charles Morrison (Devizes)

Just as I agree whole-heartedly with the speech of the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Sir D. Steel), equally I whole-heartedly disagree with the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine). I regret that, not only because my right hon. Friend is an old and valued colleague, but because he speaks with the authority of Father of the House.

I want to take up two points made by my right hon. Friend. He spoke with considerable scepticism about the research that has already occurred. In comparison with my right hon. Friend, I have been in the House for a relatively short time only, but just over 20 years ago I visited a hospital in my constituency for the mentally subnormal. I was taken round by the doctor in charge and I remember passing a door to a ward through which the doctor did not lead me. I asked what was in there, but the doctor told me that we were not going into that particular ward.

I persisted with my questioning and I was told that it was a children's ward. I said that I should like to visit that ward, but the doctor told me that I would not. I persisted in my desire to see it and the doctor told me that, if I insisted, I should take a grip of myself. he was right to give me that advice, because when I went into that ward I saw human beings, none of them over the age of 10, who were virtually unrecognisable as such. Nowadays, that ward does not exist because of research undertaken in the past.

My right hon. Friend also said that, as a result of the Bill, a scientist would be able to do what he wanted. I do not believe that that is so. In future, any scientist who undertakes research will do so only under the provisions of clause 11 and schedule 2. According to my reading, the Bill certainly does not allow a scientist to do what he wants.

Mr. Cash

Does my hon. Friend agree that much of the research takes place under the aegis of self-regulation? It is precisely because the therapeutic benefit of what is done is decided by the scientists and the doctors that my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) was entirely justified in his claim—they will have the right to determine the question.

Sir Charles Morrison

I disagree with my hon. Friend. Until now, we have lived in a completely self-regulatory world, but, in future, that will not be so. It is clear that there is a disagreement about the meaning of the Bill in this respect.

The Bill is only before us because of advances in scientific and medical knowledge and because of the continuing potential for research, as well as for the application of existing or future knowledge and its consequences. There is nothing new about such research, but it has advanced so far and its application is growing to such an extent that legislation is necessary not only to regulate research on embryos and to protect the integrity of reproductive medicine, as well as the legal position of the scientist or clinician, but to take account of social and ethical considerations.

Mr. Mallon

The hon. Gentleman is making a valid point, but does he accept that, at some future date, some other people will be sitting here debating whether the advances made by experimentation mean that the 14-day stage stated in the Bill is inadequate? What type of moral dilemma will face those who must decide at what stage such experimentation becomes what some of us would regard as the killing of a human being? By discussing the Bill as it is framed, we are postponing the time when such a decision will be made.

If the experts in experimentation were to tell us today that experiments on an embryo of 17 days could well result in a cure for one of the genetic diseases, what would we then do?

Sir Charles Morrison

I wish that I could foresee what might happen about any issue. With all respect, the hon. Gentleman is making a hypothetical point. I do not know what will happen in the future, except that, if the Parliament of the day is presented with the type of question the hon. Gentleman posed, it will pass judgment upon it, just as we are being asked to pass judgment on the questions contained in the Bill. It is impossible to foresee what might happen.

Given the present stage of research and development, a recognised need for legislation has arisen. I do not believe that there is any logic in legislating to bring such research to an end. I recognise, of course, that the House must strike a balance between what is ethically acceptable and what it might be possible to achieve or attempt to achieve through research.

As a result of the Bill, the House must consider the status of human beings and their ability to reproduce their own species, as well as the status of the means by which that is achieved. It is our good fortune that the Bill has already been considered in another place. As a result, I believe that it is in pretty good order, but three matters will need further attention in Committee.

First, the cost of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority should be borne totally by the public purse. That authority will act for all people, so its costs should not be borne by a charge on the infertile, as clause 43(7) implies. Secondly, concern has been expressed to me about the authority's register of information and the anonymity of donors. The Committee will have to consider that issue carefully. Thirdly, it is important to consider GIFT—gamete intra-fallopian transfer. Although it is similar to in vitro fertilisation, IVF, it is not currently within the remit of the authority. On the basis of what I have been told, however, it should be, and there is need for regulation on this as there is in other areas.

Overall I whole-heartedly accept the need for the Bill, for an authority and for regulation. Against the background of control, there is a continuing need for research, notably on the matters mentioned by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State when he introduced the Bill.

First, it is important to improve the success rate of IVF above the present level of between 10 and 15 per cent. Secondly, improved knowledge of pre-implantation diagnosis could reduce the annual number of abortions by about 1,500. That would be welcome, since those abortions take place as a result of the detection of abnormalities at up to 16 weeks. If abnormalities stemming from genetic disorders could be detected through identifying the affected embryos, all the trauma of a late abortion could be avoided.

Thirdly, it amazes me that, even now in the 1990s, one in five pregnancies end in miscarriage. Surely more research is needed on that. Fourthly, research would also help infertility, which affects about one in 10 couples in the United Kingdom. Fifthly, research could also aid contraception, which could be of major help to family planning.

In all five of those sectors, research is being undertaken at present under the control of the interim licensing authority. I was glad that the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) drew attention to the fact that, as far as we know, no decision made by that authority has been questioned. That shows that the self-governing work which has so far been undertaken has been carried out with the greatest possible responsibility. I am convinced that research presently being undertaken must continue.

I do not believe that the Bill is a suitable vehicle for further consideration of abortion. However, if there is to be an abortion amendment, I hope that, ultimately, the House will decide to accept and agree with the provisions of the Bill introduced in another place by Lord Houghton.

Praise and the greatest possible respect are given to parents of handicapped children, which must be absolutely right. One must understand that some of those parents are opposed to research, and I am sure that this is because of the happiness brought into their lives by their children. However, with the greatest humility, I suggest that those who are even better qualified than the parents to pass judgment about research are the handicapped people themselves. What would their answer be to the question, "If you were to have a child, would you want it to be free of the affliction from which you have suffered?"

If research were to be banned in the United Kingdom, surely the benefits from such research undertaken elsewhere should also be banned from use in this country. To do otherwise would be a major hypocrisy.

Although I have two Roman Catholic grandchildren, for better or worse I am not a member of that Church, and thus its disciplines are not imposed on me. I have the luxury of being a part of the lesser certainty that exists in the Church of England. In discussions about human fertilisation and embryology, I find it impossible to conclude that there are any certainties or absolutes. However, as a Christian, I believe that benefits for mankind stem, in origin, from divine intervention. I cannot be certain about that, but that is my belief. Therefore, when research can be undertaken which may produce benefit, but also gives rise to other ethical considerations, balance and moderation are needed. I believe that the Bill provides those qualities.

6.43 pm
Mr. A. E. P. Duffy (Sheffield, Attercliffe)

I subscribe entirely to the recent statement by the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster that nothing demonstrates more dramatically the collapse of moral consensus in Britain today than the prolonged and, at times, bitter debate over issues of love, life, marriage and the family. Equally important are the profoundly moral arguments about the origin of life, the status of the embryo and the freedom to experiment, and then destroy, human life in its first 14 days. The phrase "medical ethics" is now a contradiction in terms. From the time of Hippocrates until the early post-war period, doctors took the oath. They no longer do so because it has become a farce, as the oath contained an explicit undertaking not to cause harm to a child in the womb. Until quite recently, medical dictionaries and textbooks made it plain that human life began at the moment of conception, but no longer. Recent editions are evasive, not because of any advance in medical science, but because specious, ex post facto justification is sought for abortion and, now, for experimentation on little children. That is why those two subjects need to be taken together in the Bill.

Mr. Tredinnick

Will the hon. Gentleman explain how the experiments on little children which he has just mentioned will take place? I do not understand.

Mr. Duffy

I am coming to that. One of the worries about allowing research on embryos within the first 14 days is that it could lead to wider forms of research than are intended by Parliament. As an example of how the abandoning in law of a basic medical ethic can lead to unforeseen consequences, we need look no further than the Abortion Act 1967. I need look no further than my city of Sheffield, where the percentage of terminations of pregnancy continues to be considerably higher than the average for England and Wales. Section 4 of the Act, which relates to handicapped children, is invoked for less than 1 per cent. of all those terminations.

There is nothing illogical about combining legislation on abortion and embryonic research, despite the objections voiced in one of the opening speeches, because a human embryo is a human embryo whether it is in a test tube or in utero. A rose is a rose not only by any other name, but no matter where it is or at what stage of its development. Therefore, it is not illogical to view the human embryo as something that should neither be killed in some circumstances or used for certain research purposes.

Mrs. Elizabeth Peacock (Batley and Spen)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is totally incongruous that today, in National Health Service and other hospitals, there are doctors fighting to save the lives of children born at 22 weeks for parents who desperately need them, while further down the corridor, doctors are doing exactly the opposite for a child of 26 to 28 weeks?

Mr. Duffy

It is more than incongruous, it is downright immoral. [Interruption.] I hope that I did not hear someone on the Front Bench sniggering at the mention of the word "moral" because it will be heard a good deal more before I sit down. Morals cannot be confined to individuals and do not arise from individual preferences. They are not based on utilitarian consequences. I suggest that my hon. Friends on the Front Bench should consult a dictionary about the meaning of the word.

The vital decisions that we reach on human fertilisation and embryology, and subsequently on pregnancy termination, must affect how we regard the status of each individual, his or her human rights, the treatment of the handicapped, and the fate of the senile and the terminally ill. How we treat human life at any of its stages is of the highest moral significance. Once we are convinced that we have the right to determine when life becomes human and when it ceases to be so, we stand in danger of creating a society that is potentially self-destructive.

Therefore, we need to proceed with the greatest care. Embryo research is complex, and involves a spectrum of medical, scientific, ethical and moral issues. It also abounds in myths and partial truths. The first is the notion that freedom to experiment on human embryos is necessary to help infertile couples. But is that so? A recent article and correspondence in the Lancet on the benefits of in vitro fertilisation raised important questions about the cost of IVF, its benefits and the ratio of cost to benefit. Other critics of IVF point to its experimental status, its uncertainty, its as yet unappraised risk factors and the divergent rates of success. That doubt was raised in a report of the World Health Organisation's regional office for Europe, entitled "Are In Vitro Fertilisation and Embryo Transfer of Benefit to All?"

There is a remarkable lack of scientifically based assessment of worldwide rates of success, and that has inevitably led to doubt about what the real success rates are. There is also growing doubt about whether further embryo research is the best way forward, and there is even increased recognition that assisting fertility does not depend on IVF alone. For example, microsurgery for women, the growth of services for male infertility and new techniques of molecular biology show that the lack of destructive experimentation would not, ipso facto, impede improvements in the treatment of fertility. We are assured that other methods are coming along—as good as, and increasingly better than, such experimentation, provided that they are not starved of financial, human and material resources because of the IVF programme. We all invoke and welcome the results of the IVF programme, whenever we meet them. I am godparent to an adorable child who was conceived using this method and I know what great joy he has brought to his family and to many of his parents' friends.

The second myth is that embryo experimentation is necessary in the fight against inherited genetic disease. Yet it now seems clear from a booklet issued by the pro-research group, Progress, entitled, "Freedom to Choose", that research on the embryo with respect to genetic diseases is directed not a cure but at prevention. The public have been misled into thinking that embryo research will produce cures for diseases such as cystic fibrosis and Down's syndrome, as most hon. Members must know from their post bags. Will those in favour of human embryo research give the House one example of what has been discovered in research into genetic diseases that could not have been discovered in another way?

It is a matter of the highest priority that research should continue into improving the lives of handicapped people. One of the more consoling aspects of our present dark age is that we now give much more attention to the mentally and physically handicapped than we did even 25 or 30 years ago. On all sides we are aware of the enormous love and care that a mother and father will exhibit towards a handicapped child. So I hope that we shall not make heavy weather of this point during the rest of this debate.

No one who saw "Songs of Praise", broadcast a week ago from St. Mary's cathedral, Middlesbrough, can fail to have been touched by the spirit of Dominic, who has Down's syndrome, or inspired by the devotion of his mother, Mrs. Norah Jones, for whom Dominic is, as she said, all the more precious. She went on: In the company of handicapped children you feel you're as near to Heaven as you'll ever get on this earth.

The third and probably most mistaken and dangerous notion is that the medical and scientific establishment is not violating the sanctity of human life but is taking welcome advantage of the new-found possibilities of research into fertilised cells before they attain human status. A unique biological event occurs with the conjunction of egg and sperm, as I am sure we all agree. The contribution of modern genetics has shown, however, that the genetic code is a fundamental organising principle and that there is radical unity long before the 14-day stage.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) will not mind my quoting her remarks in a recent issue of "The House Magazine". She said that, at this stage, the embryo consists of a few cells the size of a pin head and it would clearly be absurd to place its welfare on the same footing with that of so many other human beings whose hopes and needs might benefit from the research. My hon. Friend is not alone in that view: it was quoted often enough in the recent debate in another place, so she is in good company.

At some stage of our lives all of us in the Chamber were indistinguishable little globules made of a few cells. Who could have predicted how or why those globules would turn into the different individuals that we are, or which one would turn into which person?

Mr. Doug Henderson (Newcastle upon Tyne, North)

Does my hon. Friend, and do other hon. Members who have campaigned with him on this issue, agree that ultimately the arguments are about the balance of morality, and that one must balance the theological view that he has just put against the potential benefit to people who, in the absence of further embryo research, would end up being disabled for the rest of their lives, or to the children who will not be born because of their parents' infertility?

Mr. Duffy

A calculation about morality is a contradiction in terms; my hon. Friend does not understand the meaning of morality. Secondly, there is no lack of concern in the House about the handicapped or about improving their lot. Nor is there any lack of appreciation of the lot of the parents of handicapped children, or any lack of admiration for them.

The status of the human embryo and its dignity and rights under the law should be determined by the human life that it undoubtedly has from the beginning. It is recognition that it undoubtedly has from the beginning. It is recognition of that continuous human development that compels me to oppose on principle any proposal to treat this human life in the same way as experimental tissue.

There is no evidence that scientists need human embryos for any worthwhile research, yet we are in serious danger of crossing the fine line that separates science from the eugenics of a brave new world—and we may be alone, for more and more countries are examining this practice and becoming increasingly concerned about its ethical considerations. It has been forbidden in Denmark, Ireland, Norway, Portugal and parts of Australia. It will soon be forbidden in West Germany, and the European Council of Ministers has recommended the same course of action.

It is interesting that the German Government should be taking so strong a line. Memories of the recent shameful abuse of human life by German doctors and scientists are still fresh and have alerted people to the evil potential of test tube biotechnology. Yet the German Bill has been criticised by the SPD and the Green party on the grounds that it does not go far enough in protecting the embryo or controlling the enthusiasm of doctors and researchers. The Germans have had experience of this sort of thing, and we are only just beginning.

We need to remind ourselves continually that the end does not justify the means; that men and women are more than a bundle of cells; and that they have incomparable potential. Let us then stop playing God with the lives of unborn children—we are not sexing chickens. We have a duty to uphold respect for human dignity.

6.58 pm
Mr. Michael Jopling (Westmorland and Lonsdale)

I realise that this debate will be dominated by discussion, such as that in the speech of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy), of the possibility of experimentation on embryos, but I want to confine almost all my speech to another problem that the Bill raises. I refer to clause 27 and the meaning of "the mother".

However, to fall in line with everyone else, I want first to say a brief word about experiments. I have listened extremely carefully to many of my constituents and to many people outside this House, but I have always found it very had to agree with those who claim that an embryo or foetus that cannot yet exist in a free state should be able to demand the same protection under the law as that same entity should demand after it is able to exist in a free state.

That is why I shall vote, if I have the opportunity, to reduce the stage of a pregnancy by which an abortion can take place from the present 28 weeks, and it is why I agree with a large majority in another place, and with the Secretary of State, that strictly controlled experiments on embryos up to 14 days should be allowed. Many children and families could be saved enormous distress over infertility or disease by this move. The example quoted by the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Sir D. Steel) was of a constituent of mine who had written to the right hon. Gentleman. I am conscious of the case that he quoted to the House.

Clause 27 follows the Warnock recommendations by defining the mother as the woman who carries the child, having had either an embryo or sperm and eggs placed in her. I do not disagree with that judgment because it is right in almost all circumstances. My speech and those of other hon. Members seem to revolve on our constituents. I have a most important case in my constituency which should make the House and the Government think again about the operation of clause 27.

That case involves a couple. The wife has no uterus and is quite incapable of bearing children. However, she has ovaries and ovulates normally, and some time ago ova flushed from her body were fertilised in a laboratory by her husband's sperm. These fertilised ova led to what I shall call embryos, which were placed in the uterus of a lady who agreed to carry the growing embryos. I am assured that she did so without fees. In due time, the lady gave birth to twins and gladly handed them over to their genetic parents, my constituents. The House can imagine the enormous joy of my constituents when at last they were able to have children who were entirely their own. They are smashing children and I have met them. They are very young. They were united with their genetic parents with the full support of the surrogate mother.

All went well. The authorities who look after such things were entirely happy for my constituents to have the children. The rub was that the authorities said that as they understood the law the couple would have to adopt the children. My constituents said, "Certainly not, they are our children. It is like buying one's own possessions back." Ultimately the case will go to the courts. It was referred to in The Times of 28 February by the solicitor concerned, and I do not propose to say any more about that case.

I think that I am right in saying that my constituents are the first example of such a thing happening in this country. No doubt more will follow in the years ahead, although I do not suppose that there will be many. I want the Secretary of State to think hard about this case. It is hard to argue that my constituents are not the father and mother of the twins. It should be quite simple for us to deal with such a situation. It will not happen often, but it should be dealt with during the progress of the Bill.

We should consider amending clause 27 so that in cases of the sort that I have described, a judge in the family division of the High Court could make an order relating to the children, granting parental responsibility or awarding care and control of the children to their genetic mother either on her own or with another. In such cases, the genetic mother should for all purposes be treated as the mother of the child. That would be a sensible change in the Bill and I hope that the Committee will consider it.

If that amendment or something like it were to be made, it would apply only when the identity of the genetic mother had been positively ascertained through genetic fingerprinting, which can be done nowadays. Secondly, it would happen only when the surrogate mother, as in the case I have quoted, had no reservations about the judgment and whose emotional attachment to the child did not cause any serious objections to that judgment.

As I have said, this would happen rarely. I cannot believe that an amendment of the sort that I have proposed would in itself encourage surrogacy, which I do not particularly want to do. It would add common sense to an unusual, unsatisfactory and unfair situation, as my constituents have found to their cost. They have met enormous difficulty in connection with the case that they will have to take to the courts in the next few months.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd)

I remind hon. Members that we are now into the 10-minute limit on speeches and that it will apply until 9 o'clock.

7.6 pm

Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon)

The right hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling) has highlighted the need for this legislation. Changes have taken place because of developments in medicine and science, and opportunities for families exist now that did not exist a generation ago. We have to face the questions that those matters raise in the same way as the Warnock committee faced them. I support the Bill and strongly support the provision brought in by the Lords for research to be allowed. I realise that this is a contentious issue and that it will be fiercely debated at later stages in the progress of the Bill.

I should declare a family interest. We lost two boys, Alun and Geraint, in late 1984, early 1985, within three months of each other. They suffered from a severe genetic disability which caused mental and physical handicap. We have two other children, Eluned and Hywel who, mercifully, are free from that condition. The problems that we faced were no different from the problems faced by thousands of other people in these islands. Millions are at risk from conditions such as muscular dystrophy and cystic fibrosis and from about 1,000 genetic disorders.

Every one of us probably carries two or three gene defects, and it is a matter of luck that we do not meet another person who carries the same defects and produce offspring with handicaps. It is a matter of luck that other hon. Members do not meet the problem of genetic handicap within their own families. Some hon. Members may have children who are carriers of one or more of the common types of genetic defect and who may marry someone who is also a carrier.

Some hon. Members may become grandparents and, totally without warning or explanation, will have to watch helplessly as their grandchildren suffer the effects of a severe genetic disorder, sometimes in excruciating pain. They will have to watch helplessly as their grandchildren die a slow death. Some genetic conditions create self-mutilation among babies, and grandparents have to watch that, too. They may have to share the agony of their children having to face a decision about whether to try for another child, having lost one who had a physical disability.

As has been said, the chances of the disability appearing in a subsequent child may be 1:2 or 1:4. Perhaps the parents will hope that it will not happen again and that all will be well. However, many do not try again because they are unwilling to bring into the world a baby who will face the same suffering that they have seen already. That could happen to any one of us and it is happening to dozens of our constituents.

How can such suffering be avoided? If it is diagnosed early enough in pregnancy, can anything be done to put the defect right? The Bill has massive implications for families at risk from genetic disorders. In its present form it will allow vital research to continue within strict guidelines. I congratulate the House of Lords on its massive majority in favour of research. For that reason I shall support the Bill. As the Father of the House, the right hon. Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) said, if the restrictive clause were built in at a later stage of the Bill, I, like the right hon. Gentleman, would review my position because that consideration is very important.

I draw to the attention of the House comments that were made in New Scientist on 4 November under the title "Why experiment on human embryos?" It says: Politicians will decide whether to make illegal what is now a thriving area of progress in our understanding of human reproduction and early development … It would prevent the diagnosis of severe genetic disorders in embryos, which recent research has shown to be feasible. It would hinder the development of new forms of contraception, such as vaccines. And it would prevent any significant improvement in the treatment of infertility.

I draw attention also to comments that I believe have been forwarded to hon. Members by the Royal Society. They were published at the same time as the White Paper. It says: The Royal Society believes it is essential that research, under proper control, should be allowed to continue. Much embryological research, including that related to in vitro fertilisation, is carried out with animals. However, one cannot extrapolate safety the results of studies in animals to the human context … It would be irresponsible and clinically unacceptable to replace in the womb fertilized human eggs that have been subjected to novel procedures or tests.

On genetic disease, the Royal Society said: Currently, the only way of preventing the transmission of genetic disease is to test fetuses at 8-16 weeks gestation and to abort those that are affected. Research on human embryology has offered the prospect of testing developing eggs at an early stage to indentify those that will be affected by, or those that carry, serious genetic disease, such as Duchenne musclular dystrophy or cystic fibrosis, and of replacing in the womb only those found free from such defective genes … Legislation prohibiting further research on human embryological material would, at worst, altogether prevent certain advances in medical treatment of great potential benefit to the infertile or those carrying serious genetic disorders. At best, it would suspend such advances before their full development … The Royal Society therefore strongly supports the continuation of research under the conditions specified". That is important.

The Muscular Dystrophy Group of Great Britain has also implored us to allow such research to continue. Its director, Paul Walker, a practising Roman Catholic, believes that that is vital for those who suffer from muscular dystrophy. Mencap implores us to allow the research to continue, as does the Cystic Fibrosis Research Trust, the Genetic Interest Group, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the Medical Research Council. Research is supported by a proportion of the clergy, although I accept that among the clergy, as among the medical profession, opinion is divided.

The Bill has vital implications for 250,000 couples who cannot have children. The IVF programme has helped families in Britain to have children; there are over 1,000 such children. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy) referred to the pride that he takes in his godchild who was brought into the world by means of that technique. Had there been restrictive sections in the legislation a generation ago, those who are now happily running round would not be here. We cannot have it both ways. We need acceptable research. A restrictive clause would stop research into improving contraception, thus avoiding later abortions of unwanted pregnancies. I join those who regret the fact that the Government intend to introduce an amendment that will allow abortion to be linked with that question.

As for research that has led to exciting breakthroughs in recent months and years, may I refer to muscular dystrophy? The gene that causes muscular dystrophy has been identified. Within the next two or three years, we shall be able to select pre-embryos that do not have the defective gene. That will allow healthy boys and girls to be born to those at risk. That is a tremendous move forward.

I quote from Professor Bobrow, one of the country's leading authorities on the clinical genetics of muscular dystrophy: I believe that pre-embryo biopsy for the detection of Duchenne muscular dystrophy will be possible within two to three years. The genetic techniques will be developed by then; what will be needed is time to validate the safety of embryo biopsy.

A large number of people suffer from cystic fibrosis. Those of us who are in touch with the Cystic Fibrosis Research Trust and receive its newsletter will have seen that the March newsletter is headed, in red, "At last we've found the gene!" It says: I am sure that as a supporter of the Cystic Fibrosis Research Trust you were delighted with the news that at last we have found the gene … Now at last we can embark upon the next stage in our quest to understand and finally conquer Cystic Fibrosis. The trust's newspaper carries similar exciting prospects.

In those circumstances, where hope is being offered to families who otherwise would not have it, how can we take on ourselves the responsibility of shutting the door of hope when we are so close to seeing progress being made! Can the House, in all conscience, even contemplate a legal ban on such marvellous pioneering work? How can we ban essential research of his type? Are we so certain that we are absolutely correct? Are we to say to our constituents, "Our children are all right. We are sorry that yours are suffering from a crippling disablement, but we are prepared to legislate to reduce your hope of being helped by the medical profession." I realise that all the answers may not be immediately forthcoming. Some may take years. Surely, however, the message is: Seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.

7.15 pm
Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone)

I intend to concentrate on the ethical aspects of the debate. When the alternative clauses are debated—and subsequently, I hope, the abortion clauses—detailed arguments will be put forward. We shall then hear that opinion is not unanimous among the medical, scientific or theological interest groups. There is disunity among embryologists as to whether the further destructive use of embryos will improve in vitro fertilisation or whether it will make a material contribution towards finding a cure.

The Father of the House, my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine), was right to point not to the words of the pro-life movement, or to those of the Roman Catholic Church, or to those of the major interest groups on our side of the argument, but to the words of the pro-research scientists themselves in a document that they circulated to right hon. and hon. Members in an effort to persuade us to support research.

The document said that research on embryos is not and never has been concerned with pure research, or with the treatment of chromosomal disorders. What worries me is what I regard as the cruel deceit—probably accidental but nevertheless thoroughly perpetrated on the parents of children who suffer from highly distressing disorders and diseases—that this research will come up with a cure for their children. If that is case, the pro-research scientists should retract what they have said and show us how such a cure is to be achieved.

Another cruel deceit that is being perpetrated is that those who oppose embryo research would ban IVF treatment. We never have and never will.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury)

My wife and I had a serious fertility problem, as a result of which we went through a successful IVF process. There is considerable evidence that the IVF success rate does not depend on destructive experimentation. Statistics in this country and evidence from IVF clinics in South Australia, where experimentation is illegal, point to the fact that it is the number of times that the procedure has been carried out that is the key factor determining the success rate, not destructive experimentation.

Miss Widdecombe

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend. That demonstrates something else: that there is no unanimity of opinion among infertile couples as to whether the research is acceptable, or even among the handicapped or the parents of the handicapped.

I now refer to the ethical issues dominating the debate and the use of language. We are told that a child of 22 weeks' gestation fighting for life in an incubator with all the resources of medical science being poured in to save it is a baby, but a child of identical age and development in the womb where we cannot see it is a foetus. The difference between what we call a baby and what we call a foetus is that we can see one and we cannot see the other, and if we inflicted pain on one, we could see it.

The same use of language is applied to the earliest stages of human existence. How right my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point was when he said that not once in all the Warnock deliberations was the word "pre-embryo" mentioned. It is a sanitising term to cover up what we are doing.

When the Bill was debated in the other place, we heard endless terms to describe human life—two-cell zygote, a conceptus. The Archbishop of York chose the term conceptus because, he said, it is buried in the obscurity of the Latin language. The Archbishop of York is rather sexist—why not a concepta? Perhaps we can get over the problem in the traditional way favoured by many Opposition Members—we could call it a conceptus person because it is a person.

While we are on the subject of personhood, the Archbishop said that all life was a continuous process from fertilisation to death and that we are all processes. It makes one wonder what the advent lessons must be like in York minster. Perhaps they would go something like this: "And Mary, when the angel had departed from her, found she was with process, and her cousin said unto her, 'Lo, the process in my womb leaped with joy when I heard thy voice". Are we now getting down to such silly language?

If we take the Archbishop at face value and agree that we are all processes and that there is no single voice as to when life starts, we cannot say that personhood occurs here or the soul enters there. We cannot say any of those things if life is a process. Is not the best reason of all for not interfering at any point the fact that we do not know when personhood begins? Did not the Archbishop score a spectacular own goal?

Another misuse of language was exemplified in the speech about handicap by the hon. Member for Barking (Ms. Richardson). Of course all parents want their children to be born without a handicap, but there is all the difference in the world between saying that we want children to be born without handicap and that we do not want the handicapped child to be born. What most distresses me is that, when we were considering the Bill presented by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton), and at any stage during the passage of the Bill that we are discussing, a handicapped person could switch on the radio or television and hear politicians glibly discussing whether he had the right to be born.

We would not insult any racial or religious group in that way, so how dare we treat handicapped people as a race apart and single them out for insult? The most profoundly difficult experience that I had during the passage of the Bill unsuccessfully introduced by the hon. Member for Mossley Hill was explaining to handicapped people why we had made an exemption for severe handicap and why we had agreed that they should be treated as second-class citizens. We shall go through that again when we table our abortion amendments, because, to meet the fears of many right hon. and hon. Members, we have agreed to exempt handicap from any restrictions.

I congratulate the Government on their great courage in at long last providing an opportunity to resolve the abortion issue. We are talking about life before birth, life up to 14 days and after 14 days. It is a ludicrous law that says that personhood occurs at 14 days and human life needs protection, but that from the 15th day to the 28th week abortion is perfectly all right. We need to examine that muddled law, and when, as the Government have courageously decided, the House debates abortion, we shall at long last apply the will of the majority of the House, which has never yet been defeated but which has frequently been frustrated.

We all heard what the hon. Member for Barking said. She did not say that she hoped that the abortion clauses would be defeated—she knows that they will not be defeated, so she said that she hoped that they would not be taken. That is the last dying hope of a minority that has persistently misused the tactics and the procedures of the House to frustrate the majority.

7.25 pm
Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

The hon. Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe) referred to the other place and the concept of a process. There were some outside the House who wondered whether the experiments on primates to find out the validity of life and humanity might begin in the upper House.

The right hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling) said that there should not be the same protection for a human being who has been born as for one in the womb. In that maligned book, the Old Testament, where we are told the laws are cruel, there is clear protection for the unborn; rather interestingly it is given in the context of the restrictive law of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. We heard those arguments deployed tonight and it is amazing how we run away from what will happen.

The pre-embryo or conceptus who has been discovered to have a defective gene would automatically be disposed of because there is no way that it can be brought to term. Therefore, I join in giving the Bill a guarded welcome. Using the ecclesiastical terminology that has already occurred in the debate, like the curate's egg, it is good in parts. I am not too sure how we are going to separate the bad parts from the good ones without making it a completely different Bill. I pledge my support for those who seek to improve the Bill by providing guidelines for the nation.

It is good that the Bill applies to Northern Ireland, as it allows representatives from Northern Ireland to take a full part in debating it. I believe that I reflect a general view throughout Northern Ireland, irrespective of political parties and religious persuasion. We ask for the legislation to show respect for life.

I take up a point which may have been missed. We have heard quotations from scientific bodies that support the concept of research and experimentation. Recently I spoke to a doctor who told me about an experiment in psychology which may be being conducted on us. It is certainly applied in places such as Oxford street by street traders who are accompanied by people who put up their hands to buy straight away so that the others who are gathered round will also buy. The people around do not realise that the trader is with an accomplice. If they see a policeman they disappear; if no policeman turns up, the accomplice returns the goods that he has bought for the salesman to peddle again.

That approach is used to convince people to do something that they would not do normally. Let us take the example of a product being sold. I have been told of people being shown a film in which someone appeared wearing a blue sweater. At the end of the film they were asked, "What colour sweater was the person wearing?" A number of people who were secretly involved said, "It was red." When the first half dozen people said "Red", the others became doubtful and said "Red" although they had perceived it as blue. I am not trying to make a political point by using those two colours.

Over the past months, the media have been bombarding the nation and the House with facts and statistics, but rarely have they featured a scientist, a politician or a disabled person to convince the House and the nation of a view which, in their heart of hearts, they do not wish us to hold.

In that context, I was interested by some figures from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the Royal Society. The statistics from those two bodies on the incidence of disorders in newborn babies is about the same. The Royal Society claims that it is one in 20 and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists said that it is 5 per cent. That works out at 50 per 1,000, which all hon. Members will agree is a horrifying figure. When I checked the figures I discovered that both organisations were exaggerating. One must ask why. I believe that it is to hype the argument in favour of passing the Bill and to allow experimentation.

It is said that research will help to prevent genetic disorders, but the figures given by the Royal Society and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists are for congenital diseases. If one examines their figures carefully, one discovers that they are exaggerated I have them here, and Professor Hubert Campbell, who for many years was the medical statistician representing England and Wales at the World Health Organisation, has checked them for me. Rather than the 50 per cent. suggested by those two bodies, 15 per cent., and at the outside 20 per cent., of deaths are due to genetic diseases; that figure conforms with a report by the Royal College of Physicians, which shows that of children born with congenital abnormalities 15 to 20 per cent. suffer from genetic disorders. There are difficulties in obtaining accurate figures because a high percentage of those deaths are from cardiovascular problems.

Why should the professional bodies exaggerate the figures? I am not suggesting that they have a vested financial interest, because many of them are genuinely concerned and want to do the best for patients and others. Many years ago I asked about experimentation and the sale of organs, but time and again I received bland answers from Departments saying that they had no statistics and that such things were not going on. One answer that I received was, "Customs and Excise do not come across this because they are not asked to look for it."

I stand where I stood with my right hon. Friend Enoch Powell, not against experimentation but for the experiments being on an embryo for a particular person's own good and that there should not be blanket research.

Ian Donald drew attention to the fact that, like the rest of us, embryos develop differently. It might take between 13 and 16 days for an embryo to develop, but if there is such confusion at that stage, how do we differentiate? We all know that, once the Bill is enacted, its supporters will press for an extension of the time limit.

7.34 pm
Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury)

The speeches that have most impressed me so far were those born of a little humility. That includes the fine and balanced speech made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State, on which I congratulate him.

For others, the debate has been about the nature of certainty. As a teacher, I suggested to my pupils that if someone said, "with respect", they meant exactly the opposite; that if someone said, "Of course I am not prejudiced, but", it was usually a preface to a whopping lump of dogma; and that, similarly, those who proclaimed what the truth is mean that they believe it to be so. People on both sides of this issue feel passionately about it. I hope that, as the Bill progresses through the House, both sides will maintain respect.

I declare my interest and credentials for taking part in the debate and for supporting the Government's proposals. First, I am the parent of three strapping children. The most important thing to me is my family life. Our first son was born with lethal disorders, the result of a chromosome abnormality. He lived for only a few days, but long enough to be loved and to be baptised. I owe it to Jamie to support this legislation, from which much good will come.

My second credential is as a Christian. It is quite clear that there is no definitive Christian viewpoint or imperative in this debate. It is a matter of difficult personal judgment. I sought the advice of the Bishop of Salisbury, and I am grateful to him for it. Without claiming that he supports what I believe to be right, he told me that, if he were faced with voting on this issue, the arguments that would weigh most strongly with him were those on embryo selection. He points out that, when nature spontaneously aborts a good many embryos, it is hard to believe that to do so deliberately for good reason is contrary to God's mind.

Miss Widdecombe

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Key

I will not stop: I have only 10 minutes to make my speech.

We cannot duck the issue that some people feel that we are saying that it would be better if disabled people had not been born. The Archdeacon of Sarum advises me that the argument is a deliberate muddying of the waters. He says that one could equally say that any attempt to discourage illegitimacy is an insult to those born out of wedlock. The fact is that, if we could launch a life with or without handicaps, it seems morally better to choose the latter. The Bishop of Salisbury said to me: "Many parents must pray for a disease-free child. When we are given the power to bring that about ourselves, what does it say about our prayer if we refuse to use that power?" Clearly, rejection of an embryo earlier than 14 days is preferable to aborting a foetus much later on. If uncontrolled, that could be used to justify abortion and embryo selection, which, as the Bishop of Salisbury told me, was one mark of Nazism and would be profoundly repugnant to Christian tradition. But the Bill is all about control, and it recognises that such activities are unacceptable.

After much thought and inquiry, I have reached the conclusion that it is not possible for me to accept that human life begins at the moment of conception—for two reasons. First, I regard the egg and the sperm as human and part of the continuum of creation. Individual lives begin with chemistry and reach their fulfilment in mystery. My second reason is the chemistry of the matter. If we believe in life starting at an instant called conception, we ignore man's growing understanding of molecular biology and genetics and all that goes on not only at a human biological level but at a sub-species level in the building blocks of life.

I shall return to that, but my third credential is that I am a member of the Medical Research Council. I am not a scientist but am one of the lay members whose job is to ensure that the feet of the distinguished scientists are in occasional contact with the ground. The MRC's reasons for suppporting research on pre-implementation embryos are well rehearsed: to improve in vitro fertilisation techniques; to help reduce the number of abortions in those who are at risk of passing on serious genetic diseases to children; to help us understand and prevent miscarriages; and to assist in the development of simpler, safer and more effective contraception. I have listened to the contrary arguments, and will continue to do so, but I remain unconvinced by them.

The Bill is also about freedom of conscience. It does not seek to impose sanctions on those who think that research is wrong. It goes to great lengths to define consent. As Lord Hailsham put it in another place, those who would impose an absolute prohibition should ask themselves, what kind of right, in a free and liberal democracy, do they think that they have to say no to a highly responsible group of people working for the benefit of humanity and subject to the authority of Parliament? Scientists and clinicians are not pro-death—nor am I, nor is any one who supports the Bill. Who hijacked this term "pro-life", anyway? I take the view that we cannot undo enlightenment.

I have a word of warning for the scientific community: they do not realise how far ahead they are of the rest of us. There is so much that we do not know about the human brain and problems such as schizophrenia, Alzheimer's disease and slow viruses such as bovine spongiform ecephalopathy and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. There is so much that we are beginning to understand, and the rate of that understanding is increasing rapidly. The scientists must not leave us behind. There is a massive job of education to be done.

I have referred to the amazing growth of understanding of the molecular basis of life. We must come to terms with the inevitable scientific progress. There is no absolute right or absolute wrong—we must make a judgment. I urge the House to judge that we should not turn our backs on scientists in Britain. Make no mistake—the work will go on in other countries, with or without us, and it will be without the controls that Parliament is seeking to exercise in this country. If we wash our hands of this issue, we will make it harder next time we are asked to make judgments about scientific issues, and they will probably be concerned with genetics. Personally, the more I see and understand the way that science serves mankind, the stronger grows my Christian faith.

Salisbury has sent Members of Parliament to Westminster since 1275—we take a long-term view of things. When Parliaments or rulers have sought to impose bans on science or to legislate against progress, they have always come to grief. To vote against the Bill tonight would be to marginalise Parliament, at a time when we have never needed Parliament more. We would trumpet our timidity and lack of vision with a penny whistle. I urge the House to give the Bill a Second Reading.

7.43 pm
Mr. Jimmy Hood (Clydesdale)

Like other hon. Members, I welcome the opportunity to speak in the debate. I have good news for Members—I do not intend to go into the technicalities of pre-implantation embryos or pro-life. I want to talk about the issues as I see them and, equally important, as my constituents see them.

When the Bill was first discussed, I made a conscious decision as a Member of Parliament because of my experience when I became a Member in 1987 when the abortion issue was raised. I knew from that experience how contentious it was. Some politicians may tend to go to ground when such issues are discussed, but I decided to take this one up front. I called two special three-hour surgeries in my constituency on two consecutive days to take representations from my constituents. It was an enjoyable and enlightening experience.

I met 54 constituents who had come to lobby me either for or against. Many Christian groups on both sides of the argument lobbied me. We must put something to rest: one is not a better Christian if one is for or against the Bill. No one should be able to kidnap the issue and say that he is a better Christian because he takes a particular point of view. I am envious of the faith of other Christians. My experience in life leads me to believe that a person should be judged on his Christianity by the way in which he lives his life, cares for his neighbour and behaves towards his fellow men and women. That is a better yardstick by which to judge whether someone is a Christian.

I should like to thank many of the individuals who came to see me. I had the excellent experience of meeting the local branch of a national Christian group, CARE—Christian Action Research and Education. Through those surgeries, I was able to develop a relationship with the groups that I had not hitherto been able to develop. Although we did not necessarily agree on the issues that we debated, we had mutual respect and there was understanding of each side of the argument. I hope that other hon. Members will have that experience. Politicians should not drop this contentious issue.

My hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Ms. Richardson) sought support from Opposition Members. My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy) pointed out that there would be a free vote, and so it should be. I have been active in Labour politics for a considerable number of years—sometimes it seems longer. This has always been an issue of personal conscience and I have always believed that that is what it should be.

When I am asked to vote against embryo research, I must take on board some of the issues that are put to me to consider—for example, the sanctity of life, the rights of a 14-day embryo and morality. Like the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) I tend to duck when I hear people starting from a moral standpoint, because usually what follows is not as moral as they would have us believe. We have been told that the legislation will lead to uncontrolled research. References have been made to the Nazis during the war and their horrific activities, but that tends to overstate the case.

We hear also about strong Christian faith. I shall tell the House of an experience that I had in my constituency involving an elder of a local church, who said, "Please, Mr. Hood, support the Bill. I have a daughter whose ovaries will not develop because of a disease. Her only chance of a normal life is to benefit from this research by having an implant." He then said something that has struck me ever since: "I am a Christian. My faith in God is such that if He does not mean it to happen, it will not and if He does mean it to happen, it will." I mulled over those words by a chap whom one would walk past in the street. Such was his Christian faith that he could make that strong commitment.

Within minutes, a minister in a church in my constituency came to me and said, "Mr. Hood, I am a Christian and you will expect me to be against the Bill." I said that I did not expect him to be against the Bill because he was a Christian and told him of my experience a few minutes earlier with the elder of a different church. The minister was dumbstuck, as I had been, when I threw it back at him. I told him about the elder whose faith in God was such that he believed that, if something was not meant to happen, it would not happen. The minister was taken aback. I am sure that what I told him did not influence his view, but it was well worth saying nevertheless.

I do not think that there are any easy options. There is no ducking the issue of abortion, either, and I hope that I shall not try. I must be objective. I must accept that I live not in the world as we all want it to be but in the real world. I hear people talking about what we should do to help the handicapped, the disadvantaged and the disabled, and such objectives are perfectly legitimate and honourable. But whether their chance is one in 10 or one in 100, what should we say to an infertile couple when they come to us and say, "Mr. Hood, please give us a chance to enjoy the happiness and warmth that a child in our family will give us"? When given the choice, I do not have the courage to deny them that chance.

7.50 pm
Dame Jill Knight (Birmingham, Edgbaston)

In case the impression begins to take hold in this debate that if one has had the misfortune to have a blighted child and to have lost it, one must be in favour of the Bill, I will mention at the outset that I had two such children and lost two such children, but that I remain strongly opposed to experimentation on human beings at any stage in their development. That is certainly not because I have no feelings or understanding for the couple desperate to have a child. I have every sympathy for couples who find themselves in that position.

I would argue, however, that experimentation is certainly not the only way to find out about infertility. It is still most questionable whether experimentation on human embyros can tell us anything at all about infertility. How can an embyro that is totally unrelated to a man and a women tell us anything at all about why that man and that woman cannot conceive? I find that an odd proposition. I suppose that someone will say, "Ah, but it could be the couple's embyro." I do not think that it can, because if they have produced an embyro, they are not infertile. The argument does not stand up.

I warmly commend the idea of all possible help being given to couples who desperately want a child, but if IVF is not very successful and can lead to ovarian cysts, answers should be sought where they can be found and that is certainly not by experimentation on unborn babies at the first stage of development. Surely it is true, and all of us must recognise, that the only way in which people can explain experimentation away or accept it is by saying, "We are talking about the first stages of development."

The hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) mentioned the curate's egg. There is also such a thing as the housemaid's baby, which was "only a small one". The argument that is being used in this case is similar. People say, "It is only a small embryo, in the first stage of development, so let us not worry about it." Nevertheless, it is a serious proposition that we should use a human being for experimentation at any stage in his or her development. I hope that the House will accept that. Then does not the House at least have the duty to be sure that embryo experimentation is necessary? If it is a serious matter, let us a least have proof that it is necessary.

A great deal of information has been sent to hon. Members from doctors on both sides of the argument. If 99 per cent. of the doctors had said: "We must do this: it is the only way," the House might have been in a different position, but that has not happened. The medical profession seems to me to be divided more or less equally. One erudite professor wrote to me: The claims that experimentation on human embryos will contribute importantly to a knowledge of human reproduction, the prevention of infertility and congenital handicap are false. Certainly there are things that we need to know about preventable infertility. There is such a thing as a blocked tube, for instance. A woman may suffer from pelvic inflammatory disease, and there are many other complaints that may be to blame, but none of their causes can be discovered by experimentation on the embryo. So many of the arguments of would-be experimenters collapse when we put them under the microscope. They say that an embryo is not a human being at that stage in its development. If it is not a human being, how can it give answers to problems facing the human race? Either it is a human being or it is not. They say that embryo experimentation is the only way forward, but genetic research has been going on for years without using embryos and it will continue whether we give or withhold permission to use them.

The would-be experimenters argue that nature wastes so many embryos; it is always flinging them around like bits of confetti, so what does it matter? But nature wastes a whole lot: it wastes children, teenagers and more mature people. Thousands and thousands of people all over the world die prematurely for one reason or another. If it is argued that because nature wastes, we are entitled to use what it wastes for experimentation, why should we stop at embryos? If we are dealing with what nature wastes, there is a lot more going than an embryo or two here or there. If one believes that because nature, fate or God wastes human beings by bringing them an early death, we can put them to use for experimentation, we are on a very slippery slope indeed.

If Parliament gives its blessing to experiments up to 14 days, the scientists will not stop there. Already many authorities, from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists through to geneticists such as Professor Robert Edwards, Professor Williamson, and the Council for Science and Society, have said that they would not be satisfied with 14 days. Once the principle is established, embryos will continue to be used, because it is perfectly obvious that the older an unborn child is, the more useful it will be to the scientists.

If the principle is breached, there is no escaping the consequences. Once one accepts that a human being, at whatever stage in its development, can be used for scientific experiment, the rubicon has been crossed and there is no going back. It will be 20 days, then 50 days, and then six months. Then we shall include wasted born babies who are mentally or physically handicapped, who will be considered no use and a drag on society. Did not someone once call them unproductive mouths? Once we say that it is perfectly feasible to allow human beings to finish up on a slab, being experimented on by scientists, there is no end to it.

How will the present proposed limit of 14 days be enforced? Will an inspector go into a laboratory and say, "Stop. Wait a minute. You have had 13 days, 23 hours and 59 minutes. You will never finish that in one minute, so you must not do it." How do we seriously suggest that such a rule will be policed? How will we ensure that nowhere in any laboratory does experimentation take place beyond 14 days?

Many medical men are against what is proposed. Many handicapped people—never mind the parents of handicapped children—are against it. The hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) advocated how sad it is to be handicapped and that it is much better that such people are not born. I cannot support that.

Mr. Wigley

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Dame Jill Knight

I have only about a minute left.

Mr. Wigley

I bet.

Dame Jill Knight

Well, the hon. Gentleman had better be quick.

Mr. Wigley

I did not say what the hon. Lady said I said. She should know that I love my boys with their handicap and all. No one can take that away from me. She should be ashamed of herself for suggesting that.

Dame Jill Knight

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman should be ashamed of himself for suggesting that I said that. I did not. I said that his words amounted to him saying how much better it would be to find a handicapped foetus at an early stage and get rid of it. That is exactly what he said. That does not mean to say that he does not love his children. It means that he thinks that it is much better to get rid of a handicapped foetus. I cannot agree with that.

Even Church leaders have spoken out against that, although the Church is so divided these days that half the churchmen believe one thing and half the other. Perhaps we should not take too much notice of what the Church says. In the end, it comes down to an ethical and moral belief that human life is sacred, that none of us has the right to destroy a human being and that permitting experiments on embryos that are judged unwanted is the severest threat to human life and values since the passage of the Abortion Act 1967.

8 pm

Mr. Eddie McGrady (South Down)

I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in this debate. There have been many fine and eloquent contributions today, based on science and morality, and I thought that perhaps I should keep away from those subjects because I am not as competent as others to deal with them.

My attitude to the Bill is probably simplistic, as it is based on human dignity. That is a simple phrase, but it is difficult to define. Where the Bill enhances the prospects for human dignity, I support it. However, where it denigrates human dignity, I withdraw my support from it.

The Bill has two elements—fertilisation and experiments on embryos. I put those elements to the test of human dignity, and I found that one element complemented it and the other was diametrically opposed to it. When we talk about human dignity, we are talking about human life and all its attributes. I do not care whether that human life is 80 years old, eight years old, or eight days old. It is still human life with the dignity that I want to attribute to all human life.

I support with great compassion the in vitro fertilisation of any childless couple because that makes a contribution to human dignity—the dignity of the parents and no doubt of the child which will be loved all the more for its rarity and specialness. However, when considering the part of the Bill dealing with embryology and experimentation, it does not matter whether that life is 80 years, eight years or eight days old. The same human dignity and the same precious concept applies that I was taught to apply to my fellow man and to my neighbour, whatever age he may be. According to that principle, I am totally opposed to experimentation.

Although I am opposed to that experimentation, I have the greatest sympathy for many of the arguments in its favour, which the exponents hope in some way will expedite the day when mental and physical disability will be wiped out. We all look forward to that day and we all support that concept. However, we are concerned about the way in which we achieve that end. That is the only point on which we will differ.

In all the scientific arguments that have been made this afternoon for experimentation and the analysis of the human embryo, no one has said that research should not take place. We are saying that research into the human embryo is not the only way forward, and that it is one of the most dangerous ways forward in terms of human dignity.

Many benefits can be obtained from other methods of research, as is clear from much of the propaganda that has been sent to hon. Members from both sides of the argument. In those circumstances, we must tread warily. Having listened to the arguments today, I cast my mind back to the debates on abortion. I appreciate that we have been exhorted not to confuse the two issues, but how can I not do so? On the one hand, I am told that we must stop experiments at 14 days, because there is something sancrosanct about that embryo. However, we can kill that embryo months later. There is no logic, morality or science in that argument. There is certainly no human dignity there either.

On that basis, I ask hon. Members to consider the pro-life argument—well, pro-life may not be the right phrase; perhaps pro-human dignity would be better. We must learn from history, whether we like it or not. On every occasion in history when human dignity was denied, catastrophe followed for the society concerned.

This afternoon, people have been accused of being emotive in their approach to the subject. An emotive phrase continues to occure to me. There is a daily massacre of the innocents in this country. If I were to say the holy innocents, I would be accused of being religious so I left out the adjective. However, I believe that there is a total contradiction between killing a babe in the mother's womb at 22 weeks and doing all in one's power to preserve it in an incubator at the same age. That is the contradiction in the scientific approach.

We all know that once the floodgates are opened—I do not mean that in an emotive way, because there will not be a sudden gushing outwards—there will be a steady trickle from 14 days to 15, to 16 and to 20. There will be no way of controlling it, and in that sense I oppose completely the idea of the so-called committee of control. I support those hon. Members who have said that the committee of control must be directly and immediately accountable to the representatives of the people of this country in this House and not by way of a self-regulating quango that can distance itself and its responsibility from the Minister, who must presumably answer to the House.

I am not speaking today for the sake of the record. I am representing my constituents, in the hope of persuading and converting, and in the hope of having a logical argument so that people will accept that the Bill is not the way forward to prevent mental or physical disability or to prevent infertility. All the arguments this afternoon have been negative. They have sought to increase the efficiency of abortion and to terminate unwanted and disabled embryos. They were all negative, not positive. I hope that I have represented as fairly as I can the people who elected me to this place. I certainly represent the broad viewpont of my party.

8.9 pm

Dr. Charles Goodson-Wickes (Wimbledon)

About 14 months have passed since I spoke in a similar debate on this subject. In the meantime, work has obviously continued in in vitro fertilisation and embryology. I get the impression from today's debate that, whatever our different viewpoints and whatever the charm of having less legislation in this place, we want to make a non-partisan decision.

As a physician and a barrister, I have tried to assess the implications of an issue that is daunting in all respects. We all know the strength of feeling in the country, and it is all the more so in a constituency such as mine in Wimbledon, where the Christian tradition is very much alive and the attendance at churches of all denominations is unusually and agreeably high. I have thus consulted widely on an ecumenical basis, and a useful exchange of views has resulted.

I am well aware that, when one talks to people who are much better qualified than oneself on these profound theological and ethical issues, one feels the humbler for that. Having never worked directly in embryology, I have also consulted medical colleagues and have visited several units in which such work has been carried out under the guidelines set by the voluntary licensing authority, now the interim licensing authority. I pay tribute to a uniform standard of excellence and responsibility that reflects the very best of medical tradition in this country. As far as I know—it is confirmed by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State—following the Warnock report there have been no breaches of the rules, which have been followed voluntarily.

That leads to the question whether we need the legislation. A senior Roman Catholic in my constituency, who certainly would not agree with many of my views, said: I am not necessarily against research as such, but the public needs reassurance. I cannot improve on those wise words. The need for reassurance, both generally and to prevent such practices that have been mentioned today, such as cloning, genetic manipulation or the inappropriate use of spare embryos, becomes all the more acute as science continues to push the frontiers of knowledge.

To me, such advances are progress, but they have obviously caused unease historically, particularly when work has been carried out in connection with human life. Indeed, those who are most uneasy—and I do not belittle their feelings—tend to use the word "experimentation" rather than the neutral word "research", which is less emotive. The law must recognise changed circumstances and get the right balance.

What are the two principal issues that we are debating? The first is assistance to sub-fertile couples to have children. Surely few would object to medical science offering help to the 10 per cent. or so couples falling within that category. Although the success rate has improved markedly, there is still an enormous way to go, and such advances will be halted if the House so decides. I accept that current procedures could continue even if research could not, but why reduce the hopes of such couples for their future happiness?

It was put to me by a priest in my constituency that couples do not necessarily have the right to have children. I have a certain sympathy with that viewpoint. The assumption that we have rights in all sorts of matters has become subject to justifiable criticism. Certainly, the 25 per cent. of parents in 1988—the figures were published last week—who had children outside marriage, compared with the 10 per cent. 10 years earlier, had not exercised their responsibilities. However, the vast majority of sub-fertile couples could not, by a process of self-selection monitored by the medical profession, be better motivated and more worthy of any help that medical science can offer.

The second issue is the early detection of profound mental and physical handicaps in children. I use the word "detection" rather than "prevention". First, I accept the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe) that there is no cure as yet—and I emphasis the word "yet." Secondly, I would not presume to judge the happiness that is given and received by parents of handicapped children. We are all aware of the amazing achievements of many handicapped children against all the odds. I am not an advocate of eugenics per se. Parents should be consulted if they so wish, and thereafter it is their choice whether to seek further information and to decide whether a pregnancy should continue.

I cannot help wondering how many parents would decide to proceed if they knew that their child would be born handicapped. Some diagnoses can now be made as early as within 48 hours of fertilisation, and assessment can continue while the fertilised ovum is frozen. Placental biopsies and amniocenteses which are more traumatic and are carried out late in pregnnancy, will decrease in importance, and the incidence of late abortions, at whatever date the House subsequently decides, will decrease, to universal relief. Further safeguards in ILA guidelines have reduced the incidence of multiple births, which clearly threaten a safe birth by the mother and also the viability of under-sized babies.

I refer now to a question that I cannot answer but which all hon. Members will have to attempt to answer, as some have already tried: when does life start? On one side of the spectrum there are those who say that, in itself, the sperm or ovum has life. More commonly, it is asserted that the moment of fertilisation is the start of life. Even the definition of fertilisation is inexact. Is it the time of the penetration of the ovum by the sperm or, to be pedantic, is it to be the two-cell stage when the two genetic materials mix properly for the first time?

Other faiths, in my constituency and elsewhere, date life from the time of implantation. I was going to venture into a concept that I am not even certain is produced in the English dictionary—ensoulment. I shall desist from discussing that matter tonight, but I leave the House with the thought that identical twins presumably have different souls. We do not know when souls enter identical twins —it is a complex theory—but it can logically be argued that one cannot have a soul until the 14th day, which is the day on which the first neurological tissue is laid down. [Interruption.] I recognise that I shall not carry the House with me.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

Has my hon. Friend identical twins? I have.

Dr. Goodson-Wickes

I suggest that they do not have identical souls.

The House should bear it in mind that no fertilised egg has yet been cultured in vitro beyond nine days. Whether or not the House likes it—I suspect that many people do not—there is also a long legal precedent for productions of conception receiving relative degrees of protection. That is a long-established principle of British law.

I have sought to show that there are few if any absolutes in this contentious issue. If reassurance is in the air, Warnock provides it. We cannot turn the clock back, but we could stop it and, by stopping it, stop the legitimate aspirations of those couples who wish to develop their own happiness within the context of the family. With further research into sub-fertility—male or female—and genetic disorders, many more people will benefit from advances made as costs decrease and accessibility, which at the moment is very limited, increases. I recognise that there will be wide differences in hon. Members' standpoints, but I trust that we will respect each others views and will vote to replace semantics and scruples with science and sense.

8.18 pm
Mr. Kevin Barron (Rother Valley)

I do not wish to detain the House for too long. I welcome the Bill and the debate, which is about a fundamental issue. For many years we have debated the science of embryology and how it can or cannot help people. For most of us, science in this century, and even in this decade, has moved ahead by leaps and bounds. It cannot be right that science should move on in industry and not in other aspects of our lives. As we know that science can both create and destroy, we must ensure at all times that it is regulated and controlled.

The Bill is about very fundamental issues: at stake is the right to make decisions about parenthood. I believe that it is only through controlled pre-embryo research that choices will be extended to those who are infertile or who carry a gene disorder.

We must all know or have met a constituent or have a colleague, friend or family member whose life has been scarred because they are unable to have children. We may also know those who have been fortunate enough to have been the recipient of treatment that has resulted in a much-wanted child: treatment that would never have been available to them without pre-embryo research. Some hon. Members have questioned whether that has been of benefit to people. I find that incredible. Since the first birth as a result of in vitro fertilisation—Louise Brown in Oldham in 1978—thousands of children have been born to people in this and many other countries who would otherwise never have had the opportunity of parenthood.

But in vitro fertilisation is still successful in only 10 to 15 per cent. of treatments. For the sake of the estimated 275,000 sufferers of infertility who could benefit from IVF, it is vital that further research is conducted that will improve the present programmes. There are many known causes of infertility in men and women, and there are many that are at present unknown. Only 10 per cent. of infertile men can currently be helped either by surgery or hormone treatment, yet infertility is as common in men as in women. This is not just a women's issue, although women Members will have both opened and closed the debate for the Opposition.

One in five pregnancies ends in miscarriage. Although we cannot stop miscarriages occurring, controlled science has meant that miscarriages are better understood. However, without research little hope of a solution to these problems can be offered. Among the many organisations that have sent us their views on this Bill I, like all hon. Members, have received correspondence from the National Association for the Childless. The testimony of such people is one of the most powerful reasons to support licensed experimentation on pre-embryos.

However, it is not only the infertile who will benefit from the continuation of the research. Although we cannot say that we have had great success in sorting out the problems of hereditary genetic disorders in families in the past five years, I am sure that in time it will be possible to screeen pre-embryos from those who are at risk of passing on a genetic disease. It will enable those people to establish pregnancies that are not affected by the disease, rather than have to make the agonising decision of whether to have an abortion after weeks of pregnancy. The case for this research to continue was made to me most effectively by a couple in my constituency whom I have contacted again and who have allowed me to share with the House their experience. They wrote: We are the parents of two sufferers of Retinitis Pigmentosa, one of over 4,000 disorders that are genetically transmitted. RP is a disease of the retina of the eye. It can, in the worst cases lead to total loss of sight in youth and is the second greatest cause of blindness in the country. 25,000 families are affected. There is no treatment, no cure and no way of preventing its transmission from one generation to another … Scientists have recently begun to identify some of the genes that carry RP. In a year or two it should be possible for parents who are known to be at risk of having an affected child to fertilise embryos in vitro, test for the genetic defect, and have inserted in to the mother's womb only a defect-free embryo. This procedure would provide, for couples who want to use it, a means of ensuring that they can have children in the certainty that they will not risk passing on a hereditary disease, a dread which haunts everybody who suffers from one.

That couple then comment specifically on a clause on which hon. Members will have to take a decision on the Floor of the House if the rest of the business goes through. They state: The version of the clause that would ban all research into pre-embryos would render impossible the kind of procedure described above. It would be a terrible blow to those of us who have come to hope that it might be feasible to end the transmission of the condition that so malignly affects us. Can it conceivably be right for the nation, as represented in Parliament, to deprive so many of its citizens of one of the main avenues of progress on a matter so fundamental I said at the beginning of my speech that the legislation involves fundamental issues. I am a proud father of three healthy children and, since the Bill was given its Second Reading in another place, I have become a grandfather. I deeply believe that it would be wrong to deny people the right to have children. We need controlled science to help in that.

8.25 pm
Mr. W. Benyon (Milton Keynes)

I, too, welcome the Bill. The last time such legislation was discussed in the House, I urged my hon. Friend's predecessor, my right hon. Friend the present Secretary of State for Social Services, to speed up such legislation. The Government have been as good as their word.

One reason why I feel so strongly about the Bill is that the present position is untenable. My hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Sir M. McNair-Wilson) was right to draw attention to that in his intervention in the speech of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State. I also welcome the timetable arrangements which, I hope, we shall pass at the end of the debate. I wish that such arrangements were in force for many other pieces of legislation.

Try as I might, I cannot find any logical alternative to conception being the start of life. I have a great pile of literature on my desk from organisations and people who are trying to prove the contrary. As a drowning man clings to a log of wood when he is in the water, I stick to that definition because I cannot find any other reasonable criteria with which to deal with this important Bill. If one departs from that idea, where does one end up? What is the difference in law, in logic, in morality or in science between 14 days, 20, 30 or 40 days? My hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe) clearly identified the fact that on the one hand it is said that the experimentation must stop at 14 days, whereas at 15 days—or after that —we are quite prepared to abort the foetus.

I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) is no longer in his place, because I wish to take issue with the advice that he received from some clerics in the Salisbury diocese. Despite what was said, Christianity has never been in any doubt about the fact that human life starts with conception and ends with death. Some scientists and doctors try to chip away at each end, but it is Parliament's duty to hold the ring and to ensure that we arrive at the right answer.

I read the reports of the debates in the other place carefully. Some of their Lordships seemed to be saying that they were not in favour of experimentation, but that they felt that they could not take that view into law. In a democracy, that seems a counsel of despair. All social legislation has involved great controversy, but we have had to consider and decide those measures with our votes. This is no exception.

Crucial to our discussion on this part of the Bill is the question whether, by banning research, we are stopping or delaying progress with either IVF or the elimination of genetic diseases. I am sure that many hon. Members will make up their minds on that issue alone, and that it will be a decisive factor.

The debate is far too short to go deeply into the arguments that have been placed before us by various people in the medical and scientific professions. One thing is clear. Even in the relatively short time since Warnock, we have far greater knowledge than that Committee had. Things are moving fast, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Mr. Goodson-Wickes) said. The harsh light of publicity has shone on the matter since Warnock. As a result, we have been shown research methods and findings which were not available then.

I am not against research. All that I am against is research that destroys the embryo, as the Father of the House said so eloquently earlier. The problem with IVF is not fertilisation but the implantation of the fertilised embryo. There is no need to use embryos for research into this. We also know that genetic abornamalities are evident in the sperm or in the ovum. Therefore, there is no need to use the live embryo for such research. It can be carried out without doing that. Therefore, we must think carefully about these points and consider the technical evidence that has been put before the House.

George Orwell talked about 1984. I submit to the House that if we follow the example of the other place, we shall be only six years late.

8.31 pm
Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill)

To reinforce what the hon. Member for Milton Keynes (Mr. Benyon) has just said. If the people who pitted themselves against slavery in this Parliament 200 years ago had listened to the utilitarians of their day and accepted that it was merely a matter of private morality, the slavery laws would still be on the statute book. I do not accept that this is merely a matter of private morality. It is an issue on which everyone in the Chamber has a right to a view. It goes to the very heart of how we perceive humanity.

Lady Warnock has always emphasised the distinction between fact and opinion. I agree with her. In 1985 at Newcastle, she said that only a fool would now say that life does not begin at conception. Her committee, which drew up the Warnock report, said: Once the process has begun, there is no particular part of the development process which is more important than another … However, we agreed that this was an area in which some precise decision must be taken in order to allay public anxiety.

Lady Warnock and her committee hit on the aptly named primitive streak. As the hon. Member for Maidstone (Ms. Widdecombe) said earlier, she never once used the term pre-embryo. That was a later invention. Surely a debate which may make lawful destructive experiments on human embryos requires the clearest of language. The word "embryo" comes from the Greek and is defined as the rudimentary, initial or earliest stage of development. The word "foetus" means little one. Those code words from ancient language hide the truth that our generation seeks to deny.

Our opponents in the debate say that the embryo is just a collection of cells. That may be, but it is still a unique human being. One could say that every human being, of whatever age or size, is just a collection of cells. Just because an embryo is small, it does not mean that it is morally inferior. Others say that it is merely potential life. Not true. It is human life with the potential, in favourable circumstances, to develop fully to human maturity. In many ways, the 14-day argument concedes that. After all, as the right hon. Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) said, it must be 14 days after something. Fertilisation is the only event to which everyone of us here can point and say, "That is when I began and I have been me ever since."

The appearance of the primitive streak is a landmark, not a watershed. It is an incident in a life that has already begun. Fertilisation determines the colour of our eyes and the colour of our skin, our sex and our uniqueness—not 14 days. The conclusions that we reach about the tiny, vulnerable, powerless human embryo will later shape how we regard the status of every individual and how we perceive his or her human rights. It will determine our attitude towards disabled people, the senile, the incurably sick and the terminally ill.

This supreme human rights issue is of the highest moral significance. Those who justify destructive experiments use the classic utilitarian argument that means justify ends, that benefits outweigh costs and that it is my right to choose, even to take another human life, because it is all for the common good. We heard the word "enlightenment" earlier. Dr. Michael Hall, who was quoted in The Guardian in 1987, said on the subject of scientists' intentions in research and IVF: It would mean we could manipulate at will the genetic pool, produce super-races, modify ethnic traits, excise socially unacceptable habits—in fact produce people to order. If they had the unfettered right, unhampered and unhindered by Parliament, some of our scientists would pursue nothing less than that. Their thinking is summed up by the Oxford philosopher, Jonathon Glover, who said: For a utilitarian killing is in no way intrinsically wrong, but is only wrong because of its implications for happiness and misery.

Scientists say, "Allow us to experiment and there will be no more handicap and no more infertility." The supporters of experimentation have been constantly challenged, and I challenge the Secretary of State again today, to name a single human disease in which embryo research has led to significant cures or advances in treatment. Lord Walton of Detchant, the scientist—who favours experimentation—admitted in the debate in another place: I agree that as yet there are none.

Cures are not achieved. What is achieved is detection. One hon. Member described it as culling the handicapped. Lord Rea also told the House of Lords: We should also consider society's need to reduce by every means possible the proportion of handicapped children."— [Official Report, House of Lords, 8 February 1990, c. 958.] The House should note the phraseology. He referred to the elimination not merely of handicap, but of handicapped children, by every means possible.

Care and kill can never be used as synonyms. Quality controls and perfection tests on life are repugnant. They are defeatist. There are alternatives. Professor Hymie Gordon, Professor Jerome Lejeune, Professor John Marshall and Professor Ron Taylor, whom I mentioned earlier in an intervention, are four of the leading academics in the field. Professor Gordon said: Everything we need to learn can be learnt by studying genetic diseases in non-human primates and other animals.

Much valuable work is also being done in treating genetic conditions. That does not involve embryos; it involves research on blood or other tissues taken from adult patients. In the longer term there is also the prospect of gene therapy. I support strongly non-lifetaking research and unconditional help for disabled people and their families.

As the child enters the valley of decision, it is worth pondering for a moment where our failure to follow the maker's instructions have taken us. Within the past two weeks, there have been two graphic illustrations of our anti-life ethics. In my city of Liverpool, a court came to a verdict after a drunken driver mowed down an eight-month pregnant mum on a pedestrian crossing. The baby died, but the court was told that the unborn child did not count. The driver was given a three-month sentence and a £1 fine.

There was also the case of the King's college baby, stabbed to death through the wall of the womb with potassium chloride at 27 and a half weeks gestation. One of a pair of twins, the baby had a chromosomal defect that would have left it impotent. A letter in The Lancet suggested that such selective reduction should be called pregnancy enhancement as a more endearing description of what we authorise under British law.

We were told 23 years ago that abortion rights would not lead to abortion on demand. Today, one in five pregnancies ends in abortion—3 million since 1967. It is a cruel paradox that this Bill says that personhood begins at 14 days and after that it would be a crime to violate the embryo. However, it will remain perfectly legal to kill a foetus in an abortion for the next 26 weeks. It will also be legal deliberately to create so-called spare human embryos, merely for the purpose of experimentation. If we treated foxes, seals or beagles in that way, there would be a public outcry.

Like the abortion laws, there will be no end to what we are asked to sanction. Like the abortion laws, once the principle has been agreed, it will be difficult to turn back. The popular perception is that, once Parliament has legalised something, it must be right.

Our legislation allows abortions later than anywhere else in the world. Last year, women from 100 countries —from Mongolia to South Africa—came to the United Kingdom for late abortions. Denmark, Ireland, parts of Australia, Norway, Portugal, and soon West Germany all forbid experiments in their countries, and the House must ask itself whether it really wants Britain to be the centre of that trade.

Concern for the human embryo is part of a seamless garment. That garment is woven together by a common thread. Here is a concern for life, justice, care and worth. When one considers the degradation of life today, destruction of family life, collapse of communities and of good neighbourliness, contamination and plunder of creation, and indifference to the world's hungry and poor, one can see how that seamless garment has become a tatter of rags. That is what happens when society ceases to believe that each person is unique, sculpted in the image of his maker, and not to be treated as expendable raw material.

The Bill represents a crossroads every bit as important as that which we faced in 1967, and concerns an issue of fundamental human rights. I hope that the House agrees that to embark on the use of the tiniest human being as the subject of destructive experimentation is a dangerous departure from civilised ways. I say in conclusion to the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley), who said "Knock and the door will be opened": In as much as ye have done it to the least of these my brethren, ye have done it to me.

8.41 pm
Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East)

I congratulate the Government on an excellent Bill, on a subject that is not easy to tackle. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Health and the other Ministers concerned have done well. The Bill had a good passage through the other place. I congratulate their Lordships and the Archbishop of York on their debate on clause 11 in particular, and on sending the Bill to this House in a form that we would like to consider.

We should congratulate also this country's doctors and scientists on giving us a world lead through a combination of excellence in medical science and in moral science. Philosophers such as the Reverend Professor Dunstan, a former Queen's chaplain, deserves great credit for his work in sustaining the philosophy behind the work of Edwards and Steptoe.

I refer briefly to the subject of handicaps, in which I have a personal interest as the adoptive parent of a handicapped child. Research offers the chance of a breakthrough in helping parents who risk producing children with genetic disorders to avoid doing so. I ask any right hon. or hon. Member who is doubtful about how to vote, to vote in favour of the Bill, for the hope that such research offers prospective parents. Handicaps afflict too many people in our country, and we do not look after them properly.

I remind the House that there are 5,500 handicapped children in institutional care because their parents are unable to look after them. I know of families in my constituency who make desperate attempts to look after their children, but who find it difficult to do so. We should not seek to stop research that can offer families the chance of healthy children.

Handicapped children are often sent from pillar to post and lead a miserable life not only because of their handicap but on account of the breakdown in the family relationship that stems from it. Handicapped children surely deserve the love and care of a family even more than healthy children. I call upon right hon. and hon. Members who oppose research to do more to provide family homes for handicapped children.

I opposed Enoch Powell's Bill, and have played my part in the five-year campaign against the thinking behind his Bill. I also helped to form the campaign group Progress, which has helped to counter propaganda against the Bill and has been well supported by medical charities. The work done by the Medical Research Council and the Association of Medical Research Charities also illustrates the broad base of scientific support for the Bill. Only a small minority of scientists are opposed to the research in question. I look forward to the debate on clause 11, and to the vote on it, and I hope that I may play a part in its Committee stage.

8.44 pm
Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)

I address my remarks to members of my own party, not so much to other right hon. and hon. Members. I do not intend to pronounce on questions of morality, ethics, or pre-embryo research. Instead, I refer to the position taken generally by people on the left, not only in the United Kingdom but throughout the European Community. I do so because I believe that the debate has to some extent been hijacked by a permissive lobby which, unfortunately, often sways many of my right hon. and hon. Friends, without them giving due consideration to the implications of the issues involved.

My hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Ms. Richardson) was right to spell out Labour party policy.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

It was conference policy.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

It was a decision of the Labour party conference that the opportunities for women to have the right to choose should be maximised. That policy affects this debate as much as that on abortion.

My hon. Friend the Member for Barking made it clear that Labour Members are free to vote as they wish. When they do so, I know that they will take into account the decision taken at Labour's national conference, where millions of votes were cast in favour of a policy that we must acknowledge.

Many members of the public following this debate, and perhaps reading of it in the press, might be led to believe that Labour is dominated by people who say that it is in favour of embryo research and of a fairly permissive regime in respect of abortion. That is not the case. The Labour party's membership holds varied views on such matters. It has within it the Labour Life Group, a national organisation affiliated to the Labour party with branches throughout the United Kingdom. It holds an annual meeting, which was staged last year on 13 June at the Conway hall in London, and holds meetings at Labour's national conference. I draw attention to that organisation to demonstrate that the debate in the Labour party is far wider than it might appear at first glimpse.

Two interesting votes took place last year in the European Parliament. A vote on 16 March concerned a report on artificial in vivo and in vitro fertilisation. It emphasised the dignity of every human being from the moment of conception, the right of the child to life, and in particular the right of a child to a family. In that context, family meant the genetic mother and the genetic father. The creation of surplus embryos during in vitro fertilisation should, according to one of the report's recommendations, be prohibited. A second report dealt with the same subject from a different viewpoint.

That report was lost by only three votes—at least in respect of socialists in the European Parliament. Discarding the Conservative vote, voting among socialist Members of that Parliament was 39 votes against and 36 in favour. In terms of the number of people in the European left who cast their votes in the European Parliament, there was a clear division, with almost half the Labour group, the socialist group of the European Parliament, voting in favour of the recommendations.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

Did the vote take place on the floor of the Parliament or in a Labour committee? If that vote took place during a plenary session, the figures are extraordinary.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

I am not sure about that, but I understand that a total of 150 votes were cast. Given that the hon. Lady was once a Member of the European Parliament, she will be aware of the significance of my remarks.

It is also worth considering what has happened in other European Parliaments. I understand that socialists in Norway voted for a total prohibition and that socialists in Denmark voted for a moratorium. Socialists in France are so divided that the Bill currently before the French Parliament may have to be abandoned, while socialists in Germany overwhelmingly voted to ban research on embryos.

When we debate such matters in the United Kingdom, we should do so in the context of what is happening in the rest of Europe. It is important to remember the division among socialists in the European Parliament and the socialist groups in various Parliaments throughout the Community, which form a strong part of those Parliaments.

My hon. Friends should also note the stance of radical socialist feminists. They represent a huge international movement, which has been completely ignored by the British Labour party in the context of this debate. We should consider what those feminists have said. In July 1985 an important meeting took place in Vellinge in Sweden, at which 16 countries were represented. An organisation called Feminist International Network of Resistance to Reproductive and Genetic Engineering, FINRRAGE, was formed as a result of that meeting. That organisation has thousands of members from around 35 countries.

Before anyone shouts that it must be a Catholic organisation, I must tell the House that that is not so. It is a pro-abortion organisation, but it is opposed to research into the embryo. There is no contradiction in terms. When I asked members of that organisation about that, they explained the nature of the consistency in their argument.

As a result of the 1985 conference, FINRRAGE passed a resolution to resist the development and application globally of the technologies derived from embryo research. FINRRAGE has claimed that those technologies destroy women's physical integrity, exploit women's procreativity, undermine women's struggle for control of reproduction and are generally harmful to the interests of all women.

A document produced by that organisation for its 1989 conference states: The position of FINRRAGE is unique. The challenge in responding to these technologies from a women-centred perspective is to reorient the ethical and political discussion so that it takes account of what these technologies do to women, the primary subjects of medical and scientific experimentation in the area of new technologies. None of the dominating 'official' discussions have taken these issues into account. That organisation is complaining that the international discussion that is taking place about such research completely disregards and dismisses the contribution that radical women can make.

The second international FINRRAGE conference took place in Dhaka, Bangladesh in March 1989. There are now women in 35 countries on all continents participating in the network. The FINRRAGE document produced for that conference states: This conference focused on issues affecting women from the North, South, East and West and how we can work together to resist reproductive and genetic engineering. The Comilla Declaration adopted by the conference provides a basis for our work worldwide.

Those women, who regard themselves as "critical feminists," are exploring three areas—the link between genetic engineering and reproductive technologies, the different meaning of the new productive technologies for Third and First-world women and what the application of such reproductive and genetic engineering will mean for women in the future, as well as now.

That radical women's organisation is based in all the major countries. It meets regularly and it has branches in various parts of the United Kingdom. It is highly organised in western Europe, and its representatives believe that the debate on embryo research disregards their position. We cannot disregard the views of those women. They form part of the European left and they have a voice to be heard.

8.55 pm
Mrs. Ann Winterton (Congleton)

I should like to begin by quoting from a document published earlier in the session by the pro-research organisation, Progress, which is entitled "Freedom to Choose". The quotation has already been used in the debate, but it is worth repeating; those advocating human embryo research state: Research using human pre-embryos is not, and never has been, concerned with treatment of genetic disorders, or chromosomal abnormalities. Those who pretend that that is not the case are playing coldly, cruelly and callously upon the quite understandable fears, hopes and frustrations of those who suffer from genetic disease and those who care for and love them.

What some scientists are seeking is the right to perform destructive research upon perfectly normal, healthy human embryos, for the sole purpose of perfecting techniques for seeking out and destroying other handicapped embryos.

The ban on destructive human embryo research that we propose would not prevent a woman with a history of genetic disease from declining to have implanted within her an embryo created though the in vitro fertilisation programme that had been found to be defective or deformed. To that extent, those who mistakenly believe that such pre-implantation screening holds any real hope of eliminating handicap would still be able to follow the process. What they would not be able to do is to destroy other perfectly healthy embryos in developing new techniques for destroying handicapped ones.

It should be remembered, incidently, that the Royal College of Physicians had some wise words in its report entitled "Prenatal Diagnosis and Screening" published in September 1989. It said: Most infants with congenital malformations and chromosomal disorders are born to health young women with no previously identifiable risk factors. It seems unlikely that these sporadic disorders can be prevented.

A ban on human embryo research would not prevent improvements and developments in the IVF programme. Many of us who support that ban are not opposed to IVF. A friend of mine is currently undergoing IVF and I naturally very much hope that she and her husband will be able to conceive and to bring forth a healthy baby.

I realise only too well that this is often the last hope for many couples, and I would not wish to see the IVF programme stopped. We also understand the problems faced by infertile couples and believe in research on the causes of infertility and to help in the treatment of those who are infertile. I would not like anyone to run away with the idea that we do not have compassion for those who cannot conceive easily.

We need research into dead embryos which fail to implant. As another colleague said, no living embryo will show why a particular embryo cannot implant. Specialists need to garner the dead embryos and experiment on them to find out why they have not implanted and to carry out other research for the woman.

We must ask, "What is the purpose of research?" I have come to the conclusion that it is not to prevent handicap. The only way in which research can prevent handicap is by seeking out and killing the handicapped embryo. We also know that there is a hidden agenda behind that research and those experiments—to develop new abortifacients and contraceptives for the Third world. We all know that a vast amount of money is involved in developing those new drugs, and we must face that fact.

Even as we speak, progress is being made without the use of human embryo experimentation. I shall mention two of the exciting developments in molecular biology, which have arisen in the short time since the Government introduced the Bill to Parliament. The first one involves muscular dystrophy. The Times of 11 January stated that scientists in Oxford had identified a minigene in muscular dystrophy which prevented serious disability and could be used in the future for treating severe cases of muscular dystrophy by gene therapy.

The second example involved cystic fibrosis, in which I have an interest because one of my godsons has the condition. The identification and isolation of the cystic fibrosis gene allows detailed study of the function of the protein involved. That will lead to specific pharmacological and gene therapy for cystic fibrosis. In The New England Journal of Medicine of 1 February this year, the rhetorical question is posed: Moreover if the current studies of the molecular pathophysiology of cystic fibrosis yield, as anticipated, novel therapies that extent the quality and span of life for those with cystic fibrosis to the age of 40 or 50 years from the current median of 20 years, will elective abortion of an affected fetus be justified? Genuine help for society will come from advances in the treatment of those disorders, not in the destruction of the few which can be identified at the embryonic stage.

In my comments, I have dealt almost exclusively with the new, bankrupt arguments peddled by those who wish, for reasons of their own, to promote research on human embryos as the panacea for all the ills in our society. They are perpetrating a cruel hoax, which I hope the House will reject.

In future debates, I intend to table a number of amendments to the Bill to seek to curb the worst abuses of the artificial insemination by donor services. That matter was raised by many peers during recent debates in the other place. The Government's response was to include in the Bill a new subsection in clause 13 which states: A woman shall not be provided with treatment services unless account has been taken of the welfare of any child who may be born as a result of the treatment, and of any other child who may be affected by the birth.

I welcome the new wording, which acknowledges the welfare of children as a priority, but it does not go far enough and is far too weak and woolly. I strongly believe that, in the best interests of the child born, treatment should be given only to married couples or to a man and woman living together in a stable relationship. The child so born should have the right to know its genetic background at the age of 18, and there should be an automatic right for the child to know how it was conceived. There is nothing to be ashamed of, so I would have thought that society would not want to hide the way in which the child was conceived.

There should also be safeguards on the number of donated eggs or sperm, to cut down on unwitting incest. Most importantly, the name of the social or non-genetic father of the child should not appear on the birth certificate under the heading of "father", but the phrase "by donation" should be used. It is quite wrong for a new life to begin with a lie that will last the length of that life. We should surely encourage honesty and truth and acknowledge that new techniques are being used to help parenthood, that those new techniques should be recognised in law, and that the children resulting from them should have their rights protected by the law.

It is essential that the Secretary of State be responsible to the House and the people of this country for the work of the licensing authority. I served on the Standing Committee examining the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Bill, which was an excellent piece of legislation. It makes no sense to treat human beings worse than we would treat animals. It is vital that that concept be reintroduced during subsequent stages of the Bill, which we shall debate with a great deal of interest.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

Order. The House will wish to know that the winding-up speeches are expected to begin at 9.30 pm. Many hon. Members who have sat here most of the day still want to speak, so I appeal for short speeches to continue.

9.6 pm

Mrs. Audrey Wise (Preston)

This Bill is entitled the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, thus encompassing a huge, delicate and controversial topic. The House would have enough on its plate dealing with only that subject.

I want to mention some aspects that will get in the way of proper consideration of the embryology part of the Bill. The long title of the Bill says that the Act will make provision in connection with human embryos and any subsequent development of such embryos", which is a strange and rather sweeping statement. We are all, after all, the subsequent development of embryos. I wondered how far this matter might go. I realised that if certain hon. Members were determined to extend the scope of the Bill to take account of the interests of the foetus, I should be prepared to enter into an argument about that.

However, we now learn that new clauses relating only to the termination of pregnancy will be accepted. If we are to deal with foetuses in the Bill, why cannot we deal with, for example, the proper nourishment of expectant mothers, so that their foetuses can develop properly? Why cannot we deal with the fact that many pregnant women are so poor that they cannot eat properly, thereby prejudicing the chances of their foetuses? Why cannot we deal with the fact that young girls have particular problems that lead to damage to the development of the foetus, resulting in a much higher incidence of perinatal mortality?

Why cannot I table amendments to deal with social security matters to put those problems right? If we are concerned about the subsequent development of the foetus, I should have the right to do that. Why allow the Bill to be hijacked by those whose only interest in the foetus is abortion?

Mrs. Ann Winterton


Mrs. Wise

No explanation has reached my ears during this debate, and I have listened to all of it. I strongly disapprove of the fact that the interests of pregnant women and their foetuses are being excluded from a Bill that is supposed to be being extended to deal with foetuses. Certain hon. Members are interested only in abortion, not in the unborn child or its development after birth. If the House were so interested in the welfare of children, many women would not feel the desperation that drives them to seek abortions.

The hon. Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham) did the House a service in drawing attention to the fact that many handicapped children have miserable lives that could be made less miserable if there were any intention on the part of the House or society to do so. I should have welcomed a non-partisan approach to such questions and problems. I do not welcome a myopic concentration on the subject of abortion.

We have been told about the importance of language, and I agree that it is important. I have listened intently while we were accused by implication of being pro-slavery. It has been said that the likes of us would not have wanted to see an end to the slave trade. We have been accused of being in favour of experiments on little children, and a picture has been painted of the massacre of the innocents taking place in our country. It follows that, if there is a massacre of innocents, people are massacring them. Sometimes I do not feel very optimistic when I look around our society, but I am not so pessimistic as to think that I am surrounded by people who massacre innocents. I am often surrounded by women who have enormous problems and desperate feelings about them. I should like to see the House reduce the causes of that desperation.

The hon. Member for Wimbledon (Dr. Goodson-Wickes) told us that even the moment of fertilisation is somewhat moveable. Leaving that aside, we have been told that from the moment of fertilisation there is a human being and not a potential human being. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) specifically objects to that phrase. He says that, from the moment of fertilisation, there is a human being with potential.

With respect, the hon. Gentleman is talking nonsense. It is a potential human being and, if the circumstances are right, the fertilised egg may develop into a human being. It has been said that many do not and that, if nature if so profligate, perhaps it is not so sinful to agree that it would be proper for good reason to use those embryos to improve the lives of children who will be born. I do not object to that reasonable proposition. The embryo is not a human being. In an ectopic pregnancy the embryo cannot develop into a human being, but it is a fertilised egg, an embryo.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Wise

I shall not give way in a 10-minute speech. An ectopic pregnancy cannot result in the development of a baby.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

It could kill the mother.

Mrs. Wise

Exactly, so it is not in itself a human being, cannot be regarded as such, and cannot develop into a human being.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Wise

The hon. Member for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman) should respect the rules of the House and keep her silence unless she is on her feet.

Those who say that they have an absolute concept of life do not in practice follow their own advice.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman


Mrs. Wise

No hon. Member, with hand on heart, could say that he or she has a total respect for life, in all circumstances—

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Wise

—otherwise there would be no vote for capital punishment, no money would be spent by our society on weapons of war—

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Wise

—there would be no export of armaments from this country, which encourages people to think that they should earn their living by exporting armaments. They are instruments of death—

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Wise

—yet some hon. Members say that they accept the absolute concept of life from the moment of conception. There has been a good deal of hypocrisy in this debate. There have been some good, thoughtful speeches, but I side with those who say—

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Wise

—that hon. Members ought to show some humility. I hope that hon. Members will exercise their conscience in the Division Lobbies, but I hope, too, that they will remember that they represent people with an equal right to exercise their own judgment and conscience.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman


Mrs. Wise

I am surprised that the hon. Member for Lancaster calls out, "Rubbish."

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

I ask the hon. Lady to give me a chance by giving way.

Hon. Members

Give way.

Mrs. Wise

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for an hon. Member to harass another hon. Member? It is not often that I crave the protection of the Chair, but in this case I think that that protection has been noticeably missing.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Time is extremely short. I thought that the hon. Member for Preston (Mrs. Wise) was perfectly capable of protecting herself; otherwise, I should have intervened earlier.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for Preston (Mrs. Wise) keeps referring to me, yet she will not give way when I rise courteously to my feet to ask a question.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Points of order are prolonging the length of this speech.

Mrs. Wise

I regret that my speech may inadvertently have been lengthened by the disorderly conduct of the hon. Member for Lancaster.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

No. The hon. Lady would not give way.

Mrs. Wise

I am pleased, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you considered me to be capable of taking care of myself. I shall always endeavour to do so. I should be sorry if my point about the importance of our conscience, and of the conscience of those whom we represent, was overlooked because some hon. Members believe that only they are the guardians of morality and conscience.

9.17 pm
Mrs. Elizabeth Peacock (Batley and Spen)

This has been a long debate. Strong feelings have been expressed —perhaps a little more strongly in the last few moments. Our constituents also have strong feelings about the subject. We, as Members of Parliament, listen to the arguments, but many people misunderstand the subject.

I have always been totally against embryo research at any stage. I, together with many people, wish the time limit for abortions to be reduced. This is an ideal measure to discuss the matter. Many people are not against abortion per se. I am not against abortion. Nevertheless, the time at which some abortions take place has become a national scandal. When we debated the matter some time ago I said that the figures suggested that we were becoming the foetel dustbin of Europe. The problem is growing worse, not better.

We need legislation and I hope that the House, in its wisdom, will decide not to allow research on human embryos. If it does, we shall be on a slippery slope that will take us to where the scientists think we should stop. Scientists will wish to push back the frontiers of science if they can decide whether they should stop. The House should not give scientists the opportunity to do that because we will be saying in future, "God help us. Why on earth did Parliament allow that to happen?"

Many people oppose the use of embryos for research purposes on moral, Christian and other grounds. Many of us reached that view after considerable thought and after many discussions with people on both sides of the debate. We all have sympathy for people who cannot have children. We are not legislating that they should not be given the opportunity, but we should also consider that no person has a God-given right to expect to have a child, although we hope that medical technology can help many couples and make them into a complete family, if that is what they wish.

Many people in Britain with handicapped children do not want future generations to gain from experiments on human embryos, and they have made that clear to me in many discussions. They have a right to that view and we should take it into account.

It would be difficult to allow research on human embryos up to some arbitary cut-off point, as such legislation would be difficult to enforce. I had hoped to discuss various parts of the Bill that I consider would lead to a free-for-all, but time is limited. I hope that we will return to the issue later.

How many researchers would jeopardise future funding or professional reputations which could be established by one or two extra days' experimentation on a human embryo? Who will say, "The 14 days are up; no more experiments"? Who will have the knowledge to take such a decision? All embryos do not look the same. As some may look 12, 13, 16 or 18 days old at 14 days, it will be very difficult for any licensing body to police the legislation.

It is difficult, if not impossible, to reach a rational view about the overall impact of the legislation when so much of it will be dealt with by statutory instruments. I urge Ministers to ensure that the House has plenty of time to discuss those regulations and statutory instruments, and that they will not be whistled through late on Thursday nights when some Members may not be present. We need to discuss those regulations extremely carefully.

There is much concern about the membership of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority. It is proposed that the majority of the research licensing committee be made up of researchers. That would be rather like employing child molesters in a nursery school. We do not want such legislation being sanctioned by the House. It is such an important issue that we may not get the opportunity to discuss it in full again for perhaps another decade or possibly two, so we must ensure that when the Bill finally reaches the statute book after completing its Committee stage, we have in place exactly what right hon. and hon. Members believe should be there. There must be no comeback other than on the regulations laid down by the Government.

9.24 pm
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy) will understand that some of us were pained and distressed by his speech. He talked about the eugenics of a brave new world. What can that mean other than that cross-species fertilisation, as allowed in the Bill, will lead, he thinks, to the creation of human and animal hybrids? Therefore, I should like to ask some direct questions of the Department and the Minister.

Will the Minister confirm that fusion between human sperm and the egg of an animal is allowed under the Bill in only specific and tightly controlled circumstances? Will she confirm that that involves the procedure normally known as the "hamster" test, whereby human sperm is mixed with specially prepared hamster eggs to test the sperm's ability to fuse with an egg membrane? Will she confirm that the coating of the hamster's egg is dissolved chemically to allow the penetration of sperms from another species? Will she confirm that, without the removal of that coating, fusion with human sperms would be impossible?

After three hours' incubation, the eggs are removed and inspected for evidence of fusion between the sperm and the egg plasma membrane. The hamster eggs, which in any event are non-viable, are then discarded. The hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key), with his membership of the Medical Research Council, knows how critical a factual statement is on those points.

The hamster test is used in the development of male contraceptive agents and in the study of chromosomal abnormalities of human spermatozoa. Will the Minister confirm that there is absolutely no possibility of hybridisation between human and hamster cells?

The genetic constitution of the cells is completely incompatible, and even if the period of incubation were extended the hamster eggs would degenerate spontaneously because they have no developmental potential following fusion with human sperm. Without its outer covering, would not the egg of any species, fertilised or not, quickly lose its viability? All sorts of fanciful stories have been put around about hybridisation. The sooner they are out of the way the better.

I turn to the more common argument that has been used in the debate, and it was put most strongly by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Dame J. Knight). What is the point of pre-embryo research, which has not produced a cure or treatment for genetic disease or chromosomal abnormality?

There is some confusion about the aims and potential of pre-embryo research. It has never been claimed by serious people in Edinburgh or anywhere else that this research is carried out that it will produce a cure for genetic disease or that it will be used as a general method of screening genetic diseases. Rather, it has been claimed that it will be able to prevent the passing on of such disease for couples who are at substantial risk.

Once a couple have borne a child with a genetic disease, or are known to carry a deleterious gene that is highly likely to be passed on to their offspring, they may opt in the next pregnancy for the genetic testing of the conceptus antenatally. At present, that is done by taking some of the waters that surround the foetus at about 16 weeks of pregnancy or by taking a small sample of the placenta at about 10 weeks.

In either case, the diagnosis of an affected pregnancy leaves the woman with the distressing choice of whether to proceed to an abortion.

I shall stick scrupulously to the time available to me. For 23 years, I have been a weekly columnist for the New Scientist. My colleagues will understand that, as such, I am a receptacle for many letters. There have been pained letters from people who strongly feel that embryo research should not go ahead, but there have also been many long, serious, pained letters from those who are carrying out the research and who feel that they should have a voice in the House of Commons debate and that they are helping humankind by the work that they do, often in extremely distressing circumstances.

There is emotion on both sides of the argument. Some of us strongly believe that the researchers are doing their work in good faith and using their skills for the benefit of mankind and that they should have a voice in future debates.

9.30 pm
Ms. Harriet Harman (Peckham)

Two strongly held opposing views have been put forward in the debate, which has ranged across moral, ethical, conscience and science questions. It has not been a debate between those who have a moral conscience and strongly held moral convictions and those who do not or, as the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) said, a debate between moralists and utilitarians—rather, it has been a debate between those whose moral convictions would have them ban research and those, like me, whose moral convictions lead us to support the continuation of research. It is not a debate between those who have a conscience and those who do not. My hon. Friend the Member for Preston (Mrs. Wise) put this well in her speech —it is a debate between Members whose conscience would lead them to different conclusions.

Mr. Alton

That is not quite what I said. I said that there were utilitarians on one side of the argument and, on the other, those who reject the utilitarian point of view. I do not think that there is a monopoly on morality, but we have to have at the centre of our debate a concern for life. Does the hon. Lady accept that those of us who support research do so based on the precondition that that research does not lead to experiments that destroy life?

Ms. Harman

Those of us who support embryo research also believe that we support life. If the hon. Gentleman will allow me, perhaps I may develop my arguments, which show why my moral convictions and conscience lead me to support embryo research up to 14 days.

There are deeply held views on both sides of the argument, which have sprung from a decision to protect and enhance human life and a sense of religious conviction. There are many different views on the beginning of life, and it was helpful to hear from the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Sir D. Steel), who gave the most lucid explanation of the pre-embryo stage of development. His words echoed those of the Archbishop of York in another place who, in effect, said that there was no doubt of the wonder of the moral world and the religious significance of personhood, but that the transitions on the way to it were not clear, clean-cut and decisive, despite the tremendous significance that some people would give to the moment of fertilisation. The hon. Member for Wimbledon (Dr. Goodson-Wickes) pointed out that the precise moment of fertilisation was being brought in question the more we know about that process.

I support the view that there is a valid place for research but that special safeguards are needed. Fourteen days appears to represent in the process of development an identifiable biological transition. It is right that there should be no research beyond 14 days. It is easy for those of us who do not need the research perhaps to overlook or undervalue its benefits. We should listen with humility to those men and women whom this research is designed to help.

Those of us who have never struggled with the misery of infertility, those of us who have not had repeated miscarriages and those of us who are blessed with healthy children are indeed fortunate. But there are thousands of couples in Britain who are not so fortunate. We must listen to their voices when they ask us to allow the research to go ahead.

One couple in eight suffers from infertility. To some, that figure is unbelievably high but it is the interim licensing authority's own estimate. The figure is higher than we realise because of the sense of shame and the stigma that still attach to infertility. Men feel ashamed to admit that they cannot make their wives pregnant and feel that it somehow reflects on their manhood. There are women who believe that they are not real women if they cannot do what other women seem to take so easily for granted.

Whatever the causes of infertility, its result is plain: thousands of people's lives are blighted by their inability to have a child. It does not matter how happy someone's marriage or how satisfying his or her work is; infertility can leave a terrible gap in the lives of people who want a family.

The shadow of infertility has reached down through the centuries, but medical research, including embryo research, is beginning to lift that shadow little by little and now the diagnosis of infertility can be the beginning and not just the end of hope. Microsurgery to clear blocked tubes, drug treatment to encourage ovulation, conception outside the womb by in vitro fertilisation and artificial insemination—whether by donor or by husband—have led to many thousands of babies being born.

But although we have made tremendous strides, there is still a long way to go and many scientists believe that we can improve the success rate of IVF. At present, the treatment succeeds with only between 10 and 15 per cent. of couples who try it. Let us speak plainly about this: we cannot realistically increase the success rate of IVF without further research. Those who would ban embryo research say that they want IVF to continue. The only reason why we know how to perform IVF is that we have undertaken research and it would be wrong to end that research before it makes a breakthrough.

Mr. Brazier

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Ms. Harman

I know what the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) will say. He is fortunate because his IVF treatment was successful. Let me remind him, however, that 90 per cent. of the couples who go through the treatment that he and his wife went through do not succeed. I hope that he will vote with me to give them the chance that he has had.

Mr. Brazier

The evidence based on the voluntary licensing authority's figures is that the success factor in IVF is not the presence of destructive embryo experimentation but the number of IVF procedures that the clinic has carried out. That is why the large, long-established clinics are the successful ones. Moreover, the second most successful clinic in Australia is in an area where experimentation is illegal.

Ms. Harman

I have to accept the view of the Association of Medical Research Charities, the Medical Research Council and the Royal Society, which take a different view. They feel that the success rate of IVF will increase, but only with further embryo research.

At least 275,000 couples in the United Kingdom could benefit from IVF, so an increase in the success rate is important. I pay tribute to the important work of the assisted conception unit at King's College hospital in my constituency. Not only does the research need to improve: we need increased services. It is wrong that if one suffers from infertility that is amenable to treatment, one's ability to get that treatment will depend on whether one has the money to pay for it in the private sector or whether by chance one lives in one of the few places where it is available on the National Health Service. We need more services as well as more research.

Many couples are never able to find out why they cannot have a baby. About 40,000 suffer from unexplained infertility. Further research is needed for them, too. Perhaps the people to whom we should be listening most carefully are people such as the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley), who have had a child with a genetic abnormality. Every year in the United Kingdom, 14,000 babies are born with genetic defects passed on by their parents. Some of those defects are so serious that there is no hope for the child, who suffers terribly and dies after a few weeks or months.

I want to refer to a specific case. When Clare was born she seemed perfectly normal, but a small area of peeling skin developed into blistering and bleeding. She was diagnosed as having epidermolysis bullosa, which is a genetic disease that results in blistering and sheering of the skin if it is so much as touched. The blistering destroys the outer skin layers and can affect the body linings, leaving the sufferer unable to eat. Clare suffered raw sores from the middle of her back to the top of her leg so she could lie only on her front. Her parents continually bathed her and changed her dressings, but they could not cuddle her. Just to touch her made her skin peel.

Clare suffered terrible pain and her short life ended at the age of 83 days. Parents like Clare's face a terrible choice once they discover that they carry a genetic abnormality. For most it is unthinkable to have another child only to stand by helplessly while it suffers or dies. The alternative is to have ante-natal screening and to face the difficult decision of aborting a much-wanted pregnancy.

Embryo research offers those parents the prospect of testing the embryo outside the womb and of re-implanting into the mother only an embryo that is clear of the gene that she or her husband carries. No one is arguing that screening should be compulsory. It would be up to the parents. However, it is clear that people whose children have died as a result of genetic defects want the chance of a healthy baby. If embryo research was banned, they would be denied that choice. To lose a baby through miscarriage is terrible. About 75,000 women in the United Kingdom this year will miscarry. However, many suffer the misery of repeated miscarriage. Further research offers them the hope of understanding the cause of repeated miscarriage and a chance to treat it.

Embryo research also offers the prospect of developing better contraception. People have talked about the importance of devoloping contraception because of the Third world. However, women in this country will testify that the search for safe and effective contraception is far from won.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy) said that there is a lamentably high level of abortions in his city. He is right. There are 200,000 unplanned and regretted pregnancies in this country every year. Contraception is still difficult, and threatens the health of many women. The possibility of developing a contraceptive vaccine that imitates the natural condition of infertility would give much hope to women in the Third world as well as to women in this country.

Of course embryo research must be carefully monitored and controlled. The Bill would outlaw research that was carried out simply to satisfy scientific curiosity. It would outlaw research unless it was carried out under licences granted, renewed and reviewed by the statutory licensing authority. Under the Bill, experiments to cross animal cells with human cells or cloning would be illegal. My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) was right. The allegations about the thin end of the wedge have no foundation. We are talking about legislation and making law. The Bill would give a criminal limit of 14 days. The idea of slipping past 14 days is sloppy talk and not worthy of this House.

The continuation of embryo research is a matter of conscience. Of course there are two sides to every moral question. However, my conscience makes me listen to the voices of people who cannot have children and to the voices of those who have watched their children die. I hope that the House will vote for the continuation of embryo research as a chance to end their suffering.

9.44 pm
The Minister for Health (Mrs. Virginia Bottomley)

The debate has been characterised by authoritative speeches about subjects on which there are strong feelings in the House. We have had a range of speeches in which hon. Members have spoken from individual experience and according to their strongly held views about the ethical, scientific and medical issues involved. Many hon. Members have referred to the great number of briefings that they have received from outside organisations. We know quite well that all who are involved in this vital subject are deeply concerned to ensure that careful thought is given to the proposals for legislation. There is overwhelming agreement that the time has come for a strong statutory framework to control these important matters.

It is invidious to pick out particular speeches from the many that we have heard, but I must refer to the speech by the Father of the House, my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine), who spoke with great feeling about the respect to be afforded the embryo; the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe), who spoke with her customary fluency and passion about abortion matters; and the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Dame J. Knight), who spoke about her fear that 14 days might be the thin end of the wedge.

On the other side of the argument, we heard the eloquence of the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Sir D. Steel), the moving speech by the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley), who spoke with great dignity born of personal experience, and the thoughtful remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Sir C. Morrison). Many of the issues that they raised were mentioned in another place, and I am sure that we shall return to them when clause 11 and schedule 2 are debated in Committee. At this stage, I should simply say that they are complex issues, and it is important that we give them our considered, thoughtful and clear deliberation.

No one has questioned the profound significance of these matters. I urge hon. Members to study the debates on human embryo research in another place which attracted an especially high level of argument and clarity and were informed by mutual understanding of deeply felt and sincerely held views. I hope that we can rise to the challenge in this House when the time comes. These matters are of the greatest significance, and the Government will achieve one of their main objectives if the legislation that we enact is framed with as much sensitivity to opposing views as is practicable. When the time comes for hon. Members to cast their votes on amendments, they must decide each for himself or herself, in as calm and dispassionate a way as possible, what the right course should be.

I do not think that it is necessary for me to add to what my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State said about human embryo research, as there will be ample opportunity to do so when clause 11 and schedule 2 are debated—if the House agrees to the splitting and timetable motions in the name of my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House. However, it would be appropriate for me to say a word or two about abortion, as all hon. Members must now be expecting that subject to be debated.

Mr. Tam Dalyell

On the subject of embryo research, will the Minister confirm that the answer to all the questions that I have asked her is yes?

Mrs. Bottomley

I am extremely happy to confirm the answer in the affirmative to all the important points made by the hon. Gentleman, who speaks with knowledge and expertise on scientific matters.

Miss Widdecombe

No, he does not.

Mrs. Bottomley

My hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone always has an authoritative comment on all subjects that are debated in the House. I hope that she may be able to join us in Standing Committee so that we may benefit from her further advice and guidance on this important subject.

My hon. Friend recognised that we were anticipating that abortion would come within the scope of the Bill. As on previous occasions when abortion has been debated in the House, hon. Members have expressed strong, deeply held and widely differing views on the matter of conscience. Some hon. Members have already made up their minds on this question, but many of us are undecided and will want to weigh up the conflicting views before we, too, reach a decision. If, as seems likely, abortion amendments are debated on the Floor of the House, each hon. Member will have to decide for him or herself how he or she should vote.

The House needs no reminder from me that this Government, like predecessor Governments of both main political parties, are neutral on the ethical question of abortion. Like individual hon. Members, members of the Government hold divergent views on the matter. The Government can therefore have no collective view of the merits of any abortion issues that the House may decide to debate.

One of the main responsibilities of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, which will be set up by the Bill, will be the task of licensing centres that undertake such activities. It might be helpful if I take this opportunity of reminding the House of the range of infertility treatments that the Bill seeks to regulate. They include in vitro fertilisation, commonly known as IVF; donor insemination, often referred to as artificial insemination by donor or AID; egg donation; and embryo donation.

The hon. Member for Barking (Ms. Richardson) and my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes were also concerned about whether GIFT—gamete intrafertilisation transfer—should also be regulated by the Bill. Two principles govern policy in the Bill about the treatments that are to be licensed. The first is that they involve donated gametes or embryos and the second is that they involve the creation of an embryo outside the body. Those principles have been developed because in each case there are questions about the embryo's legal status or statutory controls about what should happen to it. Neither principle applies in the case of GIFT.

The Government are firmly committed to setting up this statutory authority. It is thanks to the interim licensing authority, led by its chairman, Dame Mary Donaldson, that although there has been no formal legislative control, since 1985 that task has been carried out in a most competent way.

But the Government consider that the time is now right to fill this legislative vacuum and put this control on a statutory basis—to give the authority the clearer powers currently lacking, and perhaps, but more importantly, to provide the public with the certainty and confidence which only statutory control can provide in this very fast-changing and technically innovative field of science and medicine. I believe that that meets the agreement of the whole House.

We have chosen to set up an independent statutory authority to remove the day-to-day detailed consideration of these very sensitive matters from the political arena. I know that this decision, which has been mentioned by several hon. Members, is a disappointment to some who would have preferred direct ministerial control of the licensing system. This decision was, however, taken only after the most careful consideration. During our consultations before the publication of the 1987 White Paper, a number of options were put forward. The support for an independent body was overwhelming.

My hon. Friend the Member for Edgbaston asked about how the controls would be enforced and how the system would be policed. The Bill gives the new authority detailed licensing powers over the centres that it licences —to make directions about general and specific matters and to give guidance to centres through its code of practice. Where necessary, it has the powers to revoke, suspend or vary licences. Its staff will be required to inspect the premises at least annually and, should any significant breach of the licensing conditions be discovered, the authority will have the power to take quick and effective action against the centre. In addition, clause 37 contains an armoury of penalties if offences are committed.

Sir Bernard Braine

How often will the House have the opportunity of surveying or debating the activities of that body?

Mrs. Bottomley

My right hon. Friend is aware that an amendment was accepted in another place that envisaged that the new authority should report to the Secretary of State not every other year, but every year. That report will, of course, be available for the scrutiny of hon. Members.

My hon. Friend the Member for Devizes and the hon. Member for Barking (Ms. Richardson) questioned the use of the licence fee in this area. Increasingly, the standard practice is for licensing systems to be largely self-financing. There are many examples of that, including the registration of nursing homes, planning applications and licences under the Medicines Act 1971. The portion of the centre's licence fee directly attributable to the patient's treatment is likely to be small and should be regarded as part of the running costs of the centre.

The Bill places on the authority a duty to maintain a code of practice giving guidance to centres about the proper conduct of activities licensed under the Bill. As I have said, that guidance will be published. I have no doubt that the authority will be sensitive to public and parliamentary opinion in deciding its contents. The code will provide guidelines on a range of issues including, not least, guidance for those providing treatment on how to take account of the welfare of any child born as a result of treatment covered by the Bill and of any existing children.

All hon. Members will agree that the inclusion of the recognition of the welfare of children—a point that was important to my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton)—which was agreed in another place, is an important improvement in the Bill.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling) referred to surrogacy and to a constituency case. The status of genetic parents if children are born to surrogate mothers under the present law may soon be determined by the courts. It would serve no useful purpose for me to speculate further on the position under the present law. The House will be aware that the Government's policy is that legislation should not encourage surrogacy arranged privately or on a non-commercial basis. The Bill provides that surrogacy arrangements will be unenforceable. I am sure that the Committee will come back to the points made by my right hon. Friend's constituents and to their experience.

The Bill covers an area in which there is currently no statutory control. I recognise that there are and will remain, strongly and sincerely held differing views about these complex and sensitive issues. We all agree that they are of great importance to the society in which we live. The Government believe that there should be a comprehensive legislative framework to cover the new procedures and to provide for the legal status of children born as a result of them. Clearly, that must be in the public interest and the interest of the individuals involved.

We are committed to ensuring that the legislation provides a coherent framework which is properly understood, commands full public confidence and serves the needs of our society. I hope and believe that all right hon. and hon. Members share that aim.

In his opening speech, my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State emphasised that the Bill is the result of a lengthy process of widespread consultation, discussion and debate. Some preliminary views have been expressed about several central issues such as embryo research. The Government are anxious that Parliament should decide on these complex and often controversial questions in the light of as much information as possible. It is important that we have all had time fully to consider and reflect on the views put forward. We wanted a mature judgment to be made on the matter—mature because the opportunity was provided for a full assessment of the facts and a sustained debate on the ethical, scientific, legal and social questions.

The speeches that we have heard today putting the arguments on both sides of the main issues, particularly for and against research, have been evenly divided, especially among Back Benchers. They demonstrated the authority and views of many people.

The Government believe that it is essential that a statutory framework of control should be established and that the time is right for a decision to be made on what those controls should be on the matters of conscience in the Bill. That decision should reflect the individual views of each right hon. and hon. Member. My right hon. and learned Friend has made clear the position in respect of Ministers. The Bill provides the mechanism for those decisions, and on that basis I ask the House to give the Bill a Second Reading.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.