HC Deb 20 June 1990 vol 174 cc937-75
Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead)

I beg to move amendment No. 6, in page 2, line 35, at end insert— '( ) bringing about the creation of an embryo other than in the course of providing treatment services,'.

Mr. Speaker

With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments: No. 7, in schedule 2, page 29, line 32, leave out from 'authorise' to 'keeping' in line 34.

No. 8, in line 41, leave out paragraph (d).

No. 9, in page 29, leave out lines 44 and 45.

No. 10, in page 30, line 1, after 'authorise,' insert— '(a) the administration of a substance to an embryo for the purpose of ascertaining the properties of that substance in relation to the diagnosis, treatment or prevention of disease, or (b)'.

No. 11, in page 30, line I, after 'authorise,' insert— `(aa) any activity designed to develop more effective techniques of contraception, or (b)'

Mr. Field

The House has decided that it will allow research on embryos. When we voted last time, there was an option before us—we could either vote against or for research. The House gave a clear undertaking about what it wished. I wish to propose a third option that was not considered during that evening when we, as a Committee of the whole House, considered the Bill. That option is that there should be research, but embryos should not be created merely for the sake of research, but only, as they are now, for the treatment of patients.

The current law is that all embryos that are created belong to patients and that research can occur in two circumstances. First, it can take place on embryos that are not used in the current round of infertility treatment. Secondly, a much more rare opportunity arises for research on embryos that are not used in the current round of infertility treatment, but are frozen and used later.

As I understand the law, in those circumstances the patient will have a major say about what happens to those embryos. The clinics that conduct such affairs in the best way include Bourne hall in Cambridgeshire. There, not only are patients and researchers consulted, but the clinic has an ethics committee that considers whether research should be allowed.

Therefore, amendment No. 6 and the consequential amendment No. 7 are designed to put on the statute book what most of us understand to be the current and best treatment.

When an amendment is moved, the mover is sometimes accused of trying to wreck a decision that the House has already made. Some people may have that as their motive, but I do not. If anyone says that mine is a wrecking amendment, they must answer two questions. First, if the amendment were passed, to what extent would what appeared on the statute book be different from current arrangements? Secondly, under the new arrangements, which authorities could not undertake research that they now undertake? If mine were a wrecking amendment, presumably one would be able to answer those two questions.

I have tabled amendment Nos. 6 and 7 because although I accept that the House has made a decision about research, I want to ensure that what we understand by current practice and best behaviour is placed on the statute book. Therefore, the choice involves best practice or changing current procedures of linking the creation of embryos to the treatment of patients. If the amendment is not accepted I fear that we shall open up the possibility —I put it no higher than that—of creating embryo farms. That is a different decision, I think, from the one that we made in Committee.

Sir Bernard Braine (Castle Point)

I am happy to support the amendment moved by the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field). As the House knows, I have always been opposed to research that involves the destruction of a human embryo. I accept, as I think the hon. Gentleman accepts, the decision by the majority to allow research up to 14 days, even though I voted against it. The amendment is a reasonable compromise and I support it because it seeks to establish some limit on the research that we have already sanctioned. Therefore, it is not a repeat of what the majority decided in Committee.

At the outset of one of the most important debates in the Session, I should like to make clear what I think the amendment will and will not do. It allows human embryos to be created only for the purpose of providing treatment for infertility. Therefore, it will not stop in vitro fertilisation. It does not put any limit on the number of embryos that may be created, to be used as part of a course of such treatment. Nor will it stop all experimentation on human embryos. Spare embryos which remain after IVF and which are destined, alas, to die can be used for experimentation.

What the amendment will stop, however, is the creation of human embryos purely and solely for research. To allow such research is totally unacceptable to many hon. Members and to many citizens. The amendment is not a ban but a compromise that does not give a free-for-all to the experimenters. The Bill cannot be allowed to stand in its present form.

Mr. Frank Field

I am puzzled by the hon. Gentleman's use of the word "compromise". I tabled the amendment not as a compromise but as a clarification of what I understand the status quo to be in research. The amendment places no restrictions on research. If hon. Members want to place restrictions on such research, they must do so by supporting later amendments. I repeat that the amendment is not a compromise but seeks to place on the statute book what I understand to be current best practice.

Sir Bernard Braine

I stand corrected, and accept what the hon. Gentleman has said. "Compromise" was not the best word to have chosen. However, under the Bill as it is presently drafted, doctors and scientists can deliberately create a human being who will have no chance of developing in its mother's womb or of being born. It will be experimented upon and destroyed within days. I find this one of the most repugnant aspects of these developments, because it means using a human being as a means to an end.

At the start of our debate, we should stand back a little and ask ourselves, as I ask the Minister, where we are going. Have we given sufficient thought to developments that have been occurring in the field of human embryology or what is likely to happen in the years immediately ahead? For example, the Warnock report was published six years ago and the notion then of creating embryos purely for research horrified many people, including many hon. Members.

I was told by British and French scientists only yesterday that developments in the freezing of female eggs which are not yet human beings have progressed so rapidly that the time could soon come when the freezing of embryos may become obsolete. There would then be no need to freeze an embryo, which has a totally different status from the gamete, which has no hope of life unless it is fertilised. That is an important distinction.

I emphasise that there can be no doubt that we are dealing here with human life at its very earliest stage. In all our debates on the Bill, I have said—and I shall say again —that, with the fertilisation of a human egg by human sperm, a completely new human being begins who, if that being is ensured an appropriate environment and nutrients, has all the potential to grow and develop to adulthood.

Can we accept that it is permissible to create a new life only to destroy it? In my book, that would be flagrant abuse of the medical skills which have surely been developed to create and to uphold life, rather than to destroy it. Admittedly, the newly fertilised egg or embryo —he or she; the sex of the embryo is determined at that stage—will have to pass through many stages before adulthood. When we speak of an embryo, we are speaking of a human being at the beginning of that journey.

Surely our intention must never be to start a life merely in order to deliberately destroy it. As I said earlier, the amendment concerns a limit on research—it is a question of degree. It seeks to set a limit on the purpose for which a human embryo can be created. Therefore, we have to ask ourselves, "What is the right use to make of a human embryo?"

4.15 pm

All lines of research are not permitted in other areas. Surely medical ethics requires us to draw the line at some point. I contend that the boundaries of research must be determined by the status of the subject. I call in aid the declaration of Helsinki, which clearly states: in research on man the interests of science and society must never take precedence over considerations relating to the well-being of the subject. Therefore, one thing is crystal clear to me: it is unacceptable to treat the human embryo as experimental material.

David Short, professor emeritus in clinical medicine at the university of Aberdeen, who is one of my advisers, has pointed out to me that there is a world of difference between experimenting with an embryo and with a blood cell. The human embryo is a complete individual with the potential to become a child, a young person and an adult —perhaps even a genius. A blood cell is no more than a replaceable part of a human body.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

As a member of the university of Aberdeen, does the emeritus professor speak with the authority of the existing department of biology there? The answer is no.

Sir Bernard Braine

I am not going to answer for the professor. Advisers to the pro-life group in the House, which covers all political parties, are drawn from professors emeritus whose names are world famous. I shall not go into the qualifications of a distinguished figure from the medical world. I am as entitled to quote him as the hon. Gentleman is entitled to quote the authorities upon whom he places reliance.

Without the amendment we would be creating a category of sub-humans purely for research, who can be destroyed with impunity in the course of such research. The pro-experimenters and the Government, too, are asking us for the right to create a sub-human category for experimentation, seemingly for the benefit of mankind. This Bill, unamended, would give them that right. So, in our arrogance, we would start down the slippery road of accepting that the end justifies the means. That may sound extreme, but it is what we will be doing with human embryos unless the amendment is accepted.

It is prefectly true to say that the medical world is divided on the issue—I allow that. The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists tells us that we should allow the creation of embryos which are intended purely for research purposes to continue. It does not say why, but merely tells us that such research is an essential part of research on factors which influence the process of fertilisation". I have information to the contrary. The creation of embryos purely for research purposes is not necessary to improve IVF procedures. In Victoria and South Australia, where embryo research is banned, clinical practice has not been affected adversely. In Victoria, the take-home-baby rate is better than in any other centre in the world. It is not better by a large margin, but it is better. That suggests that what the Bill seeks to do is not strictly necessary. Indeed, it may not be necessary at all.

So what are embryos wanted for? The House is made up of intelligent men and women. Surely they should not only ask that question but press for an answer. The two main problematical areas in the development of IVF are the culture medium and methods of embryo transfer. That is a proper field for research.

What is the real reason why a free-for-all in embryo research is required? Is not it true that embryos are wanted for drug testing and new contraceptives, not only for IVF treatment? In those activities, there are vast fortunes to be made. Let us face the reality of what lies behind the Bill. Therefore, I commend the amendment to the House before it is too late and we start travelling down a road which we and our descendants will bitterly regret.

Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon)

The Father of the House, the right hon. Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine), will not be surprised that, once again, I have a different opinion from him on these matters. The words that he used showed where our differences lie. He believes that the pre-embryo at the one, two or three-day stage is a human being in its own right. I respect his opinion but he knows that I do not share it. As we start from different positions, we may be led to different conclusions, as at earlier stages.

I suggest there are several reasons why we need to examine the matter carefully before incorporating the amendment into the Bill. I accept the reasons given by the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) and his rationale. I remind him that simply because Bourne hall, which we all respect for the work that it does, does not necessarily need the techniques does not mean that other reputable research establishments may not need them. It depends on the emphasis and type of research undertaken. It does not necessarily mean that valid, acceptable research —assuming that we do not ban all research—could benefit from using such techniques.

I also wish to examine the wording of the amendment, especially the term "treatment services". The term is defined in clause 2 as medical, surgical or obstetric services provided to the public or a section of the public for the purpose of assisting women to carry children. It is a general term. Such services are not intended to assist a specific woman to carry a specific child. Therefore, even if the amendment is passed and includes the words bringing about the creation of an embryo other than in the course of providing treatment services", the term "treatment services" could mean services to help women in general to have children rather than to help a specific woman to have a specific child.

Mr. Frank Field

indicated assent.

Mr. Wigley

I am glad to note that the hon. Member for Birkenhead agrees with that interpretation.

That might mean that, if the wording of the amendment is incorporated in the Bill, it would not be as restricitve as some of us fear. My next few comments will apply in case the interpretation of the wording is restrictive. The House would benefit if the Minister could clarify the interpretation that the Government and their legal advisers would put on the wording.

The Father of the House seeks a restrictive interpretation of the wording. I understand his way of looking at the matter, but we must agree to disagree. If the interpretation is restrictive, valuable research could be lost. The type of research that could be lost falls into several categories. First, there is research on fertilisation for the benefit of those who have difficulty in conceiving. Those undertaking such research would seek to improve the level of knowledge in an area that is poorly understood at present. It is critical that, in improving the rate of fertilisation, the techniques employed do not lead to abnormality. For that reason, those undertaking such research will from time to time need to ascertain how the cells develop, at the four-cell and eight-cell stage, to identify any abnormality. That would involve the creation of embryos for the purpose of establishing whether there is likely to be an abnormality.

If the meaning of the words in amendment No. 6 implies acceptance that that can be done, because it will in the generality help people to have children, that is a very different interpretation from that which the Father of the House placed on the wording of the amendment. If I understood his words correctly, he was seeking a restriction of the kind I described. Fertilisation research is important, as is maximising the help available to those affected. Such research would be undertaken on donated eggs during treatment.

Mr. Frank Field

I understand the amendment in the way that the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) interprets it. Therefore, the course of treatment that he describes would be safeguarded if it were passed. What would not be permitted would be the creation of embryos specifically for the purpose of furthering contraceptive techniques, for example. I was careful to ensure that no such riders were incorporated in the amendment. If restrictions are wanted, it will be for hon. Members to move amendments later, if they are lucky enough to have them called, and we may then vote separately on them. However, I am totally with the hon. Gentleman as he develops his argument.

Mr. Wigley

I am grateful for that helpful intervention and to know where the hon. Member for Birkenhead is leading the argument. We may not agree on some of the implications, but in the first step, he and I are in agreement that certain research would be allowed. However, I suspect that other hon. Members would not want to see even that research undertaken.

Research is important in understanding, for example, why so many chromosomal abnormalities occur at or shortly after fertilisation. If it is possible to detect and better understand such abnormalities, that will clearly help the generality of women to have babies without some of the problems that might otherwise arise, which could lead to a child being handicapped or to the loss of the baby during pregnancy. I assume that such work is acceptable to the hon. Member for Birkenhead.

Attempts are also being made to develop polar body biopsy—though I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman for Birkenhead finds that acceptable also—and to improve the sperm's ability to fertilise the egg in cases of male sub-fertility. I assume that the hon. Gentleman would certainly find that work acceptable. I imagine that a fourth category of research is not acceptable to the hon. Gentleman, judging from his earlier intervention. I refer to the development of contraceptive methods. Clearly, that is another issue that may divide the House—but in a different way from the basic divisions between right hon. and hon. Members regarding the Bill in general.

I personally believe that contraception is important and that it is for countless millions of people an essential part of life. If contraception has acceptance in theory and is permissible in our society—I believe that the majority of people in these islands wish it to be—it is important that it should be as effective as possible. If one accepts the concept of contraception and methods of contraception that may involve the termination of pregnancy in the case of an embryo that is only a few hours old, clearly there are plenty of arguments for allowing research into more effective ways of doing that.

However, if one shares the view of the Father of the House, that in the embryo of only a few hours there is a human being, one would obviously take a different view of such research. If one does not accept contraception of that sort, one will not accept the case in favour of improving its effectiveness. I suggest that that question has to do with the acceptability or otherwise of contraception rather than the need to undertake research or the need to prevent it.

4.30 pm

Research is also concerned with the care and treatment of eggs before fertilisation. It is essential that eggs fertilised in vitro are then allowed to undergo several cell divisions to check that their later development is unimpaired. I imagine that the hon. Member for Birkenhead will accept such research as valid.

Questions also arise in relation to the freezing of unfertilised eggs involving the creation of pre-embryos in the cause of the project. At present, only pre-embryos can be frozen successfully, so that pregnancies may result when they are thawed and replaced. It would often be more appropriate and convenient to store unfertilised eggs and then, following fertilisation, to replace them singly in the womb in subsequent cycles. This would avoid multiple pregnancies and their complications and would be more ethically acceptable to some.

However, before fertilisation, the chromosomes are attached to a fragile spindle, which tends to disintegrate on cooling and rewarming. Research is under way to find freezing and cooling methods that will not result in chromosome abnormalities. That research is also needed, and I imagine that the hon. Member for Birkenhead would consider it valid, because it would help those with difficulties in having children.

There appear to be three schools of thought: those of us who would accept research, including research into methods of contraception; those who want to restrict research, as I believe the hon. Member for Birkenhead intends; and those who do not want research at all and who want the amendment to be passed as a step in the direction of preventing research altogether. It is important that the House should have guidance on the interpretation and implications of the amendment should it become law. Whichever line of argument one follows, it is important that we should know what the amendment would do, and I hope that the Minister will give us a clear lead on that.

Dame Jill Knight (Birmingham, Edgbaston)

I support the amendment, for a reason that has not yet been touched upon, although I believe that the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) referred to a farm. I am troubled about the economic value of an embryo. There is no question but that embryos could have a good marketable value. They are extremely valuable pieces of human tissue —even if that is all some people consider them to be—and there is no end to the ingenuity of the human being when it comes to making money.

The better we understand the nature of the gates that we are opening, the better qualified we shall be to vote on the amendments and consider the implications of the Bill. Already, there is not the slightest doubt that some people outside this place want the doors to be opened. When it is seen that not much research can be carried out on such a tiny human being, they will push for a longer period of experimentation.

If that happens, people will be able to find out more and more about handicap and the other matters that the House has discussed during the passage of the Bill, and the further we go, the more valuable these tiny human beings will become. I am sorry to say this, but it is true and we should understand it: if we are not careful, we shall give an easy way of making money to those who may need it and to those who certainly want it.

Nowhere in the Bill is it forbidden to buy and sell embryos; indeed at this moment, the buying and selling of embryos is perfectly within the law. I thought that that was one of the matters which the Bill was designed to stop—the present legal trade in human flesh. If we permit the gratuitous creation of embryos in test tubes for no purpose other than research, I fear that we shall give many people a way of making a quick buck. We should understand how dangerous this research is, and no hon. Member should underestimate how valuable these tiny human beings could be on the open market.

The House should not create such a market, which it will unless it is careful, and unless it accepts the amendment.

Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill)

I am happy to support the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Dame J. Knight). Most hon. Members would be repelled by the idea of a human embryo of the smallest of our species being used for exploitative or speculative purposes. I hope that the Secretary of State will comment on that when he replies to the debate.

I support the tone of the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) in moving the amendment. As the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) said, there will be differences in hon. Members' views. I freely admit that I am opposed to destructive experiments on human embryos. However valid research is said to be by those in favour of it and whatever achievements it might bring for humanity, it does not justify the destruction of the smallest of our species. We must be careful before sanctioning such experimentation.

That is why the Bill is restrictive. Although I do not much like it, I recognise that in some parts it at least attempts to be restrictive. It is therefore in keeping with the existing restrictions. If we say that a line is to be drawn at 14 days, beyond which experiments will not be permitted, it is perfectly in keeping for the hon. Member for Birkenhead to clarify an issue that Lord Jakobovits, the Chief Rabbi, raised in the other place—whether we should authorise the deliberate creation of spare, extra embryos merely for the purposes of experimentation.

The hon. Member for Caernarfon used the expression "pre-embryos". Depending upon which side of the argument they fall, hon. Members use different expressions. The word "pre-embryo" did not appear in the Warnock report, but it has been used as shorthand by those who would rather not admit that it is the earliest form of life. There is no point, other than fertilisation, at which we can say, "That was me, that was the point from which I began." It is dangerous for Parliament to authorise any interference with that life from the moment of conception. That is why I believe that anything that we can do today to restrict the excesses of the Bill will be worth while.

The hon. Member for Caernarfon implied that hon. Members who hold a different view from his are luddite or antediluvian in their attitudes and against all research. I think that we know each other well enough to know that that is not the case. I am not opposed to research that does not involve the human subject as the guinea pig. But once one accepts that conception is the point from which life begins, it is impossible to countenance, in reason or logic, interference for any purposes, however supposedly justifiable people say they are.

Mr. Wigley

I did not intend to call the hon. Gentleman antediluvian, although we disagree on this matter. I was saying that there is a difference of opinion among the Father of the House, the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Birkenhead who moved the amendment. The hon. Member for Birkenhead accepts certain destructive research, whereas I suspect from his comments that the hon. Gentleman does not.

Mr. Alton

I am happy to accept that point. I support the hon. Member for Birkenhead because his amendment represents a restriction that I believe we would be wise to place in the Bill. However, the whole Bill is restrictive. I do not think that even the hon. Member for Caernarfon accepts that there should be destructive experiments or research beyond 14 days. The House has already said that there will be certain restrictions. It is therefore proper for the hon. Member for Birkenhead to argue his point and for me to support it, although I would prefer no destructive experiments to take place.

Mr. Frank Field

While I am grateful to any hon. Member who speaks in favour of my amendment, and even more to those who will vote for it, does the hon. Gentleman not agree that it may be confusing for some hon. Members if those supporting the amendment argue in absolutist terms against research? We had and lost that debate in Committee, and it is not the point of my amendment.

Mr. Alton

That is absolutely true. The amendment attempts to isolate the issues. Although many of us felt that it was a tragedy when the House decided to allow experimentation in certain circumstances, today we have a chance to set to one side the emotionally loaded arguments about in vitro fertilisation and handicap. We have the opportunity to decide the specific question whether to create embryos merely for the purpose of destructive experimentation. Was that the wish of Parliament when it voted for something that did not give us the chance to vote for specific nuances or detail?

Mr. Kevin Barron (Rother Valley)

I was not on the Committee, but does the hon. Gentleman accept that in passing schedule 2, the Committee agreed—not many Conservative Members spoke against it—that licences could be granted bringing about the creation of embryos in vitro"? The hon. Gentleman says that the House has not agreed to that, but it has.

Mr. Alton

I accept that that is what the House voted for—I am sorry that it did. Now, I am glad to say, we have the chance to re-examine one aspect of that. At that early stage, we did not have the chance to distinguish between different forms of experimentation and research. However, we have that chance today. Before the hon. Gentleman suggests that all the arguments were put in Committee by all the hon. Members who take a pro-life view, let me remind him that, despite an assurance from the Leader of the House that the make-up of the Committee would be commensurate with the votes cast in the two-day debate, and although more than 30 per cent. of hon. Members supported the pro-life argument, only two of the 18 Committee members held pro-life views. Because the Committee was rigged—I use the word deliberately—I do not think that it was possible for all the points to be properly argued.

Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

The hon. Gentleman said earlier that he wanted debate on the amendment to be stripped of the emotions that had divided hon. Members earlier. If he continues to speak as though "pro-life" meant his and no one else's point of view, his use of language is totally unjustified. He will not get my support if he pretends that he is being unemotional when in fact he is deliberately seeking to raise emotions and to distort the views of those who disagree with him.

Mr. Alton

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman takes that view. I can only express to the House my profound misgivings about what Parliament is being asked to authorise. The hon. Gentleman must make up his own mind. I want the debate to be on record, so that, when future generations consider the inconsistencies and illogicalities that now exist in this country, they will know that not everyone sanctioned what Parliament is now agreeing.

It is extremely distasteful that, in a country where people take violent action in opposing experiments on animals—I dissociate myself from such actions—we should sanction experiments on our own species. That cheapens human life, and treats it as no more than expendable raw material. That is at the heart of the Bill. The amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Birkenhead will not change all that, but he is trying—in line with the philosophy of the Bill—to incorporate reasonable safeguards and restrictions, so that excesses do not occur. I think that the majority of hon. Members would agree with that.

Sir Bernard Braine

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that more safeguards exist in regard to animal experimentation —I refer to the formation of the governing body, which is the licensing authority—than are provided by the Bill in its present form? Should that not be a matter of grave concern to the House?

Mr. Alton

I am certain that it should. If we debate the amendment in the name of the right hon. Gentleman concerning accountability to Parliament—an issue on which even my right hon. Friend the Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Sir D. Steel) would surely support him—I hope that the House will agree that, when we authorise action that concerns all humankind, those who carry out the experiments should be accountable to Parliament. Without incorporating those safeguards, and those that the hon. Member for Birkenhead so rationally and calmly proposed, how would that be possible? It is with some enthusiasm that I support the amendment.

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

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) tabled the amendment. If he had read the report of the debate in another place, he would have realised why their Lordships rejected the proposal so strongly. It does not stand up at all.

The hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) gave six medical reasons why the research is necessary; I wish to add a seventh. I have a note from the Medical Research Council concerning the micro-injection of sperm, which is of use in treating oligospermic men. Apparently, that treatment should not be carried out without research. I believe that two patients had the treatment in Italy because the licensing authority in this country refused to sanction the work without research. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Birkenhead would rather allow experiments on women than allow the research, but I believe that the research should be allowed.

Morally, the amendment does not stand up. The Rev. Professor Gordon Dunstan advanced the arguments very well. Unfortunately, the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) wants to rehearse all the old arguments. One is that, if we are to allow research, we should ration it to just a little research. That has no moral foundation. Another is that we should allow research on one class of embryos but not on another. That surely creates two types of human being. We should not discriminate.

My strongest argument against the amendment, however, is that, if it had been in existence earlier, we would never had had test tube babies and all the research that was carried out before the birth of Louise Brown by Steptoe and Edwards. They were creating embryos to see the conditions that were necessary for them to survive and grow in a test tube.

We should reject the amendment on moral as well as medical grounds. I am sorry that so far hon. Members who have spoken have failed to recognise that, because the arguments were put so well in the other place.

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

The hon. Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham) suggested that the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) had missed the point of the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field), but I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman himself missed the point. I am in favour of in vitro fertilisation and research on its behalf. I am opposed, however, to destructive research, which is the point behind the amendment.

The basic position of many hon. Members and the uneasy position of others who could not join us in the debate a few weeks ago is that nothing should be done to the embryo except for its own good. Even the hon. Member for Bolton, North-East almost conceded that it was a human life, although he quickly qualified his position. I put that point to the Secretary of State in the debate on Monday 23 April.

Mr. Wigley

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Duffy


Mr. Wigley

I should just like to clarify a point.

Mr. Duffy

I give way.

Mr. Wigley

The hon. Gentleman said that the purpose of the amendment was to avoid destructive research. Is not it true, judging by the comments of the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field), that the mover of the amendment accepts destructive research for certain purposes? Therefore, that is not the point of the amendment.

Mr. Duffy

The hon. Gentleman's comments show why I was reluctant to give way. I put my point quietly and I hope that he will allow me to develop my argument. No one prevented him from developing his argument. We listened to him with great understanding and sympathy, as we always do.

One fertility centre that understands the ethical problems well is the Sheffield fertility centre. It stated: Here the emphasis is on IVF the natural way, using the one egg normally produced. Drugs are used only in rare cases, when women do not ovulate. The centre said that the latest results show that one in four women who finally receive an embryo become pregnant, although not all run to term. There is no risk of multiple births, overstimulated ovaries, or spare embryos. With no drugs, the cost is considerably lower. Those are not my words, but the words of the Sheffield fertility centre.

I understand that the university of Sheffield's infertility clinic at the Jessop hospital for women runs a natural cycle programme, with emphasis on developing a follicle without excessive stimulation so there is only one follicle and hence only one embryo to deal with. This does away with many of the ethical problems about "spare" embryos.

The right hon. Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) —the Father of the House—reminded us of a point that cannot be made too often. In earlier debates, those who hold a different view or who entertain the possibilities of research, but in a different way, got away with too much. The Father of the House reminded us that we can have all the benefits which even the pro-researchers claim they want without creating human embryos for use solely in destructive research. Human embryos were not, and are not, needed for developing or improving artificial fertilisation techniques. As with all medical research, all preliminary work can and should use non-human subjects. Human embryos are not needed for testing drugs. They have not been used in any recent discoveries in identifying and locating such diseases as Down's syndrome and cystic fibrosis. That point has been made in the House before, but it cannot be made too often.

There is no reason to suppose that future progress will depend on human embryos. There is nothing to be learnt from experiments on human embryos which cannot be discovered from non-human material. We must ceaselessly try to conquer genetic diseases without human embryo abuse. Parents at risk of having disabled children can be fully "protected" without any destructive research using human material. The production and the use of human beings for research which is not for their own benefit—treating them as things to be exploited as laboratory material, which is my basic point—are morally objectionable and unnecessary.

Having said all that, I am prepared to move in the direction proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead and to allow the creation of spare embryos which will die. The essential point is that embryos will not be created specifically for the purpose of destructive experimentation. Only spares will be used, and on that point I can move far enough to support amendment No. 6.

Mr. Kenneth Hind (Lancashire, West)

I support the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) and amendment No. 6, having voted against research. I share the view of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy)—although I support IVF, I am totally opposed to destructive research.

I shall set aside the matters with which the House has dealt. We must consider what is before us objectively, as one issue. The amendment would control the use of spare embryos for the purposes of research and nothing more. By limiting the amendment to "providing treatment services", the hon. Member for Birkenhead has provided a definition that will exclude many uses.

I share the view of the Father of the House, my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine), that when an embryo is fertilised, an individual is created. I do not subscribe to the view that there is a pre-embryo period of 14 days when, in effect, nothing exists but that, at the end of that period, there is an embryo capable of growing into a human being. The most offensive aspect of the Bill as it stands is that it means that embryos can be created, used and destroyed. That means destroying embryos which, if implanted in the mother's womb, would have grown into human beings. To destroy embryos is totally unacceptable to me, to my colleagues on both sides of the House and to those who share the view of the all-party pro-life group in the House.

My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Dame J. Knight) has expressed one of our reservations: there is no effective control in the Bill over the creation for the purpose of research of embryos which can be sold on. A trade could develop and embryos would, in effect, be sold on for any purpose or any use. Those who share my view regard that as totally unacceptable and an insult to humankind.

Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury)

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Hind

I should like to finish my argument and then I shall happily give way to my hon. Friend, who disagrees with my view. We can discuss this matter until we are blue in the face, but we will never agree on certain fundamental matters of principle that divide us.

The point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Edgbaston is valid. How would those who support the Bill in its entirety and oppose amendment No. 6 stop a trade in fertilised embryos? Where will it lead us? It will lead us down a slippery slope, down which many hon. Members will not logically want to go in any circumstances.

Mr. Key

I think that it will do a lot of good. The very reason that we are enacting this legislation is that there are no controls. We are seeking to give a framework of control. My hon. Friend says that there might be a trade so that embryos could be used for any purpose anywhere, but he is utterly wrong. It is a matter of fact, not a matter of opinion. I hope that we can agree that the legislation is designed to overcome that problem.

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Mr. Hind

I take my hon. Friend's point. He may be interested to know that in 1986 I introduced a private Member's Bill to protect the unborn child for the very reason that he put forward: that there was no legislative protection for the unborn child at that time. It is something that I believe in. Many hon. Members share that view. I am pleased that my hon. Friend shares it. It all depends on how far it is taken. Hon. Members who support the amendment feel that it should go further.

Three major arguments are important to amendment No. 6. The first is that it will have no effect on in vitro fertilisation. That is very important. That has been put to me by parents who are infertile. Secondly, and most important, it will prevent the creation of embryos for research and ultimate destruction. Thirdly—to bury the argument put by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham)—it is my considered opinion that if this amendment had been in operation, the research that was carried out by Professor Steptoe and Professor Browne which led to the IVF implantation of fertilised embryos and consequently the birth of children would have continued. They were not thinking in terms other than the fact that they were providing children for infertile parents. Purely and simply, that was their aim. They took it no further. They were not thinking of research to further contraception which this amendment will prevent. That is a fundamental argument for the amendment.

Mr. Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill)

I concur entirely with the hon. Gentleman, but is not it also the case that destructive experimentation is the cheapest and easiest way to proceed? Is not that the reason why many people favour that approach? The more complicated approach requires effort and time devoted by people such as Professor Lejeune to non-destructive forms of research.

Mr. Hind

We are at risk of going down the same route as in the previous debate. I agree with the hon. Gentleman, who cited Professor Lejeune on Down's syndrome. Effective research has been carried out in the area of handicap without the use of embryos. A large amount of research can be carried out without using embryos.

The impression gained is that there is no other means of solving the problem of infertility other than the use of embryos. Many of us recognise that that is nonsense. Destructive research is something that I deplore and oppose. I fully support the amendment that stands in the name of the hon. Member for Birkenhead.

Mr. Dalyell

I put two factual questions to the Minister. The first concerns money. The Father of the House, the right hon. Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine), referred to the vast fortunes that can be made. He talked about a free-for-all. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Dame J. Knight) spoke about a quick buck and tiny human beings on the market. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) spoke about speculative purposes. Finally, the hon. Member for Lancashire, West (Mr. Hind) referred to the trade in embryos. Is not it a fact that that would be impossible under schedule 2 if the law were adhered to? Has the Department any evidence of money changing hands in the purchase of embryos? Is there any evidence that this has ever happened?

The Minister said that nothing could be learnt from research on human material that cannot be learnt from "non-human material". My understanding from some biologists is that that is not factually so. On account of the organic nature of the experimentation, some experiments really have to be done on human material. I ask the Minister to put on record, albeit briefly, the technical advice that she has received from the Department.

Ms. Harriet Harman (Peckham)

I rise to oppose amendment No. 6 and to comment on amendment No. 11.

I support the hon. Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham), who referred to the weakness of the moral arguments in support of amendment No. 6. It is illogical to support embryo research on a basis that would restrict the use of embryos specifically created for research so that one could not use embryos specifically created for research. The IVF programme would never have gone ahead had we not had the creation of embryos specifically for embryo research. It is also illogical to distinguish between embryos created for research and those which are the by-product of treatment.

If one takes on board, as this House has done, the importance of the objectives that the research has, and if we are prepared, under very specific safeguards, to use embryos for the purpose of research, a distinction thereafter has to be drawn between those created specifically for research and those created as a by-product for treatment. There is, however, no moral, compelling basis for the distinction.

The hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) invited the House to consider what the amendment actually means. How restrictive is it? I welcome the fact that the Minister of State has been invited to interpret the amendment. However, that is not good enough. If the amendment is not clear to the hon. Gentleman or to me, how can we include in the Bill an amendment which might or might not severely restrict the availability of embryos for research?

Mr. Wigley

There has been a difference of interpretation in the speeches tonight. A number of hon. Members have said that the amendment would allow only spare embryos to be used for research. That was not the implication of the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) when he responded to the earlier intervention. That will need to be clarified, or votes will be cast on different bases.

Ms. Harman

My point is that it cannot be clarified, because the amendment is confusing, and therefore defective. We cannot leave it to be clarified by the Minister while it remains unclear on the face of the Bill and has to be sorted out in court. The House has a responsibility to make clear laws. Ministerial interpretations of what a Bill means are useful, but they are not the end of the matter, and they will not do. Therefore, I shall listen with interest to what the Minister says, but we cannot have a "We'll see you in court" attitude.

Mr. Frank Field

I hope to deal with the substance of my hon. Friend's argument if the House allows me to respond to the points raised on the amendment. However, we should not omit to note that a lawyer is saying that it is bad news if the Acts that we pass are taken to the courts for interpretation. I thought that that was the most fundamental part of our legal system.

Ms. Harman

I do not want Parliament to pass a Bill which contains an ambiguity which creates work for lawyers and anxiety for researchers. We have to produce clear legislation and reduce the scope for ambiguity. Assuming that the Bill reads as it says, there is a scientific problem. My hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field), who moved the amendment, asked which authorities considered that there would be a problem for research if the amendment were accepted. The list is obvious: it includes the reproductive biology unit at Edinburgh, the assisted conception unit at King's College in my constituency, the Medical Research Council, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and Robert Winston. The consensus of medical opinion among those involved in the research is that the amendment would prevent research which needs to go ahead.

I am not suggesting that medical opinion is unanimous. We can all find someone who takes a different view. However, I hope that I am not misleading the House by saying that the overwhelming balance of medical and scientific opinion among those who are involved in the research is that the amendment would create a terrible restriction and frustrate the will of the House as expressed in its support for clause 11.

Mr. Thurnham

Does the hon. Lady agree that the licensing authority would allow research to go ahead only if it considered that that research was necessary? Therefore, it is arrogant of people to assume that research is not necessary, when the people who examine it so carefully will allow it to go ahead only if they consider that it is necessary.

Ms. Harman

I absolutely agree.

Mrs. Ann Winterton (Congleton)

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Ms. Harman

I shall, but I do not want to give way too often, because I do not want to take up too much time.

Mrs. Winterton

Is it not true that the way in which the licensing authority is constituted will affect the number of licences and the reason for those licences being given? Does the hon. Lady agree that we are prepared to protect animals from research more than human beings? I served on the Committee which considered the Animal (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 which provides much greater protection for animals.

Ms. Harman

I remind the hon. Lady of the safeguards in the Bill. She seems to have no confidence in those safeguards or in the statutory licensing authority.

Mrs. Winterton

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Ms. Harman

I shall not give way. The statutory licensing authority has a legal frame of reference that we have agreed, saying that research will not be allowed unless it cannot be carried out except on embryos. The statutory licensing authority has to satisfy itself that any research cannot be carried out on animal tissue and has to have one of several specific objectives. Therefore, to say, "They would, wouldn't they?" of the statutory licensing authority is unsatisfactory.

Let me identify the specific problems that the amendment would cause to research that should be allowed. Unless embryos are created for the purpose of research, research which centres on the process of fertilisation will not continue. Many chromosomal defects arise around the time of fertilisation. We need to learn more about the conditions in which that fertilisation takes place that lead to those chromosomal defects, so that we can understand how diet or other factors may be able to prevent chromosomal abnormalities arising on fertilisation.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy) said that research on embryos would not help prevent Down's syndrome, but some researchers take the view that research could be undertaken on the prevention of Down's syndrome if the process of fertilisation were better understood. Understanding the process of fertilisation is important in understanding subsequent miscarriage.

Mr. Alton

Will the hon. Lady give way?

5.15 pm
Ms. Harman

I shall not give way again, as the hon. Gentleman has made his speech. I might relent later, but I shall press on for the moment.

Reference has been made to micro-injection, whereby the sperm is injected into the egg because it cannot fertilise the egg in the woman or in a test tube. The voluntary licensing authority will not allow the implantation of embryos fertilised in that way, because it wants to be sure through more research that the embryo is not damaged by being created by micro-injection. To avoid couples becoming involved in this procedure, there should be more research to find out how those embryos develop in the laboratory before they can be implanted to develop in the woman. Therefore, embryos need to be created for research into the important problem of male sub-fertility.

The right hon. Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) talked about the exciting new opportunities that are opened up by the ability to freeze and store eggs, making it unnecessary to store and freeze embryos. However, we will not know whether the eggs that are frozen and stored will develop normally unless they are used to create embryos.

Polar body biopsy research has already been mentioned. We need to improve pre-implantation diagnosis, and the idea that one cell could be taken from the embryo to see whether it has a genetic defect before putting it back in the womb provides exciting opportunities. However, we do not want embryos which have been damaged by the process of polar body biopsy to be put back in the womb. We owe it to the women who are undergoing the treatment and to their husbands to make sure that we get it right so that they are not used as experiments.

The hon. Member for Lancashire, West (Mr. Hind) suggested that the scientific community were opposed to the amendment because they were lazy and were looking for short cuts. That does scientists an injustice. I am sure that scientists are not looking for an easy solution or are not prepared to carry out research conscientiously. We should accept the argument that important research will not be able to continue if it is limited to spare embryos.

Once again, I remind the House of the safeguards in the Bill. The idea that there could be a farm for embryos has been put forward, but the statutory licensing authority will have to give licences for research. It will be an offence if research goes ahead and embryos are created without the approval, monitoring and supervision of the statutory licensing authority. Are we to believe that we are creating by statute a licensing authority which will turn a blind eye to embryology farming? That is absurd scaremongering, and I urge people to rule it out.

Miss Ann Winterton

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Ms. Harman


There will also be supervision by Members of Parliament. We will be able to ask the Secretary of State for Health questions about what is going on—[Interruption.] If my colleagues will allow me, I should like to move on.

I want now to consider contraception, because there has not been much focus on amendment No. 11 so far in our debate. I seriously urge the House to reject amendment No. 11, because that would permit embryo research for the purposes of investigating miscarriages, for treating infertility and to investigate congenital diseases and genetic defects, but there cannot be embryo research into contraception.

What are women to make of this House if we say that contraception is not sufficiently important to be included in the list permitting embryo research? What will they think if embryo research designed to find a contraceptive vaccine is to be stopped? I was very sad to read the report of the debate in the other place, in which the Chief Rabbi said that he was not concerned with the morality of contraception or even against contraception: he simply did not believe that it was a sufficiently urgent consideration.

The Chief Rabbi might not think that contraception is a sufficiently urgent consideration. However, he should ask his wife or his daughters. Before hon. Members in this House vote to exclude the possibility of research to find a contraceptive vaccine, they should consult their wives and daughters as well. They should listen to women outside this place. The battle for safe, effective and convenient contraception has not yet been won. The shadow of the fear of unwanted pregnancy has existed through the ages, and it remains a problem in this country.

Hon. Members such as my hon. Friends the Members for Birkenhead and for Attercliffe who are concerned about the abortion rate should be aware that, if we make contraception easier, we will prevent a high abortion rate. The idea that hon. Members should vote for an amendment tonight that undermines progress on contraception while tomorrow those same hon. Members will ask the House to restrict abortion is absolutely wrong.

Mr. Alton

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Ms. Harman

It will be a mistake, but I will give way.

Mr. Alton

I hope from the hon. Lady's point of view that it will be a mistake. She referred to the contradictions. Does she not accept that it is also a contradiction that people like her who are arguing tonight that we should authorise destructive experiments for the purpose of curing infertility will, by a cruel paradox, be those same people tomorrow who will be arguing in favour of abortion? One in five pregnancies is ended through abortion, and 184,000 children are aborted each year. Surely the paradox is that many families in this country would dearly love to adopt those children and provide homes for them. Is that not a paradox in the hon. Lady's argument?

Ms. Harman

We will argue about that tomorrow; it would not be in order for me to pursue the hon. Gentleman's point now.

Some hon. Members may believe that it is an attractive argument to stop embryo research on contraception because that is different from a woman's desire to have a baby. A woman's desire not to have a baby might be considered less important than a woman's desire to have a healthy baby. A view is still lurking around the House that contraception is somehow a third-world issue and that it is no longer an issue for women in this country. The idea is that contraception is all about population control in the third world. That is not the case. It is an issue now and it is an issue here. Unfortunately, it is not as much of an issue as it should be in the other place or in this House.

I hope that the House will reject amendment No. 11, which would prevent embryo research to develop contraception. I hope also that the House will reject amendment No. 6, which would restrict research to spare embryos. In this House, we have agreed that the objectives of the research are important. We have agreed that we want to see the problems of contraception solved. We have agreed that we want to see an end to the misery of miscarriage. We have talked about the suffering of infertile couples and about the importance of research to help them. We have talked also about the devastation that hits families when they have a child with a serious genetic abnormality. We have agreed that all those issues are important and that we want to do something about them. Let us not vote for an amendment which prevents us from achieving those objectives.

Mrs Ann Winterton

I shall speak to my amendments Nos. 10 and 11 and support amendment No. 6 tabled by the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field).

I believe that the creation of human life with its destruction pre-planned is the most repugnant aspect of the Bill. I believe that human life must never be used solely as a means to an end. In vitro fertilisation produces surplus embryos which cannot be transferred to a woman's womb and those spare embryos, although created with the possibility of continuing life, in practice cannot be given that chance. To use them for research beneficial to other human beings does them no additional injury. If we accept the production of possibly "spare" embryos, we should accept their use in research. However, that is no reason to create embryos specifically for research. That approach allows a degree of consensus between the opposing sides of the argument. It allows the benefits of embryo research without the need to cheapen human life in the way that opponents fear might happen.

A law that alienates a large section of the community and offends their deeply held beliefs is a bad law even if the majority in Parliament are in favour of it. I believe that amendment No. 6 would minimise opposition and alienation. The production of embryos purely for research means the extraction of eggs from women purely for research. That is not a safe procedure and it can even result in death.

Experimentation on embryos necessarily means experimentation on women. The Helsinki declaration requires: In the purely scientific application of medical research carried out on a human being, it is the duty of the doctor to remain the protector of the life and health of that person on whom biomedical research is being carried out … The investigator or investigating team should discontinue the research if in his/her or their judgement it may, if continued, be harmful to the individual.

Mr. Dalyell

The hon. Lady said that the process could result in death. Has she any examples of that happening?

Mrs. Winterton

I have a sheaf of papers from which I could quote at length, but I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept what I have said. There is much scientific data which I will give to him later if he likes.

Dame Jill Knight

The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) might care to look at the reports of the debates in Committee. He will find that I gave full details of 11 women who had died as a result of that procedure. All the details can be found in the Committee stage reports.

Mrs. Winterton

I am most grateful for that intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Dame J. Knight) who served on the Standing Committee and who is much more knowledgeable about the point to which I had referred. My hon. Friend made a most helpful intervention.

We must also worry about women being placed under undue pressure to donate eggs for research in order, for example, to receive treatment or to receive treatment faster or at a reduced cost. The "spares" only restriction would prevent that.

Of course that would place an additional restriction on research. That is inevitable. Indeed, the whole purpose of the Bill is to place restrictions on research. The 14-day limit, for example, is a restriction that we have included for ethical reasons, but we accept that it might prevent some useful work from taking place.

I should have liked to ask the hon. Member for Peckham (Ms. Harman) how she thinks that research carried out on embryos under 14 days would be policed. I believe that it will be impossible to police such research and that we shall merely have to take on trust what the scientists are doing. I hope that the House will recognise the validity of that point.

5.30 pm

Embryo research would still be operating under fewer restraints than most medical research. Research on adults must either be therapeutic or on corpses, with the appropriate consent.

Mr. William Cash (Stafford)

My hon. Friend has used the word "therapeutic". Those of us who have delved into the question of ethical guidelines in the past four years or so since this issue first arose are aware that "therapeutic" is defined by doctors and scientists in their self-regulating capacity. Does my hon. Friend accept that that raises a serious and difficult question because the Bill is effectively handing over that responsibility to people who have an inbuilt desire to induce the difficulties that we are discussing, and that there is no opportunity—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

Briefly please.

Mr. Cash

—for Parliament or anyone else to intervene thereafter?

Mrs. Winterton

My hon. Friend has made a valid point, which the House would do well to note.

Embryo researchers would also be allowed a restricted class of live human embryos to test destructively. I am confident that most useful work could proceed under that constraint.

We have already heard the argument that IVF could never have developed without creating the embryos for the initial research. Steptoe and Edwards began creating embryos long before they had the facility to transfer them to the womb. At that time, they were more concerned with studying embryos than with infertility. Clinically, it would have been far more responsible to attempt GIFT before IVF.

Destructive research is the cheap and easy way to proceed. Non-destructive research is far more complicated and time consuming, but most people consider that it is more appropriate for work involving human beings. The fact that early IVF workers chose to proceed in a particular way does not prove that it could not have been done differently. Every other major medical advance in the 20th century has been achieved without destructive research. In any case, there is little doubt that current IVF research could proceed without deliberately creating embryos for the purpose. It would also be impossible or unethical to develop techniques of egg freezing or egg testing without using some of those eggs to create embryos that would not be transferred to the womb in order to make sure that the embryos developed normally.

If that were true, it would have been impossible to develop sperm freezing, which was done long before IVF, and frozen sperm was not tested in this way. Nevertheless, children created from frozen sperm grow up perfectly normal. Frozen eggs can be tested for damage without being fertilised. In any case, 50 per cent. of eggs produced by IVF techniques are known to be abnormal. Damaged eggs simply fail to produce viable embryos. There is only a miniscule risk of producing an abnormal child. Extensive testing using animal eggs would allow these techniques to be verified safe. This is how all other new medical techniques are tested.

It has also been argued that it would be impossible or unethical to create new forms of contraception without testing them in vitro, and embryos would be created in some cases. It would also be necessary to see if embryos accidentally created were abnormal. If that were true, it would have been impossible to develop any of the modern contraceptives now in use. How was the pill developed? There is no reason why new forms of contraception cannot be developed without embryo experiments. Drugs to block fertilisation would need clinical trials in any case. This cannot be bypassed by in vitro research.

Responsible scientists develop new techniques in human medicine, first, by extensive testing on animals—as I said earlier, there is far more control over experimentation on animals than would be the case for human embryos—and, secondly, by controlled clinical trials with human beings. They do not use an intermediate stage of destructive testing on human beings. IVF scientists wish to dispense with that in favour of destructive testing on human embryos.

The hon. Member for Peckham spoke at some length against amendment No. 10, which places a specific prohibition on the administration of a substance to an embryo for the purpose of ascertaining the properties of that substance in relation to the diagnosis, treatment or prevention of disease". In other words, the amendment seeks to prevent the use of human embryos for the testing of drugs.

Destructive research on human embryos has been agreed to on the basis that it will be used for the most urgent therapeutic needs. We wish to ensure that it is not used for a much wider range of less urgent purposes for which we do not feel it can be right to use human embryos. Page 64 of the Warnock report stated: We do not want to see a situation in which human embryos are frivolously or unnecessarily used in research. Much has been said about the alleviation of infertility and the application of embryo research to genetic diseases. We are not attempting to restrict that, but we do not want a situation in which it becomes commonplace for pharmaceutical companies to test drugs on human embryos because they are cheaper than rats and mice. Surely that would not be right. Anyone who knows anything about experimentation on animals knows how costly such experimentation is, not only financially, but, for example, in terms of the numbers of staff who need to be employed.

It is pertinent to the debate to note that RU486, the French abortion drug, has already been tested on human embryos. It might also be relevant to note that Bourne hall, the first IVF clinic, which was much hailed, has been bought by a pharmaceutical company. Perhaps that piece of news will cause hon. Members to make some connections.

Amendment No. 11 seeks to prevent the use of human embryos in research projects to develop more effective techniques of contraception. As the hon. Member for Peckham said, it was moved originally on Report in the other place by the Chief Rabbi. I hasten to add that the amendment is not based on any opposition in principle to contraception, any more than the similar amendment relating to drugs testing is based on an opposition to medical drugs. However, I do not feel that the development of contraception is the sort of work for which human embryos should be used.

Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone)

Does my hon. Friend agree that one major argument against the destructive use of embryos for contraceptive purposes is that there are so many alternatives for research on contraception and such research does not offer anything unique? Unlike the argument of possible long-term future benefits for people suffering from cystic fibrosis, this case offers nothing unique—nothing that is not offered by other research.

Mrs. Winterton

I agree with my hon. Friend. It is true that all present forms of contraception have been developed successfully without the use of the human embryo. That being so, how necessary is the use of human embryos for these purposes?

During a debate in the other place on 6 March the Chief Rabbi, Lord Jakobovits, said: It would be both ironic and morally offensive to destroy the most basic substance of life for research to prevent the generation of life."—[Official Report, House of Lords; 6 March 1990; Vol. 516, c. 1061.] I agree with those sentiments. That view is borne out by those who took part in a Gallup poll which was conducted between 13 and 18 September. The results suggested that public opinion supported the Chief Rabbi's view because 57 per cent. said that they would not support the use of human embryos to develop new techniques of contraception, with only 32 per cent. supporting that use. The remaining 11 per cent. did not know.

I do not wish to give the impression that I am knocking pharmaceutical companies or accusing them of wanting to do anything unethical. I shall quote from a document of the Council of Europe's parliamentary assembly of 4 March 1986. It is the product of a joint hearing of the legal affairs committee, the sub-committee on bio-ethics of the committee on social and health questions, and the committee on science and technology. During an evidence session a contribution was made by Professor Hess of Ciba-Geigy, which is an excellent pharmaceutical company. Its headquarters happen to be based in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton). My hon. Friend attended its opening recently and I know precisely how good a local company it is. Professor Hess, in representing the company, had much to say in answer to various questions. I shall quote what he said because I think that his remarks are pertinent to the arguments that are being advanced. He said: In my own company, scientific experiments with human embryos are not performed. To my knowledge, the same applies to the other main pharmaceutical firms in Western Europe. Human embryos and tissues are neither used for the production of medicaments, nor is their use an issue of industrial biotechnology. He continued by saying in summary that the use of human embryos or fetuses is no purpose of industry. He later said: I cannot easily imagine a situation of, say, drug-induced damage in which human embryos could be expected to yield information which is not obtained from animal models. The architecture and development potency of early embryos of most mammalian species are very similar. In the next paragraph, he added: I see no need or justification for the production and subsequent use of human embryos for drug research and development. That says it all.

Mrs. Virginia Bottomley

The House will be aware that, when the Bill was considered in Committee of the whole House, we had the opportunity to vote on the basic principle of whether human embryos up to 14 days should be used for research for certain specified purposes, under the strict control of a statutory licensing authority. I agree with the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) that he is not seeking to deny the clear wish of the House, which was signalled by a clear majority, that research on human embryos should be permitted. The hon. Gentleman's amendment No. 6 seeks to ensure that embryos should be created only for treatment purposes. I recognise that, although many of those who have contributed to the debate are opposed to embryo research, they have sought to concentrate on the issues that arise from the hon. Gentleman's amendment and others rather than to re-run an earlier and lengthier debate.

If embryos can be created only for treatment purposes, a restriction will be placed on the embryos that are available for research. That would mean that various research activities on th embryo would not be possible. I refer the hon. Member for Birkenhead to the definition of treatment in clause 2(1). It is defined as medical, surgical or obstetric services. … for the purpose of assisting women to carry children. In those terms, the women who chose to donate their eggs when being sterilised, for example, could not possibly come within the terms of providing embryos in the course of treatment. The amendment would mean that many embryos and gametes would no longer be available. Does that matter, and what would the implications be?

5.45 pm

The concern that has been expressed is that, if embryos could not be specifically created for research purposes, there would be a danger that the quality of embryos being used for research would deteriorate. There would he a scarcity of embryos. Rather than the present situation, where the embryos that look the healthiest and are flourishing and developing best are liable to be implanted in the woman, there would be a danger that the boundary would move. It is clear that for treatment purposes and for following on from the implications of research, it is important to have high-quality, properly supervised treatment. It has been made clear also that there are areas of research that could not be permitted if amendment No. 6 were accepted.

Mr. Dalyell

I hope that the Minister will forgive me for being sceptical. I wish to clear up an issue of fact that relates to remarks made by the hon. Members for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton) and for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Dame J. Knight). On 8 May, the hon. Member for Edgbaston said: We already have details of dangers on the record: at least 11 women have died during the course of IVF programmes."—[Official Report, Standing Committee B; 8 May 1990, c. 57] Does the Department have any knowledge of those 11 cases? It is a matter of considerable importance to the debate whether the hon. Lady's claim can be substantiated.

Mrs. Bottomley

We have no information about such cases within the United Kingdom. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Dame J. Knight) provided information but, as I have said, we have no information about such cases within this country. When these techniques are practised under proper supervision there is no undue risk to the woman. We are talking of fairly recent techniques, and one of the purposes of establishing a licensing authority is to ensure that best practice is properly supervised and that proper guidance is available.

Mr. Frank Field

I take the Minister back to the phrase which she used when talking about the decline in the quality of embryos in the furtherance of treatment. Even on the hon. Lady's reading of my amendment, I am not seeking any restrictions on the creation of embryos for the furtherance of treatment. I could not understand the Minister's argument. Even if the amendment were agreed to, further embryos would be created until we had embryos of the quality required for the furtherance of treatment.

Mrs. Bottomley

I accept the hon. Gentleman's argument. The point is well put by Professor the Rev. Gordon Dunstan and others. It is that if there is a scarcity of embryos there may be a tendency to want to use embryos for treatment purposes in all possible circumstances, whereas if there is not such a scarcity that is less likely to be the position.

Mr. Field

I thank the Minister for giving way. I hope that I shall not have to intervene again. I shall try to avoid doing so.

The Minister talks about a possible scarcity of embryos. Experience in my constituency suggests that scarcity arises because those women who wish to follow treatment for their infertility are unable to do so because of budgetary restrictions. If we had more resources, there would be more women seeking an end to their infertility, and that would result in the greater creation of embryos. The circle would be squared for the Minister. Is that not the answer?

Mrs. Bottomley

I do not intend to follow the hon. Gentleman in that line of argument. The Bill is about establishing a framework of law properly to control and regulate relatively new areas of treatment and research. That should be done before discussing national health service resources. I am standing next to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Health, who has managed to achieve record levels for the health service. He has had unprecedented success in that area. Far be it from me to add to the debate on resources.

Dame Jill Knight

I noted how carefully my hon. Friend chose her words when she said that there was no such evidence "in this country". She will agree that in Committee I gave her the information that 11 women had died in other countries. I find it appalling that Opposition Members seek to keep that under wraps—I certainly absolve the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) from that charge. It is important for all of us that it is made clear when there is a danger connected with a certain health procedure. It does not matter whether the women have died here or elsewhere; they have died, and there is no doubt about it.

Mrs. Bottomley

Our primary concern must be for the welfare of women in this country, which has a health service to which unprecedented resources are allocated and in which we can have confidence in the quality and standard of care. Obviously, it is primarily in that area that we shall make a judgment. My hon. Friend's point must be considered, but hon. Members would be right to give more weight to the experience of this country.

Mr. Raison

It is important to know whether, in those 11 cases, death occurred as a result of the extraction of ovaries for research purposes or for treatment. I suspect that the reason for their extraction is immaterial. Does my hon. Friend agree that the problem with the debate is that it is meant to be about a particular category, but that those who support amendment No. 6 are against all research on embryos and are using this as a device to advance their view?

Mrs. Bottomley

I thank my right hon. Friend for his intervention. Although the hon. Member for Birkenhead and others acknowledge their deep reservations about, and in some cases hostility to, the principle of research, during the debate they have tried to distinguish between that principle and the amendments that we are debating.

The key question is whether, with appropriate consents, embryos could continue to be created specifically for research purposes, provided that the research establishments were properly licensed under the Bill, or whether the Bill should provide that the research should be carried out only on spare embryos from IVF treatment programmes, which would otherwise be left to perish. That is a matter for the judgment of hon. Members.

Mr. Cash

My hon. Friend knows of my deep opposition to these proposals, which I have expressed for at least four years. Am I right in thinking that she has considered the dangers of patenting the procedures involved in research in this area, and the vast sums involved in the commercial exploitation of the procedures?

Mrs. Bottomley

This may be the moment for me to lay to rest a myth about great commercial exploitation and the vast resources available. Great sums do not change hands. There is no suggestion of any money changing hands. Clause 12(e) makes it clear that no benefit or payment may be made for embryos or gametes without the authorisation of the licensing authority. It imposes clear legislative controls in this area. Nor is there any evidence that drug companies have any particular interest in embryo research. Nor do they use embryo research on animals for testing drugs because, before 14 days are up, there is little validation or assistance that they can get from it. It is important to lay to rest that alarmist myth which is being perpetrated, because it is unhelpful to the debate to have such comments passed.

The Bill permits research licences to be granted for five main purposes: promoting advances in the treatment of infertility, increasing knowledge about the causes of congenital disease, increasing knowledge about the causes of miscarriage, developing more effective techniques of contraception and developing methods of detecting the presence of gene and chromosome abnormalities in embryos before implantation.

In her amendment, my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton) seeks to remove the ability to provide research for developing effective techniques of contraception. That point was ably answered by the hon. Member for Peckham (Ms. Harman). Many hon. Members may take the view that there is as yet no thoroughly satisfactory and effective method of contraception. Population questions worldwide make it only too clear that, if an effective method of contraception without undue or long-term risks to women became available, it might well be a force for good. I recognise that some hon. Members would be implacably opposed to any form of contraception but they do not speak for most hon. Members or for most of the country. Work on the development of a vaccine is being undertaken. It must involve embryo research in order to establish its effectiveness. I find it difficult to come to terms with my hon. Friend's amendment.

My right hon. Friend the Father of the House spoke to amendment No. 10 about drugs. As I made it clear in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Cash), it is not the case that drug companies make particular use of embryos. The Bill provides a power to prohibit the use of embryos, were they to be used in a way in which the authority and the Government found unsatisfactory. Clause 3(3)(c) gives the Secretary of State a power to make regulations, which will be subject to an affirmative resolution to prohibit such activities, were the need to arise.

Mr. Wigley

Earlier, I asked whether the Minister had Government legal advice on the interpretation of amendment No. 6. If it were passed, could only spare embryos be used for research? Clearly, hon. Members interpret amendment No. 6 differently and it is important for us to understand it.

Mrs. Bottomley

I have made it clear that that is the case. I told the House the definition of "treatment", under which such embryos will be created, and that only spare embryos would be available.

Mr. Field

Is the distinction not slightly different? Did the Minister not say that the number of embryos available for research would be smaller? She did not comment on erecting gates against forms of treatment.

Mrs. Bottomley

I hope that I made it clear that embryos would be made available only in the course of treatment, and I gave the definition of treatment. Embryos which are not necessary for treatment could still be used for research purposes. The hon. Gentleman made it clear —this is also my interpretation of his amendment—that the amendment would not prohibit, but would greatly limit, research.

The hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) and others have suggested that the amendment would mean that research in some areas could not continue. There would be areas in which research could continue on those spare embryos, but it would not be possible to undertake research in the areas identified by the hon. Member for Birkenhead, such as contraceptive vaccines, research influencing the process of fertilisation, research on some origins of chromosome disorders, research on freezing and thawing unfertilised eggs, research on freezing and thawing eggs in the process of fertilisation, research on the fertilisation of eggs by a single sperm and the best culture medium for fertilisation. All those forms of research would require that an embryo was subsequently created and allowed to develop in order to ensure that such research had no long-term adverse effect. It would be unsatisfactory to undertake such research and then use the gamete to conceive a child. Clearly, we could not satisfy ourselves as to the outcome of that research in any other way.

Sir Michael McNair-Wilson (Newbury)

On Second Reading, I asked my hon. Friend if she could say how many embryos had been used in research up to that date. How many embryos are expected to be required to allow the treatments that she has outlined?

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Mrs. Bottomley

Would my hon. Friend repeat the beginning of his question?

Sir Michael McNair-Wilson

How many embryos does my hon. Friend think will be required annually to meet the needs that she has just outlined?

Mrs. Bottomley

Clearly, it is impossible to give a forecast of the kind that my hon. Friend seeks. The Bill is about establishing a clear framework of law, a licensing authority, to regulate such activities properly. We need proper arrangements for informed consent for the donors of gametes and embryos. We must also ensure that the activities take place in strictly licensed premises that are properly inspected and that there are proper safeguards.

Sir Michael McNair-Wilson

Surely somebody has some idea of how many embryos are being used in embryo research, which has been going on for four, nearly five, years. I cannot believe that that figure is unknown to the Department.

Mrs. Bottomley

It is impossible to provide such information for my hon. Friend. A great many authoritative sources and individuals are involved in the treatment of disease and the promotion of well-being who are profoundly committed to the development of embryo research. That was the view of the House when the issue was debated and a conclusion reached some time ago.

Dame Jill Knight


Mrs. Bottomley

I hope that my hon. Friend will forgive me, but I must make some headway.

Dame Jill Knight

I have an important question. Earlier, the Minister referred to clause 12(e), under which she said that it would be impossible for money to change hands. Surely that clause makes it impossible for money to change hands if it is authorised by directions. What form of authorisation would be given and in what circumstances would it be given?

Mrs. Bottomley

We debated that issue at some length in Committee, when it was made clear that the authority would be able to issue directions. The interim authority has recently made it clear that it is possible for those who donate their eggs for research or treatment purposes, depending on their wishes, to be sterilised. It has been made clear that no inducement is envisaged. If my hon. Friend consults the Hansard report of our Committee, she will see that we made it clear that the only type of benefit considered for those involved in such treatment were expenses. There is no intention of starting a market in embryos or eggs, or any such alarmist talk.

Government amendment No. 48 covers a subject similar to that in amendment No. 9, but it has a different conclusion. It arises from a point raised with my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State by the right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) and the Bishop of Leeds, that schedule 2 contains a clear contradiction between the last two lines of paragraph 3(2) and the earlier suggestion in the schedule that the authority could extend the areas in which research would be justified. It is clear from amendment No. 9, and it is our view, that the last two lines of paragraph 3(2) are too widely drawn.

Mr. Vivian Bendall (Ilford, North)

Does Government amendment No. 48 mean that the list cannot be extended without reference to Parliament and the Secretary of State? It is important that the last points should not open things up in a way that the House would not want.

Mrs. Bottomley

That is precisely the position. If my hon. Friend consults the Bill, he will notice that, in schedule 2, paragraph (1)(g) states that a licence may authorise other practices as may be specified in, or determined in accordance with, regulations. However, paragraph 3(2)(e) refers to other purposes of increasing knowledge about the creation and development of embryos and enabling such knowledge to be applied. Government amendment No. 48 seeks to ensure that, should further purposes be envisaged apart from those that I have already specified where research would be justified, they could be introduced only by affirmative resolution, following a debate in the House.

For example, at present, one of the purposes is congenital disease. A time may come when research into embryos could greatly assist the treatment of other diseases, such as cancer. If amendment No. 9 were passed, that would be impossible without recourse to primary legislation. I hope that the House will agree that, should any extension of the areas in which research could legitimately be undertaken be envisaged, that should be subject to affirmative resolution, as outlined in Government amendment No. 48.

This is a new and important Bill that sets up an authority that will police activities, have powers of entry and ensure that research is undertaken in a carefully supervised and regulatory way. I hope that I have clarified some of the amendments and explained why Government amendment No. 48 is particularly important to give additional strength to, and to safeguard, the Bill.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Earlier, the hon. Member for Barking (Ms. Richardson) asked whether the Government would make available the notes on the Government new clauses likely to be discussed after 7 pm. I hope that it will be helpful to say that we are putting notes on new clauses in the Vote Office and the Library about now, so that those interested in the debates after 7 pm can begin their studies.

Mr. Seamus Mallon (Newry and Armagh)

I made my position on the Bill and its attendant factors pretty clear on Second Reading. I shall not repeat my views, except to draw the same conclusion now as I did then.

One fact that has been noticeable during this debate and the previous two is that when debating such issues we try to mobilise other people's opinions. It is right to do so because we need to inform ourselves. But the more we listen to the debates, the more we mobilise those opinions that happen to coincide with our own beliefs and prejudices, or whatever one chooses to call them. I accept that we listen to scientific opinions. But, as lay people, we make value judgments, based on scientific opinions, that are governed by our own views. It is akin to the definition of freedom of the press as being the freedom to publish news that coincides with the prejudices of the proprietor of the newspaper.

Two matters are crucial. It was said earlier in the debate that moral arguments did not stand up because those who opposed experimentation had conceded the argument by supporting the amendment. That is a fallacious argument although it was put responsibly, unlike some of the accusations about some of us who were described as anachronistic, mediaevalist, misogynistic and jesuitical. When the opinions in the North of Ireland are coupled in that way, it gives many of us reason for amusement.

Is it right to end the life of a human being, which is how I regard an embryo? If it is right, all the other arguments about the scientific facts that we have rightly been marshalling for so long should be taken into account. If it is wrong to take the life of a human being, it is doubly wrong to create life so that we can end it.

No matter how scientific or valid the argument or how eminent the person who advances it, and no matter what interpretation is placed on research by scientists, the House will decide not on the basis of the scientific arguments, but on the simple question whether it is right to take the life of a human being. In terms of the amendment, is it wrong—I believe that it is—to create embryos so that research can be carried out on them and because of which they will be destroyed?

By its very nature, research has to go beyond the bounds of constraint. That is what it is all about. Research that is carried out within clearly defined limits will not be successful. There is no doubt that people involved in research will automatically always look for more scope. In terms of the legislation that means two things. The first is that, rightly from their professional point of view but wrongly from the point of view of the legislation, people will naturally look for more embryos upon which to experiment. Secondly, it is, therefore, a matter not of dealing with spare embryos but of the creation of embryos for a specific purpose. As I said on Second Reading, that will inevitably lead to clear demands for an extension of the 14-day rule. As research develops, the need for more time and more subjects will develop and at some time in the future the Government will have to take a decision about an extension of the 14-day rule.

I hope that I shall be forgiven for widening the debate. It is wrong to kill a human being, but it is even more wrong to create human beings so that we can kill them for research. If such research is allowed, we will not be able to restrain it. Future generations will look back at this legislation and say that it was the beginning of a problem which will have become enormous in moral, ethical and scientific terms.

6.15 pm
Sir Michael McNair-Wilson

The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) made an extremely important speech. I support the amendment because, while it is one thing to use spare embryos that may result from a treatment such as IVF, which is a life-giving treatment, it is another to create embryos simply for research.

I asked the Minister how many embryos were used annually because I did not know the figure and hoped that she would. As the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh has said, when dealing with embryos we are dealing with human beings in the making. It is appalling that we do not know how many human beings in the making are being destroyed each year in embryo research.

To reduce human embryos to a lesser level than the white mice used in laboratories suggests that we no longer place any ethical or moral value on life, although I may be told that at the embryo stage life is so diminutive that we do not need to place on it the value that we place on a grown human being.

Following my question to the Minister, I was told that approximately 5,000 embryos are being used every year in this country. I understand that that figure comes from Oxford university. If it is correct, it means that approximately 25,000 embryos have been used in the past five years. How soon will it be before we are using healthy embryos in research to cure illnesses in fewer people than those healthy embryos would represent if they became human beings in their own right? Can we justify putting certain congenital conditions above the possibility of those embryos growing into normal human beings with all the potential that is in a human being for his or her life and what he or she may or may not do with that life?

We have to decide where our values lie in this matter. We must limit the amount of embryo research that can be carried out rather than allow science to demand the sacrifice of embryos in the name of progress without recognising that we are creating an imbalance between what we are doing with the embryos, which we know will be destroyed, and the cures that they might bring to all the illnesses and handicaps that we are told about.

The Minister will know that at no time during this debate or on Second Reading has anyone been able to establish that embryo research has produced any of the curses that are always held out to us like an illusion or a mirage. No one can yet say categorically that those cures will be found through this research. In spite of that, we are prepared to say that the human embryo is less than life simply to enable scientists to continue with work that they have decided they would like to do. That is all with the intention of increasing the knowledge of human beings and their disorders, but no one has yet been able to tell the House that the 5,000 embryos which will be sacrificed this year—and how many more next year? —will have died to any purpose whatever.

The amendment proposed by the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) is right. He is saying that if, as a result of treatment such as IVF, which brings a positive result, there are spare embryos, we may use them, but beyond that we should not go. I whole-heartedly support him.

Mr. Raison

I have not previously participated in the debates on the Bill, but, like all hon. Members, I have thought hard about the fundamental question whether it is right to conduct research on embryos. After much thought, I came to support the view that we should conduct such research.

Amendment No. 6 is a refinement of that question. I have been struck by the fact that hon. Members who support the amendment seem to be fundamentally basing their arguments on the fact that they are against all research on embryos. The hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) said that that was not the point. He clearly said that he was merely arguing a specific case about a particular way of creating embryos, but the fact remains —I stand to be corrected—that every hon. Member who has supported amendment No. 6 has done so on the basis that they are against all research on embryos. If anyone wishes to tell me that I am wrong, I shall give way.

Sir Michael McNair-Wilson

If the research was not destructive I would support it.

Mr. Raison

That is as may be, but it does not answer my point, which was that those hon. Members who support amendment No. 6 are, without exception, against any research on embryos. However, that is not what the debate is about. It is about whether we can legitimately draw distinctions between research in which embryos have been created for use in a treatment, and research in which the embryo has been created specifically for that research. How and why the embryos have been created should not dominate our decisions.

The argument has been set out with more elegance and clarity than I could summon by Canon Professor Dunstan in a paper from the Medical Research Council which has been widely circulated. I hope that the House witl forgive me if I quote a sentence or two from it. He says: if the future Statutory Licensing Authority is to be permitted to grant licences for research as well as for treatment and storage, it must be because a strong moral justification is perceived, for example, the recognition that the research will contribute to the alleviation of infertility and to a decrease in the number of handicapped babies born. Once it has been granted that such purposes and potential benefits are of sufficient moral worth to justify using the early human conceptus for research, no moral distinction seems sustainable between those conceptuses that are 'spare' from a therapeutic attempt, and those that are 'specially created', ie generated as part of a research project. What may he justified for one may also be justified for the other. To my mind, that exactly sums up the position. Either we believe that research on embryos is permissible, or we do not. The purpose for which embryos are created is secondary and irrelevant. Therefore, although I have great respect for what hon. Members on both sides of the House have said in support of amendment No. 6, after listening carefully to their arguments, they appear to be against all research on embryos, and I think that the House will recognise that.

Sir Bernard Braine

I did not intervene on the first occasion that my right hon. Friend made that charge, but it will be within the recollection of the House that, when supporting the amendment, I said no such thing. I made it absolutely clear that spare embryos might well be used for research because they were destined to die anyway. Also, I made it absolutely clear that to create embryos for the purpose of research—this lies at the heart of all the arguments advanced by hon. Members who support the amendment—which would end in their destruction is totally unacceptable, because the embryo is the beginning of human life.

Mr. Raison

I understand and respect the stance of my right hon. Friend, the Father of the House, but it does not alter what I said.

Sir Bernard Braine

Of course it does.

Mr. Raison

My understanding is that those hon. Members who support amendment No. 6 are, without exception, against all research on embryos.

Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne)

Hon. Members will be greatly relieved to hear that I do not have the slightest intention of repeating the speech that I made when we considered the Bill in Committee on the Floor of the House, or of repeating all that I said in Standing Committee.

One basic point has been overlooked in the debate. It is perfectly possible to be anti-abuse and pro-life while supporting all forms of research. The two are not incompatible.

I am a little weary—and I suspect that one or two other hon. Members are too—of listening to the anti-research lobby seeking to take the moral high ground, and demanding that we somehow or other prove that research is absolutely essential so that they can tolerate it as a necessary evil. I find that unacceptable and unpalatable.

I have no doubt that research is both good and moral in principle. I am sure that all hon. Members present will accept that abuse can happen, but I have no doubt that the Bill will take care of that without the need for any more refinements. I reject the claim, which I heard earlier, that I should feel disgusted at the notion of deliberately creating embryos and then using them for research. I do not feel in the least bit disgusted at that because I realise that there is a fundamental difference between a potential person and an actual human being. I am clear in my mind that research does not take place on human beings, and I say that not for the convenience of scientists, but because I believe that it is so, and it should be on the record that some hon. Members believe that.

Research should take the moral high ground because, in principle, research can help all mankind and it can help a huge number of future individuals. We should be proud of that. We should vote in favour of making that help available to all our constituents. Therefore, I urge the House not to entertain the amendments, but to leave the Bill as it stands. An overwhelming majority of hon. Members previously voted for it as it stands

Mr. Frank Field

I must pick up the point made by the right hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison). For once, I cross swords with him, and I do so to caution the House about the wisdom of putting one's sticky fingers into other people's souls and trying to suggest what their motives might be.

I have changed my position in the debate and shall briefly explain that change. In the debates on embryo research and abortion I held an absolutist position. I hoped that the objectives that I could achieve, and that I wished to advance, could be furthered by that stance. In Committee, the House seemed to make two resounding comments about my stance First, while there may be minor changes to the Abortion Act 1967, this House—and probably any House in my lifetime—will not make major changes to it, and certainly not wrecking changes. Secondly, the House unequivocally supported the newer subject of embryo research.

I could have continued to maintain my old absolutist stance, and to feel that by pushing that line I might be able to sway the debate in the House, or I could desert that position and take a more compromised one—muckier, less clear and non-absolutist—in an attempt to sway the House's decision. Therefore, I have deserted my previous stance. If we have a debate and a Division on abortion tomorrow, although I previously believed that the rules should be tightened up, I should vote for an amendment to make abortion easier under 12 weeks, and I should want that firmly linked to urgent reinforcement and care for family planning, which we have not seen. We would not be able to guarantee that tomorrow because the House does not often allow us to decide matters in such a sensible way. I have fundamentally changed my position.

Similarly, I made clear my position on embryo research in the Division in the previous debate. To my heart's content I could make a speech similar to that which I made then as if we had not voted then. I might go out of the Chamber feeling better for it, but I doubt that I should influence the way in which many hon. Members voted. Perhaps I should change that statement. I may influence many hon. Members, because they would be so annoyed at listening to a speech that had nothing to do with the amendment that they would vote in the opposite Lobby.

6.30 pm

By tabling the amendment, I have signified in the most public way that a Member of Parliament can that I have changed my stance, not because my gut feeling is that I was wrong to vote as I did but because, while I respect those who take the absolutist position, I want to influence the decision of the House. Therefore, I tabled the amendment and sought support for it. As I wished to maximise support for the amendment I refused to allow other hon. Members to attach other measures to it, such as a statement that we believe in research but want to qualify the provision and specify that research should not be allowed on contraception. If hon. Members wish to include such a limit they must vote for it in another amendment. It is not part of amendment No. 6 or the consequential amendment.

I intended to pick up many of the points made in the debate, but I sense that the House is not in the mood for it. I shall stay on the ground that the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) called the moral high ground. Everyone wants to occupy the moral high ground—and why not?

Ms. Harman

It is full up.

Mr. Field

There might even be room for my hon. Friend, so I invite her to join us on it.

The hon. Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham)—tonight I have his constituency right—presented his argument. For once I could not follow it. It takes more than to quote the research of Professor Rev. Dunstan, say that there is a high moral argument and make the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) give a powerful grunt of "Hear, hear" to persuade us that that the hon. Member for Bolton, North-East has a good enough argument. It is a good debating point in the House, but surely the House wishes to be persuaded by the arguments, not by the trick of a good theatregoer.

The argument of the hon. Member for Spelthorne takes us back to that of the right hon. Member for Aylesbury. It may be that many of those who support the amendment hold the absolutist position that I held. So what? Surely the House will be convinced by the weight of the argument, not by guilt by association. Hon. Members will not say, "They are the people whom we voted against last time, so we had better vote against them this time."

I can bring my reasons for moving the amendment to a head by centring on the distinction presented by the hon. Member for Bolton, North-East and—we thank the right hon. Member for Aylesbury for drawing our attention to it—the argument used by Professor Rev. Dunstan. It is legitimate for Professor Rev. Dunstan to argue that his view is logical and his moral position correct. That does not make every other position immoral, amoral or non-moral. We must put our various positions before the House and let the House choose.

One distinction is fundamental and crucial to the debate. There is all the difference in the world between creating an embryo, which some of us would say is life but others would say has the potential for life, in an attempt to allow couples who are infertile to have children and using the embryos that are not required for other purposes, and saying that we are so mesmerised by the wonders of science and the blank cheque that we shall give to science that scientific activity itself is the moral stance while the creation of embryos is a secondary consideration. To create embryos for research simply to destroy them is different from using embryos to further fertility and using spare embryos that would otherwise die. The distinction seems so clear and powerful that I am surprised that some hon. Members cannot see or support it.

The amendment does not seek to limit research. The number of experiments that can be carried out may be limited because there will be a limited number of embryos, but as the Minister would not or could not answer the question put to her by the hon. Member for Newbury (Sir M. McNair-Wilson) about how many embryos will be needed, none of us knows whether that is a real possibility.

The amendment seeks, to use a phrase from another debate, to ring-fence the research.

Mr. Barron

It seeks to restrict it.

Mr. Field

No, it does not seek to restrict research. The amendment contains no restriction on research. There may be a restriction on the number of experiments that can be carried out as a result of the number of embryos available, but amendment No. 6 and its consequential amendment contain no such restriction. Other amendments such as that on contraception would restrict research, but that is not what this amendment is about.

Mr. Barron

I disagree on that. It is likely that if the amendment is accepted more embryos will be created when people receive what my hon. Friend would term direct treatment so that research can continue. The amendment will do nothing except alter the Bill, which has the support of a large majority in the House.

Mr. Field

That is the point of this stage of the Bill. That is why we have parliamentary procedures that allow us to amend legislation. We have heard two arguments tonight. My hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) argues that we should not table amendments to the Bill because we would change the Bill. But that is why we have this opportunity to table amendments. The other argument is the Pontius Pilate view that we should not give instructions to outside bodies, in this case the licensing authority. We are the supreme body that lays down guidelines about what should be done. The licensing authority will be the receptive organisation. While those arguments are good debating points, they are separate from and inferior to the major issue that we must decide.

I hope that I have convinced at least some hon. Members that by tabling the amendment I do not take the absolutist position that I held previously. If I have the chance, I shall vote accordingly tomorrow. I accept that there is a clear difference of opinion on whether embryos should be created for research or whether only spare embryos not used for fertilisation should be used. I beg the House to believe that in tabling the amendment I did not wish to restrict the nature of research that can be carried out. If the House wishes to place restrictions on research it must vote on other amendments.

Tonight, we are not deciding to undo the substance of the debates on Second Reading a few weeks ago, which received overwhelming support. Tonight, we are deciding a different issue.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 208, Noes 246.

Division No. 237] [6.39 pm
Aitken, Jonathan Fox, Sir Marcus
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Freeman, Roger
Allason, Rupert French, Douglas
Alton, David Galloway, George
Amess, David Garel-Jones, Tristan
Amos, Alan Godman, Dr Norman A.
Anderson, Donald Graham, Thomas
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove) Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Ashby, David Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Atkins, Robert Gregory, Conal
Atkinson, David Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Ground, Patrick
Baldry, Tony Grylls, Michael
Batiste, Spencer Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Hague, William
Beggs, Roy Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Beith, A. J. Hanley, Jeremy
Bell, Stuart Hardy, Peter
Bendall, Vivian Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr')
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke) Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)
Benyon, W. Harris, David
Biffen, Rt Hon John Hawkins, Christopher
Blackburn, Dr John G. Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Hayward, Robert
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE)
Bowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n) Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Bowis, John Hill, James
Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes Hind, Kenneth
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard Holt, Richard
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)
Brazier, Julian Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)
Bright, Graham Hughes, John (Coventry NE)
Buckley, George J. Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Budgen, Nicholas Hunter, Andrew
Burns, Simon Irving, Sir Charles
Burt, Alistair Janman, Tim
Butler, Chris Jessel, Toby
Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley) Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Campbell-Savours, D. N. Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Canavan, Dennis Jones, Robert B (Herts W)
Carttiss, Michael Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine
Cash, William Kennedy, Charles
Chalker, Rt Hon Mrs Lynda Kilfedder, James
Channon, Rt Hon Paul King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)
Chope, Christopher Kirkhope, Timothy
Churchill, Mr Knapman, Roger
Clark, Hon Alan (Plym'th S'n) Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Latham, Michael
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S) Lawrence, Ivan
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W) Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)
Conway, Derek Lightbown, David
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) Lilley, Peter
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest) Lofthouse, Geoffrey
Cormack, Patrick McFall, John
Cryer, Bob Maclennan, Robert
Cummings, John McLoughlin, Patrick
Cunliffe, Lawrence McNair-Wilson, Sir Michael
Davis, David (Boothferry) McNamara, Kevin
Day, Stephen Maginnis, Ken
Devlin, Tim Malins, Humfrey
Dixon, Don Mans, Keith
Douglas, Dick Marlow, Tony
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Marshall, John (Hendon S)
Dover, Den Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)
Dunn, Bob Mawhinney, Dr Brian
Dunnachie, Jimmy Moate, Roger
Durant, Tony Molyneaux, Rt Hon James
Evennett, David Monro, Sir Hector
Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray) Montgomery, Sir Fergus
Fallon, Michael Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Favell, Tony Mudd, David
Fearn, Ronald Murphy, Paul
Fenner, Dame Peggy Neubert, Michael
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) Nicholls, Patrick
Fookes, Dame Janet Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) Norris, Steve
Forsythe, Clifford (Antrim S) Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
O'Brien, William Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley Stokes, Sir John
Paice, James Sumberg, David
Paisley, Rev Ian Summerson, Hugo
Parry, Robert Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Patten, Rt Hon Chris (Bath) Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Patten, Rt Hon John Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Pawsey, James Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Pendry, Tom Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Pike, Peter L. Thorne, Neil
Porter, David (Waveney) Thornton, Malcolm
Powell, William (Corby) Tracey, Richard
Price, Sir David Trimble, David
Redmond, Martin Trippier, David
Reid, Dr John Twinn, Dr Ian
Robertson, George Walden, George
Robinson, Peter (Belfast E) Walker, Bill (T'side North)
Ross, William (Londonderry E) Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Rossi, Sir Hugh Watts, John
Rowlands, Ted Wells, Bowen
Rumbold, Mrs Angela Welsh, Andrew (Angus E)
Shaw, David (Dover) Whitney, Ray
Shelton, Sir William Widdecombe, Ann
Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW) Woodcock, Dr. Mike
Skeet, Sir Trevor
Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick) Tellers for the Ayes:
Speed, Keith Mr. A. E. P. Duffy and
Stanbrook, Ivor Mrs. Ann Winterton.
Abbott, Ms Diane Cousins, Jim
Adley, Robert Cox, Tom
Allen, Graham Currie, Mrs Edwina
Arbuthnot, James Curry, David
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Dalyell, Tam
Armstrong, Hilary Darling, Alistair
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)
Ashton, Joe Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l)
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Dewar, Donald
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Dobson, Frank
Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich) Doran, Frank
Barron, Kevin Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth
Beckett, Margaret Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd)
Blunkett, David Evans, John (St Helens N)
Boscawen, Hon Robert Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E)
Boswell, Tim Fairbairn, Sir Nicholas
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Farr, Sir John
Boyes, Roland Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n)
Bradley, Keith Fishburn, John Dudley
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Fisher, Mark
Brown, Gordon (D'mline E) Flannery, Martin
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's) Flynn, Paul
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E) Foot, Rt Hon Michael
Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith) Forman, Nigel
Bruce, Ian (Dorset South) Forth, Eric
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Foster, Derek
Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon Alick Foulkes, George
Buck, Sir Antony Franks, Cecil
Caborn, Richard Fraser, John
Callaghan, Jim Gale, Roger
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Gardiner, George
Carlile, Alex (Mont'g) Garrett, John (Norwich South)
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) George, Bruce
Carr, Michael Gill, Christopher
Carrington, Matthew Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian
Cartwright, John Glyn, Dr Sir Alan
Chapman, Sydney Golding, Mrs Llin
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Goodhart, Sir Philip
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe) Goodlad, Alastair
Clay, Bob Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Clelland, David Grocott, Bruce
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Hamilton, Hon Archie (Epsom)
Cohen, Harry Hannam, John
Coleman, Donald Harman, Ms Harriet
Colvin, Michael Haselhurst, Alan
Cook, Robin (Livingston) Haynes, Frank
Corbyn, Jeremy Heal, Mrs Sylvia
Couchman, James Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE)
Hinchliffe, David Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth) Owen, Rt Hon Dr David
Hood, Jimmy Page, Richard
Hordern, Sir Peter Patchett, Terry
Howard, Rt Hon Michael Patnick, Irvine
Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A) Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Howarth, George (Knowsley N) Prescott, John
Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Primarolo, Dawn
Howells, Geraint Quin, Ms Joyce
Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd) Radice, Giles
Hoyle, Doug Raffan, Keith
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Raison, Rt Hon Timothy
Hughes, Roy (Newport E) Rathbone, Tim
Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne) Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn
Illsley, Eric Renton, Rt Hon Tim
Ingram, Adam Richardson, Jo
Irvine, Michael Riddick, Graham
Jack, Michael Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas
Jackson, Robert Ridsdale, Sir Julian
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside) Rogers, Allan
Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil Rooker, Jeff
Kirkwood, Archy Rowe, Andrew
Knight, Greg (Derby North) Ruddock, Joan
Knowles, Michael Ryder, Richard
Knox, David Sackville, Hon Tom
Lambie, David Sedgemore, Brian
Leadbitter, Ted Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Lee, John (Pendle) Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Lester, Jim (Broxtowe) Sheerman, Barry
Lestor, Joan (Eccles) Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Lewis, Terry Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Litherland, Robert Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Livingstone, Ken Short, Clare
Livsey, Richard Skinner, Dennis
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford) Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Loyden, Eddie Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)
Luce, Rt Hon Richard Snape, Peter
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Soley, Clive
McAllion, John Spearing, Nigel
McCrindle, Robert Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)
Macfarlane, Sir Neil Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
McKay, Allen (Barnsley West) Squire, Robin
McKelvey, William Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Maclean, David Steel, Rt Hon Sir David
McLeish, Henry Steinberg, Gerry
Madden, Max Stevens, Lewis
Madel, David Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)
Mahon, Mrs Alice Stradling Thomas, Sir John
Marek, Dr John Strang, Gavin
Marland, Paul Straw, Jack
Martin, David (Portsmouth S) Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Martlew, Eric Thomas, Dr Dafydd Elis
Mates, Michael Thurnham, Peter
Maxton, John Townend, John (Bridlington)
Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Meacher, Michael Trotter, Neville
Meale, Alan Turner, Dennis
Meyer, Sir Anthony Wallace, James
Michael, Alun Walley, Joan
Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute) Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Miller, Sir Hal Watson, Mike (Glasgow, C)
Miscampbell, Norman Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling) Wheeler, Sir John
Mitchell, Sir David Wiggin, Jerry
Moonie, Dr Lewis Wigley, Dafydd
Moore, Rt Hon John Williams, Rt Hon Alan
Morley, Elliot Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Morris, M (N'hampton S) Wilshire, David
Morrison, Sir Charles Winnick, David
Moss, Malcolm Worthington, Tony
Mowlam, Marjorie Yeo, Tim
Mullin, Chris Young, Sir George (Acton)
Needham, Richard
Nellist, Dave Tellers for the Noes:
Nelson, Anthony Mrs. Maria Fyfe and
Oppenheim, Phillip Mr. Robert Key.

Question accordingly negatived.

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