HC Deb 14 March 1995 vol 256 c684
10. Mr. Alton

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what discussions she has had with the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority about the freezing of human embryos.

Mr. Sackville

Officials of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority are in close contact with those of my Department on the matter. When the authority has reported and submitted its review of current arrangements we shall consider whether further action is appropriate.

Mr. Alton

In how many cases has contact been lost with the parents of the 30,000 human embryos that have been frozen in the past decade? Will an amendment to the law to prevent those embryos from being destroyed when their shelf-life expires next year be among the proposed courses of action that the Minister has said will be considered? What account is being taken of the evidence published in The Lancet in the past month or so showing that the freezing of mouse embryos has led to mutations occurring in the mice subsequently born?

Mr. Sackville

Clearly there will be many such cases, but the hon. Gentleman must remember that Parliament decided that treatment involving the implantation of embryos should go ahead, and that a feature of such treatment is storage.

Mr. Foulkes

Speak up.

Mr. Sackville

Parliament agreed a maximum period of five years for the storage of embryos. That raises many sensitive issues, which is why the authority is now considering the matter.

Madam Speaker

If the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) did not talk so much he might be able to hear the Minister.

Dr. Spink

Has my hon. Friend had time yet to review the accounts of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority that were published yesterday? If so, did he note that it will receive about 70 per cent. of its income next year from licence fees? Does he not think that that puts the gamekeeper a little too close to the poacher? Is there not an inconsistency here? Can he tell me how many licences have been revoked or withheld in the past year?

Mr. Sackville

My hon. Friend's use of the word "poacher" is inappropriate, if I may say so. I have the highest regard for the people who work for the authority and for the way in which they carry out a very sensitive job. I believe that we are respected throughout the world for having set up an authority to regulate this difficult area, and I know of no reason for any suspicion of a conflict of interests of the sort that my hon. Friend alleges.