HC Deb 16 April 1996 vol 275 cc499-500
8. Mr. Alton

To ask the Secretary of State for Health how many human embryos have been artificially created in the past five years; how many have been destroyed through experimentation; and how many are in deep freeze. [23471]

Mr. Horam

As I said in my answer to the hon. Gentleman on 25 March this year, the number of embryos created for in vitro fertilisation treatment from 1 August 1991 to 1994 inclusive was 302,156. During the same period, the number donated for research was 27,524 and the total number frozen was 64,161.

Mr. Alton

I thank the Minister for that reply. Does he agree that there is a major question to be answered about the 3,000 orphaned embryos whose parents have been lost, and that perpetually freezing embryos and extending their shelf lives by another five years is not a solution to their immediate problem? What does the Minister intend to do about that? What consideration is being given to the research in France into the mutations that occur as a result of the freezing process? Does the Minister agree that the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority is an inappropriate watchdog because the majority of its finance comes from the clinics that it is supposed to supervise, and that that links the watchdog far too much with the burglar?

Mr. Horam

I understand the hon. Gentleman's convictions on the subject. He will realise that he has asked a whole series of questions that I cannot fully investigate in the time available. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that we hope to have a short debate soon, at which time we can go into such matters more fully.

On the question of the 3,000 embryos whose parents the clinics are unable to trace, a great effort must be made between now and the end date to minimise that problem as much as possible. The number of couples involved is a small fraction of 3,000—the number of embryos—and so the problem is smaller than perhaps the media have allowed.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the French research, but extensive research has been done in this country as well, at Manchester university and other places, which has not so far established any suggestion that there is any difference between a child from a frozen embryo and a child born normally. I will have to take up the other matters when we have our much-rumoured debate.

Sir Patrick Cormack

Will my hon. Friend consider what the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) said about the HFEA? Is my hon. Friend aware that there is wide concern about some of the unnatural practices that were reported in the press this weekend?

Mr. Horam

The House should remember that the HFEA was set up as a result of a free vote of the House. In my view, it has carried out the instructions of the House in an exemplary manner and has done a job of which we can be proud by comparison with what happens in many other countries. I understand the point made by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton). The HFEA, like other agencies, will be reviewed after five years and those points will be taken into account.

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