HC Deb 15 December 2000 vol 359 cc878-939 9.34 am
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Yvette Cooper)

This is the second debate on embryology in recent weeks. The first, on 17 November, was good, measured and thoughtful. The subjects were not easy to discuss and are morally, medically and scientifically complex. It was an example of the House at its best and I hope that today's debate will be held in the same spirit. It was also a cross-party debate. We do not consider embryology to be a party political issue. There will be a free vote for the Labour party and, we hope, for other parties.

I remind the House that the regulations will implement two of the recommendations of the Donaldson report, which was published in the summer. The purpose of the regulations is to promote stem cell research, which has immense potential to relieve the suffering of many people in this country. It is for that reason, and because of the impact that the research could have on hundreds of thousands of people, that the Government support the regulations.

Dr. Liam Fox (Woodspring)

Can the Minister tell the House at the outset why the Government withdrew their draft regulations and produced new draft regulations this week, and why the House will be given only four working days between their publication and the need to enact them on Tuesday?

Yvette Cooper

The regulations were revised in response to comments and representations that were made to us about their content. We want to ensure that they most effectively represent the purpose of the Donaldson report and, in particular, focus on the need to ensure that the research is on serious disease. The regulations were laid in time for today's five hours of debate and for the debate next week. Relatively few wording changes have been made to the previous draft, which has been laid before the House for some time.

I recognise that some people cite strong moral reasons for opposing the regulations and that some oppose all embryo research and the current law. I respect those views, but I disagree with them. There are also strong moral reasons to support the regulations. I want to make it clear at the outset that the regulations do not license human reproductive cloning: that is illegal; it will stay illegal, and I will say more about it later.

I do not want to take up time by repeating much of what I said on 17 November, but I shall briefly remind the House of the current law and the changes that the regulations will make before I deal with some of the common misconceptions and address some of the central arguments that have been advanced against them over the past few weeks.

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 permits research using embryos for just five purposes, including infertility, contraception and congenital disease, and it does so under very strict constraints. Research can take place only on embryos up to 14 days old, and only if it can be done in no other way. It is always strictly regulated by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority.

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield)

The Minister says that the research can take place only if it can be done in that way and no other. Will she clarify a matter that is causing controversy in the House and the country? I am sure that Members on both sides of the House would agree that we should encourage anything that could alleviate pain, suffering and death, and that we have a marvellous opportunity for research into degenerative diseases such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, diabetes and, indeed, cancers. However, will she confirm that research on adult stem cells is no substitute for research on embryonic stem cells?

Yvette Cooper

I can confirm that that is the strong view of members of the Donaldson committee, who considered the subject in great detail, and of many people involved in research on embryonic stem cells and on adult stem cells. I shall cover that in detail later.

In practice, under current law, embryos that are used in research are created through in vitro fertilisation. Between 1991 and 1998, more than 750,000 embryos were created through 1VF. Some 48,000 were donated for use in research and 237,000 were destroyed. The rest were either used in treatment or held for future use.

The regulations will extend the purposes for which embryos can be used in research. The 1990 Act clearly set out the power to extend those purposes, but within the same strict constraints: the embryos can be used only up to 14 days and only under licence from the HFEA. The explanatory memorandum to the regulations says that they provide for research into the development of stem cells … That includes basic research and research to help us to understand diseases and develop treatments for them.

In response to the concerns raised, we have revised the regulations to ensure that the research relates to serious disease. Ultimately, it will be for the HFEA or the courts to interpret the term "serious disease". There can be no question but that it includes spinal injury, Parkinson's disease and cancer, the treatment of which could benefit from the research. We are not talking about a cure for the common cold.

Dr. Fox

Is the Minister seriously telling us that the Government believe that these matters, which should be decided in the House, are best left to the courts, which will interpret what the Government mean? Is not it incumbent on the Government to define what they mean in their legislation?

Yvette Cooper

Clearly, the House will have its own view of what "serious disease" means. There is no misunderstanding about the fact that Parkinson's disease, cancer and stroke—conditions whose treatment could benefit from stem cell research—are serious diseases. There is no problem with that. It is not something that the HFEA and ultimately the courts, if necessary, will have a serious problem in determining.

Dr. Fox

If the courts will not have difficulty in defining "serious disease", presumably because it is an easy definition to make, and given that what Ministers say in the House can now be interpreted in the courts, will the Minister tell us what is the Government's definition, because that lies behind the changes that they made to the draft regulations this week?

Yvette Cooper

I have made it clear that the Government believe that spinal cord injury, heart disease, muscular dystrophy and osteoporosis are serious diseases that cause immense pain, paralysis and very often death. It is clear to the House and people throughout the country that those are regarded as serious diseases. I have no problem with that.

There is a good reason for introducing the regulations. Stem cells hold huge potential. They are cells at an early stage of development that can differentiate into many different kinds of cell or tissue. Embryonic stem cells in particular are regarded as pluripotent. They have the potential to become many different kinds of tissue, including brain tissue, heart tissue, muscle, nervous tissue and skin tissue, and therein lies their power.

Although there have been amazing medical advances over the past 100 years, the past 10 years and even the past three years, some diseases and injuries have proved far more difficult to treat; in particular, disease, disorder or injury that destroys essential tissue that will not repair itself or that does not regenerate effectively. Examples include the brain tissue damaged by stroke that cannot repair itself; the heart muscle destroyed by heart attack that will not recover; the pancreatic tissue damaged in diabetes that will not heal; and the severed spinal cord that will never regenerate.

If a child falls off her bike and fractures her spinal cord, that is it—doctors can do nothing to repair the paralysis that will result from such injury. Even for tissues that can repair themselves, but where the healing is haphazard or incomplete, stem cell research might have the power to make a massive difference. The potential of stem cells is that they might help scientists to unlock the secret of repairing and regenerating cells and tissue and of preventing the degeneration, pain, paralysis and death caused by disease. The Donaldson report suggested that stem cells could hold the key to breakthroughs in treating stroke, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's disease, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injury, heart attack, diabetes, osteoporosis, cancers, leukaemia and muscular dystrophy.

Let us consider the human implications of such research. It is about helping the young father confined by multiple sclerosis to a wheelchair who cannot play football with his son. It is about helping the schoolboy with a broken neck following a rugby injury who will never walk again. It is about helping the 1,500 children and adults with Friedrich's ataxia who cannot speak properly or co-ordinate their arms and legs. It is about helping the thousands of people paralysed by stroke each year, or the patients who die waiting for liver or heart transplants that never materialise. It is about helping the elderly woman who is losing her independence because of the pain and disability of osteoporosis. It is about helping the lawyer with Parkinson's disease who can no longer feed himself because his hands shake so much. We have it in our power to authorise the research that could trigger life-saving and life-transforming treatments and cures in such cases.

Ms Ruth Kelly (Bolton, West)

I am sure that everybody in the House feels deeply emotional about the problems that the Minister is describing. Some of us might even have experienced those diseases in our families. The question before us today, however, is what are the ethical limits of scientific inquiry and whether we should use embryo stem cells or adult stem cells. Is not science moving so rapidly that even in the few weeks since the Donaldson report was published huge scientific advances have shown that adult stem cells may be pluripotent and capable of being used for just as many purposes as embryonic stem cells?

Yvette Cooper

I certainly agree with my hon. Friend that embryo research has to be strictly regulated and controlled, but I disagree that adult stem cells have at this stage in our knowledge the same potential for research as embryonic stem cells. I shall address that in some detail in a moment.

It is hard for those of us who do not object in principle to embryo research to turn our backs on the chance to end suffering. Some people have strong ethical objections to any form of embryo research, and I respect that. However, those who accept that it can be justified under strict regulation and within strict constraints believe that there are huge potential breakthroughs.

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield)

The hon. Lady makes a blanket statement. She will agree that the 1990 Act is different in its nature and quality from what will be proposed next week, which relates to the cloning of human embryos—a completely new development. I hope that she will focus on the ethical issues relating to cloning, because simply to make the blanket statement, "Well, the whole issue is ethical; we respect that but we should move on," misses the point about the distinction of the regulations that the Government seek to introduce.

Yvette Cooper

I shall turn to the arguments about cloning later in my speech. First, I want to tackle the issue of adult stem cells.

In the past few weeks, many people have asserted that all embryonic stem cell research is unnecessary and that breakthroughs have been made with adult stem cells, so all the research can be conducted using those. Many of those who argue that most strongly are opposed to all embryo research, whether it is essential or not. Nevertheless, the argument is extremely important and I shall address it.

We asked the Donaldson group to consider the issue in detail. In fact, it was one of the central purposes of setting up the group. It investigated whether the research could be done in any other way, and whether embryonic stem cell research was essential. It considered all the research developments. Since the publication of the report, we have talked to the group again and it still strongly maintains that although adult stem cell research has huge potential, we need embryonic stem cell research too.

The reason is that adult-derived stem cells are few in number and hard to find. We do not even know whether there are stem cells for every part of the body. Those that we can find take longer to grow and develop. Their potential to turn into a wide variety of cells appears to be more limited.

Embryonic stem cells are a different story. They can renew themselves, develop into many kinds of stem cells and could be the key to learning how cells regenerate and develop and how to turn back the clock on an adult cell to turn it into something else. For many scientists, the holy grail is to use not embryonic cells but adult cells—using my skin cells to develop new brain tissue to repair damage done by a stroke. Without the key from the use of embryonic cells, we might always be locked out of that area of knowledge and potential.

Someone suggested that we might be able to achieve such things with cord blood. We have cord blood banks in the United Kingdom, which play a vital role in bone marrow transplantation. Cord blood is an important source of stem cells, but in that area, too, scientists have not yet found a way in which to differentiate all tissue and cell types. The Medical Research Council has said that it is not aware of any data that shows that stem cells from cord blood develop into anything other than blood cells, which means that its potential could be limited.

Many of those "arguing" that adult stem cells are enough have based their claims on research from other countries, such as the United States, where there have been considerable breakthroughs. That research is extremely promising, but it does not end the need for embryonic stem cell research. In fact, many of the scientists who have been carrying out adult stem cell research have said the same. Professor Richard Hynes, president of the American Society for Cell Biology, said: We are dismayed that our research is being used as a justification to hinder or prohibit research using embryonic stem cells. It is simply incorrect to use the future promise of adult stein cell research as an argument that embryonic stem cell research is not critical and essential.

Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East)

Is my hon. Friend aware that it is very difficult to keep adult stem cells in a culture medium for any long period, whereas embryonic stem cells are much more persistent and can be kept for far longer?

Yvette Cooper

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is one reason why scientists feel that, as this stage, there is far more power in embryonic stem cell research to help us make the breakthroughs that we need, which could in the end render unnecessary research using embryos.

Mr. Fabricant

I might not have heard the Minister, but I do not think that she mentioned the possible cure of diabetes. Is she aware that more than 2 million people in the United Kingdom suffer from some form of diabetes—not necessarily resulting in a daily injection of insulin but none the less causing great difficulties such as thrombosis in the leg and eye degeneration? Is she aware that the Wellcome research laboratory has said that there is no evidence that adult stem cells have the capability to be mutated, if that is the word, into the islets of Langerhans to be inserted in the pancreas, producing insulin naturally, which for the first time would result in a cure for diabetes?

Yvette Cooper

The hon. Gentleman is right that scientists believe that the treatment of diabetes is one area that could benefit hugely from stem cell research. He is also right that the range of potential uses of adult stem research is still much narrower than that of embryonic stem cell research. It is true that, in opening the door to embryonic stem cell research, we open the door to many potential cures and treatments.

Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon)

The Minister made a critical point that those working on adult stem cells are unanimous in the scientific view that research using embryonic stem cells not only opens the door to greater insight but can be used in the same laboratory to further their work. It is critical that we recognise that people who are competing in the same area and therefore might be threatened by the loss of grants for embryonic stem cell research are unanimous that such research is needed in the short to medium term.

Yvette Cooper

The hon. Gentleman is right that many involved in adult stem cell research recognise not only the limitations of such work but the potential of embryonic stem cell research, which is why many support the extension of the latter.

It is right that where there are other ways in which to conduct research, the use of embryos should be avoided. It is right that, if breakthroughs occur, adult stem cell research should be conducted instead. That is exactly what the 1990 Act sets out; such checks and provisos are already built into it. The HFEA must check that the use of embryos is necessary to the research before it grants a licence. In licensing any research using embryos, the HFEA must satisfy itself that there are no other means of meeting the research's objectives. The HFEA has confirmed that it will do exactly that. That applies to cell nuclear replacement technique, too, to which I shall come in a moment. There, too, the HFEA must satisfy itself that there are no other means of meeting the objectives of research.

I turn to the issues surrounding cell nuclear replacement technique. Many have said that the regulations will open the door to human reproductive cloning. I cannot say more strongly that human reproductive cloning is illegal; it will stay illegal. The regulations do not permit it. They do not permit even research into it. I know of no one in the House who is advocating human reproductive cloning. I find it a deeply troubling idea, and the Government are adamantly opposed to it.

Ms Kelly

Is my hon. Friend aware of the survey in The Independent in August, which asked 32 eminent scientists, some of whom advise the Government, whether allowing the first stage of cloning would inevitably lead to reproductive cloning? More than half thought that it would.

Yvette Cooper

I disagree with those scientists. The power to permit human reproductive cloning lies in this House not in the hands of scientists, and this House is adamantly opposed to it. I am adamantly opposed to human reproductive cloning.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough)

That might be true, but unfortunately the early stages of cell nuclear replacement are exactly the same process. Has the Minister seen the early-day motion in the name of the hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton (Mr. Dobbin), to which I referred the Leader of the House yesterday? It quotes the Official Report of 2 April 1990, in which the then Secretary of State for Health, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), said that all hon. Members would like to prohibit certain activities, which include cloning.—[Official Report, 2 April 1990; Vol. 170, c. 920.] That is not human cloning, but cloning. Cell nuclear replacement is not ultimate human cloning but the first stages of cloning. Does the Minister agree that, following that absolute commitment by the then Secretary of State, which can be interpreted by the courts under Pepper v. Hart, the 1990 Act would not permit cloning? Would not it be wrong simply to amend that Act? Would not it be far better to introduce a new Bill, so that on Second Reading and in Committee we could debate such matters in full?

Yvette Cooper

It is clear that, in 1990, debate in the House concerned the cloning of babies, and that the House was absolutely opposed to that. I am absolutely opposed to the cloning of babies. That strong opposition remains. However, under the regulations, we are considering a research technique called cell nuclear replacement. That was not in existence, discussed or anticipated in 1990. It has been and is legal under the 1990 Act to use cell nuclear replacement technique.

Cell nuclear replacement technique is a process by which a nucleus is removed from an egg and the nucleus of an adult cell is put in its place. The egg is not a fertilised one, but is somehow triggered into growth, becoming a source of stem cells that are genetically identical to the person from whom the adult cell came. It is legal only under the strict conditions of the 1990 Act. That means that the embryo created through cell nuclear replacement cannot develop beyond 14 days. It can be created and developed only under licence from the HFEA and only for the purposes specified in the Act. It is a criminal offence to implant an embryo created through cell nuclear replacement in the womb. Human reproductive cloning is illegal.

Ms Kelly

Will my hon. Friend do the House the favour of publishing the legal advice with which she has been provided that shows that cell nuclear replacement, or the first stage of cloning, is covered by the 1990 Act? I understand that the Act defines an embryo as a fertilised egg.

Yvette Cooper

I shall certainly provide more information about the legal advice that we have received, but I can assure the House that we took legal advice on that point in 1997, when the technique was first developed, to ensure that the cell nuclear replacement technique was covered by the 1990 Act, that it was legal and that it was regulated—that the embryos created through the technique were regulated by the Act. The regulations would not change the law on cell nuclear replacement: the technique is already legal. The regulations would simply extend the purposes for which research using embryonic cells could be carried out; the existing strict regulation would not be changed.

The Donaldson report concluded that there were good health reasons for permitting such research, because in cell nuclear replacement could lie the potential to understand the development of compatible tissue—how to repair diseased and damaged tissue with new tissue that the body will not reject. However, the report made it clear, as do the Government, that the HFEA must ensure that there is no other way in which to carry out the research before licensing any proposal, including cell nuclear replacement.

The question facing the House is, what is the alternative to approving the regulations? The position of in vitro fertilisation will not change and hundreds of thousands of embryos created through IVF, but unneeded, will continue to be destroyed. They will not become human beings. That is the consequence of IVF and it will not change. However, we shall miss the opportunity to trigger research that could save and transform lives throughout the country—the thousands of lives wrecked by disease, disorders or accidents that destroy the tissues that we have never been able to repair. We are talking about research that could restore the power to walk, talk, feed oneself or hold a loved one or baby in one's arms—even the power to think as once one could.

Such research could develop new cures and treatments for stroke, heart disease, spinal injury and Parkinson's disease. Is it any wonder that the regulations have the support of the British Heart Foundation, the Parkinson's Disease Society, the British Medical Association, the Genetic Interest Group, which represents more than 100 charities, the Royal Society, the Muscular Dystrophy Group of Great Britain, the Friedrich's Ataxia Society and many other bodies? Even people who know that there is no cure for their condition recognize the long-term potential of the research and the prospect of relieving suffering.

Some people, I know, have strong moral and religious reasons to oppose the regulations and the current Act. I respect their views, but there are equally strong moral and religious reasons to support the regulations. Many of strong religious faith support the regulations and the prospect of relieving the suffering of fellow men and women.

Mr. Leigh

Will the Minister give way on that issue?

Yvette Cooper

I shall not, because I have reached the end of my speech. However, I repeat my belief that there are many of strong religious faith who believes that it is right to relieve the suffering of their fellow men and women created on this earth. Many people believe that. Many right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House believe that the argument is not one of ethics versus science—far from it. There are strong ethical cases on both sides of the argument, but I believe that, given their huge power to end suffering, the ethical case in favour of going ahead with the regulations is immense and overwhelming. I hope that the House will support the regulations.

10.3 am

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough)

I appreciate the Minister's introducing the debate in the way that she has. She rightly ran through the list of appalling diseases from which many people suffer. It is hard not to feel some emotion about such matters, but I believe that we have to be clear, level-headed and rational: we have to try to divorce the conclusions we reach from what we would do in a specific set of circumstances. To be honest, I admit that, if one of my children suffered from an incurable and terrible disease and someone told me that my child could by cured by destroying 100 or 500 embryos, I would be tempted to say, "Yes, my child comes first." However, we cannot allow ourselves to be swayed by that sort of emotional argument.

In my view, what the House is good at and what this country has led the world in for the past century is saying that one has to protect the vulnerable and innocent in society. Whatever the moral end of a particular course of action—in this case, trying to cure terrible diseases—and no matter what the potential good, it cannot justify the killing of innocents. That is where I stand: there is a right of life and those tiny creatures have rights that we must respect.

During a debate on his ten-minute Bill, the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) said that embryos are microscopic; they cannot hear, see, feel or think. All that is true, but the fact that they are so small and cannot feel or think does not mean that they do not have certain rights. After all, every single Member of Parliament was originally a single, unique embryo. Every embryo is a unique blueprint and crucible for human life. In my view, the embryo is human; it is not merely a spare part to be used for medical research. The Minister might say that an embryo is only a blueprint, but I am sure that she would accept that it is a complete genetic blueprint, and if an embryo dies or is killed—the process we are discussing inevitably results in the destruction of many embryos—that unique human being will have no existence; it is finished.

Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge)

I have listened with interest to the hon. Gentleman's arguments and I understand his deep beliefs, but does he agree that what he is arguing about is whether we should carry out embryo research at all? He seems to be making an argument against the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990, which is not the subject of today's debate.

Mr. Leigh

That is a fair point, but today's debate is about taking a principle one step further. I have doubts about fertilisation procedures, but the regulations would take the process even further and result in the destruction of even more embryos. Especially worrying to me is that the process involved is the first stage of the cloning process—indeed, cloning is necessary to make the process work.

Dr. Harris

I share the respect expressed by the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell) for the hon. Gentleman's deeply felt views. However, I should like to put to him the view put to me by Church of England theologians, to whose arguments I shall attempt to do justice. If one accepts the hon. Gentleman's position regarding the complete humanness of fertilised eggs, one must accept that the majority of such humans never make it, because they pass out of the body without implanting. Therefore, one might say that the majority of stars in heaven are fertilised eggs that never reach implantation, and that is why people allow only a certain degree of human rights and respect to fertilised eggs, blastocysts and embryos, rather than the full human rights and respect that they would accord to babies and adults. Does he agree?

Mr. Leigh

That is a fair point, but one has to ask oneself where life begins. How can one say that an embryo is alive one day, dead the next; is human and has rights one day and none the next; is inhuman one minute, human the next? There is no particular point at which one can logically make that decision, except by arguing that life and human rights begin at conception, and that is my personal belief.

Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park)

The hon. Gentleman knows that I respect his view. He is talking about when human life begins. The fertilised egg can begin its life only after implantation in the uterus. We are therefore talking about a pre-life condition. Human life does not begin until there is sustenance to maintain life from the placenta in the uterus, which continues through pregnancy to the birth of the baby. We are not talking about true human life at the pre-14-day stage.

Mr. Leigh

It is true that the embryo will have no chance of developing into a fully formed human being unless and until it can be implanted. However, there is no structural change in the embryo. I agree that it is a question of nutrients. If the embryo is to grow into a foetus and then a human being, it needs nutrients from the mother's womb. There is not a dramatic change. There is not an entirely new genetic blueprint that is injected at that stage. I argue that the only logical case is that rights begin at conception. I accept that that is a controversial view, but it is one that I must put to the House.

If we are talking about theology—I shall argue against myself—my case has not always been argued. My hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) quoted St. Thomas Aquinas from the middle ages, who believed that embryos were in soul only after about 40 days.

Dr. Tonge

Ninety days.

Mr. Leigh

Let us not get too deeply into theology. We do not want to be dancing on the head of a pin.

St. Thomas Aquinas based his scanty medical knowledge on Aristotle. Modern medical science rejects the view that somehow there is a dramatic change at 40 days or 90 days. However, we know that the embryo, a genetic blueprint, is unique from the point of conception.

We do not have to have any religious belief to realise that the embryo does not change its structure. Religion can be cut out of the argument entirely. We have only to accept that there is a complete genetic blueprint.

Dr. Tonge

On a lighter note, and before the hon. Gentleman leaves St. Thomas Aquinas, does he agree that the 40 or 90-day rule proves that when God made man he was only testing?

Mr. Leigh

I thank the hon. Lady for that point. I think that we can now leave St. Thomas Aquinas in the middle ages, where he belongs.

The embryo is the smallest, the most despised and the most primitive human creature. However, it should not be rejected by us. I strongly hold the view that the human condition is ennobling and unique. We value the weakest on earth and no other species takes that view, exists in that way or orders its existence in that way. The fact that the embryo is the weakest, the smallest and the most despised of the human kind makes it, I believe, all the more important that we value and nurture it.

I accept that my views on nurturing human life have developed. When I first became a Member of this place, I was a strong proponent of capital punishment. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox), who speaks from the Opposition Front Bench, I believe that we must be entirely consistent. If there were a vote again on capital punishment, I do not think that I could vote for it. The development of my views has coloured my attitudes on so many issues that come before the House, including capital punishment, abortion, embryo research and even issues such as bombing Kosovo or Iraq.

I have come to the conclusion that the most important thing that we can do in this place is nurture human life and resist the materialist and consumerist view of society that human beings, however innocent and however small, are expendable. We cannot accept the argument of the greater good.

I do not deny that embryos have no independent existence outside the mother's womb, but they have certain rights.

Miss Anne Begg (Aberdeen, South)

I am interested in what the hon. Gentleman says about nurturing human life. Does he agree that one of the potential consequences of stem cell research relates to nurturing human life, whether it is the child who has broken her back or the old age pensioner who has Alzheimer's disease? To me, that is nurturing human life.

Mr. Leigh

The hon. Lady makes her point very well. We are trying to find our way through a moral maze, and that is why the debate is so difficult. There is not good on one side and evil on the other. I accept that the hon. Lady is desperately concerned to try to find the best forms of research to nurture adult life.

The greatest disasters of the 20th century were when people proclaimed a certain course of action as right and therefore had to sacrifice other people to make that happen. That argument was used so terribly in the 20th century, to the effect that some humans were sub-human and therefore disposable. I know that the hon. Lady does not take that view. She would reject any medical research that was undertaken on humans to further medical knowledge. We know that that is horrible and that that is what the Nazis did. No one in the House wants to do that. However, the Nazis were saying that some humans were sub-humans and therefore expendable.

I know that embryos are in an entirely different category from adults. However, although the argument is different in that sense, it is really the same argument. It is argued that embryos are sub-human. We have already heard that until the embryo is implanted it does not have human existence and does not have rights. I reject that point of view.

Mr. Fabricant

I understand and appreciate what my hon. Friend is saying, and I have considerable respect for his argument. Although he denies it, is he not making a religious point? He believes that the embryo has a soul whereas other beings, such as animals on which we might undertake experimentation, do not have a soul. Is there not also the point that the experimentation that was undertaken during the second world war was on sentient beings—beings with a brain and the ability to think? Does he not accept that an embryo does not have one brain cell? It is the question of soul rather than whether a sentient being is feeling pain.

Mr. Leigh

I have quoted the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon, who made an excellent speech in introducing his ten-minute Bill. I have tried to accept from my first words that we are talking about microscopic creatures that cannot see, hear, think or feel. Undertaking research on them is entirely different from what the Nazis were doing 50 years ago. We all know that. However, I am talking about the same principle. We cannot advance medical knowledge by destroying an embryo, which is a complete and unique genetic blueprint for an individual human being, which if it were not destroyed would result in a unique human being. That is my view. It is not a religious point of view, but an ethical, rational, humanitarian point of view.

Mrs. Anne Campbell

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way again. Does he accept that there has already been some valuable research using embryos, particularly research into fertility, which has benefited many hundreds of thousands of people? Does he agree that we have already accepted that principle, and that we are now considering a different step—research into degenerative disease, which also affects many thousands of lives?

Mr. Leigh

Yes. The House has accepted that, but the hon. Lady will no doubt acknowledge that does not mean that I have to accept it.

Dr. Harris

To return the compliment, the hon. Gentleman also made an excellent speech on 31 October, but it was marred when he said: Photographs recently taken by a Swedish photographer clearly show the development of the brain and an obvious distinction between the two lobes— by which I thought he implied lobes of the brain— in a 14-day-old foetus.—[Official Report, 31 October 2000; Vol. 355, c. 629.] He has never given, and I have not been able to find, any reference to the publication of those photographs. Clearly, in a disorganised cluster of cells, which is what a blastocyst is, there will be no brain development, and the 14-day limit is agreed as the very beginning of the earliest period in which a primitive streak can appear. That has nothing to do with brain development per se, except the early signs of central nervous system organisation. Will the hon. Gentleman withdraw the allegation that there is brain development in a blastocyst up to 14 days old?

Mr. Leigh

I am grateful for that intervention. The hon. Gentleman did me the courtesy a few weeks ago of saying that he might come back to me on that point, so we tried to do some research on it.

We consulted Dr. John Maclean, a paediatrician in London who is an authoritative voice on the subject. He accepted, and I admit to the hon. Gentleman, that there must be an element of speculation about the point that I was making, but the doctor could not see how anybody could know the rate at which cell division occurred in embryos. He continued: However, the principle remains the same: the embryo is growing and developing into a larger human being all the time. I withdraw my point that one can refer to a particular number of neurons, but the principle remains the same. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point.

Before I conclude, I shall deal with the difficult issue of adult stem cell research. After the debate on the ten-minute Bill, many hon. Members told me that the one factor that determined the way in which they had voted was that they hoped and believed that an alternative existed. They were worried about the use of embryos. The Minister dismissed the alternatives, but I shall quote a few passages from Science, to show the House that there is an alternative point of view.

For example, an article in Science in June 2000 states that much research has been carried out into the use of stem cells, and the more is done, the more scientists seem to realise the potential of adult stem cells. They are able to turn into different types of muscle and nerve i.e. they are pluri-potent. Swedish scientists have discovered that stem cells from bone marrow can be grown into nerve cells. Blood-producing stem cells can grow into muscle cells, and vice versa. Another article in Science on 25 February 2000, written by G. Vogel, reports: Researchers have found that bone marrow stem cells from children and adults can become brain cells and liver cell precursors, plus all three kinds of muscle—heart, skeletal and smooth… Besides skirting the ethical dilemmas surrounding research on embryonic and foetal stem cells, adult stem cells …might have another advantage: they may be easier to manage. A further article in Science by Clarke, Johansson, Frisen and others, entitled "Generalised Potential of Adult Neural Stem Cells", states that other scientists have discovered that an adult neural stem cell has a very broad developmental capacity and may potentially be used to generate a variety of cell types for transplantation in different diseases. I am not a scientist. As far as I know, none of us in the Chamber is a scientist—[Interruption.] I apologise. I do not pretend to be a scientist. I merely point out that the subject is being widely debated.

The Minister nods. She is a fair person, and I am sure that she accepts that research in embryology is moving fast. For the sake of argument, I will accept that stem cells taken from embryos are far easier to deal with in the current state of knowledge. I accept that, and I agree that the research into adult stem cells is at an early stage. Equally, I hope that the hon. Lady will do me the service of accepting that research is progressing fast. The view is increasingly being expressed that it will be possible to use adult stem cells—perhaps not yet, but in time.

Mr. Fabricant

Does my hon. Friend accept that every scientist to whom I have spoken on the subject says that if we are to be able to use adult stem cells, we will have to do research on embryonic stem cells first, in order to get to that stage?

Mr. Leigh

I accept what my hon. Friend says. There is no point in overstating my case. I must accept that the process would be made much easier and would advance much more quickly if we could use embryos. For the sake of argument, I accept that, but I believe that one must take an ethical stance. Although the process will take longer, adult stem cells are more difficult to deal with and it would help the entire process if we could use embryos, we must nevertheless be prepared to be patient. There are great moral and ethical arguments around the issue.

Yvette Cooper

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He accepts that embryonic stem cells have more potential, and I am grateful to him for accepting that. If adult stem cell research reached a dead end, and if there were research areas for which it was not possible to use adult stem cells, would he accept the need for embryonic stem cell research to reach those areas, or does he believe that embryonic stem cell research should never be used, no matter how many areas it might be able to help?

Mr. Leigh

If I were a better politician, I would say that that was a hypothetical question and I would refuse to answer it. I do not want to take an absolutist point of view. If the situation described by the Minister became clear and I was advised by eminent scientists that embryonic stem cell research was the only way forward, I would have to accept that and agree with the hon. Lady. I am not sure that that is the present position.

I fear that if we proceed as we are doing, we will open the floodgates. We should take the matter carefully and do as I propose. We should acknowledge that there is doubt about the 1990 Act. Of course, the Minister is right that, in 1990, no one envisaged the process. When people spoke about cloning, they probably meant full human cloning. I accept that, although the words that the hon. Lady used refer to cloning, not to human cloning, and the process that we are discussing today is cloning.

As research is moving forward so quickly, is there not an argument for dealing with the matter by way of primary legislation? We all think that there might be a general election fairly soon. Let us wait for the new Parliament to return in May. Let us have a Bill mentioned in the Queen's Speech. Let us have a Second Reading and a Committee stage, and deal with the arguments in detail and in an entirely new Act. Why the rush? Why are we pushing the matter forward now? Why can we not wait until a new Session of Parliament and deal with the issues by way of a Bill

If the amendment is allowed, scientists will be able to use embryos for the purposes of research. That will involve the removal of the nucleus from a human egg and the implantation of the nucleus from the cell of another human. Although the Minister is entirely right to say that she rejects human cloning, that is the first part of the process.

Scientists are just like politicians. Scientists are also motivated by fame, and there are huge profits to be made in this branch of science. I know that the Minister is under enormous pressure from pharmaceutical companies. She shakes her head. All right, she is under pressure from many medical organisations and pharmaceutical companies. Many people have an enormous interest in this. However, surely the Minister is big enough to stand firm, and say that the House needs to take a considered view of these matters. We are moving into an entirely new area, which involves cloning.

Mr. David Lammy (Tottenham)

The hon. Gentleman may be aware that I am a member of the Archbishops' Council, the new executive body of the Church of England. He began by making a religious point, but towards the end of his speech he seemed to be demonstrating flexibility, suggesting that we might wait until after the election to have greater debate. Is he moving away from the basic position that life has begun, the sanctity of life is sacred and that, if one takes a religious position, the amendment should not go through?

Mr. Leigh

I am not moving away from it, but am trying to build alliances. I am trying to recognise that politics is the art of the possible. The hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Lammy) knows enough about my views to know that they are fixed. However, I recognise that I may be in a minority in the House. I am trying to nudge the Minister in a direction that will result in better and fuller debate.

My views are clear: this is an ethical issue and we cannot use embryos in this way. I accept that my view is probably not shared by the majority of hon. Members. However, if we are to change the law, at least let us do it properly. Procedure on the matter has been rather cockeyed. There has been a ten-minute Bill, an Adjournment debate on one Friday and this debate—although many Members cannot come on Fridays. We are also to have a short debate on Tuesday. Is not the whole thing a tiny bit confusing and messy? Will the Minister reconsider one last time before Tuesday, taking the matter away and coming back with primary legislation?

10.31 am
Dr. Ian Gibson (Norwich, North)

I must apologise to the House as 1 regret that I have to leave at some point during the debate. Constituency work calls, and the trains to Norwich are slightly delayed these days, which is a problem.

I am pleased to speak in the debate, and had that pleasure, last time that we debated this matter. The issue of stem cell research has gone up the scientific and medical agenda, and many people want to know why, which is a fair question. There are several reasons, and I can provide three. First, animal experimentation and the use of stem cells in mice and other organisms have raised expectations that we can repair the effects of disease, not only in animals such as mice but in human beings. We have reached that stage, and questions must be asked.

Secondly, the human genome project, which will revolutionise medical research and health services in this country, will give us an inner knowledge of how genes operate to make cells migrate, grow and populate other tissues, as well as how they make cells differentiate into different cell types. Understanding genes and how they operate together will give us new knowledge and insights into how disease develops and how we can eradicate some of the basic causes and mechanisms involved.

There is one final important aspect. In France, Prime Minister Lionel Jospin has announced his intention to introduce a Bill in the French Parliament to permit stem cell research. In that French way, he has described human embryonic cells as cells of hope. The world is moving on and, in the scientific and medical field, other countries realise that there is much work to be done and much knowledge to be gained. We cannot sit back and allow that to go on in the world of international science and medicine, without playing the dominant role that we have had for many years.

I want to make two major contributions to the debate: one concerns the mechanism for getting adult stem cells and the other the tightness of regulations. Professor Anne McLaren, who is perhaps the most eminent embryologist and who works at Cambridge university and sits on international committees, came to the House to discuss the issues with us. I am pleased to relate some of her experiences. Professor McLaren said that she would not allow this research and would not support the Government's line unless tight regulations were in place and we had years of experience of how the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 had worked. Professor McLaren does not see that there is anything new that cannot be controlled.

It is not well known that the isolation of embryonic stem cells does not require the continuous use of human embryos. Once one has the cells, one can multiply them, freeze them and keep them in liquid nitrogen sources under the control of the Medical Research Council, as the Donaldson report stated. The cells are monitored for viral diseases or other problems and there will be a pure cell line that people can grow and use for experimentation approved under the 1990 Act as well as the experimentation that, I hope, we shall subsequently approve.

How many independent cell lines does one need to start research? The experts in the field say that they need no more than five to 20 cells to get the work going, so we are not talking about continuous embryo usage. Because the research is not novel and we do not know what is going to happen, we do not know when we will get the results. Individuals on the Donaldson committee said that as we learn more, we will never need to go beyond 500 cell lines. When one takes cells and transplants them into an individual, there is an immune response, as there is with the transplant of organs. Using 500 cell lines can overcome immune response, which allows one to use fewer immuno-suppressive drugs, which have bad effects on patients during organ transfer and so on. Those cells will be engineered to ensure compatibility between 500 types of immunological classes. That will allow research to proceed.

Ms Kelly

If there is real concern about tissue rejection, is not the best way to overcome rejection to use adult stem cells from the individual concerned?

Dr. Gibson

Absolutely; that would be the best way. I was coming on to that. However, as has been explained, we have not yet reached that position. There is no reason why we cannot expect to do so in the fullness of time, but the lessons and tricks that we learn in growing the cells and allowing them to differentiate will manifest themselves when we are able to use adult cells. It is not an either/or position, as the opposition try to say. We want to work with adult cells as well as embryonic cells. However, the difference is that adult cells have been around a lot longer and mutations are more likely.

It is difficult for adult cells to grow and multiply like embryonic cells. Rather, as with cancer cells, one cannot stop embryonic cells multiplying. There are vast numbers of cancer cells lying about all over the country, which people use in experiments for drug treatments. There is nothing new in cloning five, 20 or, at most, 500 cell lines. Thousands of cancer cell lines have been taken from patients, grown up and used, legally, to test drugs and so on.

Ms Kelly

Surely that argument holds only for the cloning of cells. We are talking about the cloning of embryos. Unless my hon. Friend thinks that there is no distinction between a cell and an embryo, his position is untenable.

Dr. Gibson

My point is that the cells are grown up, but they never reach the stage of becoming an embryo. They multiply in a test tube and are then frozen and used for transplantation into a patient. There is no question of an embryo being involved in any way along the line. No cancer cell ever turns into an embryo, and no embryonic cell in a test tube will ever turn into a human embryo. Embryonic cells initially come from an embryo, but have no potential at all to turn into an embryo once they are frozen and used clinically.

In experiments in the USA and Australia, very few cell lines have been used. In the United States, most of that research is done privately and does not have the regulation that we would support in this country. There are also problems in Australia. Initially, material would be taken from IVF embryos. However, it is estimated that between 1991 and 1999, 237,600 IVF embryos were not used. Therefore, many embryos are not being used, and we are taking a few surplus ones to carry out this work.

I have talked a little about adult cells, which it is often argued could be used. We do not know their capacity for multiplication or how to obtain them. There are very few of them and they are difficult to obtain. Furthermore, we do not know whether we can generate from the cells that we obtain enough cells for tissue repair. We know nothing about that. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) that much more research is needed and that it should be funded and allowed to proceed, but that does not contradict the investigation of embryos also.

It is often said that cord blood can be used from blood stem cells. It can be used in the treatment of leukaemia, but, to date, there is no evidence to show that cord blood stem cells can produce other tissue types. The same applies to placental tissue, as there is no evidence to suggest that its stem cells can be used to make different types of tissue, but I support the right to conduct experiments to find out whether that is possible.

I deal finally with the regulations, about which not much has been said. As I said, I am grateful to Professor Anne McLaren, who operates on the world stage and is an eminent supporter of stem cell research, for her contribution to my thoughts on embryology. She makes the point that any research project on human embryos that is submitted to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority for a research licence must undergo both ethical and scientific review. Before granting a licence, the licence committee then has to judge whether the research is "necessary and desirable", as is required by the 1990 Act, and also whether the aims of the project can be achieved in any other way, such as through animal embryos.

If the research licence is granted, an annual progress report is required. The report will contain information on how many embryos were used, what they were used for and where they came from. Each embryo must be individually accounted for. The HFEA annual report includes a list of on-going research projects and information on who is conducting them, where they are occurring and the topic with which they deal. The HFEA reports to Parliament.

In the 10 years since 1990, no problems have arisen with research licences. No breaches of the 1990 Act have occurred and no scientists have conducted unlicensed research. Many people are suspicious of the arrogance of science and so on, but every centre is inspected annually, the research community is closely knit, there is strong professionalism and control is tight. I doubt whether anybody would be tempted to go beyond the use of a 14-day embryo merely for the sake of kudos in the scientific community. Such a person would be jumped on heavily and his or her professionalism would be destroyed. The occurrence would be public knowledge because of the nature of the cross-section of scientists who work in any scientific institution.

The European Community is advised by a European group on ethics, of which Professor McLaren is a member. The group is multidisciplinary; it comprises lawyers, ethicists, theologians, scientists, doctors and representatives from a dozen European Union member states. In its recent opinion on ethical aspects of human cell research and use, the group said that, for countries where human embryo research was allowed for the alleviation of infertility, it, is hard to see any specific argument which would prohibit extending the scope of such research in order to develop new treatments to cure severe diseases or injuries. That sounds rather like what we are discussing today. The group sees no argument for excluding funding of such research from the EU' s framework research programme, which many people can access. The group also deemed it ethically unacceptable to fertilise donated eggs for the purpose of deriving stem cells when donated spare IVF embryos represent a ready alternative source. It recommends the provision of a specific EC research budget for stem cell research, including research on spare embryos.

If we became part of a world movement to reject such views, we would knock backwards 100 years of research into medicine, care of patients and the ethos on which this country operates in the world arena.

10.43 am
Mr. Nick Harvey (North Devon)

This is the first time that I have contributed to the complex debate on the issues before us. I do so rather hesitantly in the company of hon. Members who, whether from scientific and/or religious points of view, have a great deal more expertise in these matters than I have. Like many hon. Members, I have received many representations, across the whole spectrum of views. I hope that I have begun to develop an understanding of the scientific potential offered by the types of research in question and of the concerns that exercise many of my constituents and those of other hon. Members.

I share the slight feeling of undue haste that has already been expressed. I do not go quite as far as the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh), who called for the introduction of primary legislation with a full Committee stage. However, I think that the four-day period that has been allowed to the House and the outside world for consideration of the guidelines is a little too quick and that it might have been more reasonable to roll over the matter until January. Much pressure for speed has been exerted, not least by patient groups which are keen for work to begin to fulfil some of the scientific potential, and also by the biotechnology industry, but I do not believe that a slightly longer period of reflection would have made too huge a difference.

I recognise, however, that we have an opportunity now to continue the debate, in which I am happy to participate. I see the debate as new. It should not be a repeat of the Warnock and Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority debate of 10 or more years ago, or a classic pro-life versus pro-choice debate, as new issues and ethical considerations must be taken into account.

People on both sides of the argument are approaching it from a humanitarian perspective. Some have concerns about the impact of diseases on members of their family and of society in general. Others are concerned about the wider impact of embryology on humanity and future generations. I suspect that the range of views among the Liberal Democrats matches the range of views in the country. Some of us—my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) is foremost among them—are enthusiasts for the possibilities of the new technology. Other parliamentary colleagues are concerned that we are embarking on a slippery slope. Such hon. Members might be encouraged by opposition in the rest of Europe to the United Kingdom's proposals, although I noted with interest the point made by the hon. Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson) about a possible change of perspective in France.

Dr. Harris

I reiterate to my hon. Friend that there is a wide range of opinion among those on the Liberal Democrat Benches. That variation is right and proper and makes a free vote important. One of the great things about the Liberal Democrats is that we can debate such issues in our democratic and open policy-making forums. At least the matters now before the House were the subject of debate at our 1999 Harrogate conference. We made it clear that we were opposed as a party to reproductive cloning, but that we would be prepared for stem cell research to proceed on the basis of a free vote.

Mr. Harvey

My hon. Friend is right, but I suspect that our party conference is of more significance to Liberal Democrat Members than to other hon. Members. The key point that he makes is that we have a free vote, in which each Liberal Democrat Member will exercise his or her own view.

We have heard some compelling arguments. Allowing experimentation has large potential benefits to society. For example, it could benefit people with serious diseases such as those listed by the Under-Secretary. Those diseases include Parkinson's disease, about which I have been lobbied by the Parkinson's Disease Society. Looking further into the future, the possibility of improving transplant technology with less likelihood of rejection seems another significant gain.

The alleviation of pain and suffering should weigh heavily on our decisions. All hon. Members will feel uncomfortable about allowing the use of embryos. However, there must be as great a justification for its use to treat serious diseases as for its use in infertility treatment, in respect of which a decision was made and resolved 10 years ago. The decision now before us does not seem a huge or profound step from what was agreed then.

Another significant argument is to suggest that using cloned cells means that we do not have to experiment on animals or use animal tissue and material. It might be possible to argue that the technique involves a benign use of embryos, which otherwise have no use or might be destroyed.

Those are good arguments and they appear to be right. However, I share some of the concerns of those seeking reassurances from the Government, who need to be mindful of the widespread concern outside the House. If they want society to be comfortable with the proposed changes, it is important to address some of those concerns.

I was particularly struck by the Wellcome Trust report. It said that public opinion in respect of therapeutic cloning is largely supportive until people realise what is being proposed. Several concerns were expressed in the report, whose first finding was that many people did not fully understand the language used in the debate. The report continued: The research suggests that the language chosen when describing scientific research has a major impact on participants' responses to the ideas. As participants' awareness increased, so did their concern and apprehension. It was unclear whether many participants realised that an embryo created for research would be a genetic extension of a living individual. However, for those who did grasp this fact, their concerns were further heightened … It was felt that there could be the potential to mislead participants, it being accepted that several aspects of the scientific research would not in fact be "therapeutic". It is essential for the House to be aware of the public's widespread concerns and for the Government to do everything that they can to allay those fears.

The most common argument—the slippery slope argument—involves the idea that the technique will lead inextricably to ends that we may not currently intend. The Government have clearly stated many times that they will not permit the technique to lead to reproductive cloning—the Minister made that point strongly in her speech. If we are to allay fears outside the House, legislation is needed to make the situation more explicit.

I understand that the Government's view is that legislation will be dealt with as parliamentary time allows. However, there is something of a contradiction in their attitude—they want to push the regulations through with considerable haste, but they have not clarified when they might be able to close off the avenue that worries many people.

There are many unscrupulous individuals in this country and other parts of the world who would want to continue pushing the boundaries of scientific knowledge. I entirely accept the point that reputable scientists would be fearful of doing anything that went beyond what was permitted, but there are disreputable scientists around the world who are only too keen to push the boundaries for their own profit. If public confidence is to maintained, we should err on the side of belts and braces, as it were.

Dr. Iddon

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the very nature of scientists' work means that they cannot work in isolation? If one scientist in a group was working in an unacceptable area, I am convinced—I hope that the hon. Gentleman is, too—that the other members of that group would blow the whistle.

Mr. Harvey

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. However, the public's fears still need to be allayed. Enacting legislation would at least show serious intent on the Government's part—it would put people's minds at rest. Although I find his point convincing, many do not. If society is to be comfortable with the regulations, the Government must undertake the approach that I suggested as a matter of priority.

I have listened to the argument about whether adult stem cells rather than embryo stem cells would be viable for use in experimentation and therapeutic treatment. I wish that that were so, but, on balance, I am convinced that it is not. It may become viable only by going through an initial period of research using embryo stem cells. The hon. Member for Gainsborough appeared to accept that, although he said that he did so for the purposes of the argument. That is the principal justification for going ahead with that approach.

I hope that it is not unreasonable to seek the assurance that embryonic stem cells will be used only when no alternatives exist and that they will not be used simply because doing so is convenient. If adult stem cell technology develops to such an extent that it is no longer necessary to use embryo stem cells, I hope that the matter will be revisited. If the public are to accept the regulations, they need to be reassured on those matters.

I sympathise with the point about definitions of a serious disease, which was made in an intervention by the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox). I concede that our debate today is not simply about resolving that, but I am concerned about leaving the decision entirely to the courts for interpretation. The House should not be quite so willing to back out of those difficult areas. As I said earlier, the fact that we already allow the use of embryos for infertility is a benchmark from which we could define what was and was not a serious condition.

My final concern is about how the situation will be policed. I accept the point made by the hon. Members for Norwich, North and for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon): that the pressure that the scientific community can put on colleagues involves self-policing. However, in view of the fact that further developments will continue to be made, I am concerned about whether there are adequate mechanisms to police all that scientists do. To summarise the concerns that I have heard and to which I am sensitive, we should remember Einstein's point about the danger that Our technology has exceeded our humanity. These are complicated issues, and there are strong arguments on both sides. I recognise the strength of the scientific argument, but I also have great respect for the concerns of constituents and many others, including those hon. Members who have spoken powerfully today and on previous occasions. Having wrestled with both of those lines of argument, I have come to the conclusion that we must allow the research to happen, but that we should keep it under constant review. I look to the Government for reassurance on the points I have raised today, which echo representations that have been made to me. The House should continue to review those matters. We are pushing the regulations through in something of a hasty manner.

10.58 am
Ms Ruth Kelly (Bolton, West)

I welcome the opportunity to take part in this extremely important debate. As my hon. Friend the Minister said, our debate should not be about science versus religion; it is about ethics and the creation of an ethical framework within which proper scientific inquiry can be undertaken.

Recently, the Prime Minister said in a speech on biotechnology: What has history taught us? That science can be used for evil as well as good. And that judgement can be prejudiced as well as measured. Science without judgement can be dangerous. Progress without science is unlikely ever to happen. I could not agree with that statement more, and I am sure that most hon. Members join me in supporting it. Most scientists would agree with it, as would most people of faith.

We all feel for the people who suffer from serious and incurable diseases. Many hon. Members experience such suffering in their own families. We are today exploring the best way to conduct research into the causes of degenerative disease, how to allocate our resources and the appropriate limits of scientific inquiry.

I shall make several points. My first is a comment about process and, in particular, the use of a statutory instrument to achieve the changes under discussion. I thank the Government and my hon. Friend the Minister for allowing us at least to debate the statutory instrument—

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire)

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I apologise for interrupting the hon. Member for Bolton, West (Ms Kelly), but 11 o'clock is the time to make points of order. You would have been in the House on 22 November when I raised with the Prime Minister the case of Stephen Downing, who has been in jail for some 27 years and whose case has been referred by the Criminal Cases Review Commission to the Court of Appeal. The Prime Minister replied that, in the light of my raising the point with him, he would take a personal interest, in the sense of finding out exactly what the current position is …—[Official Report, 22 November 2000; Vol. 357, c. 308.1] This morning, in court No. 5 at the Royal Courts of Justice, an application for bail was made. Counsel for the Crown admitted that he had not received notification of bail until 4.30 pm yesterday and, therefore, was not in a position to make a substantive case before the court.

Can a Minister, preferably a Law Officer, come to the House today to explain why the Crown was not informed until 4.30 pm yesterday that an application was to be made, and therefore was not in a position to make a case before the judge? Bail for my constituent, Mr. Stephen Downing, who has already served an extraordinarily long prison sentence, was refused. That is outrageous. Bearing in mind the fact that the Prime Minister said that he would take a personal interest, the least that I can expect is for him to make a personal statement to the House on the incompetence of the Crown Prosecution Service.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Sylvia Heal)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that point of order, but I have received no indication from Ministers that they wish to make a statement to the House on that matter.

Ms Kelly

I return to my point about process. I thank my hon. Friend the Minister and the Government for allowing the statutory instrument to be debated in prime parliamentary time, especially as the original intention was perhaps not to allow that. However, I still feel very strongly that a statutory instrument does not represent the best way to proceed.

Although the 1990 debates on human fertilisation and embryology provided for an extension of the purposes for which research on embryos could be allowed, it is clear from reading those debates that no one envisaged that the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 would also allow human cloning to take place: that it was even possible to use cell nuclear replacement to produce a clone was not known until Dolly the sheep was produced. However, the Act prohibited the substitution of one nucleus for another in an embryo. At the time, that was thought to be the method by which clones would be produced. It is not unreasonable to assume that, had the technique of cell nuclear replacement been known, it, too, would have been banned.

The Warnock committee, whose findings formed the basis for the Act, assumed that the vast majority of embryos used in research would be spare embryos created during IVF treatment, but no longer required for that purpose. As Donaldson himself pointed out: The use of CNR to produce human embryos may be said to create a new form of early embryo which is genetically identical to the donor of the cell nucleus. This prospect goes further than that contemplated by either the Warnock Committee or Parliament when it debated these issues … The creation and use of embryos in this way for research where there can be no intention of ever implanting them, may appear to some people to deny their human potential and moral status and treat them merely as an object and a source of human tissue. This Instrumentalisation' of embryos, treating them merely as a means to an end, is unacceptable to many. This includes some in the middle ground of ethical opinion, who may otherwise be sympathetic to the current research uses of embryos and even the broader uses of spare embryos proposed for the extraction of stem cells to promote further understanding of diseases and possible treatments. Some Members of the House might, for example, want the law to be extended to allow research on embryos created in IVF treatment to include the treatment of serious disease, but they might also want to outlaw the cloning of human embryos altogether. That position is impossible to uphold under a statutory instrument. Other serious issues are at stake: it will be impossible to amend the regulations, there has been very little debate on many of the serious issues involved and we are being asked for a simple yes or no. That is clearly insufficient.

I shall speak briefly about mitochondrial diseases and their potential effects for future generations, which I have not heard mentioned today. However, if the regulations are passed, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority will be able to grant licences in accordance with the chief medical officer's report. Mitochondrial diseases are rare but severe disorders caused by genetic abnormalities—not in the nucleus, but in the cytoplasm of egg cells. By taking a donor egg and substituting the mother's nucleus before fertilisation and implantation, such disorders can, theoretically, be avoided. In a sense, the child would have two mothers and one father.

That in itself might be considered to be a serious disadvantage for some, but all of us should be concerned about the process as a form of germ line gene therapy—the manipulation of future generations. As far as I can tell, that extraordinarily important result has not been debated at all, although Members across the House will have different views on it.

The Donaldson report explains its thinking regarding that technique: Given the genetic make up of any child born as a result of this technique, it would not constitute reproductive cloning. The resulting child would not be genetically identical to anyone else. Nonetheless, concerns have been expressed that oocyte nucleus transfer represents a modification to the human genome which can be passed on to the next generation. Such modifications are subject to a moratorium in many countries, although basic research to modify eggs or sperm would be permitted under both international conventions and UK law. There does not appear to be any ethical objection to that research. However, if regulations were made under the Act to permit research into possible treatments for disease, and that research successfully developed treatment for mitochondrial diseases, such treatment could be licensed by the authority. In other words, under the regulations a pregnancy could be created.

On cloning, whatever position Members want to take on using cloned embryos under 14 days old for research into diseases, we should all be concerned about how closely such research will be regulated. As Donaldson points out: Although these embryos differ in the method of their creation, they are undoubtedly human embryonic life, which, given the right conditions, could develop into a human being. My view is that effective regulation is almost impossible: not only is the competence of the regulatory authority open to question—given the recent scandals, which have been all over the media, relating to frozen embryos, their identification and whether they have been inserted into the right mother—once human clones are produced and the technique is published, others in less regulated environments, or the original pioneers of the technique, will, by going overseas, be able to start reproductive cloning.

Mr. Fabricant

The hon. Lady raises an interesting point and an interesting argument, but is she saying that any research of any variety for medicine or science in general should not go ahead lest it be misused by others at a tangent?

Ms Kelly

No. I am saying that we have to be extremely cautious about licensing a technique that, no matter what the situation in our country, could easily be abused elsewhere.

Mr. Fabricant

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way a second time. She refers to human cloning, but she heard the Minister say that that would be illegal. I believe that that is also the case in the United States.

Ms Kelly

I accept that human cloning would be illegal in this country, especially if primary legislation were introduced, but, as the hon. Member for North Devon (Mr. Harvey) said, we shall have to wait for such legislation. However, other Members, in support of human cloning, have argued that the scientific community is international and that licensing regimes in particular countries are almost irrelevant because it is easy to go abroad to practise a technique. Even if the original scientists do not go abroad, it is very easy for people to pick the technique up and apply it abroad. The House has a duty to take account of that possibility.

By introducing the technique, an essential step towards reproductive cloning will be taken. The pressures from private finance and commerce will drive the research on in the absence of an internationally enforceable treaty. I am not the only person who thinks that. As I said earlier, a poll of eminent scientists was taken by The Independent. It found that more than half the scientists questioned thought that, within 20 years, reproductive cloning would become a reality.

Mrs. Anne Campbell

I have listened carefully to my hon. Friend. My understanding is that research into the technique that she has described could be licensed by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority under current regulations, and that is not what we are debating today. Am I right in my understanding?

Ms Kelly

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I made the point earlier that it is not clear whether the technique is covered by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act and I would welcome clarification on that point. Donaldson and many scientists, however, think that the extension of the regulations in the Act would make stem cell research on embryos more desirable. In effect, that would open the door to research in that area.

Finally, I wish to consider whether, as is claimed by some, embryonic stem cell research is necessary to treat serious diseases. I am aware that many people hold that opinion and it has been expressed forcefully in this debate. However, the Donaldson report admits that it is not known whether the cell nuclear replacement technique will be successful in creating an early human embryo. It is very difficult to argue that research on cloned embryos has overwhelming potential when its promoters are not even sure whether it can reach the first stage successfully.

Miss Begg

It is precisely because scientists do not know the answers that we need the research. If the technique does not work, that is fine; nothing else will happen. However, we must have the research in the first place.

Ms Kelly

I am worried by the fact that that argument has been made at every stage of the debate and was made in the original debate on the 1990 Act. In fact, in the past 10 years, other than the screening out of embryos altogether, it is difficult to point to any real advances in the treatment of congenital diseases that have been made as a result of the research. The claims are readily made, but it is difficult to verify what has happened.

Contrary to the findings of the Donaldson report, many research scientists now consider that adult stem cells are pluripotent. That means that they are of almost unlimited potential. Most of the evidence is extraordinarily recent and came to light after the Donaldson report was written. For example, even in the past few weeks, two papers in Science have shown that blood stem cells can generate nerve cells in the brain when transplanted into mice. The authors of both papers stress that those observations offer the hope of brain repair from adult blood stem cells.

The adult stem cell approach also has major advantages. There is extensive clinical experience of obtaining, purifying and transplanting adult blood cells—for example, in the treatment of leukaemia. Recent science suggests encouraging possibilities for the treatment of serious diseases. There are none of the technical problems of developing the new technologies of human embryonic stem cell culture and cloning. In addition, there are none of the ethical dilemmas associated with the exploitation of human embryos for research.

In reality, tissue repair by either route will require extensive further research. Where should we allocate our time, effort and money? Should we choose an ethical route, which could lead to great improvement in the quality of life for hundreds of thousands of people with serious diseases, or a highly controversial route, which, as the hon. Member for North Devon said, does not command the support the country and which is backed by a biotechnology industry with huge commercial interests at stake? For those reasons, I urge Members not to support the regulations.

11.14 am
Dr. Liam Fox (Woodspring)

There are two separate strands to this debate. The first is about substance and the second is about process. As the hon. Member for Bolton, West (Ms Kelly) suggested, to have fewer than four working days between the publication of the final regulations and their implementation—the House is expected to legislate on Tuesday—will appear to many people, both inside and outside the House, as an unacceptably short time scale given that we have time to consider the issues at greater length. I agree with the hon. Lady that an unamendable statutory instrument will be seen by many as an unacceptably rigid procedure. The House could have found other ways of achieving the Government's legislative ends without creating what many people consider to be an instrument that is far too blunt.

I confirm that members of the official Opposition will have a free vote on Tuesday. We will vote according to our consciences. Members have many views in common and there are clear divisions, so we should approach this debate from the wide perspective of many of our constituents.

The ingenuity of scientists and doctors seems almost boundless and there can be no doubt about the enormous contribution that they have made to increased human knowledge and well-being. Human happiness and moral well-being are, of course, a different matter. It is difficult to overestimate the impact that this medical revolution has had on the expectations and experiences of our lives. We can live longer and more healthily and we can recover from diseases once thought to be incurable.

The medical revolution has changed not only the way in which we live but the way in which we think about life and living. Boundaries that were once thought unassailable have been broken down. Genetic research deals with the very building blocks of life, and our perception of what it is to be human is literally being put under a microscope. This medical revolution carries with it moral, ethical and philosophical consequences that need to be confronted. Yet our ability to deal with the moral and ethical issues raised by our scientific advances often seems to lag well behind the advances themselves. It is territory that politicians are often unwilling to enter and it is a shame that there is not a better attendance for this debate. However, it is most commendable that Members from both sides of the debate have spoken with clarity, because we know that we can be accused from outside of either populism or scaremongering—and sometimes both almost simultaneously.

Much is a matter of consensus. Those who have spoken do not believe that human reproductive cloning should be permissible in this country, and I am sure that that view is shared by the Government and the official Opposition. At the same time, we must remember that some people have a different agenda from those who seek only new medical therapies. We must be very vigilant about those with that agenda.

Last year, doctors in America, succeeded in creating one human egg using cells from two different mothers as well as a father. The press dubbed this the "three-parent family". The director of one of the clinics involved was reported as saying that she started on this line of work because she was interested in "redefining the family". Those who consider the basic family unit to be the building block on which successful civil society depends can react to such sentiments only with the deepest dismay. I am sure that that is how the House will react.

I have been impressed by the fact that the United States Department of Energy and the National Institute of Health have devoted between 3 and 5 per cent. of their annual human genome budget to considering the ethical, legal and social issues that have been raised. They claim to have created the world's largest bioethics programme, which is something that this country should consider. I ask the Government to take such an approach extremely seriously.

We all accept that, just because we can do something, it does not follow that we should do it. Similarly, the fact that science is capable of doing something does not mean that it should be allowed to do it. We need to establish a moral and ethical framework within which to operate. We should be confident enough as a society to grasp the agenda from the scientific community alone or, in many cases, from the judiciary.

The debate has a parliamentary aspect. We in the House of Commons have too often ducked the more difficult ethical and moral decisions that confront society. We have allowed too many of them to be made outside the House. I believe that, if there is a moral and ethical framework to be established, it should be established by a democratically elected House of Commons, taking its time and considering all the issues and all the implications.

We need to follow certain principles. We must avoid being alarmist—and nothing scares people like ignorance and fear of the unknown. Transparency and accountability must be our watchwords. Our debate can be mature and considered only if it is also informed. Information on all the issues we have mentioned today must be freely available, explained in a way that makes the complicated concepts involved acceptable to the greatest possible number of people, and free of the crass distortions that, owing to a variety of motives, are all too common.

We must also ensure that human privacy and dignity are protected. In particular, we must be careful to maintain respect for those who are already disabled, or suffer from incurable diseases. They should not be made to feel that their lives are inferior or valueless. A leading embryologist was recently reported as saying that it would soon be "a sin" for parents to carry children with genetic diseases. That should set our alarm bells ringing. For "sin" read "crime" in 1930s Germany.

There are, of course, global issues, as well as issues relating to individuals. Although research is taking place all over the world, globalisation is too often confused with powerlessness. Scientists in other countries may experiment with different kinds of research, but the fact that someone else is doing something does not mean that we should do the same; nor does it mean that we should impose regulations that have been imposed in other countries, just to satisfy those outside. We must be brave enough to set a framework that suits the United Kingdom, and our electorate's views on what moral and ethical framework there should be.

What we are debating today, and will debate next week, boils down to clear issues. On the one hand there is the medical technology, its control and its application; on the other hand, there is the source of cells that may be used for that application.

There are those who argue that because a technology could be used for an unacceptable purpose, it should not be allowed to develop at all. That is a dangerous argument. I do not believe that knowledge is in itself a bad thing; it is the application of knowledge that matters, which is why we need to establish the framework in which it can be applied. It is up to us to control and set limitations on science, and to ensure that those limitations are enforceable and policed. Those are matters for further, detailed debate, which could have taken place in a far more reasonable way if a different parliamentary process had been adopted. The Government must give the House greater assurances than it has been given hitherto.

Then there is the application of the technology. The hon. Member for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell) rightly said that the House had accepted the principle of embryo use in the treatment of infertility and miscarriage. Those who have accepted the moral case for allowing that type of research may consider the proposed regulations to be no more than a logical extension of natural scientific development. For those who have crossed that Rubicon, the Government's proposals should pose no difficult moral problem, but for those who have not, the problems remain exactly as they were when we introduced the human fertilisation and embryology legislation.

The real area of moral controversy seems to be the source of the cells. There is, I detect, no problem in the House with the use of adult stem cells, or with the use of cord cells; the problem relates to the use of embryonic cells. Some Members believe that using embryonic cells is in itself unacceptable in any circumstances—and, in that regard, there is an ethical "no contest". I personally share that view, which is why I will vote against the regulations. For me, as for many other Members, this is a clear-cut debate.

Other Members believe that the use of embryonic cells is undesirable, but that there is a utilitarian argument that the gain for the greater number is a price worth paying. I think many Members hold that view, and that is where the main ethical conflict will arise on both sides of the House.

The main question to be considered is whether the gains that may be made in the many clinical areas that have been mentioned—Parkinson's disease and diabetes have been referred to, and we all want dramatic advances to be made in their treatment—can be achieved in another way.

Mr. Leigh

This debate is often seen as a contest between huge medical gains and ethics. In paragraph 12 of his report, on page 7, Professor Donaldson said that most scientists consulted felt that the science was still several years away from being able to deliver significant health benefits, and that the growth of organs or parts of organs in the laboratory was at best a very long term prospect. I do not think that we should assume that there are tremendous immediate health gains to be made.

Dr. Fox

My hon. Friend is right. There can never be any guarantees that all the gains that we hope to make will be achieved. If we are objective, however, it is fair to say that there are large potential gains—gains that science tends to suggest could be made—from human research. My objection is that I do not believe that, morally, the ends justify the means, for reasons that I hope I have made clear. Ultimately, the debate will be decided by whether the House can be persuaded that those potential gains could be achieved other than by using embryonic cells. That, I think, will be the key to Tuesday's discussion.

This will be a difficult issue for many Members. It is not a difficult issue for those who hold one purist view or another—I do not find it difficult to decide how I shall vote—but it raises questions about how we are to keep ourselves informed, and how we as MPs can analyse the issues: are we being given enough time and back-up, and is the information accessible to, in particular, those who have no natural background in science?

Many consciences will be examined over the next few days. I will vote against the regulations, which are inherently unacceptable to me morally—I also believe that the Government are pushing them through the House with undue haste—but I hope that others will make the decision that they will be asked to make in an informed way, and will recognise the magnitude and implications of what we are about to decide. I hope that they will understand the benefits, but fully understand—in all respects—the costs.

11.28 am
Miss Anne Begg (Aberdeen, South)

I am very pleased to see you in the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker. I realise that you have held your post for some time, but this is my first opportunity to congratulate you in the Chamber.

I must begin by declaring an interest. I have a condition that results from a single gene defect. Ultimately, the cure—if there is to be one—for Gaucher's disease will be gene replacement therapy, but there is no doubt that my problems, such as osteoporosis, could be helped by the research that we are discussing.

Although I have a personal interest, I am speaking not just because of my own experience, but because of approaches I have received from constituents. About five weeks ago, in the middle of a busy advice surgery, a constituent arrived in an agitated state. She sat down. She had great difficulty in speaking and had quite severe tremors in both her hands and her head. She managed to get out that she was there to lobby me about supporting the whole issue of stem cell research.

It was at that point that I stopped my constituent and said, "It's okay. I know the arguments. I am in favour of the research. I understand what you are getting at." A look of relief came across her face and she said, "You mean that I don't have to go into the spiel that I have prepared? I've had such a morning; I couldn't get myself together. It's been very difficult. I've prepared everything, but I know that my words don't come out properly and that, if I had to explain something that was very complicated, I might not be able to do it well."

That reminded me of the problems that my uncle faced when he, too, had Parkinson's disease. I have strong memories as a child and a teenager of visiting him for the 15 years or so that he was in a geriatric ward. It brings me up short to realise that, at that time, he was not much older than I am now.

My uncle spent the last years of his life in the geriatric ward. That was the only place where people with that chronic illness could be cared for. Old people will say that things are a lot better now, but they are not. I am on the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs. It took evidence on the care of the young chronically sick. Many clinicians who gave us evidence identified the exact problem. Many young chronically sick people are in geriatric wards because they need intensive nursing care and that is the only place where they can be properly looked after; but in some areas, their numbers are sufficiently small that it is not feasible to have wards for them.

Thank goodness the numbers are so small, but the care of people such as my uncle has not changed or improved dramatically in past years. I know that there is help to alleviate the symptoms of Parkinson's disease, but we are no nearer a cure for that now than we were when my uncle was first diagnosed well over 30 years ago, despite the advances in medical science. Those are some of the issues that we must address and that we are addressing today.

I am therefore aware of the issues around what has been proposed. I hope that I can articulate some of the thoughts, feelings and emotions of those who may be helped by the research. I hope that my contribution will add to the debate an extra dimension that we have not already heard.

Important scientific and clinical arguments have to be put. They have been well rehearsed already this morning and in the debate on 17 November. I shall leave such arguments to hon. Members who perhaps have more knowledge of the science. Some hon. Members were scientists and doctors; that was their job in their previous life. I am sure that they can bring that knowledge to the debate more forcefully than I can.

I would love to see a world where there was no suffering, but I am not so naive as not to know that is just a dream. In fact, I often argue that a bit of adversity is quite good for people. When people say to me that it must be horrendous to be in a wheelchair, I tell them that it is not as bad as they might think.

There is something in the human spirit that is indomitable. We will fight against adversity; we will conquer what life can throw at us. That can sometimes make us stronger as individuals, but that adversity can be a problem if it is so terrible that it is overwhelming.

For many people suffering many of the degenerative diseases that we have talked about, the adversity is absolutely overwhelming. No matter how indomitable their spirit and how much courage they have, their lives are living hells. We should not allow adversity to be present in life if we have a choice. That is the crux of the moral and ethical argument that we are dealing with today—whose choice to do what?

I understand the objections that were expressed by the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) and by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, West (Ms Kelly). I know that they are heartfelt. I feel them, too, but my conclusions lead me to take the opposite side in the argument.

We have the technology with the potential to alleviate huge suffering. I believe that the moral argument is on the side of pursuing that technology. I happen to agree wholeheartedly with the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) that that technology must have limits. That is what we are discussing—exactly what limits we will put on the scientists and those engaged in the research. It is for hon. Members strictly to define the limits. My hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson) was articulate in explaining exactly what those limits were and what the regulations meant.

I accept the argument of the Minister and my hon. Friend that the use of adult stem cells is not a runner at the moment and that we need to get through the stage of using embryonic stem cells before we ever use adult stem cells.

Mr. Leigh

I do not know whether the hon. Lady is aware of it, but Professor Donaldson commented on that matter. He reported on research that had been done on adult stem cells in mice and said, at paragraph 2.14, page 19 of his report, that the research contradicts the conventional wisdom that stem cells derived from adult tissue have restricted potential to differentiate. Professor Donaldson himself makes that point.

Miss Begg

Professor Donaldson is admitting that, perhaps some time in the future, adult stem cells may be used, but he will agree with the scientists—I have done a lot of reading on the subject in the past few months—who say that we will reach that stage only if we first use the stem cells that we can harvest from embryos.

That is crucial. In many areas of medicine, the final outcome can be reached only by going through a particular process. The early stages of that process may not necessarily be used in the long run, but without going through those stages in the development, investigation and scientific research, the final outcome will not be reached.

Dr. Fox

Just for the sake of clarity, is the hon. Lady arguing that, should the technology reach a stage where adult stem cells are found to be able to generate the sort of clinical outcomes that she mentions, we should stop making it legal to use embryonic cells for experimentation?

Miss Begg

The legislation already states that if there is a better way or another way of doing the same research using a different technique, no licence will be granted to do it using embryonic stem cells, but I would not want to rule embryonic stem cells out completely at that stage. There may be areas where embryonic stem cells can add to medical knowledge where adult stem cells cannot, so it is not an either/or situation, although ultimately we may reach a time when the embryonic stem cells need not be used. However, I think that that is quite a long way down the line.

It is important that the scientists have that choice in order to use the correct method at the time. I am being careful with my words. Adult stem cells will do some things, but there may be areas where they may not be appropriate. We may still have to use the embryo. If adult stem cells are able to replace what the embryonic stem cells were originally used for, the embryos would not need to be used.

I have no moral objection to the use of embryonic stem cells. My arguments are not really aimed at the hon. Member for Woodspring, who has already admitted that he is against it in principle, as are my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, West and the hon. Member for Gainsborough. I realise, too, that my arguments will not impact on those who object because of their religious belief or because they believe in the sanctity of life.

If those who voted against the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 vote against these regulations, at least they will be consistent. Although I do not agree with them, I accept their position, but those who voted for the 1990 Act and agree with the use of embryos for research on fertilisation or contraception must logically support the proposals that we are discussing today. That group of people may be swithering—I think that is a Scottish word—between whether or not to support them. Let me remind them that the regulations are an extension of what has already been agreed.

Ms Kelly

Does my hon. Friend accept that Donaldson said that many people on the middle ground of the ethical debate who held neither one view nor the other would in principle accept the argument that the logic applies to extending the purposes of research on spare embryos produced by the IVF process, but nevertheless would not accept the fundamentally new issue of cloning?

Miss Begg

There will be people who feel that way and part of the purpose of today's debate is to explore those issues. I have some difficulty with that view. I consider that a manufactured embryo, which is what the nuclear replacement embryo is, would be morally more acceptable, provided there was a safeguard that it could not be used for human reproductive cloning. I would find that more acceptable than an in vitro fertilised egg. I understand the arguments about the beginning of life and why people may not want to use that type of embryo, but I feel that the nuclear replacement embryo would be more acceptable morally because there was no sperm and no fertilisation in the conventional sense.

I appreciate the fears about cloning, but the Minister covered that in her reply. I too support the outlawing of cloning. Of course it should be illegal, but some of the techniques used during the early stages may have beneficial results. We cannot stop all science because we are frightened that a mad scientist somewhere will do something that we find unacceptable. That applies anywhere in the world and whatever the regulations are. We have to make sure that as many countries as possible adopt the same responsible attitude as we do in Britain and that scientific developments are properly regulated. That leads me very neatly to my next point, which is that all advances in medical science have had to overcome moral objections.

Thanks to my Scottish background I know quite a bit about Dr. Knox and his Edinburgh anatomy classes. He was operating at the margins of science and faced a huge moral backlash. At the time, the study of anatomy was regarded as ethically and morally unacceptable. The moral argument centred around the exact point at which the soul left the body. There were also all the horror stories of Burke and Hare robbing graves and then, because the cadavers were not fresh enough, deciding to kill people in order to supply Dr. Knox. Before the hon. Member for Gainsborough jumps to his feet, I am not suggesting that what we are debating here is anything like that, but it is part of our history.

Even techniques in surgery face moral objections. The most recent advance in medical science that attracted a moral and ethical debate was organ transplantation. It is interesting that as these technologies prove themselves to have beneficial effects, the moral objections diminish.

Of course, there are still people who have moral objections to organ transplantation, and they have the right to refuse either to receive an organ or to donate one. However, they do not have the right to subject people such as me who do not agree, or those who might benefit from any scientific development, to their moral objections.

Some people argue that any medical intervention interferes with the work of God and should not happen. They have the right to take that view and to refuse all medical intervention.

Ms Kelly

Will my hon. Friend at least acknowledge that many of us who do not support the regulations do not take that point of view, regard ourselves very much as pro-science and support the development of science to treat diseases? I come from a scientific background and my brother researches the alleviation of diabetes. Does my hon. Friend accept that many of us are pro-science but would like science to be conducted in an ethical way?

Miss Begg

We are debating the definition of ethical. I want science to be conducted in an ethical way and so does my hon. Friend, but we are discussing where to draw the line. There are those who take a strong position and feel that, on ethical grounds, we should not allow this research. Again, they have the choice. They can refuse a treatment or a cure, if one is found, for themselves and their families. I am sure that my hon. Friend will also agree that those of us on the other side of the debate must also be allowed to exercise a choice and make an ethical decision so that we can benefit from any treatments or cures that are found.

I do not want to overstate the advances that may be made. I am not saying that there is a huge cure just around the corner. Scientists will be the first to admit that the results will not be immediate; we are only at the beginning of a long process and we do not know what the gains will be. However, research in other areas, not involving human cells, suggests that there is real potential.

The research will not produce a cure for all incurable diseases, but there is no doubt that there is the prospect of treatment for many degenerative conditions. Progress is bound to be slow and for many people there has been a rise in expectations, particularly among those with Parkinson's disease, that will not be fulfilled because in many cases their decline will be far too rapid to benefit from any advances in science.

Sometimes I think that there is confusion between treatment and cure—the terms are often used interchangeably. It would be great if everything had a cure. From what I have read, it seems that a cure for diabetes may be on the cards as a result of work on a cell that produces insulin. Whether there will be a cure for degenerative diseases such as Parkinson's disease or multiple sclerosis is uncertain. There may not be a cure, but there is the prospect of a treatment that allows people with those diseases to lead a more active and fulfilling life for much longer, by replacing the cells that are degenerating rapidly. Discovering what causes cells to degenerate will be the key leading to a cure.

I know from my own experience that, in some cases, a treatment can be almost as good as a cure. As I said at the beginning of my speech, 1 have a single-gene defect, which means that I may not have sufficient quantities of an enzyme in my body. About five or six years ago, after adjusting my whole life to having a slowly progressive degenerative disease—not like Parkinson's or MS, but certainly slowly progressive—I suddenly discovered that there was an enzyme replacement treatment. It was offered to me, and I went on it.

For the first time in my life, I had normal blood, my liver began to reduce in size, and I suddenly had much more energy. I am fairly sure that, had I not gone on to the treatment, I would not be here today. I do not mean that I would not be alive today, but that I would not physically be in the Chamber today. The treatment gave me the energy to be able to start realising that perhaps I had more of my life to live than I had anticipated. I was not being in any way morbid; I was being realistic about the progression of my condition. However, my condition is still progressing; the treatment has not solved it. That is why I am hopeful about the results of stem cell research.

In my case, degeneration, particularly in my bone marrow and bones, is so advanced that any cure, should there be one, because of the shape of my body, will not help me anyway. But perhaps there will be something in stem cell research that could help not only people like me—my disease is a rare one—but many people with other diseases. The treatment has prolonged my active life. If we can do that for large numbers of people, we will cut waste. Although I know that that sounds very impersonal, waste in personal terms and in life is a cost to society.

The overall debate is inevitably highly charged, and today's debate has been a very good one. However, I believe that the scientific evidence is overwhelming that we should allow stem cell research into embryos. Such research is crucial if we are to move beyond the use of embryos to adult stem cells. I do not think that we should wait to discover whether, as some people believe, adult stem cells will be used. If we wait 10, 20 or 30 years only to discover that that is not possible—and if we accept, as I do, scientists' claims that they need the knowledge—many people will have died or continued to suffer.

Although I appreciate that these are early days in the research, the medical evidence of the potential applications of stem cell research is overwhelming. The potential of the research needs to be explored. I also believe that the moral and ethical case for the research to proceed is overwhelming. That is why I shall urge as many of my colleagues and other hon. Members as possible to vote, on Tuesday, in favour of the change to the regulations.

11.53 am
Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park)

May I first apologise if I have to leave the debate early? I have a very urgent appointment this afternoon, but I shall read very carefully what the Minister has to say in reply, as I read very carefully the debate that took place on 17 November.

My initial reaction to the subject—when it first broke through all the other things that were going round in my head as an hon. Member—was to recoil in horror. I wanted to vote against it immediately. At that stage. I had not read the Donaldson report. I am a doctor, not a scientist, which—although I have a scientific background—is a very different thing. For me, as for many other people, the one and only thing I could think about was the spectre of Dolly the sheep. The spectre of such a process being extended to human beings was just too much. Initially, I wrote to my constituents assuring them of my very great concerns, and indeed I voted against the relevant ten-minute Bill. I have to put all that on record.

I am, however, deeply suspicious of knee-jerk reactions, especially when it is my own knee. I have therefore, in the past few weeks, investigated the issue to a greater extent than I have investigated anything since I was doing my finals in medicine. I have read mountains of papers and attended several seminars. On Monday, I am chairing another seminar—that of the campaign against genetic engineering—to express my impartial view on the issue. I have also talked to colleagues and medics, ringing up old friends from the past to whom I have not spoken for years, to discover whether they have a view on the subject.

I have also read the debate of 17 November. As today's debate has progressed, my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris)—who has again left the Chamber; I do not know what it was like to teach that man—has been passing me other papers that I have not yet seen. However, I should add that, although he sometimes drives me mad with his restlessness, I admire his intellectual energy, on which no one can fault him. Undoubtedly he will appear again very soon.

The Government have taken the protest of the ten-minute Bill very seriously. It is really extremely generous to allow two five-hour debates on the issue, plus a debate next Tuesday before the vote on the regulations. After all, the Donaldson report was produced in August, we have had a long time to consider the issue and there is a limit to how long we can go on agonising about it. I wonder whether hon. Members are familiar with the scene in "Iolanthe" in which the Lord Chancellor is debating whether he can marry his own ward of court and has a terrible argument with himself on stage. At times, I have felt like that, constantly arguing against myself. As soon as I find the answer, something else pops up in my brain to make me doubt it again; and on it goes.

Mr. Stephen Day (Cheadle)

That is why the hon. Lady is a Liberal Democrat.

Dr. Tonge

I am proud that my brain is not so fixed in its opinions that I dare not change my mind.

We do not have any excuse; we really need to get on with addressing the issue. I shall not stray into another debate and another opinion on research with adult stem cells. I would refer anyone reading this debate to the excellent speech made by the hon. Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson). His speech is very worth reading and puts the questions very clearly. It pointed out a few things to me that I had not considered before. It was a very useful speech, and I thank him very much for it.

We know that, whatever the prospects for adult stem cell research, it cannot get very far before we first have research on embryo stem cells—1 think that that is accepted by almost everyone to whom I have spoken. I have been to seminars on the subject of adult stem cell research, and I have not been convinced of any other view.

In future, adult stem cell research may end the need for embryo stem cell research, and many people would be very happy about that. At this point, however, I should mention the biotechnology industry. Many of those who are against the regulations have claimed that research on embryo stem cells is being backed by the biotechnology industry and that not to proceed with it would entail a loss of jobs and profits. It is a very common argument. We have also had it pointed out to us that many of the charities that have been writing to us and trying to influence our opinion are in fact funded partly by biotechnology industries. It is a very important point.

Those points, however, apply equally to adult stem cell research. Those who are doing adult stem cell research are also receiving funding and backing from the biotechnology industry, perhaps in other countries and parts of the world. Therefore, we must take a balanced view. Scientists will pursue their goals only if backed by finance. If that finance does not come from the Government, it will come from industry somewhere. We have to accept that industry also sponsors charities. It is a very important issue that we have not debated very much, and I hope that the Minister will be able to address it.

The use of spare embryos up to 14 days old, and the use of embryos generally, concerns me greatly. Five categories of research are already permitted. Consent in this matter is crucial: people have to give consent to terminations of pregnancy, and to their unused embryos being used for research. Consent is of the essence, but has not yet been mentioned. If someone has given their consent, there can be no block to using their spare embryos—or pre-embryos, as I prefer to call them—for research. The alternative is that the pre-embryos would be wasted anyway; they would be destroyed. Adding research on embryos would be adding a sixth category, but such research would enable us to find out how cells differentiate. I emphasise that that research would have to be carried out with consent.

I shall take a brief detour to speak about the products of conception up to 14 days after conception and before implantation has taken place. In normal circumstances, 70 per cent. of such pre-embryos never implant in the uterus. Legally, abortion or miscarriage can take place only after implantation. I emphasise to anyone who may have doubted my motives recently when I spoke about issues such as emergency contraception and intra-uterine devices that those methods are not abortifacient because implantation has not taken place. I do not mind people peddling morals, but I object to people peddling lies.

People hold religious views on this matter. We have heard that the soul enters at conception. The hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) referred to the Bishop of Oxford in an earlier debate. I regard the bishop as one of the wisest men of his generation, and he has said some very wise things in an amusing way. He said that if the 70 per cent. of up-to-14-day-old pre-embryos which did not survive had souls populating heaven, what on earth was God doing with them? Is that not a preposterous theory?

We cannot know what a soul is or when we actually become a human being in God's eyes. We may have theories about it, but we do not know and we must be careful not to judge religious opinion by the same standards as we judge scientific opinion. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon is back. Religious opinions are based on emotions, while scientific opinions are based on facts. We must distinguish between the two.

The subject of cloning was the source of my original dismay. We are talking about removing the nucleus of a human egg cell, which is the genetic material. That is the bit that I care about. No one would ever have had my genetic material. I am sorry, but that was my personal passport—my blueprint—that went to my children and to no one else. I was very selfish about it. We are talking about removing that and replacing it with the nucleus of a human nerve cell or muscle cell, for example, which could be grown, with the help of the cytoplasm of that egg, into new tissues for transplant. That is a brilliant and wonderful concept. It would not create a pre-embryo, because it would contain one cell type only. It would not have been created from the union of a sperm and an egg, each of which forms half the genetic material needed for a human being. The product would therefore not be human.

Ms Kelly

Does the hon. Lady explicitly disagree with the Donaldson report? It states: Although the embryos differ in the method of their creation, they are undoubtedly human embryonic life, which, given the right conditions, could develop into a human being …

Dr. Tonge

No, but I agree more with Baroness Warnock, who said that the pre-embryo—as I prefer to call it—is in a special category, and is not an embryonic human being until a later stage. There is an important distinction to be made, and the hon. Lady is right to point it out. However, no one with an understanding of human reproduction could suggest that the little ball of cells, before implantation and before it has any means of nourishing itself, has the same status as a human embryo.

The concept that I have described is brilliant, but there are problems. One can conjure up an image of battery women, like battery hens, all furiously producing eggs for the biotechnology industry. The concept could have its awful side. We must always remember that when we are using this technology, we are using not the genetic part—the nucleus—of the eggs, but the cytoplasm.

Another disturbing aspect of the concept is human cloning. If the cells were stimulated to become pluripotent, we could create a Dolly the sheep, or, it is alleged, a human being 100 years from now if the conditions were right. I remind hon. Members that it took the creators of Dolly the sheep about 400 attempts before they got anywhere near succeeding. Such a creation would have to be produced from one whole nucleus from another human being. No division of a nucleus would have taken place from the creation of a sperm and an egg, which would then fuse.

I would contest the assertion of the hon. Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton) in a previous debate that all products of nuclear replacement are human embryos. They are human-like embryos, but they have not been created by the division of cells and the coming together of cells. Therefore, a cell that divides into pluripotent cells and leads to a Dolly the sheep or a humanoid is not human in the sense that we are. It is a clone, which is an entirely new concept, scientifically and morally. There is very little prospect of that happening, but I emphasise that it is a new concept. We are in the realms of science fiction.

Mr. Leigh

Is the hon. Lady suggesting that a cloned human being—one will undoubtedly be created—will not be entirely human? Will it be sub-human?

Dr. Tonge

I am suggesting that we cannot possibly know. It would not be created by the normal human reproduction process and would not have had the opportunity to exchange genetic material with another human being. Therefore, technically and scientifically, it would be a clone, but it would not be a human being in the biological sense. That is science fiction, but we must retain legislation against it happening.

The argument that scientific advances must never occur because they will be misused by people in other countries is complete nonsense. We would still be living in the stone age if we adhered to that principle. We have to welcome scientific research and advance and if we, as Members of Parliament, are worried about it, then we legislate and limit its application in this country, but we must never stop it. As my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Dr. Brand) said, the genie is out of the bottle; we cannot put it back, so we must regulate it.

I have two brief concluding points. First, when the House debates an issue that will affect the minds of the general public, it is important to declare an interest. We are expected to declare an interest if we have a financial concern or an interest in, for example, the biotechnology industry, but we are not expected to do that if we approach an issue from a particular religious perspective. I think that we should declare such an interest. Matthew Parris recently wrote a good article in The Times on that subject. We must make absolutely sure that the general public know where we are coming from. If we have a particular bias or moral view, we should declare it. That goes for religious as well as commercial interests.

Secondly, and most important, we must consider the miseries of the diseases that the research might help. I have medical and personal experience of that. My family is riddled with diabetes and heart disease. As I am getting older, many of my friends and acquaintances suffer such illnesses. I know of one very young woman who got Alzheimer's disease, and there is also Parkinson's disease. Sufferers have a right to be helped. If there is a way to cure those diseases or alleviate their symptoms, is it not correct that those people's rights are heard? Is that right not as important as the so-called rights of the pre-embryo before 14 days, which has not been implanted in the uterus to grow into a baby? Surely those people's needs must be taken into account.

That is our dilemma. I have another seminar to chair and a few more people to talk to, but, as a matter of conscience as much as of intellectual effort, I am moving towards supporting the measure.

12.12 pm
Fiona Mactaggart (Slough)

I apologise to the House, but I will have to leave before the debate ends. I shall, however, carefully read the Minister's concluding remarks.

I, too, was not clear about my opinion on this subject at the start of the debate. It might seem obvious that, as someone who has made a series of publicly stated ethical positions, I would support the Government. I have no religious belief, have been through IVF and have always supported a woman's right to choose. There are a number of science-based companies, including biotechnology companies, in my constituency and I have been involved in promoting science. However, I was very concerned about the potential of cell nuclear replacement and cloning, and the ethical implications of human control over human life.

As I do not believe in a god, human beings are the most important—the core—guiding value of my ethical belief. Therefore, when human beings start to exercise control over the existence of other humans beings, I think that early on in the process there should be a sign that says, "Take care. Stop." I am proud that, during the passage of the Human Rights Act 1998, I supported an amendment that led us to outlaw the death penalty for ever in peacetime Britain.

However, my views have begun to change. There are serious issues to consider. On the special status of the embryo, I do not agree with people who think that humanity starts with fertilisation. I never have thought that. However, I believe—it is reflected in the 1990 Act—that the embryo has special status and that we must very carefully protect it and regulate any experimentation on it.

The field of genetic engineering raises very profound issues. I accept that much of what we are considering today is not that, but we have so far failed to address questions that, as legislators, we should address. They include issues of genetic privacy, the way in which insurance companies can begin to insist on genetic screening, matters concerning human life and patents on it, and so on. We need to address those very important issues following those that we are confronting in this debate.

I was certain that to deal with the matter without long reflection and in a private Member's Bill would have been wrong, so I was happy to vote against the ten-minute Bill moved by the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris). Around the time of the introduction of that Bill, I received letters from constituents both supporting and challenging it. I have taken the views of my constituents very seriously, but next week I intend to vote with the Government. The reason is simple and it arises from my own life.

There are two significant things wrong with me. People may suggest lots of others, but one is that I am infertile and the other is that I have multiple sclerosis. At the moment, there are two fertilised embryos of mine in a medical facility that are available for research. It is ironic that they could be used in research that could help to deal with my infertility, but not in research that could help to deal with my multiple sclerosis, about which I am more anxious. Unless we agree the regulations, that will be so for everyone.

I am symptom-free. I am one of the very lucky people with this serious disease who can carry on living a very active and fulfilling life. If I suffer symptoms, I get tingling arms and the like, but many people suffer much more seriously from such diseases. It seems arrogant and wrong for us to deny them the chance of a cure for their illnesses through the use of embryonic material for research. It seems deeply ironic that we will allow the use of such material for improving contraception but not for dealing with serious illnesses.

I have come to the conclusion—owing to such irony, I suppose—that I have a duty to vote for the change in regulations. Unless we change the regulations, we shall be continuing to say to people with degenerative diseases that we are not prepared to make strenuous efforts to find treatments or cures for them, when we know that there is real capacity in such research to make a difference.

I remain anxious about the potential of cell nuclear replacement. I urge the Minister to ensure that the primary legislation that she has promised on reproductive cloning is passed, and passed soon. I am afraid that three years of close contact with Whitehall has taught me that civil servants have two arguments. One is that we have always done something in such a way, so it must be right. I find that particularly provoking. It has created a number of habits in the House that seem to stand in the way of all sorts of progress.

The other argument is the thin end of the wedge argument, which is not particularly honourable and which I am always reluctant to accept. However, we do have a responsibility to establish deep and powerful protections against reproductive cloning.

Ms Kelly

I have listened carefully to what has so far been a good speech. I was particularly interested by my hon. Friend's argument that we need to introduce legislation on reproductive cloning as soon as possible; I could not agree more. Does she also agree that the best way to prevent reproductive cloning is to prevent cell nuclear replacement cloning as well? The regulations do not allow for that remedy, which the House should be given the opportunity to consider.

Fiona Mactaggart

I do not agree. Although I did not take medical finals, I have, like the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge), read a great deal of factual material—more, indeed, than I am used to. In the past 20 years, I have read a lot of fiction, but not many thick scientific reports. In such areas of research, the potential of cell nuclear replacement is extremely powerful. If we defer that potential until the introduction of relevant primary legislation, we could miss the opportunity vigorously to search—as I believe we should—for treatments for serious illnesses.

We have a responsibility to ensure that embryos created through cell nuclear replacement are used only in a restricted way. However, it is clear that there are such restrictions

there is a 14-day limit on development of the embryos and a ban on their implantation. Such restrictions must be entrenched in future primary legislation. In view of the capacity of such technologies to be abused in other countries, we should—I hope that we will—seek international agreement on restrictions.

A further genetic engineering issue that concerns me deeply, and which I hope the Department of Health will address, is the patenting of human material. At the moment, there is insufficient debate on the use of patents. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister will comment. We also need to ensure that we do not commit genetic discrimination. In this country, insurance companies are legally entitled to require people to take genetic and other forms of tests. We should place further restrictions on such discrimination.

There are issues that we need to address, and my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, West (Ms Kelly) and I concur on some of them. However, the concerns, although serious, should not prevent us from permitting next week's change to the regulations. We cannot responsibly deny the research's potential for enabling real change for people whose illnesses threaten their future. I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House will support the regulations next week. I know that it will be a hard decision to make—it certainly has been for me. I hope also that the Department of Health will consider some of the genetic engineering issues that I have raised and will soon introduce robust mechanisms to deal with them.

12.25 pm
Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield)

This has been a powerful and important debate. Sometimes I thought I was in the Synod, not the Chamber, and that you, Madam Deputy Speaker, were the Archbishop of Canterbury, presiding over a philosophical, theological and ethical debate.

I was disappointed by the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Miss Begg). She said with great passion and great skill everything that I wanted to say, and far better than I could.

There has been considerable discussion about whether a blastocyst, which is the body on which the experimentation would take place, has a soul. If it were accepted that it does not, we would not be having the debate. I think that the House is united in its belief that if we can take any steps to enable scientists and doctors to alleviate suffering, we should do so without hesitation.

The thought that we can undertake experimentation on adult stem cells at this early stage instead of doing so on embryonic stem cells is mere wishful thinking. If there were not voices saying that it is far too soon to be able to undertake that sort of experimentation, we would not be having the debate. I have read the information that has been given to us and I shall quote from the Wellcome research trust. It states that it is not clear whether the full range of cell types that are required for treatments could eventually be generated from these sources alone. That is a reference to stem cells. It adds: The pluripotency of embryonic stem cells means that they are likely to progress research more rapidly and lead to greater human benefits than adult stem cells. My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) said that he would prefer to see the use of adult stem cells. Later, when he was questioned, he admitted that if it transpired that adult stem cells could not be used, perhaps he would accept that embryonic stem cells would have to he used instead to develop therapies for curing a number of disfunctions. My hon. Friend holds especially strong views on these matters, and I think that his response demonstrates that the issue is not one of black and white. Fine balance must be weighed.

My hon. Friend the Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox), who speaks from the Opposition Front Bench, rightly said that it is important to have an informed debate. The House has shown itself at its best today. We have had an informed debate in the absence of party politics. It has been entirely about moral, ethical and medical issues.

My hon. Friend also said that it is important not to be alarmist. Many outside have been alarmist. Even today, we have heard hon. Members say that stem cell research could lead to further experimentation, some of which would be illegal; but we should never use the argument that we can never undertake any experimentation for the better good of humanity if it might lead to research that could damage society. That would be to use what the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) called the thin end of the wedge argument: where would that lead? If we adopted that position, there would never be change in society.

Last week I had dinner with a canon from Lichfield cathedral. Over dinner, after several glasses of good red wine from the House of Commons, we discussed embryology. He said, and I agree, that one must always have a balance on such issues. When discussing moral and ethical matters, it is all too easy to say that there is a clear black and a clear white, a clear good and a clear evil. There is a fine balance to be weighed up for the greater good.

I asked my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough whether he knew whether the saying that God helps those who help themselves was from the Bible or just a general proverb. Surprisingly, he was not able to help me, but I believe that it is a truism. I believe that we have been put on earth as a test, perhaps to see how we behave towards our fellow human beings. God has given us an intellect, which I believe should be used for the greater good. If that means experimentation such as stem cell research for the greater good, we should go ahead and undertake it.

The balance is not quite as fine as some hon. Members have tried to make out. I do not believe that a non-sentient, non-thinking being such as a blastocyst—a clump of four, eight or 16 cells—is an intelligent being with a soul. As I said earlier, such a debate is better held in a synod than in Parliament.

Dr. Fox

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. Will he reconsider his last point—that if research is for the greater good, it should go ahead? Does he believe that there is a moral bottom line in such a utilitarian argument, and if so, what is it?

Mr. Fabricant

I went on to say—perhaps my hon. Friend was distracted—that if we are to undertake research for the greater good, it must not be at the expense of human or sentient beings. It may be arguable, but my point is that a blastocyst is not a sentient being. I believe that a blastocyst is not a human being or even, as my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough tried to argue, a sub-human being.

For that reason I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Woodspring that the balance is far from fine. It is heavily in favour of our undertaking such research. My hon. Friend has his own moral views, for which I respect him.

I shall try to make clear to the House why we undertake such research. It will lead to cures as well as treatments for degenerative cell diseases. I mentioned in an intervention that the research could lead to a cure for diabetes. How many of those in the Chamber, I wonder, have been touched by diabetes, either because they have it themselves or, as in my case, because they have friends who have diabetes? There are 1.4 million people who need to take regular daily injections. A further 2 million to 3 million people suffer to a degree from diabetes and, thankfully, do not have to take injections, but they have to control their diets. It is not just that. Sadly, as we know, diabetes leads to thrombosis, which in turn can lead to limb amputation and degenerative eye disorders, which may cause blindness. Diabetes is a serious and damaging disease.

At present, all we can do is treat diabetes by giving doses of insulin, which, by the very nature of the way in which they are administered, are always approximate. Just imagine what would happen if we could find a cure for diabetes and restore someone to normality. What an improvement that would bring to many people's quality of life. The research that we are debating could lead to cures for macular degeneration in the eyes, leukaemia, sickle cell anaemia—and other immuno-deficiencies—and spinal injury problems. It could even lead to finding a way of producing squamous epithelium skin for the cure and treatment of bums and other skin wounds. It could lead to cures for cirrhosis, hepatitis, heart disease, muscular injuries, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis and other bone and cartilage injuries.

The prize is too great for us to ignore. If we used the argument that we should not go ahead and begin the research, we would not be doing justice to the people whom we represent in Parliament. The most profound and moral issues that we are debating today are not simply black and white issues of good and evil. Our debate is an example of the way in which we must weigh the fine balance between moral, ethical and theological issues, as I said earlier. Parliament must make a difficult decision and we can vote only according to our conscience.

I, for one, believe that the alleviation of unnecessary suffering and prevention of death are moral and theological imperatives. I do not believe that a blastocyst of undifferentiated cells is a human being. Quite simply, the balance of the argument falls heavily in favour of supporting the regulations that we shall debate on Tuesday night.

12.38 pm
Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge)

I am glad to have the opportunity to contribute to an important debate, which is probably one of the most interesting that I have attended in the past few weeks.

I intended to contribute when we last debated this, but I had unbreakable constituency engagements, as we all often have on Fridays. However, I read with great interest the debate of 17 November, and felt that it was very informative. I am glad that we have another opportunity today, because the debate is moving on and progressing.

I want to talk, first, about the 120,000 people in the United Kingdom who suffer from Parkinson's disease. One of them is my aunt, now an elderly woman in her eighties. It has proved impossible for her to continue living alone in her sheltered accommodation, so she is being looked after in a nursing home. She is in the same state of deterioration as were two of her sisters, one of whom was my mother. I can speak about Parkinson's disease and its ghastly effect on people's lives because, for almost all the time that I knew my mother, she was suffering from it.

The hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) said that we should all declare an interest and that is obviously my interest. My mother first experienced symptoms at the age of 35. As she was so young, no one thought of Parkinson's and several years passed before she was properly diagnosed. By the time I went to college some 10 years later, she was unable to walk upstairs unaided. Dopamine drugs helped to alleviate her symptoms. When she began to take them, she could better control her mobility and temporarily regained some of her joy in life, but they caused deep depression. She was so depressed that she sometimes stopped taking them, feeling that the rigidity caused by the illness was preferable to the depression caused by the drugs. Of course, she had to start taking them again, as she was helpless without them.

The periods off drugs demonstrated that the current drugs do not treat the illness, but merely alleviate the symptoms. Although my mother felt temporarily better, the disease was gradually getting worse. In my teenage years, I saw my mother transformed from a happy, outgoing and sociable young woman to somebody who was prematurely old and disabled and whose capacity to enjoy life was severely curtailed. My mother lived with Parkinson's disease for 34 years. She finally died of lung cancer. I believe it to be typical of the disease that, although it has crippling effects, it does not kill, but maims.

I had a friend who was diagnosed at an even earlier age than my mother. He was only 30 when he found out that he had this terrible disease. He had a son and daughter of the same age as my two eldest children, with whom they were at school. I watched Ivan's daughter trying to come to terms with her father's illness, learning how to look after him and later coping with grief. The disease progressed quickly in Ivan, who died at a relatively young age. He was a brilliant musician and an inspiring teacher. The world lost a star.

I am patron of the Multiple Sclerosis Society in Cambridge, so I know that the research would throw a lifeline of hope to many MS sufferers. I recently attended the society's Christmas party, where I met many severely disabled people and learned how their condition affects their lives.

I think that I have explained my position and why I shall vote for the regulations next week. Like many hon. Members, I have received letters from constituents who are worried about cloning. I believe that there is some confusion between therapeutic and reproductive cloning. My hon. Friend the Minister stated clearly that reproductive cloning is illegal and I am glad that the Government have affirmed that it will remain so. I believe that human reproductive cloning is unacceptable and morally wrong. My understanding is that human embryos created by cell nuclear replacement could never be implanted under current regulations. The research will be carried out on embryos of up to 14 days old. I hope that constituents who have written to me will accept my reassurance and that of the Government and the medical profession.

I cannot envisage a time when the UK public will feel that it is right to condone human reproductive cloning. People who call embryo research the thin end of the wedge are wrong. I understand that the Government are seeking powers for research purposes only. If the research produces a treatment, therefore, they must return to Parliament to change the regulations. My hon. Friend the Minister will correct me if I am wrong about that, but as I understand it, the House will have a further opportunity to debate the matter and to make a decision if we need to use embryo stem cells for treatment rather than for research purposes. Of course, such treatment will not involve reproductive cloning, so my constituents can rest assured. My hon. Friend made it perfectly clear in our debates today and on 17 November that that would not be the case.

My anxiety to ensure that the regulations are agreed next week prompted me to speak to many of my right hon. and hon. Friends. Some said that they are concerned about the time scale in which they have to reach a decision, and more than one of them said that they felt they were being bounced into a decision.

A very good report on stem cell research was produced by the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology and published in June. I commend that organisation—I have been a member of its board for several years, and my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson) is its chair and performs his duties very ably. That report was an early indication that today we were likely to have an important debate. The report gave those Members of Parliament without scientific knowledge an understanding of the background research and possibilities.

Although the. Donaldson report was published on 17 August, it was preceded by weeks of press speculation about its contents—it was the subject of intense press reporting. I know that many hon. Members are away on holiday in August. However, when the House returned, we had a further debate. The hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) introduced a ten-minute Bill on 31 October. I was one of the sponsors of that Bill. On reflection, rather than introducing that Bill, it would have been better to have an Adjournment debate of one and a half hours. That would have given right hon. and hon. Members time to reflect on the matter without having to decide which way to vote. Of course, hindsight is a wonderful thing.

Dr. Harris

I entirely accept the hon. Lady's comments. I also tried to get a ballot. However, I did not call for a vote—it was the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) who did so. He also complained today and yesterday that there was no primary legislation for him to get his teeth into. I accept that without Government time, that is not an effective approach. However, he has also spoken against having primary legislation. The hon. Lady therefore raises a question for him.

Mrs. Campbell

Nevertheless, when one introduces a ten-minute Bill, there is always the possibility that someone will oppose it and force a vote. Although I was happy to sponsor that Bill, it would have been better if we had given hon. Members more time to consider their position. With further consideration and more debate, many hon. Members might change their minds and vote for the regulations.

We had a further full-day debate on 17 November. Many hon. Members, including me, were unable to be present, but we have had an opportunity to read Hansard. Another full day is available to debate the issue today, and half a day is available on Tuesday, when the regulations will be discussed. It is difficult to argue that the Government have not allocated sufficient time.

Dr. Fox

Does the hon. Lady accept that the fact that the Government changed the draft regulations only yesterday morning and are asking the House to vote on them on Tuesday will be interpreted widely outside the House as providing too little time to consider the implications of the change? The Government will introduce a measure in an unamendable statutory instrument that is not defined, as the Minister admitted earlier today.

Mrs. Campbell

I am not sure that the change in the regulations has created a vastly different principle from that which we thought we were debating as long ago as August, when the Donaldson report was published. The hon. Gentleman has had plenty of opportunities to consider the regulations' implications.

Many people feel that there is no urgency about the matter because if the treatments prove to be viable, they will not be available for another 10 years or so. It is not unusual for medical treatments to require such a time scale for development. We need to be sure that all such treatments are safe and effective. That would mean extensive medical trials before treatments became available. What worries me is that if we do not approve the regulations next week, the start of the research will be delayed. To someone who develops Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis or diabetes in perhaps 10 years' time, it will be hard to explain why we did not take a decision now.

In the previous debate on 17 November, it was alleged that the Parkinson's Disease Society had not consulted its members. I think that we have all received a letter from the chairman of the Parkinson's Disease Society, Janet Sanders, which sets out clearly that that allegation is not true. The society's board of trustees are all democratically elected by society members, and the decision to support the Donaldson recommendations was unanimous. Since then, as the chairman states in her letter, the society has received overwhelming support for its position from its 26,000 members. It is not surprising to me that people who suffer from the disease should want the research to be continued.

I want to address the issue of whether we need embryo stem cell research at all. It is certainly true that adult stem cells have been shown to be more plastic than previously thought. It is possible that such cells may be able to produce dopamine-producing nerve cells, which will benefit Parkinson's disease patients. However, as has been pointed out many times in this debate, the research is at a very early stage. It has not yet been determined that it will be effective, even if adult stem cells are eventually used for stem cell therapy.

Scientists are almost universally agreed that research using embryonic stem cells is required fully to understand the mechanisms whereby cells differentiate into particular cell types. I hope, as I am sure do many others, that once that process is properly understood, it will be possible to use adult rather than embryo stem cells for such purposes. I was struck by the statement from the medical advisory board of the Parkinson's Disease Society. It says: It is imperative that research into degenerative diseases is included in the remit of the 1990 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act so that both avenues—adult and embryonic—of research can be fully explored. If this does not happen we risk severely delaying potential treatments and cures for conditions which are currently incurable. Clearly, I have a very personal interest in Parkinson's disease as three of my close relatives have suffered from it, and I feel quite vulnerable to it. If I develop symptoms, I want to know that a cure is close at hand. That is why I shall vote for the regulations next week.

All hon. Members have constituents who suffer from Parkinson's and other degenerative diseases. Some of them, like my mother, will be very young when it is diagnosed. It is not just patients but their families and friends who will be touched by the disease. Science has been able to offer hope and a remedy to many of those who were previously infertile. I hope that the same can be done for those who suffer from degenerative diseases.

12.53 pm
Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East)

I am pleased, on this occasion, to support the Government in their attempt to pass regulations in the House on Tuesday night. I recognise, however, that the debate is extremely difficult, and it will no doubt polarise the House on Tuesday night, as it did recently during the ten-minute Bill.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell), I feel that the introduction of that ten-minute Bill was a great mistake. The hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris), who introduced it, said that he did not expect a vote. I suggest that he was rather naive in that assumption—the topic was so controversial that it was bound to precipitate a vote.

I hope only that some of the hon. Members who voted against the ten-minute Bill on that occasion will have read as much as I have read, will have been to as many seminars and lectures on the subject as I and other hon. Members have and that they will have reversed their opinions by Tuesday night. I also hope that they will attempt to read the major debates of 17 November and today in Hansard.

Dr. Harris

I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, but it should be noted that a number of organisations thought that the vote—adverse though it was—was helpful. It spurred a number of organisations that had been pretty quiet on the subject to say why they supported the regulations, which, it had been assumed, would be passed in a relatively simple fashion. After the event, I certainly was alive to the need to persuade scientists and patients' organisations to put their case.

If the result of Tuesday's vote is close, part of the explanation will be the fact that those organisations—somewhat late in the day in many cases—rose to the challenge of persuading Members who, like the hon. Gentleman, want to hear all the arguments.

Dr. Iddon

I accept that.

Let me say at the outset that I do not represent any religious group, or indeed any group. I have not been pressurised by the biotechnology or the pharmaceutical industry; indeed, I have little knowledge of life sciences, although my knowledge has increased considerably in the past few weeks. I have tried to approach the subject pragmatically, while not ignoring the moral and ethical considerations that have been so well represented today.

I should also say at the outset that, while I have great respect for those with religious views, I hope that their dogma will not prevail and that independent thought will win the day. I shall return to the question of religion towards the end of my speech.

The hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) described the debate as a moral maze. Scientists will present Parliament with many moral mazes in the near and, indeed, the distant future, because we are on the verge of some surprising scientific discoveries.

It might seem strange to pro-life groups that someone such as me, who strongly supported the private Member's Bill proposed by the hon. Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton)—the Medical Treatment (Prevention of Euthanasia) Bill—should now hold what seems to be the opposite view. I shall try to give my reasons as plainly as possible.

One difference between this and the euthanasia debate, if I may refer to it in that way, is that our debate on stem cell research is taking place in Government time. We have not yet debated euthanasia in this Government's time, although euthanasia is creeping up on us: indeed, some would argue that it has already arrived. Parliament can, of course, remain in tight control of embryology research; it demonstrated that with the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990, and the authority that was set up as a result of that Act—the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, which strictly regulates research on this subject.

The authority is accountable to Parliament, which is extremely important. I am led to believe that it could permit the cloning of embryos now. It has obviously chosen not to do so, and has sought the permission of Parliament before allowing research in that field. That point was made earlier. However, the creation of embryos, and particularly their cloning to derive cells and tissues for therapeutic treatment, requires new legislation.

I am slightly critical of the way in which the Government handle scientific issues. I think they handle other major issues very differently. We have all observed the recent problems in the food safety arena: the BSE crisis and, lately, the issue of genetically modified crops are the most extreme examples. The public were largely left in the dark about the substance of the debates on those issues, which, on the whole, have been led by hyperactive media looking for the best possible headlines. However, we are in danger of upsetting the public again by not fully engaging them in this important debate, which is as worthy of prime Government time as any other.

It is a mistake to arrange debates—admittedly, in this case, two five-hour debates—on Fridays, when most Members are in their constituencies. I had to rearrange a whole day's business today, and I think others could have done the same if they felt as strongly as I do. Similarly, presenting the regulations at 10 pm next Tuesday following only a 90-minute debate, in which only Front Benchers will have a fair crack of the whip, will give the impression outside that the Government are trying to rush the legislation through, and will create suspicion when none should exist.

Yvette Cooper

I am sorry to interrupt my hon. Friend, but I want him to know that the Government have announced that there will be a half-day debate on the issue next Tuesday, with a vote at 7 pm.

Dr. Iddon

I thank the Minister for that point. I was unaware of it and I apologise.

Let me try to explain why I believe that stem cell research is so important. I shall then move to why embryonic stem cells have to be researched, as well as adult stem cells in parallel. Early embryos—blastocysts—that are under one week old consist of between 100 and 200 individual cells only. They are only one fifth of a millimetre in diameter, which is smaller than a printed full stop.

In general, it is intended to carry out the research on embryos that have been produced for in vitro fertilisation treatment. Not all of them are used. In case they are needed for further treatment, the vast majority are stored in liquid nitrogen to prevent their growth and are ultimately destroyed with the consent of the donor. Between 1991 and 1998, a total of 763,509 embryos were created by IVF methods. Almost half were used for infertility treatment but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson) pointed out, more than 273,000 had not been used and, by consent, were destroyed; such embryos will be used in stem cell research.

As the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) said, millions of pre-embryos or embryos are discarded naturally without women being aware of the loss. Those embryos are so small that I cannot see that they have any life structure—not even a blob for a brain or a streak for a spinal cord.

As a chemist in a former existence, I am aware of some amazing research that is being carried out throughout the world—universities such as Sheffield are leading it—whereby large molecules can recognise other molecules and attract them, in a process called molecular recognition. The molecules can assemble in fairly large complexes and already show signs of doing what machines do in factories, but at a molecular level.

Many of the molecular recognition complexes are capable of amazing things such as conducting electricity. Chemists and biochemists involved in the research are convinced that the process is the way in which life began. More than 30 years ago, an experiment was conducted by Professor Urey. With primordial gases in a discharge tube, he emulated the conditions that must have existed on primordial earth. He passed an electric discharge through the tube. A yellow liquid collected that containing the bases of life—amino acids and the four bases that go into the nucleic acids.

At this stage, we do not know how those fairly complex chemicals, produced in such a simple way, came together in a recognition process and began the elementary stages of primitive life. However, scientists have predicted—I am one who believes the prediction—that, some time this century, through the process of molecular recognition, we will be able to generate one of the simplest forms of life synthetically. People might find that repulsive—I do not know—but it is now on the cards. As I said, moral mazes will continue to confront politicians such as ourselves.

Furthermore, scientists believe that the DNA in the nucleus of a cell is a blueprint, as many hon. Members have suggested. It is capable of attracting—and does attract, in scientists' opinion—other molecules and of assembling them. In my opinion, those small embryos—the hon. Member for Richmond Park called them pre-embryos—are chemical factories in which molecular recognition occurs and clumps of molecules come together. It is fascinating how it goes through the stem cells and develops into the complex chemical factories that we all are. There will be some great discoveries this century, and I am sure that this year has seen the beginning of a major debate.

Fresh embryos as young as a few days old consist, of course, of pluripotent stem cells: cells that can differentiate into all other cells from which life is ultimately constructed. We do not know what chemicals—for chemicals they are—act as the triggers to differentiate the cells into all the other cells in our skeletons, such as nerve cells, muscle cells, skin cells and so on.

In my opinion, it is absolutely essential to know what chemical triggers differentiate primitive stem cells from other cells. Why is it important to understand that? Cancer is a disruption of normal cell differentiation and in order to understand the more than 100 different cancers that afflict us and to be able to control the development of those cancers we must fully understand cell growth. Indeed, after surgery for cancer, when huge amounts of tissue are removed internally, or after chemotherapy or radiotherapy, when normal tissues are badly damaged, it would be nice to be able to replace those tissues and return people to as normal a state as possible, their cell division having gone so hopelessly wrong. That is another reason why this research is so important. It gives great hope to many thousands of people suffering from cancer all over the world.

As far as I understand the research, the aim is to use the pluripotent stem cells, which can be extracted from few-day-old embryos, to create banks of the different cells that grow into body tissues—cell lines. Cells can be grown on in the right culture medium. The growth and differentiation of stem cells can also be halted by cooling them down and storing them in liquid nitrogen. Therefore, an endless source of stem cells might not be necessary once the cell banks, cell lines and tissue banks have been created—at least not for the study of cell growth and differentiation.

The research gives us the possibility of tissue repair all over the body. Those with extensive burns, for example, who might die as a result, could be saved.

Ms Kelly

Does my hon. Friend accept that skin grafts are already taking place in Italy using stem cells taken from adults rather than from embryos?

Dr. Iddon

Yes, I accept that point, but, as I argued earlier, parallel research on embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells, which I shall mention in a moment, is absolutely essential.

Those with cirrhosis of the liver and life-threatening hepatitis might also be saved. As many hon. Members have said today, nervous tissue might be replaced or regenerated, giving hope to those with Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's, strokes and spinal injuries. There is hope too for those with macular degeneration in the eye, arthritis, osteoporosis and diabetes. The list is endless. Of course, we are already treating leukaemia by transplanting stem cells.

There is also the possibility of repairing major organs in the body such as the heart and kidneys, thus reducing the need for organ donation. 1 am sure that right hon. and hon. Members are aware that there has been a serious shortage of organs for transplantation, which has been made worse recently by the adverse publicity over removed organs being stored by pathology departments in various hospitals.

We are talking about long-term research and we do not know how far we can go with it or where it will take us, but if we do not start the research, which has shown great promise in animal experiments, we shall never know what good we can do for society.

It is true that stem cells are also present in adults. They are multipotent rather than pluripotent, which simply means that they do not have the capacity to produce as many cell types as embryonic stem cells. In any case, they are aged and there is the consequent possibility that they have mutated, which is a danger. Additionally, they are extremely difficult to isolate free of contaminants. Nevertheless I accept that advances are being made in adult stem cell research, but that is not the reason, often cited by those who oppose embryonic stem cell research, for not allowing parallel research to begin on the development of pluripotent embryonic stem cells.

Ms Kelly

My hon. Friend cites all the disadvantages of using adult stem cells as opposed to embryonic stem cells. Does he agree that there are also advantages of using adult stem cells as opposed to embryonic stem cells? For instance, they are much less likely to be rejected by the adult recipient. In addition, their growth is much easier to control than that of embryonic stem cells.

Dr. Iddon

I had not finished my remarks on adult stem cells, but I admit that if it were possible to switch all the research to adult stem cells, I too would encourage that. There is no doubt about that. However, we just do not know what the chemical triggers are for differentiation—which will be best explained by research on embryonic stem cells. The research must be in parallel. We cannot delay one whole sphere of research and concentrate on the research on which my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, West (Ms Kelly) would like to concentrate.

If adult stem cells prove to do everything that we require of them, I am sure that the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority will reduce the number of licences that it grants for embryonic stem cell research. Each new research programme will, after all, require a fresh licence.

Another difference between adult stem cells and embryonic stem cells is that the former seem to lose their ability to differentiate after long storage in culture. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, West will be pleased to know that there is new hope that adult stem cells can be reprogrammed and, essentially, taken back in time, so that they regain the ability to differentiate as embryonic stem cells are able to. That might allow scientists to turn one tissue type into another tissue.

Scientists are already able to do that in animal experiments. Again, however, chemical triggers must be involved in the process. It will be a long time before scientists learn how to control the so-called plasticity of adult stem cells.

I accept that stem cells are present in foetal tissue, placental tissue and umbilical cords, especially in the cord blood. However, they also have limited ability to differentiate, unlike embryonic stem cells.

I should like briefly to address the issue of cloning, particularly therapeutic cloning. It is rather unfortunate that we have to use the word cloning, which has been given such a bad press by science fiction writers. The hon. Member for North Devon (Mr. Harvey) mentioned the language being used by scientists, and that language does concern our constituents. In this debate, however, it is important to understand the difference between therapeutic cloning, which the regulations deal with, and reproductive cloning, which they do not deal with. Indeed, even if reproductive cloning were technically possible with humans, I would not support it. I do not know one hon. Member who would support it. Clearly the Government would not support it. It is illegal now, and it will remain illegal.

Hon. Members should remember that Dolly the sheep was not the result of only one experiment—indeed, the hon. Member for Richmond Park mentioned 400 experiments. The Donaldson report states: The birth of Dolly the sheep required 277 cell nuclear replacements. That is an awful lot of experiments. We are not told in the Donaldson report how many of those experiments resulted in implantation and how many went wrong. No one could conceive of ever allowing such experimentation on human beings.

Why is therapeutic cloning necessary? Obviously the problem is that unless tissues are grown to avoid rejection by the immune system of the person into whom they are to be implanted, rejection will occur. To date, human embryos have only ever been created from eggs and sperm. However, the Dolly the sheep experiment in 1997 showed that embryos can be created without sperm. That is what the process of cell nuclear replacement is all about. As well as sheep, the process has been applied to cows, goats, pigs and mice.

In order to avoid the rejection problem, it is necessary to take a cell from the tissue or organ of a recipient patient, extract its nucleus—which contains most of the patient's DNA and genetic identity—and implant the nucleus in an unfertilised egg with its nucleus removed. The fusion produces an embryo fusion or blastocyst from which the stem cells can be extracted and grown into tissues that can be implanted in that patient without rejection. That is cloning and, theoretically, if such an embryo were allowed to develop full term through implantation in a womb, human cloning would be possible. For that reason, tough regulation of the process is absolutely essential, and that is what the regulations that we shall discuss on Tuesday are about.

More than 50 inherited metabolic diseases—some not so well known as others—are caused by defects in mitochondria' DNA, which is present in the cytoplasm surrounding the nucleus of the mother's egg. It has now become theoretically possible to remove the nucleus of the mother's egg and to transfer it into a donor egg with healthy mitochondria and cytoplasm from which the nucleus has been removed. That egg could be fertilised by the father's sperm and implanted in the mother's womb, thus breeding out all those 50 inherited mitochondrial diseases at some point in the future.

I emphasise that this is not reproductive cloning, given the genetic make-up of the child likely to born through use of this technique. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, West said that, if a human being were ever born following such a procedure, he or she would have two mothers and one father. I do not accept that, because most of the DNA is in the nucleus of the egg. Only a small part—the part responsible for energy processes in the body—is present in the cytoplasm. The DNA in the nucleus of the egg is responsible for the genetic fingerprint of a human being. I totally reject what my hon. Friend said earlier.

Ms Kelly

Up to a point, you have dealt with the remarks that I was going to make. However, does the logic of what you have said—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord)

Order. I must remind the hon. Lady, for future reference, to use the correct parliamentary terminology.

Ms Kelly

I am sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I shall try to remember to do so.

Does the logic of what my hon. Friend has just said not lead him to the conclusion that the embryo, when grown to term, would constitute a cloned human being if it did not derive its genetic blueprint from two sources?

Dr. Iddon

The embryo would derive its DNA from two sources, but its genetic identity would come from only one source. There is not a scientist in the world who would dispute that fact.

Mr. Leigh

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Dr. Iddon

I should like to continue for a moment, please.

I was interested to read all the information that I have received on this topic, especially the views of the major religions. House of Commons Library research paper No. 93 was published on 12 December 2000. I must compliment the Library: the summary of the debate is excellent. The paper also summarises some of the religious leaders' views. Most of the great religions represented in the report do not totally object to the kind of research covered in the regulations. The objections seem to arise from the difference between the use of embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, West has made that plain. However, that is an ethical and moral issue, which hon. Members will have to decide for themselves. I shall support the regulations; others will not.

As well as letters of objection, I have received quite a few letters willing me to vote for the regulations next week, which I shall have no hesitation in doing. I am sure that right hon. and hon. Members will have received the same letter that I have received from a 44-year-old woman in Aberdeenshire who has children aged six and eight. She has had Parkinson's disease for five years. It would be fair to her and to millions of others across the world if I quoted from her letter, to do her justice and honour: I can hardly bear to think of the pain my young children and my partner have in store as my disability increases in the bizarre and devastating ways peculiar to PD. That refers to Parkinson's disease. As I type these words my medication is wearing off. Every key touch is a supreme effort. I can barely stand or move at all. I am imprisoned in my body, I am trapped in this pain. This is surely a fate no one should endure. Not when the possibility of rescue from this daily nightmare might just lie around the corner. The birth of sulphonamides in 1938 enabled us to hit the parasites that invade our body. We are still benefiting from the antibiotics and other drugs that resulted from that major advance in medicine. A second phase of drug research produced the group of pharmacodynamic drugs that interfere with processes in our body, such as the work of enzymes. I am convinced that after those two major scientific medical discoveries, we are now entering a new phase of medicine that will tackle the diseases to which we have all referred, including the 50 mitochondrial diseases. We should not pass up the opportunity that that offers us.

I do not believe that the advances will come soon enough for the young woman in Aberdeenshire, and I regret that. I do not think that there will be solutions tomorrow for people with Parkinson's disease and other terrifying degenerative diseases, which I also regret. However, there is hope for their children and grandchildren. Can we miss an opportunity to help them? Can we condemn future generations to suffer as their parents and grandparents suffered? I cannot vote for that. There are risks attached to the research work and its applications, but the potential benefits far exceed the risks. That is why I shall support the Government next week.

1.22 pm
Mr. Jim Dobbin (Heywood and Middleton)

It has been fascinating to listen to the contributions and different views of hon. Members, not least that of my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon), who painted a lucid picture of the flashlight creation of life. It reminded me that I was working in the Royal Oldham hospital when the first test tube baby, Louise Brown, was born. That gave us an idea of the future.

I have a scientific background, although it is not the same as my hon. Friend's. I want medical research so that the scientific and medical worlds make progress and cure all the serious diseases that have been mentioned. Let me declare an interest: I am diabetic, and I have a son-in-law and two grandsons who have a fairly serious congenital neurological muscle disorder. One of my grandsons, who is only four, was on a life support machine last year for four days. The new-born baby has the same genetic pattern. I have a real interest in such research. The hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) declared that he has not crossed the Rubicon, but neither have I. I always make it clear to everyone in the House and my constituency where I stand on the issue of life. I never hide that.

The Minister claimed that this subject was adequately debated during the passage of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990, but I have read the debate and not much of it was pertinent to cloning. The hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) commented on the time that has been allocated to discuss this matter. The Government can claim that we have had two five-hour periods on Fridays to debate the matter, but Friday is not always the best day for debate because attendance is not high. That is especially true of this Friday, which follows a Thursday with a one-line Whip. Members migrate to their constituencies because they have other things to do. Embryology raises issues for the public as well as for MPs, so there is a need for more information and for more time to be allocated for further intense debate.

In the debates in 1990, I could find no reference to the cloning technique that will be permitted under the statutory instrument on which we will vote on Tuesday. There were only two references to cloning itself, both of which related to the fact that the law would not allow cloning. One of those statements was made by the then Secretary of State for Health, who on Second Reading assured the House that hon. Members would like to prohibit certain activities, which include cloning … or other science fiction possibilities. He added that such activities should attract the severe penalties provided in the Bill.—[Official Report, 2 April 1990; Vol. 170, c. 920.] We are now faced with Ministers distinguishing, rightly, between reproductive cloning and therapeutic cloning. However, no such differences were discussed in 1990. Moreover, the Donaldson committee, having found a loophole in the law, referred persistently to cell nuclear transfer, which has already been mentioned several times today. To put it baldly, that is the same cloning technique as was used to produce Dolly the sheep—a technique not even thought of in 1990.

There are obvious similarities between the two campaigns. In 2000, as in 1990, hon. Members received material from groups, including charities, promising that if only scientists were allowed to use the human embryo in experiments, cures would be developed for all manner of genetic diseases and disorders. In 1990, of course, Parliament gave in and agreed to that research.

Now we discover that although there have certainly been advances in treatment for a number of tragic genetic disorders, they have all come from research methods about which there is no ethical dispute. In 1990 politicians argued that there was more than one moral outcome. The same is true now. Curing disease is a moral cause. Increasingly, however, MPs are becoming concerned about whether the end justifies the means, particularly as so many are becoming more worried about precisely what that end is.

In the past week or so, I have been struck by the arguments of hon. Members who do not agree with me at all on life issues. Many of them are asking why, if the matter is so straightforward, there is such haste to change the law and why hon. Members are not allowed to consider the whole issue. I should have preferred the matter to be dealt with through primary legislation, rather than a statutory instrument. We cannot table amendments to such an instrument; we can only vote to accept it or reject it.

In the past few weeks, there has been considerable discussion in the newspapers about the manner in which the Government are supporting the bioscience industry, which has been described as "our £50 billion industry". The hon. Member for Richmond Park touched on that. In November, the Prime Minister addressed the European bioscience conference and referred to the great benefits that experiments on embryos could bring to medicine and science. He said: Our conviction about what is natural or right should not inhibit the role of science in discovering the truth. Rather it should inform our judgment about the implications and consequences of the truth science uncovers. We should also recognise there are areas where even in exercising such judgment, there is more than one morally acceptable outcome. I am well aware that some hon. Members support that view. Would they continue to do so if they thought that voting for the statutory instrument would allow the manufacture of clones for the purposes of commerce? I mention commerce because I used to deal with pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, and I know the pressures that they can use.

A few days after the European bioscience conference, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry announced a 45 per cent. increase in real-terms spending between 1997 and 2004, which as a Labour Back Bencher I certainly applaud. He said something else with which I agree. In referring to the economic benefits of science, he said: We would stand condemned by future generations if we failed at this moment to take the necessary investments to realise these opportunities. Nobody in the House could disagree with that.

However, my right hon. Friend, too, has referred to the great benefits of embryo research. Will the statutory instrument allow the manufacture of human clones for the great bioscience industry in which we are investing such huge sums? I have heard the Minister comment previously on that, but I should like her to refer to it again today. If any hon. Members are opposed to such development, they should vote against the statutory instrument on Tuesday and instead demand that changes in the law should be made in primary legislation.

During the past year or so, an increasing number of papers have been published on the successful use of adult stem cells. We have heard the debate over the difference between the use of adult stem cells and embryo stem cells, so I shall not go into it; suffice it to say that we should be steering our research more towards use of the former.

To understand why scientists are so anxious to be allowed to use human clones in particular, one must first understand a little about the development of the embryo, about which we have had some debate. No bigger than a full stop, its cell will provide all and every kind of tissue that makes muscle, bone and all organs, so it is a unique piece of life. Embryo cells will proliferate with almost unlimited potential, maintaining a pool of growing and dividing cells, with the added ability that some of the daughter cells can differentiate into specific cell types.

To return to the commercial issue, one hardly needs to be Einstein to recognise the tremendous commercial attraction for pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies hoping to be able to obtain and possibly use human clones for their work and products. However much I disagree with colleagues on the issue, I respect them if they say what they want. However, I cannot go along with the thought of Parliament being led into what could be a quagmire without being informed of to what and where we are being led. The Helsinki agreement on medical ethics makes it clear that human subjects, including human tissue, should not be used in experiments unless all other avenues have been investigated.

Why is the legislation being hastily pushed through as a statutory instrument? Why are the Government pressurising us to go ahead with that vehicle? Until they are able to answer those and a few more questions, I intend to vote against the regulations on Tuesday.

1.33 pm
Yvette Cooper

With the leave of the House, I shall reply to the debate.

We have had an extremely good, thoughtful and reflective debate. I pay tribute to all those who have spoken for the level of the debate, especially given the strong views that I know many hon. Members hold and how much many feel is at stake.

The hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) gave an eloquent account of the pro-life position. I welcome his recognition that, at this stage, embryonic stem cells have more potential in research than adult stem cells.

My hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson) described the scientific knowledge of adult stem cells and the nature of stem cell lines. The hon. Member for North Devon (Mr. Harvey) accepted the strong case for going ahead with the research, but expressed his constituents' fears that we might be on a slippery slope.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, West (Ms Kelly) raised concerns about cell nuclear replacement and mitochondrial disease, to which I shall respond later.

The hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) described the need for an ethical framework for science and pointed out that the ethical questions that are at stake are very similar to those raised by the 1990 Act. He said that those who supported that Act would probably support the regulations, while those against it, such as himself, will probably be against them, which I think is right.

My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Miss Begg) gave a powerful account of the potential of the research to ease conditions such as her own and what that could mean for patients' lives. The hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) explained with great humour her process of agonising, and has concluded that, on balance, we are doing the right thing at this stage. I spoke to her during that process, and I can testify to her agonising.

The hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant) outlined the potential benefits of the regulations in respect of diabetes in particular. My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell) referred to her mother, who has Parkinson's disease, and pointed out that, although drugs can alleviate its symptoms, they cannot stop them worsening. My hon. Friend also pointed out that stem cell research has the potential not merely to alleviate symptoms, but to develop treatments and cures.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) gave an excellent scientific account of the need to understand not only cell growth but mitochondrial disease. My hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Middleton (Mr. Dobbin) put the case against embryonic cell research and expressed concerns about cell nuclear replacement.

I shall try to respond to some of the key questions that have been raised. Several Members expressed concern about the process and the timing of the debate. The Donaldson report, which was published in August, followed other reports that also called for similar changes to the law on research. It considered the issues in great detail and received considerable media coverage when it was launched. In August, the Government announced that regulations to implement two of the report's recommendations would be laid, and we are discussing those regulations now.

We debated the Donaldson report on 17 November: it was a full Friday debate, and a good one. The draft regulations were laid on 27 November. Some who supported the report expressed concern that the regulations were too widely drawn, so limiting drafting changes were made, primarily to ensure the focus on serious disease.

The revised regulations were laid on Tuesday, in plenty of time for today's debate, which is another full Friday debate. There will be another half-day debate on Tuesday, before we vote. Therefore, we have provided considerable time for discussion, and as far as I know, no other regulations or statutory instruments have been given as much time on the Floor of the House. This is my fourth speech on the issue, and I expect, with the leave of the House, to make further speeches before the vote. Three briefings have also been offered by the chief medical officer to all Members and peers.

The regulations are within the scope of the 1990 Act, which created the power to extend the purposes of embryonic research. In fact, the debate on the 1990 Act allowed for that to be done in Committee and in one and a half hours. That has not been done; many hours have been spent discussing the matter on the Floor of the House before a free vote. Plenty of time has been allowed for debate.

Many Members who have raised issues relating to the process may disagree with the creation of the power by the 1990 Act to change the purposes of embryonic research. Nevertheless, that decision was taken, the power exists and we are, rightly, using it to put the regulations before the House for a free vote. If one accepts the 1990 Act and the existence of the power to make such regulations, it is clear that the Government have allowed considerable time for debate—far more than would normally be allowed for a statutory instrument. We have done so because we are well aware of the important issues that the regulations raise for many people and the need to discuss them fully. I agree with the hon. Member for Richmond Park that it is time that the House took a view and voted on this issue.

Many Members have asked whether there is a role for primary legislation. As I have said, the 1990 Act established the relevant power to act through secondary legislation. That was discussed during the primary legislation process and it was decided that such power should reside in secondary legislation. I think that there is a role for primary legislation to embed the ban that already exists on human reproductive cloning. We have said that we will do that, and it will be done in due course. It is for the House to choose whether to use the powers that we were given in 1990 to allow research to go ahead.

I shall take up some of the substantive issues. There has been considerable debate on the respective merits of adult and embryonic stem cell research. It is clear that ultimately scientists want to be able to undertake research with adult cells, not adult stem cells. They want to be able to reverse adult cells and reprogramme them to use as regenerative tissue to help to tackle disease and disorder. If adult cells can be used, there is far more potential for developing compatible tissue to develop the treatments and cures to tackle diseases.

I think that there is broad consensus that adult stem cell research now has far more limited potential than embryonic stem cell research. It is the embryonic research that holds the power and the key to treating many of the diseases that we have been talking about. It is wrong to suggest that we should spend a long time undertaking adult stem cell research first and not consider embryonic research for some time. It is wrong to ask those who are suffering to wait while we try something else first when embryonic stem cell research is justifiable now, given its potential to ease the suffering that many people are enduring.

I agree with the concern that has been expressed about the need to have a proper moral and ethical framework for scientific research. The issue was debated in 1990. The key issue was what sort of ethical and moral framework should hold for those who wanted then to carry out embryonic research. It is a sign of the cross-party nature of these issues that in 1990 it was a Conservative Government who steered the Bill and the research proposals through the House.

The 1990 Act sets out quite a strong ethical and moral framework around embryonic research. It provides that research can be undertaken only up to 14 days, only if it is necessary for the research involved, only for particular purposes and only if it is carried out in an ethical way. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority is responsible for regulating that process.

There is a moral and ethical framework. It may not be the one that some hon. Members would like, but it is one for the use of science. We should continue to debate that framework, and we in Parliament need to be responsible for setting ethical and moral constraints on scientific progress. It is completely wrong to say that there is no ethical or moral framework on the research that is carried out.

The framework includes issues of informed consent that were raised by the hon. Member for Richmond Park and my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart). Couples must choose to donate their embryos for research. The Donaldson report recommends that couples should be asked not only to choose to donate but whether they would choose to donate their embryos for stem cell research. That would allow my hon. Friend the Member for Slough to take the opportunity to which she referred to donate her embryos to research that ultimately might make a difference to multiple sclerosis, from which she suffers.

Ms Kelly

Does my hon. Friend recognise that there are real issues about parental consent? In The Guardian this morning there is a report of a cross-European study, which shows that seven out of 10 parents who were asked about consent for research on babies were not fully informed and did not give true consent, and that it would be even more difficult to obtain full consent about the use of embryos?

Yvette Cooper

It is vital that consent should be informed. The Donaldson report refers to strict guidelines to ensure that there is proper informed consent for any research procedure involving embryos.

It is clear that hon. Members in all parts of the House recognise that there are ethical arguments on both sides of the debate. It is not a matter of ethics versus science—there are ethics on both sides of the argument.

Several hon. Members raised concerns about cell nuclear replacement. The legal advice that we have received is that the court will regard the embryos created through cell nuclear replacement as embryos. They are regulated by the 1990 Act, but the technique is permitted by the 1990 Act. It is true that the technique was not in existence in 1990 and could not have been anticipated in the debate at that time.

Hon. Members are worried about whether, by licensing cell nuclear replacement, we are starting on a slippery slope towards human cloning. I strongly repudiate that claim, not least because the 14-day limit is a massive block to prevent us from sliding down that slope. Under the 1990 Act, research cannot be done on embryos beyond 14 days, and those embryos cannot be implanted.

Yes, belt and braces do make sense, as the hon. Member for North Devon suggested. That is why we should reinforce in primary legislation the ban on human cloning. Belt and braces are probably already in place. We are talking about adding safety pins and some rope as well, to make trebly sure that that could never happen in this country.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, West expressed concerns about mitochondrial disorders. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East for his scientific explanation. I was slightly daunted at the prospect of having to provide an explanation. It is possible under the present Act to conduct research into mitochondrial disorders, but not to carry out research to develop treatments for such disorders.

The nucleus of an egg of a woman who has the disease is put into healthy mitochondria donated by another woman. That new egg might then be fertilised in the normal way, should the research go ahead. The resulting embryo would have genetic material from only two individuals, the father and the mother. A third person would have donated healthy mitochondria to make that possible. No one knows what the potential is in this area, but the chief medical officer's group recommended research into possible treatments that might use that technique. The regulations would permit that. It does not involve cell nuclear replacement or cloning. It involves the potential for a couple to have a child that is genetically their own.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, West suggested that research since 1990 has not delivered results. In fact, research into in vitro fertilisation and into the diagnosis of pre-implantation defects has taken huge strides forward as a result of the 1990 Act. It is true that huge strides have not been made in stem cell research, as that has not yet been licensed. That is the purpose of the regulations.

My hon. Friend the Member for Slough was concerned about genetic patenting. Under the current law, genetic material as it exists in nature cannot be patented. There are concerns about the pace of technological change in this area, and the Human Genetics Commission will shortly consider the issue further.

Other hon. Members were worried about the biotech industry. I do not see that the issue affects that industry. Most of the concerns expressed have been from patient groups, in anticipation of the health impact of the research. In this country, medical research and advances depend on a mix of public and private investment, from which we all benefit hugely. If we do not support the regulations, the interesting consequence is that most of the research in this area will be done in the United States in the private sector, as such research is not permitted to be publicly funded. If we do not pass the regulations, it is likely that most of those developments will take place entirely in the public sector, without any public-private partnership and without any role for publicly funded research. That may exacerbate some of the problems about patenting human material that were raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Slough

Finally, concerns were expressed about the morality of any use of embryo research at all. Like the hon. Member for Woodspring, I believe that the key question is probably whether one supports the 1990 Act and accepts that it can be permissible to use embryos in research for particular purposes under strict regulations and conditions, when huge health gains can be achieved as a result. For those who believe that all embryo research is immoral, I cannot provide any arguments from the Dispatch Box to persuade them otherwise. I accept and respect those views, but I disagree with them.

For those who accept the 1990 Act and the fact that a proper ethical framework and structure of regulation to govern embryo research can be in place—and is in place—passing the regulations must be the right thing to do. We should come back to why we are doing this and what is at stake. It is about providing the potential for a powerful cure for illnesses such as Parkinson's disease and multiple sclerosis. It is about responding to concerns that were expressed most powerfully by my hon. Friends the Members for Aberdeen, South, for Cambridge and for Slough, who talked about their experiences and those of their relatives.

If we could find a way to treat Alzheimer's disease and strokes, we could open the doors of every nursing home in the country. The impact of this kind of research could be immense for the lives of people across the country. If we could find a way to treat the degenerative disorders that often strike people when they are young, such as spinal injury and, perhaps, Parkinson's, we could give them back the power to talk, walk and live. Ultimately, that could be the key to tackling some of the big killers in the country, such as cancer and heart disease, which kill hundreds of thousands of people every year.

It is true that we do not know where that research will take us. None of us can guarantee the results that it may lead to. However, that is the inevitable nature of research. Because we do not know where it will lead, we should do it. Because there is such huge potential, we should go ahead with it now. The promise is so great that I hope hon. Members will not block the research going ahead and allow it to make a huge difference to people's lives across the country.

Mr. Tony McNulty (Harrow, East)

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn