HL Deb 08 March 1989 vol 504 cc1538-91

6.53 p.m

The Duke of Norfolk

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

The Government plan to introduce a comprehensive Bill to deal with the issues raised by the Warnock report, published in July 1984. The Government also published a White Paper in November 1987; but still there are no signs of an actual Bill and many of us feel that unethical deeds are taking hold in parts of the medical profession.

I should like to inform the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, that after two Queen's Speeches have gone by with no mention of a Bill on this subject, I can hardly think it is premature to put my Bill forward now. At this very moment there are no statute laws governing the origin of the human species that are fertilised in vitro. Paragraph 20 of the White Paper proposes alternative clauses. One of them prohibits research procedures on human embryos and the second permits research as part of a project sanctioned by the statutory licensing authority, on which both Houses will have a free vote.

This Bill anticipates and supports the first proposal: that experiments should be prohibited. Research in this context must not include therapeutic procedures aimed at preparing the embryo for safe transfer to the uterus of a woman. The all-party pro-life group proposes with this Bill (which I might point out is similar to that which the right honourable Enoch Powell introduced in another place in February 1985) that it would be unlawful for a human embryo to be used for experiments. That is the whole burden of this Bill. The embryo created in vitro must be to enable a specified women to have a child. Spare embryos may be frozen for future use by that woman but not for any other purpose. And of course if that women does not require them for a second attempt they must ultimately be allowed to die.

The Bill is not concerned with surrogacy. It is not concerned with abortion or with forbidding in vitro fertilisation and it is not concerned with the source of the gametes of the IVF embryo. Some doctors and medical research scientists advocate research and experiments on embryos, often to destruction, holding that genetic diseases can be cured or eliminated by these experiments; but world-famous paediatricians, among whom are Professor Peter Koop (Surgeon General of the USA) and Professor Peter Gray of Cardiff, uphold the view that the outlook for those with inherited diseases has steadily improved as a result of conventional research carried out within the traditional ethic of respect for the individual patient, and sometimes using animal models. These advances do not require non-therapeutic experiments on human embryos.

As recently reported in The Times on 15th December 1988, a team studying thalassaemia and sickle cell anaemia has achieved a major breakthrough and also hopes to find a cure for haemophilia through the insertion of the appropriate purified artificial gene or genes into the bone marrow cells where blood is made. Others have had success with bone marrow grafts, and new drugs are being tested to improve the well-being of those who require regular blood transfusions. Biosynthetic blood clotting factors hold out new hope for haemophiliacs. These remarkable advances have been made without the use of human embryos.

Professor Jerome Lejeune originally won world acclaim when he became the first scientist to identify a chromosomal disorder, when he discovered the cause of Down's sydrome. Through his work great improvements have been made in helping Down's children to develop physically and intellectually. An understanding of the way in which chromosomes function could lead to new therapeutic approaches. None of the work done in this way requires human embryos at all, and the predictions of Professor Lejeune made at a meeting in the Grand Committee Room in the Houses of Parliament in January 1985 regarding various genetic chromosomal diseases have all proved to be correct. That can be seen from a number of medical papers, including the document Upholding Human Dignity, which was published in 1958 by the scientific and medical advisory committee to the all-party parliamentary pro-life group.

I believe that human life starts when the woman's ovum is fertilised by the sperm of a male, thus conceiving and creating an embryo. This of course includes a pre-embryo, which is a false division of the early embryonic life. Not even the Warnock Committee at its meetings or in its subsequent report ever referered to the term "pre-embryo". It is a word invented since that time in order to make the unethical uses and exploitation of the human embryo appear to be respectable because public reaction to the procedures going on is one of utter repugnance.

The Geneva decaration of the World Medical Association states: I will maintain the utmost respect for human life from the time of conception; even under threat I will not use my medical knowledge contary to the laws of humanity". The Helsinki declaration of the World Medical Association declares:

In research on man, the interests of science and society should never take precedence over considerations relating to the well-being of the subject". I maintain, first, that destructive experiments on human embryos created in vitro must be ethically flawed since they do not respect human dignity. Secondly, inter-species fertilisation producing a hybrid human must be prohibited because sooner or later curiosity could tempt medical scientists to try this. Thirdly, I believe that implanting human embryos in the uterus of an animal, which certain scientists admit to having attempted, should be outlawed.

We are now having a debate late in the evening, and I have spoken for 10 minutes. Perhaps I may counsel some noble Lords to speak for a lesser time than I have; shall we say for five or six minutes, but not for too long. I know that the House is apt to wither away towards the approach of midnight, and I want to have the votes of noble Lords on my side.

The Judaeo-Christian view of man is that he is made in the image of God. We must respect this prime place of homo sapiens in the reality of the universe and not allow scientists to play games with experimenting on human embryos, whom we consider to be our unborn brothers and sisters. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(The Duke of Norfolk.)

7.4 p.m.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby rose to move, as an amendment to the Motion, That this Bill be now read a second time; to leave out all the words after "That" and insert "This House declines to give a Second Reading to a Private Member's Bill on the use of in vitro fertilisation

My Lords, the noble Duke has criticised the reference in the amendment to my opinion that the Bill is premature. But he adduced no evidence or arguments to support his view that tonight's proceedings are urgent. I shall not follow him in all the medical and scientific detail of this dispute. He is obviously much better equipped in that than I am.

I want to deal with what the noble Duke is asking us to do tonight and why he is asking us to do it. In my submission he is asking us to do the wrong thing and he is asking us to do it at the wrong time, on the wrong occasion and at the wrong hour of night. I respectfully suggest that he is not the appropriate Member of your Lordships' House to do it.

What is the purpose behind the Bill? Why are we asked to choose tonight between Enoch and Warnock? What is happening to require the noble Duke to try to force the pace? I submit that he has not been as candid in the explanation of the Bill tonight as he was when he sent out his circular to his friends on 12th December. He referred then—I quote from

the letter that he sent to a number of his friends—as he has done tonight, to the promise of the Government to introduce their own legislation. He referred then, as he has done tonight, to the absence of clear evidence of the expected date or time at which the Government might fulfil that intention. In the circular he said of this delay: However, a number of us arc becoming seriously concerned that for the second year the Queen's Speech has included no reference to any such Bill and the Government has given no indication of when it might be introduced". That he has repeated virtually tonight. He then continued: It has been suggested that the cause of the delay is that some officials hope that, given time, human embryo research will become more acceptable, and the pro-life lobby will lose its majority, which at this point in time is enormous in the House of Commons". For this reason, he goes on to say, the pro-life group proposes to introduce the Powell Bill into your Lordships' House, so that we can demonstrate the strength of feeling in the Upper House". That is a clearer example of what the noble Duke is doing tonight than he gave in his speech. I do not think that he has fully explained to the House why he is showing so little consideration to all of us in order to pursue what he feels in his conscience no doubt is a requirement on the House to give him a verdict on this issue. One ought to have some explanation of why he is putting us through the mill like this. What is the occasion, what is the urgency, what is the pressure behind this?

This is a whipped up occasion. The noble Duke is staging a mock session of the House because as we all know, the Bill is not a business matter at all. It is merely the means by which the noble Duke seeks to get the demonstration of his constituents that he hopes for at the end of the debate. What, then, does this mean? The noble Duke is completely ignoring the last debate that took place in your Lordships' House on 15th January last year. He was present and spoke in the debate. When the Minister came to reply, he said at col. 1504 of Hansard: It is interesting to note that your Lordships have pretty well decided the issue today. The tally is that four out of the 21 speakers have come down firmly against research in any form of the word, whereas the rest are prepared to accept it". That was his summary in the debate. The noble Duke was one of the four out of the 21 who registered the extreme position. He is obviously seeking tonight to remove the impression left by the debate in January 1988. Why is he wanting to do that tonight? What has happened between then and now that requires him post-haste to register a fresh demonstration of the feeling of the House which he hopes will go his way? Is he afraid of losing his constituency? Is he afraid that the Government will not honour their promise? Or is he hoping that in this way, after whipping up his friends, he will get a vote of the House which may replace and change the verdict which was given by the debate on the White Paper?

The White Paper was the basic document upon which the House debated the matter just over 12 months ago. We have no replacement for that White Paper. We have no legislation before us. We have no

government statement of policy in order to judge what we think of the future of this highly sensitive and complicated matter.

Without further evidence, the noble Duke has not made his case. Perhaps I may respectfully, and with great affection, submit to him that on such a flimsy basis for troubling the House at this hour of the night, he has placed at the disposal of the presumptuous all-party pro-life group—as if all the rest of us were anti-life—his weight as Earl Marshal, Premier Duke and Earl of England, Chief Butler of England, Knight of the Garter, and head of the Catholic laity in Britain. All that weight and influence has been placed by him at the disposal of the self-appointed group of parliamentarians who are trying to push your Lordships around. That is the truth of the matter. We may as well be blunt about it.

I am not concerned with the technical side of the controversy at all. I am concerned with the tactics and the parliamentary propriety of what the noble Duke is doing. One of the drawbacks of many influential Members of your Lordships' House is their complete lack of experience in political and parliamentary affairs. We have examples of that, if I may say so with great respect. They do not understand what he is asking us to do. It is a futile exercise because he knows as well as I do, or he should know, what fate awaits the Private Member's Bill that has no claim on parliamentary time and for which the Government arc probably not disposed to give any time. Nevertheless, I shall concede that we all want the Government to say when they will bring some proposals forward.

Before I finish, perhaps I may say how wrong in my opinion, the timing of this Bill is. The newspaper the Financial Times this morning suggested that the Cabinet tomorrow will decide on the legislation that the Government propose to introduce in the next Session of Parliament. Gossip is going around that a Bill to implement the Government's proposals on the Warnock Report will be among the measures. Clearly in moving dangerously near to the end of this Parliament, there will be reason to become a little more anxious in case the next Queen's Speech contains no reference to it.

However, we are merely in the middle of the Parliament and an event next week fully justifies the Government taking a little more time to consider their position. I refer to publication of a report entitled Fertility and the Family by Jonathan Glover. Jonathan Glover is a British academic nominated by the European Commission to preside over a working party of Europeans seeking a European perspective on the problem of research on human embryos. The report is a most important document. It is an attempt by a working party of Europeans to find the highest common denominator on the issue among EC countries.

We cannot live in a cocoon of our own making any longer. We are in the European dimension. If we seek to go our own way nationally we may find the European Community at loggerheads with us, having different policies which will seriously complicate the pattern of medical research and social policy in the Community.

The Glover Report is an attempt, which we in this country and certainly the noble Duke have not made, to find whether there is a level, a common denominator, which might form the basic elements of national legislation. It is not an attempt to get a European directive over its members; it is an attempt to avoid disparities and conflicts which might otherwise arise. The report is only becoming available now and the Government will have to take it into account. It describes its approach to the medical, ethical, family and social aspects of the problem. It makes certain recommendations which it hopes that the governments of the Community will consider. At the moment it is a document requisitioned by the European Commission, not the Council of Ministers nor the European Parliament. The Commission is seeking a solution to a problem which will otherwise no doubt trouble the deliberations of the Common Market a very short time hence.

I plead with your Lordships, first, to have regard to the Government's problems, and, secondly, to the repute of the House. This debate is misleading people into thinking that we are doing business when we are not. We are debating. And the matter ought to be left as a debate, as it was in January 1988. But the noble Duke, under the pressures behind him, feels that he must press on and obtain some verdict from the House which will be no more reliable than any other verdict of the House and probably much less reliable than the last one. No verdict of this House in the circumstances tonight will be worth the paper it is written on for the simple reason that this is not an occasion when all Members of your Lordships' House have been properly briefed and warned of the importance and significance of what they are asked to do.

It is a Catch 22 occasion. The noble Duke asked that we should cut our speeches short, adding naively that this was in order that his constituency should not disappear were the House to sit too late. That is a problem we all have. What does the noble Duke expect to be the value of what we are being asked to do? I deal with this matter solely on the parliamentary occasion which the noble Duke has staged. I say in conclusion that I hope we have an interesting debate with a large number of noble Lords taking part. I hope that we shall discuss anything your Lordships wish. But, in the end, I hope we shall try and avert needless acrimony and suspicion that there are religious sectarian elements in what is being done tonight. If we look at the list of speakers, we can see who is represented.

The noble Duke is doing a disservice to all of us. He is damaging the repute of the House. He is stirring up controversy and difficulty when that is unnecessary. He will not further his cause and he will not improve our tempers. I appeal to the noble Duke. I should like to withdraw my amendment, if he will withdraw his Bill. Let us finish the evening in an atmosphere of harmony and amity, having at least gone over the ground a second time and got it ready for the final stage of decision in this House when a Government Bill comes before us. That will come soon.

Moved, as an amendment to the Motion, That this Bill be now read a second time; to leave out all the words after "That" and insert "This House declines to give a Second Reading to a Private Member's Bill on the use of in vitro fertilisation in view of the fact that Her Majesty's Government have made clear their intention as recently as 2th July 1988, of introducing legislation on this subject during this Parliament; and that this Bill is, therefore, premature.".—(Lord Houghton of Sowerby.)

7.22 p.m.

Lord Meston

My Lords, assuming that the noble Duke is not going to take up the invitation just offered to him, I must start the first of what is a long list of speeches. I shall endeavour to be brief. I oppose the Bill and I support the reasoned amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby. But in doing so in such a sensitive area I do not presume to speak for any of my noble friends.

I suggest that the Bill has an emotive and misleading title. It is a Bill with a highly restrictive purpose and it does not pretend to be anything else. It is a Bill which would deny us the benefit of valuable research that has been done in the past and which would deny us the benefit of responsible research yet to come. It would criminalise those responsible scientists now working on licensed research for the benefit of mankind. Under this Bill such a scientist could be sent to prison for two years.

It is a Bill which would allow in vitro fertilisation but would allow no research to improve its techniques. It is a Bill which tells the public that they can have test tube babies but they cannot have any research to advance the techniques involved. There is of course no definition of research in the Bill, or I think in the report of the committee under the chairmanship of the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock. Research can simply be observation of an early embryo through a microscope. But that would be an offence under the Bill.

To discard rather than implant an embryo which was seen by a scientist to be defective would be an offence under the Bill. As Professor Winston has, I believe, pointed out, nature discards early embryos. This Bill and its predecessors give greater protection to embryos than nature itself. I am sure that we would all respect the sincerity of the noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk. But I hope he respects the views of those who do not enjoy the doctrinal certainty which makes his position so easy and so unshakeable. I hope he will understand that we all care about the quality of individual life.

Reference has already been made to the timetable of what has happened so far. I suggest that the Government have been right to avoid rushed and piecemeal legislation. We have the blueprint of the report in 1984 of the Warnock Committee. That report balanced the status of the collection of cells that is or can be an early embryo against the benefits of research. It came down in favour of licensed research on embryos in the 14 days after fertilisation.

We had a debate on the report in this House on 31st October 1984. For those whose Christianity brings them to this House this evening and makes them feel that they must support the Bill, I simply refer to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Soper. He stated: I am not particularly impressed by the argument that one must not indulge in any research on one of the spare embryos which necessarily will he produced in this way. It is clear to me that there is no greater moral value in saying that we must just allow the spare embryos to die, or to say that we can indeed make use of them for future culture or for future ways of delivering them ourselves from these particularly difficult and complex problems".—[Official Report; 31/10/84: col. 548.] Indeed the illogicality in this Bill is perhaps underlined by those remarks.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, would the noble Lord make it a criminal offence to conduct research on embryos after 14 days?

Lord Meston

My Lords, as I understand it, there is some significance in the 14-day period. I understand that some scientists may speak in terms of a longer period. I do not know what is right. I support the view of the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, that we need to be informed. If the noble Earl waits, he will hear the suggestion I have to make as regards how we should proceed with this Bill.

I was going to say there is an illogicality in the Bill which would prevent the destruction or damage of an embryo in research but which allows the destruction or damage of an embryo if there is an imperfect, unsuccessful IVF implantation. In 1985 the voluntary licensing authority was set up. This has proved a success. It has allowed responsible, licensed research; that is research with defined objectives, limited timescales, and research in respect of which it is demonstrated that it cannot be carried out other than by using an early embryo. As I have said, such people would now be criminals under the Bill. The licensing authority has succeeded. It has not been sidestepped. Indeed, as I understand it, there has been no incentive for scientists to sidestep the licensing authority. My understanding is that the researchers in this field very much want the safeguards which the Warnock Committee recommended.

In 1986 the Government produced their consultation paper and in 1987 they produced their White Paper. As the noble Duke said, that was quite remarkable for proposing in paragraph 30 alternative choices in the Bill which it hoped in due course would be put before Parliament. There was an alternative between a clause which prohibited research, as this Bill does, and a clause which permitted licensed research. If that is still the intention of the Government—I hope we shall hear their intention this evening—I suggest that the provisions of this Bill can wait.

In 1988 we had our debate on the White Paper itself. Again those whose Christianity brings them to the Chamber this evening may wish to read the speech of the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York. That speech was in favour of research and accepted the validity of the 14-day limit. Frankly, the noble Duke wants to stop the clock and then put it back. He dealt with, but did not deny, the benefits of controlled research. He dealt with the benefits by saying that conventional research works as well. It does not follow that conventional research is sufficient to achieve what can be achieved.

We must face the fact this evening that we shall never reconcile or resolve the different views about the status of the embryo. That being so, I suggest that the best that Parliament can do is to undertake a serious evaluation of the present and potential benefits of research, and also the possible detriments, in order to allow informed debate in this developing field.

I hope that consideration will be given in due course to setting up a Select Committee on this Bill, assuming that the noble Lord, Lord Houghton. is unable to persuade the House that the Bill is premature. The report of such a Select Committee may assist the Government to decide whether there is a need for this novel alternative choice of legislation. I hope that this evening the Government will indicate what legislation we can expect and when.

The supporters of the Bill are entitled to their strong views. They are entitled to have nothing to do with the research which I suggest should be allowed to continue and to have nothing to do with the benefits of that research. However, those in Parliament and outside who do not share their views are entitled to an informed debate free from prejudice.

It is my view that responsible research should be allowed to continue. I may be wrong. I understand there to be considerable benefits from the controlled research which is being undertaken and which is proposed in the alleviation of infertility, the improvement of contraception, the detection of genetic defects and research into miscarriage and other problems of pregnancy and possibly into the use of tissue for transplants. I suggest that if we really care about the future of unborn generations we should oppose this Bill.

3 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Ripon

My Lords, I welcome the introduction of this Bill into your Lordships' House by the noble Duke and I hope that your Lordships will resist the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby.

This particular matter of research upon embryos is the most contentious of the recommendations of the Warnock Report. For that reason I believe that the issue deserves debate on its own. It has been contentious since the time of the Warnock Committee, and no doubt since long before that time. Three members of the committee chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, signed a minority report expressing dissent from the report and recommending that experimentation on the human embryo should not be permitted. Four further members dissented from the view that embryos should be brought into existence for research purposes. Of a committee of 16, nine signed the full recommendation on this issue.

That division has been reflected in subsequent debate both inside and outside the Churches. The Board of Social Responsibility of the General Synod of the Church of England was, by a majority, in favour of research on human embryos up to 14 days. A minority opposed that view. However, the board was opposed to the direct production of embryos for the sole purpose of research. The General Synod of the Church of England has voted twice on the matter. Both votes indicated a fairly even division of opinion within the Synod. It is therefore clear that the Church of England does not speak with one voice on this matter.

As I see it, the point at issue is at what moment in its life an embryo becomes entitled to the protection to which a human person is entitled. At what point do we say that here is a human, perhaps in the very earliest stages of development but a human nevertheless, and we must accord to him or her the protection to which humans are entitled, arising from our conviction and belief that all humans are entitled to certain protections under the law?

The theological arguments on the matter have already been rehearsed in your Lordships' House, notably by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York in the debate on 15th January 1988, to which some noble Lords have already referred. Broadly, the theological arguments fall into two groups, both of which have been part of our Christian tradition.

The first group of arguments revolves around the notion of a person being one who possesses certain attributes. Sometimes the word "soul" is used to sum up those attributes. The most important of those attributes is consciousness. On the basis of that set of arguments an organism which does not possess such attributes—one might say, which does not possess a soul—should not be treated as a person.

The second group of arguments centres upon the notion of life as a continuum, a development, a history with a beginning. In my view—and I shall try to justify it later—the obvious point marking that beginning is the moment of fertilisation. According to that set of arguments, from the moment it begins its existence as a potential human person an embryo is entitled to treatment as a potential human person, an organism with the possibilities of human creativity, relationship and consciousness ahead of it.

I place myself firmly among those who hold the second set of views. I find the notion of soul, whether interpreted as consciousness or in some other way, infused at a certain moment into an organism, without meaning. I find it a non-sensible concept—a concept which cannot be recognised by the senses—imposed upon the history of the organism. I think of life as a continuum.

However, I discover that there are others who think of life in that way who place some other beginning on it than the moment of fertilisation. Their argument, and this was the argument of the most reverend Primate, runs that the embryo in its very earliest form is too unstable, cells have not yet begun to split and differentiate. They say that we must speak of the history of the person beginning at some stage after fertilisation and in any case beyond the 14 days of life within which the Warnock Committee recommended that research could take place.

It is tempting to follow that line. It would allow research. It would balance the need to protect the embryo on the one hand against the needs on the other of those whom research would benefit. A powerful Christian voice, enunciated by Professor Gordon Dunstan, formerly Professor of Moral and Social Theology at the University of London, urges us to follow that way. I cannot feel it to be so.

Many of your Lordships will have received a briefing paper from the Genetic Interest Group. I read it with great interest. It includes a good deal of moral and theological argument. The briefing frequently uses the phrase "absolute protection" which is to be afforded to the embryo and argues that an embryo has no right to such absolute protection. I would not argue for absolute protection but for protection from destruction. I am not opposed in principle to research on embryos. I am not opposed to observation and testing, which indeed takes place on many of us. I am opposed to testing to destruction.

I therefore agree with the noble Lord, Lord Jakobovits, the Chief Rabbi. He expressed the Jewish position and said: What is crucial in allowing the use of embryos for experiments is that they must have been brought into being not for research purposes but solely for the possible prospect of ensuring a successful pregnancy. The moment they are no longer potentially required, or in a fit condition. for possible reimplantation, no further experiments should be done; until then such observation or tests as do not irreversibly lead to their destruction … may be carried out". That is a view to which I hold. Testing to destruction may be right for materials but not for embryos. I recognise that there is wastage in nature, but it seems to me that allowing natural wastage is not the same moral act as testing an embryo to destruction.

If the notion of a beginning to our personal history is to make sense—and I would argue that it does—I believe that it does so only by accepting fertilisation as that beginning. The papers from the Genetic Interest Group point out that the notion of life is a difficult one. They suggest that it is not possible to say when life begins. It is possible to argue that both sperm and ovum separately possess life and that we cannot speak of life as beginning at the moment of fertilisation. I accept that claim. I want to speak not of the moment at which life begins, but of the moment at which an individual's history begins. I believe that there is a good argument for maintaining that it is at the moment of fertilisation. That is the moment at which the genetic composition of the organism, which is a potential person, is determined. It is those genes that will be carried by a person throughout his or her personal history and the history will he determined to a considerable extent by the genes. The moment of fertilisation is the moment at which the history of that unique combination of genes begins and is therefore the moment from which we can say that a person exists in embryo.

In another place, presenting a similar Bill, the right honourable Mr. Enoch Powell based his argument on an instinct of revulsion and repugnance. Those who contend against him say that such an instinct must be based on a knowledge of the medical facts, and I agree with that. I have attempted to argue that his instinct is soundly based on a recognition of the fertilised ovum as the carrier of a unique set of genes and the moment of fertilisation as the starting point of a unique personal history.

I therefore cannot accept that, up to 14 days, an embryo is not a potential person. I have heard it argued that, as it is not implanted in the womb, it has no future and therefore cannot be regarded as a person in potential; but on that argument, we could not accept that a born child facing certain death had an entitlement to treatment as a person and protection under the law.

I am not one of those to whom the answer to the question seems obvious. I listened to the clarion calls of those who are clear in their minds and am not immediately persuaded by either of their claims. In reading the briefing papers, I have continually asked myself: what is the gain that we are asked to recognise which will be achieved by research, and which those who oppose the testing of embryos to destruction are said to be blocking? As I read the current literature on this matter, it seems to me that two groups of people will he helped: those who are apparently infertile and those couples whose possible offspring are, for genetic reasons, at risk of handicap. In both cases, the right of the couple to have a child is asserted: in the one case at the moment, they cannot, and, in the other case at the moment, they could choose not to. It is that right to have a child of one's own genes that is placed against the right of the embryo to protection. I do not believe that that is sufficient gain to offset against the cost.

My reaching this point of personal conviction has come slowly and with some inner wrestling. By training, I am a mathematician, not a theologian. By nature, I am one who looks forwards not backwards; who is excited by modern technology; who believes in the future and welcomes the work of scientists as revealing to us the mysteries and opportunities of God's creation. I long for misery and suffering to be overcome, not least by developments in the medical field. However, if research on embryos is permitted, I ask: what is the cost? I believe that, in the end, the cost is an erosion of that sense of reverence for life which is at the heart of our relationships and our moral endeavours. I therefore welcome this Bill.


Earl Jellicoe

My Lords, as chairman of the Medical Research Council I must express a deep interest in this debate. I shall divide my remarks into two parts: first, substance, and, secondly, procedure. As regards substance, as a purely amateur Anglican, I am not qualified to delve into deep theological waters and shall not therefore do so. However, as a purely amateur Anglican I confess that I go along more willingly with the views expressed by the most reverend Primate 14 months ago in our debate in January than with the views that we have just heard so beautifully expressed by the right reverend Prelate.

As regards research, I strongly believe that my noble friend's Bill—I use the word "friend" both in the political and personal sense—will effectively kill or at least cripple research which carries with it great promise for the future and for the alleviation of the suffering of millions of people around the world. I believe that the possibilities of that research go wider than the right reverend Prelate mentioned. For example, research is being undertaken into fertility. I believe that only couples who are childless and desperately want children can fully appreciate what the inability to have children can mean in terms of deprivation. As I reminded noble Lords when we discussed this matter some 14 months ago, it is worth remembering that it is estimated that over a quarter of a million couples in this country aged between 24 and 35 are infertile.

Much research has been done since the birth of Louise Brown 11 years ago, but much remains to be done. At present, the success rate of in vitro fertilisation is about 10 per cent.—one in 10. A great deal of research is still required in order to increase that success rate and thus to avoid the disappointments—indeed, the considerable hardships—from which many couples hoping tohave children through in vitro fertilisation still suffer. Much work still needs to be done to avoid what sometimes happens at the present imperfect stage of our techniques; namely, accidental multiple birth. At the same time, useful work, which my noble friend's Bill would effectively terminate, is at present being undertaken into the reasons for and causes of miscarriage. That is frequently due to embryo abnormalities and continuing research into the human pre-embryo is needed to elucidate what is a very mysterious area. Then, again, the research that is at present being undertaken can also help to throw light upon and possibly alleviate the reasons for male infertility, which is much more prevalent than is sometimes supposed.

That is one side of the research coin. The other side is research into new methods of contraception. I hazard a personal view that the dynamic growth of the population worldwide is one of the most serious challenges facing man on earth today. It is worth remembering that the population of our globe increases by approximately a quarter of a million people every 24 hours. Very important research, which my noble friend's Bill would terminate, is at present being undertaken into the possible development of a contraceptive vaccine. That would carry with it dramatic and beneficial possibilities, especially for the developing world.

Above all, my noble friend's Bill would effectively hamstring the research that is being clone in this country at present into the possibility of eliminating at the pre-embryo stage a number of highly unpleasant genetic diseases. My noble friend referred to haemophilia. I shall not bandy words with him, praying in aid one scientist against another. However, I agree with the noble Lord and am convinced that conventional research in that genetic area will not be sufficient.

Apart from anything else, there are some 2,000 genetic diseases some of which are susceptible to the type of research to which I have referred. I have in mind, for example, Tay Sachs syndrome, Huntingdon's disease, muscular dystrophy and, not least, that particularly horrible Lesch Nyhan syndrome. As many noble Lords know, some of those diseases can be diagnosed only at a comparatively late stage of pregnancy, probably not earlier than 10 or 11 weeks and probably as late as 18 or 19 weeks into pregnancy. That can present a

couple with what can be a really agonising dilemma. Is the mother to go through the appalling trauma of one of those late, distressing abortions or is the couple to decide— and some bravely do so— to go ahead with the birth of a child that they know will be abnormal, which at the best will live a crippled life both mentally and physically, and at the worst may be destined for an inevitably early death?

I was deeply moved by the words of the late Lady LaneߝFox, herself a cripple from an early age from polio, when, speaking in our debate in January a year ago, she focused attention on the

compelling and urgent need for everything possible to be done to advance research aimed at preventing congenital handicap". I can only say that I take the same view as my late friend

I should also add that research on preߝembryos may not only be of great value in the case of congenital disorders. In the report to which the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, referred, entitled Fertility and the Family, it is rightly stated: We may come to understand the origins of cancer by looking at genetic mechanisms in embryonic cells, and seeing how the genes that control an abnormal cycleߝtime express themselves". Indeed, a project in this area has just been authorised by the voluntary licensing authority.

I fear that most of what I have said is very much repetition of what I tried to say in our last debate on this vastly complex and deeply emotional topic, and one which of course has deep underlying moral elements. I should like to add only two comments on the substance of the matter. First, there has been a great deal of useful research done in the past 14 months within my personal knowledge. For example, there was an article in the Lancet some three weeks ago which described the truly remarkable research being done at the postߝgraduate medical school at Hammersmith. This has demonstrated that we are getting significantly closer to making feasible the diagnosis at the preߝembryonic stage of some of the major genetic diseases.

Secondly, I have had the chance during these past 14 months to see on the ground some of the work that is being done by British medical scientists up and down this country in this field. I have been struck above all by the dedication of these research teams, their professional ability, and, above all, the responsible manner in which they are carrying out that research. I for one am proud—and I am glad to state it—that in this field of scientific inquiry, carefully regulated, as the noble Lord, Lord Meston, has said, by the voluntary licensing authority, Britain at present leads the world. I must make it crystal clear that the research being undertaken by these dedicated professional and responsible teams is a far cry from the monstrous genetic manipulation to which my noble friend referred and which all of us would find repugnant, and which in any event would be ruled out if effect were given to the Government's proposals.

So much for substance. On procedure, I say only this. So far as I can judge, no one is more anxious than the members of the medical scientific community, and those who are active in research in this area, to see that these complex issues are resolved, in so far as they can be resolved, by the earliest possible government legislation. That is certainly the impression that I have derived from all the visits that I have paid to the rather numerous places where this research is being carried out

My own strong preference—and I do not wish to disguise this—is that when the Government lay their Bill before Parliament, Parliament will in its wisdom choose to endorse the second option in paragraph 30 of the 1987 White Paper: that of permitting research in this area but permitting it only within a strict regulatory regime subject to a strict timeߝlimit of 14 days after fertilisation and with a strict, strong and effective statutory licensing authority

I was very much encouraged by what my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale had to say in our debate in January. He affirmed the Government's intention to introduce a Bill during this present Parliament. Indeed, he went further in his winding up speech when he expressed the hope that a Bill would be laid before Parliament very shortly—to quote his words "I hope within the next year or 18 months". Those words were spoken 13 or 14 months ago. I am convinced that this is the way to proceed. If at the end of the day Parliament were to decide, for whatever reason, right or wrong, that the preߝembryo research to which I have referred is to be ruled out, then, very sadly, I would say so be it.

I am equally convinced that in these circumstances, with a Government Bill in the offing, the way not to proceed is by a Private Member's Bill. That is why I find myself in considerable sympathy with the sentiments expressed in the noble nonagenarian's (if I may so term him) reasoned amendment. I of course respect, as we all do, the strength and sincerity of my noble friend's views. I know that they are founded on a deep religious belief. But I should like to join other noble Lords in expressing to him as strongly as I can the hope that, having once again given us an opportunity to discuss these complex issues, and given the stated intention of the Government to introduce this muchߝneeded legislation—in my view it is overdue—in the present Parliament, he will rest content and not proceed with the futher stages of this Bill.

7.57 p.m.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, I have been asked by everybody, including the noble Duke, to speak briefly—even more briefly than previous speakers. I intend to comply. That will make it impossible to reply to the very sincere speeches that have been made in criticism of his Bill.

I was saddened by one part of the speech of my old and deeply respected noble friend Lord Houghton. He described the noble Duke as an inappropriate person. I have been here a lot longer than my noble friend, if I may say so. I was given a lecture on procedure of the House at one point. It would be a sad day if people were picked out and described as appropriate or inappropriate according to their credentials, real or imagined. I imagine that he was referring not to the fact that he was the senior Duke but that he was a Roman Catholic. My noble friend cast his eye down the list and stated that he could see the kind of views that were held by many people. I cannot tell a Roman Catholic when I see one. However, so far as I can make out there are four or possibly five Roman Catholics out of a possible 26. He is therefore misinformed if he thinks that this debate has been engineered from Rome.

The truth is that a very high proportion of speakers, including the last speaker, who is extremely appropriate in this context, the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, are active Christians. But surely that cannot be counted as a disqualification. It is not only the atheists who are allowed freedom of speech in this House or anywhere else. However, I am not in the mood to indulge in personalities in particular about my noble friend, as I have enormous regard for him.

It may be thought that I am a stooge of the noble Duke. Noble Lords who listened to the debate last summer may remember that, like St. Paul challenging St. Peter, I confronted him face to face here and we had some quite hot exchanges across the Chamber. I do not automatically jump to his whip. On the other hand, on this occasion I support him. I do not always do exactly what the Roman Catholic Church thinks appropriate, even though I have been a member of that Church for 48 or 49 years now. It seems a long time. I hope that in the lifetime of many younger peers we may have women priests. That is not a very popular view in my Church. I do not want your Lordships to think that to everything the Catholic Church says I say "ditto".

It counts a lot to me, which I shall explain in a moment, that in the Roman Catholic Church—the position of the Anglican Church has been well explained by the right reverend Prelate—enormous work has been done on this by theologians, scientists and doctors of a Catholic persuasion for many years. Therefore when they come forward with a considered view, articulated here by the noble Duke, I am inclined to favour it.

Speakers on the last occasion said that the contest was between reason, which they saw themselves representing, and faith —presumably it was some muddled, irrational form of faith which they attributed to the Christian lobby. I am afraid I do not accept that way of looking at the issue. All this work has been done by these theologians, doctors and scientists and they have reached certain conclusions which put them at least equal with any scientist that the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, has been able to mobilise. Incidentally, I am glad to see that she has descended from that Back Bench. I think she means business tonight.

I would find it easy, perhaps one might say too easy, to agree with what was said by the minority of members of her commission when they made it plain that they thought the embryo had a potential for development and they concluded that research should not be undertaken on embryos. That was the conclusion of a group less numerous but as well qualified as the majority. I do not think we can say that on the one side there is reason and scientific research and on the other a lot of hot gospellers or Roman acolytes. We have to look at this issue fairly and squarely as Members of the House. I agree that Christians have a rather difficult time because it is no good looking in the New Testament—I speak subject to the guidance of two Bishops—because we shall not find in it what our Lord said about embryos. It is a question of the development of Christian doctrine, and undoubtedly there is more than one view taken in the Church as a whole.

I wish that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London was speaking. Perhaps he will speak before night falls, because I know he holds strong and acceptable views. However the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon has supported the Bill.

I find it easy to accept the views of the minority, knowing that they are favoured by the Church to which I belong. I would never stand up and support them if I had not reached that conclusion and if I did not in conscience consider that these were reasonable views. There are other views held with deep sincerity. I appreciate that but let us not talk as though reason was on one side and faith on the other, even, as it is often implied, a rather idiotic faith. There is reason on both sides. When all is said and done some of us consider research on embryos as an evil operation, carried out rather high mindedly perhaps, but it is an evil operation that would do untold damage to humanity.

8.4 p.m

Baroness Cox

My Lords, I begin by expressing my appreciation to my noble friend the Duke of Norfolk for introducing this Bill, which concerns matters of such ultimate significance and which I believe is very timely.

I preface my contribution by declaring my position which is based on two sets of values. I speak as a Christian and as a nurse. As a Christian, I am committed to respect the sanctity of individual human life, however embryonic. As a nurse, I have been profoundly influenced by the medical ethics of Western culture, so timelessly articulated in the Hippocratic oath. Both sets of values combine to reinforce my wholehearted support for the Bill. The fundamental purpose of the Bill is to outlaw the utilitarian use of human life—albeit in embryonic form. In other words, the Bill is designed to prevent the sacrifice of human life for ulterior ends, in ways which are antithetical to the life of the embryo and/or to the creation of a new human life.

In the Warnock Report, the foreword refers to barriers that are not to be crossed, and asks What kind of society can we praise and admire? In what sort of society can we live with our conscience clear? It is my belief, shared by many others, that some barriers have already been crossed which should not have been, and that many people feel that some recent developments are such that they cannot live in the same society with them with clear consciences. The crossing of barriers refers both to the level of principle, with the use of human embryos for nonߝtherapeutic research—that is research aimed at ends unrelated to the wellbeing of the embryo and/or the initiation of a new life through pregnancy—and at the level of practice, for example with the long term storage of very large numbers of frozen embryos.

Before going into a little detail on the thorny question of what is a truly human embryo, I wish to refer briefly to the question of human rights and duties. Of course one must respect the duty to provide appropriate and available medical treatment. It can also be claimed that there is a right to have a child. It is therefore important to stress that the present Bill does not prevent various measures which have been developed, using human embryos, to enable many people to have children who would otherwise have been unable to do so.

However, present policy has been shaped by a utilitarian calculus which justifies the sacrifice of human embryos for some ostensible greater good, unconnected with the development of new life through a successful pregnancy. Jane Mellor argues in her excellent booklet published by CARE called"What is an Embryo?", Many of the statements by scientists involved in the Warnock debate are based on the utilitarian reasoning that sacrifices one life for another. Yet the World Medical Association Declaration of Helsinki, revised in 1983, states 'The interests of the subject must always prevail over the interests of science and society' Professionals, MPs and the rest of us must work together to safeguard innocent human life from being sacrificed either on the altar of scientific research, or even for the future wellbeing of other human beings. Such protection must be enshrined in our law. If we do not reject the utilitarianism which underlies the case for research on human embryos, then we have abandoned one of the cardinal principles upon which our society has stood—and for which it has been respected—for hundreds of years: the protection in law of the life of innocent human beings". That leads into the question of the definition of human life and the stage at which it is ethical and reasonable to define a collection of cells as a human being. The position which has so far informed policy is the 14ߝday rule, suggested by the Warnock Report, to which reference has already been made. That allows for the storage of younger embryos, their use for nonߝtherapeutic purposes and for their destruction. One justification is that in some senses the embryo at this stage is not fully human; for example, it has been argued that cells in the very early days after conception, when they are characterised by to tipotency, make it impossible to distinguish a distinctive embryo. Hence the use of the phrase "preߝembryo" which conveniently allows a distinction to be made between this bundle of cells and their successors a few days later.

The argument can then justify the use of research on a preߝembryo which is not yet human, while claiming to protect the rights of the embryo proper. But as Jane Mellor argues, if I may briefly quote again:

From the moment of fertilisation, the embryo is obviously a human embryo since it is derived from human parents, with DNA of a specifically human type. It is also a living being, growing and changing with incredible speed and beauty … The early embryo is not simply a loose aggregation of cells. It is genetically unique, of the human species, with molecular differentiating activity in the cells from the outset. From the earliest moment the embryo … if allowed to develop in a normal environment will become a human baby". Of course, not all practices involve the deliberate destruction of the human embryo without the associated intention of the creation of a new human life. The happy conclusion of some pregnancies achieved by methods using embryos in different ways has been felt by society to be quite justifiable. But not all research is directed to the wellbeing of the embryo and the mother in this way. For example, there are four research units in the United Kingdom listed in the 1988 Voluntary Licensing Authority Report, where experimentation is being undertaken with no direct clinical intention of implanting the embryo into a uterus.

Such developments raise other questions on which there is time to touch only briefly in the debate. The questions have been asked by many people, including the Women and Children's Welfare Fund. They raise profoundly complex ethical problems yet to be resolved. For example, who owns the manufactured human embryo? Who is the parent or guardian of the embryo? Is it the responsibility of one or both of the people who provided the components of conception to authorise or refuse experiments on "their" embryo? Who is the guardian of the interests of the welfare of the embryo? If parents do not consent to research, individually or jointly, can scientists define themselves as the owners and decide on research? There is widespread confusion, ignorance, anxiety and concern over these ethical issues; hence the urgent need for clarification and for protection of the embryos by law.

Finally, I return to where I began: my commitments as a nurse and as a Christian. As a nurse, I have been deeply influenced by the famous and wise words often used to try to provide some ground rules for making agonising decisions concerning the care of people who are terminally ill, or who are so ill that they seem to have lost all quality of life and to be merely enduring an apparently intolerable existence. These words, which are widely accepted as wise guidelines, can be seen to apply to the issues before the House tonight. They are:

Thou must not kill but shoulds't not strive officiously to keep alive". The phrase "thou must not kill" is preߝeminent. Beyond that there is the warning against officious intervention which maintains human life artificially and transcends nature's normal processes. I believe that in some of the areas we are considering, policies have been developed which interfere officiously to keep alive, and also to kill innocent human beings. That is one reason why I so wholeheartedly support the Bill.

And as a Christian, I must support the Bill because I believe that man is made in the image of God. Therefore, I must also believe that any undue interference in the natural, Godߝgiven processes of procreation, is running a profoundly serious risk of hubris in which man is taking upon himself fearful and godߝlike responsibilities, with excessive interference in making, shaping and destroying human life. I believe that that is creating a situation and a society in which many people cannot live with clear consciences. Therefore, I believe that the Bill is not only timely but also urgent. I passionately hope that the House will give it a Second Reading tonight.

8.14 p.m

Baroness Warnock

My Lords, your Lordships' House has already heard many arguments that have been propounded with great passion, feeling and enormous sincerity and doubtless will hear many more before the issue is concluded. I hope that noble Lords will not be so carried away as to forget to make important distinctions among the kinds of arguments that are being put forward.

Briefly, the issue is whether research may be carried out using human embryos that have been fertilised in vitro. I need hardly remind your Lordships that there are those who believe that from the moment of fertilisation—if that is a moment"—all human life is of equal value and must be given protection from destruction by the law. Thus for those holding that belief it is irrelevant to raise the question, for how many days from fertilisation in the laboratory research using human embryos should be permitted—that is research which involves the destruction of those embryos. Their answer is that it should never be permitted.

Moreover, the absolute equality of value assigned by those people to all human life at whatever stage of development entails that it is also irrelevant to argue that much human suffering among people who have been born or who will be born in the future can be avoided as a result of the research. That is because no consideration of consequences can have the faintest relevance in the eyes of those who believe that to destroy a preߝl4ߝday gamete is a mortal sin; indeed, the same mortal sin as murder.

However, there are others who, if they are opposed to research using human embryos, are opposed on different grounds. They do not believe that there is anything intrinsically wrong in using an early postߝfertilisation embryo for the purposes of research, provided that the research is beneficial. They recognise that at that stage of development many embyos are lost spontaneously, often without knowledge that they exist, let alone the mourning of them. They are prepared in principle to justify research on the grounds of the enormous benefits which will flow from it and about which your Lordships have been told and doubtless will be told again. They are benefits to other humans who have been born or who will be born.

Yet they are afraid that if this research were permitted anything would be permitted. That is to say, they rely on what is popularly known as the slippery slope argument. It is that if once we embark on the course of using human embryos in research there will be no stopping it. If today we use preߝ14day embryos, tomorrow we shall be using preߝ14ߝday babies, preߝ14ߝweek infants or preߝ14ߝyear children and so on to the bottom of the slope. There perhaps people we do not like can be used for research for the benefit of the rest of us.

Despite the words of the noble Earl, Lord Longford, I believe that it is no good offering arguments against the position of the first group of people I have described. That is because most moral arguments in favour of research using human embryos rely on the specification of the good and beneficial consequences of such research.

To those arguments members of the first group are quite properly deaf because they are defending an absolute principle to which they are committed though the heavens fall. Citing good consequences of abandoning the principle or bad consequences of adhering to it are alike matters of no importance to those who believe in the principle absolutely. The whole nature of such absolutism, whatever its source, is to be indifferent to the consequences that flow from adherence to the principle.

To the second group of people—those who rely on the slippery slope argument—to the people who are afraid of research using the preߝ14ߝday embryo, I hope that it may be possible to suggest that what we do not need is a total ban on all research but we need strict and wellߝmonitored regulation; and in order for the regulation to be fair and to create a genuine harrier beyond which we shall not be able to slide down the slippery slope, the force of law is required.

Therefore, in speaking against the Bill I should like to urge the Government as soon as is practicable, reasonable and possible to come forward with legislation which will seek to regulate and monitor research using human embryos. I am convinced that we have good reason to put our trust in such regulatory law and that we have before us an issue, perhaps more than any other, where regulation is appropriate and would be widely welcomed by scientists, the medical profession and the public at large.

8.20 p.m

Baroness LlewelynߝDavies of Hastoe

My Lords; I shall be as brief as possible but, because this whole question of in vitro fertilisation is so important, I should like to stress some of what I believe to be the most important points at issue. For a couple who want children, childlessness is a real tragedy. In vitro fertilisation has seemed almost like a miracle for those for whom it has ended that tragedy. However, it is not always realised that there is a 90 per cent. failure rate for those undergoing the process—sometimes undergoing it for many years. It is essential that there should be ongoing research in order to improve the rate of success.

The noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, referred to genetic diseases. It is ofcrucial importance that there should be more research, as it has become increasingly possible for parents who are carriers of genetic diseases to have a healthy child. Seven thousand children are born with genetic diseases every year. We know from our debates in your Lordships' House of the terrible distress women suffer having abortions when grossly handicapped babies can be detected only at a very late stage in pregnancy. If research continues, there is a real possibility for such parents of fertilising and diagnosing a perfect preߝembryo and placing it in the mother's uterus for implantation and healthy growth. How much desperate unhappiness, indecision and moral and physical agony could be avoided.

I have thought a great deal about the ethical aspects of this kind of research. I accept that my noble friend Lord Longford, who has been my noble friend for a very long time, should feel and speak as he has. The right reverend Prelate and the noble Earl both referred to the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York. In our last debate I thought his the most profound and moving approach. About the difficult question of the 14 day preߝimplantation embryo, he said: I believe that in the very early stage when personal attributes are nonߝexistent and when identity is yet to be established there is room to allow experiment" [Official Report, 15/1/88; col. 1463]. Those words are closest to my own view and, I believe, to the views of many of your Lordships.

The noble Lord, Lord Meston, and the noble Earl mentioned that further preߝembryo research would study other serious conditions of pregnancy, such as the cause of premature labour, stillbirth and frequent miscarriages. That would be of the utmost value to the human race.

I should like to make one more reference to the noble lord, Lord Skelmersdale. In winding up our last debate, he said that,

we intend to legislate in this Parliament. I cannot promise when that will be, although … it will be sooner rather than later". [Official Report, 15/1/88; col. 1503]. I submit that it is difficult under these circumstances to understand why the noble Duke wishes to bring in his Bill in the middle of the most crowded legislative programme that the House can remember. I very much hope that if he succeeds in obtaining a Second Reading this evening, he will not proceed further with the Bill. It would be much better for such a complex matter to be referred to a Select Committee.

I add, with great trepidation, that I am not wholly sure about the views of my noble friend Lord Houghton on the EC. I believe that we should have our own position quite clear before entering into negotiations with other EC countries. However, I put that view forward and await the consequences. In any case, I urge the Government to do what they have said they will do; namely, to bring in their proposed legislation as soon as they can, and I very much hope that the noble Duke will not press his own Bill too far.

8.25 p.m

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Duke of Norfolk for introducing the debate on this Bill. It is a Bill to confer legal status upon embryos produced by in vitro fertilisation, a status which prohibits their creation, keeping or use, other than for enabling a child to be born to a specified woman. Therefore, it specifically prohibits two thingsthe depersonalised traffic in human embryos for commercial gain and the abuse or misuse of human embryos for experimental purposes.

The noble Lord, Lord Houghton, said that he was not concerned with the merits but with the tactics. I am in no sense concerned in a debate about tactics. I am only concerned about the merits. Who knows whether life begins at the moment of conception? Medical opinion is clearly divided. Until it is established whether it does or does not for a certain period of time—and 14 days seems to have been chosen—the misuse of what may well be a life in being should under no circumstances be countenanced, unless there is just cause.

That has not been established. My noble friend the Duke of Norfolk, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon, and I, believe that life begins at the moment of conception, as does my noble friend Lady Cox. I know—and I see them in the Chamber—that other noble Lords who have been friends of mine for years also believe what I believe. However, let us put aside the question of belief. Medical opinion is divided. Until it is affirmatively established, quite apart from the question of belief but as a matter of reason, why should a life in being or what could be a life in being be exposed to destruction?

The term "preߝembryo" is a term to justify research. I know not really what it means. It is an invented term and a device designed to beg the question, which it does. I am no expert in these matters. I have read and listened to what I can on the matter. One can only make a personal judgment which is not necessarily correct. However, to my mind, in the light of what I have heard and read, the speech of my noble friend Lady Cox really answered the speech of my noble friend Lord Jellicoe who was advancing a case of just cause. That case, it appeared to me, was answered by my noble friend Lady Cox. Surely there is common ground between the tenets of all religious faiths, even if the respective approach to IVF differs and has not crystallised, and even if the Church of England does not speak with one voice, as the right reverend Prelate said. It seldom does, and I can say that as a member of the Church. On that basis I made some inquiries and discovered this afternoon that it is common to the tenets of the Moslem faith, certainly the Shia Moslems. How does one justify the destruction of what would be or could be a life in being without just cause?

Those who use what is or what may be at that time a human life, contending that experimental research affords just cause—the noble Lord, Lord Meston, took the point—must discharge, with my noble friend Lord Jellicoe, the onus of justification. Have they done so to your Lordships' satisfaction? It is said that the purpose of research is concerned with congenital and genetic disease, infertility and new means of contraception where the embryo (I think this was the means referred to by my noble friend) is killed before the mother is aware of conception, and so forth. However, medical opinion is still divided, from what I have read and heard. Alternative methods are available, I have again heard from my sources of information, in particular on infertility, referred to by my noble friend Lord Jellicoe.

The nature of the proposed experiment is uncertain and was not expounded on nor explained by my noble friend Lord Jellicoe and has not been propounded or explained in anything that I have yet seen. The results so far achieved have shown no viable success rate. Ten per cent. means 90 per cent. failure and that surely is not a justification to warrant continued experimentation.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, may I intervene?

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, of course. I am always glad to give way.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, I am most grateful. In the noble Lord's search for knowledge about research has he taken the opportunity of visiting any of the research centres? A number are based in London and are supported by the Medical Research Council. The noble Lord might have found some answers to some of his questions had he sought information from those actively involved in the research.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, I am in the hands of the House. We are under strict constraints of time. lithe House wishes me to answer I will do so, but it will take more time. Perhaps I will be able to reply if there is time at the end of my speech.

I was dealing with the justification that had been put forward for carrying on experiments which led to what could be—I put it no higher on reasoning but it is what I believe it to be—a life in being. My noble friend Lord Jellicoe referred to the value of preߝembryonic research. The noble Lord, Lord Meston, referred to benefits. As I have sought to explain (and times moves on) there is not sufficient evidence which is clear enough to serve as justification. The onus on just cause, the only justification, has not been discharged. If that has not been discharged, use becomes misuse or abuse.

Is it not idle to talk in terms of cocoons of our own making, as did the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, and putting the clock back, as did the noble Lord, Lord Meston? Already we have tampered with the mechanism of the clock so that it gives a false reading on the dial. Whose clock is it, anyway? What time can it tell in the timelessness of infinite ethical values?.

8.36 p.m

The Earl of Halsbury

My Lords, I thank the noble Duke for moving the Second Reading of this important Bill and I welcome the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, because it gives us an opportunity to stand up and be counted and have a straight vote rather than letting the Bill go through on the nod, thereby sending a message to the Government and to the other place as to how the feeling of this House is shown by a Division.

By implication in the Bill—and this is my only reservation—I VF is an acceptable practice. On that I have my doubts. The noble Lord, Lord Ennals, asked the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, whether he had visited research centres. I have not, but I have spoken to their directors and engaged a research assistant who has given me an abstract of the world's literature on the subject. I had intended to recite some figures, but in view of the plea from the noble Duke to curtail our remarks I have placed the abstract in the Library and it is available for all to see.

This is a perplexing subject. I feel that I am wearing three hats—a Christian hat in which I have nothing to add to the admirable remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Cox; a scientific hat in which I have to confess that I regard knowledge in itself as a good thing, but when it comes to the application of that knowledge we are in a contextߝsensitive domain and I am not sure that the uncritical domain and knowledge is necessarily compatible with Christian values. Finally, I am wearing a legislative hat in which I have to impose on my fellow countryman, along with my noble colleagues in this House, laws which they all have to obey, albeit their opinions on many subjects may be widely different from my own and from one another's.

For the purpose of this debate I define an experiment as simply a procedure the outcome of which cannot be predicted with sufficient certainty to make the experiment unnecessary. That goes along with testing a fertilised embryo for normality prior to implantation. It would be irresponsible to implant in utero an embryo the normality of which had not been tested by observation. I do not think that the Bill in any way inhibits that. The Bill does not prohibit experiments as such. In fact, so far as I can see the word "experiment" does not appear anywhere on the face of the Bill. Therefore, any test prior to implantation with the purpose of implantation is enfranchised by the Bill, though other types of experiment may not be.

Let it not be supposed that I have no sympathies with infertile couples, but there are research opportunities in other directions which are never mentioned. There are anecdotal facts, if facts they be; but they have occurred among my own relatives and I know some persons affected by them. A childless couple adopts a child or children. The foster mother immediately becomes pregnant. Something maternal, whatever it may be, is mobilised by the mere fact of motherhood. I even know of a most extraordinary case of a woman who was infertile for six years and who was asked by chance to care for a baby owl that had broken its leg after falling out of the nest. She fostered that owl; fed it once an hour and she looked after it for some months. At the end of that time she found herself spontaneously pregnant. I am told that relief of a longߝendured stress can have the same result; relieve the stress and pregnancy may be the result. Why?

Somewhere between the pituitary, the hypothalamus, the adrenals, the gonads or possibly elsewhere, some neuroߝhumeral transmitter, lies what? That is where research should go. I have always been inspired in the direction of research by Kipling's "Explorer's Song" which says:

Something hidden, go and find it.

Go and look behind the ranges.

Something lost behind the ranges,

Lost and waiting for you. Go! A word of warning. Of course, I favour the establishment of knowledge which is good in itself by observation and experiment as recommended by Lord Chancellor Francis Bacon in the reign of King James I. But not all applications are wise. From Mother Eve onwards the human race, unable to swim, has been jumping in at the deep end without measuring the temperature of the water or its depth. It finds itself out of its depth, unable to swim and landed in trouble. It is enmeshed in vested interests which it has allowed to build up carelessly.

Going into reverse is not all that easy. In so far as this Bill will damp down irresponsible efforts, I welcome it and it will have my support. If the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, cares to divide the House, I shall follow the noble Duke into the Lobby.

8.42 p.m

The Earl of Cork and Orrery

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Jellicoe has referred to the two alternative clauses that the Government propose to draft into any Bill that they bring forward for our consideration. They express the wish or the hope that the House and Parliament will choose the second. The second says: Except as part of a project specifically licensed by the SLA, it will be a criminal offence to carry out any procedures on a human embryo other than those aimed at preparing the embryo for transfer to the uterus of a woman", and so on.

There is an alternative and we shall be given a choice between the two. The other is the totally negative one: It will be a criminal offence to carry out any procedures on a human embryo other than those aimed at preparing the embryo", and so on. That is the one that is envisaged by the Bill that we are debating now. I wish to know what will happen if the first is carried; namely, the one that absolutely forbids all experimentation. What will the Government do when faced with that situation? I do not believe that it is likely that they will be faced with it, but it is perfectly possible.

The reason I ask that question is because the White Paper we have been discussing and the Bill, and also the Warnock Report, do not refer to in vitro fertilisation in any connection other than for the relief of infertility with the possible exception of various medical researches designed to improve the condition of the child that is born by these means.

It may surprise some noble Lords to know that the relief of infertility is by no means the chief use of IVF. The chief use is utterly different and exactly the opposite. That has not been mentioned at all. I wish to quote from a letter addessed to me from the Medical Education Trust. It has not been mentioned that IVF has, been on the agenda of population control organisations since the 1960s and that the World Health Organisation has funded worldߝwide research into it since 1972. The object of this research is to discover a reliable 'antiߝbirth' vaccine which will cause the death of the embryo before the mother is aware of conception". My noble friend Lord Jellicoe referred to that. In other words, a postߝcoital superpill is to be handed out, presumably by governments, under the auspices of the World Health Organisation, to women in overpopulated countries with the idea of preventing what the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, described some years ago in the telling phrase as "human infestation by too many babies".

I quote again from the same letter:

There are grounds for hoping that the use of IVF embryos for research will lead to the discovery of efficient new methods of population control. This is the real justification for the promotion and funding of IVF by Governments and organisations involved in population planning. Are Her Majesty's Government numbered among these governments? I read on:

The International Population Union Conference on the Scientific Study of Population, held in London in 1969, was funded by the governments of the UK, Denmark, Finland, West Germany, Norway, Sweden and the US", and some others. The projects proposed at this conference, held in London and funded in part by the United Kingdom, included a search for an oral preparation that would destroy the corpus luteum whether or not fertilisation had taken place. Such a procedure means killing the embryo which cannot live without the corpus luteum. For that purpose what has been described as a constant supply of human embryos is required.

I ask noble Lords to remember that this is a World Health Organisation programme. The director of the programme made a point in a speech that the WHO's perceived neutrality made it, a most appropriate instrument to deal with an area as sensitive as that of family planning research". That is killing hosts of human embryos in the hope of finding a reliable abortifacient. Some neutrality!

I hope my noble friend the Minister will answer this question at the end of the debate. Are the Government still involved in this? If they are, we believe that they are giving large sums of money to provide great numbers of embryos purely for the purposes of destruction in research. If we find ourselves faced with an alternative forbidding such things, they will be in a very difficult situation. Can my noble friend tell me what the position is now?

I hope the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, will feel better in the morning. He has moved an amendment, and that is what we are now debating. It is to the effect that this Bill is premature. I do not know exactly what is the objection to prematurity, but we are asked to play it out on that ground. So far as I know, this Bill is the first legislation that has come before Parliament in the history of the world on this subject. It is only in the past 30 years that modern technology has made it possible to investigate and interfere in the actual structure of the ovum and the sperm and consequently of the embryo.

This is something utterly new. It is taking place in an area about which nothing is known; that area being the nature of life itself. For the first time in the history of the world we have an enormously important milestone in the evolution of mankind. That is the point in evolution at which we stand, and no one has yet made any laws about it; there are no regulations and no legislation. There is nothing. That has been going on for 20 years. Louise Brown is now 10 years old. She was the first test tube baby and 10 years of research has gone on. Is it not time that something was done, and done in a hurry? We are asked not to bother, and we are told that it is quite unnecessary, that it is a matter of procedure.

The lecture of the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, had nothing to do with the merits of the Bill. He said so himself. It is a matter of procedure, when possibly the whole future of the world is at stake. We do not know what the future will hold, any more than man knew when electricity was first discovered what would flow from that. I suggest that we should proceed with the utmost despatch, not with haste or undue speed but with resolution, to some kind of conclusion before it is too late, as it may well be. Therefore I strongly hope that we shall reject the amendment moved by the noble Lord and proceed to give the Bill a Second Reading.

Earl Jellicoe

My Lords, can my noble friend clarify one point? He referred to a contraceptive vaccination. The purpose of any such vaccination would be to prevent fertilisation.

The Earl of Cork and Orrery

My Lords, that is my point.

8.52 p.m.

Lord Robertson of Oakridge

My Lords, I too am grateful to the noble Duke for bringing forward this Bill, which I entirely support. At present there is no statute law to protect the in vitro fertilised embryo before it is implanted in its mother's womb. Legislation is therefore needed, and needed urgently.

Naturally medical researchers want to extend the frontiers of research. However, as Cardinal Hume pointed out in a notable article in The Times on 6th June 1985, there needs to be a framework of absolute moral principles within which and only within which research is permissible. To be uniformly recognised, these principles must be put on a statutory basis. In the frame of legislation, the overriding consideration is what one means by the term "embryo". In both the Warnock Report and the Government's White Paper the term "embryo" referred to the human being in its earliest period of growth—from fertilisation to the first appearance on ultrasound at six weeks. I would emphasise "from fertilisation". Most noble Lords would go along with this definition. However, subsequently, the term "pre-embryo" has been invented to describe the embryo prior to implantation. This phrase is a contradiction in terms and I fear that its only effect is to throw dust in our eyes.

In using the term, scientists may wish to refer to a particular stage in the life of the embryo, but it is still an embryo, which given favourable conditions can develop into a fully grown man or woman. Although still on the threshold of life, the embryo is a member of the human family and is entitled to be treated as such. In this connection I have always understood that it is a basic principle of medical ethics that no one is given treatment that is not to his benefit and that is not overridden even in the case of research towards some allegedly greater good.

Accordingly, to create and use embryos for general experimentation, after which they may be thrown away, would be to breach a basic medical ethic that has served well both patients and doctors down the ages. The Bill before the House seeks to prevent a human embryo being created, kept or used for any purpose other than that of enabling a child to be born to a specific woman. On that ground, I support it.

8.56 p.m.

Baroness Elles

My Lords, in supporting the Bill promoted by my noble friend the Duke of Norfolk, it is appropriate to draw to the attention of the House the fact that there is considerable pressure for such a measure not only in this Parliament but in parliaments on the continent of Europe and also in the two institutions with which I have had some connection. I refer to the Council of Europe and specifically to the Legal Affairs Committee of the European Parliament in which we have only recently adopted resolutions on this matter. I wish to address my remarks to the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby. I should like to call him my noble friend but that would not be proper. He has been courteous enough to listen to all the speeches made so far. I say to him that this debate is not premature. He may not like the Bill but there is tremendous pressure from scientists in Europe and in this country for some kind of legal framework in which they can operate. That is outside the question of the human embryo.

This point was made in the report by Mr. Rothley, who is a member of the legal affairs committee. I do not know whether he is a Christian. I know that he is a German and a Socialist, neither of which I happen to be. He said: In principle a ban should be placed on experiments on human embryos as they cannot be justified in ethical terms". That view was broadly accepted by the committee.

I do not want to go into the substance of the matter but one real concern is that the priority of scientific freedom over legal and ethical standpoints is being seriously questioned in all the reports before those two bodies. Secondly, there is a genuine fear, which is shared by many people on all sides of all the fences that seem to be surrounding the argument, of the scientists' power of selectivity and destruction of the embryo. The report therefore states that the human embryo must be granted comprehensive and unlimited protection, that the legal status of the embryo should be defined and that it is the criterion of human dignity which should apply.

Thirdly, I should like to quote very briefly from the report. Mr. Rothley, supported by the Legal Affairs Committee, says: Laws are intended to establish and implement the principles of law within a society. One of the principles embodied in our laws is that one human being cannot be the property of another and can therefore not he bought and sold. An associated legal principle is that of the inviolability of life and physical integrity which is the right of every human being". My fourth point concerns infertility, to which I know the Bill addresses itself. I should like to take the opportunity to pay tribute to those thousands of couples who adopt children and get tremendous pleasure, satisfaction and happiness from doing so. They give happiness to a child who would not have the benefit of a home life. That is often left out of the argument. This is an occasion on which that statement should be made. I hope it will be supported by all noble Lords.

Fifthly, the many reports and the proposals in the Bill lead to the conclusion that there is need for the early establishment of a legal framework which can take account of the rapid developments in this field. There have been tremendous advances in genetic engineering and genetic manipulation. Scientists are genuinely worried about their position in this area. I am not saying that it is right or wrong. I do not care whether someone is a Christian. I resent the implication that because a person is a Christian he has not the right to support a certain Bill. It is not a question of Christianity but of seeing what scientists are doing within an established legal framework. They themselves are asking for it.

That is why I did not quite understand the argument of my noble friend Lord Jellicoe. Perhaps he did not like the Bill. He said that he would go along with the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, because he agrees that the Bill is premature. Those are the words used in the amendment. I understood from him that scientists want a legal framework. Whatever the result may be, I hope that the Bill will put pressure on the Government to get on with the job they undertook to do early last year and to provide a framework which we would all welcome, from whatever side of the House we come.

9 p.m.

Lord Brightman

My Lords, I shall be brief in what I have to say. I do not intend to speak on the merits of the Bill, because other speakers are far better equipped than I to do so. However, I am greatly influenced by the fact that the Government have promised to offer to Parliament alternative sets of draft clauses fully compatible with a government Bill to deal with the issue of research on human embryos.

In those circumstances, I feel that it really would be more appropriate to await the Government's Bill rather than to seek to pre-empt the issue by a Private Member's Bill which will be constrained by severe time factors and hampered by daunting procedural obstacles. I respectfully suggest to your Lordships that the promised government Bill would be a better course to take than a private Member's Bill.

Two of your Lordships have suggested the setting up of a Select Committee to consider the matter. I do not see the purpose of that, having regard to the publication of the report of the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, and the fact that notice has been taken of that report in this House as a result of a debate which took place on 15th January last year.

9.2 p.m.

Baroness Lockwood

My Lords, I shall intervene but briefly in the debate, for two reasons. First, I am not in favour of the purpose behind the Bill; and, secondly, I do not think that it is the right vehicle for a decision of this magnitude to be made. On the substance of the Bill, I shall not say very much. The principles and the philosophy, as well as the medical aspects of in vitro fertilisation and the ethics of research on the human embryo, were gone into in great detail in the Warnock Report. They were also discussed in your Lordships' House by means of the debate on the report of the Select Committee.

Further, I do not wish to go into the theological arguments as to when life really begins. The contribution of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon illustrated how difficult that is. It is not just a question of differences between the Christian Churches, because in the whole field of Christian religion there are very real differences of opinion. I think that each of us must be guided by our own conscience.

However, I believe that research in this area should continue. I believe that because of the suffering that occurs in many areas. The problems of infertility, the continual miscarriages and the problems of congenital handicap bring very real suffering to couples in our country. There is also need to prevent as many late abortions as we possibly can by further research. Therefore I believe that this Bill would impede the progress being made in those directions.

I understand and value the research referred to by the noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk, in more traditional spheres. But, like the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, I do not think that that is sufficient; I believe that research in all spheres should continue. Those of your Lordships who have had the privilege of visiting the M RC research units on in vitro fertilisation will know of the dedication that the medical scientists bring to the subject. They are not so much concerned for research for its own sake but they are concerned to relieve human suffering. Moreover, their work is continued in the interests of humanity. In carrying out their work they are conscious of the sensitivity and the ethics of this whole area. They would like legislation to provide regulation and a framework in which their work could continue. I believe that they should be allowed to continue that work on the basis of the Warnock Report, and also on the basis of the Government's White Paper.

That brings me to my second point. We now have the White Paper and the Government have promised legislation by means of a Bill that would give Parliament a choice of two options. We need to have such a Bill with those two options. Further we need to have it fully debated in prime time and not squeezed in on the basis of a Private Member's Bill late on a Wednesday evening.

I think the public have a right to expect that this issue will be fully debated in that way and in a manner which will enable them to make their views known to their elected Members of Parliament, as well as to this non-elected Chamber. A decision tonight should not be allowed to pre-empt that debate. I believe that such a decision ought not to be taken tonight.

9.6 p.m.

Viscount Sidmouth

My Lords, I find myself in both categories of supporters of the Bill, as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock. Moral philosophers—she is a most distinguished one—seem always to be reluctant to concede that some things are good, or bad, within themselves, because they cannot accept what Kant called "the categorical imperative". However, those of us who believe in God find that a decisive way in which to resolve that problem.

It seems to me that by taking only human considerations into account values become relative and arguments tend to be at the emotional or utilitarian level. They also often cancel each other out. For example, opponents of this Bill make much of the emotional joy of couples who have been enabled to have children through IVF, and think that there should be more of them. Against that, utilitarian argument would have it that the world is suffering from overpopulation and nothing should be done to increase that.

Sometimes these arguments get to a trivial level. When the Government's White Paper was debated in January 1988 a noble Lord dismissed the two week-old embryo on the grounds of its size. Would those who hold such views dismiss virologists because the subject of their study needs microscopes which can magnify 1 million times? Would they take that Nobel Prize from Crick and Wilkins because the DNA double helix is insignificant in size? Punch long ago ridiculed this argument when it showed a maid being dismissed for having an illegitimate baby and saying, "But it's only a very small one, ma'am".

I believe there is indeed a slippery slope for research on embryos. Those who oppose this Bill aver, rather sotto voce in my view, that there would be no question of research into cloning or of introducing new or foreign genetic material into the embryo, which they declare would be wrong in principle. However, judging by the speed with which principles have melted away with the mere whisper of the magic words "pre-embryo", I believe that some further weasel word might well be found to do the same for these more drastic fields of research. The word may perhaps be "therapeutic", although we have heard evidence that material taken from embryos is not essential for research into the causes and nature of various malign syndromes which affect children from birth.

As a layman, I ask myself for what experiments material taken from embryos might be suitable, and it seems to me it might be very suitable for tissue culture, which is at the heart of cloning. It would also lend itself very well to experiments involving genetic engineering. That these things are not yet possible is exactly the kind of challenge which attracts research scientists. It is already being done with plants and bacteria.

In saying this, I add as a one-time member of a research council that I accept without question what was said by the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, about the personal integrity of the scientists who work both in-house for the council and those engaged on work commissioned by them in universities; but that is only part of the potential research capability involved.

To conclude, there was a notice in a laboratory concerned with nuclear fission which read: Anything that is not specifically allowed is forbidden". I believe that that also applies to work on embryos and unless we legislate without further delay it may well be too late.

9.11 p.m.

Viscount Caldecote

My Lords, I think we all ought to be extremely grateful to my noble friend the Duke of Norfolk for having initiated this debate through his introduction of the Bill. I wholly disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, and I was sorry that he made criticisms of my noble friend and questioned his motives in introducing the Bill. One of the great advantages of this debate is that it has shown almost total unanimity in the views of your Lordships that early legislation is very important.

As a Christian I find this issue one of the most difficult I have ever had to wrestle with. Initially I felt inclined to agree with the minority view of the Warnock Report—that we should not have any research—because I believe that research could very easily get out of control and lead to real damage, and in itself it is repugnant to do research on anything approaching a human being, even a potential human being.

So my first point is the least difficult one to make: there is great urgency for legislation, which the Government promised in this Parliament. That might mean a delay of several years before it is effective, which is far too long. I hope that my noble friend on the Front Bench will be able to give us an assurance that legislation will be promised in the next Queen's Speech.

The much more difficult problem is to determine, as we have seen tonight, what the legislation should be. There are big religious and ethical issues involved. I am no expert but I have visited one of the medical research units doing this work and I confirm what my noble friend Lord Jellicoe said: how responsible and dedicated are the people who do this work. I have talked to several friends and experts in the field and have tried to inform myself as best I can. They are people of the highest integrity and ethical standards.

As briefly as I can, I should like to make one or two relevant points which I believe to be factual so far as I understand them. Up to 12 or perhaps 14 days after fertilisation the embryo is a minute cell with the potential to become a human being, or perhaps two human beings or even three. As I understand it and as experts have told me—several have confirmed it—there is an element of instability in the embryo up to about that time. I therefore agree with the right reverend Prelate in expressing the opinion that it is impossible to put forward the view that an embryo, which might become one individual or two individuals in the future can in religious terms have a soul.

Nevertheless, experiments and research even on a potential human being are repugnant. There are two sorts of research. The first is observation research, in which changes are observed and knowledge created. Much can be learnt from that. The second is active research, in which modifications are made to the composition of an embryo with the objective either to observe further results and learn more or to improve or change the properties of the embryo and perhaps remove a defect that in due course will result in the creation of a grossly deformed baby; or, as my noble friend has suggested, there is the ghastly possibility of this leading to experiments with unspeakably dreadful results.

I have checked with experts and, as far as I am able to understand, it seems clear that research work on embryos up to 14 days can provide knowledge that is not obtainable in any other way which can and increasingly will contribute, if pursued, to reducing the number of babies born grossly deformed through genetic diseases, of which we have heard examples from noble Lords more expert in this matter than I am. Such deformities when detected at a much later stage of pregnancy very often result in abortion, as my noble friend Lord Jellicoe made clear. Abortion involves the killing of a human being in the most repugnant circumstances, a human being with a nervous system and a personality—a soul, in religious terms. It is an evil in itself that Parliament has decided to legalise as the lesser of the other evils that flow from making abortion illegal.

I understand that research on embryos up to 14 days can, and increasingly will, contribute to preventing the creation of deformed babies, which often results in abortion. I believe that research, repugnant though it may be to some of us in different degrees, on embryos up to 14 days, is the lesser evil than more abortions at a much later stage in the development of the baby.

Many of your Lordships of my generation took part in a war in which we killed or attempted to kill other human beings. That was a great evil, but we thought—I believe rightly—that it was a lesser evil than the victory of Nazism with all its ghastly consequences. I think that the analogy is not too far off the point, although analogies are always dangerous.

I believe deeply that research should not be banned, as suggested in the Bill, for the reasons that I have given, though I greatly respect the strong feelings of my noble friend and of the noble Lords who support him. I believe that research should be formally legalised under strictly controlled conditions.

I wish to make one point to my noble friend Lord Jellicoe. I would not be happy about legalising research on the basis that it was a rather doubtful, possibly evil, means justified by good ends; that is, more knowledge about contraception and other useful matters. I believe that it is justified because it is a lesser of two evils, as I have explained. I hope that we shall move quickly towards legislation so that research work can be done on a strictly licensed, carefully controlled basis in premises controlled and inspected by people who are authorised and monitored.

I oppose the Bill for the reasons that I have given. I implore the Government to give high priority to legislation in the next Session, not at a time towards the end of this Parliament. This concern is for people and for future generations. To say that it cannot be fitted in to the legislative programme is rubbish. It is far more important than the privatisation of water and other such proposals which are concerned mainly with money. This is not a political point. It is about people and future generations, not about money, which is much less important. I implore the Government to grasp the nettle quickly. It is in their interests to do so because the longer it grows the stronger the sting will be when it is eventually grasped and the greater the damage that will be done. I hope that the Minister will be able to give a firm assurance on this point.

9.20 p.m.

Baroness Ryder of Warsaw

My Lords, there are, as always, complex problems about all Bills. As a Catholic sharing my concern with many other religions, I find certain aspects of the Bill quite abhorrent. We have heard from our noble friend Lord Jellicoe of childless couples, yet we forget the 5 million aborted infants. Surely some of the murdered children might have been adopted.

Let me state at the outset that I favour research which is likely to result in genuine benefit to the human race, particularly in preserving life. But in everything we do in this field we must ensure that we uphold the dignity of the human being and the sanctity of human life. I stand here in the name of internationally famous doctors, scientists and pathologists who themselves were prisoners of the Nazis. I shall later refer to their courage.

In paragraph 12.2 of the Warnock Report we are told that trans-species fertilisation between human sperm and hamster eggs is already used in the investigation of male subfertility. The report says: Men whose sperm will fertilise a specially treated hamster egg may eventually father a child, whereas those whose sperm will not, are probably infertile". The report goes on to tell us that although any resulting embryo does not develop beyond the two-cell stage, it is possible that other similar forms of trans-species fertilisation tests could be developed which, might develop for a considerable period of time". The committee concluded that, where trans-species fertilisation is used as part of a recognised programme for alleviating infertility … it should be subject to licence and that a condition of granting such a licence should be that the development of any resultant hybrid should be terminated at the two cell stage. Any unlicensed use of trans-species fertilisation involving human [sperm or ovum] should be a criminal offence". This almost makes experiments into the possibility of trans-species fertilisation sound respectable, and very plausible too. But I suggest that we have real grounds for fears, and I am afraid also that the Voluntary Licensing Authority which was set up by the Medical Research Council gives me scant comfort.

For one thing, the gentleman who in this country displayed the most interest in trans-species fertilisation at the time of the publication of the Warnock Report, was Professor Roger Short, then head of the Medical Research Council's team on in vitrofertilisation. In evidence to the US Congress Ethics Advisory Board in Washington in 1978, he stated that the possibility of developing animals with human attributes could soon be within the grasp of scientists using human eggs, with sperm from gorillas and chimpanzees. In his evidence he stated that while, it would be abhorrent to many … only fear of public reaction had so far restrained scientists from attempting such experiments. Neither am I comforted by the Warnock recommendation that any human-animal hybrid should be terminated at the two-cell stage. I tremble to think what would happen if that was ever done.

Indeed, this brings me to a point which was apparently never considered by the Warnock Committee, but I wish to put it to the House. First, it has to be recognised that inter-species fertilisation, as described in the Warnock Report, does not involve simply placing the human sperm and a hamster ovum in a dish. It involves special treatment of the hamster egg at the very least. One question which no scientist has yet answered to my satisfaction is, what were they seeking to do when they discovered that they could fertilise hamster ova with human sperm? From Professor Short's statement—let us remember he was at that time head of the MRC IVF Research Centre—we know that some people were very anxious about the possibilities before them.

I now wish to turn my attention to the voluntary licensing authority which was set up by the Medical Research Council and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. All members of the VLA, both scientific and lay, support the use of the human embryo as a guinea pig. Indeed, one of their most eminent members is Professor Sir Malcolm Macnaughton, a former president of the RCOG. As long ago as 1967, this gentleman published two papers on experiments he had carried out injecting steroids into live aborted babies of between 14 and 22 weeks. That hardly encourages us to believe that the VLA would take any form of brave stand in defence of the human embryo.

In any case, the idea being propagated by the VLA, that we only need a team of officers to inspect research centres to ensure that they are behaving well, is just too naive, to say the least. The late Professor Ian Donald, who was a very eminent researcher, told MPs and Peers when he visited the Houses of Parliament during early debates on the Warnock Report: To catch me out, any inspector would need to know as much about my work as I did". In any case, if work is ethically wrong or evil, having a team of inspectors will not make it right.

May I remind noble Lords—I now refer to all generations in this House—of the absolutely unspeakable medical experiments which were performed on literally thousands upon thousands of helpless men, women and children; on Poles, Slays, Jews, gypsies, and indeed on victims from over 40 different countries. Each died a martyr's death in the Nazi extermination and concentration camps, following the Germans' total obsession with the Aryan race. The Nazis justified, together with their medical colleagues from all over Germany and Austria, those most terrible and excruciating experiments. This subject is too involved, and indeed sadly almost totally unknown by the majority of people, but I had the privilege of working with many of the victims whose suffering and deaths were agonising.

Time, alas, does not allow me to mention by name the specific SS doctors and scientists I met. There were many hundreds of them. This may seem a digression from the Bill, but in fact it is not, for we are dangerously near to going down the same road the Nazis followed. As one of the few witnesses to those victims, I plead with your Lordships that what we assume is secure and safeguarded by legislation today or tomorrow still gives opportunities and thus leads to further terrible acts and their similar consequences. Mere promises and platitudes will not convince me, or indeed millions of others.

Perhaps I am privileged, but perhaps I am not, because of the continuing nightmares which I share with survivors, to have actually seen and nursed the victims of those experiments of genetic engineering. I would never have believed, working as I did in the ruins of Europe in 1944 to 1945, that the horrendous and horrific scenes which I witnessed among the victims of the Nazis could possibly be the subject of debate in this House, or indeed this country, on the night of 8th March 1989. I beg your Lordships tonight to support the Second Reading of this Bill.

9.30 p.m.

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

My Lords, I shall be brief. First I should say that I intend to support the Bill of my noble friend. I have very little knowledge on this subject. It is not really my ground. However, I have a certain knowledge of genetics from breeding animals. I have no such knowledge of breeding human beings, although I have children. That is not very difficult to achieve.

I was appalled to hear what the noble Baroness opposite has just told us. If such a Bill becomes law, scientists will be allowed to take embryos out of cold storage and experiment on them. The results could be horrifying. If the scientists are good people they might produce useful research, but I cannot speak on that issue because I do not know much about the subject. However, if the scientist was not a good man, and there are plenty of those about, I am afraid that he might implant an embryo into a gorrilla or some other animal. That would be appalling.

I support the Bill because so many doctors and specialists regard it as acceptable for an embryo to be fertilised to enable a particular woman to have a child. That would be allowed under the Bill, and safeguards are provided requiring the authority of the Secretary of State. Otherwise I am opposed to embryo research, which I believe would destroy what dignity there is left to the human race.

I have already spoken for three minutes—no, two minutes. I think that that is probably long enough. It is not my subject and I shall now sit down and allow others who know more about the subject to speak.

9.32 p.m.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

My Lords, I think that I was the first person to raise this subject in the House several years ago. It is one of the most difficult subjects on which we have had to try to make decisions in my time in the House. I cannot say that I find it any easier with the passage of time.

When I first learnt of the research being carried out on embryos I was appalled that what I believe to be potentially an individual human being—even though it might be only the size of a pinhead—should be used in such a way.

Earlier in the debate the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, asked the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, whether he had seen any of the research that is being carried out. I have visited the Medical Research Council at Carshalton and Edinburgh and the Cromwell Hospital. I have seen embryo research and the various processes involved in in vitro fertilisation taking place.

I was fascinated and deeply impressed by the scientists I met and by the sincerity of their belief that the research that they were engaged in was in the best interests of mankind. They explained to me how, until the age of approximately 14 days, the embryo could not possibly be regarded as an individual with a personality. It had not until that stage even the beginnings of a nervous system and could not, in all reason, be regarded as anything but a conglomeration of cells. I found the arguments enormously persuasive and I was sufficiently persuaded in the debate on the Government White Paper early last year to support the continuance of such research, but I was never entirely happy. A little niggle of doubt always remained and, with reflection, that doubt has grown. I can no longer disregard it so I am turning my coat and eating my words.

There is apparently no earthly reason why, up to the age of 14 days, the embryo should not be used for research. We have no scientific proof that it is at that stage an individual human creature possessing that spark of divinity that many of us believe distinguishes mankind from all other creatures. There is no physical evidence to show that it is, but on the other hand there is no evidence to show that it is not, bearing in mind that there may be dimensions other than the purely physical one which are as yet not recognised by science. It may not be possible to prove that the embryo is a human individual, but is it possible to prove beyond all doubt that it is not? Surely in a matter of such crucial importance—this is a matter literally of life or death—the burden of proof that the embryo is not an individual must be on those who wish to undertake research. I do not think that they have yet proved their case beyond doubt and for that reason I shall vote against the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, and support the Bill.

9.36 p.m.

The Marquess of Reading

My Lords, I should like to add my thanks to the noble Duke for bringing forward this Bill. I made my maiden speech in this House in the Warnock Report debate and, in a way, I regret having to speak again on the same subject. The repetition only serves to demonstrate the Government's delay in bringing forward legislation on the matter. We have been promised legislation since 1986 and three years later we are no further forward. I ask the House to resist the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby. It is no good relying, as the noble Lord suggests, on the speculation that legislation on this subject will definitely be included in the next Queen's Speech.

On the other hand, I suggest that there is considerable urgency for the following reasons. I believe that the validity of the Bill depends upon the understanding of what the human embryo is. If the embryo is a human person, it is Parliament's duty to recognise the right to life of the human embryo and to accord proper legal protection. Parliament does not confer the right to life on citizens of this country. If it could confer that fundamental right on citizens, it would follow that it could take away such a right. The right to life is inherent in the human condition, so Parliament recognises that and makes laws necessary to protect human life. Human life which begins in a laboratory, begins through the natural process of fertilisation, notwithstanding the laboratory procedures which enable that process to begin. Parliament's responsibility in that matter is particularly necessary to protect those individuals least able to protect themselves and special legal protection is enacted for the young, the elderly, the disabled and others who are poor or disadvantaged.

The questions before us are, first: do human embryos fall into the category of vulnerable human beings who have a special claim on Parliament? Secondly, is Parliament morally obliged to accord human embryos their right to live and protection from procedures that are against their best interests? Thirdly, should Parliament prevent destructive non-therapeutic experimentation on human embryos? I would answer yes to all three questions.

There are those who say that the human embryo is human and alive but is not a person. They say that an embryo becomes a person later in the human life cycle when it can perform certain functions. However, there is disagreement among those who propose such a view as to which function defines personhood. They draw the line at different times. This definition of the values of the human individual according to functional usefulness has certain fatal flaws. First, the choice as to which functions will determine the status of the embryo depends on subjective opinion. Since the choice is subjective, the line drawn might change to suit particular scientific or society interests. Whose opinion do we adopt? Secondly, if functions determine human worth, what happens to the elderly or infirm who lose the functions necessary to meet the criteria? Thirdly, if functions do not define my human nature, my human nature surely must define my functions. The absence of certain functions does not show that I am not a human person.

The last point is critical. The word "person" comes from the Latin persona which means mask. The body is the mask, the persona, that expresses the reality of human nature. It is sometimes called the anima or the soul. The human being is therefore more than just a body. It is the radical union of soul and body. It is this something special about human nature which requires us to treat human beings differently from rabbits. This "something" is the essence of our humanity. It is there in the human embryo since the human body is itself evidence of our human nature. It expresses itself more and more as the human body grows and develops from its early embryonic form to full maturity as an adult. I therefore hold that the embryo is special and is fairly human although not yet developed. I reject the philosophies that attempt to reduce the value of the human person to human functions. The human embryo is a human person. It is the mask, the persona, which expresses its real nature.

Time is running out and I shall not today develop this more fully except to refer to my maiden speech in which I spoke of the understanding of the embryo in theological terms —terms that I believe are compatible and consistent with the more philosophical approach that I have attempted today. It is dangerous to recognise the right to life in individuals simply for those who meet certain criteria. The sick, the young or the disabled have much to fear if Parliament adopts such a method in defining human personhood with a right to life. Any doubt in this matter should be resolved in favour of life. The onus of proof must be on those who favour destructive non-therapeutic experiments on human embryos to show that they are not killing human persons.

Finally, I believe that Parliament should pass this Bill and say no to the delay amendment in order to prevent the destructive non-therapeutic experimentation on human embryos. if Parliament does so, it will be acting consistently with the laws of humanity and the natural law. It will also be acting consistently with the Judaeo-Christian tradition which has helped shape the laws of this land, in particular those laws which recognise and enhance the rights and dignity of the human person.

9.45 p.m.

Lord Henderson of Brompton

My Lords, this has rightly been a serious and solemn debate. I hope I might be forgiven for striking a slightly frivolous note at the outset of my speech. Hearing the noble Earl, Lord Longford, say that he could not recognise a Roman Catholic when he saw one, it seemed to me rather a good idea that when the noble Duke summons, cajoles or marshals (which might be the right word) his troops they should all be distinctively dressed in the Papal uniform of the Guard of the Vatican. That would add to the gaiety of life in this House and match this Chamber. The noble Earl, Lord Longford, would then be able to recognise his co-religionists.

I should like to say what so many others have said. Her Majesty's Government should redeem their pledge to introduce the legislation. They have promised it more thanlonce, most recently in July last year. If only that had been done this Session, it would have made our discussion unnecessary. To give the pledge would make any further discussion on the Bill unnecessary. It is both immediate and urgent that the Government should renew their pledge.

Secondly, I join those who have urged the noble Duke not to press his Motion for Second Reading to a Division, partly for the reasons I have stated and partly for the reasons set forth in the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby. Following the Warnock Report and after very full discussion, the Government's promise to introduce legislation in this Parliament must make any attempt to legislate by Private Member's Bill otiose. The essential authority of Her Majesty's Government is lacking in a Private Member's Bill. The noble Duke's Bill does not meet, quoting from the White Paper, the concerns about developing reproductive technologies while recognising the benefits that they can bring". The Bill produces only half that package. And it does not offer the alternative draft clauses to Parliament that the Government promised. For all these reasons the noble Duke's Bill is not only otiose (as I have described it) but premature (as the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, has described it). Furthermore it is pre-emptive, and I hope that it will go no further.

I renew the plea made to the noble Duke not to press his Motion for Second Reading to a Division. I believe he will agree that it would be most disagreeable to Members on all sides of the House if he pursued the Bill beyond Second Reading into Committee and possibly to Report and Third Reading, just as we are entering the busiest period of this very busy Session of Parliament. That consideration, I hope, will weigh heavily with the noble Lord the Leader of the House when he studies the implications of timetabling for the remainder of this Session.

In my opinion the noble Duke's Bill is defective in what it proposes to do, not merely in detail—which would be cured in the subsequent proceedings, if there were to be any—but fundamentally in that it does not permit research.

The most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York has been quoted more than once. However, I do not believe that these words that he spoke last year have yet been quoted. He said:

Research must continue if in vitro fertilisation is to continue. I regard as totally unrealistic and indeed immoral any proposal to continue in vitro fertilisation without a proper backing in research". This evening we have heard too much from those who support the Bill about how immoral are those who conduct research under the authority of a voluntary licensing authority with the approval of the Medical Research Council. I find it hard to take the suggestion that those upright, dedicated people should be subject to the opprobrium of noble Lords who have spoken. On behalf of the dedicated doctors who carry out the work perhaps I may repeat a word used by Mr. Enoch Powell and say that I find that to be "repugnant".

Not only did the most reverend Primate say that it was essential to have research buttressing in vitro fertilisation but Professor Winston has written that, research and clinical treatment are inseparable. I believe that most scientists, especially medical scientists, will agree with that position.

We have heard that the present success rate for in vitro fertilisation is less than 10 per cent. per treatment cycle. None of us can be satisfied with that. I do not believe that the noble Duke and his supporters, who are providing for in vitro fertilisation with safeguards, will wish that low rate of 10 per cent. to continue when research will bring a great improvement in the success rate to the benefit of parents who wish to have a child by that means.

Mr. Powell, speaking in the House of Commons about his Bill, which was much the same as this Bill, said that in no way did the Bill inhibit the future improvement of in vitro fertilisation processes by those carrying them out. I am afraid that it does just that and that he was mistaken in what he said, as attested by the opinion of the most reverend Primate. I regard that to be a fundamental flaw which alone makes the Bill unacceptable.

I should like to comment on the drafting of the Bill, as did the noble Lord, Lord Meston. I do so especially because the Government gave Mr. Powell drafting assistance and access to medical opinion inside the department. That was announced by Mr. Kenneth Clarke on 15th February 1985, on the Second Reading of Mr. Powell's Bill. Despite that, the Bill has many drafting defects and is open to serious medical questions, even within its narrow scope.

In particular, I must object to the question-begging Short Title referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Meston: Unborn Children (Protection) Bill. That is a plain misdescription of the Bill and bears no relationship to the Long Title. It is a misdescription of such enormity that the explanatory memorandum must resort to a device which has never before been used to the best of my knowledge. Since explanatory memoranda came into being nothing like this has been recorded.

Explanatory memoranda should explain without argument the purposes of the Bill. However, so misleading is the Short Title that this explanatory memorandum has to declare what the Bill does not do. The explanatory memorandum states: The provisions of the Bill do not involve any issue concerning abortion, surrogacy or legitimacy". As so often, one misdescription—and I use my words with care—leads to another. The Bill seriously and deleteriously involves issues concerning abortion.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Llewelyn-Davies, said, the brightest hopes for diminishing the number of abortions, especially late abortions of either a nonviable foetus or one which is genetically abnormal, would be extinguished by this Bill. Only by means of legitimate research on the pre-embryo licensed by a statutory authority, which I hope will take the place of the current voluntary authority, can there be any hope of preventing unwanted pregnancies by safer contraceptive means and also the elimination of genetically defective embryos.

Therefore, in my view the Bill of the noble Duke is deeply flawed and gravely damaging to the life and happiness of parents and children and, I should add, to public health. It effectively puts a stop to the improvements in vitro fertilisation success rates. It puts an end to research into genetic disease. It stops all hope of better contraception, possibly by vaccine, which would be of great benefit in the underdeveloped countries. It would give no hope for those males who suffer from infertility. It would continue indefinitely the grief and emotional distress of those mothers who have a miscarriage which research in future could make a rare event.

Like the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, I put at the very top of my list the same category as the late Lady Lane-Fox. I feel compelled to quote her again because her words are so important. She said that there is a compelling and urgent need for everything possible to be done, to advance research aimed at preventing medical handicap". I do not see how anyone could fail to be moved by that urgent plea by Lady Lane-Fox, so cruelly handicapped when quite young by polio, which, as she said, had been virtually extinguished. She said that that was an infinite blessing conferred on mankind by medical science in her generation. Polio has virtually ceased to be a scourge of this country together with TB, smallpox and diphtheria. I ask the House: how can anyone who knew the noble Baroness fail to respond to that poignant statement made so shortly before her death?

If this Bill is passed, it will end one of the most promising fields of medical research and take us back three or four centuries to when the experimental method started. One of the founders of the experimental method was Galileo who was in conflict with the Church for supporting the Copernican theory. Galileo was under house arrest for the last eight years of his life. We must not allow that again.

I conclude with the words of the late and most eminent benefactor of mankind, Sir Peter Medawar, who after saying that we already had a moral commitment to biomedical research, continued: I see no reason to think that the highway of medical melioration that has brought us so far already will now lead us into evil". I commend those words to the House and to all those who have hope of progress.

10 p.m.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, despite my own personal premonitions, I believe that this has been an extremely interesting debate. Despite disagreements across the Floor of the House—certainly not on party lines—there has been a call for legislation. Everyone feels that the present situation of a voluntary licensing system is not enough. I believe that it is true that the scientists who are working in this field are as strongly in favour of legislation to govern, control and manage the work that is being done as has been expressed by noble Lords on both sides of the House.

In commenting on some of the points that have been made—your Lordships will be glad to know that I do not intend to go over the whole field covered by the debate—I am speaking only for myself and not attempting to do so for my noble friends. The present situation is not satisfactory, though I must from my own knowledge and information provided by the Medical Research Council pay my tribute to the way in which the voluntary research system has operated. A remarkably good job has been done and the researchers have met the challenge with which they have been presented.

I have often said in your Lordships' House how impressed I have been by the quality and knowledge of the contributions made in these debates, but I do not feel that that standard was at its highest in this evening's debate—I say no more than that. If we are to discuss these matters and speak on what is going on in research laboratories we have an obligation to find out something about the subject. Some of the statements made this evening have been inclined to make the blood boil and have created some bloodcurdling effects, but they cannot refer to research that has been licensed by the voluntary system. It is of some unfairness to those who are working within the system that such allegations should be made against them.

What has been so valuable about this debate, in my view, is that it has clearly established the need for early legislation. The Government could have avoided this debate and the Bill if they had been clearer about their intentions. In winding up the debate on 15th January 1988—and I have read it again and I do not want to change the words I used in that debate, which will be of some relief to noble Lords—the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, put forward a very good and firm position. He made clear that the Government would legislate sooner rather than later. He said: The way to tackle these problems is not to try to block or ignore medical advance, but to accommodate it within proper safeguards which ensure that due respect is given to the presence of human life".—[Official Report, 15/1/88; col. 1450.] I believe that is the proper approach. I cannot believe that those who support this Bill think that it would be better for these matters of such high import to be' introduced and presented to Parliament in a Private Member's Bill of this simplicity, if I may put it that way. The Bill says so little. It is necessary to have government legislation.

I repeat the view expressed by others in his debate. When the Minister replies I hope he will make clear what are the Government's intentions. I hope that they have not changed from the position stated on 15th January. I hope that we will have the two alternatives presented to us. I hope that no words will be changed from those enunciated by the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, in winding up that debate. The House will expect a clear indication that we are not going to be kept waiting for legislation. If that clear indication is not given, then of course there will be people who will seek to step into the Government's shoes and do the job better than the Government are doing it themselves.

I have read through the debates, not only the debate on 15th January 1988, but also the one that took place on 31st October 1984 which was the original debate on the Warnock Report. I found the arguments put forward then and now by the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, persuasive, and her conclusions sound. I believe that what I myself said in those two debates was very sound and I do not wish to change it. Therefore I will not go over it again.

The matter that concerns me most, and also many of your Lordships, is what will be lost if this Bill is carried through. It is the research work. I believe that the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, stated the case very clearly when setting out the five tasks which are the important ones. They are the low rate of successful pregnancy following IVF. The second task is especially important; it is the need for an effective diagnosis of genetic defects to prevent at least some of those 7,000 children born each year with such defects to mothers in this country.

How can we find help for sufferers from a wide range of disorders; namely, sickle cell anaemia, cystic fibrosis, muscular dystrophy and Huntingdon's Chorea. The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, wrote to me three days ago asking whether I can do something to help the Huntingdon's Chorea Society. I shall reply and she will receive my letter saying that I will do anything I can. One matter I wish to achieve is to see that we do not have legislation that stops being done research that can alleviate the plight of many of these unfortunate and sad parents.

The third task is to develop new contraceptives. I was grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, for setting out the situation. The noble Baroness, Lady Elles, said that we must pay tribute to those who have undertaken adoption. I shall always do so. However, if you wish to adopt a child today you will have very great difficulty in finding children available for adoption unless they are several years old., black, and already suffering from some mental or physical defect. The situation is not easy.

The fourth task is to discover more about male infertility and to seek to reduce the number of miscarriages which can produce so much unhappiness. Having said that, I pause for a moment to see whether I knew what I was talking about. In the past two months, in the very small circle of my own family, there have been two miscarriages. They occurred to two girls whom I deeply love and with whom I have a blood connection. It was a very sad event for them, and for their families and the husbands.

s I know of another case within my close circle where the problem of infertility is a desperately frustrating one for two people whom I know would make very good parents. Last Saturday I was dining with old friends who had three children. Two of them died in their teens of cystic fibrosis. In no way was it the fault of the parents because they were loving parents. I believe that so much of this work that is now going on at those hospitals and research centres that have been licensed by the voluntary licensing authority, with the assistance of the Medical Research Council, will cease. I do not understand how those who say they support this Bill can justify for themselves cutting back on that research that can help to alleviate so much real and genuine human distress. I wonder whether some of them are out of touch with what is going on in the research field. That is why I asked at one stage the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, if he had visited any of the centres. He was showing how much research he had done into what was going on. One can go to several of the medical schools in London. For example, one can take an afternoon and go to Hammersmith and observe the work that is being done, the people and the quality of the work. One can also see the dedication of those people.

I am against the Bill. As was said by the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, it would be a retrograde step. I hope that we shall hear from the Government a clear statement of their intention. If the Government give a clear indication that they will bring forward legislation which will enable both options to be voted on in the House, surely the noble Duke will feel that that is the proper way forward. These matters should not be dealt with by Private Member's Bills. I say in congratulation to the noble Duke that if governments do not do their job other people will edge themselves forward and do it. The Government have a responsibility to do the job, and to relieve those who support the Bill of the burden of having to carry it through all its stages. It lies with the Government to find a solution to the problem.

10.10 p.m.

Lord Henley

My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in the debate. I hope that I shall be able to answer many of the questions that have been raised. In particular, I hope that I shall be able to answer the question asked by several noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Ennals. I apologise in advance if I fail to answer some questions but I can write to noble Lords.

I am grateful to my noble friend the Duke of Norfolk for introducing the Bill and for giving the House the opportunity to debate these highly complex and controversial issues. I appreciate the factors which have led the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, to move his reasoned amendment. It will be for the House shortly to reach its decision on both the Bill and the amendment. These are matters of great concern to Members of both Houses. Their concern reflects the concern of society generally about an issue which raises important moral, religious and ethical questions, as we have seen in this evening's speeches.

Questions of legislation on these matters, about research involving human embryos, about infertility treatments which involve the creation of human embryos by fertilisation outside the human body and about research involving human embryos for purposes other than achieving a pregnancy, should be addressed with the greatest care and seriousness. That was why the Government set up the inquiry on human fertilisation and embryology in the first place in 1982. The inquiry's report, the report of the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, published in 1984, recognised that there were no easy answers to these questions. I pay tribute to the important contribution which the noble Baroness has made to the debate on these issues. The House debated her report shortly after its publication and in January last year we debated the Government's White Paper which responded to it.

The Bill before the House today concentrates on possibly the most contentious of all these contentious issues: whether or not research on human embryos should be permitted. Before turning to that issue in detail it may be helpful if I set it in the broader context of the Government's response to the Warnock Report. As I stated earlier, the Warnock Report was published in 1984. The consultation exercise following its publication generated a great deal of debate and produced many highly detailed and diverse comments from a variety of individuals and organisations, especially on the subject of embryo research. It was obvious that these were not easy issues and that much debate would be needed to enable them to make up their minds about such ethically sensitive and emotive issues.

In 1986 a consultation document was published by the Government inviting views about legislation by mid–1987. Again there was a good response with about 200 representations being received from a wide range of organisations and individuals. In November 1987 the Government published their White Paper Human Fertilisation and Embryology: A Framework for Legislation, setting out their proposals for legislation.

The White Paper proposed that a statutory licensing authority should be set up to oversee and control not only embryo research, if Parliament agreed such research should be permitted, but also infertility services involving techniques such as artificial insemination by donor and in vitro fertilisation. Storage of eggs, sperm and embryo would be permitted only under strict controls which would be specified in detail by statute. Legislation would also cover the legal status of children born as a result of these techniques and, for example, make surrogacy contracts unenforceable in the courts. The White Paper also proposed that counselling should 'be made available for couples considering IVF treatment. I hope that I have said enough to indicate the complexity and that the question of embryo research needs to be considered in the broader context of wider legislative control.

My noble friend Lord Jellicoe and the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, both mentioned the comments my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale made at the end of the debate last year. He said then, if I remember correctly, that he hoped there would be legislation within 12 to 18 months. I must, however, stress that he only said he hoped that would be so. Many other noble Lords have stressed the question of timing and I think it would rather waste time if I were to read out all the names of those who stressed the need for legislation as soon as possible.

I am sure that many noble Lords were disappointed that there was no reference to legislation about the issues dealt with in the Warnock Report in the Address from the Throne last year. The Government have, however, made clear their intention to legislate during this Parliament. That commitment has been given in various ways, not least in the White Paper itself. The commitment has subsequently been reiterated many times in another place. I am happy to make clear the Government's intentions once more, although obviously I cannot be drawn further on the precise timing.

I turn now to research on human embryos. I need not remind the House that this is a subject upon which there are deeply-felt emotions and sincerely-held opposing views, as we have heard this evening. The Warnock Committee, after carefully considering all the evidence presented to it, concluded that research should be permitted, under strict controls, on embryos of up to 14 days. The committee's argument was that, in its very early stages, it is not possible to establish whether the genetic material produced by the fusion of egg and sperm will develop into a human person; and that, though it should certainly be offered some protection in law, this should not be such as to prevent the benefits which study of the early embryo can bring in terms of improving the prospects for allowing infertile people to bear children and reducing the risk of congenital disease.

It is understandable that this passage in the report has been one of the most controversial of all and that a minority of members were unable to support it and advocated a ban on all embryo research. The argument of those who support this view is that genetically unique human life is a process which begins with the fusion of egg and sperm and that it deserves from the beginning the full protection of the law. These differing points of view highlight the need for calm and thorough debate, such as we have been given the opportunity to have today.

I was impressed by the clear analysis given by the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, of the arguments of those who are opposed to embryo research through conviction or because they are concerned that allowing such research would be the beginning of the slippery slope. It is precisely to those concerns that the proposals in paragraph 30 of the Government's White Paper are addressed. The alternative clauses which will be made available will either prohibit research or permit it under strict controls.

Both clauses would permit procedures aimed at preparing the embryo for transfer to the uterus of a woman, or procedures carried out to assess the suitability of the embryo for that transfer. However, one clause would make it a criminal offence to carry out any other procedures on a human embryo; and the other clause would permit research procedures as part of a project specially licensed by a statutory licensing authority. The Government will take a neutral position on the alternative clauses because they do not take a collective view about ethical matters of this kind on which members have strong personal religious and moral convictions.

Even if Parliament decides to permit research under strict controls, some procedures would be banned completely. Certain forms of human embryo research such as cloning and the creation of hybrid species understandably arouse deep public disquiet. Although there are no known examples of projects of this nature occurring and it seems unlikely that anyone would undertake such work, the Government propose to prohibit those activities even if Parliament accepts embryo research in general. No one favours the unnecessary use of embryos for research for benefits which could be obtained in other ways. The White Paper proposes that, if research is permitted, the Statutory Licensing Authority should satisfy itself in granting a licence that adequate consideration has been given to the possibility of achieving the aim of the project by other means.

In the light of what I have said it will come as no surprise that the Government are neutral on the embryo research issue which is dealt with in this Bill. The issues it deals with will form an important part of the legislation which, as I stressed earlier. is expected later during this Parliament.

The purpose of the Bill before the House today is to prevent human embryos being created, kept or used for any purpose other than enabling a child to be borne by a specified woman, and then only with the authority of the Secretary of State. Private Members' Bills on almost exactly similar lines have previously been introduced each Session until this one in another place. That introduced by the right honourable former Member for Down, South was debated in 1985 and a ten-minute rule Bill introduced by the honourable Member for Hyndburn was also debated in 1986. These Bills have served to add to the very necessary public debate on these issues and illustrate the strong views that the subject of embryo research arouses. The baton this Session has passed to your Lordships' House.

The effects of this Bill would be to prevent virtually all research using human embryos. It leaves a number of issues unclear and raises some immediate questions such as whether embryo biopsy should be permitted and what should be done with embryos not reimplanted. The need for authorisation in each and every case has to he seen against the background, given that in 1986 (the latest year for which figures are available) almost 5,000 patients underwent over 7,000 in vitro fertilisation treatment cycles. These are matters which the House would want to examine in detail if the Bill makes progress.

It may assist the House if I refer in an entirely factual way to the arguments advanced by those who say that the research which it seeks to prohibit should be allowed. These are set out in Annex B to the White Paper. They fall into four main categories: first, improving the treatment of infertility; secondly, gaining further knowledge about factors leading to congenital disease; thirdly, developing more effective forms of contraception; and, finally, detecting gene or chromosomal abnormalities before implantation.

For many infertible couples in vitro fertilisation is the only means by which they can have their own children. But at present only about one in 10 attempts result in successful pregnancies and the technique can only be improved by further research, including research using embryos. Such research could also help couples at risk of passing on serious genetic disease to have normal children. It might also help in understanding and preventing the one in five miscarriages that affect the population at large. It may also lead to the development of new and safer methods of contraception. The Medical Research Council supports such research as being consistent with its function to carry out research which will improve people's lives, including the medical care available to them. The House will want to weigh the arguments carefully, balancing the advantages of embryo research which I have just outlined with the repugnance which some people feel about such research. It is argued from this premise that the ends cannot justify the means.

I know many noble Lords have been concerned that the Government have not before now brought forward their own measure to follow up the Warnock Report, but there has not been a vacuum in this field. There has been an effective system of voluntary regulation of embryo research and IVF by the voluntary licensing authority. This was set up in 1985 by the Medical Research Council and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists as an interim measure. The authority has invited applications from centres wishing to carry out research involving human embryos and certain infertility treatments. The Government are grateful for the work the VLA has done in this difficult area. However, it has clearly functioned for a longer period than originally expected and, to help it continue its work during the period until a statutory licensing body is established, it is to receive direct government financial help of £43,000 for the next financial year. The work of the VLA does not of course in any way pre-judge the decisions that Parliament itself will need to take on the statutory licensing authority and the extent of its remit, if any, in in vitro fertilisation and embryo research.

I suggest to the House that we can make good use of the time before government legislation is introduced in studying and discussing in detail the issues raised in the Warnock Report and in subsequent debates. Few other countries have attempted legislation about these sensitive and difficult issues and there will be clear advantages, as my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has indicated on several occasions, in ensuring their widest possible consideration before legislation is introduced.

I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, for drawing to the attention of the House the report Fertility in the Family by Dr. Jonathan Glover. I understand that it was commissioned by the European Community and is to be published next week. Dr. Glover was assisted by a team from a number of member states, among them lawyers and doctors as well as those with interests in ethical matters. I understand that the report recommends that embryo research should be permitted in certain circumstances and that each member state should devise its own regulatory system. The Government will study Dr. Glover's report and take its findings into consideration when they prepare legislation.

The noble Lord, Lord Meston, and the noble Baroness, Lady Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, mentioned the possibility of sending the Bill to a Select Committee. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, also mentioned this, although I think that he felt that it was not a sensible idea. I note the suggestion that the Bill should be referred to a Select Committee. It is for the House to decide whether this would he an appropriate action after consultations through the usual channels. However, I remind the House that the substance of the Bill has been extensively debated here and in another place and there will be a further opportunity for debate when the Government bring forward their legislation on the matters dealt with in the Warnock Report.

My noble friend Lord Cork and Orrery referred to the fact that research using human embryos for the development of new forms of contraception, possibly for use in third world countries, is in breach of the Government's claim of neutrality. The Government support and assist the work of population control in developing countries in view of the major social and economic problems that increasing populations present. Such research as is going on in this country is endorsed at present by the voluntary licensing authority. It would be for the statutory licensing authority to satisfy itself, if Parliament decided to permit such reform, that it was appropriate to carry out such research.

As I said earlier, this is not a question with an easy answer. It is one on which people sincerely hold differing views. It is an issue on which many people have yet to make up their minds. A reasoned debate of the case for and the case against is therefore helpful and necessary.

I emphasise once more that the Government are neutral over the Bill and over the reasoned amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, as they are on the issue as to whether research involving human embryos should be permitted. I reiterate the Government's commitment to legislation on these matters as laid out in the White Paper during this Parliament, although, as noble Lords will understand, I cannot make any firm statement about when it will be introduced.

10.30 p.m.

Lord Rawlinson of Ewell

My Lords, I was invited by the noble Duke to wind up this debate. That was not for any sectarian reasons, as the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, seems to imagine. It was because if Enoch Powell's Bill had finally gone through all the stages in the House of Commons, I had been invited by him to take the Bill through this House. That is why I am winding up the debate. There is therefore no papist plot to worry the noble Lords, Lord Houghton and Lord Henderson. It is purely a matter of winding up for my noble friend the Duke of Norfolk. That seems to be rather a stupid thing to have to do because the Leaders of both parties have spoken, so I shall speak briefly.

Two years ago another place was ringing with the sound of these matters. That Bill, which has been regarded so contemptuously by the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, went through the whole of its Second Reading and Committee stages in another place. What defeated it? It was a procedural wrangle, procedural finangling, in which the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, is a great expert. It was defeated then, so that this House never had the opportunity of debating it. That is why the present Bill is being promoted—to allow the House the opportunity to debate it.

As was rightly said by my noble friend Lord Caldecote, we talk in this House about many things but we can rarely speak about a more important matter than the one before us today. It is sad that people should denigrate a real subject for debate, a real issue affecting the world, let alone ourselves. It rather than some other subject deserves debate.

I recollect 10 years ago on a summer morning in Sussex a Canadian scientist talking to me about the future. He said, "Once we are able to replace one defective gene there is an irreversible progress towards the ability to change others. We shall have the ability to fashion, to create the quality of human specimens". I can never forget that. I do not think any of us should ever forget that we are reaching that stage.

Dr. Simone Novaes was a member of the commission of which the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, spoke which produced Fertility and the Family. The note to the report said that the medical profession is now making available a medical alternative to sexual relations; that reproduction is now outside the family and into the laboratory. That is something of such gravity that we must all feel a sense of awe.

The question is surely whether society accepts that result. Is the result of what a man and a woman contribute to create life an acceptable subject for experimentation? That question must be answered. Is it acceptable that many thousands of embryos should be frozen, labelled and stored in racks in refrigerators, not for the purpose of being able to supply them to a woman in order to have a child but for research? They are embryos, potential human beings.

A question arises which I ask my noble friend Lord Jellicoe: who owns these embryos? Who has the legal ownership of them? If they are stolen from those refrigerators, who has lost them? Whose property has been taken? Who is entitled to exercise power over them? Who allows them to be used for experiments? All these are matters which must be decided. The law must be introduced, society must make up its mind. This is at last something to which society must apply the law. If we have no control under the law, then we have no control over the experiments.

I accept there may be very good and worthy humanitarian reasons for the experiments. But there must be control, and a limit, especially when there is an alternative. Professor Lejeune came to Parliament in 1985. He was in Rome quite recently. He warned that the Warnock 14–day limit would not satisfy scientists. He said embryo research was the wrong road. He was the man who identified the cause of Down's syndrome. No advances have been made in research—or at least we have not heard of any—into the cures for genetic diseases in which human embryos have been used.

However, we have been told of molecular biology applied to cells taken from patients with cystic fibrositis, muscular dystrophy, Huntingdon's disease and Retinablastome which has generated greater understanding of genetic factors and location in the human genome without embryo research and without embryo experimentation. Is not that the responsible road, and the road of Professor Lejeune, Professor Marshall, Professor Kool, Professor Short, Professor Maclean and Professor Gray?

This Bill seeks to bring under law the possession of that which a man and a woman have contributed to create life by making the possession and fertilisation of a human ovum in vitro lawful only for the purpose of enabling a specific woman to bear a normal child. Is not that the decent, acceptable, reasonable and rational attitude which a civilised nation should adopt to this extraordinary new power which is coming the reproduction of life in the Laboratory? The opportunity has been given in this Bill presented by the noble Duke for this House to think about these matters and debate them and to make the Minister, with respect, repeat that he will bring forward a Bill on this matter. Even if a Bill is brought forward in the next Session of Parliament, when will it become law?

All the time the problems exist as regards who owns embryos and who has rights and control over them. I consider that the noble Duke has done right to bring this Bill before this House. I hope that the Government see, by the majority which is given to this Bill and the defeat of the amendment, the seriousness with which this House views these vital issues.

10.38 p.m.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby

My Lords, I think the most dignified thing the House could do would be to end this debate without dividing. At any rate, I must resign myself to the appointed role of being the only defender of the Government's position in the debate today. I was trying to save them from the humiliation which might otherwise befall them. I was trying to bring the House to a dignified conclusion to a most interesting and, I think, valuable debate. However, I must hand the Government over to the tender mercies of their so-called supporters. I cannot help them any more.

I accuse the Government of ill-treatment of an embryo Minister. Look what they have inflicted upon him just now. The noble Lord the Leader of the House sits there as if he had nothing whatever to do with what was going on. As for the noble Lord the Chief Whip, he looks as if he has broken off having dinner and has come back to see how we are all getting on.

As for the noble Duke, I must leave him to make up his own mind how he wishes this debate to end. I think he must realise that the message from the House tonight is for the Government to produce this legislation. They have not responded to that, except in the terms of what we heard 14 months ago. This is the third dress rehearsal on the subject. We have discussed it in 1984, 1988 and now again in 1989. We are still waiting for something more conclusive from the Government.

I shall not add to the present confusion or to the indignities of the House. I shall withdraw my amendment and leave the mover of the Bill to decide for himself whether, for a change, he will co-operate with me and leave the House with a message to the Government, having contributed what I think is of the greatest value—opinions rather than a straw poll at this stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

A noble Lord

I object! On Question, amendment negatived.

The Duke of Norfolk

My Lords, I have moved that the Bill be now read a second time. I commend it to the House.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

House adjourned at eighteen minutes before eleven o'clock.