HL Deb 28 April 1999 vol 600 cc317-53

3.36 p.m.

Lord Alton of Liverpool rose to call attention to Her Majesty's Government's policy concerning the use of human embryos in cloning procedures; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, it may be for the convenience of your Lordships' House if at the outset of my remarks I indicate that I intend to split my comments into three parts. First, I shall speak about the context in which this debate takes place today; secondly, I shall say something about the principles involved; and, thirdly, I shall discuss the process by which we reach a decision on this crucially important: question. I am extremely indebted to those Members of your Lordships' House who have put down their names and indicated their intention to take part in the debate today.

There was a time when human cloning was regarded as being in the realms of science fiction. It made good reading in books like Boys from Brazil or Brave New World, but it is probable that until the cloning of Dolly the sheep in 1997 many of us did not regard this issue as something that we would have to deal with as a matter of public policy.

Dolly was cloned after 277 attempts, involving nine embryos in the course of the procedures. Yesterday we learnt from the newspapers that in the United States goats had been cloned. The race is very much under way to achieve the cloning of human beings. In a recent "Panorama" programme a Korean scientist, Dr. Lee Bo Yeon, was asked when we might see a cloned baby. His reply was, "Much sooner than you think". That was after his claim—disputed by other scientists—that he had already created and then killed the first human clone. Just before Christmas a document was submitted to the Government by the Human Genetics Advisory Commission and the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority. A lot of the preparatory work for that document was carried out by a working party of four people, to which issue I shall return later.

Crucial to our understanding of this debate is the distinction that is made between reproductive cloning, which the two authorities considering this issue recommended against, and therapeutic cloning, which the, said should be authorised. We are awaiting the response of the Government, and it is for that reason that the debate today is so timely.

Putting the issue into context in one other respect, as we consider our own position it is worth referring to what other countries are doing at this time. Only a week ago the 19 members of the Council of Europe ruled out any question of human cloning and said that it should not be permitted under any exceptions whatsoever. They have incorporated that protocol into the European Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine. Two countries were absent from signing that protocol. Germany said that in the light of its eugenics history, its own laws, which completely proscribe any experimentation on human embryos, meant that it had already had sufficient provision not to need this protocol. Her Majesty's Government also declined to sign the protocol. Perhaps we may hear from the Minister when she replies why the Government decided not to sign the protocol and where that will lead us as regards the Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine.

The Secretary-General of the Council of Europe, Daniel Tarchys, said: At a time when occasional voices are being raised to assert the acceptability of human cloning and even to put it more rapidly into practice, it is important for Europe solemnly to declare its determination to defend human dignity against the abuse of scientific techniques".

Your Lordships will also wish to know that President Chirac, who opened the conference debating this question, added his denunciation of countries which provide a safe haven for those scientists who wish to act outside internationally agreed norms. He said: Nothing will be resolved by banning certain practices in one country if scientists and doctors can simply work on them elsewhere".

It is not only in Europe that this issue is a controversial question. In the United States Senate there was a recent debate. Two conflicting Bills were introduced by Senators Bond and Frist, on one side, and Senators Feinstein and Kennedy, on the other. At the end of the stand-off and a filibuster, their Motion to prohibit human cloning was defeated. But I draw to the attention of your Lordships' House a leader from the Washington Pos. It said: The creation of human embryos specifically for research that will destroy them is unconscionable. Viewed from one angle this issue can be made to yield endless complexities. What about the suffering of individuals and infertile couples who might he helped by embryo research? What about the status of the brand new embryo? But before you get to these questions there is a simpler one: 'Is there a line that should not be crossed even for scientific, or other gain, and, if so, what is it?". That is the context of today's debate. Is there a bright line which we simply should not cross?

Let us consider our deliberations in the context of the 1967 abortion legislation which we said would be only for difficult cases and that it would not lead to abortion on demand. There have been 5 million abortions since then. Think back to the legislation in 1991, when your Lordships debated the issue of experimentation on human embryos. We were then told that this would only be to help scientists to make progress for what they said would be perfectly legitimate reasons to try to rid the world of terrible degenerative disease or to help infertile couples. I should have thought that even the most enthusiastic supporters of that measure would pause to reflect on the half a million human embryos who have been destroyed or experimented upon since then.

It is perhaps worth considering in this context that every day 600 unborn babies are aborted in Britain but in the whole of the past year only 300 new-born babies were available for adoption. It seems extraordinary that we spend so much energy talking about procedures which often fail. No doubt we shall hear later from one eminent Member of this House about infertility treatments. As the noble Lord, Lord Winston, will know, in up to 70 per cent of cases the infertility treatments still do not work.

I recommend to your Lordships' House an article in the Sunday Telegraph on Sunday last, written by Dominic Lawson, entitled The death of medicine.

The HFEA has permitted scientists in our own country, in Bristol, to inject human sperm to penetrate hamster eggs, and that in Japan, at Tottori University, scientists have grown human sperm in testicles of rats. Is it not again worth asking the question: where is the bright line which we should not cross? In the United Kingdom there have been reports of scientists saying it would be possible to implant a human embryo in a man.

In the Sunday Times on Sunday last, Dr. Paul Rainsbury said he was seeking a licence to split an embryo to create two children, one of whom could then be frozen. Dr. Rainsbury said that the second baby would be an insurance policy. All of that demonstrates how far we have moved from an authentic view of human life—of life as a precious gift from God—to a commodified view in which the language of the market place comes to dominate human procreation.

There are dissenting voices. It would be wrong to suggest that all religious views, or for that matter all scientific views, are the same. They are not. Let me draw to your Lordships' attention the words of Dr. John Wyatt, Professor of Neonatal Paediatrics at the Royal Free and University College Medical School in London. He said in a note to me: I and many of my fellow health professionals share a profound disquiet about the introduction of therapeutic cloning. Many of us are actively involved in research to find novel therapies for life threatening and disabling conditions. However, the creation and manipulation of living human embryos for the sole purpose of generating therapeutic tissue seems incompatible with respect for vulnerable human life. The redefinition of human embryos as mere biological material or 'totipotent stem cells' in order to allay public concerns smacks of semantic trickery rather than responsible debate". I cite these words from the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Basil Hume. He says: Every human embryo is a new human life with the potential to develop into an adult human being. From the moment an embryo is created, we are dealing with a human subject which should always he treated with reverence and respect. It would be morally abhorrent for new human lives to be created simply for harvesting human tissue. Today's development highlights the urgent need for Parliament to amend and restrict the 1990 Act. It is said that, in the long term, scientific advances in treating disease could be accelerated by the use of this technique. Even if this were true, it cannot justify doing what is wrong: We are dealing with human lives. This is surely another example of a line which should never be crossed. We may be being clever but are we being wise?". I repeat: we may be being clever but are we being wise?

Later in the debate we shall hear from my noble friend Lord Jakobovits and from other noble Lords who represent religious and scientific traditions. I was extremely grateful to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich—he cannot be here today—for the letter of support he sent me in the context of our debate.

That is the context in which contributions will be made today. I turn to some of the principles involved. Human cloning is the production of a genetic copy of another human organism. Cloning would be achieved by embryo splitting or by nuclear transfer. Reproductive cloning would allow the human embryo to develop into a full copy of the donor. But therapeutic cloning would also require the creation of a human embryo. Cell differentiation, leading to continued foetal development, would not be permitted. The purpose would be to grow tissue or perhaps organs for transplant therapies. Both techniques require the manufacture of a human embryo. Growing a human clone for its limbs and organs is technological cannibalism.

Alternatives exist. President Clinton's National Bioethics Advisory Committee has stated that, because of ethical and moral concerns raised by the use of embryos for research purposes it would be far more desirable to explore the direct use of human cells of adult origin to produce specialised cells or tissue for transplantation into patients". I turn to the process by which we take these decisions. It is extraordinary that this is the first parliamentary debate that we have had in either House about this question. Where has been a committee of the stature of that chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock? Where has been a committee such as that chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, before arriving at these conclusions? Instead we have had four people, all of whom are scientists, and all of whom had expressed previously at some point or another support for human cloning, deliberating on these questions. Just 200 submissions were made as part of their low key consultation and they declined even to place a copy of the responses in the Library of your Lordships' House.

Earlier this year Sir Cohn Campbell resigned as chairman of the Human Genetics Advisory Committee because he said that his commercial interests in an insurance company might lead to a conflict of interest. But if that were right, and it was, how could a man like Dr. George Poste, with his huge interests in Smithkline Beecham, Cerebrus Limited and Dia Dexos, avoid a similar conflict of interest? Other members, too, had interests, and I passionately believe that we need to remove this debate from those who are too close to the industries and who could gain from the procedures in which they are involved. Your Lordships' House is perhaps the one remaining place where these awesome questions may be debated impartially and thoughtfully.

This then is the context, these are the principles and that is the process which led to my tabling today's Motion. Let us be clear what is at stake here. We are witnessing the creation of nightmare kingdoms, populated by a sub-species of human clones. This debate is about nothing less than what it means to be human. We may be on the verge of committing species suicide. A whole range of sociological, psychological and scientific questions arise from this, apart from the ethical questions which I have raised already. Questions arise about the familial relationships between the cloned individual and the other members of his or her family should reproductive cloning be permitted. There are questions of inheritance, questions of status and so on. We may be committing ourselves to permit something which could have vast consequences, not just for ourselves but for all future generations.

Your Lordships will be told in this debate that if we should just permit a little cloning, therapeutic cloning, it could lead to many advances. But this is the bridge across which unethical scientists and pharmaceutical companies will march towards full pregnancy cloning. Our IVF clinics will be awash with cloned human embryos and, sooner rather than later, someone will start implanting them in surrogate mothers.

To legalise therapeutic cloning is to render inevitable the onset of human pregnancy cloning. For the Government to give a green light to the former will amount to complicity in the latter. We are hopelessly ill-prepared to answer the complex scientific and sociological questions which are raised by human cloning. Our destiny as a species is the high theme which must engage us today. We will not survive the 21st century with 20th century bio-ethics. We need a moratorium to give us space to think. We need to hear the profoundly important arguments on both sides. Dissenting voices should not be driven out of the committees that consider these matters. One thing is clear: to act in haste will cause us to repent at leisure.

My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

3.52 p.m.

Lord Winston

My Lords, the whole House, myself included, will be deeply grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for introducing this interesting debate. It is on what is undoubtedly an issue of importance and one that I agree completely concerns human dignity. I shall return to that a little later.

I fear. though, that the noble Lord is confusing a number of different arguments. I was not certain whether he was talking about cloning or about embryo research. They are different issues. He reminds me a little of the noble Lord who points his blunderbuss at a hare and a high pheasant at the same time—and misses both.

The issue is important. The first thing to say very clearly is that it is absolutely certain that British law as it stands prevents, and has prevented, human cloning, and that there is no intention to perform human cloning. Secondly, none of the human cloning experiments to which the noble Lord refers is taking place in this country. This House cannot legislate for what happens in Korea, but I suspect that the statements made by the soi-disant scientist from Korea are not quite as far forward as he might imagine. Certainly, that group has published nothing of scientific merit of which I am aware. The scientific background mast be established first.

Perhaps I may knock on the head one theory, the theory that human cloning may be immediately possible. I believe that that is completely untrue. It took a good deal more than nine embryos to produce Dolly. In fact, producing one sheep took about 400 embryo experiments. Sheep embryos have an 80 per cent likelihood of implantation in the uterus. Therefore. i f one manages to get a clone embryo, one is very likely eventually to get an implantation. With a human it is very different. The best implantation rate that can be expected is well under 20 per cent, so the chances are that to produce one cloned human one would have to do a hundred cloning experiments on women. I do not think there will be many women lining up to have a Saddam Hussein, an Adolf Hitler or indeed a politician in their uterus. I do not see this as a feasible technology.

Moreover, in every experiment involving cloning there have been serious abnormalities in some of the foetuses. It is simply unthinkable that any doctor or scientist would be responsible for an outcome of an animal or human being that was damaged in that sort of way. It is very important that we as doctors and scientists recognise ourselves as the servants of society, not its masters. In this country we are paid through the public sector. We respect the public sector. The scientists here, whom the noble Lord, I fear, tends to impugn with some of his remarks, are deeply conscious of their responsibilities and obey the law absolutely, in every respect.

Somebody has talked about splitting embryos and making twins. But that is not reproductive or experimental cloning, with all due respect to the noble Lord, Lord Alton; it is simply splitting an embryo, which is actually forbidden by law in this country. Anyway, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has refused permission to do that.

In the United Kingdom over the past five years there have probably been some 20,000 clones walking around—all, of course, naturally born twins, identical twins, who as twins are more closely related to each other than would be clones who do not have identical DNA, because the DNA from the egg is different from the DNA of the nucleus.

What is the benefit of this technology, it being agreed that it would be unthinkable to use it in humans? The benefits are very considerable. First—this has never been mentioned—cloning research is capable of producing very important information about the process of ageing, because we do not know at present whether ageing is due to a nuclear change or due to the DNA change in the egg cell. Over time this will help us to study what is of crucial importance to the whole of human medicine. Ageing will be an increasing problem. It is already a major focus of research and development in the NHS.

Secondly, we now know that we can reprogramme the nucleus in a cell. This is of colossal importance. I am not making any exaggerated claim when I say that it is of importance in looking, for example, at the mechanisms of cell division, which affect diseases like cancer, and the cell cycle. It is absolutely germane to such researches.

I would add that it is very wrong to confuse the real issue of abortion, about which I know that the noble Lord feels very deeply, with the issue of cloning. They are not the same issue at all. It may well be possible, using techniques that we are developing, to take tissue from a human embryo without in any way damaging or destroying it, or creating an embryo purposely for the making of tissue. In fact, there are now techniques at our disposal for taking single cells off the inner cell mass of the embryo, and in time they may be grown.

The noble Lord said that there was confusion between human dignity and scientific defects. I would argue that it would be completely unethical not to do this research, given the tools of creation that God has given us. We should be using our God-given intelligence to protect and promote human life. It is absolutely wrong, and counter to human dignity, not to use scientific knowledge for those very reasons.

In the near future, we shall be able to generate from embryonic stem cells, without the destruction of an embryo, skin for burns victims, for children who would otherwise die. We shall be able to grow nervous tissue for people who have neurological deficits. We shall undoubtedly be able to treat leukaemia, from which children and young people are currently dying. We shall be able to treat liver disease, which kills a large number of people each year. We may well be able to replace defective heart muscle by growing it. Already at Hammersmith Hospital my colleagues are growing bone cells from mouse embryos, as I speak. This will be used, I have no doubt, to look at human degenerative disorders. The importance of that work cannot be over-stated.

I should like to ask the noble Lord one final question. When he sums up the debate, will he assure the House that his reasons for introducing the Motion relate purely to cloning and not to the fact that he has a fundamental objection to all in vitro fertilisation techniques which have engendered many tens of thousands of healthy human beings on the surface of this planet?

4 p.m.

Baroness Blotch

My Lords, it is with some diffidence that I follow the noble Lord, Lord Winston, because in this House we all know of his expertise in this area. But it is a subject on which I feel strongly and I want to thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for introducing this debate. It is much needed and, like him, I am sorry that there has not been more debate.

Cellular molecular biology advances at such a rate that it is not only the right but the duty of Parliament to be vigilant, even though the responsibility is onerous and daunting. What is disturbing, especially against the background of the constitutional changes for this House, with the possibility of a much weakened interim Chamber, is the singular lack of discussion of those matters by the House of Commons. Will the Minister tell us whether it is the case that the Government will respond to the recommendations of the working group without a full debate of the issues by the elected Chamber?

Perhaps I may put a question to the noble Lord, Lord Winston. He made the technology sound so futuristic that we are all worrying about nothing. I have read this document and it does not speak of the technology as being very futuristic. This is not a purely scientific matter. There are psychological, sociological and theological dimensions which must be given serious consideration.

I found what the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said about the working group of the Human Genetics Advisory Commission and the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority extremely disturbing. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, is right to question the scientific bias and credibility of the consultation process.

Equal prominence should be given to ethical principles in the field of science which is impacting psychologically, sociologically and spiritually on the very fabric of society. I look with hope to the right reverend Prelate to add the voice of the established Church in support of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on the issue of cloning technology.

Those of us who are concerned about unfettered technical scientific advances are often intimidated by the scientists and technocrats. But those who are interested in that area, who understand the wider ramifications and consequences of the new technologies as they unfold, welcome this kind of debate, albeit short, which the noble Lord, Lord Alton, has initiated today.

My concern is the slippery slope which was warned of many years ago and which fell on so many deaf ears: the incredible number of abortions which are carried out each year; the massive increase in the number of embryos both created and destroyed; and now, cloning, coupled with genetic engineering, is taking place, which is the manipulation of human life on an altogether different plane. It is imperative that much greater and wider consideration should be given to its consequences.

When given the facts about genetic engineering and cloning technological advances, the public display great anxiety and look to the Government to provide a protective legislative framework. I am not impressed by the references to the consultation process in the document. That leaves a great deal to be desired.

In America, scientists have discovered a way of producing completely fatherless children. Some time ago in the county from which I come, a lesbian couple made the media headlines by producing a baby by self-insemination. Their plan was for each of them to have a baby without any physical contact with a man. One child was born to one of the couple and before they could manipulate a second child, the couple split up. Apart from the horror of that so-called "scientific development", what are the social and perhaps even psychological consequences for that child? Some of us believe that playing God in that way is wholly unacceptable.

The Government must stand firm against such developments in this country. Social instability, breakdown of the family and a high level of insecure children are great issues of our day. But what is the point of wringing our hands about such issues when there appears to be daily incremental acceptance of scientific processes which contribute quite directly to social and psychological disorder? This debate should be widened and politicians in authority should give the lead.

4.5 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Oxford

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for initiating this debate. He is quite right that it is a subject of great consequence and the swift pace of scientific research presents us with some awesome possibilities for the future. Due to the delayed start of the debate, I shall now have to leave before the end as I am due to conduct a confirmation in Oxford.

The Church of England's Board for Social Responsibility, which I chair, is totally opposed to the cloning of embryos for reproductive purposes. That view is shared widely and is reiterated in the report from the Human Genetics Advisory Commission and the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority of December last year. The Government therefore have very strong support for their continuing ban.

On research using nuclear replacement technology for therapeutic purposes, there is greater division of opinion. Some are opposed to all research on embryos on the grounds that, Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of existence, the human being must be recognised as having the rights of a person—among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life". That is a quotation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church and it is a view shared by a fair number of other Christian people. It is a view I respect deeply but it is not one I share.

I take a developmental view of the human person and believe that the recommendation of the Warnock Report, now enshrined in law, that the formation of the primitive streak 14 days after conception is that clear point beyond which all research should be banned. The noble Lord. Lord Alton, called for a clear line. I believe that that does provide a clear line. Before that point, in the very early cluster of cells, it is not yet clear which will develop into a distinct individual. Furthermore, while the noble Lord emphasises the numbers of embryos which have been kept and then destroyed over recent years, it is a fact that in nature itself as many as three-quarters of the eggs which are fertilised are lost anyway in the normal course of events, most before they implant in their mother's womb about a week after conception.

Although it has been known for centuries that some embryos miscarry spontaneously, the magnitude of very early embryonic loss has been recognised only recently. Nature is amazingly prodigal, not only in the number of acorns produced by each oak and the millions of sperms that are produced but also in the number of fertilised eggs which, in nature, do not come to term.

Reflecting on that prodigality of nature, Professor Gordon Dunstan has written: Upon this waste, medical intervention imposes an economy. If successful it provides a baby where otherwise there would be none. The genetic information stored in the cells can be read; what is thus learned can be ordered into knowledge; knowledge can be put to beneficial life-saving use. The argument is not that because nature is prodigal we may he prodigal; because so much life or potential life is lost, one more does not matter. It is the reverse. R is that nature's prodigality is turned to creative use: natural loss is lessened, albeit to a minute degree". In the response of the Board for Social Responsibility to the consultation document on Cloning Issues in Reproduction, Science and Medicine, we reflected the fact that the majority opposed the deliberate creation of embryos for experimental purposes but were willing to accept research on spare embryos created as a result of existing infertility treatment. Furthermore, the board believes that nuclear replacement technology should only be used when there are no other ways of doing that particular piece of research.

There are a number of factors that need to be balanced on this issue. First, I believe that we should welcome and celebrate what modern scientific research can achieve. Sometimes, a begrudging spirit can enter into these debates as though the only job of ethicists is to act as policemen and say no. But the capacity to understand the workings of nature and interact with them for human well-being is an aspect of our God-given creativity. It is something to be rejoiced in.

Secondly, it is right to be cautious. There is an accumulated wisdom in the billions of years of evolution. We can rarely predict the full consequences of research. Not everything that can be done should be done. It is the nature of the scientific enterprise always to press on, to think that because it can be done it should be done. It is therefore important that we should have widespread public debate and a proper legal framework for all front-line research. I believe that we can be thankful that we have the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, with its clear mandate and authority for licensing or not licensing particular pieces of research.

The noble Lord, Lord Winston, drew our attention to the many ways in which this research could be beneficial for human well-being and welfare. The report to which reference has been made contains two particular recommendations. One is that in regulations two further purposes should be added to the list of purposes for which the HFEA could authorise a research project. I look forward to hearing anything the Minister is able to say today which might indicate the Government's attitude to the recommendations in the report.

4.11 p.m.

Baroness O'Neill of Bengarve

My Lords. I speak in this debate with some diffidence; I am neither a specialist in human reproduction, nor long a Member of your Lordships' House. However, as a member of the Human Genetics Advisory Commission, and since recently its acting chairman, I have had some concern during the past year with the topics we debate today and was involved in the report published by the commission jointly with the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority. I speak, however, today in my personal capacity and neither for the commission nor as its chairman. I also speak with gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for bringing this important set of subjects to debate.

The frisson which everyone feels at the possibility of the cloning of human beings is understandable. We are only beginning to understand what such reproductive cloning would mean. We have all read of the tremendous scientific difficulties and wastage involved in cloning Dolly. We know that cloning, as at present possible, is not a safe procedure. However, some people think that should reproductive cloning become safe, or at least much safer, then there might be a case for permitting it. I believe that this is doubtful.

However, this is not because cloned persons would lack a unique identity. Having a unique identity is, as has already been said, not a matter of having a unique genetic identity. To have a unique identity is to have a separate body and mind and a life of one's own. That is fundamental to human identity, otherwise we would be speaking of those of us who are monozygotic twins as lacking a unique identity.

Reproductive cloning would, I believe, remain a dubious infertility treatment for other reasons, and mainly because if it were adopted it would be intended as a treatment for those for whom other forms of treatment do not work, by which they could have a genetically related child. But, in doing so, they would be taking it upon themselves to bring into the world a child with a genetically ambiguous or confused heritage. For example, if the child is to be a clone of either parent, it will thereby be not only the genetic twin of that parent, but the genetic sibling of its aunts and uncles and the genetic child of its grandparents. We have some knowledge of the additional burdens that ambiguous and confused family relationships may create for children; as, for example, in the case of adoption and step-parents. In this case, however, parents do not plan to put their children into this situation. Would it be right deliberately to plan for children to face quite exceptional levels of ambiguous and confused heritage?

Of course, it may be said that cloning does not have to be of a related person and that if it were of an unrelated person those difficulties would be less. In that case, surely it would be safer, more feasible and ethically more acceptable to have a child by way of adoption—granted that there are great difficulties in that at present. I do not believe that there are any reasons at present to reconsider the ban on reproductive cloning which the 1990 Act sought to impose.

Ethically more difficult concerns raised by cloning technologies do not relate to their use in fertility treatment but to their use in cell nuclear replacement technologies—that is the method by which Dolly was cloned—and the application of those technologies to human eggs. I believe that the considerations which are ethically important for us in this context are those which should govern any use of human tissues, including human reproductive tissues, by which we seek to ensure that human beings are never used as mere means.

Our practice in this area has not been to ban all use of human tissues, but to insist broadly on two ethical conditions. The first is that human tissues be used only for morally valuable and serious purposes, such as curing disease, medical education and research, including help for the infertile. The second is that the consent of individuals whose tissue is used should be freely given. These two standards have been used to regulate uses of human tissues from blood transfusion to organ transplantation and in the daily medical practices of retaining pathological specimens for medical follow-up, education and research, as well as in the recent development of IVF.

When we use human tissues as a means to these ends, we do not, I believe, treat the human beings who donate tissues as mere means; we do not instrumentalise them, provided we adhere rigorously to these standards, which are crucial to medical practice that respects human rights and human dignity. These standards will be equally important in regulating any use of cell nuclear replacement technologies in human medicine.

The 1990 Act permits research on human embryos only for 14 days; that is, until the emergence of the primitive streak. Until that stage, the cluster of cells comprising the embryo cannot yet be identified with an individual human being: it is still indeterminate, for example, whether these cells will grow into a single human being or into more than one. While I have the greatest respect for the thought that we become human beings long before we are born, I do not believe that human rights or human dignity can be at issue before there are human individuals.

At present, research on human embryos during the permitted 14-day period is restricted to five specific purposes in Schedule 2 to the 1990 Act. All of those purposes centre on the better understanding of human reproduction. They include advancing the treatment of infertility; increasing knowledge of causes of congenital disease and miscarriage; advancing the techniques of contraception: and developing methods of detecting gene and chromosome abnormality.

The joint report by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority and the Human Genetic Advisory Commission proposed that two additional purposes might be added to the list by regulation. I shall say nothing about the use of embryonic stem cells. The noble Lord, Lord Winston, spoke about that and I believe that the scientific demands in that area are great.

I wish to comment briefly on therapy for mitochondrial genetic disease because it fits very well into the group of purposes listed in Schedule 2 to the 1990 Act. A woman with mitochondria! genetic disease carries it in all her eggs and will transmit it to all her children. But the mitochondrial DNA is not in the nucleus of the egg. The nucleus of an egg from a woman with such disease might therefore be transferable to a healthy egg donated by another woman and subsequently fertilised in vitro. A healthy child could then be born to a couple, despite the mother's mitochondrial disease. The fertility treatment leading to its birth would involve cell nuclear replacement, but not reproductive cloning, and there would be no ambiguity about the child's heritage.

It may be said that to permit additional purposes for embryo research such as this one and possibly embryonic stem cell research would be to slide down a slippery slope. I do not believe that the fear is well founded. Adding these two purposes to the regulations restricting embryo research would not extend the period of permitted research. It would not alter the fundamental ethical standards which would govern research on human beings and human tissues. There is no ethical innovation proposed. There is simply a matter of taking cognisance of scientific developments.

4.20 p.m.

Lord Rea

My Lords, it is my very great honour to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady O'Neill of Bengarve, on her superb maiden speech. Her distinguished background as a philosopher and her role as chairman of the Human Genetics Advisory Commission have equipped her perfectly for this afternoon's subject. We are very much in her debt for her wise words. I am sure her mind will be brought to bear on numerous other subjects in your Lordships' House. In my speech at Second Reading of the House of Lords Bill, I hoped that Members of any future House would be uncommonly able rather than uncommonly privileged. The noble Baroness fits the bill precisely and will greatly strengthen the interim House.

I turn to the debate initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for which I thank him. First, to consider human reproductive cloning rather than "therapeutic" cloning, the HFEA report suggests that the Government may … wish to consider the possibility of introducing primary or secondary legislation explicitly banning reproductive cloning". I hope very much that the Government will not go down that road despite the strong public opinion which at present is expressed against human reproductive cloning. The report also states: The Government has explicitly ruled out reproductive cloning and the I-IF'EA has stated its policy that it will not license the use of nuclear replacement for this purpose". In other words, it is highly unlikely that reproductive cloning could be allowed under present rules. That is a proper decision because, as other noble Lords have already pointed out, the technique is still imperfectly developed. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, mentioned the 277 attempts before Dolly the sheep was successfully implanted and delivered.

However. there may well be a time in a decade or so when these difficulties will largely be overcome and a strong case for allowing a very small number of cloned individuals may be made. The current reaction to this is one of shock-horror, with visions of regimented identical individuals of servile rank, as in Brave New World, as pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, or of evil nature as in The Boys from Brazil. Current regulations would virtually rule that out. The mad scientist who, having learned the techniques, uses them for malevolent purposes is most unlikely to appear. In any case, if he wanted to do this so strongly, he would disobey any prohibition, however draconian.

The current popular rejection of human reproductive cloning was examined critically by Professor Raanan Gillon, head of the medical ethics unit of the Imperial College School of Medicine in his Stevens Lecture at the Royal Society of Medicine last June. He divides the opposition to this process into four categories: first, moral repugnance, including gut reactions of "yuk", horror, offence, playing God and so on: secondly, issues of autonomy, dignity and identity; thirdly, issues of psychological harm or benefit to the parent or the individual concerned; and, finally, issues of justice.

In every one of those categories Professor Gillon finds that, cutting through and eliminating purely emotional responses, there is a very plausible case for reproductive cloning as well as one against it. I cannot take the House through his reasoning. The lecture contains 10,000 words which I suggest all concerned with making decisions in this area should read. However, I shall quote one illustrative paragraph which. will, perhaps, introduce a slightly lighter note into what is otherwise a rather sombre debate. He said: An analogy which I like to use concerns medical practice. Doctors, especially surgeons, cut people up quite a lot; they also stick their fingers in people's bottoms. Most of us, I imagine, would feel quite deeply that both of those activities are rather disgusting and not to be done; yet we know, through thought and reflection in our medical studies, that we had better overcome these deep feelings because in some circumstances it is right to cut people and in some circumstances it is right to put our fingers in people's bottoms. Both are extraordinary and counter-intuitive things to do, but on analysis we find that they are sometimes the right thing to do". Having said that, he does, however, agree with the HFEA that at present we should prohibit human reproductive cloning because it has so many dangers in its present state of development; but, we should not close it off completely for the future. I hope that the Government will accept that the current state of regulations for human reproductive cloning is sufficient.

I intended to say a little about so-called "therapeutic" cloning. However, I see that my time is up. That issue has already been covered by a number of noble Lords so at this point, I shall sit down.

4.28 p.m.

Lord Patel

My Lords, perhaps I may break with convention and congratulate my noble friend—truly my friend—Lady O'Neill of Bengarve on an outstanding maiden speech. I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, for the opportunity to have the debate.

I am an obstetrician but I do not treat patients with infertility; nor have I been involved in research on embryos or gametes. In my capacity as president of the Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists. I have responded on behalf of the college to the consultation document, and I draw now upon those comments.

Application of cloning techniques is divided into those which may provide therapeutic benefit—therapeutic cloning—and those which are designed to create a human being by asexual reproduction—reproductive cloning. In balancing risks and benefits, the potential positive benefits from therapeutic cloning outweigh the foreseeable risks. We should therefore consider taking those risks after the appropriate research has been carried out.

The benefits from human reproductive cloning, however, are not so apparent and the risks are at present unknown. The purpose and intention of cloning for purposes of human reproduction are less clear and the advantages cannot be seen to outweigh the disadvantages.

The present Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act allows for restricted research on human embryos of up to 14 days' development provided the embryos are not replaced into a woman's womb. As long as those conditions are met and there is no attempt to continue to grow experimental embryos artificially in vitro beyond 14 days, there are no obvious new ethical issues raised by embryo splitting or nuclear replacement in relation to the special status of the human embryo or what may be done to it within the 14-day period.

The Act allows research of embryos up to 14 days within certain specified areas directly related to reproduction. As has been mentioned by several noble Lords and the noble Baroness, if research into therapeutic cloning is to take place these areas of research may need to be broadened. There is a basic need to discover how embryological cells differentiate, which may be easier using adult nuclei in embryos created by nuclear replacement rather than naturally fertilised embryos alone. Such research, and its potential therapeutic applications, would not raise any new ethical concerns. The use of a cell line developed from an individual's own cell poses less of an ethical and medical dilemma than using tissue from another individual or foetus.

What about issues related to genetics? A right can be defined as a justifiable claim. It is difficult to know how this can be applied to an individual's genetic identity. There is certainly no legal right to one's genetic identity, and it is difficult to argue that there is a moral right. Genetic identity is a gift. It is no more a right than characteristics such as colour of hair or eyes. All humans should be treated as individuals in their own right and not used to gratify another's wishes.

However, reproductive cloning is unlikely to produce identical individuals because of differing effects of the environment, as already mentioned. Embryo splitting is more likely to result in similar individuals but nuclear replacement with adult nuclei would create a person of a different age, subject to different environmental pressures, from that of the individual who has donated the nucleus. The creation of a clone of a human person at present is unethical because the reasons in favour of it are limited and too little is known of the consequences; not simply because cloning is unethicalper se.

The lack of knowledge of the risks involved in human reproductive cloning makes it unethical at present. The high risk of failure is no reason for not attempting a new technique as long as the subject understands and accepts those risks. Nuclear replacement could involve super-ovulation induction, with the risk of ovarian hyper-stimulation to the egg donor, but risks to the clone are largely unknown.

In concluding, there is a general concern that any form of reproductive cloning in humans should be permitted. Thus any use of cloning and related techniques for reproductive purposes, persuasive examples of which are also given in the document mentioned, must stop short of implantation: that is, the replacement of the cloned embryo into the uterus. Embryo research and therapeutic cloning for the purpose of developing methods of treatment for mitochondrial diseases and for repairing damaged or diseased cells, tissues and organs are different. Research to provide better understanding of cell differentiation is important before we can develop methods of treatment.

I recognise that to many, a clone is a potential human being and the arguments in this respect are similar to those in respect of abortion. But there are many in the population who want us to develop the knowledge to help to treat diseases such as cancer, blood diseases, degenerative diseases and so on. Research into stem cells may lead us to this. Of course, if and when it becomes possible to harvest stem cells from adults and transform them into tissue types, this debate will not be necessary.

4.33 p.m.

Baroness Knight of Collingtree

My Lords, it is an enormous pleasure to me from this side of the House to offer our warm congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady O'Neill, on her maiden speech, which we welcome for its clarity, its knowledge, and if I may so, its charm. We look forward to hearing a great many more speeches from the noble Baroness.

Today, thanks to my noble friend Lord Alton, we are debating a subject which could not be more fundamental to the whole of the human race. On this matter there is a wide difference between the views of the scientist and the views of the public. The scientist believes that any and every procedure is justified if it advances treatment or aids knowledge of a disease or a condition, or even if he thinks it might—which is not always so by any manner of means. The public see an ethical and a moral side to this. Broadly they believe that it is wrong to create human beings for the sole purpose of using various parts, either to transplant the material or as a means of experimentation.

Scientists justifying cloning seek to blind the public with science. They claim that using the embryo in its early stages is nothing to fuss about: it is only a blob. It is merely a little collection of cells and it fits very nicely into a test tube. All of us in this House listened with great interest to what the noble Lord, Lord Winston, had to say. In the first part of his speech he seemed to be telling us that we need not worry because it is not going to happen. He then went on to tell us of the advantages when, or if, it did happen. I must admit there have been times when what the noble Lord has written has rather puzzled me, because in the BMJ in March 1997 he wrote: In human reproduction, cloning techniques could offer prospects to sufferers from intractable infertility. He was clearly in favour of it. In January 1998 he was rather angry with President Clinton, who had made remarks that were clearly against cloning. The noble Lord said that this was a "knee-jerk" reaction and that cloning technology offered hope to many infertile couples. Only four days later, in the Independent he wrote: I don't know [if cloning human beings could bring benefits] but I think probably yes. So it is a little difficult to understand quite where we are going sometimes with this highly technical advice. For instance, the noble Lord said today that one cell could be taken from an embryo without killing it. Surely he should then have gone on to say that the HFEA requires that the remaining embryo is to be killed. Surely that is part of the argument. I find it very difficult to set a time in the development of the miracle which could become a child before which it is quite all right to use it as experimental material and after which it is not.

Of course there is a very strong case for "spare part surgery"—some people will certainly die without it—but to produce a living human being simply to supply the necessary hearts, livers, kidneys, corneas or whatever is needed is morally wrong, and indeed utterly repugnant. Some things are surely sacrosanct, and respect for human life, in spite of what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford said, is one of those things.

It seems that it would not be against the law to use the same technique which produced Dolly the sheep to produce a human being. The law is very ambivalent about this. We do not quite know what kind of human being that would be except that, if we are to judge from Dolly, it would have all the bits and pieces that surgeons want for transplants. It would have all kinds of other cells as well which could be used for experiments. I am horrified to have heard what my noble friend Lord Alton told us about the make-up of the advisory committee which advises the Government on these matters. Every member of that committee is in favour of cloning.

Such a body cannot give unbiased advice; yet surely this is one subject, above all others, on which we need balanced advice, not biased advice. There are some strong views in this House in favour of the individual and its most basic rights. I believe that the public overwhelmingly share these views. It would be a mockery of Christian ethics and a gross indecency to permit humans to be cloned.

To hold that view certainly does not mean that one does not respect and admire the brilliance of doctors and scientists. It does not mean that one has no sympathy for the sick people who need transplants or for women who long to conceive and yet find that they cannot. But to create sub-humans for these purposes would surely be wrong. There are, after all, alternatives to therapeutic cloning. Furthermore, we know that there are many human risks attached to this, which I do not have time to address in this very short speech. The Government have said they are not prepared to allow the cloning of humans, but they will permit the use of cloned embryos as source material for organ transplants. It surprises me that an embryo has organs big enough to transplant. I suppose what happens is that we allow the embryo to go into a test tube where it is developed and fed in some way so that it actually grows the transplant organs. But the mind boggles.

In spite of what has been said—so far we have had one view from my noble friend and another view from the noble Baroness—about slippery slopes, I believe that we are certainly in slippery slope territory.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, we are in danger of running out of time in this debate. I should be grateful if the noble Baroness would bring her remarks to a close.

Baroness Knight of Collingtree

My Lords, I am sure I was right to spend a few moments in congratulating the noble Baroness and I am just concluding my speech.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, we are on a tight timetable with the debate. I shall be grateful if the noble Baroness will draw her remarks to a close.

Baroness Knight of Collingtree

My Lords, I am aware of that. I say, finally, that we are on a slippery slope and slippery slopes are there to be slid down. We should never open the way, as we would if we permitted human cloning.

4.40 p.m.

Lord Jakobovits

My Lords, we are once again indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, for giving us the opportunity to delve into this perhaps most vital—literally, most vital—of all subjects that we could ever hope to discuss.

When the Warnock Committee considered the whole issue of human reproduction in the light of modern scientific and technological advances, it wisely recommended a complete ban on the cloning of human beings. That is the law to the present day, as it was enshrined in the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act.

Let me say at once that I am not impressed by the argument so frequently advanced that we are playing, God by delving into these mysteries of creation itself. On the contrary, I believe that we as human beings, endowed with a divine soul and intelligence, are meant. to use that endowment in the service of mankind, medically or otherwise; and every time we bring human ingenuity to bear on alleviating human suffering, bringing solutions to problems of human reproduction, not only do we not play God, we perform an essential basic duty of man; that is, to be Godlike—imitatio dei.

The specific reference to human cloning may call for some fresh consideration and elucidation, especially in the light of the latest scientific and medical developments. In the debate in 1989 when the Bill was passing through your Lordships' House, I suggested that the line drawn between embryos under and over two weeks old—as was mentioned in two contributions here this afternoon—seemed entirely arbitrary. Because the first signs of the so-called "primitive streak" were not apparent before that, it was suggested that, up to two weeks, one should be able to carry out experiments and that thereafter such experiments should cease. Rather, I suggested then that a distinction ought to be made between embryos generated for experimental purposes, which ought never to be sanctioned, and between embryos that were potentially viable and others which were in any event destined to die.

Let me explain. There was no reason why an excess of embryos which had to be generated in in-vitro fertilisation procedures in order to produce the one or two possible viable births, and which could not afterwards be re-inserted in the mother because it might lead to multiple births and thereby either endanger the mother or the developing foetuses, should not be used for experiments so long as those experiments were designed to lead to possibly life-saving ends. That seems to make a much more logical division that would not infringe or impinge on the dignity and value of human life, potential or otherwise. The whole subject calls for careful re-examination to ensure that human life is adequately protected as well as promoted and that human intelligence is used to remove, as far as we can, human suffering and deprivation.

Let me conclude with one important observation that exercises me constantly as a recipient of an age-old tradition in the pioneering of the moral law and the tremendous infinite esteem for human life that we cherish and wish to share with the rest of the human family. These are subjects that are still far too delicate and weighty and, as we have seen in this debate already, too controversial to warrant a definitive ruling, decision or vote at this early stage—early both scientifically and morally.

Therefore, what is called for is a further moratorium, as President Clinton advocated not so long ago, before we take steps that cannot be reversed which could lead to incalculable disaster. If we make one slight miscalculation, we may produce monsters over the generations that cannot be undone. Therefore, caution is the order of the day. But let us not forget that our ultimate assignment is to bring healing on the one hand and the supreme dignity of man and his reproduction on the other to bear on us as humans in maintaining a divine order; a human order that will preserve the distinctiveness and uniqueness of our task as men and women made in the image of our creator.

4.48 p.m.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, the noble Lord is highly respected in this House. I have special reasons for thinking about him constantly. I read the Gospels every day and many times Jesus Christ says, "As it is written". I need someone to tell me, and I will come back one day to the noble Lord and ask him, "Where is it written? Where were these famous pronouncements made in the Old Testament?"

Be that as it may. I usually try to speak—as others do in this Chamber—on subjects to which one has devoted a certain amount of prolonged attention. But one cannot always do that. Sometimes one feels so strongly about a matter that, without having been any kind of expert, one must offer one's conviction. I have no difficulty in offering my conviction in relation to human cloning.

I have studied this subject enough recently to be aware that under human cloning human beings will be produced without a father being involved in the reproduction process. There will be no man in the picture; in other words, it will be the end of marriage and of family life. That is the direction in which the cloning of human beings would take us. The idea is revolting to me.

These are the ideas of high-minded people, one of whom has just left the Chamber. Such high-minded people are responsible for science, but we must not let our scientists determine our morals. Very often they are as moral as we are; but their science points in one direction and, although morals may sometimes point in the same direction, on other occasions they may not. As far as I am concerned, the moral conclusion must come first. The cloning of human beings might mean the end of family life and of marriage. I detest that thought and I hope that the proposition will be rejected on every possible ground.

4.51 p.m.

The Earl of Perth

My Lords, first, like many other speakers, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for tabling this Motion. Secondly, I should like to say that I am always happy to follow the noble Earl, Lord Longford, because I find that he and I so often think the same way. The noble Earl puts it more succinctly than I do and manages to be much shorter. Therefore, I shall try to keep an eye on the clock.

Cloning was not a subject to which I had given very much thought. It seemed to me that although the scientists and the doctors were experimenting and working on the subject, it was likely to be a matter for the coming generations—and not us—to think about moral issues and, generally, about what should be done. Then there came a great shock. I have in mind Dolly. I suddenly realised then that we face the moral issues as regards what might be possible now rather than the future generations. When it could apply to humans, it is a tremendous worry; and we are today debating this very subject.

If the Western world, the Jewish world and the Christian world were all of a mind—indeed, I thought that they were, but I am less certain after having listened to some of today's debate—it would good if they were to take a stand and say that, for them, it was out of the question to have human cloning. I was encouraged by hearing that Europe, save for two nations, had so subscribed. I think that it would be a great idea if the British Government could participate in this process with the rest of Europe. We should make it clear that we are firmly behind everyone else in the sense of supporting their decision.

It would be ideal if we could get world opinion together on the matter; in, for example, a United Nations motion. However, I suppose that that is wishing for the impossible. Nevertheless, it is worth a try. After all, if we have got it for Europe, we have already gone some way towards achieving agreement with the rest of the world.

I want to make two particular points. The first is my belief that we should never forget that the human being consists of a body and a soul. The human embryo, as Professor T. F. Torrance puts it, is, an embodied soul and a besouled body". His pamphlet, The Soul and Person of the Unborn Child, published by the Scottish Order of Christian Unity, is invaluable on that point and should be read by all who care about such matters. The poem at the end of the pamphlet is both tragic and unforgettable.

My second point relates to pain and the unborn foetus. For many years, the Women and Children's Welfare Fund and many other organisations have been at great pains to establish this fact against much opinion. Recently—I mean two or three years ago—there was a great change in attitudes and I believe that it is now well established that the human foetus can feel pain. Indeed, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists issued a statement to this effect saying that, at any rate after 26 weeks, one must do all that is possible to avoid causing the unborn pain. That is a great advance. which took many seminars and much publicity in the press to achieve. Indeed, pain is something which has been worried about a great deal in relation to experimentation.

I conclude by saying that I believe that what we decide will be the most momentous and frightening decision that any government could face. It is not a party matter, but its implications can be very near to acts of God. Indeed, I remember what the noble Lord, Lord Jakobovits, said in this connection. However, I repeat: I think that the Government must go very slowly as regards making any change to the present law. This whole subject needs far more debate with the public, with the Churches and with the media than it has been given. I only hope that that debate will take place before any change in the governing rules is allowed.

4.57 p.m.

Lord Stallard

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on introducing today's debate. I have always admired him and have, in the main, always agreed with his expertise on all matters concerned with these human embryology issues. I know that there is no general agreement in the debate, either here or elsewhere. Indeed, one speaker has already quoted the differences of opinion expressed by my noble friend Lord Winston who, unfortunately, has left the Chamber. However, in the past my noble friend has varied his own opinions about whether or not this was a good idea. I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Knight, instanced one or two of his different views. So this is a very complicated subject on which, probably, none of us has firm and fixed views.

I believe it was my noble friend Lord Winston who brought God into the issue. He said that God gave us the brains, the intelligence, and so on, and that we must use them. However, God also laid down a set of rules that we ought to be bearing in mind. He did not say that we could do what we like; indeed, the scriptures do not go that far. There are rules if you accept the scriptures and accept God as the supreme being. If one accepts those things, one also accepts that there are rules. One does not say, "We shall accept that bit but we shall make up our own rules as we go along because God has taught us how to think". That is not how I see the matter. I am simple-minded in this respect. I accept the scriptures and I try to obey them every day. I certainly accept God's will. I do not accept that because God has given us a brain we are entitled to abuse that privilege.

I am not a scientist, as noble Lords will have guessed. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, said that there is a line here which should not be crossed. I could not agree more. If there ever was a line, we have almost reached it. That line should not be crossed. We should not even discuss crossing that line in the way that some people are doing as if different circumstances apply in this area.

I have always taken a keen interest in scientific activities and achievements, of which there are many. I could not enumerate them now. However, this short debate is about cloning. When I first read about the experiments and possibilities in this area in the, wake of the cloned sheep that has already been mentioned, my first reaction was one of repugnance. I know that many thousands of people feel that repugnance. That has been revealed in a number of articles and in a poll carried out by the Daily Telegraph just before Christmas. Many people have expressed their opposition to these activities. This has been nicknamed the "yuk" reaction, as when people first hear of this matter their reaction is to say, "yuk". They cannot imagine who has dreamt up such a policy.

The "yuk" factor is not evidence of an unreasoned reaction. Feelings of repugnance are sometimes an appropriate moral response. We cannot assume that such feelings will lessen upon mature reflection. Two of the leading philosophers of British enlightenment. David Hume and Adam Smith, believed that ethical judgment is rooted in human moral sentiments such as repugnance. There is an argument for and against everything, but what we are witnessing are further signs of public disquiet and repugnance. Scientists should have learnt a lesson from the reaction to genetically modified foods. It was said initially that that was simply a case of the "yuk" factor and that public sentiment would settle down. However, it has not settled down and scientists are having to accept that fact. I suggest that public repugnance will be expressed ever more strongly if the activities we are discussing go ahead. I do not know of anyone who can even contemplate the prospect of creating babies in this way. People always ask about the psychological effects on children who are created in this way.

Those who took part in the poll that I have just mentioned thought that it was unnatural and dangerously self-centred to want to produce a child that was a perfect copy of either the mother or the father. Although such procedures are not yet possible, and would be illegal, some researchers believe that human cloning may be only a few years away. That must frighten all of us. I hope that when my noble friend replies to the debate she will tell us why there has not been a proper parliamentary debate on this matter. Why does it appear that we cannot have an impartial debate on this matter on any television station? A number of debates have taken place but they have all been rigged. No opposing point of view has been submitted. The participants in the debates have all been scientists or doctors, or people who have a vested interest in promoting this subject, as is the case with people who support GM foods. Those vested interests have caused many problems. I hope that my noble friend will be able to give us some hope that the Government take a positive view on this matter. That positive view should be that the Government object to and oppose cloning for any purpose.

5.4 p.m.

Baroness Ryder of Warsaw

My Lords, we have now reached 28th April 1999. Who would have imagined—I include myself in this, especially because during the war I served with the highly secret Polish Section of Special Forces (SOE)—that we would be told on the Floor of your Lordships' House about the idea or desire to use human embryos for cloning? This, most sadly, is a proof of our semi-pagan society.

Assurances were given by the then government in 1990 that IVF would be used only for the benefit of infertile couples. Now, IVF is being used for "social" reasons, for example, to allow career women to choose when they want to have their children. We must therefore be extremely suspicious of current proposals that the use of cloning technology will remain under the strictest scrutiny. Frankly, that is just waffle.

The sanctity of marriage and the sacrament of God giving children drifts further and further away from the minds of millions—such, alas, is Britain today. As Christians and believers—and always remembering our Jewish friends—we should express our total shock about that which is against God's law. As a Catholic, I am appalled by these proposals. I also try to represent Poland, where the government, Church and people are horrified to hear what is happening here.

I was witness to what the Germans carried out in the majority of over 7,000 death and concentration camps all over Europe where every variety of experiment, including human cloning, was carried out on people of over 40 nationalities and of all age groups. I believe that those of us who fought in the war realised we were fighting evil in all its worst forms. We did not fight to defeat all the evil deeds of the whole Nazi system between 1933 and 1945 only to sanction, over 50 years later, equal evil to be taxed on humanity in what used to be our proud and united country of Britain. To quote Edmund Burke, One that confounds good and evil is an enemy to good". Burke also wrote, For evil to triumph it is only necessary for good men to do nothing".

5.7 p.m.

Lord Ashbourne

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for introducing this debate before the Government respond to the review of the Human Genetics Advisory Commission and the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority entitled, Cloning Issues in Reproduction, Science and Medicine.

This review concluded that human reproductive cloning should not be allowed, in line with widespread concern about such a possibility. This would mean that no cloned human baby, child or adult could be created. However, the review recommended that the Government should permit the creation of cloned human embryos by nuclear transfer in order to develop and grow stem cells to produce tissues and cells for transplantation. This would require an amendment to the current law.

Those in favour of using embryos argue that it will bring medical benefits such as the possibility of more successful transplants. However, the fact that there seem to be beneficial possibilities to a programme of research does not in itself justify that programme. Given how controversial the whole area of embryo research remains, both in this country and worldwide, it seems surprising that the review did not consider the ethical concerns arising from the creation, manipulation and destruction of cloned human embryos in order to use their cells in other humans. Such use inevitably raises afresh questions about the status of the embryo and the use to which an embryo can be put in scientific research.

Like many others, I believe that life begins at conception. Even those who do not hold that view will generally acknowledge that human embryos have a special status and should not be misused in any way, particularly on the scale necessary for this research. The deliberate destruction of hundreds of thousands more human embryos at 14 days does not seem consistent with the view expressed in the Warnock Report that the, embryo of the human species ought to have a special status". In 1975 the Declaration of Helsinki embodied these words: In research on man, the interest of science and society should never take precedence over considerations related to the well-being of the subject". It continued: The doctor can combine medical research with professional care, the objective being the acquisition of new medical knowledge, only to the extent that medical research is justified by its potential diagnostic and therapeutic value for the patient". In conclusion, there are significant issues at stake which have not been fully or widely considered and debated. Once human cloning of any type or for any purpose is allowed, it will be very difficult, probably impossible, to recall it. So, while there still remains a technological barrier to the creation of human cloned embryos, I believe that there is a need to fully debate and consider the ethical issues, and the implications inherent in allowing their creation, before heading down the path of human cloning of any kind whatever.

5.11 p.m.

Viscount Craigavon

My Lords, I speak as one who supported and was involved in the passing of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill in 1990. I fully support the role of the HFEA and the way it has proceeded in regulating the Act. I hope that it is now fully clear to the House that if we accept, or had accepted, the fundamentalist position of the noble Lord, Lord Alton—certainly in relation to the 14-day period—none of the benefits of the 1990 Act would have followed.

I am sure that at that time, just as now, the noble Lord was raising the argument that this was the thin end of the wedge. Today we have had, as expected, the "slippery slope" argument, which is right when it is used in the proper context, but it has to be judged in the context under discussion. I have been trying to work out how many of the noble Lord's supporters in the debate today are like-minded and believe that we still should not be able to use the 14-day period specified in the Act.

Perhaps I may reminisce for a moment. I well remember the seminal key debate in the House at the Committee stage of the 1990 Bill, when there was a free vote according to conscience. The House, in its wisdom, voted by a massive majority of about three to one—the figures were 234 to 80—in favour of keeping the Bill as it was. Obviously, a clear majority was obtained in the other place.

In that debate, the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, made a key speech, which was extremely influential in this Chamber. I am sorry that he is not able to be here today. He is, unfortunately, on a lecture tour in Canada. The noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brampton, was most instrumental in assembling the support on our side of the debate in that Bill. I know that he would have liked to have spoken in the debate, but unfortunately he is not able to be present today.

The noble Lord, Lord Alton, asked for a clear line to be drawn. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford said that we had drawn a line at 14 days. That is what happened in the House in 1990. I am surprised that we are still continuing to debate the matter in the way that we are. Obviously, we are allowed to revisit old arguments. but the argument was decided then. I see no reason to change the fundamental 14-day period which, in my opinion, has worked very well. I approved of the other points in the speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford when he talked about the prodigality of nature and using the environment.

The steps taken by the HFEA are the best that we can take. We are talking about what we can do in this country. We have raised the spectre of what happens in America, Mexico and Korea, but we are trying to approve a suitable regulatory framework which can control what happens in this country.

The noble Lord raised the matter of what has been approved under the Council of Europe protocol. He has made quite an issue of it in the Questions he has put down for Written Answer. I am sure that the Minister will tell us the answer, which is very simple and does not reflect on the Government. We have not signed the protocol to the treaty referred to. One simply cannot sign a protocol to a treaty unless one signs the treaty itself. The reason we have not signed the treaty has nothing to do with human cloning and therefore the remarks about the speech of President Chirac are, in my opinion, completely irrelevant.

The provisions in the original Act have operated well. The two recommendations now before us in the report—to establish procedures which could not have been anticipated at the time—are, after nine years, a reasonable step forward. I find the report well balanced and moderate. The recommendation that there should be another review in five years' time is not the uncontrolled haste in this field that some people are warning against. The report has clearly and fairly placed before us the possibility of putting the banning of human cloning into primary legislation. It is clear that the Government and the HFEA are against that. All the spectres raised today, which are designed to worry us about what might happen, are very much dreams and ideas for the future. We must concentrate on the immediate years to come.

The noble Lord, Lord Alton, asked for a proper debate on this subject. I am not sure that the debate today has been the measured and reasoned debate that I should like. Following the Government's response to the HFEA and HGAC report, I understand that there is nothing to stop a debate taking place in the House. I am sure that there will be a debate in another place.

Finally, perhaps I may say to the noble Lord that it is not helpful to a reasoned debate in Parliament to raise the spectres of "sub-species of human clones" and "nightmare kingdoms". It does not help to raise by association a farrago of fears about Dolly, goats, and abortion. We have a regulatory system—we are very lucky to have it—through the HFEA. We are making slow progress by slow steps. I hope that that progress will continue.

5.19 p.m.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

My Lords, the subject of this debate is truly fascinating, involving as it does issues of scientific ethics, religion and morality, human health and the nature of the human person, and the requirement for legislation and government action. I am genuinely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for bringing forward the debate, even though I disagree with much of what he said. It has been a struggle for me to understand the subject of the debate. But the effort has been rewarding and it does us all good to be obliged to think seriously about such issues. I join other noble Lords in welcoming to the Chamber the noble Baroness, Lady O'Neill of Bengarve, who made a most distinguished, balanced and calm contribution to the debate.

The remote possibility that humans could be cloned is a typically contemporary issue. Throughout history, "modern thinking" or "science" has challenged accepted truths. The problem in our time is that so many things are changing so fast. The press carries news of potential change, often less than accurately, to every citizen. So criticism of new scientific developments, particularly when they seem to upset not just the settled human order, but the "natural order" itself, is more acute and more widespread than in earlier ages.

Reading the briefings and listening to the debate, the basis for non-acceptance of, or doubts about, human cloning seem to fall into several categories. The approach that it is immoral to take on God's powers or that interference with nature is unacceptable may well be stimulated by comments such as those of Julian Savulescu of the ethics unit, The Murdoch Institute for Genetic Research, Melbourne, who said recently: Some people think that human zygotes are special because they have the potential to create people. Cloning has shattered that belief. There is no morally significant difference between a fertilised egg in a petri dish in an IVF clinic … a cloned cell, and a skin cell: they could all be persons, with the application of modern technology". That statement can be turned entirely upside down to support the position of the noble Lord, Lord Alton.

There is the fear of the effect cloning could have on the status of the cloned infant or on society at large. The noble Baroness, Lady O'Neill, spoke convincingly on that issue. There are doubts about the safety of the technology. There are accusations that cloning could become a source of profit for a few large pharmaceutical companies and that it is being pushed forward by them for that purpose and possibly with inappropriate speed. There are accusations that the whole fertility/cloning area of medicine is just one more example of dominant male science trying to control women's reproductive processes. There are arguments that the techniques of cloning do not offer the only route to more effective therapies and could be more difficult and more expensive than the development of cell culture of neural brain or bone marrow stem cells.

I am a politician and not a moral philosopher or a scientist. Like many others, including the Liberal Democrat working party currently debating these issues, I am hard-pressed to decide on the merits of these arguments. What is more, in a 10-minute speech, I do not have time. I will just say, however, that my sympathies lie rather with the noble Lord, Lord Winston, and the right reverend Prelate than with the words of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, or the noble Baronesses, Lady Blatch and Lady Ryder of Warsaw. In any case what is quite clear is that these arguments give cause for government and legislators to proceed with great caution. Furthermore, history teaches us that the law-making process cannot outrun or lag behind the accepted ethic of the day by too large a margin without causing some level of unrest. Today public opinion is unmistakably opposed to the creation of cloned human beings.

Finally, it seems clear, as the noble Lord, Lord Winston, also reminded us, that cloning of animals is accompanied by a very high risk of foetal abnormalities and perinatal mortality. One might say that this renders the process of cloning unacceptable for animals, let alone for human beings. It is in this area that doubts about the motivation of those who are pushing this technology seem most justifiable. The history of the introduction of GM foods gives a vivid example of the case.

The Government have responded by resolutely setting their face against the creation of full human clones, as a number of recent Answers to the Questions of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, I have indicated. The noble Viscount, Lord Craigavon, gave other instances of the current policy background to this subject. But if today we reject full cloning of human beings, other options for progressing beyond what is permitted under current legislation exist, options which may or may not be seen as acceptable. That, I believe, is the distinction which the noble Lord, Lord Winston, made earlier.

First, there is the culture of cloned cells to provide tissue, such as bone marrow, for patients whose bodies would not reject the tissue because it would be genetically identical to their own. Secondly, there is the transfer of a cell nucleus from one woman's egg to another and its subsequent fertilisation by the intended father's sperm for the purpose of avoiding the transmission from the woman to her offspring of mitochondrial disease. The joint report of the Human Genetics Advisory Commission and the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority recommend that these two procedures should be added to the list of subjects, research into which is permitted by the 1990 Act. Their view is that all of this could be done by regulation under the Act. I therefore wish to ask the Minister: when do the Government anticipate responding to that report? Are the Government minded to accept that recommendation?

The question also arises as to other actions the Government should now take in the light of the report itself and of the rapid technological change and public ignorance of that change which in part prompted it. In an interesting article in The Times Educational Supplement of 2nd April this year, the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, whose status in this subject is unimpeachable, broadly supported the suggestion of the establishment of a Royal Commission to study and report back on issues connected with genetic engineering in general. The body could also publish its reports, the minutes of its meetings and the evidence submitted to it. But, sadly, she clearly had doubts about the possibility of such a body today being completely independent or being listened to with respect and confidence.

In the closing sentences of her article the noble Baroness suggested that the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, which is due to publish its report on GM foods in May, could be kept in being as a permanent commission to examine genetic issues as they arise. Such a commission could help to remedy the state of unreadiness to face these issues, to which the noble Lord, Lord Alton, referred in his speech, by monitoring and evaluating the rapid changes in technology which are part of the problem. It could provide a rational, detached source of information to government and public alike. It could assess the risk of genetic technology becoming the private property of individual companies and of such companies driving the law ahead of popular consent in the search for profits, as is the case with GM foods. Have the Government given serious thought to this kind of permanent body and, if so, what are their conclusions?

We have had a long and interesting debate. Some noble Lords took more than their time. I am very willing to sit down with one minute of mine unexpired.

5.28 p.m.

Earl Howe

My Lords, this has been a debate of exceptional interest and importance, and I should straightaway like to express my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for his timely Motion and for his very thoughtful introductory speech.

If ever there was a topic that cried out for debate within the calm and measured procedures of your Lordships' House, it is surely this one. The ethical issues arising from the matters that the noble Lord has raised are as complex as they are deep. Yet even amidst a calm and measured discussion such as ours this afternoon, it is all too apparent how divergent views can be and how closely interwoven are the three underlying components of ethical principle, reason and emotion. That is significant when we come to realise that parliamentary debate, invaluable as it may be, is not on its own able to provide a sufficiently robust foundation for government decision-making in a matter such as this. The other vital precondition is surely to have a good measure of public consensus.

If I am conscious of one thing about this particular ethical issue, it is that in many respects it is a new one, and that the public debate, which is only just beginning, has been outpaced by the progress of the science. As we have seen all too clearly with the issue of genetically modified foods, that situation is always a worrying one. Although a good deal of the press coverage on cloning that I have seen has been balanced and informed, at the same time we can discern from some of the language that is used that, if we are not careful, scope exists for over-simplification and the kind of public debate that we decidedly do not want; namely, the kind of media treatment that moves in short order from rational argument to unreasoning hysteria.

So, informing the public is as important as listening to them. The process must not be unduly rushed. In other words, we want to avoid a situation in which the public feel that the pace of the agenda is being driven by impatient commercial interests. That situation is almost guaranteed to induce a knee-jerk reaction, not a considered one.

That said, the main and very clear message that has emerged from public consultation to date is that so-called reproductive cloning is anathema to most people. The report published last December by the HGAC and the HFEA set out the arguments clearly. The most compelling of those centre around the unacceptability of seeking to create a human being without the interests of that person being uppermost. The other, quite different, issue is that nuclear replacement carries a high risk of congenital malformation and miscarriage. The Government have already said clearly that the legalisation of human cloning for reproductive purposes is not to be countenanced, and I wholeheartedly endorse that position.

The debate therefore centres on whether cloning experiments should be permitted under strictly controlled conditions with a view to establishing what benefits the technique may bring to the treatment of disease. In that context, let me say without further ado that 1 agree with the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on a number of matters. I agree that simply because there is widespread agreement about the need to prohibit reproductive human cloning, that is no reason for us to adopt an unquestioning approach to the morality of what is known as CNR—the replacement of a cell nucleus—for therapeutic purposes. The word "therapeutic" must not distract us. The ethical case for CNR has to be made. I am very far from clear that that case was made by the HGAC and HFEA in their report.

I also profoundly agree with the noble Lord that moral values which espouse the sanctity of all human life should not be overridden in the name of expediency or the inexorable march of science. Those who proclaim such values uphold the best and most precious features of a civilised society, and if we depart from them, we must never do so lightly. Now, in the same breath, we also need to recognise that although many individuals adhere in their personal lives to a code of moral absolutes—or try to, our legal system, in so far as it attempts to balance different interests in society, cannot do that. Yet even a code founded on moral relativism ought to take as a starting-point that amidst the sometimes conflicting values of a society, certain values, such as the inherent worth of a human individual, should enjoy a status that is pre-eminent.

But if our aim is to inform the public, one of the issues about which we ought to be clear is the need to distinguish between the separate strands of what might be termed the "ethical backdrop". One strand is the issue of cloning; another is the issue of using human embryos for the purpose of research. If, like the noble Lord. Lord Alton, you believe that the use of embryos for scientific experiments is unacceptable on absolute moral grounds, you are not likely to be persuaded that the use of a cloned embryo is any the less repugnant, whatever its intended purpose.

Nevertheless, the strands need to be separated. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 established, as a result of decisive parliamentary majorities in both Houses, that there were limited sets of circumstances when research on the human embryo up to 14 days was permissible. That decision may not be to the liking of everyone. There is, indeed, a case for asking Parliament to revisit such legislation at intervals to ensure that it still holds good. But I respectfully suggest to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, that it was not illogical or irresponsible of the joint committee of the HGAC/HFEA to have examined the issue of cloning as a discrete matter within the context of the existing law.

One criticism advanced against the current proposal for therapeutic cloning is that it treats the creation of an embryo as a means to an end and not an end in itself. But, like it or not, that is what the law already allows. The purpose proposed is indeed new; but I suggest that the moral Rubicon of embryo usage is one that has already been crossed. The point at issue, therefore, is whether the intended purpose is ethically acceptable or not, and whether cloning, per se, presents us with a real moral difficulty.

To take the second of those issues first, I have heard no argument that convinces me that replicating the genome of a living individual is of itself a morally dubious course of action. However, I am of course open-minded on this. As to the new intended purpose of embryo usage, I am hesitant. That there may be medical benefits in prospect, albeit some way down the road, I have little doubt. What I am not clear about, however, is whether the claims that are made are well founded, or whether experiments involving human cloning provide the only possible route to securing those benefits. If they do, the proposal deserves a fair and dispassionate hearing. If they do not, and there is an alternative on the horizon, as some reports suggest there is, I do not think that the case has been made. We ought to start from the position that if research using embryos can be avoided, we have a moral duty to avoid it.

So I come back to the point at which I started. Science should be accountable to the public for what it does. In my view, the Warnock report was well handled by the previous government; it was allowed to gestate and gain support before any attempt was made to legislate. The same process is needed here. Parliamentarians should not propose to crystallise the issue in statute or regulation without deep reflection or in isolation from informed public opinion. I look forward to the Minister's reply.

5.39 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Baroness Hayman)

My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for providing the opportunity to debate these issues. There was a widespread view when the noble Lord recently asked a Starred Question on the subject that such a debate should take place. The debate provoked by the noble Lord has been wide-ranging, well-informed and deeply felt. We have heard a wide variety of views, ranging from ethical nightmares to scientific dreams—sometimes posing false dichotomies between the two. None of the contributions has lacked understanding of the need for respect for the issues of human dignity that are entailed in these considerations. or the need for the ethical debate to keep pace with the scientific debate when we make far-reaching decisions in these areas.

We have also had contributions that, in the noble Lord's terminology, have been both clever and wise. One was the very distinguished maiden speech of the noble Baroness, Lady O'Neill of Bengarve. She brought to this debate particular knowledge and expertise, not least from her role as a member and now acting chair of the Human Genetics Advisory Commission. I am sure that everyone in this House welcomes the noble Baroness and her contribution today. Perhaps those of us who are alumnae of Newnham take particular pleasure in having the principal of their old college as a Member of your Lordships' House.

When considering these issues it is important to do so in the broadest of contexts, as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Alton. We should also do so without any unnecessary stereotyping or assumption that scientists have no sense of responsibility of the enormity of some of the ethical dilemmas produced by their creativity. The need to welcome and celebrate what science can achieve was very well described by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford. The noble Lord, Lord Jakobovits, also reminded us of the duty to explore creativity and potential advances that contribute to human wellbeing. We should not assume that scientific advances are necessarily bad, any more than we should assume that simply because something can be done it should be done or that the implications in the widest social, moral and ethical setting should not be well considered.

I hope, therefore, that noble Lords will understand if I do not answer the question posed by the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood. The noble Baroness asked what the Government were minded to do in this area. There were enough calls this afternoon for a wide-ranging and well considered debate to indicate that the Government should move very carefully and slowly in response to the recommendations of the report. I should like to take the comments made in your Lordships' House and feed them into the consideration of the report.

I have also taken careful note of the calls by the Benches opposite and my noble friend Lord Stallard for a debate in another place on these issues. However, the noble Earl, Lord Howe, was quite right to suggest that it is not only in Parliament that these issues need to be debated. I shall certainly pass on those comments to the business managers in another place. I am not responsible for business management in another place; nor am I responsible for the editorial policy of television companies as to the coverage that they give to these issues. However, those who have suggested that we would all benefit from a well informed public in these areas are absolutely right.

Before I turn to the question of cloning, like other noble Lords perhaps I may set the scene in respect of embryo research generally. Many who have spoken today are clearly familiar with the workings of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990. However, it bears repeating because there may be some misunderstanding about the extent to which the Act controls the use of human embryos in infertility treatment and research. These issues were first considered by the committee led by the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, to whom tributes have been paid today. That committee reported in 1984. Following considerable public consultation, that committee concluded that embryo research should be permitted subject to strict safeguards, not least that such research should be limited to very early embryos; that is, only up to the 14th day after fertilisation. As has been pointed out, after further public consultation by the then government the majority of the report's recommendations were introduced into Parliament, debated at considerable length and approved in the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990.

Some noble Lords have put forward the "slippery slope" argument and said that we should not embark on any of these issues at all. Perhaps I should declare an interest. I first became involved in consideration of these ethical issues when the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists set up an ethics committee to consider what its response should be to the Warnock Committee, on which I served as a lay member. Certainly, the "slippery slope" argument was put forward then. When one is on a slippery slope perhaps one should have some strong, trusty and reliable boots. Those boots may take the form of a moral and ethical framework in which one considers the issues.

The framework created by the 1990 Act is very well respected and has made the United Kingdom one of the world leaders, having the most comprehensive regulation and oversight of developments in these areas. It is also one in which the benefits that we have seen have not been accompanied by some of the worst fears as to what may happen. Although I respect the view of some noble Lords that ab initio the recommendations were not correct and breached an ethical and moral rule with which they were not comfortable, in the main the Act has been considered to work very well.

I say to my noble friend Lord Longford that between 1991 and 1997 27,777 children were born as a result of IVF techniques. That has been a very considerable contribution to strengthening the family and marriage and is one that we should not undervalue in this area.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, does my noble friend deny that if cloning proceeds it is possible to have children without fathers?

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, very soon I shall turn to the position of the Government on reproductive cloning which is very much the same as that of my noble friend; namely, that we do not envisage that possibility or find it ethically acceptable.

Perhaps I may refer to the suggested profligacy in the use of embryos, particularly very early ones. Of the total of just over 600,000 embryos created in the six years between 1991 and March 1997, which is the latest date for which verified figures are available, nearly half have been used in treatment; one-quarter stored for future treatment and some 43,000 used in research. Therefore, we are not talking about hundreds of thousands of wasted embryos.

Much of the debate today has centred on the joint Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority and Human Genetics Advisory Commission report Cloning Issues in Reproduction, Science and Medicine. The Government received that report in December last year and are considering its recommendations. Perhaps I may seek to clarify what we mean when we talk about human cloning. Human reproductive cloning would involve the birth of a baby who had an identical genetic makeup to another individual, which is the situation to which my noble friend refers.

My noble friend Lord Stallard asked for a clear statement as to where the Government stand on such techniques. I can give him that. It has been made clear in another place and in your Lordships' House, but I make no apology for repeating what we have said before. Our position on human reproductive cloning remains firmly that such cloning is ethically unacceptable and will not be permitted within the United Kingdom. There is recognition of this in the joint HFEA/HGAC report, and the public support given in response to the consultation on that report demonstrated that public consensus to which the noble Earl referred. There is no ambiguity in the Government's position.

I should like to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Alton, of that lack of ambiguity. Nothing sinister should be inferred from the fact that we have not signed the cloning protocol to the Council of Europe Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine. Perhaps I may add to what the noble Viscount, Lord Craigavon, said on this point. The Government played an active role in the development of this protocol, which was opened for signature on 12th January 1998, and we fully support the principle it enshrines. However, a member state of the Council of Europe can sign a protocol only if it has previously signed the relevant convention under which the protocol was developed. In this case that is the Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine. That convention contains a wide range of complex ethical and legal provisions. In particular, the provisions on research on persons not able to give consent have aroused some public concern. As noble Lords will be aware, the Government have therefore undertaken a wide public consultation on these provisions as part of the wider consultation on decision-making for people who are mentally incapacitated.

We have to consider the responses to this consultation before we can address the question of signing the Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine. But that is the reason for that position rather than any issue on cloning. As the noble Earl, Lord Perth, suggested, a broader international community beyond Europe is also addressing the issue of human cloning. In November 1997 the member states of UNESCO unanimously agreed the declaration of human rights and the human genome which includes a prohibition on human reproductive cloning. I hope that I can reassure the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on that point.

I wish also to reassure him that there is nothing sinister in the fact that the report was placed in the Library of the House, and that, in accordance with usual practice, individual responses to consultation were not placed in the Library. It has been made clear that, in line with normal practice and where respondents have not asked for confidentiality, individual submissions to the consultation may be viewed by arrangement with the HGAC secretariat.

Some doubts have been cast on the membership of the working party which undertook some of the preliminary work for the report. I stress that Ministers make appointments to the bodies fully in accordance with the guidelines issued by the Commissioner for Public Appointments. The report is a report of the two bodies, not simply of the working group. If noble Lords look at the lists included in the report, they will note that membership of those bodies represents a wide range of knowledge, background and experience. It brings together people from many different areas, adding expertise to the subject, and ensures transparency in further consultations which take place.

While I speak of reassurance, reference has been made to an article in the Sunday Times about a doctor who said that he wishes to clone embryos in order to store a back-up embryo to recreate a child to ease the parents' grief in the event of the first child's death. I shall clarify the position. While one form of cloning is specifically banned by the 1990 Act, as regards embryo splitting a licence would be required from the HFEA. The authority has made crystal clear that it will not licence cloning by embryo splitting for treatment purposes. I should make clear that the authority has received no such application, as reported in the Sunday Times.

The recommendations made by the report would require changes to the regulations under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act and would require careful consideration. The use of cloning techniques for research into therapy or treatment is a very different issue to that of human reproductive cloning. I have made the position clear on that. These techniques, which involve the replication of individual cells, have long been used in medical research and treatment—for example, in the development and use of vaccines, and for producing skin grafts for burn victims. We would not wish to disturb the long-existing arrangements in medical research and treatment which have brought and continue to bring so many benefits to so many people.

I emphasise that any decision to extend the currently permitted purposes of research involving human embryos requires the most careful consideration. I believe that the tenor of today's debate has been that the Government should not be rushed into giving their response on such a sensitive and wide-ranging issue. The HFEA and HGAC consulted widely before making their recommendations. It is right that we take full account of the views expressed in the course of that consultation. The Government's response will be made in due course. Today's debate has been a timely occasion for Members of your Lordships' House to put their views.

These are exciting times in terms of potential developments in science, technology and medicine. We hear regularly of advances; for example, research into treatments for cancer, heart disease and other serious debilitating illnesses. The human genome project, which is close to completion, offers literally amazing potential for better understanding of the genetic contribution to many diseases and the developments of safer medicines. We must not be carried away on a tide of enthusiasm for what might be and allow it to undermine the basic need for a clear-sighted ethical, moral and social evaluation of the consequences of these potential changes. Neither should we be so frightened that we do not make advances which have enormous potential benefits for medicine and humanity.

5.57 p.m.

Lord Alton of Liverpool

My Lords, it is customary for those winding up these short debates to be brief. I intend to abide by that custom.

I thank the Minister for her remarks about the debate with which I entirely concur. It has been balanced and measured. It has been a timely contribution to the debate about whether cloning of human beings should be permitted. The noble Baroness said that there should be proper access to, and transparency of, all the arguments. I agree. She will be concerned, as I was, that when my research assistant sought to see the submissions he was told that he could do so only under supervision for a period of two hours and could take written notes but could not photocopy the documents. When I requested that the documents be placed in the Library of your Lordships' House, I was told that that would not be possible. I believe that it should be possible for us to have access to those documents so that we can reach balanced conclusions.

I believe also that just as the Government were right recently to replace their advisers on environmental matters because they were seen in the wake of the controversy over GM food to be too close to the industry, they should think carefully also about those who have been advising them on these matters.

I am sure that noble Lords will want me to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady O'Neill of Bengarve, on a magnificent maiden speech. We have a mutual friend who is an academic at St Andrew's University where I am a visiting Fellow. He told me that we could expect erudite contributions from the noble Baroness. We have not been disappointed today. Hers was an authoritative contribution which I know will be weighed by your Lordships. I was especially struck by what she said about the ambiguous and confused heritage which might be the fate of clones were we to proceed down that path. We look forward to her future contributions.

Today, we have heard voices from all parts of the House ranging across many different traditions, ideologies and religions. I was struck by the speeches of my noble friend Lady Ryder of Warsaw; the noble Earls, Lord Longford and Lord Perth; my noble friend Lord Jakobovits and the noble Lord, Lord Stallard. Those voices speak to us out of the din of the hard lessons of the 20th century. They embody wisdom gleaned from this, the bloodiest of centuries. I hope that Members of your Lordships' House who were unable to be present today will read those contributions and ponder their wise advice.

The noble Lord, Lord Jakobovits, told us that we should at all times be prepared to think again and to exercise caution. He called for a moratorium, which I am sure all of us who have spoken today will take to heart and, it is to be hoped, agree with.

The noble Lord, Lord Ashbourne, and the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, raised many moral questions embodied in the debate. My noble friend Lady Knight—she is my noble friend for the purpose of these debates—with whom I co-operated in another place on many such issues, has often been vilified for raising them. She was one of 29 who in 1967 voted against the Abortion Act. Four years ago in another place, we worked together when there was an attempt by scientists at the Rosslyn Institute to take embryos from aborted baby girls to use in fertility treatments. What an extraordinary way that would have been to have come into this world if your Lordships and Members of another place had not decided to use the Criminal Justice Bill to outlaw such a proposal. What a way to come into the world, to have an aborted foetus as your mother, her life having been taken by your grandmother. Just because something may be scientifically possible does not make it right.

The noble Lord, Lord Winston, who I admire enormously and with whom I am often a combatant on these questions, both here and outside, inevitably disagreed with me today. But that does not diminish my respect for him. Indeed, his is a voice to which people will listen and I hope that he will weigh the awesome responsibilities that scientists have in such matters. I am not against science—far from it. I agree with my noble friend Lord Jakobovits that science must be harnessed for the benefit of mankind. It is an important profession. The noble Lord, Lord Winston, accused me of using a blunderbuss and missing my target. He will forgive me if I tease him for sometimes being a moving target. Today he told us that it would not happen, but he has also said that i t could happen and be beneficial. In The Times of 24th February 1997, he said: There is no medical reason for cloning humans and there are obvious risks. I don't think that anyone seriously believes that there would be any benefit to cloning humans". I agree with that entirely, but in the Independent of Monday 12th January 1998, he said: I don't know if cloning human beings could bring benefits, but I think probably, yes". Therefore, we are entitled—

Lord Winston

My Lords, the noble Lord has referred to a newspaper comment. I have never accepted that human cloning is either necessary or desirable, in spite of what has been said in this debate. But the technology is valuable and it is the technology that I would protect and support.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, it is the tradition of the House that the concluding remarks of the mover of the Motion should be brief.

Lord Alton of Liverpool

My Lords, I shall be brief. No doubt the noble Lord, Lord Winston, and I can take up the debate outside.

The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood; the noble Earl, Lord Howe; and the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, speaking from their Front Benches and on behalf of their parties, dealt with great political questions which will be increasingly important to their parties in the future. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford made a speech which I found extremely disappointing. But there are first-class Anglican theologians such as Oliver O'Donovan, Professor Torrance and Michael Banner to whom I would refer him. The noble Lord, Lord Patel, said that cloning human beings would be unethical and carry risks. I agree with him.

In thanking all noble Lords who have taken part, I recall the words of the American Poet, Robert Frost, who said: Two paths diverged in a wood, and I— took the path less traveled by, And that has made all the difference". In 1967, we chose abortion. In 1990, we chose destructive experiments on human embryos. In 1999, we face an equally momentous choice. By repudiating human cloning we may be taking the less travelled path, but to do so will make all the difference. The alternative should be unconscionable. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion for Papers

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

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