HC Deb 18 July 1984 vol 64 cc203-4W
Mr. Sims

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services when he proposes to publish the report of the inquiry into human fertilisation and embryology.

Mr. Fowler

The report of the inquiry into human fertilisation and embryology is being published today. The inquiry was set up in July 1982 under the chairmanship of Dame Mary Warnock. Its terms of reference wereTo consider recent and potential developments in medicine and science related to human fertilisation and embryology; to consider what policies and safeguards should be applied, including consideration of the social, ethical and legal implications of these developments; and to make recommendations.

Membership of the inquiry covered a wide range of professions and interests including doctors, lawyers, scientists, social workers and a theologian. I am grateful to them, and Dame Mary, for producing an important report. We welcome their report particularly because it deals with recent developments in this rapidly expanding field, some of which cause increasing public and parliamentary concern.

The inquiry has made many recommendations covering the different matters that were within its remit. Its main recommendations are:

—certain specialist forms of infertility treatment—in vitro fertilisation, egg and embryo donation and artificial insemination — and the use of human embryos in research are ethically acceptable, subject to stringent controls;

— research on human embryos should only be permitted under licence, up to the 14th day after fertilisation;

—a new, independent statutory body should be established, which the inquiry envisages as having substantial lay representation, to control specialist infertility services and to license and monitor research. This body would licence and monitor research involving the use of human embryos. It could licence and inspect all centres, whether NHS or private, where specialist forms of infertility treatment are carried out. The inquiry sees the body as a mechanism for ensuring that satisfactory standards are maintained in the provision of these services;

—there should be legislation to make provision of surrogacy services by agencies or individual health professionals a criminal offence. Private individuals who enter into surrogacy arrangements should not be liable to criminal prosecution.

We set up this inquiry two years ago because some developments in human fertility treatment and research were causing public concern. Experience since then has shown how timely it has been. Not only has the inquiry produced an important and thorough report, it has also been able to take into account recent developments in a rapidly changing field.

The issues raised by the report arouse strong and widely differing opinions. In some areas there will be a large measure of agreement with the report, but not in others. The vital task which the inquiry has performed is to set out the issues clearly; to produce reasoned judgments; and, where it believes limits have to be set, to define them.

What is required now is for others to make known their views on the inquiry's recommendations. For that reason, we shall be seeking the views of the public and the many interested organisations and will welcome any comments that are submitted to us before the end of the year. We also hope to find an opportunity for the report to be debated in Parliament in the autumn. The Government will consider the recommendations and the comments received carefully before reaching decisions including the scope and content of any legislation that may be required.