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Dr. Harris: I entirely accept the hon. Lady's comments. I also tried to get a ballot. However, I did not call for a vote--it was the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) who did so. He also complained today and yesterday that there was no primary legislation for him to get his teeth into. I accept that without Government time, that is not an effective approach. However, he has also spoken against having primary legislation. The hon. Lady therefore raises a question for him.
Mrs. Campbell: Nevertheless, when one introduces a ten-minute Bill, there is always the possibility that someone will oppose it and force a vote. Although I was happy to sponsor that Bill, it would have been better if we had given hon. Members more time to consider their position. With further consideration and more debate, many hon. Members might change their minds and vote for the regulations.
We had a further full-day debate on 17 November. Many hon. Members, including me, were unable to be present, but we have had an opportunity to read Hansard. Another full day is available to debate the issue today,
Dr. Fox: Does the hon. Lady accept that the fact that the Government changed the draft regulations only yesterday morning and are asking the House to vote on them on Tuesday will be interpreted widely outside the House as providing too little time to consider the implications of the change? The Government will introduce a measure in an unamendable statutory instrument that is not defined, as the Minister admitted earlier today.
Mrs. Campbell: I am not sure that the change in the regulations has created a vastly different principle from that which we thought we were debating as long ago as August, when the Donaldson report was published. The hon. Gentleman has had plenty of opportunities to consider the regulations' implications.
Many people feel that there is no urgency about the matter because if the treatments prove to be viable, they will not be available for another 10 years or so. It is not unusual for medical treatments to require such a time scale for development. We need to be sure that all such treatments are safe and effective. That would mean extensive medical trials before treatments became available. What worries me is that if we do not approve the regulations next week, the start of the research will be delayed. To someone who develops Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis or diabetes in perhaps 10 years' time, it will be hard to explain why we did not take a decision now.
In the previous debate on 17 November, it was alleged that the Parkinson's Disease Society had not consulted its members. I think that we have all received a letter from the chairman of the Parkinson's Disease Society, Janet Sanders, which sets out clearly that that allegation is not true. The society's board of trustees are all democratically elected by society members, and the decision to support the Donaldson recommendations was unanimous. Since then, as the chairman states in her letter, the society has received overwhelming support for its position from its 26,000 members. It is not surprising to me that people who suffer from the disease should want the research to be continued.
I want to address the issue of whether we need embryo stem cell research at all. It is certainly true that adult stem cells have been shown to be more plastic than previously thought. It is possible that such cells may be able to produce dopamine-producing nerve cells, which will benefit Parkinson's disease patients. However, as has been pointed out many times in this debate, the research is at a very early stage. It has not yet been determined that it will be effective, even if adult stem cells are eventually used for stem cell therapy.
Scientists are almost universally agreed that research using embryonic stem cells is required fully to understand the mechanisms whereby cells differentiate into particular cell types. I hope, as I am sure do many others, that once that process is properly understood, it will be possible to use adult rather than embryo stem cells for such purposes. I was struck by the statement from the medical advisory board of the Parkinson's Disease Society. It says:
All hon. Members have constituents who suffer from Parkinson's and other degenerative diseases. Some of them, like my mother, will be very young when it is diagnosed. It is not just patients but their families and friends who will be touched by the disease. Science has been able to offer hope and a remedy to many of those who were previously infertile. I hope that the same can be done for those who suffer from degenerative diseases.
Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East): I am pleased, on this occasion, to support the Government in their attempt to pass regulations in the House on Tuesday night. I recognise, however, that the debate is extremely difficult, and it will no doubt polarise the House on Tuesday night, as it did recently during the ten-minute Bill.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell), I feel that the introduction of that ten-minute Bill was a great mistake. The hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris), who introduced it, said that he did not expect a vote. I suggest that he was rather naive in that assumption--the topic was so controversial that it was bound to precipitate a vote.
I hope only that some of the hon. Members who voted against the ten-minute Bill on that occasion will have read as much as I have read, will have been to as many seminars and lectures on the subject as I and other hon. Members have and that they will have reversed their opinions by Tuesday night. I also hope that they will attempt to read the major debates of 17 November and today in Hansard.
Dr. Harris: I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, but it should be noted that a number of organisations thought that the vote--adverse though it was--was helpful. It spurred a number of organisations that had been pretty quiet on the subject to say why they supported the regulations, which, it had been assumed, would be passed in a relatively simple fashion. After the event, I certainly was alive to the need to persuade scientists and patients' organisations to put their case.
If the result of Tuesday's vote is close, part of the explanation will be the fact that those organisations--somewhat late in the day in many cases--rose to the challenge of persuading Members who, like the hon. Gentleman, want to hear all the arguments.
Let me say at the outset that I do not represent any religious group, or indeed any group. I have not been pressurised by the biotechnology or the pharmaceutical industry; indeed, I have little knowledge of life sciences, although my knowledge has increased considerably in the
I should also say at the outset that, while I have great respect for those with religious views, I hope that their dogma will not prevail and that independent thought will win the day. I shall return to the question of religion towards the end of my speech.
The hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) described the debate as a moral maze. Scientists will present Parliament with many moral mazes in the near and, indeed, the distant future, because we are on the verge of some surprising scientific discoveries.
It might seem strange to pro-life groups that someone such as me, who strongly supported the private Member's Bill proposed by the hon. Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton)--the Medical Treatment (Prevention of Euthanasia) Bill--should now hold what seems to be the opposite view. I shall try to give my reasons as plainly as possible.
One difference between this and the euthanasia debate, if I may refer to it in that way, is that our debate on stem cell research is taking place in Government time. We have not yet debated euthanasia in this Government's time, although euthanasia is creeping up on us: indeed, some would argue that it has already arrived. Parliament can, of course, remain in tight control of embryology research; it demonstrated that with the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990, and the authority that was set up as a result of that Act--the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, which strictly regulates research on this subject.
The authority is accountable to Parliament, which is extremely important. I am led to believe that it could permit the cloning of embryos now. It has obviously chosen not to do so, and has sought the permission of Parliament before allowing research in that field. That point was made earlier. However, the creation of embryos, and particularly their cloning to derive cells and tissues for therapeutic treatment, requires new legislation.
I am slightly critical of the way in which the Government handle scientific issues. I think they handle other major issues very differently. We have all observed the recent problems in the food safety arena: the BSE crisis and, lately, the issue of genetically modified crops are the most extreme examples. The public were largely left in the dark about the substance of the debates on those issues, which, on the whole, have been led by hyperactive media looking for the best possible headlines. However, we are in danger of upsetting the public again by not fully engaging them in this important debate, which is as worthy of prime Government time as any other.
It is a mistake to arrange debates--admittedly, in this case, two five-hour debates--on Fridays, when most Members are in their constituencies. I had to rearrange a whole day's business today, and I think others could have done the same if they felt as strongly as I do. Similarly, presenting the regulations at 10 pm next Tuesday following only a 90-minute debate, in which only Front Benchers will have a fair crack of the whip, will give the