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2.24 pm

Mr. Paul Marsden (Shrewsbury and Atcham): I was not going to speak on the motion, but having listened to the magnificent defence of Parliament by the hon.

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Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack), I want to echo his words, however humbly. This is yet another example of us rushing through a Bill in which there is great interest in the country. Many of my constituents who have contacted me over the past week want to see me at my usual surgery on Friday, where they will be able to hear me justify my standpoint, which is to support the Opposition's amendment. Unfortunately, they cannot influence my decision because it will be after the event.

There is no excuse for rushing the Bill through. I worry again about the future of parliamentary democracy when Ministers choose to take such a tack. I wish that they would reflect a little more on the need to give proper time for the due process of parliamentary procedures.

2.25 pm

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): The hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Mr. Marsden) makes a powerful point. Several issues have been raised by hon. Members from both the main Opposition parties. One issue that has not been taken up is the need to consult the experts, because this is such a technical Bill, as well as our constituents.

I am sure that I am not alone in receiving representations. I received a good letter from the Minister and briefings from the Association of Medical Research Charities, the public policy department of Christian Action Research and Education, the Parkinson's Disease Society and the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children. Previously, I received briefing material from the diabetics organisations.

We are dealing with highly technical issues. The whole point of having different stages to consider a Bill is to enable people to give us advice. I sometimes think that the advice of people from outside who lobby us is not useful, and I wonder about the motivation for lobbying. However, for a technical Bill of this nature, I think that we would all welcome lobbying from those who know about the subject.

For example, there is an argument whether we need to perform such cloning in the first place. I happen to believe that we do, but many other hon. Members on both sides of the House would argue that adult stem cells can do the job. I doubt that, but I do not know. None of us does, but the experts could advise us. Surely it makes sense to hear the arguments on Second Reading today and then receive representations from people who know about the subject, so that we can take the Bill to the next stage.

I calculated earlier that possibly three and three quarter minutes might be available for each amendment, but I made a mistake. The Chairman of Ways and Means has chosen the amendments that he believes are in order and merit debate. Is there not the possibility that hon. Members might want to divide on them? A Division could take 15 or 20 minutes, so there would be virtually no time available for Report or Third Reading. That makes a mockery of the parliamentary process.

I am pleased that this issue will be subject to a one-line Whip, at least in the official Opposition. I assume that there is no whipping of Labour Members. As with all

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issues that require a one-line Whip or that are debated on the Floor in a Committee of the whole House, they require consideration and technical advice.

Mr. Paul Marsden: Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will be interested to know that Labour Members were paged just a few minutes ago to remind us that we are running a three-line Whip.

Michael Fabricant: I am genuinely surprised by that intervention. Generally, on conscience issues, there is an understanding on both sides of the House that there will be a one-line Whip—[Interruption.] I am receiving confirmation from the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler), who speaks for the Liberal Democrats, that it is a one-line Whip with his party, too. That is a free vote. However, there is not a free vote for Labour Members. That is disgraceful and shocking. I say that as someone who wishes the general principle of the Bill to receive a fair wind. I want the Bill to be enacted, albeit that it may need amendment.

Mr. Michael Jabez Foster (Hastings and Rye): Perhaps the pager of my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Marsden) has gone wrong. It is the obligation of Members to turn up to vote on important issues. However, their right to vote and which way they vote is a free vote. That is precisely what the Government are asking Back-Bench Members to do.

Michael Fabricant: I do not want to take this argument too far, or I would be out of order. We are all aware of the convention on whipping. A free vote is a one-line Whip. A vote that is not a free vote is a three-line Whip. The hon. Gentleman did not deny that the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham was put under a three-line Whip.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman is drifting away from the question of allocation of time. Perhaps he will return to that topic.

Michael Fabricant: I am grateful for your advice, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

As small as it is, the Bill is an important measure. Only slightly fewer than 1 million people suffer from diabetes, for example. On Sunday, I was going round Bletchley Park looking at station X with a friend. He had twice to inject himself with insulin. If he does not get the balance right, he could go blind or lose a limb. Research that could stem from the Bill could possibly find a cure for diabetes and for Parkinson's disease. The Bill will—

Miss Anne Begg (Aberdeen, South): The hon. Gentleman might be in danger of misleading the House. The Bill will not prevent therapeutic cloning; it is designed to prevent reproductive cloning. He must keep the two issues separate.

Michael Fabricant rose

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman firmly that we are not now discussing the contents of the Bill.

Michael Fabricant: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I want to respond to the hon. Lady's intervention. She is right, and I am sorry if I gave the wrong impression. I support the Bill because I support therapeutic cloning.

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I have illustrated that the Bill is complex. It is complex in law, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) said. It is also complex in terms of biomedicine. Hon. Members on both sides of the House will argue the points for and against the Bill on Second Reading. We shall then need time to contemplate the issues that have been raised and presented. We shall then have to take advice from experts.

There is conflicting advice. I talked earlier about whether we need therapeutic cloning. I happen to believe that we do, but we must take advice from experts.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is listening to the advice that I am giving him. We are not now discussing the contents of the Bill.

Michael Fabricant: I realise that, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We are talking about the programme motion. I am making the important point that we need extra time because of the nature of the Bill. It is a technical measure and we need gaps between the stages of consideration.

The Government are being arrogant in the extreme by trying to compress all stages of consideration into only three hours. The time for consideration may be shorter because there may be four or five Divisions before we reach 7 o'clock, when the debate must stop.

The hon. Member for North Cornwall said that there is an extra day available. My hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) said that the issue has been known about since August 2000, more than a year ago. There have been adequate occasions since then to find time fully to debate the important Bill that is before us. The Bill is a panicked measure from a panicked Government. I fear that by not allowing proper time to debate it fully, we shall end up yet again with legislation that is imperfect.

2.35 pm

Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak): As a supporter of therapeutic cloning, I understand the necessity to bring forward the Bill. As a supporter of the Bill, I am rather surprised to find myself supporting much of what the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) said. Similarly, I am surprised to find myself supporting the comments made in a letter from the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, which wrote to all Members. Part of the letter states:

Surely, the society is right.

The Bill is fairly urgent, but it is not an emergency measure. It is more urgent that we consider the aspects of cloning that are not covered by the Bill. Much more imminent is the likelihood that people will seek to create cloned embryos, or embryos produced by other means that are not covered by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990, for experimental purposes prior to implantation. As the right hon. Lady says, what happens after that is difficult to regulate.

The Government thought that they were clear that embryos created by cloning techniques were covered by the 1990 Act. They took counsel's advice. They were

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warned that we might be in the position in which we now find ourselves in 1997 by the Select Committee on Science and Technology. It is a great pity that they did not take note of what the Committee said. I shall read out the recommendation that we made that long ago. The Committee—

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