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Dr. Harris: Quite so. In that respect, I have no argument with the activities of the media. Although there was supposed to be a huge fuss, compared with other issues, the reaction to the judgment and to the news from America has been reasonably restrained and educational. I make no criticism of the media in that respect. I criticise the Government for appearing to cite the media coverage as a defence for their timetable.
Mr. Ian Taylor: I disagree with the hon. Gentleman on one point. The media hype up science stories and take potential science as though it is today's event. The developments at Advanced Cell Technology in the United States were fleeting, marginal and unsustainable in terms of stem cells.
Dr. Harris: We are not necessarily in disagreement. My main concern is that whatever the accuracy of media reports, we should not legislate on that basis, especially without the benefit of expert opinion. The media will do what the media do, and they always will. We have a free press, and I welcome that.
Mr. Simon Thomas: When we debated these matters earlier this year, the hon. Gentleman's views were influential in the House. I listened closely to what he said. He will be aware that next week we have two days of Adjournment debates on fisheries and European affairs, neither of which is urgent. Does he agree that if the following stages of the Bill were taken on those two days next week, that would give lay Members such as me sufficient time to get the necessary information and refer to scientific expertise on the subject?
Dr. Harris: The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. If my right hon. Friend the Member for BerwickuponTweed (Mr. Beith) catches the Deputy Speaker's eye, perhaps he will suggest that even at this late stage there are means of achieving better scrutiny.
The Government have defended their timetable on the basis of the sudden judgment given three weeks ago in the High Court. The Minister made that point in her introduction, and the hon. Member for NorthEast Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) dealt with that. I want to test whether it was a surprise judgment. If it was not, the rationale for the timetable is groundless.
The Minister knew that there was considerable academic and legal opinion that the advice that she had received, which I accept she got from counsel, was not to be relied on to win the High Court judgment. Several people had questioned whether it was reasonable for the
It is even more surprising that the Government should be surprised by thatso surprised that they introduced the timetablewhen they were relying on a judge giving a purposive interpretation, rather than a literal one. They believed that there was a ban on activity with cloned embryos outside what they thought was covered by the Bill, such that a criminal prosecution could be launched on the basis of the 1990 Act.
The Minister must know that it is extremely unlikely that a judge would deliver a purposive interpretation of statute in order to convict someone who used a literary interpretation as a defence. If people cannot rely on a reasonable, rational, literal interpretation of the law as a defence, the British judicial system is not what it should be.
Lynne Jones: Will the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that not only the academics whom he quoted, but a Committee of the House made the recommendation? We took evidence at the time from the chair of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority and Dr. Ian Wilmut, who was responsible for the creation of Dolly the sheep. In his view, the Act did not cover his technique.
The Government Chief Whip has left the Chamber, which is unfortunate, but she has been replaced by her admirable deputy. It is worth while asking about the whipping arrangements. It would be useful for the House to know whether there is a running three-line Whip on the guillotine motion. If there is not, it would be useful for a pager message to be sent to hon. Members to clarify the position. If the Government Whips Office is not in communication with the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Mr. Marsden), it is difficult to know whether there will be a free vote for Labour Members on the guillotine motion.
The Minister cannot have been surprised by the High Court judgment, although she may have been disappointed, as I suspect we all were, as life would have been easier for everyone if the judgment had been otherwise. I certainly want a ban on human reproductive cloning. The Government could have predicted that the problem would occur, and we do not know when the appeal process will end. If the Minister loses in the Court of Appeal, will she take the case to the House of Lords? Will she go to the European Court? Will the other side do those things?
It is time for the Government to introduce proper legislation in good time, subject to adequate scrutiny, dealing with this important matter. We have heard about the other protections for the cloned embryo that would apply had the judgment not occurred. The Government should allow therapeutic cloning to go ahead and implement the other recommendations in the Donaldson report relating to consent and what happens to embryonic stem cell lines.
There is no good argument for the Bill being rushed through Parliament. I hope that at this late stage the Government will relent, that they will not yield to or feed media panic, and that they will allow the House to scrutinise these important matters adequately.
Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough): I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris). Although we have often locked horns on the issue, we are at one about the way in which the House should deal with these matterswith great seriousness and attention to detail.
For a programme motion to be agreed, the Governmentwho can, of course, simply impose their majority on the Housemust win the argument. To win the argument, they must prove two things: first, that the Bill is sufficiently clear, simple and unambiguous, and that it addresses a sufficiently narrow issue for us to debate Second Reading, Committee and Report all in one day. Secondly, the Government must prove to the House that these matters are so urgent that, in addition to being simple, unambiguous and easily disposed of in one day, they must be disposed of by this evening.
The Government must convince the House of those two points. Anybody who studies the Bill, the reasoned amendment tabled by me and my right hon. and hon. Friends, and the amendments on the Order Paper which are due for selection, will come to the conclusion that the matter is highly complex. It raises enormous ethical, moral and medical concerns. The amendments, especially those that relate to the definition of embryos and of fertilisation must be debated in full. They cannot be debated in one day.
It is possible that once hon. Members have exercised their right to address the wider ethical and medical issues on Second Reading, there will be no time for the Committee or Report stage. That is not the way to deal with matters that are of deep moral concern to the nation. That is my first point. Unless the Minister produces arguments to convince us that we are wrong, I do not believe that the Government have proved their point.
The second point that the Government must prove is that these matters must be resolved either today or very quickly, before the end of the week. Again, they have made no attempt to convince the House that that is the case. The fact of the matter is that no scientist is anywhere near creating a cloned human being and that there is no chance whatever of this Italian gentleman or anybody else creating such a process within the next week. We could easily have devoted a day next week to Second Reading
The truth is that that will not happen. Everybody in the House knows that it will not happen, so why on earth are the Government again seeking to treat our procedures with such contempt? What is the point? Why can we not have a proper debate on Second Reading and return next week for a proper Committee and Report stage?