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Mr. David Cameron (Witney): Perhaps the Minister can help to clear up the confusion. It concerns to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley). If the problem is that cloned embryos are not subject to the restrictions that embryos produced by sperm and egg are, why not make cloned embryos subject to the 1990 Act by amending that legislation?

Ms Blears: I have already dealt with that matter in my answer to the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley). Extensive amending legislation might be required, but today we are considering urgent emergency legislation to deal with a particular issue of great concern to people inside and outside the House. It is a small, direct Bill, not extensive amending legislation.

Lynne Jones: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Ms Blears: No, I want to make some progress.

There was considerable debate in the other place about whether a one-cell embryo was an embryo. This Bill is clear that it governs any embryo created other than by fertilisation. Any embryo is a human embryo if it has the potential, should it be implanted, to develop into a human being from the moment it is created. That includes a one-cell embryo. I hope that that clears the matter up.

Dr. Evan Harris: I understand the Government's difficulty in not seeking to outline further definitions. A question has been raised about a dedifferentiated cell that

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was originally produced from an embryo formed by fertilisation but that has been taken back to the embryonic stage by a method of dedifferentiation. Would that fall within the fertilised regulation or the other- than-created-by-fertilisation provision in the Bill? If the Minister does not know, does she accept that that is a problem?

Ms Blears: I am not entirely sure what kind of cell the hon. Gentleman refers to, but I will certainly endeavour during today's proceedings to ensure that he gets a full and comprehensive answer to his point.

Mr. William Cash (Stone): Will the hon. Lady give way?

Ms Blears: No, I will not give way at this point.

Several hon. Members have expressed concern about the prospect of taking a cloned embryo abroad. It is true to say that following the judgment there is nothing to stop someone creating a cloned embryo in the UK and sending it for use by a woman in treatment abroad. I am not aware that anyone wants to do that at this stage.

As the law stands, the 1990 Act governs only embryos created by fertilisation, but the Act gives the HFEA control over practices in licensed clinics that are not strictly regulated by the Act. Obviously it is a matter for the HFEA to decide, but I hope that if that situation were to occur it would take that into account in looking at how clinics and individuals are licensed to carry out such activity.

The possibility of placing embryos in animals, men or artificial wombs has been raised. I understand hon. Members' concerns about those matters. If the judgment is lost, all the issues will need to be considered.

The Government appreciate that there may be concern about the potential research uses of a variety of techniques. We have promised, therefore, a legislative response on the research use of embryos created by cell nuclear replacement. We will certainly commit ourselves to doing that, should we lose the appeal. There will be a whole range of issues to consider, and we hope that we will also have the benefit of the conclusions of the House of Lords Select Committee report to help us with that consideration.

In summary, the Government take the view that the Bill is necessary to ensure that no one considers the United Kingdom as an option for undertaking human reproductive cloning. In the light of the High Court judgment, it is important that we pass the Bill. There are, of course, other issues that flow from the judgment relating to the use of cloned embryos in research. The Government are concerned that those embryos are given the same protection as embryos created by fertilisation. For that reason the Government are appealing against the High Court decision. If the appeal succeeds, the cloned embryos will also be protected by the 1990 Act. If the appeal fails, the Government will introduce legislation to ensure that research on cloned embryos is properly and rigorously regulated.

The Bill encapsulates the views of the vast majority of British people who find the possibility of human reproductive cloning abhorrent and I commend it to the House.

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4.16 pm

Dr. Liam Fox (Woodspring): There is a difference of approach between the Government and the Opposition on this issue in that the Government have a three-line Whip in operation and the Opposition have a free vote. Perhaps it would be useful at the outset if I set out why the Opposition take this view.

Our decision not to oppose the Bill is based on three separate reasons. First, during deliberations over many months the House has repeatedly made it clear that there is no wish for reproductive cloning to be legal in the United Kingdom. The second reason relates to the perceived threat of such reproductive cloning taking place pending the Government's appeal in the Quintavalle case, especially given the length of the legal process that may be involved. I hope that the Government will further clarify their intentions should they fail in their action. The third reason is the need to bolster public confidence in bioscience in the United Kingdom. To undermine that is to damage our research and development.

It is no secret that I personally oppose embryonic stem cell research in all its forms, but the Bill is not an appropriate vehicle for those of us who seek to go further in that direction. If the Government lose the appeal, they will need substantial primary legislation to deal with many of the issues that have already been raised. For the sake of clarification, will the Minister give a firm commitment to take a full primary legislative approach to the issues raised in the debate? Many of us could not support the Government if we thought that they might renege on that promise.

Ms Blears indicated assent.

Dr. Fox: I take the Minister's nod as assent to my proposition.

The Bill is at best a stop-gap measure, to use the term of Lord Hunt in the other place. Even if the Government win their appeal, it is obvious that many issues will remain to be tackled, so they will still need to introduce primary legislation.

The intervention of the hon. Member for Bolton, South–East (Dr. Iddon) was instructive. He mistakenly believed that the Government's change of definitions in the short Bill today would bring export and experimentation under the HFEA. The Minister pointed out that that would not be the case. That is one of the strongest arguments for further legislation, a useful model for which would be the procedure that we used for the Adoption and Children Bill. Substantial pre-legislative scrutiny of anything that the Government propose in this area would be useful because there is much expert knowledge that the House would like to draw on before we further debate these matters. If that is good enough for adoption legislation, it is certainly good enough for an important ethical matter such as this.

We need clarity, definition and honesty from the Government in this debate. We also need to put the debate into the appropriate ethical perspective. In the other place, Lord Winston said:

All hon. Members believe that any application of knowledge has a moral dimension, and that we in the House have an absolute right to set the moral and ethical

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limits within which science in the United Kingdom is allowed to operate, and that any moral free-for-all, simply because science was capable of it, would be wholly unacceptable.

There is another argument that needs to be tackled: many say that we should not stop such research in the United Kingdom because it will be undertaken elsewhere, and we should not put our science base at a disadvantage. The problem there is that we confuse globalisation with powerlessness. We can at least set proper ethical limits for our own country; the House of Commons is the appropriate place to do that.

The Government's approach to much of this area has been sloppy and contradictory. I refer specifically to the debate on this subject on 15 December 2000, in which we received assurances from the Government about the state of the regulations that we were discussing. The Under–Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), said:

It is clear that the advice given to the House on that day was wrong. It is also clear that the Government did not believe it. If they did, why did their manifesto state:

If the Government already thought that that was illegal, why did they feel it necessary to introduce further legislation? That is a legitimate question for the House to ask because we have been given assurances by a Minister in the House of Commons. The Government got it wrong. When did they realise that the regulations that they had guaranteed would not allow cloning would in fact allow it? It is important to know that if we are to bolster confidence in the advice that the Government receive from their advisers.

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