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5.35 pm

Jim Dobbin (Heywood and Middleton): I did not speak to the programme motion, but I voted on it, and my feelings were recorded in that vote. As most hon. Members know, I speak from a pro-life stance. However, as I am also diabetic, a bit of my mind and perhaps the whole of my body want to see medical advances for the right reasons, and for some very personal reasons.

This is an extremely important Bill; Bills do not come any higher on the ethical, moral or scientific scale for the whole of humanity. However, like many hon. Members, I

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feel that the Bill has been presented with tremendous haste and without the detailed consideration that it merits. I have listened very carefully to the Minister's comments, and I appreciate that she realises that some loopholes require further thought and need to be closed for the purposes of future regulation.

I shall speak specifically to fertilisation, which is dealt with in the reasoned amendment. Last January, the House debated regulations to extend the purposes in the 1990 Act for which there may be experimentation on human embryos. Many hon. Members expressed concern that there was not enough time to consider the issues fully. The High Court's 15 November judgment has proved that those hon. Members were right to voice their concerns. Mr. Justice Crane has ruled that human embryos created by a cell nuclear replacement technique involving the insertion of the nucleus of a human somatic cell into an unfertilised egg that has had its nucleus removed are not covered within the meaning of section 1 of the 1990 Act. I think that all hon. Members in the Chamber have accepted that.

Therefore, such embryos are not covered by the regulations that were pushed through so urgently in January and, consequently, all forms of human cloning, both live birth and experimental, are not illegal. The Bill seeks to prohibit live-birth cloning in primary legislation and I welcome that move. However, the prohibition does not cover research and experimentation on cloned human embryos or outlaw the creation or keeping of cloned human embryos. I am sure that hon. Members did not foresee that outcome when they voted for the regulations in January.

In the debate on the regulations, the Under–Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), said:

I think that that would have been the situation whenever the matter was considered because of the complexity of the issues, by which many hon. Members may feel taken aback. I am sure that Ministers and other hon. Members are anxious to avoid anything like that happening again by getting it right this time, if at all possible. That is why I want the issues to be addressed today.

Time to study complex issues and explore the fine detail of legislation is vital if the Government are to avoid further embarrassment. Badly drafted legislation is the result of a lack of scrutiny and must be avoided. Unfortunately, now there is even less time to consider the legislation. As hon. Members have said, the Bill is criminal law. In a court of law, it is important that the terminology is clear. If it is not, it could lead to prolonged argument and more unwelcome legal challenges. It is therefore important that, in the short time available, we define precisely the terms that are being used. Definitions are an essential part of ensuring that the Bill does not meet the same fate as the January 2001 regulations.

A few days ago, in a debate in the other place, Lord Winston was unable to give a single definition of fertilisation. He suggested that different biologists would have different definitions and gave several examples. They included:

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He also mentioned parthenogenesis.

I believe that that choice of definitions can lead only to total confusion. Parthenogenesis is the technique that was used by Mike West, who made the headlines this week for having cloned the world's first embryonic human being. The Bill will not prevent the implanting of cloned embryos created by such techniques, which are described as fertilisation by Lord Winston. It is vital that terms such as "fertilisation", which is used in the Bill, are given a clear and unequivocal explanation. One of the reasons why the ProLife Alliance won its judicial review was that neither "fertilisation" nor "embryo"—as has already been mentioned—were defined in the 1990 Act. I ask, therefore, that the meaning of "fertilisation" in the context of the Bill be made clear and I hope that the Minister addresses that point when she responds. The purpose of the Bill should be to protect fertilisation and human eggs.

I will support the Bill, because it is important that we send the right message to the public—that we oppose reproductive cloning.

5.40 pm

Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone and The Weald): I do not intend to detain the House for long, because I know that many hon. Members wish to contribute, but I would like the Minister to respond to two specific points. The burden of the Minister's case was, "Look, until we know whether we have won the appeal, we do not know what measures will be necessary." However, even if the Government win their appeal, two areas will remain completely unregulated according to their own lawyers. I hope that by raising the issues at this point in the debate, the Minister's brain will be able to catch up with her even if she cannot give me immediate answers. [Interruption.] That is not patronising, because I have sat on the Front Bench and have often been grateful for my brain catching up with me. It does not have far to travel and it can be done.

The first issue concerns the 14-day limit. The Government's lawyers conceded in court that even if they won their appeal, it would not rectify an anomaly in respect of that limit. Section 3(4) of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 establishes that time begins running from the date when the sperm and eggs are mixed. Cloning, however, does not involve the mixing of sperm and eggs and therefore time would not start to run. It would therefore be impossible to calculate any limit, including—obviously—the 14-day limit. That point was conceded by the Government's lawyers in court and I would like a specific comment on that point from the Minister.

The second remaining anomaly that was accepted by the Government's lawyers concerns the consent provisions in the 1990 Act. Consent is required of people when their genetic material is being used. Because of the mechanism of cloning, consent would not be required. According to the Government's interpretation of the 1990 Act, not mine, cloned embryos will not require anybody's consent to be created, stored, experimented on or killed—or disposed of, as the Government might wish to put it. That is because under the 1990 Act, consent for the

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creation, storage or use of embryos is obtainable only from the donors of the sperm and egg that contain the resulting embryo's genetic material. Before anything is done to a fertilised embryo, full consent is required from the donors of the genetic material. In cloning, however, sperm and eggs are not used to provide the genetic material for the embryo. The genetic material comes from a cell. Thus no consent is required and no consent can be insisted upon. That point was also conceded by the Government's lawyers.

We have not just dreamed up those problems. There are probably other anomalies as well, stemming from some of the points raised by my hon. Friends. That is why we are so concerned about the way in which the Bill is being rushed through.

I hope that all other hon. Members share my opinion that cloning should never be used for reproductive purposes. I do not dissent from the aim of the Bill, but believe that the procedure being employed today will create an even bigger mess than the one that we have on our hands now.

I know that it is futile to ask the Minister to withdraw the Bill and reconsider the matter, but we face a very serious muddle. I should be grateful if the Minister would respond specifically to my questions.

Dr. Pugh: If the Minister were generous enough to offer a Select Committee investigation into the matter, or a fuller debate, would those who have tabled the amendment to deny giving the Bill a Second Reading withdraw their opposition to a ban on reproductive cloning now? Alternatively, given that it may take a long time to sort out the legal, semantic and definitional problems involved, will they remain opposed to a ban on reproductive cloning?

Miss Widdecombe: Our position is clear. We have never been opposed to a Bill banning reproductive cloning, but we have serious and grave reservations about this Bill. Our problem is not with the aim of the Bill. Of course we want to abolish reproductive cloning. Many Conservative Members also want to abolish therapeutic cloning, but that is a separate debate. We are happy to agree that reproductive cloning should be abolished—but not by means of this Bill, in so short a time, when there is so much muddle and inadequacy.

The hon. Member for Southport (Dr. Pugh) asked whether I would withdraw my opposition in certain circumstances, but my opposition is to this Bill, not to its general—but wholly unrealised—aim.

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