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6.1 pm

Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak): As I intimated earlier, I support the Bill, but I query the need for emergency legislation. There was no urgent need to introduce the Bill today. In response to the Donaldson report last August, the Government signalled their intention to make explicit what they thought was implicit in the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990—that human cloning for reproductive purposes was banned.

It is right that the Government should make that explicit, not least because of what Baroness Warnock described in the other place as the slippery slope argument. The fact remains, however, that the Government's view last year was that the 1990 Act extended to embryos created by cell nuclear replacement. That has proved not to be the case, and I am worried that we are rushing our consideration of the Bill, which I support, when more urgent matters are not being addressed, such as the fact that the use of embryos created by methods other than fertilisation is now completely unregulated.

The Government's view is that they will continue with their appeal against the decision in the test case, but even if they win their appeal—it is not certain that they will—there would still be nothing to stop someone else challenging the law if new scientific developments occurred. It would have been much better if the Government had accepted the recommendations—made by the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee as long ago as March 1997, and reiterated in 1998, after this Government had come to power—that the definition of the word "embryo" should be amended to include any method that resulted in an embryo that was viable and likely to develop into a human being.

The Government did not do that, but I still feel that that matter needs to be addressed urgently. If we pass this Bill today, as I am sure we shall because everyone agrees with it—our constituents are not likely to lobby us to vote against banning human reproductive cloning—I shall still be disappointed because those more important issues will remain unregulated, although they are more relevant today in the light of recent developments. That could result in future challenges even if the Government win their case. That is a big concern and, in that sense, I agree with those Conservative Members who said that some issues were unregulated. Those issues cause our constituents great concern.

6.5 pm

Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher and Walton): Science has a nasty habit of catching us out unawares. Even Ministers are caught unawares.

I was the Minister responsible for science at the time of the cloning of Dolly the sheep. Indeed, some thought that I was a clone of Dolly the sheep; I leave that for others to judge. It was clear that science had taken a huge leap forward, but it was not the leap that the press

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declared it to be. One of the difficulties in the debate is that hype and sensationalism take us away from a proper understanding of the scientific implications.

We have been aware of cloning since time began in the sense that twins are cloned. In nature, things get cloned and we mix genetics each time that we crossbreed animals. Nevertheless, science is sometimes sensationalised in the press as though it were immediately possible to move from one step to another. That is one of the problems that the House will always face, but I hope that the Government have not introduced the Bill simply because of the more sensationalist comments in the press but rather to lay the foundations for clarity.

Although there will be scientific advances, Parliament should make it clear that we do not wish some things to happen. One such thing is human reproductive cloning and, in particular, the implantation of a cell into a woman. If that is the Bill's purpose, I am happy to support it. However, many other questions are left open and we shall have to return to them.

The hon. Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson) mentioned the number of cells that had to fail so that Dolly could eventually be cloned. This week's New Scientist says that creating the embryos that ACT—Advanced Cell Technology—was working on involved the use of 71 eggs donated by seven volunteers and three failed rounds of experiments before the first cloned embryo was generated. Even the fourth so-called successful round of experiments was far from efficient. None of the few cells that were produced reached anywhere near blastocyst stage—a mass of about 100 cells.

Scientifically interesting though it was, this week's announcement does not take us anywhere near the possibility of using even stem cells for research purposes let alone for human cloning. I hope that we can pause for thought and consider what is happening in science, so that we can try to understand the implications.

I will not support the reasoned amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh). Although he did not agree with the concept when I challenged him, he appears to want to return to the period before we amended the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 to allow cell nuclear replacement by extending the Act to deal with what are, by and large, degenerative diseases. Cell nuclear replacement may also have a role to play in other diseases, such as AIDS, but I shall leave that to the scientists to explain. I profoundly hope that the ambition to try to stop cell nuclear replacement is not taken any further by the House.

Mr. Cash: As my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) said, he, my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Mr. Taylor), other hon. Members and I have been engaged in such debates for 18 years. Does my hon. Friend agree that a case exists for re-evaluating the subject, which is being done and will, we hope, produce new legislation, precisely because we were repeatedly told that human reproductive cloning was impossible? The Government therefore produced a Bill in a specific form at a given time. They got it wrong, and because human cloning is now a real possibility, we face these difficulties.

Mr. Taylor: I cannot go back 18 years, but I remember February 1997. It was clear that we were moving towards

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science that was ultimately capable of human cloning. The process has been continued by ACT's results in the United States. We are a long way from it, and we want to find legislative methods of preventing human cloning. However, for humane reasons, we do not want to stop research into methods that, through the use of stem cells from embryos, can improve the well-being of people who suffer from degenerative diseases. I hope that we will ultimately be able to use stem cells from adults. My hon. Friend made that point earlier. I refer him to my article in The Parliamentary Monitor in October 2000. It is a fount of wisdom on the subject.

Glenda Jackson: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that in the most recent debates in the House, Ministers did not claim that it was impossible to clone a human being but that it was illegal?

Mr. Taylor: It is illegal, and thank goodness for that. We want the Bill to clarify that it is illegal. I am aware of the complexity of the issue. For example, the Bill would not make it illegal to produce cells as happened with ACT this week in the United States. The Bill makes implantation in a woman illegal. There is no risk of implantation because the scientists did not get beyond the first few stages. I believe that there were six small cells, and their life was fleeting. We are a long way from the reality, but the process exists.

Dr. Stoate: The hon. Gentleman said that cloning was illegal, but the court judgment shows that the law is unclear and that it is not illegal. That is why we are here tonight.

Mr. Taylor: It was a slip of the tense of the verb. I meant to say that the Bill, which I support, would make it illegal. We believed that previous legislation had achieved that. The challenge by the ProLife Alliance has created confusion. I do not say that there should not be judicial challenges, but the ProLife Alliance cannot avoid responsibility for having created great confusion. I hope that it supports the Bill because it will do at least one more thing to reduce the uncertainty about human reproductive cloning.

Miss Widdecombe: Supporting the Bill will leave many anomalies, which were conceded by Government lawyers in court as a result of the judgment. The pro-life argument would be that we could fulfil the responsibilities that arise from the judgment by introducing a proper Bill that takes account of them. That is what we want, but we have not got it.

Mr. Taylor: I am delighted that my right hon. Friend and I are at one in one sense. Both of us believe that we need a fuller debate about some aspects. However, I do not want that debate to result in closing down actions for which we believed that we had already given permission. We believed that we had given permission for regulated cell nuclear replacement under the 1990 Act, as amended. I do not have a problem with preventing human reproductive cloning that involves the implantation of a cell in a woman. I also accept that other provisions could have been included in the Bill, and I believe that the Minister would accept that.

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When we know the judgment of the court, we are likely to return to the matter. I agree with my right hon. Friend that we will need to reconsider the definition of fertilisation. We may need to look at it in the context of the embryo. We will certainly need to understand many of the other issues, especially in the light of the guidance that we will receive from the House of Lords Select Committee on Stem Cell Research when it reports.

As others want to speak, I conclude by saying that it is humane to attempt to help people who have diseases that cannot be treated by other means by encouraging scientific research. Scientists can make remarkable progress. Lord Winston may be right about there being no moral judgment in science; it is for us to make and delimit such judgment. I want to delimit what we find obnoxious and unacceptable. I most emphatically do not wish to delimit research that leads to progress that helps human beings.

The challenge is to make that distinction. I hope that by voting in favour of Second Reading I make my views clear, but I am sure that eventually we will have to protect and extend the areas of research that we allow.

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