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I acknowledge, as have all other contributors, that we are considering difficult issues for many hon. Members. The Bill is important, and the conduct of todays debate reflects positively on Parliament and its ability and that of hon. Members to deal with matters of major scientific
and ethical complexity. As the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) said so eloquently, the Bill seeks a pragmatic fusion between science and the social mores of today.
The Bill is primarily an overhaul of legislation that was passed 18 years ago. It builds on a model that Parliament originally laid down and several of its proposals reflect more recent decisions in the House and in another place. Its overall effect is that of evolution, not revolution.
As the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) said, the foundation that the 1990 Act provided was a considered response to concerns that there should be limits and barriers in law under a scheme of statutory regulation. The Bill is a recasting, in a similar mould, to ensure that the law and regulations can tackle the challenges of today and tomorrow.
I agree with the sentiment of the hon. Member for Salisbury (Robert Key), who said that he knew of no scientist who does not give due attention to the ethics of the issues. That was echoed by the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait).
I thank the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness (Mark Simmonds) for his positive and constructive approach. I look forward to our debates, although I feel that we might not always agree. I echo his point that the Governments expressed aim is to ensure that the United Kingdom is at the forefront of developments in cutting-edge science and technology, which promises so much for individuals and their families and for society. The hon. Member for Wyre Forest (Dr. Taylor) graphically described that when he spoke about the diseases that blight peoples lives. To achieve those aims, it is imperative that good regulation can keep pace and provide proper oversight.
Advances in technology go hand in hand with those in regulation. They are united through proper accountability and public confidence. The Bill is an attempt to maintain that unity, keeping the established foundations that have proved sound, and updating them when necessary. Failure to address those matters would lead inevitably to a loss for society. Doubts about what is regulated or what is allowed would endanger public confidence. Confusion about legal duties and responsibilities would harm public accountability. The impact would be felt through slower or stopped progress in understanding and treating infertility and serious medical conditions.
The Bill aims to ensure that all such embryos come within the scope of regulation, as the current law, drawn up in the late 1980s, is not explicit about these entities. The Government decided that the matter should not be left open to interpretation. We believe that the Bill as drafted provides the necessary clarity. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) explained, developments of treatments and scientific advances have always been controversial. The Bill has its share of that. It allows the creation and use of admixed embryos for licensed projects of research, in much the same way as it allows projects of embryo research. That means scrutiny of every proposal through the licence application process, which is overseen by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority. For embryo research projects, the law again sets out that the HFEA must be satisfied that the
research is necessary or desirable for one of the defined statutory research purposes. The use specifically of embryos must be necessary.
What the hon. Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter) fearsthat such research will be a distraction and will skew research in other areastherefore simply will not happen. The position is not either/or; it is about ensuring that the breadth of research that the House believes is important is allowed to develop for treatments.
Mr. Cash: Will the Minister explain the extent to which the research that will be made available will be available on a universal basis? There are those, including me, who are deeply concerned not only about the principles involved, but about whether the research would be available only to those who were at the upper end and could afford it. Will the research be universal or not?
Dawn Primarolo: I think that the hon. Gentleman is confusing a regulatory framework that permits research with the commissioning or funding, from different authorities, for that research to take place. The Bill is not about what research will be funded in the future from where, but about putting important regulations in place and continuing to afford the protection that the House has always wanted.
To deal with the hon. Gentlemans second point, having ensured that the regulations apply and that the projects must meet the proper criteria, the Bill sets out strict prohibitions to guard against abuses. It makes it an offence to keep an admixed embryo beyond 14 days and prohibits the placing of an admixed embryo in a woman or an animal. Those are genuine safeguards, as my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Dr. Turner) and the hon. Member for Beckenham pointed out.
The Government have listened carefully to wide-ranging and deep-seated views on each side of the issue. There has already been considerable debate on the issue in another place, and through consultation and the scrutiny process. Scientists do not undertake such work lightly or through mere curiosity. The primary motivation is a pragmatic issue, namely the shortage of human eggs for use in the creation of embryonic stem cell lines. The Bill is a means to ensure that effective regulation applies, while also allowing scientific endeavour that promises advances in the knowledge and understanding of some serious diseases.
Mr. Burrowes: On the subject of safeguards, will the Minister give some of the reassurance that Lord Darzi gave in the other place, at a similar stage, that the Government are committed to banning human reproductive cloning? Will she confirm in particular whether permission for reproductive cloning could be given for any purpose laid out in proposed new section 3ZA(5)?
The hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Burrowes) is right that cloning is outlawed. I would like to reassure
hon. Members that I am speaking on behalf of the Government at this stage, not as an individual, as that way of speaking seems to have drifted in and out of the debate. The Bill is a means of ensuring that effective regulation applies and that we can undertake research. As the hon. Member for Buckingham said, the Bill will not force anyone to undertake research using embryos, whether admixed or otherwise. The controls that the measures put in place will ensure that other avenues of research will be considered as part of the research licensing process. Before a licence is given, the licensing authorities will have to consider other areas or forms of research in which the same issues could be pursued.
Several issues have been raised in the debate, and I shall do my best to answer some of them in the time available. The hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) talked about true hybrids, which were allowed in the 1990 Act for testing the fertility of sperm by mixing it with a hamster egg, and for related research. Any licence application will have to pass the usual tests of satisfying the HFEA that it is necessary or desirable for a statutory research purpose and that the specific use of embryos is necessary. That will give a great deal of protection.
The Bill will bring all forms of true hybrids under the regulation of the HFEA, and it will be for the HFEA to decide whether such hybrids should be licensed. We are talking about wider types which will be licensed only under the specific research licence. If we do not bring those processes within the Bills protection, we will not be able to express views or control; the law will be silent about the developments.
To retain the reference to the need for a father would be inconsistent with other legislation that has been passed by Parliament to recognise civil partnerships and to remove discrimination on the ground of sexual orientation. In addition, Parliament would be seen as sending out the message that clinics must consider the need for a father. The code of practice, on which they rely at the moment, could not be relied on to amend that practice in future, because of the clearly stated views of Parliament. My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) explained eloquently and in great detail why that change is necessary. There are further issues to do with the welfare of the child.
If women are discouraged from approaching legitimate services, they might be encouraged to make their own arrangements. A loophole in the 1990 legislation was that it did not prevent the rise in the amount of sperm supplied by internet-based firms. We have already acted to bring those activities under regulation. Properly licensed services can give the
necessary assurances of quality and safety, along with important access to future requirements with regard to identifying parents.
On the question of birth certificates, and of telling children that they are donor-conceived, we have made it clear in another place that we would carry out a review within four years of the Bill coming into force. It is therefore a bit difficult for me to explain what has already been done, as I shall have to wait until the Bill has been passed.
With regard to the translation of stem cell research into therapy, the Government have made it clear that an amendment is not necessary. The Bill will enable research to progress speedily, but with proper scrutiny. The development of treatments will be able to take place under the controls in the Bill.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, South (Ms Taylor) spoke passionately about access to IVF in the national health service. As she knows, that is not necessarily within the remit of the Bill, but the Government are taking steps to deliver exactly what the House expects to see, which is not only that the NICE guidelines relating to three cycles are delivered, but that proper social criteria are universally used.
The right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe spoke of his experience of proposing and preparing for the 1990 legislation. He told the House how it was necessary to deal respectfully with all human tissue, and that is precisely what we are trying to do. The 1990 Act did not attempt to provide a detailed definition of an embryo and, after 17 years and one legal challenge, we have to face that issue now.
I understand that my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (Geraldine Smith) is passionately committed to the issues that she identified in the debate. It will come as no surprise to her to learn that I do not necessarily agree with the points that she made, but I want to assure her that no attempt is being made to airbrush fathers from the process. We need to recognise that family structures have changed, however, and it is not for clinicians to make decisions about those family structures or to make those judgments. It is for the House to ensure that every child is a wanted child, a loved child and a supported child.
A number of other issues have been raised. My hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale also raised the question of saviour siblings. I know that she feels very strongly about these issues, and I have a feeling that if she had been in the House in 1990, she would not have supported the proposals at that time.
Geraldine Smith: I want to ask the Minister about birth certificates. Will we reach a position in which two mothers appear on a birth certificate, but no father? How will a birth certificate be worded if two lesbians have a child, and one of them appears on the certificate as the second parent? What will the certificate actually say?
This is about introducing regulation that takes us into the 21st century. Not to do so would be a lost opportunity. I look forward to our discussions on these critical issues in Committee, and I shall finish by echoing the comments of the hon. Member for Salisbury (Robert Key): the Bill is a great force for good. I commend it to the House.
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