|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. He is right in saying that I have consistently argued in favour of protection for the human embryo. However, as he will appreciate, I am not putting forward the proposals today. The regulations have been placed before the House by the Government. My case is that they have not been properly tested. We have not heard from the witnesses who say that another means of doing these things is available to us. If that solution, suggested by many in this House, is available, it will provide relief from the moral dilemma that I face, and which I suspect the noble Lord faces too.
Lord Dubs: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. I believe that if the Select Committee were to endorse the Donaldson report fully, the noble Lord would have difficulty in supporting the resulting regulations, given the consistency of the principled stand that he has taken. Therefore, in a way, the Select Committee is not the issue. Nevertheless, I respect the noble Lord's sincerity. I have known him for a long time. My point is simply that there is a real dilemma, a conflict between biology and theology, in the minds of some. It is a sincerely held dilemma. I hope that we can resolve the matter today and not ask a Select Committee to help us resolve it later.
We have heard a great deal about the word "cloning". It is most unfortunate that the word has been used precisely in this context. My understanding is that embryos can be obtained for this process either through IVF or through cell nuclear replacement--which involves putting a microscopic nucleus into another cell and developing it in that way. Given the
Much mention has been made of adult cells. It has been said that they represent an alternative. I have had discussions recently with a number of scientists on this precise point. Every one of them assures me that, although adult cells may have some positive benefits, their use and application are much more limited, and that one of the arguments for doing the research that the regulations will permit is to enable us to test whether adult cells can be used further. But the general view is that it will not be done, although I know that there are other scientific voices. I do not think that a Select Committee would resolve that conflict. It would have to come to a view, as Donaldson did. However, I am assured that, although the use of adult cells may be helpful at the margin, they are simply not the way out.
This country is a world leader in this process. We have a noble and important scientific tradition. Yet, in recent months, an anti-scientific mood has crept into the debate. We see it in relation to a number of other issues which there is no time to develop now. I regret that mood. Scientists play an important part in economic development and, above all, in relation to the health and well-being of people in this country. They have an excellent reputation. I welcome the fact that in the recent past scientists have become involved in discussing the ethics of scientific developments, not merely the science itself. Perhaps I may say how grateful I am to the many scientists who have taken the trouble and who have had the patience to explain to me how these procedures work and to point out their strengths and weaknesses--and for doing so in such a way as to enable me to develop some understanding of what is going on.
This debate relates to the quality of life of sufferers from many dreadful diseases. It is not just a matter of quality of life; for some, we are talking about a question of life or death if a decision is delayed. When we vote, it will be on one of the crucial decisions that comes every so often before a House of Parliament. We are talking about the well-being, the health and the lives of the many sufferers who are paying great attention to this debate. Surely, in the scheme of things those people must matter. I believe that the best way forward is to support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Walton, and to move forward, so that there is no undue delay in helping these people.
Lord Rawlinson of Ewell: My Lords, despite all the rhetoric and fine words, it is a sad reflection on the Parliament of the United Kingdom--of which we should all be justly proud--that we are forced to consider matters of supreme importance in the context of a statutory instrument, which is unamendable. It is a
Whether one approves of, or opposes, the position on human embryos, none can underestimate its importance. Why is there such haste? Why not delay three months? The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, spoke about the sufferers from various diseases. I understand their feelings. But why is a matter of such importance, nationally and worldwide, being rushed through on this occasion? Why does the decision have to be taken at the end of the month? This hurry gives the impression that there is some power motoring behind it--perhaps the multi-million pound pharmaceutical or biotechnological industries and those interested in them. That may or may not be the case. I hope it is not.
However, it may be said that the reason behind the urgency is to relieve the sufferers. Many promises were made 10 years ago in 1990 when the Act was first debated. Some, but not a great many, advances have been made since then. As the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, said, I suppose that it depends upon which scientists you consult. Others believe that more resources should be devoted to the adult stem cell process where ethical concerns about the use of human embryos do not come into the equation.
There is another bombshell which I am not sure whether the Government have taken on board. They have decided to have this statutory instrument decided here today when, in four days' time, a case will be heard before the High Court of Justice--a judicial review concerning the Act. If that appears before the High Court and it decides as it could--I do not say that it will--it might mean that the Secretary of State will be unable to make orders, such as the regulations now before the House. He will not have the power; they will be ultra vires. That case is due to be heard in the High Court later this week, yet we are asked to make this decision today even before the court has heard the argument.
I know that the House finds it tedious when matters of law are discussed by a lawyer. But perhaps I may explain to your Lordships a little of what this judicial review is about. It relates to Sections 1 and 3 of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990. It is for the court to interpret--indeed, it is not a matter for this House, the Secretary of Secretary, the department's lawyers, or anyone else--whether the definition of "embryo" under Section 1 of the Act is correct. It states that,
But, as we have heard, cell nuclear replacement involves placing an adult somatic cell into a female egg cell, which has had its nuclear material removed. Shortly, the submission of the applicants in this case is that that cannot possibly be a process of fertilisation. If so, then cell nuclear reproduction, cloned embryos, have not been--nor are being--fertilised. Therefore, they do not fall within Section 1 of the Act.
Further, the applicants go on to cite Section 3, where reference is made to the limit of time. There was a great debate about 10 years ago about the limits of time that one is entitled to retain an embryo--indeed, there was much debate--after what is called "the primitive streak" has been formed. "The primitive streak" is defined as being taken to be formed in an embryo not later than 14 days beginning on the day,
However, in cell nuclear reproduction there is present, at most, one gamete. Therefore, say the applicants, there cannot be a mixing of gametes because there is only one. So Section 3 seems to confirm what the applicants are asserting over Section 1; namely, that the cloning of embryos is not controlled by the Act itself. In other words, the Act is defective. If that is so, it is a very serious situation. It is not for me to say, but in the old days in another place one would send for a Law Officer and ask him to explain the law. One would demand his opinion because a Law Officer was, first, responsible to Parliament, then to the Crown and finally to the administration. He would be asked to say whether or not the argument was valid. But even if the Law Officer gave some advice, the first stages of a judicial review have been approved by the court and the High Court will hear the case on the 31st January. I give way.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page