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Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way. She may not have been in receipt of a letter from people who suffer from many of the diseases which she mentioned. In their letter they say that they are,
Baroness Greengross: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that intervention. I received that letter--and many more which urged me to vote for progress with regard to the regulations so that the research might go ahead.
I was saying that hope is not the same as false promises. However, these regulations provide the opportunity for research to proceed. I want to stress that the research will proceed in this country only under closely regulated conditions which are unparalleled elsewhere in the world.
At the beginning of the debate, the Minister assured us that research which uses embryonic stem cells will continue only while it is absolutely necessary and only while adult stem cells cannot replace them according to the best evidence that we can obtain. In my view, we have a clear duty to those who suffer. We need to discharge that duty and we need to do so now.
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I cannot speak with the eloquence or the knowledge of many noble Lords in this House. My reason for adding my name to the speakers' list lies in my own experience. In my late teens and early twenties I watched my mother die of Parkinson's Disease. It was not a good death. The moment when she and I felt that death was preferable has stayed with me. I know that other noble Lords have had similar experiences, some in more tragic circumstances. I claim nothing from that, other than knowing how the many thousands of families who live with this nightmare and whose faces are turned towards your Lordships' House for some hope are feeling. Listening to the Chief Medical Officer last week, the prospect that the research holds out to families of the future who will be in that position is nothing less than fantastic.
I am grateful to the men and women and scientists and doctors, some of whom are represented in your Lordships' House, who have chosen to devote their incredible talents to the search for cures and treatments for those terrible diseases and illnesses. In a world in which we sometimes value rather bizarre attributes, they are truly among the heroes and heroines of our generation. However, research at any cost would not be acceptable to them or to the sufferers and their families. That is why the scrutiny of the HFEA is so important and to be welcomed. As I understand it, it would licence research into embryos only when other methods were not appropriate. That would include adult stem cell research.
Noble Lords will take differing views about whether there is, in addition, a need for a Select Committee of your Lordships' House. Whatever the view, it is important that the decision to allow the research to go ahead is taken today. No one yet knows if or when the research will bear fruit and whether help could be given, but if we do not start now, treatment--like justice--delayed will be for some treatment denied.
Those noble Lords who have already decided to vote against extending the regulations, or perhaps to vote for a Select Committee and later to vote against them, have already made their choice, and I respect them. I just ask them, please, to be sure.
The decision on such research lies with us. Those who are suffering can only stand by and watch us decide. When my mother died, I felt helpless. Tonight, I am at least not helpless. I could not save my mum but tonight I can try to help to save someone else's.
When the joint proposals of the HFEA and the HGAC--the advisory commission--finally came forward in December, my reaction was immediately to say, "Look, hold on". As with the Warnock report, I said, "The proposal must be given enough time to allow people to understand what it is about". We have referred to the years that elapsed between the publication of the report by the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, and the introduction of the relevant legislation by the previous government. I took part in that process, as a humble Back-Bencher. In the end, I supported the proposal. I believe that we were right and that the regulatory system has worked well.
However, my immediate reaction to the proposal to extend the provisions to include the new purposes was one of caution. My colleagues on the Science and Technology Committee will remember that when we interviewed the Minister from another place, I made my view perfectly clear. I thought that the Government were absolutely right to have referred the matter for further study. The result, of course, was the Donaldson report. As several noble Lords have said, the intervening time has been used for others to weigh in.
A huge amount of material has been produced during the past 18 months or more. That is not as long as the period associated with the Warnock report. However, a huge amount of material had to be compressed into a shorter time. I thought of bringing my file with me into this debate--I have a very fat file--but I cannibalised it and brought along simply a few of the key documents.. There have been many conferences and a variety of reports.
I notice that the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, is no longer in his place. I found myself more in agreement with the noble Baroness, Lady O'Neill of Bengarve, than with the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, when she suggested that there has been an unprecedented--I believe that that is the word that she used--amount of public discussion on this issue. The correspondence that noble Lords will have received from many sources--during the past few days, an endless stream of e-mails arrived in my inbox--demonstrates that there is a wide appreciation of what is involved. One is impressed by the quality of the material and by the fact that the public have thoroughly understood what it is all about.
We would be wrong to delay the proposal. We have known all along that statutory instruments would be used. When the Minister came before the Select Committee, I asked her about that. There is nothing new in the suggestion. One might feel that the proposal should have had more debate. At one point, there was a suggestion of a general debate but, as we know, time is at a premium.
Where do we go? The noble Lord, Lord Alton, referred briefly in the course of his persuasive speech--although I am not persuaded--to the report, Science and Society. That report was produced by the sub-committee of the Science and Technology Committee which I had the honour to chair. He did not refer to the paragraph over which my colleagues and I perhaps wrestled longer than with any other. That paragraph comes at the end of the substantial passage that we wrote about values. I refer to paragraph 2.65, which states:
The report Science and Society has had a considerable influence on the thinking of bodies such as the Royal Society, the British association, the Royal Institution and a number of others. I have been in touch with some of the work that is now going on. The only body that has not yet had an opportunity to debate the report--and I say this to the Government Front Bench--is the House of Lords. I hope that we shall have a debate on that report fairly soon.
There is now a much greater understanding on the part of scientists, not least those engaged in the biological sciences and biotechnology, that the public must be listened to. There must be a dialogue. There
There is one other message which we had from Professor Worcester who gave evidence about the survey work which had been done. Talking about people's views, he said that they come in three forms. He said that they were perhaps rather too poetical for scholarly adoption but that he defined them as,
That applies to individuals as well. Perhaps I may return to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, and the question which he asked of the noble Lord, Lord Alton. If there were a Select Committee and the Select Committee then recommended that the regulations should be supported and reintroduced, would the noble Lord support them? He has given the answer once already. I found it rather fuzzy. He may like to have another go. My guess is that he has deep values which will not be changed by further argument and I believe that that is the position of a number of those who have spoken in the debate.
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