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Mr. Laurence Robertson: I am grateful to the Minister for explaining that matter very clearly, but may I take her back one step? She said that cloning is illegal, but am I not correct in saying that that is dependent on the authority; it is not enshrined in primary legislation? If I am correct, when does she intend to introduce a Bill to enshrine in primary legislation the fact that cloning is illegal?
Yvette Cooper: The hon. Gentleman is right to say that cloning is illegal. We have made clear our commitment, and our intention, to embed the ban on human reproductive cloning in primary legislation. We will do so as parliamentary time allows and obviously subject to discussion with business managers.
Some have argued that such research is the slippery slope to cloning human beings. I argue that that is absolutely not the case. It is illegal to develop embryos created through cell nuclear replacement beyond 14 days.
Dr. Gibson: We should be aware that the public think that scientists are a bit arrogant and tend to disobey rules or to go beyond them. Some will try something with an embryo of 15 or 16 days that is beyond the pale. How do we control that? The Minister will understand how science behaves, so how can ensure that scientists obey the rules?
Yvette Cooper: It is the responsibility of Parliament to set the ethical framework in which science must operate. The 1990 Act sets out not only a clear ethical framework, but a structure for ensuring that that framework is enforced through the HFEA. Clearly, we shall expect all such issues to be monitored and enforced through the HFEA.
Claims that the regulations will lead to human reproductive cloning are based in science fiction, not in law. It would be dreadful if the fear of science fiction were to prevent research that promises to save lives.
Mr. Andy King (Rugby and Kenilworth): Does my hon. Friend share my concern that the HFEA has behaved--[Interruption.] I am sorry; I want to respond to that aside. My question has not been planted by anyone; it comes from within me, not from some vested interest, unlike some others.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the HFEA has gone beyond its remit and, instead of being the safeguard that we want it to be on such sensitive matters, it is behaving like a lobby group and adding its name to memorandums, with other vested interests, to push through the regulations?
So it is clear there are potentially huge benefits from such research. It does not involve a fundamental shift in principle from the current law. There are strict safeguards to prevent both unnecessary research and reproductive cloning.
Of course no one can guarantee when and whether there will be breakthroughs. No one can say how many lives will be saved. No one can say to how many people the power to speak, walk or run will be restored. No one knows how far stem cells will hold the power of healing in the human body. We do not know whether the process will take a year or 10 or 20 years. No one can guarantee where research will take us; if they could, we would not need the research at all.
We cannot say to the child who has been paralysed in an accident that we can find her a cure in her lifetime; we cannot guarantee her the chance to walk and run again. But we can say that we will try. We can look her in the eye and say that we will do everything in our power to promote research that gives her a fighting chance of walking again.
We cannot guarantee a cure for the man who is suffering from Parkinson's disease, who struggles to his constituency surgery and wrestles with his words just to plead with his Member of Parliament to support the regulations. But we can look him in the eye and tell him that we will do everything in our power to give him a fighting chance of receiving treatment that will help him to dress himself again. If such a breakthrough does not come in time for him, we can tell him that we have done all in our power to help the next generation and to prevent them from suffering as he does today.
Normally, such power lies in the hands of scientists. Normally, it lies in the hands of research funding bodies or experts who are in pursuit of a cure. Today, the power lies in the hands of Parliament. It lies in the hands of those who are considering their vote.
I believe that there are strong moral arguments for supporting the regulations. I recognise that some feel, as a matter of conscience, that they cannot support any extension of research involving embryos. However, I also believe that many in the House, such as me, do not feel that they can, as a matter of conscience, turn their backs on research that could relieve the suffering of so many. I commend the regulations to the House.
Dr. Liam Fox (Woodspring): I am grateful to the Minister for once again setting out her case so objectively and precisely. It is helpful to the House, although I cannot help thinking that, since we had this debate just last Friday, this is a parliamentary version of "Groundhog Day". I state yet again that the motion will be subject to a free vote among Conservative Members.
The issues fall into the categories of process and substance. I shall begin by saying a word about process. The decision to be taken is a major one. It will have profound consequences for both the science base and the ethics within which research occurs. Many outside the House will not understand why such a profound decision is before the House in a statutory instrument, which is not amendable, rather than in primary legislation. That may be due to the way in which we do business in the House, but we might need to think again about whether it satisfies those on both sides of the argument who would rather have more detail.
For example, let us consider the definition in the draft regulations of serious disease. On Friday, the Minister admitted that interpretation of that definition would very often be left to the courts. There is a strong feeling in the House that there is already too much interpretation by the courts and that we in Parliament should be giving greater direction on the exact meaning of terms in any legislation that we pass. Many will find the process rather unsatisfactory.
Debates such as today's lead all parliamentarians into difficult territory. We must make decisions about the future of our science base and set the moral and ethical parameters of our society. Too many believe that too many powers have been taken from the House. It is good to see a fine attendance in the House for a debate of great moral importance to the country.
We must beware the relativist's argument that, because different moral and ethical perspectives lead us to draw lines in the sand in different places, no lines can or should be drawn. The fact that different people make different
There is genuine and deep-rooted political unease in the House about many of the medical techniques that are employed. We have had debates on euthanasia and genetic research, and we are now debating cloning. They have all raised public concern, and we need to respond to that. The questions that the medical revolution asks are too important to be left to scientists and doctors alone. We must tackle them on behalf of the society that we represent. I hope that that can be done this afternoon in an atmosphere of tolerance and respect for the different and strongly held views.
We also need to remember that human knowledge is always developing and that it is far from infallible. There is always the danger of the unpredicted outcome or the unforeseen consequence. What might be regarded as a certain medical truth at one point can be discredited within only a few years. Examples such as thalidomide illustrate that point.
Dr. Fox: As he did last week, the hon. Gentleman will get his own chance to contribute to the debate. As I said, I hope that the debate will be held in an atmosphere of tolerance and respect. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman might find that funny, but it is normally the basis on which we do business in the House of Commons.
The benefits of the medical revolution are immense--transplantation, limb grafts and the elimination of infectious diseases. That revolution has changed not only the way in which we live, but the way in which we think about living. With genetic research, we are dealing literally with the building blocks of life, and our perception of what it is to be a human being is literally being put under the microscope.
However, the medical revolution carries with it moral, ethical and philosophical consequences that we need to confront, but I am sure that I am not the only Member who often feels that our ability to deal with the moral issues sometimes lags behind our technical abilities and what science is capable of achieving. We all accept that just because we can do something does not mean that we should do something. Similarly, just because science is capable of doing something does not mean that it should be allowed to do it. We need to establish a clear framework within which to operate and we should be confident enough, as a society, to grasp the agenda back from the scientific community alone.
We must follow certain principles, and the Minister outlined some of them. We must avoid being alarmist; nothing scares people like ignorance and the fear of the unknown. Transparency, accountability and honesty are all essential. Our debate can be mature and considered only if it is also informed. Therefore, information must be freely available and explained in a way that makes its complicated concepts acceptable to the greatest number of people. It must be free from the crass distortions that, for a variety of motives, are all too common.