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These issues are difficult for Members of Parliament, but we do not live in a theocracy; we live in a multicultural, multi-religious and secular society. At times, we have to use our own judgment--regardless of the correspondence we receive or the pressure put on us by particular lobbies or groups. The political consequences of that may not always be easy, but it is the only course that Members of Parliament can follow on matters of conscience such as this. For those reasons I shall proudly support the motion, as I have also said on my website--to follow the hon. Member for Salisbury. The proposals are in the interests of millions of people in this country and potentially throughout the world. The legislation will lead to a better life and future for families.
Mrs. Ann Winterton (Congleton): An editorial in The Daily Telegraph today puts in context precisely why so many people in the House and outside it believe that these important matters should have been introduced through primary legislation. If you will allow me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall quote briefly from the editorial:
I have no doubt whatever that a vast majority of those who will vote in favour of the instrument will do so in the genuine belief that it holds the greatest promise for scientists to find cures for many genetic diseases and other disorders that beset our society. However, I passionately believe that they are wrong and that they are being misled. We must consider the evidence. The evidence available to the House suggests that it verges on the nonsensical for us to believe the many claims that embryos are the most likely source of stem cells for treatments for such diseases. Many scientific papers have been published showing that adult stem cells are already proving of great value in treatments for several disorders--for example, cancer, heart abnormalities and degenerative diseases, including Parkinson's.
Dr. Gibson: Can the hon. Lady tell us how those cells have been helpful in cancer research? Cord cells, which come from blood systems, work on leukaemia, but they are no good for any other cancers. Which is she referring to?
Mrs. Winterton: The hon. Gentleman refers to an important area of research into cancers. I shall write to him if he wants other examples, but he has cited an important field, and I assume that he agrees that leukaemia is classified as a cancer. I have no doubt that he would be pleased that progress is being made using umbilical cord tissue. That is an ethical way forward, and it is to be welcomed.
Some scientists claim that the use of adult stem cells will not involve the complications that could arise with embryonic stem cells. As long ago as February this year, a paper in Science magazine made it clear that adult stem cells could be easier to manage and, if transplanted to their normal environment--for example, brain cells into brain tissue--would produce only the cell types necessary for that tissue. Perhaps that is not so flexible as embryo stem cell methods, but it is probably more effective.
Dr. Harris: We would all welcome the potential that adult stem cell research shows, but can the hon. Lady cite the names of any of the scientists involved in such research who believe that the other avenues that might aid their work should be closed? I have found no statement to that effect from those scientists. On the contrary, they know that they rely on insights from embryological research to carry out their work. Indeed, the greater the potential of adult cells, the more necessary they think insights from embryological research to be.
Mrs. Winterton: It is perfectly obvious that scientists who have an interest--vested and otherwise--in carrying out such research will never want that avenue to be closed, but many distinguished scientists in this country, America and Europe would disagree with the view that the hon. Gentleman espouses. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson) is not sure about that, but I can assure him that many papers have been published in distinguished scientific journals that bear out that point.
We have already lived through a similar debate. In fact, I have a strong sense of deja vu; we have previously examined claims similar to those being fired at us today in connection with the justification of cloning. The previous occasion was in 1990, when the House debated the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill. Many promises were made, but nothing of any substance has ever materialised. On this occasion, however, a different tack will be adopted; from now on, my colleagues and I will make a point of regularly checking the claims and promises with which we are being bombarded today.
Dr. Starkey: The hon. Lady will know that the original legislation allows research mostly to improve assisted reproduction. Is she suggesting that there has been no improvement in the success rate of assisted reproduction in the intervening period? Is she denying the value of the research that has ensured that assisted reproduction is more successful than it used to be?
Mrs. Winterton: Assisted reproduction is little more successful than it used to be. [Interruption.] It may be more successful not because of the research that has been done, but because more cases are being funded by health authorities and more is being done. It is a cruel hoax to think that it is the answer for people facing fertility problems. It seems such a shame that the main cause of infertility--life style--should not have more research into it. [Interruption.] This is perfectly true.
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Lady, but the hon. Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson) must contain himself. We do not want that element entering the debate.
Mrs. Winterton: I should also like to say to the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Dr. Starkey) that the numbers of cases of infertility have not fallen. Perhaps that also shows that the research has not been as successful as she would like to imply. Bearing in mind the fact that many hon. Members want to speak--
Mrs. Winterton: No, I will not give way because I am in the middle of a sentence. Perhaps the hon. Lady might like to resume her seat--thank you. [Interruption.] I am sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I apologise; I should not be playing your role. I was in the middle of saying that although many Members are trying to intervene, I should like to make some progress, which would allow others to make their contributions.
I feel as though I am in the middle of a horrible Grimm--in more ways than one--fairy story. It is both untrue and unspeakably cruel to tell families who suffer from genetic disease and other problems that a vote against cloning is a vote against providing them with any hope for the future. Our hearts must go out to those who plead, "Do not deny us a chance to be cured." Those at the Department of Health know full well that that is not so. Professor Donaldson himself has made it clear, when he told us:
Whence have we obtained evidence that stem cells hold such great promise? The evidence comes from successful experimentation in the use of adult stem cells, and from nothing else. We are confident only because of the successful work that has already been done with adult stem cells. Here I must add that, so far, we have no evidence--none whatever has been forthcoming--of whether embryo stem cells will achieve what is required and what has been predicted. We must therefore ask ourselves why we find the public and the press bombarded with cruel stories that those of us who oppose cloning are denying the sick their greatest hope for cures.
I have been involved in these matters for many years and therefore have little doubt that money is involved: the crude commercial potential that the use of the human embryo will open up to our £50 billion science industry.
Every human embryo is a miracle. As we have said before in these debates, he or she initiates, controls, sustains and directs his or her own development. Although the embryo is no bigger than a pin point, every kind of cell and tissue that is necessary for skin, muscles, bones, nerves and organs is there from the start.
It is because of those properties that each embryo holds such promise for the biotechnological and other sections of our science industry. The industry could make enormous profits if it were able to extract cells for use in medicine, pharmaceuticals and biotechnology, but I find horrifying the manner in which we are held to ransom by its misleading claims. They are nothing less than disingenuous and a cruel hoax on those who are most vulnerable--those suffering from degenerative and other diseases, who understandably seek an instant cure for their condition.
If we lose the vote, I have no intention of going away. Month in and month out I will be joined by colleagues, and others in another place, to table and publicise questions on work with adult stem cells and on research on the human embryo and his brother or sister the clone. We have a remarkable number of friends in the scientific and medical community, and I know that they will join us in ensuring that we see every published paper. We will make a point of drawing them to the attention of the House and the public as a whole.
I draw attention to the claims made, primarily by members of the Government, that they have heard from families and the victims of disease--the people who have to carry the burden. I, too, have heard from such people and those who have written to me have made it abundantly clear that they are appalled by the idea of cloning or of using embryonic stem cells in their treatment. I have certainly heard from groups such as the Parkinson's Disease Society, but the people suffering from Parkinson's disease who have written to me complain that the society has never written to its members or groups to consult them and to check on their feelings on the issue.
I well remember disabled people coming to the House in 1990 to lobby in favour of the use of embryos for experiments. Without exception, they had all been assured that embryo research would provide them with cures and, without exception, the same cruel hoax was played on them. They were used in a callous and unscrupulous way as a means to an end.
I repeat what I said earlier and in other debates. To treat people who are suffering as so much fodder in a campaign that denies them the facts is, to my mind, cruel. Neither my colleagues nor I will stop trying to make those who are responsible for the present propaganda ultimately having to answer for their claims.
The course that the Government are pursuing with so much determination, despite the opposition of so many in the House and outside, is an affront to the dignity of human life and flies in the face of the traditional Judaeo-Christian moral ethos of our nation.