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Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the next meeting of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group is due to take place on 29th and 30th April. Her Majesty's Government will then be urging the group to recommend to the heads of Commonwealth governments that Nigeria's suspension be lifted immediately. Her Majesty's Government would very much like to see Nigeria at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in South Africa this autumn.
Lord Moynihan: My Lords, during his visit to Nigeria, what assurances did the Foreign Secretary seek from General Obasanjo that Nigeria will not withdraw its forces from the Ecomoa peace-keeping force in Sierra Leone? What assessment has the Minister made of the view that it will be extremely difficult for an elected government in Nigeria to justify the expense of maintaining Ecomoa troops in Sierra Leone given the unpopularity of financing the regional peace-keeping force amid the deprived and impoverished Nigerian population?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I believe that it is commonly known, but let me state again for the record that Her Majesty's Government have encouraged Nigeria to keep its forces in Sierra Leone on all occasions when we have been able to have significant ministerial contact. My right honourable friend would have done so when he was in Nigeria earlier this month.
Lord Milverton: My Lords, given the happy events in Nigeria, will the fear that previously existed for ordinary members of the public there begin to be removed? Will people be able to feel more secure than they did previously? My father, who was a governor there, would no doubt be very pleased that it appears that at long last the great Nigerian nation will be able to begin to rebuild itself.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I am sure that we all agree with the points made by the noble Lord. Her Majesty's Government will continue to do what they can to ensure good and stable government in Nigeria. We have been working through the Westminster Foundation for Democracy to provide training for political parties and politicians. We have also, through DfID, been trying to help with the draft constitution. It is important to remember that, even in the strange relationship that we had with Nigeria over a period, we maintained our help in poverty elimination to the tune of some £12 million a year. Her Majesty's Government, with the support of this House, have done what they can to increase stabilisation in the way suggested by the noble Lord.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, is the Minister aware that many of those who can play a prominent role in building up civil society in Nigeria, particularly in a human rights capacity, have spent long periods in prison in that country? I refer to people such as Beko Ransome-Kuti and Femi Falana. In looking at the aid we are providing to help the Nigerians build their civil society, will the Government give particular preference to organisations represented by those people who have suffered so much under previous military regimes?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, indeed we do that. We have welcomed the release of political detainees. The most recent releases took place on 3rd March. We continue to urge the Nigerian Government to ensure that political detainees are released. We have welcomed the release of the Ogoni
Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply and for re-stating the Government's position. However, is she aware that in the past nine years more than half a million human embryos have been destroyed or experimented upon? Is she further aware that the report to which the Government intend to reply in April recommends that in therapeutic circumstances human cloning should be permissible? Does she agree that before such a momentous decision is taken there needs to be a much more broadly based and widespread debate than has so far taken place? The committee of four established by the HFEA and HGAC consisted of individuals all of whom had previously expressed support for therapeutic cloning. One had significant holdings in the pharmaceutical industry. Does the Minister agree that before the science marches ahead we need to ponder more carefully the ethical considerations?
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I agree that we need to consider seriously views on the ethical issues. I have made clear the Government's commitment. The cloning of human individuals is ethically unacceptable. It cannot take place in the United Kingdom. The HGAC/HFEA report recognises that. The report is not that of the four members of the working group; it is the report of both authorities jointly to government. It is right that there should be considered debate on the way forward. The Government will publish their response in due course. As the noble Lord is well
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, the terminology used by the noble Earl is clearly offensive to him and to most right-minded people. However, the benefits from strictly controlled research on embryos in some circumstances have been felt by many couples in this country who now have children as a result of in vitro fertilisation techniques made possible by the research. That makes us recognise that a balance has to be struck. The balance is limited and controlled research where that is ethically justified. It does not extend to the cloning of human individuals.
The Lord Bishop of Norwich: My Lords, is the Minister aware that not only the Church but a large proportion of the general public are increasingly concerned about the way in which the boundaries of embryo research are constantly being pushed outwards? I was encouraged to hear the Minister's remarks about the possibility of debate. Does she acknowledge that the boundaries have been extended far beyond what was envisaged in the Warnock Report without the benefit of the kind of public debate recommended as an essential part of the report?
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, it is absolutely right that we have revisited the debate. The HGAC/HFEA consultation exercise which took place before the report was drawn up was a proper way forward, taking a wide range of responses from a wide range of interests. In an area where it is important that we do not allow the science to outpace the ethics, the Government are considering very carefully the recommendations contained in the report.
Lord Walton of Detchant: My Lords, will the Minister accept that the control of embryo research in this country is very closely monitored by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority? Does she agree that informed public, scientific and medical opinion is totally opposed to any suggestion of reproductive cloning of identical human individuals? However, does she further agree that, under regulation, there are huge potential benefits to be gained by the cloning of human tissues for transplantation purposes? Is it not the case that, if regulations allowed, the prospect of the prevention of devastating mitochondrial disease by cytoplasmic transfer could bring enormous benefits to human health?
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, the noble Lord has expressed in more eloquent and technical terms the concept I was trying to explain to the House; namely, that there is very strict control on research in these areas. It is right to have that control, and it is right to
Baroness Young: My Lords, while we accept the Minister's statement about current practice and the Government's view, will she accept that any discussion on the published report should take account of the ethical issues? They are of great concern to many people. Will she bear in mind particularly the point made by the right reverend Prelate that this area is expanding all the time and we are not at all clear just where it is leading us?
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