§ 3.24 p.m.
§ The Lord Chancellor (Lord Mackay of Clashfern)
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
Moved, That the House do now again resolve itself into Committee. —(The Lord Chancellor.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly.
§ [The CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES in the Chair.]
§ Clause 11 [Licences for treatment, storage and research; alternatively, for treatment and storage only]:
§ The Chairman of Committees (Lord Aberdare)
If Amendment No. 51 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment Nos. 52 and 53.
The Duke of Norfolk moved Amendment No. 51:
Page 5, line 15, leave out subsection (1).
§ The noble Duke said: The amendment concerns the kernel of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill. It is so important that there are no Whips on noble Lords and we are all entirely free to vote according to our own consciences.
§ Clause 11 is not concerned so much with medical matters as with ethical matters. I fully support infertility treatment to enable married couples to have children. I consider the family to be the most important human unit there is and when children are lacking it is indeed sad. I commend in vitro fertilisation as a wonderful discovery which has enabled so many childless couples to have children but, alas, there is only about a 10 per cent. success rate at the moment overall. We are all proud of the achievement that brought about Louise Brown's birth at Oldham in 1978. It has rightly won world acclaim.
§ According to every text book in the world on anatomy human life starts at fertilisation and ends at death. At the Committee stage in the Chamber last Tuesday the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, sought to clarify the beginning of life by redefining the creation of an embryo. She said that it comes into existence when a single sperm has completed penetration of a human egg. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor has agreed to redraft the Bill on this matter at Report stage.
§ Professor Winston has mentioned that there may be over 4,000 genetic diseases that might benefit if the human fertilisation and embryology authority were to license further embryo research. However, no genetic disease has so far been identified, let alone cured, by embryo experimentation. I repeat that point: embryo experimentation has neither identified nor cured any genetic disease.
§ The pamphlet Progress expresses the thoughts of scientists who want more embryo experimentation. They admit that they cannot find cures for genetic diseases. Their purpose now is to identify 951 handicapped embryos by embryo biopsy so that the afflicted can be discarded. Having carried out a biopsy on an embryo, they discard the cells which are afflicted with a genetic disease. The hope is that eventually they will be able to replace the embryo in the womb but so far they have not succeeded. Therefore, embryo biopsy amounts to the destruction of the embryo.
§ The scientists' purpose is to identify handicapped embryos by embryo biopsy so that it may be discarded. However, there is no question of using embryos to cure genetic disease. The scientists admit that. Moreover, there is nothing that they can learn from the human embryo that they cannot learn from the animal embryo in the study of genetic diseases.
I should like to quote from Hymie Gordon, Professor of Genetics at the Mayo Clinic in the United States of America. He said:
Everything we need to learn can be learnt by studying genetic diseases in non-human primates and other animals … No one has ever been able to tell me as a scientist what particular step in scientific knowledge is going to be achieved by an experiment on a human embryo that could not have been done in an animal embryo".
§ That quotation was from one of the world's top geneticists.
§ Recently, immense strides have been made in the search to cure genetic defects. They are all dependent on research carried out on born people who have the diseases. Professor Lejeune identified the cause of Down's Syndrome (Trisomy 21) and it is hoped that he might discover more of the genes which are responsible. There are also great hopes for cystic fibrosis and muscular dystrophy. I have a disease which is partially hereditary and which was discovered only a few years ago; it is glaucoma. My right eye is only half effective. Strides are also being made in respect of the minor genetic disease by carrying out research on those of us who have it. It is nonsense to suggest that it would be possible to cure the disease by experimenting on me when I was a dot, a one-cell embryo, in July 1915. How can anyone tell me that experiments carried out on a dot in the embryonic stage will cure a genetic disease? How can we be cured —and I include myself as an example —without experimenting and researching on us when we develop the disease? You cannot talk about it when it is not even identifiable in a dot on day one.
§ A Gallup poll was carried out between 13th to 18th December, 1989. It showed that a majority of British people were against embryo experimentation. Therefore, I am speaking for the majority and not the minority. Furthermore, I have received many letters beseeching me to speak against experimentation, including one signed by the Reverend Canon Oliver O'Donovan, Regius Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology at Christchurch, Oxford. It lists many Anglican bishops and Churchmen and implores me to take the line that I now take. Another letter came from Bolton, Lancashire, listing approximately 200 severely disabled people or their parents from all over the kingdom. Another letter came from John Finnis, Professor of Law at Oxford, supported by the legal 952 lecturers at the universities of Leicester and Manchester. I received another signed by 18 of the country's top philosophers from several universities. They all implore me to move the amendment.
Other countries have banned embryo experimentation. They include Denmark, Eire, Portugal, Norway and the Australian states of Victoria and South Australia. The European Parliament has voted against it. A moratorium has now been declared in France while the matter is considered further. In Germany the Bundestag is about to pass stringent legislation. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester, who unfortunately is unable to be present today, has sent me a summary of the Bill that the Bundestag is about to pass. I shall read five sentences of the summary in order to show what is happening in the rest of the European Community. After all, its members have the same kind of feelings as we in this country; they have the same basic religions, and so forth. It states:
1. In vitro fertilisation may be practised only for the purpose of making pregnant the women from whom the eggs are taken.
2. No embryo may be produced which is not intended for return to the mother's womb".
The third is important:
3. Nothing may be done to a human embryo outside the womb which is not for its own benefit.
4. Genetic manipulation of human cells is forbidden.
5. Cross-species fertilisation is forbidden".
I am not opposed to the acquisition of medical and scientific knowledge about embryology and infertility. However, I am opposed to the destructive experiments on human embryos. The Hippocratic Oath has until now provided the basic ethics for doctors and medical scientists. It states that doctors must not carry out experiments which hurt the patients with a view to finding a solution to the problems of science. The oath dated from approximately 400 years BC and has been updated. The Helsinki Declaration, which updated it, states:
In research on a man the interests of science and society should never take precedence over considerations related to the well-being of the subject".
The oath was further updated by the declaration made at Geneva. It states that we must:
have the utmost respect for human life from the time of conception".
§ I suggest to your Lordships that we as legislators also have a conscientious duty to follow the Hippocratic Oath and the declarations of Helsinki and Geneva. They apply to us just as much as they apply to the medical profession and medical scientists.
§ Finally, I hope that the Government will pour in more money to help find cures for those who suffer from genetic diseases. Yesterday evening I met people from a small parliamentary lobby. They were in Westminster Hall because many were in wheelchairs. Some noble Lords addressed them including the noble Lords, Lord Ennals and Lord Henderson. I share with them all their anxieties that they should get better themselves and that it should be possible to prevent any more children being born with their problems. I believe that it is utterly wrong to exploit the stories that research on human embryos could provide miraculous cures for them and their children.953
§ Lord Carter
I am grateful to the noble Duke for giving way. I should make it clear that the parents who were present yesterday were not seeking a cure for their condition but were supporting research to ensure that handicapped embryos would not be implanted. That was the point of the lobby.
However, there is a point which is germane to the point just advanced by the noble Duke. He will remember that last Sunday we were together on the Frost programme when we discussed this matter. When I made the point that research would allow parents who carry a congenital disease to choose to be implanted the noble Duke said —and of course I agree —that he would want to implant a good embryo. Can the noble Duke tell the Committee of the techniques which he would propose to distinguish between the good and the bad embryo and what he would propose to do with the bad embryo?
§ The Duke of Norfolk
The answer is simple. I believe that an embryo is the start of life and must be given the same status in life as a child, a grown-up person or a Member of your Lordships' Chamber. I can see no distinction between that and the life of an embryo.
In in vitro fertilisation three or four embryos are created and one or two are implanted into the mother. Sometimes too many are inserted and there are multiple births. If you do not insert any which are created, they should be allowed to die. To my mind, those embryos should not be treated as an animal or some other being and be experimented on. I believe that the keeping of spares for experimentation is ethically wrong.
The noble Lord also asked me how one knows whether an embryo is good or bad. Quite obviously, I am not a doctor. I believe that the only way to discover that is that some sort of an inspection or observation is carried out. The noble Lord, Lord Jakobovits, said that he approves of observation on the embyro. If it is found that the embryo is all right then it is inserted into the womb. No inspection of the embryo can be carried out which reveals glaucoma, thank God; otherwise I should not be here.
That was a point made last Sunday on television when I took Alison Davis along with the noble Lord on to breakfast television with my son-in-law, David Frost. She said in the little speech which she made that she had spina bifida and she said, "Thank God they did not scrub me when they discovered I had it and that they allowed me to go on; otherwise I should not be here". Thank God she is still here because she is a wonderful Welsh girl who is making the best out of life, having been to Essex University, and so on. I have now concluded my speech and I beg to move.
§ 3.45 p.m.
§ Lord Rawlinson of Ewell
I support the noble Duke in the amendment which stands in his name and mine. This is a debate in which no one should mock or sneer at the opinions and beliefs of others. This matter is unlike the mundane subjects which are usually discussed in the House or in this Committee. This goes profoundly to the heart of the matter.
954 I have always felt anxiety about what was the right attitude of any parliamentarian in matters of ethical concern. It is quite easy when the proposal is to oblige people by law to do acts which thereafter the state, by sanction, will enforce. It is more difficult when the power proposed to be given is only permissive. When that happens, it seems to me you have to apply your personal judgment. As this is a matter of life and death, I believe that it is only now that one can apply one's personal principles on the proposal before us.
I do not believe that this debate will change the opinions of many, because for many this is a subject of profound belief. No one on either side of today's argument would tolerate a permissive right to kill or experiment on any person with a life separate from that person's mother, however short that existence had been. In other words, infant life to all is sacred.
That is what I found difficult in the very distinguished speech on Second Reading by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York when he said that if the moment of conception is the start of human life, then the majority of souls destined for eternity might never have been anything other than embryonic. It seems to me that the same could be said of infants. Without there being an opportunity to commit right or wrong, infant mortality was the scourge throughout the ages and still persists in many parts of the world.
The question is asked: when does life commence? Surely if it has commenced the killing is not acceptable. To those who reply "After 14 days", I say, "Fourteen days after what?" It must be 14 days after something or 14 days into some existence, progress or potential development. What happens to make "after 14 days" acceptable? Life must come from a cause which starts a process which may last, if uninterrupted, for many years. The interruption is death, which comes at any time, arresting potential and terminating a process.
Therefore, is not life like a flow of what could be a great river with a faint intitial movement like a spring, rivulet or stream, which then becomes a river and ends in the ocean, unidentifiable and gone? At any time the spring may be cut off or the stream may be dammed. Is it not logical to start at the beginning? Those very honourable people —and I accept that they are —who prefer subsection (1) wish it to be permitted to experiment with the most honourable of motives, helping those now alive or yet to become alive. However, the value to them of that which they want to use for experiments is that it has a quality which makes it unique. What makes it unique? It is unique because it has the quality of life. Therefore, they are seeking to use that which has begun in the river or on the path of life.
I ask again: 14 days into what? It is 14 days into life. That being so, I cannot accept that man has a right to dispose of what is living, to bottle it, tag it, place it on a shelf, play with it or destroy it because I profoundly believe that our ancestors were wiser in their generation as to the verities of life and death. I believe that man must not do that. I believe that life must be accepted as having begun and should be honoured even from the very moment of conception. I support the amendment.
The Archbishop of York
I thank the noble Duke for his opening speech, which I think helped to clarify the grounds of his opposition to research although I must confess that I found his clarification somewhat odd. I deeply sympathise with his general attitude towards this matter and I deeply sympathise with him in his own hereditary defect, not least because we discovered in the corridor before the beginning of the debate that we are related.
However, the noble Duke began by saying how much he welcomed the advances that there have been through in vitro fertilisation and then made an attempt to deny the very research on which in vitro fertilisation has been based. It seems to be quite extraordinary to commend this particular result and rejoice with those who have received children which they could not otherwise receive and then roundly say that the very means of producing them were immoral and ought to be banned.
The noble Duke then went on to quote an opinion that all that might be discovered could be discovered through animal research. That again seems to be a deeply immoral point of view, in that if one intends to conduct animal research and apply the results to human beings without any sort of intermediate stage, one is not experimenting with embryos but with fully developed human lives. Exactly the same is true of the quite extraordinary set of provisions which the German Government are proposing to pass. If research is restricted to embryos which are subsequently to be re-implanted into women, one is experimenting on embryos which are to grow up and on women who are to bear children. That again seems to me to be deeply immoral.
In debating this amendment we are not considering whether to allow research because research is already going on and has been going on for 20 years. We are considering whether research should be banned. That is not just a difference in terminology because we have to weigh up whether the arguments against research are so strong as to ban an activity which has already been going on in this country in a very responsible fashion and which has already produced very significant results in the field of in vitro fertilisation.
I do not agree with those who say that it will not produce further results which may have consequences for those with genetic defects. Nobody is claiming that all forms of genetic defect can be dealt with by this means. What they are claiming is that there are some kinds of genetic defect where there is a clearly identifiable gene which might be diagnosed before an embryo is implanted and thus give desperate parents, who are fearful of perhaps giving birth to another defective child, an opportunity to know that they are to have a normal child. That seems to me to be a highly laudable proposition.
Arguments have frequently been put forward that we are dealing with a continuum in which one can talk about "the embryo" which at this stage I prefer to call the conceptus. We need to be careful about our terminolgy. We have reacted against the word "pre-embryo". "Conceptus" can bury the idea in the deepest obscurity of the Latin language and I put it 956 forward as a purely neutral term meaning that which is the result of fertilisation up to the time of implantation.
The argument is constantly made that such a conceptus might develop into one of us. Indeed, but there is a great difference between reading history backwards and trying to predict it forwards. When you read history backwards you can trace out a train of cause and event; you can trace back an individual life in which we rejoice now to its earliest beginnings in the womb and beyond in the life of its parents. However, when you are trying to read history forwards you are simply talking of potentialities. What we are talking about when we look at a conceptus is a potential for life. Unless that conceptus is actually implanted in a uterus it has no potential beyond those few days during which experimentation takes place.
The moral difference is quite different from that of infanticide and in a very large measure different from that of abortion. We are now talking of something which has taken place very much further along the road with the growing identity, the growing personal value that the developing embryo has. Nobody in their wildest dreams would want to say that infanticide is justified if research on a conceptus is justified. That is to ignore the whole process which has taken place in between.
One of the difficulties in the debate is that embryology, to coin a phrase, is sui generis. We are constantly trying to apply distinctions which pertain in ordinary life but which do not actually apply in a particular respect. For example, lawyers try to put everything in one of two baskets; it is either a person or a thing. However, there are entities which are neither persons nor things. What we are referring to in the case of a conceptus is an organism of human origin which given the right conditions has the potential to develop and may become a full human person.
In using words like that we need to be conscious of the slipperiness of the terms we use. For example, we use the phrase "respect for life". Do we mean all life, or what kind of life? We use the word "human". We all realise that the word "human" carries two quite different connotations; one is simply descriptive and the other is evaluative. We may describe a hair found at the scene of a crime as a human hair, and that is a simple descriptive use. When we talk about a person being human, we are evaluating as well as describing. Therefore, when we say a conceptus is human, in the first instance that is descriptive. Gradually, as it develops and begins to gain the features of a human person, our word becomes evaluative.
Exactly the same can be said of the words "a being". We ask, what has been produced as a result of fertilisation? If we use the phrase "a being", we must recognise that that has a weak sense and a strong sense. The weak sense of "a being" is that it is an entity; it is simply something which exists. However, we can easily import into it the strong sense if we use it in referring to "a human being"; in other words, a person with an identity, a life of its own, an independence and so on.
957 I am sure that we shall never get that right until we see what is happening embryologically as the creation of persons through a process which, although it begins with genetic union, is not simply about a union of genes but also depends on a certain cellular identity which only becomes apparent at the time of the appearance of the primitive streak. It is only then that one can say that those cells will eventually develop, again given the right conditions, into a human person.
I very much hope, therefore, that in discussing this extremely difficult subject we will endeavour to be careful in our use of language and concepts, because it is so easy to be swayed by arguments which look good on the surface but which are wholly spurious when one looks beneath that surface. I believe we are wise to be guided by common perceptions of ordinary people; and I do not mean those who ring up and say "We do not like embryo research". I am sure a great many people who are approached suddenly in the street and asked "Do you like embryo research?" have some horrific picture in mind of fiendish doctors experimenting on poor little screaming embryos.
The ordinary response of people dealing with the first fruits of conception —for example, a miscarriage —is sorrow at that event, but one does not say, "There is a human person who has died". The parents are conscious of their loss. As that conceptus develops into a fetus and eventually into a baby, obviously the consciousness of loss and the value of what had been created increases. We have a similar scale of value which we operate when we talk about abortion. I do not want to muddle this debate with talk about abortion because in a way it is a different ethical issue. I simply want to make the point that we recognise that at different stages we impute different values to what is there in the womb.
In deciding this particular amendment I hope that we will not be persuaded just by one single criterion. We are dealing with a very complex balance of arguments. We owe it to the scientists to take seriously what they are trying to do, to respect their integrity and to provide them with a clear framework in which to work. We do no good if our prohibitions are so severe as to be regarded by them as unreasonable and unjustified and of such a kind as to prevent potentially valuable and responsible work. Therefore I hope that the Committee will reject this amendment.
§ 4 p.m.
§ Lord Walton of Detchant
In opposing the amendment tabled by the noble Duke and the noble Lord, Lord Rawlinson of Ewell, and in explaining why I feel it right to table an alternative amendment in order to make it possible under the Bill for research on the human conceptus up to the 14-day deadline to continue, I do not propose to rehearse in detail all of the arguments which I put before your Lordships in the debate at Second Reading. However, I believe that it would be right for me to try to correct some misunderstandings and misconceptions relating to the current position and future prospects which make the continuation and 958 development of such research so vital to the interests of humanity as a whole.
Let me make it clear at the outset that, whereas I personally prefer that the fertilised ovum up until the appearance of the primitive streak at about 14 days should be called a conceptus or, as some have called it, a pre-embryo, I must of course accept that in this Bill as it stands it is identified as an embryo from the two-cell zygote stage onwards. However, I am totally convinced, as the most reverend Primate said in the debate at Second Reading when he supported the view of many other clerics and philosophers, including some of the Roman Catholic faith like the eminent Norman Ford, that individuation of the embryo does not begin until the appearance of the primitive streak at the 14th day.
At this stage a large group of cells which earlier were indistinguishable from one another by present techniques either biochemically or under the microscope, of which many are destined to form the placenta and membranes and only some to participate subsequently in forming the fetus, have differentiated in such a manner that the origin of an individual can for the first time be clearly discerned. Hence I and the great majority of scientists who have carefully considered this problem believe that it is wholly proper to accept the 14-day limit, beyond which, as the Bill proposes, research on the human conceptus would be illegal.
It is true, as some noble Lords mentioned in the debate at Second Reading, that there are a few scientists who question the validity of that time limit but they are in a very small minority. I personally am in no doubt that the inestimable benefits to human health which will undoubtedly spring from research now being performed or contemplated on the conceptus well within the proposed statutory 14-day limit cannot and must not be frustrated. This view is supported by the very great majority of scientists who work in or who have specialised knowledge of the field. Hence I must refute totally the thin-end-of-the-wedge or slippery slope argument put forward by those opponents of research who have suggested that later this time limit might be progressively extended.
I turn now to the arguments of those who have challenged supporters of research to name any human disease in which so-called embryo research, which is really research on the conceptus, has led, to date, to significant advances in treatment. I agree that as yet there are none, but those who regard this acknowledged fact as being a valid argument for banning such research have either ignored, or have perhaps failed to understand, all of the arguments in its favour.
Certainly explosive developments in molecular biology and DNA recombinant technology, all of them laboratory-based and many resulting from studies carried out on blood and other tissue samples from human subjects with inherited diseases and their relatives, have succeeded in identifying the exact chromosomal localisation in the human genome of the abnormal genes responsible for diseases such as cystic fibrosis, Huntington's chorea, haemophilia, myotonic muscular dystrophy, one 959 form of peroneal muscular atrophy and Duchenne muscular dystrophy, to name but a few such conditions. All of this has occurred within a very few years and advances are being reported almost daily.
In that tragic, progressive and ultimately fatal affliction, Duchenne muscular dystrophy, whose devastating effects upon the patient and the family I described in my speech at Second Reading, the gene has not only been located but has been fully characterised and sequenced and the essential protein component of the muscle cell, now called dystrophen, which is missing as a consequence of the defective gene has been identified. In this and in many other inherited diseases such discoveries have brought much closer the ultimate prospect of effective treatment for the disease, we hope, through being able ultimately to replace the missing protein through techniques of what is loosely called genetic engineering.
But gene therapy is in its infancy; the obstacles which stand in the way of replacing in every muscle cell a protein as large as dystrophen are formidable, and I think it unlikely that such a treatment will become available for at least 10 to 15 years. Opponents of research have often quoted the views of Professor Lejeune who in 1959 made the major discovery that Down's syndrome is due to the presence of an extra chromosome. Since then he has travelled extensively to promote his view that the treatment of genetically determined disease cannot be achieved by embryo research.
Of course I accept that view, but he has totally ignored the growing weight of conclusive scientific evidence that the prevention of many such diseases will not be possible without it. I accept that these major discoveries in molecular genetics have been made possible without embryo research, but what opponents of such research seem unable or unwilling to appreciate is that it is the next crucial step, bringing untold hope to the relatives of such patients, which could not possibly be achieved if such research were banned.
What especially disturbs me is that some scientific advisers to the Pro-Life Group, among them at least one close personal friend, appear either to have brushed aside the clear, conclusive and incontrovertible evidence from many impeccable sources which confirm that view or have not accepted it. Let us not forget either that present techniques of in vitro fertilisation in which eggs harvested from the infertile woman are fertilised outside the human body before the resultant conceptus is implanted in the woman's uterus have only about a 10 per cent. success rate even in the most skilful and experienced hands.
Only by studying this process in greater detail and by developing techniques to improve the viability of the resultant conceptus and to ensure that it ultimately becomes embedded in the inner wall of the recipient's uterus will the effectiveness of this procedure be improved. Such advances, too, would be totally frustrated if research were to be be banned, as would some exciting current research on the prevention of chromosomal abnormalities.
960 To return to what in my view is even more important —that is, the prospects for the prevention of inherited disease—perhaps I may remind the Committee that when the female ovum is fertilised, cell division soon begins and within the first few days floating free in the uterus are groups of undifferentiated cells, each forming a conceptus. At this stage there is no means of identifying which cells will subsequently form the membranes and placenta and which will ultimately create the primitive streak from which the embryo and fetus will ultimately arise. But by about the fourth or fifth day a blastocyst begins to form, and in this a small nodule or basal cell mass begins to differentiate as the harbinger of the primitive streak, and an outer layer of cells begins to be identifiable as the origin of the placenta and membranes.
Since in the process of normal human reproduction about 80 per cent. of blastocysts are shed spontaneously and only one in five attaches to the wall of the uterus at about the sixth or seventh day, this blastocyst is not yet in my view a viable embryo but only has the potential to become one.
But now we come to the crucial point. Duchenne muscular dystrophy is transmitted from one generation to the next by an X-linked recessive gene, like colour blindness and haemophilia. This means that it is passed on by apparently normal carrier females, half of whose sons will suffer from the disease and half of whose daughters will themselves be carriers. Fertilisation in vitro by her husband's sperm of ova obtained from the carrier female, who will normally have had at least one affected brother or other affected male relative on the maternal side of the family, can then be followed by development of the conceptus to the blastocyst stage, with removal by biopsy of a single cell to determine whether or not the gene is present, with a view to implanting in the uterus of the carrier female a conceptus shown not to be carrying the gene. This technique would thus allow a female carrier to bear unaffected sons and non-carrier daughters.
I must stress that the technique of extracting DNA from a single cell removed in this way from a blastocyst is now being developed rapidly, and I and the scientists working in the field are satisfied that within the next year or two at the most a gene-specific marker will be produced enabling this technique to become not just a prospect but a reality. I must also stress, first, that this development will not require any manipulation of that basal cell mass from which the primitive streak and embryo will ultimately develop. Such manipulation would indeed be likely to prevent an embryo from developing further. The cell removed is taken from that group which will form the placenta and membranes, and research on animals has shown that such a biopsy can be performed without detriment to the subsequent development of the blastocyst and embryo.
I would also stress that those who talk about spare embryos being killed are in my view indulging in unjustified hyperbole. A blastocyst found to be carrying a defective gene would simply be allowed to denegerate naturally, as indeed do many which fail to be implanted in the uterus in the process of normal human conception.
961 Perhaps I may also deal with the views expressed by those who have suggested that all the information derived from embryo research could be obtained by animal experimentation or other means. I trust it is clear from what I have said that the remarkable developments in the prevention of Duchenne muscular dystrophy which can be made possible by embryo research could not under any circumstances be taken further by any form of animal experimentation. There is indeed another rare X-linked disease called Lesch Nyhan syndrome which exists in mice. Research on mouse embryos has been shown to identify the presence of that gene in the embryo at the blastocyst stage. But the technique has been demonstrated as not being applicable to the human subject, so that work cannot immediately be transferred to research in man.
The substantial and significant differences in genetic constitution which have evolved even between the higher primates —I use the term of course in the zoological rather than the ecclesiastical sense —on the one hand and man on the other mean that only work on the human conceptus can ever properly yield the results upon which so many infertile couples have pinned their hopes. And the arguments which I have adduced in relation to the prevention of Duchenne muscular dystrophy will undoubtedly within a very few years apply to many other inherited diseases in which the defective genes are now being located and characterised.
Lastly, I should like to deal with the arguments of those who have quoted the work of Verlinsky of Chicago, who is attempting to obtain information about the genetic constitution of the unfertilised egg by examining the chromosomal material in the polar body that is discarded by the egg and which plays no further part in development. Without doubt this is competent. well conceived, pioneering work. Nevertheless, distinguished and reputable British scientists with whom I have discussed Verlinsky's research are satisfied that, despite recent advances in DNA technology, studies carried out solely on the discarded polar body are unreliable as a means of detecting a genetic abnormality with any degree of confidence.
Furthermore, Verlinsky's work requires removal of the polar body before it is discarded naturally, and there are very real fears that such manipulation of the ovum prior to fertilisation might on the one hand impair the fertilisation process or on the other, lead to chromosonal abnormalities and consequential abnormality of the fetus. It is clear that in the present state of knowledge the Verlinsky technique can offer no substitute for the type of research on the human conceptus now being licensed under the authority of the interim licensing authority and which would be authorised under strict control by the statutory licensing authority if the amendment proposed by the noble Duke and the noble and learned Lord were to be rejected by the Committee and if that which I have tabled were ultimately to prevail.
I hope I have been able to convince the Committee that as a committed Christian myself I believe that the performance of such research within the 14-day limit and under the strictest control of a statutory 962 licensing body, with all of the safeguards which the Bill enshrines, is not only entirely compatible with the Christian ethic but will have untold benefits for human health. While I understand the sincerely held objections of the opponents of research who believe that the embryo begins at conception, nevertheless I find it very difficult personally to see how anyone deeply concerned about the welfare of suffering humanity could fail to recognise the potential benefits of such research.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Lord Kennet
The noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk, read out the provisions in the Bill now before the German Bundestag. We should be grateful to him for that; it was most useful. The most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York then denounced them as inadequate. I think he may have missed the provision which said that nothing shall be done to an embryo except for its own good. That would in itself nullify the most reverend Primate's fears about the effects the provisions might have. It is a detailed point.
The noble Lord, Lord Walton, has spoken with great authority and experience about the good results which have flowed from this research so far and which would be expected to continue to flow if the research continued. He said that he is in no doubt that the research should continue. I wish I could say that I am in no doubt. I agree that good results have flowed. I agree that they may be expected to continue to flow if the research continues. But that is not the end of the matter.
After two or three months of concentrated thinking —that is, as concentrated as I am capable of—and discussions, which seem to have been almost continuous, with groups of persons more learned on both sides of the question than myself, I have come to the conclusion that all these good results are outweighed by the fact that we may not experiment on the newly conceived embryo because it is a single and genetically unique collection of cells, part of which, given favourable conditions, may become a baby or more than one baby. I do not see that benefits, even benefits as great as those which have been correctly spoken of today in the Committee, can outweigh that fact.
§ Lord Harvington
Perhaps I may intervene for just a moment in the debate. I shall be very short in what I have to say. I shall certainly not join in the most learned discussions which we have heard from both sides of the Committee. I think that the Chamber is well appraised of what we are really dealing with in this clause. It is quite simple. However, I should like to put noble Lords on their guard.
There are events taking place outside this place of which we should be careful and about which we should beware. I say that because yesterday members of the Progress Group were distributing a leaflet in the street outside this Chamber. I have a copy with me. Moreover, I am sure that other noble Lords may have seen this document. It concerned someone who experienced difficulties over the matters we are now discussing. It contains a statement from a mother of a handicapped child. She described the condition of 963 her daughter, Kerida, as mentally handicapped with no speech, a club foot, partial vision and epilepsy. The statement continues:I love her, but I would give anything for her to have enjoyed a full life rather than the limited life she must lead".Those are most worthy sentiments. However, I think that the document demonstrates very clearly the lamentable way in which parents who have handicapped children have been misled by the experimentation lobby.
I have several points to make. First, it is most unlikely from the description given that the condition of this child is a genetic one. For example, a club foot is thought to be caused by mechanical damage. The other factors mentioned indicate either damage during development or complex congential causes. Those are not the kind of conditions which embryo biopsy could detect.
Secondly, this woman is clearly under the impression that embryo biopsy might have allowed her daughter to,have enjoyed a full life rather than the limited life she must lead".However, nothing could be further from the truth. If the condition of her daughter could have been detected at the embryonic stage which, as I have said, it almost certainly could not, then she would have been discarded and washed away down the laboratory sink.
I cannot for one moment believe that that is what this obviously caring mother would have wished. We must ask ourselves how she could have gained such a false impression of the facts of embryo biopsy. We must be very wary of that kind of campaign, based as it is on such misinformation, misrepresentation and manipulation.
Other equally misleading claims have recently been made. It has been said that embryo biopsy would allow genetic disease to be wiped out. To that claim four points must be made. First, embryo biopsy on human beings has not yet succeeded and, indeed, may never do so. Secondly, a very high proportion of congenital defects and gene mutations occur in families with no history of such disorders and no high risk factors. Unless every pregnancy is to be screened, embryo biopsy techniques could not affect those cases.
Thirdly, it has been calculated that even if every embryo with cystic fibrosis were to be destroyed, it would take 1,250 years just to half the gene frequency. Fourthly, notwithstanding all that, wiping out the patients is not the same as wiping out the disease.
I hope that the Committee will not allow itself to be taken in by the claims of the special interests promoting embryo research —or at any rate some of them. I should like to quote the words of another mother of a handicapped child to whom the facts of the matter had evidently been better explained. Debbie Hill gave birth to a severely disabled son in 1986. His name was Timothy. He died at the age of six months. She said:In his short time with us, Timothy brought to us a great deal of love. Parents like us have a choice. They can decide whether 964 to take the risk of having more children. But conceiving babies on a sale-or-return basis is wholly wrong".I shall not keep the Committee any longer because there are other noble Lords who are much better qualifed than I to speak on such matters. But surely no subject could be of more vital importance to human beings than this one. However, I have one point to make against what the noble Lord, Lord Walton, said. I was waiting for him to tell us why so many countries on the Continent have condemned this research out of hand.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Lord Ennals
I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Harvington, spoke before I did because he referred to Lynne Dodd. I should say that I know this lady and I am aware of the conditons from which her child has suffered. She is well aware of what this research is all about. I shall not say that she is better informed than the noble Lord, but she is absolutely committed and dedicated in this respect. She knows that there is no way in which her child will be helped. Her only motivation is to speak on behalf of MENCAP. I should perhaps at this stage refer to the wonderful work which has been done for that organisation by certain noble Lords in this Chamber; namely, the noble Lords, Lord Renton and Lord Allen of Abbeydale. Lynne Dodd supports the campaign because she does not want any unnecessary handicapped children to be born, if it can be prevented.
The noble Lord also gave an example of a point which I wish to make. Since the Second Reading debate on 7th December statements have been made about the objectives of this research which are seriously inaccurate, unfair to those concerned and, I think, designed to create fears which are quite without foundation. The noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk, for whom I have the greatest respect —indeed, I am most grateful to him for attending the meeting with parents yesterday—referred to a letter which he received yesterday from Mr. Ian Brown of Bolton, Lancashire. I received the same letter, as no doubt did other noble Lords. I read it with great care. It contained 181 supporting signatures of parents or relatives of handicapped children. How those people could have been so misled as to sign such an inaccurate and distorting letter I cannot imagine. I find it difficult to understand why the noble Duke gave credence to a letter which, if he had studied it carefully, he would have known was a gross distortion of what this Committee is debating today.
The letter claimed that,there had been sensational and misleading publicity implying that embryo research would free generations from disabling diseases".Never has such a claim been made. It accused researchers of saying that,we are not interested in your condition. All we want is to weed you out".They were, it alleged, creating for the public the illusion that embryo research would bring treatments and miracle cures. I have met many of those who were involved in that research and those who support 965 them. I have never heard any such claim. The letter went on:This search and destroy programme will wreck our chances of ever having children at all".They urged noble Lords —I imagine that we all received the letter —to reject the deceitful claims of the embryo research lobby".I hope that those who have supported the pro-life movement will dissociate themselves from the distribution of this distorting material.
The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor spelt out on Second Reading exactly what the research is about and why it is important: first, to promote advances in the treatment of infertility; secondly, increasing knowledge about the causes of congenital disease; thirdly, for developing methods for detecting the presence of gene or chromosomal abnormalities in embryos before implantation; the noble and learned Lord explained that research could enable the underlying abnormality to be detected in the first few days after fertilisation, using a technique referred to as reimplantation diagnosis; fourthly, to increase knowledge about cases of miscarriage with a view to paving the way for improved treatment. As we know, all of this is under the strictest control. As the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York said, this has been going on for 20 years without, so far as I know, any allegations of lack of effective control.
As a layman, I find it hard to understand how warm-hearted, charitable, Christian people can say that this is immoral, distasteful and wrong. Yesterday I attended the same meeting of the group as was attended by the noble Duke. About 200 parents were there representing people who have had muscular dystrophy, Tay Sachs disease, Huntington's disease and other diseases of a genetic nature. They came to plead with us to support them. I wish that more noble Lords could have been there because they represented all the charities that are involved in supporting and helping these people who have children who in one way or another are handicapped.
The noble Duke referred to Alison Davis, who appeared with him on television. I congratulate both of them on their performance. Her association is giving full support to the legislation before us and to the amendment so brilliantly presented by my noble friend Lord Walton.
I felt that two of the most moving speeches on Second Reading came from the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, and my noble friend Lord Carter. They both spoke from the depth of their experience. I told the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, that I would quote him. He said:I fervently reject the extreme notions … that those scientists are somehow tampering with nature; that because nature has decreed that if some couples should be childless and some children handicapped it is wrong to push back the frontiers of human knowledge to try to help them".I say, "Hear, hear" and "Cheers" to that statement.
My noble friend Lord Carter said:My judgment on both in vitro fertilisation and embryonic research into congenital diseases is based on two basic considerations. The first is the intention of the parents and the second is the supremacy of individual conscience.…966The parents' intention is wholly good and incorrupt, to create another human being and, thanks to research, to choose that that human being should not be handicapped".Those two statements were made by two Members of your Lordships' House, each on a different side, both greatly respected, both Christian people, both speaking from the depth of their experience.
I say to those who support the noble Duke that unless we ourselves have had handicapped children —and I have not —we cannot really know what it means. Yes, of course there is love; there is more love because the child is handicapped. But there is great hardship which none of us would want to take on ourselves. None of us would say, "Handicap is so wonderful, I want to have a handicapped child", that is absurd; no one would say that. If we do not say it then we must say that we should like —
§ Lord Stoddart of Swindon
I may be wrong, but what is my noble friend trying to say? Is he trying to say that if we find or are able to find that an embryo is damaged and will produce a handicapped child, that embryo should be destroyed'? That is what it sounds like. Perhaps he will explain himself.
§ Lord Ennals
Perhaps my noble friend himself does not understand the legislation or the amendment proposed by my noble friend Lord Walton. We are talking about —
§ Lord Ennals
With respect, perhaps I may answer the question which my noble friend has put to me. There is no suggestion that after 14 days, when an individual or the beginnings of an individual has been created, that should be destroyed. The most reverend Primate has explained it well. During this period there is a brief time when it cannot be said, "This is a person, a human being with identifiable characteristics".
Having heard my two noble friends —and they are friends—speak at Second Reading, and others like them, simple families, not Peers, how can we say no to them? I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, that to refuse help to those who might be helped is contrary both to religion and to humanity as I understand it. I plead with the Committee to support the amendment and reject the proposal made by the noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk.
§ Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone
I wish to put a slightly different point of view from that put forward hitherto. I wish to base it upon the law. I totally agreed with my noble and learned friend Lord Rawlinson when he said that we must not make fun of or underestimate the sincerity of those who hold views different from ourselves. The reason for that is rational. It is that both views are sustainable. We have heard both views sustained by rational, responsible and sincere people. We know that that is true.
However, perhaps we may consider the status quo before the Bill was introduced at all, and what we 967 are talking about in discussing the terms of the Bill. I was tempted at various stages in the debate to enter into the realms of philosophy, religion and science —all of which interest me intensely. But I know that I am only a journeyman lawyer and perhaps an experienced legislator over 50 years.
What we are discussing is something which has been going on legally for 20 years. That is the point from which I start. The question which we have to ask ourselves is whether any, and if so what, criminal sanctions ought to be applied to those activities. Clause 36 of the Bill proposes certain criminal sanctions for breaches of its terms, as it stands. If the Bill had not been introduced at all there would be no criminal sanctions whatever that I am aware of.
The question which is of great importance seems to me to be this. There are those who think that any form of experimentation with an embryo is immoral. They are fully protected by the Bill. Nobody asks them to indulge in such activities; nobody asks them even to co-operate in such activities. There are those who think that they are both desirable and valuable in the interests of science. We have heard one very well informed speech this afternoon on one view, and we heard that view explained at rather greater length on Second Reading. The truth is that both views are sustainable and both views are held by responsible individuals.
We have three alternatives before us. The first is to have no Bill at all. That alternative is still open to us. For a long time I was of the opinion that that would be the best option because a form of self-discipline had been developed among responsible scientists of which I largely approved. It is that discipline which is in operation at the moment without legal sanctions of any kind. In my opinion, the Government have shown great courage and are perfectly right to say that the time has come when we have to legislate. That excludes the first option which is to do nothing.
The second option is to prohibit these activities altogether; in other words, to do the same thing by force of the secular criminal law as was done in effect by the religious experts of the time to Galileo to stop the scientists doing what they are doing. That is a perfectly viable option and some Members of the Committee believe in that. However, no one is suggesting within the ambit of this Bill that criminal sanctions of some kind should not be imposed for certain activities. The Government are perfectly right to suggest that by this Bill we have to institute some form of criminal sanctions to prevent irresponsible behaviour and to prevent activities by eccentrics or worse which no civilised human society could tolerate. However, I am bound to say I was not very impressed by the German legislation. I believe they were probably influenced by their own rather unhappy history of the past 50 years into legislating as they did. However, that is their business and not ours. Our business is to try to arrive at a rational, wise and responsible solution.
I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, will forgive me for referring to her. She and her 968 committee proposed that there should be substituted for a voluntary system of discipline a system of compulsory licensing. That is what we are discussing in Clause 11. What we are now being asked to do is to use Clause 11 to destroy the system of compulsory licensing bit by bit —that is the real purpose behind this amendment and others —and to substitute a total prohibition, backed by criminal sanctions. That is a road down which I do not propose to go.
It might be true that on both sides the lobbies who feel deeply have said things which are exaggerated and which perhaps one could not go along with intellectually. However, simply as a legislator I find myself charged with three alternatives. One is to do nothing. However, the Government have been right to say that we must now reach the stage of legislation. That is the conclusion of the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, and it is also my conclusion. I hope that it will also be the conclusion of the Committee. The other is total prohibition. That course would involve going down a road which has failed every time it has been tried in history. It started before the time of Galileo and it was the road which led ultimately to Tyndale being strangled in a Dutch prison for translating the scriptures. It was the road which led Galileo to be condemned by the Holy Office. It is the road which ultimately has always failed.
The road which I believe is right to pursue is that responsible people with a responsible licensing system should be allowed to proceed with responsible activities with which some people do not agree but which others regard to be necessary or desirable. That is the road down which I hope the Committee will go. It is for that reason and not because I claim any special scientific, philosophic or religious knowledge that I propose to vote against the amendment moved by my noble friend the Duke of Norfolk. I propose to pursue the line suggested throughout the Bill which is that of a licensing system limiting the activities but not prohibiting them.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of London
I suspect that for many Members of the Committee, as well as for myself, this is one of the most difficult decisions that we have ever been called upon to make. It is certainly one of the most difficult I have been called upon to make during my time as a Member of this Chamber. On the one hand, we are moved by compassion, and properly so. Some of us are moved by compassion not through personal experience in our own families but through ministering to many handicapped people throughout our pastoral ministry. But, on the other hand, I hope that we are also moved by a concern for the extension of knowledge as that is a proper human activity. Yet as regards voting on this amendment, I have a profound concern which I must confess was not wholly or largely relieved by the words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham.
I shall illustrate my point which may sound rather like the slippery slope approach. However, I can put it in a more respectable way than that. I believe it is not simply the slippery slope approach. I can express it in the words of a report from the Church 969 of England of 1985 entitled Personal Origins. The report stated:There are further arguments which relate to the sphere of social morality and they involve judgments about whether society possesses the maturity as well as the means for restricting research work within acceptable bounds of objectives and practices".It is the phrase "maturity of society" which I wish to speak briefly about now. I must confess I have some sympathy, as had the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, with the state of having no Bill. However, with the advent of the Bill this matter is brought into the public domain. That means that we do not merely have to consider the integrity and the good will of scientists and research workers, but we also have to consider the attitude of society as a whole. At the moment I do not find society as a whole very well disposed towards recognising the sanctity of human life or the responsibility of the individual. That is a factor I must take into account.
Moreover, when I consider what has happened to legislation in the past 20 years or so, I am not greatly encouraged. When I think of the way in which the legislation on divorce or abortion has developed over those years, I am not encouraged. I can remember some time ago hearing speeches in relation to the proposals for the laws on divorce or abortion which were very similar to what we have heard today. In those speeches the speakers assured us that the legislation would never go beyond what they were proposing. They said it was not their intention to go any further and that what they were proposing represented the limit of the legislation. I believe that stance is living in cloud cuckoo land. We have to face the fact that legislation so often has unintended effects, however well intentioned it may be.
I also am not encouraged by the devices which it has been found necessary to include in the Bill for describing fatherhood. They do so in a way which does not reflect the nature of creation at all but is a kind of legislative figment. I believe that has something serious to say about our attitude to creation, of which we are part.
I listened with the greatest interest to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Walton, and I was much encouraged by his remarks. However, as he attacked the slippery slope arguments and listed all the developments which might occur later, I found myself getting more and more worried. What legislation will be imposed for those developments?
§ Lord Ennals
What are the fears of the right reverend Prelate as to where the noble Lord, Lord Walton, is likely to take us? What is this slippery slope?
§ The Lord Bishop of London
My fear is that before too long we shall have legislation extending the 14-day period. Such developments have been stated in regard to previous legislation. I am trying to be realistic.
The more I hear about the possibilities of research, the more worried I become as to whether our society can handle the situation. The Bill is the first attempt to legislate on the matter. It is clear that if the amendment is carried there will still be the 970 possibility of work in regard to infertility. My feeling is that we should take that step now. I endorse the comments made by the noble Duke. However, I find it very difficult to believe that we can responsibly pass the second part of this clause. For that reason I shall support the noble Duke.
§ Lord Stallard
I was becoming rather depressed when listening to some noble Lords. However, the right reverend Prelate has restored some of my confidence because he has introduced the moral issue, which should transcend many other arguments that we have heard but apparently does not.
I would not dare to speak as a scientist or as a medical man in this very academic debate. I can speak only as one of millions of committed Christians up and down the country who are extremely concerned about the effects of experimentation. Millions of committed Christians are concerned about the prospects for the future. As the right reverend Prelate correctly says, 14 days is the beginning. There is no guarantee that somebody will not discover that 28 days is preferable. It has been stated that some of the necessary changes do not take place for 30 days. Then we go on until the entire Christian argument has been destroyed.
§ Lord Diamond
When the noble Lord states that we go on and on, he means that new legislation could be put before your Lordships. Your Lordships would then have an opportunity of deciding in the light of what has happened and in the light of further evidence whether to take a certain view. That is the point that we are deciding today. The idea that the Bill commits us to all kinds of provisions that are not wanted is absolute nonsense.
§ Lord Stallard
The noble Lord has underlined what I have said. We can go on and on with further legislation and further discussion and probably less evidence.
I shall probably need to read the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Walton, before I can fully understand it. I would not like to say whether other noble Lords understood the speech immediately it was delivered. Many things need to be looked at. I was impressed by the fact that the noble Lord appeared to be dismissing the arguments of scientists. We have all got letters and we have all read papers. I read the book to which the noble Lord referred and many others in order to try to understand this matter. However, if the noble Lord did not agree with what was said, he appeared to dismiss it. I do not think that his dismissive comments were quite fair to some of those who disagreed with him.
The noble Lord made reference to Professor Lejeune. He said that he knew and respected him. However, he dismissed his findings because they did not agree with his own. The findings are listed in various documents. The noble Lord said that he accepted some findings and rejected others. Where does that leave us? We are now in the midst of a scientific argument. If it is not a scientifc argument, it is an academic argument between lawyers. Most of us have to fall back on our basic beliefs.
971 I am pleased that the right reverend Prelate introduced an argument that is much bigger than both of those arguments. Where does it all begin? When does fertilisation take place. The noble Baroness, Lady Elles, adequately summed the matter up the other day. I think that her speech is well worth reading in this context.
It is very patronising to say "We respect you, although your views are different, but you are entitled to your views". That kind of statement is made by people who do not want to accept a different point of view. It is patronising to say that they respect our views when they proceed to take no notice of them. It is a similar situation to saying that those who were opposed to slavery did not have to keep slaves and, therefore, they did not have to try to make slavery illegal. I do not believe that that is the correct approach to deal with what I consider to be a fundamental moral issue.
It is a difficult argument to present when one is of the cloth, as it were, but the fundamental argument is the moral issue. I was a wee bit disappointed when I heard the speech of the most reverend Primate. That is no doubt a terrible thing to say, but I thought that he was involved in a scientific argument. I was delighted when the right reverend Prelate introduced the other aspect of the matter because there are obviously differences between them, as there are in the scientific and other worlds. The moral argument is the main argument. Sadly, the other arguments will continue. As far as I understand the matter, this destructive embryo research violates the rights of human beings. It must be illegal for the same reasons that slavery or assault or any other crime against human beings is illegal. The consciences of those of us who are for or against the amendment are not the real issue.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, stated that the amendment was put down in order to destroy the clause and to make nonsense of the Bill. I have been involved in debates on many Bills over a long period of time and it is not unusual to put down an amendment that will have the same effect as this amendment. It is not unusual to delete this section or that section for this reason or that reason. It is a perfectly legitimate parliamentary procedure which is held up as a bogey as part of the campaign against those of us who are taking what I consider to be the correct moral position.
I support the argument that was put forward very eloquently by the noble Duke and supported by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Rawlinson, because I happen to agree with it. I think that the noble Duke and the noble and learned Lord were correct to discuss the matter from a moral point of view. I shall support the amendment.
§ Lord Renton
I rise merely to say that those of us who at MENCAP over recent years have had to take a decision to form an attitude on this important matter have come to the conclusion that, while there is research, there is hope.
§ 5 p.m.
§ Baroness Elles
I was grateful to my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham when he suggested that there were three alternatives: one is not to have a Bill and then there are the two alternatives in Clause 11. The fact that there had not been a Bill has of course allowed research to go on in this field for 20 years without any legal framework whatsoever. It is therefore on these grounds specifically that I congratulate Her Majesty's Government on having the courage to take an extremely difficult matter in terms of morals, science, ethics and law and bring it before your Lordships' House.
It will then of course go to another place where a decision can be taken so that those scientists involved in this kind of work will know exactly where they stand —either that they are working within a proper legal framework and are entitled to carry on with research or, in accordance with the way that the vote goes this evening, that they are not. But at least everybody will know what the legal position is. It has been unfortunate that for so long we have been deprived of this legislative framework.
I want to make it perfectly clear that so far as I am concerned, and I believe the vast majority of your Lordships, I am in favour of scientific research, without which there would be no progress for the benefit of mankind. We are therefore not discussing whether research per se is good or bad. What we have to consider tonight is whether the research should be continued on the human embryo and the human embryo only.
There are some who seek to stop the flood in that direction and to turn it in another direction. I would certainly concede to those scientists who do their research at the moment that while we believe that we seek for the benefit of mankind one way, the scientists who are now working in this field believe that they too will reach that optimum position.
I want to make my position perfectly clear. First, what are the objectives of this research as set out? I have here the Medical Research Council's press notice. I accept that there may be other reasons as well, but may I just read out the four major points that the MRC makes in the press notice. The first is to improve in vitro fertilisation techniques. It accepts that only about one in 10 attempts at IVF result in successful pregnancy. I should like later to deal with the fate of the 92 per cent. who actually fail to become pregnant.
The second is to help to reduce the number of abortions in those who are at risk of passing on serious genetic disease to their children. We have heard over the years reasons why people are going to be able to reduce abortions, and I am not going to enter into the ethics of whether it is right or wrong to have an abortion. All through the 1970s we heard of free contraception in order to stop abortions. What has happened? Year after year the numbers have increased so that now we have 180,000 abortions, which is about one-third of the total live births in this country. It should be said that of that figure under 1 per cent. are in fact performed for severe medical reasons in order to stop the birth of 973 defective children. I am sure that none of us could in any case possibly refuse that to a woman.
The third point is to help to understand, and therefore to prevent, miscarriages. The fourth is to insist on the development of simpler, safer and more effective methods of contraception.
We were particularly given to understand on Second Reading that one of the objectives was to control populations in less-developed countries. Frankly, I do not think that it is a purpose of your Lordships' House to consider that kind of matter. It is for those countries themselves to decide their own population control or otherwise. I understand also that if human embryo research is used in this field there will be drug tests on human embryos before the 14 days. If any scientist wishes to get up and confirm that that is totally wrong I would be grateful, because then we would have it in Hansard and be able to refer to it in the future.
But are these overriding objectives? Where is the mention of the fundamental purpose of scientific research in the medical field of genetic and congenital disease? There is no mention of cure or healing. Surely these are the purposes of medical research. Surely this is what we want to achieve for those children who have genetic or congenital diseases.
The noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk, has already mentioned what progress the pro-research organisation has referred to in Freedom of Choice. Research using human embryos is not and never has been concerned with treatment of genetic or chromosomal disorders. The Committee should be aware that this is not the stated purpose of human embryo research.
Destruction has replaced curing and healing in accordance, as I understand it, with the kind of programme that is envisaged; that is, de-selection before implantation of the embryo. Yet fast developing research is coming along with very encouraging results in gene therapy by molecular biologists. One has only to study the major results that are coming out of the Institute of Molecular Medicine at Oxford and the States. Indeed, it is perfectly possible, without any research on the human embryo, to achieve the amazing results that they have. Of course other scientists have already discovered ways of mitigating the effects of spina bifida and muscular dystrophy as well.
I should just like to take one or two minutes of the Committee's time to discuss a matter that has not been raised by any Members of the Committee, and this is for obvious reasons. I have had many letters, and I have been approached by individuals and organisations, to ask in all this what the position of the woman is. It is the woman who has to produce the ova over the years to provide the necessary gametes which form the human embryo. We know that there are shortages of eggs for research. We know that on sterilisation women are asked to donate their eggs. What unconscious pressure will be put on women, for instance, to have sterilisation?
A woman said to me only yesterday that, IVF treatment having failed, she was left in a terrible situation. She is just one of the many of the 92 per 974 cent. who were given hormones and drug treatment with effects to the human body which are still not known. I use the words of these women; they are not mine. I was fortunate. I confess that I thank God every day for having had two healthy children, so I can understand what it is, first, not to have them and, secondly, not to have a healthy child. But the fact is that these drugs do terrible things to the insides of women.
They cause haemorrhages, they cause ovarian cysts, they cause ovarian cancer, and I do not want to go into all the physical details of what happens to women. These women feel, rightly or wrongly, that they are being exploited by the scientists for the use of their eggs for human embryo research and for the use of drugs on their bodies in order to produce super-ovulation.
This is what has been put to me. I undertook to raise this in your Lordships' House so that noble Lords knew, possibly when voting in favour of human embryo research, that this was what they were subjecting women to. You are putting them into the situation where their bodies could be used for research before research happens on the human embryo. This is something that people should realise.
I know that such matters are anathema to your Lordships, and I quite understand it. Frankly, they are not particularly pleasant for me. But the fact is that I undertook to raise this matter so that noble Lords should know when taking these decisions whom they are affecting. You are not just affecting a human embryo, whether it be a two-cell zygote, a conceptus or whatever you like to call it. You are affecting the bodies of women who are producing the eggs which then go towards the formation of the human embryo. Any noble Lord who has read about how the selective reduction of multiple births is perfomed would never want his wife or daughter to undergo that kind of operation and treatment.
Therefore, it should be said that if your Lordships, as men, had to undergo the forms of treatment under these new reproductive techniques and suffer the pain endured even under the ordinary IVF treatment —the noble Baroness, Lady Robson, referred to that the other night —and the kind of treatment, suffering and degradation, may I say, on failure perhaps to have a child or become pregnant, I am certain that the vast majority would go into the Lobby voting against research.
§ Lord Rea
Perhaps I may first answer one of the points made by the noble Baroness with regard to development of effective methods of contraception which might be useful in the third world. There is no question of our forcing that contraception in a paternalistic way upon the people of the third world. The methods being developed may be more useful and most easy to use in countries where there are no widespread medical facilties. That is why they may well be chosen as suitable for use by medical and other people in those countries, if they should wish to use them. There is no quesion of our forcing it upon them.
§ Baroness Elles
I am grateful to have an opportunity to reply to the noble Lord. I served for 975 many years in the United Nations. Many delegates at the United Nations, particularly the women, were horrified at the idea that the Western industrialised countries—I am not saying anything about the Medical Research Council —should produce drugs and various forms of contraceptives that would be used only for population problems in third world countries. I was faced with that problem over and over again.
§ Lord Rea
There is no question of those products being used only in third world countries; they have also been extremely useful in this country.
It is fair to say that it is a basic premise of those who are against pre-embryo research that it is morally wrong and dangerous to interfere with or destroy what is in effect a human being. I count myself as one who fiercely defends the legitimate rights of every human being. In the issue before us we should consider not only the rights of every conceptus —less than the size of a pin-head before achieving human form and long before developing consciousness—but also the rights and choices of would-be parents and parents who might wish to have normal offspring. Noble Lords will consider that that is a not unnatural desire.
We should also consider society's need to reduce by every means possible the proportion of handicapped children in its midst. It has been suggested by some that those of us who favour pre-embryo research would deny the right of handicapped people to live —the noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk, implied that, as did the noble Lord, Lord Harvington —and that we undervalue their lives. Far from it; a major purpose of the research is to enable us to detect and then replace genetically damaged or abnormal pre-embryos with normal pre-embryos.
That is not to belittle in any way the huge achievements of many handicapped people and their parents against great odds. However, as a doctor, I echo the words of my noble friend Lord Ennals when I say that I have seen many times the worst side of handicap as it affects the individuals concerned and their families. I doubt whether any handicapped person would prefer to be handicapped rather than able-bodied or able-minded. To follow the analogy of the noble Lord, Lord Harvington, he might well have had a healthy and non-handicapped child in place of his handicapped daughter who would have had equal charm but would have been a different personality. He would have had another charming person instead and would never have known that daughter. He would have had a non-handicapped daughter instead. It was perhaps not the correct analogy to use because the condition that he mentioned is not a genetically determined one.
Nature is prolific. As the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, said on Second Reading, less than one-fifth of all pre-embryos which are conceived naturally develop into human beings. The noble Lord, Lord Walton, also referred to that point. A woman produces over 400 ova during the normal reproductive lifespan and many thousands more are 976 left in her ovaries at the end of her reproductive life, very few of which are fertilised. To collect, fertilise and observe a few of those and the resulting pre-embryos for purposes which increase human well-being, as is now happening, is to me not only morally defensible but morally correct.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Lord Zuckerman
Perhaps I may return to a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Elles. I understood from what she said that women will undergo a traumatic experience in providing the embryos which might be used in research, assuming that the Bill receives noble Lords' assent. Was she referring to women who go to a fertility clinic or any other clinic or to a laboratory and ask to be injected with the hormone concerned —the noble Lord, Lord Walton, knows what hormone that is, as do I —in order to provide a number of oocytes for experimental purposes? I was under the impression that the Bill dealt entirely with women who seek help in infertility clinics and who go voluntarily to those people who are licensed to do what is necessary. There may be super-ovulation, as the noble Baroness indicated.
Since this was once my field of research, may I at the same time point out that the figure of 400 for the oocytes that are ovulated normally is only an estimate. We are citing figures in this debate that relate to a subject where none can be precise. When we say that ovulation occurs on Day 14, it might in fact be 13, 15, or 16. I hope that no one will attempt to use indiscriminately any of the tens of thousands of oocytes found in the ovary for in vitro fertilisation. We do not know by what process the 400 or so that are normally ovulated are selected, and anyhow, the majority of oocytes in the ovary are degenerating, and will continue to do so —and a post-menopausal ovary cannot be reactivated.
§ Lord Jenkin of Roding
The noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, with his wide and deep experience, mentioned one of the points with which I should like to deal briefly. I have met some of the women who have sought treatment and I found the description of my noble friend Lady Elles quite incredible.
When I visited the Institute of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at Hammersmith Hospital I was privileged to talk to some of the women —a number of other noble Lords were there at the same time —who were faced with the most desperate dilemma. Their families had produced not one but several genetically handicapped children and they knew precisely what the odds were. A couple desperately wanted to have their own children and found the whole process of in vitro fertilisation and genetic separation and reimplantation an absolute godsend. That was the way they would ensure that they had a child who would be born whole, entire and free from the family genetic defect.
On the issue of whether research should be allowed, I find the proposition embodied in the amendment quite extraordinary. It suggests that it 977 is perfectly all right to treat patients on the basis of the results of research that has been done in the past, but that no more research should be done. I find that a very difficult proposition, particularly when one talks not only to doctors but to the patients. They know that the chances are slight. I believe that only one in 10 is successful. They know that there are other diseases which are not yet amenable to this process. They know that there are many problems of fertility which have yet to be resolved. Yet today we are invited to say that no more research should be done.
The noble Lord, Lord Ennals —my predecessor as Secretary of State for Health —this afternoon spoke with great passion and from his long experience of contact with many organisations representing handicapped people and their families —as indeed I have. For me it comes down to the question of choice. It is their choice whether they will use the information that has been discovered. It cannot be "disinvented". Are we to say to them in future, "Yes, you can use that which is there for now but anything after that is bound to be a good deal more hit and miss because we are not allowed to experiment". I find that an astonishing proposition.
Then one comes to the heart of the Bill, in a sense; namely, the test devised by the committee chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock. Some say that 14 days is a purely arbitrary figure. The fact is that it is impossible to rationalise from a priori reasoning from the past. There are no principles and no precedents. We are dealing with a mass of new knowledge. New knowledge demands new decisions and sometimes quite new tests. It seems to me that it is broadly a matter of trying to understand precisely what it is that differentiates in a continuous and complex process the point at which the primitive streak first emerges. In these debates we have been enormously assisted in our understanding by the noble Lord, Lord Walton.
I have talked to a number of doctors and moral theologians. I listened to the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York who today made an immensely persuasive speech, as he did at the Royal Society last night. I believe that we, as legislators, are at the point when we must make a practical decision —do we carry on with this research and how do we decide which way to go? I believe that the committee chaired by the noble Baroness got it right. It is the proposal that has been put in the Bill by the Government, courageously it has been said, and I hope that we will support it. I hope that we will reject this amendment and support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Walton.
§ Lord Swann
I know that the time of 5.30 p.m. has been bandied about as a moment when something might happen. I shall be very brief. For most of my life I have been a scientist but I shall not talk about the science of this problem. Others have done that and can do it much better than I can. Very tentatively and with some apprehension I want to voice an amateur thought about the logic and the morals of this amendment.
I believe that in one respect Amendment No. 51 is illogical. While seeking to ban research it still allows —I quote from the Bill: 978activities in the course of providing treatment services".Not surprisingly. They have brought great good to humankind,. But no medical treatment emerges from thin air. On the contrary it is the result of much painstaking research, experiment and practice over many years, and one must remember that that necessarily involves research on human beings. Every medical treatment has involved that at some stage. Even the introduction of a simple drug, although much of the research can be done in a laboratory and on animals, by law requires testing on human beings to ensure that it works and does not have undesirable effects.
Treatments of the kind that we are considering, like all the others, are the product of much research. Therefore I find it curious that the amendment should seek to ban further research which is aimed at making more effective those very treatments that it allows. How can one justify banning research when one approves of using the fruits of that research both past and present? There seems to be a serious inconsistency here as well as a moral confusion which troubles me.
Of course one could get round the illogicality by banning treatment, but it seems to me that that would involve a prohibition that is so morally repugnant that I cannot believe that this House would ever approve it. I believe that there remains therefore only one solution that satisfies both logic and morals; namely, to allow scrupulously regulated research —as does the first option in Clause 11 —on terms that are set out at considerable length later in the Bill. I hardly need say that I would welcome such an outcome and feel bound to vote against this amendment.
§ Lord Bridge of Harwich
I enter the debate with diffidence. I speak simply as a layman who has listened attentively to the arguments in this long-running controversy and tried to evaluate them as best I could. At this stage it would be quite inappropriate for me to rehearse the arguments afresh. They have all been thoroughly canvassed. However, I hope that it is not inappropriate to try to isolate and define three quite separate issues and assess their importance in relation to the decision which the Committee will make.
The first and central issue of course is the moral issue. The opponents of research assert, as an absolute moral imperative, that the conceptus from the moment of fertilisation of the egg must be treated as having the status and attributes of a human person. The question is: are those who make that assertion right?
Everyone accepts that they are entirely sincere, but are they right? I suspect that most, perhaps all, noble Lords will already have made up their minds on the answer to that question. Certainly I shall not argue it. I simply say that I do not believe that they are right. Any doubts that I may have felt at the beginning were wholly resolved by the deeply thoughtful speeches made both today and in the two earlier debates on the subject by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York.
The second and quite distinct issue is what I call the slippery slope issue. It is at this point that the 979 opponents of research take up their fall-back position. In effect they say that even if research on the conceptus, in the first 14 days after fertilisation, is morally unobjectionable, if that is permitted to continue and not prohibited now, there will be increasing pressure to allow research on embryos at a later stage in their development beyond the 14-day limit and beyond the appearance of the primitive streak, when all should and will accept that that research would be morally objectionable.
The answer to the slippery slope argument to my mind is found in Chapter 11 of the report of the committee of the noble Baroness, which indicates perfectly valid, pragmatic reasons for choosing a biologically sensible and defensible cut-off point. If I had felt any doubt about that, such doubt would have been resolved by the immensely impressive speech that we have today heard from the noble Lord, Lord Walton. When this Bill becomes an Act of Parliament, that cut-off point will be given Parliamentary sanction in the form of the provisions of Clause 3 and it will be given the sanction of the law. Once it has that sanction, I simply do not understand why it is said that it will be difficult to maintain the cut-off point. It can and should be maintained.
In exercising the judicial functions of this Chamber, we are frequently confronted with the argument, "You must not allow this wholly meritorious claim because if you do you will be developing the law beyond a certain point and you will be inundated with a flood of wholly unmeritorious claims". That is an argument to which we seldom find it appropriate to give any weight in the legal sphere. I suggest to the Committee that the floodgates argument attracts no greater weight in the ethical sphere.
There is then the final issue. It appears to be an issue as to whether the research has any potential value. Some of the opponents of research have told us that some scientists deny that it has any value; alternatively, they say that is has only minimal value; or they say that whatever it can achieve can be achieved equally well, or perhaps better, by other means. As against that, there is what appears to me to be the great weight of scientific opinion and authority of those engaged in the research, of those supporting the research, and of those who set up the voluntary licensing authority to ensure that the research is carried out under the appropriate conditions envisaged by the committee of the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock. And, finally, the issue now has the immense weight of the support of the noble Lord, Lord Walton.
However, even if there are some scientists who genuinely doubt whether this research has potential value, how can that possibly be a reason for prohibiting the research by law? Therefore at the end of the day the case against research, in my submission, stands or falls by the claim which the opponents make to exclusive occupation of the moral high ground. If they are right in asserting that research upon the conceptus is morally equivalent to the kind of experimentation that was practised on live human subjects in Hitler's concentration camps, then of course we should all join them and vote to 980 prohibit such research. But if one believes, as I believe, that that comparison is totally invalid, then there is no other ground on which it can possibly be right to deny to humanity the potential benefits in terms of alleviation of human suffering that this research uniquely promises to offer.
§ Lord Robertson of Oakridge
Perhaps I may take up two points made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bridge of Harwich. First, he said that he believed that the embryo was not a person in the first 14 days. The point is not whether or not one believes that it is, but whether one knows that it is not. Unless one knows that the embryo is not a human being in the first 14 days, one cannot take the risk of carrying out research on him.
The second point is the slippery slope argument. I have a great respect for the medical profession but I think that it has done itself a great disservice in the way that it has let the abortion service get out of hand. By that I mean that if Parliament had known that we would see upwards of 150,000 abortions a year, and that in parts of the country doctors would be giving abortions on demand and that no one would be taking disciplinary action against them, Parliament would never have passed the 1967 Act. Until that situation is put right, the remainder of us have to be a little sceptical that the medical profession will take only what it is given and not take another yard.
§ The Lord Chancellor
We have had a full, extremely interesting and highly important debate that I am sure holds the interest of all noble Lords and of many outside this Chamber. We are discussing the very centre of the Bill, and a matter that goes to the heart of what life is about and what it is right and not right to do by way of research in the first 14 days after sperm and egg have been mixed together.
My noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham mentioned that in relation to this matter there are in effect three options. The first is to leave matters as they are, unregulated. One must remember that over the past 20 years or so there has been a good deal of work in this area that has been carried on without any legal framework whatever because it is an entirely new area which the law has not hitherto attempted to regulate. This Bill is brought forward by Her Majesty's Government upon the view that it is the duty of government to present to Parliament a Bill in which this matter can be regulated according to the will of Parliament. I believe that it is right —I believe that most Members of the Committee will feel that it is right —that Parliament has the responsibility to lay down the law in this area. If that is so, then that disposes of the first option.
Two options are left. I should like to begin by trying to set the amendment of my noble friend the Duke of Norfolk in the context of the Bill and other amendments so that we may try to see what the issue is that the Committee is called upon to decide on this amendment. It is the amendment of my noble friend the Duke of Norfolk, and that amendment only, which we are deciding at the moment. Other 981 later amendments have an effect on the matter. I shall try to explain just how I see them arising.
If the amendment of my noble friend the Duke of Norfolk, Amendment No. 51, is passed the effect that he seeks to achieve will be that all research on embryos, as opposed to the use of embryos for the treatment of individual women, will cease. There will of course be some tidying up needed to the Bill, for example, to delete subsection (3) of Clause 11 as proposed in further amendments. But, in a sense, it is a purely technical action. On the other hand, if Amendment No. 51 is rejected, and subsection (1) remains in the Bill, the Committee has then to decide what to do with subsection (2) on which there is an amendment, Amendment No. 54. Perhaps I may put it this way. If Amendment No. 51 is rejected, then in logic Amendment No. 54 should be accepted because that would take out of the Bill the subsection which does not permit research. But if Amendment No 51 is rejected it is not by any means the end of the matter.
The Bill does not propose that all research on embryos should be permitted. Schedule 2 to the Bill sets out the area within which research would, if Parliament so wishes, be allowed. There are already some amendments down which would alter the permitted area of research set out in Schedule 2 and we shall come to these later. The point that I wish to make to the Committee now is that, whereas prohibiting research is a clear-cut decision, allowing research in principle in relation to the amendment will give rise to further debate as to exactly what limits should be set on research.
As I have indicated at Second Reading —and I should emphasise it now —the Government believe that on these amendments, and on Clause 11 as a whole, the proper course for each Member of the Committee is to vote according to his or her own conscience as he or she sees the judgment to be correct. I do not mean for a moment that one necessarily goes on one's own individual preference but on what one conscientiously believes to be the right thing to do, or the right judgment to make in this very difficult situation.
As I said on Second Reading, the role of a government Minister in this situation and in that capacity is to set out, as far as he can, the relevant facts as regards these complex medical and scientific issues, and then to put as dispassionately as he can the arguments on either side of the debate which relate not only to medical and scientific issues but also to ethical and moral questions.
I shall attempt to do that briefly. It has been done by speakers on all sides of the debate with a great deal more authority than I have. At this stage it is right that I should attempt to summarise the situation as I see it. It will necessarily be a summary and I hope that it will be of help to the Committee in coming to an important and difficult decision.
On Second Reading I began by dealing with the arguments for embryo research and followed with the arguments against because that was the order in which these propositions appeared in Clause 11. On this occasion the first amendment we are discussing is to prohibit embryo research and, therefore, after 982 setting out the factual position as I see it, I propose to put the arguments against research before those for research. Needless to say, the length of the argument is no indication of its strength.
I shall therefore begin by trying to give the best factual account in my own words. Eggs for in vitro fertilisation are obtained either from a woman who wishes to have children or from a donor. The donor is usually a woman who is going to be sterilised and who gives her full consent for eggs to be removed from her ovaries while sterilisation is taking place. Before eggs are taken the donor will have been counselled and will have decided exactly what her wishes are; for example, whether or not she wishes her eggs to be used for the purposes of research. The common factor in all cases to which the clause applies is that eggs are brought outside the woman's body; in other words, on fertilisation all eggs are outside the woman's body.
When the eggs have been taken in that way, they are put in a dish with sperm and in a proportion of cases fertilisation takes place. In cases of treatment it is usual to try to fertilise all the eggs which have been taken because the process will not always be successful and some of the eggs which are fertilised may then be seen to be defective. Therefore, in cases of treatment it is usual to have some fertilised eggs which it is not intended to implant. Your Lordships will recall from the Second Reading debate that the noble Lord, Lord Jakobovits, for example, drew a distinction between the use of fertilised eggs which were, in this sense, spare and the use of fertilised eggs which had been specifically obtained from a woman for research purposes.
If these fertilised eggs remain in the dish —that is, if there is no other human intervention —they will, in a suitable nutrient solution, develop for a fairly short time and will then deteriorate naturally. If your Lordships take the view that any research is permissible, we have in the Bill taken the period of 14 days as being the limit on permissible research and have done so on the basis of the primitive streak.
The position is that once an egg has been brought out of the human body and fertilised, there has to be some further human intervention if it is to become a fetus and develop further. In other words, the fertilised egg has to be transferred into the body of a woman if there is to be any prospect of further development beyond a few days. I am advised that this has to be done at least five or six days after mixing of sperms and eggs. Only in the environment of a woman's body can the fertilised eggs, or some of them, go on to develop their full potential and become in due course, if all goes well, a baby.
I emphasise that at all stages in the progress up to birth the potential for further development can cease. With eggs which are fertilised in the normal way in the woman's body following sexual intercourse, I am advised that for some reason a great majority of the fertilised eggs will not implant into the woman's uterus. In the same way, perhaps a quarter of the fertilised eggs which do implant will at some stage miscarry, often in the first three months of pregnancy.
983 Finally, in this factual survey it may be helpful if I say a little about the nature of the fertilised egg in these early days. At the beginning it is an undifferentiated number of cells which are gradually proliferating. I understand that it is not possible to say which of these cells will develop into the baby and which cells will form the placenta and related structures which are needed to support the embryo and then the fetus through the remainder of its time in the uterus. Nor at this stage is it possible to be clear that a single fertilised egg will not produce twins or in rare cases a larger number of babies. At this stage there is a clear genetic composition but it is not clear how all or any of the cells will develop. I shall not go into the uncommon case where a person has a "mosaic" genetic composition because I do not believe it is relevant to the issues we are discussing.
After about 14 days from the mixing of the sperm and the egg the primitive streak develops and becomes visible. This primitive streak is the first absolutely clear indication of the differentiation of the cells which will develop into the baby, or, if more than one primitive streak appears, into a multiple pregnancy.
In this factual account I have sought to give the House a layman's account of what is an extremely complicated and, as yet, not wholly understood process. It is the duty of legislators to deal as best they can with what is known at the time. In this area there will clearly be in the future, as in the past few years, scope for considerable development and extension of knowledge. This is why the Bill provides for three ways in which that knowledge can be taken into account. The first is by the mechanism of the licensing authority and the scope with the licences which it will issue authorising treatment and, if Parliament allows, research. The second is by the reports which the licensing authority will make not only on the detailed processes of licensing but on its information on the growing knowledge in this field. The third is the power in the Bill, in certain carefully specified areas, to make changes by means of regulations to take account of new scientific and medical knowledge. I am sure that Parliament will wish to keep a close scrutiny on what is happening in these fields, whatever happens in respect of this amendment.
Before turning to the arguments on either side of this important issue, I should like to draw to the attention of the Committee a research report by Dr. Jennifer Gunning which the Department of Health published on Monday, copies of which are available in the Printed Paper Office. The report is entitled Human IVF, Embryo Research, Fetal Tissue for Research and Treatment and Abortion: International Information. I hope that it is a dispassionate account of practice in a number of European countries, the USA, Canada and Australia. The report was drawn up following an intensive programme of desk research and field visits carried out by Dr. Gunning last Autumn. Until the summer of last year Dr. Gunning was the secretary to the Interim Licensing Authority. The report was commissioned in order that in its debates on the Bill 984 Parliament could have as much information as we could provide as regards the way in which the matter has developed in those countries.
I now turn to the arguments which can be advanced in favour of Amendment No. 51. Perhaps I may remind the House that if accepted, it would have the effect of prohibiting all research involving human embyros within the definition of an embryo contained in Clause 1(1). We have already discussed that definition in the context of the amendment moved by my noble friend Lady Elles in her Amendment No. 3 and it is possible that we may return to that definition at a later stage in the proceedings on the Bill. However, I am sure that the Committee was right to defer definitive consideration of the definition in Clause 1(1) until we had addressed the central issue of today's debate. In the light of the decision taken today there will be an effect in respect of the definition. Therefore, Members of the Committee can approach the question of this amendment on the understanding that that definition will be adjusted to take account of the Committee's wishes in that respect.
Those who have spoken in favour of the amendment have done so with clarity and eloquence. I simply seek to summarise their position. For those who have spoken in support of the amendment the embryo has the potential of human life, of becoming through a successful pregnancy a human being from the moment at which fertilisation occurs. Thus in the circumstances I have described earlier when this process is carried out not as a result of natural processes but through mixing gametes in a glass dish, each of the embryos so created carries with it that potential. Taking this stance leads those who hold this view, which is a fundamental conviction and central component for many of their religous beliefs, to equate research on human embryos with destroying human life. This is because the processes involved in such scientific research inevitably are harmful to the embryo and fatal to its prospect of eventually, if all goes well, being born.
I think that the matter can be put most plainly in the words of my noble friend the Duke of Norfolk in moving the amendment. From the point of view of this argument, the embryo has a status of a living child, a human adult or as he said, a Member of your Lordships' House. I believe that that is the central part of the argument in favour of the amendment.
There is a second strand in the argument, which is that for Parliament to permit, in however tightly controlled circumstances, research on human embryos is to take the first step down a slippery slope which might lead to altering the genetic structure of the embryo in order, so to speak, to produce human beings to design. Another version of this argument is that permitting research up to 14 days might be the thin end of the wedge or the opening of a floodgate as scientists could always argue later for changing the basis of the legislation as new research possibilities emerged.
Thirdly, those who oppose research argue that research involving human embryos cannot produce any benefits which it is not posible to obtain in other 985 ways; for example, through research on animals. In their view it cannot be demonstrated that research which has been carried out now for at least two decades has in fact brought benefits in terms of the claims which are made on its behalf.
On that matter, I think I should remind the Committee —I hope I have this right —that the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, expressed his view that major prevention of birth with genetic disease will not be possible without such research. He does not say, as I understand him, that any substantial advance has been made in that area as yet but he believes, in the light of the information which he gave, that that would possible.
All Members of the Committee will know that many parents can be advised on the basis of present knowledge that there is some risk —and sometimes that can be expressed as a probability —that a child born to them in the natural way would be born with a particular genetic disease. The possibility of major prevention in that connection is something which people in that position might value.
That is but a brief and no doubt incomplete account of the arguments which are made in favour of Amendment No. 51. If I may put it in a nutshell, those who would vote for this argument would say that whatever the benefits of research involving human embryos, the respect which should be afforded to the embryo in view of its potential to develop into a human being is so fundamental that we should turn away from that prospect and, as would be the effect of this amendment, expressly prohibit in legislation any such research in this country.
That is a moral judgment and question on the basis of the facts. I do not believe that it is possible to reach a sound moral judgment without a fairly close appreciation of the facts. That is why I have sought to set them out as best I can.
I turn now to the arguments against Amendment No. 51. That amendment would allow research involving human embryos to be licensed by the authority to be set up within the range of controls which the Bill provides through a comprehensive scheme of licensing. Those who have spoken in favour of that amendment have also spoken with conviction, eloquence and clarity. Again, I think it may assist the Committee if I attempt to give an account of their arguments.
Those centre on the benefits which it is argued such research can bring,. The objectives of research are as follows and I can do no better than repeat the words in paragraph 3(2) of Schedule 2 to the Bill which indicate the purposes for which a licence for research, if research is permitted, can be given. These are:promoting advances in the treatment of infertility; increasing knowledge about the causes of congenital disease; increasing knowledge about the causes of miscarriages; developing more effective techniques of contraception; or developing methods for detecting the presence of gene or chromosome abnormalities in embryos before implantation".More generally, the paragraph goes on to cover research for the purposes of increasing knowledge about the creation and development of embryos and enabling such knowledge to be applied.
986 Before I look in turn at these purposes for research, I ought to make the general point that doctors would consider it unethical to use a new treatment before they were as sure as they could be that it was unlikely to be harmful. Thus, Steptoe and Edwards before they carried out the first IVF procedure which led to the birth of Louise Brown in 1978 carried out a considerable programme of research before they were satisfied that it was appropriate to try out the procedure on Louise Brown's mother. It is worth drawing this point to the attention of the Committee because the effect of Amendment No. 51 is that, had it been in force at the time, it would have prevented the development of the IVF technique and indeed would prevent any improvement to that technique which could be achieved in the future.
I now turn to the purposes of the research and I think it may be helpful to mention those briefly. First, many doctors and scientists argue that research assists in promoting improvements in infertility treatment. At present IVF has a low success rate which was mentioned repeatedly —perhaps ranging between 10 and 20 per cent. —and research is considered necessary to achieve improvement; for example, on the interaction of the embryo with its environment, on the processes of the creation of embryos and on the freezing of eggs for all of which it would be appropriate and indeed, it is argued, necessary to study embryos in vitro.
Secondly, research has the potential for increasing knowledge about the cause of some congenital diseases and offers the prospect of preimplantation diagnosis through testing developing eggs at an early stage to identify those which will be affected by or carry serious genetic diseases such as Duchenne muscular dystrophy or others.
Thirdly, research is said to be helpful in increasing knowledge about the causes of miscarriage where problems with implantation are likely often to be associated with defects in early embryonic development. Research on embryos in vitro offers the prospect of improved clinical treatment for women.
Finally, there is the argument that research may assist in the development of new contraceptive methods, notably those based on vaccines, with the aim of ensuring that failure rates are minimal and that they have no adverse effect if pregnancy nevertheless happens. There are of course other benefits which, some would argue, have not yet been thought of. Those who support research argue that if Amendment No. 51 were carried, those doctors and scientists engaged in work involving research on human embryos would be likely to emigrate so as to pursue their work in countries where embryo research was not restricted.
That completes what I seek to put before the Committee at this stage. I should like to mention that what the Committee are asked to do is to lay down, on this aspect, the law for the whole country. It is absolutely plain —and this was referred to —that the Bill contains a clear provision protecting those with conscientious objection against having to take part in any of these procedures.
987 It is a very serious and important question that the Committee face. It is essential that we should all understand this. So could I say that those who wish to vote for Amendment No. 51 will, by that vote, prohibit all research on human embryos as defined in Clause 1(1) of the Bill as it stands.
It is worth pointing out that although inevitably the debate today has centred on Clause 11(1) and (2), that provision was drafted to give a clear-cut choice about whether or not Parliament should permit or prohibit research. It is possible, as I said, to take other positions, notably, as for example the one the Chief Rabbi, the noble Lord, Lord Jakobovits, mentioned in arguing that research should only be permitted on embryos which become available as part of the IVF procedure; in other words, that no research should be permitted on embryos specifically created by whatever means for the purposes of research and not for the treatment of infertility.
The Committee should be clear that if it votes for Amendment No. 51, the prohibition would be absolute and any such intermediate position, which would allow research but in more tightly controlled circumstances, would not be sustainable. That is on the basis of the Bill as it stands. I am not excluding the possibility that other amendments may be put forward. On the basis of the Bill as it stands, if Amendment No. 51 is carried, all research on embryos would be prohibited and that, I understand, is what my noble friend who moved this amendment and my noble and learned friend Lord Rawlinson have in mind.
As I have said already, this is a matter of moral judgment in the light of the factual situation, as the Committee will appreciate. I do not believe it is right to take a moral judgment without seeking to appreciate the facts, but once the facts are appreciated, the matter is one, I believe, entirely for moral judgment. This is certainly a very important decision. I respectfully agree, from my own point of view, with what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London said, that he found this an extremely difficult decision to take. He indicated what he would do. I do not propose to do that.
§ The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Belstead)
This is a decision for the Committee and the Committee is making its decision pretty clear.
§ The Duke of Norfolk
May I thank the noble and learned Lord for his masterly summing up. It was abundantly clear and abundantly fair to both sides of this very important debate. I should like to thank everybody for their speeches, which enlightened me a great deal. I now, without further ado, propose that Amendment No. 51 be carried.
§ 6.5 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 51) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 80; Not-Contents, 234.990
|DIVISION NO. 1|
|Airedale, L.||Liverpool, E.|
|Ashbourne, L.||London, Bp.|
|Baldwin of Bewdley, E.||Longford, E.|
|Belhaven and Stenton, L.||Lothian, M.|
|Blake, L.||Lyell, L.|
|Blatch, B.||Lytton, E.|
|Braye, B.||McFarlane of Llandaff, B.|
|Brentford, V.||Masham of Ilton, B.|
|Buckmaster, V.||Massereene and Ferrard, V.|
|Camoys, L.||Melville, V.|
|Chester, Bp.||Merrivale, L.|
|Clanwilliam, E.||Milverton, L.|
|Cockfield, L.||Mowbray and Stourton, L.|
|Coleraine, L.||Murton of Lindisfarne, L.|
|Cork and Orrery, E.||Norfolk, D. [Teller.]|
|Cox, B.||Northesk, E.|
|Craigmyle, L.||Oxford and Asquith, E.|
|De L'Isle, V.||Parmoor, L.|
|Ellenborough, L.||Peel, E.|
|Elles, B.||Perth, E.|
|Falkland, V.||Petre, L.|
|Ferrers, E.||Pitt of Hampstead, L.|
|Fitt, L.||Rankeillour, L.|
|Gainsborough, E.||Rawlinson of Ewell, L. [Teller.]|
|Greenway, L.||Reading, M.|
|Haddington, E.||Rees-Mogg, L.|
|Harvington, L.||Ripon, Bp.|
|Havers, L.||Robertson of Oakridge, L.|
|Hemphill, L.||Ryder of Warsaw, B.|
|Hesketh, L.||Salisbury, M.|
|Holderness, L.||Sidmouth, V.|
|Hooper, B.||Simon of Glaisdale, L.|
|Hunt of Tanworth, L.||Stafford, L.|
|Hylton, L.||Stallard, L.|
|Iddesleigh, E.||Stoddart of Swindon, L.|
|Kennet, L.||Strange, B.|
|Kinloss, Ly.||Swinfen, L.|
|Kitchener, E.||Tordoff, L.|
|Lauderdale, E.||Winchester, Bp.|
|Lindsey and Abingdon, E.|
|Aberdare, L.||Boyd-Carpenter, L.|
|Addington, L.||Brain, L.|
|Adrian, L.||Bridge of Harwich, L.|
|Aldington, L.||Brightman, L.|
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||Briginshaw, L.|
|Allen of Abbeydale, L.||Brimelow, L.|
|Allenby of Megiddo, V.||Brougham and Vaux, L.|
|Alport, L.||Bruce of Donington, L.|
|Ampthill, L.||Butterfield, L.|
|Annan, L.||Butterworth, L.|
|Ardwick, L.||Byron, L.|
|Atholl, D.||Caithness, E.|
|Attlee, E.||Caldecote, V.|
|Aylestone, L.||Callaghan of Cardiff, L.|
|Balfour of Burleigh, L.||Campbell of Croy, L.|
|Bancroft, L.||Campbell of Eskan, L.|
|Barnett, L.||Carlisle of Bucklow, L.|
|Belstead, L.||Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L.|
|Birk, B.||Carnarvon, E.|
|Blease, L.||Carnegy of Lour, B.|
|Blyth, L.||Carnock, L.|
|Boardman, L.||Carr of Hadley, L.|
|Bonham-Carter, L.||Carter, L.|
|Borthwick, L.||Chorley, L.|
|Boston of Faversham, L.||Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.|
|Bottomley, L.||Cocks of Hartcliffe, L.|
|Colwyn, L.||Lockwood, B.|
|Congleton, L.||Long, V.|
|Craigavon, V.||Lovell-Davis, L.|
|Crathorne, L.||Lucas of Chilworth, L.|
|Croham, L.||Macaulay of Bragar, L.|
|Cross, V.||McGregor of Durris, L. [Teller.]|
|Dacre of Glanton, L.|
|Dainton, L.||McIntosh of Haringey, L.|
|Darcy (de Knayth), B.||Macleod of Borve, B.|
|David, B.||Marsh, L.|
|Dean of Beswick, L.||Marshall of Goring, L.|
|Delacourt-Smith of Alteryn, B.||Marshall of Leeds, L.|
|Denham, L.||Meston, L.|
|Denington, B.||Mills, V.|
|Diamond, L.||Monson, L.|
|Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L.||Moran, L.|
|Donoughue, L.||Morton of Shuna, L.|
|Dormand of Easington, L.||Mottistone, L.|
|Downshire, M.||Mountevans, L.|
|Dudley, E.||Mulley, L.|
|Eden of Winton, L.||Munster, E.|
|Elibank, L.||Murray of Epping Forest, L.|
|Elliot of Harwood, B.||Nathan, L.|
|Ennals, L.||Nelson of Stafford, L.|
|Erroll, E.||Newall, L.|
|Ewart-Biggs, B.||Nicol, B.|
|Faithfull, B.||Northfield, L.|
|Flowers, L.||Ogmore, L.|
|Fraser of Carmyllie, L.||O'Neill of the Maine, L.|
|Fraser of Kilmorack, L.||Onslow, E.|
|Gainford, L.||Oram, L.|
|Gallacher, L.||Orkney, E.|
|Galpern, L.||Orr-Ewing, L.|
|Gibson, L.||Pender, L.|
|Gisborough, L.||Perry of Walton, L.|
|Glenarthur, L.||Peston, L.|
|Goodman, L.||Platt of Writtle, B.|
|Graham of Edmonton, L.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.|
|Greenhill of Harrow, L.||Prys-Davies, L.|
|Griffiths, L.||Pym, L.|
|Grimond, L.||Quinton, L.|
|Grimthorpe, L.||Rea, L.|
|Haig, E.||Reay, L.|
|Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L.||Renton, L.|
|Halsbury, E.||Rippon of Hexham, L.|
|Hampton, L.||Robson of Kiddington, B.|
|Hanson, L.||Rochester, L.|
|Harris of Greenwich, L.||Rodney, L.|
|Hatch of Lusby, L.||Russell, E.|
|Hayter, L.||Russell of Liverpool, L.|
|Henderson of Brompton, L.||Sainsbury, L.|
|Henniker, L.||Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.|
|Hirshfield, L.||Seear, B.|
|Hives, L.||Seebohm, L.|
|Home of the Hirsel, L.||Sefton of Garston, L.|
|Houghton of Sowerby, L.||Serota, B.|
|Howie of Troon, L.||Shackleton, L.|
|Hughes, L.||Shannon, E.|
|Hunt, L.||Shaughnessy, L.|
|Hunter of Newington, L.||Shepherd, L.|
|Hylton-Foster, B.||Sherfield, L.|
|Ilchester, E.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Jeger, B.||Slim, V.|
|Jellicoe, E.||Smith, L.|
|Jenkin of Roding, L.||Somerset, D.|
|Jenkins of Hillhead, L.||Soper, L.|
|Jenkins of Putney, L.||Southwark, Bp.|
|John-Mackie, L.||Stedman, B.|
|Joseph, L.||Stockton, E.|
|Kearton, L.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Killearn, L.||Strathclyde, L.|
|Kilmarnock, L.||Sudeley, L.|
|Kirkhill, L.||Swann, L.|
|Kissin, L.||Templeman, L.|
|Lawrence, L.||Terrington, L.|
|Listowel, E.||Teviot, L.|
|Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B. [Teller.]||Thomas of Gwydir, L.|
|Thomas of Swynnerton, L.|
|Lloyd of Hampstead, L.||Thomson of Monifieth, L.|
|Lloyd of Kilgerran, L.||Thorneycroft, L.|
|Thurlow, L.||Whitelaw, V.|
|Trefgarne, L.||Wigoder, L.|
|Trumpington, B.||Wilberforce, L.|
|Tryon, L.||Williams of Elvel, L.|
|Ullswater, V.||Willis, L.|
|Underhill, L.||Winstanley, L.|
|Walpole, L.||Winterbottom, L.|
|Walton of Detchant, L.||Wise, L.|
|Warnock, B.||York, Abp.|
|Weinstock, L.||Zuckerman, L.|
§ Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ 6.18 p.m.
The Duke of Norfolk moved Amendment No. 52:
Page 5, line 15, leave out ("Authority") and insert ("Secretary of State").
§ The noble Duke said: This amendment puts the Secretary of State in charge more than the authority. I beg to move.
§ Lord Ennals
I oppose this amendment moved by the noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk. If the Secretary of State is to have the power which the Bill now says the authority shall have, it will totally undermine the role of the authority. I believe that it would do great damage to the concept of the Bill. I hope that the noble Duke will not proceed with the amendment.
§ Baroness Elles
I support my noble friend the Duke of Norfolk. This amendment is in line with the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act under which the Secretary of State is in charge and is responsible to Parliament for all acts connected with animals, particularly in the field of scientific development. Since we are considered as other animals, it is perfectly logical and reasonable that the same standing should be accorded to this Bill as to the Act concerned with animals.
§ The Earl of Perth
I support the amendment on the basis that the authority will become another quango. I can see the time when the Secretary of State or Her Majesty's Government are asked questions to which they will say, "It is not our affair". We have seen so many other cases. I see no reason why this amendment should result in any diminution in the authority of the authority. Somehow we need to have Parliament —and therefore the Secretary of State —responsible.
§ The Lord Chancellor
I understand the view that the licensing decisions should be the direct responsibility of the Secretary of State, who would of course be directly responsible to Parliament. It is a view which has been prominently deployed at various stages in the debates following the Warnock Report. It is also a view which has been carefully considered by the Government but to which, in the end, we have decided not to give effect.
One reason for this is to be found in the amendments discussed on Tuesday which invited the Committee to agree that the authority should be informed by the views of persons having wide knowledge or experience in the fields of law, social 991 work, philosophy and religion, as well as medicine or science. In advising the Committee not to accept the amendment, we said that it would be wrong to confine Ministers; for example, by not mentioning other disciplines such as nursing and counselling. But we also made it very clear that in making appointments to the authority Ministers will be likely to want to select people with experience and from the disciplines mentioned.
I said this because the Government are very conscious that the kind of decisions and the kind of guidance which the licensing authority will need to give has to be based on wide experience. It will need to reflect the coming together of people, from different backgrounds and traditions, who can provide wisdom on subjects which are intensely personal for the person who is receiving treatment and for the clinician who is considering what is best to do for his patient and for any children who may result from successful treatment. The authority will also have to help society to think through what is right to do on issues of great ethical, moral, medical, scientific and legal complexity.
Speaking for myself but I believe for my ministerial colleagues as well, we do not have the detailed specialist experience across these various fields and the advantage that comes from working in a closely-knit specialist group which would help us to take decisions on whether a particular licence should be granted or a particular paragraph of guidance drafted. Our role is a different role. It is to ensure that the right appointments are made, of people with wisdom, experience and breadth of vision. It is also to ensure that, for example, the code of practice which the authority will provide is not in its detail but in its general format and coverage the kind of document that Parliament and the public in this country believe to be right and helpful to recipients. Responsibility for individual decisions could actually inhibit Ministers from carrying through effectively the duties under the Bill which I believe are suited to them. It is for these wider responsibilities on the running of the Act that Ministers should properly be responsible to Parliament.
It may be argued that in taking decisions Ministers would be guided by the authority in an advisory capacity. But if Ministers always agreed with the authority's advice their role would be superfluous. And in so far as they rejected its advice on individual cases or issues they would be overriding the detailed expertise that the members of the authority may possess. Again, Ministers' roles should be rather different. If they were to believe that in large measure the decisions of the authority were wrong or its guidance was in fact misguided, their right under the Bill, and their duty to Parliament, would be to change the composition of the authority.
I am very concerned that the amendments, by running together the separate roles of an executive licensing body and an overseeing Minister, would produce a lower quality of decision and a cumbersome system of administration when what is needed is specialist experience and expertise coupled 992 with individual wisdom from members, but with a general oversight on behalf of Parliament which is provided by the machinery for reports, and the policy responsibilities of the Secretary of State and his responsibility for making appointments.
The option proposed by the amendment was one of those canvassed in the consultation document published in 1986 which preceded the White Paper published a year later. That option was put forward in the consultation document because it was clear in debates on the Unborn Children (Protection) Bill, introduced by Mr. Enoch Powell in 1985, that there was a body of support for this concept. However, the results of the consultation exercise were unequivocal and 70 per cent. of those who replied indicated that they favoured the approach recommended by the Warnock Committee of setting up an independent statutory body. The Government endorsed that view in the White Paper and stand by it now.
In their view it would not be right for politicians to become involved in the day-to-day administration of clinical and, if Parliament agrees, research issues of a difficult and delicate kind. The Bill provides for the authority to have a very detailed and strict system of control of certain treatments, the storage of gametes and embryos and, if Parliament agrees, research involving human embryos. The provisions which follow Clause 11 set out this licensing procedure in some detail and give the authority powers to grant, refuse, vary and revoke licences, to make general or specific directions to licence holders and require it to prepare, agree with the Secretary of State and publish a code of practice which gives further detailed guidance on how it expects licence holders to operate.
My noble friend Lady Elles mentioned the position on animal research. There is a significant difference between the research contemplated in Clause 11 and the procedure for dealing with animal research, where the Home Secretary is directly involved. The system is necessary because in that case the purpose is to prevent pain to the animals concerned and to ensure that the project is appropriate in this regard. It is a less detailed and more overall responsibility than would be contemplated for the grant of licences in this Bill. In the light of those considerations, perhaps my noble friend will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
§ The Duke of Norfolk
In view of the fact that the authority will be so widely drawn, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 53 not moved.]
Lord Walton of Detchant moved Amendment No. 54:
Page 5, line 23, leave out subsections (2) and (3).
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Murton of Lindisfarne)
As Amendment No. 54 has been agreed to, Amendments Nos. 55, 56 and 57 are pre-empted.
Lord Grantchester moved Amendment No. 58:
Page 5, line 32, at end insert —
("( ) The Secretary of State may, either in consequence of representations made to him or for any other reasons, after consulting the Authority, by order provide that the activities set out in Schedule 2 to this Act for which licences may be granted and activities under existing licences granted by the Authority shall be restricted in such manner and as from such date or dates as shall be specified in such order.").
§ The noble Lord said: This is a minor amendment. I put it forward in the hope that the Bill will be thereby improved. I was induced to put forward the amendment in order to keep some parliamentary control over the treatment activities set out in Schedule 2. The basis on which the Bill appears to work is that the licensing authority may grant licences for treatment services under Schedule 2. That is done by a licence committee consisting partly of members of the authority itself and, in a minority, persons from outside. The revocation of licences is also left to a licence committee under Clause 17 of the Bill, subject to a right of appeal under Clause 19 in certain circumstances.
§ My amendment is designed to give the Secretary of State power to restrict activities of those which may be licensed and to act quickly if he is of the opinion that certain activities go beyond those which ought to be carried on and are therefore contrary to the public interest. A reason for proposing this is what happened in relation to the drug thalidomide. In that case, as a result of the use of that drug, very great disadvantages and distress were caused, and the use of the drug had to be restricted and abandoned. Here we are allowing the authority to license treatment services which may develop over the years and which may involve treatments to be carried out even during the pregnancy period. Moreover, drugs may be used which turn out to be as undesirable in their effect as was thalidomide in regard to the unfortunate children.
§ In those circumstances, put shortly, my amendment would allow the Secretary of State to shut down certain activities by restricting licences in a way that he thought fit. He could do that as soon as it appeared to him to be desirable to do so in the public interest, without having to refer to the authority and go through the procedures of revocation of licences and the resultant appeals and other such matters which may then be involved before the revocations take effect. We hope that the power will never need to be exercised but it is a safeguard which the public and Parliament should, in my submission, require and one which would assist the Bill in its passage through this Chamber.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Lord Prys-Davies
I listened carefully to the supportive speech of the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester. He described his amendment as being a minor one. However, if I understood him correctly, it seems to me to be a major amendment. I say that because it enables the Secretary of State to restrict the activities which are listed in the schedule. On any grounds, having listened to certain representations, if he believes that he ought to restrict the activity then he can do so. This proposal 994 seems to me to give the Secretary of State unlimited power.
I am not certain whether the amendment would also enable the Secretary of State to restrict an activity which has been authorised by the authority. If that is so, it seems to me to be undermining the whole authority of the licensing authority. Moreover, it would dissuade doctors from ever undertaking any work under a licence, although it had been granted by the licensing authority. At least, that is my understanding of the noble Lord's speech.
§ Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone
I do not think that this proposal is an improvement to the Bill. In my view it is constitutionally objectionable to give the Secretary of State —who is, after all, a member of the Executive —a right to override the clinical judgment of doctors who are concerned in what is otherwise lawful. I think that it would undermine the authority's function under the Bill. I can assure the noble Lord on the Cross-Benches who moved the amendment that I was a Member of the Cabinet throughout the thalidomide saga and it would have been quite impossible for an amendment such as his to have had the slightest effect on the course of events.
§ Lord Butterfield
I hope that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor can answer this question. Is it not true that the use of drugs would come under the provisions of the Medicines Act? Therefore, would it not be for the Medicines Commission to decide whether such treatments were safe? It seems to me that there is a risk here of some reduplication so far as concerns the use of medicines in these circumstances.
§ Lord Hylton
I should like to say a brief word in favour of the amendment. It states that representations must be made, first, to the Secretary of State. It goes on to state that he must consult the authority. However, after that, presumably he must make up his own mind. It may be desirable that the kind of representations, or who should make them, should be clarified a little further. But, on the face of it, I should have thought that this was a useful reserve power to have in the Bill.
§ The Lord Chancellor
The intention of the Bill is that the authority which will be established thereunder will carry out its statutory functions of control and licensing effectively and be worthy of full public confidence. As the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, mentioned, the authority will have the power to give or refuse licences and subsequently to withdraw or vary licences which it has granted. For example, if it should turn out that a particular licence which had been granted had in the judgment of the authority undesirable effects, for some reason which was not anticipated at the time when it was granted, it would have the power to revoke the licence. Of course, as the noble Lord pointed out, procedures will be necessary in such a case to give the licence holder an opportunity to have the matter properly discussed.
This clause, as I understand the basis upon which it is put forward, would give the Secretary of State 995 a kind of short cut to overcome such a difficulty. It would enable him to withdraw the whole basis of the licence by statutory order. I think it would be very difficult to believe that the Secretary of State could properly do so even under the terms of this amendment without giving the people in question —that is, those who were seeking to support the licence —an opportunity of representing the case in the other direction. Therefore the system is a licensing system with fair protection for the public as regards judgment on the practices on the one hand, and the people who may be operating the licences on the other.
The authority will also issue a code of practice which will need to be approved by the Secretary of State and be placed before Parliament. It will also be required to present a full report of its activites to Parliament. We debated an amendment which sought to make the presentation of these reports more frequent than is specified in the Bill.
Accordingly, I suggest to the noble Lords, Lord Grantchester and Lord Hylton, that the purposes of the amendment are really achieved by powers which already exist in the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, referred by way of example to the thalidomide case. I do not think that he was really suggesting that this proposal would deal with medicines in quite the same way; he was simply giving that case as an illustration of a situation where what people thought was all right at the time the drug was put on the market turned out to be far from all right. He was merely suggesting that something of the kind could happen under this machinery. For example, a licence could be granted and after it had come into effect it might turn out that it was producing bad results. That is exactly why the licensing authority is given power to revoke licences. I believe that that is the correct system.
Moreover, as the noble Lord, Lord Butterfield, mentioned, medicines are controlled under the Medicines Act. However, that aspect does not really affect the matter. The noble Lord, Lord Grantchester merely wished to give an illustration of what may happen under this system. I hope that in the light of those considerations that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
§ Lord Grantchester
In the light of those explanations I should like to withdraw the amendment, subject, however, to the one caveat. I had in the back of my mind that the authority and its members would be interested in the actual carrying on of the activities and the treatment services. The idea was to give an overall parliamentary control. However, having said that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ The Lord Chancellor
Before the noble Lord sits down perhaps I may deal with a further point that he made. I refer to the idea that the people who grant the licences may not all be members of the authority. I think that Clause 9(5) requires the licence committee to be constituted entirely of members of the authority. I must apologise to the noble Lord for not dealing with that aspect earlier.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 59 not moved.]
§ Clause 11, as amended, agreed to.
§ Schedule 2 [Activities for which licences may be granted]:
The Duke of Norfolk moved Amendment No. 60:
Page 25, line 40, leave out from ("embryos") to end of line 42 and insert ("will survive if placed in a woman").
The noble Duke said: This is a very important amendment. The Bill allows that embryos may be assessed to ensure that they are,
in a suitable condition to be placed in a woman".
§ It does not define what is meant by "suitable condition". I am concerned that if we leave the Bill as it stands, it opens the way for all kinds of practices which we should all find unacceptable. We can imagine parents who wanted a boy or a girl or a blond child or a blue-eyed child, asking the doctor to select an embryo with these qualities. If the doctor considered that only a child with the qualities that the parents wanted was suitable, he would be allowed to select that embryo. In India the desire of many parents to abort a girl fetus is a major social problem and also, I would say, the worst form of sexual discrimination.
§ The possibilities of such unethical practices increase a thousandfold with in vitro techniques. This is eugenics, and it is one of the most dangerous prospects opened up by IVF technology. The effect of eugenics is one factor which has motivated the German parliament to introduce its commendable Bill which I mentioned earlier. Even without genetic manipulation, which we all wish to see banned, it would be possible to breed children with any desired characteristics by careful selection of embryos, particularly now that it is possible to create many embryos at once. The amendment seeks to prevent any kind of eugenic selection of embryos. Of course there would be no point in replacing embryos which could not survive or any that might pose a threat to the mother. But all other forms of selection should be banned. I beg to move.
§ Viscount Caldecote
I support the amendment. I was speaking to a doctor, a gynaecologist, a few days ago who is invited on occasions to do exactly what my noble friend the Duke of Norfolk suggested might sometimes happen. That is determining the sex of the child to be born. Surely that is not something which we would feel was a good thing.
§ Lord Swinfen
I wish to support the principle behind the amendment. I wonder what happens if the embryo does not survive. The amendment says, "will survive". We have already heard this evening that quite a large number of embryos formed naturally do not survive. I should have thought that the amendment could have been improved by the addition of words such as "are very likely to survive". It would take a lawyer, not me, to get the wording right. I wondered whether, if an embryo is inserted into a woman and it fails to survive, an offence might be committed.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Lord Ennals
I wish to hear what the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor has to say. We cannot possibly ensure that an embryo will survive if placed in a woman. I do not know why the noble Duke thought that one could provide any such guaranteee, so I hope that he will not press the amendment. However, I am anxious to hear what the noble and learned Lord has to say.
§ The Lord Bishop of Southwark
I also wish to support the principle behind this. I should be grateful to hear whether the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, or the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, could define more sharply the words "in a suitable condition". In the normal usage of the English language, that could not really be taken to mean with blue eyes or fair hair. I share all the noble Duke's anxieties about the wrong direction that this might take.
§ Lord Brain
There is one small point which was brought up. With some of the diseases that are sex-linked there is a definite need. I quite agree about blue eyes and such characteristics but regarding whether a male or female embryo will be replaced in a woman, that is one of the suitable conditions that might be excluded. One would not be able to select that if the noble Duke's amendment were passed.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Baroness Hooper)
I am sorry to disappoint some Members of the Committee who expected to hear from my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor. I think that my noble friend the Duke of Norfolk is unduly concerned in attempting to alter the Bill with this amendment. As currently drafted, subparagraph (1)(d) of paragraph 1 of Schedule 2 permits treatment licences to be issued for practices designed to ensure that embryos are suitable for being placed in a woman. I believe that that does not mean that they conform to the desire of the woman for a baby with blue eyes or other such characteristics, but are suitable for the purpose of implantation and creating a viable embryo.
In seeking to narrow the grounds on which a licence can be issued under this provision to practices designed to ensure that an embryo will survive if placed in a woman, the amendment would not help. The wording in the Bill is designed to ensure that in the course of treatment defective embryos are not unwittingly placed in a woman. If a woman undergoing in vitro fertilisation has a moral objection to a defective embryo being discarded, it is of course open to her to decide to have it placed in her, but I think that that was not the purport of the amendment of my noble friend the Duke of Norfolk. We believe that the mother should be in a position to know as far as possible whether the embryo is suitable. It is for those reasons that we feel we must oppose the amendment.
§ Lord Ennals
I wish to ask the noble Baroness whether it could relate to things like temperature or 998 some other suitable condition at the moment when it is implanted. Could it refer for instance to temperature or the way in which the embryo was protected before use?
§ Baroness Hooper
I presume so. As I understand it and as I am advised, suitable in this context means medically suitable. That must take into account, I imagine, such things as temperature.
The Earl of Halsbury
How can one be satisfied that an embryo will survive if placed in a woman when we know that 90 per cent. of them do not?
§ The Duke of Norfolk
The purpose of my amendment was to stop what I call the brave new world scenario coming along in which mankind is being manipulated by the abilities given through in vitro fertilisation. That itself is a wonderful thing. However, having heard what has been said, I wish to reserve the possibility of bringing the matter up in some other form, if necessary at Report stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
The Earl of Perth had given notice of his attention to move Amendment No. 61:
Page 25, line 44, leave out paragraph (f).
§ The noble Earl said: This amendment was considered on Tuesday with Amendment No. 21. I pressed that amendment to a vote and unfortunately it was defeated, but I remain hopeful that not everything is lost. I shall say no more at this moment except that when we come to Amendment No. 70 I may make further remarks.
§ [Amendment No. 61 not moved.]
Lord Harvington moved Amendment No. 62:
Page 26, line 1, leave out paragraph (g).
The noble Lord said: Paragraph 1 of Schedule 2 describes the kinds of activities which may be licensed when providing treatment services. The kinds of activities that are to be allowed are listed under the headings (a) to (g). It is stated under heading (g):
such other practices as may be specified in, or determined in accordance with, regulations".
§ That would appear to give a completely blank cheque with regard to further practices being allowed by regulations. I find that quite unacceptable. We could ask what is the point of giving a list of allowed practices if we then finish up by saying that anything else may be allowed. Further, what is the point of our debating what should be allowed today if we are going to open the door to such a change in the future?
§ It is true that it is provided that regulations under this part of the Bill would need to be made by affirmative resolution. As the Committee knows perfectly well, that is a resolution of both Houses. However, in my view this is a matter for primary legislation. We should deal with it now. We are debating the fundamental principles involved today. Those Members on both sides of the Committee who are most concerned about this matter have come here today to see this matter resolved. There have 999 been a great many Members of the Chamber present today. It would be wholly wrong if we were to see our decision watered down in six months' time or if we all had to turn up again to debate these matters once more in the context of some government regulation that had been tabled. In my opinion that is not the way to do things. The provision contained under heading (g) is unnecessary and should be deleted. I beg to move.
§ Lord Adrian
Surely what is being considered here are treatments. That has nothing to do with research. That is dealt with later in the Bill under licences for research. We are concerned here with licences for treatment. The words "such other practices" refer to treatment practices. I am not aware that the medical profession, when considering a new treatment, has to apply to Parliament for primary legislation to allow it. It seems to me that it would be a fatal mistake to ban all practices other than those that are listed. I strongly oppose this amendment.
§ Lord Ennals
I think the provision in the Bill is necessary. It certainly should remain and not be deleted. It is important. If we are to place confidence in the authority —that is what we intend to do —and the Secretary of State is to determine who will be on it and we are satisfied that it is a responsible body, it is important that there should be a degree of flexibility. We do not want the authority to say there is something which does not fall absolutely within the terms of the headings (a) to (f) but which needs to be done as regards treatment. To deny that kind of flexibility in the area of research which will lead to certain forms of treatment is wrong. I hope the amendment will not be passed.
§ Baroness Hooper
As the noble Lord, Lord Adrian, pointed out, the provision in the Bill is designed to take account of new treatments which may become available and the Government believe it is right to make provision for possible future advances in fertility treatment. The rapid advances in techniques, even since the publication of the Warnock Report in 1984, show how difficult it is to forecast now everything that may be possible even in a few years' time. In the Government's view therefore it would not be desirable to have to wait for new principal legislation in every case.
However, the Government recognise that this is an area where Parliament has particular concerns. That has been evidenced by the response to the debates on this Bill. Those Members of the Committee who have concerns should feel reassured by the fact that any regulations which are made under this heading would have to be laid in draft and would be subject to an affirmative resolution of each House of Parliament. On that basis I trust my noble friend will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
§ Lord Harvington
I have listened to the comments of my noble friend the Minister and to those of the Members of the Committee opposite. That has drawn my attention to the fact that I may be 1000 mistaken in what I am trying to do. I have also listened to what the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, said. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House resumed.