House of Commons
Monday 12 May 2008
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Culture, Media and Sport
The Secretary of State was asked—
My Department has held two publishing seminars, involving the Publishers Association and the Independent Publishers Guild, among others. In addition, I have recently met representatives of the British Library, the British Phonographic Industry, British Music Rights and the Advertising Association.
The Secretary of State will know that demand for e-books is growing. Penguin made as much on e-books in the first two months of this year as it did in the whole of 2007. How does he hope to protect the nascent development of e-books from peer-to-peer and other piracy involving internet service providers?
The hon. Gentleman raises an important question. New technology, of which e-books are a good example, can help us to enjoy music, literature and culture more freely, and that is to be celebrated. However, there is a genuine issue to do with the illegal sharing and downloading of material to which he alludes. It is already causing serious damage to our creative industries, particularly the music industry. Our first preference is for rights holders and internet service providers to reach voluntary agreements about access to content. I must say that I am disheartened by recent comments from within the ISP community to suggest that providers do not have any responsibility for illegal downloading. I can tell the hon. Gentleman that jointly with the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform and the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, we will shortly publish a document that includes options for legislation if voluntary agreements cannot be secured.
But is my right hon. Friend aware of the anger felt by the community of writers, especially freelances—creative artists—about the swindles that deny them their property: their copyright? Mainstream papers, especially left-wing newspapers, are the worst culprits in that regard. We on the Labour Benches are short of a few votes; there are scores of thousands of people whom we could help. Will my right hon. Friend agree to meet a delegation from the recently formed all-party writers group? I am its vice-chairman, although I have not yet published any memoirs or diaries, and have no money that results from such publications in the bank account. Will he agree to meet members of the all-party group to discuss how we can be fair to the writers, creative artists and journalists of Britain, and get them all to vote Labour?
I certainly accept my right hon. Friend’s invitation, and I look forward to receiving his recipe for our return to popularity when I meet him. I repeat that these are incredibly urgent questions, not just for writers but for creators of all kinds in our society. We have to come up with ways to ensure that the creative process is respected and valued in the online world. If we cannot come up with solutions, we face the risk of damage to sectors in which Britain has traditionally been strong for many, many years. We all need to apply our minds to the issue with some urgency, and come up with solutions that are fair to industry and, crucially, to the creators of the high-quality content that people want.
I very much welcome the Secretary of State’s comments about the importance of copyright, and particularly his commitment to putting pressure on the ISPs to address the issue of illegal file-sharing. When he comes to look at the proposed copyright exception for format shifting, will he accept that the ways in which consumers enjoy music and video are different, so the proposals might be appropriate for the music industry, but not necessarily for the video industry? Will he listen carefully to the video industry’s representations on that point?
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s opening remarks, and I thank him for his general approach on the issue; I think that we can strike a lot of common ground. I have read the report that his Committee—the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport—produced on the subject, and it raises incredibly important points. He is right to say that the internet has affected creative industries in different ways. Music has been the first in line to be affected; other industries have had more time, presumably because their files are larger, so it is harder to get the same traffic in file-sharing. I will apply a careful mind to the questions. We want to ensure that we have proportionate systems in place in all sectors. Coming up with solutions that protect our creative industries is absolutely at the top of my in-tray. If we do not do that, we risk doing serious damage to the industries in the short term, which will damage the country in the long term.
Tonight I will be chairing a meeting of the London branch of the National Union of Journalists, called to discuss the issue of copyright. What messages does my right hon. Friend have for journalists, who see themselves as particularly threatened by the new technology and want some reassurance?
There is a balance to be struck, is there not? It is a good thing that people can freely access information and the work of writers, but we must get the balance right. I urge them to read the Gowers review of intellectual property, which the Government commissioned and on which we have been consulting. The answer is always in voluntary solutions. All of us would prefer voluntary solutions that are proportionate and balanced, but I say again, in line with recommendation 39 of the Gowers review, that if such solutions fail to emerge, we will legislate. As a sign of our intent, we will shortly publish a consultation document containing some of those options.
Has the Secretary of State had time to consider the proposal from Commissioner McCreevy to end the historic discrimination against musicians and increase term copyright for sound recordings from 50 to 95 years? Is he prepared to back that enthusiastically and do the right thing for UK musicians and the UK music industry, to end the ludicrous situation where musicians lose payments in their old age?
I still have an open mind on the matter. The hon. Gentleman will know that the Gowers review did not back the extension in the same way as Commissioner McCreevy has done. I think I am right in saying that he is due to issue his detailed proposals in the summer. I will examine those proposals closely and take a view about whether it is in the interests of the music industry to take them forward. As I said, there is a balance to be struck between protecting the creative process and rewarding performers as well as composers, and creating a disincentive for any industry to invest in new and emerging talent, which none of us would want. That balance always needs to be struck.
I do not know whether the Secretary of State, like our right hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane), a marvellous journalist in his own right, saw The Guardian last Thursday, where Stephen Fry wrote that the BBC executives were naive in believing they could control the distribution of programmes online via their iPlayer service. I am sure the Secretary of State is aware that the BBC seems to be throwing out valuable content free of charge, which shows a naiveté about how the internet works. Will he comment on the article and that vulnerability?
I have not had a chance to read the article, but I will look it up, following my hon. Friend’s question. I would issue a note of caution. The iPlayer is proving incredibly popular extremely quickly. We have all paid for the content as licence fee payers, and there is a strong argument that we should be able to access it at our own convenience. I understand my hon. Friend’s point that it could undermine public service broadcasting in the long term if we allow people to access that content through other formats and they end up not paying a licence fee, but the BBC is to be congratulated on introducing a service that is already proving highly popular.
On the subject of protecting our creative industries and copyright, the Secretary of State is aware that nine out of 10 illegal films that come on to the market do so as camcorded videos. America, France, Italy, Russia, Spain and the Czech Republic have all made camcording a criminal offence. The Cinema Exhibitors Association says that the UK is becoming
“an increasingly safe haven for illegal camcording”.
Will the Government take urgent action to protect our film industry and ban camcording in cinemas?
The hon. Gentleman correctly says that that is an important issue for the film industry, and that the industry would like camcording in cinemas to be made a criminal offence. He is right to warn us that the improving quality of such films makes this an issue that we need to tackle. We have asked the industry to provide further evidence to support the case for action. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State is due to meet the industry shortly to discuss the matter further. I hear what the hon. Gentleman says. We will consider any evidence that is produced, but in line with the general theme that I have adopted in response to all the previous questions, we see it as a top priority of the Department to protect the creative process and ensure that the people who create the content that we all want to see are properly rewarded for that work.
As I said in my written statement to the House on 5 March, the Government are preparing for an open-market sale of the Tote and have appointed advisers to undertake a strategic review of sale options. I expect to receive the report before the end of May. The Government will then decide on the next steps.
The Minister mentioned that the Tote is to be auctioned off, and I understand from the Financial Times that Goldman Sachs is acting for the Government. It is reported that Gala Coral is the front-runner in the auction. However, Goldman Sachs also acted as the chief adviser to Gala Coral last year, during its bid for the Tote. We all know that Goldman Sachs is the Government’s favourite banker, but it surely cannot be providing advice for both the bidder and the Government.
The normal procedures are being followed in terms of the appointment of Goldman Sachs. It acts on the basis of giving the Government the widest range of options. I am aware of a large number of interests in the sale of the Tote. Obviously, we have to get the best value for the taxpayer and make sure that we honour our commitment to give 50 per cent. of the proceeds to racing.
The Minister will be aware of the importance of the Tote to the Wigan economy, given the flexibility and high quality of the jobs that have been provided since its administration centre was moved to Wigan. Will he undertake to ensure that in any sale the jobs in the Tote will be preserved for a considerable period, so that they have the opportunity to bed in? We have had informal discussions for some months on the issue, but in addition to those, will the Minister meet my right hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney) and me before he makes any decision on it?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, my right hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney) and the Secretary of State for their involvement in relation to the jobs in Wigan. Clearly, we want to make sure that we protect as many jobs as possible, and that will be a consideration when we look at the various options. I will be happy to meet my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Mr. Turner) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield to make sure that we go through every opportunity.
There is great interest in the House about the sale of the Tote; the issue has been with us for some time. We need to make sure that we get the best possible return. I should like to put on the record my tribute to the work force in Wigan and to the Tote’s management, who have been keeping going under difficult circumstances.
Did not the Minister hit the nail on the head in saying that the issue had been going for some time? Is not the real issue chronic indecision by the Government? This move was a manifesto promise in 2001; since then, there have been a botched nationalisation, the chaos and U-turns of the Gambling Act 2005 and consistently different signals. Can the Minister give a categorical assurance that the issue will be resolved in the lifetime of this Parliament, so that this damaging shadow can be lifted from one of Britain’s most important and most loved sports?
It is our intention to deal with the issue as quickly as possible, and in the best interests of the taxpayer. We will make sure that we do all the things that we said we would with regard to racing and making sure that the work force are protected. However, I will not take any lessons from the hon. Gentleman. Recently he was on the radio, talking about the Tote. He talked for 10 minutes, and at the end he said that he supported what the Government were doing.
The best option in terms of the rate of return for the public sector—for ourselves, for the Exchequer—would be to keep the Tote in the public sector, rather than privatising it. Will my hon. Friend, even at this stage, reconsider the decision and not sell the Tote off for what will be a knock-down price for privateers?
Our intention is not to sell the Tote at a knock-down price, but to get the best value for the taxpayer and make sure that we honour the commitments that we have made. Clearly, my hon. Friend has a point of view about where we are at, but for the reasons that I gave earlier, we think it important that the work force should be protected and that we act in the best interests of racing.
Is my hon. Friend seriously considering the option of retaining the on-course operations of the Tote while its off-course betting shops are sold? The on-course operations may be of less interest to commercial bookmakers and private equity houses, are best exploited by racing and would provide an income for racing.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his interest in this subject. We are looking at a whole range of options, including the one that he has just outlined, from the Goldman Sachs report. I am delighted to say that this time there is great interest in the sale of the Tote. Some wonderful options are coming forward, and we will be able to act in the best interests of the taxpayer, of racing and of the work force.
I have had no recent discussions with Sport England regarding financial support for lacrosse. The English Lacrosse Association has received over £1.6 million since 2005 from Sport England. Of this, £1.26 million is to support the delivery of the lacrosse whole sport plan during 2005-09. Sport England will soon begin discussions with the English Lacrosse Association for its whole sport plan 2009-13 and the associated funding.
Lacrosse is a very popular sport in my constituency; indeed, four of the men’s under-19 team live in Stockport. However, while it is recognised as a development sport and funded at club level, it is not recognised as an Olympic sport, so players cannot get funding from UK Sport for international events. The young men going to compete in the world championships in British Columbia in July are having to fund themselves. In the current review of Sport England, will the Minister consider introducing flexibility in its funding remit so that a sport that has financial support at club level is also properly funded at international level?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this issue and for the work that she does for the English Lacrosse Association, particularly in the north-west. I pay tribute to the youngsters who are going through to the world championships. She has hit on an issue that we have to deal with. These people have fallen through the gap in terms of the relationship between Sport England and UK Sport. UK Sport funds élite-level Olympic sports and Sport England deals with development sports. Following the review, I will undertake to look at what can be done to support lacrosse as an élite sport through UK Sport. This must also be accommodated in the whole sport plans that we have to develop with Sport England. I will be back in touch with my hon. Friend in due course.
In 2007, the deficit was £19.4 billion, reflecting the fact that greater prosperity and cheaper air fares mean that British people want to travel. However, record numbers of visitors came here from abroad in the past three years, and I am working hard with the industry to make sure that our tourism offer gets ever better.
I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. Tourism is a very important industry for my constituency, with 1.9 million visitors and £100 million of spend. However, our market share in terms of visitors and spend has fallen consistently over the past 10 years. I know that under this Labour Government people are desperate to leave the country, even if it is just for a two-week holiday, but what is the Minister going to do to arrest that decline?
First, I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman is going to tell his family or his constituents’ families that they should not take holidays abroad. That sounds a bit odd. In a free society, people will choose to take holidays, particularly with cheaper air fares and greater wealth and prosperity. I think that what the future holds for what is a very strong tourism industry lies in domestic tourism—where we spend our holidays. Eighty per cent. of the money earned through the tourism industry comes from domestic tourism. With increasing prosperity, it may be that we take a couple of breaks a year. We are aiming to get more and more people to take some, if not all of their breaks in many of the wonderful resorts and locations that we have in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency and across the whole of England. Tourism has grown year on year. The most recent figures that I have available indicate that inbound tourism grew by 5 per cent. in terms of numbers and 6 per cent. in terms of income. That shows that we are being successful.
We have a great product in the United Kingdom, particularly with the constant sunshine that we enjoy here—over the past couple of days, at least. Part of the problem, though, is that the first thing that people see when they come into this country from abroad and when they leave is the airport. In too many cases, they spend more time at Heathrow, for instance, than they would at any visitor attraction, so that they should send their postcards from the airport and take a photograph of their luggage as an enduring memory of what it used to look like. What can the Minister do to ensure that when people visit the UK they can come through Heathrow without all the hassles that have befallen them recently?
The hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to the fact that there have been a few problems at Heathrow airport in recent weeks, but if we look at what happened to St. Pancras station and the channel tunnel rail link, we see that the welcome into the United Kingdom there has vastly improved. I hope that the teething troubles that we are experiencing with terminal 5 can be overcome by the airlines and by BAA. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the welcome we give to our visitors, and the first feel that they get of coming to Britain—the speed of going through the airport and the sort of service they get from personnel there—are hugely important. That is why, together with VisitBritain, we are pursuing a whole set of initiatives and actions to ensure that we improve that welcome.
Would not one of the simplest, cheapest and easiest ways of massively increasing the amount of tourism product in this country be to move to an extra hour in summer time? People would be around in the evening, spending their money, instead of being asleep for an hour whilst there is sunshine in the morning.
That issue is raised by some of the representative organisations in the tourism industry from time to time. As the hon. Gentleman will accept, it is a contentious issue. I have asked for better evidence on things such as safety for families or a reduction in road accidents and whether there is any evidence that it supports tourism. Portugal was the last country to try that experiment and there was very little evidence that it made any difference to tourism income. I have an open mind on the matter, however, and I have asked the various authorities to provide me with any evidence that they have.
Will the Minister reaffirm her commitment to tourism and to our heritage by ensuring that the visitor facilities at Stonehenge are upgraded as soon as possible, as well as the roads? Can she bring us up to date and assure us that the Department for Transport is working as hard as English Heritage to resolve this crisis, which has been described as a national disgrace?
The hon. Gentleman will know, from his conversations with me in the Chamber and informally, that I am working extremely hard with my colleagues in the Department for Transport and all of those who have a role to play, such as English Heritage, the National Trust and the various local and regional authorities, to ensure that we achieve better facilities for what is an iconic world heritage site. That process will involve the road infrastructure and the improvement of visitor facilities. I have given the hon. Gentleman a commitment to do everything in my power to ensure that by 2012, we have first-class facilities that will help us enjoy this first-class visitor site.
Seaside Amusement Arcades
I have received representations and held discussions with the relevant trade bodies on those issues. At their request, I will hear further evidence from them this afternoon.
I am pleased to hear that the Minister is speaking to the British Amusement Catering Trade Association later this afternoon. According to a survey that it recently conducted, amusement arcades have experienced an overall decline in revenue of 21 per cent. since the Gambling Act 2005 was implemented. The Minister has already acknowledged that there is a serious problem in the industry. Would he address the problem by increasing the number of class B3 machines permitted in amusement arcades, and by restoring the £2 stake for such machines?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that issue; it is a matter of concern to a number of people. The Government feel that it is important that we get things right. B3 machines are a hard form of gambling and on the numbers, we have to get the balance completely right and take the right decisions. We have listened to evidence from BACTA, the Bingo Association and a number of other gaming bodies who are having difficulties. I understand the urgency and immediacy of the problem, but I want to ensure that we get the right solution.
I do not think that it was the intention of the then Minister of State, the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Central (Mr. Caborn), to damage the seaside industry when he took the Bill through Committee, but the fact is that the seaside amusement arcade is an integral part of the wet-weather offer that many seaside resorts, such as Margate and Herne Bay in my constituency, need. Amusement arcades are shutting as we speak. The industries that supply them, such as two manufacturing industries in Thanet—an area of high unemployment—are under severe threat. Does the Minister understand that unless he takes action now, this year, in time for this season, it will be too late?
I hope to make decisions reasonably soon—[Laughter.] Or, indeed, very soon. The hon. Gentleman has highlighted an issue, and there is some confusion that we need to clear up. We need to distinguish between seaside arcades that offer a lower risk of gambling and the adult gaming centres that are usually on the high street. The latter want more B3 machines and I am wrestling with the decision about whether that is appropriate. It is certainly not appropriate for seaside arcades.
May I echo the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale) about the urgency of the issue? Many businesses in seaside towns throughout the country, especially in my constituency of Weston-super-Mare, are suffering huge problems, and swift action is vital.
I remind the Under-Secretary that one of the reasons for reducing gambling in the Gambling Act 2005 was to reduce the risk of gambling addiction while the new super-casinos were introduced. Does not the fact that the Government have backed away from them mean that it is easier for him to make his urgent decision?
I understand the urgency. The House of Lords will consider the casino regulations later this week. We are examining all the issues in the context of putting consumer protection at the heart of the 2005 Act. However, I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman and to several other hon. Members, especially from seaside resorts, who know that the issue is pressing. I will try to reach a decision as soon as possible.
The Under-Secretary needs to make a decision. He has heard from absolutely everybody and he said on 17 January that he did not need to take more evidence because he had it all. Why cannot we now have a decision? Why is he being so tough on bingo associations and arcades and so lenient on fixed odds betting terminals and internet gambling? Let us have a decision—it is his to make, not the Treasury’s or anybody else’s. Let us support our seaside arcades and have a decision on the stakes and prizes today, not months and months later, while more and more important elements of our seaside tourism close.
Surely the hon. Gentleman wants me to meet BACTA, which I shall do this afternoon, and hear the further evidence that it wants to present to me. I am delighted to be able to hear that evidence. We will make the decision as soon as we can, provided that that is in the consumer’s interest.
The hon. Gentleman claims that we have taken a relaxed attitude to FOBTs, but we have not. We asked the Gambling Commission to consider FOBTS and BACTA’s concerns about people moving from adult gaming centres to the bookmakers. Clearly, the decision will be made as soon as we can, in the consumer’s interest.
Find Your Talent
We have received 141 expressions of interest from local areas wanting to take part in Find Your Talent. Of those, 89 were led by local authorities. Together with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, I will shortly announce a programme of 10 pilot schemes that will trial ways to offer children and young people a range of high quality cultural experiences for five hours a week, in and out of school.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. He knows that Plymouth has a strongly developing cultural industry sector, in which there will be many jobs for young people of the future. May I ask him to discuss with colleagues in the Department for Children, Schools and Families a specific feature of the Plymouth bid, “Controlled Explosions”? If the name does not intrigue him, its contents should. Young people often fall by the wayside in their cultural development and the specific feature of the bid is about the way in which we see them through important transitions at various points in their school career to maintain their interest and go on to work in the cultural industries.
Thinking about the weekend’s press, it would have been good if some recent explosions were a little more controlled. However, we will not go into that.
I am intrigued by what has been happening in Plymouth, which has had a creative partnerships scheme. The theatre royal has done some work that is well thought of and has strong support.
More generally, Find Your Talent has genuine potential. The fact that 141 areas engaged in a dialogue with their creative partners to make a bid proves the cynics wrong. A survey of head teachers who are involved in creative partnerships, one of which is in my hon. Friend’s area, shows that 90 per cent. believed that the programme had improved pupils’ confidence and communications skills, and more than 70 per cent. believed that it had led to an improvement in educational attainment. That is the most compelling evidence for what we are doing. The figures speak for themselves and I am tremendously encouraged by the response to Find Your Talent.
This scheme is important for the Government: it was at the heart of the children’s plan and our plans to improve sports provision in schools. I speak to the Prime Minister about it regularly. I am confident that the plans that we will soon announce will change completely the level of cultural activity that we make available to our youngest children in school. In doing so, we will open their minds to a range of new possibilities that can only help their personal development and, more importantly, their academic achievements, too. I hope that the hon. Gentleman supports what we are trying to do—he is nodding away—because we cannot be cynical about what is an incredibly positive scheme.
Arts Council England
Arts Council England’s activities in Wirral, South include funding through the Grants for the Arts programme, Creative Partnerships, Artsmark and the Arts Award scheme. I realise that this is a trip through the tunnel, but Arts Council England’s investment in the wider region also includes major organisations, such as the Liverpool Philharmonic and the Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse theatres.
It is indeed a trip through the tunnel. The Minister’s answer highlights the fact that, notwithstanding the refocusing of Arts Council England’s funding, it tends to go to major facilities in sub-regional or regional centres. Does the Arts Council not need also to focus on areas outside those centres, and on local communities and suburban areas in particular?
I agree entirely with my hon. Friend’s remarks. When I was preparing for this question, I asked which applications from his constituency had been received and turned down by Arts Council England, and I was told that none had. I was further told that although the Big Lottery Fund has given £1.5 million to his constituency over the past 12 months, with a much higher success rate for applications than elsewhere, it is nevertheless trying actively to encourage more applications. I urge him to work with voluntary, community and other arts organisations to encourage more such applications from his constituents.
The Football Foundation, a partnership between the Football Association, the FA premier league and the Government, has helped to transform grass-roots football facilities, through £650 million of investment since 2001. A new three-year funding deal for the foundation, which was announced last week, commits my Department to providing £15 million each year to the foundation, matched by the FA and the premier league.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. I am sure that he was as pleased as I was to learn on Saturday that Stourbridge FC—the glorious glassboys—has been promoted to the British Gas Business premier division. The club’s success was a combination of the skills of the players, obviously, and of the manager Gary Hackett and the president Hugh Clark. In common with many clubs at that level, however, Stourbridge FC has problems with its facilities. For instance, the club has to share its ground with the cricket club. What further assistance can the Government or the foundation give to promote football and Stourbridge FC’s march to further glory?
I hope that my hon. Friend will pass my congratulations to Stourbridge FC on securing promotion. I would urge her to encourage the club to go to the Football Foundation, which makes funding available for multi-sport schemes as an important part of its new funding agreement, and encourage her to work with the club, through the foundation, to secure investment in improving its facilities still further. It sounds like the club will have a good case, given that it is making firm strides on the pitch to get up the league.
The question does not specify that it is about association football, so it could well be about rugby football. May I therefore ask a lengthy question—although I hope that it is sufficiently short for you, Mr. Speaker. Will the Minister express appreciation to Macclesfield Town football club, which I am glad to say still resides comfortably in league division two, for its role in encouraging community football, particularly in the more deprived areas of my constituency? Will he also express appreciation to Macclesfield rugby union football club for getting such a huge number of young people playing rugby football? That is keeping young people off the streets and encouraging them to use their energy and exercise on the playing field.
That was a very inventive question, but I am happy to send my congratulations to both association football and rugby football in Macclesfield. The hon. Gentleman makes very well the point that sport can reach young people in a way that many other things cannot. It can really transform young lives.
Will the Secretary of State send for the papers about the dispute between the Football Association and Grays Athletic football club? Mindful that footballers should be role models, Grays dismissed from its football squad a player who was involved in and convicted of armed robbery, only to have the full force of the Football Association require performance of the contract. However, any employer has the right to dismiss someone who has brought its firm, game or team into disrepute. Will the Secretary of State look at the papers, as I believe that there is a political and Government dimension to the case? Grays Athletic stood up for having role models and for the quality and reputation of the game, whereas the Football Association has been unreasonable and has ignored that responsibility.
I am not aware of the case that my hon. Friend mentions, but I will look at the papers if he will make them available to me. However, I point out that, as part of its national game strategy, which was launched recently, the FA has placed great store in the Respect campaign, which encourages players to show respect on and off the pitch, particularly to match officials. That is an example of the FA putting its house in order.
Later this week, Manchester will host the UEFA cup final, and I am sure that the whole House, including you, Mr. Speaker, will join me in sending a good-luck message to Walter Smith and Glasgow Rangers. The authorities are expecting a large number of supporters to travel to Manchester, and we are working with the Home Office and Manchester city council to ensure that there is a successful final. Supporters will be able to gather at fan zones in Albert square, Piccadilly gardens and Cathedral gardens, where entertainment will be provided throughout the day and big outdoor screens will show the match in the evening.
The Government are also pleased to reciprocate the generous offer made by the Russian Government regarding visas, and have waived the fee for travelling Zenit supporters. We remain committed to bringing major sporting events to the UK. Following discussions with my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, the Treasury has confirmed to the FA that if the UK wins the right to host the UEFA champions league final in 2011, visiting teams and their players will not face tax charges.
Next week’s historic champions league final is the first between two English clubs, and we shall continue our work with our colleagues at the Foreign Office to provide support and information for supporters on its website. We will also work with our colleagues in the Home Office to make the event a success. [Hon. Members: “This is a statement.”] I am making an opening statement at the start of topical questions.
Finally, I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in congratulating Everton football club on coming top of the 16-team real premier league, and more seriously, Manchester United and Sir Alex Ferguson on winning their 10th premier league title.
I thank the Secretary of State for his comments about football, which were welcome. Is he aware that next Tuesday is national schools cricket day? His Department recently announced that 80 per cent. of all state schools play cricket, but is he aware that the Cricket Foundation, which is the Government’s delivery body for grass-roots cricket, has stated that only 10 per cent. of pupils in state schools are playing cricket? Which of those figures is correct? Is not this another example of the Government spinning statistics for their own political agenda?
No, but I share the hon. Gentleman’s passion for cricket in state schools, having represented Lancashire as a schoolboy and having retained a close interest in cricket. I strongly believe that we must give young people access to cricket coaching in schools and the opportunity to play competitive cricket. I am as concerned as he is to see the situation improve, and the England and Wales Cricket Board, through its “Chance to Shine” initiative, is making real progress in giving young people the chance to play cricket. The Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Sutcliffe), and I meet representatives of the board regularly to discuss how we can further improve cricket in state schools.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his leadership of the campaign in Nottingham to ensure that the various bodies come together to use sporting activity to deal with the many issues that Nottingham faces. He is right to say that what we will be doing with the Sport England review is ensuring that national governing bodies draw up their whole sport plans and look at initiatives such as the one taking place in Nottingham, to ensure that people at all levels have the opportunity to be involved in sport. I would be happy to discuss this with him further, and I would like to meet him and the people of Nottingham to see how we can take this forward and perhaps use Nottingham as a pilot for future events.
Let me first correct what the hon. Gentleman has said. All organisations were given a period in which they could make representations—[Interruption.] It was a perfectly adequate period in which they could make representations, and there were also discussions. The Arts Council reconsidered and changed its view in the light of those representations, and it has now commissioned a review of the process and will be reflecting on that. I must also say to the hon. Gentleman that the arts change and grow, and if we want a flourishing arts sector in this country, it is absolutely right that the Arts Council should change the pattern of its expenditure investment so that we can maintain innovation and new arts organisations right across the UK.
Is the Secretary of State aware that national lottery administration costs are now so high that every penny raised for good causes in the first two months of every year is spent not on good causes but on administration? He appoints the distribution boards; when will he take concrete action to ensure that lottery money is spent not on bureaucracy, Olympics miscalculations and Government pet projects, but on helping the good causes that are now struggling, but which the lottery was set up to protect?
It is obviously important that we should have low administration costs, and that is a matter for the different agencies. The Big Lottery Fund is the agency that the hon. Gentleman was referring to. It is not appropriate, however, for him to pick on the lowest one, the Heritage Lottery Fund, and to use it as an example of the administration costs right across all the providers. That is a little bit disingenuous. We are going to ensure that the good causes get the maximum amount that is available to them, and we will also ensure that administration costs are kept to the lowest level.
I say to my hon. Friend that I know that this issue raises strong feelings; as the House knows, there is currently a private Member’s Bill on the subject. In January, new restrictions on the advertising to children of foods high in salt, sugar and fat were brought in. It is my position, and it makes sense, to take some time to evaluate the success of those restrictions before considering going further. Some evidence is already emerging that they are indeed having an effect.
Let me also say to my hon. Friend that tackling obesity is obviously a complicated issue and there is no one simple answer to it. Speaking as someone with three young children, I know that it is important to say that these days children get their messages from a huge array of sources, so the idea that simply restricting or controlling advertising on television will solve the problem fails to grapple with the real issues. It is also important to say that children’s programming generally is under pressure, yet that is an area of TV where young people can get good responsible messages. My hon. Friend needs to consider the impact on children’s programming of any further restrictions on television advertising.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising this matter, which is an issue of concern to me in my discussions with the British Paralympic Association and the variety of bodies that are involved. We want to ensure that people with learning disabilities can, if they are able to, compete in London 2012 and we are working to ensure that that happens. He will appreciate that we need to provide open access to everybody; it is not about tokenism, but about ensuring that the appropriate people with the right classification can go forward. As to the particular issue of individuals who are in the position that he described, I will certainly look at it and try to provide all the support I can to ensure that they have adequate funding for 2012 and the training that they require.
I do not know whether my hon. Friend was present in the reception in the House last week at which we marked the successful completion by the BBC of 100 per cent. subtitling on all programmes —a condition and requirement laid down in the Communications Act 2003. Other public service broadcasters are currently reaching about 90 per cent., I believe, and I hope that they will follow the BBC’s lead and work towards 100 per cent. subtitling. Watching TV and enjoying programmes at the same time as other people is an incredibly important part of ensuring that there are no barriers and no discrimination in our society. I pay tribute to the work of the Royal National Institute for Deaf People, and indeed of my hon. Friend, on this issue.
What are the Government doing to enforce existing legislation against ticket touting? Ahead of the FA Cup final, for example, there are numerous illegal tickets available online. Now the head of the UK policing unit has written to me, saying that
“the majority of Police Match Commanders do not deem it appropriate or necessary for police resources to be deployed to deal with ticket touts”.
How can anyone take seriously the Secretary of State’s promise to get tough on ticket touts when the police do not?
There is more we can do in this area. I have been disappointed—in fact it is worse; frankly, I have been appalled—at some of the reports I have read of people profiteering on the back of football supporters in this country in the run-up to the UEFA cup final, the champions league final and, indeed, the FA cup final. I take the view that there is more we can do, so I am working with the governing bodies in sport and the promoters of major music and others. For some events, we take the principle that access should be enshrined in legislation for broadcasting purposes, but I personally believe that we should have a stronger system of ticket allocation around sporting events, particularly when they are of national significance. I believe that with the new technology that is available, we can put more security into ticketing arrangements and ensure that more tickets get into the hands of the real fans. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will work with me in trying to achieve that objective. It is difficult, though, to make changes for events coming up in the near future.
My hon. Friend will know from my discussions with her that the two criteria to which English Heritage has regard in determining whether to recommend to the Department to list a building are the architectural and historic value of the building. In the context of the consideration of draft legislation by the departmental Select Committee, I hope that a debate will take place on whether other subsidiary criteria can be considered, particularly for recently constructed buildings, before a recommendation is made to the Department. Economic regeneration would be one such criterion.
I am looking closely at all the issues related to digital switchover, and particularly their impact on vulnerable people or those with disabilities. I want to ensure that all the benefits that we presently enjoy, and more, continue to be available after switchover. I think that my hon. Friend’s local transmitter switches in the latter part of next year. I will discuss with her precisely the issues that she has raised, so that her constituents are helped through the process and given a broader range of information and entertainment than they currently receive.
The Minister for the Olympics was asked—
Beijing Olympic Games
I shall speak very quickly, Mr. Speaker.
I plan to attend the whole of the Olympic games and part of the Paralympic games, including both closing ceremonies, with the handover to London, at which point London becomes host city for both the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics.
Will the Minister be accompanied to Beijing by the Sports Ministers of the devolved Parliaments and Assemblies of the United Kingdom? If so, will she discuss with the Minister from Northern Ireland its prospects of getting some of the Olympic games when the London Olympics take place? What is in it for Northern Ireland?
I understand that a meeting of the sports cabinet will take place tomorrow, which will be an opportunity to discuss some of the issues. In advance of the Beijing games, I will be spending two days in Northern Ireland, when I will have an opportunity to discuss its preparation for the Olympics.
Amnesty International recently reported that the current wave of oppression in China is occurring not in spite of the Olympics but because of it. Does the Minister intend to attend the Beijing Olympics regardless of China’s clear breach of its commitments to the International Olympic Committee?
In practice, the commitments made by China to the IOC were specifically about increasing press freedom. Eighteen months ago, I secured, as did other colleagues in negotiation with counterparts, the free movement of accredited and non-accredited journalists in the run-up to the Olympics. That is a specific and important freedom, which we must now ensure continues after the games in continuing dialogue with China.
2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games
I shall be meeting the new Mayor of London on Wednesday to discuss our preparations for the Olympic games. I welcome the fact that he shares the great priorities of his predecessor: to ensure a positive legacy, and to minimise any further cost to the London council tax payer.
Just as I worked closely with the last Mayor, I shall work closely with the new Mayor, who will co-chair the Olympic Board. However, I am sure that the whole House will want to take this opportunity to record its gratitude and appreciation for the long service—eight years—of Ken Livingstone as Mayor. He brought enormous distinction to the first mayoralty of London and great wealth and benefit to London, which included his playing a key part in London’s securing the Olympic games.
I am enormously grateful to the Minister for her reply, particularly her reference to the last Mayor’s ability to keep the Olympic budget down. As she will know very well, he recently said:
“I decided to bid for the Olympics…because…it was the only way of getting any government…to invest billions of pounds in rebuilding the East End”.
When he was told that that made it sound like a con trick, he said “Literally, absolutely!” Given that it was a con trick, is the Minister pleased that the new Mayor of London, with whom she will co-chair the board, is a much more serious politician, who will be an asset to London and to the Olympics?
I think we have gone beyond the point at which campaign insults can usefully be traded across the Dispatch Box. The Government made the clear decision that if we secured the Olympics, they would be used to drive the regeneration of the east end of London. That was not a con trick, but a clear commitment by the Government to bringing new homes and jobs to one of the most deprived parts of London.
I firmly believe that my right hon. Friend is well placed to hold discussions not only with the Mayor of London, but with all other people who are determined to make the games successful. Will she be sure to oversee such matters as transport, so that my constituents can get the very best out of what I expect to be fantastic games?
Of course. The opportunity to upgrade London’s transport infrastructure is one of the great legacies that the games will leave, while the Olympic transport plan will enable my hon. Friend’s constituents and those of other Members to travel to them safely and easily.
In a recent article in the Manchester Evening News, Lord Coe said he regretted that London’s sporting facilities lagged 30 years behind those of the great northern cities. Given that enabling young people through sport was one of the key commitments of the London bid, what will the Minister be doing—both as Olympics Minister and as London Minister—to correct that?
There are two issues. It is still true that too many of our sporting facilities are too old to be attractive to young people, but over the past seven or eight years some 4,000 new facilities have been built, many with lottery money and increasingly as part of Building Schools for the Future. Hosting the Commonwealth games was a great driver of sport regeneration for Manchester and the north-west. The hon. Gentleman has already heard this afternoon about the remarkable achievements of the school sport programme, which is transforming sport for young people in schools. It will continue to build an element of the great legacy towards 2012 in ensuring that a generation of young people’s lives are transformed through sport.
2012 Olympic Games (Budget)
In March 2007, I announced a funding package of £9.325 billion for the Olympic games. That has not changed, and I confirmed to the House earlier this year that the budget for the Olympic Delivery Authority remained the same, with £2 billion of contingency funds untouched. In January this year, we published the scope of what would be delivered from the funding package.
The Public Accounts Committee reported recently that there were foreseeable costs that had been omitted from the original Olympic budget. That is, of course, the same budget that Ken Livingstone agreed had been a con trick. What confidence can we have in the current figures that the Minister has just given the House? Will there be an element of independent scrutiny, so that we can all be assured that the budget has been properly handled?
First, there is independent scrutiny, quite apart from regular scrutiny by this House. I invited the National Audit Office to provide continuing advice on value for money, and in due course a proper reply to the Public Accounts Committee will be provided. The increase in security, for instance, in the wake of the 7/7 attacks in London could not in fairness be regarded as a foreseeable cost. VAT and contingency are the other two costs, but the fact is that the budget is now on a secure footing, as is testified by the NAO.
The budget is not apportioned regionally, but the opportunities for hosting training camps and volunteers, and particularly the opportunity to take up the some 750,000 contracts that will be let during the development of the Olympic park and the preparations for the Olympics, mean that, as is the case with Wales and Scotland, Northern Ireland businesses should benefit. The CompeteFor network is designed to ensure that they do so.
Orders of the Day
Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill
[Relevant documents: First Report from the Joint Committee on the Human Tissue and Embryos (Draft) Bill, Session 2006-07, HC 630, and the Government response, Cm 7209.
Twelfth Report from the Science and Technology Committee, on Scientific Developments relating to the Abortion Act 1967, Session 2006-07, HC 1045-I and the Government response, Cm 7278; and the Fifth Report from the Committee, on Government Proposals for the Regulation of Hybrid and Chimera Embryos, Session 2006-07, HC 272-I, and the Government response, Cm 7139.
Fifteenth Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights, on Legislative Scrutiny, Session 2007-08, HC 440, and the letters from the Minister of State (Public Health) of 1st May 2008 and the National Gamete Donation Trust of 22nd 2008.]
Order for Second Reading read.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
When Louise Brown, the world’s first test-tube baby, was born in England 30 years ago, her birth heralded a major breakthrough in fertility research, pioneered by British scientists. The advent of in vitro fertilisation—the creation of embryos in a laboratory—also raised important ethical questions that demanded sensitive and lengthy consideration. In 1982, Baroness Warnock was asked by the Government to chair an inquiry to consider some of these questions. In 1984, the report of her Committee of Inquiry into Human Fertilisation and Embryology was published. After extensive consultation and debate, this led to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990.
That landmark legislation laid down legal limits on the use of embryos, and ensured that all IVF treatment and research involving embryos was properly licensed by a body independent of both Government and scientists. Thus the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority was created, the first such authority anywhere in the world. It has attracted international respect and admiration, not just for the important work it does but for the way in which that work is carried out.
I believe that the 1990 Act and the process that led to it showed Parliament at its best. Baroness Warnock stated at the time:
“We are conscious of an increasing sense of urgency that controls should be introduced where none exist, and that the law should be brought up to date so that society may be protected from its real and very proper fear of a rudderless voyage into unknown and threatening seas.”
Parliament’s objective has always been to support scientific advances that benefit patients and their families, through a clear legal, moral and ethical framework that provides proper controls and safeguards and reflects the concerns that many people have about research involving stem cells and embryology.
As the Minister who in 1997 authorised the funding of the research that led to the cloning of Dolly the sheep and, almost the same day that that was announced, set up the human genetics advisory board, may I say to the Secretary of State that what he is proposing in this Bill on stem cell research is absolutely right? The fact that Professor Wilmut, who was involved in the Roslin Institute at the time of Dolly the sheep, is now saying we can move on to adult stem cell research does not mean that he or someone else does not need to continue to conduct embryo research so that we can look for a better quality of life for people suffering from terrible wasting diseases.
The hon. Gentleman is right, and I commend him on his part in this; indeed, his Secretary of State at the time, the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), and many others in all parts of the House played an important part in the development of this policy.
Is not one of the very important changes from any other consideration that we have given this issue the fact that the Government will, on this occasion, take key clauses in a Committee of the whole House, so that those of us who generally support many of the measures in the Bill can voice any disquiet that we have specifically about those clauses rather than in respect of the general direction of Government policy?
I thank my right hon. Friend for that intervention, which I believe is helpful: there was an element of surprise in my voice then! It is important to hold the debate on some of the most sensitive issues on the Floor of the House rather than in the Committee corridor, so that all Members can participate. That is consistent with the approach taken when the 1990 Act was introduced, when a great deal of effort was made to ensure that the argument was not a partisan one and that people who had deeply held views and beliefs, both ethical and religious, had the chance to contribute.
The Secretary of State says that he likes the way in which the 1990 Act was handled; large parts of that Bill were taken on the Floor of the House at the Committee stage. The difference on that occasion was that every Member of the House was given a free vote on all issues that they perceived to be ethical, at any stage. Ministers were included in that arrangement. They made it clear in their speeches both when they were speaking on behalf of the Government and when they were giving their own ethical judgments, and Ministers were divided on some Divisions because their ethical judgments varied. Are the Government going to allow that kind of full expression of parliamentary opinion on this occasion?
I commend the right hon. and learned Gentleman on how that Bill was handled. It would not then have been simply the role of the Secretary of State to decide how the process worked, and it is not simply my role to decide how it works on this occasion. I believe that there is a difference between that pioneering Bill, which established this legislation for the first time, and the situation 18 years on. We believe that some elements of this Bill require exactly the same completely free vote for Ministers and others, but that the Bill itself—a flagship Government Bill, in respect of which we are building on a precedent that has gone on for 18 years—should be whipped on Second and Third Reading. That is based on the fact that Members who have a concern about some of the more difficult issues will get the chance to vote on them, because, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) points out, we are taking some of the Committee stage on the Floor of the House.
The Secretary of State said that Baroness Warnock had made it clear that there was a perception of fear, and that the regulator would be tough and would give the public confidence in the new organisation. Can he point to any instance when a scientist or clinician has abused their research or therapeutic licence between 1990 and the present day?
I am not aware of any such problem, and I have talked to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority recently and I do not think that it is, either. May I commend the hon. Gentleman on his work in chairing the Joint Committee of both Houses, which did a splendid job? Indeed, it directed the Government in perhaps different avenues, which protected us from some of the earlier plans that we might have had for the Bill, in particular the merger of the HFEA and the Human Tissue Authority.
The Secretary of State says that Third Reading must be whipped. If the contentious issues to which he has referred are still in the Bill then, and are still, therefore, matters of conscience, how can he ask Members on his own side to vote against their consciences on Third Reading? I ask that because I have been considering whether to vote for or against Second Reading, and even whether to abstain. If there is to be a whipped vote on Third Reading, I feel—I hope that my colleagues feel the same—that we will have to vote against on Second Reading tonight.
The right hon. Gentleman and his party have every right to decide how they will vote, just as we have every right to decide how we will vote. I believe that it is absolutely right that once every Member of the House has been given the opportunity to decide on the specific issues that we have outlined—the three issues that contain most of the controversy in the Bill—the Bill as a whole, which contains many sensible reforms of varying degrees of controversy, should be whipped. It is right for the Government to do that. This is a flagship Government Bill. The Government want to see it enacted. We think that it is a good Bill that does good things, and that we have dealt with the issue extremely sensitively in respect of our Members.
I fully respect the Government’s position, but equally they should respect the position of Members who, on an issue of conscience, will end up voting against the Government tonight. I will do that with sorrow, but I do not think that it will damage the Government in any way, and certainly not in the way that former Cabinet Members writing books about the Government is damaging.
The Secretary of State talks about providing the opportunity to consider these important ethical issues, but is it sufficient opportunity when we are given barely three hours to consider the issue of human admixed embryos and barely three hours to consider saviour siblings and the need for a father, as well as all the other schedule 2 matters? Surely that brings Parliament into disrepute, when people outside want us to consider these vital issues clearly and carefully.
We will discuss the programme motion after I have finished moving Second Reading.
The purpose of the Bill is to ensure that the 1990 Act is revised to keep pace with new avenues of scientific research and to reflect wider change in our society. As with the 1990 Act, the Bill has been the subject of careful consideration and lengthy consultation involving the public, scientists, faith groups and, of course, Members from both sides of the House and from the other place.
In 2004, following reports by the Science and Technology Committee and the expert group convened by the Government to consider how existing legislation could accommodate and regulate new developments in stem cell research, we announced a review of the 1990 Act. A public consultation then took place in 2005, which led to a White Paper in December 2006. The Bill was then published in draft form for scrutiny by a Joint Committee drawn from both Houses. I am grateful to all the right hon. and hon. Members of this House and noble Lords and Ladies from the other place who have given this Bill the benefit of their expertise, including, of course, Baroness Warnock herself, who continues to keep a close eye on the legislation that she so skilfully instigated.
My right hon. Friend has just outlined the thorough scrutiny, consultation and thought that went into the draft Bill, which benefited the Bill before us today. Does he not agree that it is regrettable that we will discuss an amendment on limiting the legal time limit for abortion, which has not been subject to the same scrutiny as the rest of the provisions in the Bill?
The Government have no plans to change the abortion laws and regulations. It is up to right hon. and hon. Members to decide whether they want to table amendments. My hon. Friend has pointed out that this Bill is probably one of the most closely scrutinised pieces of legislation. That scrutiny has been carried out in a way that has allowed Members from all parties to contribute. That is a commendable way to deal with legislation in this House.
On the substantive point about medical research, does the Secretary of State recognise that many organisations, including the Motor Neurone Disease Association, of which I am president, have watched with great interest and hope as the Bill has been formed? Many people face a sentence of death because of incurable diseases such as motor neurone disease, and are depending on the opportunities provided by parts of the Bill to find cures for such dreadful and debilitative wasting diseases. I thank the Secretary of State for the attention that he has paid to the feedback from organisations such as the MNDA.
I hope that the Secretary of State accepts that whatever Members’ views about the Bill may be, we all want people with debilitating and incurable diseases to be treated and to live a full and long life. However, does he also accept that the scientific breakthroughs, to which he has alluded in his speech, have to date come only from existing adult stem cell research, not embryo research or stem cells extracted from embryos?
It is entirely true. Why will the Government not accept that that is the fact? Notwithstanding that comment by my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton, the fact is that Professor Wilmut has moved his research and funding to stem cell research, not embryo research.
I do not agree with the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard). In terms of what has happened recently, the induced pluripotent stem cell breakthrough that seeks to transform adult stem cells back to the embryonic stage could not have been reached without legislation that allowed embryonic research in the first place. I accept the hon. Gentleman’s point that although Members on both sides of the House have different views about the Bill they all want to see cures for conditions such as motor neurone disease, but we need to use the full panoply of opportunities for that.
The clear and consistent message from the wide consultation that I mentioned earlier, and from the debates we have already had, is that the current Act cannot keep pace with scientific developments that have occurred since its enactment. Over the last 18 years, methods that are not explicitly governed by the 1990 Act, such as cell nuclear replacement, where the nucleus of an egg is removed and replaced with the nucleus of another cell, and parthenogenesis, where an egg is stimulated either electrically or chemically to develop into an embryo, have been developed. Similarly, there is no explicit provision for the regulation of the use of admixed embryos, which combine human and animal genetic material for scientific research. That development is recognised by scientists across the world as an essential building block for establishing cures for many life-threatening diseases, such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
Scientists want to create admixed embryos principally because of a shortage of human eggs for stem cell research. The process of creating the admixed embryo most commonly used to grow stem cells involves taking an animal egg and replacing the nucleus with the cell nucleus from a human skin cell. The resultant embryo is 99.9 per cent. human. We know of no scientist anywhere in the world who wishes to implant such embryos in a woman or an animal, but even if the desire existed, the legal authority would not. Such actions will remain a criminal offence under international law.
The Bill will ensure that all human embryos created for research—regardless of how they are created—are subject to the same regulatory framework. It will retain the restrictions imposed by the 1990 Act—that the maximum permitted period of development for all research embryos is 14 days. In practice, no research embryos have been developed as far as that maximum. This is not the first development that has combined human and animal material. If scientists in the UK had not been able to fuse human and animal cells in the ’60s and ’70s, developments such as the human genome project would not be possible and drugs such as Herceptin would not have been created. The Government believe that it is important to bring this new and exciting scientific development within the strict legal and ethical framework that the Bill provides.
My right hon. Friend will be aware that full hybrids—that is, embryos that are 50 per cent. animal and 50 per cent. human—are permitted under the Bill. In the Joint Committee on the Draft Human Tissue and Embryos Bill, scientists were unable to think of any good experiments in which such hybrids would be needed. In fact, Dr. Lovell-Badge said:
“I cannot think of a good experiment to do now but I am sure someone will think of a good experiment.”
Can the Secretary of State think of a good experiment? The scientists cannot.
I am not known for my knowledge of good experiments, but I can point out that the same Joint Committee told the Government that true hybrids ought to be used, because the famous hamster test done years ago used true hybrids. In fact, cytoplasmic embryos are the most exciting development that most scientists wish to use. Nevertheless, I believe that it is important not to rule out other important areas of research.
A cytoplasmic hybrid embryo will have just 0.1 per cent. of animal tissue in it, but does the Secretary of State agree that in reality, once we mix in any element of animal, the principle of using hybrids for research purposes is established? That is the point that the Committee was trying to make; once we go down that road, it seems illogical to rule something out because of a particular mix.
I speak as someone who has been through in vitro fertilisation treatment and written a book on it. Does my right hon. Friend accept that the alternative to using admixed embryos, which is using human eggs, is itself unethical because of the risk that it poses to women, and the pain that it involves? The use of an alternative is therefore ethically preferable.
I accept my hon. Friend’s point. Thankfully, modern drugs ensure that not so many eggs are produced in IVF, and to a certain extent, that is why the problem has arisen.
The Bill introduces explicit regulations on embryo screening. Embryo screening and selection will be allowed only for the purpose of detecting serious genetic diseases or disorders. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority has licensed screening in a number of cases since 1990, including for single-gene disorders such as muscular dystrophy and sickle cell disease. The Bill will clarify the powers of the HFEA to license embryo screening to enable parents to have a child who is a genetic match for an older brother or sister who is seriously ill. That has been permitted by the HFEA in a handful of cases as a last resort, where there are no other donors and all other medical avenues have been exhausted.
Let me try to dispel that fear. Once again, that is a misrepresentation. That course of action would be used, has been used, and has been licensed by the HFEA, when there is no other medical avenue to pursue. All such cases have involved the treatment of very rare blood disorders, and the tissue taken has been from the umbilical cord. The Bill will support such screening as a last resort, and it is expected that tissue used would be confined to cord blood and bone marrow only.
The Bill makes it clear that it would not be possible to test an embryo where the intention is to remove an organ from a child to treat a sick sibling. Nor will the Bill permit parents to screen embryos in order to include, rather than exclude, a particular disability. Following the results of the public consultation, the Bill also outlaws sex selection for non-medical reasons.
I wonder whether my right hon. Friend saw on breakfast television this morning the Whitaker family, who were forced to go to the United States for saviour sibling treatment and who now have a very happy family. The child at risk is now well. Is that not good news?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. Not only that family but the—thankfully few —families who have used the system would be keen to ensure that other families had the same opportunity.
The past 18 years have witnessed significant social change. Since 1990, clinics have been required to take into account the welfare of any child who may be born as a result of assisted conception when deciding whether to offer treatment to couples. The 1990 Act insists that clinics must take into account
“the need for a father”
when considering new applicants for treatment. Following debate on this issue in the other place, the new Bill will replace this with
“the need for supportive parenting”.
This does not signal a desire to diminish fatherhood, nor are we denying children who have been conceived through assisted conception access to information about sperm donors. Indeed, the opposite is true. If the current law leads same-sex couples or single women to seek sperm in the unregulated sector, where donors will not be screened or recorded on the HFEA’s register, access to information about the man who donated the sperm will not be available for the child.
I wish to clarify that, as it is the aspect that I am interested in. The new wording has been introduced in the Bill, yet I am aware of no gay couple who have been refused treatment. They are protected under the Human Rights Act and they cannot be refused treatment. The original provision was a guidance measure, as a signal, mainly to heterosexual couples, that the absence of fathers has an extremely detrimental effect on families. Why, oh why, are we driving the change through now?
The original legislation was put in place before the House agreed on civil partnerships, and before the House agreed to outlaw discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. The right hon. Gentleman says that gay couples can go through the process. That is the case, and it is the case for lesbian couples. However, those people are treated completely differently. That is the point. We are seeking to make sure that the treatment is the same for gay and lesbian couples as for heterosexual couples.
I am unclear about the basis for the Secretary of State’s assertion that same-sex couples or, for that matter, single mothers are being denied access to treatment by regulated clinics as a result of the application of the “need for a father” test. What is his evidence for that proposition?
If we are considering a Bill—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman asked for evidence. We are considering a Bill 18 years on, after we have introduced civil partnerships and legislation against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Leaving in the Bill a provision that is challengeable, and could lead to couples feeling that the law has discriminated against them, would be a missed opportunity. The right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) and others make the argument, but as there is currently no issue, and the need for a father has never adversely affected any gay or lesbian couple going through the process, why not make the law consistent with the other laws that Parliament has carried, while we have the opportunity of updating the legislation?
In answer to the question asked by the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) about the evidence of discrimination, he need look no further than the eligibility criteria for treatment in the NHS, which refer to a male and female couple, and the evidence given to the Select Committee that was chaired by the hon. Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson) by Pink Parents, who clearly stated that clinics expect them to bring a man along just for show, so that they can tick the relevant box.
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point; the issue came up time and again in the consultation on this legislation.
The basic principle at the heart of the clause is that clinicians making these decisions should value good parenting and consider, in the most comprehensive way possible, what is best for the welfare of the child. The clause also reflects current practice. When there is no legal father, the HFEA guidance requires clinics to assess the prospective mother’s ability, and that of others in the family or social circle who will share responsibility for the child, to meet the child’s needs.
Clause 54 will also give same-sex couples who have children through assisted conception the same parenting rights as heterosexual couples. The current law recognises the woman who carries the child following assisted conception as that child’s mother. If the woman is married, her husband, unless it is shown that he did not consent to treatment, is recognised as the child’s legal father. However, at present, the female civil partner of a woman who gives birth following assisted conception has no legal status. She is not recognised as the parent of the child, and her name would not appear on the birth certificate.
The Civil Partnership Act 2004, widely supported in the House, recognised the joint parental responsibility of same-sex couples. The Bill would mean that the non-birth woman in a civil partnership would have the same recognition as a husband whose wife underwent treatment using donor sperm. It would also mean that male couples and civil partners could apply for a parental order, in line with married couples. That would bring this area of law into line with national legislation prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of gender or sexual orientation—legislation that, again, was widely supported in this House.
May I make some progress, please?
I have highlighted the elements of the Bill that have attracted the most publicity. However, although they have a lower profile, other clauses contain sensible reforms that will have a more immediate impact. One example can be found in clauses 24 and 25, which amend the restrictions on the use of data collected by the HFEA about fertility treatments.
The 1990 Act recognised the importance of maintaining patient privacy and imposed tough restrictions on the use of any information that could identify a patient. Under current legislation, even if at the time of treatment a patient says that he or she is happy for information that may assist identification to be passed to researchers, the HFEA is not permitted to comply. That places severe limits on the use of data collected by the HFEA—data that ultimately could improve the success of fertility treatment and the health and well-being of children conceived as a result of such treatment.
Although it is imperative that we support the patient’s right to privacy, it is also essential that we enable scientists to make better use of HFEA data, which are a valuable and comprehensive source of information that will lead to better treatment for patients. The Bill would provide a regulation-making power for releasing information to researchers without the patient’s consent if that were necessary for the public interest. Any such regulations would be subject to consultation.
In the past 18 years, scientists in this country have pioneered medical advances that could not have been anticipated in 1990. The “unknown and threatening seas” to which Baroness Warnock referred have been navigated successfully thus far, thanks to the lodestar provided by Parliament, which has allowed scientists to reap the benefits of embryonic stem cell research. Specialist regulation of reproductive technologies and clear legal boundaries have united scientific breakthroughs with public confidence in their development and use. Among other things, that represents a considerable triumph for parliamentary scrutiny and debate.
Approximately one in seven UK couples have difficulty conceiving. Assisted reproduction brings happiness and fulfilment to millions of people. Stem cell research has enormous potential to develop new cures for degenerative and other life-threatening diseases. It brings hope to hundreds of thousands of sufferers and their families. This Government believe that we should continue to support such research in order to exploit advances in medical science, but only provided that there are clear safeguards within the ethical and moral framework that Parliament has established with such skill and sensitivity. I commend the Bill to the House.
The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 has been a success. The first legislation of its kind in the world, it led to a framework for the development of assisted reproduction and embryo research that has been a positive example for policy making worldwide. I should like to join the Secretary of State in applauding the work of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) and colleagues who took that legislation through and the manner in which they did so.
The legislation was rooted in the work of the Warnock committee and its report. It was always clear that the legislation is not intended simply to facilitate research. Technically, it was not needed for that, and research was able to proceed. The issue was that that research required to be established within an ethical framework so that science is bounded, some forms of research are prohibited, and all research on human embryos requires a licence. That was encapsulated in the Warnock committee’s view:
“The embryo of the human species ought to have a special status and no-one should undertake research on human embryos the purpose of which could be achieved by the use of animals or in some other way. The status of the embryo is a matter of fundamental principle which should be enshrined in legislation.”
It is a matter of regret to me that the Government appear to have lost that sense of the intention of legislation. In the Queen’s Speech, they said that its purpose would be
“to ensure that Britain remains at the forefront of medical research”.
However, the legislation is not just about reflecting scientific progress. The fact that scientists can do something does not mean that they should. Ethical boundaries do not shift in a mechanistic way to reflect the utility of new research techniques. When we scrutinise the Bill, I urge the House to have in mind not just the ease with which research may be conducted as a consequence, but always to consider the ethical implications.
The 1990 Act had ethical issues at its heart. That is why our predecessors in 1990 conducted the legislation on free vote. It is why, at the end of 2006, my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) and I said that Conservative Members would have a free vote throughout the passage of the Bill. It is why the Government could and should have done exactly the same. Unfortunately, back in 2006 the Government imposed a whip on regulations relating to the anonymity of sperm and egg donation, and they imposed a whip on Labour peers during the passage of this Bill. It has only been as they have relented under pressure from their own Members, from us and from the media that they have consented to a partial free vote on certain aspects of the Bill. I entirely share the view of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) that if Members have ethical considerations that, in their view, prevail over any other considerations in a Bill, they should be in a position to exercise their conscience and judgment, including on Third Reading.
For my part, therefore, what I will say reflects my personal view, and I do not intend that it should bind any of my colleagues. None the less, my hon. Friends on the Front Bench and I will sometimes wish to raise issues and table amendments to protect the interests of the House now and the interests of our constituents for the future.
Speaking for myself, I support Second Reading of the Bill. Even those who wish to amend the Bill at subsequent stages must recognise that the legislation needs to be updated. The example I would give, which will be familiar to many hon. Members, is that of the decisions that the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority made in January concerning two projects involving the use of animal eggs from which the nucleus had been removed. Despite the fact that the 1990 Act prohibits the mixing of animal and human gametes, other than to test the fertility of sperm, the authority regarded the embryo created as human and concluded that, as such, it could license research. The HFEA’s decisions and interpretation of the 1990 Act suggest that substantial research using hybrid embryos would continue even if there were no legislation, so the Bill is necessary to provide clarity and to update the law. That does not mean, however, that the Bill should go forward unamended.
On that point, is the hon. Gentleman aware that there is research that could be carried out now—I am most familiar with such research on motor neurone disease, but I am sure it could be done on other diseases, too—about which scientists are awaiting clarification of the law through this Bill? That will allow them to be sure that they stay within the law while carrying out laudable life-saving work.
I am aware that there are scientists who rightly want greater clarity in the law, for an entirely understandable reason that reinforces the importance of the legislation and its success so far: scientists feel far more confident about the nature of what they are doing, and of public support for it, when Parliament has provided an ethical and legal framework. That was true in 1990, it has remained true and it is important for us to provide that assurance now. It is partly for that reason that my colleagues and I will propose a number of amendments. First, we will do so to secure improvements to the future scrutiny of regulations made under the legislation; secondly, to maintain the ethical values reflected in the 1990 Act, which we believe are unnecessarily being dispensed with by the Bill; and thirdly, to ensure that licensing by the HFEA carries necessary safeguards.
I turn to the major issues in the Bill, again reiterating that I do so on the basis of my personal views, rather than the view of the official Opposition as a whole. I turn first to the clauses on human admixed embryos, as they are described. I note that the Government’s expert advisory group reported in July 2000
“that the use of eggs from a non-human species to carry a human cell nucleus was not a realistic or desirable solution to the possible lack of human eggs for research or subsequent treatment.”
We can say that it is now realistic, but the question is whether it is desirable. In January 2007, the Department of Health gave evidence to the Select Committee on Science and Technology. The Government said that
“we have not seen so far a firm consensus within the scientific community…about precisely which human-animal creations should be allowed, any immediate imperative for doing so, or the availability and interpretation of supporting evidence.”
As recently as last year, therefore, the Government’s intention was to prohibit human-animal embryos while creating an order-making power by which Parliament could subsequently sanction such research under licence should a consensus emerge.
In February 2007, just one month later, the Government’s position had changed, and they proposed to legislate to permit such hybrid embryo research. When we debate the changes in more detail, the Government will need to explain their change of mind. I accept that there is a need to pursue different models by which stem cells can be created or reprogrammed to provide potential therapeutic benefit. Although research on reprogramming adult stem cells is encouraging, it would be foolhardy to block embryonic stem cell research and it is increasingly evident that the availability of human eggs for research purposes will be a serious constraint on the conduct of such experiments.
Does my hon. Friend acknowledge that it is important when considering animal-human hybrid research to demonstrate that it is necessary and that all other avenues and alternatives—adult stem cell research, induced pluripotent stem cells, umbilical cord research—have been considered? Will he commend Lord Hunt’s test that the HFEA must be satisfied that there is no other way of conducting the research avoiding embryo use? Would it help if that were made explicit in the Bill?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend and, from reading HFEA minutes, I believe that the HFEA applied that test when it considered projects in January. Those who promote such projects must demonstrate that they are necessary and desirable. It is clear from the structure of the Bill that, if an alternative route—not using embryos—were available, the HFEA should not license such a research project.
Will my hon. Friend comment on the future storing of umbilical cord blood and whether he would like that to be greatly increased, as proposed in the private Member’s Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Burrowes), as a possible alternative to some of the avenues that he has discussed?
As an individual Member.
The hon. Gentleman raised the interesting question of why the Government changed their mind on human-animal hybrid embryos. Was it not because a scientific consensus emerged among the Academy of Medical Sciences, the Medical Research Council, the Wellcome Trust and the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, in a unanimous report, supported by people who do not often agree with anyone, such as the hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink), who supported the recommendation that the Bill should appear as drafted?
I am interested in that point. My constituency of South Cambridgeshire probably has as many scientists engaged in stem cell research as any constituency in the country. From the many people to whom I have spoken in my constituency, I believe that the consensus rests on the proposition that embryonic stem cell research is one of several models of research, which may deliver substantial therapeutic benefit in future, and on the fact that constraints emerged on the availability of human eggs, which meant that there were significant benefits to be derived from using animal eggs. However, that belief did not extend—and I have not heard scientists in my constituency arrive at a consensus on the matter—to human-animal embryos in which there is a substantial mix of human and animal nucleic DNA.
The document that the Government presented to the Science and Technology Committee in January 2007 stated that
“there may be different arguments—both scientific and ethical—applying to creation of hybrids by cell nuclear transfer which in terms of their nuclear DNA are ostensibly human,”—
that applies to the research projects that have been licensed so far—
“and to embryos containing both human and non-human nuclear DNA.”
I therefore find it perverse that the Government have not structured the Bill around the scientific consensus. They have not based the measure on the proposition that embryos that are ostensibly human can be created, and, by virtue of the use of animal eggs, may enable embryonic stem cell research to make progress. Instead, they have structured it in such a way as to permit the creation of embryos with both nucleic human and nucleic animal DNA. As the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (Geraldine Smith) said, that is a 50:50 embryo, as it were.
That is precisely the ethical judgment that was considered back in 1990, on the basis of the Warnock report. The conclusion reached then was that such a form of embryo research should not be contemplated. We need to consider whether we should amend the Bill to exclude embryos created by using human gametes and animal gametes or a human pronucleus and an animal pronucleus, as the Government propose under clause 4.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the work of Professor Shinya Yamanaka, which has apparently been adopted by Sir Ian Wilmut, demonstrates that the Bill could and should be amended? If their research, on induced pluripotent cells, was to become the main way of dealing with such matters, we could eliminate any prospect of cloned human-animal embryos being used.
My hon. Friend may be interested to know that my hon. Friend the Member for Boston and Skegness (Mark Simmonds) has visited Kyoto to inform himself about that. For my part, I have been to the Roslin institute. Although we do our level best to understand, absorb and internalise the work of scientists, we are laymen. We should be careful not to preclude different models of research that have the potential to deliver effective therapies for life-threatening diseases. That is not to say that we should accept every model of research, if it contravenes what we would regard as an ethical boundary. Indeed, that was the purpose of the legislation in the first place.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) makes his point, but I do not know to what extent it will be possible to proceed with research in a way that minimises the necessity of embryonic stem cell research. To an extent, I hope that it will be—my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate made exactly this point. It would be the job of the authority, when undertaking its licensing, to ensure that embryonic stem cell research was minimised, not that it was excluded. That is the balance that I seek.
Given the scarce resources in the NHS, which both my hon. Friend and the Secretary of State have mentioned, would it not make more sense to put them into areas of research that we know have had results, rather than into alternative avenues of research that to date have produced no results whatever?
On the hon. Gentleman’s point about the Medical Research Council, is it not a fact that there is no differentiation, and that 50 per cent. of the research effort goes equally into adult stem cell work and embryonic stem cell work? The MRC is playing it both ways, because as the hon. Gentleman said himself, it is not clear which will win out in the end. In fact, adult cells cannot make neurites and are exactly the cells that one would want for brain damage to be repaired.
I understand that the figures are, broadly speaking, 60 per cent. for embryonic stem cell research and 40 per cent. for adult stem cell research. In any case, there are other options, too.
As we debate therapies for treating diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, I am reminded that only three years ago I was at the laboratory of molecular biology, which was doing groundbreaking work for the MRC, of which it is an intramural institute, that was based not on stem cells, but on understanding and manipulating the underlying molecular structure of the brain. I cannot judge—I could barely understand, let alone interpret and predict—which avenue of research will be most successful. The important thing is that they should be properly judged, one against the other.
To complete the point, I understand fully that any embryos created under those circumstances could not be implanted in a woman—the Bill makes that prohibition clear—nor could they be kept beyond 14 days. However, the view taken consistently in framing the Bill in the first place is that embryos that are true hybrids and therefore not capable of being characterised simply as human should not be created.
Let me turn to embryo testing. We understand that the interests of the child to be born must be paramount. The dignity of life demands that a life should not be created simply to serve the interests of another. However, the testing of embryos to prevent the implantation of an embryo with an inherited or genetic condition will, in many cases, be in the best interests of that child if the condition is life-threatening or would severely impair their quality of life. We will table amendments to ensure that the measures are restricted in that way.
Likewise, we believe that the so-called “saviour sibling” provision should be tightly restricted to life-threatening conditions and those that would seriously impair the life of a sibling—[Interruption.] The Bill says “serious medical condition”, but it does not specify in sufficient detail the criteria to be applied. The balance of advantage against ethical constraints must be judged case by case, and we need to provide strong language in the legislation to ensure that the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority does not allow the boundary of what is to be permitted under the “saviour sibling” provision to be stretched too far over time. We will invite the House to consider amendments for that purpose.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) and I had an exchange with the Secretary of State about the need for a father. We wanted to know whether there is a problem to which a remedy is required, but he did not answer that or offer evidence. I know that, through the code of practice, the HFEA has arrived at a point at which same-sex couples can access assisted reproduction through regulated clinics. It demands that prospective parents offer supportive parenting and a male role model.
When responding to interventions, the Secretary of State said something that was inconsistent with the Bill, but that showed the direction in which it should go. Same-sex couples and single mothers can be successful parents, but if we enable a child to be born in circumstances in which a natural conception would not be possible, we have an ethical responsibility to ensure that the welfare of the child is fully protected. It is in the interests of every child to have a mother and a father, but if no father is present—as is, unhappily, the case for many children today—a male role model should be available. For that reason, I, personally, do not regard the substitution of “supportive parenting” for “father” as sufficient. The reference to the need for a father, which has not been reflected in the code, should be recast in the legislation as “the need for supportive parenting and a father or a male role model.”
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Does the hon. Gentleman envisage that the new family unit will somehow be assessed by a doctor when such people come and ask for artificial insemination? Will the doctor need to say, “Show me Uncle Jim; I want to sit down and talk to him to find out just how much of a commitment he is making to this family, and how long he is likely to be around”? Does he expect doctors to do that?
I do not know whether the hon. Lady has talked to fertility clinics about this issue, but Bourn Hall clinic is in my constituency, and I know it extremely well. I know that it discharges its current responsibilities under the HFEA code responsibly. When assisted reproduction is provided, it is for clinics to look at the parent or parents and ensure that they can meet the criteria in the code of practice. All that I suggest is that current practice, based on the code of practice published by the authority, should be reflected directly in the language of the legislation—no more or less.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government have got themselves twisted into knots over this issue? Only 2 per cent. of IVF treatments are to single parents or gay couples, but the problem is wider than that, even if we put those people to one side. By making this change, we send a powerful signal to everyone involved that fathers no longer matter. We know of the difficulties of breakdown when fathers are absent; the guidance—for it is only guidance—is there simply to remind everyone of the necessity and need, where possible.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that intervention. He will know that writing legislation is a bit like writing contracts; we have to legislate not only for the great majority of cases but often for a small minority as well.
If the Government had not proposed a change in the legislation, I do not think that I would have suggested such a change and I do not believe that anyone would have regarded it as necessary. The present legislation is being implemented by the authority in a way that, in practice, is not discriminatory to same-sex couples. However, given that the Government have introduced the Bill, I believe that it is better to reflect the practice in clinics today than to try to resist language that accurately describes what is being done across the country.
No. I want to complete my speech quite quickly because there are many Members waiting to speak.
The Secretary of State said, perfectly correctly, that the Government were proposing no changes to abortion legislation. Indeed, speaking from the Conservative Front Bench, I do not think that we are. However, when we come to consider amendments on abortion, I hope that the House will bear in mind three issues.
First, there continue to be far too many abortions. We have the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in western Europe. We fail too many young people through family breakdown, poor parenting, inadequate social support and poor education. Lack of self-esteem has a corrosive effect on young people, and I have no doubt that the high numbers of teenage abortions are a symptom of this wider malaise. This is a central challenge that we have to face in repairing our broken society, and we should not debate this matter in isolation from that challenge. Furthermore, far too many abortions—about a third—are repeat abortions. We must look at the effectiveness of sex education and of contraceptive services. Personally, I also believe that many more young women—women of any age, for that matter—should be made aware of, and offered, long-acting reversible contraception through the national health service.
Secondly, if a woman needs an abortion in terms sanctioned by the Abortion Act 1967, it must surely be better for it to be an early, medical abortion than a later, surgical one. I therefore hope that the House will consider whether the requirement for two doctors to consent to an abortion being performed, and the restrictions on nurses providing medical abortions, need to be maintained.
Thirdly—consistent with that thought and with the principle of according increased protection to the foetus during its development—I believe that we should take a more restrictive view of late abortions. The change made in 1990, which lowered the time limit from 28 to 24 weeks, has clearly been justified. The limits set at each stage, from 1967 onwards, have been intended to reflect the limit of viability. The research published by Field and others in the British Medical Journal last week was based on a study of the survival of extremely premature babies born in the former Trent health region. It clearly shows that an increased proportion of babies born at 24 and 25 weeks’ gestation are surviving to be discharged home from neonatal intensive care. The authors report no corresponding increase in survival in respect of babies born at 23 weeks. It must be noted, however, that 18 per cent. of those babies admitted to neonatal intensive care did survive. As we are talking about a total of 510 babies a year born at 23 weeks’ gestation, that means that approximately 100 of those babies would live and go home. If they were aborted at 23 weeks, they would not live.
Let me talk about the study first, then I will happily give way.
The authors also report that no babies born at 22 weeks survived. Like other studies, they suggest that this might represent the limit of viability. I cannot say whether they are right, but I note that, of 150 babies born alive at 22 weeks over the whole period of the study in Trent, only 24 were admitted to intensive care. In the latest period, 2000-05, only nine were admitted to intensive care. From my point of view—I am not a scientist, but I can read statistics—in order to draw any conclusion from such a small number of cases, one would need to assess why those babies were being born so prematurely. Were they failing to thrive? Were they twins or other multiple births? Were they suffering from a genetic defect?
Abortions at 22 weeks would be of a foetus that was otherwise healthy, unless they were carried out on the specific ground of a prospective abnormality or handicap of the child concerned. So while such a baby would require intensive care, and doubtless very large numbers might not survive, I do not regard that study as providing conclusive evidence that a baby cannot be sustained at 22 weeks.
I would personally be loth to move from the principle of linking the time limit for abortion to the viability of the foetus. That is where it was established in 1967; it has moved over time. It is arguable, but I would argue personally that the evidence would support a further reduction—in my view, to 22 weeks—in order to ensure a prospective legal framework that could accommodate improving medical science.
I am sure that my hon. Friend is aware of other studies—for example, in University College hospital, London, and in other countries—showing that if poorly babies who are born prematurely receive immediate good neonatal care from a specialist dedicated team of staff, the outcomes are very much better. University College hospital figures are much better than those emerging from the Trent study. One conclusion from the Trent study is that anyone going into premature labour should go to University College hospital and not to the Trent region.
My hon. Friend may have gathered from what I said that I am effectively arguing that in circumstances where neonatal intensive care was provided to all such babies born at 22 weeks and where the foetus was otherwise healthy—or rather the baby was healthy at that stage—the prospects for survival at 22 weeks may well be far greater than suggested by the negative view expressed in the study from Nottingham and Leicester. It is not for me to say any more than that, but I think that it provides a basis for reducing the limit—albeit, in my view, by just two weeks.
No, as I am going to conclude.
Let me make my point of view clear. I shall support the Second Reading of the Bill, but I shall vote against the programme motion. On human admixed embryos, in respect of which the Government are changing the ethical framework of the 1990 Act, it is unacceptable to dispense with such a controversial issue in as little as three hours. The number of interventions on the Secretary of State’s speech demonstrates that other issues will also take considerable time. As far as abortion is concerned, I have no doubt that a full day’s debate, rather than just three hours, should have been allocated. Issues about the time limit, the manner in which approval for early abortion is given and other aspects of the availability of early abortions cannot be given their due weight in a debate of just three hours.
I hope that colleagues on both sides of the House will vote against the programme motion and thereby start the process, which I hope the Government will bend to more as time goes on, of allowing Members on the Front and the Back Benches to express themselves freely on this subject. I hope that the Bill will be amended to reflect the continuing need for an ethically robust framework. I believe that science prospers when the ethics of research are also strong. I hope that the House will join me in supporting the Bill on Second Reading.
May I first tell my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State how pleased I am that the Bill is before us on Second Reading. I was involved in debates about the human embryo during the 1980s. Issues were posed in a private Member’s Bill, which I will not go further into; I was also heavily involved in debating the legislation in the 1990s. My right hon. Friend was right to describe that legislation as pioneering—indeed it was. It was rightly debated extensively on the Floor of the House.
Let me respond to both the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) and the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley), who mentioned that we now have 18 years of experience of regulation in this area. I and many other Members will have visited the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority and talked to those who work for it. When it was introduced, it was not a blank sheet of paper for the future; it is quite different now from what it was back in 1990.
I am pleased that we are updating the regulation of assisted reproduction and embryo research in the light of scientific developments over the past 18 years. In 1990, we were very restricted in what we could do; we need only look at the decisions that the House has taken on the issue, through statutory instruments, which we could not have taken back in 1990. I remember when I was a shadow health spokesman that I had to help a Minister and his Parliamentary Private Secretary to get through a provision on the lifetime of stored embryos. That had not been put in the original Bill—no one wanted to go there, because of the ethical issues at the time. The Committee of Selection hand-picked Labour Members to bring in time scales for the storage of human embryos, so that eggs whose owners had walked away and were untraceable could be got rid of. Those were the types of difficulties that were left because we could not know the detail in 1990. Eighteen years on, the situation is a little different.
The Bill will help to maintain the UK’s position as a world leader in embryo research, including stem cell research. In addition, it will reflect modern social attitudes and Government policies on the family. Given the changes introduced by the House over the past decade, that is necessary. Research involving human embryos is necessary for the progress of assisted conception techniques. That was true then and it is true now. According to House of Commons Library figures on IVF up to 2005, there are now thousands of IVF births a year whereas many years ago there were hundreds. That is a result of this type of research.
Such research also holds great promise for the understanding and development of treatments for a range of diseases and disorders. In particular, embryonic stem cell research using cells extracted from early embryos potentially offers major breakthroughs in medical science. Research involving the creation of human embryos outside the body led to the first IVF-conceived birth in 1978—some Members of the House went to her 21st birthday held down here, when she came to say hello.
The UK has a widely admired and established system of statutory regulation, based on an independent licensing authority, the HFEA, which reflects the special status of the human embryo, as recognised in the Warnock report which underpinned the 1990 Act. The hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire said that that special status should have been enshrined in legislation, but my understanding is that it is based on a gradualist approach to the moral status of the human embryo: that it has an increasing status as it develops. That is my understanding of why we legislated as we did in 1990. The law therefore allows research, but only within certain parameters, such as a 14-day limit on the development of embryos in vitro. The Bill seeks to update the existing law, primarily in the light of technological advances, thereby helping to maintain the UK’s position as a leading research base.
I want to comment on the three issues that will be subject to a free vote, on which many of us have written. On human admixed embryos, some of the language over the past 18 years has not changed at all, as the Easter sermon in Scotland showed. It is not about creating monsters, as much as people still make that argument about such science, and it never was. If it were, I would not have been as supportive of such science over the years. It is purely laboratory research and aimed at increasing knowledge about serious diseases and treatments for them. Embryos must be destroyed at 14 days, and so far no scientist has been able to develop the embryo beyond six days. Those embryos cannot be placed in a woman or, indeed, in an animal. Interestingly, no one is suggesting that the 14-day limit on which we agreed in 1990 should be changed. Whatever was said at the time, no one is saying now that we got it wrong then. Medical science has come nowhere near trying to give that boundary a shove, and telling us to change what we understood to be right and proper. I do not consider that the science has become out of control. I think that some of the decisions made by the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) in 1990 were right, and that that has been shown by the test of time.
The Bill seeks to clarify the regulation of human admixed embryos for research. The 1990 Act refers only to human embryos, not to new and innovative ways of creating embryos combining human and animal material, which is why the provision on admixed embryos has been introduced. The Bill proposes that the same licensing process should apply as for fully human embryos, and that the 14-day legal limit should apply to admixed embryos as well. The issue has arisen under the current legislation, as has the HFEA’s responsibility for managing the science effectively on behalf of us legislators, and I see no problem with accepting that element of the Bill.
Another issue is that of embryo screening and selection, and saviour siblings. The Bill spells out for the first time in law a number of rules relating to the screening and selection of embryos and gametes. In broad terms, embryo screening and selection will be allowed only for the purpose of screening out serious genetic diseases or disorders. The HFEA has licensed screening in a number of cases since 1990, including cases of single-gene disorders such as cystic fibrosis.
The Bill will ban selecting the sex of a child except when the intention is to avoid a serious sex-linked disease, and it addresses the issue of saviour siblings. As a last resort, an embryo may be selected so that the resulting child is a tissue match for a seriously ill older brother or sister. That has been licensed in a handful of cases involving rare blood diseases. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) referred to the family of three young children and their mum and dad who appeared on BBC television this morning. They had to travel to America, a total journey of 80,000 miles. They were lucky in the sense that they were able to do that, unlike many of our constituents who might otherwise be assisted in the same way. The Bill makes it clear that such activities are lawful, and gives Parliament the opportunity to debate them. I agree with that as well.
My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, North-West (John Robertson), who has now left the Chamber, raised the issue of what he described as “spare parts”. He asked whether saviour siblings could be created for the purpose of organ transplants. The simple answer is no. Whatever anyone may say, the Bill does not allow embryo selection decisions for that purpose, although other parts of the law—governed by the Human Tissue Authority—do allow it.
Another issue that causes people to shuffle around in their seats a fair amount is that of the “need for a father”. I do not think that the Bill is about “doing away with fathers”, or about being politically correct. I think the Government are right to recognise the important role that fathers play in their children’s lives. There is a range of policies designed to strengthen that role, and to underline fathers’ responsibilities. In fact, the Bill will bring conditions into line with legislation already passed by the House on civil partnerships—
I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron), the Chairman of the Health Committee, was cut off in his prime. It is a pleasure to follow him.
I welcome the opportunity to debate the Bill. It has been a long time coming, and rightly so. There has been a process of deliberation: a draft Bill has been considered by a Joint Committee. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis) for his chairmanship of that Committee, and to its other members, who produced an impressive piece of work during an exhaustive process. What was particularly impressive was that the Government were prepared to listen. That is the way in which legislation ought to be developed before being presented to the House.
Why is the Bill necessary? The history in this area has been of legislation trying to keep pace with scientific endeavour and developments. The 1990 legislation followed the first great breakthrough: the first IVF birth back in 1978. It was six years after that that Baroness Warnock produced her report, which set out the ethical and moral principles that have guided us ever since, and which have stood the test of time. They included according a special moral status to the human embryo. Although those principles might not have secured universal acceptance, they have clearly provided a rational framework for the development of legislation. However, it took another six years before legislation finally arrived, in the form of the 1990 Act. I pay tribute to the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) for marshalling that legislation through Parliament, because, remarkably, it has also stood the test of time.
We have led the way internationally, but science has moved on and those advances raise new ethical, legal and social issues. Although the 1990 Act has clearly given public confidence because it introduced a robust regulatory system, in order to maintain public confidence legislation must be able to meet new challenges; hence the need for updating. Ultimately, it has to be Parliament that sets the framework—the boundaries within which scientists and the medical profession can lawfully operate. In setting the framework here and now, we have to look forward and anticipate new breakthroughs, in order to make sure that the legislation is as durable as possible.
I want to say at the outset that, like the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats will have free votes on all matters in the Bill. We have party policy on a number of issues—how could we not, when among our number we have my indefatigable and immensely impressive colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris)? Regardless of whether people agree or disagree with him, he clearly brings remarkable intellectual force to the debate. My party’s policy position is to be pro-science and in favour of research, but within proper limits and with proper safeguards.
I would not necessarily agree with that comment—and let me move on.
I have an important point to make. There is a heavy burden of responsibility on us all in how we conduct this debate. When dealing with issues that engender strong feelings and anxieties and on which Members and others have deeply held convictions, it is incumbent on those on all sides of the argument to remain measured, avoid exaggeration or sensationalism and respect the other point of view. Some of the comments made outside this place so far in the debate have not met that test. Church leaders and others to whom people look for guidance have a particular responsibility for the comments they make.
My party’s nominations to the Bill Committee will be two Members who come from very different standpoints on some of the issues involved: my hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Dr. Pugh), who is a Catholic, and my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon, who is a former junior doctors’ leader. That reflects the fact that although we have party policy on a number of issues, within our party—as within others—there is a wide range of views, and they should be represented properly and fully on the Committee.
I wish to deal with some of the key issues in the Bill, the first of which is the case for embryo research. As a layman who has witnessed the horror of degenerative and genetic conditions, I believe that there is a powerful case for research, which increases understanding and could ultimately lead to cures. My father had Parkinson’s, before he died, and I also knew well a local radio newsman in Norfolk who had motor neurone disease. I witnessed the deterioration that that cruel and horrible condition caused. If there is a chance of our finding cures or treatments, that is surely a worthy objective. Any such research would, of course, be subject, under this Bill, to tight control.
I wish to discuss human admixed embryos, which are inevitably one of the Bill’s more emotive issues. Surely, for the purposes of research, it must be right to consider their use. We are talking about keeping them only for up to 14 days and, again, only in a laboratory. As I have said, some of the claims have been exaggerated. There is a genuine problem of a shortage of human eggs hampering research. It is difficult to recruit egg donors—the process is a physically demanding one for a woman to go through—and there are long waiting lists of people seeking donor eggs for IVF treatment, so scientists struggle to obtain enough eggs for research. Surely it makes sense to save human eggs for IVF treatment, so if we really want research that has the potential to deliver cures of treatments for some of these awful conditions to be done, there must be a compelling logic to making use of admixed embryos.
I read a moving account in today’s edition of The Guardian by Geraldine Peacock, the vice-president of the Parkinson’s Disease Society. She has had the early onset of Parkinson’s for the past 18 years, which is nearly a third of her life. She says:
“I take 39 pills a day to keep me mobile. I freeze like a statue without warning and cannot move unless someone else touches me. It is relentless. This illness invades you. It feels like being locked inside your own body. I can cope with all of this as long as I know that there is hope.”
The proposed legislation, and the capacity it offers for more research, give her and many others that hope, which is why I, personally, support that part of the Bill.
The most important issue is that such embryos facilitate research into horrible conditions. Anyone who witnesses such conditions is inevitably left with the sense that it is worth trying to defeat them. That is why I support the measure, which was also supported by the Joint Committee and by the Select Committee on Science and Technology. I understand the concerns, because we are dealing with a challenging concept and there is a sense that it blurs the distinction between animals and humans, creating unnatural entities. None the less, I am clear as to where I stand.
I wish to make one final point on this issue. The HFEA consultation in April last year found general public acceptance that such research for medical purposes may have some value. The HFEA has said:
“But there is a clear demand from people to know more about what researchers are doing and their plans for future work, highlighting a need for better communication about science and research from both the scientific community and ourselves as regulator.”
The Bill has helped to generate a public debate, but the science community has an ongoing duty to continue that communication.
I want to raise an issue that was debated in the House of Lords, which I hope will be considered further in this House. The suggestion has been made that a regulation-making power could be included in the Bill to allow sperm and egg derived respectively from a male and female stem cell—not from testes or ovaries—to be permitted sperm or permitted egg for the purpose of implanting a permitted embryo in order to treat the infertility of those individuals, such as cancer sufferers, who cannot produce their own gametes in the normal way. The science is not there yet, but there is the potential to allow thousands of cancer survivors and their partners to have a child of their own genetic material. That is remarkable science, which was undreamed of not long ago. I would welcome an indication from the Government that they have not closed their mind on that issue.
I want to deal now with the genetic testing of embryos and, first, with the question of negative selection, which involves testing IVF embryos for serious inherited diseases and selecting those that are free from disease. Some disability rights campaigners argue that it is wrong to screen out and that it is tantamount to regarding an individual with a disability as less valuable in some way. I do not share that view. It must surely be preferable to avoid babies being born with very serious disabling conditions. That seems quite different from doing everything possible to avoid any discrimination against an individual who has a disability. There is also the potential to reduce the prospect of a termination at a later stage in pregnancy. For that reason, that negative selection seems entirely appropriate.
Secondly, I want to deal with the question of positive selection and the saviour sibling issue. By tissue-typing IVF embryos, we can identify an embryo that is a tissue match for a sick older sibling suffering from a serious disease so that the transplant of umbilical cord or bone marrow would be a more effective treatment. The original draft Bill limited screening for that purpose to circumstances in which an older sibling had a “life-threatening” disease. The Joint Committee thought that that was too narrow, and the Bill now refers to “serious” disease. That seems entirely rational. It would be hard to argue that we should help only those with a life-threatening condition, leaving those with serious conditions without hope.
I can understand the ethical concerns about saviour siblings. How does a saviour sibling cope with the knowledge that they were created for such a purpose? I do not dismiss that anxiety, but my judgment is that the benefits outweigh the concerns. Inevitably, each hon. Member must reach their own conclusion. The reference that the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) made to the Whitaker family was a powerful testimony to how the procedure can be enormously valuable for a family. In that case, it has led to a family being able to live happily.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that it is a treatment of last resort, first because it is costly and secondly because the family would look for a match transplant from elsewhere first? Indeed, as far as I am aware there have been only six cases of saviour sibling treatment in this country.
But does the hon. Gentleman agree that in many conditions it is not just a question of simple genetic screening? Many of the conditions that afflict humanity are caused by many genetic factors interacting with the environment. As we would not be able to provide that evidence, we would be able to facilitate and help only a low number of people.