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Commons Chamber

Volume 476: debated on Monday 19 May 2008

House of Commons

Monday 19 May 2008

The House met at half-past Two o’clock

Prayers

[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Children, Schools and Families

The Secretary of State was asked—

Academies (Kettering)

1. What assessment he has made of the effect on educational attainment levels in Kettering at the GCSE stage of the establishment of the two academies there. (205964)

At present there are no academies in Kettering. However, statements of intent have been agreed and my Department is in ongoing discussions with the local authority about the possibility of two schools in Kettering becoming academies. Where academies are established the aim is to achieve educational transformation, significantly improving levels of pupil attainment and benefiting the wider community, including neighbouring schools.

The two hoped-for academies at Ise community college and Montagu school will attract additional investment in local education in Kettering and would be most welcome. What steps are the Government undertaking to monitor individual academies’ performance around the country, so as to understand what makes the most successful academies work best and in order to spread best practice to all the others?

I am grateful that the hon. Gentleman welcomes the possibility of the two academies in his constituency. Indeed, we carefully monitor the work of academies and we are not alone in doing so—the National Audit Office regularly looks at it, as do others such as the Select Committee. In 2007, the NAO concluded that GCSE performance in academies had improved compared with that of predecessor schools and that, taking pupils’ personal circumstances and prior attainment into account, academies’ GCSE performance is substantially better on average than that of other schools. Comparisons in this area are always welcome.

Pupils from my constituency have to be bussed to Kettering for their secondary education because under this Government and a Labour county council, John Lea secondary school in my constituency was closed and demolished. Given all the thousands of new homes to be built in my constituency, what plans do the Government have to build a new secondary school there?

It is a bit like going over old ground, but I am grateful that the hon. Gentleman has not raised that matter for a few sessions of oral questions—he has done so several times in the past. As ever, I explain to him that his Tory friends who run Northamptonshire county council are responsible for school organisation, and he needs to take the matter up with them.

Academies (Feeder Schools)

2. If he will make it his policy that parents of children at feeder schools and existing secondary schools can vote on whether an academy should be established in their area as part of the decision-making process. (205965)

Proposals to establish academies are subject to non-statutory local consultation, which would normally include all interested parties, including the parents of children at feeder schools and existing secondary schools. When a maintained school is to be closed and replaced with an academy, statutory consultations are required on the proposed closure, which must engage all interested parties. In neither case, however, would there be formal votes or ballots.

On 1 May in Colchester, the Conservatives lost five seats and control of the borough council. The closure of two secondary schools and the imposition of an academy were major issues. If the Government are listening and they really do want to engage local communities, will the Secretary of State give a pledge that he will honour what happened at the ballot box and save Thomas Lord Audley school at Monkwick and Alderman Blaxill school at Shrub End from closure?

I understand that there were five Conservative losses on 1 May. I congratulate the Liberal Democrats on their four gains, and note the Labour gain as well.

I will give no long-term guarantee for those individual schools because, as the hon. Gentleman knows, the Alderman Blaxill school has not had a good run of results. It is substantially below the target of 30 per cent. GCSEs at grades A to C, including English and maths. During the past three years it has achieved 16 per cent., 14 per cent and 17 per cent. of that target, so we need improvement. Essex county council has explained that its preferred approach is to build on the existing partnership with Stanway school and to pursue a trust. We will support the council in its decision, but only as long as there is genuine improvement in all three schools in the coming year, particularly in Thomas Lord Audley and Alderman Blaxill. We will keep the matter under control, and if those schools do not deliver, we will consider other ways to intervene to ensure that all kids in the hon. Gentleman’s area get the improvement in standards that they need.

Building Schools for the Future money is welcome in Wolverhampton, and there is a proposal to have two academies there. It has been suggested that that money will not be made available in Wolverhampton unless it has those two academies. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that there is no link between the two and that Wolverhampton could have the money without two academies, if it so chose?

There is no requirement for academies in Wolverhampton as a condition of Building Schools for the Future money—we made that clear to the council and local Members of Parliament. There will be academies in Wolverhampton because the council is proposing them. It sees from results throughout the country that academies are a powerful way to raise standards, especially in areas that have had lower standards and where there is a need for new investment. We support academies in Wolverhampton but we will not impose them on Wolverhampton. The local council is proposing them and we will back its plans.

The Secretary of State will recall Tony Blair’s vision for the academies programme. He said:

“Our aim is the creation of a system of independent non-fee paying state schools.”

We were told that academies were to be freed from the national curriculum and independent of local authority control, but since the Secretary of State took office he has required all new academies to follow the national curriculum and now a third of new academies have local authorities as their sponsor. Why have the Government abandoned those freedoms? Is it not the case that, as last week’s legislative programme makes clear, the Government have run out of ideas on school reform, have no clear sense of direction and, as the chief inspector of schools said today, school standards have “stalled”?

The hon. Gentleman’s facts are incorrect. I have not imposed the national curriculum on academies. New academies will teach the national curriculum in maths, English, science and IT, but retain the wider flexibilities to innovate and tackle lower performing pupils’ needs.

When I became Secretary of State, all new academies proceeded with local authorities’ agreement and I have not changed that. The only change that I have made is to accelerate the number of academies to bring universities, further education colleges and wider sponsors into the academies movement by abolishing the £2 million entry fee. We are using academies as an important way to drive up standards and meet the national challenge of getting all schools above the 30 per cent. target. The Government are using academies effectively to drive up standards, but the Conservative party has a black hole in its plans, which it cannot explain, when it comes to academies.

Children’s Centres

3. What progress has been made towards meeting the target of establishing 3,500 children's centres by 2010. (205966)

There are currently 2,907 designated Sure Start children’s centres offering services to more than 2 million children aged under five and their families. We met our manifesto commitment for 2,500 centres by March this year and we are on track to meet our target of 3,500 centres by 2010—one for every community.

That is indeed good news. I am delighted that there are five Sure Start centres in my constituency. On average, 800 children use them each year, and I am committed to the Sure Start programme. What does my right hon. Friend believe the effect would be on those 4,000 children in South Swindon should the Sure Start programme be closed or not go ahead?

My hon. Friend takes a great interest in the matter and she knows that we are progressively building a new universal service for the youngest children and their families, bringing together health, early years, parent support and employment services, to name but a few. The independent academic evaluation has shown that that is already having a positive impact on children’s development and parents. If anything jeopardised the programme, I am sure that parents, professionals and any sensible person would greet that with dismay.

We welcome the progress on the number of children’s centres, but does the Minister share my concern about the continuous fall in the number of registered child minders, according to Ofsted, in the past year? Has she specifically examined the possible impact of the introduction of the early years foundation stage on the number of people who are willing to undertake that important function?

The number of places for children in early years provision continues to grow. However, we will clearly watch carefully and talk to child minders about any further decrease in their numbers. Having spoken to many child minders, I am convinced that the decline has nothing to do the EYFS, which is simply what good child minders are already familiar doing: having a flexible, play-based approach to children’s development while they are in their care. The early years foundation stage does nothing more than that.

Children’s centres make a big difference in constituencies such as mine. However, a minor problem is that, when they are attached to existing primary schools, with nursery provision extending from nought to five, they can become over-subscribed, as has happened in Milefield school in Grimethorpe in my constituency. Neighbouring Ladywood primary school, on whose governing board I serve, has only three pupils in the nursery unit next year. What more can we do as a Government to try to correct the imbalance that is currently being created in some locations?

I know that my hon. Friend has written to me about the situation in his local area. As I explained to him, the situation is not one that we in central Government can micro-manage. We have laid a duty on every local authority to assess the need in its area, look into the supply and ensure a good match, in order to give parents the most flexibility in affordable child care suited to the needs of the area. However, I would be happy to talk to my hon. Friend further about his local situation if that would help.

Given that the early years foundation stage curriculum becomes mandatory in September and that, as the right hon. Lady knows, communication, language and literacy are an important strand of provision for children from birth to the age of five, can the Minister advise the House what progress has been made in clarifying the guidance to be issued to the Department of Health on the provision of speech and language therapy in those children’s centres and on the financing for it? Further to what has just been asked, will she also do something to try to ensure that the excellent children’s centres are extended to the hardest to reach children in some of the poorest parts of the country?

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s question. I know the premium that he places on communication and language skills, as do I. I will investigate the question that he raises about guidance for the Department of Health and write to him. I can tell him, however, that speech and language therapists are increasingly working in and through children’s centres, which I am very pleased about. We will also develop a programme, which I think we will call Let’s Talk to help people to develop children’s vocabulary, because we know that that makes a big difference to a child’s ability to communicate.

On outreach, we have also funded two additional workers in every children’s centre, to ensure that we reach those families who would perhaps not necessarily find it that easy to come of their own volition. Going out to those families can encourage them to come into the children’s centres.

The director of the national evaluation of Sure Start has told the Select Committee on Health that an integrated and expanded role for health visitors would make Sure Start significantly more effective. We agree. That is why our policies involve health visitors delivering Sure Start’s vital outreach service. I know that the Minister shares our view that outreach support to the most disadvantaged groups is a critical role for Sure Start, so can she explain to the House why the Government’s plans and budget for extending the service, which were set out in great detail last November in this document—“Sure Start Children’s Centres: Phase 3 Planning and Delivery”—have now been slashed, with outreach in the most disadvantaged areas cut by one third? Outreach is a vital part of Sure Start. Why is it being cut and where has the money gone?

Those on the Opposition Front Bench seem a bit weak on correct information today. The hon. Lady is quite incorrect: the Government are investing a total of £4 billion in supporting services through, and developing further, children’s centres over the next three years, which includes an additional £79 million specifically for outreach work. What we are not doing is having a £200 million cut, which is what the Opposition would propose, and neither are we saying that it is either health visitors—

Pupil Transport

4. What recent assessment he has made of the charging policies of local authorities for pupil transport to and from voluntary-aided schools; and if he will make a statement. (205967)

The Department is committed to enabling parents to exercise choice and access the range of schools, including the excellent education offered by many faith-based schools. The Department does not routinely conduct assessments of charging policies for transport to voluntary-aided schools. Local authorities are required to publish their policies on free and assisted home-to-school transport annually and to defend those policies locally.

Many North-West Leicestershire children in faith primary schools have a faith secondary school at such a distance that pupil transport is needed, but Conservative-led Leicestershire county council is introducing an annual £240 transport charge per child in the autumn, which will impose a serious burden on many homes. Does the Minister agree that if there is no consistency of policy across local authorities, we will have in effect a discriminatory, excessive, unacceptable and scandalous Catholic tax on families who ought to have continued free transport, at least until year 11, which is what is available to parents of other faiths and no faith? That will damage access and choice, will it not?

I certainly agree with my hon. Friend that local authorities should continue to think it right not to disturb well-established arrangements, including free faith-based transport. My authority, in Dorset, appears to be proceeding, without any consultation, with charging for it. We would not advocate that in our guidance. In the Education and Inspections Act 2006, we changed the law to make faith-based transport available, up to 15 miles, to those on low incomes, but local authorities are still locally accountable for decisions beyond that.

Children’s Centres (Ipswich)

There are 11 designated children’s centres in Ipswich, offering services to approximately 8,000 children aged under 5 and their families. In the next three years, Suffolk will have a further £28.7 million to develop an additional 13 centres, including in Ipswich, to provide all families with those services by 2010.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. We are about to start celebrating the success of children’s centres in Ipswich and in the wider county. Staff working in the Wellington centre, in Ipswich, have told me how much they value working in a multi-agency way, because it helps them to address the often complex needs of some of those families with young children. Will she continue to resist proposals to cut £200 million from the Sure Start programme, as that would undermine the high-quality early learning and health interventions and the employment outreach work that are so vital to some of those families?

Yes, the proposals to which my hon. Friend refers would leave a black hole of £120 million and would involve a £200 million cut in the programme. More than that, they are wrong-headed, because this is not about having either health visitors or outreach workers; we need multi-agency teams that include both, as with the excellent co-located services in Ipswich, where health visitors hold clinics and carry out home visits with family support outreach workers. That system is about working together.

Short Breaks (Disabled Children)

6. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Health on the provision of short breaks for disabled children. (205969)

I meet regularly with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health to develop the Government’s programme for improving child health and well-being, which includes a transformation in the provision of short breaks for families with disabled children.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that answer. I am pleased with what his Department has done on this issue and with the money that it has given to local authorities. My county, Gloucestershire, is one of the pathfinders. One of my reasons for asking him to talk to the Department of Health is that the Government committed, in the comprehensive spending review, to the NHS matching the funding that his Department makes available. On investigation, I have found that that just is not the case. In Gloucestershire, the primary care trust got exactly the same rise as every other PCT. Gloucestershire is a pathfinder, but has no extra money to provide the necessary services. Will the Secretary of State talk to his colleague the Health Secretary about putting that right?

As the hon. Gentleman has said, we are seeing a transformation. There will be a £280 million increase in spending on short breaks in the next three years from my Department, and a further £90 million in capital spending. Local authority by local authority, that will lead to a doubling, on average, of spending on short breaks, and a fivefold increase in some cases. That will be greatly welcomed by families with disabled children for whom short breaks are often a lifeline in the difficult job that they do.

I fully understand the hon. Gentleman’s point about the importance of money being matched through PCTs and the health service, and I have talked to the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, South (Mr. Lewis), and the Health Secretary about that in detail. The Health Department rightly takes the view that PCTs have a responsibility, area by area, to find money from their overall budgets to match our spending. Such decisions should be for PCTs, but we are clear, nationally, in our Department and in the Health Department, that PCTs must find the money to fund short breaks. They will be held to account by parents, families and, I hope, by hon. Members on both sides of the House if they do not find the money to do that. Our joint health strategy will ensure that that happens.

At a recent conference in Blackpool, I spoke to parents whose children suffer from various forms of cancer. Children who are disabled because of a life-limiting illness often need respite care—sometimes from health services and sometimes from properly trained social care workers provided by local authorities. Will the Secretary of State ensure, in his discussions with his colleagues in the Health Department, that those families have appropriate, integrated packages to support them through what are often difficult times?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s work on preparing the way for the Aimhigher plan for disabled children, which we are now implementing. One of the key aspects of the report on this matter was the importance of ensuring that we provide guidance and support for parents so that they can navigate what is often, for them, a complex system, in order to deal with their child’s multiple and complex needs. It is important that we do that for all aspects of a child’s care, including short breaks. In the past, respite breaks have often been seen as providing respite for the parents and siblings. In the transformation of short breaks that we are pursuing, we are also trying to achieve a transformation in the experience for the children themselves, and to make the short breaks genuinely fun and enjoyable. For that to happen, the children must get the care that they need, including the health care. That is why my hon. Friend’s point is so valid. I shall be discussing this matter with the Health Secretary as we take forward our joint child health strategy this summer.

Does the Secretary of State recognise the very special needs of families with children with an autistic spectrum disorder, who are desperately in need of the occasional break? The environment for those children is very specific and must be appropriate to their needs. They thrive on familiarity and often do not respond well to change or to different circumstances, but those breaks are essential, as the Secretary of State has acknowledged, for the parents and siblings as well.

The hon. Lady is quite right. For all children with a learning disability or a physical disability, a short break can work and be trusted by the parents only if they can be confident that it will provide the care and support that that individual child needs, and that the child will be secure. That is true for children with physical disabilities, but it is also true for children with a learning difficulty such as autism. I have visited the TreeHouse school in north London and seen the intense way in which professionals provide care throughout the day. I have also seen how the parents provide that care all on their own in the mornings and evenings, and during the school holidays. For those parents, a short break is vital, but it must be tailored to the needs of the child.

Youth Facilities (Warrington)

Young people, their families and communities in Warrington and elsewhere are united in calling for attractive and safe youth facilities where young people can meet their friends, take part in positive activities and access support services. We are committed to meeting that demand. That is why, last month, we launched myplace, a new national programme of capital investment which will make available £190 million over the next three years to provide new or improved youth facilities.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that answer, but what can he do to ensure that Lib-Dem and Tory-controlled councils take advantage of the money that is being provided by the Government, so that areas in my constituency, such as Burtonwood—which get a youth bus only twice a week and have little access to the town in the evening by public transport—actually get the youth facilities that residents are asking for in every survey carried out, but which are constantly being delayed?

All that we can do is to encourage the local authorities concerned, and I am sure that my hon. Friend will be doing everything in her power—including asking this question today—to encourage her local authority to apply for the funding. It is extremely important that when these facilities are put in place the young people themselves are consulted, along with the local community. May I add that the local Member of Parliament should be consulted as well?

Will my hon. Friend congratulate the friends of Westy park, who are involving local young people in a major project to draw up plans for play, sports and leisure facilities in one of the most disadvantaged wards in Cheshire? Those facilities are urgently needed.

I am happy to do so. It is clear from the research that has been undertaken that, where young people are involved—whether in the design or in the management and running of a facility—the projects are much more successful. That is why young people are an integral part of the myplace initiative.

Notwithstanding the admirable efforts by the hon. Member for Warrington, North (Helen Jones) to improve the lot of young people in her constituency, why did the figures released last week by the Youth Justice Board show a 45 per cent. increase in youth crime in the Warrington area, with crime by girls up by 60 per cent., and a 27 per cent. rise in hospital admissions in Warrington for alcohol problems involving children in the past three years? Chlamydia rates have risen by 50 per cent. in the north-west over the past five years. Those figures are, sadly, replicated across the rest of the country. Are not the Government failing our young people in that, rather than promoting youth facilities with urgent education programmes to encourage responsible attitudes to sex, drinking and youth crime, they seem more intent on demonising young people yet again by staging desperate stunts with fake hoodies in Crewe?

The hon. Gentleman is wandering rather off piste. Nevertheless, let me deal with the issue of Warrington. I think that the whole House would want to join me in expressing sympathy to the Newlove family in respect of what we all recognise as an appalling case that took place there recently. The key is to work in partnership, nationally and locally, to try to solve these problems. That means that there are local responsibilities as well. We are playing our part nationally with record investment in youth facilities and we will soon publish our new youth alcohol action plan. The Government are doing their bit; it is also necessary for it to happen locally.

The Challenge Programme

8. What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the London, Manchester and Black Country Challenges; and if he will make a statement. (205972)

Since 2003, our London Challenge programme has brought wholesale improvements in secondary schools, with results rising faster than nationally. Those successes will now be extended locally and across the country. The programme has already been introduced in Greater Manchester and the black country and our proposed new legislation will ensure that every school is a good school, with local authorities using their powers—and Challenge using its powers—to intervene when necessary.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his reply. Sandwell schools in the black country have improved their educational performance significantly since 1997, but it is recognised that there is still further to go to meet the skills demands of local employers. Will my right hon. Friend tell me how much money will be targeted on schools in the black country and in what specific ways work will be done with the schools to raise the skills levels?

I am happy to join my hon. Friend in praising Sandwell council, which last year had the seventh biggest improvement in school results in the whole country, and the 20th biggest increase over the past 10 years. I am happy to praise local authorities—Conservative, Labour or Liberal Democrat—that make progress on standards. I refuse to run down the contribution of local authorities in the way that Conservative Members do at every opportunity. It is quite right, however, to continue to work with Sandwell so that results continue to improve in the future. I also support the council in its work in opening academies. We are allocating £23 million to the Black Country Challenge over the next three years, but the money will be well spent only if it is spent in partnership with local authorities rather than in opposition and conflict.

Children's Centres (Crawley)

There are five designated children’s centres in Crawley, reaching 4,500 children. Over the next three years, there will be a further £28.8 million for what we expect to be a further 17 centres in West Sussex, including in Crawley.

I am deeply grateful for that response. Anyone who has stayed close to Sure Start centres will know about the fantastic work that has gone on in them. It was right to concentrate on the most needy children first. Now that the service is going to be universal, what steps can my right hon. Friend take to ensure that county councils do not plead poverty in the future and then fail to use that money for those children that desperately need it?

Of course we have enshrined in legislation the requirement that local authorities, along with other key partners like primary care trusts and Jobcentre Plus, provide integrated services on this model for children under five and their parents. I expect local authorities to abide by that legislation, but I also hope that they will do so enthusiastically, as there is no doubt from the feedback from those working in children’s centres and from the growing and measurable positive impacts on children and parents alike that this service was much needed. It is going to grow and I hope that it will have a positive benefit for every child in the country by 2010.

Does the Minister accept that in Crawley, in Staffordshire and everywhere else the best possible centre is the family? What is she doing as a Minister in a Department that carries that word in its title, to encourage families and not to institutionalise children, irrespective of their backgrounds?

I could not agree more with the hon. Gentleman, although—the Conservative party has recently recognised this, rather belatedly—some families want some support in bringing up their children. That is part of the services that children’s centres are providing. In particular, those in Crawley have developed an important standard of excellence in the services that they are developing for parents, including services for fathers, grandfathers and male carers, and talking toddlers groups—all those things that are helping parents with what in today’s society is perhaps the increasingly difficult job of bringing their children up well.

School Standards

Since 1997, we have doubled funding per pupil and put more than 200,000 more adults in classrooms. Our children’s plan sets out how we will deliver a world-class education system: personalised learning, progression, Every Child a Reader, Every Child a Writer, Every Child Counts, tutors, curriculum changes, academies, new 14 to 19 diplomas, raising the participation age, work-force reforms and continued investment will continue to transform standards. And we have recently announced £200 million to achieve our ambition to have no secondary school below the 30 per cent. floor target by 2011. And on capital, we are spending £45 billion on the Building Schools for the Future programme to rebuild or refurbish every single secondary school in England.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer, but will he now answer my question about whether he has any further plans to raise standards in schools?

Well, in among that long list of things that we are doing, my hon. Friend should pick out Every Child a Reader, Every Child a Writer and Every Child Counts, which aim to ensure that every child leaves primary school with the required standard. We have 100,000 more than in 1997 achieving the required standard in English and maths, but we need to go further. The effect of a positive environment is not to be underestimated, and the Building Schools for the Future programme will proceed without the £5.2 billion black hole in its finances that the Conservative party has in its BSF programme.

Last week, the chief inspector of schools, Christine Gilbert, told the Select Committee on Children, Schools and Families that standards had stalled. She also said that 20 per cent. of children leaving primary school—one in five—did not have the literacy and numeracy skills to prosper at secondary school. It is hard to square the words of the chief inspector of schools with what the Minister has just told us. Will he tell the House from what date he thinks improvements stalled under this Government?

We always say that we need to do better, but I do not agree that progress has stalled. Key stage 2 results are up 17 percentage points from 63 to 80 per cent. in English since 1997, and up 15 percentage points in maths at that stage. At key stage 3, there are similar improvements. We see that across the board. Indeed, reading is a subject that the Conservative party rightly talks about a great deal, and the hon. Gentleman will have seen the excellent results of the reading recovery programme, which were publicised last week. They show that we are making really good progress in dealing with the most difficult literacy problems in our primary schools.

In that long list of excellent Government initiatives, I do not think that I heard my hon. Friend mention teaching methods and classroom arrangements. Over a couple of generations, misguided teaching methods were damaging to our children’s education success, but there are now demonstrably good methods that are much more successful. Will he use his good offices to ensure that those poor methods are finally eliminated and that the best methods are adopted?

Of course, there was not enough time to list all the many things that we are doing to raise standards in schools. Improving teaching is certainly one of them. Ofsted, which the Conservative party is keen to quote, tells us that we have the best generation of young teachers that we have ever had in our schools. One thing that we are doing further to develop the early years of teaching is developing a masters qualification in teaching and learning, so that teaching can become a masters-level profession. Part of that will involve ensuring that we have proper rigour.

Recently, I was at a school in Calderdale, seeing the progression pilots. I saw real rigour in key stage 3 English and maths teaching; teachers using progression pilot techniques such as the APP—assessing pupil progress—method were able properly to identify the level that each child was at in their class and help them to progress to the next one.

Clearly we could have a long sedentary exchange about the right hon. Gentleman’s grammar, but I can tell him that 80 per cent. of pupils are currently leaving primary school having met the national standard in English, while 77 per cent. are leaving having met it in maths. Obviously we want 100 per cent. to achieve the national standard, and although we are moving in the right direction, we still have some way to go.

Mental Health Services

13. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Health on the review of child and adolescent mental health services; and if he will make a statement. (205977)

The two Secretaries of State have had discussions about the CAMHS review prior to its announcement in the children’s plan, and subsequently during their regular meetings to discuss a range of issues. Both Secretaries of State are closely involved in the progress of the review. Meetings have been held, and further meetings are planned, between the review’s chairmen and the Secretaries of State. They will also jointly attend a forthcoming meeting of the review’s expert group.

I hope that the Minister is aware of the latest report from the Children’s Society in connection with its Good Childhood inquiry, which raises concerns about the rising mental health problems among children and young people. As part of the review, will the Secretaries of State consider the roles that schools and education welfare people can play in helping to identify children who are at risk of developing such problems, and perhaps in helping to prevent the problems from developing?

I can confirm that. I can also confirm that, in addition to the meetings that I mentioned in my answer, at the Department of Health later this afternoon I shall meet the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, South (Mr. Lewis), along with front-line practitioners and members of the expert group, to discuss the review even further.

As my hon. Friend says, schools have a vital role to play. Only last week I visited St Matthew’s school, Westminster, and in previous weeks I visited Mowlem primary school in Tower Hamlets, where we looked at the Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning programme. I hope that Conservative Front Benchers have changed their minds about that programme, because it is having a real effect in transforming some of those problems in our schools.

Does my hon. Friend recognise that in our increasingly complex world, it is very important—probably much more important than in the past—to build up children’s resilience, so that as they grow up they are better able to handle the many things that come into their lives? One of the best ways of building resilience is through the early intervention programmes that the Government have set in train. Can my hon. Friend assure me that the Secretary of State will continue to discuss those programmes, which we know work and have significant effects as children grow older, with the Secretary of State for Health? I believe that that will have a real effect.

Yes. I pay tribute to the work of my right hon. Friend, who was an early innovator of those initiatives, and piloted and introduced many of them to Government. Early intervention and building the resilience of children and young people are vital in today’s complicated world, and I assure her they are at the heart of the children’s plan and the Department’s mission.

Children's Centres (Milton Keynes)

There are 13 designated Sure Start children’s centres in Milton Keynes offering services to approximately 9,000 young children and their families in the area.

I assure the Minister that the centres that have already been built are doing an excellent job for my constituents, but as she knows, Milton Keynes is an area of housing growth. The council has asked me to ask the Minister whether there will be funding for children’s centres for our growing population after 2010-11. Can she give me an answer?

Obviously I can only speak for this Government—who I am sure will still be the Government after 2010. We are committed to continuing to support Sure Start children’s centres, and that will be reflected in the revenue support grant that we give local authorities from that point onwards.

Admissions Policies (Northamptonshire)

17. What discussions he has had with schools in Northamptonshire on their admission policies following the Government’s recent analysis of three local education authorities. (205982)

My officials wrote to the admission authorities of 51 schools in Northamptonshire on 11 March, asking them to verify whether the admission arrangements being reviewed were in fact the correct admission arrangements adopted by their school for 2008-09. Since then, my officials have had discussions and been corresponding with a number of schools involved in the exercise to ensure compliance with the admissions code.

As a result of that analysis the Department issued a badly drafted press release that implied that schools in Northamptonshire were, among other things, taking money for offering places. It later transpired that not one school in Northamptonshire acted in such a way. Will the Minister now apologise to my constituents, and to the wider Northamptonshire public, for that truly disturbing press release?

The press release that we issued did not specify authorities individually in terms of the areas of non-compliance; we were very careful about that. We wanted to make sure that we had gone through the verification process. However, in order to inform the consultation on the admission arrangements for next year, it was important to publicise the levels of non-compliance that our internal exercise had found, including non-compliance in Northamptonshire in a range of other areas that were depriving some of the hon. Gentleman’s constituents of fair admissions to schools. We therefore have nothing to apologise about.

Topical Questions

I have today placed in the Library a letter I have written today to our social partners asking them to consider what more we can do to improve the early years of teachers’ careers, and I have also laid a written statement confirming that I have accepted in full the recommendations that the independent School Teachers Review Body makes in its 17th report, including those on the modernisation of teachers’ responsibilities, enhanced leadership and the conditions of teachers who are not attached to specific schools, such as those in pupil referral units. Tomorrow I will publish a White Paper on how we will deliver improvements in education for excluded pupils. My statement also confirms my full acceptance of the recommended 2.45 per cent. pay rise for teachers from September this year and 2 per cent. per year from 2009 and 2010. I believe that this three-year award will enable teachers and schools to plan ahead, is fair and affordable, and delivers the public sector pay discipline that our economy needs at this crucial time.

My hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr. Stuart) reported the chief inspector’s finding that standards have stalled. Whom does the Secretary of State blame for that? Is it the pupils or teachers? Is it himself? Or could it be his favourite scapegoat at the moment for everything that has gone wrong—the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field)?

I think that that was a non-sequitur, so we shall move on. The fact is that there has been a substantial rise in school standards over the last 10 years, but as I have said in the House before, the rate of increase has slowed in recent years and we must redouble our efforts. One reason why there has been a slow-down is that we are now reaching the point where it is often children with particular learning disabilities who need extra help in order to increase their learning opportunities and reach key stage 4 at age 11. That is why we are taking forward early intervention with Every Child a Reader and Every Child Counts, to give extra, special one-to-one help to those children so that they can get the support they need so that every child can excel in school, which is our ambition.

T3. It is foster care fortnight. These selfless people play a crucial role in our society, but I am told that 40 per cent. of them are unpaid and 75 per cent. earn less than the minimum wage. What does the Minister propose to do to address this issue, so that we can begin to tackle the shortage in Wirral and elsewhere? (205941)

In our Care Matters implementation plan and in the forthcoming Children and Young Persons Bill we set out a number of measures that we are taking to try to improve matters for foster carers. My hon. Friend is right to say that they play a vital role in the care system. Not all foster care is regarded as a profession or a job in the same way as in other areas, so although we have a national series of allowances, there is no national fee structure in relation to foster carers. Foster care fortnight is an excellent opportunity to raise awareness of the need for more foster carers and of the wonderful, rewarding work that they do.

T2. The Minister will be aware of new plans for parent-driven school inspections. Can he confirm how many parents will be needed to trigger an inspection, in what circumstances they will be able to do so and what he will do to stop vexatious repeat requests from parents? (205940)

The chief inspector of schools has made a statement today, and I fully support it. It is right that the views of parents are fully incorporated into the inspections regime. Our national challenge programme to improve every school will require local authorities to take into account the views of local parents and to consult them actively. The details of how the inspection regime will work is a matter for Ofsted, not for me. I am sure that the chief inspector will want to ensure that we avoid vexatious views and the putting up of obstacles. I think it is right that we make it easier for parents to have a view and to, if not trigger, at least raise the potential for an early inspection of a particular school. I fully support what the chief inspector is doing to enhance parent power in our country.

T4. The excellent reading recovery scheme at Oaktree primary school in Swindon is achieving remarkable results with young people, particularly Kerry, Charlene and Dylan, whom I heard read the other day; they were excellent readers. Would my right hon. Friend congratulate Celia Messenger, the tutor in charge of reading recovery and consider visiting the scheme? Is the success of Swindon’s scheme replicated throughout the country? (205942)

I certainly welcome the opportunity to congratulate Celia Messenger and her colleagues. I can also categorically say to my hon. Friend that the success in Swindon has been matched nationally by an exceptional programme that has an improvement rate of 80 per cent. over 21 months, which is four times the normal age rate. That is why we are moving from pilots to a national programme with an investment of £144 million. I am sure that one of the team will be happy to visit Swindon as soon as we can.

The Secretary of State will know of the shambles that we have seen over the past couple of weeks in the marking of 1.2 million key stage 2 and key stage 3 test papers. What action is he taking over this issue? Will he consider withholding some of the £153 million due to be paid to ETS, which is administering this contract, over the next five years?

This is something that we have taken very seriously, and the Minister for Schools and Learners has himself been in consultation with the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, which has responsibility for delivering the tests. It informs us that the actions that have been taken are sufficient to get things back on track, but clearly we will keep the matter closely under review, and he will take an active watching brief on the issue.

Further to the answer that the Secretary of State has just given, he must know that ETS has a history of failure abroad. In 2004, in America, it gave 4,000 graduate teachers the wrong marks for their teaching exams and had to pay millions of dollars in compensation. Can the Secretary of State tell us what information he had about the company’s failure in America before it was granted this contract? What steps did he take to avert further problems in this country?

The decision to grant the contract was taken by the National Assessment Agency, which reports to the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority. It made the decision, not me. It is not for me to make individual contractual decisions in these cases, but clearly I am taking the matter very seriously. As I just said, we will keep it closely under review, and I shall talk to the QCA. The most important thing, from my point of view, is to ensure that our standard assessment tests marking goes smoothly for pupils, teachers and parents, and for the markers themselves. We have been assured that things are on track, but we will keep the matter closely under review.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for his reply, but is he really telling us that a contract was established with this company to monitor all key stage 2 and key stage 3 tests and Ministers did not know that it had been responsible for failing teachers wrongly in America and for paying out millions of dollars in compensation, and that it had been found wanting in graduate examinations across the United States? How was the company allowed to grant this contract without Ministers having oversight? Who will now apologise to the teachers and markers who are in the eye of the storm?

As I said, this is a matter that the NAA takes forward as part of the QCA. It is something that we are monitoring closely, but the decisions are not made by me. I have no knowledge of the facts that the hon. Gentleman raises. If he had raised them at an earlier stage, I might have looked at them, but he has never done so before. The matter is something that we are happy to keep an eye on, but it is not a matter for me to award these contracts—it is a matter for the QCA.

T6. What progress has been made towards developing an action plan to safeguard runaway and missing children? (205943)

The Government are committed to driving up improvements for young runaways, as we set out in the children’s plan. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the work that she and her cross-party group have done in that area. We have established a cross-departmental working group, and the action plan on which it is working will be launched in June. In addition, we will develop a new indicator on young people who run away, as part of the national indicator set to be measured from 2009.

T5. Newport high school in my constituency is one of the top schools in the west midlands and indeed in the country, so much so that next year many of the pupils will bypass GCSE maths and go on to AS-level maths examinations. However, as a result of that success, it will be penalised in the school performance tables. Why is the Minister prepared to see high-achieving schools such as Newport high school penalised for their success? (205944)

I am happy to have a look at the individual case, and if the hon. Gentleman wants to come and talk to me, that is fine and I shall have a look at it. Clearly, we want to motivate as many people as possible to achieve high standards in maths. If they want to go on to do AS-level maths, that is a good thing. I am happy to talk to him about how we could reflect that in the tables, but I need to understand whether the pupils have already taken GCSE maths as a stepping stone to the AS-levels, in which case the issue would be straightforward.

T7. The Minister’s decision last autumn to order a review of city academies was most welcome. Could he now tell us when that review will be published? If the findings conclude that such schools do not benefit our poorest communities, can he confirm that the academies programme will be scrapped and successful comprehensive schools, such as he visited in Calder Valley last week, will be encouraged? (205945)

I certainly had a very encouraging visit to Todmorden high in Calder Valley last week, and I was hoping to be able to nip over to Halifax to my hon. Friend’s constituency, but unfortunately I was pulled off in another direction. As I said earlier, the academies programme is being consistently reviewed by all manner of people. Everyone who reviews it concludes that academies are doing a really good job, and I look forward to an academy replacing the Ridings school in her constituency and turning around performance that has been below the standard required for some time.

T9. Oakington Manor is one of my schools of excellence in Brent and it embraces many Government initiatives such as the Kickz programme and extended schools. Its head teacher, Sylvia Libson, says that children should have a safe place to go and structured activities to do. What are the Government doing to expand the Bill on unclaimed assets and the recommendations in it? (205947)

My hon. Friend is right, and that is why we have put great stress on young people having much more access to structured activities with good adults than they have in the past. The Dormant Bank and Building Society Accounts Bill is going through the House now, as she knows, and one of the priorities, when the assets come on stream, will be the provision of such activities and places for young people. However, we are not waiting for that, and she will have heard my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary’s reference to the myplace initiative, to which we have given £190 million to start the process before the assets come on stream.

T10. Is the Secretary of State—himself no mean cricketer—aware that tomorrow is national schools cricket day? He recently claimed that 90 per cent. of all state schools were offering cricket, which sounds an excellent figure. But is he also aware that the Cricket Foundation, the Government’s designated organisation for delivering grass-roots cricket, discovered in a survey that only 10 per cent. of children actually play cricket in state schools? Are those figures correct? If they are, what will he do to try to get more young children on to the pitch? (205948)

The hon. Gentleman is well known for his cricketing skills and interest, and for his work on the all-party group. It was a matter of pleasure for me to see him bowled out in the first over of our game last year, even though those from my side of the House went on to suffer defeat. According to my information, nine out of 10 schools do offer cricket to their pupils, and more than half of all schools have strong links with cricket clubs. We support enthusiastically the work of the Chance to Shine initiative and the national cricket day tomorrow, and I am happy to meet him to discuss the matter further. For the benefit of Members on both sides of the House, the current score is that New Zealand are 187 for four.

Will the Minister join me in congratulating Hangleton Park children’s centre, which opens on Thursday—the latest of 14 across my city of Brighton and Hove? I have had the joy of visiting the openings of Clarendon Road, Cornerstones, West Hove school, Mile Oak and South Portslade children’s centres. Does she agree that those centres not only provide a wonderful start in life for babies and toddlers, but are a cohesive force in the community, making adults realise the importance of parenthood?

I am pleased that my hon. Friend will have another children’s centre to visit in her constituency. As she rightly says, children’s centres have always had two equally important priorities, because we can achieve the best possible development of young children only if we support parents too. That twofold approach is the right one.

Point of Order

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I ask your advice about the High Court’s determination on Friday that Members’ private home addresses should be published under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 when requests are made. As I have tried to indicate previously in the House, I believe that such a policy would be extremely dangerous in the present security environment, and my belief is shared by Members from all parties in the House. Until now, as the matter has been sub judice, we have understandably been prevented from discussing it in the House. We have not been able to discuss it in the press, because the press is in the driving seat of applications for addresses to be disclosed. What can we do properly to air publicly, in the Chamber or outside, our justified concerns about the security implications of this foolish decision?

That was not a point of order, but the hon. Gentleman is right to say that the question of sub judice has now been lifted. Therefore, he or any other hon. Member can now table parliamentary questions or raise the matter in the usual way, perhaps through a debate. I thank him.

Orders of the Day

Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill [Lords]

[1st Allotted Day]

(Clauses Nos. 4, 11, 14 and 23, Schedule No. 2 and any new Clauses or new Schedules relating to the termination of pregnancy by registered medical practitioners)

Considered in Committee.

[Sir Alan Haselhurst in the Chair]

Clause 4

Prohibitions in connection with genetic material not of human origin

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments:

No. 2, page 4, line 6, leave out from ‘authorise’ to end of line 12 and insert—

‘(a) the mixing of human gametes with animal gametes,

(b) the bringing about of the creation of a human admixed embryo, or

(c) the keeping or using of a human admixed embryo.’.

No. 42, line 13, leave out subsection (4).

Government amendment No. 33.

No. 10, line 14, at end insert—

‘(4A) A licence cannot authorise the creation of an embryo using—

(a) human gametes and animal gametes, or

(b) one human pronucleus and one animal pronucleus.’.

No. 11, line 22, leave out paragraph (b).

No. 44, page 4, leave out lines 25 to 27.

Government amendments Nos. 34 and 35.

No. 3, in schedule 2, page 54, line 31, at end insert—

‘(ca) omit paragraph (f)’.

Government amendment No. 36.

No. 43, page 58, line 2, at end insert—

‘(4A) A licence for research cannot authorise the creation of an embryo by the introduction of a sequence of nuclear or mitochondrial DNA from any species into one or more cells of the embryo or into gametes used to create that embryo.’.

Government amendments Nos. 37 to 39.

I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I shall start again.

Amendment No. 1 addresses probably the most radical proposal in the Bill, which is to create part-animal, part-human embryos. The main contention of the amendment’s supporters is that that is ethically wrong and almost certainly medically useless—or, if it is not useless, that there is no evidence as yet to substantiate it.

It is said by those who resist the amendment that we can rely on regulation, but we do not believe that regulation is enough. We believe that the move is a step too far and should therefore be banned. Indeed, the Government support the contention that some things are so ethically dangerous that they should be banned. For instance, the Bill will not allow the use of embryos for sex selection or to allow deaf people to have deaf children. Occasionally, the House makes a firm decision that something is ethically wrong. The House long ago decided, for example, that it did not want better to regulate capital punishment; it simply stopped capital punishment. The amendment is a call for these experiments to be banned.

It is said, too, that the embryos will be allowed to live for only 14 days. We do not believe that that answers the point that we are now crossing an entirely new ethical boundary. Many claims have been made for this research. On Second Reading, the Secretary of State cited Lord Winston as a supporter of the Bill. Indeed, Lord Winston is a supporter of the Bill, but he is also a lukewarm supporter of such research. He said:

“If the hybrid embryo thing doesn’t go through, it in no way shakes the body of science. It’s not about embryos that can survive, or viable monsters. Nothing like that. It’s a nice adjunct; a useful extra. But if we don’t have that resource, it won’t fundamentally alter the science of stem cell biology.”

Let us compare that lukewarm support from Lord Winston, who is admittedly a supporter of the Bill, with what the Secretary of State said:

“That development is recognised by scientists across the world as an essential”—

I emphasise the use of the word “essential”—

“building block for establishing cures for many life-threatening diseases, such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.”—[Official Report, 12 May 2008; Vol. 475, c. 1068.]

Indeed, no one in the House denies that those are appalling diseases. How wonderful it would be if we had some realistic way of curing them, but there is no overwhelming or large-scale body of scientific evidence that suggests that such research, which crosses the ultimate boundary between animals and humans, will cure anything. That is our point.

My point of view is backed up by a letter written by scientists from “across the world”, to quote the Secretary of State. It was written by Professor Scolding of Bristol, Professor Chopp of Detroit, Professor Franz of Munich, Professor Mackay-Sim of Queensland and Professor Martin of Melbourne and was published in The Times only this Friday. What did it say? It said:

“In particular, given the current state of more conventional embryonic stem-cell research, of adult stem-cell research and induced pluripotent stem-cell research, there is no demonstrable scientific or medical case for insisting on creating, without any clear scientific precedent, a wide spectrum of human-non-human hybrid entities or ‘human admixed embryos’…As scientists and clinicians actively involved in stem-cell research and regenerative medicine, we do not hold a single common view about the relative merits, ethics and potential of adult v (conventional) embryonic stem cells. But we all believe that extravagant claims regarding the purported merits of human-non-human interspecies embryos are mistaken and misleading, and that such research would damage public confidence and support, to the detriment both of the cause of stem-cell science and, ultimately, of patients.”

I very much hope that all right hon. and hon. Members have a chance to go to the Library to read that important letter.

The public have been misled—cruelly, in many cases—into thinking that such research could lead to early and useful cures by exaggeration, misinformation and hyperbole.

My hon. Friend has studied these matters carefully and is making an interesting case. Does he think that the Prime Minister, too, is being misled, when he thinks that many people might be better off if such research were allowed to continue? Does my hon. Friend think that the Prime Minister’s intervention will probably mean that more people support my hon. Friend on this important issue?

I do not want to get involved in the politics of the issue. I have already made the point that there is no overwhelming body of science to suggest that useful research will result.

Contrary to what has been said, the provisions apply not only to cybrids—when the nucleus is removed from an animal egg and replaced with a human nucleus—but to the creation of chimeras, which are a mixture of animal and human cells, and true hybrids, which are created by fertilising an animal egg with human sperm or vice versa. That is truly pushing the boundaries, and I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Member for Boston and Skegness (Mark Simmonds) has tabled an amendment on that point. It is true that all those creatures have to be destroyed within 14 days and they cannot be implanted in a woman or an animal, but to listen to the press one would think that only cybrids were involved. In fact, the Bill legalises true hybrids, which are genuinely and absolutely 50 per cent. animal and 50 per cent. human.

It is not entirely true, as we so often read, that cybrids are only 0.1 per cent. animal. Roger Highfield, who is the science editor of The Daily Telegraph and does not normally support my views on many things, says that at the early stages of embryo development animal DNA is as much as 50 per cent. of the mitochondrial DNA. Of the mitochondrial DNA created in cybrids, as much as 50 per cent. might be animal, so it is not quite true that such early creatures are 99 per cent. human. Of course, if that is true, they are not just things; although they are anormal, they are potentially like human embryos—they have all or most of the genetic make-up of a human being.

Can the hon. Gentleman inform the House of the difference between animal DNA and human DNA—for example, in terms of the number of base sequences? Is there much difference? Is he 99 per cent. related to a monkey?

The hon. Gentleman is trying to blind us with science, and his science is not even correct. I have cited the science editor of The Daily Telegraph. All I can say is that he thinks that in the early stages as much as 50 per cent. of the mitochondrial DNA might be human. That is his view. I accept that there is no overwhelming scientific consensus one way or the other, but for that reason we should be extremely cautious about how we proceed.

On a slightly lighter note, I was today e-mailed by a scientist, who told me that I had got it wrong and that I should not worry about admixing animal and human embryos because we have a large number of animal genes. He told me that I was 30 per cent. a daffodil and 80 per cent. a mouse. I am not sure that even my greatest political enemies would say that I was 30 per cent. a daffodil and 80 per cent. a mouse. I do not believe, with my soul or my brain, that I am 80 per cent. a mouse or 30 per cent. a daffodil. I think that the human race is special and different from the animal race, and that we should take the issue seriously for that reason.

I am keen to defend The Daily Telegraph: Roger Highfield said that 50 per cent. of a cybrid’s mitochondrial DNA might come from a human and 50 per cent. from an animal, but that is not inconsistent with a very small percentage overall coming from the animal. Over 95 per cent. of the DNA in such a cybrid is nuclear DNA. He is talking only about the split of less than 5 per cent.—probably less than 1 per cent.—of the mitochondrial DNA.

The science editor went on to say that mitochondrial DNA is very important. As a medical doctor, the hon. Gentleman knows full well that tiny changes in DNA can cause very serious illnesses in adults, so the point is not minor. Even if he does not agree with me on that issue, if he is absolutely convinced that we are talking about a cybrid that is 99 per cent. human, surely he must accept the argument that it is ethically a being, and not just a thing. We should therefore be careful about how we treat it.

As regards true hybrids, Sir Liam Donaldson said in his evidence to the Select Committee that

“there was no clear scientific argument as to why you would want to do it”

and that there was

“a feeling that this would be a step too far as far as the public are concerned.”

It is said that there is a shortage of embryos, but we know that there is no such shortage because there are many left from IVF treatment. It is said that there is a shortage of eggs, but eggs are needed for cloning only. There is enormous difficulty even in animal-animal cloning—more than 270 attempts were necessary to create Dolly the sheep—and there are enormous difficulties with therapeutic cloning. How much greater will be the difficulty in creating an animal-human clone! I therefore do not necessarily accept the argument.

Various red herrings have been brought up, such as the hamster test. The House was told on Second Reading that the research that we are discussing is already being done, but the hamster test was used only to test human sperm; a human entity was not being created. Today, we are talking about creating a new entity, so we should be very careful about what we do. We should ban what 21 other countries have banned. No other country in Europe is going down this route yet. In terms of embryonic research, we will almost be like a rogue state.

Will the hon. Gentleman tell the House why he is talking about entities, species and beings? The stem cells will be harvested at the blastocyst stage, so there will be 50 to 150 cells at the most. At that stage, there is no sign of development of an entity, being or species. Why is he misleading the House?

Order. This is a profound debate on which people hold very strong views, but I hope that it can be conducted with good humour and in good order. No hon. Member misleads the House. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw that remark.

Of course I am not trying to mislead the House. I genuinely believe that what I am saying is the truth, as my conscience tells me. I would not dream of trying to mislead the House. My conscience tells me that an embryo is not a thing. It has been fertilised, and I believe that human life begins at conception. That is my personal view. It may not be the view of the whole House, but I think that I am entitled to put it forward, and it is the view of many scientists and moral philosophers. It is not a completely unusual view.

It is said that cybrids are needed for research, but we know that no animal-human embryo will ever be developed into anything significant in any true sense. As we know, it cannot develop in anything like the way a human embryo can. For instance, Professor Newman of New York medical college was quoted on Second Reading. He has stated that the

“growth and development of the human-cow hybrid clone would say very little about the potential of a human only clone to develop in the same fashion.”

Particularly in the public mind, the debate has been clouded by the sense that there are diseases out there waiting to be cured. Enormous advances have been made on stem cells—there have been 70 successful treatments with adult stem cells—but for the past 10 years, we have been told that useful developments on embryonic stem cells are just around the corner. I sat through most of the Second Reading debate, when the fact that 70 successful treatments have arisen from adult stem-cell research was mentioned several times. The hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) has mentioned the prospect—we have heard this again and again—of two early clinical trials in the United States. We have heard that for many years, but nothing has happened.

I also attended the Second Reading debate, when reference was made to those clinical trials. This month, the United States Food and Drug Administration refused to allow clinical trials using embryonic stem cells.

Let us make no mistake—what we are doing this afternoon is unique. No other country has gone down this avenue yet. When there is obviously no scientific consensus, no public consensus and no overwhelming proof that any good will come of it, do we really want to take that step?

The hon. Gentleman has mentioned false arguments, but the arguments that he is advancing are remarkably similar to those used by those in the Churches and elsewhere who opposed vaccination. Those people believed that it was uncertain that vaccination would provide the benefits claimed by scientists and that it was wrong to use a vaccination developed in cows, through cowpox, to solve a human medical problem, namely smallpox. They were wrong, and he is wrong today.

Nobody on my side of the argument has any problem with successful research, but the creation of an entirely new part-animal, part-human entity is different from research into smallpox.

I will give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash), but then I must make progress.

I agree with my hon. Friend, particularly with respect to the available alternative therapies. The Nuremberg principles unequivocally state:

“The experiment should be such as to yield fruitful results for the good of society, unprocurable by other methods or means of study, and not random and unnecessary in nature.”

Is that not a good lesson?

We should all subscribe to that principle.

It has been stated that research is needed, because it would help adult stem-cell research. However, Dr. James Sherley of the Boston biomedical research institute, who has visited the House and discussed the matter with hon. Members, has described that argument as “a contrivance”. He has said that placing embryonic stem cells into adult tissue puts them in the wrong place, which is common sense. The very potency of embryonic stem cells means that they can cause tumours, and Dr. Sherley believes that such research is a blind alley.

I want to make some progress; if there is time, I will give way later.

A vote for animal-human research is not a vote for hope; it is a vote for false hope, and we should not take that risk. It is not good enough to say that such research will be tightly regulated. In many ways, our age is one of technology giants and ethical infants—we are like children playing with land mines, because we have no idea of the dangers posed by the technology that we are handling.

It has been stated that there is no prospect, and that there never will be, of creating humanzees, although that was attempted by Soviet scientists in the 1920s—sadly, they got nowhere. However, what Professor Hugh McLachlan of Glasgow Caledonian university has said is interesting:

“Any species came to be what it is now because of all sorts of interaction in the past. If it turns out in the future there was fertilisation between a human animal and a non-human animal, it’s an idea that is troublesome, but in terms of what particular ethical principle is breached it’s not clear to me. I share their squeamishness and unease, but I’m not sure that unease can be expressed in terms of an ethical principle.”

That was written by a professor in a British university. There is a prospect, although I know that it is only tiny.

Do we want to put all our faith in regulation? Can we not recognise a principle when we see it? We do not have to be Christians to believe that we are all created in God’s image. We can surely accept that embryos contain the genetic make-up of a complete human being and that we cannot and should not be spliced together with the animal kingdom.

The process that we are discussing will perpetuate the destruction of human embryos: 2.2 million have already been destroyed. I know that on Second Reading some cast doubt on opinion polls, but a recent Opinion Research poll said that 67 per cent. oppose the measure, and in 2007 the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority’s own poll said that 62 per cent. of people were opposed. Whatever the arguments about public opinion, I repeat that there is no public consensus.

A lot of attacks have been made on Cardinal O’Brien—“How can this man talk about Frankensteins? We are not talking about monsters.” However, a monster does not have to be big and ugly; it could be a monstrous creation. If an embryo could talk, perhaps they would echo what Mary Shelley wrote in “Frankenstein”:

“I, the miserable and the abandoned, am an abortion, to be spurned at, and kicked, and trampled on.”

I believe that science is doing wonderful things, but it can also do terrible things. Science should be our servant, not our master. Science should not tell us what to do on all occasions; it can tell us what can be done, but should not necessarily tell us what to do. In history, science and even medical research has been corrupted and futile research should not be allowed.

May I leave the last word to Professor Yamanaka, who was quoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Boston and Skegness in the debate on Second Reading? The professor has turned away from embryonic stem-cell research and is a leader in adult stem-cell research. He turned away because of what he saw through the microscope 10 years ago:

“When I saw the embryo, I suddenly realised there was such a small difference between it and my daughters.”

This measure is a step too far, and we should oppose it.

There is no doubt whatever that in one regard there is no difference between different sides and different hon. Members in respect of their consciences: we all wish to find cures for baneful afflictions. The current issue of The New Yorker has an article about a chef in New York who has tongue cancer. Attempts have been made over a long period to treat him, without any success whatever. The man has gone to the highest medical authorities in the United States. They have done their best to treat him, but at the same time, they have not said, “If only we had new opportunities for research, one day or other we might find a cure for the appalling affliction that this young man had.” Whatever our view on the issue or the amendment, there is no difference between any of us in the Chamber in this respect: if research has a good chance of abating or curing dreadful diseases that afflict the human race, we would want it to proceed.

Every single one of us in the House has had personal or family experience of the afflictions that are talked about in relation to the clause. In the case of my family, an elder brother and an elder sister had their final years made appalling—for themselves and my family—by the affliction of Alzheimer’s disease. If there were a realistic prospect of research bringing us a cure for or abatement of Alzheimer’s disease, I would be first in the queue to support it.

A nephew of mine, much younger than I, and a brother-in-law who was the husband of another of my sisters, suffered and eventually died from malign tumours of the brain—the cancer that was talked about. If there were a realistic prospect of doing something to prevent such deaths, or the death of my predecessor as Member of Parliament for Manchester, Gorton, Ken Marks, as a consequence of motor neurone disease—one of the most dreadful of all diseases—again, I would be first in the queue to support it. I am not talking about direct certainty because we can never have that, but the realistic prospect that there might be a cure or a way of preventing such appalling afflictions.

There is, therefore, no difference between what any of us want. There is probably little difference between any of us in our desire to advance research that has a realistic prospect of alleviating, curing and preventing the kind of diseases that I have talked about. I have a problem with the clause, however, and I shall be voting with the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) for this reason. It is not that I do not want the ends that so many of my colleagues want, but the fact that there might be a minute prospect of successful research dealing with such matters. If it were on the agenda, those advancing the arguments in favour of the provisions would not be using the words “could” or “might” and would not be saying that there might conceivably be a prospect of making some advance. They simply want to try it. I saw a performance of “King Lear” the other day, and I was reminded of what King Lear said:

“I will do such things,

What they are, yet I know not”.

The provisions do not have a path; all they have is a possibility. The language, honestly used, by those who support the clause admit that it is a remote possibility.

In addition, there is the question of the ethical nature of such research. We all have different views about ethics. One can be an atheist and have ethical views as strongly based as someone with the most profound religious convictions. The press have talked a great deal in a way that I do not much like about pressure from the Catholic Church on the issue. I have the most enormous respect for the Catholic Church, but I know that my Catholic constituents and Catholic priests would not claim that they had a monopoly on ethical views. I happen to have religious convictions, which feed into my views on the issues that we are considering.

What is the nature of humanity? How far do we go and where do we stop? What are the limits and boundaries? If we permit the creation of a hybrid embryo now, what will we seek to permit next time, even though we have no idea where it will lead? There is no point in saying, “This is harmless.” It may well be harmless—I do not know. However, if the issue were not controversial and difficult, the Bill would not be needed to authorise such research because it would already be lawful. The Bill is required to legalise hybrid stem-cell research, if it is to be permitted. If the matter were uncontroversial, there would be no need to place such controls on it. If there were no ethical dilemma or judgment to make, an Act of Parliament would not have to say, “Scientists, we’re going to let you do this, but, by gosh, we’re going to watch you and control you and make sure you don’t break the law.” With no dilemma, there would be no law to break.

Every hon. Member is considering her or his conscience. The fact that we have a conscience is an ingredient of the debate. I believe—like, I am sure, most hon. Members—that the planet does not belong to human beings alone, but to every creature on the face of the earth. However, it is no reflection on a dog or a tiger to say that their genetics have not equipped them with a conscience. As part of our genetic origin, we have been equipped with a conscience and it is no reflection on any hon. Member’s views or convictions when I say that if we have been endowed with a conscience, we have a duty to exercise it in making decisions about aspects of the Bill.

I cast no aspersions on the way in which any hon. Member will vote at the end of the debate. All I can say is that, having considered the issues, the consequences and the appalling suffering of people whom I have known personally and whom I would have wished not to suffer, my conscience tells me to vote with the hon. Member for Gainsborough. I shall do that.

It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman), who has a neighbouring office to mine in the House and whom I have always found to be extremely charming and courteous. He is right to say that the debate is about individual conscience and that we all, irrespective of party, want science and research to proceed if it is possible to find solutions. Of course, that conscience needs to be exercised within an ethical framework. However, I do not agree that everything categorised as admixed embryos for today’s debate shows no prospect of solutions to the genuine problems that exist. Indeed, I must correct him. He is incorrect to say that there has been no advance. Indeed, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority has already granted two licences for cytoplasmic hybrid research, which entails various hurdles.

It is also a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend and fellow Lincolnshire Member of Parliament the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh), who is a distinguished and experienced parliamentarian. Although I do not agree with everything that he said—I will set out why—I respect and acknowledge his ethical position.

There are three or four key reasons why I do not agree with the amendments that my hon. Friend and others have tabled. The first concerns therapies for illnesses and diseases. As I have said, research is already under way in that area involving cytoplasmic hybrids. There is no doubt that there is a shortage of human eggs for the production of embryonic stem-cell lines and research or that more are needed to enable such research to move faster. I am also keen to ensure that the House understands that there are significant differences between embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells, particularly given the versatility of embryonic stem cells, which can transfer themselves into almost every cell in the body, which adult stem cells currently cannot do.

The Motor Neurone Disease Association, of which I am president, would agree with the hon. Gentleman on the shortage of stem cells. It has said that

“there is no viable way of studying diseased human motor neurones in the laboratory, which is greatly inhibiting our understanding of”

motor neurone disease and its causes. The association continues:

“Stem cells derived from human-admixed embryos…offer us a potential source of motor neurones for research.”

I hope that the hon. Gentleman would agree with the association that using animal eggs as empty vessels

“for the creation of human embryos overcomes the limiting factor of the availability of donated human eggs.”

Although there are ethical issues in using animal eggs, surely it would be unethical not to use a methodology that could save 16,000 lives a year in the UK alone.

The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. He is probably aware that a research project has been licensed to look specifically into the area that he highlights.

The other issue that we need to address, which also relates to why I do not agree with the amendments standing in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough, is the correlation between adult stem cells and cord blood cells, which do not negate the need for embryonic stem cells and embryonic stem-cell research.

I note with interest the hon. Gentleman’s mention of umbilical cord blood. Does he support the call of the Anthony Nolan Trust, with which I have worked in the tragic case of seven-year-old Keiton Knight, a constituent of mine, for a national cord blood bank, which might easily help many thousands or even millions of people?

I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention. There is a strong argument for a cord blood bank—indeed, an attempt is currently being made to put one together—and the Anthony Nolan Trust has done a lot of excellent work in this area. However, there are complexities to do with who pays for it. For example, should a cord blood bank be done on the national health service or can the independent sector make a contribution? They are the details that need to be worked through. Personally, I think that embryonic cord blood could make a significant contribution to disease resolution in the future.

I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s support for encouraging umbilical cord blood research, given the more than 80 treatments that have already been developed worldwide. My concern is about the opportunity cost imposed by the Bill. The cost of focusing our attention today, and resources and funding subsequently, on admixed embryo research is surely that other areas and ethical alternatives will not receive the attention and funding that they deserve.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point, but I do not agree with him. We must ensure that all possible avenues within the ethical framework that the House believes in are followed, to maximise the opportunities to find a resolution to such awful diseases and illnesses.

I need to make some progress, but I will be happy to give way in a moment.

I want to explain what amendments Nos. 10 and 11 would do and why they differ from the amendments that my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough has tabled. Amendment No. 10 would outlaw the creation of true hybrids and amendment No. 11 would remove the creation of true hybrids from the permitted types of admixed embryos. It is essential to allow embryonic stem-cell research to continue, not only to assist some of the research projects that are already under way, but to assist induced pluripotent stem-cell research, because we do not know which types of research will provide the breakthroughs.

I should point out to my hon. Friend that I was so concerned about the work that Professor Yamanaka was doing in Kyoto that I went to see his team—I had the good fortune to be out in Japan as a guest of the Japanese Government at the time. His team was keen for me to understand that embryonic stem-cell research is a key part of pluripotent stem-cell research. It forms a fundamental benchmark and comparison against which they can monitor and measure the progress of induced pluripotent stem-cell research—to such an extent that it is not allowed in Japan. That is why Professor Yamanaka has an embryonic stem-cell research facility at the university of San Francisco, in California.

Scientists must be congratulated on their work in this field and their progress in stem-cell research so far. I am not anti-science; I simply think that we need to consider carefully the ethical and moral framework under which we allow scientists to continue some of this work. It will be useful if I explain the four different types of admixed embryos, because they are very different. I hope that when I have explained the differences, the House will understand why I think that we need to prohibit the use of what are euphemistically called true hybrids.

The first type of embryo is the cytoplasmic hybrid, which is euphemistically called a cybrid, and involves removing the nucleus from an animal egg cell and replacing it with one from a human. It is essentially a vessel to compensate for the shortage of eggs that are needed to produce embryonic stem cells. As I have said, two licences for that practice have already been granted. I am sure that the hon. Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson)—a distinguished scientist—will confirm that mitochondria, which are in the area around the cell nucleus, are neither animal nor human, but are autonomous. We need to clarify this aspect of the law, because the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 did not foresee cybrids coming along. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority has therefore granted two licences for such work to be carried out, jumping ahead of legislation. If we agree with the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend, we will go back to the days before the 1990 legislation, which would not be a positive change.

The second category of embryo is the human transgenic embryo, for which animal DNA is put into one or more cells of a human embryo. Both nuclear and mitochondrial DNA are inserted such that there will be a DNA sequence that controls the expression of the DNA already in the human sample. The hon. Gentleman made the point that DNA is not intrinsically human or animal. Sections contain proteins that are identical between animals.

The third category of embryo is the chimera, which involves adding animal cells to a human embryo; it has two or more cells from different organisms. A chimera could contain two different mouse cells, such as a mouse stem cell in a mouse embryo. Chimera are useful research tools for the observation of disease and treatments. With these, the human cells significantly outnumber those from animals.

The final category of admixed embryo is known as the true hybrid. It combines human gametes—for those who are uninitiated with the terminology, a gamete is either an egg or a sperm—with animal gametes, which are also either egg or sperm. As was pointed out earlier, the 1990 Act allows such embryos under what is called the hamster test, but they are allowed to go only to the two-cell stage and must then be destroyed. If we allow true hybrids to continue, that limit would be extended to 14 days.

Neither amendment No. 10 nor No. 11 suggests any change to the 1990 Act, which is subject to schedule 2, paragraph 1(f). Those who know about this issue will be aware that the hamster test is not used much. New technologies—specifically intracytoplasmic sperm injections—have significantly reduced the need for that type of assessment in clinics. Indeed, a distinguished stem-cell biologist, Dr. Robin Lovell-Badge, whom I shall mention again, told me in a letter only last week that the intracytoplasmic sperm injection had made the hamster test largely irrelevant.

Originally, the Government were not going to allow true hybrids up to a 50:50 genetic material mix of animals and humans. However, in response to the pre-legislative scrutiny Committee, the Government changed their mind, and I would like the Minister, in her response to the debate, to put on record why they did so. This shifting position seems to undermine any consistent ethical position on admixed embryos.

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be aware of the briefing from the Academy of Medical Sciences, the Royal Society, the Wellcome Trust and the Medical Research Council, which we have all received. It states:

“We are not aware of any current need to generate true hybrid embryos”.

Would the hon. Gentleman like to comment on that?

If the hon. Gentleman will bear with me, I will come to that specific point in a moment. He is right to make that point, however, although there has been some dissent in the scientific community since Second Reading as to whether that is or is not the case.

So there has been a shift in the Government position, which seems to undermine the ethical situation. There was an extensive debate in the other place on the issue, but no reason seemed to be given, except that the Committee and those in another place could see no reason why true hybrids should not be included.

The HFEA, many scientists and I believe that embryonic stem-cell research is necessary. It is a research requirement that the research could not be achieved by any other means than by embryonic research. As I have said, adult stem cells are different from embryonic stem cells. When visiting Newcastle university, I saw an embryonic stem cell, created from a human embryo, under a microscope, beating like a heart muscle. That has not been done using adult stem cells. When visiting Kyoto, it was clear that embryonic stem cells were essential for benchmarking for pluripotent adult stem cells, exciting though that prospect is.

There are therefore significant differences between the different types of admixed embryos. I personally have no issue with the first three. I take issue only with true hybrids, which is what amendments Nos. 10 and 11 are about. The first reason is that, in the context of this debate, the Government have changed their position without clearly making their case. They are obviously uncertain about this.

Furthermore, the scientific community has expressed serious reservations about true hybrids, and these were quoted by other hon. Members on Second Reading. Indeed, since last Monday’s debate, the distinguished stem-cell scientist Dr. Robin Lovell-Badge has felt it necessary to clarify his position. Those who were here for the Second Reading debate will remember that he was cited as the leading scientist who felt that there was no need for human hybrid embryos to be approved under the legislation. He seems to have changed his mind, however—whether under pressure or otherwise remains unknown. During the oral evidence session of the pre-legislative scrutiny Committee, he said:

“I cannot think of a good experiment to do now”.

However, in a letter that Dr. Lovell-Badge wrote to me after the Second Reading debate last week, he confirmed that there were primarily three areas in which true hybrids could be useful. I shall outline each one quickly if I may. The first involves the hamster test, which was permitted under the 1990 Act. That would be allowed to continue if these amendments were passed today. The second area involves artificial gametes, making sperm from pluripotent cells. The Minister confirmed on Second Reading that she would not allow such a provision to be in the Bill at all. The third area involves the use of what is called somatic cell nuclear transfer to understand the mechanisms by which human somatic cells can be reprogrammed from one cell type to another. It is the rationale for the construction and study of cytoplasmic human hybrid admixed embryos, which will be allowed under the Bill even if my amendment is passed.

Even if Dr. Lovell-Badge were alone in having clarified his thoughts, there would be a serious issue to debate, but many other scientists have also expressed significant concerns about true hybrids. Lord Winston is another example, and my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough was absolutely right to quote Sir Liam Donaldson’s evidence to the Committee that there was no clear scientific argument for this measure, and that it represented a step too far. Indeed, many other scientists in the stem-cell field, who do not wish to be quoted, have grave reservations. This is an anonymous quote:

“I cannot understand why anyone would want to make true hybrids”.

These are true scientists in the field.

There are significant differences between true hybrids and other hybrids. The true hybrid is not always at the human end of the spectrum. There is an ethical difference between a cell that is 99 per cent. human and one that is 50 per cent. human. Where is the principle for having a cut-off point of 50 per cent.? Should it be 50 per cent., 51 per cent., or 49 per cent.? Where will the legislation allow animal implantation if the cell is 51 per cent. animal rather than 51 per cent. human?

Will the hon. Gentleman explain what the ethical difference is between 50 per cent. and 51 per cent., or between 51 per cent. and 99 per cent.?

I think that there is a very big difference between a cell that has a 51 per cent. animal and 49 per cent. human make-up and one that has a 99 per cent. human make-up. That is, of course, what we are debating today and it is the issue on which the House must make up its mind. There is a also a significant difference between the transfer of genes and chromosomes and the mixing of gametes, which are sex cells.

I hope that the Minister will be able to clarify some of the issues we have raised. I wait to hear her response before deciding whether to put these amendments to the test later.

Perhaps I should remind hon. Members that we are in Committee and not in the House, so the form of address to the Chair is different from our usual practice. I apologise in that I misdirected hon. Members earlier by my own reference to the House, as opposed to the Committee.

Sir Alan—[Interruption.] I know he is a great cricketer in the making.

It is, I think, the desire of all stem-cell scientists one day to take an adult stem cell and reprogramme it to be just like an embryonic stem cell—one that can, with growth factors, be turned into different types of tissues. That is the El Dorado and claims have been made that we are moving in that direction, particularly, as has been pointed out, on the basis of work done by Yamanaka at Kyoto university. It is important to be critical of his work and to be aware of how far it goes, as it has been used as an example to show that adult cells have something major to offer in this field.

We use viral vectors in this area; they are called retroviruses and they have a habit of carrying genes into the chromosomes of the cells where the retrovirus is incorporated. I believe there are 20 sites in the particular cells that Yamanaka has looked at. There are 20 copies of this virus lying there, influencing how the particular genes work. It is argued by some people that the cells turn into embryonic-type cells. However, anyone who looks at Yamanaka’s paper and dissects it in detail, as I have, will see that it is nothing like that. There are many problems and flaws—and not just with the retrovirus, as it may be possible to get round that and find other ways to get the particular genes in to turn the cells back into the embryonic stage. Only very few of the colony cells that are treated develop any kind of resemblance to an embryonic cell. It is something in the region of 10 out of 50,000 cells that take on some of the properties associated with embryonic cells. Yamanaka is quite critical about it in his own paper. He says that there are

“minor genetic alterations, which could not be detected by karyo-type analyses, or epigenetic alterations”,

which may be necessary for “cell induction”. He continues:

“These issues need to be elucidated in future studies.”

He goes on to say in respect of the particular human cells influenced by the virus that it is unlikely at this stage for anyone to be able to commit to saying that these cells are very like embryonic cells. Even that work, then, leaves a lot to be desired.

We have heard about adult cord cells. It is absolutely true that they are very effective in certain haemopoietic diseases—blood diseases, anaemias and so on—but they are unable to turn into other cell types. Clearly, there is a lot yet to learn about adult cells and cord cells.

We still have the mystery of life around us. It is still possible to take a plant cell and grow the whole plant. I have always wondered about the secrets of plants without for a minute thinking of turning a plant into a human being. Gosh, we might get funding from some source to look into that! There is some magical mystery there that we have to discover, in which we can turn cells around into different tissues. Plants have something to offer in that area.

With the particular cells that would be made, we could treat single patients—that is true—but a culture of embryonic stem cells can be grown to treat lots of different patients with a particular condition. That is the El Dorado; that is the dream. Degenerative diseases can be handled in a larger arena than the single individual.

Stem cells, too, are something quite new, and it is argued that we have not turned up anything yet. Stem cells were debated in this place in 2001, and were legitimised in terms of our being able to do any work with them. Their isolation was achieved in Wisconsin in the USA in 1998. The first licences in this country for doing any work with them came in 2003, so we are five years down the line and people are expecting major results that will turn the world around.

How long does it take any good company in this country or in the USA to develop a drug? It takes 20 to 40 years. Do we ever hear people being critical of drug companies being slow? They have many, many tests to go through, which we should be glad about.

In the light of what the hon. Gentleman said on Second Reading and in the light of what he is saying today about adult stem-cell research, will he not apply the same criteria to that as well, in that clearly a time will have to elapse before we can be absolutely sure about either type of research? Has not the Bill therefore been introduced too soon?

I agree absolutely, but what we are saying here in the rational world of debate is that there are different ways to make stem cells at an early stage to use for whatever we are going to use them for—I shall return to that point in a moment—but we should be trying everything. There is no easy bet that one will be better than the other. We might need all different types for different types of disease. We should not allow ourselves to be differentiated into saying, “Adults’ are better than embryonic, and cord cells are the best of the lot.” They are very restricted in what they can do.

On that very point, Professor Chris Shaw, professor of neurology and neurogenetics at King’s college, London and a leading motor neurone disease researcher, has said something much in line with what the hon. Gentleman is saying:

“I cannot guarantee that embryonic stem cells from hybrid embryos will lead to a breakthrough, but I do think it would be a huge mistake to slam the door on this potentially important avenue of research. I believe that every effort should be made to understand the causes of MND because this is the only way we will develop really effective treatments”.

To hold off would mean taking a precautionary principle, which, in effect, would kill all those people who could be saved if we invested now to see whether this was the right way to the cure for MND.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He is arguing that we need to keep all avenues of research open, but that is not the way that we deal with licences for animal research. An application to do research on a chimpanzee would be unlikely to be granted until people had demonstrated that they were unable to do that research on something less ethically difficult—for example, a rat or a hamster. Does the hon. Gentleman not see that there is a difference here?

I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention, but as a hard-nosed scientist, no. People work on the best organism to give them the answer that they want to see. They might not get the answer and they might even have to work on a worm to get the answer that they want. In other cases, people want to move up to the clinical situation. There, they have to go through rhesus monkeys and so on.

I know that lots of people think that using animals is ethically wrong, but I tell the House this: scientists can be fallible, but they are tightly regulated and have to go through ethical committees in much of the work that they do. They have to get permission to use certain animals and they have to deliberate on how they are going to use them. They have to prove how things will be done so that there is no cruelty appertaining to that situation. Mice, rats, guinea pigs and other animals have all featured over the history of this period, but—

In a second. I want to make one point.

On Second Reading, I said that I remembered a time in the ’70s when genetic recombination was the bugbear. We were putting genes from another organism inside a bacterium or whatever. That caused trouble right across the USA. It was the scientists themselves, at a huge meeting and seminar, who disciplined themselves and ran a campaign on how to assess the dangers pertaining to such work—not just the dangers to themselves and the technicians in the lab, but the dangers to the public outside. The whole of Boston was up in arms about that kind of work being done at Harvard.

When we look back now and ask whether those scientists were right, the answer must be yes. People may not like genetically modified plants, but gosh, if they have diabetes they will all be using insulin made from GM organisms. That was the big issue in the debate about genetic modification in this place. When it led to medical improvements in our conditions it was OK, but when it involved plants it was a bit different. We know that there are many other issues involved relating to big companies and so on, but I can tell the Committee that people really do support attempts to improve their lives, and insulin is a good example. If we had banned GM completely, we would not have the human insulin that has saved so many lives.

Will my hon. Friend clarify his exchange with the hon. Member for Brent, East (Sarah Teather)? As a scientist, can he give some examples in which adult stem cells would be of no use in advancing experimentation? I understand from some of our debates that pancreatic stem cells do not exist in adults, whereas we have heard about motor neurone stem cell lines being developed in a dish from embryonic stem cells that could be used for compounds.

It is extremely difficult to obtain adult stem cells from the human body, although there are instances in which some stem cells are in better condition than others. The longer a stem cell stays in the body, the more likely it is that an ageing effect will lead to mutations, while an embryonic cell at the start of a process does not show any of the changes in DNA that we call mutations.

It has been said that no tests are in progress. That is untrue: tests have started in the United States. Experiments have begun using human embryonic cells to deal with spinal cord injuries. Neuronal cells have been placed in people, and it has been shown that they repair spinal damage. I have not yet confessed today that I am a member of the Stem Cell Foundation, which includes some of the most distinguished scientists in the world who are interested in stem cells. Their sole motivation is not to be uncritical about stem cells, but to ensure that when the stem cell flood happens—if it does happen in the next few years—we in this country develop the technology.

People must remember the combining of cells at Cambridge university, when monoclonal antibodies were produced. That work was stopped for various reasons, but the United States now has a $21 billion empire in the manufacture of monoclonal antibodies, which treat various types of cancer. We think that that can and should be done in this country.

We could all point to stem cell research avenues, not least in relation to cord blood. We could point to the progress made in the fields of neurology, spinal cord repair, stroke therapy, cerebral palsy and aneuristic brain injury. There is potential in all those areas. As for the provisions in the Bill on human admixed embryos, will the hon. Gentleman—as a scientist—tell me what evidence there is in favour of authorisation? Since 2003, there has been only one peer-reviewed published article. Is it not unprecedented to proceed on the basis of such scant evidence?

If I am honest—and I am, I think—if there had not been such tight regulations and such difficulties in obtaining licences, for all sorts of reasons, we might be further down the line. As a scientist, and as one who knows science backwards, I feel that we are constrained by all sorts of regulations involving health and safety and how we operate with cells in laboratories. However, the reason scientists carry out research is that they have a hunch, an idea, perhaps on the basis of earlier work, which makes them say “I wonder what would happen if…” That is how science advances. Scientists are fallible—they are not always on the right lines—but gosh, if the world did not have science we would not have the medical cures that we have, or, indeed, any understanding of climate change, about which many Members spout without knowing much about the science.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned tight regulation by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority. What proposals has the authority actually turned down?

I cannot say exactly how many, but I know that it has turned down a few. [Interruption.] Well, it might not have published how many, but it has not sanctioned every proposal that has come forward—and I would hope that it would not do so, because it is a tight, tough regulatory agency. Therefore, the hon. Gentleman is wrong if he is implying that it is a walkover and that every proposal goes through. That is not true. Lord Winston in the other place says it is much too tight and regulatory and that it stops too much happening; he is against the HFEA precisely on the grounds that it does things of the kind that the hon. Gentleman implies it does not do.

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is not possible to argue, as some opponents of this proposed legislation have done, both that the Bill should not proceed because there is insufficient evidence of scientific progress and that it will take us down a slippery slope that will lead to a further relaxation of regulations in future? Either the research will not produce results some years down the line; or it will, and it will require a different regulatory framework at that stage.

I thank my hon. Friend for that observation. I think the proposed legislation allows for that in certain arenas, and for the fact that, as we said on Second Reading, many new discoveries and technologies will be developed out of human DNA understanding. The Bill must allow frameworks to be easily adapted. We do not want to have to have a debate every year for two or three days with Committees and so on; we need to make sure that we can take science on, and that when new science comes through that is useful, the legislation allows for that.

I welcome the fact that we in this Chamber are debating this matter in the way that we are; that is important, because we are reflecting much of the feeling that there is among the general public, and that is how it should be. I am very keen for a Joint Committee to be established to look at ethical questions in the same way as certain organisations and charities do. There is no reason why we in this Chamber should not show ourselves in a good light by picking up on the general debates and arguments out among the public, and that is what we are doing now.

What else could we do with these admixture cells? We could take nuclei from people with motor neurone disease—I see the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) has suddenly perked up at the mention of MND—and put that into the animal kernel or cytoplasm. Why do we use animal cells, in any case? Because we cannot get human eggs at this stage. The scientific community would not want to use animal cells in elements of its research if it could get human eggs. So we could look at what these MND genes do up until the 14-day stage, when such admixed embryos would have to be destroyed. We could see if the genes start working and what they do to the cells at this early stage. This is how research is done: we might not see what happens, but we can ask questions—and I suggest to the House that these questions are very much worth asking.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree with Dr. Peter Hollands, the chief scientific officer of the UK blood bank, who says that cord blood stem cells have

“just as much potential as embryonic stem cells but without all the related objections and technical concerns”?

No, I do not absolutely agree, because every scientist has their bailiwick; they have their favourite organism, or favourite type of experiment—they might work on just DNA or RNA or proteins, for example. As scientists cannot work on everything, I am unsurprised that different scientists’ views reflect what they want to work on, because they will believe that that is the way forward. They are not always right in that, of course, but in this country they have every right to be able to pursue that.

On this point, as has been pointed out, Professor Chris Shaw believes that embryonic stem cells are very important in terms of MND. Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that there must be competition between parallel and different methodologies, as we do not know which ones might lead us to solutions—if we did know, we would already have cured diseases such as MND? Therefore, while there may be a favourite methodology in the end, we do not know which one it is yet. While I accept the ethical points, there needs to be such scientific diversification because we will not get things right first time.

I agree that the methodology of doing science is to have different laboratories in different countries at different times repeat what was initially thought to be the only way forward; we need to find out that other labs can repeat what somebody has claimed in a peer-reviewed journal.

Another area on which we could work with these particular admixtures is that of the effects of hormones and drugs at an early stage—until 14 days and so on—on the expression of certain genes. Some people have done such work. I know that it is under wraps at the minute, because that is how science works now; it is secret in some ways, because commercial interest is involved. Some drugs have been developed using embryos and these effects, and some people think that this will be what they will be used for.

Surely this is not just about what scientists know; it is about what they do not know. Could it not be that if one uses animal eggs, one is distorting the research, and one might get a different result if one were to use human ones?

I thank my hon. Friend for that. I think that scientists are a craven bunch of conservatives; they do not really take risks, and they do things because they are part of a network of people who support their research by financing it from research councils, and to gain such support they must have a reputation and a track record. That has been very important in this country, not only in winning Nobel prizes but in having that underbelly of great support in our universities and colleges for doing research. That approach has developed because some internal monitoring of one another takes place. Charlatanry is not rampant in the scientific community, as it is in some other areas of public endeavour—[Interruption.] That is another story.

I am going to finish now, because although I could go on for hours on this matter, I am sure that even Sir Alan would not bat at the crease at Essex for as long as this.

What fires me up about this issue is the letters that some of us receive. I know that the following letter is anecdotal and it is only one letter, but we receive lots of these. This person writes that they have

“a 42 year old daughter who is COMPLETELY disabled with multiple sclerosis. The only…movement my daughter has is to blink for yes and move her head from side to side for no.”

A famous movie that is out shows the same thing involving a very autistic Frenchman.

The letter continues:

“She cannot speak, see very well, eat, except for tiny amounts of food…Her husband is her main carer and she is dependent…on him…She spends 20 hours each day in bed as M.S. is extremely fatiguing…There is no cure at present. The only hope is stem cell research. Please, when you are voting on the…Bill think of my daughter and what this research could do for her and for others like her, please do not deny them a possible cure.”

I am inspired by people writing to me out of the blue like that. I receive lots of letters like that, and I would be the last person to prevent our scientific and medical community from trying to develop the kind of cures that help people just like that.

It is difficult to follow the hon. Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson), because he presents his case in such a reasonable fashion and he is enormously knowledgeable. I was thinking about the fact that when our debates took place on these issues in 1984 the atmosphere in the House was dramatic; one might say that it was electric. Some hon. Members may recall the events. I believe that on Second Reading or Report one hon. Member broke the Speaker’s Chair—or rather the shelf on which the Speaker puts his papers—such were the emotions at that time. Some of that resulted from the fact that a petition signed by 2 million people had been presented. I had proposed the idea of such a petition to the Life conference in August of the year in which I got elected. Perhaps I was a little presumptuous in doing so, but, on the other hand, I feel as strongly now as I did then about the question of boundaries, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) referred.

When listening to the debate and the reasonableness with which hon. Members who are favour of this research put their case, we are perhaps in danger of forgetting something that, as I see it, lies at the very heart of the issue. This is not just a matter of religious belief, which I certainly hold; it is also a question of practicalities. On Second Reading, I put a question to the House and to those in favour of the research, and I have been thinking about it a great deal since: even if this research could be accepted—I could not accept it, because I object to it in principle—and it were to go ahead, for whom would it be made available? Who would benefit from it? The hon. Member for Norwich, North nods, and that is certainly an important question that we have to address. I am afraid that there is a group of people who are avowed eugenicists.

As part of my research for this debate, I looked at a book by Professor David Galton of Barts hospital, a pre-eminent and knowledgeable person in this field. He raises that very question. He also opens Pandora’s box intellectually and legislatively by making it clear that, as far as he is concerned, when it comes to regulation:

“It may ultimately be better to allow individuals to decide for themselves as to whether or not abortion”—

in this instance—

“is acceptable; it becomes a matter for personal conscience, something to be judged on a case-by-case basis. This may be the way to manage all the newer eugenic techniques.”

We want to get this matter out into the open. There is no doubt that there is a group of people who are avowed eugenicists—[Interruption.] Well, David Galton himself appears to be one of that group.

When it comes to the commercialisation of the procedures, Professor Galton points out that some 80 per cent. of assisted reproductive procedures are paid for privately. What troubles me is that, given the problems with AIDS, sanitation, lack of water and world mass poverty, there is no realistic prospect that those procedures will be made universally available, even if they were acceptable—

I do not think that my hon. Friend need worry himself unduly that there is a great eugenicist conspiracy afoot, because there is not a scintilla of evidence for that. I well recall that my hon. Friend raised the question of whether the services that stemmed from the research would be universally or only selectively available. Does he also recall that he was told explicitly by the Minister of State responsible for public health that he was conflating and confusing the permissibility of the research with the arrangements for its commissioning? They are separate issues.

They may well be, but I still ask the question, given the vast amounts of money involved. As I said, about 80 per cent. of assisted reproduction procedures are paid for privately. Whatever the objectives of relieving pain and suffering, or improving health, it is almost impossible that the benefits of such research could be made universally available.

There is a strange irony in all this. Professor Galton says:

“The new eugenic technology”—

as he calls it—

“may become a vital weapon to prevent a future genetic deterioration of our species.”

He refers to the decline of some species as a result of the loss of diversity in the gene pool and points out:

“Our own genetic decline may take a different form. One hundred years ago some people would never have been able to reproduce. People with early-onset diabetes, premature heart attacks, malignant high blood pressure…may have survived into their reproductive period, but were too unhealthy to have children. Nowadays”—

and herein lies the irony—

“improvements in medical and surgical treatments allow such people to lead an almost normal reproductive life. Before the discovery and use of insulin”—

as the hon. Member for Norwich, North pointed out—

“early-onset diabetics had almost no chance of having children of their own.”

Professor Galton continues:

“The consequences of these medical advances are that parents can more freely transmit their disease-related genes to their children. These defective genes would be expected to accumulate from generation to generation in ever increasing numbers.”

It is important to reflect on that. He continues:

“To prevent this we may need in the future to screen embryos for disease-related genes and if possible to repair them at an early stage using the most powerful tools we have. The new eugenic technology may play a prominent role in this.”

That is the killer point.

It is a strange irony, and in many ways a tragedy, that however beneficial the advances in medical science might have been, somebody who makes claims for eugenic technology now says that one of the cardinal arguments for this new embryonic research—I leave aside the issue of adult stem-cell research, which is the route that we should go down—is to rectify the difficulties to which those advances have led. That is an extraordinary situation, which creates real dilemmas, but we need to reflect on the fact that life is not perfect. Furthermore, however much we might seek to do so, we cannot, for example, extend our lives indefinitely. At the heart of some of the moral questions that we must struggle with is whether we are not crossing a Rubicon to try to achieve the unachievable. It is not just a question of science or ethics, but of realities, on which all the best morality is ultimately based. We must be extremely cautious. The idea that the research would be available primarily for those who could afford it is very worrying. I noted with considerable concern Professor Galton’s comments about that.

I also read a newspaper article—I think that it was in the Evening Standard last week. [Interruption.] I do not vouch for its veracity; if it was wrong, I stand to be corrected. It suggested that some of the people involved—I might as well mention their names, as they were in the public press—such as Professor Ian Craft and, I think, Dr. Taranissi, were earning phenomenal amounts from such research: between £3 million and £5 million a year. I hope that they were not misrepresented in any way.

The people whom the hon. Gentleman quotes provide IVF treatment to infertile women. They are not doing research of the kind discussed under the clause. The amount of money that people are able to make through IVF treatment is a sign of how desperate many women are to have children.

I could not agree more that there is a serious problem for those who want to have children, and I would not in any way want to diminish any opportunities that they might have to do so. The bottom line is that when we move into this other kind of research, which is interconnected with the products of IVF research, we need to be extremely wary about exposing ourselves to the serious possibility that huge sums of money could be used without the research being universally available. Whatever objections I might have in principle, there is also a problem with how it is available for the elite compared with how it is available for those who want it for a specific purpose.

Can my hon. Friend help me, because I have a slight difficulty with his concept that the expense of the research would mean that few people would be able to benefit from its positive outcomes? He could compare the cost of stem-cell research with that for research in other areas in which some of the basic pharmaceutical companies are already investing, and bear in mind the good taut conservative concept that the price comes down thereafter because the treatment is widely available. Would he perhaps like to draw a parallel with the cost of stem-cell research and its availability to the many hundreds and thousands of people across the world who suffer from these debilitating diseases?

I perfectly understand that argument. I am not suggesting that we should stop all research. It is just that as far as I am concerned, while we have alternatives such as adult stem-cell research, which I believe can be further developed, we should not go down the route of embryonic cell research. Ultimately, that crosses the boundaries that I personally regard as unacceptable. I take my hon. Friend’s point, but I still worry about the matter a great deal.

On the question of Dolly the sheep and the developments in that field, I went through the Medical Research Council accounts some years ago and I think I am right to say that the Roslin institute, which is headed up by the MRC, sold the patents for Dolly the sheep to a commercial enterprise for £1. I found that pretty astonishing, and it causes me to worry about the commercial aspects of the operation and the research. We need to be conscious that there is a vast amount of commercial investment in this field, and research is not done exclusively for altruistic purposes, although that may play a part in the process. That needs to be put on the record.

Finally, I have already made a point about the Nuremberg principles. It seems quite clear that we ought to have a provision in the Bill, one way or another, that excludes embryonic cell research when adult stem-cell research has been proved viable. If adult stem-cell research becomes viable, it should then be the only kind of research available. It is ultimately about the dignity of man. This is not exclusively a question of religious belief. People with many different religious convictions hold the same views as I do, as do other hon. Members who have signed the amendments.

The figure of 14 days seems to me to be somewhat arbitrary—why not 12, or 16?

My hon. Friend says, “Oh, please!” as though he thinks that what I am suggesting is completely absurd. Would he be kind enough to intervene if he wishes to do so?

Yes indeed; I am delighted to do so. I am grateful to my hon. Friend, whose argument I find very interesting.

The point about 14 days is a scientific fact; it is the appearance of the primitive streak—the point at which brain cells start to differentiate. Before that there is a completely different scientific situation. That is why the period of 14 days is significant and quite different from 13 or 15 days.

My hon. Friend appears quite certain of that. Fourteen days is the figure that is always given, but I have heard from other sources that it could be 12 or 16 days in certain instances. As with so many things, there are variations despite the fact that an arbitrary figure appears to have been chosen. We have a difference of opinion about that.

Earlier today, my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Burrowes) was in debate on the “Today” programme with the chairman of the Medical Research Council. The chairman was being pressed; what it boiled down to was that he accepted that there were two possible ways of dealing with the research, but instead of answering the question why one should be chosen rather than the other he simply said that it was important to pursue both and that we should not be constrained as to which we decided to use.

That is the argument to which the MRC is committed, but some of us on the Conservative Benches profoundly disagree. We believe that adult stem-cell research is a viable alternative, although no doubt more work will be needed to pursue that research. However, the same point applies to embryonic stem cell research. It seems to me that until the matter has been resolved there should be a provision in the Bill to ban embryonic research, to guarantee that we do not end up making the wrong choice.

I rise with some trepidation, given the arguments we have heard from eminent scientists and ethicists. I shall speak narrowly to my amendments Nos. 44 and 43, which are designed to probe the Government, although I shall consider the right thing to do if we do not receive clarification.

The issue is simple. Are we to allow human genetic modification or are we looking for other forms of scientific evolution? I feel strongly about the subject of genetic modification, as many people realise. I have not spent the past 11 years in this place opposing genetic modification, in terms of both crop evolution and, more particularly, the evolution of animal species, only to allow human genetic modification to slip in through the back door.

I want the Government to make it clear where they stand and firmly to restore the view we expressed in the 1990 legislation when we said that we were against the genetic modification of human beings. I see no reason for changing that stance. However, every time I read the relevant parts of the public consultation on the Bill—paragraphs 5.33 to 5.38—I am even more confused about the Government’s stance. On the one hand, they say:

“The possibility of being able to ‘repair’ gametes or embryos raises the concern that it could be difficult to distinguish between what would constitute ‘repair’ and what might be thought of as “enhancement.”

I take “enhancement” to be what I would describe as true genetic modification. On the other hand, the conclusion of the public consultation states:

“The Government proposes that the prohibition in the HFE Act on genetic modification of embryos for reproductive purposes should continue and be extended to gametes used in treatment. We invite views as to whether the legislation should include a power for Parliament to relax this ban through regulations (rather than primary legislation) if assured of safety and efficacy.”

However, the Government also seem rather open-minded about the view of the Select Committee on Science and Technology, which basically said that there should not be an absolute prohibition—“absolute” is the key word—on the genetic modification of embryos in research. It also said that Parliament, through regulations, should be able to relax the existing prohibition on genetic modification as regards embryos and treatment in tightly controlled circumstances, if and when the technology is further advanced.

When the Chairman of Ways and Means was in the Chair, my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson) referred to hitting the ball all over the place. To use another cricketing metaphor, it seems that we want to hit the ball every which way, but we are not sure which strokes we are playing, and whether we can be caught out if we play the wrong stroke. I want the Government to be absolutely clear that they are against the genetic modification of human beings. That might be the direction in which research is taking us, but whatever one’s views on other aspects of the research, and whether or not one is in favour of hybrids and the scientific measures that the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness (Mark Simmonds), the Conservative Front Bencher, explained excellently, I want to know whether the Government will rail at the idea of human genetic modification being made possible at this stage.

One of the main cures that being developed is gene replacement therapy, which is particularly relevant for people with single gene defects. It involves the defective gene being replaced with one that is not defective. Does my hon. Friend think that science should not go down that route? If so, what is the difference between that technique being used once a child is born, and it being used before a child is born?

My hon. Friend makes a valuable point, and it is to do with the point about repair as against enhancement. If the Government clarified where they were drawing the line, perhaps I would feel much more confident that I was doing the right thing when I went through the Lobby tonight. As we all know, tonight’s vote is a conscience vote. I do not have any expertise on the subject, but I feel a great deal of nervousness when I am given to understand that we are considering modifying human beings, whether at a preliminary stage, as my hon. Friend says, or subsequently. The Government should be very clear about the issue, and should set out in primary legislation what is entailed, and what they feel should be allowed. I should prefer that to what I suspect is happening in the Bill; I suspect that it would ensure that, as science evolves, we may be able to catch up with that evolution through secondary legislation.

But say that 7 per cent. of people who develop motor neurone disease have a genetic predisposition to it; does my friend believe that it would be right to screen out the genes that mean that someone will develop that crippling disease later in life?

If we had the means to do so, the answer is of course, but I am asking how that is done. I listened carefully to my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman), because I share many of his misgivings. Hon. Members might agree on the outcomes, but there are serious dilemmas about the means by which we achieve those outcomes. One such issue that I feel strongly about is how we define, and in my case how we oppose, human genetic manipulation or modification.

Motor neurone disease is an interesting example, because a proportion of people who develop the disease have familial genealogy, but a further proportion of people do not have a genetic history of the disease in their families. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the people who are researching that point are not the people about whom he is concerned, because they act with the greatest responsibility and want to find medical answers? On that basis, if such research were regulated properly, does he agree that it would be limited to medical solutions for existing human beings? If we limit such research through proper regulation, there will be no problem with the fly-by-night opportunists whom the hon. Gentleman has described.

I agree, but, as the hon. Gentleman has said, how can one know that such research will be limited to genuine purposes? I do not want to raise eugenics or the modification of babies, because that would involve extreme language, which would not help the debate.

As has been said, we are going it alone in this country. Many countries have chosen clearly to outlaw human genetic modification in legislation; perhaps their scientists did not have the same head start as scientists in this country, so the issue does not pose such a challenge for them. Nevertheless, I want my right hon. Friend the Minister to make it clear what the Government are allowing. To answer the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik), the Government should say what is illegal and what will remain illegal for the foreseeable future. Until science teaches us otherwise, no scientist should be prepared to contemplate such research.

I do not want to speak at greater length, because my amendments are precise. Sadly, the issue has rarely come up in the wider ethical debate, which is why I make no apology for tabling my amendments. We should debate the point, even if it is considered to be marginal, and we must face up to it when we vote later. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister can assuage my fears. At the moment, I am genuinely confused about where the Government are drawing the line, and whether they will contemplate human genetic modification or whether they are prepared to make it clear how they will rule it out.

This excellent debate shows the benefit of a free vote on all Benches. There is certainly a free vote among Liberal Democrat Members, who hold diverse views, which will no doubt come to light as the debate continues. Our policy states that we support the use of cloned embryonic stem cells for research and therapeutic purposes, but this is a free vote, and I clearly do not speak for the whole of my party today. I also welcome the provision of sufficient time to debate the issue.

As the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) said, this is an issue of conscience, but that does not mean that it is a case of science versus ethics. As I stressed on Second Reading, both sides have an ethical viewpoint. We must respect the fact that many people find it impossible to support any of the legislation for moral reasons, while many of us feel duty-bound to support the legislation for moral reasons. My conscience tells me to vote for the measures in the Bill.

The hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) is the only hon. Member to discuss the specific issues raised by clause 4. My understanding is that the Government are in favour of allowing admixed embryos, which include animal genes in an otherwise human embryo, just as at the moment human genes can be inserted into animal embryos—for example, to produce mouse models, which hugely improve scientists’ ability to study human disease. Indeed, whole human chromosomes exist in the Down’s mouse, which is a model of Down’s syndrome in the rodent.

It is also clear that the Government recognise that it would be wrong if an embryo due to be destroyed after 14 days could not be genetically modified if that was the best way in which the embryo could contribute to medical research. However, the Government and the Bill make it clear that there could be no nuclear genetic modification of any gamete or of a permitted embryo that would be implanted. The only potential, theoretical exception to that is mitochondrial transplantation, which involves changing the mitochondrial DNA to avoid the devastating inheritable consequences of mitochondrial disease. I am sure that that issue will be debated in the Public Bill Committee; it is, however, entirely different from germline genetic modification in respect of nuclear DNA.

I hope that I have reassured the hon. Member for Stroud, and I hope that the Minister will seek to reassure him.

Part of my confusion is that even at this late stage the Government have chosen to table a further amendment to clause 4. Perhaps that will help my understanding, but it shows that the legislation is, in a sense, a moveable feast. I hear what the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) says, but this is primary legislation and it is essential that we get it right. If things are still moving around at this time, that will not be helpful.

I hope that I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that I have been watching the Government like a hawk on these measures. Their amendment is relatively innocuous; they have accepted finally a point made at length and effectively by Lord Mackay in the House of Lords.

On Second Reading, the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) claimed that the Bill was somehow a radical departure, or at least a departure, from the ethical principles underlying the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990, particularly in regard to clause 4. I do not think that it represents such a departure. The hon. Gentleman correctly said that the 1990 Act encapsulated the Warnock committee’s view that:

“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.”

The hon. Gentleman said that the Government were moving away from that, as they were seeking simply to ensure that Britain remained at the forefront of medical research. However, I do not think that that is right; the principles of the 1990 Act apply in this Bill. Embryo research will still be heavily regulated in at least five ways: no embryo research could be carried out without a licence—that would be a criminal offence, so the Bill is certainly no walkover in that respect; no embryo could be kept beyond 14 days; no research embryo could be implanted; researchers would have to show that it was necessary or desirable for medical research purposes to do the embryo research; and, finally and crucially, as has been mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Sarah Teather), researchers would have to demonstrate that it was necessary to use embryos and that the same research could not be obtained by techniques that did not use embryos. It is critical to recognise that.

The Bill is not at all a radical departure from the principles of the 1990 Bill. That legislation was very good and the Government of the time should be congratulated, as they were on Second Reading. In the 1990 Act, we see that the hamster test made provision that true hybrid entities should be created, albeit only up to the two-cell stage. No one, however, can argue that there is a huge ethical distinction between the two-cell, eight-cell and 16-cell stages. I am going to explore whether ethical distinctions can be made between different types of admixed embryos, but surely one cannot argue that it is okay for a two-cell entity to be created, but it is not okay for a four-cell entity to be created if the other requirements are met—that it is necessary or desirable for medical research and there is no other way of doing it.

My hon. Friend says that none of the research will be possible without a licence, but he will also be aware that the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority has turned down only one application for a licence, and that decision was overruled on appeal. It is difficult to say that the process is tightly regulated.

I do not think that that is right, and I wanted to return to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Dr. Pugh) in an intervention. The way in which science works is that before someone gets to the HFEA stage, they have to get funding. They must get ethical approval and have a research proposal. That is a huge job. People’s jobs depend on being able to get permission, and scientists apply to the HFEA only at an extremely late stage. It would be a scandal if they had public or charity funding and subsequently failed to get that permission. In many cases, there is an iterative process between the authority and scientists, and they do not get approval until the end of a long process. That is what Lord Winston and others, including those at Newcastle, complain about at length. They complain that the process is too burdensome; other hon. Members are now complaining that it is not burdensome enough. If no one is happy, that suggests that the authority has it about right. A walkover it is not.

Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that when considering keeping all avenues open, there was a proper framework in the 1990 Act that had respect for the human embryo? It did not legalise full hybrids, but via the hamster test it legalised the testing of human sperm. There is a distinction there, under a framework, that is based on some ethical principles.

I do not think that that is right. I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman is saying that a human-animal hybrid embryo is a human embryo. If it is, it is subject to the restrictions in the 1990 Act, so it has the same special status. If he thinks that it is not and that it should not have as much status, he should at least be reassured that the measures in the Bill go over the top in giving it the same protection as for a human embryo. I am not suggesting that he is having it both ways; he cannot have it either way, I am afraid.

Does my hon. Friend not accept that the hamster test does not give a rationale for extending the life of hybrids to 14 days? That is something different, and it needs a different ethical justification.

Absolutely. As I said, there has to be a scientific justification. We could not justify creating a true hybrid embryo simply because someone else has done that to test sperm, but if there is another reason to do it, no new ethical question has been opened up since the Conservative Government and the House passed the 1990 Act and allowed the hamster test. That matter was heavily debated in both Houses—it was not snuck through. There were debates and Divisions on that matter