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Volume 688: debated on Monday 22 January 2007

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether paragraph 2.74 of the White Paper, Review of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act, regarding the possible need for “more basic research” means that basic research has already been unlawfully authorised. [HL1043]

Whether they will clarify the meaning of “basic research”, referred to in paragraph 2.74 of the White Paper Review of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act; and which cases they have in mind; and [HL1044]

Whether, in the light of paragraphs 2.52 and 2.77 of the White Paper Review of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act regarding the proposed removal of the restriction on altering the genetic structure or replacing the nucleus of cells which form part of an embryo, existing research using these techniques and permitted by the regulatory authority was unlawful; and, if so, how they will ensure that the proposed new regulatory authority will not also participate in such practices; and [HL1045]

Whether the provisions of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 are being followed in full; and, if so, why changes to the Act are necessary. [HL1046]

The Command Paper, Review of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act: Proposals for Revised Legislation (including establishment of the Regulatory Authority for Tissue and Embryos), published on 14 December, sets out the Government’s proposals for revision of the law on assisted reproduction and embryology. The Government’s decision to review the law was based on, in particular, the rise of new technologies and probable changes in attitude since the passage of the original Act in 1990. Copies have been placed in the Library (Cm 6989). The proposals will go on to form a draft Bill to be published for pre-legislative scrutiny.

A wide range of factors were taken into consideration in bringing forward the proposals, preceded by public consultation in 2005. With regard to embryo research, these factors included, inter alia, recommendations from the House Of Lords Stem Cell Research Committee (Session 2001-02, HL Paper 83(i)) and the House Of Commons Science and Technology Committee (Session 2004-05, HC 7-I), relevant legislation enacted since 1990 and the scope of delegated powers already within the 1990 Act itself.

The proposals include revisions both to the purposes for which research projects using embryos may be licensed and to the scope of activities that may be authorised by a licence. These include the proposal to make clear that basic embryo research is permissible, subject to controls. Basic research, in this context, refers to research that underpins or enables applied research into, for example, serious diseases.

The Command Paper makes clear that, because of the considerable advances made in medicine and technology since the Act came into force in 1990, there are some areas within the remit of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 where greater clarity may be helpful. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority has performed its duties well, working within the legal framework set out in the 1990 Act, and the Government remain confident that the authority will continue to do so, as will any successor body.