Lib Dem MPs divide on embryology bill free vote

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill passed the House of Commons easily this week, 355 to 129. The Bill’s measures include allowing scientists to produce human-animal “hybrid embryos” for stem cells, use of “saviour siblings” to provide bone marrow or umbilical cord tissue for treating genetic conditions, as well as making it easier for lesbians and single women to access NHS fertilisation services and allowing a lesbian or gay couple to be named on the birth certificate as the legal parents of their children.

The Lib Dems made it a free vote, and 16 MPs voted against the Bill at third reading, according to Public Whip:

Alan Beith, Berwick-upon-Tweed
Vincent Cable, Twickenham
Mike Hancock, Portsmouth South
David Heath, Somerton & Frome
John Hemming, Birmingham, Yardley
Mark Hunter, Cheadle
Charles Kennedy, Ross, Skye & Lochaber
Greg Mulholland, Leeds North West
John Pugh, Southport
Alan Reid, Argyll & Bute
Daniel Rogerson, North Cornwall
Paul Rowen, Rochdale
Bob Russell, Colchester
Andrew Stunell, Hazel Grove
Sarah Teather, Brent East
Steve Webb, Northavon

30 Lib Dems voted in favour of the legislation, including Nick Clegg, Simon Hughes and Chris Huhne.

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  • It is disappointing to see so many ‘liberals’ voting against this entirely sensible legislation. why?

  • Rhetoric innes 24th Oct '08 - 8:30pm

    Well done to those M.P.’s who voted against this illiberal bill .

  • I’m very interested to know the personal reasons of the 16 MPs who voted against the bill.

    It certainly wasn’t perfect, and definitely didn’t go far enough in some areas such as extending abortion rights to Northern Ireland.

    However it was a step in the right direction, improving medical research, extending the right to be a parent and defending the rights of women to have a safe abortion.

    Was it because it didn’t go far enough, or because it went too far? It a very important distinction.

  • Thank you Mr. Hemming, very clearly put.

  • This is a truly dreadful piece of legislation and, therefore, congratulations and thanks to all those who opposed it.


    “However it was a step in the right direction, improving medical research, extending the right to be a parent and defending the rights of women to have a safe abortion.”

    Improving medical research?

    More like sanctioning the waste of limited resources on unproven scientific fishing expeditions. I really don’t think that patient groups have been well served by this obsessive pursuit of embryo research. Please take a look at this:

    Extending the right to be a parent?

    More like permitting the natural right of children to be reared by both a mother and a father to be trumped by the alleged right of all to have a child regardless of the implications for that child. This obsessive, but actually selective, pursuit of anti-discrimination legislation undermines its intrinsic moral rightness by failing to distinguish between justifiable and unjustifiable discrimination.

    Defending the rights of women to have safe abortion?

    I was not aware that the Bill had any impact on abortion. But if it did then there would certainly be more than one way of phrasing what you have said. One could, for example, depending on the actual measure, have equally said “Further abandons the unborn child and/or ensures that women will be even more vulnerable to pressure to abort and even less likely to gain access to real counselling and sources of support to assist her in resisting such pressure”.

    The distinction you make at the end is apt and I, too, would be interested to know.

  • More like sanctioning the waste of limited resources on unproven scientific fishing expeditions.

    Science is one never ending fishing expedition, but if you want it to have valuable results, you have to trust the scientists who lobby for the research. They’re fully behind it on this occasion. True we have to tight ethical controls, and that might have trumped this line of research, but when the scientific establishment comes forward and explains every stage of the research as they did here, the ethical questions were answered in full.

    More like permitting the natural right of children to be reared by both a mother and a father to be trumped by the alleged right of all to have a child

    There isn’t one shred of evidence that a child suffers or benefits from having two mothers. I would expect this argument from the conservatives, who have such great champions of received wisdom in Edward Leigh and Nadine Dorries.

    If you have firm statistical evidence that a child is harmed in some way from being raised by a loving family consisting of lesbians, then please detail it here. I’m sure that we’d all love to see it as it’s been the white elephant of anti-gay family rights for years.

    I was not aware that the Bill had any impact on abortion.

    What? When the armies of the unpleasant religious right campaigned non-stop for a reduction in the time limits for an abortion? When there were amendments to make gaining an abortion even more difficult?

    This Bill defended the rights of women. However, it didn’t advance them either. The amendments tabled by Evan Harris and Diane Abbott should have been voted on, and probably would have passed.

    Women’s rights, gay rights and cutting edge medical/scientific research. All of which should be part of a progressive Liberal Democrat agenda.

  • it’s been the white elephant

    ‘Red Herring’ even.

  • Akheloios,

    On the matter of the embryo research, you say the ethical questions were answered in full. In fact, I am not aware that they were ever seriously addressed. Neither do I believe the public were given a true understanding of the speculative nature of the proposed research nor of the promising ethical alternatives. Fishing expeditions are fine, given adequate resources and no ethical issues. But that is not the case here.

    There was clear evidence of public concern, particularly with regard to the hybrid embryo issue. This was assuaged with misleading claims as to the potential benefits of such research (including a deliberate conflation of embryo stem cell research with other, successful, types of stem cell research) and the nature of the embryos which would be permitted under the Bill.

    For an example of unjustifiable hype see:
    and, by contrast, see: and

    No doubt some useful discoveries will, sooner or later, be forthcoming. It would be extraordinary if that were not the case. But, as I have read it, the scientists, when challenged about the relative prospects of embryo and other stem cell work, argue that no avenues of research should be shut off at this stage. This is a much weaker argument than that employed in the Bill’s defence by some sections of the media and by the Government and it is questionable whether the public would support the hybrid proposals if they knew how speculative the research is, that the permissions in the Bill are not limited to 99.9% human hybrids but also include 50/50 hybrids and that the good news stories re stem cell research are almost without exception using non-embryonic stem cells.

    I would imagine as a Liberal Democrat you would have concerns about a campaign of deliberate misinformation designed to deceive the public and distort public debate.

    On the matter of IVF and the need for both mother and father I note that you have re-framed my position (perhaps unintentionally) as in opposition to the child having two mothers. By so doing you present it as a homosexual rights issue. In its essence it is not. The issue is not with the child having two mothers it is with the child having no father. In this regard, and in response to your challenge, I offer you this:

    Finally on abortion: First, I believe you do your case no good by describing those who oppose abortion, religious right or not, as “unpleasant”. We should be able to debate without resorting to questionable and offensive caricatures.

    The Bill had no impact on abortion. But an opportunity was provided to amend abortion law for the first time in nearly 20 years last May. It is to Parliament’s eternal shame that it failed to protect even viable babies from being aborted on social grounds. What possible moral justification can there be for deliberately killing a baby capable of being born alive, nurtured independently of the mother and adopted? That this was defeated simply demonstrates how out of touch Parliamentarians have become.

    The extreme amendments tabled subsequently would have finally and wholly abandoned any vestige of protection in law for the unborn child. They would also have made it even more difficult to assist the woman who is under pressure to abort.
    In fact, they demonstrated scant regard for the well-being of women. Rather, they would have had the effect of bouncing women quickly and cheaply through abortion, then leaving them to live forever with a choice they never really had.

  • the permissions in the Bill are not limited to 99.9% human hybrids but also include 50/50 hybrids

    50/50 hybrid embryos are impossible, I’d advise you to read a basic biology textbook to see how dogs can’t breed with cats and humans can’t breed with anything else except humans.

    This really is a contemptible lie propagated by the religious right. There is nothing more disingenuous than to lie about scientific impossibilities to prevent what could be life saving research.

    We’re talking about using ADULT cells, the nucleus of which will be implanted in a sterilised animal egg to grow stem cells.

    Really, if you don’t even know basic biology, what gives you the idea that you can comment productively on cutting edge research.

    On the matter of IVF and the need for both mother and father

    We’re talking about women who don’t want to have sex with a man to get pregnant. Can you how explain how this ISN’T a homosexual issue?

    Rather, they would have had the effect of bouncing women quickly and cheaply through abortion, then leaving them to live forever with a choice they never really had.

    I’ve seen this argument before.

    Women don’t know what they’re doing when they have an abortion…

    This is becomming a more poopular argument. If women KNEW what they were doing they wouldn’t do it. It’s an argument for the basic ignorance of women and it’s an offensive sexist argument.

    Women in fact DO know what they’re doing, and they DON’T need protecting form themselves.

    Abortion causes psychological problems…

    No it doesn’t. It’s a fantasy used by religious people as a fear tactic to terrify women.

    I think it’s better that the woman makes up her own mind with the best medical advice, not propaganda.

    What possible moral justification can there be for deliberately killing a baby capable of being born alive

    24+ weeks is the best medical estimate for the survival of a premature birth. That’s the limit on abortion now.

    The abortion question comes down to this.

    Which is worse. Slavery or an abortion?

    Because if you force women to go to full term without their permission that’s what it is, slavery.

    If you want less abortion, then support comprehensive sex education because it’s been proved to lower the rates of unintended pregnancy, and most abortions are the result of unintended pregnancy.

    As a final note, you take issue with my use of the word ‘unpleasant’. I used it to describe the kind of people such as Nadine Dorries who not only wanted to reduce women’s rights, but is unashamedly cosy with racist and extremist christian groups. If that isn’t ‘unpleasant’ I don’t know what isn’t.

  • Akheloios,

    Just for starters, an extract from the Bill:

    “4A Prohibitions in connection with genetic material not of human origin

    (2) No person shall—
    (a) mix human gametes with animal gametes,
    (b) bring about the creation of a human admixed embryo, or
    (c) keep or use a human admixed embryo,

    except in pursuance of a licence.”

    In other words, the creation of a 50/50 human animal hybrid embryo is no more and no less permitted under this Bill than the so-called ‘cybrid’ embryo on which the public debate was conveniently centred and to which you refer. This is precisely the kind of misleading information to which I was referring earlier. But I don’t blame you. You are meant to believe what you believe. That’s the point.

    It would seem the Bill’s drafters take a different view from you on what is possible.

    Answer me this: Why is 4(A) 2 (a) there?

    See also this:

    And note in particular:

    “Leading scientists say there is no reason why the two species could not breed, although they question why anyone would want to try such a technique.”

    I shan’t answer any of your other points for now. This is taking up too much time. Let’s just see how we get on with this point.

  • I feel sorry for you, you’ve been lied to so many times by the people you seem to trust.

    I give you the most telling quote from the exact article you mention :-

    Owing to the significant differences between human and animal genomes, they are incompatible and the development of a foetus or progeny is impossible

    It’s impossible… go and ask your kid’s school teacher why a human with 46 chromosomes can’t breed with a chimpanzee which has 48 chromosomes, and the chimpanzee is the closest relative we have!

    It’s the cliche of trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. It just doesn’t go.

    As for why that clause is in the Bill, I refer you to Unity’s piece on Liberal Conspiracy. Where the ideological lies of authoritarian christianity are fully exposed. It’s in the second half, so scroll down a bit. It shows you exactly why the arguments against this bill aren’t based in science but in ideological religion.

    It comes down to this, if you have ideological objections to this based on your religion, say so. Don’t be disingenuous and claim that they have ANY basis on scientific or ethical grounds.

  • Akheloios,

    I asked you:

    “Why is 4(A) 2 (a) there?”

    I note you haven’t answered.

    The Scotsman article brings out a clear difference of scientific view. You have quoted from those who believe, like you, that it cannot happen. Where there is a difference of scientific view there is no point hiding behind one of those views to dismiss concerns.

    Further your own Health Spokesman clearly disagrees with your scientific argument. He takes the view that true hybrids should be permitted.


    and I quote:

    “Evan Harris, the Liberal Democrat MP for Oxford West, challenged those who accepted admixed embryos in principle but rejected “true hybrids” to explain the ethical difference between an embryo that was 99 per cent human and one that was 50 per cent human.

    Dawn Primarolo, the Health Minister, agreed: “Once we go down that road it seems illogical to oppose a particular mix.”

    I agree too – once you breach a principle it is hard to hold the line. That is why we should be very careful before we breach a principle.

    Do you still hold that the true hybrid concern is “a contemptible lie propagated by the religious right”?

    A pity you did not provide a link to the piece by Unity. I have not been able to find it.

    This is in danger of turning into a futile “Tis, tisn’t” exchange. So I am out of here and will leave other readers to take what they will from this exchange.

  • Yes, it is one thing to say there will be a true hybrid. As you can make a very compelling case for adding anmal genes to human gametes to cure genetic diseases.

    It’s a completely different thing to say you can mix human gametes directly with with animal gametes. I refer you again to ANY unndergrad biology textbook.

    We have 46 chromosomes, our nearest relative (and most likely breeding partner) would be a chimpanzee, which have 48 chromosomes.

    The last species that humans could successfully breed with was the Neanderthal, and they died out as a species 30,000 years ago.

    The link to unity was included in a hypertext link, but that appears to be disabled on this site. I’ll post it again longhand here

  • Akheloios,

    Ah no. Can’t let you away with that. A true hybrid is, by definition, the result of the mixing of the gametes of two species. It has no other meaning so that is precisely what Evans and Primarolo were referring to in the exchange I quoted above.


    You would also seem to be wrong about the chromosome business. See:
    It seems that the difference in the number of chromosomes does not prevent the creation of a hybrid although it does normally render the resulting hybrid infertile.

    I believe I have now demonstrated beyond doubt that my original claim that permissions in the Bill include 50/50 hybrids is correct and not, as you put it, “a contemptible lie propagated by the religious right”.

  • The Bill legislates against an impossibility, a clause included for who knows what reason, probably to placate some faction or other.

    A 50/50 hybrid is simply impossible. There have been attempts, in the US and the Soviet Union to hybridise humans and chimps and there hasn’t been one scientifically confirmed success.

    The idea that there could be 50/50 hybrids is still therefore a contemptible lie, popularised by the people well versed in dogma but sadly lacking in basic biology.

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