Select Committee on Science and Technology

No. 28A of Session 2006-07 5 April 2007



The Science and Technology Committee has found the Government’s proposals to prohibit the creation of human-animal chimera or hybrid embryos for research to be unacceptable and potentially harmful to UK science.

The Committee’s conclusion comes in its report, published today, into the Government proposals for the regulation of hybrid and chimera embryos.

The Committee’s inquiry was prompted by the coincidence of proposals by the Government for inclusion in its forthcoming draft Bill on the creation of human-animal chimera or hybrid embryos for research purposes with recent applications by scientists to the Human and Embryology Authority (HFEA) for licences to create specific types of such embryos for use in the derivation of stem cells.

On the general issue, the Committee found that the Government’s proposals as set out in a White Paper of December 2006 were too prohibitive and that the promise of future regulation was insufficient.  Instead, the Committee calls for permissive legislation which would allow regulation of research using animal-human hybrid and chimera embryos through licensing.  It should be made clear that existing research practices - essential tools in understanding diseases - will be allowed to continue.  Future research proposals for novel techniques and creation should be subject to approval by Parliament.

The Committee maintains the view of the previous Science and Technology Select Committee that development of human-animal chimera or hybrid embryos past the 14 day stage should be prohibited and that a prohibition should be put in place on the implantation of human-animal chimera or hybrid embryos.

On the current applications, the Committee said that while it recognises the sincere ethical and moral concerns associated with research of this nature, it believes that the use of animal eggs in the creation of cytoplasmic hybrid embryos should be allowed under licence as long as the appropriate regulation was in place. The MPs felt it was a necessary step to overcome the shortage of human eggs available for research and to develop the practical techniques which may be required for eventual production of cell-based therapy.

The Committee strongly criticises the HFEA for not taking a timely decision on processing the applications, thereby delaying the start of this important research.

Greater public confidence in research using animal-human hybrid and chimera embryos is needed and the Committee called on the Government to ensure this is achieved through increased education and dialogue, particularly with respect to moral and ethical concerns.

Commenting on the report, the Chairman of the Science and Technology Committee Phil Willis MP said: “This is a test of the Government’s commitment to science.  Scientists, funders, the regulator and patient interest groups, even the DTI and the Prime Minister, have spoken out against the Department of Health’s proposals.  We very much hope that the Department will listen and reflect the Committee’s conclusions when the draft Tissue and Embryos Bill is published next month.

“We fully appreciate the concerns of those who oppose research into hybrid and chimera embryos - or indeed any human embryos - on moral and ethical grounds, but we feel that it is in the interests of science, the public and the UK that the current applications by King’s College London and Newcastle University should be considered by the HFEA promptly and with due process.”

For media inquiries please call Laura Kibby on 020 7219 0718. For any other information please call Ana Ferreira, on 020 7219 2793. Previous press notices and publications are available on our website.

Notes to editors:

• Under the terms of Standing Order No. 152 the Science and Technology Committee is empowered to examine the “expenditure, policy and administration of the Office of Science and Innovation and its associated public bodies”. The Committee was appointed on 19 July 2005.

• The inquiry, into the Government’s proposals for the regulation of the creation of animal/human hybrid and chimera embryos for research purposes, focused upon the appropriateness of the proposals for legislation in this area as set out in the Government’s recent White Paper, Review of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act: Proposals for revised legislation (including establishment of the Regulatory Authority for Tissue and Embryos) (CM 6989) and on the impact of these proposals upon stem cell research in the UK.

• This inquiry was announced on 10 January 2007 in press notice No 11 of Session 2006-07

• Evidence sessions in this inquiry were held on: Wednesday 31 January when evidence was heard from Dr Lyle Armstrong, Institute of Human Genetics, University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Professor Chris Shaw, Professor of Neurology and Neurogenetics, Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College,  London, Professor Austin Smith, Director, Wellcome Trust Centre for Stem Cell Research, University of Cambridge,  and the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority: Monday 5 February when evidence was heard from: Dr David King, Director, Human Genetics Alert, Dr Calum MacKellar,  Director of Research, Scottish Council on Human Bioethics, The Rt Revd Dr Lee Rayfield, Bishop of Swindon, Dr Simon Denegri, Chief Executive, Association of Medical Research Charities, Emeritus Professor Raanan Gillon, former editor of Journal of Bioethics, Professor Colin Blakemore, Chief Executive, Medical Research Council, Professor Martin Bobrow, Deputy Chairman of the Wellcome Trust, and David Macauley, Chief Executive, UK Stem Cells Foundation: and on Wednesday 28 February when evidence was heard from: Caroline Flint MP, Minister for Public Health and Professor Sir Liam Donaldson, Chief Medical Officer for England, Department of Health

Membership of the Committee

Mr Phil Willis (Lib Dem, Harrogate and Knaresborough)(Chairman)
Adam Afriyie (Con, Windsor)
Mr Robert Flello (Lab, Stoke-on-Trent South)
Linda Gilroy (Lab/Co-op, Plymouth Sutton)
Dr Evan Harris (Lib Dem, Oxford West & Abingdon)
Dr Brian Iddon (Lab, Bolton South East)
Chris Mole (Lab, Ipswich)
Mr Brooks Newmark (Con, Braintree)
Graham Stringer (Lab, Manchester, Blackley)
Bob Spink (Con, Castle Point)
Dr Desmond Turner (Lab, Brighton Kemptown)