Tuesday 22 January 2008

Lords must reject bill before the government makes it even worse

The importance of radical opposition to the government's Human Fertilisation and Embryology bill continues to impress itself as the plot unfolds. Last night the House of Lords again considered amendments to the bill, the second day of the bill's Report stage. Peers from across the House tabled amendments seeking, in the most modest way, certain ethical constraints upon the bill. One of those amendments tried to retain within the Bill a modicum of respect for the role of fathers. The government rejected even such a timid amendment and the House followed suit by voting against it.

A disturbing amendment from the pro-embryo research lobby however, seeking to loosen ethical constraints, was ostensibly resisted by the government but with sympathetic noises and comforting reservations. Lord Patel, a leading pro-cloning peer, promoted an amendment to permit the creation of cloned embryos from cells donated in the past, where the donors have not been informed of any possibility of their being cloned. Baroness Royall, the Government spokeswoman, started off by opposing the amendment but then promised to go away, reflect on the matter to find a way to accommodate it if possible and return with any possible solution.

Those moving more ethically-conscious amendments don't have the force of numbers to get the government to accept any major ethical constraints on the bill. What is there left to do? Only to maintain a radical, principled opposition that sends the message to the government and parliamentarians that the bill is evil. The mock battle between the government and the embryo-research lobby must be seen for what it is - just an exercise in passing the buck.

At the bill's forthcoming Third Reading its critics should join together to try to stop it before it reaches the House of Commons. Some of them will baulk at this, pleading that the unelected House of Lords must hand the bill over to the elected House of Commons, or that the House of Lords is just a revising chamber and so it shouldn't block government bills. Yet Parliamentary convention won't stop the government continuing to sanction the killing of the innocent. That will only stop when enough parliamentarians are pro-life enough to stand and oppose it.