Brown Bows to Pressure over Embryology Vote; POLITICS

The Birmingham Post (England), March 26, 2008 | Go to article overview

Brown Bows to Pressure over Embryology Vote; POLITICS


Byline: By James Tapsfield and Joe Churcher

Gordon Brown last night bowed to pressure for a free vote on controversial embryology laws but called on MPs to back the "vital" measures.

Amid objections from senior Cabinet members and church leaders, the Prime Minister announced that individuals would be allowed to follow their conscience on crucial elements of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill.

Downing Street insisted the decision had been taken after "consultation" with colleagues. But it is thought several key Labour figures who are Catholic including Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly, Defence Secretary Des Browne and Welsh Secretary Paul Murphy had indicated they may resign over the issue.

Setting out a compromise solution yesterday, Mr Brown said there would be free votes on three clauses, including the most hotly-disputed - allowing scientists to create "admix" embryos with human DNA and animal cells.

"I have always said that although I attach huge importance to this legislation - in saving lives and helping to cure and treat diseases - that we will respect the conscience of every Member of Parliament as they decide how to cast their vote in this," he added.

However, Mr Brown stressed that his MPs would still be ordered to back the Bill as a whole because it was "necessary" to create an "ethical framework for the development of embryo research" in Britain.

And, in a letter sent to all Labour MPs last night, the Premier insisted he personally would support every part of the legislation.

"I am also reassured that leading doctors and scientists do not believe they should operate in the absence of clear rules, but they believe that theirs is an inherently moral endeavour, that they can save and improve the lives of thousands and over time, millions of people, and that they can combine this work with a deep commitment to the highest ethical standards and a sincere respect for religious beliefs," he wrote.

The Bill, which updates legislation initially passed in 1990, will expand the scope of embryo research in a number of areas.

Backers regard it as vital for progress in treating and preventing conditions such as Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, cancer and heart disease. …

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