III MP queries PM's gene business links • 'Who drives pressure for cloning?'
By Simon Caldwell NEW LABOUR has been asked to explain its relations with the bio-tech industry in the wake of its drive to legalise human cloning.
Written questions have been tabled in the House of Commons by David Amess, the Conservative MP for Southend West, asking the Prime Minister what advice he has received about stem cell techniques, cloning and biotechnology from selfmade multi-millionaire Sir Christopher Evans, who has been described as "Europe's leading biotechnology entrepreneur".
Mr Amess, a Catholic. has also asked Health Secretary Alan Milburn "what information his department collects on companies involved in germ line therapy, stem cell techniques and transgenic technologies".
His questions come amid mounting concern about the speed with which cloning legislation has gone through Parliament and about Labour's relationship with the £70bn bio-tech industry. Mr
Amess also asked Mr Blair why he refused to meet religious leaders in the run up to the Lords' vote. None of his questions so far has been answered.
The party, which is still reeling from the Hinduja scandal that saw the shock departure of Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Mandelson, is now facing further questions about its relationships with business.
"Who is driving this pressure for cloning?" Mr Amess asked, in an interview with The Catholic Herald. "We now have a number of new members of the House of Lords with direct interests in these issues. They have recently
— within the last two years — been appointed by the incumbent at 10 Downing Street. The general public, who I believe are over whelmingly against cloning, know it's wrong. A full independent inquiry needs to be launched immediately to investigate the link between the rush toward cloning and who stands to benefit from it." The first of Mr Amess's parliamentary questions refers directly to Sir Christopher, who is worth about £130m and who has contributed more than £5,000 to the Labour Party in two consecutive years.
He received an OBE and, most recently, his knighthood for his services to the bio-tech industry and is believed to visit the Prime Minister regularly as a member of his Council for Science and Technology.
Among a wide range of bio-tech business interests, Sir Christopher is the creator of Britain's first neuroscience company, Cerebrus, just one firm which could benefit from the change in the law on human cloning.
Pro-life groups such as Life are also concerned to know more about the Government's links with such individuals as venture capitalist Sir Ronald Cohen, who was knighted last year, and patents specialist Dr Nick ScottRam, who was given an MBE in the 2000 New Year Honours List for services to biotechnology.
Sir Ronald, described by The Daily Mail as belonging to "the Blairite new establishment", gave £100,000 to the Labour Party before the 1997 General Election and chairs a company called Apax Partners Venture Holdings Limited, which, among other interests, has invested in PPL Therapeutics, the bin-tech firm that cloned Dolly the sheep.
Dr Scott-Ram has chaired committees on intellectual property and regulating affairs for the Biolndustry Association, an organisation which vigorously supported moves to legalise cloning.
An unconfirmed report suggested he was a Labour supporter but he does not appear on the list of those who have given £5,000 or more to the party.
There is no evidence to suggest any of Sir Christopher's, Sir Ronald's or Dr Scott-Ram's business or professional interests have not been properly declared.
Labour peers who support cloning include Lord Winston — who admitted during the Lords' debate to owning four patents in stem cell and reproductive technologies — and the outspoken Science Minister, Lord Sainsbury, who gave flm to the Labour Party at the last election.
Lord Sainsbury put the case for cloning at a Labour fringe meeting in October when he shared a platform with Simon Best, managing director of Geron Bto-Med, the company that took over the Roslin Institute, which cloned Dolly the sheep.
Geron saw its share price leap by seven per cent the day after the Lords approved government regulations to permit the practice of human cloning.
A spokesman for the Prime Minister said Mr Arness's questions would get a response. "If questions are put down they are answered," he said. "I am not going to answer them for him — it will be the case that the House will hear those answers first."
Meanwhile, the ProLife Alliance has succeeded in bringing a judicial review of the decision by Parliament to legalise human cloning which is likely to go ahead on June 15.
Sir Christopher, Sir Ronald and Dr Scott-Ram were unavailable for comment as The Catholic Herald went to press.
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