THE RECENT PASSAGE through Parliament of the statutory instrument legalising experiments on stem cells derived from cloned human embryos was characterised, in the view of many, by spin, political manipulation, histrionics, and anti-religious religious bigotry.
It was also, perhaps, marked most starkly by the unusual sense of urgency with which the Government sought to push through changes to British law which involved such deep and complex moral issues. "What's the hurry'?" asked Baroness Warnock, a moral philosopher hardly renowned for her pro-life sympathies. This week, David Amess, MP for Southend West, has gone one step further, demanding an answer to the question of what, precisely, is driving this headlong pressure for human cloning.
These questions must now be answered. New Labour, it is clear, has a close relationship with many in the booming biotechnology industry. It is no secret that the Prime Minister prides himself on a general solicitude for the private sector; but he appears to have a particular enthusiasm for this particular part of it: a number of key figures in the bio-tech world have been ennobled or otherwise honoured since Mr Blair came to office.
It is also true that some of them have given money to the Labour Party. Venture capitalist Sir Ronald Cohen, whose firm has invested in the company that cloned Dolly the sheep, made headlines last year when he was knighted, three years after giving New Labour £100,000. Sir Christopher Evans, who has made £130m out of the bio-tech industry, has received an OBE and a knighthood since Mr Blair took up office. He has also given more than £5,000 (perhaps, we do not know. a significant amount more) to the Labour Party, on a number of occasions.
None of this, it is important to make clear, implies any dishonourable motive on the part of these individuals. It would be quite wrong to assume that they have contributed to the Labour Party on the understanding that this government would press ahead with legislation designed to further their commercial objectives.
It has to be said, nevertheless, that on the Government's part there appears to be developing a habit of pressing ahead with legislative measures which, on the face of it, might be thought exactly calculated to please their benefactors. Why, for instance, when there is no pressing need to legislate to abolish foxhunting, has the Government used up precious parliamentary time for an anti-hunting Bill? Could there be any connection with an extremely expensive reception at the Labour Party conference, funded by the League Against Cruel Sports and the International Fund for Animal Welfare? Why did the Government allow Formula One to continue advertising cigarettes on their motor cars? Few believe that the decision had nothing to do with a gift to the party, by the racing tycoon Bernie Ecclestone, of £1 million.
How much has the Labour Party received from individuals who stand to gain from the scientific discoveries that may now be the consequence of the Government's legalisation of "therapeutic" human cloning? That is a question to which we are now entitled to an answer.
The public, despite the political history of the last 10 years, expects — or at least hopes — that senior politicians will decide policy and formulate legislation on the basis of high moral standards and noble principles. But how can we believe that this is what is now happening when contentious laws are pushed through with an indecent haste which has no other apparent explanation than a political culture which depends heavily for its financial viability on large gifts from wealthy men who, no matter how free they are personally of any dishonourable motive, are unlikely to discourage a government so keen to further their commercial interests?
THANKFULLY, the ProLife Alliance has succeeded in being granted a judicial review of the way in which the Government attempted to steamroll changes to the law on human cloning through the Houses of Parliament as an unamendable order rather than as normal primary legislation, subject to the usual public consultation, detailed scrutiny, debate, and open to amendments by members of either House.
In the meantime, the members of the promised select committee of the House of Lords, which will be set up to scrutinise human cloning, could do well to take a long careful look at the reasons for the Government's extreme legislative haste.
David Amess was right to demand an explanation of the Government's conduct in this area. It is now up to Mr Blair to prove to the electorate that British laws are not up for sale to the highest bidder in United Kingdom plc.