Monday, March 24, 2008

One Hellish Choice.

MPs are paid more than AMs, and the last few days have helped me understand why. Not because they work harder, or longer. Its because they have more responsibility and have to take more difficult decisions. I was an Assembly Member for 8 years and I always voted as instructed by the 'whip'. Didn't always agree, but never felt sufficiently strongly to rebel. The issues just didn't seem important enough to break the whip.

But I try to imagine being in the House of Commons when the Embryology Bill is being debated. First problem would be deciding which way to vote. At present, I have no idea which way I'd go. I'm very supportive of research which could help people who suffer from neurological diseases, such as Motor Neurone Disease and Parkinson's Disease, and we're assured that the creation of part human, part animal embryos for use in stem cell research could bring major scientific advances. And yet. And yet. The thought of giving scientists the freedom to create these embryos fills me with horror. Mind you, I daresay rogue scientists will create them illegally, whatever's decided. (Been reading too much Dan Brown. This is absolutely 'Angels and Demons'). And another thing. If I was faced with a vote on lowering the legal time limit for abortion to 20 weeks, I would be in the lobby with Nadine Dorries, no matter what instruction I received. I know that the Conservatives are being given a 'free vote' on this Bill, but it does bring home to me the sort of responsibility that comes with being an MP. That's if you take the job seriously of course.

Suddenly, being an MP seems a much more difficult job. Can I just add that I greatly sympathise with Secretary of State for Wales, Paul Murphy. It would be tough enough for me , and I'm not a Catholic.


Alison said...

Off the top of my head, human-animal hybrids have to be destroyed after 14 days. To base policy on media spin is not sound.

There's some other serious clauses in the Bill, which needs consideration. I'm currently objecting to 14(4)(9) (was at a meeting with the Bill's drafters at the DoH last week). It states that donors or embryos with non serious conditions must always be preferred. To me, this is a step towards eugenic practices.

You may have caught some of the media that all deaf people are deliberately out to create deaf babies, and make the entire world deaf. Which is not true, but this kind of media hysteria is what is driving policy.

The problem with current government policy is there has been NO consultation with the deaf community (a legal obligation under the Disability Equality Duty), and the policy within the Bill has been based solely on media spin / prejudice.

This clause does not just affect deaf donors, but e.g. if you have severe refractive errors, i.e. need to wear glasses, it could have implications on whether or not you can become a donor through a clinic. (Current guidance says no).

Steffan said...

I don't wish to be too cynical but surely the only decision being made by such as Paul Murphy is purely whether to obey the orders of his party or the current doctrine of his church. Of course it's much easier for MP's like Wayne David who only have the one master to serve but I really don't see much individuality or conviction at Westminster.

Ted said...

"Not because they work harder, or longer."
I think you will find that they spend more time in Parliament that an assembly member spends time in Cardiff for one point.
The assembly budget is no more than the Governmnet has bailed Northern Rock our for, I think that puts it in to some perspective.

"The issues just didn't seem important enough to break the whip."
Your words Glyn.

Glyn Davies said...

alison - 14 days today, 28 tomorrow and then.... I accept that there are many sensible proposals in this Bill, but they cannot be covered in a blog post. I just picked on two of the most difficlt.
The issue to which you object seems on the face of it to be sensible, but like me you don't trust where the scientists will take this in the future.

steffan - I suspect that Paul has a conscience that's troubling him over this issue. Anyway, a conflict of loyalties is very important for a Minister. If he decided he had to break the whip, he would also have to resign.

ted - so what's your point. Politicians work when they are in their constituencies, and you hugely understate the comparison twixt the Assembly budget and the Northern Rock exposure. I take it that repeating my words signals agrement.

Fatboy Slim said...

Nice to see the Assembly is to ban mars bars from local hospitals. Another major blow to obesity in Wales. I can't wait for the next part of the strategy which I understand is the launch of Edwina Hart's new exercise dvd.

Anonymous said...

MPs certainly don't work longer or harder - witness the behaviour of your local MP in Montgomeryshire! Though reading the whitewash in the Powys County Times on line, you could be forgiven for thinking that this was actually a man of substance......Boy have you got them on the backfoot Glyn!

Anonymous said...

why base it on moral choice Glyn, the vote is about political control (from the PM) and jobs and money as this type of science creates highly paid jobs in Wales and the UK and i would ask those who don't support it what jobs or industry are we going to replace the science with?

Im afraid nobody has the moral high ground especially the Catholic Church or Church of England and it all sounds so desperate because they lost the arguments over creating the embryos in the first place.

Dr. Christopher Wood said...

The 14 day limitation on cell division is a red herring.

That a fourteen day limitation or any kind of "time limitation" on the life of a new human-animal species is sufficient grounds to merit creating new human-animal species is just plain silly for all sorts of reasons - for one there is no way we can keep such stuff in the lab - most of the labs in universities are as leaky as a spreading cow muck on a field.

I support genetically modified food crops - because leakage of DNA from the fields is essentially a non-issue, nature mixes up plant DNA at a far greater rate than mankind ever can. Plant species have the innate ability to grow with a mix of genotypes - a cutting from one plant with a different genotype can be added to a different plant with a different genotype - and yet grow quite happily with a mixed genotype - ordinary people use "cuttings" like this in their green houses.

Animal life is not so accommodating. We mix our genotype with animal genotype at our peril. We also introduce hidden diseases into the human genome - it is one thing putting a pig's heart into a human needing a new heart, but an entirely different thing to mixing pig DNA with human DNA at the sub cellular level. We can eat porcine DNA because we break it down into its constituent parts, so we destroy the DNA sequences; it is the DNA sequences (not the individual nucleotides, that come from foreign DNA) that once introduced into the human genome at the sub cellular level that poses the gravest risks for mankind. We are creating a bomb that can destroy our very existence as human kind. This technology might well help some medical conditions, but the flip side is too awful to imagine for human kind.

The 14 day limitation on cell division is a red herring.

Owain Cwmtwrch said...

But shouldn't elected members of parliament remember that it was their party and more importantly the people that got them elected and not the Vatican!

Anonymous said...

It's the clunking fist! MPs are elected as individuals, not mere agents of the party. Brown would rather have 350 rosette-toting nameless Brownite droids than people with brains and consciences.

Glyn Davies said...

Fatboy slim - The thing that worries me most about this is where it stops. Are the League of Friends shops and tearooms going to banned fron selling buscuits, cakes and flapjacks as well. I can well understand why a hospital's management might want to ban sale of confectionary, but its a matter for them. I just don't like these Government dictats.

anon 1 - I don't think we should assume that all MPs or AMs are the same.

anon 2 - Political control, jobs and prosperity are all important issues, but they are not everything. Man doae not live by bread alone and all that. I don't think that an MP should act as 'an agent' for any Church, but I do like my MP to base their approach to politics on a genuinely held set of beliefs - even when I disagree with some of them!

christopher - I share your cynicism about the 14 day rule.

owain - its probably more a loyalty to conscience and belief than to 'The Vatican' as you put it - even if these things are connected.

newwelshright - MPs are indeed elected as individuals, but most would not have been successful without the party label. In my opinion there must be a general commitment to supporting the party, but sometimes, the interests of the constituency or personal beliefs will override. Sometimes, I can envisage an MP having to sacrifice a political career because of this conflict.

Howard of Effingham said...

The whole controversy is yet another example of how British politcs is so different from European. In Europe where there are Christain Democrat Parties Blair and other politicians on the Christian right would not have touched the Labour party with a barge pole. Socialist and radical parties on the continent would expell members who toed the Vatican rather than the progressive line on bills such as this. It was in the Labour party manifesto in 2005. You can't pick and chose in politics and you can't have cabinet members voting aginst a manifesto commitment. What is worrying is that some politicians seem more prepared to accept the mumbo jumbo from a few old bachelors rather than support a measure which could help their fellow human beings. What is really stupid is that if the Pope told them it was all OK they would then troop into the 'yes' lobby without a care in the world. To think that 4 centuries ago Britons died to stop this nonsense ever reaching our shores. Where are Drake and Raleigh when you need them!

frankie said...

Perhaps if the doubters among you had witnessed first hand the ravages of MND and Parkinson's disease, they just might be more open minded about embryo research.
As an atheist, I do not believe that human life is so sacred. Anything - but anything that could help find a cure for these 2 hideous diseases, gets my vote.

Remember, we are talking about cells, not a human being.

Anonymous said...

"Not because they work harder, or longer."

They actually do work much harder and much longer. Their work is also considerably more rigorous intellectually and, as you say, they have a lot more responsibility.

Assembly members are one rung up from county councillors. Nothing wrong with that, but they should acknowledge it.

Glyn Davies said...

Howard and Frankie - Oh to be so certain. I don't think anyone opposes the principle of a bill to update legislation in the embryology field - but there are bits in it that many, including me feel uneasy about. You are right though about Cabinet Ministers having to accept Government Bills - which is why 3 would have had to resign if Gordon Brown had not backed down.

Anon - You are entitled to your opinion. I don't agree with the assumption that MPs work longer or harder than AMs. From personal experience, I do not accept that my MP worked anything like as long or hard as I did when I was an AM, though he may think the opposite of course. They are required to carry much greater responsibility and, in my opinion, take more difficult decisions, which is why they are rightly paid more. And you seem to have a disparaging tone about the work of coucillors, which I don't share. One of the most regretable features of devolution is the way that the Assembly has removed responsibility from councillors, through prescription and ring-fencing of finance.

Anonymous said...

"you seem to have a disparaging tone about the work of coucillors"

I certainly don't. County councillors are a vital and important past of our democracy and have been progressively undermined by the assembly.

Dr. Christopher Wood said...

Frankie> my PhD was devoted to chemical 3D modeling of the human dopamine receptors (D1 through D5). I gave up three years of my life to that project, moved away from my family, and made a lot of personal sacrifices and in the end worn down financially to the point I couldn't stay in the field and took up law. There is a saying in personal injury law, it goes something like "emotional cases make for bad decisions (law making)"; meaning we need to be careful before setting out on a road where unintentional consequences cause far more harm than the harm we sought to fix.

Risking the whole human race by building what amounts to a genetic time bomb at the sub cellular level using those with serious health issues as the driving force is ... "insane".

We are messing here with man's genetic future - the law of unintentional consequences might well mean the end of the human race - each time we create a new man-animal species we risk our own destruction as THE human race.

Think about it, man-animal with human nuclear DNA and lizard mitochondria DNA ... man-chicken species, man-x,y,zee ... man-dog, man-rabbit ... man-cow. Combine this mixing of man-animal DNA at the sub cellular level with emerging cloning technology and we have the recipe for new species with the brain power of a human mixed with the speed and stamina of a thorough-breed racing horse - just who do you think will win in a man v. man-horse face to face fight?

You still think its worth risking Mankind's very existence?

Our current standing is governed by which side won in such and such battle on a battle field.

Once we have human-animal mothers giving birth to offspring we will be essentially doomed to warfare with a novel "man-animal" species. The mother's mitochondria will enter the human genome 'changing it for ever', unless we hunt down and totally destroy every mother with the animal mitochondria in her egg cells - it will be that dirty, that awful - too awful to contemplate, we must not risk the entire human race to cure what are admittedly difficult and awful diseases - and anyway, we have adult stem cells which have already been used to help cure patients with, for example, scarred heart tissue. Adult stem cell technology is working wonders - and immune rejection problems are not a serious issue, patients don't live in fear of rejecting the stem cells as the stem cells have idential DNA to their own cells.

… and on that note, a message from W&E …

Let Wood & Eisenberg, PLLC open your door to the HUGE USA market: mechanical, chemical processes, biotech, software control patents and trademarks on the doorstep of the United States Patent and Trademark Office!

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Billy King said...

Oh my, not more of that spam stuff.
Why do you allow adverts on this Glyn??

Anonymous said...

Billy can shut up. Dr. Wood has a lot of interesting points. This is Glyn's blog afterall. The anonymous posters are annoying.

Anonymous said...

I happen to know Dr. Wood - he is a fine Welshman who went to America (not by choice) who against stiff odds got a law degree from an American graduate school and went on to become a lawyer - in just six years while working full time. He made senior partner and started his own law firm on the east coast in just 7 or 8 years. I know for a fact that he has over 200 clients and does not need work from Wales - but he knows he can help Welsh businesses do well in the USA and that is why he is pushing himself on Glyn's blog and in other ways to help. He's a shy guy, but very intelligent and very focused, from a less than rich background. Against all odds he is doing brilliantly and wants to help other Welsh people do the same. Just ask him.

Anwen L said...

"I do not accept that my MP worked anything like as long or hard as I did when I was an AM,"
We are not talking about the odd rogue MP, the rest of us are talking on the whole.
My MP, leaves on a sunday evening and gets back home on a Thursday.
I know because my brother also for his own reasons has to travel on a sunday, and always see him on the train.
On the other hand, I happen to know my assembly members wife, and boy o boy what a lazy greedy person he is, i could prove to you a few things, but best leave sleeping dogs, or in his case assembly members lie!

Anwen L said...

"firm on the east coast in just 7 or 8 years. I know for a fact that he has over 200 clients "
hardly a vote of confidence in the mans firm that!

Glyn Davies said...

Hello. Do you mind if I have a word. Or has this blog been taken over!

Anwen - You are right. It varies, depending on the individual. But, I do not think time spent away from home signified how hard a representative works. It depends how the workload is arranged. When I was an AM, I would travel down very early on a Tuesday and return home late on a Wednesday of Thursday afternoon, as a general practice. I had established my consituency office in our home, and was able to work from there for the rest of the week. Assembly Members are confined to Cardiff for longer since last May, but still not as long or as unpredictable as MPs are confined to London.

Anonymous said...

"It would be tough enough for me , and I'm not a Catholic."

Why do you think that ethical decisions are tougher for Catholics?

Glyn Davies said...

I don't in general, but in this instance, it is particularly difficult for Catholics because their church leaders have taken such a public and prominant stance on the issue.

Dr. Christopher Wood said...

Neither am I Catholic (became a member of the Church of Scotland while doing a PhD in chemistry at Glasgow University) and was baptised some years previously at Calvary Baptist Church in the Canton area of Cardiff. I did attend a Catholic University in Chicago, apparently its one of the largest Catholic Universities in the USA, not that the university imposed Catholic views on anyone, people of all religions attended the university.

I just think its admirable that the Catholic Church has taken a strong stance on this issue and is willing to 'shout from the roof-tops'. I suppose we should recognize that the Primate of all England (the chief religious figure in the Church of England, Dr. Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury) has added his voice - but in my humble opinion his voice has been somewhat compromised of late and easily ignored by Gordon Brown whose recent faint praise of D. Rowan Williams didn't help much.