Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill

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The May 2008 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill was revision and updating of legislation for assisted reproduction, and also changed the regulation and licensing of the use of embryos in research and therapy. The Bill included provision for research on different types of embryos, and proposes changes to definitions of legal parenthood for cases involving assisted reproduction.

House of Commons stage

The Bill was read for the first time in the Commons on 5 February 2008 and published the following day as HL Bill 70. Explanatory Notes to this are available.The Second Reading was on 12 May 2008 at which time the Secretary of State for Health, Alan Johnson, set out the aim of the Bill.

"The purpose of the Bill is to ensure that the 1990 Act is revised to keep pace with new avenues of scientific research and to reflect wider change in our society. As with the 1990 Act, the Bill has been the subject of careful consideration and lengthy consultation involving the public, scientists, faith groups and, of course, Members from both sides of the House and from the other place.

In 2004, following reports by the Science and Technology Committee and the expert group convened by the Government to consider how existing legislation could accommodate and regulate new developments in stem cell research, we announced a review of the 1990 Act. A public consultation then took place in 2005, which led to a White Paper in December 2006. The Bill was then published in draft form for scrutiny by a Joint Committee drawn from both Houses. I am grateful to all the right hon. and hon. Members of this House and noble Lords and Ladies from the other place who have given this Bill the benefit of their expertise, including, of course, Baroness Warnock herself, who continues to keep a close eye on the legislation that she so skilfully instigated."

Free Votes

Members from all sides of the House called for free votes on all sections of the Bill. In particular, pressure from Catholic Labour Members, calling for a free vote, was reported in the press[1].


The Government did not seek to change the abortion laws using the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill. However, amendments to abortion law could have been accepted during the passage of the Bill, as the Abortion Act 1967 was amended by the HFE Act7 which the Bill is to amend. During the Committee of the whole House the legislation was not changed.

Four votes were held on abortion time limits.


The majority of the Act's provisions will come into force in October 2009, with the provisions relating to parenthood commencing in April 2009. Commencement will include public consultation and Parliamentary debate on the affirmative regulations.