The leader of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland yesterday called for an independent ethical commission to examine the government's controversial embryo research plans.

At a public meeting in Kirkcaldy, Cardinal Keith O'Brien, who earlier this week had an operation to have a heart pacemaker fitted, said he would sit down with scientists over the debate - but only on the condition that the experts accept religious instruction.

He has been fiercely critical of proposals for the creation of human-animal hybrid embryos in the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, describing the plans as "monstrous".

The move to meet scientists was brokered by Jim Devine, Labour MP for Livingston, who said he was worried about the tone of the debate and offered to act as a mediator.

Mr Devine said yesterday that he was "delighted" Cardinal O'Brien had agreed to talks with the scientists, who have also welcomed the move.

Cardinal O'Brien said: "I have been approached by MPs and asked by others in the media to consider meeting with leading scientists who are currently involved in this area.

"I would be only too happy to agree to such a meeting and I am sure other church representatives and leaders of other faiths would also agree.

"In agreeing to such a meeting my only condition would be that the scientists were also willing to accept instruction from our churches and peoples of faith on basic morality, on what human life really is, on the purpose of our life on Earth and so on.

"I would ask them to be open to considering the great major questions concerning life in all its aspects which have concerned man quite literally since the beginning of time. I would also urge them to accept the case for a single permanent statutory national bioethics commission.

"This would be a body which would engage with public concerns and inform parliament on complex ethical questions.

"I see it as quite unacceptable that matters of such immense public concern are left to a simple vote by members of parliament, who sometimes are not able to have a free conscience vote and in other cases are voting without a full understanding of the magnitude of the issue under consideration."

Mr Devine responded: "I have been in touch with representatives of the scientists and they have stated they would be happy to meet with the cardinal and his representatives here in Scotland."

Professor Colin Blakemore, former head of the Medical Research Council, said: "I am delighted Cardinal O'Brien has taken up our offer as it seems likely that other religious leaders will. I hope we can all enter into this dialogue with a shared willingness to listen to each other.

"I hope the Church will accept that even scientists that do no profess religious beliefs do still have a strong moral compass. Indeed, it is exactly what drives many of us to search for treatments for incurable diseases."

Dr Stephen Minger, a stem-cell biologist at King's College London, who launched a strong defence of the plans earlier this week, said: "This is great news. We, as a scientific community, are keen to engage with all perspectives on this work to encourage the discussions to move forward. We would like to see an ongoing dialogue that is based on an open exchange of ideas."

In his Easter Sunday sermon, Cardinal O'Brien claimed such legislation, which supporters claim could help find cures for diseases such as Alzheimer's disease and multiple sclerosis, could lead to experiments of "Frankenstein proportion".

Yesterday's public meeting took place in the hall at St Bryce Kirk, the church where Prime Minister Gordon Brown's father, a Church of Scotland minister, preached.