A controversial Italian fertility doctor is to seek permission to experiment into human cloning in Britain.

Professor Severino Antinori will ask the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) to let him conduct tests that might one day allow men unable to become fathers through natural methods to have children that are clones of themselves.

Professor Antinori, who has been banned from taking part in a debate on cloning at the Royal Society of Edinburgh today, called for an open discussion of the method as a solution to falling birthrates in the developed world.

In a letter to The Sunday Herald in Glasgow, Professor Antinori and his American collaborator Dr Zanos Pavos ask: "How can this be described as a debate? It is a monologue."

He says they will be demanding an explanation from the HFEA for its refusal to allow experimental human cloning. "Since our announcement in January that we intend to use reproductive cloning as a means to help infertile couples, we have received nothing but opposition from those in the animal cloning field," he says.

The gynaecologist, who is based in Rome, said he wanted to work in Britain because it had the best laboratories and experts who led the field in human fertility.

If his application is refused, Professor Antinori intends to look for a secret location in Europe or Asia that can accommodate his plans. He was denounced by the Pope when he helped post-menopausal women to conceive.

The anti-abortion campaigners the Pro Life Alliance applied to the High Court last week for a blanket ban on the cloning of humans for medical research.

The HFEA said it was unlikely to approve the application by Professor Antinori. A spokesman said: "We have clearly stated that we will not allow human reproductive cloning in the UK. We don't want it and the British public don't want it. Any application he were to make to us is highly unlikely to be successful."

He added: "The UK was one of the first countries in the world to regulate IVF treatment and we have one of the strictest controls in the world."