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UK Government has 'no intention to revisit' the HFE Act

14 March 2011
Appeared in BioNews 599

Health Minister Earl Frederick Howe has made reassurances that the Government has no intention of revisiting the ethical safeguards in the UK's fertility, embryology and human tissue legislation in the proposed arm's-length body reform process.

Responding to amendments proposed by Baroness Thornton in the House of Lords to effectively put the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) and Human Tissue Authority (HTA) outside the scope of the Government's Public Bodies Bill, Earl Howe said the current ethical framework under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology (HFE) Act and Human Tissue Act was 'necessary to maintain public confidence in these sensitive areas' and would remain untouched. He said that 'future arrangements to regulate tissue and embryos must adhere strictly to the provisions of the two relevant Acts'

Earl Howe explained the inclusion of the HFEA and HTA was necessary to avoid having to introduce further primary legislation. 'Without the inclusion of these bodies... we would have to provide for the transfer of their functions entirely within future primary legislation', he said. 'This would significantly increase the risk that the underlying ethical provisions of the HFE Act and the Human Tissue Act could be reopened for debate'.

Baroness Thornton tabled two amendments to remove the inclusion of the HFEA and HTA from the Bill saying that NHS restructuring proposals meant more time was needed to consider the future of the bodies. Although she admitted there was room for improvement in the work of the HFEA and HTA, Baroness Thornton said the bodies' work is of 'enormous scientific importance'.

She said the current proposals would mean 'both organisations would have their work and their regulation fragmented unnecessarily when they need to be left alone to get on with the jobs that they do very well' and called for a proper period of consultation and scrutiny to precede legislative measures to implement any changes.

Earl Howe also affirmed Government plans to consult on proposals to transfer all of the HFEA and HTA functions to other bodies in the summer before proposing draft orders under the Public Bodies Act, if it becomes law, to implement any such transfer.

Baroness Thornton agreed to withdraw the amendments saying more time was needed to consider Earl Howe's response before the report stage on 23 March, after which the Bill will receive a final reading before going to the House of Commons.

Baroness Thornton's amendments were supported by Lord Warner and Lord Willis of Knaresborough, with Lord Harries of Pentregarth also supporting the removal of the HFEA from the text of the Bill. Lord Warner was the minister responsible for reviewing the Department of Health's arm's-length bodies under the former Labour government in 2004 reducing their number by half. Lord Warner also proposed merging the HFEA and HTA into a single body.

Public Bodies Bill (proposed amendment)
Lords Hansard |  9 March 2011
19 December 2011 - by Sandy Starr 
The Public Bodies Bill - which empowers the UK Government to transfer the functions of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), the country's regulator of fertility treatment and embryo research - has received Royal Assent and has become the Public Bodies Act. This Act represents the realisation in statute of the Coalition Government's longstanding plans for a 'bonfire of the quangos'...
31 October 2011 - by Sandy Starr 
The Public Bodies Bill - which, if passed, will allow the Government to abolish the UK's fertility regulator, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority - has completed its report stage and third reading in the House of Commons...
14 October 2011 - by Sandy Starr 
The future of the UK's fertility regulator has been debated by a House of Commons committee. An amendment to the Public Bodies Bill that, if passed, would have prevented the abolition of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), was proposed but ultimately withdrawn by Labour MP Valerie Vaz...
16 May 2011 - by Julianna Photopoulos 
The UK's House of Lords has voted for the first time on an amendment that, if passed, would have impeded the Government's power to abolish its fertility regulator. The amendment to the Public Bodies Bill, which said the cost-effectiveness of the Conservative-Lib Dem Government's abolition plans must be assessed first, was narrowly defeated...
1 April 2011 - by Sandy Starr 
The proposed abolition of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) was debated yet again in the UK House of Lords on 28 March. Labour peer Baroness Glenys Thornton proposed and withdrew the same amendment to save the HFEA from abolition that she had previously proposed and withdrawn on 9 March....
7 March 2011 - by Professor Anne Kerr 
Past and present members of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) have challenged the UK Government's plans to abolish it. They say it's led to improvements in access to information and choice for patients, and to better treatment and research through careful regulation and inspection. Recently, the HFEA's record of preventing errors has been given as another reason to retain its special role regulating fertility clinics. But what is the evidence...
21 February 2011 - by Chris Chatterton 
The British Fertility Society (BFS), an organisation representing professionals with an interest in reproductive medicine, has announced that it will be sending a questionnaire to all its members concerning the imminent demise of the HFEA (Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority)....
7 February 2011 - by Julianna Photopoulos 
The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) was once again the topic of a debate in the House of Lords on 1 February 2011. Following the proposed abolition of the HFEA and the Human Tissue Authority (HTA), Baroness Glenys Thornton asked how the UK government will maintain public confidence and patient safety....
24 January 2011 - by Sarah Pritchard 
'We trained hard, but it seemed that every time we began to form into teams we were reorganised. I was to learn later in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganising. And a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency and demoralisation' - quoted by Professor Robin Lovell-Badge. The Progress Educational Trust and Anne Mclaren Memorial Fund organised a debate last week...
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