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House of Lords debates amendments to Public Bodies Bill

16 May 2011
Appeared in BioNews 607

The UK's House of Lords has voted on an amendment to the Public Bodies Bill that, if passed, would have impeded the Government's power to abolish its fertility regulator. The amendment, which would have prevented the abolition of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) until the cost-effectiveness of such a move had been independently assessed, was narrowly defeated. There were 199 votes in favour of the amendment and 209 against. Two related amendments concerning the HFEA were also debated.

Previously, Labour Peer Glenys Thornton had proposed amendments to the Bill that would have protected the HFEA's powers from modification or transfer. She subsequently withdrew these, following assurances from Conservative Health Minister Frederick Howe. Crossbench Peer Ruth Deech, a former Chair of the HFEA, introduced this latest debate, saying: 'The HFEA and the Human Tissue Authority (HTA) should remain untouched until a new research regulatory body is in place'. In the meantime: 'There should be a wholly independent external review of the HFEA'.

She said: 'I am seeking to preserve it from being shattered and to prevent lasting damage being caused'. She also argued: 'There is no practical benefit in abolishing the HFEA and handing its responsibilities over to the Care Quality Commission'. The Care Quality Commission regulates health and social care services in England.

Baroness Deech's arguments for the amendments were echoed by several Peers. Labour Peer Diana Warwick said: 'These amendments are necessary and will act as a safety framework for the Bill as it enters the other place and then goes onwards for external consultation'. (The 'other place' is the House of Commons.) She also urged the Government to consider conducting a full assessment of its plans for the HFEA.

The Bishop of Guildford, Christopher Hill, said the amendments 'would guarantee in one way or another that the enormously valuable work of the present ethics committee of the two bodies is continued'. Lord Hill is concerned about maintaining the special moral status of the human embryo.

IVF specialist Lord Robert Winston expressed his concerns that the HFEA had not tackled the high cost of IVF treatment. He said: 'One of the greatest ethical issues involved in this treatment is its lack of accessibility'. He went on to say: 'This privileged treatment is a shocking issue'.

Baroness Thornton responded to Lord Winston and other peers' concerns by saying: 'There is no guarantee that their concerns about the HFEA, which I am sure are legitimate, would be addressed if we left the Bill as it is without the reassurances'.

In response to the debate, Earl Howe said: 'There will be a full public consultation on our proposals this summer. Alongside that, we will publish an impact assessment, which will include a view about the cost-effectiveness of options for transferring functions'.

3 September 2012 - by Henny Braund 
The political debate around the Government's Arm's-Length Body Review has centred on whether any change will deliver greater accountability, financial efficiencies or cuts to services. For Anthony Nolan, a charity that helps provide stem cells for patients who need life-saving transplants, the review is more nuanced...
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...
24 October 2011 - by Dr Djuke Veldhuis 
Should women who choose their career first, and children second, be allowed to receive IVF on the NHS at an age when some would consider it 'unnatural'? Now ask whether it's acceptable for young soldiers fighting in Afghanistan to store their sperm in case they don't come back. And the questions surrounding reproductive medicine don't end there: after insemination, how much screening or manipulation of genetic material is reasonable?...
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...
3 May 2011 - by Professor Eric Blyth 
During its 20-year history, the UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has notched up significant achievements in the regulation of assisted human reproduction that have rightly drawn respect worldwide. An important characteristic of the HFEA's approach to regulation has been its use of public consultations to inform policy development...
14 March 2011 - by Ann Furedi 
From March 2002 until June 2003, I worked for the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) - first as Director of Communications and then I acquired responsibility for policy and governance...
14 March 2011 - by Antony Starza-Allen 
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....
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)....
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