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House of Commons debates amendments to Public Bodies Bill

14 October 2011
Appeared in BioNews 629

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have prevented the abolition of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), was proposed but ultimately withdrawn by Valerie Vaz (Labour MP for Walsall South). A related amendment, which would have ensured that the HFEA could only be abolished if doing so was demonstrably cost-effective and 'would deliver a net benefit', was also discussed. This was proposed by Roberta Blackman-Woods (Labour MP for Durham) and Jon Trickett (Labour MP for Hemsworth in West Yorkshire).

Vaz opened the debate by arguing that the HFEA is 'astonished to be in the Bill', and said that if the HFEA's functions are transferred to other organisations then 'we will not get the full range of expertise; we will get a subcommittee that does not really know what is happening in the discussions that are going on'. An example Vaz gave of a specific issue that the HFEA is better placed to handle than other organisations was 'the difficulties experienced by women in multiple births where more than one embryo has been implanted'.

David Heath (Deputy Leader of the House of Commons and Liberal Democrat MP for Somerton and Frome) responded to Vaz, arguing that the HFEA's 'astonishment must have been qualified, surely, by the consultation that had already taken place'. Heath explained that the Public Bodies Bill does not in itself constitute the abolition of the HFEA, but rather is 'paving legislation for a subsequent decision that may involve a number of iterations and will certainly involve consultation'. In his capacity as a representative of the Coalition Government, Heath said: 'Our objective is to streamline healthcare and medical research regulation and reduce bureaucracy; we take the view that we cannot simply continue with the current system of regulation'.

Trickett questioned whether such 'administrative' thinking could be applied to 'the most sensitive and delicate ethical matters imaginable, such as the creation of life'. Heath reassured Trickett that 'we are deliberately not moving ahead at a rate of knots' and that 'an extensive consultation will take place shortly, focusing on where the functions are best transferred'. Vaz withdrew her amendment, but not before urging Heath to 'think again about the role of the two bodies'. She said: 'I do not want future generations to look back and say, "Why are we having this inquiry? Parliament sat there. They had the ability to do something about that and they didn't. They acted in haste"'.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
Public Bill Committee Amendments
House of Commons |  11 October 2011
Public Bill Committee Debate: 8th Sitting
House of Commons |  11 October 2011
Public Bodies Bill as amended in Public Bill Committee
House of Commons |  13 October 2011
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