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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have prevented the abolition of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), was proposed but ultimately withdrawn by Valerie Vaz (Labour MP for Walsall South).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"'.

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
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...
31 May 2011 - by Dr Lux Fatimathas 
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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....
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....
24 January 2011 - by Sarah Pritchard 
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