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Public Bodies Bill clears the Commons

31 October 2011
Appeared in BioNews 631

The Public Bodies Bill - which, if passed, will allow the Government to abolish the UK's fertility regulator, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) - has completed its report stage and third reading in the House of Commons.

During the Commons debate, three Labour MPs - Frank Dobson (Holborn and St Pancras), Jon Trickett (Hemsworth) and Valerie Vaz (Walsall South) - criticised the fact that the HFEA remains among the public bodies covered by the Bill. They also made broader criticisms of the lack of Parliamentary time that had been dedicated to debating the Bill, and of the fact that the Government was responsible for almost half the amendments made to its own Bill. The latter arguably makes it more difficult to scrutinise the Government's intentions than if these intentions had been represented in the Bill as originally drafted.

Dobson argued that 'this whole approach is a disgrace and an insult to previous Members of the House of Commons who, over many hours, days and years, laboured over the establishment of the various public bodies in question. We are now being asked to dispose of them in an afternoon'. He argued that a disproportionally small amount of time was being taken to dismantle public bodies such as the HFEA, in comparison with the amount of time it took to establish them: 'I am particularly interested in the fate of the HFEA, and I have checked the various debates in the House of Commons on its original establishment and on its improvement. Those debates took up more time than this Bill is taking to shift it around, mess it about and do away with it and a large number of other useful public bodies'.

Vaz defended the HFEA and the Human Tissue Authority: 'Those bodies give the public confidence. They are internationally renowned. They are asked for advice throughout the world. They should be left alone to carry on and do their important work'. Dobson concluded that 'the House, after lengthy deliberations over two decades, came up with a system that works and is well thought of all over the world, and we are expected to dismiss it in a farcical five minutes at the end of a debate on the Bill'.

The Bill will now enter the 'ping-pong' phase, where both Houses of Parliament have a final opportunity to amend it before it receives Royal Assent.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
Public Bodies Bill: 3rd reading
House of Commons |  25 October 2011
Public Bodies Bill: Report Stage
House of Commons |  25 October 2011
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