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New law empowers UK Government to transfer HFEA's functions

19 December 2011
Appeared in BioNews 638

The Public Bodies Bill - which empowers the UK Government to transfer the functions of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), to other bodies - has received Royal Assent and has become the Public Bodies Act. This Act, which represents the realisation in statute of the Coalition Government's longstanding plans for a 'bonfire of the quangos', also makes it possible to transfer the functions of other arm's-length bodies including the Human Tissue Authority.

Following the creation of the Act, Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude said: 'We said we would increase transparency and accountability, cut out waste and duplication, and we have.... The quango state will never again be allowed to spiral out of control'.

Some of the arm's-length bodies that were originally listed in the Public Bodies Bill, such as the Forestry Commission and the Youth Justice Board, were ultimately excluded from it following lobbying and amendments to the Bill in Parliament. Despite similar lobbying on behalf of the HFEA, and the intervention of politicians including Baroness Ruth Deech (crossbench peer and former HFEA Chair), attempts to win a reprieve for the fertility regulator were ultimately unsuccessful. A proposed amendment that would have excluded the HFEA from the Bill was voted on by the House of Lords earlier this year, but was narrowly defeated.

The existence and role of the HFEA are specified in the 1990 and 2008 Human Fertilisation and Embryology (HFE) Acts. Defenders of the HFEA argued that its inclusion in the Public Bodies Bill would threaten the protection afforded to the embryo by the HFE Acts. Health Minister Earl Frederick Howe argued that the reverse was true - that had the HFEA been excluded from the Public Bodies Bill, then the Government would have sought to transfer the HFEA's powers by amending the HFE Acts directly, thereby opening up the ethical provisions of the Acts to debate and revision by Parliament.

Further secondary legislation is required before transfer of the HFEA's functions can take place, and this transfer is unlikely to take place until the end of the current Parliament (it may take longer still). A central plank of the Government's argument for including the HFEA in the Bill, when this was challenged in Parliament, was that there would be ample opportunity for public input into the prospective transfer of the HFEA's functions and powers in the form of a public consultation. The consultation will include the option of transferring the HFEA's functions to the Care Quality Commission (CQC).Such a consultation is due to be launched by the Government shortly.

Regulation of fertility clinics is though expected to be transferred from the HFEA to the CQC, despite reluctance on the part of both regulators to embrace such a transfer. HFEA representatives have argued against the HFEA's abolition on several occasions, while CQC representatives have recently warned the Government that the CQC is overstretched, and consequently ill-placed to assume the HFEA's role.

Quango reforms take a leap forward as Public Bodies Act receives Royal Assent
Cabinet Office |  15 December 2011
2 July 2012 - by Earl Howe 
Standards should never come into question, but it's clear to this Government that NHS administrative costs can be streamlined. That is why I set out proposals to change responsibility for regulating fertility treatment and human tissue last week...
2 July 2012 - by Ayesha Ahmad 
The UK Government has launched a consultation on the future of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) and Human Tissue Authority (HTA) amid proposals to transfer the regulators' functions elsewhere....
2 April 2012 - by Dr Tamara Hirsch 
A recent report claims England's regulator of health and social care, the Care Quality Commission (CQC), is not at present ready to take on the functions of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA)...
20 February 2012 - by James Lawford Davies 
It is evident that the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has succeeded in reducing its costs and operating with greater financial efficiency. This is in part reflected in the remarkable £3.4 million of surplus funds held by the HFEA which was discussed at the recent Authority meeting in January and subsequently reported in the media...
20 February 2012 - by Victoria Kay 
The UK's fertility watchdog, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), has amassed cash reserves of around £3.4 million from charges to the clinics it licenses, prompting calls for the money to be given back to those seeking IVF treatment....
12 December 2011 - by Oliver Timmis 
The Care Quality Commission (CQC) will take over policing of IVF clinics, despite worries it cannot cope with the additional workload...
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 Walter Merricks 
Perhaps the Government is right to plan to abolish the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA). The astonishing behaviour of its members at last week's open Authority meeting over compensation for egg and sperm donors will lower its reputation in the eyes of some of its erstwhile supporters. Those who might have manned the barricades to halt the Government's plans may now wonder whether the Care Quality Commission (CQC) – the health and social care regulator set to take over the H...
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...
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