Clause 7 - Existing holdings

Human Tissue Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:15 pm on 29th January 2004.

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Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Health 4:15 pm, 29th January 2004

I beg to move amendment No. 33, in

clause 7, page 7, line 7, at end insert—

'( ) Section 5(1) shall have effect as if the activities mentioned in subsection (1) were not activities to which section 1(1) applies.'.

The amendment corrects a drafting error in clause 7, proving that, very occasionally, even the Government make mistakes. The effect of clause 7, as drafted, is that it would be an offence under clause 5(1) to use existing holdings without appropriate consent. Clause 7(1) provides that clause 1(1) applies to existing holdings without the requirement for appropriate consent. That means that it is lawful to use existing holdings for scheduled purposes without needing to go back and obtain consent.

Clause 5, however, makes it an offence to undertake the activities to which clause 1(1) applies without obtaining appropriate consent. Such activities include storing and using relevant material for scheduled purposes. Clearly, the intention of clause 7 would be defeated if clause 5 made it an offence to continue to store and use existing holdings without appropriate consent. So, the amendment corrects that by providing that clause 5(1) is to be read as though the storage and use of existing holdings were not activities to which clause 1(1) applies. I hope that that is clear to all hon. Members and that they will accept the Government's amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Photo of Richard Taylor Richard Taylor Independent, Wyre Forest

I beg to move amendment No. 55, in

clause 7, page 7, line 12, at end add

'or that has been used for a purpose specified in Schedule 1'.

I have to declare a personal interest. My local newspaper has written reports saying that many Members have imaginary skeletons in their cupboards. I have a real one, as many doctors of my vintage do. I am concerned that, as the Bill is written, I am not lawfully allowed to have that. I cannot, as the hon. Member for Westbury did some years ago, dispose of mine because that is not covered either. So, the purpose of the words that I seek to add to the Bill is to try to make it legal to have possession of something that was used at one time. However, if the Under-Secretary can reassure me and many other doctors of my sort of age that I am not liable to 51 weeks in prison, or whatever the punishment is, I shall certainly seek leave to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Shadow Minister (Health)

I, too, was once the owner of a skeleton—I confess that I am no longer in possession of it. It is a serious point, because there is a considerable number of medical students, and potentially this loophole could criminalise them, which would be terrible. Things have moved on somewhat since the hon. Member for Wyre Forest qualified—in this day and age, a medical student usually has a half-skeleton. Traditionally, those skeletons are sold on to oncoming medical students by those who have qualified. That seems to me to be

perfectly legitimate, and I doubt that there is any profit involved. It means that those skeletons are recycled, and I am sure that most of us would say that that is a good thing. The Under-Secretary may wish to reflect on that rather peculiar situation, and perhaps on whether the amendment put forward by the hon. Member for Wyre Forest is a good one to include in the Bill to close this loophole.

Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Health

Seldom have I heard Members admitting to such debauched acts. I was going to give the hon. Gentlemen the assurances that they seek, but the thought of banging them away for three years each is intriguing me. Having said that, I can give them and other holders of skeletons the assurance that they want.

The consent provisions of clause 1 do not apply to use of material held for scheduled purposes at the time the Bill comes into force, or to imported bodies and material, or to bodies and material which have come from a person who died more than 100 years before Bill comes into force. It will be lawful to continue to keep and use human material already retained in archives when the Bill takes effect, where these are held for scheduled purposes. The Human Tissue Authority will have the role of advising on how currently stored tissue and organs should be dealt with. The Authority will issue a statutory code of practice setting standards and giving guidance about existing holdings. This will follow on from the existing guidance issued by the Department in April 2003, ''An Interim Statement on the Use of Human Organs and Tissue''.

The intention behind clause 7 is to ensure that it is lawful to continue to store and use existing holdings for scheduled purposes without needing appropriate consent, once the Bill comes into force, subject to guidance. This applies, however, only to material that is still held for scheduled purposes, and not to material that is no longer required, even though it may have been used in the past for scheduled purposes. Such material should be disposed of.

The Bill does not prevent existing holdings of material that have already been used for scheduled purposes being used again for the same purpose, or even for other scheduled purposes, subject to the guidance to be issued by the Human Tissue Authority. The Bill is clear, however, that in future, where consent is given to the use of material for a particular scheduled purpose, the tissue may not be subsequently used for a different scheduled purpose without consent for that purpose. Skeletons currently in the possession of medical students and former medical students may continue to be kept and used for purposes listed in schedule 1 as they are existing holdings under clause 7. Future use of existing holdings will be subject to guidance given in the statutory code of practice, as stated in clause 23. Skeletons may be imported from abroad, but will be the subject of the HTA's code of practice on import and export, and will fall within the regulatory scheme in the same way as any other tissue. The code of practice will ensure that appropriate ethical standards have been applied abroad.

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley Shadow Secretary of State for Health

May we therefore conclude that in the case of a former medical student who has retained his

skeleton, but who has no scheduled purpose in mind, it would no longer be lawful to retain that holding, and in particular to hold it at home, or elsewhere not on licensed premises, or, further to that, to sell it?

Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Health 4:30 pm, 29th January 2004

My understanding is that private use would be acceptable under the circumstances, but the holder could not sell it. So in the coming years some skeletons may need to be donated to future medical students. They can be passed on but they cannot be sold.

Photo of Evan Harris Evan Harris Liberal Democrat, Oxford West and Abingdon

I am intrigued by the idea of private use. Does that mean, for instance, that if the hon. Member for Wyre Forest sits at home with his skeleton, stroking it in a loving manner—but no more—that is private use? I do not understand what private use is in that respect as distinct from other uses.

Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Health

Public display would not be lawful, but private use—presumably the hon. Member for Wyre Forest would be using the skeleton for his personal education, which was why he initially obtained it—would be acceptable. I hope that with those assurances, and as long as Opposition Members do not have any more skeletons in their cupboards, the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Shadow Minister (Health)

I am not entirely clear on this matter, and it is an interesting and important point. Is the Under-Secretary saying that medical students will no longer be able to sell their skeletons to each other?

Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Health

That is correct. I have concluded my comments and I hope that the amendment will be withdrawn.

Photo of Richard Taylor Richard Taylor Independent, Wyre Forest

The first part of the Under-Secretary's contribution was rather above me, but I understood the last part absolutely. If medical students can currently afford to buy a half skeleton, which, going by the rate of inflation, costs as much as £240, and they are not allowed to—

Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Health

I should point out that we will be providing them with much more generous student loans.

Photo of Richard Taylor Richard Taylor Independent, Wyre Forest

As I am reassured, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead) (Lab) rose—

Photo of Mr Alan Hurst Mr Alan Hurst Labour, Braintree

Order. The hon. Gentleman is too late.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Harry Cohen Harry Cohen Labour, Leyton and Wanstead

I want to pick up on the point about students being unable to sell a skeleton that they own to another student. The Under-Secretary said that it would not be allowed under the terms of the Bill. I cannot see why, under those restricted circumstances, selling would be unreasonable. The Under-Secretary should consider that and enable a student who has finished using his skeleton to sell it to another student for the same purpose.

Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Health

I will consider that. The important point is that the student cannot make a profit. They

could exchange it for the same price, but I suspect that there will be an increased use of plastic skeletons in future.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 7, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.