Clause 15 - Duty of the designated individual

Human Tissue Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:00 am on 3rd February 2004.

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Photo of Evan Harris Evan Harris Liberal Democrat, Oxford West and Abingdon 11:00 am, 3rd February 2004

I beg to move amendment No. 177, in

clause 15, page 11, line 16, after 'on', insert

'to do all that is practicable'.

Photo of Mr Alan Hurst Mr Alan Hurst Labour, Braintree

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment No. 84, in

clause 15, page 11, line 18, leave out paragraphs (a) and (b).

Photo of Evan Harris Evan Harris Liberal Democrat, Oxford West and Abingdon 11:15 am, 3rd February 2004

This is a probing amendment to clarify the position of the designated individual who does all that is practicable to comply with the terms of the licence but, for reasons beyond their control, is unable to comply, or ensure that people working with their authority comply, with the licence. I want to clarify whether there will be natural justice. How does the Under-Secretary envisage people being able to argue that they did their best to ensure that activities were undertaken in conformity with the licence?

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Shadow Minister (Health)

Amendment No. 84 is barking up the same tree as that of the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon, but it is a little stronger in its probing, because it would delete part of the Bill. Hospitals and many organisations involved in medical research will experience difficulty with supervision and the burdens that will be placed on supervisors. In practice, many such people will be remote from the individual who holds the licence, and it will be exceptionally difficult to achieve the kind of supervision that the Under-Secretary envisages.

The definition of suitable practices and persons is not given. I suspect that the Under-Secretary will say that that will be explored in the codes of practice, but that would leave it open for the word ''suitable'' to be interpreted in an undesirable way. If we are to put an onus on individuals who supervise, we need to give

them a clear steer—I suggest that we do so in the Bill—about what we mean by the suitability of persons who may operate as subordinates to the licensee, and the suitability of practices. Paragraphs (a) and (b) are unhelpful in that they fail adequately to define, even for the casual reader, what is intended. For that reason alone, they must be candidates for deletion.

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

I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. It is true that the person who applies for the licence need not be the designated individual. In my experience, which is of working in medical research environments, the two would be different people, because it would not be appropriate for people such as the head of department, the professor or the dean of the medical school to be the designated individual. They would neither have the necessary routine access to areas where procedures are carried out, nor be in and out of people's laboratories on a sufficiently regular basis. They might no longer have even the necessary hands-on experience to be the designated individual.

It would be beholden on the person who applied for the licence to ensure that the designated individual had the experience, time and access to do the job properly, because if they did not, the licence would probably be revoked. That would not be in the interests of the head of department, dean or professor. I say that as someone who, in all my career working in medical research environments, has come across very few heads of departments that I would not have wanted to see banged up. I feel strongly that there are few deans, vice-chancellors or professors who would not be improved by a good, solid dose of porridge. However, I must disappoint the post-docs of this world by saying that I do not think that the Bill will serve that purpose, because it has been devised flexibly and sensibly to allow the separation of functions between the person who applies for the licence and the designated individual. In my experience, the designated individual in most research environments will probably be the laboratory manager, because they have the most experience of what is going on in the organisation.

The Bill has been sensibly drafted. If we were to go down the route suggested by the hon. Gentleman, it would mean being far more restrictive, and imposing far greater burdens on the heads of departments and professors, which is much more likely to land them in trouble. I certainly would not advise the Committee to agree to the amendment.

As to the other suggestion, it is important that we maintain the principle in the Bill that the designated individual has to be a person with the experience, the access and the supervisory authority to carry out his functions appropriately. Were we to accept the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon and insert

''to do all that is practicable'', the individual would have to decide for himself what was practicable, rather than do everything that he could to ensure that the functions were carried out properly.

The designated individual should be in a position to identify areas in which he does not have the knowledge to ensure that the provisions are being properly enforced, and he should be able to call a halt to the proceedings until he is assured that things are being done in accordance with the law. It would set a poor precedent if he could just assume that things were going on in dark corners of which he was not aware. Having said that, if questions were to be asked, it would be a legitimate defence for the designated individual if he carried out his duties appropriately, understood the Bill himself, ensured that everyone concerned understood the licence conditions under which they were acting and understood what was required of them, and if he supervised them properly and ensured that their work was quality assured within the terms of the Bill. I urge the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his amendment.

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

In light of the Under-Secretary's comments I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 15 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 16 ordered to stand part of the Bill.