Clause 11 - remit

Human Tissue Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:15 am on 3rd February 2004.

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Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley Shadow Secretary of State for Health 10:15 am, 3rd February 2004

I beg to move amendment No. 29, in

clause 11, page 9, line 30, leave out subsection (4).

Photo of Mr Alan Hurst Mr Alan Hurst Labour, Braintree

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment No. 30, in

clause 11, page 9, line 30, leave out from 'order', to 'to' in line 31 and insert 'vary, omit or add'.

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

Amendment No. 29 effectively would delete subsection (4), the purpose of which was initially to test the question of what the Ministers had in mind by adding to the activities. We have learned from the previous debate what Ministers have in mind as a possibility of adding to the activities within the remit of the authority.

On amendment No. 30, there remains the substantive question; why it is the Government's intention to have the power to add to the activities within the remit of the authority, but not to be able to vary, omit or add to activities in relation to other matters, such as scheduled purposes within the remit

of the authorities, as we have seen illustrated? Although there were changes in the scheduled purposes, by extension they would automatically change so far as the remit of the authority was concerned. It may be that as time goes on and in ways we cannot yet determine, the authority will see a necessity not only for additional activities, but to vary the terms in which its activities are defined, or even omit some of those activities.

In so far as the scientific and research community and the commercial biotechnologies industries are concerned, the licensing regime and the requirements of the authority create some burdens. It is desirable to contemplate, in the long run, that the authority may wish to pursue a deregulatory path at some point. It may be that it will want to retain activities within its remit but behave in a different way. However, current legislation may not allow it to do so. It may be that the only way in which to pursue a self-regulatory path would be to remove activities from the remit of the authority. At the moment there seems to be no mechanism for that to happen, even if the authority were satisfied, in practice, that some activities were capable of being conducted in a perfectly lawful manner without being licensed and regulated by the authorities.

Amendment No. 30 opens up the possibility that the authority could have a deregulatory intent with the consent of the Secretary of State at some future point, as well as responding to changes in circumstances with regard to these activities.

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton The Minister of State, Department of Health

In drawing up the Bill, it was vital to ensure a comprehensive framework so that all sections and interest groups—everyone who contributed to our wide consultation—felt that all aspects were covered. I understand the hon. Gentleman's point, but it is important for the integrity of the Bill that the remit of the authority remains comprehensive in terms of its job regarding the oversight of the keeping, use and disposal of bodies. It would not be right to have the ability to remove aspects of that remit from the Bill. The public and those who had an interest in helping us to put together this important Bill would not want an ability to remove anything from the list of functions. That might undermine confidence in the Bill.

Over and above that, as the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire said, we have already highlighted that there is something that we might wish to add to the Bill. I will not go over that again, because I think that he completely understands that point. The approach taken to the regulatory mechanism in the Bill is not unlike that taken in the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990. We examined that legislation closely when preparing the Human Tissue Bill. In the 1990 Act, the general functions of the authority are set out in section 8 and can be extended under section 8(d). However, as with the Bill before us, the functions cannot be reduced. Similarly, there is no provision to reduce, by means of regulation, the regulatory oversight of the key activities of creating and keeping embryos outside and of storing embryos. The integrity of the scheme is maintained in the same way in the Bill, which is based closely on previous legislation.

As I said, we have carefully considered the powers under the Bill. Obviously, there may be instances in which we might wish to add to those, and we have touched on them. However, in terms of maintaining the confidence—and, on many issues, the consensus—achieved in the Bill, it is appropriate to say that the functions can be added to, but not taken away. With those explanations, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

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

I am grateful to the Minister for her reply. I can see that, arguably, there is merit in the remit of the authority being as wide as possible, so as to enable the authority to maintain a system with integrity, as the Minister puts it. However, it still worries me slightly that there is, in effect, a one-way, non-return valve; we can add activities to the remit of the authority, but not remove them.

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton The Minister of State, Department of Health

Obviously it will be possible for the authority to use a lighter touch in particular cases if that were felt to be appropriate. For example, the hon. Gentleman mentions that bio-industries are concerned about burdens. It is important to maintain the powers, but to give some reassurance, a lighter touch could be used in future if necessary.

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

I understand the Minister's point. Indeed, as far as the licensing regime is concerned, the scope of licensing could be varied under clause 13, which could allow the authority to undertake a self-regulatory approach in a range of activities that could change over time.

On the basis that that is possible, I shall, if the Committee will forgive me, reflect on the experience of the HFEA over the past 13 years and consider whether it and the Government are going to review its operation, and whether the Government have already undertaken such a review of the powers to see whether any change is required in the legislation. I will consider that further and take advice. Given the Minister's assurances so far, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 11 ordered to stand part of the Bill.