Memorandum by The Rt Rev Rt Hon Lord Habgood
of Calverton (PAP 10)
I write in response to the Public Administration's
Select Committee's questionnaire, in my capacity as Chairman of
the UK Xenotransplantation Interim Regulatory Authority. These
are my personal views, as there will be no opportunity to discuss
them with members of the Authority before your deadline. I believe,
however, that they would agree in general terms with what I say.
UKXIRA is a small expert committee, with nine
members, set up by the Department of Health in 1997, to oversee
and advise Ministers on all matters concerning what was then a
promising new medical technology. Its formation had been recommended
by an Advisory Group on the Ethics of Xenotransplantation which
had reported earlier that year. After my own appointment as Chairman
I attended a meeting of medical officers and advisers at the DoH
to discuss the size and composition of the committee, and appointments
were then made by Ministers in the light of this advice. Our aim
was to create the expertise and experience, bearing in mind the
need for balance in such matters as gender, ethnic origin, and
nationality within the UK. To the best of my knowledge no political
considerations played any part in the appointments process.
I do not see how such a committee could have
been set up other than by appointment, for the following reasons:
(a) There is no easily definable electorate.
(b) The relevant forms of expertise are relatively
(c) Many of the available experts had a commercial
interest in the technology, and were therefore deemed to be ineligible
(d) Election could not have produced the
balance which was actually achieved.
Members retire, but are eligible for reappointment,
after a fixed term of office. So far there has only been one replacement,
made under the Nolan rules, but this has not yet been ratified
by the Ministers of Health in all four nations. For some Ministers
it is clearly not a priority. The proposed appointment of an additional
lay representative has been temporarily halted in view of the
poor quality of the three hundred or so applicants.
My experience of this committee clearly relates to
its highly specialised character. Its members receive very modest
remuneration, but are willing to give time to it (and some have
given a great deal of time in working groups and in the writing
of reports), because they are interested in the subject, see it
as relevant to some aspects of their professional work, and believe
it is important as offering some hope to those who are seriously
ill, as well as posing serious ethical problems. Its composition
ensures that every members has a valuable contribution to make.
Ministers have not interfered in its working, and have so far
accepted its advice.
Our relationships with the public are through
a website and an annual open public meeting. Our regular meetings
are not open to the public, but an edited version of our minutes
is published on our website.
If some forms of xenotransplantation were actually
to be approved, it is likely that the profile of the committee
would be raised, and there might be more public concern about
its membership. Even under these circumstances, though, I do not
see how election could serve any useful purpose. In fact it might
be counter-productive, as there could well be large commercial
interests anxious to have their own candidates elected. The present
system of appointment offers the best chance of being able to
give unbiassed expert advice to ministers, who then bear political
responsibility for the final decisions.
An independent appointments commission might
be useful when the time comes to appoint a new Chairman. I doubt,
though, whether a commission with a wide general remit could have
enough knowledge of the types of expertise the committee needs,
were it to be given responsibility for appointing all its members.