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1.40 pm

Mr. Clive Soley (Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush) (Lab): I had not intended to speak and it is perhaps a pity that people have spoken to the degree that they have, but I now feel the need to say that an important, central and narrow point was dealt with by the Committee on Tuesday and to tell the hon. Member for Worthing, West (Peter Bottomley), who was helpful in my view and absolutely right in that Committee to argue the cases that he did, that that narrow and specific point is that no citizen of the United Kingdom should face any fear or favour over giving evidence to a Select Committee. That is the core point.

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Around that central point in this case, there are many arguments about what was happening in the background. It is the job of the Standards and Privileges Committee to highlight what needs to be said there and to produce the report. It may be right to say many of the things that are being said now, but to say them about other people who are not in a position to answer for themselves at this stage, when we have not had the benefit of the report, is wrong.

That is why, very simply, we should refer the matter on this narrow issue knowing—I have full confidence in the Standards and Privileges Committee in this respect—that the Committee will do all the background work necessary to focus on the underlying factors, including the other members of the board, civil servants and the Minister. When the Committee has done that and produced its report, it may be important and necessary to have a debate in the House. If so, that will be the time to speak. This is not the time to finger other people or to start putting them on trial. That is wrong.

1.42 pm

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): All I want to say is that, clearly, this is a serious matter. I have every confidence in my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) and his Committee, but I want to express the hope that they will be able to deal with the matter not only thoroughly, but expeditiously, so that the substance can be debated at the earliest reasonable date.

Question put and agreed to.


15 Jan 2004 : Column 984

Human Tissue Bill

[Relevant document: The First Report from the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Session 2003–04, Cultural objects: developments since 2000, HC 59, is relevant.]

Order for Second Reading read.

1.43 pm

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Ms Rosie Winterton): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The origins of the legislation lie in the distress, grief and anger felt by families in Bristol and Liverpool when they discovered that the organs of their deceased loved ones had been retained without consent. The Bristol, Alder Hey and Isaacs inquiries demonstrated that that had taken place on a large scale. It was a tragedy for the families affected and it was unacceptable. The aim of the legislation is to ensure that it will not happen again.

The Bill has five key functions. First, it will ensure that no human bodies, body parts, organs or tissue will be taken for research or other specified purposes without the consent of relatives or patients. Secondly, it will prevent a recurrence of the distress caused by the retention of tissue and organs without proper consent by providing safeguards and penalties. Thirdly, it will improve public confidence so that people will be more willing to agree to valuable uses of tissue and organs for research and transplantation.

The Bill will also improve professional confidence so that properly authorised supplies of tissue for research, education and transplantation can be maintained and improved. Finally, the Bill will allow national museums to repatriate human remains in response to claims from the descendants of indigenous people whose remains are held in museums.

Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) (Lab): There is a lot of difficulty over the phrase "appropriate consent" in the Bill. As my hon. Friend has already referred to consent, without using that phrase, will she expand on and explain to the House exactly what the Government mean by "appropriate consent"?

Ms Winterton: If my hon. Friend will bear with me, I will come to that point later.

In 1999, at the public inquiry on children's heart surgery in Bristol, it emerged that it was commonplace for children's hearts and other organs to be retained post mortem without the parents' knowledge or consent. The subsequent Alder Hey inquiry, the Isaacs inquiry and the chief medical officer's 2001 census left us in absolutely no doubt as to the scale on which tissue and organs were being retained without consent.

Those reports showed that that practice was not limited to particular hospitals or to children's post-mortems. More than 100,000 hearts, brains, lungs and other organs of children and adults were being kept. In Northern Ireland, the human organs inquiry confirmed that similar practices had occurred there. Part of the tragedy was that, ironically, in many cases the families

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concerned would readily have accepted the use of their loved ones' tissues or organs for medical research if only they had been asked.

Mr. Martyn Jones (Clwyd, South) (Lab): My hon. Friend will be aware of the Valentines, a family in my constituency whose daughter Kayleigh was subject to the problems at Alder Hey. They had three lots of organs returned to them, which has made them distraught over 11 years. Through me, can she assure them that the Bill will insist on prior informed parental consent in such circumstances so that this never happens again?

Ms Winterton: Yes, I can assure my hon. Friend that that will be the case, particularly because we are very aware of exactly the type of case that he has highlighted. It is difficult for us in the House to imagine the distress that families such as the one in his constituency have been through. That is why we are introducing the legislation. He is right in that post-mortem practice that is unacceptable in today's society had developed over many years. While practice was directed at supporting medical knowledge and research, it failed to respect the interests of families in the way that he described. It had become routine for tissue taken post mortem to be kept for archives, research and education, but without proper discussion with those close to the deceased.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South) (UUP): The Minister referred to Northern Ireland and she is right that people would have been prepared to give permission. In a particular case in my constituency, people gave permission on certain organs, but no more. However, that was not accepted and, later on, they were horrified to discover not only that things had been done against their wishes, but that the residue was sent back to them separately, leading to three separate interments.

Ms Winterton: That is exactly the sort of situation that has led to continuing distress for many families, which is why we want the legislation to be specific. The guidance that will be issued will make it clear that relatives should be given the maximum information on exactly what tissues or organs are to be used.

Mr. Andrew Lansley (South Cambridgeshire) (Con): As the Minister is helpfully explaining circumstances that gave rise to this Bill, it might help if she were to include circumstances in which consent has not simply not been sought or given, but in which organs were retained when it was the deceased's express wish that they be buried intact for religious reasons. That occurred in relation to Mr. Isaacs, the subject of the Isaacs report, and in relation to the husband of one of my constituents, who was also referred to in the anatomy inspector's report. We must deal with that problem.

Ms Winterton: As I shall say later in my speech, Mrs. Elaine Isaacs, worked extremely hard to highlight that case. The Isaacs report showed that that was one of many occasions on which that had occurred, and that is another reason why it is important that we introduce this legislation, after having considered all the different circumstances that could apply.

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Following the various reports that I have highlighted, we asked the chief medical officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, to make recommendations on the retention and use of human tissue and organs. Sir Liam reported in January 2001 and made 17 recommendations, all of which we accepted. Those recommendations were also formally accepted by the chief medical officer for Wales, and the National Assembly has worked closely with the Department of Health and other stakeholders in pursuing that agenda.

Liz Blackman (Erewash) (Lab): I listened carefully to an interview that my hon. Friend gave on Radio 4 this morning with a member of the scientific fraternity. Can she assure me that during the passage of the Bill she will resist any attempt to soften the guidance and protocols in relation to the removal of tissue as well as organs, and that consent will also remain the watchword in that regard?

Ms Winterton: I can give my hon. Friend that reassurance. As I shall say later, we have consulted extensively with the medical research community and the scientific community in putting together the proposals in the Bill. As I am sure she knows, the Bill encapsulates best practice that is already taking place. We do not expect to move away from the principle of consent that is enshrined. What most affects the medical and scientific community in research is the current situation, in which the law is not clear. The Bill clarifies the law and enables further research to go ahead. It gives the public and the research community confidence to be able to proceed as they wish to do.

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