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Dr. Evan Harris: I certainly agree with the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) that neither the review of arm's-length bodies nor the particular conclusion of he review was required to argue that there should be flexibility for a new authority to maximise its efficiency by not simply seeking to transplant into it inspectorates from existing provision. That, arguably, seemed an easier thing to do at the outset than implementing what is now the very short provision in Lords amendment No. 58, which enables the authority to organise these matters as it wants.

I have a further point to make about the implications of the review of arm's-length bodies. To ensure that I remain in order, I do so only in the same terms as the debate in the Grand Committee in the House of Lords. These amendments presume that the merger of the HTA with the HFEA is sensible and rational. We have not had an opportunity for parliamentary debate on that, and that will not happen until Parliament, through primary legislation, approves that measure. That is not intended to happen for several years, and anything may happen in that time, including a general election.

Both bodies have inspectorates and an inspection function. Nevertheless, it has been argued, not least by Lord Jenkin of Roding, for whom I have a great deal of respect on these matters, that the merger is not rational policy making. I would argue that the HFEA and the
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Human Genetics Commission might have more in common. I hope that the Government still have an open mind on the matter and that it is still open for debate, particularly given the fact that the Science and Technology Committee is due to report on the HFEA and its future, which will hopefully inform the Department of Health's review. I understand the Government's wish to reduce the burden of regulation and the number of bodies, but that has to be done in a rational way. The fact that both the bodies that the Minister has indicated should be merged have inspectorates is not sufficient argument for the measure.

Further to the points that have just been made about the advertisement for jobs that has just gone out, I say to the House that part of the problem with the way in which policies and decisions are made is that the Government are advertising for people to apply for jobs in an organisation that will effectively be abolished, or at least merged, a few years down the line. The timing is unfortunate, to say the least; we are setting up new authorities only to have advertised in advance the fact that people will need to reapply for the jobs within a short time.

We accept the amendments on the understanding that while the Select Committee is looking at the issue and her Department is looking at the HFEA's future, the Minister realises that acceptance does not commit us to the view that the merger between the HTA and the HFEA is right. Although a merger may be a good thing in and of itself, we hope that there is room to explore whether the precise mergers proposed by the Minister are appropriate, given that there are issues other than inspection that various arm's-length bodies need to deal with.

Ms Rosie Winterton: I shall tackle one of the last points first. The people who apply for a job with the HTA will be aware of the position. It would have been more difficult for them if they had been appointed and then told, perhaps a year later, that the body was to be merged. When we talk about merging the two bodies to become the regulatory authority for fertility and tissue, it will be clear in which direction the body to which people are being appointed is going.

The hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon asked whether the merger was appropriate. The HFEA currently licenses in vitro fertilisation, fertility clinics and the storage of sperm, eggs and embryos. We believe that its approach and structure and those of the HTA are similar and that merging will not significantly disrupt their activities.

3 pm

I want to reassure the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) that we do not want to lose any expertise that has been built up. Anatomy organisations will provide input through membership of the HTA. We will look to Her Majesty's inspector of anatomy for advice in drawing up codes. Various clauses set out the authority's remit and inspections will continue to be carried out. However, we have made it clear that we want the authority to have maximum flexibility in undertaking its duties.

Let us consider the current relationship between the HFEA and the HTA. Clause 40 assists by providing for a close working relationship between the two bodies. We
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are already considering ways in which the HFEA can work with us, for example, in providing back-office facilities and so on. That process can start almost immediately.

The hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire also mentioned the advert that has been distributed. It has been brought to the attention of the BioIndustry Association and the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry. We are open to applications from all sectors. Nothing is ruled out. The advert gave examples but others can apply. Furthermore, the HTA will regularly consult some of the experts that the hon. Gentleman mentioned. The NHS Appointments Commission must make decisions about the best candidates and consider, for example, his point about possible conflict of interest. It must take such matters into account.

We will ensure that we keep and build on the expertise that has accumulated over the years. We believe that our approach will ensure that no unnecessary duplication takes place and that we can move quickly to build in the sort of stability to which I referred so that people who come into post are well aware of the organisation's future direction and can participate in it.

Mr. Lansley: I assume that the Bill does not exclude the possibility of appointment to both the HFEA and the HTA.

Ms Winterton: That possibility is not excluded. Indeed, in some cases, it might be helpful in emphasising joint working. Again, it is for the NHS Appointments Commission to consider all the applications on their merits.

I hope that, with those assurances, hon. Members will accept the amendments.

Lords amendment agreed to.

Lords amendments Nos. 20 to 28 agreed to.

Lords amendment: No. 29

Ms Winterton: I beg to move, That this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): With this we may discuss Lords amendment No. 30.

Ms Winterton: Clause 44 ensures that activities that are carried out for criminal justice purposes are excluded from regulation by the HTA. By criminal justice purposes, we mean the prevention, detection, investigation and prosecution of crimes, including appeals. However, the exclusion does not extend to coroners' post mortems.

One aspect deals with what happens when a body, or part of a body, is found at what is clearly a crime scene. We want to ensure that the police and investigating authorities are not hindered in carrying out their responsibilities. Although mortuaries that carry out post-mortems will have to have an HTA licence and be subject to periodic inspection, we would not require licensing of a crime scene, which might, for example, be in a forest, simply because a forensic pathologist needed to remove tissue samples at the scene.
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Removing tissue from the deceased for a post-mortem examination is licensable, even when it is done for criminal justice purposes. Although in most cases the removal of samples could wait and be carried out in the licensed mortuary, there will be cases in which, as part of the criminal investigation, it is necessary to leave the body where it lies and take samples away for analysis.

Clause 44 therefore has two effects. Subsections (1) and (2) exclude from the regulatory regime of part 2 anything done for criminal justice purposes, other than the coroner's post-mortem examination. Subsection (3) excludes from the licensing requirement the removal of tissue for the purpose of investigating a suspicious death from a body at the scene where it is found. For example, when a person dies of a heart attack, the coroner might ask for a post mortem. That examination would be conducted in a place licensed and inspected by the HTA.

However, when a body has been found and it seems that a crime was involved, it might be important for the criminal investigation for samples, for example of blood, to be taken before the body is moved. As that would be part of the coroner's post-mortem, clause 44(2) provides that the location where the body was found must be licensed before the sample can be taken. That is clearly not sensible. We have, therefore, through clause 44(3), provided for the removal of tissue in those circumstances, once the police have attended, to be outside the regulatory scheme.

None of this has been contentious, but the difficulty that emerged during consideration in another place was the lack of clarity in the meaning of subsection (3), which is designed to ensure that coroners' post-mortem activities that take place "at the scene" do not require a licence from the HTA. The mention of the constable was possibly ambiguous as it could have referred to the police first removing tissue from the body, or to bodies being found only by the police, as opposed to passers-by. We recognised the possible ambiguity, so we tabled amendments Nos. 29 and 30 to clarify the purpose of subsection (3).

The usual expression "at the scene" was previously expressed as

Clearly, people other than the police will often find bodies, which may also be moved after having been found but before the police are involved. To avoid ambiguity, the amendments change the description of these "at the scene" post-mortem activities from


I hope that that is clear. I recognise that these formulations are not elegant or easy, but I assure the House that the revised wording at least removes any possibility of ambiguity. Put simply, the exemption from licensing should apply only to the place where the police first arrive on the scene. I urge the House to accept the amendments.

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