Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill [Lords]

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The Chairman: Order. I indicated earlier that, in principle, I was perfectly happy to have a stand part debate at the start rather than at the end. For that reason, given that it is often easier to take matters in context, I am perfectly happy to allow the debate now. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to add to his remarks, please feel free to do so.
Dr. Harris: On the issue of non-medical fertility services, I think that what the Government are doing in the clause is removing the exception for such services from the provisions. The tissue directive and indeed the European Communities Act 1972 section 2 process did not permit the Government to apply the licence conditions that we see in the clause to non-medical fertility services.
What are non-medical fertility services? They are defined in section 2 of the Act as
“any services that are provided in the course of a business, for the purpose of assisting women to carry children, but are not medical, surgical or obstetric services.”
It would be useful for the Committee to know what are not the “medical”, which I guess is using drugs, “surgical or obstetric”, which speak for themselves, “services” that will be covered by the general licence conditions, which are extensive. How have we survived for so long under the 1990 Act with non-medical fertility services—my reading of the measure might not be correct—apparently not subject to the licence conditions? To put it another way, will the Minister assure us that this is not a discretionary regulation and, even if it is, that it is not over-regulation of services that would not necessarily require regulation by the HFEA? There is a general trend that as soon as an authority is regulating things, it wants to continue regulating them and identify new things to regulate. It is sometimes the job of Parliament to retreat from that trend. [Interruption.] The ironic laughter of the hon. Member for Norwich, North reminds me that a number of Select Committee reports, particularly the report that came out under his chairmanship in 2005, argued that it was time that the HFEA did not regulate basic fertility treatment because it is now pretty standard. It is useful to collect information, but is it right that licensable matters are subject to all such regulations, while, for example, surgery to remove the blocking of fallopian tubes to treat infertility continue to be completely unregulated by the HFEA? Such treatment is currently subject to all the other regulation that currently binds doctors. That is a wider issue, but I have been provoked by the inclusion of non-medical fertility services in the scope of the licence conditions in the clause.
Dawn Primarolo: Can I reassure the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon that he should not be provoked by the use of the term
“non-medical fertility services”?
He asked me what they might be: essentially, the measure is about internet sperm delivery services—he may have mentioned those. They have to be described as “non-medical” in case any attempt is made to deliver services other than via the internet, which currently happens, apparently.—[Interruption.] Perhaps I should have used a different phrase.
Moving on, I should explain why the amendments are necessary, which will answer the point made by the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness. The quality and safety standards that are set out in the EU directive are aimed at preventing the transmission of disease from donor to recipient of tissues or cells. Two separate points were made and I do not want to lose the distinction. The EU directive requires that provision is based on the safety and quality of services, and that consent is obtained. That is the set of issues to which the amendments relate.
The second set of issues relate to therapeutic services. The Government believe that the measure applies to research only. Our view is that, under a research licence, an embryo can be used to derive stem cells for human application as long as it can be shown to be part of a project of research. The amendments would introduce a requirement to comply with the directive that is aimed specifically at the limited area of quality and safety, as I described. Two separate issues were conflated by my use of the word “therapeutic” in my earlier remarks. However, the issues are not connected. The amendments relate specifically to the directive arrangements.
Dr. Harris: I know what the Minister says, but it shows that the provision of stem cells for therapeutic application cannot be said to be irrelevant to the HFEA or to the Bill. It could be argued that it is a matter for the Human Tissue Act 2004 or the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency; that once the cells are used, the embryo is long gone, so it is not a matter for the Bill or HFEA licences. I am keen not to provoke the Minister because we are nearing the end of the sitting, but does she recognise that, even as far as this relatively minor provision goes, when stem cells derived from embryos—not embryos—are put into humans, the licence conditions for the storage, use and creation of the embryo are relevant to the end use, at least in principle? That goes to the question, to which we might return, whether there needs to be greater specificity in other aspects of the licence arrangements for such end uses.
Dawn Primarolo: Was that an intervention, Mr. Gale?
The Chairman: Yes, but it was a very long intervention.
Dawn Primarolo: Yes, and I listened very carefully to it. The Government have not said that the provision of stem cells for therapeutic application is irrelevant to the HFEA. The issue, which we discussed on the Floor of the House, is whether therapy licences are necessary. It is a separate issue. I can see the tenuous link that the hon. Gentleman is trying to make, which is why I was careful to anchor my comments by saying that we are talking about research for therapeutic services, not the therapies themselves. We had a debate on that on the Floor of the House, as I said. I have concluded my remarks on that and I hope that they were helpful to the Committee.
Amendment agreed to.
Amendment made: No. 40, in clause 12, page 8, line 37, at end insert—
‘(3) In subsection (2)—
(a) omit the “and” at the end of paragraph (a), and
(b) at the end of paragraph (b) insert “, and
(c) every licence under paragraph 3 of that Schedule, so far as authorising activities in connection with the derivation from embryos of stem cells that are intended for human application.”.’.—[Dawn Primarolo.]
Clause 12, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Further consideration adjourned.—[Steve McCabe.]
Adjourned accordingly at two minutes to six o’clock till Thursday 5 June at Nine o’clock.
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