HC Deb 28 June 2004 vol 423 cc36-9

  1. '(1) The Authority must carry out its functions effectively, efficiently and economically.
  2. (2)In carrying out its functions, the Authority must, so far as relevant, have regard to the principles of best regulatory practice (including the principles under which regulatory activities should be transparent, accountable, proportionate, consistent and targeted only at cases in which action is needed).'.—[Ms Rosie Winterton.]
Brought up, and read the First time.

Ms Rosie Winterton

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Speaker

With this it will be convenient to discuss Government new clause 10—Power of Human Tissue Authority to assist other public authorities.

Ms Winterton

The new clauses relate to the duties and powers of the Human Tissue Authority. I shall deal first with new clause 9. It is a shame that the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) is not here because in Committee, he asked about including a provision that would require the Human Tissue Authority to adhere to best regulatory practice, minimising burdens and costs. He pointed out that other recently established public bodies had such duties written into their legislation. We have agreed to include such an amendment to make it clear that the authority is expected to be lean, effective, accountable and focused.

Mr. Stephen Pound (Ealing, North) (Lab)

I was impressed by the word "economically" in the new clause. The guidance notes that my hon. Friend issued refer to a total cost to the new authority of approximately £1.5 million per annum. They also mention additional fees and licences. Is £1.5 million a net figure or will it decrease as income from fees and licences increases?

Ms Winterton

My recollection of the discussion in Committee is that the fees and licences would cover the administrative costs of inspection and issuing the licences. Some costs would accrue to the authority over and above those, such as the costs of issuing the codes of practice, administrative support and so on. If I remember correctly the two sums are separate, but the intention is that the fees and licences will cover the inspection element.

Dr. Ian Gibson (Norwich, North) (Lab)

My hon. Friend talks about a mean, lean organisation. The same was said of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, which our Select Committee examined. The funding for it was doubled. Could not bodies cross-fertilise under an umbrella organisation? After all, they are considering the same matters, which include interacting with the public. Quangos and similar bodies appear to spring up every six months. Is there not a case for getting them together to consider the ethical and moral issues?

Ms Winterton

Let me correct my hon. Friend: I did not say that the authority would be a mean body; I simply said that it would be lean. However, he is right to point out that several arm's-length bodies exist. I am sure that he knows that a review of those bodies is currently being conducted to ascertain whether there is room to achieve the 50 per cent. cut in their number that the Secretary of State wanted.

New clause 10 gives the Human Tissue Authority power to assist public bodies. Clause 37 currently allows the authority to make arrangements with other public authorities so that they can carry out any of the Human Tissue Authority's functions. Again, that is relevant to the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson) correctly made. We want to avoid duplication of inspections and reduce bureaucracy. However, under the Bill as it is currently drafted, the authority cannot assist other bodies. It would therefore be sensible to enable it to do that. In particular, we have it in mind that the authority could assist Scottish Ministers in regulating live transplants in Scotland, if asked to do that. In this way, the regulation of live transplants would remain consistent across the UK, and we would avoid the need to set up a separate new body in Scotland, which would be inefficient given the small number of cases involved. The HTA will therefore be able to help to minimise the bureaucratic impact on those regulated, and the power would also give the authority sensible flexibility and allow it to assist any UK body.

I hope that the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire will be pleased that we have taken up his suggestion, and that the whole House will support the new clauses.

Dr. Murrison

I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire will be extremely pleased. Indeed, looking through the new clauses, I am very pleased to see how much of what we suggested in Committee has been taken up and how many suggestions from third parties have also been adopted. Best regulatory practice is a welcome addition to the Bill, for example. I am also pleased that the agency will consult and liaise with other bodies. This has prompted me to look again at the Health Protection Agency Bill, which reaches its Committee stage tomorrow. It, too, places an onus on other bodies to co-operate with the agency that it establishes, and I wonder why no reciprocal arrangement is proposed between that agency and the Human Tissue Authority. Perhaps it might be worth considering introducing such an arrangement, to ensure that other such bodies associated and liaised with the HTA. It would be good if the Minister could give me an assurance that they will do so.

Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab)

I appreciate that my hon. Friend the Minister wishes, as far as she can, to achieve a consensual approach to the drafting of the Bill. However, if most of my constituents read new clause 9, they would be surprised that Parliament wanted to place on the face of a Bill an exhortation—indeed, a legislative requirement—for an authority to carry out its functions effectively, efficiently and economically", and to follow the principles of best regulatory practice". The implication of the inclusion of those requirements seems to be that some other Government bodies and quangos do not operate effectively, efficiently and economically, and do not follow the principles of best regulatory practice. If that is the case, perhaps the House should turn its attention to those other bodies.

It is surprising to read the proposals in new clause 9, having heard Ministers constantly saying in Committee and on Report—which is somewhat akin to Committee—to Members who have tabled amendments that they are unnecessary because the provision is already implied or exists elsewhere in the Bill. I should have thought that the wording in new clause 9 was, by necessary implication, an exhortation on every Government Department, quango and similar body.

Mr. Dalyell

I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) raised the question of vets in relation to this matter. Did I mishear him?

Rob Marris

I did not raise the question of vets.

Mr. Dalyell

Then we shall leave that matter. I should like to ask the Minister about the arrangements with Scotland, as I believe that she has some information about that. I thoroughly approve of these measures being introduced on a UK basis, but it would be nice to have on record the arrangements for transplants in Scotland.

Ms Winterton

I would say to my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) that best regulatory practice is included in some legislation. Given that questions had been raised about the duties of the authority and whether there would be duplication, we felt that it was important to make matters clear by placing the best regulatory framework in the Bill.

With regard to Scotland, giving the HTA the power in new clause 10 to assist other bodies, if it is asked to do so, will help Scottish Ministers in terms of regulating live transplants in Scotland. This question involves some continuing discussions, which we have been having with the Scottish Executive, who have been not only working with us, but consulting the public on the issue of the Bill. We will continue to work with them in that way to ensure that we do not duplicate areas in which we could assist.

Question put and agreed to. Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

4.30 pm
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