The proposed abolition of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) was discussed for a second time in the House of Lords on 9 November 2010. Several peers drew attention to the questionable benefits of dismantling the fertility regulator during the second reading of the UK Government's Public Bodies (Reform) Bill 2010, which contains sweeping reforms to quangos.
Former interim Chair of the HFEA, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, called for the proposed abolitions and mergers of quangos to be subjected to a rigorous examination of their merits. He criticised 'the indiscriminate way in which all public bodies are being considered in the one long, fierce slash of this Bill' and said an independent assessment of the criteria applied by the government in making its decisions was needed.
Lord Harries said reorganisations are 'notoriously expensive' and expressed his concerns that the abolition would not result in any savings during this parliament. He was 'highly doubtful' there would be any long-term savings. The former Bishop of Oxford drew attention to the Government's constitutional responsibility to respect the outcome of Parliament's deliberations and challenged the haste with which the HFEA was being dismantled.
'If Parliament has thought this area so critical that it was worth weeks of its time to set up a regulatory body with very tight regulation in place, it hardly seems responsible to dismember that body with one quick snip and without serious consideration of the implications of so doing', he said.
His concern was echoed by Baroness Thornton who drew attention to the more than 100 hours spent debating the legislation that established the HFEA. Baroness Thornton described the proposed abolition of the HFEA and the Human Tissue Authority as 'very good examples of where the (Public Bodies) Bill fails' and asked 'why the Government need such draconian powers to abolish or alter so many organisations that Parliament has spent time scrutinising at length over the years'.
Baroness Warnock, patron of the Progress Educational Trust, the charity which publishes BioNews, and whose 1984 report first established the need for a fertility regulator, described the HFEA as 'one of her babies'. Emphasising its importance as 'a highly specialist body that offers a form of protection against exploitation to a group of highly vulnerable people who are trying and failing to conceive', Baroness Warnock made 'a special plea' for its preservation.
The Bill will next go to the committee stage, which begins on 23 November 2010.