MPs bite back over genetics watchdog

May 3, 1996

The Government has decided to review its decision not to set up a human genetics commission following an angry outcry from MPs who originally proposed the body.

The idea of a commission came from the House of Commons select committee on science and technology last July after its inquiry into developments in genetics. The commission could, it suggested, oversee progress in gene patenting, genetic medicines and possible use of genetic information by the insurance industry and employers.

The Government disagreed, arguing that bodies already exist to do this. Select committee MPs attacked the decision, said the Government's response was "complacent and ignorant" and immediately announced a further inquiry.

A spokesman for the Department of Health confirmed this week that minister Stephen Dorrell is reviewing the Government's original decision following further questioning from the committee.

Jeremy Bray, Labour member of the select committee said: "The Government has had second thoughts but we do not know whether it will lead to a committee or a commission, or what its powers or membership will be."

Spencer Batiste, Conservative select committee member said: "We detected a very significant shift in Government's views in our latest hearings on the matter. We believe that its original response was based on a lack of understanding of what the committee was saying in its report. And that is why I am confident about the outcome. Genetics is a fast-moving field that Government must have advice on."

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