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Mrs. Lait: By giving those powers to the commission inspectors, will the Minister do away with other regulations that give other people power of entry to a foster home?

Mr. Hutton: I assure the hon. Lady that we are not doing that. The Bill makes clear which provisions will and will not be amended. For example, we are not changing the powers of local authority officers in relation to their child protection functions; nor are we changing the powers of a police constable in the exercise of such functions. As the hon. Lady herself pointed out, it is important to retain measures to ensure that children placed in foster homes by local authorities are properly protected should there be any risk to their health or well-being.

Mrs. Lait: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way again. Will he make it absolutely clear that the measure would give further rights to strangers to inspect a foster home and that foster carers would have to face additional bureaucracy?

Mr. Hutton: With great respect to the hon. Lady, I think that she has completely misunderstood the point. I have made it quite clear that NCSC inspectors would not have a power of entry to private foster homes. I tried to make that clear. Under the Bill, there will be no general power given to NCSC inspectors to enter private foster homes.

It is not the foster carer who will be regulated by the National Care Standards Commission, but the local authority or independent fostering agency. That is where the powers of the commission will rightly be directed.

Mr. Ian Bruce: By now, the Minister's officials will have had a chance to examine the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Bill. That measure makes clear the circumstances in which people can obtain information--especially from computers and other forms of investigation and surveillance. The Care Standards Bill is clearly in contravention of that measure. Will he address that point?

Mr. Hutton: I am pretty sure that it is not in contravention. I may have to qualify my comment later in our proceedings, but I think that the reason that this Bill does not contravene the provisions of the RIP Bill can be seen in clause 44, in which the hon. Gentleman was extremely interested. Clause 44 gives the NCSC the power to require the local authority to provide information. That does not involve the issues raised by the hon. Gentleman in relation to the RIP Bill. We are not inspecting computers. The clause requires the regulated provider--in this case, the local authority--in relation to part III, to require information to be produced to the local authority under the powers of the Bill.

If the hon. Gentleman will be patient, I think that the best way to deal with that point would be for me to give him a fuller explanation at a later stage of our proceedings.

Mr. Bruce: The hon. Gentleman contradicts his own Bill. Clause 44(3)(b) states that the powers include

That is exactly what is dealt with in the RIP Bill. The requirements for obtaining such information are set out in that measure and they are not complied with in the Care Standards Bill.

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6.45 pm

Mr. Hutton: With respect to the hon. Gentleman, I am quite sure that he is wrong. Later in our proceedings, I will find some way to satisfy him on that point.

Amendments Nos. 3 and 32 are similar in that they require the commission to establish statutory committees to deal with specific aspects of its responsibilities. Amendment No. 32 was tabled by the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam. I share the hon. Gentleman's wish to ensure that private and voluntary health care is regulated effectively by the NCSC.

The Government's commitment to do so has, in our view, been amply demonstrated by the requirement that we introduced on Report in another place a power for the commission to appoint a director of private and voluntary health care, and to fund and head a health care division in the commission, whose functions will be prescribed in regulations. The independent health care sector has broadly welcomed those measures.

Measures that we have introduced provide the necessary assurance as to the importance that the commission will attach to its responsibilities for regulating independent health care. The hon. Gentleman's amendment would require the commission to have, in addition, a separate and statutory health care committee. That is where our views differ. The hon. Gentleman's approach, which is mirrored by that of the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge, is over-bureaucratic. The benefits of his proposed solution are not clear. It would duplicate the work of the private health care division.

The amendment raises questions about the relationship between the Commission for Health Improvement and the NCSC in its role of regulating private health care. That is one of the issues that we have returned to throughout the passage of the Bill in both Houses. I accept that the relationship is important. The two bodies will between them have responsibility for standards throughout all the health care services provided in this country. They will have important common interests and shared experience.

We have repeatedly spelt out the arguments--although perhaps not to the satisfaction of the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam--and have pointed out that the role of CHIMP in the NHS is not the same as that of a statutory regulator in the private and voluntary health care sector. CHIMP has been designed to work within the context of a publicly managed national health service, which is ultimately accountable to the House through the actions of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. CHIMP fits into a range of levers, incentives and controls--all under the overall management of my right hon. Friend.

Independent hospitals and clinics, on the other hand, are private businesses; they do not operate in a publicly managed system and are not under the control of the Government. If an NHS organisation is failing, it is the Government's job to do something about it. That is a responsibility and a burden that we take seriously. If necessary, the Secretary of State can intervene directly in the management of the NHS body, including, at the extreme, removing an entire trust board.

Amendment No. 32 would introduce a rather clumsy mechanism to try to involve CHIMP in the management of the NCSC. I do not think that it would be practical. It would establish a wholly superfluous layer of administration that would not be able to do anything that

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could not already be accomplished by the National Care Standards Commission under the proposals that we have made. I ask the House to reject it.

Amendment No. 3, which was tabled by the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge, proposes a statutory committee to deal with independent health care, and I do not think that I need to repeat my comments on that subject. It also proposes a further statutory committee within the commission to deal with nursing and care homes, plus a statutory director of nursing and care homes and a separate division for dealing with those services.

On a technical level, the amendment obviously leaves itself open to criticism. For instance, are care homes really to be dealt with totally separately from domiciliary care agencies? We all recognise that people being cared for today in residential settings may in future be equally well cared for in their own homes, but the amendment would run the risk of creating a new Berlin wall between those services in the way they are dealt with in the commission.

Although I cannot accept the hon. Gentleman's amendment, it may help if I say a little about how external interests, including regulated providers, will be able to work with the commission to feed in their views and to engage generally in dialogue with the commission. The hon. Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait) raised that concern.

Mr. Bercow: Given that we are waiting with bated breath and beads of sweat upon our brows, will the Minister please share with us the contents of the yellow piece of paper that the Secretary of State for Health has just passed to him?

Mr. Hutton: I do not think that the hon. Gentleman would like that; the piece of paper might be about him. He might not like what he has invited me to say. Therefore, I will not read it out. However, as I said earlier, I shall come to the points that the hon. Member for South Dorset (Mr. Bruce) raised when we come to the appropriate point in the Bill.

The commission, as a regulator, will obviously from time to time find itself in dispute with providers. From her experience, the hon. Member for Beckenham will be aware of such cases. However the commission's purposes will not be best served if it does not also engage in constructive and open discussion with service providers so as to allow feedback and proper suggestions from them and to work together to encourage improvement.

We certainly intend that there should be mechanisms in place to ensure that such discussion is an on-going feature of the commission's work. We expect arrangements to be in place at a local level to allow for such partnership working and for arrangements to be put in place at a national level for a dialogue to be established between the new National Care Standards Commission and care home providers' organisations and interests. I said in Committee that the relationship between the commission and care home providers will be central to making the arrangements work in practice and I want that relationship to be characterised by professional respect and a clear mutual understanding of each's responsibilities and respective roles. I am sure that the commission will want, once it is established, to develop that relationship with care home providers from all sectors--public, private and voluntary. That will be critical to ensuring that the arrangements work in future.

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I hope that the hon. Members for Beckenham and for Runnymede and Weybridge are reassured that the commission will be open for business with regulated providers and others who have a stake in the work that it will do. If the hon. Gentleman's amendment is designed to ensure that care providers have a point of contact with the commission--that was partly his point--I think that we can make sure that that is available without having to set out the rigid structures that he suggested.

If, on the other hand, the hon. Gentleman really thinks that Parliament should be setting down in primary legislation exactly how the management structures of the Commission will be arranged, I will probably have to disappoint him, because I cannot agree that that is a sensible thing for the House to do. If he decides to press his amendment, I shall urge my hon. Friends to vote against.

My hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Mr. Shaw) raised a point that is of concern to him and to my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Dawson). My hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford referred to the efficiency and efficacy of the arrangements that supervise private foster care arrangements. I remind him of what I said in Committee. We share with him a concern for the proper administration of the existing regulations. We took the view, and we have stuck to it, that the regulatory framework is robust enough to deal with issues of abuse and concern about the welfare of children who have been privately fostered.

My hon. Friend asked me specifically whether I would be prepared to revisit the regulations about private care arrangements, and I say to him that I am prepared to re-examine them to satisfy myself once again that they are in the right shape to meet the concerns that he raised. I go further than that: if he and my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Wyre wish to talk to me about how, in particular, they want the regulations to be improved, I am happy to have that conversation.

To some extent, the amendments tabled by the hon. Members for Sutton and Cheam and for Runnymede and Weybridge are a rehash of previous arguments. We have been through the arguments about the right relationship between CHIMP and the National Care Standards Commission extensively in this House, the Committee and in another place. I think that the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge welcomed clause 9--the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam certainly did--and it will allow the two important new bodies to work closely and effectively together. We should get on with the job, get the organisations up and running and, in doing that, better serve the public interest.

Question put and agreed to.

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

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