Health and Social Care Bill

[back to previous text]

Mr. Hammond: I have just a brief comment in support of what the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam said. We have already discussed the issue of independent local advisory forums, and it seems anomalous that they are not provided for in the Bill. May I ask the Minister a specific question? If they are to be established using the Secretary of State's powers of direction, is he then going to have to use his powers of direction, or regulation making, again, to require health authorities and trusts to provide information to them? It is not simply a question of directing that they be created, or creating them, it a question of creating the web of reporting requirements and answerability that, in the case of CHCs, is provided for because of their statutory basis. In seeking to avoid one small extra clause in the Bill, is not the Minister creating quite a complex requirement for secondary legislation and directions, in order to ensure that the ILAFs can get access, as of right, to all the information that they need, and can require health authorities and other bodies to provide them with essential data and essential access?

Mr. Denham: On the latter point, the hon. Gentleman is quite right to mention that the Secretary of State has a range of powers to ensure that the information is provided. The very existence of those powers is the biggest reason why he would not need to use them all in the explicit way that the hon. Gentleman has suggested. The powers are there, if they are needed.

It is a debateable point whether the advisory forums would be significantly stronger if the whole plan of structure and constitution regulations had been put in the Bill. Given the function of the ILAFs as an advisory forum for the health authority, the Secretary of State's power of direction, the ability that we have to ensure that the patients forums are representatives within the advisory forums and our keenness to allow the sort of flexibility that can deal with the problem—identified by the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam—of health authorities wishing to approach this role in different ways, we have preferred not to put it on the face of the Bill. I agree that this is a debateable point, but I do not believe that anything is lost by doing it through directions from the Secretary of State, and that will be proven to be the case in years to come.

Mr. Hammond: At the beginning of his remarks, the Minister said that the existence of these powers of direction that the Secretary of State has makes it very unlikely that he will ever have to use them. That was a welcome recognition from the Minister, and I hope that he will reflect on it, and it is precisely the point that Opposition Members have been trying to make throughout our proceedings. Where the Secretary of State takes powers as reserved powers, he effectively hangs a sword of Damocles over the organisations that are threatened by them. The Minister has acknowledged that, where the Secretary of State has reserved powers, he probably will never have to use them, because the mere threat of those being used is enough to ensure that the whole organisation, the whole NHS, runs in the way that the Secretary of State wants. That is not as a result of transparency, of over-regulation or directions given, but merely because the organisation is required to interpret the drift of Whitehall thinking, knowing that the Secretary of State has those significant reserve powers available to him. What the Minister has said is a significant comment on the whole architecture of this Bill.

Mr. Denham: Let me make it quite clear that none of the powers to make information available are powers that have been taken by this Government, they are ones that were enjoyed by previous Secretaries of State. The hon. Gentleman's point is therefore somewhat fatuous, unless he can explain why previous Conservative Secretaries of State did not give up those powers. I am sure that he would not want to get into that.

Mr. Hammond: Without wanting to take up the Committee's time, let me say that the Minister knows that my hon. Friend the Member for Woodspring has expressed the view that, were he to occupy the job that he covets—Secretary of State for Health—he would seek to reduce the power of that office, recognising something of the point that the Minister just made. The powers to which I refer are those that the Government are giving to the Secretary of State in this Bill. Those powers appear to give the Secretary of State dramatic rights to intervene in the running of trusts and health authorities. The Minister soothed the Committee by saying that those rights would be exercised only in extreme cases. He has just explained that the mere existence of those rights is enough to ensure that the will of the Secretary of State will be done throughout his empire.

Mr. Burstow: The hon. Gentleman is clearly not persuaded by the argument, and unfortunately, the Minister is not yet persuaded, except that he has accepted that it is still debateable. Perhaps we can work on that and persuade the Minister of our case in due course. He did not address the question that I asked about provision of information about lines of accountability and so on. Does such a chart exist yet? Has one been drawn? It would be useful to see it. If there is one, when will it be published?

Mr. Denham: It is not a map of the universe. Patients forums relate to trusts; local government has a scrutiny function; ILAFs help shape the health authority's direction; the independent advocacy service supports those patients who cannot be helped through the PAL system. The idea that it is a cat's cradle of accountability is not the way the system works. The functions have been identified clearly. It is then necessary to make sure that adequate liaison takes place, at the right points, between the different elements. I am not sure what kind of chart the hon. Gentleman means, but it betrays his lack of understanding of the proposals.

Mr. Burstow: I do not know whether it is a lack of understanding or a desire to understand what the Government are introducing. As the Committee has progressed, it has become more and more apparent that the Government do not have a clear idea of how the arrangements will fit together. I understand that, given the nature of the Committee, the Minister cannot give us a PowerPoint presentation of such aspects. Painting pictures as the Minister has just done makes it difficult to grasp what is the interface between such bodies. Surely it is not beyond the wit of the Department to provide a simple organisation chart, so that we can see how the different bodies work together.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Hammond: I beg to move amendment No. 253, in page 9, line 25, at end add—

    `(3) A report prepared under this section shall be published in such form as the Secretary of State shall direct within 28 days of the date on which it is submitted to him.'.

The amendment would require the publication by the Secretary of State of a patients forum annual report. Currently, the Bill provides that the report will be delivered to the Secretary of State. We merely seek an assurance that it will be placed in the public domain. If the Minister can give that assurance, I shall be delighted to withdraw the amendment.

Mr. Denham: It will be in the public domain.

Mr. Hammond: I am grateful to the Minister. It is a shame that that is not stated in the Bill, but I accept what he has said. In those circumstances, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 12 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 13

Patients Forums: Supplementary

Mr. Hammond: I beg to move amendment No. 255, in page 9, line 26, at beginning insert—

    `( ) The Secretary of State shall by regulations make provision for—

    (a) the funding of Patients' Forums and the provision of premises, other facilities and staff; and

    (b) the payment of travelling and other allowances to members of a Patients' Forum or of a committee of a Forum (including attendance allowances or compensation for loss of remunerative time)'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments: No. 87, in page 9, line 26, leave out `may' and insert `shall'.

No. 56, in page 9, line 26, leave out

    `by regulations make further provision'

and insert

    `issue guidance to local authorities'.

No. 57, in page 9, line 28, leave out from `The' to end and insert `guidance may include—'.

No. 89, in page 9, line 28, leave out `may' and insert `shall'.

No. 256, in page 9, line 39, leave out from beginning to end of line 4 on page 10.

No. 58, in page 9, leave out lines 39 and 40.

No. 59, in page 10, leave out lines 1 to 7.

No. 61, in page 10, line 12, at end insert—

    `(2A) The Secretary of State may by regulation make provision for—

    (a) the funding of Patients' Forums and the provision of premises, other facilities and staff;

    (b) the payment of travelling and other allowances to members of a Patients' Forum or of a committee of a Forum (including attendance allowances or compensation for loss of remunerative time);

    (c) the provision of information to a Patients' Forum by the trust for which it is established, including descriptions of information which are or are not to be provided.'.

Mr. Hammond: I want to speak to amendment No. 255 and the consequential amendment. The amendment would simply change the geometry of clause 13 to make it clear that the regulations relating to funding for patients forums and the payment of allowance to members of those bodies are in a different category and must be dealt with differently from other issues such as the procedures that the bodies follow in their deliberations.

The main concern that has been expressed about the bodies that the Government are putting in place relates to their independence. We all know that he who pays the piper tends to call the tune. Therefore, there is great concern to ensure that the bodies are funded on a proper basis. To that end, we have tabled amendment No. 255, which says that the Secretary of State shall, rather than may, by regulations, make provisions in relation to the funding and the payment of allowances.

That will not be an option for the Secretary of State. He will have to do it. As the Bill is currently drafted, he may then make other regulations in relation to the operation of patients forums. I am looking for an acknowledgment from the Minister that, because of the sensitivities about independence, there is a qualitative difference between the regulations about funding, allowances and payment to members and the other issues that will properly be dealt with by regulations as and when the Secretary of State deems it appropriate.

Previous Contents Continue

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index

©Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 30 January 2001