Health and Social Care Bill

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Mr. Burstow: Will the Minister tell us a little more about the arbiter?

Mr. Hutton: We will have to set out some of the details of this in the guidance and regulations that we intend to use. I knew that the hon. Gentleman would not like that. We will certainly not be hatching our own proposals in Richmond house. We want to discuss the details of this provision very closely with the Local Government Association, the Audit Commission and others to make sure that we get it right. The role of the arbiter, therefore, will have to be developed. We want him particularly to help us to determine the amount of resource transfer that might be necessary where agreement cannot be reached between the parties. The hon. Gentleman will accept that that is a difficult area and that we want to make sure that the arrangements we put in place for dealing with the issue are sensible and fair to all the parties involved.

For the reasons I have tried to set out, I would advise my hon. Friends not to accept the amendments.

Mr. Hammond: I listened carefully to what the Minister said and, as I anticipated, he has indicated that, under regulations that the Committee obviously does not have the benefit of scrutinising, it is his intention to ensure that in normal circumstances there will be the type of consultation that we are discussing. If the Minister is right in saying that the clause 46 option would be pursued only in extreme circumstance and as a last resort, he should expect the conclusion of that consultation to be pretty much a foregone one. He would probably expect the Secretary of State to intervene and instigate the process only in response to representations from patient representative bodies. Indeed, if patient representative bodies have not noticed the problems in service delivery, it has to be questionable as to whether those problems exist.

Mr. Hutton: The hon. Gentleman is trying to have his cake and eat it. He wants consultation and he now realises that there will be consultation. However, he is unhappy that, in his view, it will almost invariably support the conclusion that a care trust should be set up. That is a rather unreasonable position.

Mr. Hammond: To quote the Minister back at himself, he is being slightly ungracious. I was going on to say that that is fine and, as far as it goes, it is reassuring. We would then have had the usual complaint that we would have preferred the provision to have been included in the Bill. I still fail to understand why it is not possible to put a reference to measures that the Government seem to take as read—such as consultation—into the Bill.

I was slightly alarmed, however, to hear that the Minister would not rule out an alternative scenario where there had to be an emergency intervention. In that situation, the Secretary of State would need to intervene without going through the due consultation process because of some urgency. The Secretary of State already has considerable powers of intervention where the safety of patients or of people receiving social care is at stake and it is necessary to act quickly. Indeed, in the past three years there have been examples of failing social service providers and on each occasion the Government intervened rapidly to ensure that a situation that was potentially dangerous or seriously disadvantageous to patients or users of services was contained and addressed in an appropriate way. The Government do, therefore, have powers to intervene in an emergency.

I am not sure whether it would be appropriate in an emergency for the Government to intervene using the powers under clause 46 to create what is intended to be an on-going and continuing situation—a care trust or a directed partnership arrangement. By definition, anything that is intended to endure into the longer term needs to be carefully thought out and worked up as a scheme, rather than imposed in the heat of the moment in reaction to some urgency. We are concerned that Governments are sometimes under political or media pressure to be seen to be doing something in response to a particular event—perhaps one that shocks the public and attracts the interest of the media. Sadly, only in the last week there was an example of an event that was particular shocking and demanded a response. However, we are now beginning to ask ourselves whether the response might deliver more problems in the future than were anticipated at the time.

Whenever Conservative Members are tempted to reach for legislative solutions, we have a habit of saying to each other ``dangerous dogs'' as a reminder that legislation that is entered into rapidly may not always prove to be the best thought-out and most effective legislation in practice.

We have concern that this route would be followed, as a result of press pressure and public opinion, in order to be seen to be doing something in reaction to a particular problem. I would be dismayed if the Government were to use the provisions in clause 46 without the proper consultation with statutory bodies on the grounds of urgency when the Secretary of State has plenty of other powers to intervene urgently. It is wholly inappropriate to create long-term structures on the back of an envelope, as it were, in response to pressure to act immediately.

I was reassured by what I take to be the 99 per cent case—the Minister's assurance that in the normal course of events there would be a proper consultation before any action was taken. As I said earlier, if services were really failing, I take it as read that the statutory representative bodies would support action being taken. I have already said that we intend to oppose clause 46 on stand part, therefore, there is no point in pursuing the amendment further in the light of what the Minister has said. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Hutton: I beg to move amendment No. 265, in page 40, leave out lines 22 to 24 and insert

    `considers would, if exercised under or in accordance with the arrangements in question, be likely to contribute to an improvement in the exercise of the function referred to in paragraph (a).'

The purpose of amendment No. 265 is to clarify the intention behind using the intervention powers that are designed to improve a service that is actually failing. Our intention is to improve services that failed users. This is clear and unequivocal and a proper role for Government. We want to make that very clear in the wording of the Bill and that is what the amendment is designed to do. I hope that it will reassure some organisations that have expressed concern that the Bill as currently drafted will allow a range of other local authority functions to be drawn within the powers under clause 46.

In moving this amendment, our aim will be to improve the services that have failed and to ensure that other functions are included in the delegation only if they can contribute to the improvement of the failing service. Let us be clear that it does not mean that failing to deliver an orange badge scheme, for example, will lead to social services being stripped away—as some wilder speculation has suggested. The orange badge scheme is not even a social services function, and so could not even trigger the intervention powers in the first place. The amendment is designed to clarify the Government's intentions and to make it quite clear what functions could be covered by the scope of an order under clause 46.

Amendment agreed to.

Question proposed, That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Hammond: I am sorry to disappoint the Government Whip if he thought we were going to get through clause 46 before lunch, but I am afraid that I need to raise some issues.

As has already been well-rehearsed, the jury is out on the concept of care trusts, but we are broadly supportive of it as long as the initial schemes are properly evaluated and decisions to proceed are made on the basis of the evidence available and are entered into voluntarily. These partnership arrangements depend essentially on people working together and people cannot be coerced into working together.

Clause 45 stands in sharp contrast to clause 46 where the Government—

It being One o'clock, THE CHAIRMAN adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned till this day at half-past Four o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Maxton, Mr. John (Chairman)
Bradshaw, Mr.
Brand, Dr.
Burns, Mr.
Burstow, Mr.
Dawson, Mr.
Denham, Mr.
Fitzsimons, Lorna
Foster, Mr. Michael Jabez
Hammond, Mr.
Hutton, Mr.
Jamieson, Mr.
Mountford, Kali
Naysmith, Dr.
Prosser, Mr.
Stewart, Mr. Ian
Swayne, Mr. Desmond
Young, Sir George

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