Health and Social Care

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Mr. Denham: This has been an extremely good Committee stage. Despite some fears that were expressed about the consequences of programming motions, we have been able to give due time to the key provisions that are necessary to implement the NHS plan that the Government published last year.

I place on record my thanks in the normal way to the Officials of the House who have serviced the Committee efficiently, and to the Hansard writers. I also thank the officials who have supported my fellow Minister and me throughout the passage of the Bill. Officials do a huge amount of work to support Ministers during the consideration of a Bill. No one would say that it was an easy job at the best of times, but we should acknowledge a side-effect of the programming motion. The avoidance of sittings into the early hours of the morning means that officials do not need to remain here as late.

Mr. Hammond: It is all part of the fun.

Mr. Denham: The hon. Gentleman may say that it is all part of the fun, but it is not much fun for officials, who have to be back in the office at half-past 6 or 7 o'clock the next morning, to prepare briefing on amendments. Those things are important and are not forgotten.

4.15 pm

The vast majority of members of the Committee have contributed to the debate, and I acknowledge the role played by the Opposition. The hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) has hardly been here and has not taken a great deal of interest in our proceedings, but the Committee will be memorable for the entry on to the Opposition Front Bench by the hon. Member for New Forest, West. His book of quotations will soon rival that of Dan Quayle in the bookshops.

The attention shown by the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr. Hammond) has been noteworthy; he has excelled himself. The hon. Members for Sutton and Cheam and for Isle of Wight, who shared the duties on the Front Bench for the Liberal Democrats, also participated fully in the debates and raised many important issues.

The usual channels have done their job discretely and well, despite the official state of hostilities over the issue of the programming motion, and successfully guided us to the point that we have reached today. I acknowledge, too, the contribution of outside bodies, which made representations and drafted so many of the Opposition amendments and several of our own.

Finally, Mr. Maxton, I thank you and Sir David Madel for the way in which you chaired our sittings. Your interpretation of the rules around amendments and stand part debates means that we have always had well-organised debates. We have been able to concentrate on the right issues at the right time, without having to be too constrained by the formalities, but we have also avoided a great deal of duplication.

Mr. Hammond: I am grateful to have the opportunity, on behalf of the Opposition, to thank you for your enlightened chairing of the Committee, Mr. Maxton—and for that of your co-Chairman, Sir David Madel.

I am not sure that I have been in the same Committee as the one described by the Minister, however. This is the first Committee that I have served on since the programming regime came into force, and I do not think that we have had enough time to debate fully all the clauses. Clauses 17 and 18, for example, did not get an airing at all. From a Minister's point of view, it is preferable to have predictable business in the Committee, and no doubt officials also welcome it. However, perhaps the Government should consider reducing the legislative programme if they want to lighten the load on officials.

On a personal note, I am disappointed not to have found a single punctuation or spelling error in the Bill. It is usually my objective to find an amendment that is so trivial that even the Minister cannot object to it, but I have failed on this occasion.

I would like to thank the Clerk, who provides an enormously valuable resource to those who are less well resourced than the Minister—that is, to all the Opposition Members in the Committee and, I suspect, to your co-Chairman and yourself, Mr. Maxton. Without the Clerk, we would not have been able to conduct the proceedings with anything like the dispatch and efficiency that we have experienced.

I pay tribute, too, on behalf of all Opposition Members, to the work done by our meagre staff, although they were no match for the Minister's team of thousands who beavered away through the night to prepare him.

Mr. Denham: It would come as a terrible shock.

Mr. Hammond: The Minister says it will come as a terrible shock, and I look forward to that, sometime in early May. Our staff work incredibly hard to produce the amendments, which Conservative Members—I cannot speak for the Liberal Democrats—generally produce by ourselves. We are, however, grateful for the input from outside bodies.

I should also like to thank the staff of the House who have served the Committee, including the Hansard writers and the police officers who have attended throughout, who, collectively, must have absorbed a phenomenal body of wisdom over the years.

Lord Commissioner to the Treasury (Mr. David Jamieson): From listening to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Hammond: I do not mean, as the Government Whip has just said, that they have absorbed wisdom by listening to me! I was thinking of the collective wisdom of all Members of Parliament over many years. That must give the police officers—when eventually they retire and sit at home reflecting on their careers—some really meaty issues to think about.

It has been a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Maxton, and I thank you on behalf of all Opposition Members.

Dr. Brand: May I join in the traditional pleasantries? I am not certain about our worthy policemen absorbing wisdom. I think that they develop a great deal of tolerance.

The timetabling has been helpful, because it has allowed us to concentrate on the important elements of the Bill. One of our concerns, however, is that there has been so little time between Second Reading and the onset of the Committee cycle. Of greater concern is the very short time between today and the consideration of the Bill on Report. It would be extremely helpful if the Minister and his officials had a little time to reflect on the substance of our debates in Committee. The officials might then be able to produce a draft that would be more relevant to some of the Minister's pronouncements. His words have been very encouraging, but will not necessarily be reflected in the debate on Wednesday. I hope that there will be time for that, because the most enthusiastic people—whenever the Minister has spoken—have been his officials. They, apparently, are full of enthusiasm for the fact that what they have drafted reflects what he is saying. Such faith is to be encouraged, but has also to be tested. I am sorry that we do not have sufficient time between now and Wednesday to test it.

I thank you, Mr Maxton, Sir David Madel, and, of course, the Clerk. I must also mention our research staff. We are not funded the same way as the official Opposition, and thus much beavering goes on. I am glad that we have, at least, aired many of the subjects, and hope that a better Bill finally emerges from the other place, because I am not too hopeful for next Wednesday.

The Chairman: This is the only opportunity that the Chairman gets to speak. I thank all three hon. Gentlemen for their kind remarks. I shall pass on their thanks to Sir David Madel for the time he spent in the Chair last week. I am sure that the Doormen, the Hansard writers, and the policemen will have heard the remarks that have been made, and will pass on our thanks to others who have been present during our proceedings.

I add my thanks to the Clerk. Without a Clerk, no Chairman can operate, although, very occasionally, the Clerk cannot operate without the Chairman. It is, however, nearly always the other way around.

This, I think, has been a very good-tempered, good-humoured and tolerant Committee, despite the time constraints that some Members may have felt. I am grateful to all Members for making my job so easy.

I wish to make two final points. First, my long legs often make it almost impossible for the invisible people who work here to get past me, and—even though they do not officially exist—I apologise to them. Secondly, may I say something with regard to policemen and their collective wisdom, to which the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge referred? The policemen are probably like the Chairman. They switch off and think of other things. I am sure that, like the Chairman, they would not wish to tell the Committee what is in their minds.

Bill, as amended, to be reported.

Committee rose at twenty-five minutes past Four o'clock.

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

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Prepared 8 February 2001