Draft Health Service (Control of Patient Information) Regulations 2002

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Ms Blears: I understand that a correction has been made to section 60. An addendum to the Act states that, on page 65, in subsection (3), the reference to subsection (3) should be to subsection (1). In subsection (4), references to subsection (3) should be to subsection (1).

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath): It was suggested earlier that the papers provided were inadequate. If the Minister is now referring to an addendum that makes an explanatory change to the Act, which only she has and which is not included in the papers, is that not in itself a reason for abandoning the proceedings? In another Committee recently, when one of your fellow members of the Chairman's Panel, Miss Begg, found that all the papers necessary were not available to the Committee, he felt that he needed to refer the matter to the Speaker and suspend the proceedings, which related to the European Union arrest warrant. As a shadow Minister, I have been involved in similar circumstances in which papers not being available to hon. Members was a reason for abandoning the proceedings and adjourning.

Mr. Kidney: On a point of order, Miss Begg. It has been suggested that we have no notice of the right authority for making the regulation. However, the front page of the statutory instrument states that we are asked to agree it under the powers conferred on the Secretary of State by section 60(1), which is the corrected authority that the Minister gave the Committee. I therefore do not believe that we have been taken by surprise, although an unfortunate error has been made in the Act.

Mr. Heald: Section 60(1) states:

    "This subsection and subsection (2) have effect subject to subsections (3) to (6)."

Those are the subsections that are defective in the documents before the Committee.

The Chairman: The correction is not to the order, which is perfectly valid, but to some printed copies of the Act, which was passed in 2001. We are going round and round in circles. The order is correct, so we should now continue.

Dr. Harris: On a point of order, Miss Begg, I fully accept your comments, but although subsection 4(c) is referred to under section 60(6), I cannot see where it is. I should be grateful if that were clarified. It is difficult to have a sensible debate when we cannot—it may be my error rather than one in the Act—follow the original legislation.

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Ms Blears: I can help. Under subsection 6, the reference to subsection 4(c) should be to subsection 2(c) instead.

Mr. Wilshire: On a point of order, Miss Begg. You said that all the documentation was available at the beginning of our debate. However, if anyone came into the Room now, copies of the Act would not be available to them. Perhaps you or a Clerk could show me where I can pick up copies of the correction. If they are in the Room, I have not seen them and, if they are not here, they should be.

The Chairman: There has been slight confusion and a Clerk has gone to fetch some copies of the correction. They will be with the Committee as soon as possible.

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham): On a point of order, Miss Begg. Given the confusion surrounding the way in which the order is framed and the source legislation on which the Minister is relying, can you advise me whether there are provisions under Standing Orders whereby the Committee can be adjourned and a Law Officer of the House can provide us with the necessary explanations? Some points obviously need clarification and we should have the advantage of the advice of a Law Officer, so that members of the Committee can fully understand what the Minister is trying to do.

The Chairman: I take the hon. Lady's point. We may suspend for a moment, until the corrections arrive. I cannot agree to her suggestion, because there is no provision in Standing Orders for a Law Officer to be summoned to address the Committee. I am prepared to suspend the Committee until the corrections are delivered, and hon. Members will then have the opportunity to look at them.

Mr. Wilshire: Further to that point of order, Miss. Begg. I assume that, if the Committee were to suspend, the time would not be included in the hour and a half that we have for debate. More importantly, the points of order were made necessary by the Government's incompetence. The time spent making them should also be excluded from the time allowed for the debate.

What is even more serious is that we have had a lengthy discussion about incomplete information. Had it been complete, the debate might well have taken a different turn and our time would have been spent on the correct, rather than incorrect, data. Is there any provision that would allow for the time that has been wasted by the Government's failure to bring all the necessary information to be subtracted from the hour and a half? If not, why not?

The Chairman: If I decide to suspend, it will be for one or two minutes. As I have already pointed out, the Committee is debating the regulations and they are complete. The issues about the existing Act were not raised until the Minister's final few points. That does not, in my judgment, negate the rest of the debate. I will suspend the Committee for a few minutes, unless hon. Members have further points of

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order, and documentation would no doubt have arrived by the time that they have finished.

Dr. Fox: I seek your guidance, Miss Begg, about the important legal point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire). It is not arcane, and if there were time I would like to discuss it. There is a question about the legal basis on which the Government are bringing forward the regulations in connection with the original Act. Our purpose is to give the Government's proposals good scrutiny and I therefore seek your leave, Miss Begg, to move an official motion of adjournment of the Committee.

The Chairman: Suspension is at the Chairman's discretion. The documents have arrived and are being distributed to hon. Members. As the time allotted to the order is only an hour and a half, we should now proceed.

Dr. Fox: On a point of order, Miss Begg. I would like to put on record that a genuine point was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne. The information provided by the Government was incomplete. We are being asked to scrutinise and make an instant decision on the documents that are now being placed before us. At the very least, we should be given time to consider whether that makes a material difference to the regulations.

The Chairman: Order. As I have already said, the amendment applies to the original Act, not to the regulations before us. I would like to make progress.

Mr. Grieve: On a point of order, Miss Begg. I appreciate that the effect applies to the original statute as printed and not to the statutory instrument, but the two are intimately linked. The only power to make the regulations is by virtue of the wording of that statute. The point that I made earlier—that there appears to be an incompatibility between the regulations and the statute—depends on the wording of the statute. It would be helpful to have two minutes to allow me to speak briefly to the Minister and to ascertain whether there is any validity to that point. If there is, the statutory instrument is fatally flawed in its present form.

Dr. Harris: Further to that point of order, Miss Begg. Without prejudice to my view of the regulations, I endorse the view of the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox). This is not a satisfactory forum in which to discuss such a detailed document, regardless of the confusion caused by unnotified areas in the primary legislation to which it relates. Whatever their view on the merits of the regulations, it is difficult for Opposition Members to make adequate consideration if issues such as those raised by the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) are steeped in confusion.

The Chairman: Order. There is obviously confusion. It is within my power to accept a motion for an Adjournment, but I must put that to a vote.

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With everything that has happened, that is the way forward.

Motion made, and Question put, That the Committee do now adjourn.—[Dr. Fox.]

Dr. Fox: On a point of order, Miss Begg.

The Chairman: I have called the Division.

The Question having been put, the Committee divided: Ayes 5, Noes 10.

Division No. 1]

Fox, Dr. Liam
Harris, Dr. Evan
Heald, Mr. Oliver
Reid, Mr. Alan
Wilshire, Mr. David

Blears, Ms Hazel
Clapham, Mr. Michael
Farrelly, Paul
Fitzpatrick, Jim
Humble, Mrs. Joan
Jackson, Glenda
Kidney, Mr. David
Ruddock, Joan
Squire, Rachel
Ward, Ms Clare

Question accordingly negatived.

Dr. Harris: On a point of order, Miss Begg. This is a difficult matter, and you are dealing with it in an admirable manner. However, I am confused as to whether the decision to adjourn is at your discretion, as well as—it must be as well as, because we have just divided—that decision being subject to a Division, which will always be in the hands of the majority.

The Chairman: I can suspend for five minutes, if that would be helpful. That five minutes would then be added to the hour and a half.

Mrs. Joan Humble (Blackpool, North and Fleetwood): We are debating an important matter. Because of the confusion, I suggest that you use your discretion to suspend the proceedings for five minutes, Miss Begg.

Mr. Wilshire: I hope that the other Committee members agree with me that it is unfortunate that we should be faced with trying to find an alternative to your suggestion, Miss Begg. It is a tradition of the House that we respect the neutrality of the Chair. You, as the Chair, Miss Begg, made it perfectly clear that you thought that the right course of action was for the Committee to adjourn, but the jackboot majority could not care less about your neutrality, and voted against the views of the Chair. That is a disgrace, and it must be put on the record. [Hon. Members: "Rubbish".] The cries of "Rubbish" are negated by that vote, which makes it clear that Labour Members went against the advice of the Chair. That goes against the traditions of the House.

The Chairman: To put the record straight, I accepted the motion that was put forward by the

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shadow Secretary of State for Health, and the Committee divided on that.

If the Committee wishes to suspend the sitting for five minutes, I would be happy to do that, because such a suspension might be useful.

Mrs. Gillan: On a point of order, Miss Begg. I seek your advice, because I am worried about the way that the Committee is progressing. The regulations before us rely on primary legislation that has been incorrectly printed. The correction came from officials serving the Minister. It was not made available to the rest of the Committee. You rightly asked for it to be made available to the Committee, during the Committee, Miss Begg. However, is not that a dangerous precedent to set? It means that incomplete information can be put before a Committee that is examining complex regulations on a sensitive matter of this sort, and that, in effect, the Chair can bring in any documentation to correct incorrect documentation, and thereby inhibit the powers of scrutiny of a Committee of this House. I wish you to advise me. If we set this precedent, what implications will there be for other Committees? I also strongly ask you to consider adjourning the Committee, so that this matter can be considered on another occasion, when we can examine it in detail.

I appreciate that you have taken a vote, Miss Begg, and I appreciate what my colleagues have said, but there must be another route that can be taken, because this would set a dangerous precedent with regard to scrutiny of regulations in this House.

The Chairman: To set the record straight, the Committee Clerks provided the correction—although it might have been helpful if the Government had provided that at the beginning. Several hon. Members rose—

The Chairman: Order. The original proposal was to suspend for five minutes. That is what we should do now. I move to suspend the sitting. We will return at 5.40 pm.

5.35 pm

Sitting suspended.

5.40 pm

On resuming—

Mr. Hawkins: On a point of order, Miss Begg. Those of us who have background expertise in the law suspect that the regulations are being put forward on an ultra vires basis. My hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield has also expressed such concerns. He has gone to the Vote Office for a copy of the Hansard reports of the debate on the primary legislation in Committee. Until my hon. Friend returns with that information to enable us to see whether the matter was considered properly in Committee, I wonder whether you would suspend the Committee again, Miss Begg. I am sure that you accept that the matter

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is of crucial importance and that we must find out whether the regulations are intra vires or ultra vires.

Mr. Heald: Further to that point of order, Miss Begg. Another aspect that arose during the suspension of the sitting relates to the enforcement procedure under regulation 8, whereby the Secretary of State can not only determine whether someone has complied with a requirement, but assess whether the penalty should be imposed and take account of its seriousness. Over recent months, since the Human Rights Act 1998, there have been cases in which it was decided that such civil penalties, although under the tax jurisdiction, amount to criminal charges within the meaning of article 6(1) of the European convention on human rights.

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