Draft Health Service (Control of Patient Information) Regulations 2002

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We have really good professionals on the PIAG who are balanced by vigorous and robust patient representatives such as Mrs Barbara Meredith, policy and communications manager for Age Concern in London, who represents the interests of older people and is a founder member and former chair of the

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Patients Forum. Mrs Helen Miller, who is national officer for the Wales Eczema Society, is also a member.

Dr. Fox: On a point of order, Miss Begg. It is clearly the Minister's intention to filibuster by giving meaningless information to the Committee when we have had serious deliberations about the legality of what is happening. I ask you to report back to the Speaker about what has happened in Committee. Obviously, if time had been wasted on points of order, you would have ruled them out of order, Miss Begg. Clearly, serious points were made.

We have not been able to debate extraordinarily important issues about the removal of patients' rights to confidentiality and what will happen to medical professionals if they are brought into conflict between the law and ethics. We are not fulfilling our duty in Parliament to scrutinise legislation. I ask that you take that point back to the Speaker.

The Chairman: I am convinced that the Speaker will hear what has happened in Committee this afternoon. I am sure that the Minister has listened to your entreaties and will take them on board.

Dr. Harris: On a point of order, Miss Begg. I am conscious of the time, but I wish to ask advice. The question before the Committee is whether we have considered the regulations. I am in difficulties, as I am not wholly opposed to them, but cannot vote to say that we have considered them adequately because of what has happened. Is there any way that I can demonstrate that in the Division? Or, am I left with a binary decision and must I say that I have considered something that I have not? I shall not get a chance to speak, which is almost unheard of for the third party in a Committee.

The Chairman: The hon. Gentleman will have the choice to vote no when the Committee is asked whether it has considered the regulations.

Mr. Grieve: On a point of order, Miss Begg. During the short suspension, I went downstairs and obtained a copy of the Hansard of the Committee stage of the Health and Social Care Act 2001 in the hope of clarifying the point that led to the suspension—whether regulations 1 and 2 are ultra vires. It is noteworthy that section 60(5) of the 2001 Act was almost certainly not in the Act when it was in its Committee stage. I suspect that it was inserted either at Report or in the House of Lords in response to concerns about the use made of information about treatment.

In those circumstances, is it wise or correct for the Committee to terminate its consideration of the regulations in four minutes' time? The Minister has not yet explained or justified an important legal point that may lead to the invalidation of the statutory instrument. If regulation 2 does not comply with the statute from which it derives, the regulations will not stand. It seems quite extraordinary that we cannot even clarify that matter. I should be the first, if

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reassured, to accept that my point was bad. There may be other points that concern me, but at least that one would have been considered. However, it has not. Regulation 2(2) is clearly incompatible with the provision of the statute.

Mr. Heald: Further to that point of order, Miss Begg. That is not the only legal problem with the regulations. It is clear from recent cases dealt with in the European jurisdiction that it has been decided that civil penalties, including those for the alleged dishonest evasion of tax and the negligent delivery of incorrect tax returns, are criminal proceedings in the distinctive and conventional meaning of the phrase. Article 6 of the European convention on human rights is not a minor matter. It was so important that the Government made it a priority by bringing it into the Human Rights Act 1998. The article provides for a fair process for citizens who face criminal charges. Its purpose is to ensure that people are presumed innocent until proven guilty, and that their civil rights are properly respected.

The Chairman: Order. We are running out of time. There are three minutes left. Most of the points raised by the hon. Member for Beaconsfield and the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire are matters for the courts. The provision is in the 2001 Act, which is a statute, so it is now a matter for the courts. There is a precedent for an order to come back for reconsideration, but that is a matter not for the Chairman—my hands are tied—but for the usual channels. With that advice, I advise the Committee to move on and debate the regulations.

Mr. Kevin Barron (Rother Valley): On a point of order, Miss Begg. I ask for advice. I think that it is universally agreed by the Committee that we have not had time to consider the regulations properly. Also, we have not had time to consider some difficult legal questions. Is it not within your power to suspend the Committee so that we could consider the regulations properly?

The Chairman: We have already suspended. I have advised the Committee that it is possible to take another look at this, but that is not a matter for me, in the Chair. It is a matter for the usual channels. I request that hon. Members resume their seats, so that we can make more progress in the remaining two minutes.

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

The Chairman: Is the hon. Gentleman sure?

Dr. Fox: It is clear that we will not manage to debate the very important principles behind these orders, as we have got caught up in issues of legality. You mentioned, Miss Begg, that whether an instrument such as that under discussion will be brought back is a matter for the usual channels. I wish the Chair to inform me whether there is a role for the Speaker in ensuring that something as important as this is brought back.

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It does nothing for people who have important interests in these matters, either as patients or professionals, that the key issues have not been properly debated because we have got bogged down in questions about whether the order is legal. That is important, but so are the principles behind these regulations. In a moment, you, Miss Begg, will ask the Committee whether it has properly scrutinised them. Nobody on the opposition Benches who is sane would think that these issues have been properly scrutinised. Paul Farrelly rose—

The Chairman: Order. It is not in the Speaker's gift to decide that. The usual channels must make a decision about it. I wish that I had the power to commit the Speaker to do things, but I do not.

Motion made, and Question put:—

    That the Committee has considered the Draft Health Service (Control of Patient Information) Regulations 2002.—[Ms Blears.]

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The Committee divided: Ayes 10, Noes 3.

Division No. 2]

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

Fox, Dr. Liam
Heald, Mr. Oliver
Wilshire, Mr. David

Question accordingly agreed to.

        Committee rose at five minutes past Six o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Begg, Miss Anne (Chairman)
Blears, Ms
Clapham, Mr.
Farrelly, Paul
Fitzpatrick, Jim
Fox, Dr.
Harris, Dr. Evan
Heald, Mr.
Humble, Mrs.
Jackson, Glenda
Kidney, Mr.
Reid, Mr. Alan
Ruddock, Joan
Squire, Rachel
Ward, Ms
Wilshire, Mr.

The following Members also attended, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(2):
Baron, Mr. John (Billericay)
Clappison, Mr. James (Hertsmere)
Collins, Mr. Tim (Westmorland and Lonsdale)
Gillan, Mrs. Cheryl (Chesham and Amersham)
Hawkins, Mr. Nick (Surrey Heath)
Lewis, Dr. Julian (New Forest, East)
Mawhinney, Sir Brian (North-West Cambridgeshire)
MacKay, Mr. Andrew (Bracknell)
McLoughlin, Mr. Patrick (West Derbyshire)
Paice, Mr. James (South-East Cambridgeshire)

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Prepared Wednesday 15 May 2002