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27 Nov 2002 : Column 366—continued

6.19 pm

Mr. Martyn Jones (Clwyd, South): I would be grateful if I could take some time to discuss the background of the Bill, before considering the principle that we are discussing on Second Reading. I would like to do so because it was the Welsh Affairs Committee, of which I am proud to be Chair, that was charged with the responsibility of providing the main pre-legislative scrutiny on behalf of the House. Likewise, the mirrored responsibility from the perspective of the devolved National Assembly for Wales fell to the Health and Social Services Committee of the Assembly in Cardiff.

There was, of course, an input to the draft Bill process from the Welsh Grand Committee, under the excellent stewardship of my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths), and that provided a useful Third Reading-style stage of the pre-legislative process, throughout which, I believe, only one voice expressed concern that the scrutiny by the Welsh Affairs Committee was somehow a bad precedent to set. The reason given was that not all members of the Committee represent Welsh constituencies. That is a fact, but it is hardly the fault of the House that the Welsh people do not elect a single Welsh Conservative Member. In any case, that is no excuse for precluding the Welsh Affairs Committee from repeating its scrutiny role and the process would be fundamentally flawed if the official Opposition were effectively excluded.

Mr. Jon Owen Jones: Although I was not named, I must speak in my defence. I believe that we have set a bad precedent, because in the event of another Government—possibly a Tory Government—being elected, the Select Committee could have a majority of members from outside Wales. We have set a poor precedent, because it will be used against us when we have another Government. I do not believe that the Labour party will be in power constantly.

Mr. Martyn Jones: I am shocked by that suggestion, but I must point out to my hon. Friend that, in any case,

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the Standing Orders of the House say that every Committee of the House will have a Government majority. Whatever Committee considered such a matter, it would, dare I say it, have a Tory majority were the Tories to be elected.

Mr. Jon Owen Jones: I am thankful to be allowed a second go. To correct my hon. Friend, Standing Order No. 86, which we must set aside at the end of the debate, allows Bills exclusively about Wales to be debated by a Committee whose members are all Welsh Members. That is in the existing Standing Orders.

Mr. Martyn Jones: A Government who are not a Labour Government could change that Standing Order overnight, as my hon. Friend is well aware. Yes, that Standing Order exists, but if a new Select Committee were set up to discuss Welsh business it would have a majority from another party should such circumstances arise. I am sorry, but that has to be the case, as no Government will ever set up a Committee with a majority of Opposition Members.

By the way, my hon. Friend may not be aware that another Member made such a suggestion in the debate, so the cap that he takes up may not fit him. He may recall that a Member on the other side of the House said something along similar lines about the Welsh Grand Committee. That said, if the cap fits Members on either side of the House, whoever wants to can wear it. I sincerely believe that the Select Committee represents the best process under the rules of the House.

My hon. Friend may or may not agree with what I shall say next: a better change may be to alter the Standing Orders to allow joint working with Assembly Committees.

Mr. Roger Williams : I compliment the hon. Gentleman on his work with the Welsh Affairs Committee. Does he agree that one benefit arising from the process is the enhanced legislative understanding and trust that developed between the Assembly and Westminster?

Mr. Martyn Jones: Absolutely. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, who is a valuable member of my Committee, endorses the process, which I have adopted since becoming Chairman of the Committee and since the Assembly was established, of keeping Assembly Members on board at all stages and at no stage, I hope, treading on their legislative toes. That is a self-denying ordinance, but one on which there is general consensus in our Committee.

The Select Committee greatly welcomed the opportunity to take the lead on the draft Bill, which, from a public consultation perspective, was a huge success. In total, 307 organisations and individuals were consulted and, as the Wales Office website rightly boasts:

I can assure the House that the process was extremely successful, and I am therefore delighted that the Queen's Speech contains the pledge that the Government intend

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to publish even more draft Bills to give Parliament and the wider public a greater opportunity to scrutinise proposals before the more formal legislative process takes place in the House.

I thank the previous Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary for their work and, indeed, the spirit with which they entered into the draft Bill process. I also place on record my sincere appreciation of Jane Hutt, the Minister for Health and Social Services in the Welsh Assembly Government in Cardiff, who provided leadership in making the draft Bill process the success for Wales that it has proved to be. However, I add one general suggestion, which I hope is helpful, on the legislative process in relation to the Bill and, indeed, future draft Bills: why does not the House consider holding truncated debates on Second Reading? Members will probably fill the time allotted tonight, in good old Parkinson tradition. However, given that we have had one crack of the whip, perhaps we should cut down debates on Second and Third Reading.

The Government have accepted most of the technical amendments proposed by the Select Committee and the Welsh Assembly during deliberations on the draft Bill, so we should be discussing only parts of the Bill on which amendments were not accepted. In the light of the Government's promise in the Queen's Speech to present further Bills in draft before the formal legislative process begins, I urge them to re-examine the necessity for full Second Reading debates so as to save valuable time in the House. Briefer consideration in Committee will come naturally, but perhaps debates on Third Reading could also be shorter.

When the draft Bill was published in May, it was a good day not just for health in Wales, but for Wales's democracy and parliamentary accountability. I am proud of the Government's commitment in creating that groundbreaking precedent. The real benefits of presenting the Bill in draft have come to fruition, as it offers legislation for Wales that was consulted on and debated in Wales before the House began its deliberations on the details. This is truly Xhome-grown" legislation. Importantly, the Bill is also testimony to the fact that devolution in Wales and the relationship between this place and the National Assembly in Cardiff have come of age. The Bill proves, conclusively in my mind, that London and Cardiff can and will work together for the benefit of the people of Wales.

The Bill will deliver huge benefits for patients in Wales by giving them a much stronger voice, not only in improving the NHS in Wales, but in running the health service. Patients will be empowered, and I am proud that it took this reforming and imaginative Government to find the way to enable patient power to come into being. They are to be congratulated on that.

The Bill is an important step in the revitalisation of the NHS and it cannot be viewed in isolation from the massive increase in investment that has been injected into the NHS in Wales over recent years. I believe that, today, an extra £1 million has been allocated for the ambulance service in Wales. I hope that the Under-Secretary mentions that in his winding-up speech, as it needs to be put to the public.

When the Government talk of reform, they mean reform, and the Bill is an intrinsic part of that strategy in Wales. It is designed to ensure that the patient's voice

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is central in the creation of improved services right across the board, and in accepting pre-legislative responsibility the Committee recognised and, I hope, built on that important factor.

Underpinning that empowerment of the patient is the progressive transformation of community health councils across Wales. That crucial strand of reform is to be enhanced by their taking on the new role of being responsible for nursing homes and primary care. CHCs across Wales perform excellent and dedicated work, not just in terms of their quasi-inspectorate role, but through advocacy. The Welsh Affairs Committee wanted CHC members to have a statutory right to take time off work to attend CHC meetings and formal visits. I would like the Government to return to the matter and amend the Employment Rights Act 1996 to include CHCs in the list of approved public bodies.

Another recommendation that the Government did not accept in their response relates to a review in respect of Welsh CHCs not being constrained by the borders of Wales when acting on behalf of Welsh patients who are receiving treatment outside Wales. Wales is in a unique position, particularly the more rural parts of mid and north Wales, where many patients have to travel to Shrewsbury, Oswestry, Telford and even Manchester for treatment. I would have liked to see this uniqueness addressed. Again, I would ask the Government to reconsider this matter in Committee.

The Bill also advances the setting up of a brand new and encompassing health professions body for Wales, which would in future include health specialities such as physiotherapy and speech therapy. Health Professions Wales—HPW—will also replace the functions previously carried out by the Welsh National Board for Nursing Midwifery and Health Visiting, which is to be abolished in the near future.

In evidence sessions, the Select Committee quickly formed the view that the proposal to set up Health Professions Wales has been broadly welcomed. However, the Committee expressed concern about the independence of HPW in relation to staff and funding issues. We are pleased that the Government clarified the extent of the powers in their response to the Committee and in the Bill.

The Bill offers to Wales a bold change of emphasis from just treating disease to looking at the Xbig picture" of setting out to improve the general health of people in Wales. I believe that that will be greatly helped by the establishment of the Wales Centre for Health, which will offer support training and share advances in cutting-edge medical research throughout Wales. On the independence of the WCH, I am pleased that the Government accepted the Select Committee's recommendation that the Assembly's powers of direction over the WCH should be limited to

and that the Bill is specific on that matter.

In the evidence sessions, the Select Committee highlighted, but did not submit as a specific recommendation, the evidence of some witnesses who wanted the WHC's remit widened to enable it to be more proactive in offering advice and information to the public. Again, we are pleased that the Government recognised the matter and elaborated in the Bill on the WCH's role in relation to that function. The

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Government also responded positively to the National Audit Office query about the role of the Auditor General for Wales to carry out value-for-money investigations into the WHC's work. That is now included within the Bill.

The Bill, which was brought to the House via the route of pre-legislative scrutiny, has been a resounding success. Not only has that process marked a progressive and organic approach to drafting legislation but, more importantly, as the Bill demonstrates, it has delivered good legislation. In this case, that is good news not just for the NHS in Wales, but for the standing and reputation of this House.

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