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9 Jan 2003 : Column 341continued
Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North): I know that amendment No. 2 is a probing amendment, and it raises important issues, but I think both amendments should be resisted, because I feel that requiring a place on the board to be given to the Wales centre for health is too prescriptive at this stage. I feel that the Assembly should have maximum flexibility to decide which organisations should have places.
Dr. Julian Lewis: I thank the hon. Lady for giving way, with typical courtesy. Surely she recognises, however, that a terrorist chemical or biological weapons threat would require a national lead from central Government? Does she not agree that if any subject under the sun requires such a lead, it is that subject?
Julie Morgan: The hon. Gentleman is making important points sincerely, but I do not think that the Welsh body we are creating should be compelled to liaise with another body. Moreover, as was pointed out by the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling), the arrangements in Wales differ from those in England. The Assembly will retain some responsibility for emergency planning.
Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire): I welcome the tone of these Conservative amendments more than that of those tabled in Committee, because they show enthusiasm for working together rather than pulling apart. In my view and that of my party, devolution is not about separation and isolation but about maximising the contribution that each nationsuch as Wales or Scotlandand each English region can make to the whole. But the arguments of the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) in Committee often depended on a worst-case scenario, and I feel that the case he has advanced today for an English appointee does the same.
Chris Grayling: The hon. Gentleman knows, surely, that the health protection agency will cover England and Wales. There is no reason to assume that the HPA representative on the board must be English, as Welsh people will of course be involved in the organisation. This is much more about solidifying the links between the organisations than about trying to involve England in Wales.
Mr. Williams: I take the hon. Gentleman's point, but I do not think any of us thought, on first seeing the Bill, that the primary purpose of the Wales centre for health would be to deal with terrorist threatsalthough of course I accept that terrorism is now a key issue, which we should all address. I feel that using a worst-case scenario as a basis for legislation will so constrain the nature of that legislation that it will be unsympathetic to devolution, and the right of the Welsh people and the Welsh Assembly to look after their own affairs.
Although I welcome the tone of the amendments and accept the points made by the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell, I do not think the hon. Gentleman's aims will necessarily be achieved by changes in the legislation. They could, I think, be achieved by good practice and the building up of partnerships that would work in actuality rather than on the pages of a Bill.
It would be inappropriate to give a body that does not exist, and will in any case cease to exist as soon as the HPA is established, a place on the board of the Wales centre for health, or to require the centre to co-ordinate its activities with those of such a body. Surely giving the centre a duty to co-ordinate its activities with the recommendations of the interim body, or those of the HPA when it is established, would be incompatible with a requirement to ensure its independence.
The outcome of the pre-legislative scrutiny supported our intention that the centre should act independently, as Conservative Members pointed out in Committee. It could not act independently if required to co-ordinate its activities with the recommendations of the HPA. There would be no equivalent requirement for the HPA to co-ordinate its activities with those of the centre. It would also be inconsistent to require the centre to co-ordinate its activities with those of a body outside Wales, in the absence of a similar duty for it to co-ordinate its activities with those of relevant public sector bodies in Wales. And why should the HPA have a right to representation on the board of the Wales centre when bodies in Wales will have no such right?
The Assembly intends members of the centre to be appointed on the basis of their expertise and experience, and to be drawn from the statutory, voluntary and academic sectors in Wales. Amendment No. 2 runs counter to that intention. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North (Julie Morgan) that it would introduce a prescriptive and inflexible approach to a detailed issue. We intend the Assembly to determine the matter, under schedule 2(10)(a). I can reassure Members, however, that the Wales centre for health will not duplicate the expertise that the HPA will provide in Wales.
Dr. Julian Lewis: I do not think that people are worried about the Welsh body duplicating the work of the national body. What worries them, I think, is the possibility that the Welsh body will not consider the role of the national body sufficiently. It is, surely, a crucial defence role, albeit a civil and domestic defence role. It makes no more sense for the Welsh Assembly to consider the work of a body with a national defence role of that sort than for it to consider other important aspects of defence policy and say, XThese should be a matter for us". Surely the Minister can see that we are discussing an overall national danger, and that national defence measures are therefore required.
Mr. Touhig: I hope that the remarks that I am about to make will reassure the hon. Gentleman so far as that point is concerned. We need to distinguish between the roles of the Wales centre for health and of the health protection agency. The HPA will bring together specialist expertise at a UK level against microbiologicial, chemical and radiological hazards, and terrorist threats. The WCH is in support of public health in Wales, so the two bodies have two distinct roles.
Chris Grayling: If there were evidence of a biological attack in this country and of the possible spread of a communicable disease, would the WCH have any role in providing the public with information about that disease?
Mr. Touhig: I do not think that we want the legislation to prevent the WCH from providing any information to any national body such as the HPA, if that were thought appropriate. I see no reason why the WCH should not do that if it has something to contribute, but we need to understand the two separate roles of the HPA and the WCH.
Dr. Julian Lewis: We are getting to the heart of the matter. The Minister is saying that the WCH would not be prohibited from contributing, but the amendment would ensure that the WCH could contribute, make useful statements and enable important measures to be taken in the event of a terrible attack of this sort. He is not really reassuring us that, without the representation for which the amendment argues, the new body in Wales will be able to take effective action in the event of a terrorist attack.
Mr. Touhig: Perhaps I should again make it clear that the bodies have two separate roles. The HPA will bring together specialist expertise at a UK level against microbiological, chemical and radiological hazards and terrorist threats. The WCH is in support of public health in Wales. I cannot see for the life of me how putting a representative on the board of the WCH would in any way guarantee that any information that WCH wanted to contribute would automatically be contributed. I have no doubt that, if the WCH wanted to make a contribution, it would be able to do so through proper collaborationwhich will comebetween the two bodies.
As I said, the functions of the HPA in Wales will be fully explained when we present that information to the House. When it is established, it is intended that the HPA will provide services and expertise across the range of hazards that I have described: microbiological, radiological, chemical and so on. This information is currently