Health (Wales) Bill

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Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire): May I, too, say what a great pleasure it is, Mr. Griffiths, to serve under your chairmanship, as it always is? I have no doubt that there will be great disappointment in your constituency as a result of the announcement that you will not seek re-election at the next general election. I know that your loyalty has always been with your constituency, but because your place of birth was in Brecon, the Brecon people also feel that they have another ear in Parliament as well as that of the elected Member for their constituency.

The Bill is widely regarded and supported throughout Wales. It went through a long process of pre-legislative scrutiny and consultation. It is an historic Bill, because it is the first Wales-only Bill since devolution. For those reasons, it has been a privilege to work on it. Indeed, it has given us an opportunity to build good relationships with the National Assembly for Wales.

That is not to say that all the processes of legislation, including the Committee stage, are not important. We have the opportunity to improve the Bill with our amendments and to ensure that the people of Wales get the best structures and bodies to represent them within the national health service in Wales. That must surely be at the top of the agenda for us all. Our Committee proceedings would have been rather short if we had had to rely on Government amendments; or, indeed, if we had had to rely on amendments from by the party represented by the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Hywel Williams).

Mr. Evans: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will concede that his party has tabled only two amendments. If it had not been for the amendments tabled by Her Majesty's official Opposition, it would indeed be a short Committee stage.

Mr. Roger Williams: There is an element of substance to what the hon. Gentleman says in terms of number, but on the matter of quality I entirely disagree with him.

Mr. Jon Owen Jones (Cardiff, Central): I am fascinated by the hon. Gentleman's proposition that is normal or even sensible for the Government to table amendments to their own Bills.

Mr. Roger Williams: We have often been told about the independent nature of a number of Labour Back Benchers, but that was not apparent today.

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I return to the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Ribble Valley and the Conservative party. I am concerned about the nature and tenor of their amendments, because many of them show that Opposition Members do not care about, or do not understand, the devolved settlement. Many of them would ensure that power stayed at the centre, rather than being devolved.

Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell): I must take issue with that and ask the hon. Gentleman to re-read the amendments carefully, because none is prescriptive. They would all require the Assembly not to act in isolation from the views of the rest of the Welsh healthcare community. That is not anti-devolution; it is common sense.

Mr. Roger Williams: I do not agree, and when we come to new clause 1, which would determine the membership of CHCs, hon. Members will see that it is prescriptive and against the spirit of the devolution settlement.

Let me return to these amendments. The issue of names has been well rehearsed. It is a strength in the retention of CHCs in Wales that they will, for the time being, still be known by that title, because that will make them more accessible to the people of Wales. People often make use of such services only once in a lifetime, so the fact that the councils are easily recognisable and accessible is important. The amendment would not add an awful lot to the Bill; it might add a little.

Mr. Evans: The hon. Gentleman has recognised the importance of CHCs and people recognising the name, and we in England are pining because we shall lose them. The Assembly goes down the re-branding road constantly and does not care how much money it spends, as we saw the other day with the useless dragon logo for the Welsh Assembly. Is it not right that it should consult at least the very people who are there to champion patients' rights?

Mr. Roger Williams: I do not disagree that the CHCs should be consulted, but the amendment says that there must be a request from the CHCs. That is slightly different, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman will agree.

Mr. Evans: I certainly would, but we should understand what CHCs do. As a group of people, their remit is to fight for patients' rights, so would it not be proper that the request should come from the organisation that is fighting for patients, as opposed to the interests of the Welsh Assembly, for example? I want the patients' rights to come first.

Mr. Roger Williams: I thank the hon. Gentleman for all his interventions, because they are teasing out the issue. I would much prefer to accept an amendment that made it a statutory requirement for the National Assembly for Wales to consult; however, our experience of the Assembly is that it consults widely on these issues. I have no doubt that if there were any suggestion about changing the name of CHCs, the Assembly would consult widely, not only among CHCs, but among the people who use them.

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Mr. Bill Wiggin (Leominster): As we are debating what should be in the Bill, surely the hon. Gentleman will accept that although the track record may be acceptable to him, the amendment would set it in legislative stone. It is not acceptable simply to leave matters on the basis of a historical track record.

Mr. Roger Williams: I accept that, but one can always envisage circumstances in which the CHCs, for whatever reason, would not request a change of name. Many people could feel that such a change would add some benefit, but we cannot look into the future and know what will change in local government; the request is the issue.

Amendment No. 15 would ensure that the boundaries of the local authorities or districts were taken into account. Coterminosity can be argued for but, in practical terms, particularly in the area that I represent—where, for instance, the new local health board will represent the whole of Powys—a single CHC would be unwieldy. It would greatly discourage people from putting their names forward to serve on such a body if they had to represent an area of about 120 miles from south to north and about 60 miles from east to west. That is why the amendment would add nothing to the Bill. It would not find favour among people who wanted an active and positive CHC to operate in their areas, so we will vote against the amendment if necessary.

11 am

Hywel Williams (Caernarfon): I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Griffiths. I am sure that under your wise and even-handed chairmanship we will make good progress. I apologise for the fact that I have to leave by 12.10 today, as I have finally managed to make a dental appointment. Unfortunately, I could not make such an appointment in Wales before Christmas, so I have to go to a dental surgery here.

Mr. Evans: Did the hon. Gentleman think of going to his CHC to complain about the lack of provision of dental care in Wales?

Hywel Williams: I called NHS Direct and various other bodies, and was told that I might be able to make an emergency appointment in Llandudno Junction on a Tuesday evening. Unfortunately, I am detained in this place at that time. If I were offered an appointment in Llandudno Junction on a Thursday evening, I might also be detained in this place. If I were at home, I should have to travel some 40 miles to take advantage of it.

I want to speak briefly on the subject of name changes. I represent the community of Cricieth. Hon. Members will know that there has been a dispute in my constituency since the early 1960s as to how many times the letter ''c'' appears in Cricieth. Some say there are two in the middle; some say that there are two in total; others say that it should be spelled with a k after the c. I therefore have a little experience of the sensitivity over the issue of name changes.

The Welsh Assembly and Government—the fully democratically elected representatives of the Welsh people—would consult. Were they to move on the basis of a request by CHCs, that would only be a

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recipe for dispute and disagreement. I will not say that it would be a recipe for mischief, but that crossed my mind.

I consulted widely before attending the Committee, including with the Association of Welsh Community Health Councils. The hon. Member for Ribble Valley will be interested to know that it is already considering changing its name to something a bit more catchy. It even asked me what I thought, which I felt quite honoured about.

Mr. Jones: When the hon. Gentleman consulted people, did he have the opportunity to consult the person described as Plaid Cymru's shadow Health Minister, Dr. Dai Lloyd, before he made an announcement in the Western Mail about Jane Hutt ruling out any use of legislation on bed blocking? Did that announcement show Plaid Cymru's normal desire to oppose anything that emanates from Westminster, or was it borne out of a desire to show that the Welsh health service was as bad as possible so that Plaid Cymru might benefit?

Hywel Williams: The hon. Gentleman makes some interesting points. The relevant question for the health service in Wales is on capacity. Should the service address the subject of capacity in acute beds, 800 places would be available more easily. Plaid Cymru intends to pursue the capacity question in the National Assembly.

My final point is on coterminosity. My constituency is part of Gwynedd, and we have another community health council in the constituency represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd). That is practically the only way to cope in that large geographical area.

Mr. Wiggin: I wish to start my remarks with a point of order, Mr. Griffiths. Four members of the Committee serve on the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs. They have been expected to attend our sitting this morning, as is right and proper. Is it possible to investigate the possibility preventing the clash of important Welsh issues within the House? I should be grateful if you gave that some thought.

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Prepared 10 December 2002