Health (Wales) Bill

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Mr. Touhig: The Tory party's love affair with devolution has not lasted long. We now see the true colours of the Tory party; it is opposed to the devolution settlement in Wales. The amendment flies in the face of the devolution settlement, because the Bill gives powers to the Assembly, as other legislation has done, in order to enact secondary legislation as it affects regulations concerning matters that we are putting before the House.

The amendment proposes the deletion of subsection (2), which allows the Assembly to amend or repeal measures in primary and secondary legislation consequent on making secondary legislation under clause 1. We have done that ever since the devolution settlement has existed, and in other legislation where the House has given powers to Ministers in Whitehall Departments to use their powers to make regulations effective in legislation that has gone through the House.

Section 126(4) of the National Health Service Act 1977 extends the powers under that Act to make orders and regulations to include such prescribed supplementary provisions as considered appropriate. Clause 1(2) extends that power when used in connection with orders and regulations made under clause 8 and schedule 1 to include provision for amendments and repeals of primary and secondary legislation. The amendment would remove that power to make such amendments or repeals. The hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell referred to it as a probing amendment. It is, however, a spoiling amendment that seeks fundamentally to undermine the devolution settlement that now successfully operates between the United Kingdom Government and the Assembly.

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Chris Grayling: Does the Minister believe in the process of legislative scrutiny? Does he believe that if a clause involves a significant transfer of powers, it should at least be discussed and explained by the Government of the day? Does he really believe that such an explanation constitutes a wrecking amendment?

Mr. Touhig: I have no doubt that Members should consider such a proposal. My point is that, only a few moments ago, the hon. Member for Ribble Valley declared his love for devolution; now we see the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell rowing back as we go. It goes without saying that the Tories do not support the devolution settlement, and would undermine it at every moment.

Mr. Evans: Does the Minister accept that the clause is legalistic? We are right to seek its interpretation, as my hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell intimated. If we did not do so, and we got it wrong, the powers may turn out to be ones that we did not want in the first place. Will the clause allow the Welsh Assembly to alter any provision in schedule 7A so that it can do anything that it wants under schedule 7A?

Mr. Touhig: If accepted, the amendment would prevent the Assembly from making essential, consequential changes to other enactments that must accompany the exercise of the subordinate legislative powers of the Bill. That is perfectly clear; we do it all the time in this place. It is important to strike a balance between setting out in detail the requirements and duties to be placed on community health councils and the preservation of their independence. The Government believe that the Assembly should be given the broadest possible discretion to decide on the detail of regulations and to take the most appropriate action required by the new-look CHCs in Wales.

The amendment is also inconsistent because powers to amend or repeal other enactments feature in most Bills conferring subordinate legislative powers as they pass through the House. The Assembly would be restricted in making regulations about CHCs when identical powers to amend or repeal other enactments are available in respect of the Wales Centre for Health, which we shall come on to later, and of the health professions in Wales under clause 8.

I am surprised that the official Opposition again seek to roll back the devolution settlement by suggesting that a perfectly proper and sensible enactment conferring powers on the Assembly as we have in the past in order to help make the primary legislation work should be stopped. I am amazed that they want to roll back and stop it.

Mr. Wiggin: I was hoping that the Minister would be less partisan and more helpful in explaining what the extraordinary feast of words means. We have a duty to produce clear legislation and I am struggling to find the requisite clarity, so will the Minister explain what subsection (4A)—

    ''Supplementary, incidental, consequential, transitory, transitional or saving provision made by virtue of subsection (4)''—

actually means? [Interruption.] A feast of notes is flowing backwards and forwards. Yes, it would benefit the whole Committee to know what that means. It is

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legalese spaghetti and I hope that the Minister will properly explain what he is trying to achieve by it.

Chris Grayling: The Minister's response was disappointing and unnecessary. He should understand that it is the duty of all Members to scrutinise legislation and understand what the provisions mean. It is all well and good for the Minister to say that it has been done many times before. As the Minister responsible for the Bill, it is his duty to explain the limits and scope of what he is trying to achieve. He did not answer any of my detailed questions, although he allowed one or two snippets through, such as his reference to the ability to modify primary legislation. My understanding is that the primary legislative responsibility for the NHS in Wales rests with this House. If the Assembly will have the right to amend primary legislation, why and to what extent is that so? What aspects of primary legislation could be amended as a result of the clause, or is it limited wholly to CHCs?

I realise that Ministers have busy lives and cannot always be expected to understand the finest detail, but now that the Minister has had an opportunity to give the matter greater thought and study his notes more closely, perhaps he will explain simply what he is trying to achieve. It is not a partisan issue about the extent of devolution or rowing forwards or backwards; it is all about the House of Commons doing its job. Before we pass a clause offering a significant transfer of powers—irrespective of whether it has been done before, or whether it is conventional or consistent with devolution—the Minister must properly explain what is going on. As I said at the outset, this is a probing amendment intended to elicit the Minister's clarification. All I want is for the Minister to answer my questions so that the Committee knows what it is doing.

Mr. Touhig: Good Lord! I shall try to make it simple. It is perfectly obvious. Without the power to amend or remove existing provisions in other enactments, it would be impossible to exercise the powers in schedule 7A. This part of the Bill allows the Assembly powers to make regulations changing other enactments, in order that the provisions of the Bill can be put in place. It is as simple as that. I am not dismissing the matter, as the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell possibly suspects. We have been through the process a number of times in relation to measures that affect Wales; that is why I was surprised that the Opposition tabled the amendment.

Chris Grayling: The Minister has answered my question. I am grateful for that clarification, which he could have given in two moments at the start. It is the responsibility of Committee members to ask questions so that we know what we are doing. I am grateful, and I am happy to beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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12 noon

Schedule 1

Schedule 7a to be inserted in the

National Health Service Act 1977

Mr. Evans: I beg to move amendment No. 6, in

    schedule 1, page 6, line 10, at end insert—

    '(c) to publish an annual report on the level and quality of the health services in its area.'.

In essence, amendment No. 6 imposes an obligation on the CHC in each area to publish an annual report on the level and quality of health services. That is important. New schedule 7A, which forms schedule 1 on page 6 of the Bill, starts by stating what the duties of a community health council should be. That is

    ''to represent the interests in the health services of the public in its district''.

Some hon. Members might ask why that is there; surely it is common sense that that is what a community health council is there to do. However, the Government have decided to include that in the Bill; rightly, because it reminds CHCs and the patients whom they represent what their remit is. It is not superfluous; it is important that that statement is there. It continues with paragraph 1(b):

    ''to perform such other functions as my be conferred on it by regulations under paragraph 2.''

Paragraph 2 is extensive. One of its provisions, in sub-paragraph (h), is for

    ''the preparation and publication of reports by Councils''.

Some hon. Members might argue that that is already covered, but I would say that the National Assembly for Wales might make no such provision by regulations. It might not consider that that is the most important thing that a CHC might do. Sub-paragraph (i) mentions

    ''matters to be included in any such report''.

The Assembly might decide that certain areas ought not be covered by regulations, for all sorts of reasons.

I have already spoken about Jane Hutt being irritated when people point out where there are deficiencies in the health service. Our amendment is therefore important, in that it ensures that those areas are covered. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Monmouth has gone out because sub-paragraph (j) refers to

    ''the furnishing and publication by Health Authorities, Local Health Boards and NHS trusts of comments on reports of Councils;''.

The hon. Gentleman had some difficulty in recognising health authorities. That is an important part of an important schedule, and that is why we have tabled the amendment. We have asked that the CHC in each area should make its own report about the level of provision in its area. That was touched on when we discussed the first amendment and the hon. Member for Caernarfon said that he had a problem in finding a dentist who could treat him at a time that was appropriate for him.

Some people may ask, ''What is the NHS there for? Is it for us to serve them, or is it the other way round?'' I would think that it is the other way round; to ensure

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that it serves the patients in each area. The hon. Member for Caernarfon has a problem finding an NHS dentist in his area who can treat him at an appropriate time. It is quite right that the annual report published by the CHC in accordance with the amendment should contain the fact that the provision of dentistry in his area is inadequate.

Memorably, the hon. Member for Monmouth, on the front page of his local newspaper, complained that he found it difficult to get himself on the list of an NHS dentist in Monmouth. That is a problem, though it does not solely affect the hon. Gentleman; I understand that there are a number of people who found it equally difficult to find an NHS dentist in Monmouth. People are paying into the national health service, and they expect to be able to get a dentist in their own area, at a reasonable distance from them. I think that we would all expect that.

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