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Standing Committee Debates
Health and Social Care (Community Health and Standards) Bill

Health and Social Care (Community Health and Standards) Bill

Column Number: 301

Standing Committee E

Thursday 22 May 2003

(Morning)

[Mr. Peter Atkinson in the Chair]

Health and Social Care
(Community Health and Standards) Bill

8.55 am

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Mr. John Hutton): I beg to move,

    That—

    (1) in addition to the sittings provided for by the Order of the Committee of 13th May 2003, the Committee shall meet on Wednesday 4th June at 8.55 am and 2.30 pm;

    (2) in the Table in that Order, for the entries relating to the sitting on 22nd May at 2.30 pm and the sittings on 3rd June, there shall be substituted—

    '22nd May (2.30 pm)

    Clause 1, Schedule 1; Clause 2, Schedule 2; Clauses 3 to 25; Schedule 3; Clauses 26 to 32; Schedule 4; Clauses 33 to 35; new Clauses and new Schedules relating to Part 1.

    3rd June (10.30 am)

    Clause 1, Schedule 1; Clause 2, Schedule 2; Clauses 3 to 25; Schedule 3; Clauses 26 to 32; Schedule 4; Clauses 33 to 35; new Clauses and new Schedules relating to Part 1.

    3rd June (4.30 pm)

    Clause 1, Schedule 1; Clause 2, Schedule 2; Clauses 3 to 25; Schedule 3; Clauses 26 to 32; Schedule 4; Clauses 33 to 35; new Clauses and new Schedules relating to Part 1.

    7 pm

    4th June (8.55 am)

    Clause 36; Schedule 5; Clause 37, Schedule 6; Clause 38, Schedule 7; Clauses 39 to 41; Clauses 43 to 65; Clauses 72 to 88; Clauses 99 to 105; Clauses 107 to 109; Clause 111; Clauses 113 to 128; Clauses 133 and 134; Schedule 8; Clauses 135 and 136.

    4th June (2.30 pm)

    Clause 36; Schedule 5; Clause 37, Schedule 6; Clause 38, Schedule 7; Clauses 39 to 41; Clauses 43 to 65; Clauses 72 to 88; Clauses 99 to 105; Clauses 107 to 109; Clause 111; Clauses 113 to 128; Clauses 133 and 134; Schedule 8; Clauses 135 and 136.

If hon. Members have had an opportunity to study the motion, they will have seen that it proposes, first, to extend the time that the Committee has to debate part 1 of the Bill. Instead of concluding our deliberations today at 5 o'clock, we propose delaying the closure of the debate on part 1 until the end of the two sittings of the Committee on Tuesday 3 June. Secondly, it proposes an additional two sittings for the following day, Wednesday 4 June. The Opposition requested that we have 10 Committee sittings to consider part 1, and that is what the programme motion provides.

I emphasise that it is our intention to ensure that Committee members have the fullest possible opportunity to examine part 1, as the radical proposals that it contains are controversial. It is necessary for the Committee to have the fullest opportunity to study all the provisions in part 1, and therefore it is important that the motion of the Programming Sub-Committee be supported today.

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham): I am grateful to the Minister for moving the motion. It was agreed that of the 20 sittings on this Bill, 10 would be

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allocated to the clauses on foundation hospitals. I am disappointed that the Government did not stick to the first agreement, choosing another programme at a later stage. However, the Committee is grateful that the Minister has rectified that and has given us the 10 sittings that we originally requested.

I also wish to place on record that, depending on the progress that the Committee makes on scrutinising the Bill, I rely on the Government to revisit the programme if necessary. The Bill should have full scrutiny if at all possible, unlike so much legislation that passes through the House, large chunks of which remain unscrutinised by any Committee.

We have agreed to sit twice on a Wednesday in order to get the sittings that we originally requested, which the Government failed to give us in the initial programme motion, but that could cause timetabling conflicts. I am not making a party political point, but sitting on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays can put tremendous strain on the Opposition, as the Under-Secretary and the Minister know, in preparing for a rapid roll-forward on complex legislation. On Wednesdays, there are many other activities in the House, not least Select Committee meetings and important evidence sessions, which may involve members of this Committee. Even more conflicts are being forced on Members of Parliament in order for them to fulfil their roles as scrutinisers of Government proposals for legislation.

Both Ministers will agree that concentrating the timetable into Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays creates problems. I hope that they will bear with us if, from time to time, some Conservative members of our eminent Committee have to leave to attend to other duties. However, I repeat that I am grateful to the Minister for reinstating the original agreement, and I support the programme motion.

Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon): I shall start with a housekeeping matter. I and other hon. Members have had difficulty hearing some of the contributions, probably because the microphones need to be reset.

As regards the programme motion, we believe that at least six sittings are required to discuss part 2 of the Bill. I am still not clear why Wednesday sittings have been proposed. My understanding is that those sittings can be used to complete our discussions on part 1 if we do not make sufficient progress, even with the two extra sittings. I understand that if debate on part 1 finishes in good time, it may not be necessary to have additional Wednesday sittings. However, if it seems that discussions on part 2—to which the Government have tabled important additional amendments—will not be completed on time, the option still remains to sit on a further Wednesday, thus ensuring that the original six sittings proposed for part 2 are retained.

On four occasions we have said that our main requirement is to ensure that there is adequate scrutiny of part 2, particularly on the Commission for Social Care Inspection provisions, which follow the Commission for Healthcare Audit and Inspection provisions and which may be squeezed out. I hope that the Minister will assure us that, come what may,

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there will be at least six sittings on part 2, preferably on Tuesdays or Thursdays.

Mr. Hutton: I am grateful to the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) for her support for the programme motion. I do not want to take issue with any of her comments because I think that we should all like to make progress on consideration of the Bill.

As regards the comment from the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris), we have had discussions through the usual channels about the Committee's ability to make progress on part 1 and on the need to have extra sittings on a Wednesday. It would be preferable if we did not have to sit on an additional Wednesday; I am sure that Committee members would agree with that. The hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham made a fair point about members' having other commitments. She will know from experience that that also applies to Ministers.

We propose extra sittings for the week after the recess simply to ensure that there is no further encroachment on the time devoted to consideration of other parts of the Bill. I welcome the enthusiasm of the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon for even more Wednesday sittings. I do not think that there would be much support for that proposal from either side of the Committee. My responsibility is to ensure that the Committee has had the chance to consider the Bill properly, so we would not rule out the possibility of further sittings on Wednesdays, if the need arises.

Dr. Harris: The Minister has misunderstood me. My enthusiasm is for at least six sittings on part 2 of the Bill, which deals with standards. As I understand it, the Government are not willing to push for further meetings after 19 June. Given that the recess will be over by then, the only option is to have additional Wednesday sittings. I simply wanted the Minister's assurance that the six sittings originally proposed and agreed for part 2 will be restored, even if that means sitting on a further Wednesday—unless, of course, we finish with part 2 in four sittings.

Mr. Hutton: The programme motion will ensure that we have six sittings on the CHAI clauses. I am sure that everyone eagerly awaits the contribution of the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Burstow) on those issues. The hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon has made a fair point, and I am trying to meet him halfway. However, he is wrong on one point; the problem is not my reluctance to meet after 19 June. I have no flexibility on that matter, because the House has decided that the Committee must conclude its sittings by that date, and I am simply its humble servant.

Question put and agreed to.

The Chairman: I remind Committee members that, in our strange world, Tuesday 3 June is treated as a Monday, and that the Committee will sit at 10.30 am and 4.30 pm.

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Clause 7

Effect of authorisation

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford): I want to raise a brief technical point with the Minister because, as he will be aware, clause 7 gives authorisation to the bodies corporate, which are NHS trusts. Its subsections describe the legal authorisation for foundation trusts. If the need arose, is there a mechanism in the Bill, or in legislation generally—I suspect that it would need to be in the Bill—to reverse that process? Such a provision would be required in exceptional circumstances only, but there might conceivably be the odd instance when, for a variety of reasons, a foundation trust might no longer wish to continue as a foundation trust after a time or might become incapable of providing the services and health care that are required for it to remain as a foundation trust. The trust may, therefore, wish to revert to NHS trust status.

My understanding is that that process is irreversible—there is no reversal mechanism. Will the Minister confirm that and state whether it is wise not to provide such a mechanism for the few and, I suspect, exceptional circumstances in which a foundation trust would wish to revert to its former status?

 
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