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Standing Committee E
Wednesday 4 June 2003
[Mr. Peter Atkinson in the Chair]
Amendment proposed [this day]: No. 340, in
schedule 5, page 112, line 12, leave out from 'CHAI' to end of line 13.—[Mr. Lammy.]
Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.
The Chairman: I remind the Committee that with this we are discussing Government amendment No. 341.
Mr. Paul Burstow (Sutton and Cheam): It is a pleasure, Mr. Atkinson, to serve under your chairmanship.
Government amendments Nos. 340 and 341 remove from schedules 5 and 6 the words
''and is to be responsible to it for the general exercise of its functions.''
As a result, the chief officer of the relevant commission will no longer have that specific responsibility. The legislation that established the Commission for Health Improvement and the National Care Standards Commission included such provisions. That made me wonder why the Government thought it necessary to make such an amendment. What was their motivation? Why did they want to change existing practice? Certainly, in the case of the National Care Standards Commission, it seems to have caused no problem.
The Under-Secretary told the Committee that the reason for the amendments was confusion about where the responsibility for discharging the functions of the Commission for Healthcare Audit and Inspection ultimately lies, and that keeping those words in the Bill would somehow usurp the responsibility of members of the board by giving that duty also to paid staff.
I hope that the Under-Secretary can allay my anxiety. Existing legislation allows a clear separation between the role of the non-executive chairman and other non-executive members of the commission's boards, and that of paid staff—especially chief officers. Removing those words, and the distinction that goes with them, would appear to result in there no longer being such a clear separation of responsibilities. Is that the Government's intention? What is the thinking behind it? Why is it being done at this relatively late stage? Why was the Bill not drafted in that way in the first instance if the Government believed it to have been necessary all along?
Removing those words will potentially give rise to tension between the non-executive chairman and non-
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executive members, who will suddenly be able to exercise executive authority within the body, and the staff. The potential for conflict seems considerable. I hope that the Under-Secretary can say how that is to be avoided other than by good will. Surely, we should keep in the Bill a provision that would avoid it.
In setting out the timetable for the establishment of CHAI and the Commission for Social Care Inspection, the Government propose establishing both bodies in shadow form. It would be useful if the Under-Secretary were to share with the Committee how far the Government have got in implementing the timetables for those bodies. Although an announcement has been made about the prospective shadow chairman for CHAI, we have heard nothing about the chairman for CSCI, yet an announcement has been imminent for some time. It would help if the Under-Secretary could give some details about the timings, why there appears to have been a slippage in the case of CSCI, and what is being done to get it back on track. I hope that the Under-Secretary will be able to reassure me on those points.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Mr. David Lammy): This is another first for me. It is my first afternoon sitting as a Minister in Committee and I am very pleased to be here under your chairmanship, Mr. Atkinson.
I should like to address the points made by the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Burstow). This morning I was anxious to convey our concern that the clause as drafted gives unintentionally the impression that the chief executive is solely responsible for the exercise of the commission's functions. In fact, we wish to give the commission the discretion to decide how the respective responsibilities of the chair, the chief executive and the commissioners should be divided. The amendment seeks to avoid such a misunderstanding.
The distinction between the roles remains, but the Government take the view—the hon. Gentleman will agree on reflection—that CHAI should decide how it divides the responsibilities for its functions; the Government do not want to prescribe that. In some non-departmental public bodies, the chair exercises some executive functions in his arrangement with the chief executive and the management of that body. In others, the chair is concerned only with governance.
The new inspectorate is high-powered, with high-powered roles and high-powered salaries. It is important that it be independent; it must decide how it demarcates its powers, although loosely within the arrangements whereby the chair is responsible for governance and the chief executive is responsible for the executive and management functions. There should be nothing worrying about the amendment.
Mr. Burstow: Those last comments by the Under-Secretary about the division between issues of governance and issues of executive and operational control are fair. My anxiety is that the removal of the words from the Bill would allow members of the board to allocate responsibilities in very different ways, so as to give non-executive board members executive responsibilities.
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Will the Under-Secretary explain why the schedules that established all the relevant commissions in the Care Standards Act 2000 contained the exact words that he is seeking to remove from the Bill? There appear to have been no operational or governance problems in that body; can he show that there have been?
Mr. Lammy: That was a very different body. However, the hon. Gentleman is right; under the Care Standards Act 2000, the functions of the National Care Standards Commission were a matter for the chief executive, although he remained accountable to the chair and to the board. For the new inspectorate, which is more beefed up, as it were, than the National Care Standards Commission, the chair and the commissioners may—I emphasise may—wish to have more proximity to some of those executive functions. We have no view on that; we merely seek to make a flexible arrangement so that those well-paid, talented individuals can decide. Clearly there is a demarcation between governance functions and executive functions, but the hon. Gentleman will know that there are differing arrangements within existing public bodies. There is nothing to fear from that; the Government wish simply to make the arrangements flexible enough for the organisation—which is independent, after all—to decide how it wants to conduct its affairs.
Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon): The Under-Secretary will be aware that there was press coverage of a disagreement, or some form of falling out, between Peter Hona and the chair designate of CHAI, Sir Ian Kennedy. Will he clarify whether the amendments, given that they were promulgated after Sir Ian's appointment, have his support, and specifically, whether they were proposed at his request? I am not judging whether they are right or wrong, but it would be interesting to know whether that was their provenance.
Mr. Lammy: If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I do not want to get into employment issues. That is a matter for—
Mr. Stephen Pound (Ealing, North): Gossip.
Mr. Lammy: Yes: tittle-tattle, as it has been described. The people in question are professionals exercising a professional function. The provision is about flexibility, and the hon. Gentleman will know that some of those who chair non-departmental public bodies exercise executive functions and that some do not. I see that the hon. Gentleman rises to his feet again.
Dr. Harris: I rise simply to put my question again without the preamble. Were the amendments requested, or have they been supported, by the chair designate of CHAI, in meetings with the Under-Secretary or his officials? It is a legitimate subject for a parliamentary question or a question in Committee, and it can be answered even if the Under-Secretary wishes or chooses not to.
Mr. Lammy: I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman framed his question around a mainstream
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employment issue. I can say categorically that the amendment has been proposed with the involvement of parliamentary counsel, and not under pressure from the Commission, as he seems to imply. [Interruption.] Let us make some progress.
Dr. Harris: Will the Under-Secretary give way?
Mr. Lammy: One more time.
Dr. Harris: At no point did I question the Under-Secretary's intentions or motivations. My question was a simple one about the provenance of the amendments, and I wish him to recognise that it would not have implied anything nefarious even if he had answered in the affirmative. I wish that he would be less defensive in his answers; otherwise he will simply encourage Opposition Members to ask them, and not, as he hopes, discourage them.
Mr. Lammy: The hon. Gentleman is a doctor by profession and I am happy to accept his medical advice. For political advice, I shall retain my own counsel.
The hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam also raised an issue about the shadow board and chair of the new social care inspectorate. The chair for CSCI is to be announced shortly. There is no slippage at all; the starting date for CSCI was always slightly behind that of CHAI because of the different nature of the social care inspectorate. Depending on the passage of the Bill, of course, we hope to see the new inspectorate take shape in April 2004.
Dr. Harris: In relation to the question of which I gave the Under-Secretary notice before the sitting, I should be grateful if he would clarify and confirm, since those public bodies are supposedly independent and, specifically, non-departmental, that the usual strictures on civil servants formally or informally briefing—without the unsatisfactory connotations of that word—Opposition Members would not apply to the executive or non-executive members of the board. That includes the chief executive and, indeed, the chairs whose powers we are discussing.