Standing Committee E
Tuesday 17 June 2003
[Mr. Peter Atkinson in the Chair]
Applications for certificates of NHS charges
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Mr. Gary Streeter (South-West Devon): I have a couple of questions with which I am sure the Minister will be able to deal with his usual aplomb, style and accuracy.
This part of the Bill deals with England, Scotland and Wales. Clause 138(1) refers to how a person may apply for a certificate and states that they may apply to the Secretary of State, to Scottish Ministers or both. What happens if the claim is in relation to Wales? Why is there no reference to the Welsh Assembly or the Secretary of State for Wales? If there was such a reference to the Secretary of State for Wales, to what address does he recommend that the complaint be forwarded? Would it be an English address in London or an address in Cardiff?
Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford): Or to the Department for Constitutional Affairs?
Mr. Streeter: My hon. Friend anticipates my next sentence. Should the clause include a reference to a constitutional affairs personage? We need clarification, given the events of the past few days.
In the midst of my questions there is a serious point about what happens to an application in relation to Wales. All through this part of the Bill, Wales seems to have been excluded, but earlier the Minister mentioned people referring or applying to the Welsh Assembly. I may be missing something in the translation, but perhaps he could deal with those issues.
Mr. Hutton: There is a simple answer to the hon. Gentleman's point. This is not a devolved matter, so my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State acts for England and Wales in the operation of the scheme. That is why there is no need for an application specifically to the Welsh Assembly.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 138 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clause 139 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Information contained in certificates
Mr. Hutton: I beg to move amendment No. 563, in
clause 140, page 63, line 2, leave out ', Wales' and insert 'and Wales'.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss Government amendments Nos. 564 to 568.
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Mr. Hutton: I would be the first to acknowledge that these amendments look long and complicated, but they have an important purpose. One of the more significant differences between the proposed new recovery scheme and the existing road traffic scheme is that we propose to allow formal court findings of contributory negligence to be taken into account when the amount of NHS charges is calculated. If a court, by one of the methods set out in clauses 140 and 143, establishes or agrees that the amount of compensation to be paid should be reduced by, for example, 20 per cent. to reflect the injured person's share of responsibility, the amount of NHS charges would be correspondingly reduced by the same proportion. However, we have identified that the Bill does not fully give effect to that policy intention.
The extension of the scheme to all sorts of personal injury means that it will be entirely feasible that successful compensation cases that attract NHS charges could be made under Northern Ireland law or, indeed, under the law of other countries. For example, if someone goes on holiday to France and is injured in their hotel, the injured patient might be stabilised in hospital in France, then transferred home to England and perhaps spend a further week or more in hospital here. If that person subsequently brings a claim against the French owner of that hotel and the French court decides that he was partly responsible for the incident that caused the injury, it might formally enter a finding that the damages to be paid should be reduced by the proportionate amount. The compensation payment would attract NHS charges under the expanded scheme but, at present, there is no facility in the Bill for the French court's contributory negligence finding to be taken into account when calculating the amount due. That, clearly, would be neither right nor fair. We want to ensure that anybody making a compensation payment, wherever he or she is from, is treated in the same way by the recovery scheme. The amendments would have that effect. They would also have an equivalent effect in relation to contributory negligence provisions in Northern Ireland.
Amendment agreed to.
Amendments made: No. 564, in
clause 140, page 63, line 4, at end insert—
'( ) in respect of which a court in Northern Ireland has ordered a reduction of damages in accordance with section 2 of the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act (Northern Ireland) 1948 (c.23),
( ) in respect of which a court in a country other than England and Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland has ordered a reduction of damages under any provision of the law of that country which appears to the Secretary of State or the Scottish Ministers (as the case may be) to correspond to section 1 of the Law Reform (Contributory Negligence) Act 1945 (c.28),'.
No. 565, in
No. 566, in
clause 140, page 63, line 10, leave out second 'or'.
No. 567, in
clause 140, page 63, line 14, at end insert—
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'( ) in respect of which a document has been made under any provision of the law of a country other than England and Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland—
(i) which appears to the Secretary of State to correspond to an agreed judgement or order entered or sealed by an officer of a court in England and Wales, and
(ii) which specifies the matters mentioned in paragraph (b)(i) and (ii), or
( ) in the case of which a document has been made under any provision of the law of a country other than England and Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland—
(i) which appears to the Scottish Ministers to correspond to a joint minute executed by the parties to a resulting action before a court in Scotland specifying that the action has been settled extrajudicially, and
(ii) which specifies the matters mentioned in paragraph (b)(i) and (ii),'.—[Mr. Hutton.]
Clause 140, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Payment of NHS charges
Mr. Burns: I beg to move amendment No. 614, in
clause 141, page 64, line 27, leave out '14' and insert '60'.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 613, in
No. 615, in
clause 141, page 64, line 30, leave out '14' and insert '60'.
Mr. Burns: Clause 141 deals with the nuts and bolts of payment of NHS charges. Subsection (1) provides that, where a certificate is issued before settlement of a claim, payment must be made within 14 days of that settlement. We do not understand why the limit has been set at only 14 days, and seek, through the amendments, to increase it to 60 days. As the Minister will appreciate, when one is dealing with any organisation as large and—I do not mean this as a criticism—as bureaucratic as the NHS, 14 days is a relatively short period. There could be significant problems if that is all that is allowed. We believe that 60 days is more realistic, notwithstanding the fact that we understand the desire to put pressure on the system to ensure that the money is paid reasonably quickly and the matter is not strung out. Perhaps the Minister can explain the Government's reasoning.
Mr. Andrew Lansley (South Cambridgeshire): The argument is pretty straightforward but, at the risk of prolonging the debate, prompt payment codes of practice generally work on the basis of a 30-day payment schedule. That kind of limit is in the code of practice of the Confederation of British Industry. Although my hon. Friend proposes 60 days to make a point, would he agree that, in practice, 30 days is more akin to the prompt payment standard that is applied by organisations?
Mr. Burns: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Logically, because he draws attention to the CBI code of practice, he is right, although he would not
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expect me to agree automatically—for reasons that I shall explain—that 30 days is better than 60 days. I am not likely to repudiate my own amendment at this stage.
Mr. Jon Owen Jones (Cardiff, Central): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Mr. Burns: I am not sure that it is wise.
Mr. Jones: I support the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley). Companies are entitled to claim interest on late payment of debt after 30 days, so it would be consistent to argue for a 30-day deadline rather than for a much longer one.
Mr. Burns: The hon. Gentleman probably has a point, but let me explain why I decided on 60 days rather than 30 days. Believe it or not, there is a logic to my thinking. It is important and reasonable that businesses, or people who owe debts to businesses, pay their debts promptly. As my hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire has rightly identified, 30 days has been seen as a reasonable time to take.
We are dealing with both the private sector and the public sector—the NHS—and we know from our experiences in business or as constituency MPs that bureaucracy gets in the way. The money will be paid to the NHS, which is a public body. It is not a commercial company, the financial viability and survival of which may rely on the prompt payment of bills as laid down by the code of practice. Because we are dealing with a public body—this is not meant to be derogatory, but a fair criticism—one finds time and again that there are problems with bureaucracy, and getting answers to questions before paying out money. There should be some leeway.
The NHS, which is the body that will expect the payment, cannot go bankrupt. It is not reliant on commercial forces, fortunately, in the way that a business is. For the system to run smoothly, 60 days is a realistic time scale given those factors, although it is not in the code of practice for prompt payment.