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Session 2002 - 03
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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: 897

Standing Committee E

Thursday 19 June 2003


[Mr. Win Griffiths in the Chair]

Health and Social Care
(Community Health and Standards) Bill

2.30 pm

Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell): On a point of order, Mr. Griffiths, you will be aware that the amendments that the Government added at the last minute refer to the Public Health Laboratory Service board. I have not yet received a copy of the explanatory notes, and I wonder whether the Minister will be kind and pass me a copy, which I can read while he is speaking.

The Chairman: Well, we have heard that.

Schedule 12

Repeals and revocations

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Mr. John Hutton): I beg to move amendment No. 602, in

    schedule 12, page 135, line 26, at end add—

    Abolition of the Public Health Laboratory Service Board


    Extent of repeal or revocation

    Parliamentary Commissioner Act 1967 (c.13)

    In Schedule 3, in paragraph 8(1) the words ''or by the Public Health Laboratory Service Board''.

    House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975 (c.24)

    In Schedule 1, in Part 3, the entry relating to the Chairman of the Public Health Laboratory Service Board.

    Race Relations Act 1976 (c.74)

    In Schedule 1A, in Part 2, the entry relating to the Public Health Laboratory Service Board.

    National Health Service Act 1977 (c.49)

    Section 5(4) and (5).

    In section 127(c) the words ''(except the Public Health Laboratory Service Board)''

    Schedule 3

    Public Health Laboratory Service Act 1979 (c.23)

    Sections 1(3) and (4) and 2.

    Income and Corporation Taxes Act 1988 (c.1)

    Section 519A(2)(h).

    National Health Service and Community Care Act 1990 (c.19)

    Section 4(2)(h).

    In section 21(2), paragraph (c) and the preceding ''and''.

    In section 60(7), paragraph (h) and the preceding ''and''.

    Health Service Commissioners Act 1993 (c.46)

    In section 2(1), paragraph (g) and the preceding ''and''.

    Employment Rights Act 1996 (c.18)

    In section 218(10), paragraph (c) and the preceding ''and''.

    Government of Wales Act 1998 (c.38)

    In Schedule 5, paragraph 39.

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    Freedom of Information Act 2000 (c.36)

    In Schedule 1, paragraph 43.

    International Development Act 2002 (c.1)

    In Schedule 1 the words ''Public Health Laboratory Service Board''.

    Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 (c.41)

    In section 133(4)—{**em**}in paragraph (a), subparagraph (v) and the preceding ''or''; in paragraph (b), subparagraph (iii) and the preceding ''or''.'.

The Chairman: With this we may discuss the following:

Government new clause 18—Abolition of Public Health Laboratory Service Board.

Government new schedule 1—Amendments consequential on the abolition of the Public Health Laboratory Service Board.

Mr. Hutton: The amendments provide for the abolition of the Public Health Laboratory Service board. The PHLS has played a long and distinguished role in protecting the health of the population since before the start of the second world war. I am glad to have an opportunity today to pay tribute to its many achievements over that period.

The Government are responsible for keeping the arrangements for health protection always under review. Last year, we consulted on proposals to create the new Health Protection Agency. The proposals were aimed at strengthening existing arrangements by integrating in one body responsibility for action not only on infectious diseases but on chemicals and radiological protection. I am glad to say that support for the proposals was widespread. We have taken them forward, and the Health Protection Agency was established as a special health authority on 1 April this year. Many of the functions previously carried out by the PHLS, along with the staff concerned, have already transferred to the new agency.

Chris Grayling: Is it not the case that the statutory instrument establishing the special health authority has not yet been passed by the House?

Mr. Hutton: I am not aware of that, but the agency has certainly been established and is operational. I will examine the issues concerning the parliamentary timetable and clarify them for the hon. Gentleman.

Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon): My hon. Friends and I prayed against a statutory instrument that was due in Standing Committee some weeks ago. That Committee had to be postponed because it would have clashed with this Committee's sittings on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and I have been waiting for it to be rearranged for some time. The hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) has a point because it would have been good to discuss the secondary legislation before discussing this primary legislation.

Mr. Hutton: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is right that it would have been better to do that. The order is subject to the negative resolution procedure and the agency has already been established. If the House were to annul the regulations, we would have to introduce others. The negative resolution procedure is

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not an obstacle to the new special health authority beginning its operations.

Mr. Andrew Lansley (South Cambridgeshire): Will the Minister confirm that the Government will not, in the long-term, leave the agency as an executive agency, but intend to create a non-departmental public body, presumably through further primary legislation, to incorporate the National Radiological Protection Board? When will that happen, and why is the Bill not an appropriate legislative vehicle for that?

Mr. Hutton: We shall deal with the Health Protection Agency in primary legislation at the first available opportunity. We could not do that in the Bill for a variety of reasons, most of which concerned the preparation of the Bill. We want to do that as soon as possible, and it will certainly be necessary. I can confirm what the hon. Gentleman said about the functions of the NRPB. However, the HPA has been established and is up and running, and we want to build on that in subsequent primary legislation.

Chris Grayling: Will the Minister confirm whether Parliament has yet to endorse the formation of the special health authority and its legal status as an organisation of the HPA?

Mr. Hutton: It is a special health authority and has been set up as such. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) for reminding me that the regulation has been prayed against. [Interruption.]

The Chairman: Order. Conversations in the Room are getting rather loud.

Mr. Hutton: It is possible that the House may decide to annul the regulations, but then we would have to introduce other regulations to give effect to our intention. However, the establishment of the special health authority would not be affected by that procedure. As I understand it, prior authority was not required to set up the special health authority.

To return to the amendment, the functions of the PHLS have been transferred, largely to the special health authority. One residual function for which it will remain responsible is the supply of some of the microbiology culture used by the NHS. Obviously, it will be necessary to review with the PHLS how such supplies can best be secured in the future. We would not want to abolish it unless and until those issues had been properly resolved, as I am sure they will be.

In a nutshell, there is no further need for the PHLS or its board to remain in existence on the statute book. We announced our intention last November to abolish them when legislative time permitted. The new clause simply puts that policy into effect.

Chris Grayling: It was interesting that the Minister did not pass me a copy of the explanatory notes. Given the Committee's experience some 10 days ago of the Government's failure to provide notes to a very late set of amendments and the scramble that took place immediately afterwards to provide them, I would have thought that the Department had learned its lesson and would ensure that such information was provided

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when introducing a totally new dimension to the Bill, as it has in the amendment.

The proposal was not set out in the original draft of the Bill. That would have been perfectly possible, because plans to form the HPA and to take responsibilities from the PHLS were set out many months ago. There is no earthly reason for such matters not to have been included in the Bill. It is unfortunate that the Department has failed to come forward with any explanatory notes in advance of the Minister's remarks.

Mr. Hutton: I did not respond to the hon. Gentleman's point because I understood that the ruling of the Chair was that it was not a point of order; otherwise, I would have. It may be helpful if I remind the hon. Gentleman that the provision of such notes is not customary practice. In fact, I cannot remember previous Governments, particularly Conservative Governments, producing additional notes. It is the practice on the introduction of a Bill to provide a set of explanatory notes and an explanatory memorandum, but it is not a rule or procedure of the House to provide notes for subsequent Government amendments tabled in Committee. We do so as a courtesy to advise members of the Committee what is happening.

As the hon. Gentleman helpfully reminded the Committee, the policy was announced several months ago, so every member of the Committee would have been fully aware of it.

Chris Grayling: The provision of notes may indeed be a convention, but common courtesy dictates that, if a new dimension is added to a Bill at a very late stage, it would do no harm, to say the least, to provide such information, particularly given the Committee's experience last week when the sitting had to be suspended because of the Department's failure to brief Members about the steps that it was taking. I am surprised that it saw fit to table additional clauses without providing information.


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