Health Bill


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Clause 50

Offences relating to disclosure or use of information

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

Mr. Lansley: I did not have the opportunity to ask this earlier, but I am keen that we should, in each case, ask about the basis for decisions about the level of penalties associated with particular offences under the legislation. Will the Minister explain the choice of penalties used here and whether that decision relates directly to any previous precedent?

Jane Kennedy: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for asking that question, because I asked the same question. I know that the offences of and penalties for failing to produce documents and wrongful disclosure have been reviewed and approved by the Home Office. Comparable powers to require the production of documents are held by the Audit Commission, Healthcare Commission and Government Departments such as the Department for Work and Pensions, and the respective penalties are broadly comparable, so we think that we have got the balance about right. They are all appropriate for the circumstances to which they apply. The penalties for wrongful disclosure in Healthcare Commission and Audit Commission legislation are broadly similar, and the maximum penalty is the same. I am sure that that is the absolute response that the hon. Gentleman seeks.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 50 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 51 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 52

Interpretation

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

Mr. Lansley: I am sorry, but I have a quick question, which I might have asked earlier, regarding subsection (5). I want to ask about the nature of the special health authorities and to whom the functions are likely to be delegated. The provision further defines who within those special health authorities are the appropriate officers to exercise those functions—this is particularly to do with disclosure and the execution of notices to produce documents and the like. Are we talking about the Healthcare Commission alone or a range of authorities? Perhaps we could have some sense of who they are.

Jane Kennedy: I sought to say this in my opening comments. The only officers who will be able to discharge those powers will be officers of the Counter Fraud and Security Management Service, which is a special health authority at the moment, but which will merge with other organisations in the Business Services Authority, but only officers of the CFSMS within the BSA of the NHS will have those powers. As I sought to reassure the Committee earlier, they are highly trained individuals and the use of the powers will be supervised by senior officers in the service. I
 
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hope that I have reassured the hon. Gentleman that we take seriously the concerns that he and the hon. Member for Westbury raised this afternoon. I, too, want to be sure that we are taking forward and awarding powers that are appropriate to the nature of the problem, and I hope that I have demonstrated that this afternoon.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 52 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 54

The Appointments Commission

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

Mr. Lansley: I do not want to engage in a long discussion about the Appointments Commission. I understand, to a limited extent, what is intended, and I welcome it. It should establish greater independence as to appointments across many NHS functions. However, I want to be sure, as we begin consideration of the next few clauses, about the nature of the process that the Government are entering into.

In particular, I am looking for a sense of the basis on which the Government will appoint the Appointments Commission, as it were—what sort of criteria they are looking for, and when and how they propose to go about the task. There is also the matter of foundation trusts, but that is in a separate clause and it might be simpler to leave it until later. At present I am really interested in the process of transfer between the NHS Appointments Commission and the new Appointments Commission, as well as the opportunities that that will give Ministers for recasting the membership of the Appointments Commission, or alternatively the extent to which the existing NHS Appointments Commission structure may continue into the new body.

Caroline Flint: This and the other clauses are relatively uncontroversial, but in some ways they reflect the current workings of the NHS Appointments Commission. Hon. Members may be aware that in its 2003 report the Public Administration Committee said that other Government Departments could benefit from its skills and expertise. Therefore, the clause establishes a new body, the Appointments Commission, as an executive non-departmental public body and abolishes the NHS Appointments Commission, which the new body will replace.

The Secretary of State will appoint the chairman and non-executive members of the board. The chief executive and executive members will be appointed by the chairman and non-executive members. The members themselves will appoint a vice-chairman. At least one, but not more than four, of the non-executive members must be appointed to the health and social care appointments committee. I shall write to the hon. Gentleman in more detail about the different transitional arrangements, if that will help.

Obviously, the appointments by the Secretary of State must be made in a transparent and open way that is fully in line with appointments by Secretaries of
 
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State in other Departments. However, the setting up of the new body provides scope for other organisations across Whitehall, but also the foundation trusts, to which we shall come later, to use its services. I hope that that reassures the hon. Gentleman. I shall write to him in more detail about transitional arrangements.

Schedule 4

The Appointments Commission: Supplementary

Amendment made: No. 77, in schedule 4, page 73, line 40, leave out 'a copy' and insert

    'copies of the accounts and'.—[Caroline Flint.]

Schedule 4, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 55 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 5 agreed to.

Clause 56 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 57

Commission to exercise Privy Council's appointment functions

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

6.30 pm

Mr. Lansley: I just want to ask whether the bodies to which the appointment function particularly refers, which are those listed in schedule 6, have made any representations in relation to the transfer of the appointment functions to an Appointments Commission. I must confess that from my recollection of such matters in the Cabinet Office, the Privy Council appointments process is not necessarily one to which I would wish to have myself subjected as one of the bodies. However, they might have an attachment to it born of a sense of the independence of the Privy Council office as distinct from governmental appointments. I would be surprised if they had any objections, but it would be useful to know whether there were any objections to the transfer of the long-standing arrangement.

Caroline Flint: To clarify the situation for the hon. Gentleman, the Privy Council has powers to direct the NHS Appointments Commission to exercise all or part of its functions relating to specified appointments to the health profession's regulatory bodies. In directions of 10 February 2005, the Privy Council directed the NHS Appointments Commission to exercise all its appointment functions relating to the General Chiropractic Council, the General Osteopathic Council, the Health Professions Council, and the Nursing and Midwifery Council. The directions also specified particular appointment functions for the General Medical Council, the General Dental Council, the General Optical Council and the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain. The clause gives the Privy Council the same powers to direct the new appointments commission to exercise all or part of the powers that it previously directed the NHS Appointments Commission to provide for. I am not aware of any concerns from any of the bodies that I have mentioned about that function being carried out.
 
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If I am wrong about that, I will ask my officials to check and will get back to the hon. Gentleman.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 57 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 6 agreed to.

Clauses 58 and 59 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 60

Commission to assist other bodies with appointments

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

Mr. Lansley: I am quite interested in this matter, not least because Papworth hospital foundation trust is in the throes of appointing a new chairman. In discussion about the process, I was interested to learn that the trust was not in a position to use the NHS Appointments Commission as a structure to assist it. From that point of view, it would have been helpful if the provision had already been in place to allow that to happen. I do not know what is available on an informal basis to help.

Can I take it that in the not-distant future hospitals across the country will be able to use the commission in the appointment of chairmen and other non-executive directors, although they will be under no obligation to do so? If they use the commission, will they be able to do so on the basis that it will be able to undertake such advisory and other arrangements as they determine? Will it have to delegate the functions or will it be simply advisory? If they use the commission, how will the financing work? We have just approved the schedule that allows the commission to be funded by the Government. Does that extend to the commission being able to undertake advisory activities and support the appointments of foundation trusts in a way that is subsidised from the support to the commission, or will such activities be rechargeable back to foundation trusts?

I take it that the fact that foundation trusts can use the commission does not mean that they will be required to do so. Can we have it on the record that the boards of governors of foundation trusts will have the discretion whether or not to use the commission to make such appointments?

 
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