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On the hon. Gentlemans point about what is happening in Maidstone, my response is that I will not intervene. That is a matter for local physicians to decide, provided that it is clinically ledthat clinicians are making the argument. If it is referred to me, I will
refer it to the independent reconfiguration panel, which is clinician-led, so that there is a clinical argument for any change.
Anne Main (St. Albans) (Con): Is there any correlation between trusts mired in debt and those performing badly on C. diff rates? My own trust, the West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust, is No. 17 in the rankingsabove the 21st-place ranking of the Maidstone and Tunbridge Well NHS Trust, in Kent. There, but for the grace of God, goes my own trust perhaps having deaths on its hands. Will the Government look into whether there is a correlation between such debts, the cuts that were made and the outbreaks of C. diff?
Alan Johnson: Look, there is no correlation here. The simple fact is that trusts must live within the extremely generous funding that they are getting from the centre. Trusts have to be in surplus, not in deficitthat is a simple fact of life. A similar point applies to reconfigurations. I reject the notion that those who are reconfiguring or those who are moving back from being in deficit to being in surplus cannot have patient safety. That is a ludicrous proposition. It does not cost a fortune to have patient safety. It is about washing hands and ensuring that people do not get complacent about prescribing antibiotics. It is about the simplest of procedures, which, as was mentioned in an earlier contribution, the ward sister and the matron would know everything about. This is not lots of money. I reject the argument that we should give up on saying to PCTs, You should not be in deficityou should spend your money on taxpayers behalf wisely, in order to promote patient safety. It is possible to do both.
Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): Having opposed the Salmon report those many decades ago, which changed the role of matron, may I say that my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) has knocked the nail on the head? Will the Secretary of State give a total commitment to this House that he will act immediately on the roles of matron and ward sister, so that they include dealing with cleaning and with the question of whether nurses can come to work in their uniforms rather than changing into them at the hospital, and so that matrons and ward sisters can take the decisions rather than the remote and generally rather inept board of a trust?
Alan Johnson: The hon. Gentlemans experience allows him to talk with authority about the Salmon report and the history of this issue. There is a sense of déjÃ vu regarding the importance of the figurehead of matron. We announced recently another 5,000 matrons. It is about not just the name and the title, but giving that person the authority to override junior managers and to report straight to the top about what is happening on the ward. That is why we made the recent announcements about extra matrons and about enhancing their role.
Mr. Charles Walker (Broxbourne) (Con):
We must not be sidetracked in this debate by the question of whether cleaning is done in-house or out of house. This is a failure in leadership of monstrous proportions.
This chief executive was either a monster or an incompetentprobably an incompetent. A number of chief executives in this country are not performing, and when they do not perform people die. I urge the Secretary of State to intervene where chief executives are failing, before more people needlessly die from preventable illnesses.
Alan Johnson: That is an important point that we need to look at. As the hon. Gentleman may remember, the document on the constitutional changes that the Prime Minister announced shortly after taking over had a clause on how we make such appointments. We should not take them back to the centre, but we need to ensure proper accountability throughout the system. In particular and as the hon. Gentleman suggests, we should be spotting these issues much earlier and getting rid of incompetent chief executives or chairpersons who, fortunately, are in the minority, rather than waiting for a report such as this, by which time, frankly, most of the damage has been done.
That the Order of 4th June 2007 (Legal Services Bill [Lords] (Programme)) be varied as follows:
1. Paragraphs 4 and 5 of the Order shall be omitted.
2. Proceedings on Consideration shall be taken in the following order: new Clauses relating to Parts 1 to 4; amendments relating to Clauses 1 to 70; amendments relating to Schedules 1 to 9; new Clauses relating to Part 5; amendments relating to Clauses 71 to 111; amendments relating to Schedules 10 to 14; new Clauses relating to Part 6; amendments relating to Clauses 112 to 161; amendments relating to Schedule 15; remaining new Clauses; amendments relating to Clauses 162 to 214; new Schedules; amendments to Schedules 16 to 24; remaining proceedings on consideration.
3. Proceedings on consideration shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at 9 p.m. at this days sitting.
4. Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at 10 p.m. at this days sitting. [Alison Seabeck.]
(b) that any of the requirements of section 36 have not been complied with in relation to the imposition of the penalty and the interests of the approved regulator have been substantially prejudiced by the non-compliance;
(c) that in all circumstances, the publication of a statement under section 35 is, or the terms of the statement published or to be published are (or would be), manifestly unreasonable or inappropriate;
, so far as is reasonably practicable,.
, so far as is reasonably practicable,.
(4A) As soon as practicable after deciding to publish a statement, the Board must give notice to the approved regulator stating that it has reached that decision and setting out the terms in which the statement is to be published; and the Board must not publish the statement until after the expiry of seven days beginning with the day on which notice is given under this subsection..
and that the Board should exercise its powers only where approved regulators are clearly failing.
We are going to be pushed to get through this programme, because there are some 125 amendments and new clauses to get through. I worked out that if there are a few Divisions, we will devote about one and a half minutes to each amendment or new clause. That does not leave us much time, so we must make as much progress as possible, although that will not be easy, because the Government have come up with a lot of extremely complicated amendments.
if the Board is satisfied
(a) that an act or omission of an approved regulator...has had, or is likely to have, an adverse impact on one or more of the regulatory objectives, and
(b) that, in all the circumstances of the case, it is appropriate to act under this section.
(2) The Board may publish a statement censuring the approved regulator for the act or omission.
Any publication of a censure against an approved regulator could have wide-ranging and far-reaching consequences for it. Let us consider the example of the Bar Standards Board, which was set up fairly recently to act as an arms-length regulator within the Bar, has done a first-class job of dealing with complaints and has built up a good reputation in a short time. If that approved regulator were censured, its reputation could be demolished overnight. Surely it needs and deserves some form of appeal, and that is what new clause 2 proposes; it would give an appeal against the public censure.
Clause 37 and the part of the Bill that gives the legal services board the scope for imposing a financial penalty contain a clear mechanism for appeal. There is no logic in not having a proper right of appeal when it comes to public censure. It may well be that such censure is well deserved and correct, but given the
damage that it can do, surely there should be some right of appeal. Our new clause would provide that, and I recommend it to the House. I hope that the Minister will tell us that she supports the principle of having this right of appeal.
Amendment No. 1 might state the obvious, but it was suggested by the Law Society. Our existing regulatory system has withstood the passage of time over a substantial period, and I should point out one of its great strengths. It engenders a strong ethos of professionalism, which is respected by the vast majority of lawyers. Clause 1(1) does not mention avoiding a conflict of interest, and that is an odd omission.
Mr. Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab): If the hon. Gentleman thinks that the regulation of solicitors and the legal profession has been without problems, I would ask where he has been for the past few years. Many of my constituents, who have been ripped off by solicitors, have been failed by the Law Society.
Mr. Bellingham: In some ways I agree with the hon. Gentleman and I know that he feels that some of his constituents have been let down very badly. Amendment No. 1 is all about removing the conflict of interest, so I would have thought that he would support it.
The charter of core principles for the European legal profession, which has been adopted by the Council of Bars and Law Societies of European umbrella organisation for all European legal professional bodiesspecifically includes avoidance of conflicts of interest. My hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Djanogly) will speak in a moment about the need for concurrence between the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chief Justice, and that is related to the need to maintain the independence of the professions, and amendment No. 1 would send a clear statement that the Bill prohibits any conflict of interests.
Various conflicts of interest will arise from time to time, and I note that the Law Society has introduced a tight and tough code to deal with them. It does happen that one part of a large City firm acts for one organisation while another part acts for another. That can happen in shipping cases or in complex commercial law areas. The firm will probably have Chinese walls or barriers between the two different departments, and so the conflict of interest is avoided. However, the amendment simply states something that we feel should be obvious: the need to avoid conflicts of interest should be written into the Bill.
In Committee, the Minister said that she would look carefully at the amendment and come back to us on Report. I am sure that she has looked at it carefully, as she has been assiduous and approachable, and we welcome that. This has been a classic example of how Bills should be considered, with the Front Benchers all getting on well together, meeting regularly and trying to make progress. That is why there are so few areas of disagreement in the Bill. I wonder whether the Minister has been able to look at the amendment carefully.
so far as is reasonably practicable.
Those words appear in clause 3(2)(a) and (b) and clause 28(2)(a) and (b). We had a debate on the point in Committee, because those words qualify the essence of clause 1(1), which sets out the regulatory objectives. Why qualify them in that way? Clause 1(1) states clearly what the objectives should be and we do not see why an escape provision should be built into the Bill. It is like saying, Here are the objectives that we want you to follow, but if you cant because it is not practicable to do so, it doesnt really matter. We should not say that.
In Committee, the Minister again said that she was quite sympathetic to our line of argument and that she felt I had argued the case well. I shall not make such a lengthy argument this afternoon as we are under time constraints, but the Minister said that she might make a sympathetic response to the amendment on Report. I hope that she will be able to do so now, or that our proposal can be looked at when the Bill goes back to the other place. We are keen to avoid unnecessary bureaucracy and we support Sir David Clementis flexible and risk-based approach, but we feel that an amendment striking out the words we suggest makes a great deal of sense.
Our amendment No. 10 beefs up clause 36 and provides extra protection to an approved regulator who has been censured. It continues the theme discussed in new clause 2. The amendment makes it clear that the board should give notice to the approved regulator that it has reached a decision and should set out how the statement will be published. Obviously, the approved regulator needs time to consider its response. As I said earlier, reputations take a long time to build up but they can be destroyed overnight. The Minister said in Committee that she would look sympathetically at our proposals and that she might table an amendment on Report. There are Government amendments in the group, so perhaps she will comment on them in more detail and answer some of my questions.
Amendment No. 11 allows for judicial review and amendment No. 12 is consequential. There was a lengthy and learned debate in the other place about judicial review and I do not want to wear the House down with detailed, highly arcane arguments about it, but we believe that there is a clear and unequivocal case for having the right to judicial review written into the Bill. I know the Minister thinks that that is not strictly necessary, but if she thinks there is already sufficient protection for parties who could be fined and censured and lose their career and reputation, she should make it clear that there is no need for judicial review.
I have to tell the Minister that many learned Lords take a contrary view. Many of them have practised law and sat on the benchmany are retired Law Lordsso there is a huge body of expertise that feels strongly that the Bill should include provisions for judicial review. Will the Minister comment on that point in detail?
and the Board should exercise its powers only where approved regulators are clearly failing.
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