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On the hon. Gentleman’s 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 led—that clinicians are making the argument. If it is referred to me, I will
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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 rankings—above 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 deficit—that 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 deficit—you 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. Gentleman’s experience allows him to talk with authority about the Salmon report and the history of this issue. There is a sense of déj 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.
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This chief executive was either a monster or an incompetent—probably 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.

Legal Services Bill [Lords] (Programme) (No. 2)

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 83A(6) (Programming of bills) ,

Question agreed to.

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Orders of the Day

Legal Services Bill [Lords]

As amen ded in the Public Bill Committee, considered.

New Clause 2

Appeal against public censure

‘(1) An approved regulator in respect of whom the Board decides to publish a statement under section 35 may appeal to the court on one or more of the appeal grounds.

(2) The appeal grounds are —

(a) that the decision was not within the power of the Board under section 35;

(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;

(d) that the decision is unlawful on any ground that would give rise to a claim for judicial review.

(3) An appeal under subsection (1) must be made within the period of 42 days beginning with the day on which the notice was given to the approved regulator.

(4) Where an appeal is made before the expiry of the 7-day period the Board must not (unless the court otherwise orders) publish the statement until the appeal has been withdrawn or dismissed.

(5) On an appeal under subsection (1), where the court considers it appropriate to do so in all the circumstances of the case and is satisfied of one or more of the appeal grounds, the court may—

(a) quash the decision to publish a statement, or

(b) vary the terms of the statement (and, where the statement has been published, direct the Board to publish to the same extent the statement as varied).

(6) In this section “the court” means the High Court.’.— [Mr. Bellingham.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

4.24 pm

Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Speaker: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment No. 1, in clause 1, page 2, line 9 at end insert—

‘(ca) that authorised persons should not act where there is a conflict between the interests of two or more of their clients, or between the authorised person and their client,’.

Amendment No. 2, in clause 3, page 2, line 27, leave out

Amendment No. 144, page 2, line 28, after ‘objectives’, insert—

‘(aa) complies with the regulatory principles as set out in section 2 of the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act 2006, and’.

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Amendment No. 64, in clause 28, page 14, line 20, clause 28, leave out

Government amendment No. 83.

Amendment No. 10, in clause 36, page 18, line 32, at end add—

‘(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.’.

Amendment No. 11, in clause 39, page 20, line 21, at end insert—

‘(e) that the imposition of the penalty on any ground would give rise to a claim for judicial review.’.

Amendment No. 12, page 20, line 45, leave out subsection (7).

Amendment No. 66, in clause 49, page 27, line 20, at end insert

Government amendment No. 84.

Mr. Bellingham: First, I should like to declare my entry in the Register of Members’ Interests as a qualified, but non-practising, barrister.

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.

The essence of new clause 2 relates to clause 35, which covers public censure and states that

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
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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.

4.30 pm

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 Europe—an umbrella organisation for all European legal professional bodies—specifically 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.

Amendments Nos. 2 and 64 would delete the words

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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 can’t because it is not practicable to do so, it doesn’t 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 Clementi’s 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 bench—many are retired Law Lords—so 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?

Amendment No. 66 refers to clause 49 and inserts the words

The whole intention is to curtail bureaucracy and the scope for unnecessary intervention.

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