Health and Social Care Bill

[back to previous text]

Clause 57

Inspections carried out for registration purposes
Sandra Gidley: I beg to move amendment No. 239, in clause 57, page 28, line 23, leave out ‘may’ and insert ‘must’.
This is a simple probing amendment. As the Bill stands,
“The Commission may publish a report prepared under subsection (2).”
I am curious about the circumstances under which a report would not be published. To my way of thinking, the more information in the public domain the better and the greater the transparency of any organisation, the greater the public trust in it. All reports should be published. However, subsection (3) seems to give some flexibility. I am not sure why that is needed. I seek an example from the Minister of where it would not be necessary to publish a report. It would be helpful to know why the word “may” was chosen.
Mr. Bradshaw: This is a point on which I may at last be able to offer the hon. Lady some satisfaction. Although, under existing legislation, the CSCI and the Healthcare Commission are not explicitly obliged to publish inspections reports, in practice they do. However, they are careful at times about some details: we talked earlier about children and vulnerable adults. I agree that it is essential that the public should have access to the commission’s inspection findings: a concern also raised by Dame Denise Platt in her evidence to the Committee. We are therefore looking at whether there is an argument for strengthening the language in that regard.
Sandra Gidley: I am reassured by the Minister and have no desire to have an amendment achieved in my name. If the Government want to bring something forward that achieves that aim on a future occasion, I will be more than delighted. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 57 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clauses 58 to 59 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 60

Power to require documents and information etc.
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Mr. O'Brien: The clause deals with the power of the commission to require documents and information. I want to ask the Minister, in the light of events across Government that are both topical and recent, what guarantees he can give that data collected under the powers in the clause will be kept securely and is the Secretary of State ultimately liable?
Mr. Bradshaw: No, the hon. Gentleman will know that health managers are statutorily responsible for complying with data protection laws. I am sure that he follows these issues closely and will know that the data protection rules governing health data, because of their sensitive nature, are much stronger and more securely held and, indeed, have sometimes been criticised for being too difficult to access. That will remain the case under the clause.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 60 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clause 61 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 62

Interaction with other authorities
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take Government new clause 13—Avoidance of unreasonable burdens in exercise of regulatory powers.
Mr. Bradshaw: The new clause and the amendments that we debated earlier were requested by Welsh Ministers in relation to care provided in Wales registered under the Care Standards Act 2000, which will not fall under the scope of the new Care Quality Commission because it will only operate in England. Welsh Ministers wanted to take the opportunity to introduce enforcement powers for Wales that mirror many of those that the Bill proposed for the Care Quality Commission in England and said that they wanted a little more time to consider the full implications of that. That is why I regret having to bring in the new clause now. Having done so, they have asked me to put forward this new clause.
Mr. O'Brien: I can see that the Minister has had precious little in the way of options if the discussions with Welsh Ministers are on that time track. This is the first of the Government amendments that we have reached during the course of the Committee’s considerations and is one of some 60 amendments. Clearly, anything to mitigate the burden of regulation would, in principle, have my support. It would be helpful, however, at this first outing, when there are implications for Welsh Ministers and the progress of discussions with Welsh Ministers, if he could tell us whether those discussions have concluded or are ongoing, so that we can have full knowledge of what to expect concerning that in Government amendments and new clauses. I am sure that he would accept that we have not had the dovetailing we might have hoped for.
Mr. Bradshaw: They have.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 62 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Schedule 4 agreed to.
Clauses 63 to 67 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 68

Arrangements with northern ireland ministers
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
3.30 pm
Mr. O'Brien: The clause will enable Northern Ireland Ministers to make use of the CQC and inspection on agreed terms, and it would be helpful for us to understand the income that the Minister envisages the CQC deriving from such arrangements. If he does not have the answer in his briefing, I am sure that the Committee will be happy to see it later.
Mr. Bradshaw: I shall have to write to the hon. Gentleman about that.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 68 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 69

Mr. O'Brien: I beg to move amendment No. 42, in clause 69, page 33, line 27, leave out subsection (6).
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 43, in clause 69, page 33, line 28, at end add—
‘(7) In such cases as the inquiry is held in private under subsections (2) or (3), the Secretary of State shall make a statement to Parliament.
(8) In such cases as the Secretary of State deems publication inappropriate under subsection (5), he shall make a statement to Parliament.’.
Mr. O'Brien: The amendments would remove from the Secretary of State the decision on the appropriateness of publication, and ensure that Parliament was informed in cases where inquiries are held in private or publication is withheld. It would aid the Committee if the Minister gave examples of when the Secretary of State would direct that an inquiry be held in private, or when publication might be inappropriate. I note that being prejudicial to an ongoing criminal investigation is an example, but in that case, the power should be to delay rather than to prevent publication. Perhaps the Minister will clarify that, in that case, “delay” might have been a more judicious word than “prevent”, which seeks not to have an out-date, as it were.
There are no checks or balances if the Secretary of State chooses to use the power to suppress inquiries that might carry political unpleasantness. Although I make no aspersions on that count, the issue must be raised, because as a matter of scrutiny in Committee, we should take every opportunity to ensure that we do not leave loopholes of which neither I nor the Minister would be proud.
Greg Mulholland: Last time, I was caught out by the brevity of the hon. Gentleman’s contribution, so I am on my toes this time. He seemed to get through at an excellent pace, and it was a very brief contribution.
Subsection (6) includes the phrase,
“in such manner as the Secretary of State considers appropriate,”
which sends shivers down the spines of many of us who believe in proper scrutiny. It could mean anything, and it is inappropriate to include such a woolly phrase in the Bill. The purpose of the amendments, which the Liberal Democrats fully support, is to include in the Bill appropriate occasions of parliamentary scrutiny, when the Secretary of State shall make a statement. I look forward to what the Minister has to say. The phrase that I have quoted is inappropriate, which is why we support amendment No. 42. The clear and succinct inclusion in the Bill of the occasions when a statement should be made to Parliament would be appropriate.
Mr. Bradshaw: The subsection mirrors the provision in existing legislation for the Healthcare Commission and CSCI. The hon. Member for Eddisbury has already alluded to examples of why it might be necessary for an inquiry to be held in private, such as to ensure that a police investigation or criminal proceedings are not hindered or jeopardised.
On the hon. Gentleman’s question about checks and balances, a decision by the CQC to use publicity if it is concerned that something is being undesirably suppressed will be a fairly powerful check and balance. Hitherto, that has not happened and I do not see why it should, but if it did, the CQC will be in a position to cause extreme embarrassment to anyone who is in government at the time.
Mr. O'Brien: The Minister envisages that the CQC’s power to make public its concerns—effectively, it has the power to embarrass—will be a very good sanction, and I agree that it is a powerful one. He did not address the issue of whether “delay” is a better word than “prevent”, but that point is on the record and we can think about it in future. It certainly does not merit pressing the amendment to a Division, so I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 69 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clauses 70 to 73 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 74

Code of practice on confidential personal information
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Mr. O'Brien: Yet again we are dealing with confidential personal information. In response to the previous point made on that issue, the Minister sought to pray in aid the fact that the controls over highly sensitive personal health information were even more stringent than in other areas. I simply seek reassurances and guarantees that when information is in the hands of the Government, Government agencies or related bodies, they recognise and take responsibility for its security, given recent events.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 74 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 75

Publication of programme of reviews etc.
Mr. O'Brien: I beg to move amendment No. 44, in clause 75, page 37, line 6, at end add—
‘(5) Subsection (2) does not confer on the Secretary of State the power to prevent the Commission conducting reviews.’.
Under clause 75, the commission
“must...prepare and publish a document setting out”
the reviews it proposes to undertake. Subsection (2) provides that
“the Commission must consult...the Secretary of State”
on the document. The amendment would prevent the Secretary of State from using the consultation as an opportunity to block certain reviews.
The clause highlights the privileged position of the Secretary of State in relation to the commission. It must be patent by now that we have sought to remove the Secretary of State’s powers in order to make the CQC a genuinely and transparently independent body. I have just one question for the Minister: what is the purpose of consultations under subsection (2), and could the clause be used by the Secretary of State to block reviews, however necessary people feel them to be?
Mr. Bradshaw: I simply reiterate what I said earlier. The CQC will be completely unfettered in its decisions to undertake reviews in the circumstances that I described.
The amendment would not have any practical effect, because the Secretary of State has no power to prevent the commission from conducting reviews. The amendment seems to refer to the requirement for the CQC to publish in advance its work programme for the more general reviews that it intends to undertake during a specific period. That is a sensible requirement, not least because that way, the organisations concerned will have some idea about the CQC’s work programme. It can formalise its business planning processes—an exercise that already takes place under the existing system to help managers administer burdens of regulation on front-line service providers. The requirement to consult will also ensure dialogue between the commission and the Secretary of State. However and as I have made absolutely clear, important, urgent reviews—or those that the CQC considers urgent in fulfilling its duty on quality and safety—would be completely unfettered and could be undertaken without consultation with anyone.
Mr. O'Brien: I am happy to rely on what the Minister has said and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 75 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clauses 76 to 78 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Previous Contents Continue
House of Commons 
home page Parliament home page House of 
Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index

©Parliamentary copyright 2008
Prepared 18 January 2008