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Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, I always regard the moment when the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, rises to his feet with a mixture of intense pleasure and nervousness. I have to tell your Lordships that today is no exception. It is with the greatest of diffidence that I venture to disagree with the suggestion made by the noble and learned Lord.

Your Lordships will be well aware of the debates that we have been holding—I am sure they will continue—on whether this House should sit more frequently on Fridays. It has been suggested, notably by my noble friend Lord Rippon of Hexham, in his report to my predecessor on the Sittings of the House, which we

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debated fairly recently, that we should make greater use of Fridays. I believe that a number of your Lordships have expressed sympathy with that view. In particular—and I hope that I do not misunderstand him—the noble Lord, Lord Richard, has done so. The noble Lord underlined, I think, the point just made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon; namely, that he would support the greater use of Fridays, especially if adequate notice were given of the intention to use them.

I should point out to the noble and learned Lord that there have been a number of occasions of late when economic matters were able to be discussed; for example, in a recent debate introduced by Conservative Peers on one of their days for debate. In addition, the Finance Bill is, by definition, a money Bill to which Royal Assent may be given, even without the agreement of your Lordships, after one month. Moreover, the statutory deadline for enactment of the Finance Bill is 5th May which, as the legislation was brought from another place on 18th April, gives us little time in which to consider it.

I suggest to your Lordships that it is perfectly sensible for us to take seriously the strictures of my noble friend Lord Rippon and his committee and to use Fridays when the pressure of business makes it expedient for us to do so. Like the noble and learned Lord, I am well aware of the extraordinary concentration of expertise in your Lordships' House on financial matters—an expertise which is not entirely confined to former Chancellors of the Exchequer. I hope that Friday's full-day debate on the Finance Bill will provide the House with an opportunity to demonstrate its full range of expertise on the matter, even though we are following precedent and, indeed, only using one day for the purpose rather than more.

I hope that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, will at least consider that the Government have done their very best to provide adequate time for discussion of a Bill, the importance of which I would certainly not deny in any way, but which, nevertheless, I believe, by precedent, has been discussed by your Lordships at rather less length than has been the case in another place.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Landlord and Tenant (Covenants) Bill

Brought from the Commons; read a first time, and to be printed.

Land Registers (Scotland) Bill

Brought from the Commons; read a first time, and to be printed.

National Health Service (Amendment) Bill

Brought from the Commons; read a first time, and to be printed.

24 Apr 1995 : Column 706

Prisoners (Return to Custody) Bill

Brought from the Commons; read a first time, and to be printed.

Olympic Symbol etc. (Protection) Bill

Report received.

Health Authorities Bill

3.15 p.m

Report received.

Clause 1 [Abolition of RHAs, DHAs and FHSAs and duty to establish HAs]:

Baroness Jay of Paddington moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 1, line 11, at end insert ("and to establish for each of the English health regions and for Wales an Advisory Committee on Appointments to advise on the selection and appointment of non-executive members to those authorities.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the above amendment is designed to ensure that the appointments to the new, very powerful, health authority boards are made more openly and more objectively than is the case at present. It would bring the appointments system for the new authorities that would be established in England and Wales into line with the practice that already exists in Scotland.

Noble Lords will be aware that there is considerable disquiet about the present methods of appointment in the health service. That has led, at worst, to accusations of political cronyism and patronage and, at best, to a widespread feeling that sometimes inexperienced or inappropriate people have been appointed simply because they are known to senior people in the health service, to Ministers or to others involved.

There are fears that that situation will become worse under the new Bill with the abolition of the regional health authorities because all local appointments will then be directly in the hands of the Secretary of State—involving about 900 appointments a year. The Government seem to have accepted that some reform of the present system is necessary. New guidance on appointments was published in February and the Chief Executive of the health service, Mr. Langlands, in his evidence to the Committee on Standards in Public Life of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Nolan, spoke of change, somewhat coincidentally on the same day that the new guidance was published.

It is now suggested that appointments will be advertised and that candidates will be formally interviewed. But all of that has taken place since the Health Authorities Bill was published and after it had finished its passage through another place. There is nothing on the face of the Bill as it now stands to make the appointments system open and more objective.

We discussed the issue at length in Committee. From these Benches we proposed various amendments to try to ensure that the new health authorities would be

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democratically rooted in their own local communities and demonstrably appointed on an open basis. However, the Government rejected all those amendments. The present amendment would simply create a statutory, independent authority to advise on health service appointments; a system which, after all, is widely accepted in other fields and is in the best traditions of British public service.

Perhaps I may remind the House of the system which exists in Scotland. The Secretary of State for Scotland has created a committee of five chaired by the Lord Provost of Edinburgh—who, I understand, is a Labour councillor—to advise him on the appointment and reappointment of non-executive members of the health boards in Scotland. In order to broaden the selection base of candidates to posts in that field, a wide range of bodies which represent many different aspects of community life in Scotland—for example, the voluntary sector, different Church groups and members of different political parties—have been invited to put forward names and widespread public advertising is going on at the same time.

Initial interviews for people whose names come forward as a result of those processes are conducted by the chairmen of the relevant boards. They then pass on their recommendations to the national advisory committee for consideration and recommendation for appointment. That committee also considers reappointment to health boards on the basis of local reports.

When we discussed this matter in Committee the Minister said that the Scottish system could not be adopted sensibly south of the border because of the different scale of organisation of the health service in England and Wales and the much larger population in those two countries. But that would only be an argument, it seems to me, against having one national, advisory body for England and Wales. Amendment No. 1, which we are now considering, proposes that there should be an appointments body for each of the English regions and for Wales. That would enable local knowledge to be used in making recommendations for appointments in precisely the same way as has been done up until now by the regional health authorities.

During the Committee stage the Minister also said that in future candidates' appointments would be sifted locally and that the sifting panel,

    "may include an independent member".—[Official Report, 30/3/95; col. 1725.]

But the fact that the sifting panel may include an independent member is not good enough. It seems to me that that leaves too much to local discretion and to the continuing suspicion that appointments are being arranged on a cosy and friendly basis rather than in an open environment.

The Minister also said that she would re-emphasise the role of the regional chairmen in the new process. When I reread the Official Report I was not sure who precisely this would refer to under the new system. I imagine that the Minister refers to the person who will be appointed to be the regional member of the health service executive. That person will of course be appointed by the Secretary of State and will be just one

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of a few people who will be members of the executive board of the health service. That again seems to me—if it is to be the case that the emphasis is to be placed on the role played by that person—to continue the suspicion that all appointments are made on the basis of a cosy, internal collaboration rather than in an open and rigorous fashion.

I remind your Lordships that the Minister also said in Committee, in response to our amendments on appointments, that the,

    "views of people who are more detached from the NHS can also be valuable".—[Official Report, 30/3/95; col. 1725.]

That is exactly what the amendment seeks to formalise and to make statutory. We know that the committee chaired by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Nolan, on standards in public life has received more representations on National Health Service appointments than on any other subject. We also know that members of the noble and learned Lord's committee described the present proposals for changing the system of appointments—which were described in the February document and by the chief executive of the health service in his evidence to the Nolan Committee—as "inbred". They also said that they were disappointed that there was no compulsory independent element in the new proposals that were to be introduced.

During the Committee stage the noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege, said that the Government would consider carefully any recommendations which came from the Nolan Committee on this subject. I would ask her to consider this amendment carefully. It seems to me that by accepting it she could well pre-empt what could be an important future recommendation from the Nolan Committee, which could be embarrassing for the Government if an independent selection procedure has not been placed on the face of this Health Authorities Bill. I beg to move.

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