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Lord McColl of Dulwich: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that thoughtful and careful reply. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 36 to 38 not moved.]

Baroness Hayman moved Amendment No. 39:

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Page 14, line 16, leave out ("in circumstances importing") and insert ("subject to").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 17 [Restrictions on disclosure of information]:

Baroness Hayman moved Amendment No. 40:

Page 14, line 27, leave out ("15") and insert ("16").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 41 to 45 not moved.]

Earl Howe moved Amendment No. 46:

After Clause 18, insert the following new clause--

Notice of and admission to meetings etc

(" .--(1) Subject to subsection (7) below, any meeting of a body described in subsection (8) below shall be open to the public, and the body shall not have powers to exclude members of the public from the meeting or prevent them taking a report of it.
(2) Public notice of the time and place of such a meeting shall be given by posting it at the offices of the body concerned at the time that the meeting is convened.
(3) There shall, on request and subject to payment of such charges as may be specified in regulations, be supplied to any person a copy of the notice convening such a meeting.
(4) Subject to subsection (7) below, there shall, on request and subject to payment of such charges as may be specified in regulations, be supplied to any person a copy of the agenda for the meeting as supplied to members of the body, together with--
(a) such further statements or particulars as are necessary to indicate the nature of the items included, and
(b) copies of any reports or other documents supplied to members of the body in connection with the item.
(5) The publication of any defamatory matter contained in documents supplied under this subsection shall be privileged, unless the publication is proved to be made with malice.
(6) The provisions of this section shall be without prejudice to any power of exclusion to suppress or prevent disorderly conduct or other misbehaviour at a meeting.
(7) Regulations may provide for the public to be excluded from such a meeting (whether during the whole or part of the proceedings) and for documents to be withheld from the public in specified circumstances.
(8) This section shall apply to any meeting or committee or sub-committee meeting of a Health Authority, a Special Health Authority, a Primary Care Trust or the Commission for Health Improvement.").

The noble Earl said: My Lords, in Committee my noble friend Lord Lucas made what I felt was a powerful case for removing from the Bill the blanket ability of primary care trusts and the commission for health improvement to exclude the public from their meetings. He suggested that there was absolutely no good reason why the arrangements for PCTs and the commission should be any different from those which apply to local authorities, which are allowed to close meetings to the public only in particular circumstances as specified in the Local Government Act 1972. My noble friend has now tabled a differently worded amendment to advance the same idea. This time though he has extended his proposal to health authorities and special health authorities as well as PCTs and the commission. The amendment takes as its starting point that there should be a presumption in favour of public access to meetings and formal arrangements to supply

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all those who wish to attend with agendas and briefing papers. Subsection (7) then deals with the exceptions by allowing the Secretary of State to make regulations specifying those circumstances where it is appropriate for the public to be excluded and for the relevant papers to be kept confidential. I think that this represents a much more satisfactory formulation than that laid down in the Bill which allows PCTs and the commission virtual carte blanche to close their doors whenever they choose. So, on behalf of my noble friend, I beg to move.

Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, I rise to support this very well drafted amendment. We on these Benches are strongly prejudiced in favour of bodies which are open to the public unless there are extremely good reasons for closing their proceedings. The amendment takes on board all the principles that we would support. I urge the Minister to give as favourable a reply to the amendment as she can.

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I would do anything to try to be helpful to the House at this time of night, even if I did not have sympathy, which I do have, with the intention behind the amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, in Committee and the noble Earl, Lord Howe, today, together with the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, have made clear their concern that public bodies should be accessible and responsive to the people they serve. Like the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, we are committed to the principles of openness and transparency of process and the need to build on these to ensure that the public are involved and informed and have an opportunity to see decision-making in action.

We have already taken action on that commitment. We have followed up the provisions in the Public Bodies (Admission to Meetings) Act 1960 with guidance to NHS boards on how best to open up meetings to the public. We have made clear to NHS boards that open board meetings are not a cosmetic exercise. They are not to be orchestrated events with decisions taken in closed session. Meetings must be used as an important and proper part of local accountability, demonstrating how and why decisions are made about local health services.

Perhaps I may turn to the circumstances in which the public may be excluded from meetings. Provision under Section 1(3) of the Public Bodies (Admission to Meetings) Act 1960 allows for the public to be requested to withdraw where it is resolved by the body that,

    "publicity would be prejudicial to the public interest by reason of the confidential nature of the business to be transacted".
I know that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, had a particular concern that that goes on to allow for a request for the public to withdraw,

    "for other special reasons stated in the resolution".
The amendment substitutes a power to make regulations providing for the public to be excluded from meetings in specified circumstances. It is worth bearing in mind that the clause as a whole is drawn up to cover meetings of committees and sub-committees as well as the main authority or board meetings. Any regulations would

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need to cover all those circumstances, and we need to consider carefully what impact such provisions might have.

The current position is that guidance to NHS boards makes clear that any resolution to exclude members of the public must be taken in public and the outcome recorded in the minutes of the meeting. Such a resolution should state in broad terms the nature of the business to be discussed without breaching the confidentiality of the matter concerned. A statement made during the meeting provides immediacy and allows for the flexibility that may not result from specifying in regulations all the circumstances in which members of the public are to be excluded or documents withheld. I am unconvinced that this amendment offers a better course.

On the question of committees, I have already explained that NHS boards and the commission for health improvement are unlike local government, where there is a statutory provision for committees to conduct the business of the main body. NHS boards conduct the vast majority of business in their main meetings and the commission is likely to have similar arrangements. Again, existing guidance states that, where items of business are discussed in committees, that does not preclude an invitation for the public to attend those meetings. Neither should they be used as a means of diverting business which is rightly a matter for

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discussion by the main board. Again, I am unconvinced that the approach of the amendment to committees and sub-committees is best suited to NHS circumstances.

I hope that I have conveyed the importance that the Government attach to openness and transparency in the conduct of NHS and related bodies. I have outlined the practical steps that we are already taking to strengthen these arrangements and which are very much in keeping with the spirit of the amendment. However, there are important respects--the handling of decisions on exclusion from meetings and the approach to committee and sub-committee meetings--in relation to which I am not convinced that the complex amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, is better suited to the NHS and its public than our existing arrangements. Therefore, I hope that the noble Earl will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Earl Howe: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for her full and helpful comments, which clearly merit careful study and reflection. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I beg to move that further consideration on Report be now adjourned.

Moved accordingly and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

        House adjourned at fourteen minutes before midnight.

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