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Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: I deal first with Amendment No. 42, which would require membership of OSCs to include representatives of the voluntary sector and the patients' council. I firmly believe that that should be a matter for the local authority to decide. I am also very clear that the OSC must be in the hands of elected councillors, because that is the whole purpose of having an OSC. It is very important that that should not be dissipated by having too many other people on those committees. It must speak with the authority of the local authority.

As I have made clear in my reference to Section 21(10) of the Local Government Act 2000, it is already possible for OSCs to co-opt, as non-voting members, members of the voluntary sector, or, indeed, members of the patients' council. However, it is preferable for that matter to be left to each individual local authority to decide.

Perhaps I may turn to the issue of reflecting the balance of OSCs to ensure that there is a proper distribution of seats to political groups among appointing local authority members. Under Clause 8(3)(b) of the Bill, the Secretary of State is already allowed, in making regulations, to apply with modifications Section 15 of the Local Government and Housing Act. That is relevant to ensuring that we get an appropriate balance. I accept the points that the noble Lord makes. It is important that one gets a political balance. That enhances the credibility of the work of the overview committee. That may be more difficult when joint committees are established. But, as far as possible, our aim is that, when making regulations, the Secretary of State will try to ensure that OSCs are as representative as possible.

Lord Clement-Jones: I thank the Minister for his response, particularly to Amendment No. 42. Clearly, that was a disappointing response. It would be understandable if the whole mechanism was so clearly thought through that there was no further room for representation, and so on, but, as this scheme is still very inchoate, it seems disappointing that valuable additions to it, in terms of binding together the scrutiny and representation functions, have not met

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with any positive response from the Minister. Nevertheless, we shall ponder on what he has said. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 43 not moved.]

Earl Howe moved Amendment No. 44:

    Page 6, line 40, at end insert--

"( ) requiring any member of an oversight and scrutiny committee who is also a member of the Health Authority, NHS Trust or Primary Care Trust not to take part in the discharge by the committee of the functions described in subsection (1) above"

The noble Earl said: In moving Amendment No. 44 I shall speak also to Amendment No. 56. This is a straightforward but important issue which I have taken separately. My concern is twofold. There is a danger that OSCs may find themselves acting somewhat incestuously. It is one matter for them to be scrutinising NHS bodies and providers; it is another for them to be scrutinising local authority services provided under joint care arrangements. There is an obvious conflict of interest in the offing there.

It would be better to entrust the overview and scrutiny of joint care arrangements to patients' forums, with the help of patients' councils. Those bodies will be quite independent of the arrangements under scrutiny and well-placed to exercise their functions in a manner that will command public confidence.

The other conflict of interest that might arise relates to scrutiny councillors themselves. It would be a total nonsense if particular members of local authority scrutiny committees were required to scrutinise the responsibilities that they had discharged as board members of trusts or health authorities. I beg to move.

7.15 p.m.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: I have some sympathy with Amendment No. 44 in the name of the noble Earl. The Department of Health is already working with the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions on the development of a code of conduct for the membership of the OSCs. The appropriate place for any guidance on matters concerning the possible interests of OSC members involved in scrutiny in the NHS would be in that code of practice. I certainly take on board the substantive point that the noble Earl makes.

So far as concerns the other issue, I do not agree with the noble Earl. I believe that OSCs should look at all services, including those delivered in partnership with the local authority. The noble Earl and other noble Lords perhaps have concerns about the independence of the OSC in that respect, but, if one looks at the role of these scrutiny committees within local government as a whole, that is precisely what they do: they scrutinise services provided by their own local authority. The real distinction is that drawn by my noble friend Lord Smith, who reminded us that the

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OSC members have no executive role within the local authority. It is their core function to scrutinise local authority services. Therefore, I do not believe that this is a particular problem. On that basis, I urge the noble Earl to withdraw his amendment.

Earl Howe: I thank the Minister for his comments. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 45 to 53 not moved.]

Lord Clement-Jones moved Amendment No. 54:

    Page 6, line 44, at end insert--

"( ) Before making such regulations the Secretary of State shall consult Community Health Councils, patients' and carers' organisations and the wider community."

The noble Lord said: I was heartened to hear what the Minister said earlier when we were discussing the scrutiny clause. Perhaps he can correct me if I misheard him, but I think that he said, "And of course patients' councils and others will be consulted on the regulations made". That was in relation to Clause 7 and the scrutiny provisions. I hope that is correct. I also hope that that would be the reality with regard to consultation over the regulations relating to patients' councils--for example, that they would be consulted on the regulations which applied to them. If that is the reality, which the Minister appeared to be expressing earlier, then why can we not reflect that on the face of the Bill? In addition, could we not include carers' organisations into the bargain? That would be best practice. In a sense, the Minister was saying, "Yes, we will follow best practice". If that is the case, I would very much hope that we could include that, both in relation to scrutiny and patients' councils and forums. I beg to move.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: Actually, I do not believe that that is what I said. I said we would consult on the regulations concerning OSCs with relevant organisations. I mentioned the local government association as a particularly relevant organisation. It is not necessary to specify on the face of the Bill with which organisations the Secretary of State should consult. What is clear, and has been the practice of the Department of Health over the years, is that when considering regulations we consult with the appropriate bodies. We shall very much take account of the views expressed to us. But I do not think that it is necessary to put that on the face of the Bill.

Lord Clement-Jones: I hear what the Minister says. I agree that one does not want a great long list. But it is always good at this stage of the proceedings to get some kind of assurance. If there were to be a national patients' council--for instance, if that transpired as a result of the Bill--would the Minister believe that that would be an appropriate organisation to consult over both sets of regulations?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: There are a good many "ifs" in that question. If a national patients' council were to be established and if it were established in time

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before the regulations for other parts of the Bill had to be prepared, I should have thought that it would be an excellent organisation to consult. However, perhaps the noble Lord's question relates more to the future than to the immediate present.

Lord Clement-Jones: If that is the case, I can only hope that the regulations take some time in the making. However, we shall hang onto the lifelines thrown by the Minister at this stage of the proceedings. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 55 to 57 not moved.]

Clause 7 agreed to.

Clause 8 [Joint overview and scrutiny committees etc]:

[Amendments Nos. 58 and 59 not moved.]

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath moved Amendment No. 60:

    Page 7, line 42, after "Act" insert ", or section 9 of, and Schedule 1 to, this Act"

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 60, I wish to speak also to Amendments Nos. 62 and 63. Amendment No. 60 is a minor amendment that applies exempt information arrangements to joint overview and scrutiny committees as well as to OSCs established by Clause 7. Amendments Nos. 62 and 63 are technical amendments which ensure that arrangements in Wales for overview and scrutiny committees are consistent with arrangements in England. Essentially, they both have the effect that the National Assembly for Wales may make regulations enabling the Assembly to direct local authorities in Wales to enter joint scrutiny arrangements. That gives the Assembly the same powers as the Secretary of State in England. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 61 not moved.]

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