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There seems a general agreement that bodies of this kind should report, especially when they represent a public interest, as these bodies clearly do. I should have thought that they would wish to report, in any case. If we look at the schedule, we see that the,
The CHCs may produce reports, but they are regulated reports. They will be told by regulation by the Assemblyvery clearly, I should imagineexactly what can be put into such reports and what shape those reports can have.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: The noble Lord should not attribute too much significance to the fact that I did not mention sub-paragraph (i). It could be argued that his amendment would constrain the ability of a CHC to report, because it would set out in primary legislation what CHCs should report on. However, leaving that aside, his question goes wider. He is talking about the independence of community health councils. I agree that that is important. My understanding is that the Assembly has no desire to compromise the independence of CHCs and fully intends to safeguard that independence. That will be reflected in the way the Assembly responds to its power in the schedule to make regulations. The Assembly will seek to strike a balance between setting out in detail the requirements and duties to be placed on CHCs and the need to ensure that CHCs represent patients consistently across Wales. That is important. The experience so far is that the performance of CHCs has been patchy. Good CHCs can be marvellous, but the interests of those who live in an area where the CHC is poor are not properly served. I suspect that the point of sub-paragraph (i) is to try to encourage greater consistency across community health councils. I am assured that in striking a balance between setting outpotentially in too much detailthe requirements and duties on CHCs and the need to ensure that they represent patients consistently, the National Assembly for Wales clearly feels that it is very important to preserve the independence of CHCs.
Lord Roberts of Conwy: I am grateful to the Minister for those reassurances, particularly about the independence of CHCs. However, CHCs must demonstrate that independence. Laying a duty on them to produce an annual report on how they have
The noble Lord said: This amendment also relates to the production of an annual report. The background is that, under paragraph 4, the Assembly will establish a national body to advise and assist CHCs in the performance of their functions. It will probably be akin to the association of CHCs, but it will be established by the Assembly. There is some ground for concern about its independence. From the Assembly government's point of view, there is everything to be said for having all these bodies well and truly buttoned up, if not straitjacketed, so that they cannot cause embarrassment, such as the revelation a fortnight ago that some health authority chief executives in Wales were drawing scandalously high salaries, well in excess of £100,000 a year. In a democracy such as ours, the truth usually emerges one way or another.
One way of safeguarding the integrity of an institution or body, such as the one proposed to advise and assist CHCs, is to impose a duty on it to produce an annual report on its activities so that the public can read about them. I would have thought that the Assembly, as well as the public, would welcome that, because such an account would help in the constant process of assessment of the value of the body.
Most bodies established by statute are obliged to produce an annual report, which is laid before Parliament. There should be a similar obligation on the body proposed here to report annually to the Assembly and, in so doing, to report to the public. I beg to move.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: In some ways, this is a rerun of our previous debate. My main response is that the Bill gives the Assembly sufficient discretion to ensure that if it so wishes the new body can make an annual report to the Assembly on its activities. Of course I accept the principle that such bodies ought to report on their activities. I am sure that we all agree with that, but it is for the Assembly to decide. My understanding is that the intended establishment of a statutory all-Wales body for CHCs is seen as a way of increasing the standard and quality of work of community health councils and ensuring consistency of service provision. The Assembly sees the body as a powerful strategic influence for patient representation at an all-Wales level.
The role and responsibilities of the body are currently the subject of consultation with CHCs, but it is likely that its duties will include supporting and advising individual CHCs, providing support for personnel and training, payroll and financial support,
I mention performance monitoring because one of the great weaknesses of CHCs over the past 25 years is that there has been very little external monitoring of how well they work. That is why we have seen such a variation in performance between excellent CHCs and very poor ones. The new body will have a key role in helping each CHC to improve its work.
The noble Lord also raised the issue of independence. The other
major function envisaged for the new body is to provide an
all-Wales voice for patient and public representation. I
understand that the current association of Welsh CHCs
undertakes that role, but it is not considered to be
adequately resourced. In placing the association's
successor body on a statutory footing, the Assembly is
turning it from an informal support organisation into one
that will have a much greater ability to monitor performance,
set standards, develop best practice and provide an all-Wales
voice for patient and public representation. That is to be
commended. The Bill gives the Assembly plenty of discretion
to require such a body, when it is established, to report as
it thinks fit. We should have confidence in the Assembly on
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