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Lord Hunt of Wirral: Against the background that I am now very willing to bring forward a further amendment on Report to place a similar obligation on Scottish Ministers, I beseech the Minister to rethink the matter. If I am disposed to meet his final point—to make sure that there is no anomaly and that the duty applies to both the Secretary of State and the Scottish Minister—I hope that he might agree that the Bill ought to contain a duty to consult, particularly bearing in mind the previous occasion.

The matter is of great importance, and it would be too late for consultation to take place once the regulations were laid. It is all well and good to say that there will be an affirmative resolution procedure, but the regulations are either accepted or not. They cannot be amended. The whole purpose of consultation is to check carefully through the detail of the regulations before they are laid. The Minister does not appear to be rising to his feet to say that he is now persuaded—

Lord Warner: I tried to make it clear that the first set of regulations would be subject to the affirmative resolution procedures, so there would be an opportunity for people to debate the matter in both Houses of Parliament. However, in view of the concerns, the lateness of the hour and the charm with which the noble Lord makes his point, I shall be happy to take the matter away, discuss it with him and report our further consideration on Report.

Lord Hunt of Wirral: The Minister places me in a very difficult position. I had just girded myself up to test the opinion of the Committee, even at this late hour. I find that very difficult, so I really must accept his olive branch. In those circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 149 agreed to.

Clause 150 [Payment of NHS charges]:

Lord Skelmersdale moved Amendment No. 424:

The noble Lord said: Yet again, the Bill relies on procedures under the 1999 Act where settlement of the payment must be made within 14 days. In answer to a similar amendment in another place, it was stated that 90 per cent of motor charge certificates are applied for in advance of settlement, and that 14 days has posed no problem. Bully for that. The amendment does not cover them, but refers only to certificates issued after the settlement date. Those would apply principally to certificates sent to individuals who may—let us hope—see only one in their whole lifetime.

Some insurance companies have long been used to dealing with the bureaucracy of the NHS, but new insurance companies will now be brought into the fold

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that will not be. It is only right that a little more time is allowed, and that 14 days should be extended to 30. I beg to move.

Lord Warner: Where the certificate of charges has been issued in advance of the personal injury claim being settled and the compensation claim paid, compensators may have had weeks or even months of notice of how much they will need to pay in NHS charges. Giving them 14 days to do so does not seem unreasonable. Similarly, if someone applies for a certificate after making the compensation payment, they will know that they are likely to have to pay charges and can make the necessary preparations to do so. There is no evidence from the existing road traffic scheme that those time scales are unreasonable or unmanageable. We are not persuaded to extend this date for the reasons that I have given.

Lord Skelmersdale: Oh dear. I have already said that the amendment has nothing to do with certificates that are applied for in advance of settlement. In those circumstances I accepted originally that 14 days posed no problem. However, as I pointed out, the amendment is intended to cover those cases where the certificate is applied for after the settlement payment is made. The Minister is being unreasonable. The Committee will remember that in a Parliamentary Question on Tuesday last week we were reminded that companies are allowed to claim interest on payment of debt after 30, not 14, days. In those circumstances, unless the Minister comes back to me, I think that I ought to ask him to think again.

Lord Warner: I have nothing to add to my previous remarks.

Lord Skelmersdale: In that case I must test the opinion of the Committee as to whether 14 or 30 days is most appropriate.

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2.26 a.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 424) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 11; Not-Contents, 41.

Division No. 4


Attlee, E. [Teller]
Barker, B.
Blatch, B.
Clement-Jones, L.
Colwyn, L.
Howe, E.
Hunt of Wirral, L.
Noakes, B.
Roper, L.
Skelmersdale, L. [Teller]
Strathclyde, L.


Acton, L.
Amos, B. (Lord President)
Andrews, B.
Archer of Sandwell, L.
Bach, L.
Bassam of Brighton, L.
Brett, L.
Brooke of Alverthorpe, L.
Burlison, L.
Campbell-Savours, L.
Carter, L.
Chandos, V.
Crawley, B.
Davies of Coity, L.
Davies of Oldham, L. [Teller]
Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, B.
Desai, L.
Evans of Temple Guiting, L.
Farrington of Ribbleton, B.
Golding, B.
Gordon of Strathblane, L.
Grocott, L. [Teller]
Hollis of Heigham, B.
Hoyle, L.
Hughes of Woodside, L.
Hunt of Kings Heath, L.
Jones, L.
Jordan, L.
McIntosh of Haringey, L.
McIntosh of Hudnall, B.
MacKenzie of Culkein, L.
Mitchell, L.
Pendry, L.
Plant of Highfield, L.
Randall of St. Budeaux, L.
Sawyer, L.
Simon, V.
Warner, L.
Warwick of Undercliffe, B.
Whitty, L.
Woolmer of Leeds, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

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2.36 a.m.

[Amendments Nos. 425 to 430 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

[Amendment No. 430A not moved.]

Clause 150 agreed to.

Clause 151 agreed to.

Clause 152 [Review of certificates]:

[Amendment No. 430B not moved.]

Lord Hunt of Wirral moved Amendment No. 430C:

    Page 73, line 11, at end insert—

"( ) But the Secretary of State may not vary a certificate so as to increase the total amount specified unless it appears to him that that variation is required as a result of his having been supplied with incorrect or insufficient information by the applicant for the certificate."

The noble Lord said: This amendment brings into the Bill a provision contained in the 1999 Act. However, I cannot see it being preserved in the current Bill and the Minister has now confirmed that to me.

The Secretary of State has the power to review certificates in certain specified circumstances. Naturally, an aggrieved party who asks the Secretary of State for a review is likely to ask for a review downwards. The 1999 Act provided that the Secretary of State could vary a valid certificate upwards only in very limited circumstances—essentially where the Secretary of State had been misled by the parties on the requisite details.

I believe that that was an entirely appropriate provision in the 1999 Act. Essentially it meant that responsibility for errors in certificates rested with the Secretary of State unless the error was caused by one of the parties. I really could not see why that provision had been omitted. That is why Amendment No. 430C would insert in Clause 152 on page 73, line 11, a new subsection (4)(d) in the following terms:

    "But the Secretary of State may not vary a certificate so as to increase the total amount specified unless it appears to him that that variation is required as a result of his having been supplied with incorrect or insufficient information by the applicant for the certificate".

As I indicated, the Minister has already responded to me by confirming that the wording that I want to insert into the Bill is the provision currently contained in Section 6(3) of the Road Traffic (NHS Charges) Act 1999. As I have just outlined, the effect would be that underpayments by compensators could be put right only where they were the result of incorrect or inadequate information having been supplied to the administrators of the scheme. Underpayments resulting from clerical or administrative errors could not be put right unless the compensator chose to do so.

That is the Minister's response. In his letter to me he points out that the amounts lost under the current scheme due to errors are very small. But while it may not be much in the overall scheme of things, the

20 Oct 2003 : Column 1452

Minister has pointed out that it can sometimes be far more significant for an individual trust that could potentially lose a five-figure sum. He concludes:

    "It is for that reason that the Government decided not to perpetuate the situation that pertains in the road traffic scheme in this respect".

I respond by saying that if there are errors and omissions that are not due to the parties that have provided the requisite details, but are due to some error within the Minister's own responsibility, I believe that the Minister should be constrained in the way that I have suggested in the amendment.

If one cannot rely on a certificate from the Department for Work and Pensions, that undermines the whole system. Without my amendment, the Bill would state that the Secretary of State could just issue a certificate at any time. That will create uncertainty. Surely, the Minister could rethink this point and recognise that if there are clerical or administrative errors wholly due to his own department—the Department for Work and Pensions—they should not be laid at the door of the parties and prevent them in the way that I have described. I hope that he will reconsider this matter and accept the amendment. I beg to move.

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