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Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, I am well aware that Amendments Nos. 402 and 410 are not totally correct. Therefore, I intend to withdraw my amendment.

As far as the government Amendment No. 403 is concerned, I am put in the position of having to accept it. Perhaps the House feels that I have put myself in this position; the noble Lord, Lord Warner, certainly thinks so because he is nodding. However, I have to say, I do it with a very heavy heart. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Andrews moved Amendment No. 403:

"(2A) In section 126 of that Act—
(a) in subsection (1), after "PCT order" insert "or an instrument to which subsection (1A) applies";
(b) after subsection (1) insert—
"(1A) The Secretary of State may not make a statutory instrument containing the first regulations made under section 79(1) above (as substituted by the Health and Social Care (Community Health and Standards) Act 2003) unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before, and approved by resolution of, each House of Parliament."

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 181 [Replacement of the Welfare Food Schemes: Great Britain]:

Baroness Barker moved Amendment No. 403A:

    Page 99, line 9, after "may" insert ", having conducted pilot schemes involving full consultation and independently audited evaluation"

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, we come to a raft of amendments on this clause. Buoyed up by the victory of the noble Earl, Lord Howe, a couple of groups ago, I go in to bat with a hope of success, not least because the noble Lord, Lord Warner, in his letter to noble Lords of 4th November, indicated in some detail that we are very close to agreement on a number of matters to do with welfare food. Therefore, these amendments are tabled in the hope of closing what I believe to be a very narrow gap.

In the noble Lord's letter, he quoted the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, on the phasing in and testing of the new scheme. Amendment No. 403A refers to conducting pilot schemes, involving people in consultation and having independent audit and evaluation. I believe there is a distinct difference. I fully

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accept that the very concise and precise way in which all these amendments are drafted stems in part from the great disquiet about the way in which these provisions were originally drafted. None the less, I do not think that our amendment is a semantic difference. We are talking about important healthcare provisions for very small children and infants. What is being talked about is a big change, and it is described in fairly loose terms throughout the Bill. It is therefore important that we should seek to pilot it in a small-scale way and subject it to quite rigorous evaluation before it is rolled out. That is qualitatively different from the phasing-in of a scheme. I beg to move.

10 p.m.

Earl Howe: My Lords, the noble Baroness has again made a powerful case for pilot schemes to precede the full roll-out of a replacement for the Welfare Food Scheme. I share many of the concerns that have led to her call for pilot schemes.

Our concerns on the proposed new scheme are several and, if I may without speaking for too long, I shall summarise them. The first is that we are abandoning a scheme that has acknowledged nutritional value for one that may not deliver equivalent nutritional value in future. It will be difficult to ensure that the new scheme will result in mothers and young children receiving sufficiently nutritious food. The second concern is that we have not seen any details of how the scheme will work in practice, including how the vouchers will work to differentiate between different kinds of food.

Thirdly, the overwhelming finding from the Healthy Start consultation was that alternative nutrition would need a value higher than the current value of the milk-based scheme. However, the Government have said that they intend to stick with the current annual cost of around 140 million. Lastly, the new scheme will be open to abuse, and we have no details of how it will be monitored or policed. We also have concerns about the knock-on impact on the milk distribution sector. If doorstep milk deliveries decline as a result of changes in the scheme, the harm could spread to other vulnerable groups, especially elderly people. The Government simply do not have an answer to that.

We recognise that pilots, especially those that are fully evaluated as Amendment No. 403A calls for, can take a long time. We can see that the Government will want to press ahead once they have sorted out the huge number of details left. That is one reason why our Amendment No. 404 requires that the scheme be subject to affirmative regulations.

In Committee, the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, tried to convince us that to reduce the parliamentary scrutiny for the Welfare Food Scheme was necessary in order to be able to rush through new ideas on nutrition. We simply do not buy that, and can see no reason for parliamentary scrutiny of the new scheme to be less than is currently the case.

Given that the Government have given us so little information about how the scheme will work in practice and how the potential pitfalls will be avoided,

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I put it to the Minister that she ought to welcome the opportunity to debate the details with Parliament when the new scheme is ready to be implemented. If she will not accept my amendment—I suspect from her answers this evening that she may not—will she at least consider making the first regulations under the scheme subject to the affirmative procedure?

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, we wrote in response to the debate in Committee on 5th November and offered more detailed information about our intentions in respect of aspects of reforming the Welfare Food Scheme. We gave some information about our plans for rolling out, testing and evaluating the reformed scheme. We gave information about the type, value and distribution of the new voucher, and about our strategy for communicating with families. I hope that the letter has provided a clearer and fuller picture of how the new scheme will work.

I turn first to Amendment No. 404, which would require all regulations made under subsection (1) of Clause 181 to be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure.

I have spoken about the need for the reformed scheme to be as flexible as possible and to be able to respond to changes in nutritional advice, operational need and to the needs of beneficiaries. It must be informed by expert advice and by the proper consultation of those affected. I have referred to the consultation process that we have just carried out. We had a positive response to the scheme and to what we intend to do.

However, we have listened. The noble Earl expressed concern about "abandoning" the tried and tested scheme. I would say rather that we are building on the tried and tested scheme. I said in Committee that we appreciated the difficulties of debating a scheme which is in development, which is dynamic, and which builds on and reflects consultation in a formative rather than a merely retrospective way. I readily accept the concerns expressed about the setting up of a new scheme in the wake of one which has undergone little change in 63 years. It is remarkable for that reason. It is truly unique. I therefore propose to look again at the level of parliamentary scrutiny of the welfare food regulations and to come forward with an amendment at Third Reading that would make the first set of regulations subject to the affirmative procedure and subsequent sets negative. We are pleased to facilitate that debate. I therefore hope that the noble Earl will see fit to withdraw his amendment.

On Amendment No. 403A, I believe that I said at Second Reading that we want to get it right. We do not want to cause any difficulty or confusion to beneficiaries, who are vulnerable and who rely heavily on the scheme to supplement their nutritional needs. We are making the changes because we want to do more on their behalf and to use the health service registration process to achieve that. We intend seriously to test and to phase in the scheme and to pilot elements of it.

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Amendment No. 403A would make it a requirement for pilot schemes to be set up before regulations could establish the new Welfare Food Scheme. Such a requirement would apply to all operational changes in the future, however minor, as much as to substantial change at the outset. I have said that we need to consult fully on draft regulations. We also intend our consultation to encompass arrangements for testing and phasing in the reformed scheme.

I have assured the House of my undertaking to make the first set of welfare food regulations affirmative. I hope that the Noble Earl will finally be pleased with something that we have done this evening.

Baroness Barker: My Lords, the noble Earl appears to be ecstatic. I am not quite so overjoyed. I still question whether seriously testing and phasing in is tantamount to a pilot scheme. I suspect that we are separated not so much by a brick wall as by a small fence. I will look with interest at what the department brings forward, particularly in regard to evaluation within the regulations. That appears to be the point over which we have the greatest concern.

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, nobody could be more serious about proper evaluation than I am. The evaluation procedure is bound to be robust because it will grow out of the consultation process itself.

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