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Lord Hunt of Wirral: The noble Baroness has just made a very important statement—that we have moved on from what the Prime Minister said. The Prime Minister was explaining what this Bill would do. Therefore, we have not moved on. All that has
 
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happened is that the Bill is now published. The Prime Minister gave a very clear commitment that simple guidelines would be issued. Is that no longer the case?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: I appreciate what the noble Lord seeks to do. What I am trying to explain to the noble Lord, as the noble Lord from his vast experience in government will know, is that when one embarks on a journey of looking at how best to deal with a particular issue, it is absolutely appropriate to take that issue to develop one's thinking and to then reach the point where one puts that thinking either into legislation or, as the noble Lord will know very well, the work of the ministerial steering group.

I would argue that the legislation has come from what the Prime Minister said, but, so too has the work of the ministerial steering group that I chair, which contains, as the noble Lord knows, nine government departments working together. One of the consequences of that will be that guidelines may well be issued around a number of subjects; for example, noble Lords will know that we are looking at rehabilitation in the group chaired by myself and my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath. We have work going on with the Department for Education and Skills in order particularly to address schools' risk assessments, school trips and so on and with our colleagues in the Department of Health, linking of course to the NHS Redress Bill but also looking at issues concerning NHS trusts and their relationship with those who might seek to advertise, for example, in their premises. We have work going on with the Home Office on volunteer and police work.

All of those, or none of those, may contain guidelines. I simply point out that when the Prime Minister set out his thinking it was before we had developed the ministerial group and the legislation. There are no secrets in that. I am not saying anything other than that. I think it is highly appropriate for a Prime Minister to do.

2.30 pm

Lord Hunt of Wirral: That is all very helpful. There was no repeat of the word "simple", but now we are to have a proliferation of guidelines. Perhaps I may try again—

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: I said "any or none". I made the point in describing what the ministerial group may do in guidelines. I did not say that we would get a plethora of them. The noble Lord misheard me. I said that there may be some or none; in other words, in tackling our concern not to create a compensation culture and addressing the fact that people's behaviour appears to be changing because of a perception of a compensation culture, we should, as appropriate, issue important guidelines. There will be no plethora, but appropriate guidelines will be issued as needed.

Lord Hunt of Wirral: To summarise, simple guidelines may not be issued, therefore we have moved on. I understand that the Minister has not yet made up her mind, so perhaps I may try again. This time, what the Prime Minister said was reinforced in the
 
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2005 Labour manifesto. Is that an example of the manifesto commitment being altered? If so, that is a huge step.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: I am not making myself as clear as I would like. In being concerned about the compensation culture, we need to do a number of things. As I was at pains to point out at Second Reading, this Bill is merely a part—an important part, but a part. Many of the ways in which we will address the concerns will be to work with our colleagues in different sectors and government departments to address particular issues. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, is concerned about rehabilitation—that is an important matter and he has been helpful in discussing it with us—but there are other issues. In the course of that, it would be appropriate to consider whether we might need to issue guidelines.

In our previous discussion, the noble Earl, Lord Errol, mentioned filling in a risk-assessment form of 100-plus pages—

The Earl of Erroll: We are doing a risk assessment for the farm estate, which is running to 108 pages. To be honest, that is not filling in a form. Things will be generated from it, but it is our risk assessment, which is complicated.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: The point is none the less valid. When one looks at how organisations or parts of government deal with some of these issues, we need to be clear about the information they need to concern themselves with. Either the noble Earl or the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, spoke about the quality of training, advice and support to teachers and others who might be involved particularly in working with young people. All or none of that may require us to look carefully at the guidance we give. That is appropriate behaviour for the Government.

I shall move on to the other issues raised by the noble Lord. I take the point that he has tabled the amendment not to talk about doctors per se but in order to raise the more general question. We have been clear that in not changing the law, we do not want to remove from it those who might be covered. In a large area of medial negligence cases—accountants, auditors and solicitors—they would be captured by the law and we do not seek to alter it. As I have indicated, I am happy to look at the clause again to ensure that we have got it right, but in so doing I would not want to alter the law.

The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, spoke particularly about health and the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, spoke about doctors. It is important that we look across the work that the NHS Redress Bill seeks to do and health Ministers are concerned about some of the statements that have been made. They are concerned to ensure that we do not end up on a position where defensive medicine is practised—where doctors do not consider what is in the best interests of their patients and to look at pushing the boundaries of medical practice as appropriate. It is also important that within the NHS we create the opportunity for the system to develop.
 
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I want to quote briefly what Jane Kennedy said at our conference last month when discussing risk and redress.

She said about the NHS that,

Part of our work with our colleagues across the health service is ensuring that we are supportive of those who rightly have claims to make. The NHS Redress Bill will help them to make them more simply and easily. Indeed, it is part of the work within the ministerial steering group that those who have genuine claims should make them in a simpler, easier and more effective way. We also want to ensure that within the context of what we are doing we recognise the importance of the work of doctors and other professionals, while not taking away the fact that any negligence needs to be recognised.

Therefore, our ambition with Clause 1 is the leave the law as it stands and to clarify in a right and appropriate way. I hope that that fundamentally answers the points raised by the noble Lord and that he is able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury: I want to take the Minister up on a number of points she made. She emphasised many times that Clause 1 does not change the law but seeks to clarify it. I would be interested to know whether in British legal history there has been another instance of Clause 1 of a Bill not changing the law. Leaving that aside, is her mind open to the thought that clarification might not be best achieved by introducing a new verbal formulation into this Bill—I refer to the phrase "desirable activity"? That phrase is not construed judicially. My noble friend Lord Goodhart referred to the recent clarification of the law in Tomlinson v Congleton Borough Council, which is a House of Lords judgment and will override previous case law and all future cases must accommodate to it.

I am trying to be helpful, because we want to make the best of this legislation. Looking at it as a hoary old lawyer, I wonder whether having that phrase at the heart of Clause 1 without definition will not confuse further. Why cannot we have attached to Clause 1 some non-exclusive criteria which would help lay-people in particular? Non-exclusive is the emphasis here. That would leave the courts free to do their refining work on a common law basis, but it would give some help. I confess that I do not know what anyone would make of that phrase unaided.


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