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We could sunset in relation to the bodies in Schedules 1 to 6 at five years, as these relate to agreed proposals which will be implemented within that timeframe or, in the majority of cases, much sooner. However we accept that that is not noble Lords' main concern, and that we therefore have to look again at the powers in Clause 11, which relate to Schedule 7. If it is not possible to provide the reassurances needed, we will have to look to the possibility of further primary legislation in five years' time to effect any future reforms-and I am sure that noble Lords would look forward to the prospect of another Public Bodies Bill with great anticipation. I therefore ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment so that we can consider my suggestions.
Lord Soley: The Minister now understands clearly-and probably has done from the beginning-that there is acute concern about the Bill. He also understands, which perhaps other people do not immediately understand, that there is a great deal of support for some structure or agreement on how we can reform these bodies. Is it not possible to perhaps come back to the House on the sunset clause and, in the mean time, talks could take place between the parties and the Cross-Benches on what would be a good model to bring before the House in five years' time? We could end up with better legislation, even if it takes five years to get it.
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: I thank the noble Lord, Lord Soley, for that suggestion. It is well intentioned and reflects a course of action which is open to the Government. At the moment, I believe there are ways of sunsetting within the Bill as it currently stands which might be used positively to enable the Bill to be
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Lord Adonis: Did I understand the Minister to say that the further conversations he would undertake with my noble friend would concern the possible sunsetting of the entire Bill? He elided his comments about some sections of the Bill with a comment that he would be prepared to discuss the sunsetting of Clause 11. I think that my noble friend's concern goes considerably wider than Clause 11. Could he clarify what he is prepared to consider sunsetting?
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: I am prepared to consider everything. I do not rule anything out, because that is the wrong way to approach discussions. I gave an indication, however, of the implications of different sunsetting. Sunsetting the whole Bill would mean that we would need another Bill in five years, if it was determined that that was necessary. Sunsetting clauses of the Bill is a different approach. I have also made it clear in my response to the amendment that the Government are looking at the interaction of Clause 11 and Schedule 7, and at whether sunsetting might help relieve some of the anxieties, well expressed across the Chamber, about those sections. I hope that I have been pretty open about where we are looking at sunsetting. I assure the noble Baroness that, should she withdraw her amendment, we would enjoy discussing this matter with her and other Members of the House who have expressed an interest.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his response to my amendments. I think that he has said that he is willing to consider sunsetting the whole Bill as well as specific clauses within it. He is nodding his head, so I take it that that is so. I shall therefore not press my amendments. I look forward to discussions with the Minister and the Bill team. My noble friend Lord Soley suggested that we might try to do this on a whole-House basis. I realise that one does not have representatives from the Cross-Benches, but if we can ensure that someone from those Benches who is particularly concerned about this aspect of the Bill is present, together with somebody from the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives-because they would perhaps have different views-I shall willingly withdraw my amendment.
Controlled migration has benefited the UK economically, socially and culturally, but when immigration gets out of control, it places great pressure on our society, economy and public services. In the 1990s, net migration to Britain was consistently in the tens of thousands each year, but, under Labour, it was close to 200,000 per year for most years since 2000. As a result, during Labour's time in office, net migration totalled more than 2.2 million people, which is more than double the population of Birmingham. We can't go on like this.
It is our aim to reduce net migration from the hundreds of thousands back down to the tens of thousands. To achieve this, we have to take action across all routes to entry- work visas, student visas, family visas-and to break the link between temporary routes and permanent settlement.
On the work routes, all the evidence shows that it is possible to reduce numbers while promoting growth and underlining the message that Britain is open for business. After consulting widely with business and with the Migration Advisory Committee, I have decided to reduce economic migration through tiers 1 and 2 from 28,000 to 21,700. This would mean a fall of more than a fifth compared with last year in the number of economic migrants coming through tiers 1 and 2, excluding intra-company transfers.
Business groups have told us that skilled migrants with job offers, tier 2, should have priority over those admitted without a job offer, tier 1. I have therefore set the tier 1 limit at 1,000, a reduction of more than 13,000 on last year's number. Such a sharp reduction has enabled me to set the tier 2 limit at 20,700, an increase of nearly 7,000 on last year's number.
The old tier 1, which was supposedly the route for the best and the brightest, has not attracted highly skilled workers. At least 30 per cent of tier 1 migrants work in low-skilled occupations such as stacking shelves, driving taxis or working as security guards, and some do not have a job at all. So we will close the tier 1 general route.
Instead, I want to use tier 1 to attract more investors, entrepreneurs and people of exceptional talent. Last year, investors and entrepreneurs accounted for fewer than 300 people. That is not enough. So I will make the application process quicker and more user-friendly, and I will not limit the number of those wealth creators who can come to Britain.
There are also some truly exceptional people who should not need sponsorship from an employer and whom we would welcome to Britain. I will therefore introduce a new route within tier 1 for people of exceptional talent-the scientists, academics and artists-who have achieved international recognition or are likely to do so. The number will be limited to 1,000 per year.
Tier 2 has also been abused and misused. Last year, more than 1,600 certificates were issued for care assistants to come to the UK. At the same time, more than 33,000 care assistants who are already here were claiming jobseeker's allowance. I shall restrict tier 2 to graduate-level jobs.
On intra-company transfers, we have listened to business and will therefore keep those transfers outside the limit. However, we will set a new salary threshold of £40,000 for any intra-company transfers of longer than 12 months-recent figures show that 50 per cent of intra-company transfers meet those criteria. This measure will ensure that those coming are only the senior managers and key specialists that international companies need to move within their organisations.
However, the majority of non-EU migrants are students. They represent almost two-thirds of non-EU migrants entering the UK each year, and we cannot reduce net migration significantly without reforming student visas. Honourable Members might imagine that by 'students' we mean people who come here for a few years to study at university and then go home. But nearly half of all students who come here from abroad come to study a course below degree level, and abuse is particularly common at these lower levels. A recent check of students studying at private institutions below degree level showed that a quarter could not be accounted for. Too many students at these lower levels have come here with a view to living and working rather than studying. We need to stop that abuse. Therefore, as with economic migration, we will refocus student visas on those areas which add the greatest value, and where evidence of abuse is limited.
I will shortly be launching a public consultation on student visas. I will propose to restrict entry to only those studying at degree level, but with some flexibility for highly trusted sponsors to offer courses at a lower level. I will also propose to close the post-study route, which last year allowed some 38,000 foreign graduates to enter the UK labour market at a time when one in 10 UK graduates were unemployed.
Last year, the family route accounted for nearly 20 per cent of non-EU immigration. Clearly, British nationals must be able to marry the person of their choice but those who come to the UK must be able to participate in society. From next week we will require all those applying for marriage visas to demonstrate a minimum standard of English. We will also be cracking down on sham marriages and will consult on extending the probationary period of settlement for spouses beyond the current two years.
Finally, we need to restrict settlement. It cannot be right that people coming to fill temporary skills gaps have an open access to permanent settlement. Last year, 62,000 people settled in the UK on that basis. Settling in Britain should be a privilege to be earned, not an automatic add-on to a temporary way in. So we will end the link between temporary and permanent migration.
I intend to introduce these changes to the work route and some of the settlement changes from April 2011. I will bring forward other changes soon after. This is a comprehensive package that will help us to meet our goal of reducing net migration at the same time as attracting the brightest and the best and those with the skills our country needs. This package will serve the
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Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement and for clarifying the confusion caused by the misleading leak of the contents of the Statement to the BBC this morning-not the first time that that has happened.
I am sure that the Home Secretary is right to say that migration has made, and continues to make, a significant contribution to the economic vibrancy, business strength and social vitality of our country. She is also right to say that it is essential that migration is properly controlled for reasons of both economic well-being and social cohesion. The question is: how does one achieve that? Over the past few years, the Labour Government put in place transitional controls on EU migration, a suspension of unskilled work permits, a tough but flexible points system to manage skilled migration, tighter regulation of overseas students leading to the closure of 140 bogus colleges, and new earned citizenship requirements for those seeking settlement.
At the general election, the leader of the Conservative Party proposed to go further in two key respects. First, he proposed a new target, reaffirmed in last week's debate in the other place by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary, to reduce net migration to tens of thousands by 2015. To meet that target, he pledged a cap on immigration which he said would be tougher than the points system. At the time, the leader of the Liberal Democrats said that they did not come up with promises like caps which did not work; he then agreed to the cap in the coalition agreement.
Since then the Government have been in wholesale retreat and today they are in some confusion. The CBI, the chambers of commerce, universities, Nobel prize winners, UK and foreign companies-large and small-have all highlighted the huge damage the Government's proposals mean for business investment, research and job creation.
The Home Affairs Select Committee in the other place, and the Migration Advisory Committee, have highlighted that the proposed cap not only excludes EU migration but covers only 20 per cent of non-EU migration, with overseas students and family members being outside the cap entirely. At the weekend, the business editor of the Sunday Telegraph wrote that the Government's "ill considered immigration cap" has had,
We have had the sight of the Prime Minister hinting at concession after concession in the face, we read, of opposition from the Home Secretary. But, then again, thanks to the excellent public lobbying and guerrilla tactics of the Business Secretary, the Home Secretary has now come to the other place to confirm the details of that retreat.
While we will need to keep a close eye on how our proposals will affect business and science, we certainly join business representatives in welcoming the decision to exempt intra-company transfers of workers. What has caused the confusion is this morning's briefing to the BBC that the total cap would be 42,700 work permits. I understand that mid-morning the Home Secretary's officials had to clarify to the Press Association that there is no such cap on that scale. My understanding from the Statement, as the noble Baroness has repeated, is that the Home Secretary will allow 21,700 tier 1 and 2 work permits, but with no cap on migration due to intra-company transfers. I ask the noble Baroness what the overall reduction will be as a result of the so-called cap announced today. If the number of intra-company transfers goes up, can the noble Baroness tell the House whether she will then put in place an offsetting cut in tier 1 and 2 permits? If not-and I know business representatives will very much hope that the answer is not-can she confirm that the supposed cap is in fact just a guess; a fig-leaf and no cap at all? This is a policy designed for an election campaign, but not suited to the reality of Government or the actual long-term interests of the UK.
Given her Permanent Secretary's revelation this morning that her department will lose 9,000 jobs-the bulk of which will be in the UK Border Agency-is the Minister confident that she will have enough resources to enforce her migration policy and keep our borders secure?
On family reunification, the Statement had nothing new to say. No estimate was given to the House of how many fewer visas she will need to grant by 2015 to meet the Prime Minister's target. On overseas students, we are promised another consultation and, again, with no estimates. Why is that? Could it be that the Prime Minister is simultaneously travelling to countries of the world, inviting students to come to Britain to study and the Business Secretary is telling our universities that they can live with an 80 per cent cut in teaching budgets because they can mitigate the loss with fees from overseas students? Is that the position?
I would also like to ask the noble Baroness whether it is still the objective of the Prime Minister and the Government to cut net migration to the tens of thousands by 2015. I notice that in the Statement the goal was repeated but we no longer get the date of 2015. Can the noble Baroness reaffirm that the 2015 promise still stands? It is a simple question: is the tens of thousands pledge still binding by 2015?
Baroness Neville-Jones: My Lords, I, too, listened to the debate in the Commons and I note that the Speaker did not admit the proposition that there had been a leak from the Home Office. I do not believe that there was a leak from the Home Office. This is not an instance that can be cited in that direction.
Baroness Neville-Jones: I am glad that the noble Lord agrees with the proposition that migration needs to be controlled. I will deal with his points about targets. We do indeed stand by the target of cutting migration to tens of thousands by the end of this Parliament, and we believe that the UK Border Agency will have the resources to ensure that it plays its part in bringing about that conclusion.
As for whether the limits serve the economic interests of the country, I note that the DailyTelegraph wrote its article before the Statement was made. Since my right honourable friend made the Statement-which, I might say, is the outcome of consulting, not of confusion-the CBI has expressed its satisfaction with the new system, which it believes will serve the economic interests of the country. Therefore, I believe that neither the charge that we are not listening nor the charge that we are confused stands examination.
On the question of intra-company transfers, our objective is to ensure that companies can transfer the people whom they need. That is why we have not put a limit on intra-company transfers. We will monitor intra-company transfers and look at how the process for that particular category of people goes. For instance, if need be, we will look at whether qualifications such as the level of salary are needed for intra-company transfers. However, we do not intend to relate that particular tier to other tiers. It is clear that we take the view that, after consultation with industry, it is important that companies have that flexibility. That means that, in other areas, we will also look at the limits that have been set for the time being, as indicated in the Statement.
Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I ask the Minister to clarify a couple of issues regarding the paragraph about family members. The Statement says that from next week-although we are told at the end of the Statement that most of the changes will come in next April or soon after that-those who apply for a marriage visa will be required to demonstrate a minimum standard of English. Can she confirm whether that is about providing evidence that the marriage is not a sham marriage, or is that a completely separate matter? Does the Minister agree that English is best learnt in the country where it is spoken?
Secondly, does the Minister agree that there is a need for proper training and skills provision for some of those whom we may find it difficult to identify in future? The Migration Advisory Committee's report rightly talks about the need for employers to provide training, but it also states:
In the context of the reference to the care assistants who are already here, does the Minister accept that those who work in the social care sector need not just technical but-if I may put it this way-cultural skills as well? I say that having talked at the weekend to a trustee of a care home who tells me that Filipino care assistants have a much better idea of how to look after elderly people than, I am afraid, British people seem to have.
Baroness Neville-Jones: On family migration and language, I entirely agree with my noble friend that you best learn the language when you are in the country. We are not demanding anything more than the lowest possible level of competence by way of an entry requirement, but we believe that it is necessary to insist that integration and the ability to participate in society are objectives that everyone who comes to this country should share. We believe that the capacity to communicate in the language is an absolutely fundamental requirement.
On the question of carers and skills, we will monitor the whole issue of skills shortages. Clearly, it does not make sense for us to impose limits in areas where there are skills shortages. However, as I said in the Statement, caring is not currently an area where a skills shortage arises. Nevertheless, my noble friend makes a good point that, if there is a lack of specialist skills within the caring profession, those could fall to be considered under a skills shortage category.
Lord Tomlinson: My Lords, I declare an interest as chairman of the advisory board of the London School of Commerce, which is a private sector college with highly trusted sponsorship status. I also declare my position as vice-chairman of the board of Anglia Ruskin University, which is a state university.
I broadly welcome the part of the Statement that deals with students because it avoids the major elephant trap, which has been around for quite a long time in higher education, of merely reiterating the mantra, "Public sector good, private sector bad". That is wrong on both sides of the equation. Some of our universities are not particularly good, and some of our private colleges are extremely good. I think that the Statement more or less strikes the right balance, so I welcome it on those grounds.
The Minister is right to identify the number of students who come here to study at below degree level as a major problem, but what plans do the Government have to copy the best of the private sector in monitoring the continuous attendance of students at courses? At our college, we have brought to the attention of Home Office officials-we have invited them to come and visit-our system of digital identification, which gives us a link with students that means that it is not a surprise to find that all students are in attendance and we can be aware of their non-attendance within days rather than weeks.
Finally, given that the Minister's department has been in consultation with the sector almost continuously for the past five or six years, does she agree that the consultation should now be concluded fairly quickly? What is needed in both the public and the private sector is a period of stability in higher education, so that institutions can recruit students in the knowledge that the students will be able to attend. The modern practice of public and private working in partnership should surely be able to continue unabated by fears about the ability to get visas.
On the noble Lord's first point about the monitoring of educational establishments, including those that are in the category of highly trusted sponsor, there will indeed be monitoring. I think that monitoring is already in place for many schools that have had to register in order to be providers of English language teaching. The monitoring of attendance, of the qualifications awarded and of the compliance of the institution in meeting its obligations under its sponsorship arrangements will indeed be carried out and spot checks may occur. I think that all institutions will be on notice that their obligations need to be taken seriously. Of course, if institutions do not take those seriously, they will lose their sponsorship status.
On the noble Lord's second point, we entirely accept that those who want to bring people into this country, whether for study or for employment, need to know where they stand. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary has made it clear that she wants to get through the next stage-clearly, a big block of migrant movement is by students, who are, at something like 51 per cent, by far the biggest category of migrants-as soon as possible. Progress must, if I may say so, be consistent with having a proper consultation on how to do that, but the object will be to conclude that consultation so that we can put in place a system-and a level-that is reasonable and that serves the interests of this country.
Lord Lucas: My Lords, I am grateful. I am delighted that there is to be a consultation on students and I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to include me in that consultation as editor of the Good Schools Guide and let me know who else is being consulted. I very much hope that it will include all further education institutions, private and public. I regret the derogatory tone taken about that sector in the Statement; many good-quality institutions provide excellent courses below degree level, which are in great demand throughout the world. We should export a strong and large export industry employing many people in this country. I agree that it should have quality controls and that the previous Government were remiss in completely failing to install the sort of system that has just been talked about, but we should be positive about the sector and support it as there is a great deal of good there and a great deal of employment.
Baroness Neville-Jones: My Lords, I think that that sentiment would be widely shared in the House. It is certainly shared in the Government. If the consultation that has just been conducted on the employment sector is anything to go by, the House can be confident that this consultation will also be wide-ranging and thorough. In this particular consultation with business, we talked
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Lord Judd: Does the Minister agree that we should not simply acknowledge the contribution made by migration to this country but, across the political divide, warmly thank migrants for the tremendous contribution that they have made to the well-being and health of this country? Would she agree, too, that some pretty crude contradictions are inevitable in an immigration policy? On one hand, we are committed to the principles of a global market and encourage the free movement of goods and capital and the rest; on the other hand, there is no free movement of labour. That is a fundamental contradiction in the theory of the market. Does that not make it essential that we consult across government with all relevant departments about the compensatory measures needed in development policy, international financial policy and international economic policy for this distortion in the market? While doing that, how far do the Ministers with immediate responsibility discuss with colleagues in DfID the implications of a policy that seems to give priority to those who arguably are the people most needed in their own countries to build up their countries' economy and provide employment opportunities for a wider cross-section of their populations?
Baroness Neville-Jones: My Lords, it is historically well based to assert that migration has been extraordinarily beneficial to this country. We have had immense advantage out of being an open society. The noble Lord asks whether we could be behaving in ways that disadvantage countries that need to retain their own talent. That is a perfectly fair point that goes to the core of successful development policies-because we do not have successful development in developing countries in the absence of the talent that they need to lead. That is one of the many reasons why we need to break the link between allowing or inviting people to come here and benefit from our education system and possibly taking subsequent employment without using this as a route to settle down here and leave their own countries, where they might benefit their own communities. I take the point absolutely. The policy that we are trying to pursue and that will draw some in-and we wish to see them here-is not designed to deprive countries permanently of their leadership talent.
Lord Maclennan of Rogart: My Lords, in the light of the Minister's indication that there would be a limit of 1,000 people from scientific, academic and artistic communities and in view of the fact that this country has a high reputation in these fields, is it not a little unwise to announce an inflexible figure? Can she indicate how many people falling into that category have been applying for permits to come into the country? What consultation will she make in future to ensure that the number is sufficient to enable us to maintain our reputation in these fields?
Baroness Neville-Jones: I am trying to find the figure. I think that I am right and, if I am not, I shall correct myself on the record later and write to the noble Lord. My understanding is that 700 are being issued in that category, so the figure of 1,000 is not an unreasonable estimate of what is likely to be needed in this category. Of course, it is entirely without the complication of sponsorship or other qualification. We have sought to respond to the points that were made about our need for great talent to come here, but also to the desire of those who wish to come and work in our global-quality institutions. We will monitor all these figures and, if they turn out to be wrong, I am sure that the Government will want to change the limits. The last thing that this country needs is to impose an immigration policy on itself that does not meet its social and economic needs and benefit the population of the country.
Lord Anderson of Swansea: The proposal on marriage is fine in principle, but my experience is that so often sham marriages can proceed and succeed because there is no check at the end of the period as to whether they are subsisting. What assurance can the Minister give on the rigour of the checks carried out at the end of the two-year period? Otherwise, sham marriages will continue and proliferate.
Baroness Neville-Jones: The noble Lord is right that there is a problem here. We are looking at a possible extension of the period during which a marriage would have to subsist for it to be demonstrated not to be sham. That means that we will have to monitor that to be the case. The announcements being made in context form part of a wider view of how we monitor those who are let into the country and their compliance with the conditions under which they were permitted to enter. In a different context, I recall announcing how we were going to monitor English language schools. That undoubtedly imposes on the immigration system an extra duty when ensuring that terms are being met. However, it will be made very clear to those involved that the penalties for failure to comply are very high.
Baroness Neville-Jones: That is something that we are working on, but I cannot give the noble Viscount a date because I am not informed of the timetable, but it is certainly a UKBA objective that we record the outward journey.
Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords, can my noble friend expand a little on the reference to Highly Trusted Sponsors, who might be allowed to offer courses at a lower level-"Highly Trusted Sponsors" having an upper-case H, T and S?
Baroness Neville-Jones: My Lords, I fear we have another abbreviation. I am unable to give my noble friend a great deal of information, but two things are clear. There are already some institutions of extremely good standing that will, by definition, be given such a status and earn this soubriquet. Other institutions will be given time to qualify on the basis of their meeting the conditions of being a trusted sponsor. This involves being part of a reputable institution and having a record both of complying with the terms of the conditions and of being in a proper financial relationship when it comes to paying the necessary amounts for the sponsorship and visas of the individuals involved.
Lord Clinton-Davis: The noble Baroness said that too many students have been coming here to live rather than to study. Will she kindly say on what evidence she formed that view? In particular, can she indicate how many students of that character are doing that? Will she also outline the organisations or persons who have opposed or have reservations about the new regime?
Baroness Neville-Jones: My Lords, I am afraid that I cannot answer the third of those points. I will endeavour to investigate and see whether I can enlighten the noble Lord. I will write to him if that is the case. The abuse of study rights is pretty well documented. There were several cases last summer of organisations and institutions that were, frankly, bogus. They were offering places on non-existent courses to people who had come here with the objective of clearing off and getting employment. We know about this both in the educational context and in one or two terrorist cases. This is not a fiction.
There is also the question of those who may come here, first, as bona fide students but who then stay on and simply become part of the workforce. That is an abuse. On that score, something like 20 per cent of the students who entered in 2008 are still here. That was not the intention and should not be the outcome. Clearly this is neither a mythical nor particularly small category of individuals, and it needs to be controlled.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, for the convenience of the House, I should explain that today we split my original Amendment 3 into two. The reason for doing so is so that we can discuss the question of
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I think we agree that consultation has to be a very important part of the process of dealing with the order-making powers that the Bill provides to Ministers. The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, has graciously acknowledged the concerns over the enormous discretion that the Bill seeks to give Ministers. The debate on consultation goes to one of the most important parts of the Bill. The amendments that the Minister proposes to move-and to which I am sure he will speak in this group-are very welcome as far as they go. They provide for statutory consultation and stipulate that certain interested parties must be consulted before a Minister can proceed with an order. The Minister must also consult any such persons considered appropriate, allowing for a wide and full public consultation or a more targeted approach, depending on the order.
As I have said, that is welcome as far as it goes in relation to Clauses 1 to 6. The problem is that it still leaves an awful lot of ministerial discretion in deciding whether there should be a full public consultation, and by what criteria a Minister should so decide. The Minister was very sympathetic to the last group of amendments in relation to the sunset clause. I hope he will also give my amendment sympathetic consideration. We are talking about an extraordinary range of powers being given to Ministers. We are also, in the list of organisations in each schedule to the Bill, talking about responsibilities of bodies that are extensive and, in many cases, impact widely on the general public. For that reason, there should be a clear principle in the Bill that, whenever an order is proposed by a Minister, the public should always be consulted. I hope the noble Lord will be sympathetic to that point of view.
I also ask the Minister to clarify one point in regard to his own amendments. In the helpful note of explanation that we received from his department in relation to his amendments, the point is made that there will be at least 12 weeks for consultation. I would be grateful if the Minister could confirm that and give a little more detail. In particular, will the 12 weeks encompass just the time for interested parties to comment, or could they also embrace the time taken for a Minister to respond to submissions or consultations? I would very much welcome clarification on that.
Baroness Andrews: My Lords, I support the amendment in the name of my noble friend. I very much welcome the Minister's amendment but it is extraordinary that it was not included in the Bill initially. That reflects what has gone on in the review of public bodies. I declare an interest as chair of English Heritage and vice-president of the National Parks Association. In the time available there was not much opportunity for a public body to have a considered, sensible dialogue with Ministers. Many of the bodies that passed the three tests of independence, expertise and accountability are in Schedule 7 and do not know why that is or what will happen to them. It should be an absolute precondition that they, and the bodies identified in other parts of the Bill, are consulted about their future and the extent of the options being discussed.
In the course of the afternoon, noble Lords have raised their concerns in many different ways but the business of consultation goes far wider than that. It is a matter of basic courtesy that these bodies should be consulted, and that is what the Minister's amendment provides for. However, as has been said, it is extremely important that people who are affected by the Bill and are nervous about the future of public bodies should have the opportunity to be consulted. I think, for example, of the National Parks Association and the national parks themselves which command such enormous popular support and are so important to many different communities, both regionally and nationally. They are in Schedule 7. If it was decided to move them into another schedule, the number of people affected by that decision would be legion. It would be a gross discourtesy not to give people an opportunity to be consulted. Many of the bodies in Schedule 7 are membership bodies and would want to take the views of their members into account. Indeed, their members would have very strong views. Therefore, there is a real issue here about the nature of the consultation, its extent and the certainties that we can count on in terms of public responsibility and consultation.
I very much echo what the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, has just said about the need to be absolutely clear. The Cabinet Office guidance on consultation is very clear-12 weeks is the standard recommended time. Consultation in itself does not allow a huge amount of scope to discuss such serious matters, especially if it is held over a summer, as it often is. We need to be given guarantees that full and proper consultation will be carried out that is not compromised by a Minister saying that he will respond in due course. I am anxious that we should be given those assurances this evening.
Lord Maclennan of Rogart: My Lords, I should like to begin by expressing my appreciation to the Minister for having brought forward the new clause on consultation, which flowed directly from the debate that we had at Second Reading, in which concern was expressed about it. The Minister told my noble friend Lord Lester earlier that there would be further discussion on this matter at later stages of the Bill. Amendment 114 goes a long way to meeting the general requirement of public consultation. It would be helpful, and would attract the consent of noble Lords on all sides of the House, if we were given somewhat more specific indications about the time involved, although there are further provisions on that in Amendment 118. However, there remains an issue about the nature of public consultation. That matter was addressed by my noble friend Lord Lester in his earlier remarks and I was glad to hear the Minister respond positively to it. I note that an amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Greaves, which has not yet been moved, contains specific proposals on how the Minister might indicate that he is seeking consultation and on the use of a government website. All these matters merit serious consideration. We should not regard provisions that are put forward as tokenism, and I do not for one minute imagine that that is the Government's view.
Lord Clark of Windermere: My Lords, I should like to press the Minister a little on the Government's new clause in Amendment 114, with specific reference to consultation on matters which might be devolved or partly devolved, particularly forestry. I take this opportunity to thank the Minister for the way in which he responded to my request regarding how the Forestry Commission might communicate with Members of this House on factual matters. Through his offices and those of the noble Lord, Lord Henley, we have found a means of communication through the all-party group on forestry. Unlike most of the other bodies that we are discussing, the Forestry Commission is accountable to the Crown as opposed to the legislature, which creates a problem. The Bill does not refer to the Forestry Commission but, rightly, to the forestry commissioners. As I explained at Second Reading, the 1999 Act devolved certain aspects of forestry which are planned to revert to central control, and this creates a very complicated body.
The Minister made the point that if matters pertained to Scotland or Wales, there would be a duty to consult Scottish Ministers or Welsh Assembly Ministers. Should we consult Scottish Ministers or Welsh Assembly Ministers as opposed to the Scottish Parliament or the Welsh Assembly given that we might have to find a statutory mechanism pertaining to the Scottish Parliament or the Welsh Assembly to enable us to communicate with those bodies? I should like the Minister to give me an assurance-I am sure that he will give it to me if he can-that a mechanism will be found to enable us to communicate with the Scottish Parliament or the Welsh Assembly.
Lord Greaves: My Lords, I have a number of amendments in this group-Amendments 115 to 117, 128, 129 and 170 to 172. They are all amendments to the three government amendments that have been put forward. Noble Lords know what those amendments say and can judge my amendments accordingly. The amendments that I have put down are very much along the lines of the amendments that I usually put down on consultation. I listened-as, no doubt, did many other noble Lords-with great admiration to all the detailed legal analysis on Amendment 1. I congratulate the Minister on understanding it all. We are dealing with something much more basic now that I do understand and in which I have been involved all my life-that is, public consultation.
As my noble friend Lord Maclennan said, these amendments put more detail on to the principles set out in amendments tabled by my noble friend Lord Lester of Herne Hill and the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath. The former states that,
That fundamental principle has to appear in the Bill. It is absolutely right that consultation should be with all the appropriate organisations, interests and individuals that the Government can identify. In addition to that, consultation has to be open and transparent. That means that anyone who wants to be consulted should
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The Government can never know who wishes to contribute in total and which contributions might be useful to them in improving what they propose, or in coming to the view that it is right or wrong. That principle is accepted in many areas, such as consultation over planning applications to a local authority. Local authorities all have a list of the people whom they automatically and systematically consult, such as neighbours-depending on what the proposed development is, people living within a certain radius of the proposed development or perhaps just people living adjacent to it. A whole series of organisations-some national, some local-also automatically get consulted. There is no problem about that; it is the kind of consultation the Government are talking about in the Bill. In addition, there is an open consultation. Traditionally, a site notice might be posted so that people who walk past can have a look and see that the application has been made. There may be newspaper advertisements in certain cases where the application is thought to be particularly important, or is specialist-applications for listed buildings, for example.
Probably universally now, an open invitation is put on the council's website for people to put their views forward, and an increasing proportion of people do so that way. That is an open consultation-it is open to anybody to take part and the council has to consider those representations. It does not mean that the whole basis of local government collapses; it is just a normal part of the process. There is no reason whatever why the Government cannot accept that principle on the kind of proposals in the Bill, which are often far reaching. In many cases, the Government act in this way; they may have a specific obligation to consult certain people and bodies, but in addition they put things on websites and take account of what people say. However, that is fairly ad hoc at the moment; whether it is done depends on the people involved. The principle ought to be in legislation. The internet makes the whole process far easier. The idea of advertising in national newspapers, the London Gazette or whatever-nobody ever sees it-has been superseded completely. All the information can now be put on the internet via the Government's websites and people can respond in that way, or write in if they wish to respond in that way. There is no reason why that should not happen.
My amendment is the standard one that I table whenever this kind of thing comes up in your Lordships' House. I tabled it on the Academies Bill; we got a weak concession from the Government on consultation by school governing bodies proposing to become academies, which has turned out to be pretty feeble in practice. Consultation is not an option. It is essential and should be entrenched in the legislation. I can remember banging away on the same issue on the Marine and Coastal Access Bill and various local government Bills.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: The noble Lord has brought up a Bill of blessed memory to many noble Lords, including of course the noble Lord, Lord Taylor. Will the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, contrast the
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Lord Greaves: My Lords, I heard the comments made to that effect by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, on a previous amendment. He is right; it is the only explanation I can find for the devastating silence. In some cases I have gone out of my way to try to get information out of various bodies that may be affected by the Bill; no doubt other noble Lords have too. It has been like getting blood out of cheese on one hand, and on the other there have been subterfuge-type conversations: "I'll have the conversation with you, but don't tell anybody, will you?". That is not satisfactory. It would help if the Minister could give us all an assurance that any such instructions that have been sent down the line will be countermanded immediately, so that those of us who are interested in these organisations can get the information that we legitimately need for when we get on to the detailed amendments and discussions that we shall have on the schedules, quite apart from the debate on this amendment.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: I doubt that the noble Lord will find any written instruction, but you do not need written instructions-you just need indications from officials that organisations that make trouble will find themselves in some difficulty. It is absolutely clear that that is the message that they have. I am pursuing this because it shows the chilling impact of the Bill. Any organisation listed knows that there will be repercussions if it makes trouble, and the Bill allows that. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, will give a firm indication from the Front Bench that the organisations listed are free and open to provide their views. I will make it my business to contact some of the organisations, and if I find that they are not prepared to give views to the Official Opposition I will take that up with the Government, because I regard that almost as contempt for Parliament.
Lord Berkeley: My Lords, can I come in on the same issue? I have already been in contact with three organisations about which I have tabled amendments for later in Committee, to ask their views on being in Schedule 1, 2, 3 or whatever. Universally they have said to me, as they have to my noble friend, "We can give you our views, but for goodness' sake don't quote us, because that's more than our life's worth". This is important, and I shall continue to ask in regard to my amendments. I share my noble friend's view that, if we do not see a change before they are debated, it will be very serious.
Lord Greaves: My Lords, Her Majesty's loyal and Official Opposition may be having trouble, but all Members of this House need to be able to get information. I go back to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Clark of Windermere. This is partly about whether people can freely give their opinions, but far more
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The principles behind my amendments are as follows: if a proposal is put forward on which consultation should take place, whether it is major or not, the Government should say, first, what is being proposed; secondly, they should tell people how to make representations, should they wish to do so; and thirdly, at some stage, the Government should publish their views on the consultation and summarise the responses received on it. Those are the fundamental principles behind open and transparent consultation. That supplements the basic point made in the amendments of my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, that consultation should be completely open to anyone who wants to take part. Those are the fundamental principles, and it would be good if the Minister could confirmed that that is the view of the Government and perhaps give a hint at a further stage that the principle-if not all the detail that I have proposed-of consultation with the public as a whole and individuals can be written into the Bill.
Viscount Eccles: My Lords, I wish to make a brief comment on bodies not being brave enough to comment on what is in front of them. We have had some discussion of the Administrative Justice and Tribunals Council. If your Lordships look at its website, you will see a printed comment by the chairman stating that he is very disappointed in this development. He goes on to say why he is disappointed and how he is going to behave in the interim-although he accepts that policy is a matter for the Government. While I take the points being made in various parts of the Committee, I hope we do not overstate this situation.
I am wearing my Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, tie, and I was happy to hear a comment from that organisation earlier this afternoon. There is a long way to go with the Bill. It is dangerous to say that the board of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, will not answer a question. I suspect that it does not believe that it will be in Schedule 7 by the end of these debates.
Lord Newton of Braintree: My Lords, I am tempted, once again, by a reference to the Administrative Justice and Tribunals Council. I referred earlier to my historic interest in it. I take my noble friend's point. I had been wondering whether to make the same point, but the Committee ought to be aware that the Administrative Justice and Tribunals Council is not in the same position as the organisations listed in Schedule 7-it is for the chop. Therefore, any uncertainty or question of avoiding the chop later does not arise. I personally think that serious issues still need to be considered in respect of the AJTC, as I indicated earlier, which will be the subject of a later amendment. However, to put it bluntly, as things stand, the AJTC has nothing to lose.
Baroness Andrews: My Lords, one of the concerns that is so blindingly obvious-and this refers as much to Kew as to any other body on Schedule 7-is that the bodies listed on the schedule have no idea why they are on it. One of the reasons for their diffidence is simply that there is nothing for them to say, other than to open an opportunity for the Government to explore further action which may not be necessary, appropriate or positive, or in any way in the interests of the organisation. That is the real problem and why people are so inhibited about coming forward in relation to the Bill.
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: My Lords, I speak to the Government's amendments as well as the other amendments in this group. The amendments are all concerned with the mechanisms by which the Bill enables the Government to make changes to public bodies through secondary legislation.
The group includes Amendment 121, tabled by my noble friend Lord Lester and the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, and Amendments 3A and 123, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, and the noble Baroness, Lady Royall. In addition, it includes a number of government amendments and consequential amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, to which he spoke with his usual eloquence. These amendments reflect the commitments that I made at the end of the Second Reading debate on 9 November with regard to consultation and parliamentary scrutiny.
In this debate, I will discuss in particular government Amendment 114, which relates to orders made under the powers in Clauses 1 to 6. Amendment 127 replicates this amendment in relation to orders made under Clause 11, and Amendment 169 has the same effect in relation to an order made under Clauses 17 or 18, to which the noble Lord, Lord Clark of Windermere, referred. We also intend to create similar provisions in relation to the powers conferred on Welsh Ministers by Clause 13, and we are in discussions with the Welsh Assembly Government about how best to achieve this.
I am extremely encouraged by the level of consensus that has emerged across the Committee. We are clearly more united than divided on what needs to be done to improve the Bill, and I hope to continue in that spirit through this debate. During Second Reading, the House clearly expressed its feeling that the types of change that the Bill would enable should be subject to a period of consultation with interested parties outside Parliament. In many cases, departments have already undertaken, or are undertaking, such consultation-including the Defra consultation on governance arrangements in English national park authorities and the Broads Authority. That consultation runs for 12 weeks, as of 9 November. Sometimes there is independent review, such as the Dunford review of the Children's Commissioner. There are many such plans. However, in addition, we are happy to place in the Bill a requirement to consult.
Perhaps I may comment on the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Clark of Windermere. The forestry clauses relate only to England, so the issue of the devolved Administrations, Ministers or Parliaments does not arise. However, I guess that the reason why in many cases references are to Ministers rather than to
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Lord Clark of Windermere: On that specific point, the commissioners are appointed at a GB level. The Minister is quite right on that. However, once appointed, they then take over devolved responsibilities as chairs of the national committees of Wales, Scotland and England. Although the Bill applies only to England, I am a bit perplexed, because none of the commissioners is appointed specifically to look after England. There is a lot of work to be done in teasing out how we deal with this aspect.
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: I hope that when we come to those clauses of the Bill, we will be able to discuss this and make it clear. I am sure that that is what the Committee would wish. We will have an opportunity to go through this.
The question was raised about the timing of the consultation period. I reassure noble Lords that the 12-week period is a 12-week period of consultation. Amendment 118 covers the process after consultation and states:
We want to make the consultation effective. I hope that I can reassure my noble friend Lord Greaves on that. The Government have nothing to fear from being open on the matter. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, went rather over the top with his allegation of a climate of fear across government. I would be prepared to take up any evidence on this that he presented to me. The probable reason that a number of bodies listed in Schedule 7 are not commenting on the Bill is that it is not necessarily the case that anything is going to happen to them. Within departments, any decisions will involve discussions before the public consultation period takes place. The precipitousness that the Opposition ascribe to the decision-making process does not give credit to the way in which the Government perform their public business. I am sorry that the noble Lord has not had critical comments from people in public bodies.
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: That comes back to the process. Schedule 7 lists those bodies. The review initiated by my right honourable friend Francis Maude, which was the subject of a Statement in the House
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Baroness Andrews: I am grateful to the noble Lord giving way. It is very important that we have clarification. The bodies that went through the public review process were cleared as being independent, expert and accountable, yet they are in Schedule 7. The Minister has referred to a triennial review. This can take place automatically; in fact, I understand that those bodies have been informed that there will be a triennial review. The bodies in the schedule are not necessarily subject to triennial review; they could be reviewed for any purpose whatever. There is a distinction here and we need clarification.
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: Of course, it is intended that departments will review the bodies that are listed in Schedule 7; that is perfectly correct. However, they will do so through a process of discussion with those bodies. The noble Baroness is involved in a body that appears in Schedule 7. I trust that she is sufficiently confident in her own position and that of her organisation not to feel in any way intimidated. Certainly she has been particularly eloquent-and justifiably so-in many of the things that she has said in debate in the House. What I was saying to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, was that he had overreacted-which was uncharacteristic because he is a pretty phlegmatic fellow-by suggesting that there was widespread intimidation across Whitehall on account of the Bill. I do not believe that that is the case. I would go so far as to say that most people involved in public bodies want to co-operate with the Government in building a more accountable public sector.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I am also grateful for his suggestion that I am usually very calm. However, I have been concerned because I have made contact with a number of organisations, and while informally I can be told what their views are, they are clear that they do not want to make any formal representations. In the case of some departments, officials have made it clear that the department does not expect the organisation to make any public statement. I am concerned about that. I do not think I have gone over the top. It is very different from the normal process of legislation. We are all used to being inundated-sometimes it is overwhelming-by comments from stakeholders on pieces of legislation. The noble Lord has said that he will seek to investigate individual matters. If I can bring him cases, I will. However, the issue is that when organisations are concerned, they will simply clam up, and I am not in the business of fingering civil servants. That is not something that I would ever do. However, there is a clear view that departments have made it absolutely plain to the organisations listed that they
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Lord Taylor of Holbeach: It is quite difficult for government bodies to speak out against government policy. The noble Lord has been in government. I suppose that he is suffering from the realisation that in opposition things are a bit different.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: With great respect, perhaps we may go back to the Marine and Coastal Access Bill. We spent six happy months debating it. In that time, representations were received from a considerable number of public bodies. I am not sure if the noble Lord is right to describe them as government bodies; we should call them public bodies. Yes, it irritated me enormously-how I wished for something like this Bill, because then I could have shut them up. However, I could not, it was right that I could not and it was right that those bodies expressed their views. This matter cannot simply be dismissed. This is a very serious matter of constitutional practice. There is clearly a feeling throughout the public Bills land that people are not able to express their views publicly. That is a matter of legitimate concern.
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: The noble Lord has expressed his point of view and I have given him the point of view from the Dispatch Box. It would be useful if he were able to provide instances that he feels show an abuse of government. I would be grateful to receive them.
Lord Greaves: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. I previously backed up what the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, said, albeit in perhaps a slightly less dramatic way, but there is certainly some reluctance there. Is the Minister saying that if we meet that reluctance in the coming weeks, when inevitably we will want to get factual information out of organisations, we can say to people, "The Minister in the Lords, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, says that it's okay for you to talk to us"? Can we use the Minister's name in that way?
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: Heavens above, my Lords, I do not think that I can really be such a door-opener. What might we find? I say to all noble Lords that we have access to public bodies. Whether we are on the Front or the Back Benches in this House, we are capable of tabling Questions and we can find out facts. It is quite proper to do so if things are in the public domain. The Library is there to help us and, if we seek opinions, no doubt we all have contacts that we are able to use. I do not want this debate on the Bill to be stifled by ignorance but here we are talking about the consultation process that we are seeking to bring in through the Bill, once enacted.
Lord Liddle: One welcomes the steps that the Government are taking in the Bill to ensure that there is wider consultation, and the noble Lord's Amendment 114 refers to the consultation that is
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Soon after the general election, we were told that the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills thought that the regional development agencies should be saved, and there was a tremendous sense of relief about that in the regions, particularly in the north. Indeed, I am told that the Secretary of State said that to the chairman and chief executive of one of the leading regional development agencies in the north. Then, a few weeks later, it was suddenly announced in the Budget that these bodies were to be abolished. A few days later, a joint paper appeared in the names of the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government saying that the Government had decided to abolish them altogether and were now going to set up local economic partnerships. However, what consultation has occurred, and how is consultation now to take place in the light of the proposed new clause in Amendment 114 that the Minister intends to introduce? I should be very interested to hear his reply.
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: We are in effect debating all these bodies, as the noble Lord knows, and when we come to Schedule 1 there are amendments tabled-indeed, there is one in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Liddle-relating to the north-west, if I remember rightly. I notice that the Opposition have populated these amendments with suitable spokesmen for the regions. We will be debating that. Indeed, noble Lords should not forget that we will be debating it in the course of a piece of primary legislation. The political decision has in fact been made on the RDAs. Parliament has to agree to it but the political decision has been made. We are now talking about the process that will apply to future decisions.
Lord Liddle: I am sorry but that is not what the noble Lord's Amendment 114 says. He is talking about a consultation process that applies to all the bodies listed in Schedules 1 to 6. Of course, I hope that during the course of our debates the regional development agencies-particularly those in the north of England-will be removed from Schedule 1, but there will still be no process of wider consultation, and we are going to be taking this decision with none of the normal consultation processes that one would expect when such a matter is before us. Therefore, I am still a bit mystified.
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: I have been passed a very helpful brief by my noble friend the Minister with responsibility for these matters, who happens, by chance, to be here at my side. She reminds me that the decision to close RDAs was in the coalition agreement; proposals for local enterprise partnerships to replace the RDAs were invited in June 2010 and a White Paper on sub-national growth-in other words, growth at a regional or local level-was published in October this
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Lord Clark of Windermere: Perhaps I may try to clarify the position-and for once I am not talking about forestry or the Forestry Commission. The assertion was made by my noble friend Lord Hunt that certain public bodies-I emphasise "public bodies", not government departments-have felt inhibited about expressing their views on this Bill. Is the Minister saying that if public bodies wish to make observations about the Bill, the Government are quite happy for them so to do?
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: I am not in a position to say that because I do not believe that that is what public bodies exist to do. They do not have a brief to comment on government legislation. However, they do have a brief to comment on anything that might affect them in particular, and that is why they are perfectly entitled to be involved in a consultation process on matters that may affect them during enactment of the Bill and during the presentation of a statutory instrument to change their position within the schedules, which is what the consultative process identified in Amendment 114 is all about. I should like to be able to talk more about that. The government amendment-
Baroness O'Loan: My Lords, I am still having some difficulty in understanding the Government's position and in knowing exactly to which policy the noble Lord is referring in this context. We all know from long experience that there are many ways of influencing public bodies, and one of them, notwithstanding this legislation, is to make budgetary decisions that impact adversely on them. The comprehensive spending review has led many bodies to anticipate budgetary changes which may well be adverse for them. In those circumstances, and given the determination of this House to ensure effective and proper consultation at every stage of legislation, would it not be helpful, speaking as a fundamentalist, if the noble Lord were to declare that public bodies do have the right to comment on matters affecting them and that inclusion in any schedule is a matter that affects a public body and may well impact on the discharge of its statutory functions?
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: I am sorry but I am not prepared to concede that. I think that it would take public bodies into the role of advocacy and campaigning, which is not really their function. It is up to Governments to make decisions about these matters, followed by a process of consultation, and to make quite clear that all public bodies are affected.
Lord Whitty: I declare an interest as the chair of Consumer Focus for a few more days. Does the noble Lord not realise that some bodies on the list were established in order to give their opinion to government and more widely, and that their future, or the future of the role that they currently undertake, is therefore of vital importance to government? What the Minister
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Lord Taylor of Holbeach: I think the noble Lord has got it totally wrong. I made it quite clear that any discussions concerning public bodies are a matter of consultation within departments and between departments and those public bodies. There is no question of inhibiting bodies in performing their proper function in relation to government, giving the advice which, by statute or by request, they are required to give to government. We shall be working closely with all public bodies in respect of these reforms. They affect people and their livelihoods and it has been beneficial for the Government to work with organisations. It is not the job of public bodies to lobby in relation to government policy.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, if that is where the line is, we understand it. Public bodies were set up primarily to administer policies which have been established by Parliament. Therefore, I still think that their inability to comment on policies pursued by government and others, or to inform Members of this House or another place of their opinion of the Government's approach in this Bill, is a very severe inhibition of democracy. I think that is what the noble Lord is now saying. I understand that they can talk to their own departments and that they can respond in those areas, but if they cannot even inform Members of Parliament of their views, I think that is a restriction on the ability of Parliament to make a judgment.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, as a Member of this House, I can say what I like. As an officer of one of the bodies covered by the Bill, the injunction is that I shall not inform or campaign, or lobby Members of Parliament about a view which that organisation has and, in this context, a view which it has over its own future. I think that is a pretty severe restriction and it is something to which this House may wish to return. I do not want to pursue it further, but I put down a marker now that this seems to be quite an interference of the normal process of parliamentary government.
Viscount Eccles: My Lords, perhaps I may have one more go at this. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, and I have held positions in public bodies in our careers. If someone sent me that injunction, I would pay no attention to it.
Lord Clark of Windermere: My Lords, perhaps I can give example of the Information Commissioner listed in Schedule 7. One of his specific tasks is to
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Lord Taylor of Holbeach: I am not saying that at all. I do not suppose that any Member of this House will be able to say that they have had difficulty in getting that sort of factual information from public bodies or from government departments because that is a prerequisite of parliamentary responsibility, and I accept that. I think I should have made it quite clear that we recognise that it is beneficial for government to work with organisations and public bodies but it is not the job of public bodies to lobby in relation to government policy. I think that is a fair position to state and I think that is where the Government stand on this matter. If noble Lords disagree with it, fine, but that is the position that the Government take at the moment.
Government Amendment 114 echoes many of the proposals of my noble friend Lord Lester and the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, and of the Opposition Front Bench, but we believe that it goes further in some regards: for example, by stipulating a requirement for a 12-week consultation period, and by requiring Ministers to consult the Lord Chief Justice where a proposal relates to the administration of justice. I am pleased to note that paragraph 2 of yesterday's report of the Delegated Powers Committee has welcomed this amendment.
I note the emphasis of my noble friend Lord Lester on the role of the public in any consultation process. In the same spirit, I note my noble friend Lord Greaves's amendments to the government amendments on consultation, which would require that the Government publish a notice of the proposal to make an order under the Bill on the Government's website and other places considered appropriate by a Minister, and to publish a summary of responses and the Minister's response to them in a similar fashion.
I fully appreciate that in some circumstances, a public, properly publicised consultation in accordance with the Government's existing code of practice will be appropriate. However, I also believe that there is a need for some flexibility here; it is important that the Government should be able to carry out proportionate, value-for-money consultations that minimise the burden on those consulted as well as on the Government. Indeed, such a consideration forms criterion 5 of the current code of practice on consultation, which was produced under the previous Administration.
Therefore, although I agree with the intent behind these amendments, in appropriate cases, I do not believe that they should be placed on the face of the Bill. The requirements in our proposed amendments mirror those in other legislation and do not preclude a public consultation in accordance with the Government's code, if appropriate. It should be for Ministers to decide how to consult and for Parliament to hold them to account in this regard.
I hope, therefore, that noble Lords across the House will feel able to support government Amendments 114, 127 and 169, which create a parallel procedure for the other order-making powers in the Bill. I hope that, in the light of my comments, the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment and to support the Government's proposals when they come forward.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, for his extensive response to the points raised in the debate. On the general point, I think the question still arises as to whether it would give comfort if the words "public consultation" appeared in the Bill. I believe, and I would pray in aid the noble Lords, Lord Greaves and Lord Maclennan, that it would give reassurance if we could see in the Bill when it eventually leaves your Lordships' House some reference to public consultation. I am sure that we shall return to this on Report. I certainly acknowledge that the government amendments move us into a better situation. I am also very grateful to him for the point he raised in response to my noble friend Lady Andrews about the 12-week period, which encompasses the actual consultation with outside bodies and organisations. That is very reassuring.
On what public bodies can and cannot do, clearly I shall not be able to bring to him any evidence that officials have acted improperly because it is quite clear that what officials have been doing in departments is simply enunciating the policy that the Minister has laid down tonight which is, very simply, that public bodies should not comment on public legislation. I am gobsmacked because, frequently in debate, noble Lords opposite, when in Opposition, commented and quoted public bodies which have commented on legislation. Looking at the list, I can pick out organisations with which I have had some dealings: the Committee on Climate Change is not able to comment or the Environment Agency, or Ofgem, or the Health and Safety Executive or Natural England. Goodness me, how I wish Natural England-
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: Natural England has been very keen to comment at certain stages of the legislation and the noble Lord is quite right to single it out. What I said was "comment on legislation"; I did not say that they were not in a position to comment on those areas of their responsibility. Of course, Governments set these bodies up with the idea of seeking their advice on these matters, but Governments have to have the responsibility for bringing legislation before the House and it is for Parliament to advise the Government through its procedures on what it thinks of the Government's legislation.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, in my remarks I very advisedly quoted public legislation. I think it is a very rum do indeed that the organisations listed are clearly not being permitted to comment on this legislation. This raises huge matters of concern. In fact, looking at noble Lords, it adds to the concern that we feel about this legislation. Clearly, we will return. I am grateful to the Minister for the amendments that he will move. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Earl Howe: My Lords, the purpose of the draft Medical Profession (Responsible Officers) Regulations 2010 is to protect patients and to support doctors to improve the quality of care they give. They require certain designated organisations in England, Wales and Scotland to nominate or appoint responsible officers and to support those responsible officers in carrying out their statutory functions. They give responsible officers statutory functions relating to the evaluation of a doctor's fitness to practise. In England only, responsible officers will be given additional functions relating to monitoring the conduct and performance of doctors. The regulations set out the connections between doctors and the designated organisation relevant for them.
Under the regulations, responsible officers will have to be licensed medical practitioners with at least five years' experience. However, this is a statutory minimum. In practice, organisations will want to appoint senior doctors with experience of the management of other doctors as their responsible officers. The responsibilities of responsible officers relating to the evaluation of fitness to practise include ensuring that the designated body carries out regular appraisals, establishing and implementing procedures to investigate concerns and, where appropriate, referring the doctor to the General Medical Council.
Under their duties to evaluate fitness to practise, responsible officers will make recommendations on individual doctors to the General Medical Council. The responsible officer will have to make a recommendation as the basis for revalidation when it is introduced. This will normally be every five years. In England, their additional responsibilities will include identifying any issues arising from information about conduct and performance and ensuring that the designated body takes steps to address any such issues. These functions will enable responsible officers to support doctors to improve the care they give at the earliest opportunity.
Most of the statutory functions are activities already undertaken by medical directors and staff. These regulations do not specify who will take on the role of responsible officer; rather they allow organisations to determine how the functions may best be carried out. In the NHS and independent providers, it is likely to be existing medical directors. Except perhaps in the smallest organisations, we would not expect responsible officers to undertake the tasks, such as appraisals and investigations, personally, but they will be responsible for ensuring that they are carried out appropriately. This will involve ensuring that their designated body has sufficient staff who are appropriately trained, whether in undertaking appraisals or in investigating concerns. The regulations also make provision for the appointment of an additional responsible officer where there is a conflict of interest or appearance of bias between a doctor and the responsible officer.
The Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee has drawn these regulations to the attention of the House and I have no doubt that in the light of the Motion she has tabled, the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, will wish to raise certain issues and concerns. I stand ready to address them, but in the mean time, I beg to move.
As an amendment to the above Motion, at end to insert "but this House regrets that the draft regulations may imperfectly achieve the policy objective of the introduction of a revalidation scheme in light of the Government's proposed changes to the NHS administrative structure which will affect the operation of the revalidation scheme in general, and these regulations in particular".
Baroness Thornton: My Lords, as the Minister quite rightly suspects, it was a combination of the report of the Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee on 7 October and my concerns that some aspects of the statutory instrument as drafted need further explanation that caused me to put down this amendment to the Motion this evening. I think it is important to say from the outset that as one of the Ministers who guided the Health and Social Care Act 2008 through your Lordships' House with my noble friend Lord Darzi, I am very pleased that this Government are showing determination to push ahead with this agenda because at the heart of this legislation are patient safety and ensuring that all clinical professionals deliver high quality, effective and safe care to their patients.
I fully appreciate that responsible officers are integral to improving care, and the development of their role seeks to raise the already high standards of the overwhelming majority of professionals, but their job is to identify and swiftly deal with the small number of staff who are not able to meet those standards. The public, professionals and the NHS have a right to be assured that licensed doctors are fit to practice.
I have absolutely no desire to delay the important matter of implementing this legislation. However, I think that it is important that the secondary legislation does the job that the original legislation intended. The
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I think that the regulations do a very good job of describing the duties of the responsible officer and, indeed, the connection between responsible officers and designated bodies and medical practitioners, and this leads me to my first set of questions. Part 1 of the schedule contains a list of designated bodies that includes at least two organisations that the Government intend to abolish: strategic health authorities and primary care trusts. I join the Merits Committee in its recommendation that the House seeks clarification on how the Government's proposed changes to the NHS structure will affect the revalidation scheme in general and these regulations in particular.
Since the 2008 Act, the UK Revalidation Programme Board-hosted by the GMC, which I thank for its briefing and comment on this matter-has been rolling out the reform in phased stages, including a number of pilot exercises which aim to produce a well informed and robust system. Can the Minister tell the House how the changes that have been proposed will affect the pilots and their results? For example, the published guidance says that the responsible officers themselves will be assessed by the responsible officer in the strategic health authority, so what will happen now? How will the Government overcome this problem? I anticipate that we can expect some further orders and, if so, when and will they too be piloted? If nothing exists in the structure of the newly reformed NHS between groups of commissioning doctors at local level and the NHS Board at national level who or what will perform this function?
At the time of the original legislation, we had considerable discussion about the GMC and its role in this matter and about not conflating its particular and important role as the independent regulator for doctors in the UK or, indeed, creating conflicts of interest. At the moment, it seems to me that the only body that would appear to have a structure between the very local GP consortia and the national board is the GMC. What is the Minister's view of this? How will revalidation work under those circumstances?
I thank the Minister for forwarding to me the letter that his honourable colleague Anne Milton sent to members of the Delegated Legislation Committee in another place. In this letter, she addressed the changes of architecture to the NHS. However, I am afraid that I did not find her explanation very comforting. She says:
"The Government's proposed changes to the structure of the NHS set out in the White Paper 'Equity and Excellence: Liberating the NHS', in particular the abolition of PCTs and SHAs, will not affect the majority of organisations designated under Regulations, including NHS and independent hospitals. These organisations need to start putting the systems in place that support doctors, and provide the information that demonstrates the quality of care they provide. Without this, there is a danger that doctors will be inadequately supported for the introduction of medical revalidation in 2012. I believe that the medical leadership and stability provided by having responsible officers in place will also be important during this period of change".
When I was a Minister, I would have regarded that as the parliamentary equivalent of being put on the naughty step and given a detention at the same time. I think that the Minister needs to give some thought to this matter and to put his responses on the record.
The British Medical Association has said that the laying of the order is "premature". Although I am not one for delaying these matters, the Minister needs to address its concerns. The Royal College of Surgeons has expressed disappointment that many of its concerns were not addressed in the regulation. It raised the issue of potential conflicts of interest to arise from the installation of responsible officers with simultaneous corporate board responsibilities-for example, medical directors.
The RCS seems to think that such officers might be torn between trust obligations and the professional role of the responsible officer. I am sure that the Minister will be familiar with the examples that these organisations have raised. How do the Government intend to avoid the revalidation recommendations becoming the tools of managers and trust management agendas, rather than matters relating to the compliance of GMC and Royal College standards? Will the Minister confirm that it is the responsible officer's responsibility to examine the doctor's clinical ability and professional conduct, not his contribution to the meeting of trust budgets or targets? On this matter the regulations appear to be silent. Perhaps the Minister will expand. The RCS has expressed particular concern about the failure to incorporate whole practice appraisal in these provisions. I think that the Minister needs to give the House an explanation and reassurance about the need for the comprehensive protection to which patients are entitled.
Finally, the GMC has expressed concern about appeals and that there is a significant omission of local appeals systems. The GMC fitness to practise processes should not be both the first and the last resort for appeal. There should be a viable appeals structure that flows up to fitness to practise. The British Medical Association says that in some organisations progress has been slow in demonstrating the capability to pull together the necessary data to actualise the new system. It says that appraisal has been patchy and disjointed in many organisations, and that that is quite aside from getting around to supporting any appeals system that may arise. I have raised several issues and I suspect that other noble Lords will seek clarification on the various other issues. I look forward to the Minister's response.
Baroness Finlay of Llandaff: My Lords, we all know the sad history of this, through Shipman, which has led us to where we are today. I do not want to block these reforms because they will improve medicine for
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In his opening remarks, the Minister spoke about trusts, but I would suggest that hospital practice is very much the easy end of it. The difficulty is where will doctors in primary care sit? How will the responsible officer work in relation to them? Where will academics sit and who will be the responsible officer, because there is sometimes a conflict, as has been pointed out, between academic priorities and the clinical priorities of a trust where that doctor may have an honorary contract? Even more, what about locums? What about the doctors who are constantly moving around? How will they be captured in the system? How will they be adequately and appropriately revalidated? Even with what used to be called 360 degree appraisal-that is, getting opinions from a lot of people-with locums there is a real danger that they will only spot their friends to fill out the forms because they may have had lots of contacts. Those concerns may never be sufficiently in the system to be raised before such a doctor moves on.
There is also a difficulty for those who raise problems. It may be that the doctor who is seen as the sand in the shoe of the trust, the difficult person, is raising real concerns about the way in which management is conducted, which is impeding good patient care. We know that one of the biggest problems is attitude. Often, the biggest problem encountered is not about the ins and outs of technique, because you can retrain on that quite quickly, but is about someone's attitude. Someone who is whistleblowing, someone who works in the same organisation-I hate to use the term "whistleblowing", because it is a sad reflection of the NHS as it is today that that term is around-and raises concerns should not in any way potentially be penalised for doing so. We would just go backwards and not forwards if that is the case.
Given that the majority of doctors are doing a really good job and are very flexible and going through changes, the system that comes in must not be too onerous. It must not be just a tick-box exercise. It has to be subtle enough to pick up real issues around performance and attitude. It has to pick up qualitative feedback, so that a bad attitude is detected, including a bad attitude towards patients.
As regards the responsible officer, I am afraid to say that I am sufficiently old-fashioned to think that I would prefer the minimum time after qualification to be a bit longer. It is not until someone has been practising for about 15 years that they really have accrued enough wisdom to be able to take on what will be a very onerous and potentially important role in relation to their colleagues. We need them to have a degree of wisdom. The appeals system is absolutely crucial if this is to work well and fairly. I hope that the Minister will give us a full reply in his response.
We also must be clear that the system will not pick up another Shipman. This is a clinical system and not a criminal justice system, so no one should be fooled into thinking that it will. Dame Janet Smith pointed out two things. First, the most important information about patient safety is doctors watching other doctors.
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However, my main concern relates to primary care and to financial conflicts. In a privately managed organisation there may well be a conflict between what is actually in the patient's best interest and what is being put forward as the protocol in that managed care programme. It may well be that the doctor is working in the patient's best interests, but not in those of the organisation. Again, there has to be a degree of neutrality among the responsible officers. I hope that the Minister will be able to give replies to all these concerns, and like other noble Lords, I look forward to his response.
Lord Walton of Detchant: My Lords, I declare an interest as having been president of the General Medical Council from 1982 to 1989. I know that the GMC is particularly anxious to see these regulations go ahead because the whole question has been smouldering away for very many years. Even during my presidency, we were aware that many doctors who came before the conduct committee of the council, or before that the disciplinary committee, were not so much erring or wicked as actually not practising, in some respects, to a standard of competency appropriate to today's world. For that reason, we tried very hard to set up a mechanism within the GMC to establish what we called at first a competence committee. However, it was not successful because we could not persuade the profession and other bodies to approve some of the recommendations that we tried to put forward.
Subsequently, the GMC embarked on a programme of performance review. Mechanisms were established to identify doctors who were not performing to an adequate standard in the health service and other bodies, but that programme too did not succeed as well as it might. It was perfectly clear that it was crucial to the interests of the public at large and of patients themselves that there was a mechanism whereby doctors would be required every five years to subject their clinical performance and performance in their appointment to a process of validation. Revalidation then became one of the essential priorities for the General Medical Council. As the noble Earl said in his introduction, the GMC believes that implementing this process of revalidation is an essential step in advancing the quality of medical regulation, improving patient safety and providing patients with greater assurance that doctors are meeting the standards that we set for the medical profession.
I appreciate to the full some of the anxieties expressed by the noble Baroness. She has criticised the nature and content of these regulations. However, as I have said, this mechanism has been smouldering away for over 20 years and it is time to make progress. The statutory basis for the responsible officer is set out in
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The responsible officer will be the link between the local healthcare organisation, whatever it is, and the GMC, and as such will be an essential component of implementing revalidation. The responsible officer will usually be based in and employed by the organisation for which the doctor works, or with which the doctor is contracted to provide services. The GMC will need to be confident that the recommendations it receives are robust, fair and consistent, but that the process leading to the recommendations and the recommendations themselves will be subject to quality assurance and to audit. The GMC will develop guidance to assist responsible officers in carrying out their role in relation to revalidation.
We have reached a stage at which it is crucial that responsible officers are in place before the rollout of full revalidation commences. This will have the advantage of enabling the GMC to identify gaps in the coverage of responsible officers, particularly of doctors working outside the National Health Service, and to make provision for them. In its response to the government White Paper, Equity and Excellence: Liberating the NHS, the GMC comments that the abolition of PCTs and strategic health authorities, which is not expected until 2013, leaves it unclear as to where the responsible officer role in primary care and sometimes in specialist care will sit, and how the role and functions of the medical directors will be exercised. As the noble Baroness said, this matter needs to be resolved, but it must not be a reason to delay the passage of these long-awaited regulations or to stall preparations more generally. The GMC has confirmed that it will work with the Department of Health to resolve this and other issues so that it can continue to make progress towards the implementation of revalidation. I trust that the regulations will be approved.
Lord Patel: My Lords, I concur with the comments of my noble friend Lord Walton of Detchant. It is important that we allow these regulations to pass. As he has said, the issue of revalidation has been smouldering away, to use his words, for many years. I recall from when I served on the GMC over eight years ago that the revalidation issue predates Shipman and has nothing to do with that issue. As my noble friend has said, this is a process and it is important that the regulations should be passed because we need the responsible officers to be appointed pretty soon so that the GMC can train them up and identify any issues before the process of revalidation begins. I understand that all the devolved Administrations have agreed that it should start by autumn 2012. If that deadline is to be met, we need the responsible officers long before that.
My conversations with officers of the GMC suggest that the council is well aware of the concerns raised. They know that when the legislation to reform the
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As for the other professional organisations that have also commented and to which the noble Baroness referred, it is interesting that only one has raised concerns; the others have not. All the other royal colleges have been involved in working with the GMC to identify how revalidation will be carried out in their own specialties and they are satisfied with the mechanisms that will be used. They are also satisfied that the pilots that are now being carried out will identify the issues.
Lord Alderdice: My Lords, it is always difficult when new Governments come into place and want to make important and sometimes radical changes to structures and arrangements while, at the same time, valuing some of the work that had been begun but not completed by a previous Government. As other noble Lords have said, the previous Government, and perhaps even an earlier one, moved towards revalidating doctors. This is a very complicated and difficult issue, but the Government moved in that direction; timetables were set but became a little delayed. However, if the Secretary of State in this new Government were to take the advice that has been proffered-that until PCTs and strategic health authorities are set aside and the new arrangements are in place we should not move to the appointment of responsible officers-we would be looking at 2014 or 2015, or after the next general election, before we could move forward. It is understandable that people should quite reasonably say that there is a dilemma here, but we must try to keep up the momentum, which is the point that the GMC has made.
It is perfectly correct that a number of matters are not yet clear and resolved. Some affect me, and I shall advert to them in a moment. The proposals for the reform of the NHS have not worked through the process-they have been announced but are not yet through Parliament-and it is not only possible but almost certain that there will be significant changes and developments. I hope my noble friend will be able to clarify some of the issues, but it would be expecting rather a lot for him not only to clarify how matters stand at the moment but to predict how they might stand further down the line when some things may have changed.
In the present situation, in most cases but not all, appraisal processes are already going on. Up until earlier this year, every year I produced a huge lever arch file containing details of all the things that I had been through. So the process is already in place and it is the responsibility of medical directors in trusts to make sure that it is in place. However, they cannot possibly carry it through themselves because so many need to be appraised. They therefore have to devolve the responsibility for the detail and the face-to-face work to someone else. Exactly the same thing will happen to the responsible officer.
Are there potential conflicts of interests? There already are because those who are responsible for the appraisals are also responsible for clinical merit awards of various kinds, for the recognition of a person's work and for the creation or demolition of their clinics. All these conflicts are already there. That is not to set them aside and say they are unimportant-they are very important and very difficult-but we are facing something that is not in itself radically new but a problem with which we have been struggling for quite some time. Further orders may well come subsequent to this that will help to take the matter forward, but that does not mean that we should delay the current regulations.
Let me put to my noble friend a dilemma of my own on which he may or may not be able to help. What will happen to those who do not necessarily operate all the time only in the NHS in England, Scotland and Wales? I note that Northern Ireland is not included in this and, of course, the movement backward and forward between this part of the world and the Republic of Ireland is substantial. What happens if a doctor qualifies and works here for a while, then goes to work for three or four years in the Republic of Ireland and then comes back to work in the United Kingdom but the process of validation has not operated in quite the same way? Of course, we have free movement not only in these islands but throughout the European Union. What happens to those who have operated outside the UK? These are real dilemmas that have to be dealt with.
We have often heard it said that it is better to start, pilot and work your way through than to produce something that has not been tested out but is a fiat-a fait accompli. My noble colleagues on the Cross-Benches have expressed reasonable concerns and a determination to keep up the momentum for revalidation. In supporting these regulations, that is also very much my mindset, and I hope to see further developments over the next year or two.
Lord Rea: My Lords, I simply report that the two professional organisations to which I belong, the Royal College of General Practitioners and the BMA, basically support the regulations. That is in spite of some doubts about the timing and some of the other points that noble Lords have raised today. It is good that responsible officers will be appointed before the detailed work of setting up the revalidation process is completed. They will play an important formative role before later acting as scrutineers or umpires-I hope not inquisitors-in the revalidation process. I shall be interested to hear the Minister's response to the cogent questions that my noble friend and almost all other noble Lords have raised.
Lord Kakkar: My Lords, we have heard that the key priority of the General Medical Council for patient safety and ensuring continuing standards and confidence of the public in regulation is the process of revalidation. We have heard in the Chamber today very strong support for the regulations.
The early appointment of responsible officers is critical. It will ensure that the system can be tested. The noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, was absolutely right to raise the structure in which responsible officers
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As we have heard, if the regulations are in any way derailed at this stage, there is a danger that the whole momentum of revalidation will be disrupted. It could cause anxiety in the profession and lead to unhelpful pockets of resistance. There is now an ideal opportunity for a mechanism and the early appointment of responsible officers to test potential systems and determine where the weaknesses are. This will occur before revalidation comes into force in its fullest form, and will therefore allow the General Medical Council to respond appropriately. I add my voice to those of many noble Lords in supporting the regulations.
Lord Colwyn: My Lords, although the principles behind revalidation, which aims to raise confidence in clinical standards, are welcomed, there are concerns over the ways in which the Department of Health plans to implement the process through the responsible officer regulations. There is also concern about the new regulations coming into force in January 2011, given the proposals in the recent health White Paper to abolish structures that were intended to support the role.
I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, that the demands of the role outlined in the proposals will require a person of quite exceptional skills and competences. It is assumed that many medical directors will become responsible officers, which will significantly extend their role by extending their responsibility, powers and workload.
There is already a marked variation in the abilities of medical directors to investigate performance concerns and implement local disciplinary procedures. The additional duties are likely to be onerous. It is not certain that senior doctors with the necessary professional standing will be willing to take them on, or that it will be possible to find senior doctors with the necessary standing and experience to succeed in this role.
It is essential that adequate resource is allocated to support responsible officers and that they are appropriately equipped to carry out their responsibilities. The guidance to the draft regulations emphasises that there must be a "robust" medical management infrastructure to support the responsible officer and sufficient delegation of duties to enable the role to be delivered to a high standard. How will this work in practice and how will it be resourced?
The draft regulations do not reflect the changes proposed in the White Paper. Reference is made throughout to "designated bodies". These include PCTs and SHAs, which are to be abolished by 2013. There is no detail on what structures will support responsible officers, revalidation and other aspects of performance management in primary care after 2013. This makes the decision to press ahead and appoint 975 responsible officers to strengthen systems in structures that are to be abolished difficult to understand. Surely, given the decision to delay revalidation and the uncertainty around the structures that will support performance management, more time is needed to pilot and evaluate the responsible officer system effectively before bringing these measures into force in January.
Earl Howe: My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken. In particular, I welcome the positive comments made about the regulations and the rationale for them. I am grateful especially to the noble Lords, Lord Walton, Lord Patel and Lord Kakkar, and my noble friend Lord Alderdice for their strong support and very helpful comments, and indeed to the noble Lord, Lord Rea, for what he said. A number of questions have been asked and perhaps I could begin by addressing the timing of these regulations.
First, I know that medical revalidation was a concern of the Merits Committee, reflecting in turn the concerns raised by the BMA and the Royal College of Surgeons. Noble Lords who are medically qualified will be aware, and other noble Lords may well be aware, that the piloting period for revalidation has been extended for a further year. This will allow time for a better understanding of the costs, benefits and practicalities of implementation and to enable full engagement with the profession, the service and the public. Despite there being issues which the extended period of piloting will help us address, one thing remains clear; recommendations on an individual's revalidation can be based only on substantiated information. That information will come from doctors themselves, supplemented by information from an organisation's clinical governance systems. The responsible officers' roles, in other words, are wider than the process of revalidation. It is important that we have those officers in place to implement improved systems of clinical governance and to ensure that organisations are prepared and doctors are supported, ready for revalidation.
The noble Lord, Lord Rea, was right; having responsible officers in place would help to ensure that doctors are appraised and that systems are in place that will enable the information to be collected and shared as appropriate, such as when doctors move to a new organisation. Where there are concerns, their duties will ensure that the appropriate action is taken, and will continue to be taken, so that patients are protected. The noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, also argued that the regulations had been overtaken by the Government's proposed reforms of the NHS. It is worth re-emphasising what my honourable friend Anne Milton said in her letter: that the majority of organisations designated under the regulations will not be directly affected by the removal of primary care trusts and strategic health authorities, which of course has not yet happened and is still some distance away. Clinical governance systems are needed regardless of the White Paper proposals.
Now is precisely the right time to introduce the role of responsible officer. I simply repeat that medical leadership and stability are needed if organisations and their doctors are going to be ready for revalidation when it starts.
Of course the regulations will in due course need to reflect the changes in NHS architecture, should those be agreed by Parliament. We are currently exploring options for this and I can repeat the assurances given by my honourable friend Anne Milton in another place. To answer in particular the concern of the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, about primary care, we will consult on options for responsible officers within primary
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The noble Baroness also reflected professional concerns about conflicts of interest between a responsible officer's statutory duties and their duty to their organisation. All doctors who have a management or supervisory role for other doctors already manage on a day-to-day basis any tensions that may arise between the need to ensure high professional standards and values on the one hand and the needs of employers and service provision on the other. Medical directors already address concerns about doctors in their organisations, whether through local performance management, disciplinary systems or referrals to the GMC. The Government believe that, in the vast majority of cases, medical directors will be guided by their professional values to manage such issues fairly and in the best interests of patients. The alternative-an entirely independent structure of responsible offices in every healthcare organisation in the United Kingdom-would replicate the system of GMC affiliates, which was proposed, as noble Lords may remember, in 2007, and which professional bodies rejected during consultation as being disproportionate, impracticable and unaffordable.
I also draw the House's attention to the evidence given to the Health Select Committee on 4 November 2010 by Professor Peter Furness, who is president of the Royal College of Pathologists and revalidation lead for the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges. Professor Furness acknowledged the potential for a conflict of interest, but he also said that the view that medical directors should not be responsible officers was held by "a minority" of medical royal colleges. He observed that the potential for conflict could be balanced by the fact that medical directors are best placed to resolve any problems that might arise. He also thought that the potential for conflict needs to be addressed by "open processes" to ensure that it does not cause problems.
We must also remember-this is a fundamental point- that responsible officers can make recommendations only about a doctor's fitness to practise; they do not have the power to remove a doctor's licence to practise. Their recommendations must be based on evidence, and it should be clear immediately if that is not the case. Further, if responsible officers make recommendations that are not based on evidence, they may be failing in their duties under good medical practice, which requires that doctors must,
The Merits Committee's concern that the regulations provide for no process of appeal against the recommendation of a responsible officer has also been raised by noble Lords. First, let me stress that the regulations will result in no change to the current situation, in which every doctor, including the medical director, has a professional duty to report serious concerns about another doctor to the GMC. Under
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In England, as part of the responsible officer's role in dealing with concerns about a doctor's conduct or performance, the responsible officer will also be able to recommend suspension to the designated body. However, the decision on suspension is for the designated body and should engage that organisation's performance management and grievance procedures. I think that sufficient mechanisms are already in place that protect the doctor's interests without the need to create an additional bureaucratic structure to allow doctors to appeal against what are, after all, simply recommendations.
Two further issues were raised by, I think, the noble Baronesses, Lady Thornton and Lady Finlay. The first relates to a failure to specify that appraisal should encompass the whole of a doctor's practice. That is in fact provided for in Regulation 11(3), which states:
"The responsible officer must ensure that appraisals ... involve obtaining and taking account of all available information relating to the medical practitioner's fitness to practise in the work carried out by the practitioner for the designated body, and for any other body, during the appraisal period".
Nevertheless, I repeat the assurances given in another place that we will consider whether we can strengthen the guidance to make it clearer that appraisals must address the whole of a doctor's professional practice.
The second issue relates to indemnity and, in particular, to the fact that organisations should provide indemnity for responsible officers. Indemnity payments are already calculated on the basis of a shared risk. At this stage, we understand from the medical defence organisations that there is no suggestion that the contributions from those who take on the responsible officer role would need to rise. However, we are told that the medical defence organisations will keep the situation under review. I assure noble Lords that, if we find contributions rising as a result of these regulations, we will review the position.
The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, suggested that responsible officers should have a minimum of 15 years' practice after qualification before being appointed to the role. The functions of the responsible officer will require the post to be a senior medical role within the designated organisation, and each such organisation will need to determine for itself, taking account of the regulations and guidance, whether a candidate is capable of carrying out the role. That is the first issue. The requirement for the responsible officer to have been a qualified doctor for five years, as the regulations specify, is a minimum requirement.
The noble Baroness also referred to a number of doctors who serve in roles that do not appear to be covered by the regulations, which connect the vast majority of doctors, including all those in healthcare
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In its response to its consultation on revalidation, the GMC found that more detail was needed about how doctors in non-mainstream roles will revalidate. On that particular issue, we will, of course, work with the GMC to ensure that all licensed doctors can revalidate on an equitable basis. The noble Baroness referred in particular to academic doctors who are employed by universities but who hold an honorary contract with a national health organisation. In fact, the regulations cover academics who are doctors on honorary contracts. Their contract will be an employment contract, and the regulations provide for a connection between designated organisations and employed doctors under Regulation 10(1)(c).
Baroness Finlay of Llandaff: Will the Minister clarify that the way in which the regulations are written is sufficiently flexible to allow a doctor to take a career break, to move into a different area or to take a break from clinical practice as it currently stands? Are they also sufficiently flexible to allow the responsible officer role not to be tied to the medical director of a trust, but if the medical director of a trust resigns from that post but is very suitable to remain the responsible officer, they can remain the responsible officer and the medical director can be someone else? Furthermore, are they sufficiently flexible to allow you to be able to get rid of a responsible officer if it turns out that they are not being wise enough?
Although this is slightly irregular, I should point out for clarification that I am not against these regulations at all-I think that they need to go through. My concern about five years is that most doctors are still in training at that stage.
Earl Howe: My Lords, the answer to the first question of the noble Baroness, about career breaks and so on, is yes, the regulations allow for that. In answer to her second question, we are not specifying that responsible officers have to be medical directors. As she knows, we are leaving it up to the organisations to decide that. Therefore, she can be reassured on her other questions.
Baroness Thornton: My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for contributing to this debate, particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, the noble Lord, Lord Colwyn, and my noble friend Lord Rea. I also thank the Minister for his comprehensive answer. Noble Lords will have heard me say from the outset that I did not intend to delay the implementation of the regulations. However, noble Lords should also acknowledge that if we ignored the reservations expressed by the Merits
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I thank the Minister for his usual comprehensive and competent answer, which helpfully addressed many concerns. The abolition of PCTs and strategic health authorities is on the "wait and see" bit of this agenda. We can take it that the Department of Health has not yet worked out what it is going to do. I take some comfort from the fact that this, like much else, is in the melting pot of what is becoming the NHS at the moment; it is work in progress. With that and with thanks, again, to the Minister, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment to the Motion.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, we are very much making progress as we reach Amendment 3B at quarter to nine tonight. This is an important amendment, and with it I speak to my Amendments 120, 124 and 125.
In view of all our discussions I think that noble Lords will agree that, when it comes to a Minister deciding to bring an order before Parliament, the information made available to Parliament and the parliamentary scrutiny procedure assume great importance. My Amendment 124 seeks to ensure that sufficient information is provided to Parliament. In it, I propose five new subsections that would ensure that Parliament would be able to have a sufficient explanation, an explanation of the consultation, information about representations, and the kind of information that is important when it comes to dealing with an order. Perhaps more importantly, my Amendment 125 seeks to put in place an appropriate parliamentary procedure for scrutiny. My amendment is broadly based on the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act 2006 and what is described as a super-affirmative procedure in it. I do not want to repeat what has been said before but that Act is highly relevant to our discussions on this Bill, because it gives extensive powers to Ministers to remove or reduce burdens resulting from legislation, including primary legislation.
"A single stage of consultation is clearly no substitute for the detailed scrutiny afforded by the use of a bill (the process by which the functions of many of the bodies listed in this Bill were debated and decided)".
although my noble friend Lord Dubs has tabled an amendment that seeks to create a procedure whereby orders can be amended. I agree with the committee that, if the legislation is rotten to its core, the insertion of a super-affirmative procedure cannot bring it,
However, we are trying to solve the conundrum of ensuring that these bodies are reviewed on a regular basis, which we all want. The noble Lord, Lord Renton, talked earlier about the need for a process whereby there can be minor changes; again, that seems eminently sensible. A super-affirmative procedure may be one way in which one can make the Bill more acceptable and certainly give more effective parliamentary scrutiny.
The LRR Act allows for a more extensive parliamentary scrutiny process. Section 12 sets out procedural requirements for making orders. The Minister has to consult on the order, and then lay a draft order and explanatory document before Parliament. The order's procedure can be a choice of negative, affirmative or super-affirmative. Essentially, the Minister has to recommend, in an explanatory document accompanying the draft order, which parliamentary procedure should apply and his or her reasoning for that. The level of scrutiny recommended should depend on the views of the Minister on the complexity and impact of the order. That may be informed by representations on the proposals received during the consultation process, and the Minister's recommendation on whether a procedure should be negative, affirmative or super-affirmative shall apply, unless either House of Parliament requires a more onerous procedure.
The key importance of the LRR Act is in the nature of the super-affirmative procedure, because that Act provides for a committee of either House, charged with reporting on the draft order, to recommend that no further proceedings be taken in relation to the draft order, unless that recommendation is rejected by a resolution of the House. It is sometimes known as the veto procedure, although it is clearly not an absolute veto. None the less, it is a pretty powerful mechanism for scrutinising such orders. I should have thought that any Government who were faced with a view of a committee charged with considering the order that it should not go ahead would have to think very seriously about whether they wished to go forward with that order.
My amendment builds on the super-affirmative procedure and gives a number of options for a committee of either House to recommend to either House that the order be approved in its current form, or that it be
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I have sought to build on the super-affirmative procedure and include some more flexibility in it. This is one of the key planks to reaching a consensual agreement on the Bill in your Lordships' House. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, is bringing some amendments, but they do not go as far as mine. It would be well worth thinking about whether a kind of super-affirmative procedure-if not with my amendment, then, I am sure, in a later amendment-can be provided for. However, the key principle here is that a Select Committee of either House should be able to take an order away, and if that committee decides that it is not appropriate for the order to go forward and that primary legislation might be more appropriate, although it is not an absolute veto, a measure such as this would provide great reassurance to your Lordships' House.
Baroness Thomas of Winchester: My Lords, I am taking the highly unusual step of intervening briefly at this stage as chair of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. Our latest report on the government amendments, because of the lateness of their tabling, was placed in the Printed Paper Office only this morning. I am grateful to the staff for preparing the document so quickly after our second meeting on the Bill yesterday.
If ever the committee was set up for a Bill, this was the Bill because of its skeletal nature. In our report, our view-as has been stated many times today-was unequivocal: the powers contained in Clauses 1 to 5 and 11 are not appropriate delegations of legislative power, as they would give Ministers of this and future Governments unacceptable discretion to rewrite the statute book, with inadequate parliamentary scrutiny of, and control over, the process. The committee's original report was careful not to recommend any particular course of action for the Government to take to amend the Bill to strengthen parliamentary control-contrary to what the Minister said in his letter to us. However, we set out a range of options, which were to be seen not necessarily as alternatives, as we believed that one or more might prove necessary. One option was for a form of the super-affirmative procedure that has already been enshrined-as we have also heard many times today-in the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act 2006. The Government have now tabled a form of this procedure. My purpose in speaking now is to address their amendments.
In our report published this morning, we welcomed the government amendments as a step in the right direction, because they enhance parliamentary scrutiny. However, they do not address the fundamental problem that, in the committee's view, the delegated powers in the Bill-the purposes of which are not specified or limited-are not appropriate delegations of legislative
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I will not list all the differences between the procedures in the 2006 Act and those in the Bill, as they are set out in our sixth report. Of course, there are differences in the two procedures for orders in the Bill, in Clauses 1 to 6 and in Clause 11. I will give one example to illustrate why there could be a problem with the second lot of procedures. Under Clause 11, the Minister may wish to make an order containing proposals for several bodies to be transferred from Schedule 7 to Schedule 1. During consultation, many representations may be made about one body. The Minister may be urged to amend the draft order, but to do so he must go through the whole 30, 40 or 60-day procedure again. This is unlike the procedure for earlier clauses. Rather than holding up the fate of the other bodies in the order for another two or three months, he may decide that, although he has had regard to all the contributions that he has heard, considerations of time override all representations and so he may decide to make the original order after all. It is clear from the Minister's letter to the committee that time is the crucial factor in the way that the Bill has been drafted. I understand that, having announced that there is to be a bonfire of the quangos, the Government want to light the bonfire as soon as possible. However, it is the duty of the committee of which I am chair to make sure that the match is not lit before Parliament has more effective control over the whole process.
Lord Adonis: My Lords, the noble Baroness has made an immensely powerful case and the House is deeply indebted to her and her committee for the work that they have done. Essentially what is being introduced here is what on the continent would be called a decree-making power. There is now a capacity well beyond the usual use of ministerial orders for the Government to legislate by decree. One needs only to look at the scope of the Bill and the headings of Clauses 1 to 6 to see how significant this is. Clause 1 is entitled "Power to abolish"-that is, to abolish wholesale a whole string of organisations listed in the Bill which have been established under a proper statutory procedure. Clause 2 is headed "Power to merge"; Clause 3, "Power to modify constitutional arrangements"; Clause 4, "Power to modify funding arrangements"; Clause 5,
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My noble friend's amendment looks to me to be the minimum necessary to ensure that this decree-making power-because that is what it is-is kept within proper bounds and that there is proper parliamentary scrutiny, including a requirement in each case for the Government not simply to explain their reasons but to explain why they are seeking to reject the expert opinion of a committee of both Houses expressed upon proposals put forward by the Government. It seems to me that this is exceptionally important. The amendment of my noble friend Lord Hunt would require the Government to explain why they are not prepared to accept the reasoning of a committee of either House and, where that committee recommends for good and sufficient reasons that proceedings on an order should not take place, it requires the authority of the two Houses for proceedings then to take place. It is called a super-affirmative procedure and, as always when we are discussing new things, it appears to be a significant enhancement of parliamentary authority. However, looked at another way, conceptually this is putting a proper curb on a decree-making power, which in the opinion of the noble Baroness and her committee is probably one that should in any event be vested in the normal legislative process.
In order to see that the Bill is kept within proper constitutional bounds, I believe that the prerogatives of your Lordships should be respected. A move of this kind is essential or we will be faced with claims that we, as a House, have given the Government a power to legislate by decree without even the capacity for the recommendations of committees of our own House to be properly debated before the Government proceed.
Lord Norton of Louth: My Lords, I shall be brief because the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Winchester, has said everything that I would have wished to say. I welcome the fact that the Government clearly heard what was said at Second Reading and have taken on board the comments concerning the need for the procedure to be changed so that there is a greater role for Parliament in the process. Therefore, although the Minister has heard, perhaps the problem was that we were not shouting loud enough. I welcome the moves in the right direction and the fact that we now have Amendment 118, but it raises the question of why it was not in the Bill in the first place. However, the amendment goes only so far, for the reasons that we have heard. When one contrasts Amendment 118 with the super-affirmative resolution procedure, it is clear that Amendment 118 diminishes the role of Parliament relative to the super-affirmative resolution procedure, for the reasons that the noble Baroness mentioned. Therefore, I think that the Government should take away this new clause and come back with something that builds in the role of Parliament, akin to the super-affirmative resolution procedure, so that we play the role that we should be playing.
Lord Clark of Windermere: My Lords, I wish to follow the noble Lord, Lord Norton, because his point about the role of Parliament is absolutely critical. In a sense, we heard the legal expert, the former Law Lord, discussing earlier today in a learned way the basic thrust of what the noble Lord, Lord Norton, and I are saying. Ultimately, we are talking about the power of the legislature and the power of the Executive, and it is very important that we pursue the lines set out by the noble Lord, Lord Norton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, who explained the matter expertly and lucidly.
I very much welcome government Amendments 173 and 174 because they elaborate and outline in much more detail the orders which follow Clauses 17 and 18, which specifically relate to the forestry commissioners-the individuals. Of course, under these powers the Bill says that the constitutional arrangements of the commissioners can be changed by ministerial edict. That raises an important point because I think we will find that at least one of the commissioners is appointed by Her Majesty. It is interesting to see whether Ministers can take this power simply by an order. I put that in a positive way for Ministers to have a look at.
I am also interested in Amendment 174 because, as I understand it, it inserts a new clause after Clause 18. I seek information from the Minister: does this mean that Clause 19 becomes redundant? Does the second part of government Amendment 174 become the new Clause 19? That appears to be the case, but I would welcome guidance on that. I shall not detain the House any longer.
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: My Lords, this group of amendments concerns the central question of parliamentary scrutiny and procedure in relation to the order-making powers in the Bill. This group includes government Amendments 118, 126, 130, 173, 174 and 179. Perhaps I can reassure the noble Lord, Lord Clark of Windermere, that that is exactly what happens. It institutes a parallel framework for those sections of the Bill dealing with the Forestry Commission. The numerical sequence is exactly as he described. Amendment 122, in the name of my noble friend Lord Lester, and Amendments 3B, 120, 124, and 125 in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, and the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, are also in this group. In this debate, I will discuss in particular government Amendment 118, which relates to orders made under the powers in Clauses 1 to 6. Amendment 130 replicates this amendment in relation to orders made under Clause 11, and Amendments 173 and 174 make a similar provision in relation to the forestry provisions in the Bill.
We also intend to create similar provisions in relation to the powers conferred on Welsh Ministers by Clause 13, and are in discussions with the Welsh Assembly Government about how best to achieve this. As part of this process, I give notice of my intention to oppose the Question that Clauses 10, 12 and 19 stand part, as they are now replaced by the government amendments.
Government Amendment 126 specifies that an order made under Clause 11 may not be included in the same instrument as another order made under the Bill. Government Amendment 179 is a consequential
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