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Mr. Clive Efford (Eltham): Instead of waving about the publications of the CHCs, would the hon. Gentleman explain why the previous Conservative Government cut the budget of CHC News, which kept the members of CHCs, like myself, informed of the issues that the CHCs were taking up with the Government? That measure made CHCs less effective.
The Government have got themselves into a position in which Labour candidates will go into the general election pledging to abolish CHCs. Those candidates will have to defend the indefensible position that the Government have adopted in wishing to destroy these independent watchdogs and voices for patients. As the hon. Member for North Devon (Mr. Harvey) said, the Government have created a dog's breakfast.
We are delighted that CHCs have been reprieved by the Government's climbdown today, but we would much prefer to hear that the Government permanently accept the advice that they have received from both sides of the House and from all sections of opinion outside that the CHCs should be retained and reformed, Instead, I hear from the Minister that this is a measure of expediency and that a Labour Government, if re-elected, would move swiftly to abolish the CHCs and remove the independent voice that they provide for patients.
Mr. Denham: When I outlined the Government's position, I was able to set out exactly what would happen as a consequence of the amendments. I shall not respond to the Conservative party's caricature of our position as I have set out the policy that we shall pursue in the weeks to come.
The debate has been revealing because not a single Conservative Members has engaged with the fundamental challenge that we set out to tackle. The fact is that, despite much hard work and good will, 25 years on, we do not have a patient-centred NHS or the structures that mean that it has been organised around the needs of patients. Nothing other than that fact motivated my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, me and other Ministers to introduce the proposals in the NHS plan. They remain our commitment.
I do not criticise hon. Members who want to praise the work of their local community health council, but the debate revealed the extent to which the Conservatives have tried to caricature what the Government proposed. It simply is not true that we wanted less independent and less powerful bodies, that were not as able to speak up for patients or to carry out activities--such as those performed by Casualty Watch--as the CHCs. We wanted to achieve a system of patients councils, patients forums and a national body that, taken together, would have been stronger, more powerful and, indeed, more independent than today's arrangements. I believe that we could have achieved that and had greater consistency across the country because everyone accepts that services are patchy and inconsistent. The hon. Members for Worthing, West (Mr. Bottomley), for Eddisbury (Mr. O'Brien) and for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) clearly had not attempted to read or understand the Bill before it went to the other place or after it was initially amended there.
There is one reason--and only one--why the Government have reached this decision. Everyone knows that, at this stage of a Parliament, unless both Houses of Parliament agree on all aspects of a Bill, it will fall. In this case, the provisions for free nursing care would have fallen with it. If the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr. Hammond) really believes that this primary legislation is not needed, it is a little late for him to speak up now. He did not say that previously. We need primary legislation so that we have a secure statutory base for what we intend to do. We are not prepared to lose free nursing care because both Houses cannot agree on other aspects of the Bill. That is a fundamental principle and the right position to take.
I suspect that I will not have time to cover in detail all the issues raised. On the overview and scrutiny committees, we will need to consider in depth, after the election, the way in which their new powers will fit with the legal powers of CHCs. That is important. We will have to consider the best way of delivering advocacy services, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Rothwell (Mr. Gunnell) referred. Given the support of the CHC staff association for the Bill a few weeks ago, I regret the fact that there might be some uncertainty about it. We will want to work with them in the weeks and months to come to ensure that their position is properly looked after.
Committee appointed to draw up Reasons to be assigned to the Lords for disagreeing to certain of their amendments to the Bill: Mr. John Denham, Maria Eagle, Mr. Philip Hammond, Mr. David Jamieson and Mr. Peter Luff; Mr. John Denham to be the Chairman of the Committee; Three to be the quorum of the Committee--[Mr. Jamieson.]
1. (1) Proceedings on Consideration of Lords Amendments shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement.
2. (1) Any further Message from the Lords on the Bill shall be considered forthwith without any Question being put.
(2) The proceedings on any further Message from the Lords shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement.--[Mr. Touhig.]
Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Sylvia Heal): I must draw the attention of the House to the fact that privilege is involved in Lords amendment No. 25. If the House agrees to the amendment, I shall ensure that the appropriate entry is made in the Journal.
Lords amendment: No. 1, in page 2, leave out lines 20 and 21.
Mr. Clarke: It may be for the convenience of the House if I indicate now that the Government do not intend to divide the House on any of the Lords amendments that we shall consider this afternoon, including Lords amendment No. 35 to clause 126, on which the Government were defeated in the other place yesterday. I shall briefly set out the reasons for that in relation to each group of amendments when we come to them.
At this stage, I should like to pay tribute to the Opposition--both Conservatives and Liberal Democrats in this House and the other place--because we have all sought to work co-operatively and constructively to achieve a situation in which the Bill can be dealt with as effectively as possible. That is reflected in the amendments before us.
Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston): The Bill has been subject to a new form of scrutiny under the Joint Committee on Human Rights. Obviously, given the time scale, there has not been time to debate the