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Session 2001- 02
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Standing Committee Debates
National Health Service Reform and Health Care Professions Bill

National Health Service Reform and Health Care Professions Bill

Standing Committee A

Tuesday 27 November 2001

(Morning)

[Mr. Alan Hurst in the Chair]

NHS Reform and Health Care Professions Bill

10.30 am

Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire): On a point of order, Mr. Hurst. I welcome you to the Chair. The Opposition look forward to serving under you. We realise that you will be firm but fair. The Bill contains numerous order-making powers, many of which are being drafted—such steps are often taken in circumstances such as these—so that strategic health authorities, patients forums and so on can be established on 1 April 2002. In debating the programme resolution, and in terms of our proceedings as a whole, it would help if the Government could share with us information on any draft regulations that have been prepared and are ready to go. That would enable us to flesh out our debates and to know the exact detail of many of the proposals. Perhaps, Mr. Hurst, you could suggest to the Minister that that would be to the convenience of us all.

The Chairman: That is not a point of order but a matter for debate.

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Mr. John Hutton): I beg to move,

    That —

    (1) during proceedings on the National Health Service Reform and Health Care Professions Bill the Standing Committee do meet on Tuesdays at half-past Ten o'clock and at half past Four o'clock, and on Thursdays at half-past Nine o'clock and at half-past Two o'clock;

    (2) 14 sittings in all shall be allotted to the consideration of the Bill by the Committee;

    (3) the proceedings to be taken on the sittings shall be as shown in the second column of the Table below and shall be taken in the order so shown;

    (4) the proceedings which under paragraph (3) are to be taken on any sitting shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the time specified in the third column of the Table;

    (5) paragraph (3) does not prevent proceedings being taken (in the order shown in the second column of the Table) at any earlier sitting than that provided for under paragraph (3) if previous proceedings have already been concluded.

TABLE

Sitting Proceedings Time for conclusion of proceedings
27th November Clause 1, Schedule 1; Clause 2, Schedule 2; Clauses 3 and 4, Schedule 3; Clauses 5 and Clause 6, Schedules 4 and 5; Clause 22; Clauses 7 to 10.       _
27th November Clause 1, Schedule 1; Clause 2, Schedule 2; Clauses 3 and 4, Schedule 3; Clauses 5 and Clause 6, Schedules 4 and 5; Clause 22; Clauses 7 to 10.       _
29th November Clause 1, Schedule 1; Clause 2, Schedule 2; Clauses 3 and 4, Schedule 3; Clauses 5 and Clause 6, Schedules 4 and 5; Clause 22; Clauses 7 to 10.       _
29th November Clause 1, Schedule 1; Clause 2, Schedule 2; Clauses 3 and 4, Schedule 3; Clauses 5 and Clause 6, Schedules 4 and 5; Clause 22; Clauses 7 to 10.       5 p.m.
4th December Clauses 11 to 19, Schedule 6; Clauses 20 and 21; new Clauses and new Schedules relating to Part 1.       _
4th December Clauses 11 to 19, Schedule 6; Clauses 20 and 21; new Clauses and new Schedules relating to Part 1.       _
6th December Clauses 11 to 19, Schedule 6; Clauses 20 and 21; new Clauses and new Schedules relating to Part 1.       _
6th December Clauses 11 to 19, Schedule 6; Clauses 20 and 21; new Clauses and new Schedules relating to Part 1.       5 p.m.
11th December Clause 23, Schedule 7; Clauses 24 to 33; new Clauses and new Schedules relating to Part 2.       _
11th December Clause 23, Schedule 7; Clauses 24 to 33; new Clauses and new Schedules relating to Part 2.       _
13th December Clause 23, Schedule 7; Clauses 24 to 33; new Clauses and new Schedules relating to Part 2.       _
13th December Clause 23, Schedule 7; Clauses 24 to 33; new Clauses and new Schedules relating to Part 2.       5 p.m.
18th December Clauses 34 and 35, Schedules 8 and 9; Clauses 36 to 40; remaining new Clauses and new Schedules.       _
18th December Clauses 34 and 35, Schedules 8 and 9; Clauses 36 to 40; remaining new Clauses and new Schedules.       7 p.m.

I join the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) in welcoming you to the Chair, Mr. Hurst. In a small but none the less significant sense, this is something of a parliamentary occasion. Members of the Committee might not be aware that you and I went to the same school, and I think I am right in saying that I was the first person educated at Westcliffe high school to become a Member of Parliament and you were certainly the second. This must surely be the only occasion on which two Westcliffe high school old boys have been involved in the passage of a Bill—one as Chairman and the other as the Minister leading the case for the Government. Others may not be terribly thrilled by that, but I am and I hope that you are too.

My hon. Friends and I are looking forward to making progress on the Bill under your watchful stewardship, Mr. Hurst, and I can promise that we will try at all times to be on our best behaviour and never to give you cause to bring us to book or admonish our conduct in any way. I am sure that the same can also be said of other members of the Committee.

The resolution, which we discussed with the Opposition parties as recently as yesterday, offers the Committee a sensible way to make progress on a Bill that is 40 clauses long. In trying to reach agreement on these matters, we have made a number of concessions, including increasing the representation of Opposition Committee members, increasing the number of sittings and lengthening the time for which the Committee sits. Such measures are needed if we are to scrutinise the legislation properly.

Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon): Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Hutton: In a moment.

I hope that members of the Committee will agree that the proposals that we ask them to endorse today are sensible and fair to both sides, and constitute a reasonable way in which to proceed.

Dr. Harris: In intervening on the Minister, I wanted the Government Whip also to hear my remark, but he has just left the Room. Has the Minister given any thought to the problem that I raised previously? I am having difficulty tabling an amendment given the clash on Thursday 29 November between the Committee and emergency business in the House, which was brought forward after negotiations were complete on the timetable and members were selected for the Committee. Does he see a way forward that would allow members of the Committee to take part in emergency health business in the House on Thursday afternoon?

Mr. Hutton: Whips have an uncanny ability to hear things even when they are not present, so the hon. Gentleman should not worry about my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Canning Town (Jim Fitzpatrick).

It is incorrect to say that the Human Reproductive Cloning Bill was introduced before we started discussions on the programme resolution. The Government made clear their intention to introduce that Bill some time ago, and we submitted our proposals on the programme motion to the Opposition last week. Yesterday, in the Programming Sub-Committee, we had an opportunity to discuss these issues, but the hon. Gentleman did not raise this matter. [Interruption.] I stand corrected if he did. On this occasion we must make some difficult choices. It is right that the Committee should meet on Thursday, and members of the Committee must decide how they want to allocate their time. I do not want to advise my hon. Friends not to meet on Thursday, and I am not in a position to help the hon. Gentleman with his predicament. My concern is to make progress with the Bill, and I ask the Committee to support me in that.

Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford): As a fellow Essex Member may I add my words of welcome to you, Mr. Hurst. Notwithstanding the recent derogatory remarks of the Secretary of State for Health in the House that caused furore in the county of Essex, I have full confidence in an Essex man in the Chair of this important Committee.

In the Minister's opening comments, he alluded to, and glossed over, the fact that all was not well in last night's Programming Sub-Committee. The Government are seeking to rush the Bill through Committee in the same way that they are rushing their reform of the national health service, which has not been properly prepared for the added responsibilities of primary care trusts and strategic health authorities.

The Bill raises important issues about the future provision of health care in this country, and Government and Opposition members of the Committee would agree that we cannot afford to get it wrong because the danger is that problems will be inflicted on our constituents in the provision of their health care, a point that we have made on numerous occasions inside and outside the House. The abolition of health authorities and their regrouping into strategic health authorities means that 75 per cent. of funding for health care will be devolved to primary care trusts, and that is being done in an over-hasty way that holds serious implications for health care provision. There are several key issues that must be properly and thoroughly discussed in Committee, which will help the Government to avoid mistakes that they may be making in their haste. For the Committee to finish its deliberations by 18 December is too short a period.

During our discussions yesterday, the official Opposition originally wanted six members on the Committee and suggested that we should sit into January so as to have a proper opportunity to discuss in a considered and measured way the important issues concerning strategic health authorities, primary care trusts, quality and, an issue that has not yet been raised but, I assure you, Mr. Hurst, will be raised later during our proceedings, the highly contentious and irresponsible provisions of clause 20. The Government seem hell-bent on resisting any sensible approach and continuing with their ill-thought-out proposals prior to the last general election to abolish community health councils, which provide an independent voice for patients throughout the country.

I am sure that as a constituency Member, Mr. Hurst, you will have received many representations from the excellent mid-Essex community health council and even from its former chairman, who was a Labour district councillor in Braintree, about their opposition to abolition of the councils. We have the impression--we want to discuss it more fully in Committee--that the Government are simply making this pernicious and petty move because they will brook no opposition. If anyone has the temerity to highlight concerns about their actions, they do away with the organisation because it does not fit in with Millbank's script on the image that they want to portray.

To do our work properly and fully, we need more Committee members than the Government have offered and to sit longer so that our discussions are not rushed, but the Government are determined not to accept that. If my information is correct, they informed the official Opposition that we could have four Members on the Committee and that we could sit until 13 December. That was totally unacceptable and we were not prepared to compromise, so the Government returned shortly afterwards and said that they would allow five Members and two extra sittings on Tuesday 18 December. We still believe that that is not long enough, but it would be fruitless to negotiate. The Government are determined to use their majority on the Committee to ensure that they get their own way.

The official Opposition are opposed to the programme resolution for the reasons outlined. We believe that we should have more time and an extra Member on the Committee to help us in the duty of an official Opposition, which is to study, question, probe and monitor legislation. We should ensure that legislation on the most far-reaching reforms to the health service, some say since 1974 and others say since its inception in 1946-48, is properly scrutinised, fine-tuned, improved when improvement is needed and changed if humanly possible. We need the opportunity to try to persuade the Government to think again about those areas that we believe are utterly wrong so that the legislation that goes on to the statute book will improve and enhance the health care provision for our constituents. For those reasons, we cannot support the Government in their programme resolution.

 
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Prepared 27 November 2001