NHS Reform and Health Care Professions Bill

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Mr. Hutton: No, they are not paving the way for anything; nor are they are a kind of Trojan horse. Clause 33 contains a specific and narrowly focused provision that we have no intentions to use at present. However, it commands the support of the profession and allows us to approach the question of future regulatory reforms in a proper, efficient fashion. Clause 34 must be seen in the context of consolidation, which it will facilitate. It is not provide a power to rip up, reform and change legislation on the health service or health care. It is a narrow provision that facilitates the process of consolidation, and that has clear meaning in the parliamentary process.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 33 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Jim Fitzpatrick (Poplar and Canning Town): On a point of order, Mr. Hurst. Given that you have said that you would be minded to accede to a request for a meeting of the Programming Sub-Committee and that such a request has been made, the Government Benches will agree to such a meeting at about 11.15 am if it is convenient for the Committee. I will seek to catch your eye at that time.

The Chairman: I am most grateful for the hon. Gentleman's point of order.

Clause 34

Amendments of health service legislation in connection with consolidation

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Hutton: Clause 34 will enable the Secretary of State to amend legislation on the health service by order if he thinks that such an amendment will assist the consolidation of that legislation. Under subsections (2) and (3), amendments made under the order will form part of consolidating legislation. Clause 36(3) provides for such orders to be subject to affirmative resolution; I hope that the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire is reassured by that.

The last piece of consolidated health service legislation was the National Health Service Act 1977. Since then, more than 50 Acts of Parliament have amended that Act and there have been countless regulations. As part of a consolidation exercise, the clause allows for the Secretary of State to amend legislation on the health service in England and Wales. I have tried to make it clear that consolidation is a purely technical exercise and is led by the Law Commission. The substance of the law cannot be changed through a consolidation exercise, but amendments made by order under the clause can be used to tidy up poor drafting—I acknowledge that examples of that might exist—remove ambiguities or reorder provisions to make them more comprehensible. As the Committee is aware, there is a special Joint Committee of both Houses, which is formed for the life of a Parliament, specifically to examine consolidation Bills.

In opposition and government, when one deals with reforming or amending legislation, it becomes apparent that health service and health care legislation is a complex jigsaw with myriad pieces. That is not only so for regulatory arrangements for health care professions, but for the operation of the NHS. The task of hon. Members—let alone that of lawyers, practitioners and people outside this place—is to keep a firm grasp of the law; cross-referring between different pieces of legislation is a fiendishly horrible exercise. If we can facilitate comprehension and grasp of detail by consolidation, we should take that opportunity. Clause 34 simply provides the means to make the consolidation process effective.

Mr. Heald: The House is always slightly jealous of its powers and the use of the Henry VIII clause is generally not supported. During the past few years there has been more legislation than in former days. I am told that the rot set in in about 1964. Harold Wilson's Government doubled the amount of law on the statute book between 1964 and 1970, and the rot having set in, the rest of us joined in, and it has doubled every 10 years since. That may be apocryphal, but there is grain of truth in it because we have seen a burgeoning of law and it is sensible to consolidate from time to time. The year 1977 does not seem all that long ago to some of us, but 100 Acts of Parliament have apparently been made since then, which is extraordinary.

We are not against consolidation in health legislation and we have only to read the Bill and its subsections being described as (DZA) and (1A)(z) and so on to realise that we are coming to the point where it is difficult to amend it sensibly. However, the Henry VIII clause must be used sparingly and narrowly. I do not understand from the explanatory notes and the clause why it is necessary to move the clause now. Consolidation Acts must go through the procedures outlined by the Minister and I do not understand why this clause could not be part of one of the Bills going through the House at that stage. Is it necessary to pave the way for it? Perhaps the Minister will explain.

Mr. Hutton: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Such a provision is necessary in respect of the consolidation measure. We have merely taken the opportunity to ensure that we have that paving provision.

Mr. Heald: That is helpful, but I should be grateful if the Minister would write to me explaining why it is necessary in a little more detail so that we can be satisfied on that.

The explanatory notes state:

    ''Under subsection (2) amendments made under the Order will form part of consolidating legislation.''

That confused me slightly because, if the clause is necessary in advance of the consolidation, I am not sure why the amendments would form part of the consolidating legislation, unless it means that a volume would be produced including the amendments in the order but that they would not form part of any Bills that come before the House.

Mr. Hutton: The hon. Gentleman will find that clause 34(2) refers only to when the order comes into effect.

Mr. Heald: Yes, that is what I thought, which is why I did not understand the comments in the explanatory notes that

    ''Under subsection (2) amendments made under the Order will form part of consolidating legislation.''

I read that in the same way as the Minister: that the order will not come into force unless the Acts are passed. Perhaps that is all it means and the amendments would form part of the legislation only when the Acts had been passed, in which case we have solved the problem.

Mr. Hutton: I am happy to write to the hon. Gentleman.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 34 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 35

Minor and consequential amendments

and repeals

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Hutton: I hope that the clause is self-explanatory. It is one of the shortest in the Bill and simply introduces schedules 8 and 9. Schedule 8 makes a number of amendments to existing health and related Acts to take account of changes made by the Bill. Schedule 9 lists in tabular form all repeals included in other clauses and schedules in the Bill. That is done by convention and we shall come to those schedules shortly, so I hope that the Committee feels able to support the clause.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 35 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 8

Minor and consequential amendments

Mr. Hutton: I beg to move amendment No. 112, in page 78, line 37, after '40(4)', insert 'of this Act'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take Government amendments Nos. 113 and 133.

Mr. Hutton: Briefly, the amendments amend section 21(1) of the Health Act 1999 covering the role of the Audit Commission to provide that, if requested to do so by the Commission for Health Improvement, may join the commission in exercising any of the commission's functions under sections 20(1)(da) and (db), which are the new functions inserted by clauses 12(2)(c) and 13(1)(a) of the Bill, as well as those functions already referred to in section 21(1)(a). The intention is to enable joint working between the Audit Commission and the Commission for Health Improvement in their review and inspection functions as amended by the Bill.

I assure the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire that these three amendments are tidying and consequential and do not move the policy goal posts in any direction.

Amendment No. 112 corrects a typographical error in the printed version of the Bill. Amendment No. 113 is consequential to amendment No. 100—that is, insertion of the amendment of section 140 of the Mental Health Act 1999 entails a consequential repeal of paragraph 107(12)(b) in schedule 1 to the Health Authorities Act 1995.

Amendment No. 133 enables joint working between the Audit Commission and CHI on their review and inspection functions, as amended by clauses 12(2)(c) and 13(1)(a) of the Bill, as well as those functions already referred to in the 1999 Act.

Mr. Heald: Amendments Nos. 112 and 113 are technical and I have nothing to say about them.

I welcome amendment No. 133. During an earlier debate, we raised some concerns about the role of the Audit Commission now that the Commission for Health Improvement is to have a role in the inspection of health services that are being provided instead of its previous narrower role covering clinical governance. One of the points made by us and some of the bodies with which we have communicated during the course of our proceedings was that they felt it important that the work of the Audit Commission—it has exposed some of the great problems that the Government and patients are having with the health service at present—should not be sidelined. I referred to an article in the Health Service Journal which was insistent on the point.

It is welcome that the Minister is introducing the amendment confirming that the Audit Commission will be able to undertake inspections for the Commission for Health Improvement, that it is not being sidelined in any way and that there will be a proper commitment to joint working. I hope that that is what it means and I believe that that is what the Minister said, in which case I welcome it.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment made: No. 113, in page 79, line 16, leave out 'paragraph 32(b) is' and insert

    'paragraphs 32(b) and 107(12)(b) are'.—[Mr. Hutton.]

Mr. Heald: On a point of order, Mr. Hurst. I had intended to ask the Minister to explain in detail the import of Government amendment No. 258. If the Government Whip was thinking of seeking to adjourn the Committee, now might be a good time.

Further consideration adjourned.—[Jim Fitzpatrick.]

Adjourned accordingly at fourteen minutes past Eleven o'clock till this day at half-past Two o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Hurst, Mr. Alan (Chairman)
Atkinson, Mr. Peter
Baron, Mr.
Burnham, Andy
Burns, Mr.
Challen, Mr.
Fitzpatrick, Jim
Hall, Mr. Mike
Havard, Mr.
Heald, Mr.
Hutton, Mr.
Moffatt, Laura
Murrison, Dr.
Taylor, Dr. Richard
Thomas, Gareth
Ward, Ms

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