Draft National Health Service (Wales) Bill

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Mr. Jon Owen Jones (Cardiff, Central): When the Secretary of State draws conclusions about whether this mechanism of dealing with draft legislation is a success, will he also consider the way in which future Welsh Affairs Committees will be drawn up, and in particular how they will be drawn up if—God forbid—there were to be another Tory Government in Westminster? As I have said, a bad precedent is being set, because the Welsh Affairs Committee does not have to be—and often has not been—mainly made up of hon. Members who come from Wales.

Mr. Murphy: We must consider that point of view. However, the fact that we are meeting now, as the Welsh Grand Committee, to conclude this pre-legislative scrutiny in Parliament means that every hon. Member who represents a Welsh constituency has an opportunity to express their point of view, as do other hon. Members who have an interest in Welsh matters.

I am not saying that that is the end of the story. We must look at this issue and develop it. The Welsh Affairs Committee is charged with looking after matters such as this, and the Welsh Grand Committee can then discuss them. At the end of the

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day, the proposals for addressing them of the Assembly, the Welsh Grand Committee and the Welsh Affairs Committee will come to me, and I and my Government colleagues will decide how best to deal with them in the context of the full Bill, which will be published after we have given consideration to those points of view.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy): I have some sympathy with the opinion of the hon. Member for Cardiff, Central (Mr. Jones) that this would be a good forum in which to draw together all the strings.

I wish to make a constituency-based point to the Secretary of State. On the issue of whether community health councils should be coterminous, I ask that that should not always be written in stone. The northern and southern halves of my constituency look in different directions, and the same is true of various areas of Powys. It would be inappropriate for there to be one community health council that covers the whole of Gwynedd. I may also be speaking for other parts of Wales. I ask the Secretary of State to introduce some flexibility.

Mr. Murphy: I am sure that other hon. Members may wish to make similar points to that. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State has made a note of what the hon. Gentleman has said, and he will refer to it in his winding-up speech. However, the Under-Secretary will not give the Government's response to the Welsh Affairs Committee, or to the matters that have been raised by hon. Members here today. He will refer to what they have said, but the formal Government response will come later in the year, before the Bill is formally published.

Draft Bills give Parliament and the Assembly an opportunity to look at Bills before they are finalised. That is the way of the future, with regard to how we work in partnership with the Assembly, and how we make laws for our people in Wales.

I look forward to the debate. I know that hon. Members have a keen interest in these matters, and that the Under-Secretary will respond—as far as he can—to the points that they make.

1.43 am

Mr. Martyn Jones (Clwyd, South): I am delighted to be called to speak on this historic day for Parliament, and for democratic accountability in Wales. It is a historic day for two reasons. First, it is the day on which the Prime Minister is being questioned by the Liaison Committee, of which I am a member. For the benefit of the Welsh Grand Committee, I have just been informed that the Prime Minister told the Liaison Committee that draft legislation is a very good idea because it improves the quality of legislation, and that the idea is to extend it in the future. It is also a historic day because this Welsh Grand Committee has gathered to discuss the first ever draft Bill in this House.

I am sure that hon. Members will note that I have elected to ignore the media circus that will concentrate on the business of the Liaison Committee, and that I

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will instead address the important bread-and-butter issues of health in Wales.

In fulfilling the responsibility that was placed on the Committee by the Secretary of State, I can today inform him and other Members that the Welsh Affairs Committee wrote to 60 professional groups in England and Wales to request their opinion on this draft Bill. In addition, more than 200 press notices were distributed to various groups and bodies in England and Wales, requesting their views. In the Committee's evidence sessions, we played host to witnesses from the Assembly, including its Minister for Health and Social Services, Jane Hutt, and the Chair of its Health and Social Services Committee, Kirsty Williams.

Members of the Welsh Affairs Committee attended a sitting of that Committee, which was an interesting experience. It led me to believe that the format of future draft Bills should be something between a Green Paper and a Bill, with explanatory notes included at each relevant point. That is a personal view, not the view of the Committee. It was exposed by the fact that that Committee seemed to treat the Bill line by line rather than considering how each line might be changed. That was recognised following discussion. I thank those involved for their co-operation, for having attended our proceedings in Cardiff, for playing their part in the pre-legislative process and for having entered into the co-operative spirit that underlies the draft Bill process.

When the draft Bill was published in May, it was not a good day for health in Wales—I am sorry, it was not just a good day for health in Wales—[Interruption.] I thought that I would cheer up the Opposition, who have not had a good day so far. It was also a good day for direct democracy and parliamentary accountability in Wales, and I am proud of the Government's commitment in creating such a groundbreaking precedent.

The draft Bill is an important step in the revitalisation of the national health service. It cannot be viewed in isolation from the massive increase in investment injected into the NHS in Wales in recent years.

The draft Bill is an intrinsic part of the Government's strategy for the reform of the health service in Wales. It is designed to ensure that the patient's voice is central to the creation of improved services across the board. In undertaking its pre-legislative responsibility, the Committee recognised and tried to build in that important factor. I am cognisant of the fact that many hon. Members want to speak, but I should like to summarise the main recommendations of the Select Committee report.

First, on the principle of draft legislation for Wales, the Committee warmly welcomed the publication of the first ever draft Bill for Wales. We hope that it becomes common practice for not only stand-alone Wales-only Bills but clauses in Bills for England and Wales that have particular implications for Wales.

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Secondly, we welcome the Assembly's commitment to provide for public consultation, before the Bill is enacted, on the regulations to be made under the Bill. That will greatly facilitate the passage of the Bill through the House. The problem would not have been foreseen without the pre-legislative process.

The role and future of community health councils form a major part of the draft Bill. The Committee's examinations of the proposals on CHCs is based on a desire to ensure that no opportunity is missed in ensuring that the new-look CHCs in Wales fulfil their potential.

Mr. Huw Edwards (Monmouth): Does my hon. Friend join me in welcoming the widening of the remit for community health councils into primary care? Does he believe that NHS dentistry is an aspect of primary care in Wales that needs investigation? Does he believe that the issue of dentists attracted by state grants to set up in Wales but who no longer perform NHS dental work for their patients should be urgently looked into?

Mr. Jones: The Committee did look into that, as the hon. Gentleman will be aware. I agree entirely. I welcome the change in CHCs' remit, as did the Committee. We see no reason to constrain the freedom to be given to the Assembly to lay down the principles underlying the appointment of CHC members. Among our recommendations is that the Bill be amended to give CHC members the statutory right to time off work for public duties, which at present they do not have.

We further recommend that the Assembly be given powers to extend by regulation the scope of CHCs' powers to inspect premises used to provide publicly funded health care for the public in their district.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley): On the point about giving time off, I assume that that would mean that the Welsh Assembly would pay the employer. Without going into any other aspects of that, has the hon. Gentleman made an estimate of how much it would cost?

Mr. Jones: I have not made such an estimate and nor did the Committee, but the evidence that we saw from the bodies concerned strongly recommended the practice. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is aware that the normal procedure that allows people to take part in such bodies is that they have free time off and are then paid by the body to replace any loss of earnings. That is the norm. Under existing legislation for such things as county council duties, I do not think that there is any provision for the payment of companies. That is part of their public duty.

Other recommendations include changes in the right to information and for CHCs not to be constrained to the Welsh borders when acting on behalf of Welsh patients receiving treatment outside Wales. The Committee also addressed the independence of CHCs in any arrangements made for the employment of their staff, which is highlighted in the report.

On the Wales Centre for Health, the Committee recommends a review of the terms in the draft Bill

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under which that centre is obliged to comply with any direction from the National Assembly for Wales, with a view to limiting that obligation to the exercise of its administrative and financial functions. In other words, we do not want to impose too much on its independence. On balance, the Committee was satisfied that the basic statutory function of dealing with the protection and improvement of health in Wales is broad enough to allow the Assembly and the Wales Centre for Health itself to develop the centre's work as appropriate. The Committee is confident that the Assembly well understands the desire to see the centre as a genuinely accessible public resource for the people of Wales.

The Committee has made 22 recommendations in all, but I shall not go through each today. Hon. Members may rest assured that the Welsh Affairs Committee fulfilled the obligation placed on it by the Secretary of State, and has suggested many improvements to the draft Bill.

Finally, I cannot let Opposition Members off the hook entirely today following the appalling contributions made yesterday in the debate on the comprehensive spending review and the commentary that has followed its publication. To hear Members of all Opposition parties accuse the Government of so-called control freakery is a joke when one considers the trust placed in Members of this House to scrutinise the draft Bill. The Government may have a large majority in this House but, unlike their predecessors in the Conservative party, they are demonstrating an unprecedented commitment to parliamentary accountability and a determination to listen and consult. The draft Bill, the very concept of pre-legislative scrutiny and the voluntary appearance of the Prime Minister at the Liaison Committee twice a year expose the hollowness of yesterday's Opposition rhetoric.

To answer a point made in an earlier intervention on the Secretary of State, it seems to me that it is appropriate for the legislation to be examined by the Select Committee and then dealt with collectively by the Grand Committee. The arrangement that my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, Central suggested would not be appropriate under a Tory Government that operated in the way that the previous one did, because there would be no draft legislation to consider anyway.

 
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Prepared 16 July 2002