Public Bodies Bill [Lords]
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Mr James Rhys, Committee Clerk
† attended the CommitteePublic Bodies Bill [Lords]
‘Dover Harbour Board’.
‘2 Sections 22(1) and 22(2)(a) do not apply to an order under section 5 which provides for the functions of the Dover Harbour Board to be transferred to another person.’.
Roberta Blackman-Woods (City of Durham) (Lab): At the end of this morning’s debate, I was complimenting the hon. Member for Dover on the very sound case he has made in his amendments. I was congratulating him on managing to get many of the agencies involved in the port of Dover to come together to support it being owned by the local community. I also want to congratulate him on putting together what looks like a very sound financial package in support of the initiative. He could have another career in consultancy for MPs and in giving information to all of us on how we might put such funding packages together, because he did indeed seem to offer a possible way forward.
I shall conclude by saying that the hon. Gentleman has proposed a model that will not only be good for Dover but can be applied to other areas. I certainly hope that the Government will back his amendments.
The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr Nick Hurd): It is good to see you back in the Chair, Mr Amess. Hon. Members from all parties—and, I suspect, you, Mr Amess—were impressed by the contribution made by my hon. Friend the Member for Dover this morning. It was impressive both for its power and its sincerity.
I start by thanking my hon. Friend for the ridiculously nice things he said about me. The Paymaster General is already aware that my hon. Friend came to the Committee brandishing amendments that are designed to be helpful. I think that was the word he used, which has some resonance in the Whips Office, if I remember it correctly. I hope I am not taking a step too far in saying that, on behalf of the whole Committee, I thank my hon. Friend for enlivening our proceedings during the days and weeks of our sittings. We have tended to the dry and dusty at times, and he has helped to enliven proceedings
My hon. Friend is leading a very heartfelt and powerful campaign for the port of Dover to become a port owned by the community. He clearly has strong community support for that notion, on a North Korean scale. A huge amount of effort and work has gone into the structuring of the proposal and the partnership building required to make that work. We have been listening to the words and work of an outstanding constituency MP. I have put that on the record just in case it may deter the hon. Member for Leicester South from acting on his pledge to go down to Dover and campaign against my hon. Friend. I would hate to see him waste a train ticket.
As my hon. Friend said, amendment 36 would add Dover Harbour Board to schedule 5, enabling its functions to be modified or transferred to an eligible person. As he said, amendment 37 is consequential and would be relevant only if amendment 36 were accepted. The provision would allow the transfer of functions to be made without the agreement of the transferee and would permit the transfer of certain functions that might not otherwise be possible. We all understand the motives behind the amendments and commend my hon. Friend for his continuing work to find a solution to his constituents’ concerns about the future of the port. Occasionally, the chance comes to us MPs to make a big difference to the communities we serve, and I sense that my hon. Friend feels that this is exactly that opportunity to secure something important for the town of Dover.
I hope that my hon. Friend recalls that, in an earlier debate, in the spirit of being helpful I agreed to consider his amendment 35, which sought to add community benefit societies and co-operatives to the list of eligible persons to whom an order under the Bill could transfer functions. I hope that that will be seen to be what it was, which was helpful.
The hon. Member for City of Durham speculated about whether I would succumb to the considerable flattery running through the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Dover. I am afraid to say that, unlike you, Mr Amess, I am immune to flattery. I must inform the Committee and my hon. Friend that the Government’s view of the proposals in amendments 36 and 37 is that they are not appropriate for inclusion in the Bill.
First, the Bill is being used to further proposals to reform public bodies if existing legislative vehicles are not available or appropriate. That is what the Bill is for. For the Dover Harbour Board, existing legislation already provides for the types of changes that would be allowed by inclusion in the Bill. Specifically, with an existing mechanism under the Ports Act 1991, trust ports may bring forward schemes to transfer their functions, duties, assets and liabilities to an entity that can then be sold or transferred to other parties. I assure the Committee that the provisions of the Ports Act do not preclude a not-for-profit body, such as one registered under the Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies and Credit Unions Act 1965, from acquiring a port. In addition, a harbour revision order under the Harbours Act 1964 may change or modify the legislation under
Secondly, while I understand that the inclusion of the Dover Harbour Board in schedule 5 could provide an alternative route for achieving my hon. Friend’s preferred outcome through an order made by Government, the Government are not convinced that trust ports are suitable candidates for inclusion in the Bill’s schedules. I can explain. The purpose of the Bill is to progress a series of proposed reforms to public bodies that were part of the public bodies review which reported in October 2010. Trust ports are not owned by nor established by Government, and they were not in the scope of the public bodies review. Trust ports are independent statutory bodies and the Government have limited involvement in the different trust ports, as provided for by their local legislation. It would be out of step to take such a broad path in relation to the trust port of Dover alone.
My hon. Friend is aware that an application for a transfer scheme for the port of Dover is still under consideration by the Secretary of State for Transport. The process might be moving slower than he would like, but it is moving. He is aware, and the Committee should be aware, that the decision is quasi-judicial and, as such, it would be wrong for the Government to express a position, either in relation to that application or to the proposals for a people’s port for Dover.
I stress to the Committee, however, that at the beginning of last month the Secretary of State announced the new criteria that would be used when considering applications for a transfer scheme by a trust port. One of the essential criteria that are to be met before a transfer scheme will be approved is that the sale is considered likely to deliver an enduring and significant level of community participation in the port. I hope that provides some reassurance to my hon. Friend that the Government recognise the value of ports to the communities in which they are based and are seeking to reflect that in policy.
My hon. Friend also speculated whether the Ports Act could allow a nuanced approach. He should be aware that under the Ports Act a Minister can make a “minded to” decision on a transfer scheme, and can set out matters on which he would require further assurance or action before confirming a transfer scheme order. Such conditions might allow for alternative ownership models to be considered beyond simple private ownership. In the light of those comments, my commitment to consider further amendment 36, and with my genuine admiration for the diligence of my hon. Friend’s work on behalf of the people of Dover, I hope he will feel able to withdraw his amendments.
Charlie Elphicke (Dover) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve again under your chairmanship, Mr Amess. My hon. Friend the Minister is right: the section 9 process is under way and was started under the previous Government. He is also right that it is seen as a quasi-judicial decision, subject to the criteria set down by the Secretary of State, and that substantial community involvement is included in the criteria. That substantial community involvement, which has been debated here and in Dover, stands at about 15% community ownership. That is not going to be the most substantial community involvement there could be.
According to company law, to turn a port into a company in any other form of trade—a tennis ball company, for example—could be done by changing the articles, which requires 75% ownership. Therefore, 15% would not be even a blocking minority; it would not, to my mind, be a substantial shareholding in the port that would enable the community to have a sense of determination and connection with the port’s future. I seek to give the transportation Department pause for thought regarding the direction of travel and the policy, started under the previous Government, of a simple sale. Instead, we should do something more in line with the principles, set out by the new Government, of co-operatives, social enterprises and mutuals. That is really important.
I touched earlier on the issue of inertia in government and the difficulty of turning around a supertanker, and the difficulty of ensuring that new policies are pushed through quickly when we have a Government who are committed to such a vision and to changing the politics. If we are to have that kind of social enterprise, mutualisation, localism and decentralisation, and if we are to build the big society, giving communities a greater say over their sense of destiny, we need to send a clear message that the Cabinet Office should have the power to force the Government’s will on other Departments. At the moment, I do not feel that the Cabinet Office has enough strength and support to do that. I worry that if we do not ensure today that that strong message—on the direction of travel and the delivery of the Prime Minister’s amazing vision of the sort of society we could build— is heard across the whole of Government, we will not be stepping up to the plate.
There is nothing more powerful in this place than an MP advancing constituency interests. I feel that I have no choice but to accept the mandate of 98% of the people of Dover who voted in a referendum for this vision. The vision that the people of Dover and I have is the same as the Prime Minister’s. I know that this power in the Bill is simply additional. It does not technically affect the 1991 Act, and the Transport Secretary could just carry on regardless with the kind of plan that has been set in train. However, we are in a Committee that is about not only law but also politics, and the message will be heard far and wide across Whitehall that Parliament is serious about the Prime Minister’s vision and that it wants to strengthen the hand of the Cabinet Office and its excellent Ministers and give them the ability and power to ensure that the Prime Minister’s will is executed, despite any inertia on the part of Ministers or civil servants and despite any risk of backsliding. We want to ensure that a strong message is sent.
On that basis, as someone who believes in the Prime Minister’s vision, as someone who is a constituency MP mandated by his constituents and as someone who believes in the big society, I want to press the amendment to a vote.
The Parliamentary Secretary, Office of the Leader of the House of Commons (Mr David Heath): I beg to move amendment 47, in schedule 5, page 21, line 25, at end insert ‘Her Majesty’s Stationery Office.’.
Amendment 47 will list Her Majesty’s Stationery Office in schedule 5 to the Bill, which enables the modification or transfer of functions. The amendment is minor and technical, rather than a substantive policy change. The reform it will facilitate constitutes a straightforward and hopefully uncontroversial legal tidying-up exercise. The proposed reforms have been led by the chief executive of the National Archives, who is also the keeper of the public records, and they have been agreed with the palace.
HMSO was founded in 1786. It is the holder of the Crown copyright and has been the official printer and publisher of all Acts of Parliament since 1889. Indeed, sharp-eyed members of the Committee will be able to see its imprint on the back of the Bill under consideration today. HMSO was one of four bodies that came together between 2003 and 2006 to form the National Archives, joining with the Public Record Office, the Office of Public Sector Information and the royal commission on historical manuscripts. Most of HMSO’s functions are conferred on the controller of HMSO, an officer within the National Archives, via royal letters patent. Those functions will remain unchanged. A small number of HMSO’s functions are conferred by statute, and it is envisaged that those will be transferred to the Public Record Office by order under the powers in clause 5. It is also envisaged that, when an appropriate transfer of functions is achieved through such an order, the PRO will be legally renamed as the National Archives. Looking closely at our proposals, we have established that HMSO’s statutory functions cannot be transferred by order under clause 5 without HMSO itself being included in schedule 5, hence its proposed inclusion in the schedule at this later date.
The amendment and the reform are consistent with announcements made by the Government, and with previous statements that the existing administrative arrangements for the National Archives will, where possible, be placed on a clearer statutory footing. The aim is to provide clarity for the public and to formalise the merger process begun under the previous Administration. The proposal will strengthen the National Archives’ ability to perform functions that the Government believe to be of immense value. Accordingly, the amendment
I reassure Members that no functions currently performed by the National Archives or any of its component parts, including HMSO, will be negatively affected by the amendment. There will be no impact on staff and no financial implications.
‘2 An order may not be made in respect of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority unless an independent review indicates that the terms of such an order made under section 5(1) would increase the cost-effectiveness and efficiency of the functions exercised by the Authority and would deliver a net benefit.’.
Valerie Vaz: It is good to see you looking so well, Mr Amess. I do not know whether you have read the New Statesman, but it contains something about this Committee. It might have something to do with your chairmanship, but three members of the Committee have been tipped for future leadership. I do not know whether you can feel the glow, but those members are my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan and the hon. Members for Esher and Walton and for East Surrey. It is amazing. Those members are under 40, but those of us who feel under 40 are not on the list.
Both the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority and the Human Tissue Authority are astonished to be in the Bill, and both bodies were astonished not even to be consulted on their inclusion. Both have an international reputation, and their advice is sought on all aspects of tissues and embryology. Other countries seek their advice on how best to address moral issues. Both these organisations deal with medical, legal and ethical issues, and they are, importantly, independent—from politicians and from Government.
It is helpful to look at the background to how those bodies were first formed. The HTA was founded as a result of organs being removed from children’s bodies without the consent of their parents. At Bristol Royal
The HFEA was born as result of the work of Baroness Warnock of the other place. Highly respected and—dare I say it?—a national icon, she is world-renowned as a major philosopher. She conducted a report into the special status of the embryo. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 was passed—I know this seems to be a running thread in this Committee—by the former Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, and her Conservative Government. It is a very important piece of legislation; for once I can say that I actually agreed with Mrs Thatcher.
These bodies were born not out of political ideology but of certain serious moral and ethical issues. They are there to protect the public. Therefore, what one has to look at is, what is actually driving this proposal? Why are these bodies in the Bill? It cannot be money: the HFEA receives just £2 million, and makes up the rest of its income from fees. The HTA receives just £1 million from the Government.
I would just like to mention what the Department of Health said about the HFEA in “Liberating the NHS: Report of the arm’s-length bodies review”. I shall read it out because it is quite instructive, and then perhaps we can work out why the Department has changed its mind. Paragraph 3.29 states:
“The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority is responsible for licensing fertility treatments and research conducted using human embryos. As such, it deals with issues that are judicially and ethically complex and contentious. By being at arm’s-length, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority separates sensitive issues from government and its independence is trusted. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority’s functions satisfy the criteria for being undertaken by an arm’s-length body”.
That was in July 2010. It is a ringing endorsement by any account, so it is perplexing to everybody concerned that the HFEA is included in the Bill.
Mr Mark Williams (Ceredigion) (LD): The hon. Lady makes the point very strongly about the need for that arm’s length relationship and for independence. Before she leaves the argument about cost, has she reflected, as I have, on the likely increase in cost of transferring those responsibilities from the HFEA to the Care Quality Commission? This is a new remit for the CQC, which will have big resource implications. They will admittedly be positive ones; but it does raise, once more, the issue of cost.
Valerie Vaz: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I will come on to the Care Quality Commission, its function and how these costs will be absorbed. I do have deep concerns about that. The fact is that both the HTA and the HFEA can stand alone and pay for themselves, so I think there will be more costs if this happens.
As I have already mentioned, both the HFEA and the HTA have a unique position of independence, which enables the discussion of sensitive issues. An example
Where will the CQC go? It is a massive regulator. I am not deriding members of the CQC, because they are public servants and they work in the public interest. I am a member of the Health Committee, however, and we concluded in our most recent report that
“We are extremely concerned that CQC's compliance activity fell to such low levels in the course of 2010-11…the fact that this was done to the extent that inspections fell by an unacceptable 70% demonstrates a failure to manage resource and activity in line with the main statutory objective of the CQC to ‘protect and promote the health, safety and welfare of people who use health and social care services’.”
The CQC failed to act when a whistleblower approached it about the Winterbourne View care home. The worrying thing about the CQC is that total establishment vacancies moved from 148 in June 2010 to 297 in June 2011. Its compliance inspector and registration assessor vacancies—the core part of what it was set up to do—moved from 96 to 133 over the same period. Clearly, some work needs to be done to ensure that the CQC is a proper regulatory organisation that protects the public.
I have heard from the HFEA, which has said that it is already trying to streamline some of its work and costs. It has moved into the CQC so that it can share back office functions. The key point is that it does not particularly want to be part of the CQC; it wants to report directly to the Secretary of State for Health. Here is the science bit: I see it as a carbon atom with four little spokes coming out, among which are the HFEA and the Human Tissue Authority. They are all stand-alone organisations that are accountable straight to the Secretary of State. If they are put into the CQC, they will become part of a sub-committee. We will not get the full range of expertise; we will get a sub-committee that does not really know what is happening in the discussions that are going on.
The HFEA does some important work, and I will draw the Committee’s attention to a couple of aspects of it. It found, for example, that two embryos were placed under a hood. We have all heard awful stories about what happens in America, where embryos have been mixed up, and a white mother has given birth to children who are of a different colour from her. Those are the kind of mistakes that the HFEA is trying to avoid, which is why it is such an important body.
Some clinicians do not want the HFEA. Some feel that it will hamper research, and that the regulation will stop them working. It is important, however, because it is about the future generation. We may make rushed decisions now in Committee, which is what we appear to be doing, rather than thinking about the future. The worst thing would be to look back afterwards and wish that we had held back a bit and left things as they were. That is crucial. Fertility and organ donation are emotive subjects, which must be left to these independent organisations.
In conclusion, there is little overlap between the regulatory functions of the two organisations and any other organisations. As most Members will know, the bodies that we are discussing do not engender mass e-mails; we have not been bombarded, as we are by the Forestry Commission. They are niche organisations that give the public confidence through their work, both now and for the future, because a lot of ethical issues will come up that will need to be discussed. They can be discussed by those bodies away from political pressures and away from lobbying. They discuss the policy and the issues, and turn that into a code of practice that people can abide by. They both have chairs who are well respected, both in their fields and for the work that they do on those committees.
There has been some concern about the evidence put before the Committee by the HFEA, but it is entitled to submit evidence to us in writing. It has a worldwide reputation. No other country has a body with such respect and independence. Other countries come to us for advice. We want to keep it that way. All that would be lost if it was absorbed into the CQC. The chairs have presided over very lean organisations—I have given the Committee the figures. The issue is emotive, but all that they have done is act in the public interest to protect us all. I urge the Minister to respect their work, let them get on with it, and leave them out of the Bill.
Mr Heath: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for the way she presented her case. Let us deal with the common ground: both bodies have done a superb job, and they are held in enormous respect by clinicians and by the general public who take an interest in these matters. I do not know why it falls to me in this Committee to suggest why all of the bodies that seem to engender enormous respect across the board need to be changed—[ Interruption. ] As I think my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, said, this is coalition government. On a serious note, just because bodies are doing a good job, it does not mean that we do not need to look intelligently and analytically at what they do, how they perform their functions and whether those functions
The hon. Lady said that both bodies were astonished to be included in the Bill. That astonishment must have been qualified, surely, by the consultation that had already taken place in the advanced arm’s length body review. It looked at both bodies, took a view from them, and looked at whether there were synergies in the two regulatory bodies, particularly in the context of whether the research elements were taken out. That was one of the conclusions of the ALB review.
The hon. Lady explained that amendment 52 would remove the Human Tissue Authority from the Bill. Amendment 53 would put in place additional requirements before an order can be made to transfer the functions of the HFEA to other bodies under clause 5. Amendment 60 would remove the HFEA from the Bill. Let me deal first with removing the bodies completely from the Bill. The Government set out our intentions to simplify and reduce radically the number of NHS bodies in “Liberating the NHS: Report of the arms-length bodies review”, which was published in July 2010. In the ALB review report, we set out our proposals for retaining the Human Tissue Authority and the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority as separate arm’s length bodies in the short term, with a view to transferring their functions to the Care Quality Commission and the prospective health research authority.
In answer to what the hon. Lady said about decisions being taken in a rushed way in this Committee, we cannot repeat sufficiently often that the Committee is not deciding to deal with bodies in this way, but merely provides the paving legislation for a subsequent decision that may involve a number of iterations and will certainly involve consultation. All implications of the legislation will be considered, not only by the sponsoring Department but by the House, before a decision is reached.
Most people understand the contribution made by the Human Tissue Authority and the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, which have established robust systems of regulation for activities at the cutting edge of medical science, ethical consideration and public debate that were appropriate for their time. I stress our agreement that the important function of those bodies should continue, although we must ensure that regulation keeps up with changing times and the principles of best practice. We must have a robust system of regulation.
Over time, for perfectly understandable and legitimate reasons, there has been an increase in the number of regulatory bodies that operate in medical science and health care delivery. All were set up with the best intentions to address and meet what was seen as an emerging need. The hon. Lady mentioned some reasons why those bodies were set up, which were important at the time. However, a considerable number of hospitals are currently regulated by the Care Quality Commission, the Human Tissue Authority and the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, all of which were set up as public bodies, work at arm’s length from the Government, and receive fees from the establishments that they regulate, as well as Government funding.
Our objective is to streamline health care and medical research regulation and reduce bureaucracy; we take the view that we cannot simply continue with the current system of regulation. The Government must take the
We estimate that in England, more than 60% of the centres currently licensed by the Human Tissue Authority are also regulated by the Care Quality Commission or are in premises regulated by it. Over 90% of establishments licensed by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority are similarly covered by the Care Quality Commission. There should be scope for rationalisation to relieve the overall burden on those regulated. The removal of those bodies from schedule 5, as suggested in the amendment, would mean that we could not proceed with plans to streamline regulation, and could not realise the consequential benefits for those who are being regulated.
Jon Trickett (Hemsworth) (Lab): I am listening carefully to the Minister’s powerful argument, which is really an administrative one. Streamlining administration is a good objective; nobody is in favour of bureaucracy, except perhaps bureaucrats. We are dealing, however, with the most sensitive and delicate ethical matters imaginable, such as the creation of life. How does the Minister respond to the argument that the committee would effectively become a sub-committee reporting to a board that might not understand the detailed ethical nature of the issues under consideration?
Mr Heath: I simply do not accept that that would be the outcome, because the nucleus of expertise in the regulatory body would remain unchanged. The badging is irrelevant to that; the important thing is that people with expertise in the area are doing the job and have the resources to do it effectively. That needs to be teased out through the consultation process, which will precede any changes.
We are not talking about something happening overnight. We are deliberately not moving ahead at a rate of knots. There is a two-stage process, as I have indicated. There will also be two stages of consultation on the proposed changes. An extensive consultation will take place shortly, focusing on where the functions are best transferred, and that is when we will take into account the concerns of the hon. Member for Walsall South. I understand why she is concerned about whether the CQC will be overstretched. A subsequent consultation will then focus on using the powers under the Public Bodies Bill—if the Committee allows the bodies to remain in the Bill—to effect the transfer.
The public consultation document will include a consultation impact assessment, which will give a view on the cost-effectiveness of options for transfer, comparing them with the organisations’ existing plans for rationalisation. The impact assessment process has been accepted by Parliament for general legislative and policy changes, and I see no reason why it is not appropriate to test the benefits of these proposals.
A separate, formal, independent assessment of cost-effectiveness is likely to be costly to the public purse. That relates to the amendment tabled by the hon. Members for Hemsworth and for City of Durham. We also need to take care that the legislation does not set conditions that are impossible to meet. Our existing safeguards are sufficient.
This year’s initial consultation will take into account the strength of feeling expressed on keeping functions together. As the hon. Member for Walsall South will know, there were powerful voices speaking to that effect when the matter was discussed in another place. We will proceed on the basis that our preferred option is to transfer to the CQC the functions of both the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority and the Human Tissue Authority, except for certain HFEA research-related functions, which will transfer to the health research authority. We will consult on that basis, but remain open to receiving views on the way forward from all stakeholders through the consultation. The preferred option will address concerns about the potential impact of fragmentation.
Let me be clear that the vital function of the bodies, as required under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 and the Human Tissue Act 2004, will continue. That should address any concerns about, for example, the HFEA’s registers and databases being lost in the process.
I recognise the concerns behind amendment 53, which is about testing the cost-effectiveness of proposed legislative changes. There is scope, however, for direct savings to be made from the total budgets for the HFEA and the HTA, which, as I have said, amount to £13.6 million. Through the streamlining of regulatory functions, we envisage scope for savings beyond those that each organisation is planning to make individually. That will be achieved by reducing overall running costs. For instance, we envisage that there will be significant savings as a result of reducing three senior management teams and boards to one. We also envisage opportunities for regulated bodies to make savings in regard to licence fees and the preparation and demonstration of compliance with the regulatory system. The Department of Health will undertake more detailed analysis of current costs and potential savings to inform the consultation impact assessment.
Turning to the proposed health research authority, the Government’s document, “The Plan for Growth”, which was published at this year’s Budget, recognised the urgent need to reform research regulation and reduce the regulatory burden on research bodies for the benefit of the wider economy. As part of its measures, the creation of a health research authority was announced, which will combine and streamline approvals for health research.
As a first step, the Government will establish this year a special health authority, with the National Research Ethics Service at its core. That will reduce the regulatory burden on firms, and improve the timeliness of decisions about clinical trials and hence the cost-effectiveness of their delivery in the UK. It has clear support from the Academy of Medical Sciences review of medical research regulation and governance. In line with the academy’s recommendations that there are significant benefits in bringing together all medical research regulation,
While the creation of the health research authority has been widely welcomed, there have been concerns about its readiness to take on the sensitive function of embryo research. We recognise that. The Government therefore made the firm commitment in an earlier debate to proceed with the transfer of research-related functions from the HFEA, subject to the will and views of Parliament, only once the health research authority is established in legislation. We see the reform of research regulation as complementing and supporting the Care Quality Commission’s focus on the essential levels for safety and quality of care. Within that, we fully recognise the need to retain regulatory rigour and expertise in the fields of embryology and human tissue. It is envisaged that the expertise invested in individuals will follow functions, for instance through staff transfers and retaining access to expert advisory groups. There will be a carefully managed transition between regulators, which will ensure that key skills and knowledge are passed on to the receiving organisations.
Finally, I will deal with the reservations that the hon. Member for Walsall South expressed about the Care Quality Commission’s capacity to deal with more functions, when it already has a number of new functions and extensions to its regulatory role to cope with. The Government are committed to developing the role of the Care Quality Commission as the independent regulator of health and adult social care in England. The proposed changes to the Care Quality Commission, through the transfer of functions from the HTA and the HFEA, and the provisions in the Health and Social Care Bill will strengthen its role in ensuring the safety and quality of health and adult social care services.
The Care Quality Commission will have a number of years to prepare for the transfer of these functions, and to assess the resources needed to carry them out. As I have said, this is not an overnight transition; this is a staged process. During that time, the Department of Health will work with the commission to ensure its readiness to take on the functions. That will include the Department working with the commission to agree its business plan and financial allocation, as it does each year. There will then be an ongoing dialogue with the Care Quality Commission, with its financial position kept under constant review throughout the financial year. The Care Quality Commission will remain accountable to the Secretary of State for the effective delivery of its functions. The hon. Member for Walsall South mentioned concerns that have been expressed with regard to other areas of the Care Quality Commission’s work. It is absolutely crucial that we get this right and get a regulator that is capable of doing effectively the job that we as a country want it to do. That is why that dialogue is so important.
As a Committee, we are not abolishing these bodies. We are providing the framework that will allow that to happen, at some future stage, if the two sets of consultations and the dialogue suggest that that is the best way of maintaining the sensitive, important functions that we have discussed. If it happens, it will happen at a future point, when Parliament and the stakeholders have had their say. If we accepted the amendments, that route would be removed, and would no longer be available to
Valerie Vaz: I thank the Minister for his response. I appreciate what he is saying and how he has said it. If we return to how these bodies came into existence, we should remember that sometimes—very often, I think—Members of Parliament, legislatures and politicians do not know everything. Sometimes it takes members of the public to tell us what to do. Both these bodies have been born out of the fact that something disastrous happened to a family, children died and things were done without the parents’ consent in Alder Hey and in Bristol. We make decisions in the name of the people, and those decisions are sometimes not right. All of this has come from parents’ grief. The Government responded in the right way in 1990, and the bodies that were set up had an amazing reputation.
The same thing happened in mid-Staffordshire. Again, I do not want to talk about individuals, but the person who was chief executive there—and, a huge amount of public money is being spent on that inquiry—is now head of the Care Quality Commission, so she has her work cut out. She needs help, resources, and support. I put that point to the Committee, because I do not want future generations to look back and say, “Why are we having this inquiry? Parliament sat there. They had the ability to do something about that and they didn’t. They acted in haste.” That is what we have to be careful about.
Call me naive, but what I see is that anything with the word “public” in it is up for grabs, and that is a concern. I appreciate what the Minister is saying, but why have these bodies been included in the first place? They did not want to be. They were not consulted. I have read out exactly what the Department of Health has said about them, which is that these public bodies have the Department’s full confidence. Including them in the first place is very curious.
Mr Heath: This is not intended to be a silly, party-political point, but it is a fact that the previous Government looked to merge these two bodies. They did not do so because they decided that it would not have been the most sensible outcome. We agree, which is why this alternative proposal is now being considered, but the two bodies were not considered inviolate by the Government that she supported.
Valerie Vaz: The Minister has answered the question himself by saying that we did not proceed. There is the rub: the previous Government consulted and did not proceed, because they knew after consulting the bodies that doing so would not be possible. There is no overlap; they both do different things and both need the environment in which to discuss these important, ethical issues.
I am not sure where the Minister’s figure of £13 million comes from. The cost to the public purse is just £3 million —£2 million for one, and £1 million for the other—and, as they are stand-alone bodies that raise their own fees, there is actually no cost to the public purse. They do different work and are regulated in different ways. The Minister talks about the establishment being regulated,
Our generation has to be careful. We have to be able to think first and act later, but we must discuss this issue—I know that the Minister is saying something about consultation, but that consultation should have happened before. The fact that Baroness Warwick was in the House of Lords and was able to discuss the proposals meant that the HTA had a voice and could put forward its case, but as far as the HFEA is concerned, no such voice was present in the other place, where the Bill started. The HFEA was taken by surprise, and I ask why we have to wait until a few years down the line, when you have decided what the research authority is going to look like. We do not even have terms of reference. You—the Minister does not even know what they are going to do. Please forgive me, Mr Amess, for saying “you”, and not “the Minister”.
I have made the case about the CQC. I have real concerns about it and its difficulties—not about what the CQC is and what it does, but something needs to be done about that organisation. The Minister has not even touched on another regulatory organisation, Monitor, which has similar functions to the CQC. I follow Sir Ian Kennedy’s evidence to the Mid Staffordshire inquiry in saying that something needs to be looked at in terms of those two organisations. I am not in the business of doing the Government’s work for them, but if one is talking about looking at regulators, rather than having one great big regulator in the sky, the regulators have to be there to do the specific jobs that they are intended to do.
I hope that I have made the case that these are different functions, bodies and cases. I can only add that I hope the Minister will think again about the role of the two bodies. They do specialised work. It is an ethical and moral issue and a question of independence. They should be left alone to do their work and be left out of the Bill.
The amendment deals with the last of the long list of bodies concerned with the environment, which we have discussed in the Committee. It is largely a probing amendment to elicit a response from the Government to determine why internal drainage boards are included in schedule 5. We know that the boards work effectively locally to reduce flood risk and there seems to be an enormous body of opinion and evidence that they do so very well. Indeed, when people have studied them, they have said that they are astonished by what the boards manage to achieve in particular localities.
Boards use volunteers who have professional, historical and local knowledge and they involve local communities very well. They seem to be an excellent example of localism and the big society, which Government Members were waxing lyrical about earlier. That prompts the question of why the Government wish to change them at all. They protect agricultural, commercial and domestic property, and they are developing a new role for themselves protecting particular habitats.
I have several questions for the Minister. First, why are the boards in the Bill? Secondly, what do the Government intend the Environment Agency to do in respect of changing internal drainage boards? Thirdly, will the Environment Agency have to get the consent of internal drainage boards before changing them in any way at all?
We need some clarity about savings. The opinion seems to have been put fairly forcefully to Government that if they want to change internal drainage boards in England, they should do so through primary legislation and not through the inclusion of the boards in the Bill. There is considerable concern that the savings that DEFRA has estimated of about £225,000 can be made only if there is further amendment to primary legislation. I would be grateful if the Minister clearly outlined what savings the Government intend to make, how they will be made and whether additional legislation is necessary.
Mr Heath: I think I share the relief of the hon. Lady that we are at the end of the rather long list of bodies we are considering in the Committee. Last, but not least, are the internal drainage boards. I know that Lord Taylor of Holbeach was absolutely thrilled to be dealing with internal drainage boards, on which he has great expertise. I cannot claim the same level of expertise, but they certainly are a fact of life in the Somerset Levels. As she may have heard, people from the area are born with webbed feet because they stand in puddles most of the time, despite the best endeavours of the internal drainage boards. They are therefore very much a matter of importance to us.
The hon. Lady basically asked why and what, which are perfectly proper questions. If the amendment were to succeed, we would not be able to do what we intend to do. That is why I am going to oppose her amendment, although I understand that it is essentially a probing amendment. We very much support the important work that internal drainage boards do to manage water levels and reduce flood risk. In fact, I entirely agree with the hon. Lady: they are a good example of the big society in action. They provide a valuable service for local communities and they play a vital role in local flood risk partnerships and in developing wider environmental benefits. So why do we want to change them? The answer is that we want to be able to give them more scope for doing their work, not less. If we have the ability to modify functions, it is possible to ensure that IDBs can adapt and respond to change and that we can strengthen these important local bodies.
I say categorically to the hon. Lady that we do not intend to use these powers to reduce the functions of IDBs. What we are looking to do, and giving due consideration to, is adding to the powers of IDBs to allow them to carry out other water management functions that could improve water management in a cost-effective way. IDBs already have a sustainability duty that applies
Our current best estimate is that we will save around £225,000 over the spending review period by simplifying some of the administrative procedures for IDBs. Perhaps I ought to make a distinction here. That is one of the other proposals that are not part of the schedule 5 proposals. Other proposals that have been dealt with in previous statements in the other place are planned in relation to IDBs, including simplifying some of the burdensome procedures for changing boundaries, amalgamations and reconstitutions and other arrangements. In addition, there are plans to simplify changes to the rules of procedure and to provide for less restrictive arrangements on governance, for example, in relation to board membership. It is likely that we will deal with those proposals via a legislative reform order, in addition to an order that will be introduced under the powers in the Bill. That is where the principal savings will be made. It is difficult to quantify other savings at this stage. That will largely be a matter for consultation with the boards themselves regarding what can be done.
Let me recap. The IDBs are doing a great job and we want them to be able to do an even greater job in providing an essential service for those local areas where we have problems with an excess of water, of which there are a substantial number around the country. The inclusion of IDBs in this part of the Bill will enable their functions to be enhanced, not reduced. On that basis, I hope that the hon. Lady will be satisfied and even perhaps hang out a small flag in recognition of the fact that we are doing exactly what she wants us to do.
Roberta Blackman-Woods: I did say it was largely a probing amendment. I have heard what the Minister has to say and I look forward to seeing even more super-duper internal drainage boards. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
2 Sections 22(1) and 22(2)(a) do not apply to an order under section 5 which provides for the functions of the Dover Harbour Board to be transferred to another person.’.—(Charlie Elphicke.)
‘( ) The consent of the Treasury is required to make provision by virtue of subsection (2)(b) or (3) modifying funding arrangements.’.—(Mr Heath.)
Mr Heath: The consultation provisions in clause 10 were added by the Government after listening to the concerns of peers, the Constitution Committee and the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. The provisions require the Minister to consult the body or office holder, persons the Minister considers to be substantially affected, and other relevant persons before laying a draft order before Parliament in relation to the powers in clauses 1 to 5.
However, there are some cases where the Minister would be unable to consult members of the body or the office holder as no appropriate person exists, owing to the fact that the body is defunct. An example of a defunct body is Food from Britain: the body’s council made the decision in 2008 to cease activities, following the decision of the previous Government to withdraw funding. Although the body has wound down its activities and its staff have been made redundant, an order has to be made formally to abolish Food from Britain.
The amendments would allow, in that circumstance, the Minister to lay a draft order without having to consult a body that has no members. I can assure the Committee that that does not create an exemption from consultation, as the rest of the provision in clause 10 would continue to apply.
Jon Trickett: Can the Minister give us an assurance about posts that are temporarily vacant, for whatever reason? He makes the case for a defunct body and we accept that totally, but surely a post being temporarily vacant will not be used as an excuse to avoid consultation.
Mr Heath: That is certainly the case. The amendment provides for a body with no members or an office that is vacant, but a temporary vacancy does not mean that the body has no members. It would be an extraordinary position, would it not, if a committee or statutory body were to have no members whatever and all its places vacant at the same time? That might suggest that the body was in need of reform in any case, so in that very example a consultation perhaps ought to be carried out. However, I can give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. Our purpose is simply to stop the nonsense whereby we are required to consult someone who does not exist. Even in English law, it is best to avoid such circumstances, if possible.
‘( ) Subsection (1)(a) does not apply to a body with no members or an office which is vacant; and, where a body is consulted under that provision, any vacancy in its membership is immaterial.’.—(Mr H eath .)
Jon Trickett: On a point of order, Mr Amess. I seek your guidance, which I have already had informally from the Clerk. I sought to table some amendments during the summer, one to this clause and one to clause 24, on TUPE. Somehow or other, we did not succeed in tabling them in time. No doubt you will have noticed that they are starred, which means they cannot be debated today. May I seek your confirmation that there will be an opportunity, if the Committee meets on Thursday, for us to have that debate then? Otherwise, I will seek to catch your eye now to raise issues that I would prefer to raise under an amendment.
The Chair: Privately, what happened during the summer has been explained to me. These things happen; I entirely understand. My ruling is that it is perfectly legitimate to raise the issue in the stand part debate on clause 11.
Jon Trickett: Let me make some general points about the nature of the Bill and the claims being made for it. The way in which we are having the debate is unfortunate, so I hope that whichever Minister is responsible is somewhat briefed—
I had sought to probe the Government about the Bill’s overall financial effect. My amendment is on the amendment paper, although we are unable to debate it. I had tabled it in good time—these things happen, however, and we are not concerned about it.
The background to the whole Bill involves two articles written by senior members of the Government in March 2011. One was written by the Prime Minister himself in The Sun and, a couple of days before that, an article was placed in the Daily Mail. The articles claimed various savings from the quangos. The savings were £30 billion if we believe the Prime Minister, who wrote the article two days after the Minister for the Cabinet Office had claimed a figure of £20 billion. I do not know what happened in the two days between those two articles, but further savings had been identified in what was described as a “bonfire of the quangos”. The figure was claimed to be four times the amount of money that Ministers had originally promised to save.
We would like to see savings being accrued, too, and we are no friends of the quango state as a whole, but we have had some interesting debates about specific matters. From the beginning, we have said that we want to look carefully at each decision to ensure that it is the right one. I was surprised to discover that there was £30 billion to be saved from the quangos—even though that figure is over a number of years—and I was also interested to see the disagreement, which no one else has seemed to point out, between the Prime Minister and the Minister for the Cabinet Office, because it is hard to see how £30 billion could be saved.
Members present will have heard the debates and probing questions that the Opposition have sought to put in Committee—we have tried to do so in a positive and constructive way wherever possible—and it is notable that few savings have been identified. I suppose the Ministers may riposte by saying that this is all to be done through further legislation and that this is only an empowering Bill, but even if it were speculation, it would have been interesting to see what savings might be made.
We therefore decided to table a series of questions in Parliament to try to establish the facts. You, Mr Amess, will from time to time have been as frustrated as I was with the responses from Labour Ministers when we were in power, and from Ministers in the current Government. We now have something interesting called the Freedom of Information Act, which I suppose was a major Labour achievement, but in the darkest of nights one sometimes wonders whether it was an entirely brilliant achievement. I therefore also tabled a series of freedom of information requests. It is wasteful to have to go through FOIs, and it would be better if Ministers just gave the answers, because they will come out anyway. The truth is that barely any savings have been identified at all. That is why I want the Minister to tell me how the clause will operate in practice when announcements are made after the legislation is implemented.
Given that part of the justification for the Bill was that savings would be identified, I want the Minister to consider tabling an amendment of the kind I have put forward—even at this late stage, or on Report—although
The Bill, as seen in clause 32, originally stated that there would no charge to the public purse for any decision taken under the Bill. In other words, savings would be made. We now have an amendment that will remove that subsection. As they have given notice that they intend to remove that subsection, it is not unreasonable to say that the Government, who have made much of wanting to attack waste and so-called inefficiency, should indicate to the Committee the savings they intend to make.
I have some notes in front of me, although what I can and cannot say is slightly circumscribed. However, it is impossible to identify savings of anything like £20 billion. In answer to questions that I posed, the Cabinet Office itself only established £2.6 billion of savings over the whole of the review period. The truth is that the Cabinet Office figures are wrong, and I say that advisedly. We have asked questions of every Department, and the Cabinet Office’s response was the worst. I say that in the gentlest way possible. The most that one can identify is £1.5 billion of savings, which is £1 billion less than the Cabinet Office’s own estimate. It is striking that, even if we take the Cabinet Office’s estimate as being correct, £2.5 billion is slightly short of the £20 billion to £30 billion that the Government claimed when they announced the bonfire of quangos.
This issue may appear to have a slightly elliptical relationship to clause 11, but I want the Government to indicate what savings they intend to make, which, frankly, they have failed to do in this Committee. Otherwise, this is smoke and mirrors. There is still a case for tidying up quangos, reducing bureaucracy and streamlining administration—of course there is. There is also a case for accountability in a democratic century such as the one we now inhabit. There is a case for all of that, but it is not the case upon which the Government rested their argument when they announced that spectacular sum of money in The Sun. The editor of The Sun might be somewhat irritated to discover that the savings are perhaps a 30th of those claimed by the Prime Minister. There is only one way to clarify the savings, which is for the Minister to agree to set out in the Bill the Government’s intended efficiencies and economies, so that we can clearly measure the Government against the claims made for the Bill at the beginning of the process.
Mr Heath: I am not sure how amusing my response will be. I could offer the Committee several pages on the enhanced affirmative procedure, which is the substance of clause 11, but I am getting a sense that that is not what the hon. Gentleman wants to discuss.
In the gentlest possible way, I will address clause 32 first. I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman has not come across such a clause before. Perhaps he has and is using it as a mechanism, but there may be members of the Committee who are not familiar with the so-called privilege clause within Bills that start in the House of Lords to enable it to discuss matters that may have financial consequences, which the Lords would otherwise be precluded from doing. Such privilege clauses are probably a result of the Parliament Act 1911—that great unfinished piece of legislation that I hope we can complete at some stage with the reform of another place. At the moment, such a clause is necessary while a Bill goes through another place. When a Bill comes to this House, we take the clause out because we are the House that considers financial and economic matters. That is entirely appropriate—[ Interruption. ]
The Chair: Order. I know I said to the Committee that I was adjourning for 15 minutes, but I was going by Greek time. It has taken a little longer, but I hope the Committee accepts that the time spent has been worth while. Before we adjourned, the Minister was on his feet.
Mr Heath: I was indeed, and I was trying to avoid a Greek-style deficit. I was simply referring to the provenance of part of clause 32, which the hon. Member for Hemsworth will know perfectly well, for the benefit of newer readers. The substantive point that he was trying to raise, and would have raised had his amendment not been starred today, was the cost savings. He suggested that for some reason we had given different accounts of the savings that were anticipated. I want to make it absolutely clear that that is not the case. The Government made a very clear announcement on 16 March—my birthday, indeed—this year that Departments are anticipating cumulative administrative savings of at least £2.6 billion, which will flow from public bodies over the spending review period.
It is crucial first to distinguish between administrative savings and programme and capital spend savings, which are not the same thing; and secondly to distinguish between those savings which are a direct result of the measures in the Bill, and the other savings which are being effected by a Government who are very keen to
What the hon. Gentleman would have proposed, had he been speaking to his amendment, was the introduction of a statutory requirement for a report. I think he would have proposed this on the basis of increasing transparency over the issue of savings that will be realised. There are two reasons why that is otiose.
First, clause 11 stipulates that the explanatory document laid with the draft order must explain why the order serves the purpose of “improving…public functions”, having had regard, among other things, to “efficiency”, “effectiveness” and “economy”. Where a reform will deliver savings, the requirement to have regard to efficiency and economy would mean that the Minister would have to include details of those savings in the justification for the order.
Secondly, orders with financial implications will, as a matter of course, be accompanied by impact assessments. In impact assessments, as the Committee will know, detailed information on benefits and savings must be carefully set out for Parliament and the public to scrutinise. That is already set out in the published guidance on impact assessments.
I do have sympathy with what the hon. Gentleman is saying. I think it is important that, when we airily say that savings will accrue, we set out what we expect to see so that Parliament can hold the Government to account for the decisions that they take. Had the hon. Gentleman been in a position to table his amendment in a form in which it could have been debated, and had we not already made provision which duplicates the provisions in his amendment, then I might have had sympathy almost to the point of accepting the amendment. However, I cannot give him that moment of glory, because there are already two other ways in which those precise details will be published each time we deal with one of the consultations, orders or procedures that allow this Bill to take effect. Therefore, his objective is served even if his means is not the one I would recommend to the Committee. I hope that on that basis, and without having to go into further detail about the enhanced affirmative procedure, that the Committee will now allow clause 11 to stand part of the Bill.
Hywel Williams (Arfon) (PC): I just have a brief question for the Minister. Since discussion on the Bill started we have had a change of Government in Wales. Am I right in assuming that initial discussions were with the One Wales Government—the coalition between Plaid Cymru and Labour—and have there been subsequent discussions with the new Labour Government? Was there any discussion about legislative consent motions, the sort of reverse LCOs that we had been discussing in Wales prior to the referendum? That is a straight question to the Minister.
Mr Heath: I cannot give the hon. Gentleman an absolute assurance about consultations with the new Government. I will find out and make sure that he is written to. We have the equivalent of the legislative consent agreement from the Welsh Government. Clause 16 is about providing flexibility to enable a Welsh devolved function relating to the environment exercised by one body to be exercised by the other. The clause also enables the provision of technical, professional or administrative services from one person to another for the purpose of exercising environmental functions in Wales. It provides Welsh Ministers and public bodies in Wales with flexibility to ensure that bodies can work effectively together, potentially realising gains in terms of efficiencies as well as effectiveness.
The clause ensures that Welsh Ministers can establish how the function of making arrangements using the powers under the laws can be discharged. The interests of the UK Government in relation to cross-border bodies such as the Environment Agency and the Forestry Commissioners are safeguarded by a requirement that the Secretary of State’s consent must be obtained prior to those bodies entering into arrangements. All of the clauses dealing with the Welsh Government and the Welsh Assembly are subject to the decisions made by Welsh Ministers in due course as to their applicability. This is an important devolutionary area which the Government have extended within the context of the Bill. Welsh Ministers may take different decisions from the UK Government on bodies that are broadly analogous, and it is important that they should have that opportunity where it is appropriate.
As this is possibly the last time that I will have the opportunity to speak in this Committee and because we have not had any Welsh matters so far today, I want to say that I wish Wales every success this weekend against the French and I hope that they go all the way to bring the world cup back to the United Kingdom. I shall be supporting them every inch of the way. Can I say what a pleasure the Committee has been under your chairmanship, Mr Amess? It has been an informed and articulate Committee and it has been a pleasure to serve on it.
‘( ) Subsection (1)(a) does not apply to a body with no members or an office which is vacant; and, where a body is consulted under that provision, any vacancy in its membership is immaterial.’.—(Mr Heath.)
The words “same or similar” concern me because I worry that they may open the door to levels of complexity and variation that are not strong enough to ensure the proper transfer of rights and the protection of staff. There may then be a complicated and costly rewriting of TUPE-type arrangements for different transfers, which would increase confusion and possibly expense. I therefore wonder whether the Government will consider amending the legislation before Report, so that the Bill contains a provision that will avoid any possible confusion and complexity.
Jon Trickett: This is another amendment that we are not debating, although we might have done so had life been slightly different. The clause refers to the transfer of all kinds of issues from one body to another should the Bill become an Act. That is right; it is important to tackle issues concerning assets and so on, but it is equally important to deal with staff in a proper way. We are dealing not with one or two staff, but with tens of thousands of human beings who are concerned about what will happen to them. We know of some cases where administrative measures have been taken to reduce staff numbers in quangos that have not, as yet, been abolished.
The clause refers to TUPE but it is not as clear as it might be. We have been pressed by representatives of the work force who are loyal public servants and want to provide the best service for the country. Through no choice of their own they are now subject to uncertainty, and the best we can do is to be as clear as possible in the Bill about TUPE and the protections it offers.
I echo the comments made by the hon. Member for Arfon but I also want to raise another matter concerning TUPE and transfers. The pay of the most senior staff and board members in the quangos is an interesting issue, although I wonder whether there will be agreement across the Committee. I do not make a partisan point because there is no doubt that under the watch of the previous Government, it became an increasingly scandalous situation.
In August, The Daily Telegraph reported that quango bosses had doubled their pay and alleged that much of that happened under the watch of the coalition Government. I do not know—let us say that all parties share some culpability as I do not want to make this a
To their credit, the Government have introduced the transparency website, and it is possible to gain a large amount of information, which is not quite as impenetrable as the civil servants designed it to be. If one spends enough time, one can get the information out of it—I am sure that was not the intention of the civil servants, because that is quite surprising—but one does have to spend several hours on each individual to try to find out what the pay packages amount to.
I do not think it fair or right to name names, but it is extraordinary that seven men in the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority between them earn packages worth £2.8 million a year. Although I do not wish to name individuals, I do not suppose it would be difficult to find their identities. The chief executive is paid a salary of £375,000, but the extras amount to more than his salary—£379,000. That is more than £750,000. Then there are their pension pots, which are probably £2 million. The executive director of business planning earns £195,000, with additional benefits of £199,000. Again his additional benefits are more than his salary. In the interests of transparency and the public knowing what is being done in their name with taxpayers’ money, it might be better to have another look at the transparency website and put these details in one place, although if one is prepared to spend the time, the truth does emerge.
I will not talk about the Olympic Delivery Authority, although the salaries of some staff are extraordinary. The chair of Ofgem earns a package of £415,000. We talked earlier about the Care Quality Commission, which does a very valuable job. However, we must ask whether we would want to protect a total remuneration package of just short of £400,000 in any TUPE arrangements. It is not clear in the Bill that those issues will be addressed in the transfer. Since the clause deals with the transfer and refers to staff, let me say that we are completely with the work force, who are loyal public servants doing a valuable job, and we want to see them properly protected with secure futures as far as possible.
The people who occupy the posts I have referred to are also distinguished individuals, probably with brilliant minds and records of service going way back, and I pay tribute to each one of them. However, as guardians of the public purse and with an eye on the times in which we live, can we justify some people—even at the third and fourth tier—earning more than £300,000 a year on this Government’s watch? That might have been the case, as far as I know, under the previous Government’s watch—I am not being partisan—but it cannot be right.
Let me say one final amusing thing, although I hope you will not rule me out of order, Mr Amess. It is fascinating that the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government appointed a Conservative councillor to another quango, the Audit Commission—a body that the Secretary of State has pledged to abolish—on £14,000 a year. That decision was surprising.
Although we might not have a full debate now on the serious issue that I have raised, we might come back to it on Report. How will we deal with the transfer of undertakings for the great number of working people in the bodies affected? More specifically, how will we deal with the levels of remuneration if we are to protect everybody’s terms and conditions? Will that not mean consolidating outrageous salaries that are being paid from the public purse?
Mr Hurd: Clause 24 is important. It gives Ministers the ability to make a scheme for the transfer of properties, rights and liabilities in connection with reforms under the powers of the Bill, and it contains important restrictions on those powers. It specifically allows Ministers to make supplementary, incidental and transitional provisions as part of the transfer scheme, including making provisions that are the same or similar to TUPE regulations, or that are for the shared ownership or use of property.
I will address my remarks directly to the TUPE issue, which was raised on Second Reading by my fellow Hillingdon MP, the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell). I invited him to a meeting, which took place yesterday and was constructive, to discuss the issue with representatives of the Public and Commercial Services Union. The hon. Gentleman’s reasonable point was that a lot of reform and change is going on and that there is, therefore, a great deal of anxiety, uncertainty and insecurity among the important people who work for the bodies. His reasonable and sensible point was whether we could do more to clarify the rules of the road. We are going to think more about what he said.
I shall clarify our position in relation to clause 24. We are not using the Bill to disable TUPE. TUPE will apply to Bill-related transfers. The Bill does not and cannot interfere in any way with its application. For public sector staff, the Cabinet Office statement of practice provides, as a matter of policy, greater protection still. That is what it was set up to do. It embodies an expectation that TUPE principles are followed, as appropriate, in non-TUPE cases. That is important. The clause fully reflects and is underpinned by COSOP.
The wording used in clause 24 is not inconsistent with past practice, which we discussed yesterday with the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington. Practice has always varied, depending on the factual situation. The reality of this Bill, as an enabling Bill—it is, therefore, different from some of the precedents—is that it covers many situations whose facts are currently unknown. That is important. The view of this Government—and, I think, of any Government—is that flexibility is critical at this stage, which is why clause 24 cannot be prescriptive. I reaffirm the point that the Bill does not and cannot interfere in any way with the application of TUPE, and the clause fully reflects and is underpinned by COSOP.
Jonathan Ashworth (Leicester South) (Lab): I am grateful for the way in which both Ministers have generally responded to points made throughout the Committee’s debate. Before the Minister moves off the issue of
Mr Hurd: All I can do is repeat what I said, which is that TUPE will apply to the related transfers and that the Bill does not and cannot interfere in any way with its application. That is what I have to say on the subject at this moment in time.
I think that there is cross-party agreement on the more polemic point surrounding wage and remuneration levels in quango land. Given that we are at the end stages of the negotiations, I gently say to the hon. Member for Hemsworth that I am not sure that this Government came into power and said, “One of things we must do is bump up all the wages in quango land.” We are talking about a culture of excessive generosity with taxpayers’ money that has crept up over time, not least during the past 13 years of a Labour Administration.
More important is what we do about the matter now. The hon. Gentleman is right: our constituents are disgusted by such a situation. There is an important point relating to transparency because information is power in that respect. If he tells me that the various websites and online information resources designed to publish details of compensation payments are too opaque and not user friendly, I will undertake to ask why, because if the taxpayer is paying someone’s salary, they have a right to find out quickly how much is being paid. That seems to be a very important principle.
Although we are appalled by some of the redundancy payments that have had to be made, we have introduced new more affordable terms of redundancy and exit payments for civil servants and for those people in organisations that mirror the civil service terms. Those have applied to the majority of exits since the end of December 2010. In addition, there is a requirement for Departments to publish details on compensation payments as part of their resource accounts in order to support transparency. That requirement covers all organisations covered by HM Treasury’s financial reporting manual. As I said, if that requirement is not producing information in the most user friendly way, we will certainly look at the matter again.
The amendment will allow the Treasury to vary the effect of stamp duty land tax in relation to property transferred through a transfer scheme made under clause 24. The addition of stamp duty land tax and the list of relevant taxes in clause 26 will ensure that assets can be transferred in an efficient way.
Clause 24 gives the Government the power to transfer property rights and liabilities in connection with an order under clauses 1 to 5. Clause 26 permits the Treasury to make an order that can vary the effect of tax legislation that may otherwise apply to the transfer scheme. Such an order would be subject to the negative procedure. The Treasury will consider the tax variations for each scheme individually. Clause 26 limits the taxes that can be varied to a list of relevant taxes. Stamp duty land tax was previously excluded from the list because there is an existing stamp duty tax relief for statutory reorganisations involving public bodies included in section 66 of the Finance Act 2003.
However, that relief and other powers under the 2003 Act do not cater for transfers to a non-statutory body for consideration. With the amendment, we propose that stamp duty land tax be included within the list of relevant taxes, because there is a possibility that some transfer schemes will include land transactions that fall outside the current stamp duty relief. The inclusion of stamp duty land tax will ensure that tax liabilities do not become an unnecessary barrier when Ministers make transfer schemes as part of reforms.
Mr Hurd: You may be aware, Mr Amess, that there is an inconsistency between the trading powers enjoyed by the institutions covered by the Museums and Galleries Act 1992—an important year in your life—which include the Tate Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery, the National Gallery and the Wallace collection, and those covered by the National Heritage Act 1983, namely the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Science Museum, Kew Royal Botanic Gardens and the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England, known as English Heritage.
All those institutions can create companies to carry out some restricted functions, such as producing publications or providing catering services at their premises, but only those institutions set up by the 1992 Act can enter into shared services contracts and thereby supply services to other organisations. That means that current
With public funding under such pressure, now is the time to amend the legislation to remove a needless barrier so that the institutions can make changes and increase income. It is not a broad change, but irons out an anomaly in existing legislation in a way that will have real benefits for those institutions and consequently for the public.
‘(2) The repeals in Schedule [regional development agencies: consequential repeals] (regional development agencies: consequential repeals) have the same extent as the enactments to which they relate.’.
‘( ) The amendments made by section [V & A, Science Museum, Kew and English Heritage] (V & A, Science Museum, Kew and English Heritage) have the same extent as the enactments which they amend.’.—(Mr Heath.)
‘( ) Sections 10 and 11 (consultation and procedure) and 28 to 32 (final) come into force on the day on which this Act is passed.’.
The amendment makes simple changes to the commencement provisions, to prevent an unnecessary delay in Parliament starting the important process of scrutinising draft orders. The amendment stipulates that clauses 10 and 11 will come into force on the day on which the Bill is passed which, in practice, will require Ministers to have concluded consultation before laying an order and will allow them to lay draft orders immediately after Royal Assent.
The amendment will result in a number of important benefits for Parliament and for the Government. First, the reforms that the Government propose to make to public bodies will deliver significant administrative savings, which we have discussed this afternoon. It is therefore vital that those reforms that rely on legislative changes can be delivered as soon as possible. For some, the savings will depend on delivering reforms before the start of the next financial year and, to make that a realistic possibility, there must not be a delay in starting the scrutiny of orders. For example, the abolition of the Commission for Rural Communities will ultimately result in savings in the region of £1.25 million in 2010-11 and a further £2.4 million over the rest of the spending review period. Such figures would be put in jeopardy if the Government were not able to complete the order-making process by the end of the financial year.
Secondly, allowing the scrutiny of draft orders to start straight away will serve Parliament well by ensuring that orders can be spread out over the months following Royal Assent. Parliament’s ability to scrutinise proposals properly could be compromised by a glut of draft orders all needing to be brought forward after Royal Assent to ensure that urgent savings are delivered on time. The Government absolutely want to avoid that scenario and we have said repeatedly that we will schedule orders so that Parliament will have ample opportunity to scrutinise the detail of proposals. That is an important aspect of how the Bill will work and the simple amendments would help the Government to maximise the ability of Parliament to scrutinise proposals properly.
Thirdly, it is important to know that Parliament will have already agreed to the principle of reform by approving the listing of each and every body in the schedules to the Bill. With that in mind, there can be no justification for postponing the opportunity for Parliament to scrutinise the detail of proposals set out in each draft order. It would be a delay based purely on a technical drafting issue, but one that would have real and detrimental consequences for the public by delaying the Government’s ability to deliver much needed reforms and to realise urgent savings.
Fourthly, Parliament and the public will still be protected in the usual way by other aspects of the commencement provisions in the clause. While Ministers will have the ability to lay draft orders and start scrutiny immediately, they will not have the power to make changes by using the core powers in clauses 1 to 5 until two months have elapsed. In that way, organisations and the public are still afforded the usual two-month period to analyse and interpret the impact of the new legislation, as it would be at least two months before any changes are delivered.
Accepting that the Public Bodies Bill is intended to be the mechanism for reforming a range of public bodies, the laying of draft orders is an important step in that process. It is logical and proportionate that the power to lay draft orders is available immediately, should Parliament pass the Bill. The amendment also clarifies that other, technical provisions in clauses 28 to 32, such as the interpretation provisions, will also come into force immediately.
The Committee can therefore rest assured that the amendment offers a helpful clarification of when each of the provisions in the Bill comes into force and it provides for the reasonable expectation that Ministers may lay draft orders before Parliament as soon as the Bill is passed. That does not change the proposals to reform public bodies or the safeguards in the Bill. Delaying the start of parliamentary scrutiny of orders, delaying the delivery of much needed reforms and jeopardising the realisation of urgent savings cannot be justified, so I ask the Committee to accept a sensible amendment.
Jon Trickett: The amendment originated in the Lords. Therefore, if the Government have their way, the clause will be scrutinised back in the other place. No doubt, Members of the other place will look at what the Minister has said and what I am now going to say. I am not convinced about this issue, because we have had a series of debates on a range of different types of public body, and we have sought to probe why certain bodies
There is a contradiction between the statement that the Minister has just made and the arguments that we have heard over the past few weeks, and I am troubled. If the Government already knew what they wanted to do with these bodies, why did they not make the case better when the Opposition were probing away? If the Government did not know at the time, how can they now say that they are suddenly ready, or that they will be ready when the Bill becomes an Act, to lay orders immediately before the House? It would be wrong of me to suggest that either of the Ministers in any way sought to mislead us, and I would not even think that. The truth is, however, that it is hard to reconcile the Ministers’ earlier arguments with the statement that the Minister has just made.
It is too late in the day for us to probe that matter any further on this occasion, and, in any case, I can see that the Government have a majority in Committee. I want to reflect on the matter before Report and Third Reading. No doubt, Members of the other place will look carefully at the debate to see whether there has been any contradiction, as I suspect there has.
Mr Hurd: I am grateful to you, Mr Amess, for giving me the chance to reassure the hon. Gentleman that clause 10 prevails, in the sense that consultation under clause 10 must take place before any draft order is laid under clause 11. The wording is clear on that, and on the fact that 12 weeks must have elapsed between the start of consultation on clause 10 and the laying of an order on Royal Assent under clause 11. We are trying to enable a Department or a Minister, if they are ready, to get on with it. I tried to stress the point that where delay is not justified, the argument is that we must get on with it.
Jon Trickett: Of course we want to see savings, too, if they are justified, and we do not want to delay the making of any savings that are justified. However, the Minister cannot say on the one hand that there will be three months’ consultation as required in the Bill in another clause, and on the other hand want to remove the two-month clause relating to the commencement. The two things are not completely compatible. Can the Minister reconcile that for the Committee?
Mr Hurd: We can reconcile that by pointing the hon. Gentleman towards situations where a consultation has effectively taken place already, such as on the Equality and Human Rights Commission. The Department in question will conceivably be ready to go, because they have fulfilled the requirement for consultation. For most of the bodies, however, clause 10 stands in terms of placing a requirement on Ministers to consult before laying an order.
‘( ) Section [regional development agencies] and Schedule [regional development agencies: consequential repeals] (regional development agencies) come into force on such day as the Secretary of State may by order appoint (and different days may be appointed for different purposes, including the purposes of different regional development agencies).’.—(Mr Hurd.)
The amendment removes the privilege amendment made in another place. As the Committee is aware, this standard formula is incorporated in the Bill before it leaves the other place to avoid the formal infringement of Commons financial privileges. Removing the privilege amendment and reinstating the financial provisions of the Bill is a purely technical and formal process, so I hope the Committee accepts the amendment.
Jon Trickett: This cunning device, which was developed some time ago, allows Bills to start in the Lords from time to time. We have no objection, but as this is probably the last time I will speak in Committee—in this Committee, I should say—I want to pay tribute to you, Mr Amess—
The Chair: Order. I am looking forward to the hon. Gentleman’s contribution, but he is slightly forward. We have just a little way to go before we reach that point. As hon. Members will soon learn, there is a bit of tidying up to do, and people are working frantically.
‘(1) The regional development agencies are abolished.
(2) Subsection (1) does not apply to the London Development Agency (provision for the abolition of which is contained in the Localism Act 2011).
(3) The enactments specified in Schedule (regional development agencies: consequential repeals) are repealed to the extent shown.
(4) The Secretary of State may by order make provision for the purpose of facilitating or securing that activities begun by a regional development agency may be continued or completed by another person.
(5) That includes in particular provision securing or facilitating that a person continuing or completing activities begun by a regional development agency may for their own purposes exercise any power of the agency.
(6) The powers referred to in subsection (5) include—
(a) powers of compulsory acquisition of land or rights over land;
(b) rights of entry.
(7) The Secretary of State may by order make other consequential, supplementary, incidental or transitional provision, or savings.
(8) A statutory instrument containing an order under this section—
(a) if it contains provision repealing or amending an enactment, may not be made unless it has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament;
(b) in any other case, is subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.
(9) The Secretary of State may make a scheme for the transfer of property, rights and liabilities of a regional development agency to an eligible person or any body corporate in connection with the abolition of the agency under subsection (1); and sections 24(4) to (9) and 26 apply in relation to such a scheme.
(10) A scheme under subsection (9) may be included in an order under this section, but if not so included must be laid before Parliament after being made.
(11) In this section “regional development agency” means a development agency established under the Regional Development Agencies Act 1998.’.—(Mr Heath.)
‘For section 61 of the Broadcasting Act 1990 (funding of Sianel Pedwar Cymru) there is substituted—
“61 Funding of Welsh Authority
(1) The Secretary of State shall secure that in 2012 and each subsequent year the Welsh Authority are paid an amount which he considers sufficient to cover the cost to the Authority during that year of—
(a) providing the Authority’s public services (within the meaning of section 207 of the Communications Act 2003), and
(b) arranging for the broadcasting or distribution of those services.
(2) The Secretary of State may discharge the duty in subsection (1) by making payments himself or entering into an agreement with another person for that person to do so (or both).
(3) If under this section the Welsh Authority are paid an amount for any year which exceeds the cost referred to in subsection (1), the Authority may pay the difference from the public service fund referred to in section 61A to the person (or pro rata to the persons) from whom payments were received.
(4) Any sums required by the Secretary of State under this section shall be paid out of money provided by Parliament.”’.—(Mr Heath.)
‘(1) The National Heritage Act 1983 is amended as follows.
(2) In section 3 (power of the Board of Trustees of the Victoria and Albert Museum to form companies)—
(a) in subsection (1), for “one or more of those mentioned in subsection (2)” there is substituted—
“(a) one or more of the particular objects mentioned in subsection (2), or
(b) any other object or objects incidental to the Board’s functions.”;
(b) in subsection (2) for “objects” there is substituted “particular objects”.
(3) In section 11 (power of the Board of Trustees of the Science Museum to form companies)—
(a) in subsection (1) for “one or more of those mentioned in subsection (2)” there is substituted—
“(a) one or more of the particular objects mentioned in subsection (2), or
(b) any other object or objects incidental to the Board’s functions.”;
(b) in subsection (2) for “objects” there is substituted “particular objects”.
(4) In section 25 (power of the Board of Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew to form companies)—
(a) in subsection (1) for “one or more of those mentioned in subsection (2)” there is substituted—
“(a) one or more of the particular objects mentioned in subsection (2), or
(b) any other object or objects incidental to the Board’s functions.”;
(b) in subsection (2) for “objects” there is substituted “particular objects”.
(5) In section 35 (power of the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England to form companies)—
(a) in subsection (1) for “one or more of those mentioned in subsection (2)” there is substituted—
“(a) one or more of the particular objects mentioned in subsection (2), or
(b) any other object or objects incidental to the Commission’s functions.”;
(b) in subsection (2) for “objects” there is substituted “particular objects”’.—(Mr Heath.)
‘Before abolishing any regional development agency (RDA), the Secretary of State must produce and lay before both Houses of Parliament a report setting out the impact of the removal of RDAs on business development and economic growth in the region concerned and the preparedness of local economic partnerships (LEPs) to take over the functions of RDAs.’.—(Roberta Blackman-Woods.)
‘(1) Where functions of the National Consumer Council so far as they relate to Wales are transferred to the Welsh Ministers pursuant to an order made under section 1, the Welsh Ministers may by order transfer any of those functions to—
(a) a new body, or
(b) any other person exercising public functions in relation to Wales.
(2) The Welsh ministers may by order establish a body corporate for the purposes of this section, and in this section references to a “new body” are to any body so established.
(3) An order made under this section may contain consequential, supplementary, incidental or transitional provision, or savings.
(4) Where an order under this section transfers functions, the power in subsection (3) includes power to make consequential provision—
(a) to modify the functions of the transferor or transferee; or
(b) to confer powers of direction on the Welsh Ministers in relation to functions transferred.
(5) In considering whether to make an order under this section, the Welsh Ministers must have regard to the following objectives—
(a) achieving increased efficiency, effectiveness and economy in the exercise of public functions;
(b) securing appropriate accountability to Welsh Ministers in the exercise of such functions.
(6) In this section,
(a) “Wales” has the same meaning as in the Government of Wales Act 2006; and
(b) a reference to the functions of “National Consumer Council” means the functions of the National Consumer Council, or the territorial committee for Wales, established by section 1 of the Consumer, Estate Agents and Redress Act 2007.’.—(Mr Mark Williams.)
It would be inappropriate not to have a debate on something of a Welsh nature before proceedings are wound up. In moving new clause 6 I am returning, albeit briefly, to consumer rights and particularly the future of Consumer Focus Wales. In our previous debates, there was consensus that Consumer Focus has achieved a great deal in its short life, which is certainly true of Consumer Focus Wales.
This new clause, which is unashamedly devolutionist in its intentions, would allow the Welsh Assembly Government to set up their own consumer advocacy body to replace Consumer Focus Wales, in a way similar to the power already contained in the Bill for the Welsh Assembly Government to set up a separate environmental body, and similar to the way consumer advocacy is advanced in the other devolved Administrations.
From financial inclusion to postal services and food safety, Consumer Focus Wales has had a big impact and has been a source of high quality research and persuasive advocacy. Discussions with Welsh Ministers and a consultation have been ongoing, with a view to putting forward a new model that draws from the grass-roots experience of citizens advice bureaux. Although that presents some obstacles in terms of the level of resources
I want briefly to cite two examples of the excellent work that Consumer Focus Wales has undertaken. Private car parking, which is a major concern of Consumer Focus Wales, was touched on in the Chamber last night. Consumer Focus Wales has worked closely with trading standards departments, including my own in Ceredigion, to try to eradicate some of the shady practices in pursuit of private parking offences.
Consumer Focus Wales is launching an inquiry into park homes. I have spoken to many constituents with concerns about park homes. Some of my more intractable casework has emerged from the sometimes confusing law relating to park homes. Residents of park homes are often older and more vulnerable, and I know that Consumer Focus Wales will do a great deal of good work for the benefit of my constituents. That illustrates my point. With a totally different planning system in Wales, it is clear that that work has to be done by a body with specific Welsh experience, and that can take forward such work in a Welsh context.
I know that the Government do not want to lose such work, but there is a fear that the model proposed so far will not allow such comprehensive work to take place. I am fortunate to have had a recent debate on Consumer Focus Wales in Westminster Hall with the Minister responsible for such matters. I do not wish in any way to insult my colleagues on the Front Bench, but that debate was a good opportunity directly to discuss matters arising from the Public Bodies Bill with a Minister responsible for the policy. The Front-Bench team has done an admirable job of representing the interests of other Departments, but it was good to have that dialogue with the Minister with responsibility for consumer affairs. I was encouraged by what he said, although the devil is clearly in the detail.
The one thing that this debate is not about is the quality of work undertaken by Consumer Focus Wales, and I am sure that all members of the Committee will share that view. The Minister has stressed that view. Indeed, Sharon Mills, who saw at first hand the work that Consumer Focus Wales has done on food safety in response to the E. coli outbreak that tragically killed her son, has submitted written evidence to the Committee that expresses support for Consumer Focus Wales. It does a fantastic job, and the question is how we can build on that and take that work forward.
I am sceptical as to whether the Citizens Advice model will work for Wales. A separate body for Wales would be preferable. Citizens Advice does excellent work, but there is no doubt that the Welsh arm would not be able to be as vocal or as distinctly Welsh as Consumer Focus Wales—let alone the whole issue that we have discussed previously about the adequacy of resources.
As such, Consumer Focus Wales regularly undertakes work looking at the services that consumers receive from all levels of government. There is no certainty that this important and independent focus on Welsh public services will continue. The failure to recognise the gap between what the consultation describes as consumer policy and all the areas of work that Consumer Focus Wales undertakes creates a worry that arrangements may leave out altogether significant areas of work. The Minister with responsibility for consumer affairs said during my Westminster Hall debate that
and that it was important that decisions affecting consumers in Wales should be taken in Wales. That is a welcome commitment, but it needs to be matched by what is put forward. I make a simple request that Welsh Ministers and the Welsh Government should have the power—as they do on environmental bodies—to establish a body unique to Wales. This may sound a dry subject, but it is about devolution. There is a willingness, and perhaps an expectation, that Welsh Ministers and the Welsh Government will make decisions in this important area.
If it were a case of keeping the matter open and looking at it after the consultation, that would be fine, but if the power that I am seeking is not included in the Bill, there will not be a legislative opportunity for some time to give the Welsh Government this power. The Government have rightly cautioned against pre-judging the consultation, but that is what they will be doing by rejecting the new clause. If the Welsh Government are not granted the power through the Bill, and even if the Government decide that a separate Welsh consumer advocacy body is the right vehicle, they will not have the power to set up that body.
I urge the Government—I hope today, but if not then on Report—to ensure that the Welsh Government have the power to set up their own consumer advocacy body. The new clause will not mean that they will do so, or that they will have to, but, in the spirit of devolution, it will mean that they have the power to do so if they believe that that is the best option.
Hywel Williams: You will not be surprised, Mr Amess, to hear that I am fundamentally in favour of devolution. It is probably the worst kept secret in the Committee or even in British politics. I support the hon. Member for Ceredigion in calling for the devolution of decision-making power. Whatever that decision might be, it is fundamentally a matter for the Welsh Assembly.
My point is that the issue is extremely timely. Some hon. Members will have kept abreast of the developments in the other place this morning. There have been calls for some time for a Calman-like commission for Wales to examine the powers of the Welsh Assembly. The Secretary of State announced today that we are to have such a commission, led by Paul Silk. It will not be a Calman commission, but a Silk—perhaps even a Silky—commission. Given that we are to have this commission, the Secretary of State called for a moratorium on further devolution for two years while the commission
Mr Hurd: It is indeed appropriate to end on a Welsh note. I thank the hon. Member for Ceredigion for the amendment and the constructive way in which he presented it. He will know that the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills has recently consulted on proposals to rationalise the functions of consumer protection bodies. By so doing, it is his aim to eliminate confusion and duplication, strengthen local delivery and provide a stronger role for front-line consumer services. Exactly how that is to be done is now being considered in line with responses to the consultation. The preferred option set out in the consultation was to close Consumer Focus, which includes Consumer Focus Wales, because the Government believe its functions would be better carried out by an expanded Citizens Advice service.
The Government also asked for views on how they could work with other consumer bodies. As the Minister for Consumer Affairs explained during the Westminster Hall debate introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Ceredigion on 14 September, it is not the intention of the proposals to reduce the level of support afforded to consumers across Wales or anywhere else. In fact, there is room for improvement and we aim to deliver that. The Government’s aim is to create greater clarity for consumers and others about who is championing their rights.
The Government want to increase the impact that publicly funded consumer advocacy has domestically and internationally. We want to reduce overlap and we want all that to be delivered by a known and trusted organisation with high visibility and outreach. As we have argued before, Citizens Advice already has an excellent track record of advocacy on behalf of consumers at national and local level, and we want to build on that track record and brand awareness. We do not wish to lose the experience and expertise held at Consumer Focus. Instead we want to bring together the expertise with the long-standing success of Citizens Advice and its bureaux in helping consumers. That would create a powerful consumer body that businesses would have to listen to.
While we want to make those changes, the Government agree that the functions currently undertaken by Consumer Focus Wales in representing Welsh consumers should be retained in Wales. Officials at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and Citizens Advice are in regular discussion with those of the Welsh Government and remain confident that Citizens Advice could be sufficiently developed to address any current concerns over capacity and governance arrangements. Citizens Advice and Citizens Advice Cymru are an excellent basis on which to grow our new advocacy model. They
There is a bureau in every county in Wales and services delivered from more than 247 advice points across the country. In 2010, there were 402,000 inquiries to citizens advice bureaux in Wales and they helped more than 123,000 clients. Every effort is being made to deliver a consumer advocacy model in Wales that will be as good if not better than now, and the amendment is not necessary to do that. Rather, in the Government’s view, it will add layers of bureaucracy. The amendment also goes against the spirit of the Bill, as it could add to rather than reduce the number of public bodies and create duplication of a service that can be effectively delivered by Citizens Advice.
Although it is important that each country has national representation on issues of specific interest to them, industries that operate across Great Britain should also continue to have a single national voice and not have to negotiate three times whenever they wish to do something.
As I said at the start of my remarks, this has been out to a consultation, which closed on 27 September. It asked specific questions about whether the model we are discussing might be appropriate in Wales and invited responses. The relevant Ministers in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills will respond in due course. If they are convinced that a different model is appropriate as a result of responses, an appropriate legislative vehicle will be sought. In the light of the explanation and the assurances I have given, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
Mr Mark Williams: I am grateful to the Minister for that response. I concur completely about the need for transparency. I acknowledge what he said about the significance of citizens advice bureaux in our communities, and he is right to highlight the need to avoid duplication. The message that I took from the Minister in my Westminster Hall debate, and that I have heard this afternoon, is that the consultation is proceeding and those responses will be analysed by the Welsh Affairs Committee on which I serve. It will also undertake a short investigation into these matters next week. So the jury is still out. For that reason I will seek to withdraw the new clause with the proviso that I may return to this on Report.
The significant point that I want to make on the new clause is that these decisions should be made in Cardiff. They should be made by the Welsh National Assembly and the Government of Wales who are the best placed to make these decisions. They are best placed to respond to the unique needs for consumer advocacy in our country. That is why I am slightly cautious and almost hostile when Ministers say that they will reflect on the needs of Wales and on what is best for Wales. I am unashamedly a devolutionist and I want that decision to rest with Ministers in Cardiff. On the basis of what the Minister said, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the clause.
1 Nothing in this Schedule affects the meaning of “region” given by section 333A(10) of the Greater London Authority Act 1999, section 101(1)(c) of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, section 31(2) of the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 or section 8 of the Sustainable Communities Act 2007; or the meaning of “regional” given by section 76A(9) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.’.—(Mr Heath.)
‘to abolish regional development agencies;’.
‘to make provision about the funding of Sianel Pedwar Cymru;’.
‘to make provision about the powers of bodies established under the National Heritage Act 1983 to form companies;’.—(Mr Heath.)
Jon Trickett: On a point of order, Mr Amess, it is curious, is it not, that the clock is running about eight minutes ahead of itself? The Committee, too, has run ahead of itself, very much due to the excellent way in which it has been chaired by you and your colleague, Mr Robertson. We have very much enjoyed the way that you have handled things. There were times when we strayed beyond the limits and you correctly brought us back into order. We very much appreciate how you handled the Committee.
We have heard much on all kinds of subjects. It has been fascinating to sit here and listen to the wide range of knowledge that even a relatively small Committee brings—[ Interruption. ] Shall I quickly wind up? I thank everyone and, no doubt, there will be a chance on the Floor of House to reflect more on our debates.
Mr Hurd: Further to that point of order, Mr Amess, I also thank you for your chairmanship, good humoured and firm as it was. Can you please pass on our thanks to Mr Robertson? I thank the Clerks for some outstanding work. I thank my officials for their excellent work, giving me words that I could use and advice that I could understand in writing that I could read. I also thank the new, slimline Deputy Leader of the House who has done some absolutely Trojan work alongside me, even volunteering to speak on some of the more controversial bodies in the Bill. Last but not least, I thank all on the Committee for the extremely constructive and rigorous way in which we have dealt with a far-reaching Bill with important consequences for a large number of public bodies and the people that work in them. Some require serious debate and analysis, and we feel that we have done that. Thank you again.
The Chair: My colleague, John Robertson, and I would like to have it written into the record that it has been an absolute pleasure to chair the Committee. The proceedings have been conducted in good humour, with the occasional tinge of drama, and colleagues have done a splendid job of scrutinising the Bill thoroughly professionally. I also thank the Hansard writers, the