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Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: The first point to be made here is that the average time taken to settle a claim for compensation following a motor vehicle accident is around two years. As I have already made clear, the NHS charges are due when compensation is settled.

I do not think it unreasonable to expect insurers to be able to meet NHS costs at least at the same time as they pay compensation and perhaps settle any benefit recovery. Where someone has had around two years to anticipate the forthcoming bill, perhaps several weeks to consider the bill itself and 14 days in which to make payment if he has waited until the last possible moment to pay his dues, it is not unreasonable that a demand for what is "late payment" should be immediate.

On the matter of double payment, we are attempting to recover the actual cost to the NHS of providing treatment to road traffic accident victims and this amendment would work against that. The noble Earl raised the issue of penalties in the Bill. Quite deliberately we have not included penalties. We expect full co-operation from the insurers. Much of the basis of the details of the Bill has been a desire to introduce

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simplicity both for the insurers and for the National Health Service. As part of our good faith in attempting to do that we are saying that we expect co-operation from the insurers; we expect insurers to play fair and meet their obligations at the appropriate time. On that basis, I invite the noble Earl to withdraw the amendment.

Earl Howe: I understand entirely what the Minister said and, as he indicated, I am sure that much depends on there being goodwill and efficiency on all sides. In the light of that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 24 not moved.]

Earl Howe moved Amendment No. 25:

Page 4, line 42, leave out from ("court") to end of line 43.

The noble Earl said: This is a probing amendment designed to elicit an explanation from the Minister as to what this part of Clause 5 means. Can he say in what ways, other than by a procedure ordered by the county court, an amount which is due for payment and is the subject of a formal demand by the Secretary of State, might be recovered? I beg to move.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: I hope I can provide an explanation on this for the noble Earl. Recovery of unpaid debt is not particular to this scheme. In England and Wales the standard way of providing for recovery of debt to the Secretary of State through the county courts is to make clear that the courts are not being asked to re-open the question of whether or not the debt is due. That question has already been decided by the Secretary of State or the appeal tribunal. The court is merely being asked to enforce recovery of that debt. The wording of this subsection is standard. For example, I refer Members of the Committee to Section 7(4) of the Social Security (Recovery of Benefits) Act 1997.

Earl Howe: I shall immediately have a look at that. I thank the noble Lord. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Earl Howe moved Amendment No. 26:

Page 5, line 1, leave out subsection (5).

The noble Earl said: In moving this amendment, I should like to speak also to Amendments Nos. 30, 33, 38, 39, 41, 42, 43 and 44. There are several features of the Bill to which we, on this side, have taken small exception and sometimes greater exception, but one feature that seems glaringly anomalous is the inclusion of Scotland within the Bill's provisions. We stand on the eve of devolution and the Government still insist on creating new laws which, in the matter of a few weeks, will, north of the Border, become the exclusive prerogative of the Scottish Parliament. Why are the Government doing that? Having specifically exempted the issue from being a reserved matter, why are they not leaving it to the Scottish Parliament to decide whether it wishes to replicate the system that is to be established

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in England and Wales? What is it about this matter that makes it impossible to leave it entirely to the Scots to decide on their own?

Perhaps there is worry about the human rights issues involved. Perhaps there is an argument that someone who causes a road traffic accident in England will be liable, through his insurers, to pay the hospital charges, whereas a similar wrongdoer in Scotland may be free of them if the Scottish Parliament were so to decide and that would constitute discrimination. I am simply imagining the argument. I would be grateful if the noble Lord will explain.

In the absence of an explanation, I do not think there is any good reason for foisting this new law on the Scots who are, after all, able to continue operating the system already available under the Road Traffic Act 1988. I beg to move.

Lord Clement-Jones: I should like to support this amendment in the same spirit as the noble Earl, Lord Howe. It seems that there are a number of explanations to be put as to why the Bill deals with the Scottish situation. Perhaps it is an old Bill which has been hanging around on the shelf for a period of time. That is probably the only plausible explanation I can think of, as it is such a short time before the Scottish Parliament takes effect. Certainly, Scottish colleagues on these Benches find it somewhat extraordinary that it should be in its present form.

On the other hand, Ministers have given assurances that this is not a reserved matter, that the Scottish Parliament will be entitled to deal with it, that the CRU is not necessarily tied in with the Scottish situation and that Parliament will be entitled to place its business elsewhere. I suppose that is one way to put it. On that basis, we would explicitly seek those assurances again in this Committee from the Minister and some explanation as to why the Bill is drafted in this way. After all, the whole purpose of devolution is to place such matters in the hands of the Scottish Parliament and the ministers of that parliament.

Lord Elton: It is worth focusing a little attention on this point. I had not intended to take part in the debate but what I have heard reminds me of an occasion, not more than a fortnight ago, when the noble Lord's noble friend--I refer to the noble Lord, Lord Sewel--answered a Question on education in Scotland, which is to be a devolved matter. He gave a firm indication of what will happen in two years' time. As the noble Lord's party may not be in a majority then, it seems that the Government are in no position to give any such undertaking. It seems there is a cast of thought within the Government which indicates that they have not woken up to the reality of devolution to the extent that we have in opposition and which may account for their calmness on the subject.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: It has certainly proved to be an interesting debate. The reason why provisions for Scotland are in the Bill is simply that they will benefit the NHS in Scotland. As I have already said, the Bill has been brought forward in the light of what is, frankly, the poor

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record of hospitals throughout Great Britain in collecting the existing charges and the record of Scottish hospitals is no better than that of those in England and Wales.

The scheme which is proposed will use the CRU to act as agent for recovery. The CRU recovers state benefits throughout the United Kingdom and, as social security is a reserved matter, will continue to do so post-devolution. As far as the CRU issue is concerned, it is the best option, as I have already stated.

If we accepted the amendment, the simple result would be a direct loss of income for Scottish hospitals. The announcement of the move to full costs was made in July 1997. Devolution is still to come, although it is not very far away. Only then will Scottish ministers have the opportunity to consider the issue. It will take time for them to resolve and decide on a future solution and more time to implement the scheme. It comes down to the time that it takes for charges to be recovered, which, on average, is two years.

Given that the main and overriding purpose of the Bill is to increase income direct to hospitals, the amendment would actually exclude Scottish hospitals from those benefits two years after they were announced, and with no resolution in sight. I doubt very much whether the NHS in Scotland would be happy about that.

The noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, asks me to confirm the position with regard to the Scottish Parliament. As I said at Second Reading, the scheme is not reserved in the Scotland Act, so post-devolution Scotland will be able to do as it wishes. The powers of the Secretary of State will be transferred to Scottish ministers on devolution, and they and the Scottish Parliament can consider what they wish to do. However, they will do it on the foundation of a new scheme which will bring in extra revenue for Scottish hospitals. On that basis, I ask the noble Earl to withdraw the amendment.

Earl Howe: Of course, I completely understand that the Scottish provisions in the Bill are designed to benefit the NHS in Scotland and doubtless, were those provisions not in the Bill, there would be a loss of income to the NHS in Scotland for a period. But all the Scottish Parliament has to do is to decide at a very early period of its existence what the Government have decided; namely, to institute a retroactive Bill. It can announce at an early stage that it intends to introduce the charges and bring in legislation at a later date to do so and the loss of income will therefore be minimal.

I think that the presence of these provisions in the Bill demonstrates that the Government believe that the man in Westminster knows best. I do not believe that a good case has been argued for having these provisions included. However, I shall reflect between now and Report on this matter. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 5 agreed to.

Clause 6 agreed to.

Clause 7 [Appeals against a certificate]:

[Amendment No. 27 not moved.]

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