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Lord Morris of Castle Morris: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the figures that he quoted in such detail will take a long time to digest? Meanwhile, nothing will be more difficult to digest than some of the dismal duff that passes for dinner in NHS hospitals from one end of the country to the other.

Successive governments have tried farming out the catering and buying in TV chefs, who go away with their tails between their legs, as we heard on the radio

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this morning. They have tried training nurses in silver service and every other form of cosmetic effect. But still--I speak feelingly as one of them--patients complain about the quality of the food. Still a lot of food is wasted by being thrown away. Can we dream that one day there will be an increase in the basic daily allowance for caterers to feed patients and help them to get well?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, my noble friend has raised an important question. As noble Lords will know, as part of the work undertaken in preparing the NHS Plan, we received thousands and thousands of comments from the public about the future of the NHS. Food was probably one of the most popular issues of concern to have been raised, alongside the cleaning of hospital wards, in which your Lordships also take a great deal of interest.

I believe that the NHS must tackle those issues seriously. In August we launched Operation Clean-up with the intention of injecting extra money into spring-cleaning and creating a good foundation on which to improve the standard of cleanliness in hospital wards.

Equally, we accepted and stated in the NHS Plan that we are determined to examine the provision of food in our hospitals. We are considering the potential of a national menu, which would tackle some of the issues raised by my noble friend. However, it is not only a question of what is on the menu. After all, the public as a whole have very different views about the type of food that they would like to receive in hospital. I believe that in large part the issue concerns what happens on the ward and the authority of the ward sister in determining what happens on the ward.

I believe that, alongside improvements in hospital catering and cleaning, we require the concept of the "modern matron". We need nurses who are able to manage wards with control and authority over the issues that we have been discussing as much as over clinical and nursing matters. I believe that the combination of improved standards and improved authority will enable us to improve the outcome for patients.

Baroness Noakes: My Lords, I add my welcome to the additional funds that are to be made available to health authorities and health bodies and, indeed, I welcome the timing. As many noble Lords will be aware, for health service managers happiness is measured in the number of extra days that they have before Christmas to plan what to do with their resources.

I was glad to hear the Minister say that he was fully in favour of passing down to local managers as many resources as possible. Will the Minister confirm that all the resources being announced today--that is, the average of 8.5 per cent followed by 6 per cent for the following two years in cash terms--will be allocated to health authorities without strings, conditions or any other circumstances surrounding them so that managers genuinely have the ability to plan not only for next year but also for the two further years without conditions?

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Furthermore, will the Minister comment on the amount of money being held back at the centre? My calculation implies a significant increase in the amount of money not yet allocated to the health service. When will that money be allocated and when will health service managers have the opportunity to plan ahead to use it wisely for patient care?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I am particularly glad to welcome the noble Baroness's question. She probably knows more about NHS funding than anyone, certainly in this House but I guess in this country as well. It is good to be able to pay tribute to the contribution that she has made over many years to financial management in the National Health Service.

I am rather wary of debating figures with the noble Baroness, but I make two points. First, in the Statement I referred to further announcements that would be made in December in relation to guidance to the NHS. I am afraid that we must await that guidance before I comment further.

However, I take the point that we want to push as much money as possible down to the level of the health service. That is entirely consistent with the concept of earned autonomy with which I am sure the noble Baroness would agree.

I cannot give an exact date when announcements will be made about central budgets. But I repeat that included within those central budgets are very important sums of money for research and development, and education and training. We shall be anxious to make those announcements as soon as possible because certainty for the NHS will mean longer-term planning which will, in the end, underpin the changes that we want to make.

Freedom of Information Bill

5.32 p.m.

Consideration of amendments on Report resumed on Clause 2.

Lord Lucas moved Amendment No. 7:

    Page 2, line 41, leave out paragraph (g).

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the purpose of this amendment is to bring the status of information provided in confidence into line with the other exemptions in the Bill in relation to the public interest test.

At the moment, Clause 40, which deals with information provided in confidence, is exempt from the public interest test, either the old one or the new one as recently revised. That is put forward on the basis that the Government tell us that there is already a public interest test in the law of confidence but they have agreed that that is an extremely weak public interest test of very limited application and also, it is qualified by the wording in Clause 40(1)(b) where it says that,

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    "the disclosure of information to the public (otherwise than under this Act) by the public authority holding it would constitute a breach of confidence actionable by that or any other person".

In Committee the noble and learned Lord tried to give us some comfort that "actionable" meant that information was not exempt unless a case would be lost. But since then, a number of people have told me that that is not the case. Perhaps the noble and learned Lord would care to repeat his assurances. The information that I have since received is that that merely reflects the fact that there is an arguable case, rather than a case which would definitely be won were the action to be brought. That is obviously a crucial matter of understanding and I shall listen to what the noble and learned Lord says about it.

In any event, it seems to me to be an anomaly that we should be dealing, in this particular exemption, with a phrasing, a formulation, of the public interest test which is different from that applied to any other exemption.

It seems to me that if we make the amendment which I suggest here, we shall be in a position where the general public interest test in the Bill will apply to information provided in confidence.

Then, obviously, if an action might be brought and won for breach of confidence, that would be a very significant weight in the scales against the publication of that information. But it would find its proper place in the scales. It would be being weighed against the public interest in disclosure by the same test as should be applied to every other exemption and we should not be faced with a position where information provided in confidence, which is a large and crucial part of information held by government, was, in practice, extremely difficult to get at because one would have to go to the courts to have any hope of extracting it. It is extremely difficult to know how one would set about extracting it because one would have no rights under this Bill and no obvious rights to go to law to dig it out.

This really comes back to BSE. There is an awful lot of information which was provided to the Government in confidence, particularly about how effectively the BSE controls were being enforced. It was extremely difficult to get that information out of government before the proper and regular publication of that information was commenced because it had been provided to government in confidence and the Government therefore felt that they had to keep it in confidence.

There are many other occasions to do with the safety of medicine and the safety of veterinary practices and other areas where a lot of information is provided to the Government in confidence. It is crucial that that information should be subject to the same public interest tests as we have for information in the rest of the Bill.

Of course, as I said, if an action would be won for breach of confidence with the consequent damages being awarded against the Government, that would have to be weighed in the scales against the public benefit of the publication of information and it would have to be a fairly tremendous public benefit to

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outweigh it. But at least it would be public benefit defined in the same way for this exemption as for other exemptions and not by the very limited tests which are down there in common law for breach of confidence as it is at the moment.

This is a crucial part of making sure that we do our very best to avoid the mistakes which were made in the case of BSE. It is a crucial part too of giving the public confidence in the operation of this legislation; that there is not--by just writing "In confidence" at the top of a piece of paper and it being clear that information is being provided in confidence--the understanding that it can be hidden away for ever, subject only to the very limited tests in general law to which information in confidence is subject. We must have something which is consistent and rigorous. I beg to move.

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