Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, I support my noble friend. I shall also take up the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay. To a lay person, the distinction between the two sets of standards is sometimes blurred. I remember an announcement of the Minister of Health in the Scottish Executive about improving standards of cleanliness and asking everybody to wash their hands. I do not know if that is a clinical judgment. It is a grey area; it falls on the borderline.

I shall mention an aspect of the issue on which my noble friend did not touch, but which was prominent in the debate in Committee; that is, the effect on finance of decisions on standards. On the fourth Committee day, the Minister said:


The Minister was assuming that an improvement in standards would automatically be more expensive—or perhaps he was assuming it might be cheaper. If CHAI were setting the standards, it would not be able to change the budget because that would be the Minister's responsibility. As is illustrated by the hand-washing episode, not all improvements are expensive. It costs no more to wash your hands than not to wash them. It costs no more to clean the ward properly than to go around not cleaning it properly.

I do not want to trivialise the issue, but it is not right to assume that improvements in standards are bound to be more expensive. In any case, as my noble friend Lord Howe said, budget setting and standard setting would not necessarily be separated. An alteration in standards which would cost money would never be set by the chairman of CHAI without discussing the desirability with the Secretary of State. There would be plenty of consultation. I do not therefore believe that the money argument should apply.

There is not the smallest question but that the temptation is great for the Secretary of State to use announcements about standards here and there and at different times because a focus group has made a complaint or because the press has reported something and a comment needs to be made. It is used as a political tool. It has been by all governments and it always will be. That temptation would be greatly enhanced if the Secretary of State took all the decisions. It is desirable that CHAI should have this role and I hope that the House will see that argument.

Baroness Howarth of Breckland: My Lords, the amendment presents a huge temptation. To have standards and to be free from some of the political interventions of the National Care Standards Commission makes me want to vote for it. However, I have some real reservations.

10 Nov 2003 : Column 1119

It can be an elephant trap for a commission to set its standards and be the keeper of those standards and it lets the Government off the hook. It is up to the Secretary of State and the government department to be clear about the policy drive. That must take us into the way in which the standards are being implemented.

It is crucially important that the responsibility for publishing standards is a joint one. As the noble Earl, Lord Howe, said, many of them are put together in consultation. However, there might be some differences in the way in which standards are set in CSCI and CHAI. I agree with my noble friend Lady Finlay that there is great confusion about clinical standards, which we use also in social care.

Targets and standards are distinctly different issues and we should be pressing the Government to clarify them. Frameworks and sets of standards are clearly set out and from those the targets emerge. As regards CSCI, once we have the standards we can get on with the targets and not be deflected by government intervention.

I find it difficult to support the amendment, although noble Lords will be able to hear from my hesitation that I am tempted by it. I would like to be able to set such standards but it is a temptation I should resist.

Lord Warner: My Lords, I am grateful for the noble Baroness's promise to resist temptation in this area. I was chided by the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, for being unappreciative of offers of help from the Opposition Benches to improve the Government's Bill—

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, I did not say Opposition Benches; I said Opposition Whips.

Lord Warner: My Lords, perhaps I may reassure the noble Lord that I did not get much thanks from the Opposition Whips either. I do not propose to conduct a seminar, though the temptation is enormous, on standards criteria for meeting them and methodologies for rating those criteria. However, I must set out the Government's position on the issue, which is both principled and rational.

The report from the Office of Public Service Reform, published earlier this year, clearly sets out government policy on the respective roles and responsibilities for those involved in the inspection of public services. It remains our view, as stated in that report, that the role of Ministers and their departments is,


    "to set standards determining how the service is to be delivered and to make sure effective performance management systems are in place".

It also remains our view that it is wrong for the bodies responsible for inspecting services, in order to ensure that they comply with standards, to be responsible also for setting those standards, as these amendments propose. Furthermore, it is also entirely wrong for the Government to abrogate their responsibility for setting the standards of care for NHS

10 Nov 2003 : Column 1120

patients and those in receipt of social care to independent commissions. That would be the effect of these amendments.

It is not clear to me what noble Lords opposite are trying to achieve. Amendments Nos. 284 and 288 give the healthcare standards-setting role to CHAI, while Amendment No. 286 seems to go half way to trying to restrict the publication of healthcare standards to those that the Secretary of State,


    "considers to be of considerable significance."

We on this side of the House do not believe that healthcare standards can be carved up in this way.

It remains our view that, as Clause 45 provides, it is for the government of the day to determine the standards and framework within which the NHS should operate and to set the budget commensurately. Setting the standards for health and social care provision enables the department to match performance expectations with funding. It would be entirely inappropriate, even irresponsible, to divorce the function of setting standards for the performance of public services from the function of determining the level of funding that those services should receive.

I must point out to the noble Earl that I had a number of interesting discussions with the chairman of CHAI. He is totally comfortable with the idea that it is for the government of the day to set standards and it is for him, as under the Bill, to propose the criteria. He has no problems with that approach, which the noble Earl seems to have.

The publication of standards by government is also a vital tool for ensuring the democratic accountability of health and social services. Were governments to be prevented from setting standards for health and social care, it is difficult to see how they could be held accountable to Parliament for the performance of those same services.

In our response to Sir Ian Kennedy's Bristol report, we undertook to ensure the development of standards for the NHS. This remains a core function for the Secretary of State deriving directly from the department's responsibilities for securing resources and delivering healthcare services of an acceptable level. This has been no secret. It is not as though we suddenly announced that approach. When the Government announced the setting up of CHAI in Delivering the NHS Plan, we stated there would be inspection against clear national standards committing the Secretary of State to publish such statements of standards and to keep these under review. We fully intend to fulfil this undertaking.

Well before CHAI takes up its responsibilities, we shall have draft NHS standards in the public arena for consultation with interested parties, including CHAI. I can assure the noble Earl that they will be considerably fewer in number than the 700 or so that we have at present and that were around under his government.

It is obviously desirable that the Secretary of State should continue to update the statements of standards from time to time—perhaps reflecting advice and guidance provided by CHAI, which we are enabling it

10 Nov 2003 : Column 1121

to do under Clause 53. A similar power is provided to CSCI in relation to social care standards under Clause 75 of the Bill.

As I have already said, the power of defining the standards will be an inclusive one. As I made clear in Committee, earlier this year, during the preparation of the draft healthcare standards on which we consulted, the Department of Health held numerous workshops and meetings. Those were attended by key stakeholders drawn from patients, clinicians, representatives of professional and voluntary organisations, NHS managers and many others. The advice from all those individuals is helping in the development of the draft standards, which we shall publish.

For English local authority social services, there is a long and well tested route for setting out standards as guidance under Section 7 of the Local Authority Social Services Act 1970. Guidance often takes the form of national service frameworks. Guidance issued under Section 7 is well known and respected by local authorities and, in the past, has been used in the assessment of performance by the Social Services Inspectorate. CSCI will continue that practice and will be able to take an overview of the quality of all social care services using the guidance issued under Section 7 and national minimum standards where applicable—for example, under the Care Standards Act functions and local authority adoption and fostering functions—issued under the Care Standards Act.

The national service frameworks issued under Section 7 guidance are well respected. The amendments would place conflicting duties upon social care providers, who would be under duties to take into account both the Section 7 guidance and the standards drawn up by CSCI. It is unclear what would happen if CSCI decided to issue different standards from those already in place under Section 7.

We believe that the amendments will create confusion among providers and hinder the delivery of effective standards. We consider the present structure of the Bill to be appropriate with the Secretary of State setting standards and CHAI providing the criteria, which ultimately the Secretary of State must approve to ensure that the criteria are consistent with the standards set for the National Health Service.

5 p.m.

Earl Howe: My Lords, this has been a very interesting debate. I am grateful, not for the first time, for the comments made by my noble friend Lord Peyton in my defence. I am also very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, for her helpful comments, particularly those which sought to point out the distinction between standards and targets. I thank my noble friend Lady Carnegy for her wise observations on the financial effects of standard setting.

The noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, made a characteristically thoughtful intervention. I believe her hesitation would be understandable if we were talking about a few key clinically based standards emanating

10 Nov 2003 : Column 1122

from government. Like her, I have less of a problem with that notion. The trouble is that we are likely to be considering a large number of standards, many of which may well be quite prescriptive and more appropriately classified as targets.

I listened carefully to the Minister's warnings about the amendments and the comments of other noble Lords. In the light of those, I have decided not to press the amendments today as I want to reflect further on the whole matter. I cannot guarantee that I shall not return to this issue at Third Reading but, for the time being, I believe it is appropriate that I withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 45 [Standards set by Secretary of State]:

[Amendments Nos. 285 to 288 not moved.]

Clause 46 [Standards set by Assembly]:


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page