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Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West): Although we are considering one Government new clause and 12 Government amendments, I feel that the House and the nation are awaiting our debates with anticipation. Given the timetable motion to which we are subject, I shall not dwell for too long--
Mr. Swayne: I can only say that I share my hon. Friends' concern--"Oh!" indeed. Let me borrow a phrase from new Labour and political correctness, and say that I share their pain. If I am not mistaken, they will be unfamiliar with clause 8, to which four of the Government amendments apply. That would not be the case if they had been swatting up in the Library last night, but the record will show that they were, as always, in their places, holding the Government to account and giving their business proper scrutiny.
My hon. Friends will not have seen clause 8 before because it was not in the Bill on Second Reading. It was introduced on Thursday last week, at the end of the Committee stage. Three parliamentary days later--I am not sure whether we should count Friday as a full parliamentary day--
Mr. Swayne: I was here on Friday, but as there was no quorum and not even 40 out of the 659 Members of Parliament were present to secure the passage of a private Member's Bill, I am not sure whether it counted as a parliamentary day. Nevertheless, we are considering a significant number of amendments to a clause that was added to the Bill only in the final sitting of Standing Committee. If I were uncharitable, I might be inclined to say that that was owing to hasty and careless drafting on the hoof and that my noble Friends in the other place will doubtless take account of it. I am charitable, however, and I had been assured that, as one of the consequences of the new timetable motion regime, a new culture would descend not only on this place, but on the Departments--in this instance, the Department of Health. I had the impression that a Department would realise that it was no longer acceptable to table a raft of amendments at the last minute, because the timetable would not accommodate them. I am still looking forward to the arrival of that new
Mr. Bercow: My hon. Friend has shocked me and, I suspect, my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant). He is certainly describing a rum set of affairs, but can he diminish my pain and minimise the constitutional outrage that has been perpetrated by at least assuring me that the Government gave some advance notice of their intention to table the new clause at such a late stage?
Mr. Swayne: To be perfectly frank, I cannot remember whether they did so. I will say in the Minister's defence that he gave us notice of new clauses and amendments throughout the Committee stage; he was assiduous in warning us of their coming and providing details of them. However, there were so many that I lost count of which of his letters referred to which proposals, so I cannot specifically answer my hon. Friend's question.
I deal now with new clause 13, which tells us essentially that the Minister forgot the common council of the City of London, which is a rather significant thing to forget. I am sure that some of the Labour Back Benchers who appeared from time to time during discussion of the City of London (Ward Elections) Bill in the previous Session wish that he had not remembered it at all and were quite content for him to have forgotten it. Nevertheless, as it was forgotten, I should like to hazard a suggestion as to why that happened and how it might have been remembered. If we had not moved from Second Reading to Committee so swiftly--we did so at an indecent pace and with a severe shortage of elapsed time--the Department might have had time to think through the Bill rather more carefully. We would not then have been faced with the tabling of new clause 13 at the last moment on Monday night.
I do not want to detain the House, but I should like to ask two questions, the first of which concerns Government amendment No. 140. The Minister might tell me that I completely misunderstood the amendment when I wrestled with it and with the Local Government Act 2000 in the Library last night. I accept that that is possible, but I seek clarification. The amendment refers to "subsection (2)". Is that provision contained in section 21 of the Local Government Act 2000 or in the Bill? I concluded that either might be the case, although the meanings that could be construed would be very different.
Mr. Denham: The hon. Gentleman asked about the omission from the Bill of the common council of the City of London. I believe that I can say on reasonably sound ground that there is good precedent for such omission, but not for its being caught and put right in time. I seem to remember that Bromley was left out of the Health Authorities Act 1995, which was enacted under the previous Administration, and that it remained outside the remit of that Act for some four years. That did not appear to affect Bromley health authority's operation, which was probably illegal for those four years.
I seem to remember also that the Isles of Scilly were left out of the National Health Service Act 1977 for 22 years, but I am not sure about that. None the less, NHS services continued to be provided in the Isles of Scilly. I am glad that we are correcting the position on the common council.
I do not have a copy of the Local Government Act 2000 to hand, but I am reasonably sure that amendment No. 140 refers to section 21(2) of that measure. If I am wrong, I shall write to the hon. Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne).
Without debating new clause 13(3) in detail, I believe that we should erect the right sort of Chinese walls between the various roles that people play, to avoid a conflict of interest in scrutiny. We have sought to do that in the new clause. I accept that it is always possible to debate whether the dividing line is in the right place, but we have tried to achieve that.
The new clause enables the common council to establish a scrutiny role for health. The common council does not have an executive in the context of the Local Government Act 2000 because it is excluded from it. The arrangements are therefore different.
'.--(1) The Secretary of State may by regulations make such provision for and in connection with requiring and regulating the transmission, holding, processing or otherwise dealing with prescribed patient information as he considers necessary or expedient for the purpose of maintaining disease registers.
(2) In this section--
"disease registers" means those registers of incidence of specified diseases as the Secretary of State shall by regulation prescribe;
"prescribed patient information" means patient information specified in or determined in accordance with regulations made by the Secretary of State under this section;
"processing", in relation to information, means the use, disclosure or obtaining of the information or the doing of such other things in relation to it as may be prescribed by regulations.