Ninth Standing Committee
on Delegated Legislation
Wednesday 30 January 2002
[Mr. James Cran in the Chair]
Private and Voluntary Health Care (England) Regulations 2001 (S.I. 2001,
Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): On a point of order, Mr. Cran. The statutory instrument consists of 31 pages and you will know that during Prime Minister's questions today, the issue of bed blocking was raised. The statutory instrument will affect that, so do you not agree that it is a form of primary legislation, which should be discussed on the Floor of the House?
The Chairman: The hon. Gentleman should know better than to ask the Chairman to have any view. I have no view on the matter. The hon. Gentleman has made his point, and no doubt he will seek to make a speech.
Is it the wish of the Committee that the two statutory instruments be debated together?
Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford): No.
The Chairman: In that case, I call Mr. Burns to move the first motion.
Mr. Burns: I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the Private and Voluntary Health Care (England) Regulations 2001 (S.I. 2001, No. 3968).
It is an unexpected pleasure, Mr. Cran, that you are chairing our proceedings today.
We are discussing today two statutory instruments. The first refers to private health care, and I draw the Committee's attention to the 16th report of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. The Minister was present yesterday when two unrelated orders on health subjects were discussed, so she will know that the Joint Committee reported that of the four statutory instruments, two of which are before us today, two had defective drafting, and that that was acknowledged by the Department of Health. The Minister may have given an explanation in her speech yesterday, but I do not know what the Department of Health intends to do to rectify the defective drafting, which goes to the nub of enforcement of the orders.
The report reveals a shambolic and ridiculous situation. I accept that the Department has said that it will consider how the orders may be amended, but it is odd that we should be discussing legislation that is defective and a coach and horses have been driven through it. It might have been more intelligent if, when the defect was identified, the statutory instruments had been withdrawn, the problem resolved and the orders
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then placed before the House again so that we could debate legislation that did not contain serious problems.
The Minister will be aware that the order is made under the Care Standards Act 2000 and lays down the nature of the establishments covered by the Act and the standards to be applied by the National Care Standards Commission. So that there is no misunderstanding, I want to put it on record at the outset that we support and agree with the concept of raising standards in the private health sector, particularly as the Government, to the distress of many of their Back Benchers, seem determined, through the concordat and the extension of its scope, to involve the private sector far more in the provision of health care. We all know that that is because the Government raised expectations to such a high level that no Government could have satisfied them. Their failure to do so has got the Government into considerable trouble, and now, almost in desperation, they are turning everything that they believed in on its head and seeking more and more use of the private sector.
The significance of many aspects of the regulations is that my constituents, and I assume those of most Labour Members, do not mind who provides their health care as long as it is to the highest standards, is carried out as swiftly as possible, and is free at the point of use.
Michael Fabricant: I agree with my hon. Friend that we want to maintain high standards and that, therefore, we welcome the general principle of the regulations. However, does he agree that if the conditions are so tight that care homes close, no one benefits, and the losers are those who are trying to get into hospital, because beds are blocked by people who cannot get into care homes?
Mr. Burns: My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point. Despite what the Minister has said on several occasions, there is an acute problem in that sector, as my hon. Friend and I have noted from first-hand experience in our constituencies.
The Government have faced opposition from no less a person than the previous Secretary of State for Health and from many Government Back Benchers who are deeply unhappy with the proposals. For once, the troops are fighting back, which is remarkable given that we have seen for so long a quiescent Back-Bench reaction to and adulation for everything that the Prime Minister does.
As the Government seem to be set on increasing and enhancing the role of the private sector in health care for NHS patients, it is important to require the best standards to ensure that all our constituents receive the highest quality health care. However, I should like to clarify several issues with the Minister and ask her to think again about one or two aspects of the regulations that I find incomprehensible.
As is my responsibility as an Opposition Member, I have been in touch with several organisations and companies, including Aculight, a leading provider of intense pulse light hair removal treatments. It is
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concerned, as am I, about the consultation process that took place before the publication of the regulations. Under regulation 3(1)(b), intense light will be included in the licensing and inspection regime. I understand that before July 2001, during the various consultation processes that preceded the publication of the regulations, operators of intense light machines were precluded from the consultation process, so they were unable to express their views and concerns about what the Government were doing in regulation 3.
In the related debates that took place in another Delegated Legislation Committee yesterday, the Minister brushed off the issue of the consultation process when it was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald). When the Department's officials were confronted with concerns about the consultation process they responded:
''the Department took the decision to include intense light following advice from a large number of people in the field that intense light was intrinsically as dangerous as lasers if used inappropriately on the eyes and surrounding tissues.''
My understanding is that the Minister made exactly the same point.
Many things are a danger to eyes if used inappropriately, but that is not the issue here. Aculight and other companies do not argue that there are no risks and they are not against sensible regulation. The issue remains that the Government failed to consult the industry once those with a vested interest raised the issue of intense light treatments. If there had been further consultation on regulating this business area we would not be facing the current problems and complaints. If the consultation process had been more widespread and relevant, those operators would have had the opportunities to which they were entitled to express their concerns. They could have advanced their arguments why it was ridiculous to regard their businesses as independent hospitals.
It would be extremely helpful if the Minister could explain the reasons for the apparent exclusion of the operators from the consultation process and why it was so one-sided. Any reasonable person would accept that a genuine and productive consultation process must include all the interested parties from the beginning. I am also concerned as to why this company and others that supply intense light machines cosmetic hair removal to spas, beauty salons and health clubs will be classified as an independent hospital. That seems rather surprising and is taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut.
I am not sure why the Government believe that such companies should be classified as independent hospitals, and I am sure that the Minister is aware that companies such as Aculight sell machines for aiding hair removal, usually for females. The intense pulse light system of filtered light is simply a convenient and painless alternative to electrolysis. It does not seem logical to classify premises that supply that beauty treatment as independent hospitals with all the bureaucratic and additional financial burdens that that entails.
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I suspect that for a number of reasons, not least the fact that the Government have a majority in the Committee, the Government will not be prepared to withdraw the order and think again or to consider amending it to meet those concerns. However, I ask the Government, even at this late stage, whether they are prepared to look again at the designation of intense light as a technology of an independent hospital. If the Minister were prepared to give an assurance to the Committee that this will be reviewed at the earliest possible moment, it would be a major step forward.
I have concentrated my remarks on the interests of the company or companies involved in this type of beauty care. However, I accept that patients' interests must also be considered and protected. It would be foolish simply to look at it from the aspect of the companies supplying the equipment or carrying out the treatment, but in taking into account the interests of patients, which must be at the forefront of our minds, we must consider whether the Government have got the balance right in what they seek to do. In theory, there could be unnecessary regulation of every activity in the economy because of the systems in place at present. There would be a danger from the customers' and from the companies' point of view if there were regulation where it was not absolutely necessary, because there is not a problem carrying out this beauty treatment.
I hope that the Minister will explain the reasons behind the proposal, respond to the matters of concern that I raised and assure us that she is prepared to reconsider the regulations.