Health and Social Care Bill

Baroness Williams of Crosby Excerpts
Wednesday 2nd November 2011

(12 years, 8 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness D'Souza Portrait The Lord Speaker (Baroness D'Souza)
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My Lords, I would like to remind the Committee that if either Amendment 3 or Amendment 4 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment 5 by reason of pre-emption. I call the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby.

Baroness Williams of Crosby Portrait Baroness Williams of Crosby
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I apologise for the slight delay in rising to my feet—my understanding was that the Minister was proposing to start the debate by making a statement. I apologise for delaying the House. Let me say right away that I do not resile in any way from the amendment which the noble Baronesses, Lady Jay and Lady Thornton, the noble Lord, Lord Patel, and I have put down. We believe that it is important to have an absolutely solid basis by which the whole of the House and the public can understand exactly the accountabilities and responsibilities of the Secretary of State. It is therefore of great importance that this House, in this crucial Committee sitting, is able to reach a clear understanding of what those responsibilities and accountabilities are.

I very much hope that that will be possible as there are still legal questions about the particular meaning of both the amendment put forward by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, and the amendment put forward in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, myself and others. There are still difficulties and differences of opinion between legal voices about exactly what the forethought of those amendments is and just how clearly they lay out the responsibilities and accountability of the Secretary of State. Some Members of this House will recognise that one difficulty is that the Secretary of State is extremely anxious to avoid any further micromanagement of the health services because he believes that it would reduce professional discretion. I think that many of us sympathise with that argument.

The difficulty is that many of us also believe that the Secretary of State should have clear accountability for the very large sums involved in financing the NHS at present. We also have regard to the fact that there are certain crucial responsibilities revolving around things such as national emergencies for which we believe the public would expect the Secretary of State to be the person responsible. So on constitutional grounds, and on grounds of financial accountability and clear responsibility in certain areas of national concern, we are anxious to see that the Secretary of State retains those responsibilities. However, the possibility of drafting legislation which comprises both the issue of having no micromanagement and the issue of the crucial ultimate responsibilities of the Secretary of State has proved somewhat elusive. In that situation, I hope very much that the Government will consider pressing ahead with trying to draft acceptable legislation for Report stage, when I hope there can be broad agreement about what the responsibilities are. I cannot answer for my noble friend the Minister, of course, but I hope that he will give consideration to that request.

Perhaps I may quickly add three other considerations. The first, which I have mentioned already, is the area of legal ambiguity. I think that all Members of this House will have heard clashes of opinion about the precise meaning of the amendment before us. I regret that, and I hope the legal profession will forgive me for saying that when there is more than one lawyer in a room there is very often more than one opinion. That is exactly the situation in which we find ourselves. Secondly, many of us feel—I would certainly speak for myself and my party, and this point was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Jay—that it is absolutely critical to look at Clauses 4 and 10 together with Clause 1, rather than trying to take them separately. They are intimately interrelated. Many of us recognise that to make a change in Clause 1 without taking on board the implications of Clauses 4 and 10 would leave us in a world of deep twilight uncertainty.

The third issue is perhaps a bigger one; perhaps it constitutes a vision that I profoundly hold. I think we all recognise that the NHS is deeply cherished in this country. It is something to which people cling, as they find themselves facing financial hardship, as one of the few certainties and areas of trust that they can rely on. However, we also know without any doubt of the essential need for change in the NHS—my noble friend the Minister and others have made this absolutely clear—if we are to be able to finance an aging population, and not least, although we often neglect this, the very welcome survival of far more people with chronic sicknesses than used to be the case even 20 years ago, all of which lays heavy responsibilities on the health service. Because of that, I for one feel strongly that the greatest prize that this House could give to the future of health services in this country would be to reach a broad political consensus on the issue, so that the NHS and other health services, as they go forward, find that they are based on a solid rock of acceptance and consensus that will carry us through many of the ups and downs that we are bound to face in the next few years.

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Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe
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No, my Lords, there are no closed views. That is the reason why I suggested earlier that it was time to reflect and engage in discussions in the spirit of co-operation. I would not have said that if I had had a closed mind to them. There would not have been any point in the discussions. I simply wished to do noble Lords the courtesy of answering their questions and addressing the points that they had made. If noble Lords would rather that I did not do that, then we can make life easier for ourselves. I will certainly write to noble Lords if they would like to inform me afterwards that they wish to receive a letter. If they do not, I will not write. It is entirely up to them. I do not wish to make work for myself unnecessarily.

I have said that I believe the balance of advantage for this Committee lies in our agreeing collectively not to amend the Bill at this stage and I am pleased that there seems to be consensus around that view. I believe instead that it would be profitable for me to engage with noble Lords in all parts of the House, both personally and with the help of my officials, between now and Report to try to reach consensus on these important matters. I would just say to my noble friend Lord Marks that that includes the issues that he has helpfully raised this afternoon. I believe that he is right to associate Clause 4 in particular with the matters that we have been considering. Those discussions can be carried out in an informal way with interested Peers or in individual meetings in the House or my department. There is a place for either type of discussion. My concern is only that it is an inclusive process involving Peers from all sides of the House, and that will include listening to the views of the Constitution Committee should it choose to continue its valuable role.

With that, I hope that no noble Lord will feel cheated by the brevity of my contribution and I shall sit down.

Baroness Williams of Crosby Portrait Baroness Williams of Crosby
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I am happy to withdraw my amendment given the statement made by the Minister. I also join the many people in this House who have said how much we appreciate his almost unending patience with us and his willingness to listen and engage in extremely informed and very intelligent debate. It gives me pleasure on this occasion to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 3 withdrawn.
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Baroness Williams of Crosby Portrait Baroness Williams of Crosby
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My Lords, perhaps I may ask a couple of questions in this short debate and thank the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, for her comprehensive presentation. This is a difficult area of the Bill. First, what happens with someone whose main residence is in one place but who is actually very dependent on out-of-hours care because of the nature of their job. There must be literally hundreds of thousands of commuters for whom the natural place they would like to go, due to the recollection of personal data and all the rest of it, would be the clinical commissioning group in their home area, but because they spend a great deal of time at work a long way away they will in fact depend on out-of-time services. I am troubled by the low quality of some of those services in comparison to what we might call mainstream NHS care.

The second question is perhaps easily answered. Can the Minister say something about the relationship of both new structures to NHS Direct? I am not clear as to whose responsibility NHS Direct will be. Will it continue as a kind of separate freewheeling service or be linked to a clinical commissioning group; and, if so, at which end of the spectrum would it be linked?

Baroness Murphy Portrait Baroness Murphy
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My Lords, I am particularly concerned about the area-based issue because, like many people, I have been banging on for years about the importance of coterminosity between health and social services. However, my experience over the years has been that that has not made much difference to the co-ordination of care between health and social care.

I want to raise a point about the new arrangements. I understand that we are trying to move away from the old RAWP funding formulation, which has always been deeply unsatisfactory and open to political manipulation, to the funding of real groups of patient populations on a risk-assessment base. To achieve that, there is no doubt in my mind that you must have real people on real lists, whether or not that clinical commissioning group has a responsibility to provide for a population within the group. You must be able to work towards a funding solution for those clinical commissioning groups that reflects real need and moves away from the old area-based populations.

I think that that may be the response I would give the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay. I did not really understand the brief amendments in this group that were not specifically related to this question so I address my issues to that.