Lord Walton of Detchant (Crossbench)
My Lords, in supporting this group of amendments very warmly, and in echoing what has been said by several other noble Lords, I remind the Minister that, as he well knows, from the inception of the National Health Service in 1948 the pursuit of clinical research has been one of its clearly expressed objectives. Indeed, the existence of a publicly funded health service has been greatly envied by people in other countries who recognise that such a service provides outstanding opportunities for the pursuit of clinical research. It is important to repeat what my noble friend has just said; namely, that basic research in disease mechanisms and clinical research, including the pursuit of clinical trials, nurture future developments in patient care. That cannot be expressed strongly enough. It is therefore extremely important that these amendments are accepted.
From time to time within recent years, particularly during a period of financial constraints on the health service, there has been expressed in certain quarters a feeling by members of the public and others that research is a rather exotic activity that ought not to be funded—if it is being funded—at the expense of funding for patient care. One understands that view but I believe that the point I have just made about the nurturing of clinical care through research outweighs that particular argument.
Amendment No. 190 is important because if the phrase,
"subject to any restrictions in the authorisation"
is left in the Bill, it would give the directors and the boards of governors of foundation trusts the opportunity to divert funds away from research activity to other objectives that they regard as being of higher priority.
I turn finally to the wording of Amendment No. 191. I have been in correspondence with the Minister about the wording. I am uncomfortable with it but I understand the reasons he gave for it. Unlike the old days when a teaching hospital was closely associated with a medical school or a dental school, nowadays teaching is often widely dispersed throughout regions. For example, in the region that I know best, the northern and Yorkshire region, there is the University Hospital of North Durham and the James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough. These trusts—if they become so—do not include medical and dental schools but are closely associated with them.
Nevertheless I appreciate what the Minister told me in his very courteous correspondence—that this wording has been used in previous NHS Bills. Hence I suppose we must accept it. The only very minor modification I would suggest to Amendment No. 191 is that it should apply particularly to trusts which include a medical and/or dental school because there are quite a number of universities that have both a medical school and a dental school. These amendments are very important and I hope that the Minister will give them a fair wind.