Committee (1st Day)
Health and Social Care Bill
Lord Warner (Labour)
My Lords, I am a bit confused as to whether we are making speeches or asking questions of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, who seems to have volunteered to conduct seminars for us on many of these issues. In making some points I shall, in a way, be trying to be helpful to the noble and learned Lord. In a sense, the criticism he is receiving is unfair because his amendments bring the legislation up to date in terms of provision, which has been a fiction for many years. However, his proposal has to be read in conjunction with all the other provisions in the Bill, which continue to puzzle me. The Government have sworn that they want to be extremely hands-off, and they have their beautifully drafted Clause 4, which I think has incurred the wrath of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, and others. Nevertheless, the Bill as a whole gives the Secretary of State quite a lot of powers to intervene, and I shall go through just a few of them.
Clause 12 confers a power to control services commissioned by the Commissioning Board or clinical commissioning groups; Clause 13, the ability to give direction on secure psychiatric services; Clause 14, the power to make arrangements for the supply of blood and human tissue; and Clause 16, regulations to require clinical commissioning groups to exercise EU health functions. Under Clause 17-even better-the Secretary of State can make regulations that impose standing rules on the Commissioning Board and clinical commissioning groups to arrange for specified treatments and a raft of other things. Clause 20 is the mandation clause, where the Secretary of State can mandate the board before the start of each financial year to specify objectives and the requirements for achieving those objections.
That set of measures looks very un-hands-offish to simple souls such as me. I think that we are getting ourselves into a bit of a state about this, because the Secretary of State seems to have very extensive powers. I admit that some of the public discourse may have been a bit confused by the explanation that the Government's candidate for the chairmanship of the NHS Commissioning Board gave in his interview. He seemed to have a very hands-off picture of what the Secretary of State should do, and I suspect that he may not have read the Bill quite as carefully as your Lordships will have done. We have to look at the amendment of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, in the context of making the legislation honest but with the Secretary of State retaining huge powers in the Bill to intervene and direct operations.