Health and Social Care Bill
Paul Burstow (The Minister of State, Department of Health; Sutton and Cheam, Liberal Democrat)
Amendment 90 would make explicit, as the hon. Gentleman said, that when a Member of Parliament asks the Secretary of State a written parliamentary question, about, for example, how the NHS commissioning board carries out its functions, the Secretary of State would be provided with a power to require that information from the board. I entirely agree that it is necessary for Members to be able to hold the Executive to account, and to be able to ask questions that are of interest to their constituents, as the hon. Gentleman described.
As we have set out, we are trying to provide additional opportunities for Parliament to scrutinise the way that both the Secretary of State and the NHS discharge their responsibilities in the new architecture. I would like, therefore, to reassure the hon. Gentleman that his amendment is unnecessary, because paragraph 14 of new schedule A1 to the 2006 Act requires the board to provide the Secretary of State with such information as he considers necessary for his functions. That, of course, includes the Secretary of State’s role in being accountable to and answering questions in Parliament. Many of the Secretary of State’s existing powers will be directly conferred on a number of bodies in the new architecture, which include, for example, the NHS commissioning board, the economic regulator and the CQC. Their roles and responsibilities, including those of the Secretary of State, are clearly defined in the Bill. Inevitably, that will lead to an altered role for Government, which will include less interference on a day-to-day basis from Ministers in operational decisions relating to the NHS. Ministers, however, will continue to be accountable to Parliament through parliamentary questions, Adjournment debates, or Select Committee hearings. The Bill in no way changes that position.
I hope that that commitment will reassure the hon. Gentleman that his amendment is unnecessary and that he will withdraw it. If not, I urge my colleagues not to support the amendment.