Health and Social Care Bill
Simon Burns (The Minister of State, Department of Health; Chelmsford, Conservative)
It is not unusual. We have had a considerably long debate on the clause, and several of the hon. Gentleman’s hon. Friends asked a series of questions that they—particularly the right hon. Member for Rother Valley—want answers to. It is only fair to hon. Members to give them the answers to their questions.
The hon. Member for Leicester West asked why we are proposing a system where legal arguments on competition would trump patients’ interests. We are not. It is actually the contrary. Monitor will seek to protect patients’ interests, which is consistent with the role of the OFT and the competition authorities in protecting consumer interests. Competition law would not trump patients’ interests. Rather, as I said earlier, Monitor would apply competition law to protect those interests.
The hon. Lady also asked why Monitor had a principal duty to promote competition. That is actually not what the Bill states. Monitor’s duty would not be to promote competition as an end in itself, but to protect and promote patients’ interests, as clause 52(1) makes clear.
The hon. Lady asked why we need Monitor if competition is on quality, and how Monitor would improve quality. Monitor’s role in promoting competition is about strengthening incentives to improve quality and efficiency through setting the tariff and intervening where necessary to address restrictions on competition that could undermine improvements in quality. As a regulator, therefore, Monitor’s role is about creating the conditions for commissioners and providers to improve quality, with patient choice as the key driver.
I think it was also the hon. Lady—if it was one of her hon. Friends, she must forgive me—who asked why Monitor should have powers to fine GP consortia as commissioners. That is not what the Bill states, and I hope that she accepts that. [Interruption.]