Health and Social Care Bill
Simon Burns (Minister of State (Health), Health; Chelmsford, Conservative)
I will not give way. The hon. Gentleman has misunderstood what I said. I will go through the answers to the specific questions that I have been asked, otherwise we will end up going up and down cul-de-sacs and never getting anywhere.
The hon. Member for Pontypridd asked me to clarify the Government’s proposals on price competition. Our policy is to promote competition on quality, driven by patient choice. Monitor will regulate prices through the national tariff, and we have tabled amendments to clauses under chapter 5 of the Bill which would clarify that the tariff will be a fixed price, not a maximum price. That approach would focus competition on quality, as I have been saying from the outset. Obviously, we shall be debating that in far greater detail when we come to the amendments under chapter 5, which begins at clause 103.
I was also asked who decides when matters are appropriate. The commissioners will decide how best to improve services and increase choice for their patients, including how best to utilise competition as a means to that end. Competition law and economic regulation will ensure that the regulated market operates in patients’ interests.
There have been allegations in some hon. Members’ contributions that commissioners will be forced by competition law to put everything out to tender. I hope that I will reassure Opposition Members—although, sadly, I do not think that I will, for reasons that we all understand—that procurement competition law will not require commissioners to put services out to tender. It provides that if services are put out to tender, commissioners must comply with relevant procedural rules. Moreover, we expect patients to have a choice in an increasing range of services and that there will be a much smaller role for competitive tendering.
The hon. Member for Leicester West believes that GPs will be driven by Monitor instead of their patients, but I do not accept that at all. The primary duty of GP consortia is to commission services that meet the needs of their populations and to secure continuous improvement in quality. I hope that she will accept that.
The hon. Member for Pontypridd asked why we cannot just get the CQC to carry out Monitor’s role. Monitor’s role is to set prices and ensure a level playing field in competition, so that we put an end to things such as the example that has frequently been applied. I know that the right hon. Member for Rother Valley does not accept this, but I am thinking of the distortions of what happened with independent sector treatment centres, to which Members on this side of the Committee are not as attracted as the right hon. Gentleman.