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Orders of the Day — Health Service Commissioners (Amendment) Bill – in the House of Commons at 7:01 pm on 25 January 1996.

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Photo of Henry McLeish Henry McLeish , Central Fife 7:01, 25 January 1996

I beg to move amendment No. 3, in page 5, line 44, at end insert— '(2A) After subsection (1) insert—(1A) Before making the report of the results of an investigation the Commissioner—

  1. (a) shall send a draft factual summary of the matters investigated, excluding his findings and recommendations, to the person and body referred to in paragraphs (a) to (c) in subsection (1) above, and shall give them an opportunity to indicate any factual inaccuracies or omissions;
  2. (b) may, for purposes specified by him, send to the person and body referred to in paragraphs (a) to (c) in subsection (1) above, a draft of either his findings or his proposed recommendations or both, but shall not send such draft to one party only.".'.
Again, I do not want to detain the House on this item. It was discussed extensively in Committee and the Minister has provided a helpful letter to my hon. Friends regarding the commissioner's views.

The amendment was tabled merely to ensure a completely level playing field. At present, the summary of facts is submitted to the complainant, but it was felt that all the details should be passed to the complainant at the conclusion of the case because the factual content of the initial summary provided to the complainant by the commissioner and that of the final report could differ.

Clearly, the ombudsman has said that he would be happier for the power to be left with him to allow him to use his discretion under section 11 of the Health Service Commissioners Act 1993 and we have the greatest confidence in Mr. Reid. No criticism is implied by our amendment; it is merely designed to find out whether the Minister wants to consider the matter further to ensure that we take away the feeling of bitterness and anger in any complaints procedure—the feeling that there is not a level playing field—which would surely help the procedure. I ask the Minister to respond on the basis of those brief comments.

Photo of John Horam John Horam , Orpington

I well understand the hon. Gentleman's point. Indeed, it was made with great strength and clarity in Committee. I said then what we could hope to do and I talked to the commissioner, Mr. Reid, about it. As a result, he wrote the letter.

In the light of the general concern in the House and in the Committee, I am prepared to take the matter a stage further—as a response to the amendment and the hon. Gentleman's comments. I will ask the commissioner to consider further his practice and invite the Select Committee on the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration to look into, not only the question of the health commissioner, but that of the parliamentary commissioner—perhaps a larger part of the total framework—and decide whether it is fully satisfied that the procedures that the commissioner has outlined are totally correct, and whether it should seriously consider moving towards the hon. Gentleman's suggestions and those made in Committee. Allowing a senior, important Committee of the House to consider the matter fully will take it forward in the appropriate way.

Photo of Henry McLeish Henry McLeish , Central Fife

That is a fair and positive response to the concerns of Opposition Members and of organisations such as the National Consumer Council. It satisfies us that the. matter should be reconsidered. It will be discussed by the Select Committee. We welcome the further wisdom of Mr. Reid. With those assurances, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Order for Third Reading read.

Photo of John Horam John Horam , Orpington 7:40, 25 January 1996

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

The proceedings on the Bill have, I am pleased to say, been marked by complete agreement on its fundamental objectives. The harmony between hon. Members has been a reflection of the general consent that the proposals have commanded in the NHS and among consumer groups.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish) and his colleagues, such as the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) and others, for their constructive attitude both this evening and throughout proceedings. I also thank my hon. Friends for their support for the Bill. I am grateful to the professions, which have adopted a constructive attitude, and to the ombudsman, who has been willing to make himself available to discuss the points that arose during our proceedings.

I am confident that, with stages 1 and 2, which we will take separate legislative action to implement, we have a new procedure which will ultimately be of great benefit to NHS patients.

Photo of Henry McLeish Henry McLeish , Central Fife

I agree with the Minister's comments. This is the third building block in the new complaints procedure and we wish it well in its implementation. As with many other things, there will be problems but if there is a consensus among professional groups and if the patients and families involved take the matter seriously and support the system, it will improve dramatically the health service complaints procedure.

In the commissioner, we have an excellent custodian of fairness. If he can ensure that what we have talked about is properly put into practice I have no doubt that the procedure will be a significant improvement for patients and help the health service. It illustrates to people outside that the House can agree on certain matters despite the fact that we tear each other apart on other aspects of health care.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.