Health and Social Care (Community Health and Standards) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:34 pm on 13th October 2003.

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Photo of Baroness Andrews Baroness Andrews Government Whip, Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip) 8:34 pm, 13th October 2003

It is good to see the noble Baroness back in her place for another debate on consultation. We missed her in the earlier debate. The noble Baroness will not be pleased when I say that, for some of the reasons that I explained in the earlier debate, we do not believe that the amendment is necessary.

Clause 6 allows for regulations to prescribe who should be consulted as a minimum about an application. It is an important measure, which ensures that the views of local communities are sought and listened to. Consultation will always involve key local parties and players. I agree with the noble Baroness: without the agreement of the partners that she identified, an application would not stand a chance of success. That is why there is no need to prescribe the key partners separately.

Another reason is that we have already specified a range of local partners, including those listed in the amendment, in the list of consultees in the guidance on consultation. We intend to specify those partners, including those listed in the amendment, in the regulations. I made a commitment earlier that we would consult on the regulations, and I am sure that the noble Baroness will want to have an input into that.

It is self-evident that, if applicants are serious about their application, they will have to have had discussions with staff, primary care trusts, stakeholder groups and local authorities. That is the only way in which they will be able to gauge the depth of support or opposition. They must make sure that they know those views. However, we should also be sensible about what we are trying to do. Although we want to be sure that an applicant trust is not just going it alone, against the views of staff, patients and all the critical people, we cannot give local partners what is, in effect, a veto over an application. The views of those partners are critical, but the power to veto is inappropriate. In response to a similar debate, the Minister in another place said:

"Both the Secretary of State and the regulator would carefully examine the situation to see if there was significant local opposition: that is right".—[Official Report, Commons Standing Committee E, (Part 2), 20/5/03; col. 281.]

That information must be obtained. The Secretary of State and the independent regulator will scrutinise applicants, ensuring that all partners are consulted and their views taken on board. In some local areas, there may be disagreement. We believe that it is right that there should be a thorough scrutiny of the application, but not a veto. I hope that the noble Baroness agrees and withdraws the amendment.