Health and Social Care (Community Health and Standards) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 10:15 pm on 13th October 2003.

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Photo of Baroness Noakes Baroness Noakes Conservative 10:15 pm, 13th October 2003

We have already debated several aspects of the clause, so we shall not return to them. However, I shall use this brief debate to raise a few more issues with the Minister.

First, when will the draft prudential code be available? I understand that a draft is available. The noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, told me recently in a Written Answer that something called metrics and ratios will be published shortly. "Shortly" is one of the most flexible words in the Government's vocabulary, so will the Minister tell us when that will be? He indicated a few moments ago that he would include that in one of the many letters that he will have to write after today's sitting. Perhaps he would confirm that.

Secondly, will he say why the Secretary of State should be consulted by the regulator on the prudential code? What information could the Secretary of State give the regulator to which the regulator did not already have access? On the other hand, is this another backdoor way for the Secretary of State to give the regulator directions and, perhaps, tell the regulator how the Secretary of State sees the performance of his duties, in effect making that binding on the regulator?

Thirdly, to reinforce a point discussed by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, under one of his amendments, who will be consulted on these matters? There is a provision for it to be whoever the regulator believes to be appropriate. The noble Lord tabled one suggestion for discussion, but I am still in the dark about who it will be. Will NHS trusts, which will be the victims of any zero sum game, be consulted on the prudential code for NHS foundation trusts?

I am inclined to think that the prudential code is a mere flourish. At best, it will add nothing to individual decisions that must be made about borrowing limits for individual tasks under Clause 17, to which we will come in due course. At worst, it will tie up a simple process in financial sector gobbledegook, with the result that the wrong decisions will be made. We shall need a lot of convincing that the clause should stand part.