Health and Social Care (Community Health and Standards) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:30 pm on 16th October 2003.

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Photo of Baroness Noakes Baroness Noakes Conservative 12:30 pm, 16th October 2003

In moving Amendment No. 196, perhaps I may speak also to Amendments Nos. 197 and 198. These amendments concern Clause 27, which deals with mergers involving NHS foundation trusts.

Amendment No. 196 seeks to strike out paragraph (a) of Clause 27(2). It states that a merger requires the support of the Secretary of State if one of the parties is an NHS trust. I hope that the Minister will confirm that if the merger involves two foundation trusts, the support of the Secretary of State would be wholly irrelevant. That is an important point.

Noble Lords will recall our earlier debate on the involvement of the Secretary of State in the creation of foundation trusts. We queried why that matter could not be left entirely to the regulator, and why it is necessary for the Secretary of State to have a veto on the independent judgment of the regulator at that stage. By the same token, we do not believe that the Secretary of State should have a veto or anything approaching that when it comes to mergers of foundation trusts. Those matters should be wholly within the powers of the regulator.

Amendment No. 197 is a probing amendment to ascertain what role the Government envisage for the Independent Reconfiguration Panel. While the panel is still an unknown quantity, having issued only one report, it seems to us right in principle that the panel should be consulted as a part of any merger decision. The amendment requires only consultation, it does not require the regulator to act on the advice of the panel.

Lastly, Amendment No. 198 rewrites subsection (6) of Clause 27. The existing subsection requires merger applicants to consult in accordance with regulations. Our rewritten subsection would require the merger applicants to consult in every case—that is, whether or not there are any regulations, and additionally in accordance with regulations. An onus should be placed on the applicant to consult, whether or not any regulations are issued.

Over time, it is inevitable that mergers of foundation trusts will take place. That is why we believe it is important to get these provisions right. I beg to move.