Health and Social Care (Community Health and Standards) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:15 pm on 6th November 2003.

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Photo of Lord Clement-Jones Lord Clement-Jones Liberal Democrat 1:15 pm, 6th November 2003

My Lords, like the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, I believe that some government amendments which the Minister introduced today are ones that we on these Benches would prefer to draw a veil over. A kind of triple decker public constituency is not something that we would wish to see incorporated in any schedule. However, I do not think that now is the time or the place to debate the detail of a number of those government amendments.

I welcome government Amendment No. 50. I believe that members of the Royal Colleges of Nursing and of Midwives, the BMA and a number of professional organisations will very much welcome it. We on these Benches had tabled an amendment to include three such people as executive directors but to bank two will be perfectly respectable.

Government Amendment No. 68 sprang directly from a debate that we initiated in Committee on the interests of members of the board of governors. As regards government Amendment No. 76, the solution is not quite as mandatory as we would have argued for in Committee but the fact that it opens the way for the Audit Commission either to specify the auditors or to have its staff audit foundation hospitals would be an advance if such a creature were ever created. The amendments in this group constitute a mixed bag but some are to be welcomed.

I am rather torn whether or not to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, or the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, but the Government's drafting as ever is extremely cunning. Paragraph 6(5) of Schedule 1 states—this is an insertion at the behest of the Conservative opposition in Committee:

"If contested, the election must be by secret ballot using an electoral system to be specified in regulations made by the Secretary of State".

However, government Amendment No. 256 now specifies:

"The regulations may in particular provide for . . . systems and methods of voting, and the allocation of places on the board of governors, at contested elections".

That is some very fancy footwork by the Government. If this had a greater measure of reality and if we were discussing a real Schedule 1 as opposed to a virtual Schedule 1, I would prompt a Division on Amendment No. 256. Clearly, the Conservative amendment referred to an electoral system. The set of regulations that the Government propose in Amendment No. 256 refers to "systems". That is exactly the nub of the argument that was made both on these Benches and on the Conservative Benches; namely, that a plethora of systems is exactly what we do not want. To have different bases for election in different foundation hospitals is absolutely not what we want.