Committee (5th Day)

Part of Health and Social Care Bill – in the House of Lords at 5:45 pm on 14th November 2011.

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Photo of Lord Warner Lord Warner Labour 5:45 pm, 14th November 2011

My Lords, I rise to speak on this amendment, mainly because of my puzzlement over why the Government want to give the national Commissioning Board a concurrent duty with the Secretary of State under new Section 1(1), given all the other provisions in the Bill which try to shape-if I may put it that way-the relationship of the Secretary of State with the national Commissioning Board. This is especially the case with Clause 20, the mandation clause. One interpretation of this concurrency is that the Secretary of State can pick and choose how he interprets his responsibility.

My noble friend Lord Hunt has mentioned, as delicately as he could, what has happened in the Home Office recently about the sometimes rather strange boundary between policy responsibility and management responsibility and the confusions that could arise. This is not the first time that the Home Office has got into this kind of territory. Your Lordships will remember the difficulties that Michael Howard, when he was Home Secretary, had with the chief executive of the Prison Service, Derek Lewis. It boiled down to this problem of uncertainty about where the remit of Ministers ended and where responsibility began, in this case with the Prison Service, an executive agency. Equally, though, I suggest it could have been a non-departmental public body.

There is a lot of history in this area where one should be extremely wary about passing legislation in particularly high-profile areas and giving concurrency of responsibility to a Secretary of State and to a powerful arm's-length body, in this case a non-departmental public body, the national Commissioning Board. It is fraught with difficulties. I thought that the Government were trying to clarify this with Clause 20. I think the clause has been misunderstood a little bit by the new chairman of the national Commissioning Board, but the wording as it stands gives the Secretary of State the right, before the beginning of each financial year, to set out a mandate for the board.

There are a lot of safeguards in Clause 20, on both sides of that discussion and agreement. The national Commissioning Board has a lot of safeguards. The Secretary of State cannot keep coming back and adding bits and pieces as the year progresses. The Secretary of State also has quite a lot of safeguards. He or she can expect the national Commissioning Board to stick to what has been agreed in that mandate. There is no doubt about the Secretary of State's ability to give instruction to the board and there is no doubt about his ability to change those instructions on an annual basis after proper discussion and consultation. That is very clear. One of the strengths of Clause 20 is that it does make the relationship clear between the Secretary of State and the national Commissioning Board.

I have tabled an amendment that tries to restrict the number of requirements that the Secretary of State can place on the national Commissioning Board. I can well remember the time when the noble Lord, Lord Mawhinney, was a Minister with responsibilities for health, along with his colleague the noble Baroness, Lady Bottomley, who is not now in her place. We had somewhere in excess of 50 priorities in the NHS that we were required to deliver each year. In practice, we had no priorities, because no one could hold 50 priorities in their head, so there is an issue about how far you go on mandation. Nevertheless, the structure of Clause 20 clearly states what that relationship is, on an annual basis, between the Secretary of State and the national Commissioning Board.

We would do well to stick with that kind of relationship rather than muddy the waters with a concurrency of responsibility. I will be interested to hear what the Minister has to say on this issue.