Committee (5th Day)

Part of Health and Social Care Bill – in the House of Lords at 6:30 pm on 14th November 2011.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Beecham Lord Beecham Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Health) 6:30 pm, 14th November 2011

My Lords, these are probing amendments: as the debate has shown, there is a great deal to probe. I hope that when the Minister replies, he will be able to answer some of the questions and give more details of the thinking that underlies the Bill as it stands, and how it might be carried out in practice.

The body that we are talking about will have-as the noble Lord, Lord Harris has pointed out-an enormous budget and enormous responsibilities, both nationally and extending to localities. It will be responsible not just-just!-for commissioning general practice throughout the country, as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt reminded us, but also for a range of other services which will effectively be delivered locally. Yet in terms of the structure, composition and governance of the board, this Bill is about as skeletal as I imagine is the specimen that will greet first-year medical students at their first anatomy lecture. It needs flesh on the bones. There are a number of suggestions here; I have rather too many suggestions and I plead guilty to having advanced only some of them, but we clearly need a view about how the board will work and who will serve on it. I concur with the views of the noble Lord, Lord Harris, in relation to the appointment of the chair of HealthWatch England as proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, as a member of the board. That person is likely to be conflicted: part of the job of HealthWatch will be to look at the operation of the board in an objective way. It may be that an attendance, as he suggests, would suffice.

Although I put down the amendment about the Chief Medical Officer being a member of the board, I can see the logic of the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Harris, that the Chief Medical Officer should attend without necessarily being a member of the board. I am temperamentally averse to mixtures of executive and non-executive directors. In the local government sphere, I never felt very comfortable with chief officers voting alongside elected members, but I suppose that members of this board are not going to be elected: they are going to be selected. I therefore think that it is sensible to have the best advice possible available to the board in the way that the noble Lord, Lord Harris, has described.

In terms of public health specialism, I think there needs to be a public health specialist-but not necessarily a serving public health specialist. I see the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, has tabled an amendment calling for the appointment of a former director of children's services. Without necessarily agreeing that that particular post should be designated, the concept of somebody with that experience-not necessarily being a serving member and therefore not conflicted-might well appeal. It is crucial-given that we are now going to have public health delivered in a very different way from what we had before, and basically rightly so, though in a complex structure that will involve the Secretary of State, the Commissioning Board and local government as well-that there should be a public health specialist of some kind serving on the board. I hope that the Minister may indicate a degree of sympathy with that.

As to the total size, I am a bit ambivalent about that, too. It clearly needs to be a working board and therefore cannot be too large; it cannot possible reflect every conceivable interest. I agree with noble Lords who said perhaps it would be a mistake to prescribe the number in the legislation. That is a matter that could well be discussed later by the Secretary of State, no doubt having taken views and not least the views of the Health Select Committee in another place.

I hope that we can make some progress tonight in identifying issues which the Government will look at sympathetically and bring back on Report. If they do not, then at least those of us who want to press points will have an opportunity of doing so.