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Health and Social Care Bill — Report (4th Day) (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 10:15 pm on 29th February 2012.

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Photo of Baroness Northover Baroness Northover Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), Lords Spokesperson (Department for International Development) 10:15 pm, 29th February 2012

My Lords, noble Lords have raised a number of issues regarding Public Health England, many of which we discussed in Committee. Both then and today, we heard serious points very cogently argued, which we greatly appreciate. We have considered all these issues very carefully. Since Committee stage, the department has published more detail on the new public health system, including its operating model for Public Health England. The views expressed in Committee influenced the tone of those documents, and I hope that I can now reassure noble Lords that our proposals will give the agency the operational independence that it needs to become the leading organisation of its kind in the world.

The first point I want to stress is that Public Health England will function openly and transparently. Its operational freedom will be formalised in a clear and published framework agreement between it and the department. My noble friend's amendment proposes that the PHE board must have a non-executive chair and a majority of non-executive members. We have considered this at length and understand what the amendment aims to achieve, but we do not agree that this is the best option.

The Public Body Review was clear that Ministers should take more responsibility for arm's-length bodies. Cabinet Office guidance is also clear that nothing should undermine the direct accountability of an agency chief executive to the relevant Minister. We believe that there are sound and pragmatic reasons underlying that position, which could be put at risk by a governance structure dominated by non-executive representatives.

The public will look to the Secretary of State for leadership and accountability in protecting the nation from threats to health and they will be right to do so. The buck must be seen to stop with him. In the past, public health has too often been pushed to the fringe, which has been recognised by noble Lords. This arrangement brings public health centre stage. Instead of the NHS simply being a treatment service, public health in its widest sense will be central to the new arrangements.