Report (5th Day)

Part of Health and Social Care Bill – in the House of Lords at 7:45 pm on 6th March 2012.

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Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health 7:45 pm, 6th March 2012

My Lords, Amendments 196A and 196B, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, would remove the provision for adjudication if a significant proportion of those affected object to proposals by Monitor for methodologies to be used to calculate prices of levies to ensure the continuity of the central services or proposed licence modifications.

I am clear that we must have a process for adjudicating on Monitor's proposals if a sufficient number of those who will be affected by them object; otherwise, in these circumstances, either Monitor would have no way of proceeding with disputed proposals or those affected would have no other way of disputing proposals other than by judicial review. Either way that would be unacceptable and could result in significant harm to patients, for example if a licence condition that Monitor proposed related to securing essential NHS services. For pricing methodologies, for example, the amendments would mean that Monitor could go ahead with its proposals even if sufficient numbers of those affected objected. The only way that providers, in the case of pricing commissioners, would be able to ensure that their concerns were taken into account would again be through judicial review. We need to ensure a fair and transparent system of pricing, securing competition on quality and not price, and removing incentives for providers to cherry-pick the services that they deliver or the patients whom they treat.

I am therefore clear that we should have a process for adjudication. I am also clear that the Competition Commission should undertake that role. It has other adjudication roles. The commission has experience of working across a range of sectors, on the basis that it does not necessarily have the knowledge which it needs about those sectors in-house. It would be free from political intervention in making these judgments. It is well respected by other regulators across the economy, for which it performs a similar role. In our earlier debates, some noble Lords expressed concern that there should be appropriate checks and balances on Monitor's powers. The provision for adjudication by the Competition Commission creates one such check and balance. These amendments would remove it. For those reasons, I oppose Amendments 196A and 196B, and I hope that on reflection the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, will withdraw them.

I turn to the Competition Commission's role in reviewing how competition is benefiting patients in the NHS. After briefing myself, I came to the conclusion that the reviews will bring considerable benefit to the NHS because they will help us understand further what effect competition has on NHS services for patients. They will also increase Monitor's accountability because they will consider how Monitor is discharging its functions. The commission will be well placed to conduct them because it is an independent body with a long history of performing such reviews across the economy. It is the body where the expert technical knowledge needed to perform this function already resides, and it understands and reviews how markets and regulation work in the best interests of people. That was why the provision was put in the Bill.

However, I listened to the points made this evening by my noble friends Lord Clement-Jones and Lord Newton. On earlier occasions my noble friend Lord Clement-Jones was quite vocal in expressing his views to me on this subject. I have some sympathy with the argument that prescribing reviews every seven years, as the Bill stipulates, may place too great an emphasis on competition. Greater flexibility about the timing and specification of reviews may be helpful. Therefore, I am clear that such reviews of competition in the NHS, when they happen, should focus on benefits to patients. On the basis that prescribed seven-year reviews may place too great an emphasis on competition in the NHS, and given the role of the Competition Commission, if it is the view of the House that Clauses 78, 79 and 80 should be removed from the Bill, I will not oppose Amendments 186, 187 and 188.

I turn briefly to the issues raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, on procurement in Surrey. The issue was raised earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Adebowale. I agree with her and with the noble Lord that social enterprises can and do play an important role in providing innovative, high-quality services, often to very vulnerable people. Turning Point is an excellent example. The key aim of our reforms is that patients should be treated by the best providers; that bureaucratic procurement practices should not frustrate this; and that it should be quality that counts. We will take all this into account when framing the commissioner procurement regulations.

On the example quoted by the noble Baroness, I understand that the requirement for the £10 million performance bond to which she referred was subsequently withdrawn and therefore played no role in the decision to appoint a preferred bidder. However, I will write to her with further details on this.

Amendment 185 agreed.

Amendment 186

Moved by Lord Clement-Jones

186: Clause 78, leave out Clause 78