Report (6th Day)

Part of Health and Social Care Bill – in the House of Lords at 5:00 pm on 8th March 2012.

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Photo of Baroness Northover Baroness Northover Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), Lords Spokesperson (Department for International Development) 5:00 pm, 8th March 2012

Again, my Lords, what shines through is a great commitment to public and patient involvement at a local level; the only dispute is over the form of that. Again, noble Lords are familiar with the fact that various models have been tried, and I emphasise once again that we are seeking to build on the strengths of what has worked and mitigate some of the problems that have been encountered.

My noble friend Lady Jolly has tabled Amendments 234 and 235, the result of which would be to replace references to "people" with "local people" in Section 221 of the 2007 Act and insert the definition of "local people". We talked about the difficulty of organisations- LINks in particular-reaching groups that were defined as hard to reach. The definition in my noble friend's amendment says that when carrying out its functions, local healthwatch has to be representative of people who live in the area, service users and people who are representative of the local community. That applies to people of all ages and emphasises the need for local healthwatch to champion the views of the whole breadth of the local community. I am therefore grateful to my noble friend for this contribution, and I am happy to support her amendments.

Although I am sympathetic to the sentiment behind my noble friend Lady Cumberlege's Amendments 232, 236 and 237, I hope I can reassure noble Lords that, as corporate bodies, local healthwatches will have the flexibilities to make their own arrangements for securing staff, accommodation and so on, so the local authority should not have to make such arrangements on their behalf. There is no need for express provision on payment of expenditure because the legislation requires local authorities to make arrangements to ensure that the relevant activities can be carried on in their area. Necessarily, that means providing adequate funding to enable the functions to be carried out. This is an important point that I hope reassures noble Lords: the statutory functions must be delivered, and that is a protection of these bodies.

My noble friend Lady Cumberlege is quite right about local healthwatches working out their own priorities and work, and they will no doubt be doing that in conjunction with what is found to be good practice around the country, information coming from HealthWatch England and so on. I assure my noble friend that staff are there to help to facilitate such work, not to dominate it. My noble friend Lady Jolly is right: local healthwatch is a partner with local authorities-the eyes and ears, as the noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, and others have said.

My noble friend Lady Cumberlege was concerned that government amendments would damage local healthwatch's independence. I do not agree: the amendments do not dilute in any way the statutory functions of local healthwatch, including the ability to give advice to local authorities among others. In response to concerns that local authorities may try to suppress local healthwatch, we specifically brought forward Amendment 236E giving the Secretary of State the ability to publish conflicts of interest guidance that both local authorities and local healthwatch would have to have regard to.

The noble Lord, Lord Harris, raised a number of issues. He regretted the fact that yesterday he was not at the seminar that I mentioned. I regret that he was not there. It was interrupted by a couple of votes, but I am sure that he would have engaged with those who were speaking there. That would have helped to inform everybody. All Peers were invited and some from his group attended. I see a few shaking heads.