Sitting Proceedings Time for conclusion of proceedings 27th November Clause 1, Schedule 1; Clause 2, Schedule 2; Clauses 3 and 4, Schedule 3; Clauses 5 and Clause 6, Schedules 4 and 5; Clause 22; Clauses 7 to 10. _ 27th November Clause 1, Schedule 1; Clause 2, Schedule 2; Clauses 3 and 4, Schedule 3; Clauses 5 and Clause 6, Schedules 4 and 5; Clause 22; Clauses 7 to 10. _ 29th November Clause 1, Schedule 1; Clause 2, Schedule 2; Clauses 3 and 4, Schedule 3; Clauses 5 and Clause 6, Schedules 4 and 5; Clause 22; Clauses 7 to 10. _ 29th November 5 p.m. 4th December Clauses 11 to 19, Schedule 6; Clauses 20 and 21; new Clauses and new Schedules relating to Part 1. _ 4th December Clauses 11 to 19, Schedule 6; Clauses 20 and 21; new Clauses and new Schedules relating to Part 1. _ 6th December Clauses 11 to 19, Schedule 6; Clauses 20 and 21; new Clauses and new Schedules relating to Part 1. _ 6th December Clauses 11 to 19, Schedule 6; Clauses 20 and 21; new Clauses and new Schedules relating to Part 1. 5 p.m. 11th December Clause 23, Schedule 7; Clauses 24 to 33; new Clauses and new Schedules relating to Part 2. _ 11th December Clause 23, Schedule 7; Clauses 24 to 33; new Clauses and new Schedules relating to Part 2. _ 13th December Clause 23, Schedule 7; Clauses 24 to 33; new Clauses and new Schedules relating to Part 2. _ 13th December Clause 23, Schedule 7; Clauses 24 to 33; new Clauses and new Schedules relating to Part 2. 5 p.m. 18th December Clauses 34 and 35, Schedules 8 and 9; Clauses 36 to 40; remaining new Clauses and new Schedules. _ 18th December Clauses 34 and 35, Schedules 8 and 9; Clauses 36 to 40; remaining new Clauses and new Schedules. 7 p.m.
I join the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) in welcoming you to the Chair, Mr. Hurst. In a small but none the less significant sense, this is something of a parliamentary occasion. Members of the Committee might not be aware that you and I went to the same school, and I think I am right in saying that I was the first person educated at Westcliffe high school to become a Member of Parliament and you were certainly the second. This must surely be the only occasion on which two Westcliffe high school old boys have been involved in the passage of a Bill—one as Chairman and the other as the Minister leading the case for the Government. Others may not be terribly thrilled by that, but I am and I hope that you are too.
My hon. Friends and I are looking forward to making progress on the Bill under your watchful stewardship, Mr. Hurst, and I can promise that we will try at all times to be on our best behaviour and never to give you cause to bring us to book or admonish our conduct in any way. I am sure that the same can also be said of other members of the Committee.
The resolution, which we discussed with the Opposition parties as recently as yesterday, offers the Committee a sensible way to make progress on a Bill that is 40 clauses long. In trying to reach agreement on these matters, we have made a number of concessions, including increasing the representation of Opposition Committee members, increasing the number of sittings and lengthening the time for which the Committee sits. Such measures are needed if we are to scrutinise the legislation properly.
In a moment.
I hope that members of the Committee will agree that the proposals that we ask them to endorse today are sensible and fair to both sides, and constitute a reasonable way in which to proceed.
In intervening on the Minister, I wanted the Government Whip also to hear my remark, but he has just left the Room. Has the Minister given any thought to the problem that I raised previously? I am having difficulty tabling an amendment given the clash on Thursday 29 November between the Committee and emergency business in the House, which was brought forward after negotiations were complete on the timetable and members were selected for the Committee. Does he see a way forward that would allow members of the Committee to take part in emergency health business in the House on Thursday afternoon?
It is incorrect to say that the Human Reproductive Cloning Bill was introduced before we started discussions on the programme resolution. The Government made clear their intention to introduce that Bill some time ago, and we submitted our proposals on the programme motion to the Opposition last week. Yesterday, in the Programming Sub-Committee, we had an opportunity to discuss these issues, but the hon. Gentleman did not raise this matter. [Interruption.] I stand corrected if he did. On this occasion we must make some difficult choices. It is right that the Committee should meet on Thursday, and members of the Committee must decide how they want to allocate their time. I do not want to advise my hon. Friends not to meet on Thursday, and I am not in a position to help the hon. Gentleman with his predicament. My concern is to make progress with the Bill, and I ask the Committee to support me in that.
As a fellow Essex Member may I add my words of welcome to you, Mr. Hurst. Notwithstanding the recent derogatory remarks of the Secretary of State for Health in the House that caused furore in the county of Essex, I have full confidence in an Essex man in the Chair of this important Committee.
In the Minister's opening comments, he alluded to, and glossed over, the fact that all was not well in last night's Programming Sub-Committee. The Government are seeking to rush the Bill through Committee in the same way that they are rushing their reform of the national health service, which has not been properly prepared for the added responsibilities of primary care trusts and strategic health authorities.
The Bill raises important issues about the future provision of health care in this country, and Government and Opposition members of the Committee would agree that we cannot afford to get it wrong because the danger is that problems will be inflicted on our constituents in the provision of their health care, a point that we have made on numerous occasions inside and outside the House. The abolition of health authorities and their regrouping into strategic health authorities means that 75 per cent. of funding for health care will be devolved to primary care trusts, and that is being done in an over-hasty way that holds serious implications for health care provision. There are several key issues that must be properly and thoroughly discussed in Committee, which will help the Government to avoid mistakes that they may be making in their haste. For the Committee to finish its deliberations by 18 December is too short a period.
During our discussions yesterday, the official Opposition originally wanted six members on the Committee and suggested that we should sit into January so as to have a proper opportunity to discuss in a considered and measured way the important issues concerning strategic health authorities, primary care trusts, quality and, an issue that has not yet been raised but, I assure you, Mr. Hurst, will be raised later during our proceedings, the highly contentious and irresponsible provisions of clause 20. The Government seem hell-bent on resisting any sensible approach and continuing with their ill-thought-out proposals prior to the last general election to abolish community health councils, which provide an independent voice for patients throughout the country.
I am sure that as a constituency Member, Mr. Hurst, you will have received many representations from the excellent mid-Essex community health council and even from its former chairman, who was a Labour district councillor in Braintree, about their opposition to abolition of the councils. We have the impression--we want to discuss it more fully in Committee--that the Government are simply making this pernicious and petty move because they will brook no opposition. If anyone has the temerity to highlight concerns about their actions, they do away with the organisation because it does not fit in with Millbank's script on the image that they want to portray.
To do our work properly and fully, we need more Committee members than the Government have offered and to sit longer so that our discussions are not rushed, but the Government are determined not to accept that. If my information is correct, they informed the official Opposition that we could have four Members on the Committee and that we could sit until 13 December. That was totally unacceptable and we were not prepared to compromise, so the Government returned shortly afterwards and said that they would allow five Members and two extra sittings on Tuesday 18 December. We still believe that that is not long enough, but it would be fruitless to negotiate. The Government are determined to use their majority on the Committee to ensure that they get their own way.
The official Opposition are opposed to the programme resolution for the reasons outlined. We believe that we should have more time and an extra Member on the Committee to help us in the duty of an official Opposition, which is to study, question, probe and monitor legislation. We should ensure that legislation on the most far-reaching reforms to the health service, some say since 1974 and others say since its inception in 1946-48, is properly scrutinised, fine-tuned, improved when improvement is needed and changed if humanly possible. We need the opportunity to try to persuade the Government to think again about those areas that we believe are utterly wrong so that the legislation that goes on to the statute book will improve and enhance the health care provision for our constituents. For those reasons, we cannot support the Government in their programme resolution.
I beg to move, as an amendment to the resolution, after paragraph 5 to add
`(6) provided that Clauses 7 and 8 shall be taken at the morning sitting on Thursday 29th November at half-past Nine o'clock and be concluded by twenty-five minutes past Eleven o'clock.'.
I welcome you to the chair, Mr. Hurst, and both Ministers to the Committee. As the hon. Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) said, the Bill is important.
I am grateful to you, Mr. Hurst. I take the opportunity to apologise, if an apology is in order, to the Front-Bench spokesmen for not giving them notice of the amendment. I raised the matter on Thursday afternoon at the Programming Sub-Committee, as I think the hon. Member for West Chelmsford recognises, but it was never adequately resolved. It was raised, however, and the Minister is either mistaken or forgetful in suggesting that it was not.
The Bill requires adequate scrutiny because it makes quite a few changes, not least in clauses 7 and 8, which are two of the many that require scrutiny. However, matters in the House also require adequate scrutiny and when the selection was made for Committee, there was no thought that important primary legislation would come before the House on the afternoon of Thursday 29 November.
There was also a proposal for a debate in the House on the Bristol royal infirmary inquiry and the Kennedy report, which pertain to this Bill. On Second Reading, Ministers said that what they sought to introduce under the Bill dealt with some of those concerns. I had a conversation with the Government Whip and, through what could be considered unusual channels, I was given an indication that whether it was feasible to discuss issues connected to the Kennedy report in Committee at a time when the House would also be substantively debating it for the first time would be seriously considered. I was given a reassurance, which one can only assume was given in good faith, and I accepted it in the same manner.
Then followed a change in business, well after negotiations on the draft timetable were concluded. It was announced only last Thursday that the House would discuss emergency primary legislation, in which many hon. Members including me will have an interest, on the afternoon of Thursday 29 November, when this Committee is also sitting. In private meetings and the Programming Sub-Committee, I have sought flexibility for this Thursday's sitting to enable hon. Members with an interest in the emergency primary legislation to perform their duty of scrutiny in the House as well as in Committee. My amendment should not find disfavour with Conservative Front-Bench spokesmen. I apologise for not having given them a manuscript version of the amendment.
I seek to include in the timetable, while there is still time to table amendments to clauses 7 and 8, a provision allowing us to discuss those clauses during the morning sitting on Thursday 29 November, rather than be forced to miss such an opportunity due to a Second Reading, Report stage and Third Reading in the Chamber on that day. I hope that that finds favour with the Minister, with Government business managers and with the official Opposition. There is a huge amount to debate by 5 o'clock on Thursday and we still have the scope to do that. In the spirit of co-operation, I hope that that might find favour. Clearly, I cannot vote it through by myself without support.
I have some sympathy with Conservative Members' view of the position in which we find ourselves, with large amounts of legislation being rushed through using programme motions. I should put it on the record that I accepted 18 December as a fair end date; I do not want to run with the hounds and the foxes. Nevertheless, given that we were assured that it would be possible to arrange extra sittings before 18 December, the Government should exercise flexibility in relation to the clash of scrutiny that some members of the Committee may face.
The trouble with packing in extra sittings on Monday and Wednesday is that it does not solve the problem that outside bodies that are watching our proceedings and want to help us as the debate matures are unable to do so if we have insufficient time in which to table amendments and new clauses that deal with certain issues in a slightly different way. It is a bastardisation of the system.
I am prepared to agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is far better to have an agreed programme than to have to squeeze in extra sittings.
I have no problem with five, six or seven Conservative Members serving on the Committee, and I made no representations against that. However, there is only one of me on my party's Front Bench; my colleague on the health team is serving on the Committee that is considering the Adoption and Children Bill.
I am delighted to welcome the hon. Member for Wyre Forest (Dr. Taylor), who sits as an independent and to whom the business managers who look after the minor parties have been more than willing to give a place. Conservative Members on the Select Committee on Health have done the same. The hon. Gentleman will be torn between Select Committee meetings and sittings of the Committee on Thursday mornings, and I hope that members of the Committee will understand if he sometimes has to be absent from the proceedings in order to do the job of scrutiny in the Select Committee system. As the Minister said, there are great demands on our time, and we will have to exercise judgment, but I hope that the Government majority will show flexibility.
The hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) makes a good point. Some members of the Committee will want to attend the debate on the Human Reproductive Cloning Bill on Thursday afternoon, and it would be convenient to deal with clauses 7 and 8, which are very important, during the morning sitting. We therefore support his amendment.
In terms of the way in which the debate in Committee matures, Oppositions parties are disadvantaged if extra sittings are packed in. Any self-respecting Member can speak at great length on any subject and make an interesting contribution to any part of the debate. However, such contributions are best when they are informed by the views of outside bodies that are concerned about the issues and have practical experience of them. Shortening the Committee's deliberations puts them at a disadvantage, and if extra sittings are packed in there is even less time for them to meet us to talk about the concerns that it is our duty to put forward. It is wrong for the only option always to be, ``Let's pack in some more sittings and keep to our timetable.'' The Government should be more flexible on that.
The Bill is a skeleton, without flesh, a Christmas tree without baubles. [Interruption.] I notice that the Whip enjoyed that one. There are numerous order-making powers in the Bill, as usual, which is the modern trend. To know what is really proposed, we need to see the details of the draft orders, which will be being prepared. No one is nodding, but I am sure that they are. Why should we, as parliamentarians debating the material, not know what is really proposed? We would like to see those details.
The Minister has not jumped at the suggestion that I made at the outset that he should give us all those documents now, saying, ``Oh yes, of course, let's do that.'' That is disappointing because we cannot really tell how long we need until we know the detail. I venture to suggest that if the Minister produced all the draft orders and regulations that are up his sleeve, it might shorten the proceedings. As it is, we will be asking a vast number of questions about exactly what is proposed.
Those are the difficulties that I see, in addition to those that my hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford raised. It is sad if a Government cannot meet an Opposition halfway, or at least agree to the approach to Committee business that an Opposition want.
Does my hon. Friend recall that, during the Committee stage of the Health and Social Care Bill earlier this year, the Minister's predecessor, the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham), was faced with exactly the same problem that my hon. Friend outlines? He listened to the Committee's arguments and in the end became extremely helpful. He made available, where possible, the draft orders so that we were better informed to discuss the contents of the Bill.
It might be of benefit to the Committee if I try to respond to some of those points now. That might save some Opposition Members from detaining the Committee any further.
When I moved the programme resolution, I had not seen the amendment of the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon. I am happy to accept it; I think that it is a sensible way to proceed. In future, I am sure that Committees will benefit if some of the phoney rhetoric that we have just heard from the Opposition could be suspended. We hear such talk, claiming that the Government are trying to ramrod their business through and keep Committee members uninformed, every time. That is not our intention, and that is not how I intend to run this Committee.
As a signal of our intention to keep Committee members properly informed, I have produced for them a further explanatory note on the transfer of functions to primary care trusts. I wanted to mention that when debating the clause. It is now on the table for hon. Members to study. We intend throughout to try to keep Committee members fully informed. If we are in a position to share with them any draft regulations ready to be circulated and discussed, we will do so. The hon. Member for West Chelmsford rightly referred to the practices of my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen, and I am pleased to say that, when I am in a position to do the same during the Committee stage, I will.
I have considered the amendment and am happy to accept it as a sensible way of proceeding. I am grateful to him for drawing the issue to the Committee's attention.
Many of us are from Essex, either by birth or election: I add my name to that list, and I know that one of my hon. Friends sitting to my right will also do so in due course. Let us hope that that reflects the quality of the Act that ultimately emerges.
I am concerned about the haste with which such an important Bill is being rushed through. As someone who has worked in the NHS, it is dear to my heart. The Bill will fundamentally change the way in which the NHS operates; it is not, by any means, merely tweaking. Therefore, the sort of programme that we have concerns me. The issues need to be adequately exposed; in particular, we need to have the comments of outside bodies.
Only this morning I received a representation from the Local Government Association, and I am sure that many hon. Members have received the same one. Such representations seem to be arriving daily, but I am told that the normal experience is that they usually come in dribs and drabs during the Committee stage. We cannot assume that outside bodies are sufficiently organised to pass their representations to us in good time. They expect Committee stage to last a reasonable length of time so that they can comment as it proceeds. I am rather concerned that supportive outside bodies on which the Committee should rely quite heavily will not have that opportunity.
There are substantial concerns about the Bill, especially as it relates to community health councils—a subject that we shall debate in due course. Somewhat to my surprise, my postbag has been flooded with expressions of concern about community health councils. The strategic health authorities are also causing considerable concern among the general public, although that is largely the result of some misunderstandings about the way they are to be put together.
In short, I urge that we are given more time in which to debate this important Bill. I am sure that the quality of the legislation will be markedly improved as a result.
Amendment agreed to.
Main Question, as amended, put:—
The Committee divided: Ayes 13, Noes 5.
Question accordingly agreed to.
(1) during proceedings on the National Health Service Reform and Health Care Professions Bill the Standing Committee do meet on Tuesdays at half-past Ten o'clock and at half past Four o'clock, and on Thursdays at half-past Nine o'clock and at half-past Two o'clock;
(2) 14 sittings in all shall be allotted to the consideration of the Bill by the Committee;
(3) the proceedings to be taken on the sittings shall be as shown in the second column of the Table below and shall be taken in the order so shown;
(4) the proceedings which under paragraph (3) are to be taken on any sitting shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the time specified in the third column of the Table;
(5) paragraph (3) does not prevent proceedings being taken (in the order shown in the second column of the Table) at any earlier sitting than that provided for under paragraph (3) if previous proceedings have already been concluded;
(6) provided that Clauses 7 and 8 shall be taken at the morning sitting on Thursday 29th November at half-past Nine o'clock and be concluded by twenty-five minutes past Eleven o'clock.