Clause 34 - Amendments of health service legislation in connection with consolidation

NHS Reform and Health Care Professions Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:00 am on 13th December 2001.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of John Hutton John Hutton Minister of State, Department of Health, Minister of State (Department of Health) (Health)

Clause 34 will enable the Secretary of State to amend legislation on the health service by order if he thinks that such an amendment will assist the consolidation of that legislation. Under subsections (2) and (3), amendments made under the order will form part of consolidating legislation. Clause 36(3) provides for such orders to be subject to affirmative resolution; I hope that the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire is reassured by that.

The last piece of consolidated health service legislation was the National Health Service Act 1977. Since then, more than 50 Acts of Parliament have amended that Act and there have been countless regulations. As part of a consolidation exercise, the clause allows for the Secretary of State to amend legislation on the health service in England and Wales. I have tried to make it clear that consolidation is a purely technical exercise and is led by the Law Commission. The substance of the law cannot be changed through a consolidation exercise, but amendments made by order under the clause can be used to tidy up poor drafting—I acknowledge that examples of that might exist—remove ambiguities or reorder provisions to make them more comprehensible. As the Committee is aware, there is a special Joint Committee of both Houses, which is formed for the life of a Parliament, specifically to examine consolidation Bills.

In opposition and government, when one deals with reforming or amending legislation, it becomes apparent that health service and health care legislation is a complex jigsaw with myriad pieces. That is not only so for regulatory arrangements for health care professions, but for the operation of the NHS. The task of hon. Members—let alone that of lawyers, practitioners and people outside this place—is to keep a firm grasp of the law; cross-referring between different pieces of legislation is a fiendishly horrible exercise. If we can facilitate comprehension and grasp of detail by consolidation, we should take that opportunity. Clause 34 simply provides the means to make the consolidation process effective.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

The House is always slightly jealous of its powers and the use of the Henry VIII clause is generally not supported. During the past few years there has been more legislation than in former days. I am told that the rot set in in about 1964. Harold Wilson's Government doubled the amount of law on the statute book between 1964 and 1970, and the rot having set in, the rest of us joined in, and it has doubled every 10 years since. That may be apocryphal, but there is grain of truth in it because we have seen a burgeoning of law and it is sensible to consolidate from time to time. The year 1977 does not seem all that long ago to some of us, but 100 Acts of Parliament have apparently been made since then, which is extraordinary.

We are not against consolidation in health legislation and we have only to read the Bill and its subsections being described as (DZA) and (1A)(z) and so on to realise that we are coming to the point where it is difficult to amend it sensibly. However, the Henry VIII clause must be used sparingly and narrowly. I do not understand from the explanatory notes and the clause why it is necessary to move the clause now. Consolidation Acts must go through the procedures outlined by the Minister and I do not understand why this clause could not be part of one of the Bills going through the House at that stage. Is it necessary to pave the way for it? Perhaps the Minister will explain.

Photo of John Hutton John Hutton Minister of State, Department of Health, Minister of State (Department of Health) (Health)

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Such a provision is necessary in respect of the consolidation measure. We have merely taken the opportunity to ensure that we have that paving provision.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

That is helpful, but I should be grateful if the Minister would write to me explaining why it is necessary in a little more detail so that we can be satisfied on that.

The explanatory notes state:

''Under subsection (2) amendments made under the Order will form part of consolidating legislation.''

That confused me slightly because, if the clause is necessary in advance of the consolidation, I am not sure why the amendments would form part of the consolidating legislation, unless it means that a volume would be produced including the amendments in the order but that they would not form part of any Bills that come before the House.

Photo of John Hutton John Hutton Minister of State, Department of Health, Minister of State (Department of Health) (Health)

The hon. Gentleman will find that clause 34(2) refers only to when the order comes into effect.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

Yes, that is what I thought, which is why I did not understand the comments in the explanatory notes that

''Under subsection (2) amendments made under the Order will form part of consolidating legislation.''

I read that in the same way as the Minister: that the order will not come into force unless the Acts are passed. Perhaps that is all it means and the amendments would form part of the legislation only when the Acts had been passed, in which case we have solved the problem.

Photo of John Hutton John Hutton Minister of State, Department of Health, Minister of State (Department of Health) (Health)

I am happy to write to the hon. Gentleman.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 34 ordered to stand part of the Bill.