Schedule 2 - Wales centre for health: further provision

Health (Wales) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 5:30 pm on 10th December 2002.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Conservative, Leominster 5:30 pm, 10th December 2002

I beg to move amendment No. 18, in

schedule 2, page 8, leave out lines 27 to 32.

This is very much a probing amendment. At first glance, paragraphs 6 and 7 of the schedule seem reasonable. Paragraph 6 states:

''If it appears to the Assembly that there has been a serious failure by the Centre to perform any function which it considers should have been performed by the Centre, the Assembly may give the Centre such directions as it may consider appropriate for remedying that failure.''

That seems innocent enough. Paragraph 7 states:

''Directions under paragraph 6 must include a statement summarising the reasons for giving them.''

The Minister pointed out a few moments ago that the Wales Centre for Health was not to be regarded as a servant of the Assembly or, indeed, the Crown, yet almost everything about the centre is decided upon by the Assembly. Therefore, this is either a belt-and-braces provision, or unnecessary.

Paragraph 9 states:

''The Centre must comply with any direction given by the Assembly under this Schedule.''

If the Wales Centre for Health is responsible for any type of failure, it will automatically be in default, so paragraphs 6 and 7 are almost completely unnecessary, and the amendment would leave them out of the Bill. If the provisions stay, they will not be to the detriment of the centre, but part of our duty as a

Committee is to ensure that the Bill is as clear and positive as possible.

Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister (Health)

My hon. Friend is a member of the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs. Am I right in saying that the Committee expressed concerns about this whole block of legislation, particularly the apparently draconian powers that it offers the Assembly over the workings of the Wales Centre for Health? If so, will he enlighten us about the discussion that took place and whether he shares that view?

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Conservative, Leominster

I do, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing that up. I have a quote from Jane Hutt, who says:

''I am not being prescriptive, but I am saying we need to use regulations not to tie down the Wales Centre for Health, but at least provide the appropriate routes into the Wales Centre for Health and provide more clarity on the routes into the Wales Centre for Health.''

We are trying to clarify the amount of influence that the Welsh Assembly should have over the centre, and whether this aspect of the Bill would allow the centre to be a scapegoat should something go wrong. Removing paragraphs 6 and 7 would tidy up the Bill, so I am curious to hear why the Minister feels it is so important to leave them in.

Photo of Don Touhig Don Touhig Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Welsh Office, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales

The amendment would remove the provision that enables the Assembly to give directions to the Wales Centre for Health to remedy a serious failure in the centre's performance. That provision is essential for the Assembly to maintain proper oversight of the centre's work. Surely it would be wrong if the Assembly had no powers to intervene if it were aware of major financial mismanagement or administrative malpractice in the centre.

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Conservative, Leominster

Paragraph 9 says:

''The Centre must comply with any direction given by the Assembly under this Schedule.''

Everything that the Minister has said would still apply if paragraphs 6 and 7 were removed.

Photo of Don Touhig Don Touhig Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Welsh Office, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales 5:45 pm, 10th December 2002

I am sure that if I say a few more words about the matter, what I am trying to get at might become clear to the hon. Gentleman. As I said, we want to ensure the independence of the centre. However, we also took account of the concerns that the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs—of which he is a member—expressed at the pre-legislative scrutiny stage. The hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell helpfully reminded the hon. Gentleman of what that Committee said.

I remind hon. Members that when the draft schedule 2 was first published and put out for scrutiny, under ''Assembly directions'', we said:

''In exercising any function, the Centre must comply with any direction given by the Assembly for Wales.''

We have taken account of the concerns that were expressed during pre-legislative scrutiny, and the Bill has been amended accordingly. Now, the Assembly will be able to intervene only when there is a serious failure, and it must give reasons for doing so under

paragraph 7. We believe that that is not only a proper and adequate safeguard against any misuse of power by the Assembly or interference with the centre's work, but a backstop. If there is serious financial or other malpractice, a body must be able to intervene in order to take corrective action. That body is the National Assembly.

Recognising that the amendment is a probing amendment, I hope that the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Wiggin) is reassured. We have listened to the comments made during pre-legislative scrutiny. We have removed the all-embracing power to exercise in any function and in any direction. We have made the provisions more specific in relation to the matters that I articulated. I hope that for those reasons the hon. Gentleman will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Conservative, Leominster

I would most like to withdraw the amendment. It is unfortunate, however, that the Minister has not yet managed to convince me that everything that he said is different from paragraph 9. That is the sticking point. Under paragraph 9,

''The Centre must comply with any direction given by the Assembly under this Schedule.''

That means that paragraphs 6 and 7 are redundant. I do not understand why such negative provisions are necessary. However, I will happily listen to the Minister again, if he will help me on that point.

Photo of Don Touhig Don Touhig Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Welsh Office, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales

If I may help the hon. Gentleman, paragraph 9 relates to the directions as concerns paragraphs 6 and 7, which are specific to any failure by Assembly in the functions that I have illustrated.

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Conservative, Leominster

I am grateful, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 2 agreed to.