Clause 5 - Further provision about HPW

Health (Wales) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:30 am on 12th December 2002.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Win Griffiths Mr Win Griffiths Labour, Bridgend

With this we may discuss the following amendments: No. 13, in

clause 5, page 4, line 25, leave out subsection (9).

No. 14, in

clause 5, page 4, line 27, leave out 'or (9)'.

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

These amendments address another clause that appears to be rather generous in the powers that it hands to the politicians in the Assembly. That rather goes against some of the principles espoused yesterday by the Secretary of State for Health in his plans to devolve power into the hands of health professionals in communities in relation to a number of areas of our national health service.

Conservative Members see the establishment of Health Professions Wales as potentially creative. It will be a significant body that can enable and develop the professions in different aspects of health care in Wales. Like other bodies of its kind, it should be strong, independent and health and medicine-oriented. It is the sort of organisation that must be run by people with the professional skills, knowledge and understanding to do the work that the Government have rightly identified as necessary for Wales.

This is primary legislation for health care in England and Wales, set out by the House in its role as deliver of such legislation. Why, then, does the Assembly need the power to abolish the body established by the Bill? There is no obvious or rational reason why the Assembly should want to abolish the HPW. The Government are taking a coherent step in creating a body that should have a long-lasting and central role in the development of health care professionals in Wales, so why the need for powers to abolish it? Once again it highlights the Bill's central flaw.

Broadly speaking, the Committee is agreed that the Bill is a decent set of steps, sensible, based on consultation and welcomed by health care professionals in Wales. That is why the Bill is not controversial and why we are spending relatively little time in Committee. Its main weakness is that in several different ways it hands excessive power to the politicians of the Assembly at the expense of the medical and health care professionals in Wales. I have cited the powers to abolish the HPW as one example.

The Assembly should not be given the right to abolish the HPW on a whim. I broadly accept the Minister's assurance that the Assembly has no intention to do so, but, with respect, the Minister has no crystal ball and cannot predict all circumstances—whether financial pressures or political ideology—in the short, medium or long-term future. Why confer on the Assembly the power to walk into the HPW and sequester assets, people and aspects of its operation? An ambitious Welsh Health Minister, seeking to strengthen his or her Department by gaining greater control over training in Wales, might remove that specialist department from the HPW and bring it into his own Department. The effect would be to destabilise the organisation by ripping out professional skills and economic assets, thereby undermining its financial structure. There is no need to do so, which is why we tabled the amendments to remove these provisions from the Bill.

The Government should have trust in what they are creating. They should not leave it to the vagaries of the Assembly's political will. The HPW should be a strong, independent, professional medical and health care body. Proposals to abolish it only weaken its strength and independence. We hope that the Minister will accept our amendments and remove these provisions.

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

Rarely have we heard so many reservations expressed about politicians by politicians. It is quite extraordinary. We have already responded to concerns about the Assembly's powers. During pre-legislative scrutiny, the Royal College of Nursing asked for the removal of powers of direction under clause 4(2) and (4) and we responded positively to the request.

The amendments would remove the reserve power of the Assembly to abolish Health Profession Wales and to make consequential provision for the transfer of its assets. The power is necessary for prudent management and I urge the Committee to retain it. Changes within the health service and the ways in which the professions work may give rise to new requirements for their continuing education and training. The support systems, including the HPW, may have to alter as a consequence.

I assure the Committee that the Assembly has no intention of using the power to bludgeon, threaten, or force the HPW to toe any line. The hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell referred to the possibility of an ambitious Health Minister in the future. It is a peculiarity of Wales that we do not look too well on ambitions.

I am reminded of a youngster who was walking on the quayside at Aberaeron and noticed some crabs crawling out of a bucket that had just been landed. He told the fisherman, who said, ''Don't worry, they won't get out; they're Welsh crabs, they'll all pull back.''

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

It is our sincere hope that this lack of ambition for the sons and daughters of Wales does not affect the Minister's own political career.

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

That rests with people outside this Room, but mainly with the electorate.

As I said, I assure the Committee that the Assembly has no intention of using the powers in any way to threaten or force the HPW to toe any line. It is not envisaged that the reserve power will be used, but it is a prudent power to have. The Assembly must be allowed to react quickly, if necessary, to developments in policy on the education and training of health-care professionals.

It may be useful to give one or two examples. The regulatory bodies, the Health Professions Council, or the Nursing and Midwifery Council may want to resume greater control of continuing education for the professions covered by the HPW. They may therefore want to consider withdrawing the agreement under which it is envisaged that the HPW would discharge those functions on their behalf, thus reducing or negating the role of the HPW altogether. If that meant that the HPW would no longer be viable, the Assembly would want the option of closing it down and reabsorbing any minor residual functions within the Assembly. If the HPW's role and function changes, it will be important to ensure that resources are used appropriately in delivering and supporting new ways of working.

The transfer of property and, more importantly, of staff, is always difficult and sometimes distressing. The provision allows the Assembly to make the necessary arrangements to ensure a smooth transfer that causes the least possible upset to the bodies concerned. I reassure hon. Members that no change would be made to the status of health profession roles without first conducting a full review of their functions and consulting key stakeholders throughout Wales. The aim of this and other provisions is to give the Assembly the powers and the flexibility that it needs to make policy as the situation in Wales requires. The amendment would defeat that purpose, and would mean that the Assembly would be forced to return to Westminster to seek further primary legislation to achieve its aims. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is reassured that there will be no great rush to damage or remove the HPW, but there must be a provision to take account of any changes in circumstances at some time in the future that might change the role of the HPW. We must be able to deal with such developments without coming back for more primary legislation.

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

The Minister still appears to be focused on the Assembly's current rather than future intentions. I would be more convinced by his arguments if he were arguing in favour of retaining subsection (9) to allow the flexibility to accommodate future developments and changes in the organisation.

Subsection (8) seems to give draconian powers to the Assembly, but it is not worth taking up the Committee's time by forcing the matter to a vote. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 5 ordered to stand part of the Bill.