Schedule 2

Health and Social Care Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:45 am on 15th January 2008.

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Transfers of property and staff etc.

Question proposed, That this schedule be the Second schedule to the Bill.

Photo of Stephen O'Brien Stephen O'Brien Shadow Minister (Health) 12:00 pm, 15th January 2008

Clause 3 introduces schedule 2. It is the enabling clause for the schedule, which transfers property, rights and liabilities. The Minister told us on Thursday that although establishing the CQC will cost £7 million, as outlined in the regulatory impact assessment, the transition costs will be £140 million. He said:

“The £140 million includes the cost of redundancies, estates rationalisation and planned reduction of the operating costs.”——[Official Report, Health and Social Care Public Bill Committee, 10 January 2008; c. 120.]

I hope the Minister will take the opportunity, as we examine the schedule, to detail what that £7 million covers, the current estates and the length and value of their leases. He will want to take note of information provided to me that, in relation to the Healthcare Commission, Finsbury tower is on a long lease taken out by its predecessor organisation, the Commission for Health Improvement, running until 2020, with a lease-break clause in 2015. That goes straight to the heart of the point.

Will the downsizing be anything beyond that already planned by the various regulators? I hope it is clear that by the end of March, the CSCI will have closed two thirds of its inherited estate of 84 offices: 56 closed, 28 remaining. As I understand it, that is the position, but I have not had the chance to confirm it with the CSCI. Where will the CQC be based? Given the Prime Minister’s 2004 commitment to relocate 20,000 civil service jobs outside London following the Lyons review, how many jobs will be moved out of London? As an MP representing a north-west constituency, I can tell the Minister that that is of very significant interest to my area, and I dare say that other Members have a not dissimilar interest, although we from the north-west will compete for those relocated jobs.

Will the Minister outline the liabilities of the three regulators? That will be vital before they are disbanded and transferred. How many staff are employed by each regulator in England, with an inside/outside London split, if possible, in Wales and in Northern Ireland? That is the context and background, and it is absolutely vital that we understand the operative part of clause 3, which brings into force schedule 2.

Schedule 2 deals with transfers of property, staff and the rest, so how much of the property, rights and liabilities will revert to the Crown? What is the expectation of paragraph 1(4), which says:

A scheme under this paragraph may contain provision for the payment of compensation by the Secretary of State to any person or body (other than one mentioned in sub-paragraph (1)) whose interests are adversely affected by the scheme.”?

The Minister will note that the paragraph is italicised, which means that it involves taxpayers’ money, so it is incumbent on all of us to find out what is intended. Does he have an estimate of the possible compensation? It is taxpayers’ money, so not only should he know, but we have a right to know, and so do the public. Has the amount been crystallised, or is it open to increase?

What is the process for obtaining the consent of Welsh Ministers under paragraph 1(6)? There is a very important point to be made at this juncture. There has been a puerile and crass attempt by the Labour party of Wales to try to undermine some of the amendments to the Bill, which quite rightly seek to put pressure on the Minister to decide whether he or Welsh Ministers will have responsibility for the legislation in Wales. Instead, the Government have kept the options open and not made a decision, and the legislation is all over the shop. They have got their little cronies in Wales to concoct a press release to try to undermine the amendments. Look at the evidence: only the Opposition have a Welsh MP on the Committee. The Labour Government do not, so they do not have somebody in the Committee who understands how the devolved powers work and can stand up for the interests of patients in Wales, be they in the health service or social care.

It was not only puerile but absolutely misplaced and deeply misjudged for the Labour party of Wales to start a nasty political spat when, in fact, only the Conservative party has managed to put on the Committee somebody who can stand up for the interests of Welsh people. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire will have an extremely enjoyable time ensuring that he stands up for the people of Wales and his constituents where the Government have failed, given that they had the option to select somebody representing a Welsh constituency. We did so, and we are glad to have had that opportunity.

On paragraph 2, it will be important to ensure that the day that the Secretary of State is likely to appoint for the transfers to take place is named. Failing that, many things will be difficult to determine. I hope that the Minister will take the opportunity to spell out why paragraph 3 is drafted as it is with regard to transfers under the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 1981, which I would have thought would be of grave interest to all members of the Committee. We have a duty to understand the rights that attend upon transfers of responsibilities and employment expectations, which are beyond the power of those involved in legislating in this place.

Finally, how many posts has each regulator already cut since the inception of the Gershon review? How many staff have the regulators lost through wastage due to the anticipated merger of their responsibilities? Without those numbers, we can make no sense of the claims made by the Minister and his colleagues.

Photo of Stephen Crabb Stephen Crabb Conservative, Preseli Pembrokeshire

It is a convention—and also heartfelt from me—to say what a pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Conway.

As my hon. Friend said, the schedule provides for the transfer of the property, rights and liabilities of the various bodies affected by the Bill—in the case of Wales, the Mental Health Act Commission. I should like to ask the Minister a few brief questions about how the Bill applies to Wales, with a view to helping the scrutiny process. Those who follow closely the proceedings of the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs, as I am sure many do, will know that the quality of scrutiny given to legislation made here that affects Wales, particularly framework legislation and the new legislative competence orders, is a live question.

Although Members from all parties might feel comfortable devolving further functions and powers to Welsh Ministers as part of the ongoing devolution process, it is surely incumbent on us to ensure that there is the best possible scrutiny at an early stage. To that end, will the Minister update the Committee on the discussions that he and his officials have had with Welsh Assembly Ministers about how the Bill will apply to Wales? Specifically, what does he understand the property, rights and liabilities of MHAC in Wales to be? Did Welsh Ministers, during his discussions with them, identify any additional resources that they would need to be able properly to fulfil their new functions and powers under the Bill?

Given the benefit that the Minister anticipates the creation of the new independent and integrated Care Quality Commission will achieve in England, my main question and concern about the application of the Bill to Wales is how comfortable he is about investing Welsh Ministers with many of the relevant functions, and the extent to which he thinks that the spirit of independence that has been discussed in relation to the CQC in England will be observed in Wales. Perhaps he will update us on what Welsh Ministers have said and on how they intend to use the powers to ensure that people in the Principality benefit to the same extent as those in England from the new provisions in the Bill.

Photo of Ben Bradshaw Ben Bradshaw Minister of State (Regional Affairs) (South West), The Minister of State, Department of Health

I regret that I do not have to hand the exact figures on liabilities and the length of the leases of various buildings, but I have written to Committee members following last Thursday’s sitting when evidence was taken about costs. If the Committee so desires, I can hold on to that letter a little longer and add some of the detail that has been requested, or send the first letter and include in a further letter some of the issues of liability in as much detail as we can gather in the time. Does the hon. Member for Eddisbury have a preference on that?

Photo of Stephen O'Brien Stephen O'Brien Shadow Minister (Health)

I am most grateful for the Minister’s offer, and indeed for allowing us to express a preference. It would be very helpful to us, in getting a handle on the issue, if he would send the letter that he has taken the trouble to put together as soon as possible, and send a further letter when the other details are to hand, so that we can give the matter proper consideration.

Photo of Ben Bradshaw Ben Bradshaw Minister of State (Regional Affairs) (South West), The Minister of State, Department of Health

On the questions about Wales, hon. Members will know that the Care Quality Commission covers England only, but the MHAC is, I am advised, covered in clause 48(3). Again, I shall perhaps add a few lines on Welsh issues for members of the  Committee, although we have liaised closely with Ministers and colleagues in the Welsh Assembly Government throughout the development of policy on the Bill. They are happy with the provisions, and so are we.

Photo of Anne Milton Anne Milton Shadow Minister (Health)

Will the Minister give us—he did not mention this—the figures on the loss of staff? That came up during evidence sittings. It is a crucial matter in the transition period and it is extremely important for the Committee to hear how many staff have already been lost.

Question put and agreed to.

Schedule 2 agreed to.