Schedule 2

Part of Health and Social Care Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:00 pm on 15th January 2008.

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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.