The hon. Lady’s amendment seeks to bring all providers and commissioners of health and adult social care within the reach of the CQC’s special review process. It is a sensible amendment. She knows that I am not given to over-praising anything that comes from the Liberal Democrats, but I must say that it contains much neater drafting than the Government’s drafting. I commend it.
Amendment No. 262 prompts us to ask why the Bill says “NHS” rather than “health”. The hon. Lady touched on that and gave examples to reinforce that point. This is the clause about which Dame Denise Platt of CSCI said the following in the oral evidence session:
“We are also very concerned that some of our functions are dilute and become permissive in the new commission.”——[Official Report, Health and Social Care Public Bill Committee, 8 January 2008; c. 7, Q7.]
Much has been said about the fact that permissive, rather than statutory, functions will have less chance of being enacted in a tight funding settlement. That is a problem when the functions that are being made permissive are seen by both the regulator and third-party groups as being the most important.
To save time in the stand part debate, let me address a related issue that I can better deal with now. I hope that the Minister will feel able to give some assurance on a question that has arisen. He might wish to say when the new commission could commence such reviews and, more importantly, whether he expects a hiatus in the researching and publishing of such reviews between the winding up of the current regulators and the full functioning of the CQC.
In her oral evidence, Dame Denise Platt said:
“It is not clear to us why the function cannot be transferred from the start, and why it is going to be put into abeyance for a year—perhaps longer.”——[Official Report, Health and Social Care Public Bill Committee, 8 January 2008; c. 7, Q7.]
Clearly, there are serious implications. The Minister should note that within the first year of its operation, CSCI carried out three major reports, while dealing with its own establishment and reviewing the way in which it carried out its nascent regulatory functions.
The question is of interest not only regarding the quality of provision and safety; I am sure that the political angle will not have escaped the Committee. Any hiatus would prevent reports from being carried out before a rather magical date—the summer of 2010, well after what is gearing up to be something of a rocky election for the Labour party. I hope that the Minister can give an assurance that there will be absolutely no delay, no hiatus and total continuity; otherwise, such a postponement might be interpreted as having a political angle, rather than a functional one. I hope that the Minister will also address the other point that has arisen.