Clause 69

Health and Social Care Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:30 pm on 17th January 2008.

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

I beg to move amendment No. 42, in clause 69, page 33, line 27, leave out subsection (6).

Photo of Jimmy Hood Jimmy Hood Labour, Lanark and Hamilton East

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 43, in clause 69, page 33, line 28, at end add—

‘(7) In such cases as the inquiry is held in private under subsections (2) or (3), the Secretary of State shall make a statement to Parliament.

(8) In such cases as the Secretary of State deems publication inappropriate under subsection (5), he shall make a statement to Parliament.’.

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

The amendments would remove from the Secretary of State the decision on the appropriateness of publication, and ensure that Parliament was informed in cases where inquiries are held in private or publication is withheld. It would aid the Committee if the Minister gave examples of when the Secretary of State would direct that an inquiry be held in private, or when publication might be inappropriate. I note that being prejudicial to an ongoing criminal investigation is an example, but in that case, the power should be to delay rather than to prevent publication. Perhaps the Minister will clarify  that, in that case, “delay” might have been a more judicious word than “prevent”, which seeks not to have an out-date, as it were.

There are no checks or balances if the Secretary of State chooses to use the power to suppress inquiries that might carry political unpleasantness. Although I make no aspersions on that count, the issue must be raised, because as a matter of scrutiny in Committee, we should take every opportunity to ensure that we do not leave loopholes of which neither I nor the Minister would be proud.

Photo of Greg Mulholland Greg Mulholland Shadow Minister (Health)

Last time, I was caught out by the brevity of the hon. Gentleman’s contribution, so I am on my toes this time. He seemed to get through at an excellent pace, and it was a very brief contribution.

Subsection (6) includes the phrase,

“in such manner as the Secretary of State considers appropriate,” which sends shivers down the spines of many of us who believe in proper scrutiny. It could mean anything, and it is inappropriate to include such a woolly phrase in the Bill. The purpose of the amendments, which the Liberal Democrats fully support, is to include in the Bill appropriate occasions of parliamentary scrutiny, when the Secretary of State shall make a statement. I look forward to what the Minister has to say. The phrase that I have quoted is inappropriate, which is why we support amendment No. 42. The clear and succinct inclusion in the Bill of the occasions when a statement should be made to Parliament would be appropriate.

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

The subsection mirrors the provision in existing legislation for the Healthcare Commission and CSCI. The hon. Member for Eddisbury has already alluded to examples of why it might be necessary for an inquiry to be held in private, such as to ensure that a police investigation or criminal proceedings are not hindered or jeopardised.

On the hon. Gentleman’s question about checks and balances, a decision by the CQC to use publicity if it is concerned that something is being undesirably suppressed will be a fairly powerful check and balance. Hitherto, that has not happened and I do not see why it should, but if it did, the CQC will be in a position to cause extreme embarrassment to anyone who is in government at the time.

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

The Minister envisages that the CQC’s power to make public its concerns—effectively, it has the power to embarrass—will be a very good sanction, and I agree that it is a powerful one. He did not address the issue of whether “delay” is a better word than “prevent”, but that point is on the record and we can think about it in future. It certainly does not merit pressing the amendment to a Division, so I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 69 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 70 to 73 ordered to stand part of the Bill.