Clause 96

Health and Social Care Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:45 am on 22nd January 2008.

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Legal assessors

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Sandra Gidley Sandra Gidley Shadow Minister, Health

I want to pose a few questions to the Minister on legal assessors, which bring us back to the debate that we had on amendment No. 204. I am curious about what assessment has been made of the cost and effectiveness of legal assessors and how it would compare with a system in which there was automatically a legally appointed chair. Bearing in mind the arguments about time made by Lady Justice Smith, I wonder how the decision to have legal assessors has been arrived at. Some clarity about costs and effectiveness would be helpful in informing our decision, because there is no doubt that we shall return to the matter on Report.

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

I, too, would be interested in answers to those questions. Also, following our debate on amendment No. 204 to clause 93, which to my great surprise and disappointment the Government did not feel minded to accept, we know that the Government do not accept that there will be a legally qualified chair. Given that, we need to understand whether legal assessors will be on the fitness to practise panels for their whole duration, or whether they will be ad hoc, popping in and out. That is significant in deciding what we might return to on Report, so I should like to hear the Minister’s views on the importance of access to legal advice and qualified, skilled people.

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

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising the matter. I did not make an argument about costs in our earlier debate on amendment No. 204, which would have required all panels to have a legally qualified chair. To have that requirement and a requirement for legal assessors to be available would be unnecessarily duplicative and add costs. I think that that was one of the General Medical Council’s concerns.

In response to the hon. Lady’s question, we have not assessed the current or future costs of the legal assessors system, but we shall be doing so along with our assessment of the costs of a requirement to have legally qualified chairs. I hope to be able to say a little more about that on Report.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 96 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 97 ordered to stand part of the Bill.