The amendment seeks to remove the Secretary of State’s power to direct the CHRE. The council is another of those so-called independent bodies in the Bill whose governance leads inexorably back to the Secretary of State. In response to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton during the evidence sessions, Lady Justice Smith said that,
“it is important, particularly in the health sphere, that the adjudicatory body should be seen to be independent of Government because the Government are a huge customer of healthcare; the biggest customer of healthcare. Therefore, it is important that there should be no suspicion that the Government are in a position to pull strings behind the scenes, as to what goes on. Absolute clarity and absolute independence are really important. ——[Official Report, Health and Social Care Public Bill Committee, 8 January 2008; c. 42.]
On the basis of that, I rest my case.
As I have said before in relation not just to the CHRE but to the Healthcare Commission, there is no intention to fetter the body’s freedom. The reason for this power is to ensure that, where necessary, a Secretary of State can ask the council to prioritise certain areas of its work load over others: for example, in cases in which there is particular public concern about a certain regulatory issue, or in which the expert input of the council is required in a particular Department of Health project. The powers could also be used to require the council to consult specific bodies, including the public, in undertaking its duty to inform and consult, which we discussed earlier. I hope that in the light of that explanation the hon. Gentleman feels reassured enough to withdraw his amendment.