Both provisions relate to the fee-charging regime of the Office of the Health Professions Adjudicator, which we debated at some length earlier in the Committee. I do not intend to add any more to the discussions that we had then.
As the Minister said, this relates to matters that were brought forward on the Floor of the House in a separate ways and means debate. We had a long discussion around the fee-raising powers of the OHPA and the associated governance and value-for-money issues. That debate is recorded from column 357.
It is right to point out that we remain concerned that the OHPA is not totally independent of the Government. The Minister assured the Committee that departmental power lies only with payment and loans made to OHPA. He also assured us that an executive, non-departmental public body—if OHPA is eventually classified as one of those by the Office for National Statistics—does not have to refer any of its judgments back to the sponsoring Department. It does not have to explain to the Department why it has made any professional decision, nor does it have to give the Department details of its professional decisions. There is total independence in the panel’s professional decisions and Ministers will have no power to interfere in any of its adjudication decisions.
However, new clause 7 opens up the path for the OHPA to collect fees from the General Optical Council and the General Medical Council—fees that will be passed on to doctors, opticians and associated professions. Again it is right to place on record that we remain concerned that the Government have a power over the levy, particularly as they have not yet clarified the likely level of the fees and the running costs of the OHPA, although I readily acknowledge that the Minister will seek to give us further details, hopefully in the near future, so that we can bottom this one out. The Government have not given sufficient guarantees protecting doctors against massive year-on-year fee increases, in the event that the OHPA fails financially because of Government error. I was half-inclined, on a feet-to-the-fire basis, to propose that we should seek to divide the Committee on the issue, but assuming that the Government are happy to acknowledge that they are genuinely coming forward with more details for us to consider, I am happy to allow the amendment to go forward at this stage.