Commencement

Health and Social Care (National Data Guardian) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:00 am on 6th June 2018.

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

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

The clause provides for all the Bill’s provisions to be brought into force by regulations made by the Secretary of State. It is a standard clause to be found in many Acts of Parliament.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

It may well be a standard clause, but such clauses are often abused by the Government. For example, Parliament passed a measure to outlaw exit payments for public sector workers in the Enterprise Act 2016. We are still waiting for the regulations under that primary legislation to be introduced. The Government now say that they will have to consult on them. Effectively, what Parliament thought was happening—the limiting of public sector exit payments—has not happened.

The Bill is supported across the House, as the measure I have mentioned was. I should be grateful for some indication from the Minister of when the Government will implement it. It could be delayed by the Government by means of the regulation-making powers in the clause; or by the Government’s not appointing the Data Guardian. There are other ways in which it could be delayed, and if we take the past as a guide to the future we should be suspicious of the Government when they are not prepared to include in the Bill a commitment for it to commence on a given date.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Chair, Finance Committee (Commons)

Christchurch and Rhondda speak as one, in a uniting of the Christophers, something that will not, I think, happen very often. It is a serious point; I understand that such clauses are a frequently used means of tidying up the process of a Bill coming into force. However, it adds cost, because the Government must go through an additional process; and frankly there is no reason why we should not just put in a date and tell the Government to get their act together—because everyone supports the measure.

I hope—I am sure—that the Minister will now say, “We intend to do it as soon as practicable after the Bill has been through both Houses,” and all the rest of it; but it would be better for the date to be in the Bill, because then she would not have to do anything later, and, to use a valleys word, it would be tidy. Let us be tidy.

Photo of Jackie Doyle-Price Jackie Doyle-Price The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

Tempted as I am to engage in debate on the abuse or otherwise of statutory instruments, I prefer not to go down that road. Suffice it to say, we should put provisions into action only once they are tidy, to use the term suggested by the hon. Member for Rhondda. We should be governed by the integrity of the rules we pass rather than by speed, but I can confirm that it is the Government’s desire to implement the Bill, which we fully support, as soon as practicable. Clearly, we already have a National Data Guardian; the Bill would just put it on a statutory footing. It is in all our interests that we do that as soon as possible, so the Government are content with the clause.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

Will the Minister assure us that she will take personal charge of ensuring that the Bill is brought forward quickly? To go back to the example I quoted earlier, I had a meeting with the Chief Secretary to the Treasury and pointed out to her that one of the reasons there was a delay in implementing regulations was that civil servants did not have their heart in it and did not give it sufficient priority. The only way of ensuring that the civil servants in the Minister’s Department deliver on the wishes of the Committee and the House is for her to take charge and deliver. Will she ensure that the Bill is commenced before the end of this calendar year?

Photo of Jackie Doyle-Price Jackie Doyle-Price The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

I completely agree with everything my hon. Friend says. It is Ministers’ responsibility to ensure that the decisions made by Parliament are actioned as promptly and effectively as possible. I know him well enough to be sure that he will hold me to account on exactly that basis if he does not feel the Bill comes forward quickly enough. I would like to see it commenced by the end of the year, and I will work with my officials to ensure that that is the case. If we cannot achieve that, I will give him an explanation.

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

I am grateful for the contributions by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch and the hon. Member for Rhondda. I absolutely agree with their general comments. I looked carefully when drafting the Bill at the issue they raised. I could have included a provision that the Bill would come into effect, say, six months after it became law, but I did not because we already have a Data Guardian, so there will not be any gap, and I know how much the Government support the Bill. That is the reason we did not put in a date, but under other circumstances I absolutely would have insisted on one.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 5 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 6