Clause 36 - Power of direction: investigation functions

Health and Care Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:15 pm on 21st September 2021.

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Photo of Justin Madders Justin Madders Shadow Minister (Health and Social Care) 2:15 pm, 21st September 2021

I beg to move amendment 108, in clause 36, page 42, line 33, at end insert—

“(10) Nothing in subsection (2) supersedes Part 4 of the Health and Care Act 2021.”

This amendment will ensure nothing in new section 7D of the NHS Act 2006 about the Secretary of State’s powers to direct HSSIB supersedes what is in part 4 of the Bill.

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr McCabe, and to see the Minister back again. We heard about his increased workload this morning; I also saw him on the Treasury Bench during the urgent question. I wonder where he finds the time—he should speak to his trade union rep if he feels there are too many demands being placed on his time. We will do our best to ensure that this afternoon is as stress-free for him as possible; if he accepts our amendments, that will go some way towards enabling that.

I will not speak for long on amendment 108 because we will be talking extensively about the Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch later on in the Bill. Concerns have been expressed in briefings received by the Committee and in evidence about some of the relevant provisions in the Bill, particularly on access to information. Clause 36 looks at the proposed power over bodies that have investigatory powers, which include HSSIB. It is difficult for us to accept the clause as it stands without having gone through all the details on HSSIB, because we cannot possibly know whether our concerns will be resolved about how it will operate in practice. That is why we have put forward amendment 108.

The amendment would ensure that the powers in clause 36 do not in any way impede the important principle that HSSIB will be an independent body established by the Bill. In conjunction with further amendments, which we will no doubt get to in part 4, we can all be confident that HSSIB’s independence is sacrosanct. That is important for not just us as parliamentarians, but everyone within the NHS who may have reason to come across HSSIB. It is also important for patients, of course, because they will ultimately be the judges of whether HSSIB has been a success. It would be helpful to understand what the approach will be in relation to maternity investigations. HSSIB has a potentially important role in identifying how providers can sustainably and systematically improve the quality of such investigations and then provide appropriate support. However, ensuring proper accountability, clarity and independence remain important, and this amendment seeks to ensure that those matters are enshrined on the face of the Bill.

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman; I made it in rather slower time down to the Chamber to listen to the statement. After one of our sittings last week, I think the hon. Member for Nottingham North was on his feet asking a question in the Chamber before I had even made it out of this room, which shows a certain speed that I can only seek to emulate.

I appreciate that the amendment is linked to the independence of the Health Services Safety Investigation Body. The Government are clear that HSSIB will be independent, which is why it is being set up as a non-departmental public body, with a chief executive—to be known as the chief investigator—and executive and non-executive members. I hope I can reassure hon. Members that clause 36 is a temporary measure to ensure that the current Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch can continue to exist in the interim phase before the new body is established.

As I am sure hon. Members are aware, the merger of NHS England and NHS Improvement means that the NHS Trust Development Authority, of which the Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch is a part, will be abolished. We need the important investigation function that the Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch provides to continue until HSSIB is fully operational which, subject to parliamentary approval, is planned for spring 2023.

The power set out in clause 36 is designed to enable the Secretary of State to direct NHS England, or another public body, to carry out the investigation function in the interim period. I reassure hon. Members that the HSSIB will be independent. Clause 36 is not designed to infringe upon its independence and cannot be used to direct the new HSSIB in how it exercises its functions; it is there simply to ensure the continuity of current investigations until the 2023 start date. For those reasons, I ask the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston to consider not pressing the amendment to a vote.

Photo of Justin Madders Justin Madders Shadow Minister (Health and Social Care)

I am reassured to some extent by the Minister’s words, but we have seen over the past 18 months that temporary powers do have a habit of becoming rather more permanent than was originally intended. I think it would be perfectly possible for the Government to include some sort of sunset clause to ensure that the intentions set out by the Minister are adhered to, but we may come back to that. As things stand, we maintain our criticisms, and it would be remiss of us not to push this matter to a vote.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Division number 12 Health and Care Bill — Clause 36 - Power of direction: investigation functions

Aye: 5 MPs

No: 9 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

The Committee divided: Ayes 5, Noes 9.

Question accordingly negatived.

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

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care)

I will be brief, because I believe that in responding to the shadow Minister’s amendment I set out the intentions behind the clause and the reasons why it is drafted as it is. Notwithstanding his desire to push his amendment to vote, all I can say is that I will continue to reflect on the points he has made. I cannot promise the outcome, but I will reflect on what he said. Having made the case when I addressed the amendment, I commend the clause to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 36 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.