We think that it is a mistake to change a process that addresses what we all accept is sometimes a very difficult, emotive, highly charged and sensitive issue when it appears to work. I doubt that the Minister will say so today, but I think he might agree with that. We read in the Health Service Journal that the Secretary of State is
“considering scrapping or watering down plans to give him power of local service changes, in response to concerns from the service.”
The article also suggests that we would table amendments in Committee that would apply additional tests and mitigations to the new powers. We have not done that, because we decided that we would much rather that the Secretary of State did not give himself these wide-ranging powers at all. Rather than distract him from his central aim, we are trying to give him an “out” and the opportunity to do what we think, underneath all the fine talk, is what he really wants to do—quietly ditch these proposals. We will vote against the clause and the accompanying schedule, and we suggest Conservative Members do the same. I think that the Minister will be grateful in the end, if they defy the Whip on this occasion.
If I may just trouble the Minister with another element of the article, it said that several sources involved in the discussions said that the Government had indicated that the Secretary of State may form a stakeholder group to consider changes to the service reconfiguration powers to potentially narrow or remove them, although it also said that that was not confirmed. The article went on to say that any changes agreed to would be likely to be made through amendments in the Lords, and that the Secretary of State had rejected the idea of discussing the changes to other clauses unpopular with stakeholders. I do not know whether the Minister is able to comment on the veracity or otherwise of what was said, but if there is to be a stakeholder group, can he tell us who will be in it? I would also be interested to hear whether he has an opinion on the statement in the article about other clauses that appear unpopular with stakeholders. Can he tell us which ones those are? Of course, if the Minister is not able to get into that detail, he could just vote against the clause.