Clause 38 - Reconfiguration of services: intervention powers

Part of Health and Care Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:30 pm on 21st September 2021.

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Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care) 3:30 pm, 21st September 2021

I fear we may not have consensus in Committee at this point, but none the less I will endeavour to answer some of the points raised. I am always grateful to the shadow Minister for his kind offers of help and assistance, and he will know that I always reflect carefully on the evidence we have heard and on the opinions of hon. Members on both sides of the House. I welcome his welcoming of the publication of the impact assessment in time for him to be able to quote it back at me. Finally, I thank him for his heartfelt and kindly offer of alternative approaches, given his concern for my workload were these proposals to be approved. I am touched on a number of levels by that, and equally by his suggestion that I and others have been engaged in the dark arts of spin—heaven forbid.

In the context of clause 38 and these amendments, right hon. and hon. Members, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood, have raised a number of important points that bear further reflection. As we have said throughout this process, the challenge with this Bill is striking the right balance between being permissive and ensuring accountability at a national level, and we believe this clause plays a key part in doing so. I disagree with the shadow Minister’s view—although I respect it—that the clause does not strike the right balance, and I do not believe that the powers set out in it are disproportionate, as he has suggested. He has highlighted the role of the IRP. I mentioned my gratitude for its work in my opening remarks, and I was very clear that that work will continue. The IRP will continue to give the valuable advice it has given thus far.

I do not believe that the notification requirements will prove unduly onerous: a notification can be a very simple process. To the shadow Minister’s point about timeliness, process and definitions, we are working very closely with the NHS and other partners to produce guidance that will set out clear expectations about how and when the powers will be used, and how they will be exercised. In his remarks, he touched on a concern that Ministers might be beset by lobbying from the public and others. I would argue that such lobbying would clearly point to greater public engagement with such matters and increased transparency, which are things that we might welcome. For fear of upsetting my hon. Friend the Whip, the Member for St Austell and Newquay, I will pass over the invitation that the shadow Minister and others have extended to my colleagues on the Government Benches to break the Whip. I saw the expression on my hon. Friend’s face when that was suggested, so I strongly discourage any of my right hon. or hon. Friends from contemplating that course of action. Even though a reshuffle has only just happened, there is always another one at some point.