With permission, Mr Speaker, and in the light of the statement earlier this afternoon by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health, I should like to make a short business statement. The business for tomorrow will now be:
Tuesday 30 October—Proceedings on a business of the House motion, followed by all stages of the Mental Health (Approval Functions) Bill.
The business for the rest of this week will be substantially unchanged.
Wednesday 31 October—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Local Government Finance Bill, followed by a motion to approve European documents relating to the multi-annual financial framework. The House may also be asked to consider any Lords amendments that may be received, and the Speaker shall not adjourn the House until he has reported the Royal Assent to any Act agreed on by both Houses.
Thursday 1 November—A debate on a motion relating to beer duty escalator, followed by a debate on a motion relating to air passenger duty. The subjects for these debates have been nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 2 November—Private Members’ Bills.
I will announce, as usual, further business during the business statement on Thursday.
Order. The Leader of the House emphasised that it was a short business statement and I emphasise for the benefit of hon. and right hon. Members that it is also a narrow business statement. The normal opportunity for exchanges will occur on Thursday at business questions, but I know that hon. and right hon. Members will wish narrowly to focus their questions on the specific change to business to tomorrow, which the right hon. Gentleman has announced.
I thank the Leader of the House for his business statement, which was inevitable following the earlier statement by the Secretary of State for Health. Will the Leader of the House do something to reassure us about the practicalities of a sudden switch to consider all stages of a Bill that has just this minute been published? In the words of my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), the shadow Secretary of State, we will be legislating tomorrow on something that the Government, or certainly we in this Parliament, have only found out about today.
Will the Leader of the House explain why there is such a rush and why all the Bill’s stages have to be taken tomorrow? Will he reassure hon. Members, who would usually be given adequate time to ask parliamentary questions and to discuss or even hold hearings on aspects of the Bill? Is there anything he can do as Leader of the House to ensure that adequate help is given to those who wish to consider the Bill, which has only just been published, at such short notice? Are there any extra things that the Department of Health could do to reassure hon. Members about the reasons for this? Perhaps it could be more open than would usually be the case, given that all stages of the Bill are now due to be taken tomorrow. I would appreciate it if he could go into a little detail for those who are interested in taking part in the debates, and if he could reassure the House and those outside that the matter has been adequately examined.
I particularly wish for some reassurance about stakeholders. The explanatory memorandum to the Bill mentions stakeholder involvement, but only medical involvement, not user involvement.
I am grateful to the shadow Leader of the House for her response, and to the shadow Secretary of State for Health for how the Opposition responded to my right hon. Friend’s statement.
On the practicalities of the matter, hon. Members will of course be concerned to know that tomorrow’s business of the House motion, which I will table later, ensures that they can raise issues by tabling amendments, including before Second Reading. I hope that the motion will permit that to take place, to allow the full debate that Members will wish to have in Committee.
My colleagues, including the Secretary of State for Health, and I of course looked carefully at the requirement for the proceedings on the Bill to be conducted on such a time scale. As the hon. Lady will recall from my right hon. Friend’s responses to questions following his statement, a 72-hour period is allowed to put in place the assessment necessary to make a section under the Mental Health Acts. By extension, once it is clear that there is any procedural irregularity, there is a risk of legal proceedings being raised by the patients concerned. The legal advice makes it clear that it is desirable to achieve clarity as quickly as possible, otherwise there is a risk of large numbers of assessments having to be entered into. I know that our collective judgment will have been explained to the shadow Secretary of State.
I hope that along with the Department of Health, we will be able to take every step that we can. The Department has published the Bill and explanatory notes, which the hon. Lady will have seen. She will know that the Bill contains one substantive clause plus those on commencement, extent and short title, and I hope that today’s statement and the explanatory notes make it clear that it is focused specifically on the point in question.
As far as stakeholders are concerned, the issue that has arisen is about the approval of medical professionals. We were therefore particularly focused on the Royal College of Psychiatrists. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made clear, patients’ rights and interests have not been prejudiced, and I hope that they will take reassurance from that. I have no doubt that immediately following his informing the House of the situation, my colleagues at the Department of Health will have ensured that all those in a position to represent patients’ interests have been given the necessary details and that they will have the opportunity to contact the Department and Members over the next 24 hours.