House of Commons
Friday 22 January 2016
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. It does seem an awful waste of the House’s time to divide when only three Members support the motion, in order to close down the debate and prevent people from hearing what the House has to say. What chiefly worries me, however, is that when the voices are heard, there always seem to be more Members shouting “Aye”, that we should sit in silence—[Interruption.] I mean in private—[Interruption.] The Whips might think it would be better if we sat in silence, but when we sit in private no one can hear us, so we are effectively sitting in silence.
Let me return to my main point, about the shouting. I shouted “No” quite loudly. In the same part of the Chamber, there seemed to be a shout of “Aye”, yet none of the Members who are sitting here voted that way. I know that they do not have to, but is not the procedure a complete waste of the House’s time?
The principle is that vote should follow voice. It is disorderly for a Member to voice in one direction and vote in another. However, it is not obligatory for someone who has shouted “Aye” to vote “Aye”. He or she is perfectly free to abstain. The same applies to a Member who votes “No”, a point that the hon. Gentleman acknowledged in his point of order.
That said, in an age in which we prize intelligibility and transparency, it is much to be preferred if Members are, and appear to be, consistent in what they do relative to what they say. I think we will leave it there for now. I hope that that satisfies the constitutional palate of the hon. Gentleman.
NHS (Charitable Trusts Etc) Bill
Consideration of Bill, not amended in the Public Bill Committee
Removal of Secretary of State’s powers to appoint trustees
I beg to move amendment 4, page 1, line 15, after “may” insert “after appropriate public consultation”.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Amendment 1, page 1, line 17, at end insert—
“(2A) The Secretary of State may by order or regulations made by statutory instrument make such provision as the Secretary of State considers appropriate to re-establish the Secretary of State’s powers to appoint trustees in respect of—
(b) more than one,
(c) a type, class or category of, or
(2B) A statutory instrument containing an order or regulations under subsection (2A) which amends or repeals primary legislation (whether alone or with other provision) may not be made unless—
(a) a draft of the instrument has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament, and
(b) a draft of the order or regulations was published three months before laying before Parliament.”
Amendment 3, page 1, line 21, at end insert—
“(bA) provision for one trustee to be appointed by the NHS institution, service or function for whose benefit the charitable trust exists,”.
Amendment 2, page 2, line 1, leave out “and” and insert—
“(cA) provision by which the Secretary of State may appoint one or more trustees where—
(i) the Secretary of State has satisfied himself that exceptional circumstances exist, or
“(ii) all the trustee positions in relation to a particular charitable trust have been vacant for a period exceeding three months, and”.
Amendment 5, page 2, line 4, leave out “Subject to subsection (5)”.
Amendment 6, page 2, line 7, leave out subsections (5) and (6).
Amendment 7, clause 2, page 3, line 14, at end insert—
“(8A) A statutory instrument under subsection (8) may not be laid before either House of Parliament without an accompanying statement by the Comptroller and Auditor General that he is satisfied with the treatment of public assets and funds envisaged in the regulations contained within such an instrument.”
Amendment 8, page 3, line 13, leave out subsection (8) and insert—
“( ) A statutory instrument containing regulations under subsection (1) may not be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament.”
Amendment 9, schedule 1, page 9, line 9, at end add—
“(14) The Secretary of State may grant permission for—
(b) any number of, or
(c) a category or type of
charitable trust, established for the purposes of supporting an institution, service or function of the NHS, permission to use the NHS logo or NHS branding in their fund- raising and other communications.
(15) The Secretary of State may, having given 6 months’ notice, rescind a permission granted under paragraph 14 (the notice period may be reduced in exceptional circumstances).”
I want to focus on amendments 4, 5 and 6, which stand in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Erewash (Maggie Throup). Amendment 4 deals with the need for a public consultation; amendments 5 and 6 remove the requirement for the draft to be laid before, and approved by, each House.
I shall turn first to amendment 4 and the principle behind it. It inserts
“after appropriate public consultation”
in clause 1, page 1, after “may” in line 15. It seeks to oblige the Secretary of State to carry out a public consultation that he considers appropriate before making regulations. The principle of a public consultation should be relatively uncontentious. After all, the origins of the Bill being ably presented to the House by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Wendy Morton), which I fully support, were found in public consultation. The Department of Health conducted a review in 2011, and consulted publicly in 2012. The 2012 consultation set out the rationale for reform. As a result of that consultation and review the Government committed to move to a model of greater independence.
My hon. Friend makes a sound point: one must always balance the benefit and the cost. I do not have figures on the cost of the consultation, but I think he will agree that the principle of a public consultation is a sound one, and that is what I am speaking to.
Will my hon. Friend explain what he means by “appropriate”? Does it mean the Secretary of State should ask a few mates in the pub what they think of the proposals, or a more formalised system through petition of this House?
In my mediocre experience in local government I have participated in a huge number of Government consultations. I cannot recall a single one that changed the initial decision of the Government. Will my hon. Friend acknowledge that more often than not Government consultations just go through the motions? The only one I can remember ever having an effect was by the incoming Mayor of London on removing the extension of the congestion charge in the west of London, which was overwhelmingly supported by consultees, and he did in fact enact that in the teeth of opposition from Transport for London. Beyond that, I have never quite seen the point of consultation when Ministers’ minds are made up. Does my hon. Friend agree?
I certainly would not agree that my hon. Friend’s experience is mediocre—quite the opposite. I understand the thrust of his point, but I disagree, because at a time when politics can be seen to be remote it is important that the public are engaged in these debates. I also think it would be wrong to say Ministers’ minds are closed. I am sure those on the Front Bench this morning would agree that Ministers’ minds are not, and should not be, closed—certainly not before a public consultation.
The point about cost is important. At the end of the day it would have to come from taxpayers, which I accept is a challenge and a potential disadvantage. My argument is that in the principle of a public consultation the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.
Again, I do not have those figures to hand. My hon. Friend is right to raise this because it is an issue of concern; cost must always be borne in mind, but, as I have said, I am speaking to the principle, and unfortunately I do not have the specific figures she asks for.
My hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse), a far from mediocre figure in any sense, is far too self-deprecating, but I want to come back to the point he made. He referred to the consultation in west London, which was on a huge issue that affected vast numbers of people and had been the subject of a hard-fought political campaign. It was also a very costly consultation, but that was appropriate and proportionate. A lot of the changes that your amendment refers to—sorry, that the amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Michael Tomlinson) refers to—are purely technical in nature and this would not be necessary.
I think Mr Speaker would agree that these are not his amendments, but are my amendments. I understand, again, the point my hon. Friend makes, but I disagree with it.
May I return to the review on which the Government consulted in 2014? Following that consultation, the Department of Health published its response—it is an important point of principle in public consultations that there is a formal response. As a result of that response, we have these proposals and eventually this Bill, which is being ably presented by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills.
Who will the consultation be with? Will it be with other charities, hospital users, people who have been to see “Peter Pan”, every hospital in the country, or every child who has ever been treated at Great Ormond Street? Who exactly will my hon. Friend be recommending the consultation is with? So far, that is not clear to me.
I envisage the consultation being as wide as possible. My hon. Friend mentions everyone who has been to see “Peter Pan”, and that would be a pretty wide consultation—perhaps not everyone has seen “Peter Pan” and I highly recommend that those who have not, do so. I envisage that the principle is that it is as wide a consultation as possible.
The Bill, which has wide support on both sides of the House, is the product of a public consultation, so I fail to see how Members can disagree with this proposal.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way; he is being incredibly generous in taking interventions. Every charity has a group of people it benefits. Does my hon. Friend agree that for this consultation to have any meaning, it would have to be with the entire area of benefit, which could in some cases involve literally millions of people? Does he also agree that most of them would probably feel their charitable funds would be better spent getting on with the job, rather than having a very large consultation about who appoints a director of the trustees?
I understand that point, which is similar to other points questioning the benefit and the cost, but I respectfully suggest that the benefit outweighs the cost in this case and that the public, seeing that they are consulted, would once again be re-engaged with the political process, which I think my hon. Friend should support.
My hon. Friend rightly points out that my private Member’s Bill emerged as a result of consultation with NHS charitable trusts. Does he agree, however, that it is unusual to be seeking public consultation on a technical change that is consequential to my Bill?
Again, I am grateful for the intervention and understand the point being made, but I disagree with my hon. Friend. Although this is technical in nature, I believe the principle of public consultation would be beneficial to the wider public. It would be curious to be opposed to public consultation, certainly in principle, given that this Bill is a product of just such a consultation.
Let me give one further example of public consultations attracting wide support. Many in this House, on both sides of the Chamber, have been fighting for fairer funding.
I completely agree with my hon. Friend that most of us would support adequate public consultation, but I am concerned that we do not know how much cost we will burden the taxpayer with. I press him again: how many consultations does he envisage? What would the cost be?
Once again, I am grateful for the intervention, but, with respect, may I say that my hon. Friend is merely repeating a point that she made before? As I explained, I do not have those figures to hand and so, with regret, I cannot give her a specific figure. I understand the general thrust of the point she makes, but I respectfully disagree with it and am giving a further example in relation to fairer funding, with which I think she will agree. I refer to the successful campaign for fairer funding for our schools, where there will be a period of public consultation following it.
Again, with respect to my hon. Friend, may I say that she is repeating a point she made before? I did accept that this money would have to come out of the public purse, but I am seeking to persuade her and other hon. Members that the benefits of public consultation will outweigh the costs. I am giving a good example, or at least I hope I am, about fairer funding. I hope she will agree that having fought and campaigned for fairer funding for our schools, for example, those in Dorset and Poole, which are grossly underfunded, it is right that the public and the stakeholders are consulted. It is right that parents, local authorities, school governors and the general public are consulted, and I encourage everyone to respond to that consultation to ensure that we—
Order. I gently exhort the hon. Gentleman to consider the merits of moving on to one or other of the two other amendments that he has for consideration. I would not want him to be led astray by someone, discontented with his previous answer, somehow feeling that he requires to attend to the point beyond what he has already done. The hon. Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) has made her point and he has made his, and I know that he would not want to engage in tedious repetition.
In which case, let me turn to that very point. As my hon. Friend rightly says, my amendment 4 contains the word “appropriate”. We can all envisage inappropriate public consultations. I again contend that this term should be relatively uncontroversial, because we all know what it means. An inappropriate consultation would be too short or would take place over a festive period such as Christmas, when either people would not have the opportunity to respond or an insufficient number would have the opportunity to do so. Although I welcome the opportunity to expand on the word “appropriate”, I believe it is pretty obvious what it means.
The word “appropriate” also relates to the level of the thing to be consulted upon. We have a tradition in this country: certain things—for example, Britain’s membership of the European Union—are decided by consulting every member of the public in a referendum. Other issues such as school funding also affect the wider public, but on issues such as who is a director of something we do not usually go to the length of a full public consultation to decide the process. This is about what is appropriate given the nature of the issue, as well as what is appropriate in terms of the time of year the consultation is held and how long we give people to respond.
I am very grateful for that helpful intervention. I would wish to expand on the issue of an EU referendum, but I suspect that Mr Speaker would encourage me to move on, so I will not be tempted down that line. I understand the point my hon. Friend makes and will merely respectfully suggest that the word “appropriate” speaks for itself and requires no further elaboration.
Given your encouragement, Mr Speaker, I will now move on to amendments 5 and 6, which also stand in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Erewash. They seek to remove the requirement that the regulations may make provision consequential to the removal of the Secretary of State’s powers; in effect, they would remove the affirmative resolution procedure and insert the negative one. They are simple amendments, so I will not take up your time in debating them at length, Mr Speaker. In effect, the debate is being held now, as is perfectly appropriate, and it would therefore be unnecessary in this case to bring it back.
I am grateful for that intervention, but my view is that in this case it is unnecessary to use the affirmative procedure to approve the matter and the negative procedure would suffice. I understand the point that my hon. Friend makes, but I respectfully suggest that these amendments are appropriate. I was looking up one of the notes in the Library, perhaps one prepared by one of your predecessors, Mr Speaker, and I found that it stated that the affirmative procedure is less common, being used in perhaps only 10% of cases.
I will not take up time by referring to the other amendments, merely noting that several and other hon. Members will speak to them in due course. I look forward to a constructive debate on this group.
I had not intended to follow on so quickly, Mr Speaker, as I thought there would be a great rush to the barricades of people wanting to speak. I am moved to speak in opposition to what my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Michael Tomlinson) is proposing before dealing with my own amendments. I am very concerned about what he is suggesting, given its radicalism and its move away from proper parliamentary scrutiny and from the sovereignty this House enjoys. He asks us to throw all that away for this vague “appropriate” consultation. One of his amendments would remove the following provision in the Bill:
“A statutory instrument containing regulations under subsection (2) which amend or repeal primary legislation…may not be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House”.
You will know, Mr Speaker, that one of the most dangerous powers this House can give to Ministers—one we have always been cautious about giving them—is the power to amend primary legislation without going through the normal procedures for repealing primary legislation. Therefore, slipping in an amendment to a Bill that would take away that safeguard from this House and the other place, and allow things to be nodded through, is an extraordinarily radical proposal. It takes away the authority of this House and is therefore fundamentally dangerous, and so I oppose it.
If primary legislation is being changed the default position should be that it can be changed only by primary legislation. That should not be subject to a de minimis level because primary legislation is by its nature important. If something is not important, why is it in primary legislation? If it is in primary legislation it can be assumed that it is a matter of such nature, state and standing that it has required this House, the other place and Her Majesty to approve it. If we are dealing in trivialities, that is a broader constitutional question that should be considered and we should stop doing that. If something is in primary legislation, it ought, as a starting point, only be changed by primary legislation.
To allow Ministers what have been known as Henry VIII clauses to wipe out primary legislation is something that constitutionalists have been concerned about for many years. That is why I am very uncomfortable with this provision being slipped in as an amendment and brushed over when what it does is of fundamental importance and is quite rarely used. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole made the point that the affirmative route for statutory instruments is rarer than the negative one, and that is quite correct, but the negative one is mainly used for routine regulations that do not engage in any change to primary legislation. When primary legislation is changed, that ought to be brought to the House.
That is absolutely right, but I think that slipped in is a perfectly fair phrase on Fridays, because the debates then tend to be quiet and relatively poorly attended. However, it is nice to see our Benches so full and well trooped, if I might say so, by people who are in the Chamber to support the Bill. I am rather surprised that our friends from Scotland are all absent, but I suppose that the Bill does not immediately affect them, at least not in the first half.
I want to move on to the comparison between the amendment getting rid of the affirmative route for statutory instruments and the one on public consultation. It seems to me to be an extraordinary approach to take to say that when a regulation is changed by the Secretary of State, it is better that it should be consulted on with a group of self-selecting individuals who take the time to get in touch, taking away the ability of this House to act as that safeguard and check. Surely we are here, with a democratic mandate, as the main people to be consulted on behalf of our electorate, to whom we have to report every so often. Issues should not be put out to local consultation, which, as my hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse) said, is often more of a fig leaf and an attempt to consult and either achieve a result that is already intended. If not, the consultation is ignored. Consultation has become immensely fashionable and we should always be cautious of fashion. Fashion ebbs and it flows, it comes and it goes, but there is a permanence to this House and in our way of doing things. We are the democratic sounding board for our constituents, so that there are not endless self-selecting consultations with people who are not necessarily particularly interested in the issue.
Moving away from the dangers of fashion back to the substance of what we should be debating, will my hon. Friend address the point about the principle of the public consultation and the fact that this very Bill was the product of public consultation?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention, but I am afraid that I think that most public consultation is bogus. It is about going through the motions and pretending we are interested in views when the Government, or councils or whatever else, want to get on and do whatever they wish to do anyway. It simply allows opportunities for judicial review to gum up the process. We should be incredibly cautious about chucking public consultation into Bills, because that does not actually achieve anything.
I raised the question of what the word “appropriate” meant earlier and I was indeed intending to come back to it. Appropriate, inappropriate, unacceptable and disappointing are those new Labour words that get dropped into conversations and they mean remarkably little or what, in a Humpty Dumptyish way, what the person hearing them wishes to think that they mean. What is an appropriate consultation? There is no qualification or clarification in the amendment, so what is it intended to achieve? Does “appropriate” mean that signs should be put on noticeboards, as with planning issues? Does it mean that letters should be written to local residents? Does it mean that something should be squirrelled away on the internet? Does it mean that a paper should be laid before this House, or put in the Library, where, no doubt, many people would follow its contents closely? Or does “appropriate” mean that the Secretary of State has a word in his office with the permanent secretary, saying, “Do you think this would be a good idea, Sir Humphrey?”, then Sir Humphrey replies, “Well, you would be very brave, Minister,” and then the idea is dropped on the basis of that consultation? Does it mean the Secretary of State can have a word at home with his family—with his kitchen cabinet—telling them that he is minded to appoint or not appoint a few trustees? I could tell all sorts of anecdotes about how that used to happen in the good old days, but I think it might be wandering slightly from the point. “Appropriate” is a very imprecise word and legislation ought to be precise.
My hon. Friend is giving us the benefit of his usual style of speech—[Interruption.] Of fashionable speech, yes. It is certainly in fashion on a Friday to hear my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg) speak so well. Does he agree that the problem is that “appropriate” can mean anything under the sun and that various people have different views? For example, with the recent pension changes, some have said that the information should appear in adverts in the press and others that it should be provided in individual hand-delivered letters. This term is so vague and really would have to be defined. I think it is strange to say that we want to consult if we are handing out something that is unlikely to get more than a handful of responses given its detailed and technical nature. That will merely build up in the public’s mind the idea that yet again people have decided what they will do and are now consulting on it.
I agree with my hon. Friend. I want to finish on this set of amendments by saying that this House should be jealous of its role as the major focus of consultation in the nation. We were elected to represent our constituents and therefore to express views on these issues. That is why we are here, and what is done with consultation so often is a pretence. It is not about the Government wanting the wisdom of the millions before making up their mind but about the Government wanting the comfort of having been through a rigmarole to get what they wanted in the first place. We should not give up our authority lightly or increase the power of the Executive.
I know want to turn briefly to the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire, which are absolutely glorious in their conception. They basically reverse what the Bill is trying to do in the first place, which is a great thing for him to have slipped past our ever-attentive Clerks. That does not often happen on Report. Perhaps the amendments—and this is why our Clerks in their wisdom let them go through—would ensure that there is a safeguard. Safeguards may be sensible. There have been occasions where charities have got into trouble when public money is being spent. Although it is broadly considered a good idea to remove the power from the Secretary of State to appoint trustees so that a decision is made more locally and so that the construction of the charities may be more suitable for the local organisations—that has a great deal of support —we know that something will go wrong at some point.
That is not a particularly Cassandra-like view to take; it is just the experience that we have. We know that there will be a small charitable hospital that puts all its money into an Icelandic bank, for example, and suddenly loses it. The trustees get criticised and attacked, or they write 3,000 letters a year to elderly ladies asking them for money and are seen to have behaved badly. Then somebody will come forward, probably a Member of this House, who will ask the Secretary of State at Question Time, “Why is it that you, Secretary of State, are not doing anything to stop this problem arising? Why have you not kept those residual powers? Why did you not ensure that when the Bill went through Parliament, there was a safeguard, something to protect—”
My hon. Friend makes an interesting and important point. NHS charities are different because of the structure of the national health service and the conception of the national health service in people’s minds. There is much less of an immediate governmental interest, or concern with, ordinary private charities that were founded sometimes centuries ago with grants from generous benefactors that through the mists of time have evolved and developed. NHS charities work side by side with the state in all that they do, so they are a marginal extension of the state rather than something completely different from it. If we draw a Venn diagram of the third sector, we have a part that is very private and another part that is very much state. NHS charities are very much in the state part of the Venn diagram.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way. He is generous with his time, as always. He talks about NHS charities being close to the state and therefore needing particular provision, but many other charities work closely with our national health service. I think of Rowcroft hospice in my constituency which provides palliative care across south Devon. Why, then, safeguard only certain charities? Why not expand it to all? The amendments do not strike me as worth while.
My hon. Friend ignores the starting point, which is that the Secretary of State makes the appointments, whereas that has never been the case for other charities. They have evolved differently, whereas NHS charities are evolving out of the NHS, more towards the private sector. To put in place a safeguard which one hopes would not be used seems to me quite a prudent thing to do. It says, “This is our hope, this is our intention. We expect it to work and we think it will work in the vast majority of cases and make NHS charities more like other private sector charities.”
I am grateful. The Charities (Protection and Social Investment) Bill is proceeding through this House. It comes back to the Chamber next week, giving us the opportunity to hear more about the work of the Charity Commission. Does my hon. Friend agree that when the NHS charities that we are discussing today become independent, there is the assurance that they will be covered by the Charity Commission? That goes a long way to ensuring public trust in those charities, which is the crux of the matter.
I suppose the answer is “Up to a point, Lord Copper.” The Charity Commission has marvellous and admirable elements. It has a brilliant chairman who has been a great force for good in that organisation, sorting out some of the problems that it had before his appointment. I think particularly of the dreadful treatment meted out to the Plymouth Brethren before he was there. It is none the less an unelected, unaccountable quango. I take the rather extraordinary view that we should trust our democratically elected politicians more than we should trust the unelected. That is why I am always banging on about this House maintaining its own powers, and why we should hold Ministers to account. We should be very cautious about thinking that an independent, unaccountable body is a better supervisor than the democratic will of the nation expressed through this House.
When responsibility is shifted, it is prudent to do that cautiously, in stages, and to keep a safeguard in place. When the first case goes wrong, which it will—within 10 years something will have happened; there will be an NHS charity where the accountant has snaffled off all the money and gone to Barbados or wherever it is fashionable to go at this time of year, or perhaps gone off to South Africa to watch the test match—at that point people will say, “Why didn’t the Government do something about that? Why have they not got a plan? Why didn’t they make sure that they could keep it under control?”. Having a protection, possibly even a time-limited one—
I agree with the gist of what my hon. Friend is saying, but does he agree that if that power exists, it is even more likely that charities will fall into that predicament? If they are fully cognisant of their own responsibilities and know that they have to look to themselves to ensure that such problems do not occur, it is far more likely that fewer such problems will occur.
No, I cannot follow the logic of that argument. I do not think charities will be more likely or less likely to have ill governance because the Secretary of State is in or out. The protection would be there in case there is ill governance, which there invariably is to a small degree. In charities, businesses and Governments there is invariably ill practice somewhere along the line, and I do not think the motive for ill practice is affected by the knowledge that the Secretary of State may be keeping an eye on them or a feeling that he is not doing so. We need to ensure that if the problem arises, there is a safeguard—a mechanism to put things right.
My hon. Friend misunderstood me. I was not for one moment suggesting that a board may be encouraged to act in an adverse way because of powers resting with the Secretary of State. A presence that could rescue a charity in dire straits may influence the judgments of a board of trustees.
I quibble about the word “rescue”. It is not so much rescue as fire. If the trustees do things badly, the Secretary of State may fire them and put other people in their place. That would not encourage slackness, idleness or malpractice. It would encourage probity, forthrightness and good management. The logic of my hon. Friend’s argument supports what I am saying, rather than what he thought he was promoting.
My hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire has proposed extremely sensible, prudent measures that will keep a broad eye on what is going on.
I am listening to the points being made, but I am still struggling to understand why a handful of NHS charities performing wrongly would be any different from any other charity performing wrongly. I see the hon. Member for Bristol South (Karin Smyth) in her place. We remember the recent discussions in the Public Accounts Committee about the Kids Company collapse. Why should we not have a good system of charity regulation, rather than a specific power, as suggested in the amendments?
I reiterate—I am sorry, Mr Speaker, to reiterate. I may be becoming repetitive, but I hope not yet tediously repetitive; that may come at a later stage. We need to look at the starting point. These charities are coming out of the control of the Secretary of State. To move them completely away from his control in one fell swoop may be relatively imprudent, whereas to do it more cautiously and keep a safeguard is perfectly sensible. By contrast, in the case of charities that have never been under the Secretary of State and have never had their trustees appointed by the Government, it is perfectly sensible to leave them with their existing regulatory system.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for trying to out-pedant me, which is a great thing to do, and she may well have won this particular bout of pedantry. By “cautiously” I mean proceeding in a step-by-step way. I am fully supportive of the thrust of what her Bill is trying to do, which is admirable, sensible and wise. I am merely suggesting that in seeking to reach the same destination, we should ensure that there is a fall-back position in case things happen that are less than ideal. That is simply a matter of good sense and good housekeeping. There is no need to do everything in a great rush. As somebody once said, “Rome wasn’t built in a day”, and there are no doubt other clichés of a similar kind that I could use.
I want to turn to my own amendments, two of which are concerned with preserving the rights of this House. Amendment 8 would remove clause 2(8), which is about how the statutory instrument setting out regulations of this kind should be brought forward. It would ensure that a draft of the instrument is laid before the House and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament. Laws are always best made when they go through the full democratic process, controls are kept on Ministers, and we do not have arbitrary government.
We need to ensure that the assets underlying this are being protected, so in amendment 7 I suggest that there should be a statement by the Comptroller and Auditor General—a comptroller who is properly spelt rather than a controller with the modern spelling—that he is satisfied with the treatment of public assets and funds envisaged in the regulations. This is public money, to some degree—money that is under public auspices.
I go back to what I said earlier about where NHS charities sit. By virtue of the money being given to a charity that supports the NHS, that money comes into the public purview and is subject to the way in which the public sector ought to ensure the good management of money. That is why I think it is appropriate—“appropriate”; I am using that awful word—rather, suitable and proper that it should be audited thoroughly to make sure that assets are not handed over that should not be handed over or misappropriated, and to give confidence to this House, and indeed to the other place, that moneys are being sensibly protected. These are very modest amendments.
Does my hon. Friend agree that some of his comments strike against the heart of this Bill, which says that these charities should be independent so that people feel encouraged to donate to them rather than feeling that by doing so they are replacing what could be, or they might believe should be, funded by the Government. Saying that it becomes public money when donated hits at the whole point of the Bill.
What a pleasure it is to see you taking the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker. We have been waiting for this happy hour to arrive to help us carry our debates forward.
No, I do not think my hon. Friend is right. When people give money to a charity that is linked to the Government, they are even more concerned that it will be spent well, and they therefore want extra protections to assure them of that.
As I said, it is a question is how we get to where we are going from where we are starting. As we make the transition, it is absolutely crucial to ensure that the money is handed over in a way that is properly audited so that people can have confidence in the NHS charities and not feel that there is some kind of sleight of hand or money is being siphoned off.
Does my hon. Friend not agree, though, that funds donated to the NHS and put into these charities must be held separately from Exchequer funding provided by the taxpayer? Charities exist to support their beneficiaries, and there is a special relationship between the charities and the—
Order. I am trying to be helpful to the hon. Lady in saying that I know it is a great temptation to address her remarks to the hon. Gentleman and look at him to gauge his reaction—looking at him is always, of course, a very great pleasure—but if she turns her back on the rest of the House, it does not work. It is really important that she should face the Chair. She can still speak about the hon. Gentleman and imagine him in her mind as she does so.
Does my hon. Friend agree that my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Wendy Morton) gave herself away at the beginning of her intervention when she referred to this money being donated by the public to the NHS? In the public’s mind, there is often a confusion between the charity and the institution that it serves, and it is therefore crucial to have these controls.
My hon. Friend puts it extremely well. That confusion is almost inevitable. In the case of charities linked to hospitals, most members of the public will expect the money that is spent charitably to be as thoroughly audited as the money that is spent by the state, and it is prudent to formalise that.
I am desperately trying not to look at my hon. Friend; I will try to imagine him. He is being typically modest in saying that these are modest proposals, as they go to the heart of the Bill. He refers to the necessity of an audit trail, and I agree. However, there are plenty of very good firms of auditors fit and proper for making such pronunciations, so I do not see why we need to trouble the Comptroller and Auditor General, who is a busy man with lots of other stuff to do.
My hon. Friend’s kindness towards the Comptroller and Auditor General is, I am sure, noted in many other places beyond this one, and I expect that his office would be delighted not to have the extra work. However, my hon. Friend is missing a point that I may already have laboured, so I will labour it only once more. This is a transition phase. This money is very close to public money. It is in a Neverland, one might say, in that it is not quite separate from charitable money and not quite ordinary public expenditure. Therefore, keeping an eye on how it is used in the most formal and protected way, at least in an initial stage, is a prudent way of ensuring that the assets are not used or transferred unsuitably.
Amendment 9 is different in nature and arises from a constituency issue. A constituent of mine, with the support of the NHS, established a charity that put defibrillator boxes around the country. These are very admirable boxes that operate in conjunction with the ambulance service and have been shown to save lives by ensuring that defibrillation equipment is available throughout small villages across the country. It has been a most successful charitable endeavour.
While my constituent was working with the ambulance trusts, they wrote to him to say that it was perfectly all right—indeed, they wanted him to do this—to put the ambulance service logo on the boxes, so that people would know that they were formally connected to the NHS. He then received a letter out of the blue from some little-known bureaucracy that protects the NHS logo. I understand the reasons for that: we do not necessarily want random private companies to call themselves the NHS or for unrelated businesses to use the logo. Some protection is needed, but the letter struck me as a heavy-handed way of going about things. It was an excessive response to something that was linked to the NHS and that was, at its core, a health issue operating with and through the support of the NHS.
The amendment would merely make it straightforward for the Secretary of State to overrule the whole procedure. When there is an issue of this kind, the Secretary of State would have the power to say, “Well, there may be this bureaucracy that safeguards the NHS logo, but I am overruling it and giving permission for the logo to be used, because I think it is a sensible thing to do.”
The reason I like the amendment is that, in a strange way, it relates to what this place is about. It is about seeking redress of grievance for our constituents when they are badly treated by bureaucracy. The best way of doing that is not through independent, unaccountable and unelected bodies that have been separated off from Government, but by a Minister being held accountable at the Dispatch Box. That is how we get things put right for our constituents.
This very small amendment would simply allow the Secretary of State to short-circuit the system when it is behaving badly. It provides that the permission given by the Secretary of State can be cancelled with six months’ notice, which is a reasonable amount of time for people to change any boxes, stationery or anything else they may have with the NHS logo on it, if they are found to have been abusing the permission or for some other reason. The principle that power should be with democratically elected people, and that it should be there to override offshoots of bureaucracy that nobody previously knew about or cared for, is a very good and sound one. As I understand it, the issue that my constituent has had has been mainly sorted out, but the amendment would be a better and clearer way of dealing with such things.
Of the amendments that I have tabled, amendment 9 is of the greatest importance to me. As is the case with so much of what I have been saying, it is about the fundamental principle of what we are trying to do when we legislate. We are trying to ensure democratic accountability and the rights of our constituents, and not to be constantly handing things over to ever-growing bureaucracies.
The primary aim of this Bill is to make very clear that the charities are independent of the Government. The NHS logo relates to an organisation that is the epitome of what many people see the public sector as being about—that is, the Government. My hon. Friend’s amendment would, therefore, strike at the very heart of the Bill and make it less worthy.
My hon. Friend is absolutely wrong. He has misunderstood, misconstrued and possibly even misread the amendment, which uses the word “may”. I am not compelling the Secretary of State to go out and chuck the logo on to every box he sees all over the country or to spray the NHS logo on every shopping centre he passes. I do not see him as a vandal going around with a spray can and a little cut-out stencil, spraying “NHS” on everything or engraving it on our foreheads when we come into the Chamber. That is not what the amendment proposes—it uses the word “may”. It says that when those charities that work immeasurably closely—hand in glove, on some occasions—with the national health service find it useful to use the logo and the Secretary of State thinks it is a good idea, he may give them the authority to do so.
Of course not. “May” is a very precise word: it is an allowing factor and it gives permission to somebody to do something, and they are allowed to use their discretion to do it. The amendment uses “may” so that people may go directly to the Secretary of State, who is democratically accountable, and get the decision made, rather than have to go off to a bureaucracy that is not accountable or that is accountable only indirectly. “May” is about restoring democratic and, ultimately, parliamentary control over something that belongs to the nation as a whole.
The NHS logo does not belong to an obscure body. It may do in some legal sense, but the NHS is the people’s, for want of a better turn of phrase. It is not something truly vested in an obscure bureaucracy. Therefore, to allow it to be used by charities that are co-operating with the NHS is a sensible ability to have within the Bill. The amendment does not compel the Secretary of State to do that, but if another Member of Parliament finds themselves in my position, where a charity in their constituency has been treated badly, they may ask the Secretary of State whether he will give his permission. They could write to and lobby him, or send a petition to his house. The amendment opens up all sorts of ways to seek redress of grievance, but it also achieves the main object of the Bill, which is that there should be a great flourishing of charities that will help the NHS to do even more than it already does, and some of them may need this flexibility. My hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Jeremy Quin) looks as if he wishes to intervene.
I was halfway to asking whether my hon. Friend would give way, so I am glad that he has invited me to intervene. His argument in favour of the amendment is very persuasive, but I am not fully convinced. Some liability is accrued by the use of a well-known logo associated with a national asset such as the NHS. Does he believe that the Secretary of State is the right person to be the final arbiter of whether it is acceptable to the public purse to undertake such a liability? The charities may be doing a great thing, but they are not actually the NHS.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving me the opportunity to clarify that. I think that the Secretary of State is the right person, because that is his responsibility and that is where the buck stops, but the financial liability for the use of the NHS logo in the circumstances I have described is likely to be highly limited. Its use would merely indicate co-operation and collaboration with the NHS, not that the NHS was taking on all the responsibilities and liabilities of the organisation. Legally, it would not create the liability my hon. Friend suggests.
The amendment is the result of a specific constituency issue, which I have raised with Ministers on behalf of my constituent. It is an answer to that issue, but it also has broader application, which is why in due course I hope to move it formally.
I was in the Tea Room and heard that a very fashionable Member was making a speech, so I thought I had better return to the Chamber at speed, which I did, and I am glad that I caught the end of my hon. Friend’s remarks. A liability might not arise in the way he describes, but surely he recognises that if the Secretary of State may allow the logo to be used, that would give rise to the possibility of judicial review. The Secretary of State may allow it in one case but not in another, and somebody who felt aggrieved by that could challenge the decision in the courts. Has my hon. Friend made any assessment of the extra cost of litigation for the Government and the NHS in defending such proceedings?
My hon. Friend has been caught up in this idea of fashion, and I am afraid that he speaks of yesterday’s fashion of judicial review. The great work done by the now Lord President of the Council and former Lord Chancellor, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, in restricting judicial review means that I simply do not think that that would now be a risk. It would have been a risk in those fashionable new Labour days, when people were judicially reviewing everything and having bogus consultations, which I spoke about earlier. That set the fashion for judicial review, but it is yesterday’s fashion. Those of us who are modern and who are with it—in the current phraseology—know that judicial review is yesterday’s news in such a context. Therefore, I do not believe that this would be a risk. It is a sensible way to deal with a problem that has arisen and to prevent it from arising again.
Madam Deputy Speaker, I promise that this will be my last intervention on my hon. Friend. To return to the logo, if any of my constituents saw the NHS logo on a letterhead, they would naturally assume that they could go through the relevant complaints procedures for the NHS. Is that what my hon. Friend has in mind? To me, it seems that that would be perfectly apparent to my constituents and a natural thing for them to do.
I am not sure that those are the circumstances under which the Secretary of State would use his discretion to allow the logo to be used. I am thinking more of a sign outside a charity shop that supports the NHS, saying “We support the local NHS”, with the name of the local hospital that it is supporting and the local hospital’s logo, which includes the letters “NHS”. I am thinking of that sort of circumstance. It is not about promoting the charity as an offshoot of the NHS; it is about indicating its co-operation with the NHS.
Defibrillator boxes give the name of the ambulance service—the ambulance service’s logo includes the letters “NHS”—to indicate that people should ring 999. The ambulance service will then give them the code to open the box and talk them through how to use the equipment. Most of us probably would not know how to use it without some advice. It was entirely rational to use the logo until some idiotic bureaucracy got in the way. Initially, it was very stubborn—the worst type of pettifogging bureaucracy. If the Secretary of State had had the power to cut through such bureaucracy, that could just have been done.
The circumstances in which the discretion is used would be limited to where there was genuine co-operation—where the charitable sector and the NHS are working hand in glove—and there was a benefit from using it. It is not about charities posing as the NHS where they are not part of the NHS. If the Secretary of State thought the logo was being misused, he would have the power to rescind the permission. This protected and limited power would solve a particular problem.
I rise to speak to amendments 1, 3 and 2, which—inexplicably, given their strength—stand in my name only, as well as the splendid amendment 9 and the unfortunate amendment 4. It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Madam Deputy Speaker. In my experience, debates with you in the Chair are often the most efficient and good natured. I hope that today’s debate will be just that.
On amendment 1, when one tables an amendment, it is a great pleasure to have one’s speech made for one much more eloquently than one could make it oneself, so I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg) for his support. Recently, there have been significant charitable scandals in this country. Much of the time of the House and of the Public Accounts Committee has been taken up with Kids Company. I have become convinced that one of the phenomena at work in that organisation was group-think. Those hon. Members who are students of psychology will know of the phenomenon of group-think: individuals in a group, often when they are led by a charismatic leader, can get lost in a miasma of consensus, in which they are unwilling or unable to acknowledge any view that departs from theirs, and indeed are hostile to outside views of their conduct.
The most famous political example was the Bay of Pigs disaster: the group around President Kennedy became trapped in group-think. We have seen commercial examples of it in the UK. Marks & Spencer and British Airways got trapped in group-think in the 1980s, when they went for massive international expansion. They did so against the views of everybody on the outside, but both boards convinced themselves that it was the right thing to do. Disastrously, Kodak and Swissair, which was once talked of as the “flying bank”, went bust because the management were unwilling to look for outside views.
My hon. Friend takes me back to my time as a student in Paris 20 years ago, when I was very grateful for the expansion of Marks & Spencer so that I could get my English pies and pasties, but I digress. My hon. Friend is giving examples of group-think from 30 years ago. Does he not agree that the world has moved on, and that the rise of the individual makes our children—the millennium generation—much less likely to fall into that sort of psychology?
I assume that my hon. Friend was not a shareholder of Marks & Spencer at the time. For those of us whose families were shareholders, it was a complete disaster, but I am glad that she was able to munch her pasty. The answer to her question is no; it is quite the reverse. The modern mind is much more akin to group-think, indeed to group hysteria. As politicians, we experience that daily on social media. We have all seen how small untruths, half-thoughts or theories can whip themselves up, on Twitter and Facebook, to become reality in a short space of time.
I agree with my hon. Friend. Was not one of the most profound and surprising examples of that, through the use of social media, the collective view that suddenly gained ground among hundreds of thousands of people that the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) would be a good leader of the Labour party?
My hon. Friend makes a remarkably good point. For Members of this House, that is a very pertinent example of the damage that social media can wreak on our ancient institutions, such as the Labour party.
The truth is that the modern mind is much more susceptible to such things, and particularly to charismatic leaders. One only has to look at the effect of Instagram, and the millions of followers that otherwise unmeritorious individuals have on it, to see how willing people are to go along with such things these days, like sheep in a herd.
I thought so. I am grateful to the hon. Member for pedantry, who is right.
This is one of the things about which I am concerned. We saw the notion of group-think in Kids Company. A group of trustees, led by a charismatic leader, felt themselves to be invulnerable. They thought that they should not be doubted, and they were hostile to external views expressing doubt about them. One only has to review the correspondence of Mr Yentob, with his wild claims about the death and insurrection on the streets that Kids Company’s demise would cause, to see that group-think in action.
I studied politics and economics at university, specialising in the psychology and behavioural side of politics, and we studied group-think quite closely. When future students come to study group-think, they will look at Kids Company as a perfect example of it. Those involved were trapped in group-think. If only somebody had been able to step in and take control earlier, the charity and the remnants of its good work could have been saved.
No, I am not tarring them with the same brush. I am saying that all boards—commercial, charitable or even political—must bear this in mind. That is the whole foundation of our modern governance structures. It is the idea behind having non-executive directors, who are meant to be external and to provide a challenge to make executives and those more involved in the work of an organisation think more carefully about what they are doing.
The truth is that non-executives are technically appointed by the shareholders, so they are appointed by people who have an interest in the board being challenged constructively. The problem with charities is that non-executives are appointed by the board, the members of which more often than not appoint people in their own likeness. When the members of a board get trapped in group-think, they will appoint people who agree with them. Brave would be the chairman or chairwoman of the trustees who appointed somebody awkward or difficult, who might question or challenge them, particularly when one charismatic person is in charge.
My hon. Friend clearly feels passionately on this matter, but he paints a bleak picture of a nation of volunteers and charity workers led by demagogues, where everybody follows their leader blindly. I have been a trustee and can reassure him that that is not the case. There are challenging voices. Given that his amendments would reinsert the power of the Secretary of State, he seems to lack confidence in people’s independence of mind and confidence in their charities.
No, I do not lack confidence in people’s independence of mind. I have great admiration for my hon. Friend, who is very independent-minded and, I am sure, conducts herself extremely well as a trustee. The point is that there is a danger of group-think, and I have given a number of examples illustrating how it can come about. I am sure that happened at Kids Company.
That point is important in respect of this Bill because, as my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset—sorry, my hon. Friend—said, the charities we are talking about here are different. They are not like other charities. People associate them in their minds with the institution with which they are connected. They are seen as part of the national health service. When I give to the Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity, I know that I am giving, at one remove, straight to the ward. I am not giving the money because the charity might spend it elsewhere. I know that I am giving it to that hospital. The two are inextricably linked.
My right hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset—I hope he will forgive me for constantly referring to him as right honourable, but it is only a matter of time—is absolutely right when he says that, at some point, something will go wrong. Even with Kids Company, which did not have such links, but was in receipt of public money, there were demands on the Government to do something. Indeed, the Prime Minister was on the rack to a certain extent because he had been associated with Kids Company.
My hon. Friend might not have been in the Chamber the other night for the debate on banking regulation, but the right hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) said that she had been prevented from becoming a member of the trustee board of a charity because she was a “politically exposed person”. Does my hon. Friend recognise that some of us will have difficulty supporting amazing charities, such as Great Ormond Street, which are not like the one he mentions?
Yes. I am trying to get to a position where we can have confidence in the governance of charities, and confidence that when things go wrong, there are appropriate mechanisms for someone to step in and deal with things quickly. My point is that in the case of national health service charities—that is what people think of them as—at some point, the Secretary of State will be asked to sort out problems.
We have to remember that there are practicalities involved in this. If the Secretary of State is unable to take control of the board and replace the trustees, he or she cannot get immediate access to the bank account. They cannot get anybody to sign a mandate to allow them to control the money, or even to freeze the account to stop money flowing in or out. When this hospital pass, this UXB or unexploded bomb of a hospital charity that has behaved badly or got into trouble, perhaps through no fault of its own, lands in the lap of a Secretary of State, whoever it may be—it could be one of us here on these Benches in the future, perhaps—the inability to step in and take control will have a significant political, and indeed financial, impact. That might impact on the care that takes place on the ward.
I do not, and the reason is that the Secretary of State currently has control of the appointment of trustees. That is exactly why. If I were Secretary of State—I assume that the same is true of the current Secretary of State and past Secretaries of State—I would be very careful about who I appointed, so that I was sure that I was handing that fiduciary duty to people whom I trusted and who had an element of accountability to me.
My hon. Friend is being very generous in taking interventions. I want to get to the nub of his amendments. The examples that he has cited of corporate governance, and Alan Yentob’s emotional blackmail in respect of the Kids Company charity, relate to general issues of regulation. Why should NHS charities be different? We are trying to make them independent. Why should the Bill be amended in this way? I do not think that my hon. Friend would argue that any time a business or charity goes wrong, the solution is for the Government to appoint a director, so why is he making that argument in respect of this Bill?
I hesitate to be repetitive, but the truth is that these charities are different. Let me give a practical example. Say, for instance, that an NHS charitable trust that has become independent and that has independent trustees runs a huge appeal to raise money for a CAT scanner to go into a hospital. It gets three quarters of the way through the appeal and, suddenly, it becomes apparent that the money has gone missing. There are people queued up, waiting to use the CAT scanner. The charity may get lost in months and months of inquiry, and much of the money, which was for a dedicated purpose, may be defrayed on other things to deal with the problems—accountants, lawyers, judges, challenges from elsewhere or whatever else. We have seen that sort of thing happen before. I would want the Secretary of State to be able to step in and say, “No. We are now going to appoint trustees who will make sure the money is spent on the CAT scanner, and that people get the treatment they need.”
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way. He is giving an excellent pitch to be the Health Secretary one day. I want to return to my previous point about his bleak outlook on the way that charitable boards and their trustees conduct themselves. There is adequate provision in charity law for interventions to take place. It is not necessary for the Secretary of State for Health to step in.
The truth is that there have not been adequate safeguards in charity law, as my hon. Friend will know. That is why the Charities (Protection and Social Investment) Bill is going through the House at this very moment. Anybody who has followed the passage of the Bill or sat on the Committee will know that part of it will beef up the powers of the Charity Commission to give it greater control in the event of financial misdemeanour or charities getting into financial trouble. It will strengthen exactly those powers about which I am talking.
My hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble (Seema Kennedy) pre-empted me. One might think that there was no need for the amendments because the Charity Commission, which was established in law to supervise these functions, would step in. However, does not the evidence from the National Audit Office report, “Giving Confidently”, from autumn 2001, and the much later evidence from the NAO’s studies over the past two or three years on the Cup Trust and the Charity Commission more generally, show that, in practice, the Charity Commission has a track record of not doing a particularly good job? In the circumstances that my hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse) describes, where swift action is needed, the existing framework is not adequate. It is not enough simply to say that what he describes has not happened yet in a way that we can readily recall. The point, surely, is that we must create the governance architecture and environment to respond quickly when it is necessary to do so.
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. I recommend to the House his book, which is filled with examples of Government incompetence, many of which were brought about by the group-think phenomenon and a lack of good governance. He is an expert in National Audit Office reports, having pored over many of them in his time on the Public Accounts Committee in the last Parliament and, I think, the one before that.
Fifteen years on the Public Accounts Committee—extraordinary! I therefore take his words seriously. He is right that the key is to get the governance entirely right.
I guess the point that I am making—maybe I am a lone voice, although perhaps I am joined by my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset—is that even with the most ideal governance in the world, things occasionally go wrong. In that instance, the Secretary of State must have the power to step in, given the critical nature of the services these charities perform and their inextricable link to the national health service.
My hon. Friend’s amendments would undermine the whole purpose of the Bill, which is to give these charities their independence. As he rightly says, the Charities (Protection and Social Investment) Bill, which is going through the House at the moment, will strengthen the protections and the governance arrangements for charities such as these.
I acknowledge that point, but we have been round this carousel a couple of times. I pose just one question to those who are nervous about my amendments: in the event of something going wrong, who would fire and replace the trustees? No one. They become a self-governing group. One of the problems with charitable governance is that there are no shareholders to dispose of underperforming trustees. Charities have to acknowledge their own bad performance and fire themselves. In a situation where there is an inextricable link to a particular establishment, the Secretary of State needs to have the ability to step in, in extremis.
It is often forgotten that charities receive public money, and no charity is more likely to receive public money than an NHS hospital charity. Such charities are more likely to receive grants for their performance of services, projects, equipment and so on. We therefore have a particular interest in NHS charities.
I support my hon. Friend’s amendment because it is an emergency provision that would be rarely used. From the tone of the debate, there is an impression that the Secretary of State would use it the whole time. Does my hon. Friend agree that it would probably not be used more than once in 10 years?
My hon. Friend is right. Proposed subsection (2B) in amendment 1 provides that the Secretary of State would be allowed to use the powers only by permission of the House. I am with my hon. Friend in his desire to protect the House’s privileges and powers. I did not get elected to give the Government a free run. When the good people of North West Hampshire elected me, they placed two votes: one for a Government and the other for somebody to hold them account. I will try to do that job. Should the Secretary of State wish to step in, he would have to lay a statutory instrument before both Houses of Parliament and seek their support. It could not be done easily, on a whim or through a signature on a piece of paper. It would require debate and examination, and need all of us to do our job of scrutiny and reach a settled decision to allow him to step in. I recognise that it is a fundamental step and that an element of separation should be maintained.
My hon. Friend is generous with his time. In my constituency, Torbay Hospital League of Friends has operated successfully for 60 years, raising millions of pounds for the benefit of local people. A picture is being painted of needing a step-in power, but the whole process that must be gone through to achieve it, which my hon. Friend has just outlined, probably makes the amendment meaningless. Why do these charities need such a provision when other successful charities that are linked to hospitals do not?
My hon. Friend is a dog with a bone. As I have explained—I think five times—I believe that the charities that we are considering are different because of the inextricable link with the institution that they serve. In the public’s mind, they are just a vehicle to give the money to the hospital and the national health service. Indeed, many boast about the percentage of money given to them that will be spent on the wards of a hospital. Those charities are seen co-funding, along with the Government, the NHS. I can see that not everybody is convinced, but I hope that others will speak in support of my amendments.
As I have said, the provision would be in the House’s control through a statutory instrument. It is not as though the Secretary of State could act unilaterally. We would all have control.
I apologise to my hon. Friend: I rise not to support his amendment, but to oppose it, particularly on the point that he is making. His time is valuable. Does he really think that it is a good use of it for orders on this subject to be laid before this House and the other place, and for the matter to be considered on that grand scale? If he must vest these powers with the Secretary of State, does their exercise need to come back to this Chamber?
I have the utmost respect for my hon. Friend, but that was a slightly odd intervention, given that much of the Bill is about one hospital and it is taking up many hours of debate in the House. I do believe that those kinds of things are serious, and, frankly, he and I have sat on Statutory Instrument Committees on much more trivial matters that take up the House’s time.
I take exception to the point about the Bill taking up the House’s time. It covers not only Great Ormond Street hospital, which is only one clause in it, but the group of special NHS charities. There are about 16 in total; there were 20. In the bigger scheme of things, there are around 260 NHS charities throughout the country, which all do fantastic work, and the Bill really deserves the debate, and the discussion about some interesting amendments. Although I will speak later, I will not support my hon. Friend’s amendments.
My hon. Friend makes a mistake. I did not object to the time; my hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Jeremy Quin) objected to time possibly being used on these matters. I am perfectly happy. I think that the Bill is very good and I support its broad thrust.
Will my hon. Friend confirm that, when he said that the Bill relates to a single NHS charity, he was referring to one clause? It would help if he clarified that because I got the impression that he said that the Bill related to one specific NHS charity.
My hon. Friend is right. I correct myself. One clause relates to Great Ormond Street and the rest of the Bill clears up some anomalies. The debate is not about Great Ormond Street’s requirements, but about other ancillary bits in the Bill. One wonders whether the rest of the Bill could have been included in the Charities (Protection and Social Investment) Bill, and we could have had a short measure about Great Ormond Street, but that is a matter for the Bill’s promoter and sponsors.
No, I would like to move on to amendment 2. I am conscious that others wish to speak.
Amendment 2 would address a particular issue that I have come across in my constituency work. The only national charity that is located in North West Hampshire is the Macular Society. It is quite small and raises about £5 million or £6 million a year, most of which goes into research. One of the complaints of the Macular Society, which obviously deals with sight-related illnesses, is that enormous charities for sight and blindness, such as RNIB and Guide Dogs for the Blind, which raise many tens of millions of pounds—more than £100 million each—put hardly any money into research. Although they are engaged in blindness in its wider sense, they do not use their muscle to improve the lives of those who are afflicted by blindness or partial sightedness through trying to find cures and therapies.
The Macular Society and others complain about that and the fact that, if there was more research, we might be able to do something about the conditions. Part of the reason for the lack of research must be the disconnection with the organisation with which the charities should engage. For example, although I have not looked, it would doubtless be helpful to Guide Dogs for the Blind if it had representatives on its board from the scientific community and some hospitals, such as the Western eye hospital, because then the charity might be compelled to put money into the right causes.
The amendment seeks to ensure that, when an NHS charity is attached to a particular hospital, that hospital is allowed to put at least one trustee on the board. The charities need to stay connected. They need to have a line of communication and to be able to see the right priorities in the organisation rather than decide on their own pet projects, which they foist on the hospital without negotiation. The disconnection between charity and purpose can often happen, and it seems to be particularly pertinent to blindness.
I am sorry, but I am actually talking about amendment 3, not amendment 2. I am getting myself confused because, in usual British fashion, the amendment paper has the amendments in the wrong order. I will deal with my hon. Friend’s point when I get to amendment 2.
Amendment 3 would simply ensure that, if any hospital has a charity attached, it has the power to appoint one trustee. That seems sensible. Many of those charities will already have such a provision in their trust document. The amendment would just to make sure of that.
Amendment 2 states that in “exceptional circumstances” the Secretary of State should have the power to
“appoint one or more trustees”.
That returns me to my primary point about when charitable trusts go rogue or off the reservation, or where charitable trustees become locked in a group-think situation. Rather than dismiss them all and take control, the Secretary of State may feel that it is more appropriate to appoint one or two people from outside who can add a bit of ginger to the board’s discussions, and challenge what they are doing.
For example, a particularly powerful charity that is attached to an NHS hospital might feel that it is flush with cash and that it needs to intervene in a dispute with its doctors, or that it may have cause to campaign politically against some of the things that the Government are doing. It might want to lobby on the NHS settlement by region. When trustees or charities stray into that area—there has been a lot of consternation about that across the House with regard to particular charities—the Secretary of State may reserve power in those exceptional circumstances to appoint one or two trustees to challenge that view.
My hon. Friend is making some valid points. Does he agree that instead of a laser focus on the number of trustees in charitable organisations, the motivation, character and skills of those trustees is the important element to investigate?
My hon. Friend is right, and anyone who is putting together a board of trustees wants to ensure that it contains a full range of skills and experience. As I have said, trustees appoint themselves. No one externally is taking a wider view of how broad the ambit is of those people’s experience, how fruitful or consensual their discussions are, or whether they are being challenged. We all know of charities that are made up from small numbers of people. Often, those jobs are undervalued and take a lot of work. The people who act as charity trustees are often heroic, and there are too few of them. Many people will not take on such onerous duties, so there are often small numbers of trustees, particularly in some of the smaller charities such as friends of hospitals and so on. In such circumstances it behoves the Secretary of State to keep a weather eye, and when problems with a local charity are brought before MPs and we wish to raise them with the Secretary of State, we must be able to do so in the knowledge that he or she will be able to do something and appoint somebody to challenge or change things.
My hon. Friend paints a very dangerous picture. He was referring to circumstances in which a charity strays into inappropriate political activity, but that is purely the remit of the Charity Commission. In such circumstances, the last person who should be intervening is the Secretary of State—we would be inviting them to wade into a political quagmire.
That may be so, but—I hesitate to stress this point again—in my view these charities are different. They trade off the advantage of being associated with the national health service. People see them as part and parcel of the health service; they are not viewed as separate in the way that Oxfam or the Guide Dogs for the Blind might be. If something is called the Great Ormond Street hospital charity, people see it as a wing of the national health service.
My hon. Friend raises a point about charities going off and lobbying. Does he feel that enough safeguards were included in the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014, which was designed specifically to prevent charities from taking non-transparent action?
This is a difficult area. Some charities are composed in such a way that their entire purpose is a social mission. For War On Want or the Child Poverty Action Group, for example, decisions made by politicians are intrinsic to their objectives. Other charities, including some in the health sector, are more about providing funds and ancillary support to hospitals, and that kind of political campaigning is not intrinsic. I am not knowledgeable about the 2014 Act, but since my hon. Friend has raised it I will go and have a look. He may well be right to suggest that it contains enough protections, but I maintain my point that the special status of these charities, and the fact that they raise their money because of their association with the NHS, means that the Secretary of State must maintain some kind of toe-hold. To set those charities completely free is asking for political disaster at some point in the future.
The second part of amendment 2 would mean that if all trustee positions were vacant for three months, the Secretary of State could—and indeed should—appoint some new trustees to kick-start the organisation. That obviously will not happen often, but much of the business of this House involves planning for the unexpected. If a charity were for some awful reason to lose all its trustees at once—perhaps they are all off on a fact-finding mission together and there is a horrible accident; who knows what may happen, but let us pray to God that it does not—the Secretary of State will have the power to appoint people.
I apologise to the House for being repetitive, but my hon. Friend has a vision of doom for the trustees and others. I once applied to be a trustee of Great Ormond Street hospital, and there were hundreds of applications. Those places are filled, and the amendment provides for a situation that does not seem to have any basis in fact.
I apologise if that is a vision of doom, but much of our life in this House involves dealing with the stream of human misery that comes through our letterbox daily. We have urgent questions and statements on all manner of horrific events here and overseas, and much of our legislation is to plan for the unexpected, which seems sensible. Much of our legislation dates back many hundreds of years, and I hope that this Bill will last for a similar period. Who knows whether there will be trustee vacancies in the generations to come. I hope not, but if there are, it would be sensible for the Secretary of State to appoint someone. At the moment, there is nobody else to do it.
In these hopefully extremely unusual circumstances, does my hon. Friend envisage that, once again, the process could drag through both Houses? If a charity tragically loses all its trustees, are we expected to go through the full rigmarole of full parliamentary scrutiny? That seems strange.
I do not think that I have attached that requirement to this straight appointment. If there are no trustees, who objects to the Secretary of State making those appointments? Can anyone think of anybody better? I certainly cannot. Possibly the chief executive of the hospital, but given that they are probably appointed under the influence of the Health Secretary, why not allow the Health Secretary to do it?
My hon. Friend is generous in allowing interventions. Barely 150 years ago we abandoned press-ganging for the Royal Navy, yet we are now reintroducing it for the charitable sector. It strikes me as odd not to “encourage” the Secretary of State or chief executive to recruit more trustees, but rather to force them to do so. As my hon. Friend rightly said, trustees are volunteers who step forward and step up for the community. They do something that is above and beyond their social duty every day, and we should encourage them in that. He is right to place such an important weight on that, but I question the legislative requirement of making the Secretary of State able to make those appointments. He seems to be asking not for the Secretary of State to be able to ratify a volunteer, but rather for them to go out and call somebody in from the fields, factories and cities and tell them to take up that position. That is slightly losing the focus. If the Secretary of State is not required to do that, all we need is for people to have the opportunity to volunteer, in which case the chief executive or Secretary of State can merely advertise the post.
That is exactly what I am proposing. If there are no trustees for three months, the Secretary of State will have the power to appoint someone. They could run an advert, or decide to press-gang somebody if they want—they can choose their own method. The point is that somebody has to do it.
An interesting technical point that Members who belong to Conservative associations may know is that if an association runs out of trustees its members can appoint a new trustee in a special general meeting. Great Ormond Street charity has no members. There is no group of people who can appoint a trustee, so if it all falls vacant the thing effectively dies. In my view, the amendment is very sensible and I am amazed it is causing such controversy. This very sensible amendment would allow the Secretary of State to appoint one or more trustees to get the thing going again.
I need to challenge my hon. Friend on the assumption of “Who else better than the Secretary of State?” Of course, our current Secretary of State is a very highly esteemed colleague of great standing—I do not question that at all. What I question is the previous string of people who have appointed politically biased appointees to various quangos around the country. Surely he can see that a Secretary of State would have the potential to be not the best person to make the decision.
My hon. Friend will make a great diplomat when the time comes. I agree there is the possibility of misbehaviour by politicians, but we politicians come with a great advantage. We have had a few thousand people vote for us and those few thousand people can vote us out if they think we have behaved badly. There are not many other people in public life who come with that brake on their behaviour.
I will make this my last intervention. My hon. Friend has been very generous. With the provisions in the Bill I was expecting today to go off on a trip to Neverland. Instead, with all the death, doom and disaster in this speech I feel we are in an episode of “EastEnders.” Does he not agree that there is a very large area of charity regulation to deal with things going wrong and difficulties emerging? Charities will still be subject to that. Merely allowing the Secretary of State to appoint the odd trustee will not deal with any systemic problems. That is what the wider area of regulation is there for.
Many years ago, my mother and father went on a camping trip in Europe. On their first night, they pulled in, in their Thames van, to what they thought was a campsite. In the dark, my father attempted to pitch the tent. Every time he tried to hammer a tent peg into the ground it went “Ping!” and disappeared off into the darkness. Only in the morning did he realise he had been trying to hammer the tent pegs into a concrete tennis court. That is how I feel this morning.
I have tried to explain many times now that these charities are different. They come with a badge upon them that says to the public they are partially in the public sector. Secretaries of State will always have an eye to their conduct, because what they do will impact politically and financially on the national health service and on whichever party happens to be running it at the time. I realise that, in the eyes of the sponsors, I might be pushing water uphill. Most people know I am a relatively optimistic person and I am hesitant to put these pessimistic circumstances to the House; nevertheless, someone has to do it.
I will move on now, finally, to other amendments. Amendment 9, in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset, seems eminently sensible and reflects exactly the point I have been making about the special connection. In these days of the internet, it is quite easy to download the NHS logo from any hospital website, affix it to a piece of paper and fire it off to raise money. I am sure it has, on occasion, been used fraudulently to raise money. I therefore completely support his wish to have some kind of control over the use of the logo, the name and the brand.
Giving that power to the Secretary of State seems eminently sensible to me, not least because these charities maintain most of their fundraising ability through their connection with the NHS. The leverage is extremely powerful and very useful. Many will raise millions and millions of pounds off the back of their connection with the NHS and they should be encouraged to do so. The judicious use of the brand, the logo and the name is absolutely to be supported, but it needs to be done in a relatively nimble way. The only way I can think to do that is via the permission of the Secretary of State, so I support the amendment.
Unfortunate amendment 4 deals with consultation. As I said in my intervention earlier, during my career in local and city politics consultation became the bane of my life, and of my residents’ lives. We all knew, when we participated in a consultation, that the decision had broadly been taken already and that the politician or Department in question was largely going through the motions to make sure they were not judicially reviewed or challenged.
Of course, the notion of consultation was promulgated by the Blair Government. It is a characteristic of our managerial, technocratic politics. Where we have a House filled with conviction politicians who know what they believe, and that what they believe is right for the country, they do not need to go out and consult. They consult once every four or five years through general elections and display the philosophical sheet-anchor that sits underneath every decision they make. However, when politicians drift from their basic principles into unknown waters, they feel a bit uncertain. They feel a need to consult, to be told what to do and to get a feel. That is what politicians do these days: they have focus groups and polls. They consult constantly about their image and what they should and should not do.
I would therefore like to play a small part in doing our bit to rein back the amount of consultation. We could get to a situation where this House becomes redundant. With the advent of technology, the thing that naturally follows consultation is permanent referendums where everybody can vote from their desks, and we do not need to have a House that discusses and debates from points of experience and different aspects. I therefore firmly oppose the amendment.
No, I am not being pessimistic. I am, I hope, exhorting a message of confidence and optimism that we as politicians should have some sense of belief in what we do. We take our chances—sadly, only once every five years now, rather than once every random number of years—and have confidence. Like my hon. Friend, I want to be a champion for the power and the outlook of this House, so that we do not have to go out and consult constantly, that we are based in a philosophy of which we are sure, and that people understand why our decisions are made given what they have seen of that philosophy.
I cannot give my hon. Friend an exact figure, but it is enormous. Many, many hundreds of millions, if not billions, have been spent on consultation where, broadly, minds were made up beforehand. I well remember, back in 2002, the then Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, consulting on bringing in the congestion charge. He, of course, had already made the decision. In fact, during the consultation the gantries to put the cameras in were already going up. Of course, the response from the public came back overwhelmingly against—nobody wanted it. We could all see the disaster it would be, not least because it was not a congestion charge but a tax on central London. He just shoved it in anyway.
I led the judicial review against the congestion charge in the High Court and sadly failed. The only chink in the armour we could find was the environmental audit, which was useful to me then but is a vehicle that Ministers and other politicians go through to tick the box. We find ourselves, as a country, in this enormous box-ticking exercise. So uncertain are we of what we should and should not do, and so wary are we of the vagaries of public opinion and fashion, that we feel the need to consult constantly.
The wider point is that it communicates to the public an uncertainty about political institutions and therefore undermines respect for them. When people talk about the politicians they respect, they always talk about—even though they did not agree with him—the great Labour Member, Tony Benn. Tony Benn always used to say, “Say what you mean and mean what you say.” I do not think Tony Benn ever consulted about anything in his entire life. He had his beliefs pretty much set at an early age and he delivered them. Everybody knew where he stood. Our former great leader, Margaret Thatcher, was exactly the same. A lack of consultation with her party colleagues might have done for her in the end, but consultation on the broad thrust of policy was anathema to her. She displayed and promoted what she believed. On that note, I commend my amendments to the House.
Order. I did not want to interrupt the excellent flow of the hon. Gentleman’s argument, but, for the sake of clarity and the avoidance of doubt, and because he referred to the numbering and order of amendments—he has not said anything wrong; I wish merely to educate the House—I wish to explain that the order in which amendments are numbered is that in which they are received in the Public Bill Office, but the order in which they appear on the amendment paper is that in which they relate to the Bill. It is actually very logical, but if one does not know why, it sometimes is not obvious.
As the Bill’s promoter, I rise to contribute to its Report stage.
We have listened to some interesting amendments from hon. Members, for whose submissions and contributions I am grateful, as they have enabled us to discuss, probe and question the Bill further, which is really important. It is worth reminding ourselves that, as of March 2015, there were about 206 NHS charities, with a combined income of £327 million. They do a terrific job and make a huge contribution to many patients, hospitals and NHS staff. Everyone will agree that the vast majority of them, like all charities, do fantastic work and that only occasionally does something go wrong. Sadly when it does, as has been said today, it always makes the headlines.
The vast majority of NHS charities use the corporate trustee model, whereby the Secretary of State does not appoint the trustees.
I do not know whether my hon. Friend plans to mention the special care baby unit at Royal Derby hospital, but it has existed for more than 50 years and raises millions of pounds to help those special babies who are born prematurely and need extra help. Does she agree that all the charities that support NHS hospitals do incredibly valuable work?
I agree wholeheartedly, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for sharing with us the example of a hospital charity in her constituency and the fantastic work it does.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Michael Tomlinson) for his amendment that would oblige the Secretary of State to carry out public consultation before making regulations consequential to the removal of his power to appoint trustees to NHS bodies. I understand where he is coming from. In my time as a councillor, many were the days when we discussed the pros and cons of public consultation. On the one hand, we often want more public consultation, but there are times when, as my hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse) said, we feel it leads nowhere. It is an interesting point, though, and one that has provoked some lively debate. We, as elected representatives, often ask these questions about public consultation.
I am reminded of my family’s frequent trips to Disneyland Paris when my three children were much younger. Their favourite ride was the Peter Pan ride. They played a game to see who could first spot Wendy quivering on the end of the gangplank as Captain Hook chased her into the sea. Does my hon. Friend think that Wendy might be quivering that little bit harder at the thought of yet more public consultation?
Does my hon. Friend not recognise the central thrust of my argument—that the Bill itself was the product of public consultation? All those doom-mongers who have spoken against public consultation fail to see that such consultation has produced some good—namely, her own Bill.
My hon. Friend is correct that my Bill is the result of public consultation, as I will expand upon later.
Schedule 1 already makes a range of amendments to primary legislation consequential to the removal of the Secretary of State’s powers in England to appoint trustees to NHS bodies and to appoint special trustees, and it would be unusual to consult the public on regulations making such consequential changes. Proper scrutiny of such consequential amendments would be undertaken by Parliament. That is the main reason I do not support his amendment even though it is a valid discussion point.
I will move now to those amendments that relate to the appointment of trustees. My hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire has clearly given a lot of thought to my Bill and introduced some very worthy and interesting amendments. I wish to make it clear, however, that I do not wish to swap the letterbox of Aldridge-Brownhills for that of North West Hampshire, given the apparent tone of much of the mail that he receives, and neither would I wish to go camping with his family—the thought of my sleeping bag being laid on concrete does not appeal. I would prefer something more comfortable. Even a field would be preferable—ideally undercover.
The removal of the Secretary of State’s powers to appoint trustees is central to my Bill. Having him appoint trustees makes it difficult for these NHS bodies to demonstrate visible independence from Government in the eyes of potential donors. That cuts to the heart of my Bill. Having read and considered the amendments carefully, and having listened to this debate, I struggle to see how they would work on a technical level. The current power is to appoint trustees to particular NHS bodies or to appoint special trustees, not, as the amendments suggest, to appoint trustees to NHS charitable trusts. They therefore seek to re-establish a power that does not currently exist in such a form. I know that the Bill at times gets very technical, but we have to keep coming back to what it sets out to do and the consultation it came from. Similarly, the amendments seeking to retain the Secretary of State’s power to appoint trustees in particular circumstances, when there is a commitment to remove them, are not appropriate.
Before I talk further about amendments relating to trustees, it is important to remind ourselves of the background to clause 1, which I have alluded to before. The Bill concerns the removal of the Secretary of State’s powers to appoint. Since 1973, the Secretary of State has had powers to appoint so-called special trustees to manage charitable property on behalf of hospital boards. In 1990, powers for the Secretary of State to appoint trustees in relation to NHS trusts were enacted, and have since been extended to other NHS bodies. These powers are now set out in the National Health Service Act 2006, as amended.
My private Member’s Bill fulfils a commitment made by the Government subsequent to the Department of Health review and consultation—there is that word again—in 2012, which covered the governance of NHS charities. As a result, NHS charities will be allowed to convert to independence and the Secretary of State’s powers to appoint trustees will be removed at the earliest opportunity. That is what my Bill is designed to achieve.
Absolutely. As I am explaining, the amendments, worthy of consideration though they be, are not necessary in the light of the research I have done, and they would fundamentally change the objectives of the Bill.
The amendment to make
“provision for one trustee to be appointed by the NHS institution…for whose benefit the charitable trust exists”
is an interesting one, but again I do not believe it necessary. Under the new independent charity model there can be a “blend of trustees”, meaning there can be a link to the hospital—on the proviso that the NHS members remain in the minority. That is important. When we are seeking to move away from Secretary of State appointments to a more independence model for special charities, it is the word “independence” that is crucial. These charities are seeking to be independent of Government for fundraising and many other purposes.
My hon. Friend may be aware that the Public Accounts Committee recently considered a report on the sustainability of NHS trusts, many of which are in deficit. Does she agree that if they had a right to appoint a trustee, it could reinforce in the public’s mind that these charities are about back-filling money into the NHS that could or should be provided by the Government rather than being independent charities providing extra money to what is provided by the Government and the public sector?
My hon. Friend raises an interesting point. The key point of my private Member’s Bill is to enable this group of charities to achieve what they said they wanted in the consultation, which is a shift away from the Secretary of State’s powers to appoint so that they can demonstrate independence. The charity world has moved on so much since charities were first created, and the model of governance needs to change in the same way.
What makes this particularly interesting is that previous rules surrounding the appointment of individual trustees were restricted to one linked person only. In any case, I believe that the new arrangements in the Bill—not the amendments—are far better and far more beneficial because this “blend of trustees” helps further to help and enhance communications and understanding by both the charity and the trust. Surely that can only be a good thing.
If I may, as the Member in charge of the Bill, I would like to touch on amendment 9, which deals with the use of the NHS logo and was tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg). I shall not make too many references to fashion. Although I could make many a link between logos—and, indeed, brands—and fashion, I shall leave Members to draw their own conclusions about the fashion, style or otherwise of my hon. Friend. To be fair, he raised the issue of the NHS logo on Second Reading, so it is only right for him to bring it forward today as an amendment for consideration. I bow, if not to his fashion sense, to the grace and eloquence of his style in speaking to his amendment today. Perhaps we could share some lessons.
The term “logo” can be defined as a symbol or other small design adopted by an organisation to identify its products, uniforms, vehicles or perhaps a company or organisation. It is often uniquely designed for ready recognition, and I think the NHS logo fits that definition. It is instantly recognisable, and the public know exactly what it is all about. However, I cannot support the amendment because I believe it is a matter best explored through the Department of Health or perhaps through the memorandum of understanding, which is part of the move to independent charity status. It should not become part of this Bill.
At risk of sounding—hopefully not appearing—more like Hook than Wendy Darling, I will bring my comments to a conclusion by simply saying that although we have explored worthwhile amendments this morning and raised some important points, I shall not support any of those amendments.
I am delighted to speak in support of this important Bill on Report and congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Wendy Morton) on leading it through the complexities of the House. In the time available—I shall keep my contribution short because I realise how long it has taken us to get this far this morning—I shall speak specifically against amendment 2. If accepted, it would give the Secretary of State the power to introduce secondary legislation to re-establish his or her right to appoint trustees to NHS charities.
Charitable giving is one of the cornerstones of our society, with the Charities Aid Foundation estimating that in 2014 alone £10.6 billion was donated by the British public to a variety of good causes. Indeed, we are the home of some of the world’s greatest charitable fundraisers such as Children in Need, Comic Relief, Sport Relief, and not forgetting, of course, Live Aid.
One clear message that came out of the 2014 consultation on the governance of NHS charities was that potential donors felt put off by the perceived lack of independence of the charities from the Government. One of the Bill’s fundamental principles that seeks to rectify this perception —one that I wholeheartedly support—is the removal of the right of the Secretary of State to appoint trustees to particular NHS bodies or to appoint special trustees.
The Bill is designed to give more autonomy to NHS charities to appoint their own trustees and bring them into line with most of the rest of the charitable sector, in which that is already common practice. As well as removing the perception that the charities lack independence from Governments, such a move would enable them to adopt different legal forms specific to their needs, particularly those offering limited liability. It would remove the barriers of dual regulation under both NHS and charity legislation, which currently make it difficult for NHS charities to achieve and demonstrate true independence.
My hon. Friend is making a very good point. Members may have seen a report in today’s Times about trusted professions. Apparently doctors are trusted by 89% of the population, but Ministers—not politicians as a whole—are trusted by only 22%, although I am sure that that does not apply to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State. Surely vesting independence in these charities independently and drawing them away from Governments will only enhance their local reputation.
I entirely agree. That is exactly why I feel that they need to be independent from Secretaries of State and Governments. I must read the whole of that article: it sounds extremely interesting. We must think about how we can improve our image in the public domain.
I understand the need for safeguarding measures, which I believe amendment number 2 genuinely seeks to introduce, but although the amendment is well intentioned, I feel that it is unnecessary and inappropriate in this case. In the past, sadly, there have been instances in which trustees have clearly not acted in the interests of the charities that they purported to represent. We have already had too much doom and gloom this morning, so I will not go into any more detail, but that has only served to damage the reputation of charities and disrupt the great work that the majority of them do in and for our society. However, I believe that the issue has been addressed to a great extent by the Government’s own Charities (Protection and Social Investment) Bill, whose remaining stages will be debated in the House next week, and which seeks to implement new safeguarding measures that include giving the Charity Commission the power to remove trustees who have acted in an inappropriate or negligent manner.
Furthermore, I believe that the amendment would have an undue impact on the process of making all NHS charities with appointed trustees independent, or returning them to a corporate model. By reintroducing the role of the Secretary of State, we would give the impression that where that process had not taken place the status quo was adequate, which contradicts what was said by NHS charities during the consultation that was conducted during the last Parliament. I therefore cannot support amendment 2, and must politely ask my hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse) to consider not pressing it.
I am conscious of the time, so I shall be careful not to be either repetitive or irrelevant, and to confine my remarks to the amendments. I should make it clear at the outset that, while I respect the points of passion—and fashion—that have been made in support of them, I do not think that any of them would enhance the Bill.
Amendment 4 deals with public consultation. We surely do not want to ask people to comment on a matter that has already been decided, or in circumstances in which a response to a consultation will not make any real difference to the outcome—other than, as was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray), potentially helping to take funds away from either the charity and its objectives or the Department of Health, which is paying for the consultation.
As several Members said, nothing is more likely to build public cynicism about politics than the idea that people have been asked to comment on something and their comments will then be virtually ignored. I can think of an example in local government. A council wanted to reduce free weekend parking, because that had been a manifesto commitment and the council had been returned with a majority. However, it then had to engage in a legal public consultation to find out whether motorists objected to the idea of free parking at the weekend, as opposed to the idea of paying for it. That was absolute nonsense. Several thousand pounds were wasted on advertising in the local press with public notices, and, funnily enough, no motorist wrote in saying, “Do you know what, I would actually like to pay two quid next time I park.”
We should not introduce measures that will engender cynicism. We should not say that a measure has been decided on and announced, but will be subject to a consultation; nor should we provide for a consultation on a matter that is highly technical, and with which very few people will be able to engage. When I was preparing for the Second Reading debate and for today’s Report stage, I found myself burrowing into a huge amount of detail. I do not see how a consultation would be effective.
With individual consultations as well, there is no guarantee we are going to reach everyone. I remember when a consultation was entered into on whether Cornwall should have a unitary council, and the company used admitted in the end that it had not reached all the households concerned, so a lot of people were missed. This is one of the downsides of consulting on individual things.
My hon. Friend makes excellent points about the difficulties in reaching everyone. In the consultation that created Cornwall Council, there was a major discussion to be had on, I believe, six district councils and one county council being merged into one. There was significant media coverage on, for instance, BBC “Spotlight” and BBC Radio Cornwall, but still, even after all that, some people will have said, “I didn’t know the consultation was going on,” or “I didn’t know exactly what the nature of the consultation was.”
I sat through discussions about future local government structures, including referendums on an elected mayor, during my time in the midlands. People could, I think, engage with some things—for example, planning decisions or social services decisions—but in terms of how a local charity board is structured at the local hospital, and who can make appointments, how they are structured and the process gone through to make them, I cannot see many people saying, “I want to go out to talk about that on a Tuesday night in mid-February.”
If we are having consultations, they should be meaningful. On the question of what is “appropriate”, we should be asking what the appropriate stage is of decision making for each item. As I have argued in the Chamber before, on major constitutional change—the voting system for this House, for instance, or whether we abolish, or significantly change, the other place—we would probably at least need a manifesto commitment, and without that people should be directly asked for their consent to make that change. In terms of the fundamental constitution, it should have the direct consent of the people, therefore. At the other end of the spectrum, however, none of us would argue that the things that this House deals with through secondary legislation would be appropriate subjects for public referendums.
We should ask what the appropriate process is, and in this case the appropriate level of consultation would more be along these lines: “Yes, the charities should talk to each other and, yes, they should go through the normal process to appoint trustees by speaking to their members, but they do not necessarily have to host a public meeting to discuss that.” If this amendment were passed, there would be the nonsense that these particular charities would be required to go through a public consultation, yet the vast majority of charities in this country, who are regulated under the normal method for charities, would not have to do so. I recognise the intention of my hon. Friends the Members for Erewash (Maggie Throup) and for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Michael Tomlinson) in wanting people to be able to engage with the NHS and its services, but this amendment is not the right way of going about it.
On amendments 1, 3 and 2, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse), I found the level of doom and disaster that was presented as possibly affecting these particular NHS charities quite interesting. If anyone listening is thinking of becoming a trustee, they might be slightly put off from doing so when they hear all the things that could possibly happen to them as a member of the board of trustees of one of these charities. I am not at all convinced that we need special provision in this Bill for these charities, rather than the wealth of charitable legislation that we already have, including a Bill currently before this House to change that legislation.
I do not think these amendments would tackle the issues, and worst of all they still give the idea that the Secretary of State is in control of a charity. As I said on Second Reading, at the heart of this Bill is independence. It is about these charities not being seen as an arm’s length part of the Department of Health—not being seen as government by the back door.
My hon. Friend is right. The whole point of the Bill is to free these charities from being, in effect, arm’s length parts of the Government. If we say, “We want to free you, but now we want to pop back in the Secretary of State having specific powers that do not apply to any other charities”, that is not a coherent argument and it would not produce coherent legislation. Hon. Members may have concerns about how charities are regulated and whether someone can go off to the Seychelles with the money, but that is a debate about the wider system of charity regulation in this country. They should not seek to put something specific into this Bill that adds another layer of bureaucracy for the charities involved, given that the whole point of the Bill is to get shot of such bureaucracy. I am not persuaded by those amendments.
Amendment 9 deals with the NHS logo. It was put forward eloquently by my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg), but, sadly, I will not be joining in the fashion of supporting it. I appreciate that the bodies it deals with are working closely with the NHS, but so, too, do other charities. For example, the Torbay Hospital League of Friends has its own logo and it successfully raises money for Torbay hospital. The name makes it obvious what it is linked with.
I thank my hon. Friend for that good point. Once we start on the principle of these changes, where do we stop? Karing, a charity in my constituency—it is in Preston, in Paignton—is very closely linked with a local doctor’s surgery, and it was lucky enough recently to have had its new base opened by Esther Rantzen. It is not, however, part of that surgery. Clearly, the two work together, with Karing supporting and providing great services, giving real benefits to local people, but, crucially, it is not part of the business that is the surgery, nor is it part of the business that is the NHS. That is where the logo point comes in.
My hon. Friend is making a strong, clear point. In my constituency, Edenbridge hospital has a league of friends, which is there not only to support the hospital—it does that incredibly impressively—but to support the needs of the community and to advocate when the hospital gets it wrong, which, occasionally, it may have done. Keeping that independence is essential so that the charity can actually do its job and not merely be an adjunct to the hospital.
My hon. Friend makes the excellent point that many people will see a league of friends at a local hospital as not just having a function of holding some money in an account, but as also being a stakeholder in the process, able to speak independently and fearlessly about the local hospital and the charities. It needs to be seen as neutral and independent. As we have mentioned, the Public Accounts Committee looked in depth this week at the financial sustainability of NHS trusts. There are concerns about that, and we have seen examples where NHS trusts have gone badly wrong. Thankfully, this Government have been far more prepared to talk about that and deal with it than previous Governments have been. If the charity is seen to be part of the trust, we go back to the idea that the charity is not bringing in additionality. People will think, “I am not donating money so that there is something extra; I am donating money that could or should have been provided by the Government or by the trust.”
If we start spreading the logo around, we open up other debates that are not particularly helpful, as we set a precedent. That was touched on briefly in the intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall. People are very precious about the NHS—it is a symbol of the public sector, delivered by the public sector. That is a very important point. If we start extending use of the logo to charities, what do we do about other bodies that might wish to start using it? For example, we regularly see the NHS logo used alongside “in partnership”, for example with a foundation trust or the Department of Health, but we do not see groups such as my local league of friends abandoning their long-established and very well-recognised brand within the local area to say that they are collecting for the NHS. The Torbay Hospital League of Friends is doing a great job with its “This is Critical” campaign to get money to help equip the new critical care unit of the hospital, but it is not the NHS, and the essence of that approach is that what it provides is additional and that it is independent. That is why, for me, the amendment would go against the whole spirit of the Bill, which is about independent charities and independent trusts. For me, amendment 9 does not make sense and I will not be supporting it. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset will not press it to a vote.
As I have mentioned in my interventions, this is a worthwhile Bill that sets a great framework for having an independent set of charities and a facility whereby people can more easily raise funds and make a difference for their local hospital and their local community. Some of the amendments would emasculate those aims, making it look as though the organisations covered by the Bill were part of the Government. I therefore do not think that the amendments can stand.
The Bill as it has come from the Committee makes sense, sets out the appropriate safeguards and should not be seen as sweeping away regulation or oversight of these charities. It places the charities under the oversight that this Parliament has provided for every other charity in this country. If the regulation system is good enough for Rowcroft hospice, a place that provides exceptional care to those in the final stages of their life, and for the Torbay Hospital League of Friends, it is good enough for the charities covered by the Bill. I urge the Members who have tabled these well-meaning amendments, supporting the overall objective of the Bill, to realise that many of them do not help the Bill’s aims and in fact strike at its heart. I hope that they will not press them to a vote.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster). Like him, I am a great supporter of the Bill and, like him, I think that it emerged in good shape from Committee. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Wendy Morton) on steering it on its merry path to get here today. It is because I support the Bill that I look askance at some of the amendments. I wish the Bill a smooth passage today; that is why I oppose the amendments, particularly amendments 4, 2 and 7. My hon. Friends have been incredibly generous in giving way to a number of Members this morning, including me, so I do not feel the need to speak at length. However, there were one or two points that I thought would be useful contributions to the debate.
On amendment 4, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Michael Tomlinson), I thought that my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg)—the fashionable Member for North East Somerset—was somewhat cynical in his approach to public consultations. There are at least three circumstances in which public consultations can be valuable. My hon. Friend the Member for Torbay mentioned one: cases of great constitutional import for this Chamber and this country. My hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse) referred to others, and made an excellent point about the consultation on the congestion charge in London—a matter of wide regional interest. The cost of that consultation was borne to ensure that the relevant authorities had a proper appreciation of the views of the electorate, which was a wise step in those circumstances.
There are also circumstances in which consultation is appropriate at a local level. One such case in my constituency related to school catchment areas, which matter greatly. It is important that those consultations are carried out properly, and that all those who will be affected—or, in this case, whose children will be affected—are able to contribute to those consultations. Not every consultation is conducted to as high a standard as we would all wish.
The amendments are extremely technical. I urge my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole to reconsider his amendment 4, as it would place a huge burden on the Secretary of State and on the trustees to go through a process of consultation on highly technical issues that are not matters of constitutional, regional or local import affecting individuals. Although I greatly respect my hon. Friend, going through a process of public consultation is unnecessarily burdensome, particularly where the matter will be reviewed and can always be brought to the attention of this House through the normal procedure. We should empower the trustees to take decisions.
Understandably, my hon. Friend was not able, although pressed by my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) and by me, to give an approximation of the costs or who may bear them. That should be a point for consideration by the House.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for not being quite so cynical about public consultations as other hon. Members have been during the debate. Perhaps he should cite one further consultation: that which was the foundation of the Bill. On cost, he does not press me to come up with a precise figure, I know, but does he accept the broad point that if public consultation is right in principle, the cost will have to follow, come what may?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for clarifying his views. I have no problem with paying for consultations when they are necessary and appropriate, but I do not believe that the circumstances likely to pertain to the Bill will be in that category. Issues worthy of consultation are those described by my hon. Friends the Members for Torbay and for North West Hampshire, and the local issues to which I referred.
On amendment 2 tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire, I hope he will not be upset if I refer to it as the magic circle amendment—now you see it in the Bill, now you don’t—hey presto. With one stroke, his amendment would remove a power that is at the core of the Bill, as it creates clarity for the charities concerned. I know that every hon. Member who has tabled an amendment today is a passionate supporter of those charities, as are we all. The benefit of the Bill is that it provides clarity to the charities. Under the Bill, trustees will become fully independent. They are left in no doubt about who is responsible for the conduct of the charity and about their own corporate governance. That is a good thing, which empowers them and encourages responsibility.
My hon. Friend has made some excellent points. Does he agree that the point of the Bill is to make these charities independent and regulated like others? This is the Peter Pan Bill, but the tale of disaster behind the amendments will make them the Tinker Bell amendments.
I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s knowledge of pantomimes. No doubt Captain Hook is in there somewhere. I certainly accept the pith of his remarks. By making the charities fully independent, we provide clarity not only to the trustees by empowering them, but to donors, who will know that their generous gifts to the charities will be looked after by independent trustees.
My hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble (Seema Kennedy) referred to the sad state of current polling on Government Ministers. I think we would all agree in this House that those who fulfil the functions of charity trustees are good people doing a good task, and are recognised as such. They are the people whom the generous donors to these charities want to be in command of the assets that they transfer, rather than any other body. That is why I oppose the amendment.
Amendment 7, which stands in the name of my hon. and fashionable Friend the Member for North East Somerset, would merely add to complexity and cost, neither of which is required. In particular, a report from the Comptroller and Auditor General is an unnecessarily bureaucratic step.
Does my hon. Friend agree that if we are trying to increase the public’s confidence in these charities, involving bodies such as the Comptroller and Auditor General—names that are alien perhaps to many of us, and definitely to our constituents—will not fulfil the purpose of this Bill?
The Comptroller and Auditor General already has a very valuable role, and I would not wish to place extra burdens on him. I take my hon. Friend’s point.
The purpose of the Bill is to provide clarity, so that donors know that the boards are in control of their destiny and will look after their assets appropriately in the interests of the charitable endeavours that they serve. Involving bodies such as the Comptroller and Auditor General would merely invite bureaucracy and confusion. There are myriad auditors prepared to do a good job to support charity trustees in their work and to ensure that their accounts are kept in good order, so I do not see the need to involve public bodies. With that in mind, in particular, I beg to differ with my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset, and I hope that he will not press his amendment.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills on introducing this Bill, which I wish a smooth passage. I hope that those who have tabled amendments will think again and not press them to allow for that smooth passage.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Wendy Morton) on bringing her Bill through to Report. The Bill will improve the independence of NHS charitable trusts, and I am pleased to speak on it. I did not serve on the Committee, but I note that it lasted only 10 minutes. The House has obviously since developed an appetite for debating amendments, which could be seen as surprising. However, the hon. Lady dealt with them very well, so I will keep my comments short.
No, because I want to keep my comments short, as I say.
As we have heard, funding from NHS charities supports innovation and research and enables the provision of additional facilities, services and equipment for their associated hospitals. Some Members have cast a shadow of doubt over the value of NHS charities, and I want to challenge that. Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust in my local area has its own charity, and last year it raised over £450,000, which was used to provide additional services at the hospital. As with other NHS charities, the majority of its funding comes from donations and legacies, with some from investment income; there has been a great deal of debate about how donors feel about that. In some cases, however, donations come from patients and their families who are grateful for the care that they have received. Salford Royal is an excellent hospital, so it is very good that patients and their families are able to make donations via the charity to express their thanks. That is a very important aspect.
The charity funding of Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust has been put to good use. In the past year, it has provided additional staff training and supported medical research, with the aim of promoting health and improving the treatment and care of patients. There has been a negative aspect to this debate, with doubt being cast on the value of NHS charities, but I do not agree with that. I agree with the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills that the various amendments will not improve the Bill, and I am happy to support that position on behalf of the official Opposition.
What a fascinating morning this has been. I add my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Wendy Morton), who has dealt with some of the amendments. I hope to add some additional information and clarification, and to provide the useful history behind the need for and origins of the Bill. It is good that it has been debated with such thoroughness and that it has been given clear attention.
I am grateful to the Minister for mentioning the thoroughness of this debate. Does she agree that one of the reasons for the short Committee stage was that this House was debating the important matter of Syria? The Bill is important, but some might argue that the Syria debate was more important. Perhaps that explains why the Committee stage was so short.
That is probably a helpful thing to put on the record. All Members have to use their time wisely and appropriately, whatever the business of the House is at any one time. That seems to have been a sensible thing to do. Thankfully, we have been able to give this small but important Bill the time and attention it deserves this morning.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Michael Tomlinson) for tabling amendment 4, which seeks to oblige the Secretary of State to carry out public consultation that he considers appropriate—we have dwelt on that somewhat—before making regulations that make provisions consequential on the removal of the Secretary of State’s powers to appoint trustees to NHS bodies and to appoint special trustees. I do not believe that the amendment is necessary, for some of the reasons covered by others and on which I will try to elaborate.
Schedule 1 already makes a range of amendments to primary legislation that are consequential on the removal of the Secretary of State’s powers. They remove references to trustees in other legislation, because they would no longer make sense given that such trustees will no longer exist. The regulations that the Secretary of State does have the power to make under clause 1(2) are technical and remove any outdated references to such trustees, so that, in effect, tidies up all related provisions in primary or secondary legislation that might come to light in future.
It would, therefore, be unusual to consult the public. Members have given interesting examples of consultations in their own constituencies. It is fair to say that a degree of cynicism has been expressed, perhaps unduly, but I certainly agree with the principle that one should go into a consultation with an open mind. I assure the House that the Government seek to do that when they enter into consultations.
The situation with technical issues, however, is slightly different. The amendment seeks to consult the public on regulations that make technical, consequential changes, but proper scrutiny of such consequential changes is undertaken by Parliament. Indeed, Members have referred to such occasions. That is especially the case when consequential amendments are made by regulations to primary legislation, as the regulations are subject to debate and approval in both Houses. I hope that that gives some comfort to those who were concerned about the consultation issue.
Amendments 1 and 2 propose the retention in one form or another of the Secretary of State’s powers to appoint trustees, and we have had a good debate about that. Amendment 1 would give the Secretary of State the power to make provision, by secondary legislation, to re-establish the Secretary of State’s powers to appoint trustees to NHS charitable trusts. It would make such secondary legislation subject to the affirmative procedure and require that the draft secondary legislation be published three months before it is laid before Parliament.
Amendment 2 makes provision for the Secretary of State to appoint one or more trustees where he or she is satisfied that
“exceptional circumstances exist, or…all the trustee positions in relation to a particular charitable trust have been vacant for a period exceeding three months”.
As has been said, independence is the next stage in the evolution of NHS charities. Now that NHS charities have the choice to become independent or to remain as NHS charities with corporate trustees, the Secretary of State’s powers to appoint trustees have served their purpose and are no longer necessary.
Before the Government’s reform of the regulation and governance of NHS charities, nearly all the largest NHS charities had trustees appointed by the Secretary of State. As other hon. Members have said, particularly the Bill’s promoter, my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills, such charities were frustrated by the dual regulation of NHS and charity legislation, and one can quite understand why they felt limited in their ability to best support their beneficiaries. Many of the charities wanted the opportunity to become independent so that they could fully realise their potential. Other hon. Members have made good points about their need to express their independence and distance from the Government.
The Government’s reform of the regulation and governance of NHS charities has given those that wished to do so the opportunity to convert to independent status under the sole regulation of the Charity Commission. Six of the largest NHS charities with trustees appointed by the Secretary of State have already converted to independence, having decided that that is their best option for the future. The vast majority of the remaining 15 NHS charities with trustees appointed by the Secretary of State have indicated that they, too, plan to convert to independence in the near future. Three NHS charities with corporate trustee arrangements have also indicated that they wish to convert to independence.
At this point, it might be useful for the House and assist hon. Members who have tabled amendments that question some aspects of the Bill if I go a little into the history of this reform. It has always been a challenge to develop a system of regulation and governance that is workable for both the small number of very large NHS charities and charities with income of only a few thousand pounds a year. Within the sector, income is heavily skewed towards charities linked to large, high-profile hospital trusts, some of which have been mentioned during the debate. In 2012, the top five NHS charities accounted for more than a third of the total income, the top 15 for more than half of the total income and the top 30 for more than two thirds of the total income. However, the 50 smallest registered NHS charities had an average annual income of less than £10,000. The largest NHS charities require a different level of professional management.
Does my hon. Friend agree that NHS charities helping to put defibrillators in public places are doing a good job for the country? I am trying to persuade all my churches to have defibrillators outside their buildings for the benefit of the community, and some have already done so. It is an important fact that charities within the health service do a huge amount of good out in the community, as well as in hospitals.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Several hon. Members have mentioned charities in their area that are doing great work to increase the public availability of defibrillators. Perhaps I may take a moment to update the House on that matter. The Government were delighted, in partnership with the British Heart Foundation, to provide £1 million for defibrillators, meaning that this life-saving equipment will be given to communities right across the country—we have heard about several examples this morning, and my hon. Friend has mentioned another great example in Derbyshire—and that more people can be trained in cardiopulmonary resuscitation. That will make it easier for people to act in an emergency, and ultimately it will of course save lives.
I can update the House by saying that applications opened last October and interest was very high. The British Heart Foundation allocated funding to applicants who could demonstrate that the criteria had been met, and the application process has now closed. We look forward to hearing more about all the places around the country—I am sure that some of them will be in constituencies of hon. Members in the Chamber—where such life-saving work will be enabled.
I am interested to hear the Minister’s remarks. Given the slightly negative perceptions of charitable work and the descriptions of things that could go wrong that we heard earlier, would she like to comment on the things that are going very well? Will she put on the record her thanks, on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government, to the Torbay Hospital League of Friends? Over 62 years, it has raised millions of pounds to support local people and it is currently running its “This Is Critical” campaign to provide equipment for the new critical care unit that is under construction at Torbay hospital.
My hon. Friend is exactly right. At times, the debate has moved into rather gloomy territory. He used the “EastEnders” analogy. During the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse), I began to think he was speaking to the Private Frazer amendment—the “We’re doomed!” amendment.
My hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster) is right to bring us back to the great work that is being done. My experience of a local league of friends is similarly positive. Often, in the cut and thrust of our debates on legislation from Monday to Thursday we do not have time to put on the record the thanks of Parliament and the Government for the efforts of groups like his league of friends. It is welcome that this morning, when we have a little more time, we are able to put on the record our thanks to people who are not in the spotlight, but who are doing wonderful work in all our constituencies. I congratulate him on doing that and join him in praising the Torbay Hospital League of Friends.
On that note, may I draw to the Minister’s attention one charity in my constituency? Like my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster), we have charities that support the local hospital, but we also have Action Medical Research, which does a wonderful job for children. It was formed back in 1952 and has the distinction of being supported by Paddington Bear, which is wonderful. It runs the largest regular London to Paris bike ride to raise funds to support research into diseases that affect young children. It is not directly linked to the NHS, but it is a wonderful medical charity. I hope that the Bill will empower many more such charities to get going.
How nice it is to hear about that charity. I congratulate my hon. Friend on taking the opportunity to praise it and to shine a spotlight on a charity that so richly deserves it. Indeed, well done to him for name-checking Paddington in a debate that has been otherwise dominated by Peter Pan. We will see whether any more well-loved characters make an appearance before the end of the debate.
I cannot lay claim to any characters in my constituency. It is not just the work that charities do in hospitals that is important, but the work that they do outside hospitals to make sure that people do not go into hospital. One of my local charities, Community Concern Erewash, recently linked up with the Alzheimer’s Society to work in the community to help people suffering from Alzheimer’s to cope in their own homes and stay in their homes a lot longer. Will my hon. Friend praise that charity and recognise the contribution that such charities make to our society?
I am delighted to add my praise for my hon. Friend’s charity. I was honoured after the election to have dementia policy added to my portfolio as public health Minister. She is right to draw our attention to the need to work outside hospital to keep people safer in their own homes. As I know from working with dementia charities, large and small, much of that work is done by small local charities. I am delighted to echo her praise for the charity in her constituency.
To return to the amendments, although the largest charities require a level of professional management, the same is not required by many of the smallest ones. The corporate trustees arrangement, whereby the board of the trust or, prior to that, the board of the hospital acts as the trustee, is not sufficient to manage the large sums that are held by the largest NHS charities. They need a more professional approach, in many cases. The Government first took steps to address that issue in 1973. The Secretary of State took powers to appoint so-called special trustees to manage charitable property on behalf of hospital boards. Three hospitals—Moorfields, the Royal National Orthopaedic hospital and Great Ormond Street—appointed such special trustees to manage their charitable funds.
With the advent of NHS trusts in 1990, the Secretary of State acquired powers to appoint trustees to them. Those powers have since been extended to other NHS bodies, although they have been used to appoint trustees only to NHS foundation trusts as well as NHS trusts.
Corporate trustees, who consider that separate trustees might be appropriate, can approach the Department of Health to ask the Secretary of State to use his powers to enable the appointment of separate trustees. The size of the charitable funds was the key determinant in deciding whether separate trustees were appropriate.
Guidance that the Department issued in 2011 stated that assets of more than £10 million and an annual income or expenditure of £1 million would provide a clear case for the appointment of separate trustees. It was considered that charities of this size had the critical mass to benefit from the cost of employing specialist expertise in administering the fund. I think that we all recognise the common sense of that. In total, 18 NHS charities have separate trustees appointed by the Secretary of State.
Although separate trustee arrangements enabled the largest NHS charities to benefit from more expert management, there were still frustrations. Several of the largest NHS charities called for reform because of concerns that the NHS legislative framework limited charities’ freedom to grow and develop their charitable activity to best support their beneficiaries. They cited a number of issues with separate trustee arrangements.
The fact that the Secretary of State appoints the trustees made it difficult to demonstrate visible independence from Government to potential donors. Several colleagues made that point well in the debate. Donors feared that charitable donations would simply be swallowed up in running the trust rather than giving a clear charitable benefit.
Being bound to NHS legislation prevented the charities from adopting different legal forms appropriate to their specific needs, particularly those offering limited liability. There has been a good debate this morning about the encouragement that we might give people to come forward as charity trustees: what might encourage people to embrace that opportunity and also what might put them off. That is important. Understandably, trustees and potential trustees were nervous about the personal risks that they faced in relation to their liabilities.
The “Agenda for Change” arrangements that govern NHS staff pay and conditions are often not a good fit for NHS staff who support NHS charities. In addition, the Charity Commission believes that dual regulation, under both NHS and charity legislation, made it difficult for NHS charities to achieve and demonstrate independence.
As a result of the concerns, the Department conducted a review of NHS charities in 2011, consulting publicly, although not especially fashionably, on its proposals in 2012 and publishing its response in 2014. I do not want to labour this point but, as we all know, the Government announced that they would allow NHS charities to move to independent charity status. Charities that decided to become independent would no longer be NHS charities, but independent charities, regulated solely by the Charity Commission and responsible for appointing their own trustees. The Department put safeguards in place to preserve the unique relationship between the charities and the trusts with which they are associated.
I think that a concern was in the back of some hon. Members’ minds as they discussed the possible unhelpful directions in which independent charities could go off in. The funds that are transferred to the new charity can be used only for the same charitable purpose as originally intended. I hope that that gives hon. Members some comfort. The NHS body should have some involvement in a new charity’s governance arrangements, for example, by having a specific place on the board. The Department and the Association of NHS Charities—I know that that body is well respected; my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills has worked closely with it and she might say more about that on Third Reading—have published detailed guidance for charities on that policy.
The Department concluded that, in view of the responses to the consultation and the new freedom for NHS charities to become independent, the Secretary of State’s power to appoint trustees was no longer necessary. We would all—certainly Government Members— agree that we do not want unnecessary legislation.
As I have set out, NHS charities with separate trustees have seized the opportunity to become independent. Independence is also attracting strong interest from some of the larger NHS charities with corporate trustee arrangements, and we will see further movement over the next few years.
Let me say a little about why amendments 1 and 2 are unnecessary. There are a number of policy and technical legal issues, which is I why I believe that the amendments should be withdrawn. The Government gave a clear commitment in their consultation response that the Secretary of State’s powers to appoint separate trustees would be repealed at the first legislative opportunity. It would therefore be unusual to remove those powers now, and then include a power to re-establish them in the same Bill. That would demonstrate indecision, and send a mixed message to the charity sector and to donors—the opposite of what we are trying to achieve.
Clear independence from the Government was one of the main drivers for the charities involved—again, that has been drawn out in our debate. What message would it send to donors if charities could revert to having trustees appointed by the Secretary of State? Such a measure would also undermine the process set up to move all NHS charities with separate trustees to independence, or back to corporate status. We do not want to give the impression that continuing with the status quo might be acceptable when that is not the case.
There are also technical problems with the amendments. Amendment 1 would not work because the Secretary of State’s current powers allow them to appoint trustees to particular NHS bodies, or to appoint special trustees, and not—as the amendment suggests—to appoint trustees to NHS charitable trusts. That is a technical distinction. As has been said, the appointment of trustees is already governed by charity law for independent charities, or, for NHS charities with corporate trustee arrangements, by the provisions that govern appointment to the board of NHS bodies.
A difficulty with amendment 2 means that it too would not work. Regulations in clause 1(2) are aimed at enabling the Secretary of State to make consequential amendments to legislation that are necessary as a result of the removal of the Secretary of State’s powers to appoint trustees to NHS bodies, and to appoint special trustees. To extend the scope of those regulations to empower the Secretary of State to appoint trustees in particular circumstances is entirely inappropriate, as such a provision would not be considered consequential on the removal of the Secretary of State’s powers. Rather, it is a direct contradiction of that position. Equally, it is unclear in the amendments to which bodies the Secretary of State would have the power to appoint trustees.
For amendment 3 my hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire invoked the Private Frazer-style of debating, and made us all feel—hopefully not people outside the House—that they might be doomed were they to engage in what we all know to be a particularly satisfying form of charitable and public service, which is serving as a charity trustee. My hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster) was effective in giving some of the reasons why many of us were unconvinced by that.