House of Lords
Tuesday, 28 April 2009.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Southwark.
Introduction: Lord Collins of Mapesbury
The right honourable Sir Lawrence Antony Collins, Knight, having been created Lord Collins of Mapesbury, of Hampstead Town in the London Borough of Camden, was introduced as a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary and made the solemn affirmation, supported by Lord Irvine of Lairg and Lord Hoffmann.
Climate Change: EU
To ask Her Majesty’s Government when they next expect to hold discussions on climate change issues with the Czech presidency of the European Union.
My Lords, Her Majesty’s Government have had regular engagement with the Czech presidency since January 2009. We continue to work with the presidency towards the June councils, where the EU position for Copenhagen will be further discussed.
My Lords, with thanks for that Answer, perhaps I may say that this presidency has in a way been easier than this president has been. The Czech Government’s recent loss of a majority and the president’s bizarre attitude to climate change reform and certain other related matters has caused anxiety in the UK and in the EU. Can the Minister confirm that the Swedes, with their enthusiasm for climate change reform, will nevertheless take things further on an accelerated basis and that their Government’s international policy priority is to ensure the chance of a united EU position for the eventual agreement in Copenhagen?
My Lords, there has been a great deal of discussion and debate within the EU over the past few months. The Czech president is of course entitled to his own view on climate change and there is no evidence that it has undermined the Czech leadership of the presidency as a whole. The noble Lord is right that there has been a vote of no confidence in the current Czech Government, who are continuing as a Government in resignation. I understand that it is hoped that a new Government of experts will take over within the next week and that they will conduct the Government until the elections which are expected in October.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that if the European Union is unable at the end of June to firm up its position on burden sharing between developed and developing countries and to make a genuinely generous offer to the developing countries, there is very little chance of getting a successful outcome at Copenhagen? If he does agree with that, does he think that the Czech presidency has hoisted that on board?
My Lords, the Czech presidency has certainly accepted as a key priority the need for continuing discussion towards the EU negotiating position for Copenhagen. Intensive discussion at the spring council meetings addressed in some detail the issues that the noble Lord has raised. On Copenhagen, it is essential to agree not only ambitious developed country targets but, as the noble Lord suggests, finance and technology flows to support developing country action on reducing carbon emissions.
My Lords, what is a “Government of experts”, and is it a good idea?
My Lords, I do not know whether it is a good idea, but my understanding is that the proposed leader of the Czech Government of experts is to be a statistician. Of course this Government are a Government of all the talents.
My Lords, what progress has been made on the pan-European carbon capture and storage pilot projects, and what is the latest on the UK candidate sites? Perhaps I may also take this opportunity to congratulate the Government on finally adopting the Conservative Party policy on CCS.
My Lords, CCS is carbon capture and storage. Last Thursday, the Government announced in a Statement that we would take forward proposals for up to four demonstration at-scale projects for carbon capture and storage, which are essential because 40 per cent of global energy requirements are met through coal. We will not achieve the required GHG reductions unless we can develop carbon capture and storage effectively. This Government’s action in leading globally in this area will be critical. This Government have also played a very large part in securing agreement within the EU on providing some funding for up to 12 projects within the EU. This country’s position was pivotal to that agreement.
My Lords, one of the key issues for the developing countries will be adaptation as Bangladesh and other low-lying countries, particularly in the Pacific, are threatened by climate change. The Commission has just released a White Paper entitled Adapting to Climate Change: Towards a European Framework for Action. Does the Minister agree that there needs to be concerted action by Europe to help developing countries to adapt to climate change and to stop population displacement and the misery that follows?
Yes, my Lords. The work leading up to Copenhagen is towards agreeing very challenging and tough targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in order to prevent a disastrous increase in global temperatures. However, it is not possible to prevent some increase, which is why the globe will have to adapt to some climate change. I very much agree with the noble Lord on the need for international action. However, it is also essential that this country takes appropriate adaptation action.
My Lords, is it not wrong to describe the views of the Czech president on the future of Europe and the Lisbon treaty as bizarre? Would not many of the suggestions he makes for the reform of the EU be supported by this Government and a majority of the British people?
My Lords, the Czech presidency’s theme of a Europe without barriers and an outward-going and dynamic EU is certainly one that the UK Government would share. If the word bizarre was used by a Member of your Lordships' House, I think it was directed not at the Czech president’s views on the EU and its future but at his somewhat sceptical view of climate change.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that scientists are saying that there are certain anomalies on the surface of the sun that may affect the climate in rather a different way from what is anticipated by the present situation? Is this being taken into consideration?
My Lords, I am reliably informed that any change in the sun’s cycle of activity has nothing to do with daylight saving time. My understanding is that the sun’s 11-year cycle of activity is currently at a minimum. Although its brightness is lower than during other recent minima, scientists expect its activity to increase again in the coming months. I understand that contrary to what has been reported, the influence of the sun’s natural variability on the climate is small compared with the impact of anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases.
My Lords, last week in Washington I learnt that the Americans are now seeking licences for over 50 new nuclear power stations as their major response to global greenhouse gases. We seem to have stopped dithering here over nuclear and the Government have at last changed their mind and are getting on with things. Have we the support of the Czech presidency and, indeed, of the whole EU membership in carrying forward these matters with vigour after the years of delay?
My Lords, I am not aware of any inhibition by the EU presidency of the Government’s energy policy. As the noble Lord has suggested, we have given a green light to the development of new nuclear power stations, and EDF’s takeover of British Energy signals a great deal of investment. Other companies are also interested in investing. New nuclear is one of the necessary components to ensure energy supply and low-carbon emissions. However, that has to be laid alongside our renewable energy target of 15 per cent by 2020 and, as we heard, the impact of carbon capture and storage in coal energy production.
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their position on polygamous marriage in the United Kingdom.
My Lords, the Government do not support or approve of polygamous marriage. It is not possible to enter into a polygamous marriage in the United Kingdom under UK law. A person who is domiciled in the United Kingdom cannot enter into a valid polygamous marriage abroad.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply, but is he aware that Chapter 13.20 of the entry clearance guidance issued by the UK Border Agency to entry clearance officers states:
“Even where it is suspected that a divorce of convenience has taken place and that a man … is continuing to live with a previous wife, entry clearance cannot be withheld from a second wife, even if a polygamous household will be created as a result”?
Does he accept that this guidance effectively means that the Government are turning a blind eye to polygamy and that it does exist?
No, my Lords, I would not accept that for a moment. I have set out the Government’s policy as clearly as I can. This country recognises, and has done for many years, a marriage that has taken place abroad as being valid in England and Wales provided that it has been created in accordance with English private international law. To be recognised as valid, it must have been contracted between parties of full capacity and the marriage ceremony must have accorded with the formal requirements of the law of celebration in the country where it took place. If these conditions are satisfied, the marriage in question is normally recognised as being compliant with English private international law. This includes polygamous marriages but is not government approval of such marriages.
My Lords, is the noble Lord aware of reports of marriages with Islamic religious ceremonies taking place in this country that are not subsequently registered with the state? What may the Government do to protect the women and children of such non-legally registered marriages, especially in the event of a divorce that may be inflicted on the wife, who then has no recourse to the recognition of rights under a legal marriage?
My Lords, those marriages that are religious ceremonies only—save for those of the established church—are of course not valid under English law; those ceremonies do not set up a valid marriage. There is protection for the innocent parties of such a ceremony. For the wife, these include various abilities to get injunctions for domestic violence, approvals under the trusts of land Act and rights on the death of the purported husband. There are also rights for any children of such a union under the Child Support Agency rules and there are lump sums for children. There are some protections for those who are the innocent victims of such a ceremony.
My Lords, does it follow from what the Minister has helpfully said that it is the clear public policy of the United Kingdom, and should remain so, that one man is allowed to marry one woman and that that applies to everyone who lives in this country? That is my understanding of what the Minister said. Does he agree that it is also part of UK public policy to mitigate the serious disadvantages suffered by women in polygamous marriages in this country and that one way in which to do that would be to grant legal protection to unmarried cohabitant couples so as to provide a safety net for multiple wives whose polygamous marriages are unrecognised, as the noble Baroness, Lady Afshar, suggested in a recent debate? If that is not the right approach, what is the right approach?
My Lords, I agree absolutely with the first question that the noble Lord asked. That is exactly what I said, I hope, in answering the Question. But whether the Cohabitation Bill that the noble Lord has introduced to this House is the answer is much more questionable. We think that it is unnecessary and takes the wrong approach towards addressing the mistaken perception that cohabitation confers a quasi-marital legal status. We believe that sufficient provision for financial and property protection is already available to adult couples who live together. However, although we do not support his Bill—the noble Lord knows that already—we want to consider the Scottish experience and extrapolate from it the likely balance between cost and benefit that the Bill involves.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that the time has perhaps come when we should follow the lead of the Australian Prime Minister and start saying to the people who come to live here that they not only have to follow the law but have to accept the moral and ethical views of this country? We do not want a divided society and it is very important that a message should be sent to people who live here that they have to comply with the moral and ethical situation and not only the law.
My Lords, I have to say to the noble Baroness that the vast majority of those who come to this country know full well that they must obey the laws of this country and do so. They add a huge amount to what this country represents in the world. Of course, in this particular field it is essential that anyone who comes here behaves in accordance with English law. Again, I think that that is widely understood.
My Lords, what are the rights of an asylum seeker who is admitted to this country and has a polygamous marriage in his country of origin? Can he bring only one wife with him, or are the others allowed in, too?
My Lords, I might have guessed that it would be the noble Lord who would catch me out. I do not know the answer to that question, but I suspect that the situation is very much the same whether it involves an asylum seeker or someone who comes into this country in any other way. However, I shall look into it and write to the noble Lord.
My Lords, I wonder whether I could ask the Minister another question that may be a little difficult to answer—but it is nice to ask. Does he know how many religious marriages are carried out each year that are not subsequently registered with the civil authorities? Is there any way of finding out how much that is going on?
My Lords, it is difficult to find that out. One thing that we think might improve the situation—and this has been supported by a respectable organisation that calls itself the Muslim Parliament—relates to the fact that, of the 809 mosques in this country, only 159 are registered to carry out proper marriages. In other words, there is either a registrar present when the religious ceremony takes place or an authorised person already exists in the mosque to ensure that the civic element of any marriage that there must be under English law is provided. We would encourage more mosques to come forward and be registered for carrying out marriages.
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what controls they will apply to ensure that Scottish banks printing money do not do so at a level that would disproportionately favour the Scottish economy.
My Lords, the supply of banknotes is dictated by demand. There are three banks in Scotland privileged and authorised to issue commercial banknotes, and they are limited to doing so in Scotland. Their issuance is also constrained by the legal requirement to hold Bank of England notes to back their own notes in circulation. There is an estimated £3.3 billion of Scottish banknotes in circulation, compared with approximately £44 billion in Bank of England banknotes.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that response. As it is obviously such an important part of the Government’s economic policy to improve the money supply at this time, would he not consider it appropriate and timely to reintroduce the transparency that went with the old M4 report on the money supply, and provide a separate extraction line, as he has just indicated, for Scotland?
My Lords, as I have already indicated to the noble Lord, Lord James, the information is available.
My Lords, will my noble friend confirm that the notes that are issued by the Royal Bank of Scotland and bear the signature of Sir Fred Goodwin are worth £20 or £5, as they say, and that any of us who find ourselves in Scotland with such notes will be able to use them to the full extent of their value?
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for the question. Sir Fred Goodwin is no longer signing banknotes—they are now signed, in the case of the Royal Bank of Scotland, by Mr Stephen Hester. As an aside, I have been advised that in the Royal Bank of Scotland’s headquarters in Gogarburn, Sir Fred Goodwin employed somebody whose sole job was to ensure that banknotes dispensed from the automatic telling machines in that building bore his signature and his signature alone.
My Lords, is it true that neither the Government nor the Bank of England have made any forecast of the money supply; and if it is not true, can this be published?
My Lords, I am in the course of writing to the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, in answer to that question, which he asked me outside the Chamber. It will save me a stamp if I say now that we do not forecast money supply in the Budget document. This is because we have moved on to an approach to the control of monetary aggregates designed to achieve the 2 per cent inflation target. We have placed that in the hands of the Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee, which has done a truly excellent job over the past 10 years in achieving that target.
My Lords, the noble Lord has reassured the House that Sir Fred Goodwin is no longer signing banknotes, but we all understand that he is receiving them in copious quantities. Are the Government pursuing any legal recourse against Sir Fred Goodwin to stem the flow of his personal money supply in the period ahead?
My Lords, through the agency UK Financial Investments, which holds shares on behalf of the public in the Lloyds Banking Group and the Royal Bank of Scotland, the Government have asked the Royal Bank of Scotland’s existing board to explore legal channels to ensure that the payment of the pension to Sir Fred Goodwin is in accordance with the rules of the scheme and the terms of his contract. Advice is currently being received from counsel and it will be for the new board of the Royal Bank of Scotland to take whatever action it judges to be necessary in the light of that advice to protect the interests of the Royal Bank of Scotland and, through that, UKFI and the general public as investors in the bank.
My Lords, is the Minister of the opinion that there is anything wrong with favouring the Scottish economy?
My Lords, the Government are taking actions across a wide range of areas to stimulate the British economy, to ensure that the worst ravages of a global recession are handled effectively and swiftly. There are signs that the global economy is beginning to stabilise, and we are sure that the United Kingdom will benefit from that.
My Lords, the Minister said, in response to my noble friend Lord Higgins, that the Government are not producing forecasts of the money supply because it is all in the hands of the Bank of England. Is this not another case of the Government being in denial and refusing to acknowledge that their policies on the money supply could have a significant impact on the economy; and is it not about time that they did start monitoring this and revealing the figures?
My Lords, what I said was that we do not make forecasts of the money supply. The money supply is of course monitored, as would be evident to anybody who reads the minutes of the Monetary Policy Committee.
Home Owner Mortgage Support Scheme
To ask Her Majesty’s Government how many home owners will be helped by the recently announced home owner mortgage support scheme; and what is the forecast cost of it.
My Lords, we anticipate that home owners’ mortgage support will help tens of thousands of households to avoid the threat of repossession. The scheme may cost up to £44 million over eight years, which includes the potential cost to government of guaranteeing the 80 per cent of interest deferred by borrowers who subsequently default in the guarantee period. If fewer home owners default, the cost could be much lower.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for her Answer. Will she say a little more about the sort of people who will benefit and the ways in which they will benefit as a result of this scheme? Secondly, will she say something about those lenders who are not prepared to join the scheme and what can be done about them?
Yes, my Lords, I am happy to answer both those questions. With this scheme we are trying to help those people who have suffered an income shock and who need short-term breathing space to get their finances back on track. There are few greater anxieties than the threat of losing one's home and all that goes with it such as the loss of a job, family break-up and the rest. The people who will be helped by the scheme will be households that previously relied on two incomes where one person has lost a job or a single person who has had overtime hours cut. I stress that it is not a payment holiday: a proportion of the interest payments will be deferred, but they will have to be paid back later.
The group of lenders who are taking part in the government guarantee scheme cover 50 per cent of the mortgage market. Four other high street lenders—Barclays, HSBC, Nationwide and Santander—have also confirmed that they will offer comparable arrangements to HMS to their customers, but they do not feel that they need the government guarantee. That will account for 80 per cent of the mortgage market.
My Lords, will the Minister confirm that only one building society has agreed to join the Government’s formal scheme? The other remaining building societies feel that it is not necessary to enter the government scheme: they hope to match that scheme for their customers on a voluntary basis.
My Lords, the building societies that are in the government scheme include the Bradford & Bingley and the Cumberland Building Society. Certainly, we want to go on working with as many building societies, banks and specialist lenders to bring as many people as possible into the scheme. That would be our intention.
My Lords, this is the third scheme that has been introduced by the present housing Minister—the right honourable Margaret Beckett. How do the Government intend to review the scheme to see how well it is working? Will the Minister particularly say whether the Government will look at borrowers from the 20 per cent who are not taking part in the scheme? Have they monitored the other schemes, as they have brought in one after the other?
My Lords, it is true that we have introduced a number of schemes to suit different types of situation. For example, the mortgage rescue scheme, about which the noble Baroness knows, is for the most vulnerable. It will help 6,000 potentially very vulnerable people move to shared equity or into the rented sector. Essentially, that will be monitored by looking at the lenders’ use of forbearance, which is considered through the home finance forum chaired by my noble friend Lord Myners. That is also working to improve the availability of data.
As for the 20 per cent who are outside the scheme, as I said in reply to a previous question, we will try very hard to bring in as many people as possible, but we have no targets for the scheme. We want to make it as generous and effective as possible for people who may be in difficulty.
My Lords, who does the Minister think has caused the income shocks from which these people are suffering?
My Lords, the House is well aware that this is a product of the credit crunch. Very many people are finding themselves vulnerable who did not expect to be either because they have lost their jobs or because they have difficulties with their mortgages.
My Lords, I greatly welcome the home owner mortgage support scheme, but there is clearly a danger that it will become a damp squib. Will the Minister consider whether it is necessary to give the courts more power to impose a stay of execution for possession orders where there is a good chance of people repaying their mortgages? In those cases where the lenders take very little notice of the excellent scheme now on offer, remembering that in every case they can use their discretion, would those extra powers not give us a better guarantee that repossessions will in fact be reduced as a result of this measure?
My Lords, the noble Lord has raised a very interesting point. Let me say something about the notion that this is a damp squib. I think one of the ways in which we could certainly accelerate and improve take-up is to make sure, as we are doing, that people who are in need have access to advice. The whole foundation of this scheme is that people in need should go to their lenders and should also take independent financial advice. That would help enormously. Certainly, as the noble Lord will know, we have boosted the court desks; we have made more advice available. The idea that we should look to extend the stay of execution is something that I shall take back to the department.
My Lords, following the question of the noble Lord, Lord Best, is it not the case that extensive powers are already vested in judges under Section 36 of the Administration of Justice Act 1970? These powers allow the judge to postpone an application or, indeed, suspend a possession warrant, where there is a possibility that a family will be able to pay and repay all debts within the total period of the mortgage. That is very important, for however parlous the situation might be now, if the mortgage has 20 years to run, it may very well be that that can be achieved within the terms of that provision.
My Lords, I am very grateful for the noble Lord’s advice. He has enormous experience in this area. Clearly, repossession is not inevitable, even after a claim has been issued. Provided the borrower is able to pay their arrears in a reasonable period of time, or place the property on the market to effect a sale, and the lender does not have satisfactory reasons for not agreeing, the court does have the power to adjourn the proceedings. So there clearly are different ways of easing this situation.
My Lords, even the impact assessment of the Department for Communities and Local Government is not as optimistic as the Minister. It says that only 7,000—not tens of thousands—might be helped every year. Is it not the case that, not only are the criteria for qualifying for the scheme too restricted, but even if a home owner can qualify, more than half the mortgage lenders have refused to have anything to do with the scheme?
My Lords, I think the noble Lord may be thinking about the mortgage rescue scheme, because that is certainly a figure in that range. We have estimated—these figures are based on our discussions with lenders, which have been very close partners in designing this scheme and the criteria we have set for eligibility— that up to 42,000 households could enter onto HMS in the next two years. If we were to be able to get 100 per cent of the mortgage market—if that was covered—then we would be looking at 85,000 people. As I have already explained, we have enough lenders to account for 80 per cent of the mortgage market. Of course, we have done a great deal, not just through this initiative but through the whole range of initiatives, in providing advice and supporting people in different degrees of difficulty, both before and after the Budget.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, with the leave of the House, at a convenient point after 3.30 pm, my noble friend Lord Tunnicliffe will repeat the Statement on the review of Reserves.
Health Bill [HL]
Report (1st Day)
Clause 1 : NHS Constitution
1: Clause 1, page 1, line 13, at end insert—
“( ) In this Chapter the “Statement of NHS Accountability” means—
(a) the document entitled “The Statement of NHS Accountability for England” published by the Secretary of State on 21 January 2009, or(b) any revised version of that document published under section (Availability, review and revision of Statement of NHS Accountability).”
My Lords, it falls to me to open today’s proceedings. With this amendment I shall couple Amendment 16 in this group. I take us to an issue which we did not debate in Grand Committee; the role and standing of the Statement of NHS Accountability for England in relation to the NHS Constitution. This statement was published alongside the NHS Constitution and the Handbook to the NHS Constitution on 21 January this year. In these amendments I am asking: is the statement an integral part of the NHS Constitution? If it is, why is there no mention of it in the Bill?
If you access the very helpful section on the Department of Health website which contains the NHS Constitution and you turn to the interactive version, you read the following words:
“This interactive version of the NHS Constitution is designed to help you navigate through all of the supporting information that you may need when reading the NHS Constitution. It consists of the following documents”.
Below that there is listed the NHS Constitution, the Handbook to the NHS Constitution, and the Statement of NHS Accountability. It is important to note that the constitution is described as “consisting of” these documents. In other words, the constitution consists of more than the 12-page document carrying that title, and you do not have the constitution in your hand unless you are holding the three documents—four, if you include the Glossary of Terms. This is right and proper.
At the beginning of the 12-page document is the section headed:
“Principles that guide the NHS”.
The seventh of these principles is concerned with accountability and commits the Government to making sure,
“that there is always a clear and up-to-date statement of NHS accountability”,
to enable people to be clear about the system of responsibility and accountability for taking decisions in the NHS. This system is as important for NHS staff to understand as for anyone else. For one thing, if staff are legally obliged to have regard to the constitution, they surely cannot do that in the fullest sense without understanding and having regard to the statement of accountability.
That is the function of the statement of accountability, which also provides a very useful summary of the current structure of the NHS and what the bodies within it are tasked with doing. Just as there are cross-references between the 12-page constitution and the handbook, and just as it is not possible to understand one document without the other, there are also cross-references between the constitution and the statement of accountability. How might the statement be useful to a patient? If you were someone who was unhappy about some aspect of NHS services and were seeking to understand how best to impress upon the service that it needed to focus more attention on a particular matter, the statement of accountability would enable you to navigate your way around the NHS and its institutions. It is more than arguable that you would not be able to do that properly by reading only the handbook.
Why is it then that the Statement of NHS Accountability receives no mention in the Bill? If it is to be regarded as part of the NHS Constitution, as the department’s website strongly implies that it is, we should be able to see mention made of it here, on a par with the handbook. Indeed, what is the difference between the status of the handbook and that of the statement of accountability? I beg to move.
My Lords, the British Medical Association has said that it has been a vocal supporter of the concept of an NHS constitution. It is the BMA’s belief that a clearly articulated set of values that reflect a shared consensus concerning the nature and purpose of the NHS will strengthen the public’s trust in it. The BMA considers that a constitution, properly constructed, offers the means to maintain the public’s confidence in the NHS and to safeguard its future.
However, the BMA has concerns with regard to the constitution’s commitment to developing a responsive and accountable health service. Past experience and some evidence suggests that there exist significant failings in enabling patients, public and staff to engage in and influence meaningfully NHS decision-making processes. Recent examples of service redesign, involving poor levels of transparency and a lack of effective consultation reinforce this view.
The BMA continues to be a strong advocate of patient and public involvement as an integral and collaborative process that is essential to grow productive partnerships between patients, the public, health professionals and policy makers. Consequently, the BMA does not believe that the NHS contribution goes far enough in determining a framework that will better enable and safeguard local accountability for widening and strengthening the relationship between the health services at a local level and the populations they serve. I support this amendment.
My Lords, Amendments 1 and 16 tabled by the noble Earl, Lord Howe, would place a duty on the Secretary of State to publish a statement of accountability, to review it every three years and to ensure that it continues to be available to patients, staff and members of the public.
I agree with the sentiment behind these amendments. The system of responsibility in the NHS should always be made clear and accessible to the public, the patients and the staff. As I explained in Grand Committee, it is critical that the public know how the NHS is accountable at a local level and how they can get involved.
During the formal consultation on the draft constitution, patients, the public and NHS staff told us that it would be helpful to produce a document that explains accountability and the roles and responsibilities in the NHS. The Statement of NHS Accountability, which was published alongside the constitution on 21 January, was a response to what we heard. It is a public-facing document that explains the roles, responsibilities and accountability in the NHS.
However, I do not believe it is necessary to place in the Bill the requirement to review and update the statement of accountability. This is because the Government have already committed to doing this through the NHS Constitution.
Principle 7 in the constitution explains that,
“the NHS is accountable to the public, communities and patients that it serves”.
“The system of responsibility and accountability for taking decisions in the NHS should be transparent and clear to the public, patients and staff”.
It goes on to commit that,
“the Government will ensure that there is always a clear and up-to-date statement of NHS accountability for this purpose”.
Therefore, we have already committed to ensuring that the statement of accountability is always clear and up to date. Imposing a timeline on how often the statement must be updated risks being too prescriptive—at least once every three years may be too long to wait, or, conversely, the roles, responsibilities and accountability in the NHS may not change in one three-year period. By keeping the time flexible, we will ensure that it is constantly up to date and continues to be useful to the public, the patients and the staff.
I turn to the point that the noble Earl raised in relation to the interactive form of the Statement of NHS Accountability and the supporting document. I will certainly look at the interactive version that the noble Earl referred to, but I think that the intention was to say that the interactive guide, and not the constitution, contains a statement of accountability.
I hope that I have demonstrated that there is no need for extra legislation on the face of the Bill. The Government have already committed to publishing a clear statement on NHS accountability that is always up to date.
I turn to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Walton, in relation to the transparency of it. I made it quite clear, through the process of the NHS next-stage review in May last year, that any service redesign or reconfiguration has to be evidence-based, clinically led and needs to involve the local population and the public through the whole period of the consultation. Change has to be locally owned.
I hope that the service redesign concept that the noble Lord referred to is already covered within the statement of accountability. I hope, therefore, that the noble Earl is able to withdraw his amendments.
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I wonder why the statement of accountability is not included as part of the constitution. It seems to be extremely important, and indeed the constitution reflects the importance of accountability. If you were stating the manner in which you should be accountable and the detail in the statement, I should have thought that it would be at least a candidate for being part of the constitution.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord, and I shall try to clarify the matter. Principle 7 in the constitution refers to accountability within the NHS, which is part of the constitution. At the time, we did not think of a separate public-facing document, and the Statement of NHS Accountability was the result of the consultation that we carried out with the public and the staff. That is why we published it alongside the constitution on 21 January this year. Although there is a reference to accountability in principle 7, the consultation made a strong case for publishing a statement of accountability alongside it. If that is still an issue, I shall be more than happy to look into it further.
My Lords, I am very grateful for the support of the noble Lord, Lord Walton, and for the excellent points that he made. I am equally grateful to my noble and learned friend, who posed the key question very well. Reading the Department of Health website, I think that you would certainly be forgiven for thinking that the NHS Constitution was, in essence, a three-legged stool, consisting of the 12-page document, the handbook and the statement of accountability. I, for one, was very comfortable with that. Notwithstanding that, the Minister implied that the statement of accountability is not in fact part of the constitution. The question that that raises is: do NHS staff or the boards of NHS trusts have to have regard to the statement of accountability? It would appear that they do not, and I wonder what kind of message that sends out to them.
My Lords, I am sorry to intervene but perhaps I may again read what principle 7 in the constitution says:
“The system of responsibility and accountability for taking decisions in the NHS should be transparent and clear to the public, patients and staff”.
That statement is in the constitution.
My Lords, that statement is certainly in the constitution but the content of the statement of accountability is not in the 12-page document. It is only when you read it that you understand what the accountability structure in the health service consists of. The Minister suggested that, because that statement was in the constitution under principle 7, it was not necessary to include it in the Bill. I am a little puzzled by that because the constitution refers to the handbook. It says:
that is, the constitution—
“will be accompanied by the Handbook to the NHS Constitution, to be renewed at least every three years, setting out current guidance on the rights, pledges, duties and responsibilities established by the Constitution”.
One could equally well argue that perhaps the wording of the handbook should not appear in the Bill because the pledge is already set out in the constitution. Therefore, we are on difficult ground here. I remain puzzled but this is not an issue that I intend to press. If the Minister can enlighten me further after these proceedings, naturally I shall be grateful. However, for now, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 1 withdrawn.
2: After Clause 1, insert the following new Clause—
The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision as to the core principles of the NHS Constitution.”
My Lords, in moving this amendment, I bring us back to an issue that gave rise to a gratifying amount of debate in Grand Committee—that is, the question of whether Parliament should have some sort of say in the content of the NHS Constitution and, if so, to what extent. I do not need to remind noble Lords that we have a very curious situation at the moment. The NHS Constitution was signed off by the Prime Minister in person early in the new year amid publicity and expressions of mutual congratulation of a kind that one associates with an event of some importance. Important as the event was seen to be, the publication and adoption of the NHS Constitution have nevertheless been entirely divorced from any parliamentary process. I am one of those individuals who think that that is just wrong. The constitution is a document that is intended to underpin the values and the modus operandi of the entire NHS for the next 10 years, at least, and as such it has been promoted by the Government as a text of fundamental significance for both staff and patients. It is not just that Parliament has been given no say at all on the content of the constitution, which I find regrettable, it is also that without the stamp of parliamentary approval on what the document actually says, the substance of it completely lacks any sort of legal standing.
In Grand Committee the Minister cited two main reasons for not incorporating the constitution or any part of it in the Bill. He said that he did not want to set anything in stone and, equally, he did not want to create a lawyers’ charter. I understand both those objections and, indeed, a number of noble Lords whose voices I always listen to weighed in on the Minister’s side. I have therefore given renewed thought to the problem. By this amendment I suggest that there could be another way of achieving the objectives I have talked about; that is, by giving the Secretary of State a power to make regulations in which the core principles underpinning the constitution could be set out. That statutory instrument would be the direct link between Parliament and the constitution and would quite literally legitimise the content of the document. It would be up to the Government to specify what the principles would be, but if they happened to be closely related to the principles set out in the constitution itself, I am sure that we would all be satisfied with that.
That, I think, deals with the Minister’s first objection, because, with a statutory instrument, nothing would be set in stone. If the Government wished in some way to amend the principles at the 10-year review point, they could do so without bringing forward primary legislation. The Minister may well say that I have not dealt with his second objection; namely, that by giving any element of the constitution the force of law, we run the risk of creating a lawyers’ charter. I suggest to him that this is not a worry that he needs to entertain, provided that, in the statutory instrument, we restrict ourselves to principles as opposed to rights.
The difference between rights and principles in this context is an important one. There can perhaps be no better example in law of the significance of that distinction than the European Charter of Fundamental Rights. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, published a paper in February 2001 in which he very helpfully drew a distinction between individually justiciable classic rights, by which he meant the civil and political rights guaranteed under the European convention, and what he termed the social and economic rights covered by the charter, which are not really rights at all, but rather general principles which both the Union and European member states may not infringe when framing new legislation of any kind. The principles do not themselves give rise to rights, nor do they oblige member states to legislate in a particular way. They act as a means to ensure that any new legislation cannot be enacted in terms which violate the principles.
I emphasise the opinion of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, that no new rights are imposed on member states or their citizens by reason of the principles being included in the European charter. We perhaps need to remind ourselves that the UK is signed up to the charter. The parallel with the issue we are now debating is, I think, a direct one and extremely illuminating. These are the reasons why I believe this amendment, or one like it, poses no dangers at all, but rather gives us the best of all worlds—flexibility for the Government and a means by which the citizens of this country can be assured of Parliament’s approval of what the NHS Constitution contains. I believe that that assurance is of fundamental importance and therefore I beg to move.
My Lords, Amendment 2 would mean that the Secretary of State would need to make regulations to address changes to the principles set out in the NHS constitution. I understand that the noble Earl wishes to give a greater role to Parliament in determining the principles of the NHS. However, as I said in Committee, as acknowledged by the noble Earl, I do not believe that this amendment is necessary and will say why it carries a risk. The principles of the constitution were not dreamt up by the Government. They articulate the foundation on which the NHS has been built over many decades, and many of them have roots in primary legislation. Importantly, they were the result of full public consultation. Any changes to them would also require full consultation.
If the noble Earl’s intention is to ensure that the Government of the day cannot tinker with the principles of the NHS behind closed doors, I can assure him that they could not. The Government would not be able to alter the founding principles of the NHS just by changing the wording of the principles in the NHS constitution, even if they did so following full consultation. That is because Parliament creates the underpinning legislative framework from which many of these principles are derived. For example, the second principle about access to services being based on clinical need, not ability to pay, is derived from Section 1(3) of the National Health Service Act 2006. If the Government of the day wished to change that principle—I can assure noble Lords that this Government would not—they would need to amend primary legislation with the consent of Parliament. Revising the NHS constitution would not be sufficient. Similarly, Section 72 of the NHS Act 2006 would have to be amended in order to change the constitution’s fifth principle that the NHS works across organisational boundaries.
As the noble Earl mentioned, I was concerned in Committee that we should not make a lawyer’s charter out of the constitution. Placing part of the constitution in legislation, whether secondary or primary—the principal part—brings with it an increased risk of litigation. I am sure that we all agree that we would not wish to see decision-making in the NHS become the preserve of the courts.
If the principles of the constitution were to be addressed in regulations, it would also create potential ambiguity with the rights, pledges and values set out in the constitution. I am very grateful to the noble Earl for addressing the issues about the rights and the examples in relation to the European charter. Those sorts of ambiguities have the potential to create litigation, which I am sure we would want to avoid.
It would be unusual and cumbersome to single out one part of the constitution to be treated differently from the rest when reviewing it. The constitution is a coherent whole and we have proposed a system for reviewing it involving full consultation. I think this is the right process for updating the constitution. Given my reassurances and the long debate we had in Committee, I still do not believe that we should separate the principles. I hope that I have reassured the noble Earl that any changes to the principles, which are historically underpinned by legislation, will obviously be debated in Parliament. I hope that the noble Earl will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his reply. He gave only a brief nod to the problem which I had been trying to identify in my remarks, which is, as I see it, that the model which the Government have chosen to adopt is that the content of the constitution—the principles, the values, the rights and the responsibilities—is totally detached from Parliament. I believe that that is simply wrong in principle. I realise that Ministers are well intentioned and extremely unlikely to change the principles set out in the constitution. However, for the reasons I outlined, the amendment offers a way of finessing the objections raised to the more explicit amendment which I tabled in Grand Committee. In my view, it bridges the gap which the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, referred to on that occasion.
The Minister said that in his opinion the amendment would carry the risk of encouraging litigation against the NHS. However, if the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, was right in his analysis of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights in drawing a material distinction between justiciable rights and non-justiciable principles, it surely follows that the risk of litigation with a formula of this kind has to be more apparent than real. Nothing the Minister has said in his reply has persuaded me that the parallel I have drawn is incorrect
The issue I am raising is one of principle. It casts no aspersions whatever on Ministers but it is important, and I would like to test the opinion of the House.
Armed Forces: Reserves
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces. The Statement is as follows.
“With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement about the report on the strategic review of reserves, which I am publishing today. A copy has been placed in the Library of the House.
I know that the House will join me in paying tribute to Britain’s reserves. They make an important contribution to current operations, serving with dedication and commitment alongside our Regular Forces. As I speak, over 2,000 reservists are on operations in Afghanistan and Iraq on tasks ranging from fighting on the front line to force protection and medical support. This is 8 per cent of our forces deployed. Reservists have served with distinction in all the conflicts that our forces have faced in recent times, from the Balkans to Sierra Leone. Eighteen thousand have deployed to operational theatres since 2003. Since then, 15 have made the ultimate sacrifice by giving their lives on our behalf. When I visit operational theatres, I never fail to be impressed by the men and women of our Reserve Forces who give up their time to serve their country.
But it is not only the Armed Forces that benefit from our reserves; society does, too. Individual reservists learn and develop leadership, problem-solving and confidence-building skills that make them more capable employees and citizens. And they make a crucial contribution in the United Kingdom, helping out in emergencies from foot and mouth to flooding and providing cover during the firemen’s strike.
The demands faced by our reservists have changed considerably. We are using them much more than we have before in peacetime. We need them to do more than simply prepare to defend the UK in the event of major conflict. We require them to augment our Regular Forces on expeditionary operations. Yet the structures, training and organisation of our Reserve Forces have not changed to match this and now need to be overhauled. We owe it to our reservists, their employers and their families to ensure that they are supported to face the challenges of today and the future, not the past.
People wrongly say that this is about tackling stretch by using the reserve to plug gaps in the Regular Forces. This is not the case. It is, in fact, about optimising the contribution of all elements of defence today and into the future. The reserves are an integral part of that and they are overwhelmingly keen to play a relevant role in current operations. That is why, last year, my right honourable friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun commissioned a strategic review of the reserves. As a result, the reserves have, for the first time in recent years, been subject to a review in their own right.
The review was conducted by a small team, led by Major-General Nicholas Cottam. It consulted openly throughout defence and beyond. It listened carefully to the views of the reserves community, including the Reserve Forces and cadets associations. General Cottam’s comprehensive review addressed all strategic aspects of reserve service. I am placing copies of it in the Library of the House today and on the MoD website. As one would expect from such careful analysis conducted over several months, it is very detailed. We have therefore produced a summary of the review, which will also be placed in the Library today. General Cottam confirms that this summary report accurately reflects his review. It also indicates how we shall take forward this important work.
General Cottam’s work offered seven strategic recommendations; I am pleased to announce that we are accepting all of them. They flow into more than 80 detailed recommendations. General Cottam was not asked to produce an implementation plan; his review was properly designed as strategic. Consequently, some of his detailed recommendations will require considerable further scoping work, taking account of resources and priorities across defence. This will make for difficult choices, but the review provides the solid foundation on which they can be made. I am, however, pleased to announce that around half of the recommendations will be implemented immediately.
The review has redefined the purpose of the UK reserves and notes that they provide defence with a cost-effective way of retaining certain specialised skills. It is precisely those niche capabilities and depth of personnel that are proving so invaluable to current operations. The review also acknowledges that reservists remain vital for supporting national resilience and recognises the very important role that they play in connecting the Armed Forces with the nation.
A key tenet of the review has been bringing greater clarity to reservists about what we expect of them and what they can expect in return. That has been captured in the new proposition that sets out for the first time what reserve service offers. Specifically, it states that we must ensure that,
‘we continue to offer the challenge and reward which attracts people to volunteer, while giving a firm undertaking to provide them with effective training and the best possible support throughout their service, including when mobilised and recuperating’.
Part of this challenge is the opportunity to lead and command, which is why General Cottam’s detailed recommendations include proposals for officer recruitment and education.
If we deliver on that proposition—and I am determined that we will—the outcome should be a better trained and organised reserve, better able to deliver its tasks. I should like to give the House a few examples of what we are doing now to help to achieve this outcome. We shall develop better and more flexible terms and conditions of service, which will allow a range of different forms of reserve service—as well as easier movement between regular and reserve service—by removing complexity and administrative barriers. Reservist training will be refocused with a greater emphasis on preparation to support current operations. Initial training will be restructured so that new recruits receive sufficient military skills to participate in their units’ collective training within six months of joining and are fully trained and eligible for mobilisation within three years. Routine training will also be reviewed and sufficient man training days allocated to ensure annual military competency standards can be achieved by all.
The Territorial Army will be better integrated with the Regular Army to ensure that, combined, they are best structured to support current and future operations. This will include stopping reservist tasks that are no longer needed, thereby bringing efficiencies and enabling manpower to be used for higher priorities. Some tasks of this nature have been identified during separate work as part of the department’s annual planning round.
As mentioned in the review, certain elements of 2 (National Communications) Signal Brigade have been identified as no longer having a clear operational role. This is partly because they hold capabilities that are no longer current and partly because their tasks can be achieved elsewhere in defence, not least because of improvements in wider national resilience. In addition, some TA signals units operate communications equipment that is now obsolete. These posts will be removed; they include Headquarters 12 Signals Group and 33, 34 and 35 Signals Regiments. It is logical to reallocate these resources to higher defence priorities.
This decision has not been taken lightly. We are very aware of the exceptional contribution made by the Royal Signals within the TA, but we must focus resources where we need them most. Where possible, those affected by this decision will be offered other opportunities within the TA, and we will conduct further work to decide the most effective configuration for the TA Royal Signals. As I have said, these decisions were taken separately from the reserves review, but they are entirely consistent with it.
We shall also rationalise and improve the way in which we approach the civil contingency reaction force and the part that it plays in wider national resilience tasks. This will make it more effective and less burdensome to the units involved. We shall also work closely with the Department for International Development to determine how best to employ niche reservist skills in support of stabilisation operations.
We need to rationalise the reserve estate. Some of it is underused, out of date and in poor repair. Some of it is simply unacceptable for modern military use. In some places, several sites sit near one another; elsewhere, the reserve footprint is absent. I am therefore setting in train work to deliver a modern, better managed and fit-for-purpose volunteer estate. This important work will take time and I am determined that it should be done properly.
Employers play a vital role in delivering and supporting our reserves. They bear the gap while an employee is training and play an even greater role when reservists are away from the workplace on deployed operations. We are very fortunate that so many of our employers are so accommodating of the demands that go with the reservist commitment. They recognise the additional skills and qualities that individual reservists can bring to any organisation. But we want to work better with employers. We shall continue to provide assistance and support to them through our employer support organisation, Supporting Britain’s Reservists and Employers, commonly known as SaBRE. In addition, we shall give greater direction to the Reserve Forces and cadets associations to ensure that their excellent work in support of the reserves is more coherent and co-ordinated.
The review that we are publishing today is important for our Armed Forces and for Britain’s reserves. It makes it clear that the two are not separate but that reserves provide an integral part of our military force structure. It provides a firm basis from which we can work further to develop and improve our Reserve Forces and how we support them. I believe that this is an exciting opportunity for our reservists. The review outcome is a comprehensive piece of work, which has been welcomed by the single service chiefs. It is a blueprint to ensure that our Reserve Forces have a clear and bright future to match their illustrious past. I commend it to the House”.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. I join the Government in paying tribute to Britain’s reserves, who make an important contribution to current operations, as well as helping out in emergencies. Maintaining strong reserves is vital to our country’s safety both at home and abroad. I also join the Government in thanking the employers who play such an important role in delivering and supporting our reserves. I declare an interest as an honorary colonel of a TA Royal Engineers regiment.
As the Statement says, the review flows into more than 80 detailed recommendations. There is a lot to digest and, frankly, we have had little time to consider it all. Through the usual channels, I will ask the Government for a debate in government time on the reserves review. This is an important issue. There is great concern in the reserves as to where it will all go. On this side of the House, we have been bombarded with approaches from all ranks.
We welcome the restructuring of initial training. I imagine that this also applies to officers’ training. It is particularly relevant for officers where recruiting has suffered because of the cumbersome process of interviews, pre-AOSB, training, AOSB and then Sandhurst. There is no doubt that that is putting off some potential officers from joining.
We also welcome the fact that the TA will be better integrated with the Regular Army. I was in Afghanistan in February and spoke to a lot of reserves out there, including representatives of my own regiment. On the whole, they already feel pretty well embedded in the Army. The regulars of all ranks to whom I spoke were very complimentary about the work that the reserves were doing and felt that they were fully embedded. I was enormously impressed by their courage and professionalism.
General Cottam was not asked to produce an implementation plan. Half his recommendations will be implemented immediately, but who will take forward the other half? How long will the scoping work take? When will an implementation plan for these recommendations be produced and within what timescale will they be implemented? How will progress be reported to Parliament?
Can the Minister expand on the proposal in the Statement to,
“have more flexible terms and conditions of service, which will allow a range of different forms of reserve service”?
What is meant by a “range of different forms”? We accept that reserves are needed to augment expeditionary operations, but little information or thought appears to have been given to their role in homeland security and resilience. This is important when, as we saw in Mumbai, the terrorist threat is evolving.
The Government must also justify the cuts to 2 (National Communications) Signal Brigade. The Statement says that its tasks can be achieved elsewhere in defence and that some are not needed because of improvements in wider national resilience. It is imperative that the Minister should provide evidence to support this assertion. The brigade is tasked with the provision of emergency and post-disaster recovery communications infrastructure for government, the Armed Forces and the emergency services, by deploying and operating a variety of communications systems. It is on 12 hours’ notice to deploy. This is an important role.
How will the CCRFs be rationalised? Has this been done in consultation with first responders? I understand that first responders—the police, the fire service and the ambulance service—want predictable support from the military and clear lines of authority, command and co-ordination.
The main focus of the Statement is on the TA; little if anything was mentioned about the Royal Naval Reserve, the Royal Marines Reserve or the Royal Auxiliary Air Force. How will this report impact on these forces? It also surprised me that there was no specific mention of the welfare issues impacting our reservists and their families. What measures in the recommendations will improve the welfare of our Reserve Forces and their families?
Finally, in 1997, the establishment figure for the TA was 59,000; today it is 38,500, even though the current strength is 28,920. What will the establishment figure be in light of today’s Statement, given that the TA has been funded to only 83 per cent capacity?
My Lords, this is a very comprehensive review and the review team is to be congratulated on the huge amount of work that it has put in. The document is substantial and the executive summary itself runs to about 30 pages. However, unfortunately, I was able to obtain a copy of both those documents only at 3.15 this afternoon, despite having tried for the last three or four hours to get copies, including by phoning the MoD direct. It is impossible to ask sensible questions if one is given such a short space of time in which to examine the documents. I shall write to the Secretary of State for Defence to ask him what procedures his department operates in providing opposition spokespersons with this type of document in these circumstances. I do not hold the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, personally responsible for this; he represents the department but, of course, is not a Minister in it.
We welcome the review and congratulate the review team. As the noble Lord, Lord Astor, said, the reserves play a vital and cost-effective role when our Regular Forces are overstretched. They are also there for civil emergencies and terrorism and for pandemics and similar. However, the Statement is long on words but short on specifics. There is no mention of costs at all; for example, I should like to know how much it will cost to rationalise the reserve estate, which is said to be,
“underused, out of date and in poor repair”.
Is the Treasury going to fund the costs for all those works? Specifically, how long has the TA Royal Signals been using communications equipment that is obsolete, as the Statement says?
There is no mention in the Statement of future numbers, as the noble Lord, Lord Astor, said. That is absolutely crucial. The Evening Standard today, which was presumably briefed in some shape or form a little earlier than we were, has a headline that says, “TA fighting strength will fall to 25000 after Treasury cuts”. Would the Minister like to respond to that headline? The noble Lord, Lord Astor, also said that present manning levels were 10,000 below establishment strength. What will the Government do in that regard?
Our nation owes a huge debt to our Reserve Forces, but this Statement is full of generalities and holes. I very much support the call for a full debate in government time on our reserves. Specifically, when will the Government come clean on costs and numbers?
My Lords, I shall first respond to the opening criticism of the noble Lord, Lord Lee. I am very sorry that he did not receive his copy appropriately and, while I thank him very much for noting that I am not the Minister, I shall take personal responsibility to ensure that we review those procedures and ensure that principal spokesmen have a clear expectation. Of course, I am embarrassed to find myself in the situation in which the noble Lord is not properly briefed.
The noble Lord, Lord Astor, asked an awful lot of questions, and, not surprisingly, I shall not be able to answer them all, but I shall do my best. First, I thank him very much for his general support for the reserves and the issue of training. I do not have to hand specific figures relating to officer training; I will write to him on that issue. He asked, very reasonably, about who will take this forward. The MoD will set up a small team to take it forward. I do not have the name of the head of the team. The plan is to take it forward in three phases. The initial phase will introduce about half the recommendations straightaway. The other operational and organisational recommendations will be considered in the normal planning process as part of the total development of defence. That will take us about two to three years, through to April 2012. The estate will take a number of years, and we will set up a team to rationalise that.
On the issue of how it will progress, I would expect it to progress and to be reported in the normal way. We will make statements about plans, and the essence is that we will be talking about the reserves in the context of the forces as a whole, rather than specifically referring to the reserves per se. That is the theme that runs through this Statement: we are looking for more flexibility.
When it comes to resilience, the civil contingencies reaction force, which was developed in 2002, has not been used. The review recommends that the current structure should be abandoned, maintaining only the command and control framework, with all reservists declared available for UK operations and resilience tasks. This finding has been adopted by the Army as part of the ongoing review. It is important to note that the contingencies that have happened have actually been addressed by Regular Forces, supported by reserves. We think that this is a much better way for reserves to be used in future.
On the issue of signalling tasks, I will touch on one or two points made by the noble Lord, Lord Lee. There are two areas where we are rationalising in the light of budgetary and planning preparation, but consistently with the use of reserves. The first is the Ptarmigan trunk communications system which supports the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps headquarters communications, command and control suite operated by members of TA signals. This is now obsolete. I do not have data on how long it has been obsolete, but support is now provided by the newer Falcon system, run by regular elements of 1 Signal Brigade. Therefore, as part of the department’s normal annual planning round process, it has been decided to delete, as I said, Headquarters 12 Signals Group and 33, 34 and 35 Signals Regiments.
The Cabinet Office work on resilience has called for a more up-to-date and technologically advanced national resilience network, and it is important that 2 (National Communications) Signal Brigade will be removed—it will be a regular-only operation from now on, because it is able to operate with more up-to-date, efficient and capital-intensive procedures that are less manpower-intensive. There will be no reduction in signals capability provided by the Royal Signals to support either the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps or national resilience communication.
In areas other than the TA, recruitment is taking place in all four reserves—the Royal Marines, the Navy, the Royal Auxiliary Air Force and the Army. Over time, those numbers will become part of our planning round and concerns, but the MoD is looking to see them rise if possible.
The noble Lord, Lord Lee, gave us some of the numbers involved. As we know, the numbers are about 10,000 down between establishment and strength. I think that that is common between us. What I am announcing today regarding signals will not directly address the numbers on strength. TA personnel will be offered posts in other TA units with regular personnel being returned to other posts in the Army structure. I admit that a small number of civilians, including some non-regular permanent staff and TA soldiers employed on timed reserve contracts—these are small numbers—may be made redundant if alternative employment cannot be found, but what I am talking about today is a structural change. It is about taking resources away from obsolete units and assigning them to active reserve units.
By accident, I seem to have answered all the questions put to me by the noble Lord, Lord Lee, that I am capable of answering. I hope that I have at least given a feel for how we are taking this important review forward.
My Lords, I am afraid that I have to say that I heard the noble Lord’s Statement with dismay and regret. It was full of ringing declarations of good intent but was more notable for what it did not say than for what it did say. Perhaps I may self-indulge with a little trip down memory lane. In 1984, I stood at that Dispatch Box and announced the increase in the size of the Territorial Army from 79,000 to 83,000. Today, as someone has already said, the Evening Standard is reporting a strength of 25,000. I announced to your Lordships the acquisition of a fleet of River class minesweepers for the Royal Naval Reserve— 11 minesweepers built especially for and assigned to that force. I stood at that Dispatch Box one evening and announced the formation of 607 (City of York) Squadron, Royal Auxiliary Air Force, to be equipped with Wessex helicopters and deployed in support of 2nd Infantry Division in York, at that time commanded by the then Major-General Peter Inge, now of course Field Marshal the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge. Does the noble Lord recall the words of the late Sir Winston Churchill, who was right in that matter as in so much else? Members of the Territorial Army, said the late right honourable gentleman, are “twice a citizen”.
My Lords, I can answer only one question here and now because that was a description of the past and I have to admit that we are in a different place, and we have been quite open about the fact that we are in a different place. We are looking forward to an entirely different reserve in the future. An entirely different reserve has, de facto, been in existence since roughly 2002 in terms of how it is deployed. Interestingly enough, I can answer the final challenge as I do recall the words of Sir Winston Churchill. The seven recommendations accept the reserves’ important role in representing the military within our communities. They are the footprint of the military in most of our society—in places of work and in the community. We acknowledge for the first time that that is a useful part of their role.
My Lords, the Minister mentioned how much more the territorial and Reserve Forces are being used now than ever before. That is quite true. They are bolstering overseas operations, well embedded into the Regular Forces, and they are all to be congratulated on that. But to describe that as not gap-filling is disingenuous. The point is that there are not enough Regular Forces to undertake the commitments to which our Government have committed them. Until that balance is right—not only the manpower balance but the financial balance that is required to support that manpower—we are going to find ourselves in an extremely difficult position.
I thoroughly support the need for this review, but the reserves are promised a variety of things—improved training, improved opportunities to prepare for operations, and other funded matters—when the funding itself must, in some part, be dubious. In that case, it seems to me that there is a genuine danger that the reservists, who are keen and willing, will find that the promises they have been given are not being fulfilled. That is much more of a let-down for them than not having had it promised in the first place. I believe that without a proper defence review into which these new reserve arrangements can be slotted, the whole structure, good as it may be, is under question because of the lack of funding for it.
My Lords, I am sure that the noble and gallant Lord will forgive me if I do not operate above my pay grade and promise a defence review. That will be for the Government and the Secretary of State to consider. On the matter of funding, I must be absolutely honest. This review promises no more funding and the Government are not promising any more funding. No additional funding is allocated to implement the recommendations, which will have to be taken forward within existing budgets. We have to be realistic. None of the parties that could credibly form a Government is currently promising to spend more money on defence. This review recognises that the way to optimise our defence capability is to operate the reserves in a more integrated way. I do not believe that a promise will be broken because the promise is about being more effective. It is about taking resources—it may indeed be a matter of taking resources from other areas in defence—and achieving, with the training standards of the people in the reserves, more capability to be better integrated. So, in that sense, I do not believe that this is disingenuous.
My Lords, we all hope that what will come out of the review will be welcome. I disclose an interest as a former TA commanding officer with firsthand experience of being used more than before; and also as a selected military member of the Reserve Forces and Cadets Association for the county of Gloucestershire.
I have two questions for the Minister which immediately spring to mind. First, how will the recommendations of the review of reserves be managed in the context of the current financial pressure facing all government departments, not least the MoD? The noble Lord, Lord Lee, specifically asked questions in that area. We do need answers on that. Secondly, and more specifically, am I right in understanding from what the Minister said that considerable numbers of Royal Signals soldiers and units are to be laid off? It is well known that a need for a large number of extra TA signallers was identified only comparatively recently. Laying off specialist soldiers because the equipment that the Government have issued them with is obsolete sounds suspiciously like babies and bathwater. But vitally, in these days where technical, especially IT, skills are so needed in the services, is it really wise to ravage the TA’s main repository of such skills?
Lastly, I would like to strongly support my noble friend Lord Astor’s request for a full debate as soon as possible, because there are several other matters that need covering in this.
My Lords, I hope that I have, in part, answered both the noble Lord’s questions. We have been quite clear that we are not saying that these recommendations come with any new money. We are saying quite openly that they will have to be managed within the present allocations to defence, as part of the budgeting and planning round. They will be implemented because they will add value to defence within the constrained financial situation. If any party that could credibly form an Administration wants to promise more money, I will be very happy to note it. But I think we all recognise that we live in constrained times, and we have to manage and get best value.
On the matter of the Royal Signals units, I have set out the units that will be disbanded and the unit which will no longer be reserve-manned. We have no intention of laying off the skills; we will do all we can to redeploy skilled individuals within other TA units. As noble Lords know, I have no part in whether or not there will be a full debate. If there is to be one, I hope that the Minister will be here to answer it, but if not, I shall perform as best I can.
My Lords, can the Minister assure me that the proceeds of any property sales under the rationalisation referred to in the review will be reinvested in new property for the Reserve Forces and that great care indeed will be taken to maintain the footprint across the country? I declare an interest as a former honorary colonel of a cavalry squadron.
My Lords, no, I cannot give the first assurance because I cannot pre-empt the Treasury rules which will be in place at the time. The Government constantly reassess how they rationalise their estate and I simply cannot predict how the property sales will be treated. On the matter of care, yes, I should strongly say that we will rationalise the estate with great care. We are putting together a team to look at this. As noble Lords will know, the estate consists of some 2,000 sites. The review confirmed the importance of the volunteer estate, but noted that it was old, expensive, underused and located to serve the population centres of the 19th century, as opposed to those of the 21st century. To ensure that the reserve has an estate that is modern, provides value for money and is correctly located to match changes in the demographics and national infrastructure, the review recommended that the Ministry of Defence conducts a detailed requirement-based review. That will be done.
My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, I declare a past interest as a former Inspector General of the Territorial Army. When I was doing that, we concentrated very much on the employers, and we formed the National Employers’ Liaison Committee. I shall return to that in a moment. I warmly support the words of my noble and gallant friend Lord Craig about the problems that may arise when we have, as I hope we will, a very comprehensive defence review, resulting in a possible revisiting of this comprehensive report, which I have not yet read—but knowing General Cottam, I am sure that it has been extremely well done. I also echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord Astor, in calling for a debate, which is entirely needed.
Without employers there are no volunteers. Last year in Afghanistan, I found nine bus drivers from a bus company in Enniskillen who were all working in one company. That was a remarkable tribute to them. When I was inspector general, I suggested to the MoD that one thing that it could do for the employers would be to relieve them of the employers’ contribution to national insurance as a reward for letting people go. The Minister mentioned assistance and support, but can he be more specific about what there is in this for the employers? Without that we will not have their support in the future, particularly as we go into the economic black clouds that seem to be ahead of us.
My Lords, I am afraid that I cannot answer the question in detail. The review involved the National Employer Advisory Board. Its views were taken on board. I recall that there has been a reorganisation of the payment of reserves, particularly when they are deployed, but I do not know what that did for the employers. I will come back to the noble Lord in writing.
My Lords, leaving strategic considerations on one side for the moment, does the Minister agree that one of the strengths of the auxiliary forces, in particular the Territorial Army, is that they reinforce the geographical and social links between the Armed Forces and our local communities? Thanks to the necessary reorganisation in the Regular Army, those links have recently been weakened, but in the past they have, let’s face it, made the British Army the envy of the world. An additional benefit lies in this being a means by which young people can gain a taste of what service life is like. Will the Minister undertake to ensure that these important concerns are taken care of and paid attention to in the future?
My Lords, I agree with everything the noble Viscount has said. Section 1.6c of the report recognises that point for the first time. We all recognise that reservists are particularly well placed to connect with the nation, but we have actually spelt it out in this report.
Although Regular Forces make a connection with the nation, reservists are often better placed to connect, integrate with and influence the community in which, in their civilian lives, they live and work. The special ethos of volunteer service is what distinguished a reservist, in Churchill’s words, as twice the citizen. I also commend the value that is brought to the individuals in their reserve experience. It genuinely adds to the wealth of our community.
My Lords, I should have declared an interest as having served in the Territorial Army for eight years.
My Lords, I also declare an interest as a former commanding officer, and subsequently honorary colonel, of the 1 Northern General Hospital TA. The unit is celebrating its centenary this year—or, at least, its successor unit, the 201 Field Hospital, is doing so. That unit has served with distinction in the Gulf, Iraq and Afghanistan. Anxiety, however, is being expressed by many of the officers, both medical and nursing, over their repeated deployment on operations overseas, which is having an adverse effect, in some cases, upon their civilian employment in the National Health Service. What are the Government doing to increase the recruitment in the regular medical services, so that the TA—much relied upon—may not be required to be deployed overseas so often?
My Lords, first, in view of the stream of confessions to military service that I have heard today, I think it is important, having failed to congratulate each one in turn, for me to congratulate noble Lords collectively on their contributions. I explain to briefers that, when I get up to speak on military matters, I will be surrounded by so much military experience that I will be intimidated.
I have not been briefed on the issue of full-time medical recruitment. I will be very happy to write to the noble Lord on this issue. The report makes the particularly strong point that the reserves uniquely bring niche capability to the Armed Forces. The noble Lord is quite right: nowhere is this more so than in the medical world. The country as a whole thanks those medical professionals who serve in the Reserve Forces for the contribution that they make. We hope that they get professional growth out of that experience.
My Lords, is the Minister in a position to comment on the part of the Statement that says that reservist training will be refocused with a greater emphasis on preparation to support current operations? We have been in Afghanistan, for instance, for a while. We have all known for a long time that it could be a very long haul. Why has it taken us this long to come to this staggeringly obvious conclusion?
My Lords, you get asked questions all the time that you cannot answer.
As the noble Lord, Lord Astor, pointed out, the use of reservists on the front line is integrated, in current operations, with Regular Forces. The review says that, if that is what we are going to do, we should review the training and make sure that the training is directed very strongly to that purpose. It says that we should start from the user and work back to the training—unlike some of the training procedures, schedules and programmes, which still have more relevance to history than they have to the outcomes that we are looking to achieve.
My Lords, surely the answer to the question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, is that we have been exceeding defence planning assumptions by about 100 per cent since 2003. I remind the House of my interest as a serving officer in the TA, although I am not doing very much now. I first signed up to the TA in January 1974, so I think that I know a little about the TA.
My Lords, I certainly know that this Government have cut the size of the TA in half during their time. However, there appears to be much that is good in General Cottam’s report. The Minister says that all seven principles have been accepted; I should dearly like to see the general’s first draft.
On the reserves estate, I hope that it does not mean that we are going to sell off the TA centres that happen to be in prime town centre locations, very close to railway stations and ideal for supermarkets.
Many of us look forward to examining the detail of the review. It identifies room for improvement in training. My noble friend Lord Astor of Hever touched on the training of officers and the fact that we have very few of them.
The Statement suggests that new recruits will take part in their units’ collective training within six months of joining. Noble Lords will be interested to hear that I took part in battalion-level internal security exercises well in advance of attending a recruits’ course. I was cadet-trained but many TA soldiers join the TA from the cadets.
The success of training and the speed at which TA soldiers can be trained are crucially dependent on the money available and the number of man training days allocated to a TA unit. However, we do not have any money. Our national public finances are in a mess and the MoD budget is unsustainable.
My Lords, the TA centre review will concentrate in particular on demography—that is, where the public are now and how best to make adjustments. As I said, there will be an important emphasis on training, and the number of man training days will be maintained but deployed in a different way. Where it is needed, money will be found within the overall service allocations to the extent that it is used to the best effect. That has to be a caveat that any sensible Government stick to in the difficult circumstances in which we find ourselves. However, through this review, the Government are committing themselves to the Reserve Forces being an integral and valuable part of defence, and I am sure that the whole House will agree that that is the way forward.
Health Bill [HL]
Report (1st Day) (Continued)
Clause 2 : Duty to have regard to NHS Constitution
3: Clause 2, page 2, line 3, at end insert “and the Handbook”
My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendments 7 and 8. I make no apology for returning to a matter that we debated at some length in Grand Committee—that is, the question of why the Bill contains no duty for NHS bodies and those delivering services on behalf of the NHS to have regard to the Handbook to the NHS Constitution. First, what is the handbook meant to be? In Grand Committee, the Minister made it clear that the handbook was the explanatory guide to the constitution. He said:
“It explains what the constitution means in practice, by setting out the law and departmental policy that underpin each right and pledge in the constitution”. —[Official Report, 23/2/09; GC 21.]
That was absolutely as I understood the position. However, despite that, and despite the duty in the Bill for NHS bodies to have regard to the constitution, the Minister made it equally clear that it was not appropriate to extend that duty to the handbook. When comparing the status of the constitution and the handbook, the analogy that he drew was that between the Bill and the Explanatory Notes that go with it. However, the Explanatory Notes have no force in law; the Bill, when enacted, does.
I am still troubled by this. In the first place, I am doubtful whether the analogy the Minister drew actually holds water. The handbook is a statutory document; it is mentioned in the Bill, unlike the Explanatory Notes. I take us back to the departmental website. The part of the website devoted to the NHS Constitution makes it clear that the constitution consists of—I remind the House of those words—not only the constitution itself, but also the handbook. It also includes the Statement of NHS Accountability as well, but I shall not return to that issue.
If we look at the way this Bill is constructed, we should take due note of the heading to Clause 1: “NHS Constitution”. Clause 1 introduces and embraces not only the constitution itself but also the handbook. I took that bracketing together to be an implicit acknowledgement that the two publications were legally and practicably inseparable for the purposes of interpreting what the NHS Constitution actually was. The Minister’s reply indicated however that the handbook was not part of the constitution. He emphasised that,
“It is not a document that we intend should be legally taken account of by providers of NHS care”.—[Official Report, 23/2/09; col. GC 21.]
If that really is so, we are left wondering what patients and staff are meant to think when they read it. It is explanatory, but at the same time, they do not have to have regard to it. If they do not have to have regard to it, they can ignore it, because nothing will happen to them if they do. Indeed, if they can ignore it, they do not even need to read it. That is the construction which people may well put on the Government’s position on this matter.
The Minister put forward another reason in Grand Committee why it was not appropriate to create a duty to have regard to the handbook. He said that,
“the handbook is primarily an explanatory guide for patients, not guidance for the NHS”.—[Official Report, 23/2/09; col. GC 22.]
I found that very odd. It is certainly true that the first part of the handbook is addressed to “you”, by which is clearly meant, “you, the patient”. But that is no less true of the constitution itself. The whole of the second section of the constitution is addressed to “you”, which means everyone who uses the NHS. However, that fact does not prevent there being a duty placed on NHS bodies to have regard to the constitution. Again, the obvious question is, why not also the handbook? Equally, the Minister said in our earlier debate, and he may well repeat it today, that,
“the handbook itself does not create policy or law”.—[Official Report, 23/2/09; col. GC 21.]
The implication is that its status is not of a kind that would put it on a par with the constitution. I accept that it does not create policy or law, but as I understand it, the constitution itself does not add to people’s legal rights; it is a declaratory document, yet there is a duty to have regard to it.
We should perhaps bear in mind the handbook’s opening sentence.
“The Handbook is designed to give NHS staff and patients all the information they need about the NHS Constitution for England”.
Indeed, it is designed for rather more than that, because, as the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, pointed out in Grand Committee, there are sections of the handbook which qualify or place limits on the open-ended statements made in the constitution. A very good example, which the noble Baroness chose, was the right,
“to go to other European Economic Area countries or Switzerland for treatment which would be available to you through your NHS commissioner”.—[Official Report, 23/2/09; col. GC 19.]
It is only when you read the handbook that you discover that the right can only be exercised at the discretion of the Secretary of State.
The constitution sets out the right to make choices about your NHS care, but it is only when you read the handbook that you are told about the raft of exceptions to that right. The handbook spells out exceptions to the right of access to your own health records and exceptions to the right to receive clinically indicated drugs and treatments recommended by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence. In a very real sense, a duty to have regard to the constitution which is not at the same time accompanied by a duty to have regard to the handbook risks, at best, confusion, and, at worst, downright contradiction.
I must press the Minister further on this point. How is it that a document which is to be treated, on the one hand, as an integral part of the constitution is at one and the same time not part of it? How can it make sense for there to be a duty to have regard to the 12-page document called the NHS Constitution, and yet for there not to be a duty to have regard to the fuller document which is meant to tell everyone how the constitution should be interpreted? I beg to move.
My Lords, Amendments 3, 7 and 8 tabled by the noble Earl, Lord Howe, propose that the same list of bodies which are required to have regard to the constitution should also be under a duty to have regard to the Handbook to the NHS Constitution. It may be useful if I reiterate our intentions behind the purpose and status of the handbook. The noble Earl very eloquently described the debate in Grand Committee when I explained that the handbook is the explanatory guide to the NHS Constitution to be used by patients, public and staff. It is a reference guide for these groups, an explanation of what the constitution means in practice to help them understand it. Indeed, the very first sentence of the handbook reads:
“The Handbook is designed to give NHS staff and patients all the information they need about the NHS Constitution for England”.
The words in the constitution are necessarily high-level. The handbook takes these words and explains them in further detail, making each right, pledge and responsibility more accessible and digestible to patients, public and staff. The handbook is the result of extensive research with patients, public and staff into what format would be most useful to help them understand the constitution. For example, the handbook explains to patients, as the noble Earl said, how they can make a complaint and explains in more detail what their responsibilities are. It summarises what a right means in practice, and its legal status, for both a patient and for a member of NHS staff.
The handbook is not guidance; it is an explanatory document and it is certainly not an instruction manual. The words in the handbook do not mean that the NHS has to do anything new or different. They do not express any new laws or policies, or new interpretations of existing rights or policies, which are not already in the constitution. They are merely a summary for patients, public and staff of the current situation regarding the law and departmental policy underpinning each entry in the constitution.
I understand the debate about whether we should have regard to the handbook as well as the constitution. My concerns are that the constitution summarises all the rights, pledges and principles of the NHS as we debated in Grand Committee. I am more than happy to look into what impact the handbook will have on the constitution itself. I do not want to dilute the constitution by inserting an amendment which gives more weight to the handbook. I hope I have reassured the noble Earl, as I did in Committee, of the purpose of the handbook. If the noble Earl is happy to discuss this at a later stage, then I am happy to take it away and bring the matter forward at Third Reading. I hope the noble Earl will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, I very much appreciate the Minister's comments and his explanation. I respect his position, but we are left with what many would see as an anomalous situation with regard to the functioning of the NHS. On the one hand, there will be a duty to have regard to the constitution but, on the other hand, there is no duty whatever to have regard to what the constitution means in practice. From a legal standpoint, we have in the handbook a statutory document which the Secretary of State has a duty to revise from time to time but the document has absolutely no standing or force if the Bill is left as it is. I am still baffled by that and my bafflement stems ultimately from the contradictory signals sent out by the department over the past few months in the contrast between what the Minister has told us at the Dispatch Box and what the department has said elsewhere, whether on its website or by means of the Bill’s construction and drafting. Nevertheless, it is not appropriate to press the matter. I am happy to engage in further discussions with the Minister between now and the next stage of the Bill, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 3 withdrawn.
4: Clause 2, page 2, line 4, at end insert—
“( ) the Advisory Committee on the Treatment of Haemophilia;”
My Lords, I want first to thank my noble friend Lady Thornton for doing so much to make it possible for this debate to take place at a time when my dear and inspirational friend, the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell of Surbiton, can be with us. As she said so movingly and so memorably in the debate on the Archer report last Thursday, the history of the contaminated blood disaster is one of unspeakable suffering for,
“mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, wives, husbands and friends … seeing their loved ones die”.—[Official Report, 23/4/09; col. 1614.]
When I announced the setting-up of the Archer inquiry in February 2007, 1,757 patients had died. Since then, of a patient group of barely 5,000, over 200 more have died in direct consequence of the use of contaminated blood in their NHS treatment. The noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, was herself widowed by the disaster, and I know that the House very much looks forward to hearing her speak again.
Today’s is the third debate in which the case for my proposed new clause will have been addressed; and I will not be returning to questions dealt with in Committee and last Thursday. However, many of the questions then raised went unanswered due, not least, to pressure of time, and there are some that must be pursued today. I refer not only to questions of mine but to those of other participants, including the noble Lords, Lord Thomas of Gresford, Lord Corbett and Lord Rooker, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Campbell, Lady Barker and Lady Morris of Bolton.
The first unanswered question is whether it is now clearly understood by the department that the body for which my proposed new clause provides would be a statutory one. Correspondence between the department and the Haemophilia Society envisages a non-statutory body and is at variance with the intention of the Archer report. Thus it will be helpful if my noble friend Lord Darzi, in replying to this debate, can clarify the department’s intended response.
I turn now to the urgency of the need for an updating of ministerial Statements to Parliament on the sombre threat of a third deadly scourge to patients dependent on NHS blood and blood products. The vCJD threat is increasingly worrying, a recent post-mortem on a hepatitis C-infected patient having found variant CJD in his spleen, thus totally undermining the Chief Medical Officer’s assessment of the risk as “hypothetical”. Specifically, we need to know the department’s current figure for the number of patients treated with blood taken from variant CJD-infected donors. We need also to know what action Ministers have taken since the post-mortem on the implications of its findings. Further, how do they now assess the risk facing patients treated with blood taken from such donors, and what protection is now in place to safeguard recipients of donated blood?
As the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, said, the issue of Crown immunity must also be pursued. The Archer inquiry’s report raised it in commenting on the behaviour of the Blood Products Laboratory—the BPL—and said:
“In July 1979, the Medicines Inspectorate visited BPL. They reported that the buildings were never designed for the scale of production envisaged. They commented: ‘If this were a commercial operation we would have no hesitation in recommending that manufacture should cease until the facility was upgraded to a minimum acceptable level’”.
The Archer report then starkly stated:
“BPL was rescued by Crown Immunity”—
and went on that BPL’s,
“existing plant continued production, relying on Crown Immunity to dispense with the requirements of the Medicines Act, but was able to meet only 40 per cent of the national requirements”.
Thus, by the use of Crown immunity, a relic of feudal England, the lives of countless haemophilia patients were blatantly and gravely put at risk.
Speaking in the House on 10 March, my noble friend Lord Darzi, responding to me in exchanges about thalidomide, referred to,
“the tremendous amount of work that has gone into the marketing, testing and regulation of drugs, as encapsulated in the Medicines Act 1968, from which society has benefited greatly”.—[Official Report, 10/3/09; col. 1059.]
There could be no clearer text than this for describing the enormity of the BPL’s use of Crown immunity to dispense with all the requirements of that renowned and so vitally important statute; hence the need to reflect again in this debate on from whom the BPL was “rescued” by its use of Crown immunity.
First and foremost, of course, it was “rescued” from the afflicted and bereaved by the disaster, thereby denying them any prospect of legal redress, a denial made all the more cruelly unjust by the refusals of successive Governments to agree to a public inquiry. So they were left with no hope of any independent assessment of responsibility for their plight until the Archer inquiry was announced.
Crown immunity has now been abolished. It was ended by John Major’s Conservative Government in 1991, and infected NHS patients ask why the present Government, who clearly have no intention of reinstating Crown immunity, cannot now review the claims of the victims contaminated by NHS blood from whom the BPL was “rescued” by Crown immunity. The noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, said in his speech last Thursday that he was sure that it would be possible for actions to be brought now if the Government chose to waive, dating back as necessary, Crown immunity. Have the Government, opposed as they must surely be to Crown immunity, considered this possibility?
Most of all, we need to know in this debate when the Government now expect to respond to the Archer report as a whole and how we can be sure that parliamentary time will be found for their response to be fully debated in your Lordships’ House. Meanwhile, I hope that a positive response to this new clause—one giving a clear pointer to the Government’s intentions vis-à-vis the report as a whole—will be forthcoming.
As I made clear both in Committee and elsewhere, the new clause can be implemented at no great cost but much to the relief of haemophilia patients who feel strongly that there must be no delay now in creating a statutory committee to advise government on the management of haemophilia, with patient and family representation. Of course there will be costs in giving full effect to the Archer report, but there will also be priceless benefits in enabling haemophilia patients to live fuller and more fulfilling lives.
Naturally, their principal desire is for closure with the Department of Health on their claims for just treatment. As the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Bolton, told the House last Thursday:
“When we are ill, we have faith that the treatment that we receive will help to make us better, or will help us to manage the disease so that we can lead as full and dignified a life as possible. To receive treatment that leads to such tragic consequences is unimaginably cruel”.—[Official Report, 23/4/09; col. 1628.]
Surely parliamentarians have no more compelling duty than to them.
It may, however, be said that, self-evident though the Archer report has made the case for closure, a time of deep recession is not one in which to expect it to be achieved. Yet some aspects of the current difficulties are frequently compared, not inappropriately, with those faced by Denis Healey—now my noble friend Lord Healey—when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer and had to resort to the IMF for support. Harold Wilson, then Prime Minister, in whose Government I served, said that it was a time for the broadest backs to bear the biggest burdens, but he needed no reminding that my responsibilities, as the first Minister for Disabled People, were for those with broken backs and even more handicapping disabilities. He and Denis Healey readily enabled me to introduce a severe disability allowance, the mobility allowance, the carers’ allowance and many other benefits which both Harold Wilson and Denis Healey said later were the Government’s finest achievements.
I hope that may put in some perspective the cries of alarm from anyone who thinks that acting justly to this small and stricken patient community is insupportable. Its claims are entitled to be seen as a priority of priorities and I know that my noble friend Lord Darzi will want to reply as helpfully as he can. I look forward to hearing him as we proceed.
My Lords, I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak in support of the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Manchester, who has made an extremely successful case for it. I ask noble Lords on all sides of the House to support this amendment, which, if passed by your Lordships, would establish a statutory committee to provide and give advice to government and haemophiliacs on health and support services.
This committee would undoubtedly improve the lives of those who have suffered from contaminated blood products. It would also bring together information for haemophiliacs and those who have cared for them into one place, with punch. I am not saying that there are no places to go for information, advice and support; the Haemophilia Society has done wonderful things. It is time, however, for a statutory committee that can really punch above its weight.
I shall not repeat my reasons for supporting the amendment. It is quite difficult for me to say these words, which take me back to an extremely difficult time in my life. Noble Lords will recall my connection with the haemophilia community and my experience, when my husband was contaminated in the mid-1980s, of trying to get coherent information and advice. If only we had had this committee then.
The committee would not be bureaucratic or cumbersome; it would be small and cheap to maintain. It would right a great wrong that has been done to haemophiliacs over so many years. Those who live with the complexities of their condition plus the consequences of contaminated blood—and all that that brings—should have the best information, support and advice. I believe that this committee would establish a modern response to a 1980s disaster and I urge noble Lords to support the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Manchester.
My Lords, this is a difficult speech to make, because I have unutterable respect for both previous speakers and a great belief that such a committee might well be a positive way forward. I was going to speak about any section or interest that was added to this list because I feel that, if one group is added, I should bring forward a range of others who have an equal wish to be represented in the Bill. I find this difficult because the noble Lord, Lord Morris, and the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, are wonderful advocates for this cause, but others of your Lordships might have advocated other causes had they thought that they might be added to the list in this part of the Bill.
Having said that, I hope that my noble friends will understand that I am not speaking against the need for an advisory committee; that need is a different issue from the consultation item under discussion, which is in a list in the Bill. If the need for an advisory committee was brought forward in another place, as I think will happen, I would be able to support it. It is with deep regret, then, that I feel unable to support my noble friends; it is simply because they are, as a technicality, making their argument in the wrong place. Should they put this forward at Third Reading, I would have to bring a long list of other people who would also wish to have their views heard.
My Lords, I intervene briefly after the powerful speeches made by the noble Lord, Lord Morris, and the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell. They made an important point. People have to trust the healthcare professionals who look after them; they have no choice but to trust the service to give them what they need. Therefore, at some future time, we might well be able to establish some grouping that would make representations for those who have, unwittingly and inadvertently, been the victims of a mishap that has occurred. If that is the case, such a committee should be included in this core list of bodies for which the NHS Constitution would be very important. Although the name outlined in the amendment may not, I fear, be right, the principle is correct. I wonder whether the Minister might be able between now and Third Reading to come back to us with some assurance that whatever comes in the future could be added to a broader grouping, and that the grouping outlined in the Bill may be a minimum, but not an exclusive, list.
My Lords, it is not for me to speak on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Manchester, but I think it might help the House to know—the noble Lord can correct me if I am mistaken—that the substantive amendment in this group is Amendment 40, and that the amendment that we are now debating is a pragmatic device, if I can put it that way, to ensure that we debate this very important topic at a time convenient to most of your Lordships. I say that only to address the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, who was perfectly right in her observations about the list, but I do not think—if I read the noble Lord, Lord Morris, correctly—that that was his prime intention.
Like other noble Lords, I take my hat off to the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Manchester, for his principled and deeply felt stand on the plight of haemophiliacs in our country. In Grand Committee, as well as on Thursday of last week and again today, he cogently argued the case for treating fairly and compassionately those individuals, a dwindling band of people whose privations have been, and continue to be, so great. It would be a hard-hearted person who could read the report, so excellently written by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer, and not associate himself with the call that he makes for speedy and appropriate government action.
It was disappointing that the Minister was unable to throw any light on the Government’s detailed thinking when she replied to the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Morris, last week. She indicated then that she was pushing hard to be able to do so today. I hope that she can, or that her noble friend can.
Only last week, I was contacted by one of the people who received contaminated blood. She was not at all strident or pushy in her tone; she merely wished me to know that the hepatitis C which she contracted through no fault of her own as a result of the transfusion had now developed into full-blown cirrhosis of the liver. Her lifespan as a result can now be measured in terms of a few years at best. A liver transplant, she told me, is unlikely to be a practical possibility, not least because she has to take her turn in the queue. No allowance is made by the NHS for the fact that the NHS itself was the instrument of the serious illness which she now suffers from. Indeed, the attitude that she encounters in the NHS can be one of criticism, as if it were her own lifestyle that were to blame. That is a double insult.
It is the needs and wishes of that lady and individuals like her that most concern me here, rather than the business of attributing responsibility for what happened in the 1970s and 1980s. To be sure, it is important to establish what happened and why and to learn lessons for the future, but the immediate and pressing question is to ask what are the needs of the people who are now, many of them, very ill. What can and should we do to make their lives more bearable? As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer, recommended, we should look at ways in which access to NHS services for this group of people could be improved.
It is here that a committee of the kind proposed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer, and now by the noble Lord, Lord Morris, could have a useful role to play. It is not the only way of dealing with the matter, but one factor in its favour is that it would provide the haemophiliac community with the sense that it was being listened to by a group whose remit consisted solely of haemophilia and related issues. As the committee would be only advisory, it would not usurp the authority of the Secretary of State, with whom decisions would ultimately rest, but its recommendations would clearly carry considerable moral weight.
I very much hope that the Minister will be in a position today to indicate the Government’s response in more than just a cursory fashion to the proposals so cogently made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer.
My Lords, I strongly support the purpose behind this amendment, as set out by the noble Earl. The establishment of a statutory committee was one of the strongest recommendations of the excellent Archer inquiry. I support the amendment for its support of this recommendation.
My Lords, I, too, add my support to the spirit of this amendment if not to its actuality—if that is the right word. I also add my support to the remarks of the noble Baronesses, Lady Howarth and Lady Finlay. I have just been to a meeting in the other place on brain tumours and research into brain tumours in children, which is greatly neglected. There are many groups who would like to be mentioned in this Bill, which is why we are reluctant to add this group. But—and it is a very big but—this saga has gone on for far too long. It is quite disgraceful that these people have not been dealt with justly and efficiently before now. I congratulate the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer, the noble Lord, Lord Morris, and the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, on taking every opportunity they possibly can to raise this issue. I admire them, I envy them and I try to be like them. I hope they will carry on campaigning and raising this issue until we get satisfaction for this group of patients.
My Lords, I also acknowledge the moving speeches made by my noble friend Lord Morris and the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell.
Amendment 4 is a device to allow this important matter to be debated early in proceedings. I am grateful to the opposition parties for their help and support in facilitating this. As we heard, Amendment 40, tabled by my noble friend Lord Morris, is based on a recommendation by my noble and learned friend Lord Archer in his report published on 23 February. The report considered the supply of virus-contaminated blood and blood products and its devastating effect on the haemophilia community in particular from the early 1970s onwards until tests became available for Hepatitis C and HIV. We welcome my noble and learned friend’s report and warmly thank him and my noble friends Lord Morris and Lord Corbett for the efforts they are making on behalf of the haemophilia patients and their families.
There is no doubt, as the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, pointed out, that this group of patients has suffered tragic consequences as the result of the serious infections that were inadvertently transmitted via this treatment. I agree that it is important to ensure that these patients and their families are properly supported and to act to reduce as far as practically possible any further risk to all patients who need blood and blood products. There have been major advances in safer treatments for haemophilia. We have committed to making available synthetic products not derived from human blood for all those patients for whom they are suitable.
Haemophilia patients together with their clinicians and service commissioners already have influence in the selection, procurement and delivery of those products. This will continue. We entirely agree with the arguments in my noble and learned friend’s report that it is vital for patients to be represented where decisions about good practice in healthcare provision are being made. This was the centrepiece of our strategy for embedding quality in the NHS and it certainly ran through my report, High Quality Care for All. Together with effectiveness and safety, patient experience is a guiding principle for high-quality healthcare.
We agree that it is vital to have strong mechanisms in place to provide independent expert advice on blood safety, and to recommend improvements. We have an established mechanism to do this through the expert scientific Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs, which advises the UK Administrations. The committee has patient representation and is developing effective means of communicating its advice for stakeholders and the public. Our view is that it is better to build on existing arrangements and expertise, rather than risk disrupting or duplicating those arrangements via legislation.
With this in mind, one option that we are actively considering, and have already discussed with the noble Lord, Lord Morris, is that together with the devolved Administrations we could build on the existing UK-wide partnership in the Haemophilia Alliance between patients, haemophilia doctors and others involved in their care, such as nurses, physiotherapists and social workers. The alliance is jointly chaired by the Haemophilia Society. We are considering a formal arrangement whereby the Government would seek advice from the alliance on matters relating specifically to the care of haemophilia patients, and meet with them at least twice a year. If this were pursued, we would, of course, meet the costs of these meetings. The Haemophilia Alliance has already established a commendable reputation by developing a national service specification for bleeding disorders, which has been welcomed by commissioners.
I assure noble Lords that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State is looking at the most appropriate means of strengthening representation for haemophilia patients and ensuring that advice is provided to those best placed to act on it for the benefit of patients. This is being considered together with the other recommendations from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer, for improving support more widely to the haemophilia community. I personally commit to do everything possible to ensure that the Government respond fully to the noble and learned Lord’s recommendations in advance of the Whitsun Recess, if not the week before. Furthermore, we will of course assist as far as possible in securing a debate on the Government’s response.
Finally, I turn to two points made by the noble Lord, Lord Morris, on CJD. First, since the announcement of the finding of the case, much careful work has been undertaken to ascertain the possible source of this infection. The information will be considered by the CJD incident panel, which will advise if further action is necessary. I remind the House that we have implemented many precautionary measures to reduce the risk as far as is practical and continue to monitor this area very closely. Secondly, on Crown immunity, I reassure my noble friend that the position is very different from what it was 20 or 30 years ago, but I am more than happy to look at what Crown immunity was 30 years ago and respond, giving the changes that have occurred since then.
I hope that the noble Lord will feel reassured by the steps that have been taken to consider the most appropriate way in which to involve those affected by haemophilia in decision-making and feel able to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I think it was Aristotle—if not it ought to have been—who said that it is the essence of probability that some improbable things will happen. How could I possibly have suspected that my first duty now would be for me to thank the noble Earl, Lord Howe, for speaking so eloquently and with such attention to accuracy in responding to the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth? As he explained, I was simply taking the first opportunity to raise again an issue that noble Lords in all parts of the House see as one of priority and very considerable importance to the future of the National Health Service. The pledges we have had from my noble friend Lord Darzi on the imminence of a full response to the Archer report, and what he said about using his best endeavours to find parliamentary time for it to be debated, go far enough for me. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 4 withdrawn.
5: Clause 2, page 2, line 6, at end insert—
“( ) specialised commissioning groups;”
My Lords, in moving this amendment, I realise that I run the risk of crossfire from other noble Lords for seeking to add to the list in subsection (2). I am looking in particular at the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, but luckily she is not paying attention. I am prepared to accept the risk because, when we debated the NHS Constitution in Grand Committee, I drew the Committee’s attention to a remarkable omission, which is that nowhere in the constitution is there even a mention of specialised services. This seems to me quite extraordinary and I thought that we ought to return to the subject today.
It might be helpful if I were just to outline the way in which specialised services are commissioned in the NHS. What happens is that within each strategic health authority area, PCTs delegate responsibility for commissioning these services to specialised commissioning groups. In so doing, they pool their commissioning budgets. The point of doing that is to share risk and to ensure that the care that is delivered is of high quality. We are talking here about a very considerable range of conditions; for example, cystic fibrosis, complex disability, haemophilia, HIV, various neurological conditions and certain types of cancer. Serious burn injuries and spinal injuries also fall within the category of specialised conditions for the purposes of the national definition set.
Collectively the services involved account for 10 per cent of NHS expenditure and the treatment of hundreds of thousands of patients. The handbook to the constitution mentions these services only in passing. A short paragraph on page 15 talks about,
“the small number of people who suffer from rare conditions”.
From his reply in Grand Committee, I rather took it that the Minister privately agreed with me that this was inadequate recognition of a category of services which he himself referred to as being the “jewel in the crown”.
However, these services are important in another sense. We have to remember that the way in which the NHS commissions specialised services involves a diverse range of providers, many of them from the independent sector. That fact places even greater weight on the need for commissioning arrangements to maintain the standard of the services that are delivered, and, over time, to enhance them. Against that background, it is surely of great importance that the bodies required to have regard to the NHS Constitution should include specialised commissioning groups.
I understand that the PCTs participating in the specialised commissioning groups remain the statutory bodies, and the Minister may well say that my amendment is inappropriate for that reason alone. However, I would still argue that the quality and safety of specialised services is dependent on the effectiveness of the specialised commissioning groups acting on their behalf, which is why I am proposing an explicit reference to them in the Bill.
I hope the Minister will be able to give me a reassuring reply on this matter, which I do regard as significant, and I beg to move.
My Lords, this is an important amendment. The reason that I think it is important rests on my knowledge of specialised commissioning services across a large range of different activities in the NHS, not least in my specialty of neurology.
I am at present serving on two inquiries being conducted by All-Party Groups. One is on Parkinson’s disease; the other is on muscular dystrophy. We have taken a great deal of evidence already on services for patients with Parkinsonism, and have found, not greatly to my surprise, that there is a remarkable unevenness of resources and facilities for patients in different parts of the country, in relation to their medical care and also to the availability of specialist nurses, specialist physiotherapists and specialists in language and speech therapy.
In the case of muscular dystrophy and other neuromuscular diseases, the situation is substantially worse. My own research, many years ago, was based in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. I will give you a perfect example of what I am talking about. The most severe form of muscular dystrophy, the Duchenne type, affects young boys who have difficulty in walking and who, by the time that they are eight, nine or 10 years of age, are often confined to a wheelchair. When I started working in this field, many of them died in their early teens from complications such as heart failure or pneumonia. In the unit in Newcastle with which I am now very familiar, the range of services, including physiotherapy, treatment of contractures, prevention of deformities, respiratory care and specialised support for cardiac complications, has meant that the average age of death of boys in that unit, and indeed in other specialised units in Oxford, London and other parts of the country, is 31 or 32 years of age. I even know of one patient who is 41 years of age—admittedly on assisted respiration, but living a useful life. However, in certain parts of the country, and in one region in particular, a survey has shown that the average age of death of those patients is still 18 years of age. The standard of care is grossly uneven throughout the country.
The principles set out in the NHS Constitution are outstandingly good, but it is crucial that those responsible for commissioning specialist services should be in a position to take account of the crucial differences that already exist in services in different parts of the country. For that reason, this is a very important amendment that I warmly support.
My Lords, I cannot help but be sympathetic to the amendment of the noble Earl, Lord Howe, and recognise the points that have been made by my noble friend Lord Walton. However, this seems to me to come down to the matter raised by the noble Earl about who is ultimately responsible for the commissioning of these services, which legally is the primary care trusts or another NHS authority. It seems that, while it is extremely important that the specialised commissioning groups should have delegated powers to make appropriate judgments on the commissioning of services, ultimately they take their powers from the legal responsibility of the bodies that purchase the services. This matter should really be dealt with by providing guidance to PCTs and other authorities responsible for purchasing. It is a matter of specifying which NHS body has legal responsibility, and adding to the list in this way is perhaps not very helpful.
My Lords, I would like to provide a contrast by strongly supporting the amendment. It neatly provides the device that I was looking for the last time I spoke. If we do not have specialised commissioning groups flagged up centrally, that would suggest that they are not absolutely core to the delivery of services for patients with rare and complex conditions, some of which may have arisen through mishaps. Different groups will need specialised services commissioned for them. It would seem extremely sensible to have them in the group, because the way that the provision is worded would leave it quite open for the different specialised commissioning groups as they evolve. We should also consider the collateral effect of not having this added to the list as advocated by the noble Earl, Lord Howe.
My Lords, lists always worry me terribly, because when you have completed one you always think of something that should have been on it. I want to pose a question to the Minister before he replies: is there any group working directly or indirectly for the National Health Service that would not need to have regard to the constitution? Is there any need for a list, because it surely goes without saying that they should have regard to the constitution?
My Lords, first, I declare an interest. I work in two NHS organisations that provide specialised services commissioned by specialist commissioners. I am sympathetic to the amendment and I understand why the noble Earl is seeking to ensure that we do not lose sight of specialised services. The NHS Constitution and the duty to have regard to it apply to specialised services as much as any other kind of NHS service, as adequately described by the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge. The Government remain committed more broadly to the collaborative commissioning functions of specialised commissioning groups, spending about £5 billion of the NHS budget every year on such services.
However, as pointed out by the noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, the amendment is not necessary, because it does not address the issue raised by noble Lords in this Chamber. Noble Lords passionately believe that we have a strong history of providing excellence when it comes to specialised services. I agree with them. The noble Lord, Lord Walton, gave one example and there are many examples of excellence across the country. We need to ensure that we have the adequate support and funding to continue to provide excellence in such services. But I do not believe that the amendment addresses that. It creates a regard by the specialist commissioners, who themselves are a consortium of primary care trusts. There is no such thing as specialist commissioners with their own separate governance structures: they are part of a consortium of primary care trusts. The duty would require primary care trusts to have regard to the NHS constitution when performing any NHS function, including the function of commissioning specialised services.
I hope that I have reassured the House that the amendment is not necessary. I support noble Lords who made a strong case for why the NHS needs to look at commissioning functions in greater detail. I hope that in High Quality Care For All we made a strong case for specialist providers—there are many in London and outside—and why such services should be supported and funded.
We also acknowledge that in these cases we also need specialist commissioners with the expertise in commissioning such services. I hope that I have reassured the noble Earl that specialist commissioners have not been overlooked and that he feels able to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, this has been a useful debate. Of course, I understand the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, which in part I foreshadowed in my own remarks.
I would say to the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, that it is as much the ability to be consulted on revisions to the constitution as the duty to have regard to it that prompted me to include specialised commissioning groups in this part of the Bill. As she will remember, Clause 3(5) refers to those bodies and groups of people who will be consulted when the constitution is revised. It was that ability to respond to this important constitution that I felt would have maintained the profile of specialised services.
The Minister's reply was slightly disappointing although not wholly unexpected as regards the appropriateness of this particular amendment. However, I took some comfort from the general tenor of what he said. He of all people will understand what is at stake here. We cannot afford a situation where the profile of specialised services and the priority that is attached to them are allowed to suffer. It would be particularly helpful to hear, either now or outside this Chamber, that there will at least be a separate assurance scheme for specialised commissioning groups within the world-class commissioning programme. If we had that comfort, my mind would be considerably eased on this issue. For now, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 5 withdrawn.
6: Clause 2, page 2, line 11, at end insert—
“(h) bodies concerned with the education of health professionals;(i) bodies concerned with the support and delivery of medical and scientific research”
My Lords, my noble friends and I have tabled this amendment for several important reasons. It is true that if one looks at the NHS Constitution, in Part 1 on the principles that guide the NHS, item 3 says that:
“The NHS aspires to the highest standards of excellence and professionalism—in the provision of high-quality care that is safe, effective and focused on patient experience; in the planning and delivery of the clinical and other services it provides; in the people it employs and the education, training and development they receive; in the leadership and management of its organisations; and through its commitment to innovation and to the promotion and conduct of research to improve the current and future health and care of the population”.
Education and training are mentioned; so, too, is research. But people who work in the universities and medical schools who are involved in the education and training of all healthcare professionals—doctors, nurses and other members of the healthcare team—have expressed to me and others concern that not more is said about the crucial importance of the education and training of these individuals and of the necessity that the NHS should take full account of the needs of such education and training.
Equally, bodies concerned with research such as the Medical Research Council and the Association of Medical Research Charities have felt that the NHS Constitution, which contains a number of very admirable principles, pays less than adequate tribute to the importance of research. As I have said often—and I know that the noble Lord, Lord Darzi, would agree with me—today's discovery in basic medical and scientific research brings tomorrow's practical development in patient care. There is no doubt that such research is one of the life-bloods of medicine in the UK and one of the great virtues of the National Health Service, which is something that does not exist in many other countries. Because of the nature of its organisation, it provides a wonderful situation for the conduct of clinical trials of new developments in medicine and in other branches of medical science.
It is very important that full account should be taken of the needs of education, training and research and more needs to be said. I accept the strictures that have been expressed by a number of noble Lords about lists and it is true that if one looks at this particular amendment one’s first reaction on reading,
“bodies concerned with the education of health professionals”,
“bodies concerned with the support and delivery of medical and scientific research”,
“have regard to the NHS Constitution”,
is that yes, of course they must. But equally, it is important that the NHS as an organisation should take full account of the needs of the education of health professionals in all of their branches and the need to support the circumstances in which medical and scientific research can be carried out.
I will also speak briefly to Amendment 34, which is grouped with this amendment because it relates to the section in the Bill relating to prizes for innovation in the National Health Service. As the Bill currently stands, that clause refers to prizes for innovation. Innovation could be innovation in the design of new trolleys in the National Health Service or the design of items of equipment. It could mean a variety of different innovations which need not necessarily include components of research. For that reason, the Medical Research Council is particularly anxious, and deeply concerned, to see that particular clause, under which prizes can be awarded, includes the phrase “or research leading to innovation” as well as “innovation” itself. For that reason, I strongly wish to argue the case that these amendments are very important.
I am deeply grateful to the Minister for the letter he wrote to me expressing his feeling that perhaps there is already enough in the constitution to meet my concerns. He said that the NHS takes full account of the importance of the education of all healthcare professionals; of the way in which healthcare is nurtured by the results of research; and of the way in which the environment is provided in which research can be conducted. I find his letter extremely reassuring, but I am still not certain that that reassurance is, in itself, enough. For that reason, I beg to move this amendment.
My Lords, my name is attached to Amendments 6 and 34, and I support them both. My noble friend Lord Walton has articulated very clearly why these amendments are needed. I welcome the proposed innovation prizes, but recommend that the scope should be broadened to encourage the research that underpins innovation. I think these amendments are designed to do that. Innovation depends on research, and I know very well that the Minister is well aware of that in his own research and innovations.
It is important to recognise and reward the translation of basic and clinical research into innovative ideas and products that will improve healthcare. The NHS Constitution, in its principles, enshrines a commitment both to innovation and to the promotion of conducting research. During the previous debate, there was recognition of the need to develop a stronger culture in the NHS to support research and innovation. The Cooksey review, some years ago, examined the future of health research in the UK. It emphasised the importance of removing barriers to translational research and discussed the need for “pull” incentives to encourage demand for research leading to innovation. The review concluded that there should be proper rewards for translating research into innovation in health interventions.
The Cooksey review also highlighted concerns that the incentives for research to achieve an impact on health and health needs are not as strong as those to achieve academic excellence. Better incentives are needed to ensure that the best ideas are carried forward for patient benefit. Therefore, the criteria for the prizes should be developed to ensure they identify and reward early-stage research that has the potential to be transformative in an NHS setting.
During the Committee debate, my noble friend Lady Murphy raised concerns about the timeframe in which the success of an innovation is demonstrated. This was shown in a recent report, entitled Medical Research: what’s it worth?, that was commissioned and independently produced by the Academy of Medical Sciences, the Medical Research Council and the Wellcome Trust. It estimated that the time lag between research expenditure and eventual health benefits is around 17 years. By including research as a criterion for prizes, it becomes easier to reward innovation in its early stage.
The noble Lord, Lord Darzi, during the Committee debate, stated that the awards could recognise,
“a scientific discovery that has had a huge impact on the NHS and patient care”.—[Official Report, 5/3/09; col. GC 324.]
This amendment is intended to build upon that commitment by ensuring that the research and discovery process that underpins innovation is acknowledged in the Bill. I support this amendment.
My Lords, my name is also on the amendment; I support it, along with the eloquent speech made by my noble friend Lord Walton of Detchant. Coming from the nursing profession and professions not so steeped in history in the educational bodies, I would emphasise that we are, as a profession, “out of sight, out of mind”. There is an unfortunate gap between service and education. That gap needs to be closed quickly to cover all the points that have been put in the NHS review by the Minister, concerning compassion and the values of the NHS. If this could be included in the Bill, it would help the universities to see—in undergraduate training, leading to postgraduate training—the importance of the values of the NHS, and to reinforce them. I strongly feel that “out of sight, out of mind” needs to be cleared, and hope the Minister will be prepared to take this on board.
My Lords, my name is also on these amendments, and I would like to speak in their support. I would also like very strongly to support the point made by my noble friend Lady Emerton. The NHS is dependent on the places where people are educated for the supply of its future staff. Therefore, it becomes absolutely crucial that, right from the day of entry into that educational process, students are viewed as part of the continuing spectrum of the workforce of the NHS. They are the potential workforce. The danger is that those who are organising educational courses can often view something such as the NHS Constitution as something extra that they have to include somewhere in their curriculum, rather than making sure that it is in embedded as a theme running through every aspect of the curriculum. I have seen this in some courses, where new pieces of legislation—and the Mental Capacity Act is one of those—have been added on as if they were bolt-ons, rather than underpinning the way every patient is approached at all times. Therefore, it is important to look at educational provision.
I turn to the second of these amendments. I fear that if we do not include original research, along with innovation, it risks being divisive. Original research may be the thing that triggers the subsequent innovation, and whoever undertook that deserves to be recognised for the work they did. It is also very evident that some of the more innovative and service-based research is coming from the healthcare professions beyond medicine, which are nursing and the allied healthcare professions. To encourage them to have a research approach, as well as to innovate in their practice, would foster the whole research agenda and drive forward the frontiers of knowledge. Therefore, I cannot see what there is to lose by including the words “or original research” in that amendment, but I can see that we stand to lose quite a lot by not including them.
My Lords, I hope noble Lords will forgive me if I seem to be turning into a legalistic nit-picker here today, because I am exceedingly sympathetic to what they are driving at. I am particularly sympathetic to Amendment 34 about the prize. Of course, it is an NHS prize, meant for the delivery of innovation in NHS care. Quite whether this is the right amendment to ensure that the right people get prizes for research, or whether it would need to be translational research done within the NHS, I am not sure. But I am very sympathetic to this amendment, even though it may be very difficult in practice to translate that into a part of the Bill.
The problem with Amendment 6 is that we have a definition of the discharge of NHS functions. Clause 2 relates to the duty to have regard to the NHS Constitution, and states that each of the bodies listed,
“must, in performing its NHS functions, have regard to the NHS Constitution”.
Then an NHS function is described as,
“the provision, commissioning or regulation of NHS services”.
In a way, those bodies are already articulated as to who does provide, commission or regulate services.
It all depends on whether universities and FE colleges discharge any NHS function by delivering educational services. Legally, they probably do not under the definition included in this part of the Bill. That of course is a pity, because I would particularly like to support the notion of my noble friend Lord Walton and the comments of my noble friend Lady Emerton about the crucial nature of getting the principles of the NHS Constitution into the training of nursing and other professions concerned with medicine, as well as medicine itself. To do that, those principles of care need to go right back to the beginning of training. This would be a marvellous place in the Bill to put that. It is also true that universities should deliver education and research with regard to healthcare.
I very much support the principles, but the way that the NHS Constitution is worded and who its functions should be discharged by mean that these amendments are not quite right. However, I am very sympathetic to what they are driving at.
My Lords, I apologise for not being here at the beginning, but I heard the vast majority of the debate on the amendments, which I support for all the reasons so eloquently put forward by a number of noble Lords. I know that the Minister needs no lessons from me about the importance of medical research. He is engaged in so much himself. I am sure that I do not need to remind him of the recent study that showed that it is possible to measure not only the value to people and patients, but the economic value, of medical research, whereby for every £1 that one puts in, one gets £1.39 out in economic terms every year thereafter, once the results of that research have been put into action. I know that the NHS Constitution refers to research. I am not sure that it refers to it at great length, but it does refer to it. Nevertheless, given that it is vital to future care, it should be included in the Bill, and I hope that my noble friend will agree.
My Lords, I support the eloquence of my various colleagues, my noble friends, who have put forward Amendment 6 in particular. I declare a disinterest; I am not and never have been a member of any healthcare profession, which may not be true of all the other noble Lords who have spoken, but I have some relevant experience as the head of universities which have incorporated medical and nursing schools, and I am an honorary fellow of one of the royal colleges. My experience is that healthcare and relevant education is always better provided the more closely integrated the two processes are. I have no doubt about that. This is perhaps less obviously true in times of plenty, but in times of shortage people disappear into their bunkers and silos, and the more that one can do in real and symbolic terms to integrate these two area, the better. Hence, I support Amendment 6.
My Lords, with these amendments the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, has once again hit the nail on the head, and I very much support the case that he has put forward, especially in relation to education and training. There is a fundamental problem here to which the noble Lord alluded in tactful terms and the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, drew attention to more explicitly. It is that many NHS organisations, if not the majority, do not regard education and training as part of their core business. They may pay lip service to them, they may be able to show that education and training are taking place, but for many organisations whose primary day-to-day preoccupation is to deliver services efficiently and effectively to patients, education and training are not in the forefront of their priorities.
Unfortunately, this is particularly true of foundation trusts. There are some notable exceptions to that generalisation which we could all name, but the letter of the law which states that foundation trusts must include education and training as part of their core mission does not tend to occupy centre stage in the deliberations of foundation trust boards. Nor is it something to which Monitor devotes a large amount of attention. I may be wrong in that perception, but there seems to be insufficient accountability for success or failure in this area.
We remember all too well what happened in 2006 when the NHS budget came under particularly heavy pressure. Trusts were told that they had to break even or do better, no matter what it took. Surprise, surprise, it was the education budget which was cut quite ruthlessly. I have a figure which came from the Nursing Times, which stated that strategic health authorities skimmed more than £70 million from education and training budgets during 2007-08.
The years ahead are likely to give rise to equal, if not worse, budgetary pressures. The education budget is an easy target, because the general public do not notice whether it is being spent or not, but the harm that cuts like that do over the long term is considerable. The training of staff is not something that you can abandon and return to from year to year; it is a long-term enterprise. The universities, whose core business is to deliver training, much of it in collaboration with the health service, are placed in an impossible position if the NHS decides to adopt any sort of stop/go policy.
I am told that the problem tends to be worse in trusts that are aspiring to become foundation trusts, because those organisations cut back on their costs to achieve the desired set of financial ratios, and the cutting of costs inevitably means cutting back on people, which in turn impacts directly on supervision ratios at ward level. That kind of economy has an immediate and obvious impact on the quality of training. Anecdotally at least, cuts are said to account for some of the high drop-out rates that there have been in nurse training, for example.
Equally, I am told that in primary care the quality of work placements is on the whole poor. Part of the problem is that doctors’ surgeries have only a limited physical capacity, but the more fundamental issue is that for primary care practitioners, education is not a core part of their mission. There is no measure which impinges on a service provider for a failure to engage with the next generation of professionals. Yet, in a very real sense, NHS organisations owe it to themselves to be mentors and custodians of the next generation. They also owe it to us as patients, and we need to be very careful that this key function of the health service receives adequate recognition in the way that the NHS Constitution is applied. Those responsible for delivering education and training in healthcare must be held to account for their performance.
I hope that with his close knowledge of the NHS, the Minister will want to focus on the concerns which the noble Lord, Lord Walton, has raised, and that the Minister will also want to make sure that the opportunities presented by having an NHS Constitution with rights and duties within it are not missed.
My Lords, I strongly support Amendment 6 and the later amendment, not only in relation to the medical or surgical side of the profession but also in relation to nursing. In recent years, much more nursing training has been provided outside the NHS. In the olden days, the training was mainly in hospitals, but it is now in many cases quite substantially provided in universities. This leads to the difficulty that has been mentioned about the listed bodies. In Clause 2(2), we have the list of bodies, but what the bodies are to do is told to us in Clause 2(1), which says:
“Each of the bodies listed in subsection (2) must, in performing its NHS functions, have regard to the NHS Constitution”.
Clause 2(3) defines what is meant by “NHS function”. It means,
“any function under an enactment which is a function concerned with or connected to the provision, commissioning or regulation of NHS services”.
I am inclined to think that most universities will be under an enactment of some kind. Under that enactment, they are providing education. That would be part of the provision of NHS services, because the education qualifying people to take part would fall into that category. The Bill does not say a health enactment; it just says “an enactment”. I think that universities would qualify.
As an honorary fellow of some of the medical royal societies, I feel that these societies are in more of a difficulty, because most of them are not governed by an enactment; they are usually set up and governed by royal charter. Certainly, that is my understanding. Therefore, there is some slight technical difficulty about fitting them into the list. I have no doubt that, if the Minister was prepared to agree to accept this in principle, his advisers would quickly put in place the necessary adjustment to take account of it. I just mention it in case it might be overlooked—although I do not think that the Minister would overlook it—or looked on as a fundamental difficulty, because I think that it is a difficulty that can be overcome.
If the training of staff who are going to be members of the health service is undertaken by institutions other than NHS institutions, it is important that the spirit and ethos of the NHS and its constitution should be ingrained in them as part of the initial training. Therefore, I am strongly in support of Amendment 6. I also support the amendment on innovation, with which I have not noticed any technical difficulty.
My Lords, we have heard from many noble Lords. Again, let me declare an interest. I am a university employee and still remain one. I can sympathise with the noble Lords, Lord Walton and Lord Patel, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Emerton and Lady Finlay, who propose that the list of bodies that are under a duty to have regard to the NHS Constitution be extended to include bodies concerned with the education of health professionals and with the support and delivery of medical and scientific research. In addition to this amendment, I understand that the noble Lord believes that it would be appropriate to require the same bodies to be consulted on the 10-yearly review of the constitution.
Amendment 34, which was tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Walton and Lord Patel, and the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, would enable the Secretary of State to make payments to promote innovation or original research.
Both research and education are the bedrocks of high-quality patient care. I hope that I can provide noble Lords with reassurances in relation to some of the concerns that have been raised today. First, by way of context, I reassure the noble Lord that education and research are vital to the NHS. In 2009-10, £4.6 billion was allocated to strategic health authorities for education and training, and health research commissioned by the NHS has reached £1 billion for 2010-11. High Quality Care for All, on which I reported in July last year, set out our commitments to the establishment of, for example, academic health science centres, which will bring together a small number of health and academic partners to focus on world-class research, teaching and patient care, bringing the NHS and research ever closer in the history of the NHS.
My report also sought closer working between the NHS and education institutions by proposing the creation of new health innovation and education clusters. These announcements will be made soon. These clusters will bring together many partners, across primary, community and secondary care, universities, colleges and industry. Bringing NHS organisations and higher education institutions together will promote learning and education between their members and will enable research findings to be applied more readily in improving patient care.
The noble Earl, Lord Howe, raised the issue of NHS budgets. We have on many occasions debated how we protect these budgets and, within the contexts of the health innovation and education clusters, some of the policy reforms that we are introducing will create more transparency. I remember on numerous occasions the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, asking how we protect these budgets. The best way to protect them is to introduce transparency and a tariff system, where a budget will follow a trainee. That is the way in which we hope we will reform our education system, under the guidance and the support of Medical Education England from the medical perspective, and working with nursing colleagues to find a more transparent way in which we can allocate our education and training budgets.
On Amendment 6, I would like first to consider the NHS Constitution. The importance that we attach to both education and research is reflected in the third principle in the constitution, which states:
“The NHS aspires to the highest standards of excellence and professionalism … in the people it employs and the education, training and development they receive … and through its commitment to innovation and to the promotion and conduct of research”.
In addition, although we have debated whether this amendment is necessary, I have to make the point that all education and training commissioned directly by the NHS is already covered by the legislation as drafted, as the noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, pointed out. Strategic health authorities and other NHS organisations will have to have regard to the constitution in everything that they do, including education and training. That should be included in commissioning education and training. However, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, always challenges me when it comes to issues of the law and I take the point that certain colleges, as far as royal charters are concerned, may not be able to do this. I will be more than happy to seek further legal advice and to bring this back when we come to the next phase of the Bill.
I turn now to the new bodies concerned with the support and delivery of medical and scientific research. Primary care trusts and other trusts can undertake, commission and assist in research. Any of this research would be captured, I believe, by the duty to have regard to the constitution in Clause 2. The current definition of “NHS function” in Clause 2(3) refers to,
“any function … concerned with, or connected to, the provision, commissioning or regulation of NHS services”.
I believe that this covers patient-facing research, where patients receiving NHS services are involved.
On consultation on the constitution on a 10-yearly basis, I again reassure noble Lords that many groups involved with research, training and education of health professionals contributed to the production of the final NHS Constitution, such as the General Medical Council, the Medical Research Council and the Academy of Medical Sciences. Their contributions were valuable and we shall of course wish to involve them in any further changes to the constitution, including the 10-yearly review of the constitution and any more minor revisions, where they are affected.
I now turn to the innovation prizes and the spirit in which they have been introduced. As I have said in the House before, I strongly believe that these prizes are intended to get the best minds in this country to focus on some of the challenges that will face us in the future, and those challenges will require major breakthrough discoveries. That is what I am referring to in relation to the prizes. I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, mentioned Peter Mansfield, who discovered MRI in 1967 in Nottingham. He was not recognised for his research until 2005, when he won the Nobel Prize. Many such discoveries occurred in this country, and their benefits were translated elsewhere around the globe before they had an impact on our NHS patients. Therefore, the drivers behind the NHS innovation prizes are major breakthroughs and major discoveries.
My noble friend referred to innovation prizes and the use of the word “research”. This is a question of semantics. The definition of “innovation” is the successful development and implementation of new ideas, commonly divided into three stages: identification or invention, which is one area that we discussed in relation to research; growth, including adoption, testing and evaluation; and diffusion. However, if noble Lords still believe that we can strengthen the definition, I shall be more than happy to do so. In that respect, I am delighted to report that tomorrow we will be announcing the appointment of Professor Sir John Bell, the president of the Academy of Medical Sciences, as interim chair of the expert panel. I shall be more than happy to discuss the words “research” and “innovation” and to come back to the matter at Third Reading. I think that we all agree about the purpose of these prizes and about the very major role that universities and other higher education providers can play in relation to research.
I hope that I have reassured noble Lords that some of their amendments may not be necessary, but I am happy to seek further legal advice in relation to them and to come back at Third Reading.
My Lords, as always, I am deeply grateful to the Minister for his comprehensive, thoughtful and helpful comments on these amendments. As he said, it is crucial that the interrelationship between NHS bodies and universities is close, as is made evident by the fact that 30 per cent of clinical academic posts in the UK are funded by the National Health Service.
However, there are still considerable anxieties, some of which were pointed out by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, my noble friends on these Benches and the noble Earl, Lord Howe. Despite everything that the noble Lord has said, certain NHS bodies seem reluctant to accept their responsibility in relation to education and research. For example, it has just been pointed out to me that, with regard to training around 95,000 students from this September in nursing, midwifery and the allied healthcare professions, universities have no information about the level of benchmark prizes to be paid by the strategic health authorities, and this is at a time when they are trying to finalise their budgets for the 2009-10 academic and university financial year. Therefore, there are continuing anxieties, although it was extremely helpful of the noble Lord to say that he would look again at the amendment on innovation prizes.
In the light of the Minister’s letter and comments, when I first came to the House today, my feeling was that I should withdraw the amendment. Then, when I heard the speeches of many noble Lords around the Chamber, I thought that in many respects it would be much more sensible to test the opinion of the House. However, with reluctance, but nevertheless with gratitude for the way in which the noble Lord has presented the Government’s case and for his willingness to reconsider the matter at Third Reading, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 6 withdrawn.
Amendments 7 and 8 not moved.
9: Clause 2, page 2, line 28, at end insert—
“( ) The Secretary of State shall publish guidance providing for the meaning of “have regard to” in this section.”
My Lords, Amendment 9 is designed to take us back to one of the most perplexing aspects of this whole chapter of the Bill: what exactly it means to require bodies and persons to have regard to the NHS Constitution.
In Grand Committee, the Minister indicated in, I thought, a somewhat nonchalant way that there was a well established legal meaning to the phrase “have regard to”. The trouble is that he singularly failed to tell us what that meaning is. Of course, we have all dealt with the phrase in other Bills and usually one can understand perfectly well what it entails. For example, the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007 obliges a local authority to have regard to every local improvement target specified in a local area agreement. It is fairly obvious what a local authority should and should not do in compliance with that duty, as it is very specific. The Healthcare Commission had a legal duty to have regard to government policy in exercising its functions. What this meant was very clear: in everything it did, the Healthcare Commission had to bear in mind the Government’s priorities in the delivery of healthcare and, as far as possible, to build those priorities into the ordering of its work.
With the NHS Constitution, we have something rather different. The constitution is made up of principles, values, rights, pledges and responsibilities. What does it mean to “have regard to” a set of values or principles? Who can say whether you have succeeded or failed in doing so? How indeed is a patient supposed to know whether a nurse or doctor, or the hospital as a whole, has had regard to them? The answers to these questions are not straightforward. I, for one, do not pretend to know what they are. The plot thickens when we come to consider the rights contained in the constitution. What does it mean to say that an NHS body must merely have regard to a right? The average patient who reads the constitution may well believe that a right is something that is guaranteed.
In Grand Committee, I proposed in an amendment that the Government should issue guidance to dispel potential confusion and to ensure that everyone in the NHS, and everyone working on behalf of the NHS, understood what was expected of them. The Minister did not like that idea, and other noble Lords thought that it was unduly bureaucratic. However, if the meaning of the phrase is not explained, there will be only one result, which is a free-for-all across the country in the interpretation that people place on it. If we land up in a situation in which “regard” for a principle or value is interpreted differently in different parts of the health service, that will instantly undermine the credibility of the constitution. It is almost an invitation for someone to issue a challenge via the courts. Who wants that?
The Minister needs to realise, as I am sure he does, that the consultation that took place last year on the NHS Constitution raised enormous expectations among NHS staff. Many people genuinely believed that the constitution was to be part of a new way of working in the NHS under which everyone—patients, the public and staff—would know what was expected of them and what they in turn could expect to happen. In the event, the very opposite appears to have occurred. People are confused. It is true, and of course very welcome, that David Nicholson has written to chairs and chief executives with some examples of what they should be doing to fulfil the new duty. However, examples are simply that; there is apparently to be no guidance on how, as a matter of law, the duty to have regard to values, principles and rights should be translated into the day-to-day behaviour of NHS staff.
Indeed, we need to ask who is bound by this duty. The Bill says that NHS bodies and organisations are bound by it. Presumably that means that the duty rests on members of the board—the people in ultimate control of the organisation—rather than on each individual member of staff. However, if that interpretation is right, as I believe it is, it will lead to some odd results. The board will be held to account for the way in which it fulfils the legal duty, but the people who actually deliver NHS services will not be bound by it at all. I cannot see the sense of that, nor can I see how it will be workable. How will the average patient understand that distinction?
We heard from the Minister that NHS bodies could fulfil the duty to have regard to the constitution by giving it “proper consideration”. That sounds to me very woolly and feeble. It appears to bind an NHS body to do no more than consider what the constitution says before taking a given course of action. That is not much. Equally, I do not think that that is what people either wanted or expected. Most of us would surely wish that, at the very least, the values and principles of the health service could be relied on by patients and staff in virtually all circumstances, that patients’ rights could be similarly relied on and that, when someone in the NHS is given a responsibility or a duty, you could take it as read that that person had that responsibility or duty. However, that understanding is, apparently, not correct.
Nothing can be taken for granted, because, quite deliberately, the constitution has been given no legal force of its own. In an extreme case, as an aggrieved patient taking an NHS body to court, you could use the constitution only as supporting evidence; you could not cite a breach of it as in itself an infringement of your rights. It is true that some rights within the constitution have a legal basis of their own, but some do not, as the Minister knows, and the task of proving that the NHS had failed to give a value or a principle proper consideration strikes me as being particularly difficult. Again, we need to bear in mind that this could be attempted only by means of judicial review, which is neither easy nor affordable for most people.
I am conscious that I have rather laboured this issue and I will now stop, because I should like to hear from other Members of the House and from the Minister, who I hope can throw some brighter shafts of light on to this question than we have had hitherto. I therefore beg to move.
My Lords, with great respect to my noble friend, this amendment does put a pretty heavy responsibility on the Secretary of State. Guidance as to what is meant by “have regard to” would either be extremely brief, or possibly, if it were extensive, a bit confusing, to say the least of it. I do not underestimate the skill in drafting available to the Minister, but I have seen some attempts at this kind of work and they are not always crowned with success.
The phrase “have regard to” is, as the Minister said in Grand Committee, a very common phrase. Indeed, my noble friend referred to it being in other statutes. It is a very common phrase in the law and I have been involved in arguing cases and sometimes deciding cases in which it was a crucial phrase. I will not be giving a definitive meaning for it, but I think what, in principle, it means, is that, in making a decision, you take account fully of all the provisions of the document so far as relevant to the issue in hand and you take account of them properly and seriously, not in a dismissive way.
On the example about duties, if a document confers a duty or a right—perhaps I should take a right, to simplify matters—if a document confers a right, I would suggest that, if you have proper regard to that document, you give effect to the right, unless there are some over-riding other considerations from other parts of the document which, in effect, reduce or modify the first expression of the right. On the other hand, if it is a value, you conduct yourself in accordance with that value and that is what “have regard to” means. It is a compendious phrase with very considerable legal lineage in which it is applied. I do not think there are many cases in which the judges have attempted to say what it means; they know how to apply it. I have tried to summarise what I believe is the way it would apply in this sort of situation. If the Minister is prepared to accept that the Secretary of State will give guidance, I wish him joy in that task.
My Lords, I take the opportunity to support the noble Earl, Lord Howe, and to note, as one always should, the words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern. Far be it from Members of this House to deprive members of the legal profession of a source of income which has been extant for a very, very long time, arguments over the phrase “have regard to” have made many a legal career. I take the point of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, in full part; because I think it would be difficult for a Secretary of State to give a full meaning to that. None the less, this document, this constitution, is going to sit alongside a whole range of other documents of varying degrees of legal importance which medical staff have to bear in mind every day in the course of their duties. I think the noble Earl, Lord Howe, is right to try to establish exactly where it stands in rank of importance, as against other laws and as against statutory guidance as well.
It is for the Department of Health to provide assistance to members of staff about how this document will work in practice and what practical difference it will make to their work. The Department of Health has been in this situation before. When the Mental Capacity Act was being argued in Parliament, a great deal of work went on, during the passage of the Bill and subsequently, to try to give examples to practitioners as to what the phrase “best interests” would mean. “Best interests” is, similarly, a legal phrase of some standing and contention, but nevertheless, in order to make what Parliament had passed become a reality for patients, the department did considerable work on that. We can argue about whether this constitution is going to be of the same import as the Mental Capacity Act and the guidance that went with it, but I think the noble Earl, Lord Howe, is to be commended for trying to find an answer to that question, because if he does not, we risk confusing staff when they come to make decisions in practice. The department has a duty to make sure that that does not happen.
My Lords, Amendment 9 would commit the Secretary of State to publishing guidance on the meaning of the term “to have regard”. I understand that the noble Earl is concerned that the NHS will be insufficiently supported in the interpreting of the duty to have regard to the constitution. I should therefore like to reassure noble Lords on this point. The department has already embarked on a programme of work to ensure that the NHS knows what will be expected of it when this duty comes into effect. The noble Baroness, Lady Barker, raised this issue and I hope I can reassure her over some of the activities within the department. First, the department has set up a state of readiness group, involving many important representatives, both from within the NHS—for example, SHA chief executives—and from outside—for example, UNISON. The purpose of the group is to understand how to help the NHS to be ready to embed the NHS Constitution and to establish ways of providing assurance that the constitution is taking effect. The group has had its first meeting and will continue to meet until the summer.
Another example of the support which the department is providing is a toolkit which will be made available to the NHS imminently. Among other things, the toolkit contains a guide for staff: suggestions about how to incorporate the constitution into organisations’ annual reports, information for line managers and induction messages for new staff. These resources will enable the NHS to communicate the importance of the constitution to all staff and to explain what it means for them both as employees and for the way in which they provide care.
I am also aware that the noble Earl is concerned that the duty to have regard will mean that the constitution will not have any bite. I therefore remind him that much of the constitution is not new to the NHS. It contains many existing legal rights and where there are new ones, guidance will be published specific to those new rights.
I should like to clarify an issue about having regard to a right. A right in the constitution is a legal right; there is no such thing as a right in the constitution which is not underpinned by legislation. Similarly, the pledges reflect good practice and current departmental policy. Many are underpinned by existing performance mechanisms—in other words how we guarantee that these pledges are delivered. They are underpinned by existing performance mechanisms such as the operating framework. There is no possibility of them being ignored.
That leaves us with the principles, the values and the responsibilities. As I said, many of the principles are derived from existing legislation and do not represent a new way of working for the NHS. I do not think it would be appropriate to give guidance on how to have regard to the NHS’s values or to patients’ responsibilities, for example. In my view, the best guide that the department can give the NHS on what is meant by “having regard to the constitution” is the advice that the chief executive of the NHS has already given in his letter to the chairs and chief executives.
I sympathise with the noble Earl in relation to how we make this stronger. To produce formal guidance, as eloquently advised by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, on the meaning of “having regard to the constitution”, the department would have to list every kind of action that an organisation would have to take to demonstrate that it has had regard. Even if I am surrounded by the best brains, I promise noble Lords that we will get this wrong. As I said in Committee, I do not believe that this is possible or appropriate and I will not repeat my comments here. I believe that the guidance is unnecessary from a legal point of view. As we have heard today, “to have regard” is established legal terminology. It has been used, as the noble Earl suggested, in previous health Acts—the Health and Social Care Act 2008, and the Health Act 2006.
I sympathise with what the noble Earl is trying to achieve. The challenge in the NHS is how to get the constitution embedded in the mindset of all of us who work in the NHS and how to disseminate that information to those who use the NHS. That challenge will be met only with dialogue across the system. I hope that I have reassured the noble Earl enough for him to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, and my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay for taking part in this debate. My noble and learned friend indicated that it would be very difficult to formulate guidance. I do not doubt that he is right. However, at one and the same time, he had a pretty good shot at framing some of the main points which such guidance might contain. I do not think that it is a totally impossible business. Nevertheless, I recognise its complexity. My noble and learned friend drew out the point that the degree of regard which should be taken of different elements within the constitution changes in accordance with the matter in question. For example, a right is a right, as the Minister pointed out, and it is not enough simply to have regard to it; you have to implement it and honour it. Part of what would be teased out by guidance in the broadest sense is the scope for confusion and settling that.
The same applies to values. If one takes two of the values contained in the constitution, respect and dignity, one sees that they are meant to guide the NHS in all that it does. That is what we are told and what we would expect but what does it mean to say that the NHS merely has to have regard to them? Either it has those values or it does not. Equally, if we take the principle that the NHS aspires to the highest standards of excellence and professionalism, what does it mean to say that an NHS body merely has to have regard to that aspiration? Either it aspires to the highest standards of professionalism or it does not. If it does not, in what kinds of circumstances may it not do so? But for my noble and learned friend, those questions would have been left somewhat open by this debate; I think they are less open now than they were. For that, I thank him.
The Minister did not cover the issue of staff. Will individual members of staff within NHS bodies be bound by the duty to have regard to the constitution? I am not sure I understood whether I had got it right or not. As the Minister will remember from my opening remarks, I suggested that the Bill should be interpreted as imposing a duty on NHS bodies and organisations; in other words, the boards of those bodies, rather than each and every member of staff. If I am wrong in that I should be very grateful if the Minister would write to me. For now, with thanks to all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 9 withdrawn.
Clause 3 : Availability, review and revision of NHS Constitution
10: Clause 3, page 3, line 15, at end insert “and bodies or other persons representing patients”
My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendments 11 to 14 and 17. Amendments 10 to 14 propose that the Secretary of State is specifically required to consult bodies or persons representing patients, bodies or persons representing staff, carers and local authorities in any 10-yearly review of the constitution. The definition of carers and local authorities is set out. Amendment 17 requires that the Secretary of State explicitly considers the effect of the constitution on carers, in addition to patients, public and staff, during the three-yearly report.
In Grand Committee, we had an important debate about the role of carers, local authorities and other bodies in the functioning of the NHS. Many noble Lords spoke to amendments proposing that certain bodies be explicitly consulted during the 10-yearly review of the constitution, and that carers be included in the report on the impact of the constitution. I am grateful to them for their suggestions.
As I explained at the time, the Government believe that, as originally drafted, the legislation regarding the 10-yearly review of the constitution captured the bodies mentioned during debate. For example, the duty in Clause 3(5) to consult,
“such other persons as the Secretary of State considers appropriate”,
during the 10-yearly review of the constitution would capture local authorities, and the duties in subsections (3) and (5) to consult “members of the public” would, of course, include carers. I also attempted to reassure noble Lords that, where any revision of the constitution affects certain bodies, it is fully our intent to consult them. Bodies representing patients and staff, carers and local authorities have been, and will remain, vital groups in shaping the constitution and any future changes to it.
However, I was struck by the force of argument in Committee and I promised to look again at the drafting of the clauses. I have considered further and am persuaded that there is a strong case for explicit mention of certain bodies in the Bill. It is for those reasons that I have tabled these amendments, proposing that the Secretary of State be explicitly required to consult carers, local authorities and bodies representing patients and staff, and to report on the impact of the constitution on carers.
Noble Lords will understand that legislation does not need to list every person and body to be consulted or reported on in detail. Referring to bodies representing staff and bodies representing patients allows us to capture bodies which were also mentioned in Committee, such as Local Involvement Networks, as mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Howe, and trade unions and professional organisations, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours. We believe that these amendments strike the right balance. They ensure that carers and other bodies are represented and must be specifically consulted, while also respecting the concern raised in Committee about listing a large number of organisations in the Bill. I hope noble Lords are content with these amendments. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for considering the points made in Grand Committee by noble Lords on all sides, and for having brought forward these amendments in response to those debates. They are extremely welcome.
My Lords, can the Minister give examples of bodies that might be representing patients? As the community councils are no more, there is a lack of bodies representing patients, and some patient organisations are very small and may not be able to do this without financial help.
My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for these amendments. They are entirely appropriate and I am glad that he has taken account of the strength of feeling all around the House. It is entirely right that carers, who are such major providers of healthcare but who also have special health needs themselves because of their caring duties, should be recognised as they are in Amendments 12 and 13. Carers everywhere will be extremely grateful for this recognition of their contribution and status. Amendments 10 and 11 are proof of the Government’s proud record of support for patient-centred organisations; National Voices is only one of them. The NHS is infinitely more patient-focused now than it was 10 years ago, and for that the Government deserve praise.
My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for the consideration that he has given to the points made so strongly and sincerely in Committee. I know that many of the groups that were active in putting forward amendments would wish us to put their thanks on record, too. Politically, this might be one of the most important parts of the Bill. I suspect that during the next five to 10 years the NHS will go through some major transitions, perhaps the most major in its existence, and that its purpose, scope and nature might become even more hotly contested and debated matters than they are now. It is therefore extremely important that we put in this legislation the right of these people to be involved at the heart of those discussions.
I do not wish to be churlish, but can the Minister explicitly assure me that the organisations representing patients in his amendments include former patients and carers of former patients? There persists in the NHS a feeling that all former patients want to complain. I do not think that that is true. Former patients and carers often have valid experiences and they are quite passionate about wanting the NHS to improve. I made the point in Committee and I wonder if it could be included in the reply.
My Lords, I want to reassure the noble Baroness. The best learning we can get in the NHS is achieved by consulting former patients. LINks is one of many groups representing patients that might be consulted.
Amendment 10 agreed.
Amendments 11 to 14
11: Clause 3, page 3, line 16, at end insert “and bodies or other persons representing staff”
12: Clause 3, page 3, line 16, at end insert—
“( ) carers, ( ) local authorities,”
13: Clause 3, page 3, line 22, at end insert—
““carers” means persons who, as relatives or friends, care for other persons to whom NHS services are being provided;”
14: Clause 3, page 3, line 35, at end insert—
“(9) For the purposes of subsection (5), each of the following is a local authority—
(a) a county council in England;(b) a district council in England, other than a council for a district in a county for which there is a county council;(c) a London borough council;(d) the Common Council of the City of London;(e) the Council of the Isles of Scilly.”
Amendments 11 to 14 agreed.
Clause 4 : Availability, review and revision of Handbook
15: Clause 4, page 3, line 41, at end insert—
“( ) Before any revision of the Handbook, the Secretary of State shall consult such persons (if any) as in all circumstances he may consider appropriate.”
My Lords, I want to point out a small error in the printing. The amendment should read:
“Before any revision of the Handbook, the Secretary of State shall consult such persons (if any) as in all the circumstances he may consider appropriate”.
With this amendment I bring us back to the issue of who, if anyone, should be consulted when the handbook is revised. As the Bill stands, the Secretary of State may go ahead and revise the handbook without being under a duty to consult anyone at all. In Grand Committee a number of us questioned that. What it means, effectively, is that the Secretary of State has sole power to interpret the constitution as he sees fit. I realise that he would not do that in any way irresponsibly, but it was something that left some of us uncomfortable in the sense that it should be a collaborative process. It also means that those with the closest knowledge of how the constitution works, or should work, in practice have no say at all in the way that the manual to the constitution is drafted. They have no right to make a contribution to that process.
That seems, at the very least, short-sighted, but it is also wrong in principle. In reply in Grand Committee, the Minister made two associated points. The first one was that it would not be proportionate for the Secretary of State to have to consult on every minor change which might only be technical. The second one was that if the change was a more significant one relating to a policy issue, the Government would already have consulted on it, so there would be a lot of unnecessary extra bureaucracy if the Secretary of State also had to consult on the change to the handbook which brought the change of policy into play.
I understand both those arguments, but I accept the second one only up to a certain point. The purpose of consulting on changes to the handbook is not just to obtain people’s views on changes in government policy. It is just as much to ensure that the information in the handbook is accessible, intelligible and workable. The Minister said in our earlier debate:
“The intention behind the regular reviews of the handbook is to assess whether the handbook continues to be fit for purpose for patients, public and staff”.—[Official Report, 26/2/09; col. GC 155.]
If that is so, there is, at the very least, a prima facie case for involving staff, as well as patients and the public, in the review process. After all, there was consultation when the handbook was initially drawn up.
I am the first to want to avoid burdening everybody with unnecessary and pointless consultation. No one wants that. But I do suggest to the Minister that, from time to time, there could be a good case for consulting key stakeholders about changes being made to the wording of the handbook. This would not necessarily be when major changes of policy were in prospect, but rather when the practical implications of new or existing policy required explaining in clear and appropriate terms. This is one area of life where I do not believe that the Secretary of State or the Department of Health has a monopoly of wisdom. As it stands, the Bill gives the Secretary of State that monopoly. I, for one, am not comfortable about that, which is why I beg to move.
My Lords, Amendment 15 proposes that,
“the Secretary of State shall consult persons … as in all the circumstances he may consider appropriate”,
on any revisions of the handbook. In our previous debate on Amendments 3, 7 and 8, which proposed that bodies be under a duty to have regard to the handbook as well as the constitution, I clarified our intentions behind the purpose and status of the handbook, although I promised that I would look at it again. Just as it would be incongruous to impose a duty on bodies that must have regard to the constitution also to have regard to the handbook, it would be disproportionate to impose a formal duty to consult on any revisions to the handbook. I agree with the noble Earl that any significant changes to policy or law that affect the handbook are likely to trigger consultation requirements in themselves, either by virtue of statute or because there will be an expectation that we should consult or comply with the Government’s code of practice on consultation.
For this reason, we have chosen not to oblige the Secretary of State to consult again before amending the handbook, even for significant changes. The Secretary of State may need to make minor technical or legal changes to the handbook at any time to reflect current departmental policy or changes in the law. It certainly would not be proportionate to have to consult on a change of this kind. For the handbook to be useful as an explanatory guide for patients, public and staff, it is important that it should remain a live document that is constantly kept up to date. We want it to be as helpful as possible. A duty to consult on all changes, however minor, would impede this.
The intention behind the three-yearly reviews of the handbook is to assess whether it continues to be fit for purpose for patients, public and staff, as we debated in Grand Committee. For these reviews we will, of course, continue to involve on an informal basis those patients, public, staff and other stakeholders—as the noble Earl suggested—who were involved during the development of the handbook. We will do this to ensure that the handbook continues to be a relevant and useful document. This approach has been supported by stakeholders; one example is UNISON.
Again, I reassure noble Lords that the constitution cannot be amended via revisions to the handbook. Noble Lords will be aware of our previous debates. We have to ensure that the process for consulting on the constitution is robust. I hope I have reassured noble Lords that while we fully intend to involve patients, public and staff as necessary in each review of the handbook, we do not feel that it is necessary to impose a formal duty on the Secretary of State to do so. Once again, I hope I have reassured the noble Earl and that he will withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his reply and I respect his position. I reworded the amendment that I tabled in Grand Committee to allow discretion for the Secretary of State not to consult on a particular change to the handbook if, in the circumstances, he felt that it was appropriate. This is not as sweeping an amendment as the one that we debated previously. I come back to the point that we need to bear in mind that the drawing up of the handbook that we have now was the subject of extensive consultation, so it is not altogether anomalous to suggest that revisions should be similarly consulted upon. Nevertheless, this is not a matter that it would be appropriate for me to press. I take note of what the Minister said and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 15 withdrawn.
Amendment 16 not moved.
Clause 5: Report on effect of NHS Constitution
17: Clause 5, page 4, line 3, after “staff” insert “, carers”
Amendment 17 agreed.
Clause 7: Supplementary provision about the duty
18: Clause 7, page 5, line 33, at end insert—
“(7A) Subsection (7) does not apply if—
(a) the provider does not have control of the premises, or(b) the services are provided by means such that the persons receiving them do not do so at the premises.”
My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Howe, tabled an amendment which we discussed in Grand Committee that sought to exempt two classes of premises from the requirement to display a notice about quality accounts. They were private dwellings and premises to which the public do not normally have access. I undertook to think further about this issue and come back on Report. Following further legal advice I agreed that we need to make the clause more explicit. The new provision would exclude certain premises from the requirement to display a notice. They are premises that the provider does not own or run, such as the patient’s own home; or premises that the provider owns or runs but that patients do not directly access, such as a pathology lab. Our guidance will encourage providers to think about how they will publicise their quality accounts with patients whom they see off-site. I am very grateful to the noble Earl for his scrutiny, and for that of the Committee, in bringing about improvements in the drafting. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the Minister again for his consideration of the points that I made in Grand Committee and for moving this excellent amendment. I really am very grateful to him.
Amendment 18 agreed.
19: After Clause 7, insert the following new Clause—
“Quality of data
(1) The Health and Social Care 2008 (c. 14) is amended as follows.
(2) In section 20 (regulations of regulated activities), after subsection (3)(j) insert—
“(ja) make provision as to the collection and analysis of data used in the preparation of quality accounts;”.”
My Lords, we had a useful and wide-ranging debate in Grand Committee about possible ways in which quality accounts might be quality assured, in the sense of their being subject to external audit or being otherwise validated for accuracy and reliability. The Minister, if I do not misrepresent him, expressed a good deal of sympathy with the concept of validation, but saw no need to insist on a formal audit as such.
I respect the Minister’s point of view, and I do not propose that NHS bodies should be burdened with any additional regulatory requirements. However, I still see accuracy as one of the cornerstones for the success and credibility of quality accounts. My concern has been brought into sharp focus by the recent publication of the Audit Commission’s report on data quality in the NHS, Figures You Can Trust. If noble Lords have not read this report, I respectfully recommend that they do. The Audit Commission’s research—which was partly desk-based and partly involved inspections of several trusts—found that there is, to put it mildly, a great deal of room for improvement in the reliability of NHS data.
The error rate in clinical coding, for example, ranged from 0.3 per cent to 52 per cent, a range described by the commission as varying from excellent to wholly unacceptable. The average error rate was 9.4 per cent. The commission identified four main factors that it believes lie behind this. One is the training of staff; another is lack of involvement by clinicians; another is a lack of clarity in specific areas of the coding system; and the fourth is the quality of the source documentation and records. The reviews found that although trust boards devoted a significant amount of scrutiny to financial information, there was little evidence that they discussed or challenged the quality of other data. Indeed, the responsibility for quality assurance of data is typically delegated to information managers. The result of that is that many trusts do not have the knowledge or expertise at senior level to challenge the reliability of the data that are submitted to them. Not enough importance is attached to data quality at board level and there are no systematic programmes to enable trust boards to review the accuracy of such data. In general, the need to make sure that information is accurate is not seen as being an organisational responsibility of which everyone in the trust has a duty to take ownership.
Against that backdrop, it is not surprising that the commission sounded a warning about quality accounts. It said:
“If quality accounts are to have the same status as financial accounts and if patients and the public are to have confidence in the data that they contain, the quality of the data should be subject to internal and external review”.
That is paragraph 56. It goes on to say that it does not think that this needs to be on the same scale as for financial accounts, which are subject to detailed internal and external audit,
““But we do consider that boards should put in place the kind of assurance programme outlined above and declare in their quality accounts that they have done so”.
The assurance programme it refers to is the one currently being piloted in NHS North West for payment by results. There is an obvious read-across here to quality accounts because quality accounts, as the commission points out, will rely on accurate clinical coding and secondary-uses service data.
The report usefully suggests that commissioners of NHS care could play a much stronger role in scrutinising information provided to them by trusts, which is surely right. The same applies to strategic health authorities. We need think only of Mid-Staffordshire in that context. It also suggests that regulators have an important part to play in improving data quality in the NHS. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, was very quick to dismiss this idea when we debated it in Grand Committee. I was suggesting then, if noble Lords remember, that the Care Quality Commission should be given the task of auditing the accuracy of a trust’s quality accounts. The noble Baroness did not like that idea at all—and I guess if she does not want to do it, it will not be done—but the suggestion that I made could be finessed if, instead of an audit role, we were to give the CQC the responsibility of assessing at the pre-registration stage how accurate and reliable an NHS body was in collating and analysing the data that it produced for its quality accounts. Competence in that area could be one of the standards that a trust had to meet before being allowed to operate. The amendment I have tabled makes this proposal, and I make it in all seriousness.
The importance of data quality in the NHS has never been higher. Leaving aside quality accounts, we have to think only of payment by results and the tariff system. But, at the same time, the problems identified by the Audit Commission could be considerably ameliorated simply by involving and engaging clinicians in the whole process. Generally speaking, that does not happen at the moment because much of the data that are currently collected relate to targets and processes rather than to clinical practice or the quality of care. I am sure the Minister will agree that the closer involvement of clinicians is inherently more likely when quality accounts come on stream because clinicians have a direct interest in making sure that the facts are not misrepresented. At the same time, the commission’s report suggests that if a trust submits poor quality data, there need to be punitive consequences built in to the performance management process. So the answer lies in a top-down as well as a bottom-up series of initiatives.
I hope that the Minister will think carefully about these suggestions. I put them forward in a genuinely constructive spirit, although I realise that I may be at risk of being shot down again by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, when she reads Hansard. I hope not. For now, I beg to move.
My Lords, the amendment highlights the reservations that I have had all along about quality accounts. Of course we want quality in the health service, and there should be some way of measuring the quality of its work, but unless these data are collected properly, unless they are the right data and unless they are properly audited by an independent person or persons, they are not really going to be worth while.
Of course, if we are talking about quality, we will have to involve the clinical staff. I am concerned that the clinical staff will be burdened with more bureaucracy and more forms to fill in. Instead of getting together and having proper clinical discussions about how their teams could improve their performances, which is how the noble Lord, Lord Darzi, referred to it when he introduced the subject, forms will be prepared by the department of quality and they will have boxes to tick. It will all descend to that rather banal level. I am very concerned about this. The principle is excellent and it goes without saying that we want quality in the NHS, but I am still totally unconvinced that this will have the right outcome.
My Lords, Amendment 19, tabled by the noble Earl, Lord Howe, seeks to give the CQC a role in the data collection and analysis that go into preparing quality accounts. As I said in Grand Committee, I share the noble Earl’s view that data used in the preparation of quality accounts should be of the highest standards. The question is how to reach that stage of the highest quality of data. That is where we differ. I believe that the only way in which we will improve the quality of our data is to have clinicians taking ownership of the data that they provide and a clear framework of safety, effectiveness and patient experience.
I assure noble Lords that one of the most gratifying things about High Quality Care for All is that it captures what drives clinicians. Quality is the organising principle of the NHS. We are introducing the process of clinicians taking ownership of the data and publicly reporting them following engagement with the clinical community across the country. The pride of any clinician is to publicly report the data on the care that they provide. I sympathise with the noble Baroness in relation to some of the challenges that measuring and collecting these data may bring. We are strongly encouraging the NHS to appoint further staff to help in the collection of these data and to improve the coding of many procedures and episodes of care that are provided through the NHS.
I also believe that we need analytical power, epidemiological support and statistical competencies in the NHS. That is why we will be announcing the creation of 10 quality observatories in the 10 strategic health authorities. The function of these quality observatories will be to collect and analyse these data and, more importantly, to give them weighting against age, social deprivation and the disease entity. The data in themselves need to be refined and analysed before they become useful. The purpose of collecting these data is to empower clinicians to use the measures against the standards in constantly engaging in quality improvement. That is what drives clinicians; that is the movement that we are trying to create on the back of that.
The noble Earl mentioned the north-west. He is right that the north-west has started a process of improving the quality of its data by working with external stakeholders. I believe that it has the best data collection system in the country. However, it did that by engaging its clinicians, who took ownership of the data. I suggest to the noble Earl that the NHS collects more data than any other healthcare system, but it does not have ownership of it. That is what will improve the quality. The regulator is not the person to do that, but the clinicians—those who are involved in care.
That comes back to the second point raised by the noble Earl in his amendment, on the quality assurance of the data. As I have suggested previously, I strongly believe that commissioners, patient representatives and local communities could and should challenge organisations on the quality of data. The noble Earl also referred to the Audit Commission, which said that commissioners have a strong role in ensuring quality assurance. I will also support that way of ensuring that those who commission the services will, based on the information from the providers, constantly appraise and encourage them to seek that external validation; that is their job, rather than the job of the regulator in the form of the CQC. When the noble Baroness, Lady Young, was concerned about this in Grand Committee, I sympathised with her because the regulator, who is independent, is there to ensure that core standards of care are maintained rather than to assure the data quality. I believe that the commissioners should probably be playing a greater role in that.
The noble Earl and I agree on the principles of improving data quality and I hope that I have reassured him that we have policies in which we can, at least, engage clinicians and provide them with the tools to make that happen. I hope that he will, therefore, be able to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, that was a helpful answer from the Minister and I thank him for it. We would all acknowledge that there is good practice, as well as less good practice, in this area, but there are no doubt problems to be addressed. How best do we do that? Part of the answer lies in encouraging accreditation, as I argued in Grand Committee; part of it lies in external review and in performance management. Most of all, however, the answer lies in better collaboration between clinicians, finance officers and business managers, with, as the Minister rightly said, clinicians taking ownership of data. The arrival of quality accounts creates a real opportunity in that sense.
Again, however, we should not forget about setting appropriate standards for data quality. The Audit Commission said in paragraph 57 of its report:
“Standards used for regulation and registration should include a requirement to ensure the quality of data and to submit accurate information. The current Standards for Better Health omits this. Use and submission of poor quality data should have direct regulatory consequences”.
Therefore, it envisaged the CQC being involved in this area. Clinicians, as the Minister indicated, are likely to take ownership of the raw data for such things as patient outcome and mortality ratios. They are less likely to be closely involved in the statistical analysis of the data, an area where there is scope for things to go awry. We need to be mindful that there is a limit to the extent to which clinicians can oversee everything produced as statistics. Nevertheless, as so often, and in this area above all, I have confidence in the Minister wanting to get things right. I have no doubt that he is doing his level best to ensure that this part of the Bill will result in something that we can all value and be proud of, so I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 19 withdrawn.
Clause 8 : Regulations under section 6
20: Clause 8, page 5, line 38, leave out subsection (2)
My Lords, in moving Amendment 20, I shall also speak to Amendments 21, 35, 36 and 37. The Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee has recommended two changes to the Bill. The first relates to the procedure for exercising powers to create secondary legislation relating to quality accounts; the second relates to consultation by the trust special administrator on the draft report. These amendments act on those recommendations.
First, on quality accounts, the committee has recommended that the mechanism for exercising the powers in Clause 6(5) be subject to the negative procedure, including the first occasion on which the power is used. The powers in subsection (5) enable the Secretary of State to make regulations to omit prescribed providers or providers of prescribed services from the duty to publish a quality account. It would not be desirable to list the providers to be omitted for the time being from the requirement, as the policy with regard to these providers will change over time and the flexibility of secondary legislation is needed to ensure that they can be appropriately included or excluded.
We originally considered the affirmative procedure appropriate when the power was first exercised, since the intention is to omit specified providers from the ambit of the duty currently under consideration. The negative procedure was considered appropriate for subsequent amendments to those regulations, since the intention is that the power will, in most cases, then be used to extend the duty to publish quality accounts to those previously excluded. The committee considers that the negative procedure should provide an adequate level of scrutiny even on the first occasion. The regulations will be subject to public consultation before we bring them before Parliament and there remains, of course, the option for the Merits Committee to comment on them and recommend further parliamentary debate as appropriate.
On the recommendations relating to trust special administrators, new Section 65H of the National Health Service Act 2006, proposed in Clause 13, requires those administrators to consult certain persons specified in that section—for example, staff and staff representatives—on a draft report. Subsections (7)(c) and (10) of the new section currently permit the Secretary of State to prescribe in regulations additional persons from whom the trust special administrator should request a written response, or with whom they should meet. Amendments 36 and 37 change the mechanisms by which the power is exercised from regulations to directions. Amendment 35 is a technical drafting amendment to bring about consistency in wording.
Amendments 36 and 37 are in direct response to the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee’s recommendations that the mechanism for exercising the powers relating to consultation by the trust special administrator should be consistent for NHS trusts and PCTs. The committee took the view that parliamentary scrutiny was not necessary, favouring the approach that has been taken for PCTs. I am grateful to the committee for its recommendations and I beg to move.
Amendment 20 agreed.
21: Clause 8, page 5, line 41, leave out “Subject to that,”
Amendment 21 agreed.
22: After Clause 8, insert the following new Clause—
“Duty of providers to account for car park revenue
(1) Each of the bodies listed in section 6(2) must, in accordance with regulations made by the Secretary of State, produce a report in respect of each reporting period which accounts for the use of revenue raised from all car parks under their control.
(2) The report must contain the following—
(a) the level of revenue raised from each car park,(b) a breakdown of how the revenue has been distributed, which clearly specifies if and how the revenue has been spent to directly improve healthcare provision,(c) the tariffs charged in each car park, including any special rates for hospital staff or members of the public who have driven patients to hospital.”
My Lords, I apologise to the House that I was not able to give this amendment an airing in Committee. However, I feel strongly that it is absolutely wrong that people should have to pay a large proportion of their wage in car parking fees, particularly for the more menial tasks for which they get paid in hospitals, such as cleaning floors. This also affects those who arrive at a hospital to attend the accident and emergency department. You may, for example, only have a broken finger and so will put in enough money for the four hours that is meant to be the maximum time before you are seen. However, if it takes a little longer than that, you may get back to your car to find it clamped. As I have said, the main point of the amendment is for the Government to look favourably in particular on lower-paid workers within the National Health Service and those who visit people who are terminally ill or under conditions of accident and emergency. I beg to move.
My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, was unable to move this amendment in Committee, we did not get the chance to talk about it. I wish to give him some support, although I have no doubt that the Government will not. I know that the Scottish Executive have introduced measures of this kind; indeed, they have gone further and are bringing in measures to stop hospitals raising revenue from car parks. The amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, does not go that far.
I support the noble Lord’s amendment for two reasons. First, members of the public are angered beyond measure because they believe that they have no choice in many cases other than to take private transport to hospitals, when they are put in a situation where the NHS is making money from their disadvantage.
The amendment is important, secondly, because there are some patients for whom car parking fees at hospital are detrimental to their healthcare. Many years ago, when I worked in Age Concern, we did a study on non-emergency patient transport, which in those days was being cut back so severely that many older people were forced to make private arrangements to go to hospital. We called our report A Helicopter Would Be Nice, because that is what one of the people said to us. We found older people not going to hospital for appointments that they needed until they could arrange for their relatives to fly back from abroad to take them, or until they could rely on neighbours to take them. Time and again in our research, the stress of car parking and of taking people to hospital and having to run in and out of A&E departments to make sure that the parking meter was topped up came through as something that was not conducive to older people’s health and well-being.
The noble Lord, Lord Palmer, has in a limited way hit on a big problem, which the NHS has a duty at least to examine. If all that it does is come clean about the amount of money that it is making from car parking, it would be a great step forward.
My Lords, I understood that it was one of the principles of the National Health Service that services provided should in general be free at the point of provision. A car park at a hospital is really an ancillary service. People do not go to the hospital for the sake of entertainment or anything of that kind; they go for the sake of receiving a service in the hospital. I commend to the noble Lord the good example north of the border, where, apart from in public/private partnerships, the Government have abolished car parking charges in the hospitals under their control. That is an example that would be well followed.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, has proposed a new clause that seeks to require trusts to justify their policies on charges for car parking. The idea has merit and should be given consideration, but it ought to be covered in guidance and offered as an example of an issue that could be of local concern. This would achieve the best fit with the way in which quality accounts are being designed, assuming that the noble Lord’s intention is that the duty should form part of a quality account.
If providers wish to talk about car parking charges from a patient experience point of view, they are free to do so. I strongly encourage providers to do that, because it is clearly an issue of concern. I shall not try to address the comments of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, in relation to contrasting policies on charging north of the border and in England, because I am sure that we shall have opportunities to debate it. However, the matter is of concern to patients and it should be reflected through the patient experience matrix that we are developing with the health service. One’s experience in a hospital is not purely one’s experience in a ward or that of the care that one receives from a surgeon; it also includes one’s experience of the environment and the car park facilities that might be available, as well as the costs associated with it. We updated the guidance on car parking charges in November 2008 and I shall be more than happy to send copies to noble Lords.
I reassure noble Lords that the income generated from car parking charges must be used to improve health services within a trust. It does not leave the trust; that is an important point to make. The whole process of designing quality accounts should be inclusive. Ideas must come from the front line, which includes patients, user groups and others at a local level.
I hope that I have reassured the noble Lord that it is our intention to measure all aspects of experience. I shall strongly suggest that this matter be part of the experience indicators that we are currently developing. If the noble Lord feels that I have addressed some of his concerns, I hope that that will give him the opportunity to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, for her support. I listened with great care to what the Minister said and I shall read it most carefully tomorrow in Hansard. He did not, however, respond to my point about lower-paid members of staff, who greatly concern me. The fact that people who earn not very much over and above the minimum wage have to spend a vast proportion of their income to park their cars is of great concern. I shall read carefully what the Minister said and may well bring this back at the next stage of the Bill. Meanwhile, I thank the Minister for his response. I hope that he will take on board the fact that there is a very serious point behind the amendment. I beg leave to withdraw it.
Amendment 22 withdrawn.
Consideration on Report adjourned until not before 8.37 pm.
Question for Short Debate
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they will take to ensure that the United Nations can act in accordance with the objectives outlined in the preamble to the Charter of the United Nations.
My Lords, this is clearly an important debate with a large number of speakers. I take this opportunity to remind noble Lords that if they stick to their allocated time of three minutes, it will allow all noble Lords a fair opportunity to speak within the hour.
My Lords, today’s debate is an opportunity to explore the options for reforming the United Nations to re-establish its position as the pre-eminent institution in global politics. The UN was created on 24 October 1945 with a commitment from 50 founding members to provide a strong body with power to provide a forum for debate and resolution to preserve the peace. The role of the United Nations has developed and diversified in the 63 years since its inception, yet many of the founding challenges remain.
The horrors that confronted the Allied and Red armies in eastern Europe motivated the founding members of the United Nations to make it much more powerful than the League of Nations. It was given the organs and strength to go further than simply preventing war. It is perhaps in this realm of world health and the codification of human rights where the UN has had its most impressive and unique successes.
As problematic as it may be to conceive of a world where the United Nations had not been created, it is equally difficult to imagine that so much would have been achieved in these areas without the work of those who have so generously served under its name. A World Health Organisation programme eradicated smallpox. UN awareness campaigns limited the scourge of landmines, HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases.
Despite its varied and historic achievements, the central organ of the United Nations—the Security Council—is in a state of near total paralysis, perennially handicapped by its inability to deliver in the face of adversity. In pursuit of two of its central goals, the maintenance of international peace and security and the protection of human rights, the UN has fallen short of its establishing ideals.
When the United Nations was conceived, the shadow of the horrors of World War II still loomed large, not least the collective shame of the international community on discovering the fate of so many in Auschwitz, Belsen and beyond. Yet just half a century later in Rwanda, more than 800,000 people were murdered with nothing more sophisticated than a machete, for nothing more arbitrary than their ancestry. Soldiers wearing the blue beret of the UN peacekeepers were forced to stand by as Tutsi men, women and children were barbarically slaughtered.
Without the mettle, legitimacy or support to act, these peacekeeping actions have even served to worsen the suffering. UN troops with flimsy rules of engagement were used as a human shield while nearly 8,000 Muslim men and boys were ethically cleansed in Srebrenica. Even today in Darfur, essentially the same things are happening with the same wretched and feeble response from the international community. More could—and should—be done. The UN can go some way to addressing this dire need. With these stark and harrowing examples I seek not to shock or appal but to say that we could and should have done better.
We in the United Kingdom must accept our share of responsibility for these failings and ensure that we help to create a United Nations with the funding, structures, transparency and legitimacy to act where it has so painfully failed in the past, a UN whose actions are more than just an amalgamation of the interests of the United States, China, Russia, France and the United Kingdom, and one whose response is not muted and activity not hindered by a structure so spectacularly out of step with a globalised and independent world. While disputes and hostilities are invariably complex and contradictory, surely giving the United Nations the tools to act is much more agreeable than simply looking on as lives are extinguished on an unimaginably horrific scale.
In 1993, the UN General Assembly established an open-ended working group on Security Council reform. The commitment to change was reaffirmed in the millennium development goals but the status quo persists. It is absurd in the multi-polar world of the 21st century that the power of the United Nations is concentrated in the hands of the victors of World War II. Is it not preposterous that Africa and South America, together representing more than 23 per cent of the world’s population, have no permanent representation on the UN Security Council? Many of the conflicts and humanitarian crises that persist today stem from the post-colonial legacy of failed states in Africa, yet they have no voice at the table—an oversight, perhaps.
The United Nations has often been accused of acting only in the interests of its most powerful participant. In recent years, that has been the United States, using the UN to gain legitimacy where it could, acting unilaterally where it could not. Over the next 20 years, many believe that the role of chief puppeteer will fall to China. We are at a crossroads where the opportunity to change and enhance the UN sits comfortably with our own national interests. This, perhaps more than any other reason, defines why we should act now in pursuing genuine and systemic change at the UN.
As it did with the creation of the United Nations, the UK should be taking a lead with reform. We need carefully to consider what changes we support to make the United Nations a more effective body. Failure to effect meaningful change would only serve to betray those who fought so fiercely to provide us with a seat at the table. The UK Government’s current position is support for the expansion of the Security Council to include Brazil, Germany, India, Japan and African representation.
In a world of failed states and terrorist threats, it is almost inconceivable that the United Nations continues to concentrate its power in the permanent five, veto-holding powers. Britain is almost uniquely placed among the 192 member states of the UN to take the lead in redressing this asymmetric balance of power. Could we not be bold and cede our right to the veto in exchange for a genuine and far-reaching transformation? One could argue that we would gain influence and achieve more in forgoing our veto and supporting expansion than by maintaining the existing norms.
Maybe relinquishing the veto would be too hard a pill to swallow but we could make the Security Council more effective by limiting its use. This could be achieved through a number of strategies from unilateral action to institutional change. All too often the paralysis which befalls the Security Council is the result of one of the P5 vetoing a resolution supported by the rest of its members. One viable proposal is to change the influence of the veto by insisting that no single member of the P5 could unilaterally veto a resolution supported by the remaining four. No single power could continually act as a wrecking ball against the consensus of the wider international community, thereby freeing the Security Council to consolidate its primacy as the authoritative body in maintaining international peace and security.
The United Kingdom is currently the fourth largest contributor of UN funding, supplying just over 6.6 per cent of the regular budget. Yet the United Nations is chronically under-funded, hindered not least by the failure of some of the world’s richest nations to pay their share. Although a difficult argument to win in our current economic crisis, we should consider the implications of pressure on this budget and look closely at the need to expand it. Money alone will not be the solution to the UN’s ills but we cannot continue to expect it to achieve more while we starve it of funding.
One of the useful things additional funds could pay for is a permanent secretariat for the Security Council. I believe we could instil within it an institutional memory, making more effective the contribution of those elected members.
I have run out of time, so I end by thanking those who have put their names forward to speak in this debate.
My Lords, among the great pleasures of working in your Lordships' House is not just that wonderful debates are introduced, as this one was by the noble Baroness, Lady Howells of St Davids, but also the quality of participants with so much experience. To have a debate on the United Nations with the participation of the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, and a response from the noble Lord, Lord Malloch-Brown, as the Minister, is just another example of that marvellous opportunity.
The preamble to the charter of the United Nations talks about it being an organisation, but I remember some years ago speaking with an old friend, Ahmad Kamal, who was the ambassador of Pakistan to the United Nations for about 17 years and who told me that the United Nations was not an organisation but a table—a place where people meet and talk about things. I think that what he meant was that there are many of the attributes of an organisation that the United Nations does not have. The United Nations has moral authority but for the authority of its decisions it has to resort to the sovereign states—particularly the permanent five and the other members of the Security Council. The noble Baroness mentioned the problem of resources. It is a question not just of financial resources but of resources of people. For military resources and peacekeeping operations, the United Nations is dependent on states agreeing, first, to stump up with the numbers and, secondly, producing the numbers that they undertake to provide in due time and with appropriate quality. On implementation, it is not as in a national situation when one can implement laws and depend on the administration of justice from the police and the courts to ensure that they are implemented. Many decisions are taken by the United Nations and it proves impossible to implement them; sometimes repeated decisions are made about various parts of the world and it proves impossible to take them very much further. These are difficult problems.
One outcome of the United Nations being a table, rather than an organisation, is that it has gradually lost vigour and momentum over the years. If one looks back at the vision of the person who will, I suppose, not be disputed as the greatest of the Secretary-Generals, Dag Hammarskjold, one sees that he brought with him a great conviction and passion for peace and a different world. To some extent that has fallen foul of national interests rather than what the charter calls common interests. As a country, we find ourselves probably better at instituting wars and military operations than in instituting peacekeeping forces backed by the tremendous experience of our military and focusing sometimes more on the technology of military operations than on the capacities of our people. We have also failed to capitalise fully on the remarkable network of relationships in the Commonwealth, which is exemplified fully in the United Nations, not only by smaller countries but by powerful countries such as Canada, India, Australia and South Africa.
I shall listen with great interest to what noble Lords say, with their experience, but I hope that we see more vigour on the part of our Government in this regard.
My Lords, when I worked at the United Nations Association in the early 1970s, the late Lord Caradon used to joke that the UN is a wonderful idea, but that the people in it are the problem.
The preamble is wonderful—as relevant and eloquent today as ever. The UN, through its agencies for economic, social and humanitarian work, has pioneered the transition from peacekeeping to peacebuilding, and confidence in the UN must be strengthened if that vital work is not to be undermined. It must be tempting for Governments to let the bureaucracy hold sway and avoid sensitivities. I am glad that the UK Government have shown that they rate the UN as sufficiently important to take an initiative to find ways in which to make it more effective, but I am disappointed that they have not been brave enough to follow that through.
The initiative to which I refer is the 2006 report called Delivering As One. It would be a wasted opportunity if it stayed on the shelf instead of being the catalyst for reform. My frustration echoes that of the distinguished former UN under-secretary, Dame Margaret Anstee, who has pointed out that the report is very similar to the capacity review that she co-authored with the late Sir Robert Jackson in 1968. There was no action then and there has been none now.
Dame Margaret proposes three reforms that I endorse; together they would help to reinvigorate the leadership and quality of governance at the UN. First, the way in which the Secretary-General and all the DGs are appointed should change. No large multinational company would recruit its chief executive without a systematic and professional global search. Political criteria are bound to be relevant, but so are international track record and stature. Secondly, and also in line with good governance, there should be a maximum fixed term with no further re-election for these most senior appointments. Thirdly, there should be a unified budget for all the agencies, to eliminate duplication and improve value for money.
These proposals are well known, but my understanding is that the Government are reluctant to push them, or any of the others from the Delivering As One report, because certain countries might misconstrue a UK initiative. But fear of being misinterpreted is a weak basis for inaction; why not just take the extra care to explain, show leadership and spell out what all Governments have to gain? These are fairly obvious reforms, but they have become too hot to handle, as if their supporters were naive idealists rather than highly experienced and knowledgeable people such as Dame Margaret Anstee. I hope that the Minister will be brave enough to persuade the Government and then a critical mass of other Governments that, if the UN is needed, not just as a wonderful idea but with the capacity and reputation to deliver on the promise of its preamble, these reforms are an essential starting point.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for giving us an opportunity to debate this issue and for her excellent opening speech.
There has been a change in the nature of conflicts around the world. Internal conflicts have in many instances replaced conflicts between states, and civilians now make up the vast majority of casualties. The genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda and Bosnia as well as the crimes against humanity in Kosovo, East Timor and Darfur, have demonstrated massive failures by the international community to prevent atrocities. That is why I was so delighted when in 2005 world leaders endorsed a new doctrine for the UN—the responsibility to protect—which is designed to provide a moral and legal framework for the international community to respond to mass atrocities. This means that if a state defaults on its responsibility to protect its citizens, the international community would assume the responsibility collectively. The notion that the international community has a responsibility to protect entails three distinct yet related commitments—a responsibility to prevent, to react and to rebuild. But by far the most controversial element of the doctrine is the idea that military force should on occasion be used to protect civilians. That amounts to a new take on a very old and divisive issue—humanitarian intervention.
In recent years, there have been many debates and discussions about the application of responsibility to protect in relation to, for example, Zimbabwe and Burma. However, I should like to focus on Sri Lanka. I am puzzled at the lack of action from the UN in the context of responsibility to protect. Just last week the International Crisis Group talked of the humanitarian tragedy unfolding in Sri Lanka. The International Committee of the Red Cross has warned that,
“conflict parties must take immediate action to prevent further mass casualties among civilians”.
Members of the International Advisory Board of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect have urged the Security Council to uphold the responsibility to protect 100,000 civilians at risk of mass atrocities in northern Sri Lanka. It states, of the responsibility to protect:
“At the core … is the obligation to act preventively to protect peoples from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing, rather than waiting until atrocities have already occurred, as states have too often done in the past”.
I agree with my noble friend Lady Howells that we need to strengthen the UN. We need to enable it to act responsibly, and intervene in urgent humanitarian situations. The responsibility to protect goes some way towards doing that, which is why I ask the Minister why the UN has not taken action in Sri Lanka.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness for giving us the opportunity to discuss this important topic. We are perhaps celebrating the first meeting of the United Nations in San Francisco; but let us not forget that it was across the road from here, in the Methodist Central Hall in Westminster, that the first gathering was held a month or two before. We have spoken of the way that nations have developed and changed their approaches because of the UN. There are now 192 member nations. When I stand outside the UN in New York and see all the flags, from that of Afghanistan through to that of Zimbabwe, my heart warms. At least we are able to discuss issues together.
People have been given new opportunities because the wording in the preamble of the charter makes us all “world citizens”. It talks of,
“the dignity and worth of human people”,
“living as good neighbours”.
Is the United Kingdom taking the lead in building up the work and effectiveness of the UN? We sometimes criticise and condemn the actions of other nations, but the UN’s strength depends on all member states being able to discuss, sign, ratify and implement conventions. The last time I brought up this subject, some time ago, I was told that there were 630 treaties and conventions, of which 156 had not been signed or ratified by the United Kingdom. Has the situation changed since then? These are treaties and conventions by which, it is said,
“the United Kingdom has not consented to be bound”.
We are talking about a quarter of the total. Has the situation improved since then? Are we implementing in full the charter on the rights of the child, or the convention on trafficking? These things are so important.
Finally, the action of individual nations within their own borders affects their standing as good neighbours, and the dignity and worth of the individual. I have previously raised the desperate state of failed asylum-seekers under the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants) Act 2004. Whatever the Government’s intention was, these people are driven to destitution when their benefits are withdrawn. Is that being thought of in the context of the United Nations preamble? There is also the situation of migrants. There is no time this evening to discuss this, but I have seen them. They are penniless, homeless and in this country. Life is desperate for them. I ask the Minister—I know that his heart and mine often beat to the same rhythm—whether we cannot somehow make the life of individuals more in tune with the preamble to the charter of the United Nations.