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Health and Social Care Bill

Volume 734: debated on Wednesday 1 February 2012

Order of Consideration Motion

Moved By

That the amendments for the Report stage be marshalled and considered in the following order:

Clauses 1 to 8, Schedule 1, Clauses 9 to 24, Schedule 2, Clauses 25 to 50, Schedule 3, Clauses 51 to 54, Schedules 4 to 6, Clause 55, Schedule 7, Clauses 56 to 60, Schedule 8, Clauses 61 to 75, Schedule 9, Clauses 76 to 101, Schedule 10, Clauses 102 to 107, Schedule 11, Clauses 108 to 120, Schedule 12, Clauses 121 to 149, Schedule 13, Clauses 150 to 178, Schedule 14, Clauses 179 to 181, Schedule 15, Clauses 182 to 230, Schedule 16, Clause 231, Schedule 17, Clauses 232 to 248, Schedule 18, Clauses 249 to 251, Schedule 19, Clauses 252 to 273, Schedule 20, Clauses 274 to 276, Schedule 21, Clauses 277 to 293, Schedule 22, Clauses 294 to 296, Schedules 23 and 24, Clauses 297 to 305.

My Lords, I am sure that at Report on the Bill there will be issues which relate, however indirectly, to the finances of the National Health Service. Perhaps I may ask the Leader of the House whether the Government could give an indication of the procedural implications for this House on the Welfare Reform Bill following a Statement on financial privilege by the Minister earlier today in the other place.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his kind invitation for some procedural advice. We will be dealing with the Welfare Reform Bill when it comes back from another place. I should say that matters for privilege are not a matter for the Government but a matter for the House of Commons and the Speaker of the House of Commons on advice from his clerks. The position of privilege has of course been jealously guarded by the House of Commons since 1671. It is well precedented and there is nothing unusual, although the second Chamber might always think that the Commons using financial privilege is a little unfair.

We will get to that Bill in due course. I cannot comment on the Health and Social Care Bill, which is of course the subject of the Motion before us now, as to what the Government’s attitude will be on defeats. But, as I said earlier, there is nothing unusual about financial privilege being prayed in aid. Since there are many former Members of another place present in this House I am sure that they will readily understand.

My Lords, the Leader of the House has given us a proper and guarded answer to quite a difficult question. However, does he not agree that this encapsulates the kind of problem which needs to be resolved before we have a directly elected second Chamber? It goes to the heart of one of the issues that has been accepted as the norm by both Houses for many decades but which would undoubtedly be challenged time and again in the event of a directly elected House. I do not expect the noble Lord to give an immediate answer now—he will give a guarded response—but can I try to be helpful and suggest that this is the kind of issue which the committee of my noble friend Lord Richard should look at, and that that may involve an extension of the period of time the committee needs to consider it? But it is clearly issues like this—alongside, in relation to an Oral Question taken earlier, issues like the impact of a referendum in Scotland—which need to be considered by the Joint Committee before we proceed any further.

My Lords, before the House approves the Motion, perhaps I may ask the noble Earl, Lord Howe, a question about the risk register appeal, because we now have some dates that change the debate. I understand that the Report stage is to begin on 8 February and that it is expected to complete by somewhere around the middle of February.

The appeal on the risk register will be held in a tribunal on 5 and 6 March, and therefore there might be an opportunity for Members to raise the issue of the decisions of the tribunal, depending on the dates that the Government actually set for the Report stage. Would he care to comment on that? Further, if there is not too much flexibility, has the noble Earl considered what the Companion says on the admissibility of amendments tabled at Third Reading:

“The principal purposes of amendments on third reading are … to clarify any remaining uncertainties”?

The risk register may well raise issues that constitute “remaining uncertainties”. Can we have an assurance that if it is not possible to raise them on Report, there will be some flexibility at Third Reading under the heading in the Companion that I have just read out to ensure that we can have a debate on any issue arising out of the tribunal’s decisions? I am sorry to have to raise the matter in this way, but this is an opportunity to do so.

My Lords, perhaps I may ask a question of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. I ask him as the Leader of the whole House—which I know he is very mindful and respectful of—and not just as the leader of a government coalition party. Whenever we deal with a social security Bill—apart from turning negative regulations into affirmative regulations—that almost inevitably involves expenditure, either increasing it or reducing it. That may also apply to health Bills and transport Bills. If, on any choosing of the Speaker and one of the noble Lord’s right honourable friends at the other end in a position of authority, the claim can be made that that is financial privilege—this is before the Speaker has even ruled on it, so clearly there is a government view so far as I can tell; I stand to be corrected—and if any Bill involving any element of expenditure, including on welfare, pensions, health and education, can at the fiat of the House of Commons be ruled as money and therefore privilege, then, taking the noble Lord’s statement that this House is a part-time House, it will become a very part-time House indeed because we might as well go home.

My Lords, let me deal with the two questions put by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, and the noble Lord, Lord Grocott. My noble friend Lord Howe, who is an expert on these matters, will respond to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours. In response to the noble Baroness, as I said earlier, this is a matter for the House of Commons; it is not a matter for me. It is the Speaker who takes a view on the advice of the clerks. I would not be at all surprised if they had had a discussion with the Government, but there is nothing new in any of this. No procedure has changed and no substantive law or practice has done so. It is perfectly possible for this House to suggest and recommend changes to Bills over a whole range of issues, no doubt including financial ones. How the House of Commons deals with those is a matter for that House.

I thought that the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, were precisely the kind of points that he might make if a “reform of the second Chamber” Bill were brought forward. I would not dream of trespassing on matters which are the preserve of the noble Lord, Lord Richard, and his Joint Committee. I am sure that they will have taken account of what the noble Lord said.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. Perhaps I may come back to a point he raised. I am sure that the procedure was followed appropriately in the other place and I assume that the Government made application to the Speaker. The question is whether it was wise for the Government to use this process in this place, because, essentially, they are hiding behind parliamentary procedure to curtail consideration of the amendments that your Lordships passed on the Welfare Reform Bill. In essence, my noble friend has put it absolutely right: if the Government continue to do this on these Bills, our role as a revising Chamber is effectively undermined.

I simply disagree with the noble Lord. This situation has existed for 350 years. It was as though the noble Lord were suggesting that the Government had found some new ploy to stop the will of the House of Lords. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, will agree that we are an unelected House. The House of Commons is an elected House. It has protected its financial privilege since 1671. Nothing has changed for the debates that we will no doubt have on the health Bill and the welfare Bill.

I wish to question the timing of such a decision on the part of the Speaker. It seems somewhat of a waste of time if your Lordships debate provisions which turn out to be completely sacrosanct because of the decision on privilege made at the other end. The expense involved in your Lordships coming here and taking part seems a waste of taxpayers’ money at a time of considerable austerity if the whole procedure is useless. I suggest that the timing of such decisions needs to be looked at.

Perhaps it would help the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, if I were to say to her that no Speaker takes these decisions lightly. It is not done with representation from the Government, in the sense that they come in and say, “We want to do it this way and you’ll give us a hand, Mr Speaker”. Perhaps I can give an insight into what happens in the Speaker’s study: the Speaker takes advice from the clerks—I stress that is clerks in the plural. You have clerks there who act like the devil’s advocate and put a contrary view. They end up giving strong advice to the Speaker. Therefore, the Speaker is independent in this matter of Government and Opposition—let us not kid ourselves that the opposition Whips are not often in there pounding the ear of the Speaker. If the Speaker’s signature goes on that piece of paper, it is done very sparingly and with considerable advice from those who are experts in this matter.

My Lords, that being so, and referring to the Motion that we are debating at the moment, would it not be for the convenience of everybody concerned with the Health and Social Care Bill if, for every amendment tabled, we knew before we debated it on Report in this House that it was subject to financial privilege? We would then know that we were wasting our time, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, said. The problem is the lack of knowledge. If we know beforehand and we have a certificate for a money Bill, we know that it is a money Bill. We do not know that with domestic policy Bills. If particular amendments are a cause for concern among the authorities of the other place, that should be signalled before we debate the issue in this House.

My Lords, in my experience there are two issues. One is the matter of degree. I hope that the Leader of the House will agree that this is not a clear, black and white issue in terms of the individual parts of a Bill that could be declared financial privilege or the range of parts of a Bill that could be declared financial privilege.

Secondly, the Leader of the House said the week before last in your Lordships’ Chamber, and I hope that I recollect his words accurately, that obviously a wholly or partially elected second Chamber would exercise greater authority and power and have greater legitimacy. Does the Leader of the House believe that people would stand for election were huge chunks of legislation to be declared beyond their competence?

My Lords, to avoid repetition, I say that I would still like to hear answers to the questions raised by my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay, the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis—what is the point against this background? Also, what is the application to the Bill that we are about to get back to, the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill, where a lot of money is also involved? Are we completely wasting our time?

Would my noble friend enlighten me? I think I know the answer to this, but I may well be wrong: the more an amendment changes the volume of money in issue, the more likely a Bill is to become a money Bill. If that is the case, we all know where we are: it is just a question of how high the bar is.

My Lords, I am rapidly becoming an expert on privilege, which I was not expecting a few moments ago. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Martin of Springburn, because he explained with his experience the process of deciding privilege in another place, which I repeat is not a matter for me as a member of the Government. Nor is it a matter for the Government or a Member of this House. It is something that has been jealously guarded by the House of Commons for many years.

My noble and learned friend Lord Mackay, the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, and indeed the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, raise the same question, which is how we could be pre-warned. I am not sure how that process could take place because we do not know what the Government will lose or what amendments the House of Lords will press to a Division. I dare say that we could. I am thinking as I am speaking, which is always a dangerous thing to do from the Dispatch Box, about a system where amendments might be deemed to be likely to invoke privilege by the House of Commons. But I suspect we can probably do that ourselves. Maybe my noble friend Lord Elton was correct in saying that amendments that mean a substantial increase in expenditure of public spending are more likely to invoke privilege than those that do not. Perhaps that is the way to go.

I wonder if we are profiting in continuing this debate now. Would it not be better to wait until the Welfare Reform Bill returns from the House of Commons with its amendments to see if privilege has been invoked? There is then a well trodden process in this House. I do not think that the House wastes its time by debating the issues. We do not insist on all the amendments that we pass in this House. We sent them back to the House of Commons to get the Government and the House of Commons to think again. If they have thought again and invoked financial privilege, we should let the matter rest.

My Lords, I have listened to the noble Lords, Lord Martin of Springburn and the Leader of the House. They both claim, each in their different way, that this is a wholly independent procedure. Are we really to believe that one morning the Speaker gets up and says, “Eureka, I’m going to decide whether this is financial privilege or not”? Who initiates the process? It is hard to believe there was not a nudge and a wink from the Government to try to save their own blushes.

My Lords, is not the reality that when the Government have run out of arguments and patience they ask the Speaker if he will invoke financial privilege? They cross their fingers and hope that he will do so. Do this Government actually want the House of Lords to operate as a revising Chamber or not?

I do find it faintly comical that former Members of the House of the Commons, who would have died in a ditch to preserve and protect financial privilege, decide to take a completely different view as soon as they are translated into Members of this House. I said earlier that surely the time for us to have this debate is when we are faced with the facts of the Bill, with the amendments from the House of Commons. We will have the benefit of seeing the debate that is taking place in the House of Commons as we speak. Would that not be a better way of proceeding? I very much hope that we will be able to pass this Motion from my noble friend Lord Howe, unless he wishes to add anything to the questions that were put to him.

My Lords, perhaps I could address the question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, about my department’s risk register. When I last spoke to the House on this matter, I promised to use my best endeavours to ensure that the appeal hearing on the matter of the risk register took place at the earliest possible date. As a result of discussions between my department and the tribunal that will hear the Government’s appeal, that date was brought forward from the one that I originally announced to 5 and 6 March. I believe that is a welcome development. The outcome of the appeal will not be known until a few days after that. It is of course a matter for the tribunal.

As regards the timing of Third Reading, the noble Lord will know that it is a matter for the usual channels in this House. I am aware that there is a Motion in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Owen, which invites the House to consider the matter of the department’s risk register before the House goes into Third Reading on the Bill. I suggest that once the timing of the appeal outcome and of Third Reading are known, it would be appropriate to revisit this question. However, it is perhaps a little early to decide now quite what the best order of events should be.

Motion agreed.