HC Deb 11 April 1986 vol 95 cc536-40
Mr. John MacKay

I beg to move amendment No. 15, in page 9, line 36, leave out Clause 16.

I share the anxiety expressed by hon. Members on both sides of the House that effective joint planning arrangements should operate in Scotland and that there should be participation by the voluntary organisations. That was one feature of the new planning arrangements which we introduced a year ago. They have been implemented by health boards and local authorities, and progress has been achieved. It would not be wise to abandon what has been done and brand the arrangements as a failure without allowing reasonable time for the important results that we are seeking to secure to emerge fully.

Another point of concern is that the detailed statutory arrangements in clause 16 would apply only to the disabled, not to the full range of priority groups to which the existing joint planning arrangements are fully directed. Clearly, one main group about which we are worried is the elderly, and it is important that, as at present, the joint planning committees should cover them as well as the disabled groups specified in the Bill.

I am well aware of the strong views of voluntary bodies that joint planning in Scotland should have a statutory basis. Other interests must be considered. I am convinced that the present voluntary arrangements can work. Statutory prescription and the creation of a bureaucratic structure are not substitutes for willingness, freely expressed, to work together. There is no difference between the Bill's sponsor and myself on the merits of joint planning committees although he takes a more pessimistic view of the likelihood of success of my circular last year. Time has still to show which of us is right.

I am receiving encouraging reports from health boards. There is a great deal of activity, and reports are at various stages of preparation. It has been put to me that I should take the opportunity of this legislation to give the Secretary of State powers to ensure these results. Clause 16 does that by prescribing a range of matters in detail. I have been reluctant to go along with that method. In Committee, the hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) described my right hon. Friend and I as Mr. Nice and Mr. Nasty, from some television programme, and could not decide who was who. I wish to add to his inability to decide by showing a certain flexibility. I hope that I can go some way towards meeting the hon. Gentleman's genuine aim to give joint planning statutory backing. I should like my circular and the voluntary approach to produce the goods we both want.

I would be prepared to seek statutory powers to enable my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to prescribe for joint planning committees and their activities. These powers would not need to be brought into operation if the current arrangements prove successful. If it is decided that the voluntary route is not proving satisfactory, my right hon. Friend will be able to enforce the arrangements laid down in the circular and any other desirable aspects that he chooses to include in the regulations. Health boards and local authorities would therefore have to carry out the aims to which my circular addressed itself.

If the House agrees to delete clause 16, I shall ensure that either a suitable extension to clause 15 or a separate new clause is brought forward in another place. In addition, it will be necessary to deal with the exclusion of the elderly—the hon. Member for Monklands, West very much appreciates this point—by amending the long title for this specific purpose. I hope that those two points are acceptable to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Tom Clarke

I welcome the speech of the Under-Secretary of State. None of us is looking for complaints. Despite what was said in Committee about Mr. Nice and Mr. Nasty, I shall reserve my judgment until I see what happens on Third Reading.

There has been a good, well-informed debate in Scotland on joint planning, and I am glad that the Under-Secretary of State appears to have listened to it. Judging by his last few sentences, we are well on the way towards convincing him that the time for joint planning of a voluntary nature in Scotland is fast disappearing. No one has disputed the success of joint planning in England and Wales, given the statutory backing there. I believe that the objective, which the Under-Secretary of State and I share, of seeking successful joint planning would be better met by the type of statutory support which the hon. Gentleman led me to believe was possible when the matter is considered in the other place. This is so important a matter that the health boards alone are not always the best bodies to take the final decision without the kind of consultation that takes place in England and Wales with those involved in social services, housing and the voluntary organisations which know so much about these problems. It is very much in the interests of democratic policy formulation in Scotland that their views should be taken into account.

I am delighted that the Minister appears to accept the main thrust of the representations that were made to him and to his Department when the consultative document was published. We have made considerable progress. I was delighted when the Minister mentioned a full range of priorities, including the elderly. Our goal was not so ambitious. However, it is splendid if the Minister intends to go that far. We welcome it. When this matter goes to another place, the debates that we have had on these issues will do nothing but good. In that spirit, I thank the Minister.

1.30 pm
Mr Dewar

It is accepted on all sides of the House that this has been a useful and helpful day. Although we have not got everything that we wanted from the Scottish Office, the Minister has gone some way towards meeting our wishes. He said that he is flexible. I thought I heard the joints creaking a little but undoubtedly he has made an effort and we are grateful to him. I am delighted that the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) is present for the debate. It shows the efficiency of the Welsh Nationalists' whipping arrangements. The hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) should be congratulated.

This is an important matter. I do not want to labour the issue by making a lengthy speech. However, considerable anxiety has been expressed in Scotland about the apparent lack of the kind of leadership over joint planning that has been shown south of the Border by the Department of Health and Social Security and the Welsh Office. It is felt that there has been an absence of concerted action across Scotland and an absence of the kind of consultation that involves voluntary groups—those who do so much valuable work for the disabled, the handicapped and the elderly—in a general and significant way. Clause 16 was added to the Bill in Committee in order to remedy that lack.

Depite the Minister's confidence about the way in which voluntary arrangements have been developed, although joint consultative committees are mandatory in England and Wales, Scotland has been left only with the National Health Service (Scotland) Act 1978 which contains the hope that health boards and local authorities will co-operate. However, it does not contain a statutory duty or provide for the kind of structured framework in which consultation takes place in other parts of the country.

The Scottish Office circular of 24 April 1985 has been widely seen to be inadequate by everybody, except the Minister. Paragraph 6 says: These plans"— these are the joint plans— would in the first instance be for the guidance of the health board and the local authorities concerned; they need not be formally submitted to the Secretary of State, and will not require his approval, although it would be helpful if copies were sent to him. That is a pretty "peelie wall" approach by the Minister. Representations have been made to me that there has been a certain slippage in expectations when measured against the expectations aroused by that circular.

I put down various written Questions which were very helpfully answered by the Minister in anticipation of this debate. On the preparation of plans, he was able to say that only Shetland and Orkney health boards had prepared the plans requested and that health boards were not required formally to submit copies of their plans to the Secretary of State. However, Shetland health board has sent a copy of its plan, which covers all four priority groups, to the Scottish Home and Health Department. All credit to Shetland, and all credit to Orkney. However, the Minister has been unable to say anything about the rest of Scotland. Important though the islands are, a great deal of Scotland lies outside Orkney and Shetland.

That underlines the point that I am making. The Minister said in another answer that the Government have no reason to believe that the joint planning and liaison committees are not following the guidance set out in the April 1985 circular. The Minister may not have any reason to believe that they are not but neither is he in a position to say that they are. That is a weakness in an area in which there has been, over a period of time, a good deal of anxiety about the lack of progress and lack of involvement especially of the voluntary groups.

In the last minutes of the Report stage I do not wish to be churlish about the Minister's efforts. I have read the reports on the debate in Committee on 5 February 1986. Acceptance of new clause 12 was urged by my hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson). I read the speech of the Parliamentary Under-Secretary and he appeared to be a little bit complacent about what was happening. He discussed the circular which gave the whole process a fresh impetus. He went on to say:

We risk penalising local authorities and health boards which have made real progress, and we risk delaying worthwhile processes which we have worked long and hard to promote. The Minister now seeks to remove that clause. Later on in the speech the Minister said: I hope that the Committee will not put the clock back," [Official Report, Standing Committee C; 5 February 1986, c. 50.] That raised a lot of hackles among the voluntary groups. It came as a surprise to many people in the local authorities and those who are involved in social work. To give statutory impetus to a process which we all agree is an admirable one—the importance of joint planning—is not a matter of dispute between sides. I cannot see that giving joint planning a statutory basis can be described, fairly, as putting the clock back.

I am grateful for the fact that the Minister, not just because of pressure from the House but from groups in Scotland, is prepared to think again and has come a good way towards meeting our points. It is a simple proposition which holds up well in logic and in terms of its administration. If the Minister is correct we do not need a statutory basis. There is, however, no harm in having such a basis. It will reassure people. It will give an edge to joint consultative efforts and will involve the widest possible spectrum of expert opinion.

The Minister is maybe being over optimistic and perhaps some advice which is reaching Members is more accurate. It seems that there is a clear case for giving statutory force to the joint planning and consultation processes in Scotland parallel to what is happening South of the Border. Although we are not getting everything, I welcome the fact that some gestures have been made.

I recognise the Minister's point on the necessity to extend the process to cover the four priority groupings—the physically and mentally handicapped through to the elderly.

My hon. Friend the Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) has fought long and hard and with great tactical skill for the Bill. He is happy to accept what is being offered by the Minister. I do not wish in any way to cavil with what he has said and we will certainly watch what happens over the next two years with great care. We hope that the Minister's monitoring of the planning process by means of the circular is positive monitoring. I hope that he will not hesitate to use his powers under the enabling clauses which will be written in another place. That is necessary. The Minister's powers should not be left to lie upon the shelf unused. If there is a need, I hope that the Minister will not hesitate to act.

If it is not uncharitable I shall end on a warning, if not a slightly threatening, note. Whatever monitoring is pursued by the Minister—we shall certainly try to monitor what will happen—there will be groups in every constituency in Scotland who will make sure that the House will not forget about the issue. If we do not make the progress which I believe the importance of the matter deserves we shall be knocking very hard at the Minister's door to remind him of the enabling powers which will be written into the Bill.

Mr. Gordon Wilson (Dundee, East)

I welcome the concessions that the Minister has made. At the outset, many people feared that the Government were sticking their heels in and were unprepared to make concessions. Many people in Scotland in caring organisations were keen that the statutory approach and joint planning should be adopted.

The Scottish working group, composed of 22 organisations, wrote to Scottish Members of Parliament, drawing attention to its fear that the Scottish Office, which, to its credit, has been in the lead in some aspects of care for the disabled, has been lagging behind. I am glad that the Minister has said that he will produce a new clause and alter the long title to deal with the elderly. I should like to thank him for that.

In these circumstances, it is better to be gracious. I know that that is extremely difficult, but those of us who have a proper Christian background are prepared to express gratitude on the Floor of the House occasionally for a sinner come to repentance. That is a rare event for Scottish Office Ministers.

I should like to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) for keeping me informed of progress. I welcome the concessions.

Amendment agreed to.

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