HC Deb 14 February 2001 vol 363 cc357-61

?.—(1) The Common Council may establish a committee which has, in relation to the City of London, the powers which under section 021(2)(f) of the Local Government Act 2000 a local authority's overview and scrutiny committee has in relation to the authority's area.

(2) Sections 7(3) to (6), 8 and 9 and Schedule I apply as if such a committee were an overview and scrutiny committee and as if the Common Council were a London borough council.

(3) Section 21 of the Local Government Act 2000 applies as if such a committee were an overview and scrutiny committee and as if the Common Council were a local authority, but with the omission—

  1. (a) of subsections (1) to (3), (5) and (9),
  2. (b) in subsection (8), of "Executive",
  3. (c) in subsection (11), of paragraph (b), and
  4. (d) in subsection (13)(a), of the reference to members of the executive.

(4) In the provisions applied by subsections (2) and (3), references to functions under any provision of section 21(2) of the 2000 Act are, in the case of the committee established under subsection (1), references to its functions under that subsection.

(5) "The Common Council" means the Common Council of the City of London.'.—[Mr. Denham.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Denham

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Madam Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to discuss Government amendments Nos. 141 to 143, 140 and 155 to 158.

Mr. Denham

Amendments Nos. 140 to 143, although essentially technical, are vital for the scrutiny arrangements across London and for authorities that operate alternative arrangements under the terms of the Local Government Act 2000. Alternative arrangements will exist where overview and scrutiny committees are not in place.

First, the amendments make it possible for overview and scrutiny committees to join forces with the authorities that are operating alternative arrangements to OSCs under the Local Government Act 2000. Secondly, they give the common council of the City of London the power to establish a committee to scrutinise the NHS, giving the common council responsibility for scrutiny of the NHS in its boundaries. The committee will have powers and duties similar to the OSCs of other local authorities and it will be able to enter the joint arrangements provided for by clause 8.

We have been talking to the common council of the City of London and agreed that, although it is not covered by relevant provisions of the Local Government Act 2000, it should still be able to carry out the same scrutiny of the NHS as other social services authorities. Although the City might not be the most populated part of London, people do live there and important NHS services are provided there, notably at Bart's, which is within the City boundaries. The health services in the City of London need scrutinising, as do other health services.

The Greater London Assembly has made positive representations to the Government about its potential role in supporting the London boroughs in their new NHS scrutiny role. There are examples of NHS services, such as the London ambulance service, where the London boroughs may wish to work with the GLA and its structures to facilitate pan-London scrutiny. The Bill provides powers for the establishment of joint committees which would enable a pan-London committee to undertake scrutiny.

We will carefully consider the ideas coming from the GLA to make sure that it plays a positive role in Londonwide scrutiny of the NHS. The GLA raised a number of issues concerning independent advocacy, to which I will return when we discuss the relevant amendments. We shall examine ways in which the GLA can be appropriately involved, working alongside the legal scrutiny powers provided by the Bill.

Amendments Nos. 155 to 158 are technical amendments to ensure that schedule 1 provisions on exempt information apply consistently to all primary care contractors.

I commend the new clause and the amendments to the House.

6 pm

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West)

Although we are considering one Government new clause and 12 Government amendments, I feel that the House and the nation are awaiting our debates with anticipation. Given the timetable motion to which we are subject, I shall not dwell for too long—

Mr. Bercow


Mr. Fabricant


Mr. Swayne

I can only say that I share my hon. Friends' concern—"Oh!" indeed. Let me borrow a phrase from new Labour and political correctness, and say that I share their pain. If I am not mistaken, they will be unfamiliar with clause 8, to which four of the Government amendments apply. That would not be the case if they had been swatting up in the Library last night, but the record will show that they were, as always, in their places, holding the Government to account and giving their business proper scrutiny.

My hon. Friends will not have seen clause 8 before because it was not in the Bill on Second Reading. It was introduced on Thursday last week, at the end of the Committee stage. Three parliamentary days later-I am not sure whether we should count Friday as a full parliamentary day

Maria Eagle (Liverpool, Garston)

Some of us were here.

Mr. Swayne

I was here on Friday, but as there was no quorum and not even 40 out of the 659 Members of Parliament were present to secure the passage of a private Member's Bill, I am not sure whether it counted as a parliamentary day. Nevertheless, we are considering a significant number of amendments to a clause that was added to the Bill only in the final sitting of Standing Committee. If I were uncharitable, I might be inclined to say that that was owing to hasty and careless drafting on the hoof and that my noble Friends in the other place will doubtless take account of it. I am charitable, however, and I had been assured that, as one of the consequences of the new timetable motion regime, a new culture would descend not only on this place, but on the Departments—in this instance, the Department of Health. I had the impression that a Department would realise that it was no longer acceptable to table a raft of amendments at the last minute, because the timetable would not accommodate them. I am still looking forward to the arrival of that new culture. We have been promised it, but it has unfortunately not yet been delivered, even though we still have to live with the limitations of the timetable motion.

Mr. Bercow

My hon. Friend has shocked me and, I suspect, my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant). He is certainly describing a rum set of affairs, but can he diminish my pain and minimise the constitutional outrage that has been perpetrated by at least assuring me that the Government gave some advance notice of their intention to table the new clause at such a late stage?

Mr. Swayne

To be perfectly frank, I cannot remember whether they did so. I will say in the Minister's defence that he gave us notice of new clauses and amendments throughout the Committee stage; he was assiduous in warning us of their coming and providing details of them. However, there were so many that I lost count of which of his letters referred to which proposals, so I cannot specifically answer my hon. Friend's question.

I deal now with new clause 13, which tells us essentially that the Minister forgot the common council of the City of London, which is a rather significant thing to forget. I am sure that some of the Labour Back Benchers who appeared from time to time during discussion of the City of London (Ward Elections) Bill in the previous Session wish that he had not remembered it at all and were quite content for him to have forgotten it. Nevertheless, as it was forgotten, I should like to hazard a suggestion as to why that happened and how it might have been remembered. If we had not moved from Second Reading to Committee so swiftly—we did so at an indecent pace and with a severe shortage of elapsed time—the Department might have had time to think through the Bill rather more carefully. We would not then have been faced with the tabling of new clause 13 at the last moment on Monday night.

I do not want to detain the House, but I should like to ask two questions, the first of which concerns Government amendment No. 140. The Minister might tell me that I completely misunderstood the amendment when I wrestled with it at d with the Local Government Act 2000 in the Library last night. I accept that that is possible, but I seek clarification. The amendment refers to "subsection (2)". Is that provision contained in section 21 of the Local Government Act 2000 or in the Bill? I concluded that either might be the case, although the meanings that could be construed would be very different.

My second question relates to the exclusions contained in subsection (3) of new clause 13. Paragraph (a) of that subsection refers to the actions of the common council in respect of the omission of subsections (1) to (3), (5) and (9) of the appropriate section of the Local Government Act 2000. My principal concern relates to the exclusion of section 21(9) of that Act. Although I recognise that it would generally be unlikely for a member of the executive of a local authority to participate in the executive and scrutiny function of the health trust or authority, I can conceive of circumstances in which a local authority might want that to happen. Why is that exclusion made?

Similarly, subsection (3)(d) of new clause 13 excludes section 21(13)(a) of the 2000 Act. Again, I understand that the scrutiny function would not principally require the involvement of members of the local authority executive, but I can envisage circumstances when such involvement might be desired. That might be especially likely in relation to aspects of the local authority's health policy that affect the proceedings or functions of the NHS trust that is under scrutiny.

Mr. Denham

The hon. Gentleman asked about the omission from the Bill of the common council of the City of London. I believe that I can say on reasonably sound ground that there is good precedent for such omission, but not for its being caught and put right in time. I seem to remember that Bromley was left out of the Health Authorities Act 1995, which was enacted under the previous Administration, and that it remained outside the remit of that Act for some four years That did not appear to affect Bromley health authority's operation, which was probably illegal for those four years.

I seem to remember also that the Isles of Scilly were left out of the National Health Service Act 1977 for 22 years, but I am not sure about that None the less, NHS services continued to be provided in the Isles of Scilly. I am glad that we are correcting the position on the common council.

I do not have a copy of the Local Government Act 2000 to hand, but I am reasonably sure that amendment No. 140 refers to section 21(2) of that measure. If I am wrong, I shall write to the hon. Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne).

Without debating new clause 13(3) in detail, I believe that we should erect the right sort of Chinese walls between the various roles that people play, to avoid a conflict of interest in scrutiny. We have sought to do that in the new clause. I accept that it is always possible to debate whether the dividing line is in the right place, but we have tried to achieve that.

The new clause enables the common council to establish a scrutiny role for health. The common council does not have an executive in the context of the Local Government Act 2000 because it is excluded from it. The arrangements are therefore different.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

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