After knives rebuff, Labour offers to support Adoption Bill

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Fresh from its rebuff over combat knives, Labour yesterday offered the Government support for the introduction of the Adoption Bill - another promised piece of legislation jettisoned from this week's Queen's Speech.

In a debate on the social policy aspects of the Government's programme for the run-up to next year's election, Labour's health spokesman Chris Smith told Stephen Dorrell, the Secretary of State for Health, that Labour would have welcomed the "sensible" adoption legislation that had been on offer.

"If you bring forward an Adoption Bill in the form that was presented in the draft Bill," Mr Smith said, "then you will have full support from this side of the House." The draft Adoption Bill proposed a new complaints system, a welfare check list, and an easier adoption procedure for foster parents, but it is unlikely the Government will take up Mr Smith's offer.

Opening yesterday's Commons debate on the Queen's Speech, Mr Dorrell said his Primary Health Care Bill would "build on the successes of the fund-holding scheme and primary care more generally".

The key proposal is to bring in more flexible arrangements for GP contracts. Instead of having individual contracts with the Secretary of State for Health, under which they are obliged to provide certain core services, GPs could become directly employed by National Health Service hospital trusts.

More flexibility is planned for dentists, so that self-employed practitioners could link up to or have contracts with trusts.

Groups of GPs could contract to provide specialist services for the mentally ill, nursing-home patients or drug abusers.

As for reports that the changes would see the launch of supermarket surgeries in stores such as Sainsbury's, Mr Dorrell told the Commons: "It is not a policy for introducing a huge range of new GPs based on supermarkets. "I am in favour of NHS primary care, by which I mean a service delivered by NHS practitioners and NHS staff. I am not interested in developing a new competitor idea of what general practice means." He stressed: "So far as I know, no supermarket operator has evinced the slightest interest in developing their own primary-care sector. So I find it hard to understand why some of the commentary on this proposal has concentrated on people who have never expressed any discernible interest in the subject."

Replying, Mr Smith welcomed the change of policy - of piloting through new health reforms, rather than the "dogmatic" approach of imposing them on an unwilling profession.

But he warned that Labour would oppose any plans for GP services to be provided by commercial companies. "The Government has not ruled out that possibility," Mr Smith said.