As a lifelong atheist I do know how it feels to believe your view is the right one even when you are in a minority in a world of religious believers. However Baroness Murphy shows a touching faith in the rightness of Governments which I did not even share when I was a Minister in Government.
I think Andrew Lansley is in very serious trouble with his Health and Social Care Bill. It took both the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister to announce the decision that the way to save his bill is to have a “natural break”. Announced on Monday, its aim is to “listen” to people’s “genuine” concerns. And all three – the PM, DPM and SoS went to a hospital in Surrey to announce the listening panel of experts they are now establishing. I confess, I am sceptical about this latest wheeze, and I object most strongly on parliamentary grounds.
Listening is what you do before legislation starts its passage through Parliament. It is called consultation – unfortunately in this case thousands of words, from a very large number of organisations have been sent to Andrew Lansley and he has chosen to mostly ignore them. Then there is pre-legislative scrutiny which serves Parliament and democratic processes very well. The Health Select Committee have been carrying this out as the bill has been progressing through its Parliamentary stages. But really a draft Bill for everyone to look at might have saved both time and possibly in the long run, Mr Lansley’s job.
Many pieces of legislation, particularly those which are complex and/or controversial have benefited enormously from pre-legislative scrutiny. I think a joint committee of both Houses of Parliament works very well with matters of great importance. I served on one of the first Joint Select Committees of both Houses looking at Local Government Reform. There have been Joint Committees to look at Gambling legislation, House of Lords Reform – and probably will be more of those, the Civil Contingency bill and others.
David Cameron should have been paying attention to what his zealous Health Secretary was up to, and in not doing so the Conservatives might pay the high price of the NHS becoming once again an issue on which people do not trust them.