It was a good day yesterday to observe the totally different styles of debate in the Commons and the Lords. At 3.53pm Andrew Lansley, Secretary of
State for Health started giving his statement in the Commons about the government’s response to the NHS Futures Forum (That’s the ‘listening exercise’ to suggest ways of amending the Health and Social Care Bill). The parliamentary equivalent of bear-baiting followed, with almost no serious debate about whether the resulting Government plans would be a constructive response to the criticisms or not. It’s at http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201011/cmhansrd/cm110614/debtext/110614-0001.htm#11061453000003. The Speaker intervened to quell the worst behaviour but even so it was a sorry spectacle. I am not sure that anything was achieved at all except to confirm that politics can be tawdry and ill-mannered business. Ten minutes later the exact same statement was repeated by Earl Howe in the Lords, at http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201011/ldhansrd/text/110614-0001.htm#11061452000429 . There was general agreement in the Lords that the Government response has been amazingly positive to the criticisms and that in some ways they had gone further in addressing some of the bill’s problems that many health service staff, voluntary organisations and local authorities had requested. Of course there are still fundamental principles of a regulated system versus a central management system to argue over but the debate was reasoned, brief and to the point. Lord Darzi, the former Labour health minister made complimentary remarks, almost all the crossbenchers who spoke did too. But they did ask pertinent searching questions of relevance. Lord Darzi asked about the quality and support of NHS leaders; Lord Hunt of Kings Heath made some telling remarks about the need to improve primary care and Lady Hollins wanted more reassurance about services for vulnerable groups. It’s interesting that when former MPs arrive in the Lords from the Commons they do nearly always conform to the better behaviour of the Lords. With some it takes time and advice from colleagues behind the scenes of course.