The Health and Social Care Bill committee stages started last week http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201011/ldhansrd/text/111025-0002.htm and will continue this afternoon. We haven’t got past clause 1 yet. It was probably the most frustrating debate I’ve ever attended. It is all about whether the Secretary of State for Health should ‘provide’, or ‘promote’ and or ‘secure’ a comprehensive health service. In essence the Secretary of State (and Department of Health) has not provided a service directly since the late 1980s but there has been no change of wording of his role to reflect the status quo. The opposition (quite rightly) wants to be reassured that the change of wording does not reflect a change in the accountability of the Minister for the NHS to parliament. Amendments were tabled, words were scrutinized, lawyers were quoted and in spite of clear evidence that the bill contained the assurances needed and an offer from the Minister to examine the wording yet again we had a four hour debate which did not reach a conclusion because we were adjourned early!
Lord Norton of Braintree (former Minister of health Tony Newton MP) spoke for many of us in the Chamber when he commented “These debates are beginning to induce in me a feeling of considerable intellectual inadequacy…. I constantly feel that I am in the presence of angels dancing on the heads of pins. I hear the noble Baroness, Lady Jay-I hope she will not mind my saying this-saying, “We might as well retain this, because it has always been there”, even though we know it has never been the reality. At that point, we stop being angels dancing on the heads of pins, and we start dancing round a totem pole. On the whole, if we are going to dance round a totem pole, I would like a totem pole that reflects what we want to happen, not what was written into a Bill 60 years ago.”
I have a horrible premonition that the same debate will continue today…grandstanding all round and lots of political point scoring. Improving the NHS won’t come in to it at all. I don’t know how the Minister Earl Howe keeps his cool…but he does, with persistence and charm, an example to everyone. (And the photo of Earl Howe at the top is specially for our regular commenter Maude Elwes!)