Committee (1st Day)
Health and Social Care Bill
Baroness Thornton (Labour)
My Lords, I thank the Lord Speaker for making that correction and assure the Committee that the correct word is "promote", not "provide". In the context of the Bill, as noble Lords will be aware, the difference between promote and provide is a subject on which we will have many debates in the days to come. I apologise to the Committee for not having read my own amendment more carefully when it was published.
To noble Lords who are familiar with this kind of amendment, I apologise in advance. There may be some who are not; we have many new Peers with us today. Perhaps I may explain what we are doing here. The Liberal Democrats will be more familiar with this procedure because from time to time they placed this kind of amendment before the House, aiming to set a framework for the Bill in question or to give further definition of a Bill. Indeed, from time to time, they succeeded in persuading the House to support them. I know the House appreciates a good precedent. I believe that the last time there was an amendment before Clause 1 was in the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill in 2009, when the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives both put amendments down before Clause 1. Forgive me, I am not absolutely certain if either or both of them succeeded. I have a feeling that the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, may have succeeded on that occasion.
The aim of this amendment is to set out some principles and a framework for the Bill to follow. In doing so, we have sought the widest possible genesis for this amendment, and I will explain this to the Committee in a moment. This first amendment kicks off Committee stage and concerns the principles that ought to underpin the health service in England. The amendment stresses the rights and pledges, values and principles, as outlined in the NHS constitution produced by Labour when in government. The amendment also places protection and promotion of patient care above structural or financial reorganisation. It calls for transparency and openness in decision-making, especially those decisions on funding, to ground proper accountability at the heart of our National Health Service. It seeks to set a framework around which the debate on the rest of the Bill can follow. I tabled this amendment partly because while the Government say they agree with all of these matters, at present the Bill still fails to reassure people that it delivers them. The confusion and lack of trust will be the substantive matter in many of the almost 400 amendments that have already been put down on this Bill.
At their spring conference, the Liberal Democrats made it clear that they wished to set beyond doubt that the Bill will not establish the NHS as a utility-style market based on the now outdated model that is currently failing in energy. How right the Liberal Democrats were. I share the doubts of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, that the changes in the Bill achieve that. The need for a defining set of principles arises out of the failure of the Government to provide any reasonable explanation of what this Bill is for and what their strategy for the NHS actually is. The Government keep telling us that it has to be a different NHS so I am seeking some definition on what we can agree about and to place those principles at the front of the Bill.
We like to think of this amendment as a perfect cross-party marriage in its crafting. We have something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue. The old is the NHS constitution; although not very old, it was devised and brought about by the Labour Government and put through the House by my noble friend Lord Darzi, and we are proud of it. This is in subsection (1) of this amendment and is reflected in Amendment 52 to the schedules that list the principles of the NHS constitution, particularly with relation to patient care. I have borrowed the words of subsection (2) from the resolution that was passed at the Liberal Democrat spring conference, with the very slight addition of "integration and accountability", which I am sure would have been there had they thought of them. I did wonder about the last three words-"not the market"-but I think everyone knows what that means. It does not mean that the NHS should not be engaged with the market, nor that there is not a place for the planned use of private and other providers within the NHS. It is there because the first Bill included a clear commitment to use competition as the main means of reforming the NHS and I think we still need to be clear that this is not the case. These Benches and the Liberal Democrats are in some agreement about this matter-at least I hope we are-and I think we should say so at the beginning of this Bill. Subsection (3) is blue, coming as it does from the coalition agreement. We will stop top-down reorganisations that get in the way of patient care. These words echo those of the Prime Minister when he said, "no top-down reorganisation". The new, in subsection (4), is the most recent player in this Bill: the Future Forum, which has quite rightly brought the probity of the Nolan principles into this Bill.
It seems to me that only with clarity around the principles will the Government have any chance of taking the 1 million-plus staff of the NHS with them. Given the British Medical Association survey released yesterday, and GPs' survey a week or so ago, the words of the Royal College of Nursing and many others, the Government have some way to go in persuading the staff to wholeheartedly support these changes. So I suggest that this statement of principles will help the Government in this task. It will also help the passage of this Bill. I hope that the Minister and the Committee will feel the same.