Committee (1st Day)
Health and Social Care Bill
Lord Mackay of Clashfern (Conservative)
My Lords, in 1946, the then Government promoted the National Health Service. They did so in the National Health Service Act 1946. Section 1 of that Act states:
"It shall be the duty of the Minister of Health (hereafter in this Act referred to as 'the Minister') to promote the establishment in England and Wales of a comprehensive health service designed to secure improvement in the physical and mental health of the people of England and Wales and the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of illness, and for that purpose to provide or secure the effective provision of services in accordance with the following provisions of this Act".
Section 1(2) states:
"The services so provided shall be free of charge, except where any provision of this Act expressly provides for the making and recovery of charges".
These are plain, clear, concise words which completely incorporate the fundamental principles of the National Health Service, as they have done since 1946. What is more, these provisions are enforceable at law, as the decision quoted by the Constitution Committee shows. They are enforceable in law, clearly, easily, without difficulty.
The previous Labour Administration had many skilled Ministers in the Department of Health to my certain knowledge and I pay my warmest tribute to them. One of them was the noble Lord, Lord Darzi, and during his watch in this House the National Health Service constitution was promoted. As some of my noble friends have said, that was agreed by all parties. The noble Lord, on behalf of the Government, declined to put that in a statute. I questioned that, because if we are dealing with the constitution of the service, one would think that it should go into the statute that is the fundamental part of setting up the service.
The Act of Parliament incorporated a duty such as referred to in the first part of this amendment, to have regard to the constitution. Everyone in the health service had to have regard to the constitution. The Government declined to put that into legislation. When I asked the noble Lord, Lord Darzi, why that was, he explained that he did not wish the constitution of the NHS to become a plaything for lawyers.
Noble Lords will understand that that reason was not particularly attractive to me. On the other hand, the sense of what he was saying certainly was, and I accept that it was wise and is still wise. The obligation to have regard to the constitution is fundamental and remains. However, I do not believe that it is possible for us to provide a simpler, clearer and more effective preamble to the National Health Service Act at any time than that which was thought of by the founding fathers of the National Health Service in 1946.
I should point out that this is not strictly a preamble at all; it is a first clause in the Bill. However appropriate some of these sentiments may have been for a resolution at a party conference, they are not suitable for an Act of Parliament, in my respectful submission, because the provisions in an Act of Parliament should be enforceable. When we have such a clear constitution of the NHS and such a fine example in what was provided by the founding fathers, which is enforceable, I respectfully suggest that it is unwise to muddy the waters now. I embrace all the sentiments expressed in this draft amendment and hope that we will have them in mind as we go through our later deliberations. All the sentiments are very acceptable, with the exception of the one about the market, which I find a little difficult. However, I will not elaborate on that now.
I am extremely grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, and the noble Lords, Lord Hennessy and Lord Owen, for discussing this matter with me yesterday. I greatly profited from that discussion. It took me back to the beginning of 1946 when I was a second-year student at university. I remember that one of the difficulties envisaged in the founding of the health service was the fact that family doctors-GPs-did not wish to be employed by the Government. Therefore, the constitution provided that the Secretary of State had to provide the service-he did that from time to time at the beginning in hospitals and so on-or secure the provision of the service. "Secure the provision" was, of course, the one operative for GPs. That has served us well. As far as I am concerned, the proposed constitution, however one appreciates the principles that it expresses, is neither as clear or precise nor as readily enforceable as what we have. I respectfully suggest to the noble Baroness that she might wish to consider that aspect.