Health and Social Care Bill
Lord Greaves (Liberal Democrat)
My Lords, this has been an extraordinary parliamentary process. When this Bill was introduced, I said at Second Reading that it was a bad Bill. It was a bad Bill when it came here; there has been a growing tide of opposition to it and concern throughout the process while it was in the Commons and the Lords. There was the pause in the Commons and the Future Forum, which resulted in a large number of changes, and at that time Nick Clegg said that no Bill is better than a bad Bill. What we all individually have to do now-I speak very much for myself and not my party-is to assess whether it has now moved over from being a bad Bill to perhaps being, as Nick Clegg said last week, a much better Bill.
There is no doubt at all that on a spectrum of bad to good, it has shifted very considerably. It shifted in the Commons; it shifted far more here in the House of Lords. I believe that the process in your Lordships' House has been the House of Lords at its best. This House can be proud of the work that it has done throughout the gruelling Committee stage, then during Report and again today. I regret that I could not take a detailed part in much of that, because I was then spending time as a patient of the NHS, but I have been watching it all and I believe that the work this House has done has been absolutely superb.
If I can make a party political point here for a moment, the work that our team has done on the Bill, led by my noble friend Lady Jolly with all my other noble friends who have taken part, has contributed well. I refer not only to the Liberal Democrats but to Cross Benchers and everybody around the House. Tribute has been paid to the Minister. I pay particular tribute as a Liberal Democrat to our person on the ministerial team, my noble friend Lady Northover, who from our part of view has played a very important part by being a link into the Government and getting many of the changes which have taken place.
It is about not just the changes to the Bill but the implementation-the work that starts after this Bill has been passed, as no doubt it will be today. A huge number of ministerial assurances have been made, which may or may not be put upon people's bedroom walls as the noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege, wants to do with hers. Nevertheless, this is a Bill which has had more outside scrutiny and involvement from people out there, as far as the House of Lords is concerned, than any other Bill I can remember in 12 years in your Lordships' House. That will continue with the implementation, and it is absolutely crucial how the Government now implement this Bill. Will it be gung-ho privatisation, which is what people were very frightened of when the Bill was first introduced and many are still frightened about, or will it be implemented in a cautious and careful way to allow the health service to breathe and to cope with the changes? This will be absolutely crucial, and we will know the answer to that in a year or two's time.
The noble Earl, Lord Howe, said that we have had debates of unparalleled length and scope, and that is true. However, as I have just said, the public interest and lobbying on this from outside has been unprecedented. One of the lessons that we all have to learn is that we-whether the House of Lords, members of the Government or our party-have not coped with that very well. I do not think that the Opposition coped with it terribly well either because, even this morning, I was getting e-mails telling me what the Bill did, some of which was absolutely untrue. They were still telling me that the Bill removes the duty on the Secretary of State to provide health services. We are still getting that, and the amount of education or information which goes out from debates within this Chamber to the outside world is pretty poor.
Several people have said, "We have been trying to follow this Bill. We have been trying to follow your Marshalled Lists, having discovered where to find them on the internet. We have been trying to follow the parliament channel, and we haven't understood a word of it. It is interesting, but we can't understand it". I have to tell them that that applies to quite a lot of Members of your Lordships' House while the Bill is going through.