Health and Social Care (Community Health and Standards) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 11:30 am on 6th November 2003.

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Photo of Lord Desai Lord Desai Labour 11:30 am, 6th November 2003

My Lords, unlike the boy in the story told by my noble friend Lord Lipsey who did not speak until the porridge was cold, I was born screaming, crying and protesting. My record on supporting the Government is, I should say, patchy. However, on this occasion, I stand proudly behind my noble friend. I stand behind the Bill, and I hope that the House rejects this set of amendments.

Listening to the noble Earl, Lord Howe, and the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, one has the feeling that somehow policy is born absolutely perfect with not a blemish on it. One has the impression that, until now, we have done nothing but fashion perfect policies and that, once a policy is perfected, we never revisit an issue. It is as though, in history, we have had only one education Bill, one health Bill and one criminal justice Bill and so on.

We are making a major change that worries many people. The people who are worried about such changes are wrong, in the sense that they want to maintain the old National Health Service. We are saying that it is time to move on and to make—this is a horrible cliche a really radical change. In doing so, we must take people with us. If there are doubts, we must admit that there are doubts—we cannot have the whole loaf now.

Of course, the foundation hospitals that I want to see are not set out in the Bill, but there is something here on which we can make progress. The important point is: are we going to do it now or are we going to wait for everyone's perfect dream world and then, perhaps a few years later, once again go through this debate?

I was surprised by the argument that the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, made against local democracy. As a boy, I used to hear people in colonial India say, "You can't trust these people with democracy. You never know who might capture the government. All sorts of corrupt people may capture government—even fascists". That is very interesting. Why do we not simply trust the people to know their own interests, to look inside their own stomachs, hearts and livers—whatever it is that people look into—and trust them to do the right thing? That is better than saying, "We are never going to have democracy until we write down here a condition in such and such a schedule that only perfect people will vote, and those perfect voters will do only what we, the great and the good, tell them to do. Of course, we shall not have any control over them. We are going to decentralise. We want to devolve and decentralise so long as they don't take part".

Schools are not like hospitals. Indeed, secondary schools are not like primary schools. When my children went to primary school, I went to the playground. When they went to secondary school, I did not go to the playground. Each parent-teacher association reacts differently. I was a governor of primary schools and secondary schools and have taken part in many meetings. A parent-teacher association meeting to which no one comes makes a very happy school.

I believe that foundation hospitals are a good experiment. Problems are involved, but let us launch the scheme. In the National Health Service let us give back some ownership to the patients and the professionals. That is the essence of this measure. For a little time when I was young, I believed that the revolution would come before I died; now, I am very happy when a radical change occurs. Therefore, I shall support the Bill, and I hope that the House will reject the amendment.