Clause 41

Part of Health and Social Care Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 1:15 pm on 17th January 2008.

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Photo of Stephen O'Brien Stephen O'Brien Shadow Minister (Health) 1:15 pm, 17th January 2008

I beg to move amendment No. 29, in clause 41, page 20, line 6, at end insert—

‘(1A) statements of standards must be established within the remit of the NHS Core Principles.’.

The amendment seeks, insofar as we are able within the scope of the Bill, to enshrine the NHS core principles in the legislation. The Committee will be aware that we in the Conservative party are fully committed to that, as stated in our published NHS (Autonomy and Accountability) Bill. In support of that, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has consistently confirmed our party’s commitment to the NHS, that it should be and will continue to be under any incoming Conservative Government a service free at the point of need, with access based on need and the ability to pay. I hope that the Government would seek to support that core principle.

One has to note that in a consultation undertaken by the now Chief Secretary to the Treasury in December 2006 on the core principles of the NHS—principles that we have committed to enshrining in legislation—the Government admitted the principle that

“Public funds for healthcare will be devoted solely to NHS patients.”

It was a surprising admission at the time, and even if the Minister will not accept the amendment, I hope that he will tell us whether he still wishes to get rid of this particular central pillar of the NHS. Members of the Committee who sit on the Government Back Benches might want to question whether they support the Minister in apparently seeking to open the door to top-ups—[Interruption.]I do bless him for his continual sneezing, but I hasten to say that I have no clerical rights to do so.

In choosing whether to support the amendment, the Minister should be aware that, as we identified, he is choosing between his Secretary of State and the Prime Minister. We should compare the Prime Minister’s new year message to the NHS, which we have already quoted at least once in this Committee, with the report eight days later in the “Society” section of The Guardian that the Secretary of State did not want a constitution to give lots of work to lawyers by “enshrining”, as he put it, the constitution in legislation.

This important amendment provides an opportunity, which I hope will be consensual, to enshrine this core principle. We have offered this and many other opportunities to do what I should have thought would be incontestable among us.