Clause 1 - Duty on the Secretary of State to promote comprehensive health service based on social solidarity

National Health Service (Amended Duties and Powers) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:00 am on 10th February 2015.

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Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Conservative, North East Somerset 11:00 am, 10th February 2015

I beg to move amendment 38, in clause 1, page 1, line 10, leave out “social solidarity” and insert “medical necessity”.

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 37, in clause 1, page 1, line 12, at end add

“as far as is compatible with the liberties of the people of England and without any additional regulatory burden.”

Amendment 40, in clause 1, page 1, line 15, at end add—

“(c) nothing in this section shall be interpreted as entitling or requiring the Secretary of State to direct people in their personal conduct, nor provide unsolicited advice on diet or behaviour, nor to spend public funds on propaganda, nor to discriminate against specific foodstuffs, nor detrimentally to affect any lawful industry;”.

Amendment 1, in clause 1, page 2, leave out lines 1 to 8.

Amendment 41, in clause 1, page 2, line 2, leave out “general economic interest” and insert

“that ensures value for money”.

Amendment 39, in clause 1, page 2, line 3, leave out “social solidarity” and insert “medical necessity”.

Amendment 42, in clause 1, page 2, line 8, at end add

“subject to consultation with relevant local government bodies”.

Amendment 49, in clause 1, page 2, line 13, at end add

“or is a charge made to a person who is not entitled to free care by virtue of his immigration status.”

Amendment 50, in clause 2, page 2, line 16, leave out “social solidarity” and insert “medical necessity”.

Amendment 51, in clause 2, page 2, line 18, leave out “mutual cooperation”.

Amendment 52, in clause 2, page 2, line 19, leave out “social solidarity” and insert “medical necessity”.

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Conservative, North East Somerset

Thank you for your wise selection of amendments, Mr Bone; it includes a fair number of mine, which I have tabled to help the Bill along its way—how nice it is that we are now doing so.

I have quoted before what Disraeli said in his speech at the Manchester free trade hall in 1872:

“sanitas sanitatum, omnia sanitas…the first consideration of a minister should be the health of the people.”

As always, it is good to see the Conservatives putting their principles into action by giving due consideration to Bills relating to health. Amending them can ensure that they have achieved their main objective, because health has been a Conservative subject since 1872—before the foundation of the Labour Party—so we have a very good record on this issue.

The amendments that I have proposed encompass a number of different points. First, I thought it behoved us—it was our duty—to remove what one might call politically correct gobbledegook—the sort of phraseology that is so popular in the Left that they look to put fine-sounding baubles into Bills, as if they were a Christmas tree, and make them sound as if they were about motherhood and apple pie and those sorts of things, with which one could not disagree but which have very little legislative effect. How would one legislate that everyone should like apple pie, perhaps with or without custard? That is why I come to the removal of social solidarity.

It is of course a good thing that society should be united and that we are all in it together, as my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has so wisely put it on many occasions. How true that is: we are all in it together. But how possible is it to legislate for this togetherness, this sense of community? A sense of community builds up through the ages: it is a commonality of feeling that comes from a shared history and experience, a shared society.

There was a wonderful exhibition in this House last Thursday in which the four surviving original copies of Magna Carta were brought together. That is what brings us our social solidarity, our feeling that as the people of the United Kingdom came together, we had a sense of being one people and because of that took on great enterprises. We established our freedoms and spread them around the world. Because of this sense of social solidarity we built a great empire and fought world wars; we defeated Napoleon, the Kaiser and Hitler. It is indisputably important and held dear. But in a sense the theory of it is not an issue that you can pass into legislation: you cannot say that the hon. Member for Eltham and I must share social solidarity. I happen to think that he is a very good egg; that is my private opinion. However, we have many differences of opinion and approach and represent very different communities, so although we have a social solidarity in the broadest sense as Members of Parliament and as Britons, do we have a social solidarity that can be legislated for—can an ardent socialist and a die-hard Tory have social solidarity by rule of law? I do not think so; it is something that evolves and develops.

I appreciate that I may be at risk of reducing our social solidarity the more I make amendments to the hon. Gentleman’s Bill and I regret doing so, but that is part of legislative scrutiny. I am generally against putting things into Bills that are not actually legislative. What if this Bill comes before the courts? What is a judge—learned in the law, bewigged, berobed, sitting on a fine plinth looking down on his courtroom—supposed to say? An action is brought before him to say that there is not sufficient social solidarity. How is this learned judge able to interpret that and give it action? Can he send a police officer out to arrest somebody for not being  socially solid? What do we mean by being socially solid—is this about people suffering from obesity, which is a problem that affects the health service, or is it merely something intellectual, theoretical, ethereal and difficult to pin down and make actionable?

Photo of David Nuttall David Nuttall Conservative, Bury North

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. He is making a powerful speech. Does he think that it would be helpful if some detailed explanation and guidance was given on the face of the Bill about what “social solidarity” means?

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Conservative, North East Somerset

That is a very good point. It is often useful to set out in a Bill what is meant by the terminology used. In Bills of old, when Parliament first met—it is wonderful to go to the Victoria Tower and see some of those historic rolls of the Bills that Parliament passed—there was a magnificent clarity of language. Our legislators spoke firmly as to what they meant. They did not haver around the issue or use words in the Humpty-Dumpty sense with which we have become familiar in modern politics. The whole concept of spin was alien to our forefathers in Parliament.

When thinking of pithy Bills of the past, I think of the Act against appeals, which was only, sadly, repealed in the late 1960s. It prevented anyone from this country from going to a foreign court outside these shores, the penalty for doing so being treason. It is a great pity that that Act did not remain on the statute book because it would solve a lot of our European problems today if it were still there. That legislation was clear, well-written and obvious in its intent. I am sorry to say that it was deadly in its effect because it hit some of my co-religionists; but, leaving that aside, the language used was precise.

We live in an age of woolly language and spin. To avoid that in legislation, it is wise, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North so sensibly says, to have notes at the end to say, “This is what we mean,” so that people can understand the terminology and what it means in legislation. Wishy-washy, vague and nice-sounding terms are difficult to enforce in law.

As the legislation goes through the courts—the lower courts, the Appeal Court and the Supreme Court—people will look at the phraseology and look at “social solidarity” without the wisdom of my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North, who would have set out with clarity, had it been his Bill, what the term meant. Instead, the decision has to be made by a judge. That upsets the fundamental principles of democracy that we hold so dear, because instead of having law made by our legislators, our law is developed and evolved by our judges. I thought that this country had the most glorious constitution, and in that sense, perhaps, I am too much of a Whig; but then some Whigs saw the light and became Tories in the end.

There is a feeling that our constitution is a beautiful, pure thing that works but that it has been distorted in recent years. The balance that existed between Commons, Lords and judges has got out of kilter. Judges have been taking increasing power from the legislature because we pass laws that use language vaguely and imprecisely. Therefore, judges have to step in. It is not that judges are sitting in their Inns of Court eating fine dinners, and saying, as they skewer a morsel of lamb, “How do we skewer the legislature too?” but that we ask them to consider that which ought not to be within their bailiwick.  We ask them, by passing imprecise laws, to evolve the law because we do not have the clear statements of meaning that are necessary for precise law.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Conservative, East Yorkshire

My hon. Friend is a respected member of the Procedure Committee, which decided that it would enable Members to give an explanatory memorandum to amendments that were moved at certain stages. Has he done so for his amendments, because I certainly have not been circulated a copy? Therefore, should he not do as he preaches on this matter?

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Conservative, North East Somerset 11:15 am, 10th February 2015

Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. It is a terrible lacuna in my own proceedings that I have failed to put down detailed explanations of what I am trying to do or what I have failed to do. I ask the Committee’s forgiveness and forbearance, but I had hoped that the clarity of language that I was inserting into the Bill would almost be self-evident. I hoped that, given the wisdom assembled in this room—as I look around it I see some of the wisest people, not only in this Parliament but in all Parliaments—Committee members would immediately have gathered the sense of what I meant. As I explained it in Committee, they would find that it all became clear. If they had any doubts or wanted me to make any further explanations, they would be able to intervene. Although I recognise that I have not on this occasion followed the good, helpful suggestion of the Procedure Committee, I think that my sin of omission—as it clearly is—does not necessarily require a confessional.

Photo of James Arbuthnot James Arbuthnot Conservative, North East Hampshire

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. At this stage in his speech—to which I am listening with fascination—I should declare an interest. My wife is a judge, and might therefore be called upon to consider this issue. How does my hon. Friend think that the clarity of the Bill would be improved if one removed the word “social” from the phrase “social solidarity”? I always think that tends to help with an understanding of the phrase used.

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Conservative, North East Somerset

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his point, and I am fascinated by the fact that his wife is a judge. This really does come to the heart of the matter that we, in this Committee, are looking at in microcosm. Who should make our laws? Should it be my right hon. Friend or should it be his learned wife? It is my view that he should make the laws and his learned wife should then interpret them. I hope that that is how the Arbuthnot family operates. That seems to me to be a very good model for family life, because it ensures that one’s wife has the ultimate authority. I think that is probably true for most of the gentlemen in this House, if not necessarily for the ladies, obviously.

On my right hon. Friend’s point about removing the word “social”, we would then just have “solidarity”. It would be based on solidarity. This was, of course, the name of the trade union in Poland, I seem to remember. It was one of the very few trade unions of which I have been an admirer, because it was in favour of freedom rather than obstructionism. If one just said “a health service based on solidarity”, what it meant would be very unclear—just as unclear as “social solidarity”. What is solidarity? What are we trying to get at in saying that? Surely it is obvious that if a health service is  free at the point of use—which the Conservatives are deeply committed to and have been for a very long time—surely it will treat everybody fairly. That is the whole point of it: everybody has an equal right to use it.

My amendment would replace “social solidarity” where it occurs throughout the Bill with the term “medical necessity”, because I like precision and facts. No doubt the Committee will remember the great Ronald Reagan giving a speech at the Republican convention in which he said, “Facts are stubborn things”. Facts are stubborn things, and they are justiciable and understandable and interpretable, whereas spin is not. I take my right hon. Friend’s suggestion that the term “social solidarity” should be changed to merely “solidarity”, but I reject it because it does not actually tell us anything. It sounds very nice; it sounds good and kind and cuddly, but to use a time-honoured phrase, it butters no parsnips. I am very keen that when we legislate, as far as possible parsnips should be buttered, rather than simply having fine words.

Looking again at social solidarity and how we are trying to get there and how unsuited it is to legislation, in October of this great year of anniversaries we have the 600th anniversary of our great victory at Agincourt. There we see social solidarity in those words of Henry V about those who were not there, who were “a-bed”, who “shall think themselves accursed” not to have been at Agincourt on St Crispin’s day. That is social solidarity. That is something created by people following a common enterprise. That is a band of brothers coalescing to ensure that what they are trying to do is in the interests of the nation and pushing forward to ensure that the best interests of the people are served.

However, after Agincourt—or probably before from Crécy onwards—legislation was on the statute book saying that there must be archery practice at very regular occasions subject to penalties, in order to create the social solidarity that the hon. Member for Eltham wishes to put in his Bill. It consistently failed to work. Without that great feeling of common enterprise, legislation could not enforce that which was not in the hearts of the people. The hearts of the people already support the national health service and therefore to say that it needs to be on the basis of social solidarity seems to me otiose, but also bad law. Think on our friends of Agincourt and their great enterprise.

Photo of Stephen Metcalfe Stephen Metcalfe Conservative, South Basildon and East Thurrock

I am listening carefully to my hon. Friend’s very informative and enlightening speech. This concept of social solidarity was expanded on by Emile Durkheim, but in my reading of what he said, it seems a slightly woolly concept. It is more ethereal than something that could be referred to in a court of law. That is why I have great sympathy with my hon. Friend’s point and would support his amendments.

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Conservative, North East Somerset

I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s intervention and support. I look forward to his speech on this subject, which will be more philosophical than  mine. He gets to the heart of the issue. It is not a concrete concept and cannot be enforced on people by law, but comes about through the nature of things. I mentioned Agincourt, one of our great anniversaries. We also have the anniversary of Waterloo on 18 June. There is a French historian who is trying to maintain that Napoleon won. For the record, he did not. Wellington did, with the help of Blücher, who came a bit late but better later than never. That, once again, created social solidarity. The Iron Duke, Wellington, said all those rude things about his own troops—how they might not frighten the enemy,

“but, by God, they frighten me”— yet when he was there ahead of them, leading, he inspired them with a sense of social solidarity.

Photo of Clive Efford Clive Efford Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport)

Just for the record of historic facts, the army that defeated Napoleon was a precursor to the European Union because the vast majority were Europeans, not British.

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Conservative, North East Somerset

I am inordinately privileged to have had the hon. Gentleman’s intervention. I look at it another way. It has been in our nature as a nation to have allies, but Napoleon is the precursor of the European Union in trying to enforce order without democratic support. Napoleon is the model for the EU, where we, with Blücher and so on, are the model for a Europe of nation states.

I fear, Mr Chairman, that in your hawklike attention to detail, if I stray too much on to this subject, I may be threatened with the horrors of Standing Order No. 42 as implemented in Committee by Standing Orders—

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

Order. The hon. Gentleman is nowhere near Standing Order No. 42 yet.

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Conservative, North East Somerset

I remain privileged and grateful for the wisdom of the Chairman. I want to come back to matters at hand, such as that spirit of social solidarity that there was at Waterloo and the commonality that they felt in their hearts that inspired them to do more. To be fair, that was true of the enemy as well. As an aside, it is worth remembering that in Crimea, Lord Raglan kept referring to the enemy as the French when by that stage they were our allies.

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

Order. The Committee stands adjourned till half past 2 this afternoon in Room 12. I wish I could say that was because the House authorities had taken note of what was said this morning, but I fear it is because we were not expecting to sit this afternoon.

The Chair adjourned the Committee without Question put (Standing Order No. 88).

Adjourned till this day at half past Two o’clock.