Health and Social Care Bill

Debate between Baroness D'Souza and Baroness Williams of Crosby
Wednesday 2nd November 2011

(12 years, 7 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness D'Souza Portrait The Lord Speaker (Baroness D'Souza)
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My Lords, I would like to remind the Committee that if either Amendment 3 or Amendment 4 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment 5 by reason of pre-emption. I call the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby.

Baroness Williams of Crosby Portrait Baroness Williams of Crosby
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I apologise for the slight delay in rising to my feet—my understanding was that the Minister was proposing to start the debate by making a statement. I apologise for delaying the House. Let me say right away that I do not resile in any way from the amendment which the noble Baronesses, Lady Jay and Lady Thornton, the noble Lord, Lord Patel, and I have put down. We believe that it is important to have an absolutely solid basis by which the whole of the House and the public can understand exactly the accountabilities and responsibilities of the Secretary of State. It is therefore of great importance that this House, in this crucial Committee sitting, is able to reach a clear understanding of what those responsibilities and accountabilities are.

I very much hope that that will be possible as there are still legal questions about the particular meaning of both the amendment put forward by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, and the amendment put forward in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, myself and others. There are still difficulties and differences of opinion between legal voices about exactly what the forethought of those amendments is and just how clearly they lay out the responsibilities and accountability of the Secretary of State. Some Members of this House will recognise that one difficulty is that the Secretary of State is extremely anxious to avoid any further micromanagement of the health services because he believes that it would reduce professional discretion. I think that many of us sympathise with that argument.

The difficulty is that many of us also believe that the Secretary of State should have clear accountability for the very large sums involved in financing the NHS at present. We also have regard to the fact that there are certain crucial responsibilities revolving around things such as national emergencies for which we believe the public would expect the Secretary of State to be the person responsible. So on constitutional grounds, and on grounds of financial accountability and clear responsibility in certain areas of national concern, we are anxious to see that the Secretary of State retains those responsibilities. However, the possibility of drafting legislation which comprises both the issue of having no micromanagement and the issue of the crucial ultimate responsibilities of the Secretary of State has proved somewhat elusive. In that situation, I hope very much that the Government will consider pressing ahead with trying to draft acceptable legislation for Report stage, when I hope there can be broad agreement about what the responsibilities are. I cannot answer for my noble friend the Minister, of course, but I hope that he will give consideration to that request.

Perhaps I may quickly add three other considerations. The first, which I have mentioned already, is the area of legal ambiguity. I think that all Members of this House will have heard clashes of opinion about the precise meaning of the amendment before us. I regret that, and I hope the legal profession will forgive me for saying that when there is more than one lawyer in a room there is very often more than one opinion. That is exactly the situation in which we find ourselves. Secondly, many of us feel—I would certainly speak for myself and my party, and this point was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Jay—that it is absolutely critical to look at Clauses 4 and 10 together with Clause 1, rather than trying to take them separately. They are intimately interrelated. Many of us recognise that to make a change in Clause 1 without taking on board the implications of Clauses 4 and 10 would leave us in a world of deep twilight uncertainty.

The third issue is perhaps a bigger one; perhaps it constitutes a vision that I profoundly hold. I think we all recognise that the NHS is deeply cherished in this country. It is something to which people cling, as they find themselves facing financial hardship, as one of the few certainties and areas of trust that they can rely on. However, we also know without any doubt of the essential need for change in the NHS—my noble friend the Minister and others have made this absolutely clear—if we are to be able to finance an aging population, and not least, although we often neglect this, the very welcome survival of far more people with chronic sicknesses than used to be the case even 20 years ago, all of which lays heavy responsibilities on the health service. Because of that, I for one feel strongly that the greatest prize that this House could give to the future of health services in this country would be to reach a broad political consensus on the issue, so that the NHS and other health services, as they go forward, find that they are based on a solid rock of acceptance and consensus that will carry us through many of the ups and downs that we are bound to face in the next few years.

Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill

Debate between Baroness D'Souza and Baroness Williams of Crosby
Monday 24th January 2011

(13 years, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness D'Souza Portrait Baroness D'Souza
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My Lords, I speak on behalf of the Cross-Benchers. It will come as no surprise that there is deep concern among us about the breakdown in the conventions and procedures of this House. I thank the Leader, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, for his words today, but would like to muse a little further on the possible consequences for this Chamber.

Scrutiny is our job, but I doubt that a reasonable person would conclude that the speeches in the dark hours of the night last week, and maybe even again tonight, represent scrutiny or sensible revision. We are therefore forced to believe that it is the Opposition’s intention to delay the Bill beyond the date on which it would be possible to have a referendum: 5 May.

Many Cross-Benchers, of course, hear the justifiable worries that the Opposition have expressed about the lack of scrutiny of certain parts of the Bill, and I am sure that we acknowledge the difficult combination of two contentious issues for reasons of political expediency. We recognise that the date of 5 May was always, to say the least, an unhelpful goal. I think everyone would also agree that there is some legitimate question about whether the Salisbury/Addison convention really should apply to this Bill.

Despite all this, I hope that I am expressing the views of the majority of Cross-Benchers in saying that the tactics that the Opposition are using to delay the Bill fly in the face of the conventions that have governed this House for perhaps the past six decades, that these tactics undoubtedly bring this House into disrepute, that any success of such tactics may well encourage their further future use, and that these factors put together may even mark the beginning of the dissolution of this House. I say this with some reluctance—even to me, it sounds somewhat dramatic—but I believe it to be true. Why would the public, let alone the other place, choose to support a Chamber that is seen to be deeply unserious in undertaking the role of revision and scrutiny? We are at a dangerous crossroads.

As everyone knows, the Cross-Benchers are fastidiously independent and non party political. What I say is absolutely not anti-Opposition; indeed, as has been said and was shown by Cross-Benchers in this House last week, we very often support the Opposition in their valuable amendments. No, our collective concern—for once, perhaps we are acting as a group—is that the self-regulation and fundamental tasks of this House are sufficiently valuable to be preserved. We therefore both understand the need for and urge that there be significant compromises on both sides of this House so that we may proceed with dignity and resolve.

Baroness Williams of Crosby Portrait Baroness Williams of Crosby
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My Lords, what the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, has just said is of extreme importance. She has summed up very well what is at stake in an issue that has far greater repercussions than the source of the differences between the two sides of the House. We do indeed put at risk the whole reputation of the House of Lords as a place of intelligent and thoughtful discussion, where from time to time essentially bipartisan considerations give way to the greater needs of the constitutional issues that affect the United Kingdom and its people.

In that context, observing this as someone who has not taken detailed part in the debate, it seems clear to me that there is some room to move on both sides. I suggest that one of the issues that might be moved on is that of giving slightly more discretion to the Boundary Commission on constituencies with a natural community. The House’s choice on the issue of the Isle of Wight showed how strongly it shares that view, and it is only sensible to do that within the narrowest conceivable limits, which basically means equal-sized constituencies while recognising that some issues have to be given rather more discretion than the present Bill gives them.

In exchange for that, it is vital that the Opposition accept their responsibility and cease to create what is in effect a filibustering lobby—for that is what it is. It is high time, speaking as someone who cares very much about this House as an essential element in a sensible, thoughtful and responsible democracy, that it is accepted that there should be some relatively small movement on both sides so that we can get an agreement and decision on this issue within the next few days and, to put it bluntly, cease to lose the respect that we so much need, and usually deserve, from the rest of the country.