Apr 052012
Shirley Williams, Baroness Williams of Crosby,...

Shirley Williams, Baroness Williams of Crosby, addressing a rally at a Liberal Democrat conference in the International Convention Centre, Birmingham (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A reply from Our Shirl! One of the founder members of the Social Democrat Party (I actually canvassed for them in my giddy youth and as a reward was permitted to glimpse Roy Jenkins absent-mindedly scratching his goolies) and therefore one of the driving forces behind the rise of the centre-left in the early 80s, which makes her something of a living legend. Again, in spite of the disclaimer, I feel it’s information that’s of public interest.

Thank you for writing to me about the Health and Social Care Bill.

I have spoken to, and read messages from, many members of the public and people who work in the NHS about the health bill. I have heard many stories of how valued the NHS is by the British people, and how we must protect it from any ideological assault which would undermine it. My family and I have always been NHS patients, and share your admiration for this wonderful public service.

For the past year I have been pushing for major changes to the Bill. Due to negotiations led by the Liberal Democrats, there is now a guarantee that the Secretary of State has responsibility for a free and comprehensive health service for all. Competition has been restricted so that it is only acceptable when it is in the interest of NHS patients. The special premiums and favours which Labour gave to private health firms have been withdrawn. The Bill now also establishes excellent regimes for medical education, public health and medical research.

Much of the public – and even the profession – are still unaware of many of the major changes which have been made. There has been a huge amount of incorrect or obsolete information in the media about the health bill, often because old versions of the bill are being referred to, rather than the latest amended version.

Much the best non-partisan source of information about the amendments is the document produced by the House of Common’s library, which explains all the changes that have been made to the bill. This can be found online at: http://www.parliament.uk/briefing-papers/SN06252

You may also wish to visit the following web-page which contains a lot of up-to-date information on the bill: http://www.libdems.org.uk/health.aspx

The Risk Register

The Risk Register was debated on 19 March in the House of Lords. Lord Owen and others presented the argument for delaying the Third Reading of the Bill until it had been published. There were two crucial arguments which convinced a majority of the House that it should not be delayed.

Firstly, the Risk Register was drawn up in Autumn 2010 and therefore does not reflect the major changes to the bill. Much of the discussion about the risk register would therefore relate to the original version of the bill.

Secondly, a Risk Register is produced for every bill, and yet is very rarely published by central government. Labour refused to publish a health risk register when they were in power. These registers are written by senior civil servants as internal documents to analyse risks. So in future civil servants may write them with the public in mind, and leave out some things which would create fear or panic. Several senior civil servants who are now Cross-bench Members of the House of Lords have said that it would be to the detriment of us all if civil servants are not able to have frank and honest conversations with their ministers about risks.

That said, I felt that the government should have delayed the Third Reading to give time for the Risk Register to be published first. My speech in the House of Lords (taken from Hansard) is copied below.

Once again, thank you for contacting me.

Yours sincerely,

Shirley Williams

Hansard 19th March 2012

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, what the noble Lord, Lord Deben, said is well worth listening to, but I shall add one other important factor before I come on to the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Owen. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, pointed out—and it is a crucial factor in our discussion—the risk register that was drawn up in autumn 2010 took no account of the changes made by your Lordships’ House. It could not because it could not foresee the future. That means that the risk register of 2010, the transitional register to which the chairman of the tribunal referred, is almost useless in enriching and informing the debate we are having in this House. Therefore, far from being helpful, it will in many ways be extremely misleading because it will confirm the incorrect beliefs of many members of the public who have not understood what has happened in this House. You only have to read the newspapers to see how widespread is the total ignorance of what we have done here, whether we talk about competition, training or constitutional change. That is the crucially troubling aspect of what we are discussing. It leads the general public and Members of this House and elsewhere back to an out-of-date and anachronistic finding.

I have one more thing to say about the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Owen. The House needs to recognise that he has made a very substantial change of great importance in it: he has accepted that there will be a Third Reading in this House. He has accepted that the outcome of the Third Reading will be binding upon everybody in this House and beyond because it will be part of the system of law. …

My view is a rather curious one. It is that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, is right in pointing to the real dangers of treating the risk register as a source of knowledge and truth, but I also believe that the Government should have gone further in trying to find time somewhere, if necessary—dare I say it?—even taking a day off the sacred Easter Recess to enable this House to discuss in detail what is coming out of the chairman of the tribunal’s decision on the risk register so that we can get it straight.

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anarchic teapot

Site owner. Opinionated bugger. Qualified accountant, IT bod and French-English translator. I swear a lot.
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