|Volume 42 Number 3, February 11, 2012||ARCHIVE||HOME||JBCENTRE||SUBSCRIBE|
Workers' Weekly Internet Edition: Article Index :
The Coalition and Scotland:
Attacking the Right to Sovereignty
Health and Social Care Bill:
Placing the Power to Decide on the Future of the NHS Further in the Hands of the Rich
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On Monday, Foreign Secretary William Hague reported to Parliament on the political situation in Syria, where the Syrian government is engaged in suppressing an armed rebellion largely centred in the country’s third largest city Homs. This report followed the UN Security Council vote in which both Russia and China vetoed a draft resolution on Syria proposed by Morocco, co-sponsored by the Arab League but also strongly supported by the British government and its allies.
In his speech to Parliament Hague’s spoke of the government of Syria as a “doomed regime” suggesting that Britain and its allies have already decided on regime change. He made strenuous efforts, which have been echoed in the mass media, to demonise the stance of Russia and China, presenting those countries actions as a “betrayal” of the Syrian people and likely to exacerbate the situation in Syria. Hague even accused Russia and China of provoking civil war in Syria, a charge which could be levelled with more accuracy at the Britain government and its allies.
For its part, the government of Russia had called for more time to consider the draft resolution, wishing to wait until its foreign minster had visited Syria this week. It proposed its own amendments to the resolution, which were not accepted by the Anglo-Americans and their allies. In particular, Russia and China were concerned about demands from the Arab League calling on President al-Assad to step down and about demands that the government of Syria should observe a ceasefire while no such demands were made on the armed opposition groups fighting against it. In short, Russia and China were both concerned that efforts were being made to interfere in the internal affairs of Syria and to effect regime change. In this regard, the draft resolution even specified the kind of political system that should be established in Syria.
It is clear that Britain and its NATO allies have become emboldened after successful regime change in Libya. As was the case in that country, they are again coordinating the efforts of the armed opposition, the so-called Free Syria Army. There are even reports that British, US and other NATO special forces are already supporting this opposition to the government of Syria from neighbouring Turkey, in league with such countries as Libya. As was the case with Libya, the Arab League is also involved in spearheading the efforts of the warmongering NATO and there are plans that it should form the basis of a “Friends of Syria” group, reminiscent of the Libya Contact Group. The Arab League is presented not just as the relevant regional body but as the most democratic of organisations even though several of its member countries, such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar are feudal monarchies, closely allied with Britain and the US, which do not guarantee their own citizens the rights they claim to be championing for the people of Syria.
The Anglo-Americans and their allies are operating under cover of what they call the “Arab Spring”, posing as the greatest defenders of democracy and the greatest friends of the Arab peoples but as in Libya, Egypt, Tunisia and elsewhere in the region they have their own agenda and interests. There is no doubt opposition to the government to Syria, but the governments of Britain and other countries are using this fact to interfere in Syria’s internal affairs. Hague has met with representatives of the Syrian opposition on several occasions, and has openly stated that the British government will continue to support their armed rebellion in order to bring about regime change in Syria.
By these means Britain and its allies wish to destabilise a government and country that is an important regional power, a resolute adversary of Zionist Israel, an ally of Iran and a supporter of patriotic organisations in Palestine and Lebanon. Syria also occupies an important strategic position on the Mediterranean, has refused to ally itself to NATO and provides Russia with an important naval base. It is evident in regard to both Syria and Iran that the British government and its NATO allies are acting not only against these countries because of their independent stance and geo-political importance but also in contention with Russia and China over west and central Asia.
William Hague therefore signalled to Parliament that the government is intent on becoming a key player in the “Friends of Syria” coalition and will intensify its activities and discussions with the Syrian opposition. It is also planning, along with its allies, to introduce new sanctions against Syria. In short, it is stepping up its plans to effect regime change in Syria just as it did in Libya, creating the conditions for further aggression against Iran and attempting to bully Russia and China.
The warmongering actions of the government and its continued attempts at regime change must be totally condemned. Its actions and those of its allies are threatening to destabilise western Asia and are creating all the conditions for new armed conflicts that pose great dangers for people in the region and globally. They must be resolutely opposed!
The Coalition and Scotland:
Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond is to meet the Westminster Secretary of State for Scotland, Michael Moore, on Monday to discuss the referendum of the Scottish people on Scotland’s independence.
It was reported recently that David Cameron himself was due to meet with Alex Salmond in the next few days for talks. However, Alex Salmond played down the suggestion, saying that no date has yet been fixed and himself suggesting that the Coalition government is split the issue of a referendum.
According to The Times, a spokesman for Alex Salmond, said: "While the date for the first minister to meet the prime minister to discuss Scotland's referendum is to be confirmed, we look forward to it taking place in early course, once the first minister has met the secretary of state for Scotland on Monday." The spokesman added: "It is clear there is growing consensus that the proposed timetable for Scotland's referendum is entirely reasonable, however only this weekend it is obvious there are divergent views within the Westminster coalition on their position in regard to more powers – with the prime minister refusing to offer any further powers and the secretary of state for Scotland saying Scotland could get greater financial powers. If that is a genuine offer it should be articulated clearly to the people of Scotland at this stage."
These reports come in the context of the attacks by Cameron on the right of the Scottish Parliament to hold such a referendum without the Westminster government having a say, and more generally the right of the Scottish people to full sovereignty over their affairs.
Writing in the Independent of January 12, Alex Salmond said: “The leading textbook on Scottish constitutional law confirms the Scottish Government's long-held position that a consultative referendum is within the competence of the Scottish Parliament.” The SNP leader went on: “What matters of course is the political legitimacy and moral authority which flows from such an advisory referendum. If the independence referendum is to be a legally binding poll, then it would require Westminster and Holyrood to pass a so-called Section 30 order under the Scotland Act. We have absolutely no difficulty with such a proposal. The objection is that the Prime Minister, the Chancellor and others have been determined in recent days to attach their own strings to such an order, and dictate the terms of Scotland's referendum from London.”
On the date of such a referendum, Alex Salmond wrote: “The date of autumn 2014 which the Scottish Cabinet has now agreed for the referendum is right because it gives the right amount of time for proper consideration of such a historic decision. Now that we have announced the date, the anti-independence parties should accept this reasonable timetable, and cease their false claims about Scotland's economy.”
On Scotland’s constitutional future, Alex Salmond concluded: “The UN initially comprised just 51 independent nations. Today, that figure has risen to more than 190. Meanwhile, the last big expansion of the EU in 2004 saw the admission of 10 new members – six of them smaller than Scotland and six which had become independent since 1990.
“An independent Scotland with access to all our nation's resources will be the sixth most prosperous nation in the OECD league table – compared with the UK's number 16 placing. Globalisation has gone hand in hand with a growing desire for nations to take responsibility for their own affairs. Joining the family of nations as an independent and equal nation will see Scotland completing its home rule journey.”
Labour leader Ed Miliband for his part opposed the right of the Scottish nation to its sovereignty by putting forward the non-sequitur that Scotland could not build a fairer more progressive society by “giving up” on fairness in the rest of Britain. Other forces have opposed the exercise of Scotland’s sovereignty by attempting to pit the choice between “left and right” against that of independence or union.
In fact, this is not the way the issue poses itself at all. The constitutional situation has become a mess with devolved and reserved powers, and the so-called “West Lothian question” has continued to be raised to muddy the waters.
The Scottish people must be allowed to determine their own future, and cut through the objections which only seek to maintain the right of the ruling elite represented in Westminster to block the exercise of Scottish nationhood. The exercise of that nationhood does not preclude a union being formed by a sovereign Scotland and indeed a sovereign Wales on the basis of equality into a united Britain, provided only that such a union is the decision of the peoples themselves and that the sovereignty of the respective nations is not compromised.
This is one of the rights which it is essential that the working class should uphold as a component part of its internationalism. It does not contradict the unity of the workers as class sisters and brothers who are fighting to bring a new society into being, nor does it contradict the common resistance struggle of the workers against finance capital and the dictate of the monopolies. The workers always have on the agenda the building of resistance and the planting of the alternative.
As The Line of March said in its issue of May 2011: “The sovereignty of Scotland is part of the alternative for which the working class is fighting. The question is how the working class and people of Scotland are taking up the issue of building the Scottish nation anew; how the Scottish working class is placing itself in the centre of nation-building, giving it its own perspective, acting not in contradiction with but as part of the working class in Britain as a whole.
“As part of their nation-building programme, the Scottish working class need also to build their own opposition to the Westminster neo-liberal offensive as part of the Britain-wide Workers’ Opposition. Overall, the people of Scotland have shown that they aspire to grasp the opportunity to shape Scottish politics. This is also the desire of the Welsh people as regards the politics of a sovereign Wales.”
For a modern sovereign Scotland!
Health and Social Care Bill:
As the opposition to Health and Social Care Bill continues to grow, a fundamental question is the responsibility of the government on behalf of society to provide the NHS as a comprehensive and universal health care system equitable to all across England and Wales which is publicly provided and without charge. That responsibility for Scotland is devolved to the Scottish Parliament.
Since 1947, responsibility has rested specifically with the Secretary of State for Health in Parliament. Clause 1 of the bill changes the Secretary of State for Health’s responsibility for the NHS from the 2006 wording of “must provide or secure the provision of services” to “secure that services are provided” [clause 1(2) in regard to the “Secretary of State’s duty to promote comprehensive health service”].
In a post entitled Key dangers in the Health and Social Care Bill, the “False Economy” blog writes: “The change from the active to passive is significant because it shows that Lansley no longer wants to be involved in the NHS.” It should be noted also that the bill adds further sub-clauses to the definition of the Secretary of State’s duties which, although appearing to give the minister more responsibilities in fact underline the significance of the change. For example, it would add a sub-clause that the Secretary of State “must … act with a view to securing … that any other person exercising functions in relation to the health service or providing services for its purposes is free to exercise those functions or provide those services in the manner that it considers most appropriate”.
The “False Economy” blog continues: “This derogation of responsibility infects the whole bill, with responsibilities being handed over to either the new unelected, unaccountable super-quango, the NHS Commissioning Board [NHSCB], or to the new clinical commissioning groups [CCGs].
“The CCGs will get the Secretary of State’s power (clause 12) to decide which services the NHS will pay for (and consequently, which services the NHS will not pay for).
“They will also have the power to impose charges (clause 25 adds a new clause, 14ZE, into the 2006 Act). If you object to any of this you will not be able to complain to your MP because CCGs are autonomous and not accountable to the Secretary of State. Clause 4 mandates that all the organisations in the NHS are similarly ‘autonomous’.”
On the issue of commissioning, the blog pointes out: “The bill abolishes Primary Care Trusts and Strategic Health Authorities (clauses 32 and 33) and gives the responsibilities they had for commissioning to the NHSCB, and local CCGs (clauses 24 and 25). Roughly a quarter of the commissioning that PCTs carry out locally will now be carried out by the NHSCB, which means that local decision-making has been moved to a national body.
“The majority of hospital and community health services will be commissioned by CCGs.”
The NHS Future Forum was constituted from April to June last year after the opposition on the initial introduction of the bill as part of the government’s so-called “listening exercise”, and after this pause for thought made recommendations to the government. The “False Economy” blogs points out, “The Future Forum says that CCGs should have a statutory duty to do this and not delegate it, but a report leaked last year says that the government expects all the CCGs to delegate the work to private companies called Commissioning Support Organisations [CSOs] and that the remaining NHS commissioners should form commercial companies which will be privatised by 2016.
“These companies will be designing how care is delivered but there will be no democratic control over them. There is no mention of CSOs in the bill.”
Regarding Foundation Trusts [FTs], the blog says: “NHS Trusts will be abolished in 2014 (clause 178), so all hospital and mental health trusts will have to become Foundation Trusts. One criteria of becoming an FT is financial governance and up to 20 [NHS Trusts] either have such large PFI repayments, or are in such debt, that they will not achieve FT status by the deadline [press release by the National Audit Office, October 13, 2011].
“Since there is no alternative to being an FT, this means these hospitals will have the option of being taken over by an existing FT, a management privatisation deal like at Hinchingbrooke, or closure.” Hinchingbrooke Hospital came under the management of the private sector Circle Partnership on February 1.
The blog continues: “FTs are autonomous, which means that the government has no responsibility for capital funding, so FTs are expected to fund new building through bank loans (clause 162(2) and 162(8)). The bill removes the so-called ‘asset lock’ (clause 162(7)) so that if an FT defaults on its loans a bank could repossess part of the hospital.
“Perhaps the most contentious clause covering FTs is the repeal of the so-called private patient income cap (clause 164(1)) that restricted FT private income to the proportion of the private income in 2003. The bill says that FT income from treating NHS patients must be more than the income from private sources (clause 163(1)).
“This is what people are referring to when they talk about FTs being able to generate 49% of their income from private patients. However, it’s not 49% – it is one penny less than 50%.”
This bill being recklessly pursued by the coalition government is to radically negate the responsibility of government to provide an equitable and universal comprehensive provision of health care and to place this responsibility in bodies appointed and more directly controlled by interests outside of Parliament. It is aimed at increasing the introduction of the private sector into purchasing and providing health services. In this way the bill further opens the door to imposition of monopoly right over public right in health care. It is doing what they say – “liberating” the NHS for the monopolies to engage further with than they have already both in becoming “commissioners” (purchasers) and providers of health care.
The question facing the Workers’ Opposition is that the right to health care is a fundamental right in a modern society and this right for all members of society must be guaranteed over any claim that the monopolies try to impose on society. The big party system has become the mainstay of the financial oligarchy who are passing this bill on their behalf and to further society paying tribute to them at the expense of the health care of all in society. For the Workers’ Opposition the issue is that a government must not be allowed to abrogate its responsibilities to provide the NHS as a comprehensive and universal health care system equitable to all and which is publicly provided as of right. It is not acceptable that health care be presented as a “cost” that charges patients in any way.
The government must be held to account. This is the demand of the opposition from health workers and professionals, including GPs, to the bill. It is clear that the issue is not one of putting pressure on the House of Lords to defeat the bill. The example of the Welfare Reform Bill where Lords amendments were overturned on return to the Commons if nothing else shows that this is not the solution. For the Workers’ Opposition the necessity to hold the government to account for its responsibility to provide a National Health Service is fundamental. The Bill must be defeated.
Amended by the Lords:
introduced from the Commons:
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