|Volume 42 Number 9, March 24, 2012||ARCHIVE||HOME||JBCENTRE||SUBSCRIBE|
Workers' Weekly Internet Edition: Article Index :
For Your Information:
Third Reading of the Health and Social Care Bill in the House of Lords
For Your Information:
Weekly On Line Newspaper of the
Revolutionary Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist)
170, Wandsworth Road, London, SW8 2LA.
Phone: 020 7627 0599:
Workers'Weekly Internet Edition Freely available online
Workers' Weekly E-mail Edition Subscribe by e-mail daily: Free / Donate
WW Internet RSS Feed
The Line of March Monthly Publication of RCPB(ML)Subscribe
Given the concentration of power in the hands of the executive of the Coalition government, and despite the overwhelming opposition of all sections of the people, the Health and Social Care Bill survived the last ditch manoeuvre of an emergency debate in the House of Commons. In the end, having been postponed with the government’s “pause for thought” and being subjected to an extended Report stage in the House of Lords and not being further delayed by Lord Owen’s contention that it should not be returned to the Commons until the government’s risk assessment (the “transitional risk register”) for the Bill was published, it was approved by the Commons with indecent haste. The procedure of “ping-pong” was not required as all the Lords amendments, including those supposedly with the Commons’ financial privileges attached, were approved. These clearly did not affect the substance of the Bill. It is now to receive the Royal Assent in the next few weeks, and become law in this session of Parliament.
But this is far from the end of the story. The working class and people are not reconciled to the Bill and the struggle to prevent the NHS becoming totally controlled in the interests of the pharmaceutical and health care monopolies will continue. Furthermore, health workers and professionals are very bitter about the arbitrary arrogation of power by the Con-Dem government. This government has reasoned that without an effective parliamentary opposition and with a guarantee of being in power until May 2015, they can ride roughshod over the public good.
Speaking at the Nuffield Trust policy summit last month, health secretary Andrew Lansley had said that as the reforms took effect, NHS staff would realise the worst predictions made about the changes were bogus. This flies in the face of the stark reality. Nor was there any conviction in Lansley’s reassurances. The fact is that the Coalition does not require the Bill to be received with any credibility by the electorate.
The Bill is outrageously without a mandate. In fact, the Conservatives fought the election with the promise to end top-down control of the health service. That has proved to be a flagrant lie. Their claim now that the Health Bill is in the public interests is equally outrageous, when it is clear that the health secretary and the government are relinquishing responsibility for the people’s health care, and are taking the mantra of competition and the internal market to new heights.
Furthermore, the Conservatives fought the election with a promise that there would be no increase in the powers of EU legislation unless there were a referendum. With the provision of “any qualified provider” of health care, there are very serious questions about the Bill as to the impact on EU legislation and the extent to which the European Commission can impose decisions regarding the NHS in the interests of the European monopolies.
And, as is known, the provisions of the Bill have begun to be implemented well before there was a prospect of the Bill being passed. With the business model of the NHS in place, mergers of Foundation Trusts will become the norm, with those not considered economically viable going to the wall. Privatisation is already proving disastrous.
With the welfare of their patients and of a publicly provided health service at heart, health workers will feel the brunt of the cuts that are masquerading as “efficiency savings” amounting to £20bn. These “efficiency savings” amount to nothing more than service cuts and cuts in staff. Indeed, these cuts are set to be followed by a further £20bn-£30bn from 2015.
It is certain that the government’s health care reforms will be opposed by health workers every step of the way. The opposition that they and the workers’ movement have shown to the Bill all through its passage through Parliament will not disappear. It is the Workers’ Opposition who must raise on its banner that healthcare is a right, and fight that this right receive a guarantee. The Workers’ Opposition will also have to fight to defend all who do not take up as their own the Coalition’s mission to privatise the health service and do the bidding of the monopolies.
No Still Means No!
The Fight that the Right to Health Care Be Guaranteed Continues!
Lord Owen’s speech on March 19, 2012 (speaking as a Crossbench peer)
My Lords, this is rather a strange situation. We are coming to the end of an extraordinarily long process of debate, yet there is still one element that is not directly related to the Bill and much more concerns constitutional questions and the Freedom of Information Act. Throughout the Bill, various attempts have been made-mainly by those on the Cross Benches and the Opposition, it must be admitted-to use the Freedom of Information Act to reveal more information. That is a common situation that will be familiar to all Peers: in opposition we seek to use the Freedom of Information Act and in government we tend to try to clamp down on it. I myself tried to obtain the legal advice to the previous Labour Government in 2006 on the implications for introducing "any willing provider" provisions and other aspects as regards EU legislation. The Information Commissioner rejected my application. I accept that because the Freedom of Information Act has been very well established, with a commissioner who makes recommendations. These can be challenged by government or any other interested party. The commissioners can then decide on whether to uphold them and then there is a further appeal.
What is extremely unusual about the request that this register be disclosed-the transitional register, which relates more to the legislation-is that two decisions under the Freedom of Information Act have upheld disclosure. It was a surprise to quite a lot of us that the first decision by the Information Commissioner was that the register be disclosed-in fact, there are two registers. What became interesting was that the tribunal was going to have the matter referred to it. I pay tribute to the noble Earl, Lord Howe, who, on behalf of the Government, recognising the dilemma that we might be in in this House, having come to our normal discussions on the Bill and wanting to hear a decision, asked the chairman of the tribunal, Professor Angel, to bring forward his hearings. That was done and the tribunal sat on the 5th and 6th of this month. Again, its decision was against the Government and was that this register which relates to the peculiar circumstances of this very complex and long legislation should be disclosed.
It is fair to say that the Government have another appeal procedure open to them. There is another tribunal that they can go to. I make it clear that I do not believe that any Freedom of Information Act worth the name would ride roughshod over the legitimate case of the Government to hold back information and, furthermore, to receive information that is confidential to them during the process of legislation or of good government. As we know, the previous Cabinet Secretary went to the tribunal and argued-and I do not disagree-that civil servants, when asked to make risk assessments, wanted to feel confident that they could raise the unspeakable, if you like, with Ministers and not feel hesitant about bringing forward risks.
However, risks go to the core of this legislation, and that is the most important thing about it. The issue before the House is whether the risks of continuing with the legislation-no one believes that there are no risks-are greater than the risks of stopping the legislation. Few would disagree that there must be some risks in stopping legislation, having continued with it this far. This is, if one likes, a balance of judgment. My premise and my plea to the House is that, before making a final decision, all those who respect freedom of information and the world that we now live in with a viable Freedom of Information Act should at least await the decision of Professor Angel and the tribunal. That is all I ask for.
The question is a practical one. Are there enough weeks or days available to the House before Prorogation? I took soundings and it was very clear-certainly among Cross-Benchers, who I am bound to talk to more than others-that there was no belief that this issue should block the legislation; they did not think that it would be appropriate. There was a lot of substance in their argument. Whatever one's views about the Bill, that can be discussed at Third Reading. The question here was whether we could frame an amendment that would give the Government the freedom to bring this issue back before Prorogation. I used the words,
"until the last practical opportunity which would allow the Bill to receive Royal Assent before Prorogation".
We are not therefore discussing whether the Bill should go forward. This is not by any standard a blocking measure. Nor, I suggest to the House, would we really be sensible to make a decision in principle whether the tribunal's judgment should be upheld. It is anyhow, as I said, open to the Government to go to another appeal.
What seems to me pretty important is to listen to what the tribunal has decided. It has made a complex judgment, because it decided that the overall risk assessment should not be published but the transitional risk assessment should. A lot of people are still not sure how that distinction could have been made, but it has. We passed the legislation for freedom of information. I think it was an extremely good piece of legislation. It was put on the statute book in 2000 and was modified in 2005. As I said, it is not a complete licence for anyone to go in to get everything published that they might want. There are checks and balances. It seems to me that we should respect those checks and balances and await the decision.
There is a political and practical reason also, quite outside that. Those of us who have spent many hours and days on the Bill know that we can easily be in a bubble in which we discuss the line by line amendments and the practical wording of the legislation, but I suggest to the House that we are in a very unusual situation. On Friday, the result of a poll held among members and fellows of the Royal College of Physicians was announced. I have an interest to declare. I am a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and I voted. Thirty-five per cent voted, which, given the circumstances-ballots also go to overseas members-was a pretty high poll, and 69 per cent voted that the legislation should not go forward. Only 6 per cent believed that it should.
Everyone in this House makes their own judgment about a Bill. Pressures from outside, electronic petitions and opinion polls among royal societies come and go and we still make our decisions. I have no complaints about that and I do not believe that the medical profession has any particular monopoly of wisdom on this issue. What is staggering about the legislation is how it has been opposed by practically everybody who works in the health service. I refer not just to unions such as the BMA and the Royal College of Nursing, which have dual functions, both representing their professional bodies. Every royal college that balloted its members has come up with that conclusion.
All I am saying to the House in all sincerity is that we should follow due process on this Bill. Let us demonstrate to everybody that, even if they disagree with it, if the Bill is passed, they must co-operate with the legislation of the House. They must accept it in good will as the judgment of Parliament and they must work within the legislation. But do not leave unfinished business, do not leave out one massively important issue, which is to hear the view of the tribunal that we erected in the legislation and gave the freedom to make a judgment, and which has twice opposed the Government's judgment. I rest my case.
On March 8, 2012, the following Acts received the Royal Assent and became law:
Supply and Appropriation
(Anticipation and Adjustments) Act 2012
Live Music Act 2012
Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012
Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims (Amendment) Act 2012
Welfare Reform Act 2012
Consumer Insurance (Disclosure and Representations) Act 2012
Bank of Ireland (UK) plc Act 2012
According to reports in the Korean news agency, KCNA, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) is to launch a working satellite, Kwangmyongsong-3. The announcement of the launch was made on March 16 by a spokesman for the Korean Committee for Space Technology. The satellite has been manufactured by the DPRK itself through its own efforts with indigenous technology to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of President Kim Il Sung.
After successfully launching two experimental satellites, DPRK scientists and technicians have steadily been conducting scientific research to develop and utilise working satellites indispensable for the country's economic development in line with the government's policy for space development and peaceful use.
Kwangmyongsong-3, a polar-orbiting earth observation satellite, will be launched southward from the Sohae Satellite Launching Station in Cholsan County, North Phyongan Province, between April 12 and 16, lifted by a carrier rocket Unha-3.
A flight orbit has been chosen so that any carrier rocket debris generated during the flight would have not have any impact on neighbouring countries.
The DPRK has said that it will strictly abide by the relevant international regulations and usage concerning the launch of scientific and technological satellites for peaceful purposes. It will ensure maximum transparency, and thereby contribute to promoting international trust and co-operation in the field of space scientific research and satellite launches.
Some hostile forces, including the US, Japan and south Korea, have claimed that it will be a "missile launch", "a serious provocative act of threatening the peace and stability in the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia" and "a violation of the UNSC resolution".
However, the DPRK's sovereign right to use space for peaceful purposes cannot be denied. The peaceful development and use of space is a universally recognised legitimate right of a sovereign state. Launching a satellite for scientific research into the peaceful development and use of space and economic development cannot be a monopoly of any country, and many countries and regions of the world are engaged on such research. The DPRK's satellite launch is a matter pertaining to the sovereignty of a sovereign state.
In fact, the DPRK has sent the necessary information to relevant international bodies according to international regulations and procedures and expressed its desire to invite experts and journalists of other countries to view the launching station. Hostile propaganda will not cause it to cancel the launch.
DPRK Foreign Ministry Statement
A spokesman for the DPRK Foreign Ministry released a statement on March 23. It said that the DPRK's launch of the working satellite is an exercise of an independent and legitimate right pursuant to universally accepted international laws on the peaceful use of space including the Space Treaty which reflects the general will of the international community which stands above the UNSC resolution. The statement condemned the double standards of some countries whereby it is asserted that only the DPRK is not allowed to launch satellites while they themselves are launching them as commonplace events.
The statement pointed out that the DPRK's satellite launch is an issue quite separate from the February 29 DPRK-US agreement. The DPRK had already consistently clarified at the three rounds of the DPRK-US high-level talks that the satellite launch is not included in the long-range missile launch.
The stand of the DPRK to sincerely implement the DPRK-US agreement remains unaltered. It has already invited a delegation of the International Atomic Energy Agency to discuss the procedures to verify the moratorium on uranium enrichment activities and is coming to a sincere understanding for implementing the agreement with the US side.
For the US to find fault with the DPRK's satellite launch for peaceful purposes is laying hurdles in the way of implementing the agreement, the Foreign Ministry statement said, as it is contrary to the September 19 joint statement and the spirit of respect for sovereignty and equality of the DPRK-US agreement based on it.
If there is to be any sinister attempt to deprive the DPRK of its independent and legitimate right and put unreasonable double standards on it, this will inevitably compel the DPRK to take counter-measures. The DPRK does not wish to see the repetition of vicious cycle of such confrontation and escalated tension, the statement emphasised.
RCPB(ML) Home Page
Workers' Weekly Online Archive