I received hundreds of letters, emails and petitions from constituents about the Second Reading of the NHS Reinstatement Private Members Bill, which took place on the 11th of March 2016. I cancelled all of my usual Friday meetings to remain in London to take part in the debate.
Before I get into my position on the Bill, I want to set out the context in which debates on Private Members’ Bills take place. Private Members’ Bills very rarely become law. This is due to the pressure of Parliamentary time and isn’t a reflection on the importance of the issue at hand.
Unfortunately, owing to other Parliamentary business taking longer than expected, very little time was left for the Second Reading of the NHS Reinstatement Bill. This means that MPs were not able to vote on it. Had the Bill been debated at length in Parliament, I would have voted in favour of it. I don’t agree with everything in the Bill, but the principle of the Secretary of State for Health being accountable for and to the NHS is one that I wholeheartedly support. In the short time that was available to debate the Bill, I made the point that the Government should recognise how different it is to provide healthcare in rural areas compared with urban areas. Communities such as ours in Whitehaven, Egremont, Millom, Keswick, Workington and Maryport are feeling the sting of Government policy and it is time for the Government to put things right. You can read my intervention here.
I also want to be clear that there are parts of the Bill that I disagree with: the last thing the NHS needs at this moment is another costly top-down reorganisation and if it came to it, I wouldn’t support a Bill becoming law that contains provisions for such a reorganisation. The service is still reeling from the last one and it wouldn’t be right to put staff and patients through this upheaval again.
The process of a Bill through Parliament means that should it pass a 2nd Reading, the Bill would be combed over, line by line, by a committee of MPs. It would have been my intention, following my support for the Bill at 2nd Reading, to introduce amendments to the Bill in the committee to make it a better piece of legislation. I would have sought to remove the measures relating to reorganising the service, whilst fully supporting the Bill’s intention to make the Secretary of State responsible.
In the last Parliament, I backed a Private Member’s Bill (The NHS Amended Powers and Duties Bill) that sought to do just that, but unfortunately, the Bill ran out of time and it wasn’t passed before the end of the Parliamentary Session.
As a former Shadow Health Minister, I am concerned for the NHS under this Government. The Secretary of State should be responsible for the healthcare provided in this country and that is I would have voted in favour of the NHS Reinstatement Bill at its Second Reading, to enable a better Bill to emerge following the usual Parliamentary process