Parliamentary Sketch : No going back

Posted on: 31st May 2012

Life has been relatively peaceful in the Commons lately. Fewer bar room brawls, less arrests, though the name calling continues.

This is partly because MPs don’t have many ‘red meat’ arguments on their agenda. The Commons is having to sit impatiently twiddling its thumbs waiting for their Lordships to harrumph their way through clause-by-clause, line-by-line scrutiny of the ill conceived and inadequate legislation we pass to them to prettify and to be made even less comprehensible than it already was. Health Bills, Welfare Bills, Legal Aid Reforms. Oh yes, the whole lot.

There’s still the not so small matter of the Budget to come in a couple of week’s time. Look out for changes to fuel and wealth taxes.

Meanwhile, as I help to shepherd through the legislation to cut every household’s (on mainland Cornwall, at least) water bill by £50 and monitor the impact of a 5p per litre fuel duty rebate on Scilly, the battle over the Health Bill goes on.

Though it sits in the Lords – and is taxing the wits of some of the finest minds in the land – the political fall-out of going ahead with it, (or the attempt to achieve its improbable withdrawal) are already causing a fall-out. My Liberal Democrat colleagues and I disagree. Some argue that we’ve achieved some real concessions and we should cut our losses and just let it go through and hope for the best. I and others see the Bill as largely unchanged, the worthy and hard won concessions make the Bill less bad but sill not good enough.

Is no Bill better than this improved but still risky one? Yes, I think so.

The other day, the Health Secretary was telling the House of Commons how successful the Government had been in managing the NHS. No problems, no waits, everyone happy. No one dying. Everyone getting better and quicker etc. So I got up and asked him “If everything is going so well, why do we need a Health Bill?”

He didn’t answer. But he did attack the opposition, just for good measure; and because it successfully changed the subject and got a cheer from his own side!

The simple truth is that there is now no way to stop the Health Bill unless the Government chooses to withdraw it. There is no dignified exit strategy – i.e. one that won’t provoke “humiliating climb down” type headlines – and so in the virility contest stakes which map the fortunes of Governments and Ministers there is no plausible way of changing course, no matter how damaging it might be for the NHS.

6th March 2012