by Daphne Liddle
PATIENTS don’t want it; doctors don’t want it; nurses don’t want it; other health workers and professionals don’t want it and the general public don’t want it.
The Labour Party doesn’t want it; a lot of Tories don’t want it or are very uneasy about it; a clear majority of the Liberal Democrat Party voted not to support it.
So who does want the Health and Social Care Bill that will put control of most of the NHS budget in the hands of private companies, in the guise of handing that control to family doctors who don’t have the time or the expertise to wield it?
The answer is: only David Cameron, Nick Clegg and their big business buddies — both sides of the Atlantic — who are eager to get control of that huge sum of our money and wield it to promote their profits.
Delegates to the Liberal Democrat spring conference last weekend made an effort to stop the Bill — they voted by 317 to 270 not to support the Bill — but their leaders betrayed them.
Dame Shirley Williams took a leaf out of Clare Short’s book, employing the tactic of putting herself in the lead of the opposition to the most controversial Bill since the 2003 vote to invade Iraq, and then caving in at the crucial moment and throwing the opposition into disarray.
Clegg has stated plainly that he will ignore the views of his own party and continue to support the Bill.
What little integrity Parliament may still have now lies in the hands of the Liberal Democrat backbenchers who can still stop this Bill by voting with Labour against it. It may also be the only way they can rescue the reputation of their own party.
One prominent Lib Dem critic of the bill, Dr Charles West, told the BBC that the conference vote would “empower” Lib Dem MPs and peers to reject the bill completely. “This bill was never in the coalition agreement,” he said.
The Bill is now being debated in the House of Lords and is due to return to the Commons for a final vote next week.
The House of Commons was forced to debate the Bill again after a 170,000-signature on-line petition.
Tuesday’s debate on the Bill in the Commons saw the Government win two votes — one on a wrecking amendment from Liberal Democrat backbenchers was defeated by 314 to 260, while a Labour-led motion also calling for it to be scrapped was defeated by 314 to 258 — a majority of 56.
The Bill also cleared another hurdle in the Lords after Labour attempts to delay its implementation. Labour had supported rebel Lib Dem leader Andrew George’s amendment, which urged Ministers to hold a summit with medical and patient groups to discuss fresh changes to the NHS.
Opponents of the Bill have not yet given up. Harriet Harman, Labour’s deputy leader, told the Commons during Prime Minister’s Questions: “Nick Clegg can tell his party to be proud of what they’ve achieved all he likes — the only people with a reason to be pleased that the Lib Dems are in government are the Conservatives.
“Nick Clegg should listen to the country, listen to his members and tell the Conservatives to drop this Bill.”
She continued: “People are against this bill because it has not changed one bit. “It is still a top-down reorganisation. It will still cost the NHS a fortune. It is still going to lead to fragmentation and privatisation.”
She urged Clegg to “instruct” Lib Dem peers to vote against the legislation when it was considered for the last time in the House of Lords next week.
“Even at this late stage, it is within his power to stop this Bill,” she added. “He did not need to sign the Bill but he did. He could stop the Bill but he won’t. He says the Lib Dems make a difference but they don’t.”