The Liberal Democrats clearly have a death wish.
As is going into a formal Coalition with the Conservatives after the 2010 General Election wasn’t bad enough, along with the wholesale sell-out of their ‘principled’ position on tuition fees, their immediate u-turn on VAT, their support for the millionaire’s tax cut, and voting through the bedroom tax; last night they sealed it all with the ultimate betrayal on the NHS.
Not only will it never be forgotten that the break up and commercialisation of our NHS – in a wasteful and unnecessary £3bn reorganisation – was only granted Parliamentary approval with LibDem votes, last night they granted sweeping powers to the Secretary of State for Health to close or reconfigure NHS services by sidestepping all the proper consultation that has to take place.
This was the controversial Clause 119 in the Care Bill. The measure itself was only bolted on to this piece of legislation after Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, tried to close and reconfigure NHS hospital services at Lewisham but was stopped by the Court, who said it was an abuse of his power.
So what does this Tory-led Government do when the Court says it can’t have it all its own way? They change the law!
Yesterday we debated two amendments to Clause 119 (the hospital closure clause): Labour’s simple amendment would have deleted Clause 119 from the Bill completely. Sadly this was defeated by the Tory and LibDems. The vote was: Ayes: 239 – Noes: 297
Then there was Liberal Democrat MP Paul Burstow’s amendment. In this campaign, Paul Burstow had become the poster boy of the Campaign Group 38 Degrees. To be fair, his amendment wasn’t ideal, because it kept Clause 119 in place. However, it did so with some additional safeguards on consultation with commissioners.
But in the final twist to this story, the Lib Dem MP attempted to withdraw his own amendment after he accepted to ‘chair’ a small committee of MPs to look into how hospital closure procedures work. Basically he was bought off with a promise of a non-job!
Labour pushed Paul Burstow’s amendment to a vote. Again we were defeated. The result was: Ayes: 241 – Noes: 288
6 Conservative MPs rebelled but only 1 Lib Dem MP did. The rest of the Lib Dems abstained (including Paul Burstow on his own amendment!) Had they voted with us, we actually could have won this vote.
Sadly that means the Secretary of State has been given the sweeping power he wanted to close services at Lewisham Hospital, which the High Court and Court of Appeal said he did not have. It means he can now close hospitals and change NHS services without going through the statutory consultation processes. I believe that’s wrong, and we should be worried about what it may mean for our own local NHS services.
The only good thing to come out of last night’s proceedings was the clear commitment from Labour: not only will we repeal the hated Tory Health and Social Care Act 2012 should we form a government after the next General Election; we will also scrap Clause 119 of the Care Act 2014.