On the continuing drama that is the reform of the National Health Service in the UK. Max Pemberton highlights the importance of the House of Lords. He notes that the upper chamber is “a stuffy, esoteric and anachronistic institution that rarely registers in the collective consciousness in any substantial way”. He says that after the House of Commons voted to pass the legislation, “attention rapidly shifted to the Lords in the hope that the legislation would be stopped.”
He mentions how the debate was “earnest, sincere and thoughtful way the peers spoke, even those with whom I disagreed. Unlike in the Commons, there is an air of genteel reverence and politeness to the Lords’ debate. No braying and shouting here”. Pemberton again notes his opinions about the Bill saying, rightly that it “is a bad piece of legislation that undermines the very essence of a nationalised health-care system. It only succeeds in opening it to private companies that will place profits before patients”.
He mentions how “The crossbencher Lord Owen tabled a motion to set up a special committee, which would spend the next few months studying the constitutional impact of the reforms. This was rejected by 330 votes to 262. Labour’s Lord Rea had wanted the second reading to be refused altogether, on the basis that the Government had no mandate for the reforms.This was defeated by 354 votes to 220.”
Having watched the debate in the Lords he says that despite the vote, ” I was left with a new-found respect for this chamber. It would be easy to dismiss the Lords as out of touch and arcane. In fact, it is full of people with remarkable experiences who can bring real depth and perspicacity to debates in a way that career politicians in the House of Commons cannot”, he continues saying “it was the likes of Lord Walton of Detchant who stole the show. Aged 89, he was a doctor before the NHS even existed and spoke passionately, without notes, about the horrors he had witnessed before the NHS was created. I listened to his speech intently and was immeasurably grateful that we have in this country an institution that gave him a voice.”.
He concludes that “The Bill is now at the committee stage, where peers examine every line of legislation and debate it. Once again, the eyes of the nation will be fixed on this House to do their best to minimise the most noxious elements of this legislation”. For the common good, society should hope he is right.