Campaigners are set to play a leading role in shaping Labour legislation to reverse the 2012 Health and Social Care Act and end the fragmentation and privatisation of the NHS.
That was the positive outcome of a constructive meeting called in Westminster by Labour’s Shadow Health and Social Care Secretary Jonathan Ashworth MP earlier today (June 27).
The meeting brought together representatives and advisors from the shadow health team and Labour Leader’s office and health policy advisors, along with Eleanor Smith MP who had planned to move the NHS Reinstatement Bill as a 10 minute Bill on July 11, Allyson Pollock and Peter Roderick – the authors of the Bill, the Socialist Health Association, Health Campaigns Together, and Keep Our NHS Public.
It was called as an urgent response to the decision last week by the Labour whips’ office not to support Eleanor Smith’s Bill for parliamentary procedural reasons, and to address the subsequent criticism and fears expressed by campaigners in social media that this decision represented a retreat by the Labour leadership from a full commitment to end privatisation in the NHS, reverse the 2012 Act and reinstate the NHS.
Jonathan Ashworth underlined his support for the underlying principles of the NHS Reinstatement Bill, and also stressed the Parliamentary Labour Party’s record of implementing the various commitments for campaigning as set out in last year’s Labour Conference Composite motion 8. He explained that his intention in calling the meeting had been to find ways in which legislation, which all can support, could be developed through a process of collaboration and consultation.
Campaigners were repeatedly assured that Labour’s leadership is committed to proposing its own Bill in the first Queen’s Speech of a Labour government that would embody the principles of the NHS Reinstatement Bill. The explanation of the decision to pull support from Eleanor Smith’s Bill was that the level of detail that it included is too great for tabling at this stage as a 10 minute Bill, with some of it potentially controversial within the Party. In particular significant debates need to be had on how Labour wishes to address the crisis of the heavily privatised social care system currently run through local government, and whether the NHS or local government should take charge of public health.
It was agreed that while this work needed to be done, in the short term, as Eleanor Smith and others argued strongly, a declaration of intent and principle is needed from Labour in this 70th anniversary year of the NHS.
With this in mind the meeting agreed:
- Jonathan Ashworth and Eleanor Smith would publicly sign up to show their support for the ‘NHS Takeback’ pledges, based on the Reinstatement Bill, that is promoted by the We Own It campaign https://weownit.org.uk/nhstakeback.
- Labour will seek the earliest opportunity – if possible before the summer recess – to table a shorter version of the Reinstatement Bill as a 10 minute Bill, to be moved by Eleanor Smith. This would echo the Takeback pledges and the NHS Reinstatement Bill as previously tabled.
- Further detailed meetings will take place beginning immediately – between the Leader’s office, the shadow health team and the drafters of the Reinstatement Bill, but also on a wider level to draw in and engage with campaigners, trade unions and other significant stakeholders – to draw up more detailed Labour legislation based on the Reinstatement Bill. Meetings will also take place with other committees as appropriate with the aim of developing an agreed draft Bill by the end of 2018 suitable for inclusion in a Queen’s Speech.
- Campaigners will continue to work with and advise Jon Ashworth and the shadow health team in responding to any NHS England proposals for new legislation or amendments to the Health & Social Care Act that might be tabled by the current government. Joint efforts to expose and challenge privatisation and encourage those such as the Wigan strikers who are actively fighting it will continue.
The unique and historic nature of this meeting and these agreed proposals was stressed by Jonathan Ashworth and recognised by the meeting. This unprecedented level of collaboration is a result of years of hard work on the ground by campaigners.
The result will be a stronger and broader campaign in Parliament and across the country for legislation that will restore and improve the NHS as a publicly owned, publicly funded, publicly provided and publicly accountable service.