By the time this column will have made it to print, we will have reached the end of the Parliamentary session and entered Prorogation before the State Opening of Parliament (“Queen’s Speech”) on Tuesday 10th May. The final weeks of the session will see a number of bills finalising their passage through both Houses and becoming law. If these bills don’t pass through both houses they fall. There are one or two which the government is going to legislate to carry over including the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill.
On Tuesday, the Building Safety Bill was back before the House of Commons to discuss Lords amendments. Particularly welcome were announcements made by the Secretary of State regarding pathways to pursue developers and hold those who refuse to contribute to cladding remediation work to account. This includes powers to establish a Building Industry Scheme(s) which would allow the Government to identify industry actors who have and have not committed to rectify building safety defects. It is absolutely right that developers are held to account. Another step in the right direction was the Housing Minister agreeing to look at the cases of buildings under 11metres on a case by case basis. I very much hope this commitment is taken forward and implemented.
The Health and Care Bill will be back in the House this week. While it will make a number of welcome improvements and be the start of proper integration across health and social care, I was disappointed that some of the proposals keep falling – including the obligation to undertake and report on workforce planning. What gets measured – and is visible – gets done! I took the opportunity this week during Department of Health questions to highlight the challenge for rural areas in developing a workforce plan, something I have repeatedly raised with Ministers on a number of occasions.
Indeed, the last report from the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Rural Health and Social Care which I chaired made 10 recommendations, including for how we might address workforce planning in rural areas. I asked the Minister what steps he had taken to put in place any of those recommendations to improve the plight of those living in rural areas. The answer was not satisfactory – the fight will continue! As set out in the report, I believe that specific rural content should be included in every first degree in medicine, nursing and social care. We should also mandate rural work experience in every general practice course, every geriatrician course, every nursing course and all core health care training.
The Police, Crime, Courts & Sentencing Bill is coming back again with the Lords rightly trying to reinstate measures proposed in the Commons, but rejected, to ensure the right to protest including making a noise is protected. Despite all the safeguards proposed by the government, there is still room for error - and a huge responsibility on the police to decide what is too noisy and therefore breaks the law. There is however plenty of good stuff in the bill which will limit excessive action such as gluing yourself to a road disrupting everyone’s lives!
And, of course this week, we had “Partygate” back in the news with Labour’s motion to establish an inquiry into whether or not the Prime Minister had misled the House of Commons in his assertions about what happened at Downing Street during Covid lockdowns. It is of course right that any minister, including the Prime Minister, should be held to account. If the Prime Minister is found to have breached the Ministerial Code, the Privileges Committee, whose task it is to determine whether he has or not breached the Code, have a number of sanction recommendations available to them which would then come back again to the floor of the House to be approved or not.
I’m hoping the Queen’s Speech contains legislation to complete the pledges made in the Manifesto!
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