This week the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee began a new inquiry into the scrutiny of international treaties and other international agreements in the 21st century. The first session was really an introduction, International Treaties 101 if you like, to set the context of the inquiry and to ensure a grounding in understanding of the issues involved in international treaty building. We heard from former legal advisers to the House of Lords and other parliamentary organisations as well as academic staff from UK universities. As the UK seeks to build its relations with other states outside of the EU, this will be a really important aspect of the Committee’s work, ensuring that the treaties that are signed work for the UK uphold our traditions of promoting democratic and transparent values in our public and political life.
I was pleased to lead Labour’s response to the Government’s White Paper on integration in the NHS. This is essentially the Government undoing the poor reforms of the Lansley Act – the Health and Social Care Act 2012. We know that reversing the Lansley Act and implementing a health and social care system fit for 21st century Britain will be difficult, but it is unclear how the ideas in this White Paper fit in with the Health and Care Bill currently in the House of Lords. Like a house made of crepe paper, this gossamer-thin White Paper collapses with the faintest breeze of scrutiny. Let us be clear: it is not a plan, nor is it even a starting strategy. It is just a series of woolly claims about how things could be better, unsupported by any evidence or analysis of the resources, organisational and funding flow changes that will obviously be necessary. It could have been written at any time over the past 30 years. It contains little that is new and nothing to illustrate new thinking or new attitudes. It relies on the bogus assumption that because something may work for a while on a small scale, it will obviously work everywhere. It is not any kind of plan for integrated care that people will recognise; these are just aspirations about integrated systems.
Health and social care in the 21st century goes beyond GP surgeries, care homes, and hospitals and must be considered across other sectors. I was pleased to speak at an event for the East of England Regional Roadshow this week on the topic of transport, benefits and social care with Vicky Foxcroft, the Shadow Minister for Disabled People and Tan Dhesi, the Shadow Minister for Transport. We have to consider how we ensure our society is inclusive for everyone and how we enable people to live independent lives while living with a physical or mental disability. We do not want a society where people with any kind of disability are having to live isolated in their homes and whose only interaction with people is through their carers. A disability simply means that there are certain obstacles to living a normal life that other people do not have; but crucially, it does not mean that those obstacles cannot be overcome and that someone living with a disability is not able to participate fully in society. We want to build the sort of society where that is a given and is considered across sectors in all policy-making.
I responded to a debate in Westminster Hall this week on behalf of the Labour Party on access to NHS dentistry in the UK. While the Covid pandemic has clearly had a huge impact on waiting times and access to care, the Care Quality Commission highlights that problems with access predate the pandemic quite significantly. The Government’s plans, that include paying dentists to work overtime in the early morning or at weekends, clearly underestimate the scale of the problem. If Covid is not the main cause for lack of access, there is a problem with the underlying assumptions about the requirements of NHS dentistry. Those are the assumptions the Government needs to tackle, and pushing dentists to work longer hours is not a safe way of solving the problems we’re seeing.
I am very much looking forward to joining the Bedminster Winter Lantern Parade this Saturday, seeing the creativity of the schools, residents, and businesses in their lanterns and celebrating the community in Bedminster. It really is a lovely event, bringing together young and old in a celebration of the community and giving us something bright and cheerful to look forward to in the dark winter months. If you want more information about the event, sponsorship, and taking part, visit their website here.
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