'Jake' (that's him above) is a staunch defender of our liberties who is often present at events held by The Freedom Association that I've attended. Incredibly eloquent and always entertaining, he revels in being described as 'the poshest MP in Westminster' but is more in tune with the general public than many Labour politicos could ever dream of. On Tuesday, he admirably presented an amendment in committee to a very sinister clause of the National Health Service (Amended Duties and Powers) Bill.
In short, parliament is trying to make a core role of the Secretary of State for Health to be to promote "social solidarity" in the NHS. As Rees-Mogg explains, "social solidarity is a relatively flexible term. It is very imprecise and difficult to litigate around because it is essentially a philosophical or theological notion".
Of course, philosophical and/or theological notions must be dictated by someone at the top of the chain, and are entirely arbitrary based on the viewpoint of the person who is in charge. If the person dictating what is good for "social solidarity" deems the burning of catholics something society in its entirety would benefit from, that would then become the state-sanctioned plan. I'm taking it to an extreme by way of example, but this is the purpose of the term - simply put, it's to empower the Secretary of State to dictate how we choose to live our lives, with the NHS as his weapon. It's a green light for state dictatorship of our lifestyle choices.
It is a despicable idea, but what else can we have come to expect out of parliament recently. In fact, Labour's Andrew Gwynne intervened during the debate to give us a glimpse of what the Department of Health really wants to achieve with this bill.
"We are no longer talking about a medical model of the national health service. His own Secretary of State is talking about doing more preventive work and more on public health to prevent people from getting ill in the first place."Preventive work to prevent people getting ill in the first place is, quite obviously, telling us what we can and cannot choose to consume. This will be news to the vast majority of the public who still believe the NHS should, indeed, be run on a 'medical model', not some ideological dictatorial one.
Rees-Mogg has spotted this and is tabling an amendment to remove that and instead commit the NHS to what we all believed was the point of the damn institution, to act on the basis of "medical necessity". You can read his contribution in full here, but here are some highlights.
He would like to see this added to the bill to water down state powers.
"nothing in this section shall be interpreted as entitling or requiring the Secretary of State to direct people in their personal conduct, nor provide unsolicited advice on diet or behaviour, nor to spend public funds on propaganda, nor to discriminate against specific foodstuffs, nor detrimentally to affect any lawful industry;"The fact that this will be challenged by MPs is a disgrace, quite frankly. But you just know it will.
Jake lets rip (politely as is his wont) in commendable fashion.
"I am very suspicious of the Government telling me that I should not eat things such as bacon sandwiches, or whatever it is that Labour party members so much enjoy. I want to eat those things without interference from the Government. I have tabled other amendments to make it absolutely clear that I think that the health service is about curing people who are ill, rather than telling us how to live our lives."Again, this should be uncontested. It shows how awful our government has become that it needs to be explained. Rees-Mogg understands the rancid drive of the modern puritan MP and also notices why it is happening.
"We do not want this rather condescending model of the health service telling people how to lead their lives—how they should eat, exercise and so forth—in this deeply paternalistic way. We want a health service that allows people the maximum amount of freedom in their lives, with liberty to do as they choose rather than saying, “Because the state pays for it, we must determine.”"When asked about state advice on recognising strokes, and asking if he thinks health education should not be offered at all, he makes an astute distinction between the two. Of course education on strokes is what the NHS should be doing, but ....
"I am less keen ... on the Government spending a lot of money telling people not to smoke if they want to. If people have not worked out the dangers of that by now, they never will. I happen to speak as a non-smoker and, though his predilections may lie in the other direction, he is entitled to do so without being nagged by these paternalistic social assistance types who we have established are really rather disagreeable."Oh, aren't they just! The honorable gentleman is a fine judge of character too.
On how we are going back to a hideous moral Victorian age, he comments.
"We used to legislate for moral values. We used to legislate that people had to go to church on Sundays and that they would be fined if they did not go. We had legislation on conformity, and legislation on people’s private behaviour behind closed doors. Historically, all sorts of matters were covered by legislation, but we have tended to move away from that approach to a feeling that it is not the duty of the state to tell people how to lead their lives, and that it is the duty of the state to legislate for basic security of the state and for the institutions that the state has determined to run. That point - that it is a moral value that we are considering - means that putting that moral value in legislation is a rather backwards step."Describing the absurd statist reasoning behind lifestyle bans, he is also very observant.
"We can see the slippery slope argument advancing: the Government pay for the service; therefore, if someone does x, they may be at risk of y; y will have a cost of z; the Government do not want to pay for z; and therefore one must not do whatever letter it was that I started with—I think it was x. Therefore, if someone does that, they are either to pay or they ought to be penalised for doing it; it ought to be made illegal and there ought to be some punishment."He then goes to explain why it is necessary (why should MPs not know this already) that the clause describing the obligations of the Secretary of State for Health should include the limiting suffix “as far as is compatible with the liberties of the people of England and without any additional regulatory burden”.
Because MPs do so like to get carried away with their own self-importance and forget the people they are supposed serve, as Jake observes.
"We know only too well that politicians, once in office, are very keen to tell other people what to do. We get very good at it. It is an unfortunate habit of public life that a trend of bossiness comes in."Tell us about it!
"Surely it is a freedom of a subject of Her Majesty, if he or she so wishes, to go out on a Saturday or a Friday evening and drink more than is good for them, without my hon. Friend the Minister or the Secretary of State telling them that they must not and wagging a governmental finger at them."Well you'd think, wouldn't you?
"Do we really want the Secretary of State for Health saying to our great figures - people like Winston Churchill - “Cut it out. No more of that. The Secretary of State doesn’t approve. It’ll improve your health. You’ll live to 90 anyway, but you’d better stop drinking”?"In the surreal days we are currently damned to live, it seems our state really does want that.
On the trendy but miserable moral panic about sugar, Jake says.
"I like a bit of sugar and have a sweet tooth; I particularly like Cadbury’s creme eggs, even with the change in the chocolate—the change is broadly disagreeable but they are still not at all bad. I am not in favour of the anti-sugar brigade. We should allow people to enjoy a bit of sugar - it sweetens them up and makes them better tempered and more good-natured. Sweetness and light spreads across the nation when people have a bit of sugar."Uh-huh.
On the joyless but heavily state-funded quangos and fake charities ...
"There are many pressure groups that bang the drum, make a lot of noise and say that it is important that a regulation should be introduced and that a little bit of freedom should be taken away. The pressure is always for increased regulation to be imposed on the British people.
I am calling for Her Majesty’s Government to lead by example and show what shining lights they are in the firmament of politicians who say that health may be improved by doing X or Y. I want the nation at large to believe them because they are such trustworthy and upstanding figures, and because they do it in a way that is embraced by a willing, joyful public who think, “How lucky we are to get such sensible advice”, rather than a downtrodden public who are ordered to do it."Bravo!
"Without any additional regulatory burden, the Secretary of State would not have the power to increase regulations on the hard-pressed British people. That is a general power being given in clause 1, and I wish to limit it. I wish to restrict it, and to some extent I wish to stop it. I want us to retain our ancient liberties, and I want regulation to be stopped. Government after Government say that they want to get rid of regulation. They want to roll back the regulation that comes out of Ministries and Europe. Government after Government do not do so."On the money, yet again.
"Under [my] amendment, the Secretary of State would not be entitled or required to provide advice to direct people in their personal conduct. He could still make speeches in the House of Commons saying that people might be better off if they had less sugar, or ate more butter, as we now discover that butter is so good for us, but it would prevent him from giving orders. It is orders that are important."Quite so.
And on the salami-slicing so beloved of 'public health lobbyists with plain packaging in mind.
"Tobacco is a legal industry, and there are regulations concerning many aspects of it. Tobacco may not be advertised on television, on radio or in newspapers, and tobacco may not sponsor cricket—I remember going to the John Player Special league in the old days when cricket was played on a Sunday. That has all stopped. I remember cigarettes being advertised on the back of parking meters in Westminster. We do not have parking meters any more, and parking meters certainly cannot be used to advertise cigarette manufacturers. I do not object to that because it is a habit that can cause serious diseases—that is very well established—and no one would argue to the contrary, but if the Government wish to make cigarettes illegal, they should simply introduce a Bill and pass a law to make them illegal. They should not cut at the edges; they should determine that smoking is a habit that is so dangerous and so deleterious to health that it should be banned. If the Government decided to do that, we could have the argument full throttle as to whether such a ban is an impingement on people’s liberties, or a reasonable thing to do."Well, it would be more honest, would it not?
I heartily recommend if you have the time to go read the whole thing, it is a welcome burst of parliamentary common sense which can all be summed up in this gem parked in the middle of his erudite contribution.
"Doctors need to have the right to give advice to their patients, but the patients do not have to follow what their doctor says, and that also applies to the Secretary of State. He is a wise and good man, and I have the highest admiration for him, but I do not want him to be leading my life for me."Nor any other politician, quite frankly. Thank you, Jake, for representing us in the face of oleaginous politicians who would dictate by law how we scratch our arses given the chance.
Needless to say, I expect the amendment is doomed to fail and the Secretary of State for Health will be installed as a dictator of our choices in the near future. If that doesn't scare you, you're part of the problem.