What's on politicians' minds this week

Published: 03/11/2005 Volume 115 No. 5980 Page 13

MPs only returned to work a few weeks ago, but health is already rising to the top of the parliamentary agenda.

Last week a bruised Patricia Hewitt published her Health Improvement and Protection Bill, with its much-mocked partial ban on smoking in public places.

The health secretary was known to have wanted to toughen up the ban from the manifesto commitment, which proposed a ban in pubs serving food.

But predecessor John Reid, now defence secretary, vigorously opposed her plans - and the halfhearted manifesto commitment remains.

Angry Labour backbenchers have vowed to propose amendments during the bill's passage to get a complete ban in force. Even if they are not successful, there will be angry debates about the size of the exclusion zone around bars, designed to protect staff from second-hand smoke.

The smoking bill is not the only one MPs will have to grapple with over the next few weeks. The NHS Redress Bill, which aims to stave off the compensation culture rampant in the US health service, received its first reading in the Commons last week.

Much of the bill is uncontroversial, but campaigners want to see changes to ensure the process is much more independent.

MPs will soon start debating the Equalities Bill, which will put an onus on organisations providing goods, facilities and services, including NHS bodies, not to discriminate against people on religious grounds.

And it is rumoured that the controversial Mental Health Bill might finally be published towards the end of the month. HSJ understands the bill will be introduced in the Lords, rather than the Commons. The draft version of the bill was condemned as draconian by the Commons health select committee last year.

No doubt the select committee will prove a thorn in the side of the Department of Health again in this session.

It meets today to quiz ministers on the reconfiguration of primary care trusts, and there will be an inquiry into co-payments and charges in the NHS.