Halfway through the Queen's Speech debate's NHS segment, Judy Mallaber, former Unison researcher and now Labour MP for Amber Valley, shamed us all by diverting from local UK problems to those of the Democratic Republic of the Congo whose recent elections the MP had helped to monitor for fairness.

Halfway through the Queen's Speech debate's NHS segment, Judy Mallaber, former Unison researcher and now Labour MP for Amber Valley, shamed us all by diverting from local UK problems to those of the Democratic Republic of the Congo whose recent elections the MP had helped to monitor for fairness.

For every 1,000 live births in that war-torn country, 205 children die before they reach the age of five. In a territory two-thirds the size of western Europe with 55 million inhabitants and huge mineral resources. And so on.

Congo's problem is not resources, but good governance - more competence, less corruption. It is all a far cry from the problems of reorganising hospitals in Hertfordshire (of which we heard more) or even the new Mental Health Bill, the latest attempt in a decade to reform the now defective 1983 act, which is the Department of Health's main claim on the 29-bill Queen's Speech in the 2006-07 session.

Though storm clouds immediately gathered round the bill, MPs on all sides welcomed it, including Labour's Dr Doug Naysmith (Bristol North West), a research immunologist by trade, who has made himself an expert by sitting on the joint Lords-Commons committee on the last draft which disappeared into a Whitehall cupboard.

It is not the only piece of NHS news to fall from Her Majesty's lips in what I thought was a pretty tentative signal of the government's determination to impose itself on unruly events to the end of the Blair era and the start of what - I keep having to repeat this - will be the Age of Gordon Brown, unless he falls under a political bus.

In totting up familiar ministerial achievements on NHS reform there was a passing, unspecified reference to the need for more which alarmed some MPs who report that what their constituents who work in the service would really like is a spot of calm.

Indeed Patricia Hewitt promised that very thing - 'a period of calm' - though few MPs seemed to believe her. Listening to some of them talk you might think the calm level in the NHS is somewhere between Congo and Iraq. But, as always, several useful nuggets gleamed from the mud of parliamentary mudslinging.

Dr Naysmith first. He regretted the unfortunate context of the new bill's publication, the critical report into the murder of banker Denis Finnegan by John Barrett, a schizophrenic who had walked out of Springfield Hospital - part of South West London and St George's Mental Health trust - two days earlier: yet another grim case.

But most mentally ill people do no harm, the MP stressed. There must be a balance between public safety and patient rights. Dr Naysmith's remaining queries include: stronger safeguards against treatment abuse; higher thresholds for compulsion; will those capable of decision-making be allowed to refuse treatment?; should there be separate criteria for dangerous people with severe personality disorder?; what about national standards for training and monitoring?

The bill has already begun its passage through the Lords where such questions will be answered or the bill blocked. We will have to await details on the second visible NHS legislation pledge, the promised update of embryology and human tissue laws, until the new year.

Tony Blair repeatedly stresses the importance of bio-sciences, especially at a time when the US seems to be muddling science and religion in ways that harm both (he does not put it that way). But ministerial guidance already makes clear that human reproductive cloning will remain banned.

Nor will ministers use the bill to reverse its past law to ban sperm donor anonymity. The 'Hullo Dad' law struck me as daft at the time, asserting a child's right at the expense of those who were not seeking to be parents.

It has had predictable results: a collapse of UK sperm donation, though anxious MPs are reporting that flights to Barcelona are booming as a result. Is that what the Daily Beast wants, I wonder: large-scale immigration by clandestine, but legal, Spanish sperm?

Among several useful points made by Tory health spokesman Andrew Lansley was that efforts to review abortion laws should not be muddled with embryo laws. He was too tactful to recall that this is exactly what backbencher Ann Widdecombe skilfully did in 1990. This session will be a livelier one than ministers want.

Michael White is assistant editor (politics) ofThe Guardian.