Stop the Saatchi Bill

Driven by an extraordinary two-year PR campaign on social media and a supportive newspaper partner, this all started as Lord Saatchi’s Medical Innovation Bill, metamorphosed through several versions, and was resurrected under a new name by Chris Heaton-Harris, before finally clearing its last hurdle in the Lords this week to become the Access to Medical Treatments (Innovation) Act. Pretty much the only thing they share is the word 'Innovation' in the title.

One day, it may be possible for politicians to ask the people who actually work in the medical field: what are the problems you face, and how can we help you overcome them?

One day, politicians may actually listen to the answers they receive, and thus try to tackle genuine problems rather than imagined ones.

One day, politicians, medics, researchers, lawyers, patient groups, charities, and the public, may work together to overcome the barriers to the development and provision of new treatments.

But it is not this day.

Read more: Not this day

Lords of the Round Table

We have heard in today’s important debate that noble Lords want dialogue and discussion with the noble Lord, Lord Saatchi, and indeed he has said that himself. Is he prepared to consider hosting a round-table discussion with all those Peers who have an interest in the matters before us today? That would be a very helpful way forward.

— Baroness Wheeler, Medical Innovation Bill Committee Stage, 24th October 2014

Lord Saatchi’s colleagues, perhaps frustrated by his rejection of almost all their proposed amendments to his Medical Innovation Bill (the Saatchi Bill) and his dismissal of their concerns about its manifest dangers, pressed him to host a round-table discussion to air the problems they saw with this bill.

On 20th November, the official Twitter feed of the Bill confirmed the discussion had taken place.

Unfortunately, there is no published record of who was invited, who attended, or what was said.

Lord Saatchi, since he claims to listen to all views and to want an open discussion of the issues, really ought to regard the round table meeting as an open part of the democratic process. Given that the meeting was requested by his noble colleagues in the Committee stage of the House of Lords, we ought to be able to know what went on in the meeting. We have been able to watch every other stage streamed live on the internet, and been able to read transcripts of every word spoken. But the round table meeting is thus far a closed book.

This matters. Lord Saatchi has been accused, with justification, of failing to note criticism and of ignoring advice, from a vast range of medical and legal organisations, patient groups and charities. He didn’t wait for the results of the official Department of Health consultation before steering the bill through the Lords, and when those results did appear he ignored those too.

If it were to turn out that the attendees at the round table meeting were not representative of the vast range of expert opposition to the bill, then Lord Saatchi could be said to be just paying lip service to the discussion his colleagues urged him to have, and thereby to be undermining the democratic process.

I have asked the Saatchi Bill’s official Twitter account three times to say who attended. I have also e-mailed Dominic Nutt — the bill’s Campaign Director — and asked for details. I have not had a reply to any of these overtures.

I hope that this is merely an unfortunate (repeated) oversight on their part, and that they will provide a full invitees list, attendees list, and transcript at the earliest opportunity.