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Editorial Tuesday 31 January 2012: Timescales and scenarios for the remainder of the Health Bill in Parliament

I am grateful that a kindly mole has felt the need to share a document outlining an anticipated timescale and various possible scenarios for the remainder of the Health Bill's passage in Parliament.


Click here for details of 'Taking the pith out of the Health & Social Care Bill - “Integrate my chutzpah”, says Andrew ‘Not Looking For  A Fight’ Lansley', the new issue of subscription-based Health Policy Intelligence.


Thank you 'Jane Doe', and here is the text:

The Lords will resume consideration of the Health and Social Care Bill on 8 February, when the Report Stage begins. It is most probable that the Bill will complete its remaining Lords stages (Report Stage and Third Reading) before the end of the current Parliamentary session (2010-12). The session will probably end in early May, as the State Opening of Parliament for the new session (2012-13)  has been pencilled in for 9 May.

Once the Lords stages are complete, the Bill will return to the Commons for consideration of amendments.

If the Government decides to accept the Lords amendments, it will be passed.

It's more likely that the Government will object to at least some amendments, in which case the Bill will be sent back to the Lords.

If the Lords then back down (having been sufficiently appeased, or out of deference to the elected chamber), it will be passed.

If, however, there is stalement, the Bill could shuttle back and forth between the two chambers -- the Parliamentary jargon term for this situation is (somewhat bizarrely) "ping pong".

If this situation isn't resolved (by compromise or by capitulation on one side or other) before the session ends, then the Bill must fall at the end of the session (when prorogation occurs, ahead of the State Opening for the new session).

If the Government still wishes to pursue the Bill, it will have to be reintroduced in the next session (2012-13) and go through all its Commons stages again. Under the 1911 and 1949 Parliament Acts, even if the Lords then still reject it (wholly or in part), the will of the Commons must prevail and the Bill must become law - provided that certain conditions are met.

The Bill must be sent to the Lords the second time in the same form as before (except for any amendments previously agreed by the Lords and any necessitated by the elapsing of time). It must receive its Third Reading in the Commons in the second session at least 12 months after its original Second Reading in the previous session (that date has already passed in this case, the Second Reading having been on 31 January 2011).

Finally, it must be sent up to the Lords at least a month before the end of the second session (which in this case would probably mean by about early April 2013) and have been likewise sent up at least a month before the end of the previous session the first time around (which obviously does apply in this case).

Clearly, if the Bill does fall at the end of the session due to intransigence on the part of the Lords, this will be a huge political catastrophe for the Government. Although they could theoretically force the Bill through under the Parliament Acts, this would make a big mess of their legislative timetable, not to mention the timetable for implementing the changes in the NHS.

A possible alternative option would be to drop the Bill and to resort to some sort of Plan B, using the Secretary of State's substantial powers under the existing legislation to remodel the NHS, building on the changes that have already been made on that basis to lay the groundwork for implementing the Bill. This, though, would mean substantially reworking
their plans as well as probably shifting the timetable.

The political fallout from this would be considerable. Mr Lansley might well not survive; the Coalition could be wracked by recriminations; and there would probably be considerable impetus on the right for reform of the Lords to stop this sort of thing happening again.

So how things turn out really depends on what the Lords do with the Bill between now and early May. If peers are so minded (and this is a very big "if"), they do still have the ability to throw an enormous spanner in the works.