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Editorial Wednesday 12 October 2011: Lords vote to keep Health Bill on schedule

The Lords Temporal and Spiritual did not come close to being convinced that there was a case for Lords Owen and Hennessey's amendment proposing the Health Bill to be referred to a special committee examining the Secretary Of State's accountability, at 330-262.

This was very similar to the figure on the more symbolic Rea amendment that the Bill should have no second reading at all: 354-220.

HSJ's David Williams tweets that 70 crossbench and 80 Lib Dem peers voted against Rea amendment: 20 crossbenchers and 2 LDs for. He adds that on "the Owen amendment: crossbenchers - 51 against, 46 for; 80 LDs against, 2 for".


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The Lib Dem peers provided a decent amount of clear yellow water to offer the Bill a shot at safe passage.

There was a late skirmish, when Labour volunteered a guarantee on timetabling to keep the Bill on schedule, but it was swiftly apparent that the Conservative front bench was not willing (or perhaps allowed) to go down this route.

Both days of debate had some fine-quality speeches. Lord Winston said, "this Bill is unnecessary and it is irresponsible".

Lord Beecham pointed out that "Monitor is also the name of a carniverous reptile ... The Bill is strong on autonomy, but weak on national accountability ... The NHS It is of great utility to the British people; it is not a utility".

Lord Fowler said that the BMA, trades unions and Labour always oppose health policy reform, adding "yesterday we were asked where the mandate for this Bill comes; it comes from the elected house". Ratyher more to his credit, the man who was health secretary for six years added, "It serves no good to refer to excellent mangers as bureaucrats and administrators".

Lord Hunt's graceful speech pointed out that when he had been New Labour's Lords health minister, Earl Howe was constantly warning him against damaging top-down NHS reorganisations. Hunt added that "back in the 'halcyon days' of the nationalised industries, it was not the chair but the minister who was held responsible by the public".

Hunt added that "competition and the private sector have role in NHS if properly managed ... at heart, the issue around competition is a question of trust, and ultimately the government is not trusted. The scale of concern and mistrust among public and NHS staff over the Bill is the greatest I have even known it ... confused and damaging proposals".

Earl Howe's closing speech was graceful and well-done, noting that "the NHS is a part of our national life of which we can be proud. At its best it delivers excellent care". He outlined justifications for reform, but rather blotted his fine (Smythsons?) copybook by saying "we have got to think outside the box". Howe sought to reassure on competition, asserting that the the Bill "introduces a framework in which competition can be effectively managed".

Earl Howe committed to a new duty for the Secretary of State regarding education & training in time for committee stage; and concluded with a promise that the Bill will undergo post-legislative scrutiny in three years, rather than after the usual five years.

On we go.