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House of Lords set to vote on Health & Social Care Bill

The House of Lords are set to vote on the Health & Social Care Bill this afternoon, following two days of debate, where 100 peers have stated they wish to speak.

An amendment tabled by Lord Owen and Lord Hennessy could delay part of the legislation if it receives a majority in the House. It concerns the part of the Bill that deals with competition in the NHS and the responsibility of the Secretary of State. The cross-benchers wish to defer it to a specialist committee for further scrutiny.

This could mean the legislation will only be completed next year, something the health minister Earl Howe is keen to avoid. In a letter sent to peers before the debate, Howe wrote: “The potential for slippage in the timetable carries grave implications for the government's ability to achieve royal assent for the bill by the end of the session.

“The house must have proper time to examine the bill, but the proposal put forward by Lord Owen could result in delay which could well prove fatal to it. This is not a risk that I believe this house should take.”

Lord Owen and Lord Hennessy maintain that their amendment is not meant to block the Bill, but seeks to improve a complicated aspect of the legislation.

Lansley wrote to Lord Hennessy yesterday, denying that his responsibility will be diluted: “The Bill will enable us and the NHS further to improve services. It will not in any sense dilute my responsibility and accountability for doing so.

“Rather than pretend that somehow the secretary of state is responsible for all clinical decision-making in the NHS, the Bill recognises that expertise for such decisions must sit with those health professionals closest to patients.”

Baroness Shirley Williams, leader of the rebels against the Bill, told the Lords: “Those of us who take the view that there has to be a very careful look at this bill, not least the issue of the responsibility of the secretary of state, aren't saying for a moment that there is no role for the independent sector, no role for innovators. But that must be within the framework of a National Health Service as a public service.”

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