NHS Bill E-Petition Debate Turned Down By Commons Committee

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MPs will not be granted a special debate on the government's controversial health reforms on the floor of the Commons, despite an e-petition calling for them to be scrapped gaining more than 160,000 signatures.

The cross-party Commons backbench business committee, which allocates days for MPs to debate topical issues, decided on Tuesday to devote its one remaining day, 7 March, to a different issue - citing a lack of available time.

Labour MP Jonathan Reynolds and Green MP Caroline Lucas made the case for the e-petition to be granted a debate when they appeared before the committee on Tuesday afternoon.

The petition was started by a constituent of Reynolds, and he told the committee of fellow MPs that the NHS Bill had not been debated enough.

"This is the issue which is currently exercising the British people. If there is an issue the public want discussed, particularly through an e-petition, we can not be in a position of not having a debate," he said.

Under the current rules petitions reaching 100,000 signatures have to be considered by the committee for a debate in the House of Commons, but this is not guaranteed.

In rejecting the debate the committee noted that "significant parliamentary time has already been allocated to debate" the Health and Social Care Bill and that there will be further opportunity for MPs to consider the Bill when it returns from the Lords.

At the time the decision was announced, MPs were questioning health secretary Andrew Lansley on one aspect of the Bill in the Commons chamber.

Reynolds rejected the suggestion that he wanted the debate for partisan political reasons, noting that MPs from "nearly all parts" of the Commons were backing his bid for a debate.

However members of the committee raised concerns that no Tory MPs were supporting him. The committee traditionally likes to see MPs from all parties support a bid in order to avoid accusations they are merely allocating time to attack the government.

Philip Hollobone, a Tory member of the committee, noted that the fact that Reynolds was a parliamentary aide to Ed Miliband may "appear some people to inject an element of bias", although said he was not accusing Reynolds of that himself.

Lucas said that she had received 800 letters and emails on the subject of the NHS Bill in the last week alone. "It's the biggest political issue of the day," she said.

Instead the Commons will hear a debate on human rights abuses in Russia. The issue was championed by former Labour foreign secretary David Miliband and Tory MP Dominic Raab. It was also backed by every single living former British foreign secretary.

The committee picked the debate as it was "an issue of topical interest in the light of the forthcoming elections in Russia and that there was considerable cross-party support for a debate".