Liberal Democrat Revolt On Health Bill Thwarted By Government

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The government's reforms of the NHS have moved a step closer
The government's reforms of the NHS have moved a step closer

A Liberal Democrat revolt to stop the coalition's NHS reforms in their tracks has been defeated by the government as the Health and Social Care Bill moved closer to the statute book.

Rebel leader Andrew George called for the legislation to be dropped and urged ministers to hold a summit with medical groups and patients' organisations to thrash out a new set of reforms based on the coalition agreement.

He said the Bill had "many failings" and the amendments the government had been forced into accepting had made it "less bad but not sufficiently good enough" to be pushed through Parliament.

Despite being backed by the Labour frontbench, Mr George's amendment - signed by four other Lib Dem backbenchers - was rejected by 314 votes to 260.

"There are many failings within the legislation as it is at present," Mr George, a member of the Commons Health Select Committee," said.

"Support is ebbing away, opposition even at this stage is increasing and therefore I would urge the Government to reflect on this debate, the opposition in this country and to allow a summit to go ahead."

His unsuccessful amendment was made to a Labour motion, also calling for the Bill to be scrapped and also defeated, by 258 votes to 314.

Health secretary Andrew Lansley insisted the reforms to the NHS in England were "the right idea".

The legislation also cleared another significant hurdle in the Lords where it completed its seven-day report stage.

An attempt by Labour to delay the implementation of the competition clauses of the Bill were defeated.

It now faces one further major test in the Lords, at third reading on Monday, before it is sent back to the House of Commons.

Peers are likely to vote on Monday on whether to delay third reading until after a confidential risk assessment drawn up by civil servants has been published.

A Department of Health appeal against an order by the Information Commissioner to publish the "transition risk register" was thrown out by a tribunal last week.

Ministers have said they will not decide whether to launch a further appeal until they have seen the full judgment from the Information Rights Tribunal.

But former doctor and SDP leader Lord Owen put down a motion on Tuesday that would delay a third reading until after the government had responded to the full judgment or until "the last practical opportunity" for agreeing the Bill before the end of the parliamentary session in early May.

If Lord Owen's move fails peers might take the extremely rare step of forcing a vote on whether to kill off the legislation altogether.

But ministers will be confident of winning any votes as they have suffered just two Lords defeats on the Bill - one at report stage and one during the 15-day committee stage - and Liberal Democrat peers have signalled they will not rebel in great numbers despite party activists refusing to back the legislation at their spring conference in Gateshead.