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Tuesday, February 9, 1999 Published at 19:17 GMT


Lords battle over Health Bill

The Lords is debating the second reading of the Health Bill

Conservatives and Labour had a head-on clash in the Lords over the government's plans for the future of the NHS.

In an unusual move, the Tories threatened to table an amendment at the end of the second reading of the Health Bill.

But they withdrew the amendment later after the government suggested it might make alterations to meet "mutually agreed aims".

The Bill includes plans for the abolition of the NHS internal market and the setting up of primary care trusts which commission specialist care.

The Conservatives said it was "a recipe for inflexibility, inefficiency" and lack of choice.

Shadow health secretary Ann Widdecombe said it would give "draconian" powers to the government, allowing it to manipulate primary care groups for its own ends.

"Doctors are already being dragooned into primary care groups and it is fundamentally wrong that the Health Secretary should gain further draconian powers, " she said.

Earl Howe said primary care groups would increase bureaucracy and administrative costs.

Unprecedented powers

The Liberal Democrats also criticised the Bill, saying it showed the government's "dictatorial" style and adding that it would give "unprecedented" powers to Health Secretary Frank Dobson.

But junior health minister Baroness Hayman said the Bill would help to modernise the health service.

She added that ministers welcomed scrutiny of the legislation and might change it during the course of its passage through Parliament "to achieve what are mutually agreed aims".

Earlier Baroness Jay, leader of the House of Lords, had hinted that the Tories' threat over the amendment could lead to the government changing its mind on plans to temporarily retain some hereditary peers, pending full-scale Lords reform.

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