Page last updated at 18:23 GMT, Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Lansley summoned to Commons to defend NHS bill

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley has once again been forced to defend the government's controversial Health and Social Care Bill, which enacts changes to the NHS in England.

Mr Lansley was summoned to the Commons on 28 February 2012, after it emerged Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Baroness Williams wrote to Liberal Democrat colleagues expressing support for amendments designed to limit competition within the health service.

Standing to jeers from the opposition, the health secretary defended the "most scrutinised bill in living memory" and said ministers were "open to any further changes that would improve or clarify the legislation".

He said he "wholeheartedly" agreed with the concerns Mr Clegg and Lady Williams raised about creating a "US-style market in the NHS", telling MPs: "We will not see a market free-for-all".

Gesturing to the Liberal Democrat benches, Mr Lansley said: "We - and I do mean all of us on these benches - we are using the debates in the Lords further to reassure all those who care about the NHS."

'Who is in charge?'

But shadow health secretary Andy Burnham, who tabled the urgent question, said the government appeared to be "in complete disarray".

He dismissed the proposed Liberal Democrat changes as "cosmetic" and "designed to make the deputy prime minister look good in advance of his spring conference".

Mr Burnham demanded to know when Mr Lansley was made aware of the letter, whether he had seen it in advance, and if he had been overruled by Mr Clegg.

"Who is in charge of health policy, is anyone in charge?" he asked.

Mr Lansley insisted the letter simply explained the amendments ministers and the Lib Dems had "been working on together".

The bill had been "tremendously strengthened" during its passage through Parliament, he claimed.

Tory MPs back Lansley

Several backbench Conservative MPs rallied to support the health secretary.

Nadine Dorries urged Mr Lansley to stand up to the Liberal Democrats, while her colleague Philip Davies said ministers should not "dance to their tune".

Sarah Wollaston, a practicing GP, said doctors would be able to safeguard against "inappropriate" use of the private sector, because they would be the ones doing the commissioning.

"Shouldn't we let them get on with it?" the Tory MP asked.

Earlier, Deputy Liberal Democrat leader Simon Hughes thanked the health secretary for "accepting many amendments" from Lib Dem peers.

He urged Mr Lansley to "continue to work collaboratively to improve the bill to the very end".


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