Page last updated at 20:35 GMT, Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Government sees off rebel challenge to NHS bill

The government has seen off challenges from Labour and rebel Liberal Democrat MPs to the Health and Social Care Bill, which paves the way for a radical reorganisation of the NHS in England.

MPs voted by 314 to 258 - majority 56 - to reject a Labour motion calling for the bill to be dropped, on 13 March 2012.

A rebel Liberal Democrat amendment - calling for a summit of health professionals to work out a new set of health reforms based on the Coalition Agreement - was also rejected, by 54 votes.

Analysis of division lists revealed five Lib Dems voted for the amendment: Andrew George, Martin Horwood, Julian Huppert, John Leech and John Pugh. Greg Mulholland and Adrian Sanders acted as tellers.

'Deeply defective'

Opening the debate for Labour, shadow health secretary Andy Burnham told the government it was not too late to scrap the bill, which is approaching its final parliamentary stages.

He said there was no mandate for the planned reforms and accused the government of failing to listen to voters - drawing the House's attention to an e-petition backed by more than 177,000 people demanding the bill be dropped.

Intervening, Health Secretary Andrew Lansley asked Mr Burnham to confirm that the author of the petition, Dr Chand, was an advisor to the Labour Party.

But Mr Burnham rejected the suggestion it was a "narrow Labour campaign". He said a "new coalition for the NHS" had emerged, made up of patients, professionals and people of all political persuasions.

The shadow health secretary went on to accuse the government of trying to "force" the bill through Parliament despite overwhelming professional and public opposition.

He said it was time for the coalition to "put the NHS before party politics" and abandon its "deeply defective" bill, as he wrapped up his remarks.

But Health Secretary Andrew Lansely claimed Labour's last-ditch calls were "a desperate ploy from a desperate party".

He defended his commitment to the health service, telling MPs he had worked on the subject - in opposition and government - for nine years, and served on the Health Committee before that.

Mr Lansley claimed Mr Burnham was not actually against anything in the bill - because many of the proposals were in Labour's last election manifesto.

"You're against the bill because you have literally made up what the bill says," he told his opposite number.

Liberal Democrat rebellion

Andrew George led the Liberal Democrat rebellion in the Commons, moving the amendment calling for the government to drop plans to overhaul the NHS.

Mr George, who sits on the Health Committee, said the bill had "many failings" and that support for it was "ebbing away".

He said amendments had made the bill "less bad but not sufficiently good enough" to be pushed through Parliament.

The St Ives MP urged ministers "to reflect on this debate, the opposition in this country and to allow a summit to go ahead".

His party colleague, John Pugh, added that the plans were "risky".

"Spin and propaganda won't get any of us out of this. The reality will be played out over the next year and the year after that in hospitals, in surgeries, in homes," he said.

Labour said it would support the Liberal Democrat amendment.

A string of Conservative MPs defended the health secretary's plans, arguing that doing nothing was not an option, whereas the reforms would safeguard the future of the NHS.

But a number of Labour backbenchers voiced concerns that plans to allow more private companies and voluntary organisations to compete with NHS providers could result in privatisation of the health service.

Summing up for the government, Health Minister Simon Burns said he was "very confident" the bill would become law by the spring.

Meanwhile, the legislation passed a crucial stage in the House of Lords,despite further opposition from Labour.

Ministers saw off a final report stage challenge from Labour to delay the implementation of planned changes to NHS competition and regulation until April 2016.

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