Page last updated at 21:07 GMT, Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Ministers win key NHS Bill votes

The government has comfortably seen off several fresh attempts to amend its plans to change the health service in England.

Ministers won a series of votes during a fifth day of report stage scrutiny of the Health and Social Care Bill on 6 March 2012.

Peers voted to:

• reject a call from former Labour Health Minister Lord Warner to place a duty on the health secretary to secure improved adult social care services by 261 votes to 203, majority 58

• reject a Labour amendment intended to protect the NHS from European competition law by 278 votes to 188, majority 90

• defeat a proposal from Labour calling for the independent watchdog Monitor to retain responsibility for overseeing hospitals and NHS foundation trusts by 255 votes to 193

• reject by 50 votes a call from crossbench peer Baroness Finlay of Llandaff calling for Monitor to prevent "anti-collaborative" behaviour in the provision of NHS services

• throw out Labour's demand for NHS Commissioners to be able to conduct commissioning reviews with a government majority of 46.

Labour criticism

During the debate shadow health minister Baroness Thornton accused the Liberal Democrats of "sell[ing] the NHS short".

Her comments came as Lib Dem Lord Clement-Jones withdrew several amendments on NHS competition after assurances from Health Minister Lord Howe.

The government has offered to make more than 100 concessions in an effort to get the bill passed, after resistance from some Liberal Democrats.

But Lady Thornton said the concessions now meant the middle part of the bill was "a mess".

Lord Clement-Jones defended the government, telling peers that the health minister had made "extremely constructive" comments.

Meanwhile, the health minister himself told peers that competition already existed in the NHS and the bill did "not herald its introduction".

Lord Howe said it was to "wish for the impossible" to attempt to protect the NHS entirely from competition law.

'Silly debate'

Liberal Democrat Baroness Williams of Crosby, one of the most vocal critics of the legislation, said competition in the NHS could make a "significant contribution in terms of innovation".

But she added: "The NHS should continue to be primarily a public service, it should be available free of charge and accessible to all."

Lady Williams also hit out at what she regarded as the misrepresentation of peers' discussion of the bill.

The "silly debate" on social networking sites had allowed the legislation's passage through Parliament to be falsely portrayed as some "strange nightmare battle" between those for and against competition, with no possible compromise to be reached, she claimed.

"I'm fed up of reading that I'm actually a secret marketiser, when I know perfectly well I am not," she said.

You can watch the second part of the debate here.

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