Peace breaks out in the Lords on the NHS Bill - for now

Peace has broken out in the Lords debate on the Health and Social Care Bill - at least for a while. A series of amendments about the key issue of the responsibility of the health secretary for the NHS in England have been shelved while all involved negotiate to try and find a compromise.

Critics - including the Lib Dem Lady (Shirley) Williams, say the bill would shuffle constitutional responsibility for the health service onto an unelected body - the NHS Commissioning Board - a mega quango which would control the health service's budget. Lady Williams' amendment would have restated that the "duty to provide" NHS services lay with the health secretary. That amendment was not moved this afternoon, and neither was the compromise proposal from Lord Mackay of Clashfern, the former Lord Chancellor - which made the health secretary a kind of backstop with ultimate responsibility in the event of an "emergency, failure or breach".

Labour were positioned to accuse Lady Williams and Nick Clegg of selling out, if they accepted the Mackay amendment - which their shadow minister Lady Thornton had already dismissed as inadequate because it "limits and constrains the secretary of state to failure and emergencies only, so you could have a scenario with a pandemic underway before the duty to intervene takes effect". As it was, Lady Thornton remarked she was delighted that Lady Williams "had not resiled", although I may have detected an unspoken "yet".

This is a deft move by Health Minister Earl Howe and he will attempt to produce a compromise which is acceptable to all sides for the bill's report stage. That may take quite a while to arrive - the Lib Dem former GP, Lady Tonge remarked that it could be two months away - well into the new year - and no-one dissented. With hundreds of amendments down, peers have plenty of issues to chew on even after this.

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