NHS reform rethink - a triumph for Parliament?

As Andrew Lansley sends sections of his Health and Social Care Bill back to a Commons public bill committee, to be re-written according to the dictates of the NHS Future Forum, can this be considered a triumph for Parliament, as opposed to the Government?

Have our parliamentarians scrutinised the Bill, found it wanting, and sent it back to the manufacturers for factory repairs?

Up to a point, Lord Copper. This was not a triumph for the formal bill scrutiny process - where the imperative was, in the decorative whips phrase repeated by Tory GP turned MP Sarah Wollaston, to "repel borders" rather than to polish up the legislation.

But the decision to "pause" the bill and then to re-write it to appease its critics, owed a fair bit to in house critics in both coalition parties in the Commons, to a stream of detailed comment and criticism from Stephen Dorrell's Health Select Committee, and still more to the promise of ambush with overwhelming force in the House of Lords. By the time the pause button was pushed, the dogs on the Westminster streets knew that Their Lordships were planning to gut the bill - and that included enough Lib Dem peers to ensure they would succeed.

And as the Lib Dem MP John Pugh, who sat on that bill committee, pointed out, around 70 per cent of the amendments proposed by Labour during the committee process, on subjects like integration and collaboration, and then rejected, are now to be incorporated in the new improved version, by the Government. Although no-one serious imagines this will take the political heat out of the Bill.

I don't know if that public bill committee which laboured through nearly 300 clauses and 700 amendments will simply be reconvened ("a return to the trenches, but hopefully with a bit less warfare", sighs one of its members) or whether new MPs will be summoned to conduct the new bout of detailed scrutiny. But it might be a smart move to put Sarah Woolaston on, if at all possible. She had asked to be on the original committee, but rashly told the party whips she had a few amendments in mind, thus ensuring her exclusion.

She then became a public critic in the press and on the Health Committee - although she was pretty positive about the changes when Mr Lansley made his statement to the House on Tuesday. Since the Coalition now needs a seal of approval for the revised standard version of their bill from those who had qualms about the original, her public support would be a valuable prize. Even more valuable would be the endorsement of the BMA, the nurses and all the other NHS groups which had been critics of the original.

There may have to be yet more horse-trading to secure that. There are a number of detailed issues where further tweaking of the bill is likely, so amendments will doubtless continue to pop up at Committee, Report and Third Reading in the Commons - and then in the Lords as well. Even so, the crisis seems to be resolved for now…

* The timetable for the Bill now seems to be a resumption of the Committee stage, finishing by the summer recess followed by the Report and Third Reading during the September sitting, when MPs will have the unusual experience of having something really significant to chew on.

One MP who will be poised to pounce is the Conservative Nadine Dorries - she plans to put down an amendment to guarantee that a woman considering abortion has access to non-compulsory counselling and advice from someone who has no financial interest in the outcome of her decision. Ms Dorries argues that many women feel they're being rushed into an abortion and regret their decision later. She had put the amendment down immediately after the conclusion of the Committee stage, which usually ensures it will be called at Report, where I would expect a fair amount of opposition. She may now have to repeat the exercise at the conclusion of the resumed committee stage - but she's determined to do so and says she has considerable cross-party support lined up. That should add a further frisson when the Bill does return to the Commons.