NHS reform: Lib Dems outline fight to come

By Ian Dunt

The manner in which Liberal Democrat peers will battle NHS reforms was laid out this morning, as delegates expressed irritation with the bill.

Party members were prevented from voting on the reforms – a development some described as the "toryisation" of their party conference – but the debate allowed them to voice their concerns about the bill.

Shirley Williams, who will lead opposition to the reforms in the Lords, said she intended to get rid of two specific clauses.

One, described as the 'autonomy clause', means the health secretary cannot affect the watchdog Monitor or the commissioning board.

The second removes the health secretary's "residual" responsibility for securing provision of a comprehensive health service in the UK.

"If we get those two as well we can be reasonably comfortable," she told delegates.

She then pointedly told delegates that the Lords would scrutinise the reforms "in vast detail". Fellow pannelist John Pugh called on peers to "purge this bill".

Nick Clegg has taken credit for triggering the 'pause' in the health and social care bill, which saw many of its central elements watered down.

But critics complain that even the new version of the bill opens the NHS up to private firms and removes universality of provision from the service's mission statement.

Lib Dem members were emboldened by their decision to oppose the bill at their spring conference, which eventually led to many of its central clauses being removed.