Harman to Clegg: 'Even now, you can stop NHS reform'

Washong their hands of it? No 10 wants the health and social care bill passed by March 20th.
Washong their hands of it? No 10 wants the health and social care bill passed by March 20th.

By Ian Dunt

Harriet Harman appealed to Nick Clegg to stop the NHS reform bill today, despite plans for it to become law next week.

The government wants the bill passed for March 20th, the day before the Budget, but the deputy Labour leader used her turn at PMQs to encourage Mr Clegg to break ranks and tell his peers to vote it down.

"Even at this late stage it's within his power to stop this bill," Ms Harman said.

Once Mr Clegg rejected the offer, she issued a bruising attack on the deputy prime minister highlighting the difficulties he had at last weekend's Liberal Democrat conference, when delegates refused to back the bill.

"It's clear the deputy prime minister won't stand up for the NHS," she said.

"The only thing he stands up for is when the prime minister walks in the room."

She added: "What has happened to that fine liberal tradition? They must be turning in their graves. The party of William Gladstone. The party of Lloyd George. And now, the party of Nick Clegg."

Mr Clegg said the bill would prevent the state offering "sweetheart deals" to the private sector for health service work, as had happened when Labour were in power.

"Is she proud of that?" he asked.

"In government the Labour party ran out of money. In opposition they are running out of ideas."

Ms Harman and Mr Clegg took over from David Cameron and Ed Miliband because the prime minister is on a state visit to Washington.

Final hurdles

The government survived a potential Liberal Democrat rebellion last night over its NHS reforms, but faces new challenges in the days ahead.

Today, it will be under considerable pressure to respond to the arguments around the information tribunal's ruling demanding it publish the risk register on NHS reform.

It will then face a cross-bench amendment in the Lords from former SDP leader David Owen demanding that the final reading of the health and social care bill is delayed until the risk register is published.

Lord Owen has described the plan to push ahead with the legislation while appealing the publication of the risk register as the "third constitutional outrage" associated with the legislation – the first being David Cameron's hastily overturned pledge of no more "top-down reorganisations of the NHS" and the second being the on-the-ground implementation of the bill before it had been passed by parliament.

"The attempt to railroad this legislation through both houses of parliament has raised very serious questions about the legitimacy of this coalition government," he said.

Tory whips were clearly nervous of a substantial Liberal Democrat rebellion last night, when they texted colleagues to tell them it was "imperative" to vote.

Their amendment which would have dropped the bill, convened royal medical colleges for a debate on reform and restated the health policies in the original coalition agreement, where Andrew Lansley's NHS reform did not feature.

That Liberal Democrat amendment was unusually supported by Labour, but it was not enough to see it pass. It was defeated by 314 votes to 260.

A Labour motion calling simply for the bill to be dropped was defeated by 314 to 258.

Meanwhile, the government won a series of votes on the health bill in the Lords, with peers rejecting amendments from Labour and crossbench peers.


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