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The votes yesterday in the Lords in favour of the NHS bill were, paradoxically, a sign that the government knows it's in some trouble. A turnout of 330 in favour of the bill isn't happenstance, not just some Lords who happened to be stopping by on their way to lunch; it involved whisking people down to London from the furthest reaches, by the ankles if necessary, to ensure the bill limped through.

In the long run this will make absolutely no difference to what will become the Health and Social Care Act, of course, as almost any changes that noble Lords manage to inflict on the bill, and I can't stress this enough,


This will be one of the occasions when, barring the merest tweak, Parliament acts essentially as a sluice running from the Cabinet room to the statute book. It's no consolation to know that in the even longer run, thanks to their loyal behaviour over this, the fate of the Lib Dems will very probably mirror that of the NHS.

Earl Howe, the Tory minister in the Lords tasked with seeing this through, is almost certain to become a bogeyman in some quarters over the next few months. This will be undeserved as he is a genuinely decent and honest man, who certainly believes in some of what his government tells him to say. For example, he honestly means it when he says,
Earl Howe: The bill does not introduce a free market for all. It does not change competition law or widen the scope of competition law. It does introduce a framework by which competition can be effectively managed,
despite the fact that this is basically saying, "Of course we're not driving over a cliff. We're going to park safely and firmly with our wheels hanging over the edge."


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 13th, 2011 03:00 pm (UTC)
It does somewhat boggle my mind that the Lib-Dems appear to be quite cheerfully pressing the self-destruct button on their party, and will go down in history as the party that enabled the Tories to destroy the NHS.
Oct. 13th, 2011 03:46 pm (UTC)
Well said indeed. Sluice or sewer.
Oct. 13th, 2011 03:51 pm (UTC)
Will the changes simply be reversed in the Commons though? Both Houses have to agree the Bill, and if the Commons (that is, the Coaltion majority in the Commons) overturn changes that their Lordships feel strongly about, wouldn't we end up with ping pong?

Ultimately, if the Lords dug their heels in on certain changes, couldn't the Bill end up being withdrawn and put through again, with a view to using the Parliament Act?

You'll have a better feel for this, as you're there. You know these people. Are there certain changes that the Lords might make they'd be willing to stick to their guns on, a la the 90 days detention "incident"?
Oct. 13th, 2011 04:41 pm (UTC)
The answer to your last question will become clearer in committee, probably on day 1 (of 200).

Don't forget, though, that the power of the coalition and the backwoodsmen means that the votes won't be anywhere near as close as they were over counterterrorism. Even the most fervent rearguard action is likely to lead to no more than a single ping.

And if some extraordinary event led to the opposition carrying the day, as you say, the whole thing would be forced through with the Parliament Act. Yes, that would inevitably damage goodwill, reputations, the usual channels etc—but with this acrimonious coalition, surely that damage is done already...
Oct. 13th, 2011 10:54 pm (UTC)
The problem is, based on past experience, the Lords aren't necessarily that likely to dig their heels in.

The Lords actually have a strong tendency to follow the party whip. Yes, there's some deviation, but there's also some deviation in the Commons. The difference between the two isn't the force of the Whips, it's the balance of numbers of Lords.

While Labour was in power, the Lords handed them more amendments because Conservatives + Lib Dems beats Labour in the Lords. But given that that's the case, if Lords stick to the party whip, the NHS bill will get through.

“Why Does the Government get Defeated in the House of Lords?: The Lords, the Party System and British Politics” is a good source on this sort of stuff. A few important quotes:

But the chamber also has a reputation for being independent and non-partisan. We find that this does not translate into voting patterns, and that cross-voting, and the votes of independents, tend not to be influential. In most cases, the pivotal groups in the House of Lords are the opposition parties, who vote cohesively, albeit with high levels of absenteeism

The main players are the opposition political parties, who vote relatively cohesively and whose combined strength is normally sufficient to overwhelm other forces.

if all Labour members had always voted loyally, only eight [of 283] government defeats would have been prevented (assuming that all other votes remained un-changed).

The opposition of the Conservatives is generally required in order to bring about a government defeat. However there were five defeats [out of 283] which would have occurred (all else being equal) even if the Conservatives had not voted

Of the 264 defeats where the Liberal Democrats opposed the government, it would have won in 179 if they had abstained, or in 256 had they voted with it (as always, assuming that the behaviour of other groups remained unchanged).

Now, the NHS bill could be like the Prevention of Terrorism bill, which was four out of the five defeats that the government would've still lost if the Conservatives had all abstained.

But I'd still be quite worried about relying on the Lords digging their heels in to stop/fix the bill.
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )

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