NHS Bill clears first Lords hurdle
The Government's reform programme for the NHS has cleared a crucial hurdle as it received a second reading in the House of Lords.
Peers rejected by a margin of 330-262 an attempt by former SDP leader Lord Owen to delay the Health and Social Care Bill by referring it to a special committee.
They earlier voted down a bid to kill off the legislation altogether by refusing it a second reading, defeating an amendment from Labour's Lord Rea by 354 votes to 220.
Lord Owen denied his amendment was designed to block the Bill by preventing it clearing Parliament by the end of the session next spring.
He insisted that a special committee was the only way to ensure the complexity of the controversial changes - which will see responsibility for the vast majority of health spending handed over to GPs and clinicians - was properly examined.
But health minister Lord Howe wrote to peers on Tuesday warning that any delay "could well prove fatal" to the legislation, adding: "This is not a risk that I believe this House should take."
The latest votes clear the way for the Bill to continue through the committee and report stages of the Lords before being passed into law. A Department of Health spokesman said: "Today's vote is an important step towards giving the NHS the clarity and certainty it needs and delivering a world-class health service for patients.
"We look forward to full scrutiny in the main Lords committee, drawing on peers' wide expertise to ensure that our modernisation plans are as effective as possible."
But, despite the victories, Health Secretary Andrew Lansley may still face a protracted struggle getting his plans on to the statute book by the end of the session in April.
And shadow health secretary Andy Burnham said Labour would fight for "substantial and drastic" changes to the legislation if Mr Lansley was not willing to drop it now.