Rolling news from Sheffield Lib Dem conference: Saturday morning

Richard Kemp summates on motion, asking people also to back both amendments; i.e. cooperation rather confrontation to improve bill. Some MPs vote for amendment 1, some abstain. Amendment overwhelmingly carried. As is amendment 2. Lines 6-15 deleted from motion, amended motion carried. All MPs I can spot voted for.

Evan Harris summates on amendment 1. “It is unusual for me to summate on a debate where there have been no speeches against my amendment”. Says government ministers must work hard to change the bill radically. Amendment 1 lays out how it should be improved – and Liberal Democrats in government “should follow what we overwhelmingly vote for today”.

John Alderdice, the other Co-Chair of the Backbench Health Committee, emphasises problems with existing NHS – i.e. doing nothing would not be a sensible policy. Calls for party to make the bill a better bill rather than to think sticking with existing NHS structure and policies is the right answer.

Andrew George MP pays tribute to Paul Burstow, and then comes the “But” – calls for conference to vote against the motion as a whole. “Once the private sector get their foot in the door, the genie will be out of the bottle”.

Many other speeches, including 1 minute mini-speeches from the floor, continue main themes of the earlier speeches. Noticeable that even the most critical speakers in health debate have talked of strengthening Lib Dem role in coalition – no-one has said coalition is wrong. Paul Burstow busy writing detailed notes as each person speaks in NHS debate.

Shirley Williams gets two warm rounds of applause as making way up to podium. “Nothing I am trying to do about health is intended to weaken Nick … [who has] done a remarkable job”. Next word? “But”. Attacks in particular combination of huge changes at the same time as cuts and calls for local public accountability to be greatly strengthened. Also concerned about cherry-picking by private providers. Powerful end of speech quoting letter written to her.

John Pugh, Co-Chair of the Health Parliamentary Backbench Committee, launches strong attack on NHS White Paper across the board. But does not call for motion to be defeated; instead calls for amendment 1 to be passed. Strongest applause so far.

Wendy Taylor calls for part of health motion to be deleted, defending the record of the NHS on cancer care and criticising data government has used to question the NHS’s record. Hall filling up very quickly, including the ‘overspill’ seating on the first floor.

Jeremy Hargreaves moves amendment 2 of local accountability and welcoming plans to give local councils a bigger role in health policy.

Charles West moves amendment 1 to NHS motion which attacked “damaging and unjustified market-based approach” in the NHS White Paper. Good, solid speech – but notable that although not delivered with oratorical panache, got bigger round of applause than Paul Burstow’s speech.

Paul Burstow opens debate and pledges to support “a universal health care service … free at the point of use … based on your need, not your means”. Attacks Labour for way it let private providers be paid extra for providing health services. Health reforms are rooted in Liberal Democrat belief in community politics, says Burstow. “The NHS is great. Please support this motion and make it even greater.”

Conference overwhelmingly votes for F4 on the Disability Living Allowance which “Calls on the Coalition Government to reinstate the Mobility Component or otherwise fund the mobility needs of those who cannot afford to do so themselves”. General mood of the debate was supportive of the role Liberal Democrats in government – praising efforts behind the scenes to get the policy changed.

Mike German in the debate on Disability Living Allowance strongly emphasises way Liberal Democrats in government are getting the Tories to think again on the issue. He also stresses the role of the Lib Dem Parliamentary backbench committees in helping the party exercise influnece on government decisions.

Widespread chatter amongst London activists about who might stand for London Mayor. The common theme is wanting an alternative to Lembit Opik when it comes to the selection ballot.

Norman Lamb, moving the Federal Policy Committee report, talks of need for party to come up with strong and distinctive policies for second half of the Parliament, i.e. to cover the period before the next general election but beyond the content of the coalition policy agreement from last summer.

The Guardian is running a piece from Evan Harris about the NHS reforms:

I am certain that if it was left to Lib Dem ministers the NHS would survive in some decent shape or form under the new system. But legislation is not for one minister or one government. This bill in its current form would allow a future government (Tory or New Labour)and a future unelected regulator to move to the market that most doctors and most patient groups believe will threaten quality and fairness.

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