Health Bill debate at conference: live blog

Welcome to this live blog of the health debate at the Liberal Democrat federal conference. Updates added at the foot.

No, the packed hall isn’t here to see my questions to the reports of the Parliamentary Parties (shocking, I know). It’s people filling up the hall early ahead of the big debate of conference: the NHS.

First up, moving the motion is Judith Jolly: “No one thinks this bill is perfect … but it is a hugely better, safer bill because of Lib Dems”. Shirley Williams is presumably waiting in the wings to make the last speech of the debate. She goes on to detail many of the doors opened to privatisation by Labour that Lib Dem amendments are closing. Ends with an appeal to back Shirley Williams over Andy Burnham.

Next up, Evan Harris. He’s moving a separate vote on the words that refer to voting for the Bill’s third reading. In other words, don’t vote down the motion but instead remove its support for the Bill’s final passage. A smart procedural move as it means he’s not seen to be opposing the motion’s praise for the changes Lib Dem peers have secured. In response to the motion’s title, he calls his request for a separate vote, “the William Beveridge” request. Gives a long list of detailed objections to what the Bill currently says.

Prue Bray is the the third speaker. She opposes the Bill, citing the lack of support from health professionals. “Let’s make sure we let people know it was Labour that decided to pay private companies at premium rates”, she adds.

Kelly-Marie Blundell also opposes the motion. Says she was made redundant by the Health Bill’s changes – but made redundant before it had been passsed and before the changes Lib Dems secured. The Lib Dem concessions are being ignored on the ground she says. “If you’re in a hole, stop digging”.

Julian Tisi speaks in favour of the motion: the Health Bill is “a completely different beast” from the one the Conservatives wanted. The Bill won’t break up the NHS or introduce American-style privatisation. He defends it as an example of how coalition government should work – to a very mixed response, heckles and applause, from the audience.

Martin Tod opposes the motion. As with Evan, he praised Shirley – taking a very different tone from some of the motion’s Lib Dem opponents have taken on social networks. A smart move if you want to persuade people to make up their minds your way. He attacks the Bill’s structure for the NHS, including how local commissioning would work. “It’s the enormous complexity and bureaucracy” he objects to. “It’s worse than tuition fees” he says.

At the start of the session, the chair explained the speeches would reflect the balance of the speaker cards submitted. It’s becoming clear why she announced that as the next speaker isĀ Ann Morrison who also supports the separate vote, opposing the motion too. So too does Rachel Coleman-Finch.

Chris Lucas is up next. Talks of his mother’s career as a nurse – and the key principle for the NHS he learnt from that, that it must be free at the point of delivery. The NHS needs to adapt he says, whilst keeping that principle – which is why reform is necessary and the heavily amended Bill should now be supported.

David Rendel starts, “I’ve been married to a GP for a very long time … and I dare not support this Bill”. His judgement is that the Bill damages rather than improves the Bill. “This was not in the coalition agreement. We do not have to support it.”

So far, the speeches against the Bill/motion have gone down very well. However, applause in the conference hall has not always been a sure guide to final votes in previous controversies. And there’s still the final speech from Shirley Williams to come.

Andrew George MP is the penultimate speaker: “I don’t relish crossing swords with a deity… especially on a Sunday”. Attacks view that the Bill has been hugely changed – says it has not been.

Now, the final act: Shirley Williams. “This debate is not about me. Whether I am a semi-deity or a monster is for you to decide”, but people should not decide the motion on the basis of personalities. Compliments people such as Andrew George and Evan Harris for helping secure many changes, but then warns against under-rating about what the party has achieved in changing the Bill, including in the last week. Attacks “one piece of false information after another” about the Bill. Emphasises recent change changes and more coming next week.

She gets stuck into the detail of the Bill, responding to the details cited by Evan, Martin and Andrew. It has however been a debate mostly light on such details and instead conducted with broad headlines.

“We have stopped the process of privatisation,” says Shirley Williams.

Now it’s the votes. Counted vote on the deletion of the lines calling for the third reading of the Health and Social Care Bill to be supported.

Result of separate vote in 314-270 to remove the lines on supporting the Bill’s 3rd reading. The amended motion is then clearly carried.

(Note: it was 270, not 217 as reported in some places initially. I’ve confirmed this with Andrew Wiseman, chair of the Federal Conference Committee.)


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