The Health and Social Care Bill: what has the Liberal Democrat conference decided?

This morning’s Lib Dem conference debate saw a close vote (314-270*) to delete part of a motion that called on Liberal Democrat peers to support the Third Reading of the Health and Social Care Bill. The rest of the motion, with that part removed, was then easily passed.

Other parts of the motion “supports the Liberal Democrat team in the House of Lords” in pushing for further itemised amendments to the Bill next week. It then ends up silent on what Parliamentarians should do (or are being asked to do, as  conference motions can’t mandate Lib Dem MPs or peers over how to vote in Parliament). The clear spirit of the separate vote is that conference, closely but clearly, doesn’t like the NHS Bill. However, it would not be a direct contradiction of the motion’s wording to vote for the Third Reading.

Talking to several peers in the immediate aftermath of the vote, none are rushing to decide on what they will now do. There isn’t a simple yes/no vote coming up in the Lords on the Bill, but assuming the Labour opposition find a way to force one, they will have to decide soon.

The spirit of the conference decision is very clear, though some will, I suspect, decide that constitutionally rejecting the whole Bill would be a matter for the Commons and not the Lords.

* 270, not 217. When the vote result was announced, quite a few people – including myself – heard 217. However, it’s since been confirmed that the figure was 270, which reflects what the hall looked like – a close result.

Here’s the post-vote response from Evan Harris:

The Liberal Democrats have clearly and democratically told their ministers and their leaders that they do not support the bill. This can not be ignored. Although many wish to see no bill at all – for good reason – a significant number would support a bill which was amended to comply with what the the Sheffield conference called for last year, so that the bill is more in line with the Coalition Agreement. Most Liberal Democrats are appalled that the Government is defying the Information Commissioner and the appeal tribunal over the Risk Register.

The requirement from March have been published http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/political-science/2012/mar/06/health-social-care-bill and it is time for Liberal Democrat ministers to engage with what we have called for.

The party will not stand for its views to be ignored as we have supported the Coalition and Coalition Agreement but cannot support this bill in this form.


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