Health Bill facing tight timetable in Parliament

Mark D'Arcy
Parliamentary correspondent

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Hmm. This is going to be tight. The timetable for the reconvened Public Bill Committee which will allegedly be "scrutinising the detail" of the rewritten Health and Social Care Bill has just been published.

The Bill, you'll recall, was "paused" for a rethink, after it ran into serious opposition from within the NHS, and was only re-introduced with the promise of major changes. The Committee now has to write those changes - in the form of 160 new Government amendments - into the text. They will sit from next Tuesday, 288 June, to 14 July, giving the members three weeks to slog through a vast array of detailed changes - changes which won't be published in full until Thursday

This is the official list, to give you a taste:

"The Bill has been re-committed in respect of the following Clauses and Schedules

(a) in Part 1, Clauses 1 to 6, 9 to 11, 19 to 24, 28 and 29 and Schedules 1 to 3;

(b) in Part 3, Clauses 55, 56, 58, 59, 63 to 75, 100, 101, 112 to 117 and 147 and Schedules 8 and 9;

(c) in Part 4, Clauses 149, 156, 165, 166 and 176;

(d) in Part 5, Clauses 178 to 180 and 189 to 193 and Schedule 15;

(e) in Part 8, Clause 242;

(f) in Part 9, Clause 265;

(g) in Part 11, Clauses 285 and 286;

(h) in Part 12, Clauses 295, 297 and 298."

Having digested the Government amendments, the Committee will then hand the Bill back to the Commons for Report and Third Reading stages, which are expected during the September sitting of the Commons - allowing it to debut in the Lords in mid October.

It's all beginning to look a bit rushed and makes the polite fiction that Commons public bill committees engage in "detailed scrutiny" look even thinner than usual.

For comparison, the Bill committee had 28 sessions on the original, pre-paused, version of the Bill, running through February and March, considering 300 amendments and holding more than a hundred votes along the way. This time round they won't be revisiting parts of the bill which are not being changed, although Labour are arguing that the legislation should be reconsidered as a whole - not taken in parts.

The rush to get this Bill moving again underlines a wider point; the Government's legislative programme is getting rather bogged down. And they are in a hurry. The whole point of front-loading the big reforms the Coalition is pushing through almost wherever you look is so that they are bedded down and delivering visible benefits which voters notice, by the time the next election hoves into sight.

And that grand strategy is threatened by the setbacks and delays now accumulating.

The Government is already faced with the need to find time to attempt to reverse unwelcome changes made by the Lords to the Fixed Term Parliaments Bill, the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill, the European Union Bill, and no doubt, in due course, the Localism Bill and the Welfare Reform Bill as well. We could be seeing a lot more of this kind of thing.