Lady Williams fears the health reform bill fails

Health reforms face new challenge from Lib Dem rebels

Evan Harris and Shirley Williams plan to table a motion at the party conference demanding further changes to coalition bill

Lady Williams fears the health reform bill fails to provide sufficient guarantees of an NHS free at the point of delivery.
Liberal Democrat rebels are planning a fresh move against the government’s health reforms at the party conference next week after a wider than expected revolt in the House of Commons against the plans.

Evan Harris, the former Lib Dem MP, and Lady Williams, are planning to table a motion in Birmingham demanding more changes to the health and social care bill. Williams has expressed concern that the measures, amended after the government’s “listening exercise”, fail to provide sufficient guarantees that the health secretary will promote a health service free at the point of delivery.

Harris will on Friday publish the text of the motion after an analysis of voting this week showed two-thirds of 24 backbench Lib Dem MPs in English seats rebelled against the bill. Of the 24 who were present and eligible for the votes – the chair of the bill committee was disqualified – 16 failed to support the government in at least one of the three main votes at report stage. The rebels included Tim Farron, the party president. Simon Hughes, the deputy leader, abstained in two votes.

Andrew George, the main rebel who is MP for St Ives, said: “There is an underlying unease about the bill amongst my colleagues. Although I knew I was not alone I hadn’t anticipated a rebellion on this scale. Liberal Democrats were the architects of the NHS and do not want, by default, to become the architects of its demise.

“Those of us who voted to ask the government to reflect on the folly of carrying on with the bill in its present form will be vindicated with further concessions in the Lords.”

Harris, a vice-chair of the party’s federal policy committee, said: “The extent of unhappiness on the Lib Dem backbenches, including the party president, Tim Farron, and the deputy leader, Simon Hughes, is a real encouragement to Baroness Shirley Williams and her cross-party colleagues in the Lords as they seek to make major changes to the bill.

“The vast majority of activists at our conference have only ever wanted the government’s health policies and the bill to go no further than the coalition agreement.

“The amendments tabled yesterday and our party conference motions are only seeking to restrict the government to the coalition agreement the party voted for.”

Dr Graham Winyard, chair of Winchester Lib Dems and a former NHS deputy chief medical officer for England, said: “Full credit needs to be given to Nick Clegg and [Lib Dem health minister] Paul Burstow for securing the changes already made to the bill following the party’s spring conference. However, it is clear that further change is necessary before many Liberal Democrats can support it. We were encouraged by the clear hints given by Paul Burstow that the government would seek to make changes to the bill.”