Health and Social Care Bill set to receive very detailed scrutiny in Lords

18 October 2011

The Health and Social Care Bill looks set to undergo very detailed examination in the House of Lords during committee stage – line by line scrutiny – which begins on Tuesday 25 October. Members of the Lords have already submitted more than 370 proposals for changes to the Bill

The Bill received its second reading – a discussion of the purpose and main principles – in a debate that took place over two days on Tuesday 11 and Wednesday 12 October. More than 100 Members of the Lords took part, including former ministers, NHS administrators and practitioners – including current and former NHS Trust chief executives, surgeons, physicians, GPs and nurses, as well as representatives of health and social care charities and social enterprises.

The Lords voted against two proposals at the end of the debate, in the two largest House of Lords votes for over a decade. One was to reject the second reading of the Bill all together, which would have stopped all further progress on the Bill. The House also voted against a proposal to send the Bill for additional scrutiny by select committee.

Votes to reject second reading

Voting on the second reading of a Bill is rare. Only two such votes have taken place in the last ten years. The last time a vote to reject the second reading of a Bill was unsuccessful was 2003 on the Fire Services Bill. Members of the Lords voted by 61 votes to 4 – a huge government victory – for the Bill to receive its second reading and progress to committee stage.

The last time the House of Lords voted to reject the second reading of a Bill was in 2007 on the Fraud (Trials without a Jury) Bill, which was rejected by 216 votes to 143. In 2000, the second reading of the Criminal Justice (Mode of Trial) (No.2) Bill was rejected by 184 votes to 88.

What happens at committee stage?

While second reading allows Members of the Lords to talk through concerns and areas in a Bill – the plan for a new law – where they think changes are needed, committee stage involves detailed, line by line scrutiny of a Bill’s separate parts – the clauses and schedules.

The House of Lords is sometimes called the ‘revising’ chamber because at committee stage Members of the Lords can propose changes to revise the plan for a new law.

Any Member of the Lords can take part in committee stage and ‘table amendments’ – submit proposals for changes to the Bill. They then ‘move’ their amendments – formally present their proposals – during the debate.

The amendments are then discussed by the House, with the minister responsible for the Bill in the Lords – in the case of the Health and Social Care Bill, Earl Howe – responding to the points raised.

Tabling amendments allows Members of the Lords, often with specialist knowledge or experience of the subject, to probe what it would mean if the Bill passed into law, as well as the policy that lies behind it.

Often the reason for proposing changes to a Bill is to make the Government think again about what it plans to do.

If a Member of the Lords is not satisfied with the minister’s response to their amendment or believes that their change to the Bill is needed, they can ‘test the opinion of the House’ – insist that there is a vote on the amendment to decide whether or not to make the change to the Bill.

Further information

Members of the public can attend House of Lords debates and follow proceedings from the public gallery.

You can watch the committee stage of the Health and Social Care Bill online, as well as follow the debate on the House of Lords Twitter feed.

Image: PA

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