The Bill could fall if peers back plans for a House of Lords select committee to scrutinise its impact on the constitutional role of the health secretary, the DoH fears.
In a letter sent to all members of the House of Lords on the eve of crucial votes on the Bill, health minister Lord Howe warned: ‘The house must have proper time to examine the Bill, but the proposal put forward by Lord Owen could result in delay, which could well prove fatal to it.’
Health secretary Andrew Lansley also wrote to Lord Hennessy to challenge fears about the Bill after the crossbench peer appeared on BBC radio’s Today programme.
Lord Howe wrote that the timetable set for the proposed select committee to report back could slip. He said this carried ‘grave implications for the government’s ability to achieve royal assent for the Bill by the end of the session’.
The Bill cannot be carried over into the next session of parliament, and as a result ‘the establishment of clinical commissioning groups would have to be very considerably delayed’.
Both Lord Howe’s letter and Mr Lansley’s rejected claims the Health Bill would diminish the responsibilities of the health secretary to provide a comprehensive NHS.
However, a briefing distributed to peers ahead of the debate by health policy academic Allyson Pollock, challenged this claim, warning that ‘despite retaining the wording with respect to the secretary of state’s principal duty to promote a comprehensive health service throughout England, the mechanisms whereby it can be given effect are radically weakened’.