Mental health at heart of government's first Health Bill defeat

The government suffered its first defeat over an amendment to the Health Bill in the Lords as debate continues.

Lord Howe’s argument was rejected
Lord Howe’s argument was rejected

The Bill entered the Lords on Tuesday to begin the report stage in which Lords will discuss amendments to the Bill.

The first amendment discussed aimed to clarify the health secretary’s duty to promote mental health.

Health minister Lord Howe opposed the amendment claiming that mental illness was already covered by the Bill because legally the term ‘illness’ referred to both physical and mental illness.

He promised to do further work on the Bill's explanatory notes to clarify the health secretary’s duty to mental illness.  He also offered to meet with the Lords who tabled the amendment to discuss the issue further.

However peers rejected Lord Howe’s argument and voted 244 to 240 to pass the amendment.

Earlier in the debate Labour shadow health minister Baroness Thornton asked Lord Howe: ‘Has the government got a plan B in case it has to withdraw the Bill?’

He replied: ‘No, there is no suggestion that this bill could be withdrawn. We are clear it is the right thing to do. We believe the measures in this bill represent the best way forward.’

During prime minister’s question time yesterday David Cameron also defended the Bill, claiming it was supported by GPs.  

‘Today 95% of the country is covered by GPs who are not actually supporting our reforms; they are implementing them,’ he said.

However his argument was countered by Labour leader Ed Miliband, who quoted RCGP chairwoman Dr Clare Gerada’s rejection of the Bill.

Mr Miliband also commented on the distance health secretary Andrew Lansley was sat from the prime minister. ‘It’s nice to see him here, some distance away I notice,’ he said.

He went on to quote a Downing Street source who reportedly said that the health secretary should be ‘taken out and shot’.

‘The health service is not safe in his hands,’ Mr Miliband said.

Mr Cameron defended Mr Lansley, quashing any suggestion that he would be axed.

‘I have to tell him [Ed Miliband] the career prospects of the right honourable friend are a lot better than his,’ he said.

Earlier this week the BMA stepped up its opposition to the Bill and called for Mr Lansley to step down.

The Bill will continue to be discussed in the Lords during the report stage this week.

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