Nick Clegg’s right hand man has told HSJ the Health Bill may not re-enter the Commons until the autumn to ensure some of its most controversial provisions can be “thoroughly and comprehensively” redrafted.
Norman Lamb, chief political adviser to the deputy prime minister, was speaking today after Mr Clegg called for the bill to go to the Commons committee stage for a second time. It could mean significant delay to the legislation and to planned changes to the NHS.
Mr Lamb said: “Because the changes are significant and substantial, you can’t just do some quick amendments and shift it on into the House of Lords. We’re talking about proper process here - [it] means you just can’t rush through this.”
Asked whether the second committee stage would begin before the summer recess, Mr Lamb said it depended on how long it would take to redraft the bill. He said it would depend on “discussion with DH about their resources in getting the bill to that point”.
He said: “There needs to be work on drafting of clauses and so forth, and it’s really important that this is done thoroughly and comprehensively and we don’t leave loose ends.”
However, Mr Lamb said he was keen the Department of Health made it clear to the NHS what changes were going to be made, and particularly the importance of making huge efficiency savings. The DH has said £20bn needs to be saved over four years because of investment cuts.
Mr Lamb told HSJ: “There is an absolute need for certainty, quickly, about the government’s intentions. When we are through this listening exercise, it is really important for the whole service that everybody understands the direction of travel. [We] can deliver that certainty quickly.”
He said the government would “[give] a very clear steer to the whole NHS that the efficiency saving is the priority”.
A DH source said if changes to the bill are minor it may not be necessary to return to committee stage and, if it did, this may not be a long process. The source said the DH intended to respond to the “listening exercise” outcomes during June.
Nick Seddon, deputy director of pro market think tank Reform, said the government must be clear about its intentions quickly. He said: “Consistency leads to credibility. If you lack coherence you lack credibility and it is harder to push through reform.”