Published: 21/03/2002, Volume II2, No. 5797 Page 9

The government's NHS Reform Bill began a tortuous journey through its Lords committee stage this week, with peers submitting a string of probing amendments in the run-up to a more serious assault at report stage.

Former Conservative health minister Baroness Cumberlege, supported by Labour's Lord Desai, moved an amendment to create an NHS Agency, distancing ministers from the running of the NHS. 'Perhaps we, the politicians, ought to have the courage to fall on our swords and leave the detailed management of healthcare to others.'

She teased junior health minister Lord Hunt, who 'in his former life as chief executive of the [predecessor body to the] NHS Confederation. . promoted a similar model'. Speaking against the amendment, Lord Hunt replied: 'That was before I had the benefit of the extensive re-education provided for me by my officials at the Department of Health.'

Liberal Democrat health spokesman Lord Clement-Jones told HSJ: 'We are looking for a lot more reassurance than We are getting from the government. We are debating a bill That is half-baked. By and large, That is the view right across the House of Lords - It is not necessarily a party political thing.'

The Lords were withdrawing their amendments during the committee stage, but would press key issues to the vote at the report stage, now expected after Easter, Lord Clement-Jones said.