Published: 27/03/2003, Volume II3, No. 5848 Page 8

The battle over controversial plans to fine social services departments for bedblocking was set to continue today, with the House of Lords expected to stand firm over amendments to the Community Care (Delayed Discharge) Bill.

The bill is being batted back and forth between the Commons and the Lords - where the government does not have a majority - in a procedure known as 'ping-pong' after the Commons overturned a series of Lords amendments last week.

MPs voted by 333 votes to 203 to throw out a 'sunset clause' imposed by peers to limit the operation of the bill to five years.

Similarly, they rejected the peers' amendment to delay implementation of the bill by one year, by 330 votes to 205 votes. A bid by peers to exclude mental health patients from the scope of the bill was also lost, by 320 votes to 178.

Speaking before the votes, social care minister Jacqui Smith said that delaying the legislation would undermine closer collaboration between social services and the NHS. She told MPs: 'We must maintain this momentum in order to build on the progress which has been made. If we do not, It is the older people trapped in acute beds who will suffer.'

But peers are understood to be committed to their amendments, including one requiring explicit consent to be sought before patients' details were passed from hospitals to social services.

Conservative health spokesman Earl Howe said: 'We do feel as strongly as we ever did about the bill and the amendments, many of which were not debated at all [in the Commons last week]. That itself might encourage the House to bat it back. Our intention is to fight on these issues.'

It is not yet known whether the government will be prepared to make concessions at this stage to ensure the bill clears parliament.

Earl Howe said the only area where the government had 'met us halfway' so far was on consent.

Labour's Baroness Andrews is expected to speak for the government in place of Lord Hunt, who resigned his position as junior health minister last week in protest at the decision to go to war in Iraq.