Published: 30/01/2003, Volume II3, No. 5840 Page 5

Members of the House of Lords pushed parliamentary protocol to its limits this week as they laid siege to the government's Community Care (Delayed Discharge) Bill, which would allow social services departments to be fined for 'bed blocking'.

Convention dictates that legislation is not voted down at this stage - the second reading in the Lords. But angry Conservative health spokesperson Earl Howe said he had been 'tempted to table a motion to defeat the bill'.

He urged the government to 'withdraw this measure before it has the chance to do any damage'.

There was only lukewarm support from Labour peers, with Baroness Pitkeathley - who wrote a book about hospital discharge in the 1970s - raising a series of concerns. Alhough she stopped short of threatening to vote with Opposition peers, she suggested that 'if monitoring shows the bill is hindering relationships, we must be prepared to review the policy'.

Liberal Democrat health spokesperson Lord ClementJones withdrew an amendment expressing 'regrets' that the bill 'fails to tackle the causes of delayed discharges' and 'creates perverse incentives'.

He said he would not press for a vote on it only because protocol did not allow him to use the word 'deplore'. But he said: 'If by convention we could throw out the bill in this house, we would.'

He warned junior health minister Lord Hunt to 'fasten his seatbelt' for the bill's committee stage, when peers would urge a delay in introducing the measures until at least 2004.