After years as a backroom fixer, one could forgive Tim Clement- Jones, the Liberal Democrat's new health spokesman in the Lords, if he was eager to make his mark with a thrusting, attention-grabbing attack on government health policy.

But the recently ennobled Lord instead surveys the busy upcoming legislative health agenda with equanimity. 'I' m actually willing the government on to succeed in many of these areas. I'm not a Cassandra.'

There is very little substantive difference between the Lib Dems and Labour on health policy, he believes. The the bill enabling the white paper reforms is likely to see only constructive criticism from his camp, what he calls 'candid friend stuff'.

His main divergence from Labour is over their 'control freak' tendencies, 'dictating orders from London or Richmond House'. The Lib Dems will argue for proper accountability for primary care group boards, and hope for some Labour support.

He is not without reservations. He questions whether the Commission for Health Improvement will have teeth or enough resources. He also wonders whether primary care groups will have enough managerial expertise. But these are, he suggests,matters of detail. 'We are not going to get up and say 'yah boo', hate Frank Dobson.'

With his relaxed approach to Lib-lab relations it is not perhaps surprising that Lord Clement-Jones, 48, a solicitor and consultant, was asked by Paddy Ashdown this summer to take on the health brief in place of the ailing Baroness Robson.

He is close to Mr Ashdown - he ran his successful campaign to become party leader in 1988, and has a distinguished track record in senior party positions, including vice-chairmanship of the party' s 1997 election campaign team.

Aside from his political loyalties, his health credentials are not insubstantial. He is a trustee of Cancer BACUP, the cancer information charity founded by his late first wife Vicky, a doctor; and he is a former member of the council of the London Lighthouse AIDS hospice.

Cancer is a key personal interest, and he is encouraged by the government's commitment to cancer services, although he has concerns whether shortages of resources and specialist staff could affect Labour' s pledge that by 2000 everyone with suspected cancer will be seen by a specialist in 14 days.

A few days previously Labour had raided the Lottery pot to find extra money for cancer services. 'I' m not complaining about the money. I' m pleased it is there. But I believe that money should come from mainstream NHS funding. Maybe I' m just being old-fashioned.'

So, what about public funding? The Lib Dems, he says are not 'the last of the big spenders,' but nor are they timid scrimpers. 'There' s a good case for nurses pay being increased. That may put incredible pressure on the NHS. If so, we need to argue for higher taxation.'