Coalition MPs vote through sweeping hospital closure powers

Attempts by Labour to strike out the controversial Hospital Closure Clause have been defeated by Conservative and Lib Dem MPs. 

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Caroline Molloy
11 March 2014

The controversial Clause 119 of the Care Bill, dubbed the ‘Hospital Closure Clause’, has won a crucial vote in the Commons.

The decision is likely to be met with anger by campaigners.

Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham moved a vote to strike down the Clause - which allows the financially-driven, fast-track administration and closure process to be applied to hospitals in other areas even if they are themselves well-run and not in difficulties.

But the government majority meant the vote was lost 239-297.

Minutes before that vote, former health minister and Lib Dem Paul Burstow - who had tabled an amendment that had threatened to rally a serious rebellion -  announced he would no longer support his own compromise amendment, prompting jeers from the Labour benches. He had just been offered the chairship of a committee to produce guidance on the clause. An angry Andy Burnham later labelled Burstow a "sellout". 

The vote came at the end of a stormy parliamentary debate.

The Clause broke the Coalition Agreement promise to "end the centrally mandated closure of A&E and maternity wards", instead making it far easier, many Labour MPs alleged.

Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, did not attend until the closing summary of the debate, a move which was labelled as "extraordinary" by Grahame Morris MP and seemed to leave some on his own benches unimpressed.

Defence of the hospital closure clause was left to Junior Health Minister Daniel Poulter who claimed the clause did little to change earlier Labour legislation.

The claim was met with disbelief by Labour MP for Lewisham Heidi Alexander who said:

“Make no mistake - if this clause had been on the statute book at the time, Lewisham’s maternity and A&E would now be closed.”

Stephen Dowd MP noted that the Hospital Closure Clause would also have allowed two thirds of Lewisham Hospital's land to be sold off to developers - something other areas will now not be protected from.

Health Select Committee Chair Stephen Dorrell said the changes were needed to allow decisions about reconfiguration of hospital services.

But shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham accused Jeremy Hunt of behaving "arrogantly". He aded “These issues arouse strong feelings and that is exactly why local people must be involved....This is the wrong vehicle to use to make major changes to hospitals.”

Many MPs highlighted the importance of local hospitals, and concerns that increasing financial difficulties could suck more hospitals and other health services into ‘backdoor reconfiguration’ if the Clause was passed.

But when it came to the final vote parliamentary arithmetic won out.

It remains to be seen what impact their support of the clause will have on Coalition MPs election hopes - and to the Secretary of State who didn’t turn up to hear the debate on it.

(The Coalition MPs who voted for the Burstow amendment, alongside Labour, Greens and Nats, were the Lib Dem Greg Mulholland (LD), Angie Bray, Nick de Bois, Zac Goldsmith, Phillip Hollobone, Jason McCartney and Bob Stewart. But not Paul Burstow himself.

The Coalition MPs who rebelled further and voted for the Burnham amendment to strike out the clause altogether, were Nick de Bois, Angie Bray, Phillip Hollobone and Bob Stewart. No Lib Dems).

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