Earl Howe

Kiran Stacey

Peers begin debating the NHS reform bill on Tuesday in the House of Lords. The big worry for the government is that they will vote for the Owen/Hennessy amendment, which would refer the bill to a separate committee for further consultation, delaying its passage by several months.

Earl Howe, a health minister, met Lord Owen yesterday as they tried to bash out a compromise, but the talks failed and Lords Owen and Hennessy tabled their amendment as planned, with one minor tweak: that the new committee should report by December 19, rather than next February.

The government is not taking this lightly. Earl Howe sent a letter to peers just 20 minutes before today’s debate started. The letter shows just how concerned minister are about the prospect of such a delay. Here are the key passages: