Leadership tries to veto debate on new generation of Trident

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Government health reforms are expected to come under fierce attack as Labour delegates warn of the damage caused by the "breakneck speed" of change.

Party officials were last night hoping to water down a motion rubbishing ministers' health policies which is scheduled for debate on Wednesday, at a time when staff at NHS Logistics walk out over a decision to outsource the department to the German company DHL.

The conference arrangements committee provoked further anger among delegates after it ruled that motions on the leadership of the party and on the replacement of Trident were both out of order.

The NHS resolution, proposed by Unison, savages the Government's attempts to introduce the private sector in the NHS and is expected to attract substantial support from constituency delegates and the full backing of Labour's union affiliates which wield half of the votes at the annual conference. The motion calls for a rethink of the decision to contract out NHS Logistics, which handles billions of pounds of supplies. Meanwhile, Gordon Brown's covert attempts to woo union support for his leadership bid were severely undermined yesterday as union leaders rounded on his idea of devolving power to public services, especially the NHS.

On the eve of one of the most important speeches of his career, the Chancellor was warned by unions that they would oppose any attempt to place the health service "in the departure lounge for privatisation".

Unions fear that Mr Brown's plans for an independent management board - a similar initiative to his creation of the monetary policy committee, which sets interest rates - could lead to the health service coming under the control of powerful businessmen. Paul Kenny, general secretary of the GMB general union, said: "A board is a short step from a boardroom. You have to ask yourself if this is the first step towards NHS Plc."

Dave Prentis, leader of Unison, one of the biggest single financial donors to the Labour Party, said he would be happy to discuss with the Chancellor any new initiative to improve patient care in the NHS. But he added: " The last thing NHS staff need at the moment is another gimmick. We've had reform after reform, pushing services into the private sector and we need to slow that down.

"We would want to know how any proposed NHS board would operate and how it would be accountable. It could end up with a board controlled by big business with the interests of big business being put before those of patients and the NHS. We would want to be reassured that the health service is not being placed in the departure lounge for privatisation."

The conference arrangements committee ruled that motions on the leadership of the party - the principal topic of conversation among those attending the conference - and on the replacement of Trident were both out of order.

Delegates complained that they were being "gagged" and that it would be the party's only opportunity for a full public discussion before a decision is made on the £25bn weapons system by the end of the year. The committee ruled that it was already the subject of a document prepared by the national policy forum and that therefore it could not be debated. A debate on the party leadership issue was unconstitutional because the electoral process had not started, the committee decided.

What's not on the agenda...

Leadership

Some motions called for the Prime Minister to set a timetable for his departure, others urged him to go immediately. The motions were ruled out of order because an electoral process was yet to begin.

Trident

The conference committee ruled there could be no debate on the replacement of the £25bn weapons system because it had been the subject of a full discussion at the national policy forum, which had produced a document on the subject.

Middle East

Constituencies are only allowed four last-minute "contemporary" motions which are selected by ballot. This year motions on housing, pensions, health and climate change got the most votes and so there will be no debate on the war in Lebanon.

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