The post below goes some way towards explaining why I haven’t signed the EDM that a few people have been urging me, via Twitter, to sign. It’s EDM 2659 and was only tabled on 30th January so, apart from anything else, I didn’t actually realise it existed. We have a couple of months to go before the end of this parliamentary session, so see what I mean about there being about 3000 EDMs… Here’s the wording, which is supported by some 29 MPs to date (Labour, Lib Dem, SDLP and DUP; no Tories yet).
That this House expects the Government to respect the ruling by the Information Commissioner and to publish the risk register associated with the Health and Social Care Bill reforms in advance of Report Stage in the House of Lords in order to ensure that it informs that debate.
I agree entirely with what the EDM says, and I suppose if I sign up to it then I’m putting that on the public record, and people searching the EDM database can see that. But I have already raised this issue in Parliament, at Health questions on 27th November last year, in an exchange with Health Minister Simon Burns that prompted his now infamous “zombie” remarks.
Strategic Risk Register
Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East, Labour): What assessment he has made of the effects of publishing his Department’s strategic risk register on his restructuring of the NHS?
Simon Burns (Minister of State (Health); Chelmsford, Conservative): Publishing the Department’s risk register would have implications beyond the Department of Health, and we are taking the time granted to us by the Information Commissioner before deciding whether to appeal against his decision requiring its release.
Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East, Labour): I think I thank the Minister for that response, which at least gives some indication of where the Government are coming from. But, given the widespread concern among the public about the risks posed by the Health and Social Care Bill, and given that the Information Commission has ruled that the register should be published, does the Minister not think that it should be published before Report stage in the House of Lords, so that at the very least the findings can be used to inform the amendments being tabled to rescue the Bill even at this late stage?
Simon Burns (Minister of State (Health); Chelmsford, Conservative): No, I do not think that the register should be published before then, in so far as we are still considering whether or how to move forward within the time scale that the Information Commissioner has given us—[ Interruption. ] Before the hon. Lady gets too pious, I must tell her—I do not say “remind her”, because in the previous Government she will have been too busy tweeting, as the tweeting tsar, to know what the Department of Health was doing—that in September 2009 Andy Burnham similarly blocked release of the Department of Health’s strategic risk register, using the non-disclosure provisions under section 36 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000, and that his predecessor, Alan Johnson, did the same on two occasions in 2008.
John Bercow (Speaker): Order. It seems that the subject matter for an Adjournment debate is being provided.
Duncan Hames (Chippenham, Liberal Democrat): Two, or even three, wrongs do not make a right. Regarding an exemplary risk register, does the Minister consider that the mitigation plans for any risks identified there may serve to reassure Members of the other House, if it were to be published in advance of the conclusion of the Committee stage there?
Simon Burns (Minister of State (Health); Chelmsford, Conservative): If the hon. Gentleman had read it, he would know that the important aspect—[ Interruption. ] He says that he cannot read it, but if he listens for a minute, he will hear that the important parts that are relevant to the Health and Social Care Bill were published in January and September this year in the impact assessment for the Bill.
Andy Burnham (Leigh, Labour): May I first commend the Health Secretary on his ingenious new approach to cutting delayed discharges? If his appearance on continuous loop on hospital TV does not cut length of stay, I do not know what will. One area where he has been noticeably less forthcoming is on the recent ruling by the Information Commissioner, which could not be clearer: Parliament and the public have the right to know what extra risks and threats his Department expects the NHS to face as a result of this top-down reorganisation. Let us give him one more chance to give us a clear commitment: will he live up to the Prime Minister’s words on transparency and openness and publish the report in full without delay?
Simon Burns (Minister of State (Health); Chelmsford, Conservative): The right hon. Gentleman may not have been listening to the response I gave to his hon. Friend, which was that the relevant aspects of the risk assessment have been incorporated into the impact assessments published in January and September. [ Interruption. ] Before he, too, gets too pious, may I remind him that it was he himself who, in September 2009, blocked the publication of his Department’s risk assessment?
Andy Burnham (Leigh, Labour): I would happily have paid £5 to opt out of that particular pre-scripted loop message. Unlike the Minister and his fellow Front Benchers, I was not subject to a ruling from the Information Commissioner. People watching this today will be left wondering what he and the Secretary of State are so desperate to hide. He can hide the report, but he cannot hide the growing warning signs we are seeing in our NHS: waiting lists
up, delayed discharges up, and nurses made redundant. The truth is that he has placed the NHS in the danger zone, with a destabilising and demoralising reorganisation when it most needed stability. He says he wants feedback, so why does he not listen to patients and staff, put the NHS first and drop his dangerous Bill?
Simon Burns (Minister of State (Health); Chelmsford, Conservative): It is marvellous how the right hon. Gentleman repeats his soundbite every time he discusses the NHS. I have to tell him that he is wrong. He knows that the NHS has to evolve. He knows that we have to improve and enhance patient care. I think he does himself a disservice by simply joining the ranks of organisations such as 38 Degrees, which is frightening people and getting them, almost zombie-like, to send in e-mails.