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Health and Social Care Bill

Volume 542: debated on Monday 19 March 2012

Application for emergency debate (Standing Order No. 24)

I seek leave to propose that the House should discuss a specific and important matter that I believe should have urgent consideration—namely, whether the House of Commons should defer consideration of Lords amendments to the Health and Social Care Bill until after the disclosure of the transition risk register. The other place is debating this issue imminently, and my colleagues and I thought it important for this House to have the opportunity to debate the matter, too. In just 24 hours’ time, this House will be asked to agree far-reaching changes to the NHS in England, drawn up, in large part, in the other place. As of now, however, Members find themselves in the highly unsatisfactory position of not being in possession of all relevant information needed to make a full and considered judgment on whether those changes should be allowed to proceed.

Reorganising the NHS at this time of financial stress might expose it to greater risk, and to establish the precise nature and scale of those risks, my right hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey) submitted a freedom of information request to the Department for its transition risk register on this reorganisation. Along with colleagues on the Opposition Benches, we have consistently argued that this information be published to inform the public and parliamentary debate.

That is not just my opinion; it is the considered opinion of the Information Commissioner, who has had the benefit of viewing the transition risk register. He ruled that

“disclosure would go somewhat further in helping the public to better understand the risks associated with the modernisation of the NHS than any information that has previously been published.”

The commissioner’s ruling has, in turn, now been endorsed by the Information Rights Tribunal. Indeed, the tribunal was brought forward presumably so that its deliberations could be concluded in time for its decision to influence the debate in Parliament. Ten days on, we have had no substantial response from the Government to this ruling, save to say that they await the tribunal’s detailed reasons. We note that the Government’s ability to appeal is limited to a point of law, not to re-open the merits of the case.

This is not a matter of the rights and wrongs of the Bill. It concerns the fundamental principle of the primacy of the elected House of Commons and its opportunity for scrutiny. Parliament has a right to know before it is asked to make a final judgment that will have huge implications for every person in our country. Many people would feel it wrong if the Government were to use procedural devices to prevent the House from seeing the transition risk register before the Bill had completed its passage through Parliament.

This is the last opportunity for this House to urge the Government to publish the register. If this House allows this situation to go unchallenged or even to pass without comment, it would represent a major weakening of the role of this House in scrutinising the legislation before us. I am grateful, Mr Speaker, for the opportunity to make this request and I hope you will look favourably on it.

The right hon. Gentleman asks leave to propose a debate on a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely whether the House should defer consideration of Lords amendments to the Health and Social Care Bill until after disclosure of the NHS transition risk register. I have listened carefully to the right hon. Member’s application, and I am satisfied that the matter raised by him is proper to be discussed under Standing Order No. 24. I thus put the application to the House.

Application agreed to.

Order. [Interruption.] Order. The House is becoming too excitable. Let me say to the hon. Member for Blyth Valley (Mr Campbell) that he is a very senior citizen in the House, and that I look to him for a display of statesmanship. I appear to have looked in vain.

The right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) has obtained the leave of the House. The debate will be held tomorrow, Tuesday 20 March, as the first item of public business. It will last for one and a half hours, and will arise on a motion that the House has considered the specified matter set out in the application by the right hon. Gentleman.