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Health and Social Care Act 2012: Risk Register

Volume 750: debated on Wednesday 4 December 2013


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will now publish the risk register prepared in advance of the passage through Parliament of the Health and Social Care Act 2012.

My Lords, it remains the Government’s position that they will not be publishing the transition risk register. The decision to withhold the risk register was based on the principle that Governments, together with their civil servants, need to be able to consider all aspects of policy formation, including its risks, in private. It remains our view that a full and candid assessment of risk and the mitigating action required to manage it is carried out within a safe space.

My Lords, the House will be grateful to the Minister for reminding us of the Government’s position and of what is in the public domain, but I remind him that the Question is about what the Cabinet and the Secretary of State decided should not be in the public domain. Is there no shame or embarrassment on the part of the Government, who have imposed, quite rightly, a duty of candour on the NHS but who decline to practise that policy themselves by being candid with the public, particularly with those of us who use the NHS? What are the Government hiding? If it is nothing, they should publish the register tomorrow and put it away.

My Lords, the Government are fully committed to transparency and openness, but they need also to be able to manage large and complex projects and programmes efficiently and effectively. If requests for information are made that threaten to compromise their ability to do that, as is the case here, then the Government have to weigh up whether releasing what is being asked for is, on balance and bearing in mind the consequences, in the public interest. Up to now, we have taken the view that the public interest is not served by publication.

My Lords, the previous Government refused to release Department of Health strategic risk registers in response to three requests under the Freedom of Information Act. Can my noble friend the Minister tell the House whether there is a discernible difference between this Government and the previous one in their approach to the publishing of risk registers?

That is a helpful question. I do not believe there is a difference. As the noble Baroness rightly said, on a number of occasions the previous Government refused to disclose the risk registers, and they did so for perfectly good reasons, one of which was to enable the safe space that I referred to earlier.

My Lords, will my noble friend accept that many in your Lordships’ House will welcome this reaffirmation of the Government’s policy, particularly those who have had the privilege of being Ministers?

My noble friend of course speaks with enormous experience of life in government, and I welcome his endorsement of the Government’s policy.

Will the Minister, who is clearly not going to give the information from the risk register, perhaps give us a clue along the following lines? Given the experience of the reform in operation, have any of the risks that were identified in the private risk register come to pass, or is everything going wonderfully well?

My Lords, the risk register, as the noble Lord knows, is simply a tool that records the risk assessment process and the actions that need to be taken to mitigate those risks. However, to be effective, the process has to be robust and consider all likely implications—and indeed some that are not so likely—of a proposed course of action. The candid recording of risks enables them to be effectively managed. However, as the noble Lord knows, we have gone as far as we can in publishing the areas of risk that are contained within the risk register. I remind the noble Lord that in 2012 we published an extensive document that set out quite a lot of detail. That document is still available on the department’s website.

My Lords, I refer noble Lords to my health interests. To return to the Question asked by my noble friend, is it not a fact that officials warned Ministers that they would be introducing a shambolic reform of the health service? Those officials, much-maligned by the noble Lord’s ministerial colleagues, have been proved to be absolutely right. As we are all looking forward to the new musical by the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd-Webber, can the noble Earl tell me which will be published first: the full Profumo papers or the noble Earl’s risk register?

My Lords, I do not accept the noble Lord’s description of the transition, which has gone extremely smoothly. By most measures the NHS is performing very well indeed. Waiting times are low and stable, the number of people waiting more than 12 months has plummeted since 2010, hospital-acquired infections are at an all-time recorded low, we have more doctors and healthcare professionals in the system, and mixed-sex accommodation has been reduced to minimal levels. That does not indicate to me that the reforms have had a damaging effect—quite the reverse.

My Lords, I am not sure whether a risk register was published before the war in Iraq. However, will my noble friend use his best influence on his colleagues in government to make sure that in the interests of candour the Chilcot report is published as soon as possible? We have all waited long enough for answers on that particular affair.

My noble friend is quite right. We can all look forward to the publication of that thorough report.

My Lords, if the reforms are going so well, why does the Secretary of State, who now presides over an Act that said that the health service would be at a long arm’s length from Ministers, now see the key people in the health service at least once a week? Why does he take it upon himself personally to interfere in ways that during the passage of the Bill the Minister here told us very clearly Ministers would no longer be doing?

The noble Baroness would have cause to complain if, in accordance with the debates that we had in this House on accountability, my right honourable friend did not hold the NHS to account on some of the areas of its activities where there were concerns. That is exactly what he does, and he does it quite properly.

Is it not the case, in relation to the Chilcot report, that it is not the Government who are holding it up but something else? Will the Minister not hide behind red herrings like that? It is he and his Government who are refusing to publish the risk register, and they surely must do so.

My Lords, over the passage of time a view can be taken about the sensitivity of the Department of Health risk register. That is what we have undertaken to do and what we will do. Next spring, we will reach one of the regular review points for the risk register. I can tell the noble Lord that work to review the register has already started in anticipation of that date.