The health secretary has been forced to consult across government on whether to publish the risk register for the NHS reform “transition”, as ordered by the Information Commissioner, ministers have confirmed.
It looks possible the dispute could further delay the progress of the Health Bill. That would seriously concern ministers who have already said they are concerned about the bill falling if it is not passed by Parliament by the end of March.
Labour ministers, HSJ and others submitted freedom of information requests for the risk register earlier this year and were refused. Last week the Information Commissioner responded to an appeal of the judgement and said it should be published.
In the Lords today Labour health spokeswoman Baroness Glenys Thornton, along with Baroness Shirley Williams and former Labour health minister Lord Norman Warner, repeated calls for it to be published.
Baroness Thornton said if it was not published the Lords could refuse to continue debating the bill because, she said, the information was relevant to its discussion. That could cause serious delay.
Responding, health minister Earl Howe said: “The ruling of the Information Commissioner carries with it very significant implications, not only for my department but for every department across government.
“The risk register is a basic tool for the management of policy implementation. It is a working document which informs advice to ministers. Publication of departmental risk registers, were this to become routine under the Freedom of Information Act, would fundamentally affect the day-to-day working of government. In this context we are of course looking carefully at the issue of precedent, and I am grateful to the noble baroness for having raised this.
“The government, as a whole, must therefore consider whether or not to appeal the Information Commissioner’s ruling.” Earl Howe said he expected the government would make a decision early next month.
In a letter to peers seen by HSJ Earl Howe also says he would look at the possibility of publishing risks from the register which have not also already been published in impact assessments for the bill.