Rolling coverage of all the day’s political developments as they happen, including PMQs and the NHS risk register debate
John Healey, the former shadow health secretary, intervenes. He asks if the government is engaged in censorship.
Lansley says that, when Healey was a Treasury minister, he refused to publish risk register.
Lansley says the government is publishing data that matters to patients.
Andrew George, a Liberal Democrat (and an opponent of the bill) asks, if everything is going so well, why the government needs to re-organise the NHS.
Andrew Lansley, the health secretary, is responding now.
He starts by quoting what Andy Burnham said himself in 2007 about there being reasons for not publishing a risk register.
Burnham had his “bats broken” before the debate even started, he says, referring to the point David Cameron made at PMQs.
And he says Burnham has taken to opposition naturally. He opposes everything.
Lansley repeats his point about waiting times getting better. (See 1.31pm.)
He says that Burnham did not thank NHS staff in his speech.
Nigel Evans, the deputy speaker, says this is the worst-tempered debate he has chaired since he became deputy speaker. He appeals for calm.
Burnham says that if the government were to publish the risk register, the case for the health bill would be “demolished” instantly.
David Cameron is not listening to doctors and nurses he was once so keen to be photographed alongside, Burham says.
Cameron is gambling with a much-loved institution. This is “unforgiveable”, he says.
People deserve “the full truth”. MPs should vote to give them the full truth.
And he appeals to people watching the debate to join the fight to save the NHS.
Government MPs cannot look their constituents in the eye and say they voted for this, he says.
Labour promised the government “the fight of its life” and that is what it will give them, he says.
Burnham says he wants to address the argument that halting reorganisation now would make things worse.
GP-led commissioning could be introduced without the bill, he says.
Burnham says he is willing to work with Lansley on this if he drops his bill.
In West Sussex a surgery has written to all its patients offering them private screening for health risks.
There are stories emerging from around the country of GPs stopping purchasing services from local hospitals.
This process could lead to the closure of local hospitals, he says.
Burnham says the London risk register says the loss of NHS staff could lead to “preventable harm to children”.
And he quotes from the Northamptonshire register. It says the NHS reorganisation would stop the local NHS meeting its statutory requirements, with the result that there could be harm or fatalities to children or vulnerable adults.
Burnham is now quoting from what some of regional risk registers say about the impact of the health bill.
(My colleague Juliette Jowit wrote about these regional risk registers in a Guardian splash recently.)
Burnham now turns to the effect the bill is already having on the NHS.
He rattles off a series of figures about waiting times going up.
Lansley intervenes. He says the number of patients waiting for more than a year went down from 18,458 in May 2010 to 9,190 in December last year.
(There are so many waiting time figures that, if you use them selectively, you can prove virtually anything. For a good guide to what the real picture is, try this post from James Ball at the Guardian’s Reality Check or this post from the FullFact blog.)
Andrew Lansley, the health secretary, intervenes. He quotes from the reasons given when Burnham blocked the publication of a risk register in 2009. He asks if Burnham agrees with those reasons.
Burnham says Lansley is trying to “muddy the waters”. That was a different risk register.
The government has no principled reason for objecting to publication, he says.
He says Lib Dem MPs who support the government tonight will be part of a “spineless conspiracy against the NHS, acting out of nothing except loyalty to the suicide pact that is the coalition”.
Burnham says Lansley put out a press release last year saying that an open, transparent NHS would be a safer NHS.
The government is ignoring its own policy, Burnham says.
He says the government has also argued that disclosure would jeopardise the success of the policy. This seems unlikely, Burnham says.
The government has also argued that publication would stop civil servants giving frank advice. But the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) rejected this argument, he says.
The ICO also rejected the government’s claims that publication would lead to civil servants being named and that publication would set a bad precedent.
Alan Reid, a Lib Dem MP, asks if another reason for Burnham taking a different stance is the fact that he is now in opposition.
Reid also asks Burnham to give an assurance that he will always publish risk register if he returns to office.
Burnham says whether or not a document should be published will vary from case to case.
Burnham now explains why he did not publish an NHS risk register in 2009.
He says David Cameron got his facts wrong.
He says Lansley is not being asked to publish the full departmental risk register. Instead, he is being asked to publish the transitional risk register – the document explaining the risk inherent in the health bill. They are different, Burnham says.
Another difference is that Burnham did not promise no top-down reorganisation of the NHS.
Another difference is that the 2009 request came from a member of the public. This time the request came from a frontbencher. (It was John Healey who submitted the Freedom of Information request when he was shadow health secretary.)
And another difference is that the Information Commissioner’s Office has said the risk register should be published, Burnham says.
Burnham says he wants to use today’s debate to explain what is happening in the NHS on the ground.
Simon Burns, a health minister, intervenes. He tells Burnham to confirm that the bill has for the first time made tackling health inequalities an NHS duty.
Graham Evans, a Conservative, asks why Andy Burnham refused to publish an NHS risk register when he was health secretary in 2009.
Burnham says he will address this question directly soon in his speech.
Andy Burnham, the shadow health secretary, is opening the debate.
He says these are extraordinary times. The government is imposing a top-down reorganisation on the NHS. But no one voted for this.
The government has given the NHS “mission impossible” because it is asking it to find cuts worth £20bn, while also re-organising it at the same time.
Andrew Lansley began dismantling the structures of the NHS before he had permission from parliament, he says.
People talk of “confusion and drift”. There has been “a huge loss of experienced staff”.
Cameron promised to protect the NHS. But he has put it at risk, he says.
The public have a right to know what these risks are, he goes on.
John Bercow says there will be a seven minute limit on backbench speeches, because so many MPs want to speak in the debate.
The debate on the NHS risk register will start in about 10 minutes. Here’s the motion MPs will be debating.
That this House calls on the Government to respect the ruling by the Information Commissioner and to publish the risk register associated with the Health and Social Care Bill in order to ensure that it informs public and parliamentary debate
And here’s a short background reading list.
PMQs Verdict: For the third week in a row Ed Miliband asked about the NHS. That means that by now David Cameron should have come up with an answer to the question about why he broke his promise not to impose a top-down reorganisation on the NHS. But he still hasn’t managed that – perhaps because there isn’t one. Miliband used this question again today, but he was had a good, pithy question about the NHS summit and a technical question about commissioning, which left Cameron sounding a bit stumped. Overall, it was a points win for Miliband. The point about the NHS risk register (see 12.12pm) wasn’t technically relevant to anything Miliband was raising. But it was a powerful point to make nevertheless, and it enabled Cameron to recover just before the whistle.
PMQs is getting longer and longer. It is meant to last half an hour, but today John Bercow carried on taking questions until 12.37pm. He said that was because there were lots of interruptions and he wanted to protect the interests of backbenchers.
Labour’s Gregg McClymont asks Cameron to explain why he has broken his promise to impose no top-down reorganisation on the NHS.
Cameron says that he wants to cut bureaucracy in the NHS. And the government is putting more money into the NHS, while Labour says this is irresponsible, Cameron says.
Mike Crockhart, a Liberal Democrat, asks Cameron to put the Green Investment Bank in Edinburgh.
Cameron says Edinburgh would be a good location, but that other cities are being considered too.
Cameron says this case illustrates why extradition arrangements need to be reviewed. Nick Clegg is looking at this issue, he says.
Cameron says there is no intention to cut the number of Royal Marine reservists in Scotland.
Cameron sidesteps the question, and says that Dromey’s comments should be taken with a lorryful of salt because of housebuilding fell to such low levels under Labour.
Peter Bone asks a Mrs Bone question. She told him that she knew that Cameron wanted to deport Abu Qatada. But she knew it was being blocked by the Lib Dems. At that point his 11-year-old son Thomas asked if Clegg was a goodie or a baddie. What’s the answer?
Cameron says that Mrs Bone must be psychic, because Cameron does want Qatada deported. And Clegg agrees with him, Cameron says.
Cameron says it is a good thing for companies to offer work experience to young people. Around a half of young people on the government’s work experience programmes get jobs. That is far better than the record of the Future Jobs Fund, and it has been achieved at about a twentieth of the cost, he says.
Labour’s Fiona Mactaggart asks what the government is doing to ensure that the taxpayer is not the victim of fraud committed by employees at A4e.
Cameron says there is an ongoing police investigation involving allegations dating back to Labour’s time in office. That investigation needs to be thorough, he says.
Camerons says he supports the Times’ campaign to make the roads safer for cyclists.
Labour’s Tom Blenkinsop asks if Michael Gove was speaking for the government when he said the Leveson was having a “chilling effect” on journalism.
Cameron says the government decided to set up the Leveson inquiry. But he agrees that he does not want freedom of the press curtailed.
Cameron says he is glad Liverpool has decided to have an elected mayor. Other cities need them too. “Great city figures” build up these places, he says.
Cameron says he hopes Scotland will choose to remain in the partnership that has done so well over the last 300 years.
PMQs Snap Verdict: A very good start from Ed Miliband, but a textbook example by Cameron of how to use leaked material to throw an opponent. More later …
Milband says Cameron does not understand his own bill. The question is about the fragmentation of commissioning.
(There is a lot of disruption as Labour MP jeer, because Lansley is trying to offer advice to Cameron.)
Miliband says Cameron does not want Lansley’s advice.
Will Cameron admit that he has broken his promise of no top-down reorganisation?
Cameron says clause 22 and clause 25 place a duty on organisations to integrate health and social care.
Cameron says Miliband has still not mentioned risk registers. That is because he has a copy of Labour’s briefing note for today’s debate. It says that there is a reason why goverments don’t publish risk register and that Burnham blocked the publication of a risk register in 2009. Cameron says this shows that Labour are opportunist.
Miliband says he would be happy to trade his record on the NHS for Cameron’s.
Cameron says that waiting times for inpatients and outpatients are down, and that waiting times are down. There are more doctors and midwives, and fewer managers. And he finishes quoting what a Labour two-time candidate said about Miliband this week. He quotes from Alex Hilton’s post at Labour List. (Here’s the quote from the blog, although I think Cameron puts the sentences in a different order.)
My problem is that you are not a leader. You are not articulating a vision or a destination, you’re not clearly identifying a course and no-one’s following you.
Cameron says he could not have put it better himself.
Miliband asks what changes Cameron is planning to make to the bill.
Cameron says he is going ahead with the reforms because he is in favour of patients having more choice. Labour used to believe in the private sector helping the NHS. But Labour are now committed to a 5% cap on the involvement of the private sector. For a second time, he challenges Miliband to ask about the risk register.
Miliband says he has met senior NHS staff who think the bill will fragment services. As Andrew Lansley heckles, he says Lansley should listen to people in the NHS. Currently HIV treatment is commissioned by one organisation. Under Lansley’s plan it will be commissioned by three groups. Doctors say this will damage care.
Cameron says the Terence Higgins Trust support the plan. Labour are guilty of “complete opportunism”. You don’t save the NHS by opposing reform, he says. You achieve it by securing reform, he says.
Ed Miliband also pays tribute to the airman who died in Afghanistan. And he says Marie Colvin was “a brave and tireless reporter” and an inspiration to women in the profession.
Cameron held an NHS summit on Monday, Miliaband says. He lists all the organisations excluded. How could Cameron think it was a good idea to hold a summit excluding most people who work in the NHS?
Cameron says he wants to safeguard the NHS. The government is putting more money in – money Labour want to take out. But money alone won’t do the job, because the NHS needs reform too.
Miliband says Cameron has “no answer” to the question about his “ridiculous” summit. Cameron says during the listening exercise that the government had to take NHS staff with them if they were imposing change. Now Cameron cannot even be in the same room as NHS staff.
Cameron says Miliband does not want to talk about policy. Labour used to favour choice, competition and GPs being in charge. Now they are opposed.
He challenges Miliband to ask about the risk register, given that Labour is keeping MPs at Westminster until 7pm to vote on this issue.
(Has he got an announcement up his sleeve?)
Sajid Javid, a Conservative, asks about the coach crash affecting the pupils and teachers returning to a school in Alvechurch.
Cameron says this is a “desperately sad” case. Peter Rippington, the teacher who died, will be sorely missed, he says.
Labour’s Clive Betts asks why the number of frontline police officers has been cut by 4,000. And why is the police helicopter being scrapped in South Yorkshire.
Cameron says there are talks underway about the helicopter. He is confident coverage will be maintained.
Cameron is speaking now.
He starts with tributes to an airman killed in Afghanistan.
He also mentions Marie Colvin’s death. It is “deserately sad”, he says.
Jim Murphy (left), the shadow defence secretary, has launched Labour’s defence review with the publication of a 44-page consultation paper (which I can’t find on the web yet). At the launch, Murphy said that the government’s defence review was “driven by savings, not strategy”. He also said it was particulary important for European countries to coordinate more on defence in the light of the way the US is now focusing more on the Asia-Pacific region.
The US’s strategic reorientation makes their priorities more numerous at a time of more limited resource and the impact on how we work together must be considered. It’s untenable that the US President announces that this is a moment of transition and European nations act as if this is a period of status quo: European nations have to get serious. We must do more together to preserve our reach, and co-operation such as the UK-France agreement must become the norm not the exception.
Time has come for a conversation on how European NATO nations co-ordinate spending reductions and changes to force structures. We need to explore how a ‘Coalition of Cuts’ can help us end the practice of fighting conflicts together but preparing for them individually.
Labour: 41% (up 3 points from Monday night)
Conservatives: 37% (down 2)
Lib Dems: 9% (down 1)
Labour lead: 4 points
Government approval: -28
As for the rest of the papers, here are some stories that are particularly interesting.
Treasury officials cautioned against thinking that Mr Osborne had lots of money to give away. An aide to the chancellor said: “We can’t start giving away small prizes when we are still a long way from meeting our fiscal mandate.”
Instead, the chancellor is looking at possible measures to raise more money from the very wealthy, including closing stamp duty loopholes on upmarket property, to fund a Budget that will boost enterprise while at the same time relieving pressure on the “squeezed middle”.
According to some Conservatives, Mr Osborne is considering introducing new higher council tax bands to cover expensive homes, primarily in the London area.
The idea is similar to that of the Lib Dems’ long-favoured mansion tax, but is gathering support among influential rightwing Tories. Michael Gove, education secretary, said on Tuesday he was interested in the idea of a tax on land, while Tim Montgomerie, editor of the ConservativeHome website, supports higher council tax bands.
Conservative rebels are threatening to inflict a humiliating defeat on the Government over plans to axe child benefit for higher rate taxpayers.
They warned Chancellor George Osborne that unless he alters the plans to protect one-earner families, they will take the extraordinary step of attempting to vote down Budget legislation.
It is almost unheard of for MPs to try to amend or bring down their own side’s finance Bills, and a defeat would raise questions about the survival of the Government …
As ministers struggled to defend the idea during a debate in Parliament, Conservative MP Mark Reckless said he doubted the Government would be able to command a majority if it pressed ahead.
‘The Treasury would be well advised to use the Budget to drop this policy. The alternative may be that it is defeated on the floor of the House,’ he said.
The Treasury received £10.35 billion in income tax payments from those paying by self-assessment last month, a drop of £509 million compared with January 2011. Most other taxes produced higher revenues over the same period.
Senior sources said that the first official figures indicated that there had been “manoeuvring” by well-off Britons to avoid the new higher rate. The figures will add to pressure on the Coalition to drop the levy amid fears it is forcing entrepreneurs to relocate abroad.
The self-assessment returns from January, when most income tax is paid by the better-off, have been eagerly awaited by the Treasury and government ministers as they provide the first evidence of the success, or failure, of the 50p rate. It is the first year following the introduction of the 50p rate which had been expected to boost tax revenues from self-assessment by more than £1billion.
(Last month the Telegraph ran a story saying a report from HM Revenue and Customs was expected to show that the 50p rate was generating “a ‘surge’ in revenues totalling hundreds of millions of pounds from the first year — undermining the economic case for scrapping the levy”.)
Four people have been arrested in the fraud investigation surrounding David Cameron’s ‘back to work’ tsar Emma Harrison.
Officers carried out dawn raids on the homes of former staff of her employment agency A4e, which receives tens of millions every year in Government contracts.
The two men and two women were questioned on suspicion of cheating taxpayers.
The chancellor’s move came despite the UK being the subject of some of the concerns.
In an unprecedented step, the chancellor, along with the finance ministers of the Netherlands and Sweden, voted against the signing off of the 2010 EU budget.
However, the accounts were approved by the majority of European finance ministers during a meeting in Brussels on Tuesday.
The move was designed to protest at perceived misspending in the EU’s budget of €140bn a year. European auditors have never given unqualified assent to it in the past 17 years.
So soon after Fox resigned after admitting ‘mistakes’ of ‘blurring’ roles, here he is again making further mistakes, blurring extreme right-wing drivel with changes the economy actually needs. Large companies are awash with cash. Cutting their taxes will simply add to these cash piles and do nothing to boost demand.
Many large companies already use offshore tax havens to cut their tax bills. Instead these loopholes should be shut and companies should start spending to create jobs rather than hoarding cash. Making it easier to sack workers or treat them badly at work will increase insecurity and conflict and will not create a single job.
Today it has published a report on the subject. An EMP event would be serious because it could wipe out the national grid. It could be caused by a high altitude nuclear weapon (the chances of which are low, according to the committee) or by a “severe space weather event” (the chances of which are moderate to high).You may not spend a lot of time worrying about the threat posed to Britain by electro-magnetic pulses (EMP), but fortunately the Commons defence committee is there to there to worry about them for us.
This is what James Arbuthnot (left), the Conservative chairman, had to say about it on the Today programme this morning. I’ve taken the quote from PoliticsHome.
The most important thing is that the consequences if it did happen would be so devastating that we really ought to start protecting against it now. Our vulnerabilities are huge. It would have a far more devastating impact to use a nuclear weapon in this way than to explode a bomb in or on a city. The reason is that it would, over a much wider area, take out things like the National Grid on which we all rely or almost everything; the water system, the sewage system and it would rapidly become difficult to live in cities. When I say rapidly, I mean within a matter of a couple of days.
PoliticsHome have been monitoring. Here are the key points.
• Hunt said football had made “huge progress” in tackling racism but that more needed to be done.
Huge progress has been made in the last 20 years, because football, which is our national game, decided it wanted to take this problem very, very seriously. I would take it even further and say that the reason that attitudes to racial discrimination have improved so much in recent years is partly because football decided to take such a stand. So one of the things we want to do this morning is say: We made progress but we clearly can’t be complacent. Look at some of the things that have happened that have worried a lot of people.
• He said the government wanted to tackle the problem of homophobia in football.
We want to look at a new issue as far as football is concerned, which football hasn’t really engaged with in the past, which is homophobia and say, given the progress that football helped us to make as a society when it comes to racism, could it do the same thing with homophobia? Because we still don’t have any out Premiership players. And obviously it’s pretty unlikely there aren’t any gay Premiership players. We don’t know, but it would be an incredibly strong signal if we could have a more tolerant attitude inside the game in term of what it would say to the rest of society.
We will take no lectures on working practices from Liam Fox, a man who had to resign from the cabinet because of his own dubious workplace arrangements.
The Dodgy Doctor, and the rest of the old school right wingers in the Tory Party, would still have kids jammed up chimneys if it hadn’t been for centuries of campaigning by the trade unions to clamp down on workplace exploitation. We will fight this latest attack on working people from the zombie adherents to unrepentant Thatcherism.
• Fox says firing workers should be made easier.
To restore Britain’s competitiveness we must begin by deregulating the labour market. Political objections must be overridden. It is too difficult to hire and fire and too expensive to take on new employees. It is intellectually unsustainable to believe that workplace rights should remain untouchable while output and employment are clearly cyclical.
The Left must be given an unequivocal moral challenge: it is utterly unacceptable to condemn a generation of our young to unemployment by maintaining all the rights and privileges of those currently in work. That would be the unavoidable outcome of failing to hold our own in a highly competitive global marketplace.
• He says that rewards for failure should not be accepted in the City.
The real debate should have centred on how, between 2000 and the start of 2012, the return to owners of Barclays shares was minus 9 per cent compared to 23 per cent for the FTSE 100 as a whole. For the Royal Bank of Scotland, the return was more like minus 86 per cent, its total pay increase from 2008 to 2010 was 55 per cent. No one should resent bonuses being paid to those who achieve success for some of our most important financial institutions or those digging them out of their holes. But for years we have been rewarding failure to the detriment of competitiveness and returns to pension savers.
In the good old boom days, the government would never have got very excited about the creation of 1,000 jobs in the hotel industry. But today Nick Clegg has put out a press release about exactly that. Here’s an excerpt.
IHG (InterContinental Hotels Group), one of the world’s leading hotel companies with brands such as Holiday Inn, today announced it is creating nearly 3,000 new jobs across its 275 UK hotels over the next three years, including over 1,100 new jobs this year. IHG also announced the launch of its newest hospitality training Academy in London.
The announcement was welcomed by the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, who attended the launch of the IHG Academy programme at the soon to open Holiday Inn London Stratford City. The new hotel is one of four IHG hotels in the area that will be creating new jobs, for which students of the IHG Academy programme can apply.
A job’s a job, I suppose, and anything is better than unemployment, but it’s telling that ministers are having to be so positive about employment opportunities which will, I presume, largely involve low pay and low skills. At the end of last year Clegg issued a similar statement welcoming the creation of jobs at Starbucks.
The CBI has published its wish list today and – guess what? – they want lower taxes for business. But the existence of the coalition means that internal government discussions are now more transparent than usual, because the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats are doing some of their negotiating in public, and this week we’ve discovered that former cabinet ministers have a particular role to play.There are exactly four weeks to go until George Osborne delivers his budget and the annual pre-budget submissions are starting to pour in. Some of them are predictable.
On Monday David Laws, the Lib Dem former chief secretary to the Treasury, gave an interview to Newsnight saying that pension relief for higher rate taxpayers should be cut to fund the increase in the tax allowance for basic rate taxpayers. And today Liam Fox, the former defence secretary, is retaliating on behalf of the Tory right. In an article for the Financial Times (subscription), he says Osborne should instead prioritise cutting national insurance.
There is a strong argument for further public spending reductions, not to fund a faster reduction in the deficit, but to reduce taxes on employment. Although the coalition agreement may require the chancellor to raise personal tax allowances (which should be paid for with spending restraint not new taxes) he should use the proceeds of spending reductions to cut employers’ national insurance contributions across the board. If that is deemed impossible, he should consider targeting such tax cuts on the employment of 16 to 24-year-olds, making them more attractive to employers.
I’ll quote more from the article later.
Otherwise, here’s the agenda for the day.
9.30am: Jim Murphy, the shadow defence secretary, delivers a speech launching Labour’s defence policy review.
9.30am: The Office for National Statistics publishes an analysis of the characteristics of young unemployed people.
11am: The Electoral Commission publishes its quarterly figures on donations and loans to political parties.
12pm: David Cameron and Ed Miliband clash at PMQs.
Around 12.40pm: MPs start debating a Labour motion calling for the publication of the NHS risk register. I’ll be covering the opening of the debate in detail.
1pm: Oliver Letwin, the Cabinet Office minister, gives evidence to the Commons public administration committee on government strategic thinking.
1.30pm: Cameron hosts a summit on racism in football at Downing Street.
2.15pm: Michael Moore, the Scottish secretary, gives evidence to the Scottish affairs committee about the independence referendum.
As usual, I’ll be covering all the breaking political news, as well as looking at the papers and bringing you the best politics from the web. I’ll post a summary but it will be later than usual, probably at around 2pm, after the opening of the health debate.
If you want to follow me on Twitter, I’m on @AndrewSparrow.
And if you’re a hardcore fan, you can follow @gdnpoliticslive. It’s an automated feed that tweets the start of every new post that I put on the blog.