Emergency debate on Health Bill today could delay it becoming law

MPs will get one last chance to debate the Health Bill this afternoon after it was cleared in the Lords last night.

The Speaker of the Commons John Bercow has granted Labour an emergency 90-minute debate as the government is still refusing to publish the Bill’s risk register until it has the full decision of the information tribunal which ordered it to publish on 9 March.

A last minute attempt by Labour peer Baroness Thornton to block the Bill last night during its third reading in the Lords, was defeated by 269 to 174, after she claimed it would ‘lead to the fragmentation and marketisation of the NHS and threaten its ethos and purpose’. Only one Liberal Democrat peer voted against the Bill, Lord Greaves.

The former SDP leader Lord Owen also failed in his bid to delay the third reading of the Bill until the DH publish the risk register, by 328 votes to 213.

He accused the government of telling a ‘fragrant lie’ in the coalition agreement after promising there would be no more top-down re-organisation of the NHS.

The Bill will now go to the Commons for consideration after the Lords made 374 amendments over 25 days.

If the Bill is passed in the Commons today, it could receive Royal Assent and become law this week.

The tribunal only ordered the government to publish the transitional risk register and has backed the DH’s decision to keep the full departmental strategic risk register secret.

This comes after a Freedom of Information request by the then shadow health secretary John Healey was declined by the DH. The government then appealed the Information Commissioner’s ruling last November which backed its publication, launching a two-day tribunal at the Competition Tribunal in Victoria House, Bloomsbury, central London.

A DH spokesman said: 'The Bill has been subjected to an unprecedented level of scrutiny, both inside and outside parliament - including 49 days in parliament so far.

'We have already released details of the areas within which the risks on the transition register fall, and information about risks associated with the programme are already covered in a number of published documents - including the impact assessment.

'We are waiting for the detail of the tribunal's judgement on the transitional risk register, and we are considering our options.'

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