Clause 243
Health and Social Care Bill
1:00 pm

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Paul Burstow (The Minister of State, Department of Health; Sutton and Cheam, Liberal Democrat)

I beg to move amendment 686, in clause 243, page 201, line 15, leave out ‘—’ and insert

‘the information falls within subsection (1A); and, subject to the following provisions of this section, if the information falls within that subsection, the Centre must not publish it.

‘(1A) Information falls within this subsection if—’.

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Mike Hancock (Portsmouth South, Liberal Democrat)

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Government amendments 687 to 691.

Amendment 653, in clause 243, page 201, line 24, leave out paragraph (c).

Government amendments 692 to 698.

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Paul Burstow (The Minister of State, Department of Health; Sutton and Cheam, Liberal Democrat)

Replying to a speech before one has heard it makes for an interesting debate. I will first deal with our amendment and then I will discuss amendment 653. We have already discussed the importance of confidentiality and privacy safeguards in respect of information collected by the Information Centre. In particular, we need to ensure that information published by the Information Centre does not lead to individual patients being identified. I would like to reiterate how important an issue that is; we do not take it in any way lightly.

Amendment 686 clarifies that when the information collected by the Information Centre is in a form described in the next subsection, the centre must not publish the information. For example, the amendment makes it clear that the Information Centre is prohibited from publishing information that identifies patients or service users. Amendment 698 corrects an inaccuracy in the definition of “provider” originally proposed in this clause. The original definition did not capture all those whose identities it may be in the public interest for the Information Centre to publish. Amendment 698 provides a more comprehensive definition of those whose identity might be published.

Amendment 692 removes the old definition and amendments 687 to 690 replace the previous term with the new one. Amendment 691 ensures that when the information collected by the Information Centre does not meet published standards, the Information Centre must use its discretion as to whether the public interest is sufficient to warrant publication. The reliability of information is an important consideration for professional statisticians, for the public purse and for those who need to trust the information made available.

I want to make it clear, however, that the Information Centre may not disclose information that identifies any individual patient or service user without specific further statutory authority to do so. In addition, the powers to direct or request the Information Centre to collect information provided by clauses 238 and 239 do not themselves provide such statutory authority.

Amendment 694 sets out the circumstances in which the Information Centre may pass information to one or more bodies whether or not it was obliged to publish that information. It replaces the existing provision, which is removed by amendment 697. The Information Centre may disclose information if it considers that it is in the public interest to do so, when the reason why the information was not published was to protect the identity of a body that provided care or because the information did not meet relevant published standards.

However, we do not feel that the role of the Information Centre is to collect information that cannot be published: that should be the exception rather than the rule. There  may be circumstances, however, in which the Secretary of State or the NHS commissioning board would want information that identifies bodies to be published but in which the Information Centre, if it were using its discretion, would choose not to do so.

Amendment 693 makes it clear that the Information Centre does not have discretion where it has been directed to publish such information. We recognise that the Information Centre’s views may be important and should be taken into account. Indeed, clause 245(4) requires the Secretary of State or the NHS commissioning board to have regard to advice that the Information Centre may give. However, we feel that ultimately the Information Centre should not be authorised to disregard a lawful direction.

Amendments 695 and 696 provide the Information Centre with discretion as to how and when, and in what additional forms, it will publish information that it has collected. That discretion is subject to the duty of the Information Centre to have regard to making information easily accessible and to the likely needs of those who may benefit from the information.

Opposition amendment 652 seeks to prevent the Secretary of State or the NHS commissioning board from directing the Information Centre not to publish information that it collects.

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Mike Hancock (Portsmouth South, Liberal Democrat)

Order. We are discussing amendment 653, but you can come back if you choose.

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Paul Burstow (The Minister of State, Department of Health; Sutton and Cheam, Liberal Democrat)

I misread my brief. I shall do that.

1:15 pm
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Emily Thornberry (Shadow Minister (Health); Islington South and Finsbury, Labour)

I am grateful to the Minister for the opportunity to explain what amendment 653 is about before he decides that he does not want it. However, you never know; after seven weeks, this might be the one—[ Interruption. ] Perhaps we will just have to wait until the Prime Minister steps in.

Clause 243 is about the publication of information. It states that the Information Centre must publish all information that it collects, but there are some exceptions. Those are, first, when

“the information is in a form which identifies any provider”,

which makes sense, and secondly, when

“the information is in a form which identifies any individual”.

The third exception, however, is when

“the information is of a description specified in a direction given to the Centre by the Secretary of State or the Board.”

All information will be published, therefore, apart from the information that the Secretary of State would rather is not, and we wondered what that was. Will the Minister give us an example of what that information would be, particularly in light of the debate that we had on the previous clause?

Bupa, for example, might say to the Minister, “We are happy to provide services to the NHS, but we see no reason why we should be providing all this information to the Information Centre. As far as we are concerned, it should be confidential, because it will embarrass us commercially otherwise.” The Secretary of State might say, “Yes, we understand.” Would the Information Centre not publish information in such circumstances?

The Minister’s response was interesting. I wonder whether he has thought it through and whether there has been real consultation with private providers about the attitude of the Department on publishing all the information on any services provided by the private sector to the national health service. I am interested to know whether I am right, and whether clause 243(1)(c) covers those points.

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Paul Burstow (The Minister of State, Department of Health; Sutton and Cheam, Liberal Democrat)

I do not resile from what I said earlier. I stand by it, and it is on the record.

The Opposition amendment seeks to prevent the Secretary of State or commissioning board from directing the Information Centre not to publish information that it collects when that information would otherwise have been published. I fully sympathise with the desire to ensure that information is not withheld simply because the commissioner of that information does not like what it says. It is for that reason that a number of safeguards have been built into the Bill to ensure that this further amendment is unnecessary.

For example, the Information Centre may provide advice about the publication of information under clause 245, and the Secretary of State and the commissioning board are obliged to have regard to that. The Information Centre is also under an obligation provided by clause 244 to maintain a register that contains a description of the information that it has collected, and I referred to that register in this morning’s sitting. It would therefore be very obvious if an attempt were made to suppress the publication of data collection.

There will, however, be rare occasions when it is entirely appropriate for the Secretary of State to direct that information should be collected, but not published. For example, there might be information about a serious epidemic or a threat to public health. The release of such information will occur, but that needs to be done carefully to prevent unnecessary alarm.

I hope that hon. Members are reassured that the powers are needed and would not be abused, and that they feel able not to press their amendment to a Division.

Amendment 686 agreed to.

Amendments made: 687, in clause 243, page 201, line 16, leave out ‘provider’ and insert ‘relevant person’.

Amendment 688, in clause 243, page 201, line 17, leave out ‘provider’ and insert ‘relevant person’.

Amendment 689, in clause 243, page 201, line 19, leave out ‘provider’ and insert ‘relevant person’.

Amendment 690, in clause 243, page 201, line 22, leave out ‘provider’ and insert ‘relevant person’.

Amendment 691, in clause 243, page 201, line 23, at end insert—

‘(ba) the Centre considers that—

(i) the information fails to meet the information standards published under section234 (so far as they are applicable), and

(ii) it would not be in the public interest to publish the information, or’.

Amendment 692, in clause 243, page 201, line 26, leave out subsection (2).

Amendment 693, in clause 243, page 201, line 27, at end insert—

‘(2A) A direction under section 238 may provide that the obligation to publish imposed by subsection (1) applies to information falling within subsection (1A)(a).’.

Amendment 694, in clause 243, page 201, line 27, at end insert—

‘(2B) The Information Centre may disseminate to any such persons and in such manner as it considers appropriate any information which it collects pursuant to a direction under section 238 or a request under section 239 and which falls within subsection (2C).

(2C) Information falls within this subsection if—

(a) the information is required to be published under this section,

(b) the information is in a form which identifies any relevant person to whom the information relates or enables the identity of such a relevant person to be ascertained and the Centre, after taking into account the public interest as well as the interests of the relevant person, considers that it is appropriate for the information to be disseminated, or

(c) the Centre is prohibited from publishing the information only by virtue of it falling within subsection (1A)(ba) and the Centre considers it would be in the public interest for the information to be disseminated.

(2D) In the case of a direction under section 238 or a mandatory request under section 239 the power in subsection (2B) is subject to the requirements of the direction or mandatory request.

(2E) Nothing in this section prevents the Information Centre from disseminating information (otherwise than by publishing it) pursuant to the exercise of any function conferred by or under any other provision of this or any other Act.’.

Amendment 695, in clause 243, page 201, line 28, leave out subsection (3) and insert—

‘( ) Where the Information Centre publishes information which it collects pursuant to a direction under section 238 or a mandatory request under section 239 in accordance with the requirements of the direction or the mandatory request, it may also publish the information in such other form and such other manner, and at such other intervals, as it considers appropriate.’.

Amendment 696, in clause 243, page 201, line 36, leave out ‘must’ and insert ‘may’.

Amendment 697, in clause 243, page 201, line 38, leave out paragraph (b).

Amendment 698, in clause 243, page 201, line 45, at end insert—

‘( ) In this section “relevant person” means—

(a) any person who provides health care or adult social care, or

(b) any body corporate not falling within paragraph (a).’.—(Paul Burstow.)

Clause 243, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 244 ordered to stand part of the Bill.