The position is very clear, as the hon. Gentleman should know from the debates that we have had. Continuity of access to services through the NHS is one of the central responsibilities of commissioners and of Monitor. If there is any threat to the continuity of those services, they can step in and take measures to ensure that the services continue, including by agreeing funding beyond the tariff to make that happen. If the extension of “any qualified provider” could lead directly to the loss of access to essential services for patients, the commissioners and Monitor do not have to go down that path. They can make those judgments.
I caution Andrew George about hanging his hat on the NHS as preferred provider. Before the last election, the right hon. Member for Leigh said that the NHS should be the preferred provider. His philosophy said that the NHS should be allowed to get it wrong twice before the private sector gets a look in. From the patient’s point of view it is, of course, a very cheerful thought that they will be surrendered to the policy of NHS as preferred provider.
Curiously, in March 2010, before the election and at the same time as he said that his policy was the NHS as preferred provider, the right hon. Gentleman published the “Principles and rules for cooperation and competition”, which he seems to be very fond of and which we are maintaining. That document stated:
“Commissioners must commission services from providers who are best placed to deliver the needs of their patients.”
It also stated:
“Commissioners and providers must not take any actions which restrict choice against patients’ and taxpayers’ interests.”
The reason that the right hon. Gentleman published that document was that he knew that the policy of NHS as preferred provider was already going to be the subject of a legal challenge and that it would not survive that challenge. That is why he restated exactly the principles of co-operation and competition that we intend to incorporate directly and without amendment into the way in which Monitor does its job.