The Information Commissioner has warned that heath secretary Andrew Lansley's repeated refusal to publish the NHS Risk Register "marks a significant step in the government’s approach to freedom of information."
Publication of the register - which outlines the impact the reforms of the NHS might have on patients - has been suppressed by Lansley despite repeated calls by Labour for it to be made public.
The Information Commissioner has ruled it should be made public, and in a report laid before Parliament on Tuesday morning Christopher Graham suggests the decision marks a change in government policy towards the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
He writes: "The previous three occasions on which the veto has been exercised related to the disclosure of Cabinet material under FOIA. The commissioner would wish to record his concern that the exercise of the veto in this case extends its use into other areas of the policy process. It represents a departure from the position adopted in the Statement of Policy."
The Information Commissioner simply disagrees, believing that while there would be good grounds for some documents of this kind to be kept secret, there was no good reason why NHS risk register would fall into that category."
Last week the government revealed an edited version of the risk register, which outlined the potential distractions the massive reforms underway to the NHS might cause. A partial version of the register was also leaked earlier this year.
These revelations only served to increase the clamour for the full document to be published. Labour MP John Healey, one of two people to repeatedly appeal against Lansley's veto, said in a statement on Tuesday: “The Information Commissioner confirms the Cabinet is overriding the law and their own Government policy with the political veto on the NHS risk register.
"In blunt terms, this report tells Parliament that Ministers have ridden roughshod over existing FoI law and it warns that this case signals plans to change the law and roll back the public’s right to know.
“The political veto has only ever been used before to protect Cabinet material. This move widens the span of Government information protected under veto. It is a landmark in the Executive’s bid to draw a wider veil of secrecy over Government decisions."