This week something happened which is without precedent in my 40 years of Parliamentary experience.
On an issue of acute public importance where there had already been a Parliamentary debate revealing a total cross-party consensus solidly opposed to government policy, a Departmental minister then refused to see a delegation to discuss the matter further and to consider necessary changes in procedure.
This issue, the work capability assessments carried out by Atos Healthcare, has been a top-line matter on the political agenda for many months now.
I had therefore written to Iain Duncan Smith on 31 January asking him to receive a delegation from some of the key campaigning and analytical groups (I had, regrettably, to restrict this to three).
I heard nothing for more than 5 weeks and therefore put down a Parliamentary Question on the Commons Order Paper asking when he proposed to answer my letter.
As a result I got an immediate reply from Mark Hoban, the junior minister dealing with Atos matters, saying
“my current diary requirements mean I am unable to accept your invitation at this time”.
That is simply civil service-speak for a flat No.
But I have taken the matter further.
I therefore waylaid Hoban in the lobbies after a vote and as soon as he saw me, he said immediately
“I’m not seeing you”.
I was taken aback at his aggressiveness and said
“But you can’t possibly do this , this is a matter of the highest political importance and it’s your responsibility to talk to and listen to key disability organisations about this matter, however contentious it might be”.
He simply replied blankly
“I’m not seeing you”,
and repeated it 3 or 4 times.
I kept on insisting
and finally he said
“I’m not seeing Spartacus”.
Again I was taken aback and asserted that in my view Spartacus had analysed hundreds of cases, prepared a very detailed and thoughtful analysis of the implications arising from these cases, and even if he disagreed strongly for whatever reasons it was his responsibility to meet them.
To this he simply kept repeating
“I’m not meeting Spartacus”.
After thinking over this exchange later I decided to apply for an Adjournment debate, not on Atos as such, but on ‘Ministers’ refusal to accept a delegation on Atos Healthcare’.
I also went to see the Speaker about what I consider to be the unprecedented and wholly unreasonable and unacceptable behaviour of DWP ministers, and he listened carefully.
I am now very pleased to say that I have obtained an Adjournment debate next Thursday, 21st, at 5pm in the Commons chamber.
I intend to use this opportunity to bring this whole matter to a head.