Lord Prior, who has been selected to become the next chair of NHS England, has agreed to resign the Conservative Party whip and become a cross-bencher.
His decision comes after pressure from the House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee, which said ‘his continued holding of the Conservative whip – taken together with his recent service as a Conservative Government [health] minister – would compromise [his] independence’.
Whips are MPs or Members of the House of Lords appointed by the party to help organise parliamentary business, drum up support for important votes and ensure members vote the way their party wants.
In his pre-appointment hearing with the select committee, Lord Prior said he had ‘agonised’ over whether he should relinquish the Conservative whip should he be appointed NHS England chair.
But, said a report from the committee, he ‘had concluded that, since he had been a Conservative [MP], a Conservative member of the House of Lords, and a minister in a Conservative government, it would “not be credible” for him to sit as an independent’.
After agreeing to give ‘serious consideration’ to the select comittee’s recommendation, Lord Prior has now written to chair Dr Sarah Wollaston to confirm he will step down from the Conservative Party role.
Lord Prior’s letter said: ‘I have decided, following my meeting with the health select committee, to take its advice and become a cross-bencher, giving up the Conservative whip.’
Dr Wollaston said: ‘I am delighted that Lord Prior has decided to act on the Committee’s recommendation and resign the Conservative whip in the House of Lords following his appointment as Chair of NHS England.
‘Lord Prior’s appearance before us showed that he has the professional competence and personal independence required of this post.
‘The committee considers it very important this post is seen to be free from any party political whip. We wish him well for his appointment.’
The committee’s report previously concluded it was ‘satisfied that Lord Prior has the professional competence and experience required of the chair of NHS England’. It also considered that he had ‘the ability to demonstrate the personal independence required of the post’, should he resign as whip.
Lord Prior, who served as a minister under former health secretary Jeremy Hunt, will take over from Professor Sir Malcolm Grant who has chaired NHS England since its inception in 2013.