HC Deb 20 June 1930 vol 240 cc742-8

(1) The licensees of every licensed house shall cause such accounts to be kept as the Board of Control from time to time prescribe, and the accounts so kept shall be audited once a year in such manner and by such person as the Board direct.

(2) A copy of the accounts and of the report of the auditor thereon shall be sent by the licensees to the Board of Control and the Board may, if they think fit, publish in their report the whole or any part of any such accounts or report, and any information obtained therefrom.

(3) The licensees shall pay to the auditor such fee in respect of the audit as the Board of Control direct."

The Lords disagree to the Amendment made by the Commons in page 16 to insert New Clause B (Accounts of Licensed Houses) for the following Reason:

Because it entails undue interference in the management of private institutions.


I beg to move, "That this House doth not insist upon its Amendment to which the Lords have disagreed."

This Clause formed no part of the original Bill. As was stated by my right hon. Friend on the Second Reading, it was not proposed to deal with the question of licensed houses in view of the complexity and the controversial nature of the subject. In Committee the hon and learned Member for Rusholme (Sir B. Merriman) suggested the substance of this new Clause. The hon. and gallant Member for St. Albans (Lieut.-Colonel Fremantle) brought it forward, but he explained that he had done so at the wish, and almost under the instructions, of the hon. and learned Member for Rusholme. The Government thought the Clause was not objectionable in itself, and as there appeared to be a strong desire to insert it they agreed to it in Committee; but the remarks of my right hon. Friend on Second Reading were only too well justified when the Bill went back to another place, because this innocent little Amendment met with prolonged and violent opposition. The Government feel that the matter is not one of very great importance in itself. It is a small Amendment dealing with the fringe of a subject which future Parliaments, when they have time, will no doubt deal with fully and properly. We do not feel it worth while at this stage to endanger the existence of the Bill by entering into a prolonged controversy with another place on this very minor Amendment which is, if I may say so, incongruous in the main structure of the Bill. There is another reason for our attitude. The question of time is of great importance to the local authorities in their preparations for putting this Bill into operation. All things considered my right hon. Friend feels that it is right that we should not insist on the Amendment, and I hope under the circumstances that the hon. and learned Member for Rusholme will not press this point.


I think the Parliamentary Secretary is inclined to minimise the importance of this Clause. It is quite true that it formed no part of the original Bill, and it is also true that in one sense the Bill does not deal with licensed houses, but at the same time the reception of patients int., licensed houses is provided for in the Bill. The genesis of the Clause was the very strong recommendation of the Royal Commission that there should be more licensed houses, a recommendation made after investigation of certain abuses of the existence of which the Royal Commission satisfied themselves. For that reason it occurred to some of us to make the Bill more in conformity with the report of the Royal Commission, and a great many of our Amendments were accepted by the Government, and accepted on that basis. This Amendment was accepted, as I understand, with practically no opposition in Committee, and although there was a great deal of contention over the Bill on the Report stage in the House, so far as I remember no particular exception was taken to this Clause. Therefore it was, in effect, put into the Bill with the unanimous support of the House.

There is only one other point I wish to make. There is no doubt that it does form another exception to the almost vanishing rule that an Englishman's house is his castle. It may involve restrictions in the case of institutions which are not being properly conducted, but we have not detected any great reluctance to multiply these instances in the policy of the Government, or any particular regard for the sanctity of private institutions. This Clause has been rejected in another place, because it entails undue interference in the management of private institutions, and in that sense I am pleased that the Government are prepared to accept the Lords Amendment. I hope we may accept this as evidence of a remarkably sudden and unexpected change of heart on the part of the Government, Which is by no means to be discouraged, and, in the hope that this new respect for the sanctity of private institutions may receive every encouragement, I do not propose to oppose the Motion which has been moved by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health.


I do not agree with the grounds put forward in favour of the rejection of this Clause; in fact, I think those grounds are strong reasons why we should support the Clause. These private institutions have their licences by law under the authority of this House, and they are certainly under a very great obligation to the public, especially in regard to their adminstration and their charges. There are many cases where very excessive charges are being made, and the least that this House ought to do is to insist upon this Amendment. I regard the terms of this Bill as giving new powers to these institutions, and I think the least, we should insist upon is that an audited account should be made available, so that the financial relationship in such matters should be made known.

In the interests of public decency and fair charges—I have heard of charges made to the extent of £20 per week per patient which practically means that these institutions are a law unto themselves—I regret the refusal of the Government To insist upon the Amendment, and I regard their action as a real breach of confidence with the Committee, because the whole Committee collectively and jointly agreed to this very innocent Amendment being inserted. For these reasons, I regret that the Government should not again insist upon the Amendment, which would have been at least seine compensation for those of us who regard this Bill as a very weak effort to deal with this problem. As licensed houses are very lucrative investments established by law, I think we should have insisted that those investments should be laid bare by an audited balance-sheet, and for these reasons I regret that the Amendment has not been insisted upon.


I trust the House will support the Motion which has been made by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health. I felt at the time that this Clause was proposed that it was rather a dangerous Amendment. After all, this Bill does not deal with licensed houses at all, and a Clause of this character is an infringement of a Bill which does not actually deal with those private institutions. Hon. Members are quite aware that the Royal Commission which dealt with this question did not come to any agreement at all in relation to licensed houses, and they found that the question bristled with so many difficulties that they had to postpone the whole thing. I believe I am right in saying that the members of the Royal Commission were divided in their views on this question. I have no doubt there is a good deal in what the hon. Member for Frome (Mr. Gould) has said in regard to the charges of these private institutions, but one does feel that they may be prohibitive to the average individual.

Under this Bill, of course, further facilities will be open to the poor, and that is one reason why we should welcome the Measure. This Clause will not make one iota of difference to the charges made by these private institutions, and it will only involve an audit. At the present time the accounts of these institutions have to be audited in the ordinary way for Income Tax purposes like other private or business institutions in the country, and I think this Clause would be a serious and rather unwarranted infringement on the rights of private individuals. I am glad that the Parliamentary Secretary has agreed to this Amendment, and I trust that the House will support her.


I regret that the Government have been so weak in regard to this matter. When the Bill was first introduced I thought the principle upon which it was based was good, but, by the alterations which have been accepted, the Measure has been so distorted that it is now of very little value at all. With regard to the question now before us, I regret that the Government have agreed that there shall continue to be in this matter one law for the poor and another for the rich, for that in effect is what is happening. The Clause now before us is one that would have brought both poor and rich under the same control, but as the Bill now stands it means that every institution to which a poor person goes will be subjected to financial control, and the whole of the accounts of those institutions must be submitted in detail year by year. On the other hand, the Government are now agreeing to a proposal under which institutions to which the wealthy people are sent shall not be subject to that financial control.

The Clause was introduced in order that every institution treating these patients should be subject to the same financial scrutiny, and we are now agreeing to a proposal under which that principle shall obtain so far as poor patients are concerned, but shall not obtain in the case of the wealthy. I regret that the Government have been so weak in this matter, and by accepting this Amendment they have further injured the Bill to such an extent that it has already lost whatever virtue it possessed in its original form. I am sorry for that, and, while I accept the position, I wish to enter a protest against the course which has been adopted. If another occasion should arise for dealing with this question, I hope the Government will see that what the House has decided on this point will be carried out, and I trust that we shall refuse to allow any other body to interfere in this matter.


I only wish to make two comments on the position in which the House finds itself with regard to this Amendment. Personally, I was never particularly enamoured of the Amendment, any more than of any part of the Bill, but on the whole I think it would be as well to accept the view of the other House, in order to get the Bill into actual operation. Beyond that, the Amendment goes outside, not the scope of the Bill, but a large amount of the ground which the original Bill would have covered. My reason for wishing that the Bill should be put into operation now is that I am convinced that sooner or later we shall have to go into the whole of this matter again with real care, and the sooner the Bill can be put into operation, so that its defects, which many people have seen throughout the whole course of its progress, and also the necessity for a complete reorganisation of this matter, can be brought out quite clearly, the better it will be. For that reason, I personally hope that the House will agree to this Motion.


The hon. and learned Member for Rusholme (Sir B. Merriman has given, as a reason for not insisting upon this Amendment, that it entails undue interference in the management of private institutions, but the difficulty in which a good many of us here are placed is that what is said in the other House entails undue interference with the management of public institutions.

Question, "That this House doth not insist upon its Amendment to which the Lords have disagreed," put, and agreed to.