HC Deb 07 June 1946 vol 423 cc2401-9

3.59 P.m.

Dr. Morgan (Rochdale)

I am afraid that I am about to commit a crime. I am going to commit an offence—"Infamous conduct "In a professional respect. I venture to draw the attention of the House to the judicial tribunal which governs the conduct of the medical profession. That body can make its own crimes and mis-demeanours but it can inflict only one sentence, depriving 'a man, trained, experienced, and knowledgeable, who, in the past, has done good work—

It being Four o'Clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed. without Question put.

Motion made, and Question proposed. "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Popplewell.]

Dr. Morgan

Because of some charge against him, a medical practitioner can be brought before this tribunal, which judges his conduct professionally. That tribunal is the General Medical Council This is a subject which, as far as I know, only one

Mr. Keeling

On a point of Order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I should like to have your Ruling. It was distinctly understood that the subject which I raised had half an hour allowed for discussion. A number of other hon. Members wanted to speak, and they stood up when the Minister sat down We certainly have not had half an hour. We have not had 20 minutes. I wish to ask whether, when the hon. Member now on his feet has finished speaking, you will allow us to return to the question which I raised.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Milner)

I must point out that the hon. Member for Leek (Mr. H. Davies) was not present when his turn came and we are now half an hour ahead of the time fixed by Mr. Speaker and there is another subject to follow.

Mr. Keeling

Perhaps I did not make quite plain the question I wished to ask you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. The subject I raised was debated for only 20 minutes, or rather less. Therefore, I hope you will allow that subject to be resumed when the hon. Member for Rochdale (Dr. Morgan) has finished his speech.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The Minister must be allowed to reply but if there is time the previous subject can be resumed.

Mr. Keeling

I hope that you will cut them, so as to allow of our having our half hour.

Mr. Martin Lindsay (Solihull)

Can we resume the Debate when we come back?

Dr. Morgan

I hope that you will not cut my time, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, after I have been lucky enough to catch your eye. This is a most important subject.

Mr. James Callaghan (Cardiff, South)

So was the one which we were discussing.

Dr. Morgan

The hon. Member cannot have it all his own way.

Mr. Keeling

Will the hon. Member be as brief as he can?

Dr. Morgan

No, I will not..I am inclined to think that this is just the Oppossition's way of trying to waste time when there is a.very important subject which they do not want to have discussed.

Mr. Callaghan

This matter has nothing to do with the Opposition in that sense. Several of us want to have the matter discussed. I felt rather sorry that we had only 18 minutes to talk about it.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Hon. Members are now taking away the time available to the hon. Member for Rochdale (Dr. Morgan) by continuing this point of Order.

Dr. Morgan

I have been lucky enough to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and I ask for your protection. These opportunities always run unevenly, and now that I have a chance I should be allowed to say what I have to say.

The General Medical Council came into being about l00 years.ago, in order to enable the public to distinguish between the professional medical man and the untrained. In order to keep at a very high level; as it ought to be, the conduct of those practising this profession which involves such intimacies in relationship between patient and doctor, it was important that some tribunal should be allowed to exist which would judge the conduct of any man who was offending against the ethical codes of the profession. So this body was set up—an undemocratic body with only seven elected members out of 42, charged with certain duties, medical education, treating of professional conduct and, what we call, the " five asinine offences."The General Medical Council is what the doctors call "The Court of Asses."The procedure adopted by this body is unlike that of any other tribunal in the country. They make their own procedure. They decide what is evidence and what is not evidence to them. They can decide to discard evidence, and insist on cross-examination on evidence which the tribunal has not heard orally. The members who investigate the original complaint and decide that there should be a trial also sit in judgment on the accused. The accused is allowed to be represented by counsel. The General Medical Council has a legal assessor but that legal assessor has the right to cross-examine the accused person, whilst, so far as is known, counsel representing the accused person has no right to cross-examine other witnesses. A more degraded form of topsy-turvy justice cannot be found anywhere, and yet it has existed for 100 years without change. The General Medical Council is a prejudiced, partisan body, and its judicial procedure is irregular.

The minutes of the cases which are heard in camera can actually be faked with the permission of the Council. I have before me a resolution passed by the Council. It was moved by the Chairman of Business, who is a prominent member of the British Medical Association, and seconded by Dr. Bone, another prominent member of that Association. It reads: That it be delegated to the Chairman of Business, as on previous occasions, to adjust the minutes of the Council in camera arising out of the business of the session, and that the President be authorised to sign them when thus adjusted. In other words, the minutes of the business can be changed. I could give example after example. I have here counsel's opinion showing that evidence given before the tribunal need not be sworn. It may be written and not declared in open court. There need be no cross-examination. Every possible obstacle to an accused being able to state his case properly is put in front of him.

Quite recently there was the celebrated case of Dr. Hennessy, to whom a great personal indignity and injustice was done. He was a man fighting for his professional livelihood and when his wife, a grand woman, gave evidence in his favour it was said in court that her evidence was unassailable and invulnerable. And yet it was said that her evidence, which was so unassailable and invulnerable that it could not be broken by cross-examination, must have been concocted. It was not appreciated that truth is sometimes unassailable. I am not asking for legislation. I am only asking for an inquiry by a Royal Commission or a Select Committee or by some other means. All that I want is that the present procedure by which the G.M.C. conducts its nefarious proceedings shall be changed and reformed. I want also to ask that this should not be done in private inside the profession, because the G.M.C. is not technically a professional body. It is a public body, and I decline to accept the suggestion that something should be done inside the profession. A section of the profession will say they will want to do it themselves, but doctors have had 100 years in which to do it and they have not done so. Because in recent years they have come to some considered misjudgments, they now say they want the procedure changed.

As I have said, evidence before this tribunal need not be sworn, so that any man or woman can make a charge against an innocent doctor and can give any evidence against him, and yet, because they are not sworn, such people cannot be charged with perjury. They can go into the witness box before the General Medical Council, before gentlemen who have the highest degrees in medicine and are the bishops of the profession, who teach medical students, and whose personal character is as a rule unassailable. Yet these men will sit and perpetrate injustices of the most despicable kind against their own colleagues, even when the evidence before them is such that it could not justifiably be used to condemn the worst criminal. Any man or woman can make a charge against a doctor and on unsworn evidence escape the consequences. The legal assessor, when summing up for the Council, does not advise them in public but in camera. The legal assessor cross-examines a respondent but not the complainant. That is difficult to correct by any rule or regulation of the Council. The respondent has no right of appeal to the High Court. The decision is final. The case can only be reopened or reviewed by the G.M.C. A series of cases of precedent law have been built up. The only sentence they can impose is one of erasion. They erase a man from the Register and prevent him from practising again.

There is one other thing they can do. They can indulge in the mental torture of postponing sentence for a year or six months or as long as they like, so that all the time the man is suspended he can practise but is waiting for either sentence or revocation of a conviction. Such a man is in a state of nerves and frustration. There have been very many celebrated cases. The anaesthetist to Sir Herbert Barker was struck off the roll, but when Sir Herbert Barker himself gave a demonstration in one of the teaching schools before some of the most skilled orthopaedic surgeons in Great Britain the G.M.C. did not attempt to say anything to that body about having asked- an unqualified manipulator whose anaesthetist had been struck off the roll whilst assisting him at his work to give a demonstration. They did not attempt to say anything to those specialists when they attended on an occasion to demonstrate the Barker methods at one of the teaching schools. It was a perfectly extraordinary state of affairs. Some of the things that happen before the G.M.C. have been almost unbelievable—the partisanship and the way M which complaints are treated are all against the accused.

There is the case, for example, of Dr. Hennessy, who had to fight alone because, although a member of the Medical Defence Union, when erased, he lost his membership of that Union. They could do nothing for him at the very time when he wanted their help. He had to fight his battle alone, with the help of his wife, producing evidence and showing the faked evidence which could not stand examination before a court of law. Many a doctor goes down on his knees at night, and I am sure Mrs. Hennessy does, thanking God for His Majesty's judges I myself might be tried next week, or the week after, for this speech, being regarded as an attempt to criticize—[HON. MEMBERS: " No."]. Oh, yes, I might. [An HON. MEMBER: "It is privileged."] There is no privilege in the case of the General Medical Council, They make their own procedure, and decide their own evidence.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker


Dr. Morgan

I arranged to speak for 20 minutes. I am sorry, but, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, if you tell me to do so, I will sit down. May I finish?

There was a lady, associated with the C.I.D. by marriage, calling herself by her single name, who made one charge. That charge was dismissed, but at the hearing, the second complainant was allowed to take shorthand notes of the evidence about a scar on the abdomen. When a charge was subsequently made by another woman whose moral character could not stand investigation in an ordinary court of law, she produced in medical terms the evidence she had taken down verbatim at the first trial in shorthand with the General Medical Council looking on When asked by Mr. Justice Charles about this, Mrs. Hennessy had to point out that she saw the woman taking notes of the evidence by a prominent member of the G.M.C. who examined Dr. Hennessy for them—evidence about the scar on the abdomen at the time of the first charge.

I could go quoting case after case, but I can see that you are impatient, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and I will have to sit down. I should have thought that even one dastardly case against a professional man, causing him to lose his livelihood, and his wife suffering personal indignity and degradation, and his children being deprived of their education, and the man having to leave Britain and go to the Colonies because of some infamous judgment by the court, would have interested the Labour Government. I challenge the Labour Government not to allow this profession to have their own investigation. I challenge the Labour Government to submit this to an impartial inquiry with a judge of known integrity at the head, and with a lay assessor, if desired, and a prominent Member of the House of Commons, if desired, but an impartial inquiry with rules of evidence, procedure, membership and method of laying charges and evidence, made public. I am sure the Labour Government would accept that and not leave it to the profession themselves to do it. I am sure that if they do that, they will have done something which will bring them respect—very important —now, and the good will of many of the men who are going to practise in the profession.

4.20 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health (Mr. Key)

My right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council is the Minister who is ultimately responsible for dealing with questions relating to the General Medical Council, but he has asked me to reply on this occasion and, of course, my Department has in fact a great interest in anything that affects medical discipline and education in this country. For example, it has been definitely accepted that some amendment of the Medical Acts is necessary, and the Good enough Inter-Departmental Committee on Medical Schools made certain recommendations on that point. The General Medical Council itself for some 18 months has been considering the question. I understand it is going to put forward certain proposals. It is the Government's intention, if it is possible to secure the necessary Parliamentary time in the corning Session, to put forward their own proposals with regard to this matter and that a medical Bill shall be—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The hon. Member is not entitled to deal with legislation. I understood the hon. Member for Rochdale (Dr. Morgan) was asking for an inquiry.

Mr. Key

We regard it as quite inappropriate that an inquiry should be held because it has already been settled that the matter shall be dealt with adequately and properly. The Government have decided that there is necessity for dealing with the problem which has been raised, and they wish to study very carefully the information that has been provided and to consult with the profession and the people interested. They regard that as a much more proper method of investigating this matter than the setting up of a special committee to deal with it. However, I can give the hon. Gentleman a very firm assurance that the points which he has raised will be borne in mind in the consideration of this problem and the formulation of our proposals to deal with it. I think also I must say that it would be very unfortunate if the impression got about that as a result of an individual case it was understood that it was a general sort of thing that members of the Medical Council could be struck off the register arbitrarily for some slight offence. The General Medical Council can work only within the powers which have been conferred upon them by Parliament. I am sure many hon. Members will bear me out when I say, quite definitely, that in general, the Council discharges its disciplinary functions ably and carefully and with a sense of grave responsibility—

Dr. Morgan

I deny that entirely.

Mr. Key

The fact that there is no appeal against its decisions is not the responsibility of the General Medical Council. If there is any blame involved, the blame must rest upon Parliament which did not confer any such right of appeal. Criticism has been made of the constitution of the General Medical Council. Here again, of course, I can say nothing with regard to the proposals of the Government. Due consideration will be given to the points that have been raised when we consider the proposals to deal with the matter. We are of the opinion that the stage has now been reached when it would be quite unnecessary on our part to set up a special committee of inquiry into the matter. Due consideration will be given before the proposals are formulated to put before Parliament.