HC Deb 21 April 1947 vol 436 cc687-97

7.30 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

I beg to move, in page 15, line 17, at the end, to insert: Provided that any scheme so modified shall be laid before Parliament. This Amendment deals with the question of the functions of the regional hospital boards and boards of management under schemes which are to be brought forward either by the boards or by the Secretary of State. Again, the Secretary of State is engrossing to himself great powers. The purpose of his whole administration is to encourage and support the regional hospital boards and the boards of management. That is his declared intention, and I believe it to be his real intention. It is all the more necessary in his case because he has not left the teaching hospitals anything like so far out of the picture as they have been left out in the English Bill. The regional boards have much greater powers in Scotland than in England. This Clause says: Every Regional Hospital Board shall, within such period as the Secretary of State may specify, submit to him a scheme … And the Secretary of State "may approve," and here again we come to the words: … with or without modifications, which may include additions or exceptions, any scheme submitted to him… It does not seem an exacting request that if he has not approved a scheme which has been submitted to him by his own board, he should lay this scheme before Parliament. In fact, I cannot quite see what would be the Secretary of State's objection to this proposal.

In the previous Clause we tried to deal with the words "with or without modification," arid he refused; he said that he must have his hands free. Here we have left his hands free. He is now empowered either to approve the scheme of the regional board or to disapprove it, to modify it or make exceptions, from it, but having done so it would be to his advantage, as well as ours, that it should be laid before Parliament. He has said in correspondence that he would draw attention to it, that he would make a report, that the point would be covered in some way. That is not sufficient for his own purpose. There is nothing worse than a rumour going round that there is some disagreement between the Secretary of State, or some powerful Minister and one of his own creations. If he can say that in the event of any disagreement the House can be sure that he will have to lay that disagreement before Parliament, everyone will see what has happened. I have no doubt that the Secretary of State would have his way; his scheme would be approved, but it would have come before the duly constituted representatives of the people, and the attention of Scotland as a whole would have been drawn to the fact that this disagreement had arisen, and had been resolved.

I trust that the Secretary of State will find it possible to meet us in this matter, or, if he cannot meet us fully, he might say, in the reasonable way in which the Joint Under-Secretary met us a little earlier in the evening, "I undertake that I will examine this between now and the passage of the Bill through another place." The purpose of this and the subsequent Amendment is to say that the Minister shall not have power to modify either the painstaking arrangements which he has set up or, still worse, to dispense with the Statutes which are being laid down. If he does not meet us we must continue to press our argument, because at present the Secretary of State is overloading himself with powers which are not fair to the working of the creatures he desires to bring into full and proper operation.

Sir T. Moore

After the persuasive arguments used by my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) the Secretary of State should find no difficulty in accepting this Amendment. As I read the Bill, this is probably one of the most important Clauses and one of the most important Amendments in it, because it is on these schemes, as drawn up by the boards of management and submitted to the regional boards, that our health and the health of the whole community depends. In addition to that they will have wide powers—the appointment of officers, the maintenance of premises, the acquisition of equipment and furniture. All these are matters of vital importance to the community as a whole. It seems to me logical and, more than that, essentially reasonable, that such schemes or such modifications, if not approved by the Secretary of State, shall be subject to being laid before the representatives of the people concerned.

That does not impose any great strain on the Secretary of State. In fact, it removes some of the strain from him, because throughout this Bill he has been taking on the most fantastic obligations in practically every Clause. Indeed, so far as I can see, he will have enough work, in carrying out this Measure, to absolve him from carrying out any other duties whatever. I would suggest that he might, in his own -interests, relieve himself from some of the burdens, obligations and responsibilities, by agreeing to this Amendment and placing the responsibility where it should be—on Members of this House.

The Lord Advocate

The effect of this Amendment is really to give publicity to the scheme as approved. The objection to adopting this course is that it seems to introduce a too formal element into the relationship between the Secretary of State and the Regional Board. The relationship between the two is a close one, and the Board is, to all intents and purposes, the agent of the Secretary of State. In a relationship of that kind, it hardly seems desirable that the mode of publicity to be adopted should be by laying the scheme before Parliament. It seems to the Secretary of State that other methods of publicity might be utilised which would he more suitable to the changing or different circumstances which might occur in the event of any disagreement between himself and the Regional Board. He feels that he should not be tied down to one particular mode of publicity, and that other methods of publicising the situation, which would be more appropriate to the circumstances, could be devised, than this purely formal method, which merely means putting documents before Parliament, and nothing more. The best way of ventilating any such difficulties of this kind is in Scotland itself, or through the Press, or by some such method. In these circumstances, the Secretary of State thinks that this is too rigid and formal a method, and that the Amendment, therefore, should not be accepted.

Mr. McKie

I am very disappointed with the Lord Advocate's reply and with the rather peremptory way in which he has rejected this Amendment. He said that the idea behind it was to get publicity. I make him a present of the fact, but why should he object? He said that it proposed only one mode, and that there were many other ways of publicity open to people if they were dissatisfied with the way in which the regional board proposed to act. He suggested the Press. With great respect to the right hon. Gentleman, I submit that these schemes may be vast and far-reaching in effect. If there is any bone of contention, it should be settled here on the Floor of the House of Commons in the open forum of discussion. I would remind the Lord Advocate that the Secretary of State when we were discussing this Clause in Committee and we had a very brisk Debate on the subject, said he would undertake to look into the question of laying such schemes before Parliament. He did not say whether they would be subject to affirmative or negative Resolution, but he agreed to consider the matter to see whether he could agree to our proposals. I would like to see any such scheme submitted not merely for rejection but for affirmative Resolution. I would have been prepared to take half a loaf, which is better than no bread, but the Lord Advocate has denied me even that satisfaction.

I thought the Secretary of State would agree that this was a suggestion which would appeal to the general mass of the public in Scotland, particularly to the workers whom he specially claims to represent. It is their interests which will be specially concerned in this Bill. However, the right hon. Gentleman has decided in his wisdom—or, I think, his unwisdom—that he cannot agree to our proposals. I regret it very much. Indeed, I rather resent it, because we have had no word from the Lord Advocate to tell us why his right hon. Friend came to the conclusion that he could not accept this proposal to which, in Committee, he promised to give his serious attention. Perhaps the Secretary of State will see fit to give us the reason. I feel sure that my regret will be shared by a very large number of people, almost, I should think, the entire population of Scotland who have a very great opinion of our Parliamentary procedure. If the Secretary of State had agreed to this quite modest Amendment, it would have gone a long way towards reassuring the public that the functions of the regional boards in Scotland would have the thorough investigation which is deserved.

Lord William Scott

I see one difficulty in this, and that is connected with publicity. It is obvious that one does not want the other authority to use publicity as a lever in any disagreement which they may have with the Secretary of State. On the other hand, if there is possible ground for disagreement it should not be hushed up and dealt with by any form of secrecy. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Lord Advocate has told us that there are other kinds of publicity. He mentioned the Press. I am not certain how the Press comes in. Are the other authority to meet in public with all their discussion open to the Press, or how is information regarding any disagreement which might occur between the Secretary of State and the planning authority, to become public property? How will the information be presented to the Press? We want more information. It seems strange at a time like this, when we are getting all forms of Statutory Rules and Orders coming before the House to the tune of hundreds per year, that we should fall shy of these occasional and modest documents which we are asking the Secretary of State to supply and of which, in any case, it is desirable that the Scottish Press should be made aware.

7.45 P.m.

Mr. Niall Macpherson

The Lord Advocate has said that the Secretary of State has in mind the use of other forms of publicity but, as the Clause stands, there is no guarantee that he would use any publicity whatever. As the Amendment is worded, its acceptance would at least ensure that the matter was brought to the attention of the House of Commons and thus given a certain amount of publicity. A particular reason why it should be brought to the attention of the House is because we presume that the Secretary of State intends to give the maximum latitude to regional boards in the control of their regions. If he disagrees with them, it should be on national grounds in order to work the various schemes together. If he cannot persuade them on those grounds, then the matter is a national one which, obviously, should be brought, by way of the House of Commons, to national attention. There are the strongest reasons for accepting this very simple Amendment which can do no harm whatever.

Mr. Spence

I wish to draw attention to the wording of the Clause under which it will be found that the Secretary of State may approve, with or without modifications, schemes that may be prepared by the regional boards. That implies pretty clearly that if he came to the state of mind where he had to say that they had to submit a new scheme, nearly everything would have been tried in the way of reason and adjustment in order to approve the original scheme. We have been told on many occasions by the Joint Under-Secretary of State that, so far as possible, any contentious point will be made available for Debate on the Floor of the House. I cannot understand why the right hon. and learned Lord Advocate feels that he must advise the Secretary of State not to accept this very simple Amendment, which seems to be perfectly fair.

Mr. Brendan Bracken (Bournemouth)

He would be a very brave man indeed, who, representing a watering place in the South, interfered in a Scottish Debate, but I am tempted to ask a question by the remark made by the right hon. and learned Lord Advocate. He apparently holds the view that, rather than submit documents to Parliament, there is an alternative method in Scotland of publishing information in the Press or otherwise. I was hoping that the Secretary of State would explain exactly what form this publicity will take. Otherwise, it might mean the Scottish B.B.C.—but I very much doubt whether they will be willing to turn themselves into a channel of information for the Government. As a former Minister of Information and one who has listened to a number of Debates in this House about the Press, I am fascinated by this new topic raised by the Lord Advocate. Apparently the House of Commons is not really the best possible place to inform Members of Parliament about what happens in Scotland. The Secretary of State is here, and I feel perfectly certain that he will clarify this point and tell us exactly what are the proposals of the Government about publicity. If we have this, as a former Minister of Information, I shall feel greatly enlightened.

Mr. Westwood

I shall do my best to enlighten the right hon. Gentleman, who, I am sure, has put this point forward in quite a fair manner. He is very anxious to discover exactly what is in our minds. I will be equally frank. I am one of those individuals who admit that Ministers do not know everything. I am always willing to take into consultation those whom I appoint, or for whom I am responsible in connection with administrative acts. This will be an administrative act. The Lord Advocate has made perfectly clear our view about bringing too formal a matter into the administration of this scheme. This seeks to provide that the Secretary of State shall not be in a position to deal with modifications.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

I was wondering why the Secretary of State was refusing this Amendment. It is because he is arguing about a proposal we are not putting forward. We admit his power to modify the scheme. All we say is that we should like it laid before Parliament.

Mr. Westwood

I am going to deal with that. It suggests that any scheme so modified, shall be laid before Parliament, but it does not leave it subject to any annulment by Parliament after it is laid before Parliament. That is the Amendment, and I can only deal with that. I am not at the moment worrying too much about those hon. Members who are away to the right of the Conservative Party. The Amendment does not seek to provide that the scheme, so modified, shall be open to annulment, and that is why the Lord Advocate has, quite rightly, assumed that it was for publicity purposes. There are better ways of publicity. I would suggest the Press, as was mentioned by the Lord Advocate. There must be other methods. I know of no objection whatever to publicity. I think it is necessary if the scheme is modified, that there should be publicity in connection with it. I agree that it is desirable and that there should be the fullest publicity in connection with these schemes. I will consider with the regional boards when the time comes what form of publicity would most usefully serve this purpose. That is why I said that I am one of those persons who do not claim to know everything. I am always willing to learn and gain experience. I will have full consultation with the regional boards as to the best method to get that publicity across. For these reasons I must resist

the Amendment. It would result in too much in the way of formalities in dealing with this matter, and could serve no useful purpose so far as Parliament is concerned, because it does not suggest that the scheme should be open to annulment.

Question put, "That those words be there inserted in the Bill."

The House divided: Ayes, 70; Noes, 235.

Division No. 127.] AYES. [7.53 p.m.
Beamish, Maj. T. V. H. Headlam, Lieut.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir C Poole, O. B. S. (Oswestry)
Bower, N. Hogg, Hon. Q. Prior-Palmer, Brig. O.
Boyd-Carpenter, J. A. Hollis, M. C. Ramsay, Maj. S
Bracken, Rt. Hon. Brendan Hudson, Rt. Hon. R. S. (Southport) Repner, Col. L.
Carson, E. Hutchison, Lt.-Cm. Clark (E'b'rgh, W.) Scott, Lord W
Corbett, Lieut.-Col. U. (Ludlow) Langford-Holt, J. Snadden, W. M.
Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E. Linstead, H. N. Spearman, A. C. M.
Cuthbert, W. N. Lipson, D. L. Spence, H R.
Darling, Sir W. Y Lucas-Tooth, Sir H. Stewart, J. Henderson (Fife, E.)
Digby, S. W. McCallum, Maj. D. Stuart, Rt. Hon. J. (Moray)
Dodds-Parker, A. D. Macdonald, Sir P. (I. of Wight) Studholme, H. G.
Dower, Lt.-Col. A. V. G. (Penrith) McKie, J. H. (Galloway) Sutcliffe, H
Drayson, G. B. Maclay, Hon. J. S.
Drewe, C. Teeling, William
Duthie, W. S. Macpherson, Maj. N. (Dumfries) Thorneycroft, G. E. P. (Monmouth).
Eccles, D. M. Maitland, Comdr. J. W. Thornton-Kemsley, C. N.
Elliot, Rt. Hon. Waltc Manningham-Buller, R. E Thorp, Lt.-Col. R. A. F
Fletcher, W. (Bury) Marlowe, A. A. H. Walker-Smith, D.
Foster, J. G. (Northwich) Marshall, D. (Bodmin) Ward, Hon. G. R.
Gage, C Mellor, Sir J. Wheatley, Colonel M. J
Galbraith, Cmdr. T. D. Moore, Lt.-Col. Sir T. Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)
Gates, Maj. E. E. Morrison, Maj. J. G. (Salisbury) Willoughby de Eresby, Lord
Gomme-Duncan, Col. A Nield, B. (Chester)
Grant, Lady Peto, Brig. C. H. M. TELLERS FOR THE AYES
Grimston, R. V. Commander Agnew
Major Conant.
Adams, Richard (Balham) Cobb, F. A. Guest, Dr. L. Haden
Adams, W. T. (Hammersmith, South) Cooks, F. S. Gunter, R. J.
Alpass, J. H. Coldrick, W. Guy, W. H.
Anderson, F. (Whitehaven) Collins, V. J. Hale, Leslie
Attewell, H. C. Colman, Miss G. M Hall, W. G.
Austin, H. Lewis Comyns, Dr. L. Hamilton, Lieut.-CoI. R
Awbery, S. S Cook, T F. Hardy, E. A.
Ayles, W. H. Cooper, Wing-Comdr. G. Harrison, J.
Ayrton Gould, Mrs. B. Corlett, Dr. J. Hastings, Dr. Somerv[...]s
Bacon, Miss A Corvedale, Viscount Haworth, J.
Baird. J. Cove, W. G. Henderson, Joseph (Ardwick)
Balfour, A. Crossman, R. H. S. Herbison, Miss M.
Barnes, Rt. Hon. A. J Daggar, G. Holman, P.
Barstow, P. G. Daines, P. Holmes, H. E. (Hemsworth)
Barton, C. Davies, Edward (Burslem) House, G.
Battley, J. R. Davies, Harold (Leek) Hoy, J.
Bechervaise, A. E Deer, G. Hubbard, T.
Benson, G. Diamond, J. Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)
Berry, H. Dobbie, W. Hutchinson, H. L. (Rusholme)
Beswick, F Dodds, N. N. Hynd, H. (Hackney, C.)
Bevan, Rt. Hon. A (Ebbw Vale) Donovan, T. Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe)
Bing, G. H. C. Driberg, T. E. N. Irving, W. J.
Binns, J. Edwards, N. (Caerphilly) Isaacs, Rt. Hon G. A
Blackburn, A. R Edwards, W. J. (Whitechapel) Janner, B.
Boardman, H Evans, E. (Lowestoft) Jay, D. P. T.
Bowen, R. Fairhurst, F. Jeger, G. (Winchester)
Bowles, F. G. (Nuneaton) Fletcher, E. G. M. (Islington, E.) Jones, D. T. (Hartlepools)
Braddock, Mrs. E. M. (L'pl. Exch'ge) Follick, M. Jones, Elwyn (Plaistow)
Brook, D. (Halifax) Foot, M. M. Jones, P. Asterley (Hitchin)
Brooks, T. J. (Rothwell) Gaitskell, H. T. N. Keenan, W.
Brown, George (Belper) Ganley, Mrs. C. S. Kenyon, C.
Bruce, Maj. D. W. T George, Lady M. Lloyd (Anglesey) King, E. M.
Buchanan, G. Gibson, C. W. Kinley, J.
Burden, T. W. Granville, E. (Eye) Lee, F. (Hulme)
Butler, H. W. (Hackney, S.) Grenfell, D. R. Lee, Miss J. (Cannock)
Chamberlain, R. A Grierson, E. Leonard, W.
Champion, A. J Griffiths, D. (Rother Valley) Leslie, J. R.
Chater, D. Griffiths, Rt. Hon. J. (Llanelly) Levy, B. W.
Lewis, A. W. J. (Upton) Proctor, W. T. Sylvester, G. O.
Lewis, J. (Bolton) Pursey, Cmdr. H Taylor, H. B. (Mansfield)
Lipton, Lt.-Col, M. Randall, H. E Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)
Longden, F. Ranger, J. Taylor, Dr. S. (Barnet)
McAdam, W. Rankin, J Thomas, D. E. (Aberdare)
McAllister, G. Reeves, J. Thomas, I. O. (Wrekin)
McGhee, H. G Reid, T. (Swindon) Thomson, Rt. Hn. G. R. (Ed'b'gh, E.)
Mack, J. D. Richards, R. Thorneycroft, Harry (Clayton)
McKay, J. (Wallsend) Robens, A. Thurtle, E.
Mackay, R. W. G. (Hull, N.W.) Roberts, Emrys (Merioneth) Tiffany, S.
McLeavy, F Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvonshire) Titterington, M. F.
MacMillan, M. K. (Western Isles) Rogers, G. H. R. Tolley, L.
Macpherson, T. (Rumford) Ross, Willlam (Kilmarnock) Turner-Samuels, M.
Mallalieu, J. P. W. Sargood, R. Ungoed-Thomas, L.
Manning, Mrs. L. (Epping) Scollan, T. Usborne, Henry
Marquand, H. A. Scott-Elliot, W Vernon, Maj. W. F.
Messer, F. Shackleton, E. A A. Viant, S. P.
Middleton, Mrs. L Sharp, Granville Walkden, E.
Mikardo, Ian Shawcross, C. N. (Widnes) Wallace, G D. (Chislehurst)
Millington, Wing-Comdr. E. R. Shawcross, Rt Hn. Sir H. (St. Helens) Wallace, H. W. (Walthamstow, E.)
Mitchison, G. R. Shurmer, P. Wells, P. L (Faversham)
Moody, A. S. Silverman, J. (Erdington)
Morgan, Dr. H. B Simmons, C. J. Wells, W. T. (Walsall)
Morris, P. (Swansea W.) Skeffington-Lodge, T. C Westwood, Rt. Hon. J.
Moyle, A. Skinnard, F W. White, C. F. (Derbyshire, W.)
Nally, W. Smith, C. (Colchester) White, H. (Derbyshire, N.E.)
Naylor, T. E. Smith, Ellis (Stoke) Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W.
Neal, H. (Claycross) Smith, H. N. (Nottingham, S.) Wigg, Col. G. E.
Nichol, Mrs. M. E (Bradford, N.) Smith, S. H. Hull, S.W.) Wilkes, L.
Nicholls, H. R. (Stratford) Snow, Capt. J. W. Wilkins, W. A.
Oldfield, W. H. Solley, L. J. Willey, F. T. (Sunderland)
Oliver, G. H. Williams, J. L. (Kelvingrove)
Paget, R. T. Soskice, Maj. Sir F Williams, W. R. (Heston)
Palmer, A. M. F Sparks, J. A Williamson, T.
Pargiter, G. A. Stamford, W Willis, E.
Parker, J. Steele, T. Wills, Mrs. E. A
Parkin, B. T. Stephen, C. Wyatt, W.
Paton, Mrs. F. (Rushcliffe) Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E.) Yates, V. F
Paton, J. (Norwich) Strachey, J. Younger, Hon. Kenneth
Pearson, A. Strauss, G. R. (Lambeth, N.)
Peart, Capt. T. F. Stress, Dr. B. TELLERS FOR THE NOES
Porter, G (Leeds) Swingler, S. Mr. Collindridge and
Mr. Hannan.