HC Deb 21 April 1947 vol 436 cc697-9

8.0 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

I beg to move, in page 17, line 27, after "may," to insert after holding an inquiry."

We do our utmost to meet hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, and we are anxious to secure some way or other in which this question of bringing things before Parliament and the public can be properly carried out. The last time we tried to induce the Secretary of State to concede the point that a scheme would be more appropriately laid before Parliament than put out in some less formal way; this time we suggest that if he is taking action under the Clause in question, he might hold an inquiry first. This Amendment was put down, of course, primarily with the object of bringing the matter of the health centres before the public as a whole. As the Joint Under-Secretary knows very well, the paint of the health centres is one to which doctors attach great importance. He has adopted in this case a method which we think is superior to the one which was proposed originally, that is to say, that the health centres shall be looked after directly by the Secretary of State himself.

However, we are a little uneasy about the provisions here for delegation, and I am sure that the medical profession as a whole would feel much more content if the Secretary of State could see his way to adopt the suggestion in this modest proposal, that before he throws over one of the main principles of his Bill—that is to say, that the health centres should be the charge of the Secretary of State rather than the local authority—he should give due notice of that by the holding of a local inquiry. It is not necessary to stress the point unduly. The case makes itself. It is the Secretary of State's Bill, it is the Secretary of State's proposal, it is the proposal to which those with whom he has been negotiating, the medical profession, attach great importance. It is a proposal which should not be modified without a good deal of careful thought, and certainly not without adequate notice. On all these grounds we think this proposal should commend itself to the Secretary of State.

Mr. Westwood

I have made it clear on more occasions than one that I do not intend to delegate any of the health centre functions to local authorities in the early experimental years of the new service, and if and when, the stage of delegating functions is reached, the exact nature of the delegation in each case will have to be worked out in consultation with the professional people concerned and in agreement with the local health authority to whom the functions will be delegated. Delegation will not be an irrevocable act of administration, but it is an administrative act, and the arrangements for delegation in any particular case will probably be altered from time to time in the light of experience of their operation. I should like to know why it is suggested that there should be a formal inquiry before any variation in delegation arrangements is made. I suggest that the Amendment might be withdrawn on my giving the assurance that delegation will only take place on agreement with the local health authority concerned, and on terms and conditions acceptable to that authority; and that they will never take place; so far as I am concerned, without consultation with the executive council, the medical and other appropriate bodies interested in the area, especially the doctors and the dentists working at the health centre itself. The procedure of a formal inquiry would be far too elaborate and inappropriate a method of dealing with such consultations, and with the assurance I have given, which I feel sure would be a reasonable assurance so far as the professional side is concerned, I trust that the Amendment will be withdrawn.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

I can only speak again with the leave of the House, of course, but I would say that the assurance given by the Secretary of State, although it did not go as far as we would like, is a reasonable undertaking, and on that I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.