HC Deb 21 April 1947 vol 436 cc641-8

Without prejudice to any other powers of a local health authority, such an authority may, with the approval of the Secretary of State, make such provision for conducting, or assisting the conduct of, research as appears to the authority desirable for purposes relating to their functions.—[Mr. Westwood.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Westwood

I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

In a discussion with representatives of local authorities in Scotland, I was asked to include in the Bill a provision which would enable authorities to carry out research connected with their own health service functions. The kind of research which they had in view would include, for example, inquiries into the value of various forms of care or after-care services that might be provided by the local health authority under Clause 27 of the Bill; studies in the effectiveness of various forms of care given at child welfare centres, and, especially, inquiries into the effects of environment on health. I considered it reasonable that local health authorities should have this power, and I promised them that I would endeavour to introduce, and secure the agreement of the House to, a new Clause to that effect. The Clause I am now moving makes the necessary provision. The Clause resembles the corresponding power which is conferred upon education authorities by Section 78 of the Education (Scotland) Act, 1945, which is now, under the consolidated Act, Section 27 of the Education (Scotland) Act, 1946. It will be necessary for the local authorities to get the approval of the Secretary of State to make provision under this Clause. The reason for this is because the expenditure involved will rank for grant under Clause 51 of the Bill, and the Bill makes it possible for me to co-ordinate the activities of different authorities, and to secure that a particular piece of research is not unnecessarily duplicated. For those reasons, I trust that the Committee will agree to the new Clause.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

Clause 17 of the Bill makes it possible for the Secretary of State to conduct, or assist by grants or otherwise any per son to conduct, research into any matters …" etc., relating to causation, diagnosis, and treatment. Subsection (2) says: "A Regional Hospital Board and a Board of Management shall have power to conduct …" etc. I should have thought that those powers covered local authorities also. Would they not?

Mr. Westwood

The local authorities did not think so. That is why I acceded to their wishes. I thought it was a reasonable request that they made. That is my reason for asking the Committee to accept the new Clause. Having the power to bring about co-ordination, I shall be in a position to avoid overlapping.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

I am still not convinced that these wide powers, in Clause 17, do not in fact cover the matter. The Clause says that the Regional Hospital Board and the Board of Management shall have power to conduct or assist by grants or otherwise any person to conduct research. … I see a certain danger of overlapping in this matter. The Secretary of State was careful to give us a somewhat detailed series of examples of the things he had in view, by which, I take it, he means technical inquiries of a nature to facilitate the carrying out of the duties of the authorities, to assist the conduct of research as appear to the authority desirable for purposes relating to their functions that is, limited to their functions. I feel that there is a certain amount of danger of local authorities beginning to think that, to be carrying out research has a certain amount of "snob" value, and that if they are not doing it, they are not really progressive local authorities. That would be very wrong. The real danger is that of a large number of authorities competing for the very limited number of persons who can carry out these researches. That may diminish the amount of valuable work done. The Secretary of State is taking this power upon himself, because he has the duty of assisting by grant any such activity carried out by the local authority.

5.0 P.m.

Mr. Westwood

There seems to be a slight misunderstanding. I am not taking these duties upon myself. They are duties, or work, to be carried through by the local authorities.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

The Secretary of State is taking the duties of co-ordination upon himself. He will have a very big job and he is extending it with every Amendment that he makes. I hope that he will take a serious view of his responsibilities under this Clause. The real danger is not that we may have more work done as a result of it, but that, by reason of the number of people competing, actually we may have less work done. As the Secretary of State has said, power has been granted to the local authorities under their education duties and it would be difficult to refuse them their powers in connection with this save that, of course, their main powers in connection with health services are being taken away from them by this Bill. They have clawed back this small piece from the Secretary of State though in fact it is only a small fraction of the main powers of supervising and tending the sick which they have already taken away. I think it is an inadequate exchange.

Mr. Henderson Stewart

I should have said myself that this was one of the very few cases in which I should have been justified in agreeing that the Secretary of State having powers. Under this Bill I think that he has far too many powers to interfere, to approve and to amend. But here I think it right that the Secretary of State should exercise an overall authority in connection with research. I think however that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) is absolutely right. He knows much more about this than most hon. Members. From the local authority point of view in Scotland in regard to this business of research, town councils and county councils have a sort of bee in their bonnets. I am a local authority man. I want local authorities to have all power but it is a dangerous thing for them to be able to sail blindly into any action in connection with research. It appears to me that a great deal of time might be wasted. I think that if the Secretary of State had put into Clause 17 in the fourth line, after the word "any" the words "local authority or" that would probably have done all that was necessary. The right hon. Gentleman realises our doubts; I do not know whether he feels disposed to satisfy us.

Mr. Westwood

I think that this way is the right one. If I had thought that the other way was the best, I would have come to the Committee and made a proposal of that kind. I have already pointed out that this proposal is made as a result of discussions with the local authorities. This is their desire. In many instances, we should not get results unless the local authorities were prepared to carry out investigations in connection with aftercare, and, so on. I am sure that they will do useful work. It will be my duty to see that there is no overlapping. I think this will serve a useful purpose.

Lord William Scott (Roxburgh and Selkirk)

Research work generally is rather expensive. I wish to make certain who will pay for the research work done by local authorities. If it is to be paid for locally, are the authorities likely to receive any assistance from the central fund?

Mr. Westwood

I have already pointed out that the reason why it was necessary for the Secretary of State to give approval for the actions taken under the Clause, was because the expenditure would rank for grant under Clause 51.

Mr. Spence (Aberdeen and Kincardine, Central)

I support the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart) in his suggestion that the Secretary of State might have rested on the powers he has under Clause 17. The introduction of this deliberate mention of local authorities in regard to carrying out research, will, in a sense, act as a stimulus to them. As the Secretary of State has consulted local authorities, it may be that he has some particular case in mind. If that is so, and if he would tell us what he has in mind, possibly it would make us all agreed on this point. Clause 17 gives him the fullest power to make grants to any person including the local authority. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Perhaps the Secretary of State would reply to the point and also to the other question which I have raised.

Mr. Westwood

I have already pointed out the type of service which was in our minds when we discussed this matter with the local authorities. I have mentioned research, including various forms of care or after-care services that may be provided by the local authority, and the child welfare centres. These were two illustrations of the type of work in connection with which they would like to have power to carry out research in order to enable them still more effectively to carry out the duties which devolve upon them under the Bill.

Sir W. Darling

I think that in recent years the word "research" has become like the word "Mesopotamia." It is almost impossible to say anything against research. Do not let the Committee be deceived. This research is concerned not only with child welfare. It is research in its widest sense. "Research" is not defined in the Bill. Any busybody who manages to impress a local authority can, possibly, induce the Secretary of State, as a result of clamour, to set up a wide far-reaching research of an uneconomic and wasteful character. Have we not already sufficient powers, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) has pointed out, under Clause 17? I am quite willing that the Secretary of State should have these powers in order to grant permission to any person to conduct research. I am willing that the regional hospital board and the board of management shall have these powers. They seem amply to cover the potentialities of the most eager researcher anywhere.

I understand the policy of giving in to the local authorities. Some local authorities, suffering from some refusal by the Secretary of State, seek the insertion of this Clause. This means that an infinite variety of persons, that any one of the local authorities in Scotland, can, by clamour, induce the Secretary of State to give authority to set up research which might be inexpensive in the beginning, but eventually far-reaching in its cost. I am all for research, but to allow anyone without let or hindrance to set up research is unfortunate. In the days when Scottish medical services were vigorous and energetic, if people wanted to do research, they backed it with their own money. This research is no longer to be backed by the money of the man who believes in it. It is now to be backed by the ratepayers' money. That is a very different business. The Committee should not be prepared to entrust this responsibility to almost any local authority to whom the idea occurred that they should set up research of some kind. In all local authorities there are persons who have a good deal of leisure, and who contribute a great deal to public affairs. This Clause will give such persons the opportunity to find a hobbyhorse and ride it if not to their own death, then to the death of the ratepayer. I do not think the Secretary of State should press this Clause, especially in view of the fact that he has ample powers already.

Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)

I think the hon. Member for South Edinburgh (Sir W. Darling) is presuming far too much upon the alleged irresponsibility of local authorities and of the Secretary of State for Scotland upon whom rests the final power to authorise this research. I should like the Secretary of State to tell us whether the rejection of this Clause would mean that certain research, already being carried out by local authorities, might have to stop.

Mr. Westwood


Mr. Ross

I ask hon. Members to consider the work which is being done by local authorities. It includes care and after-care of mothers and young children, home nursing, and health visiting. A certain amount of research is necessary in connection with these matters. It is research that comes, not by any new specially created body, but in the actual course of the work that the authorities are doing in both towns and rural areas. It is vital that this sort of research should be done, and I welcome the Clause.

Lieut.-Commander Clark Hutchison (Edinburgh, West)

I have had letters from the various associations of local authorities but I cannot recall any item in them dealing with research. Perhaps the Secretary of State would tell us whether the request for this Clause came from any particular association?

Mr. Westwood

It came as a result of discussion with representatives of local authorities. They were not discussions carried out in the ordinary way with those associations—

Lieut.-Commander Hutchison

Individual authorities?

Mr. Westwood

As a result of discussions. I am rather surprised by the line taken by the hon. Member for South Edinburgh (Sir W. Darling). I thought that he was just as keen on local authorities as I am. He seems not to have read this new Clause. It will be impossible for the local authorities, irrespective of what is said in Clause 17, to do anything they like. They must have the approval of the Secretary of State. I tried to point that out when I was moving the Clause. This safeguards the position in regard to the possibility of overlapping. I think that we have discussed the matter fully and that we are now justified in coming to a decision.

Colonel Gomme-Duncan (Perth and Kinross, Perth)

The hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. W. Ross) asked a question to which I think a reply should be given, because it would be useful to all hon. Members. He asked what research, which is not covered already by Clause 17, would suffer if the right hon. Gentleman did not get this new Clause.

5.15 p.m.

Mr. Westwood

That was not the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. W. Ross). His question was whether there was a possibility that research which is now being carried on by local authorities might be stopped. My answer was that it might. I still give the same answer. I cannot give details of what research is being carried out by certain local authorities; all I can say is that it might be stopped if we did not provide the power in this Clause. There is the additional fact that if they claim for research which is carried through, and the Secretary of State approves the claim, they will get grants, but I am not sure that they get any grant for any research at the present time.

Commander Galbraith

There is one point I want to have quite definitely cleared up in view of what has been said in relation to Clause 17. No doubt the right hon. Gentleman did not put m that Clause without having made full inquiry as to what is covered legally by the word "person." Does that cover a local authority? I should have thought they were legal persons as much as a limited company, and I would like to know if that is correct.

Mr. Westwood

My advice is that it was not covered, and therefore I had to bring in a new Clause to enable local authorities to carry through research with my approval, so as to avoid the possibility of overlapping in other spheres where research is being carried out. I was assured that Clause 17 did not cover what is now suggested in the new Clause I am asking the Committee to accept.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.