HC Deb 12 June 1947 vol 438 cc1452-6

Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [9th June], "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

Question again proposed.

9.2 p.m.

The Minister of Health (Mr. Aneurin Bevan)

I think it unnecessary for me to repeat what I said the other evening. Owing to an inadvertence, we did not get the Second Reading, although I believe it was the intention of hon. Members in all parts of the House to let us have a non-contentious Second Reading of this important Bill.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Milner)

The right hon. Gentleman ought to ask leave of the House to speak again.

Mr. Bevan

Of course, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I can speak only with the leave of the House and I do not propose to make my speech over again; otherwise I should once more be guilty of repetition. However, I commend the Bill to the House. Hon. Members who spoke on the last occasion all said that they agreed with the principle of the Bill, though there may be one or two points with which we shall have to deal in Committee and, as I indicated on that occasion, I have already agreed to certain Amendments which I hope will satisfy some hon. Members in all parts of the House who think the Bill can be improved. I hope, therefore, that the House will give the Bill a Second Reading without much ado.

9.4 P.m.

Mr. E. P. Smith

I rise again—this time at the appropriate moment—with the intention of making a few remarks in regard to what the right hon. Gentleman has justly called this important Bill. I do so for two reasons: the first is because I think the Government were amiss in allocating only a bare half hour, which eventually turned out to be 29 minutes, for the Second Reading. Secondly, because I did put down and move a Prayer against Statutory Rule and Order No. 731 of 1946 which this Bill seeks to supersede. On that occasion, although I furnished the Ministry of Supply with the points I wished to raise beforehand, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Supply came down to the House so badly briefed that he was unable seriously to answer the points I raised, and he returned no adequate reply to my considered objections. I had hoped that the Minister of Health might have condescended to read my remarks on that occasion, and to inform his mind with regard to my views on the subject. I am not unlike Mrs. Caudle who said: It's seldom I open my mouth, goodness knows! But when I do, I expect you, Mr. Caudle, to flatter me with a little attention. Alas, the right hon. Gentleman is not unlike: the deaf adder who stoppeth her ears, because this particular Bill enshrines the very points to which I took objection in the original Order. I do not object to the control of penicillin. I think it has been clearly demonstrated, particularly in regard to the comparatively new discovery of "penicillin resistance," that a control is necessary. But I object very much to Clause 2 (1), where it states: The substances to which this Act applies are penicillin and such other anti-microbial organic substances produced by living organisms as may be prescribed by regulations made by the Minister of Health…. I regard that as an omnibus Clause, and I am, as I think the House knows, very strongly opposed to omnibus Clauses. It gives the Minister power to control substances which at present may not even have been discovered. He arrogates to himself the powers of a god, and that really is something which no human being should ever do. My main objections to the Bill are objections which, perhaps, I may describe as being of technical prin- ciple. First, the Bill limits the use of penicillin to, amongst others, a duly qualified medical practitioner. What is a duly qualified medical practitioner"? Now, the normal man would say that a duly qualified medical practitioner is a doctor who holds certain medical degrees and busies himself with the practice of medicine. But that is not what the law says. The law says that a duly qualified medical practitioner is a person registered under the Medical Practitioners Act, 1858. The Medical Practitioners Act, 1858, is a dreary and desolate legislative wilderness, as anyone can discover who has taken the trouble to study it as I have done. Therefore, in this Bill, it is really a question primarily of his registration, and only secondarily of his qualifications. The term "a duly qualified medical practitioner" is verbally a misnomer because a medical practitioner who happens to have been struck off the Register by the General Medical Council cannot dispense penicillin, however duly qualified he may be in regard to his medical degrees and his personal skill.

I would point out that this Bill will personally affect me very adversely because in the matter of doctors I am essentially politic. I observe three rules in regard to them. I make it a rule, first of all, never to employ a family or personal physician. I employ a doctor by the simple combination of two things, first of all, a relative knowledge of my own symptoms, and secondly, my knowledge of various doctors by the results they have achieved. If I happen to be mildly ill, I always call in one of the local medicos. I keep a list of them; and I call them in in turn. It is a practice which I commend to all Members of this House. Doctors are excellent missionaries, and if one has six missionaries working for one, they are better than one. I do that in my capacity as constituency politician.

But if I believe, or have reason to believe, that I am seriously ill, I invariably call in a doctor who has been struck off the Medical Register—for very practical reasons, because he or she cannot sign my death certificate. He or she cannot avoid the consequences of any mistake they may have made in regard to my case by the simple expedient of having me quietly buried or cremated, and sending a floral tribute for the decoration of my coffin. They are as much, and indeed more, interested in my survival than I am. That is what a doctor should be. I applaud the custom of the ancient Chinese, who paid their doctors while they were well, and expected their doctors to pay them while they were ill. Therefore, I strongly object to this provision, which will prevent me, when I am seriously ill, from receiving the benefits of penicillin.

In the matter of doctors who have been struck off the Medical Register, I am somewhat in the position of the Mahatma Ghandi in regard to the Untouchables; and I regard this as a most disagreeable manifestation of the principle of the "Closed Shop," which as such ought not to be passed by this House. I would point out, rather more seriously perhaps, that this disqualification does not simply apply to doctors who have been struck off the Register for some allegedly unprofessional conduct. It applies—and I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to direct his attention to this point—to doctors who have resigned, for quite other and often perfectly proper and public reasons, from the Medical Register. Indeed, my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Pudsey and Otley (Colonel Stoddart-Scott), who is well known as a great physician, is, I believe, a living example of this particular type. This Bill cuts him off from a supply of penicillin, which is altogether too absurd to be countenanced by the House. That is my first technical objection to this Bill.

My second objection is that under Clause 1 (2, f) any Minister of the Crown, irrespective of his personal knowledge or qualifications, may obtain an unlimited supply of penicillin. Let me take the example of the right hon. and learned Attorney-General, who can get all the penicillin he wants, although I have yet to learn that it is an adequate remedy for which I believe the average British housewife, who has not a very subtle knowledge of Greek, would probably translate as "arrogance." I know it is a ridiculous instance but I could multiply it, and I have taken it purposely because I believe that one cannot conscientiously examine and criticise a Bill unless one has recourse to the age-old principle of reductio ad absurdum. It is a fact that what we are doing is allowing the Attorney-General under this Bill to acquire all the penicillin he might fancy he wants, whereas my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Pudsey and Otley, a qualified doctor of great experience, will not be allowed to have any at all.

Dr. Haden Guest (Islington, North)

The hon. and gallant Member for Pudsey and Otley (Colonel Stoddart-Scott) can obtain all the penicillin he wants merely by requesting that his name be put back on the Register.

Mr. Smith

I understand that my hon. and gallant Friend specifically resigned from the Register because he felt that, occupying the public position which he does, he ought not to remain upon the Register—a consideration which does not influence, probably quite rightly, my hon. Friend opposite. I seriously contend that in regard to these points this Bill is very badly drafted and ought not to pass the House in its present form. I contend that the draftsmanship of a Bill should be able to pinpoint with tolerable accuracy and perspicuity the various interests specifically affected. I contend that the Bill before us fails lamentably to do this.

Probably the only Minister of the Crown who really fitted to have control of penicillin is the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food I have been looking her up in "Who's Who"; but "Who's Who" is relatively silent with regard to her qualifications. I cannot suppose her however, to be a very good doctor for, if she were, how come she to be a Member of a transitory and unsatisfactory Government when she might be employing her healing arts for the benefit of mankind? I think I have shown cause, for two very vital reasons, why this Bill ought not to pass without some much more satisfactory explanation than we have had so far from the Minister, although he has actually spoken twice on the subject; and if the matter is pressed to a Division, I shall on those points, and those alone most certainly vote against it.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House for Monday next.—[Mr. Snow.]

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