HC Deb 29 January 1948 vol 446 cc1203-5

The following Question stood upon the Order Paper in the name of Mr. TIFFANY:

140. To ask the Minister of Health whether he is aware of the nature of the plebiscite in which doctors are being asked to participate, in regard to the National Health Service Act; and if he has any statement to make.

The Minister of Health (Mr. Aneurin Bevan)

With the permission of the House, I will reply to Question No. 140.

I understand that each doctor has to sign his name on the voting paper, with his address and professional particulars, and that the Association conducting the ballot is itself engaged in a campaign to induce the doctor to vote one way. This House may well feel that this procedure is a long way removed from the secret ballot and the workings of democracy as we know it in this country and that it is bound to cast doubt on the validity of the result.

Mr. Somerville Hastings

Will my right hon. Friend take steps to see that all the doctors concerned have knowledge of what he has just told the House?

Mr. Bevan

The doctors, of course, will be informed when they receive the plebiscite form itself, because there they will see that it is not a secret vote but an open ballot.

Mr. Baird

As the doctors seem to be taking the law into their own hands in this matter, does not my right hon. Friend think that this House should have an opportunity of expressing its views on this attempted blackmail?

Mr. Bevan

This is a question which ought properly to be addressed either to the Prime Minister or to the Leader of the House, because it involves procedure and giving an opportunity for debate. As far as I am concerned, the Government's case is so strong that I should welcome an opportunity of deploying it.

Mr. Churchill

There is no compulsion, of course, on any medical man to take any notice of this paper unless he likes.

Mr. Bevan

None at all, as I understand it but, of course, open votes of this description always give rise to the possibility of intimidation.

Mr. Churchill


Mr. Bevan

It was because open votes of this sort were removed from our constitutional practice that the secret ballot was established. Fear of intimidation is the reason for the secret ballot.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

Is that the reason why—

Hon. Members


Dr. Stross

In view of the great importance of this matter to everyone, may I ask the Leader of the House, in his presence, whether he will not now give us an early date so that we shall have an opportunity of debating the matter?

Mr. Speaker

I must point out here that there must be responsibility of a Minister, and a Minister is not responsible for the form in which this ballot has gone out. Therefore, a debate is rather difficult on this aspect.

Colonel Stoddart-Scott

Why should signing a ballot form invalidate a vote? In the university elections a voter signs a ballot form. Any doctor, whether he is a member of the B.M.A. or not, and I myself am not, has no need to vote unless he wishes and, if he does not wish to sign his ballot form, he need not do so. Therefore I do not see that it makes any difference whether one signs it or not.

Mr. Sydney Silverman

Is there not all the difference in the world between signing a ballot paper in a university election, where the university takes no part in the election and is indifferent to the result, and signing a ballot paper to be sent to an Association which has already taken sides, indicated a preference, and hopes for a result?

Mr. Speaker

That would seem to be a little hypothetical. The point has been made, and I should think we had better leave it at that now.

Mr. Gallacher

May I put a point to the Minister?

Mr. Speaker

My decision was that we should carry on with the next business.

Mr. Tiffany

On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker, may I point out that I put down this Question on the Order Paper and have had no opportunity of putting a supplementary question?

Mr. Speaker

If the hon. Gentleman wishes to put a supplementary, seeing that he put the Question down, I am prepared to allow it.

Mr. Tiffany

May I ask the Minister whether this form of taking a plebiscite is not reminiscent of prewar Germany, and should we not place the same value on the results of the election as we did upon those?