HC Deb 04 November 1949 vol 469 cc790-3

12.15 p.m.

Mr. Blenkinsop

I beg to move, in page 5, line 3, to leave out "members of the Council," and to insert: such number of persons, being members of the Council, as may be prescribed by rules made by the Council under subsection (1) of section three of the Act of 1919 and such persons other than members of the Council (not exceeding two in number) as may be nominated by the Minister, after consultation with the Council, for appointment to the committee. This Amendment is moved to meet the point raised by hon. Members opposite who were anxious that this finance committee should have a proper standing. It has already been made a statutory committee of the Council, and it was felt that there should be some power in the hands of the Minister, which also may be desired by the General Nursing Council, for the appointment of a strictly limited number of additional persons who might have special qualifications to sit on that committee.

We do not feel that it should be made obligatory that the appointments should be made. We think this is a matter which can far better be settled by mutual discussion between the General Nursing Council and the Minister, but we feel it would be helpful if my right hon. Friend had this power to appoint, because it may be valuable on both sides, and indeed, it may very well be desired by the General Nursing Council. At the same time, we are anxious that this should not affect the standing of the General Nursing Council itself, and we have therefore tried to steer a middle course between the two difficulties.

Mr. Linstead

I welcome this Amendment, which substantially reproduces an Amendment submitted by me in the Committee stage. I recognise that in the Amendment now before us the Minister has been treading very delicately, but I also notice a rather unusual form. It is the Minister who nominates and the Council which appoints; it must be very rare in a statute to find it that way round. It is much more frequently the case that a body nominates and the Minister appoints. I notice the hesitation of the Minister about making the appointments, and the suggestion that it may not be necessary to make them. I hope they will be made, particularly in the early stages when the whole of this new financial machine is being put to the test.

The assistance of people from outside the Council with experience of financial matters might be valuable. I believe that this is a step in the right direction, which recognises that a Council constituted for this purpose is not necessarily the right body for the financial task now given to it; and that consideration alone makes it desirable that these appointments should be made, particularly in the early stages.

Mr. Diamond

I am very sorry indeed that my hon. Friend has moved this Amendment, because I am sure that it will have the effect which is not desired, of discouraging a number of very busy people who are to be asked to take on very large additions to their work but who are already in a position of some difficulty because of the weight of their responsibilities. I do not know why it is necessary to put down an Amendment to enable the Minister to supplement the abilities of the General Nursing Council so far as finance is concerned and in carrying out duties which the Council will be fully capable of executing.

If it is said that the Council is incapable of carrying out these extended functions, then I would say "Do not give them these functions." If it is not seriously doubted that they can do the job, then let them get on with it. Do not let us have an appointment made from outside at a time when, if a decision is reached, it may not perhaps be in accordance with the views of a particular Minister at the particular time. I appreciate what my hon. Friend has said, and that he has tried to tread extremely warily and delicately in this matter.

Of course, there arise occasions when a body of persons finds itself without the expert opinion which is needed for a particular purpose. That must happen to everyone in every walk of life. The obvious thing is then to consult an expert in that particular field. I am sure that my hon. Friend would not find it necessary to appoint to the General Nursing Council an architect, a statistician, a lawyer, a surveyor or members of other professions, of which, of course, I omit an obvious one. I am sure that he would not find it necessary to appoint all these individuals to this Council although, of course, it does happen that the Council is continually in need of that sort of professional advice.

Therefore, I hope that my hon. Friend and the House will feel satisfied that where a particular matter requires such expert, detailed knowledge, the Council is capable of consulting the appropriate professional adviser in the ordinary way. This is a reserve power, and to have a reserve of power is in the nature of a threat.

Mr. Blenkinsop

indicated dissent.

Mr. Diamond

The hon. Gentleman shakes his head—and for the purposes of HANSARD, I should make it clear that the Parliamentary Secretary shakes his head as meaning "No." I am sure that is the way in which this might be read. It is obviously an indication that this House does not feel that this body should carry out its new functions with its own members. If the fear is felt that this body cannot carry out the new functions, let us say that these functions should not be carried out by this body, and do not let us try to do these two things which cannot be reconciled.

I think this is bad in principle because of the discouragement and because of this veiled threat, but threat none the less. I think that it is also bad in practice because, of course, it will mean that, instead of having one finance committee to deal with the affairs of the Council, we shall have two finance committees, because there exists at the moment a finance committee which finds its time taken up with the existing financial affairs of the Council. If two outside members are appointed, we shall require a separate committee to deal with this particular finance, and a separate finance committee to deal with the ordinary domestic finance of the Council.

In its most convenient form we should have the two committees following on one another, and at the time the second committee was called, the two members appointed under this Clause would retire and the remaining members would carry on. For that reason, and bearing in mind that one can never get a part which is greater than the whole, and that this is supposed to be a committee of the Council, the council itself should have the final decision, and will have the final decision. If it ever arises that on the votes of these two outside experts the finance committee's decision is different from what it would otherwise have been, that decision will, of course, only last until the Council meets, because the General Nursing Council will immediately reverse the decision of the finance committee.

In conclusion, I say that this is bad in principle and will be ineffective in practice. I sincerely ask my hon. Friend not only to give this matter further consideration but to say that, in view of the strong feeling on this side of the House so far as the Nursing Council is concerned, it is better that this slight threat and delicately worded Amendment should not be pressed.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendments made: In page 5, line 4, leave out subsection (2) and insert: (2) The term of office of the members of the finance committee shall be such as may be prescribed as aforesaid.

In line 10, leave out "standing," and insert "area."—[Mr. Blenkinsop.]