HC Deb 19 October 1949 vol 468 cc626-9

After subsection (7) of section forty-two of the Act of 1946 and subsection (7) of section forty-three of the Act of 1947 (which relates to the disqualification of practitioners), the following new subsection shall be inserted:— (8) In any regulations applying to persons undertaking to provide pharmaceutical services and relating to the investigation of complaints, the holding of inquiries or the making of appeals, where the circumstances appear to call in question the conduct of a pharmacist who is not himself a person undertaking to provide pharmaceutical services, provision shall be made for securing to that pharmacist the same opportunity of appearance audience, calling witnesses and producing evidence in relation to the complaint as is afforded under the preceding subsection to the person undertaking to provide pharmaceutical services."—[Mr Linstead.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Linstead

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

This Clause arises from a discussion in the Committee stage on an Amendment which I withdrew after hearing what the Minister had to say. One of the things which struck me, when listening to the discussion on the previous Clause, was the fact that we shall never get this Service running smoothly unless the Minister can carry with him all the professions and each of them as a whole.

This Clause deals with the pharmaceutical service. I am attempting to insert something which will help to establish the responsibility of pharmacists who are actually giving pharmaceutical services. It will be realised that there are many chemists' shops under the management of pharmacists which are not owned by pharmacists. Owing to the structure of the Service and the provisions of the parent Act, the contractor with the Minister in this case is not the pharmacist who is actually giving the service but the owner of the pharmacy. I believe that for a really healthy pharmaceutical service the more the Minister can bring in the pharmacist manager and make him feel he has a live responsibility for what goes on in the premises he manages, the better and fuller the service he will get.

I attempted to bring this about during the Committee stage by an Amendment which used a phrase that said that the Minister should be responsible for the service, but after discussion I realised that that was not the appropriate way of doing what I had in mind. Therefore, I have brought forward this Clause, which brings in all pharmacist managers by the provision that in the event of any complaint being made about the quality of the pharmaceutical service in a particular pharmacy, it shall not merely be the proprietor who shall be responsible to the committee but also the pharmacist manager. The present position is not satisfactory. If a complaint is made, the person who has to answer that complaint is the owner, not the man who gave the service and is responsible for what happened. It does not seem satisfactory that an owner of a business can go before the committee and give information which may involve the conduct of the manager without the manager knowing what is being said or having an opportunity of saying anything on his behalf.

It is provided here that where a complaint is made, notice of the complaint shall go to the responsible pharmacist as well as to the owner of the business, and that he shall have the same opportunities as the owner of attending before the committee. There can be no possible objection to this because it is only elementary justice. I have been a little surprised, however, to hear that quite recently some of the trade union representatives of the pharmacist managers do not consider this to be a useful provision. If I understand their position aright, they are rather lukewarm in their support and want something stronger to establish the position of the pharmacist managers. If the Minister can see his way to go at least as far as this, he will be doing something for the man who really gives the service, and I think the trade unions will realise that there is a substantial gain for their members.

Mr. Skinnard (Harrow, East)

I beg to second the Motion.

I support this Clause for reasons that are illustrative of the point raised by the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Linstead). The position of the qualified pharmacist manager is something that has caused a great deal of perturbation among pharmacists generally, because, as is well known, it may be that a qualified pharmacist runs the National Health Service side of a business which is owned by someone who has no professional qualifications whatever. When an inquiry takes place on a complaint, it is obvious that the proprietor of any business must be called to account, because he is responsible for the employee, but the employed person may have a professional responsibility which is wider than his position as an employee.

While this Clause is a safeguard for the qualified pharmacist against whom a complaint is made, it does not safeguard his position in other respects. It is for that reason that their representative organisations are lukewarm towards this piece of justice to the qualified man vis-à-vis his unqualified employer. One small doubt exists in my mind. I am wondering whether it is absolutely essential to obtain the safeguard we seek by means of a Clause in a Bill and whether this could not be done more simply and effectively by way of regulation. I am sure that the Minister will inform us about that. I think that the position which has been moderately stated by the hon. Member for Putney is worthy of consideration and feel sure that my right hon. Friend will be sympathetic.

Mr. Bevan

I have very great sympathy for the intention that lies behind this Clause. The position is a simple one. The company will be in contact with the executive council for the supply of drugs. There may be a complaint by the executive council against the company. The case may be heard by the executive council, although in fact the concrete complaint might lie against the employee who will not have been heard by the committee making the investigation. The purpose is that the individual whose professional character or industry may have been called into question shall have an opportunity to defend himself before a decision is reached. I am in entire sympathy with that, but I suggest that a Clause in a Bill is an extremely ambitious vehicle to convey what can be done much better by regulation, which I propose so to do.

Mr. Scollan

I belong to a trade union which caters for pharmacists and chemists. Is there no right of representation when there is any question involving the integrity or ability of a particular chemist?

7.0 p.m.

Mr. Bevan

If he is in direct contract with the executive council he would normally be heard, because the charge would lie against him. If he has an employee who is involved, the employee would be heard under the regulation.

Mr. Scollan

With no trade union representation on his behalf?

Mr. Bevan

Yes, I am prepared to make a provision either for him to be heard himself or through a person he might nominate.

Mr. Linstead

I am grateful for what the Minister has said, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.