§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot (Glasgow, Kelvingrove)
I beg to move,That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, praying that the Order in Council, dated 29th January, 1951, entitled the Transfer of Functions (Minister of Health and Minister of Local Government and Planning) (No. 1) Order, 1951 (S.I., 1951, No. 142), a copy of which was laid before this House on 29th January, be annulled.We have to speak tonight under the conditions of a Prayer, but it covers a very wide field. Would it be possible, Sir, for you to give any Ruling as to the extent to which the debate might run?
§ Mr. Speaker
I am the servant of the House and I must see that the rules of the House are obeyed. A debate on a Statutory Instrument or on a Motion to annul it, commonly called a Prayer, is limited strictly to the contents of the Instrument. It is not permissible to suggest or to discuss alternative ways by which the objects of the Instrument might have been achieved. I know perfectly well that there has been some desire to discuss whether it was constitutional to change these functions by an order and not by an Act of Parliament, but that of course is, clearly, absolutely out of order on a Prayer, and I could not possibly allow discussion on that subject.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
We are much obliged to you, Sir, and I am sure that we shall be able to have a useful debate within the limits under which we have to work. As for the first point, it is, of course, clearly within the four corners of the Act that this change should be made, and I do not think that any of us would attempt to argue as to the legality of the step. As to the wisdom or the desirability of the step by this procedure, we may have two views, which may appear in the course of our discussion.
The purpose of the Order is undoubtedly a wide purpose. It is to change the title of the Minister of Town and Country Planning to the Minister of Local Government and Planning and to transfer to him all the functions of the Minister of Health except the actual administration of the National Health Services, the compilation of the vital statistics, the supervision of the welfare services and a measure of general oversight of the health 1538 of the people. The functions which are being transferred, which are set out in the Explanatory Note, are, therefore, primarily the whole of the functions of the Ministry of Health before the National Health Service was set up.
Nobody could deny that this is a major re-organisation. The questions which we have to discuss are whether it is a good organisation and whether this is the best way to achieve the re-organisation. It is the clear desire of all of us to discuss, as far as we may, these great changes with as much freedom and latitude as is possible. Speaking on behalf of myself and my hon. and right hon. Friends, we desire so to approach it, and not to divide upon this Motion. We put down the Motion as a Motion to annul, because that is the only way in which the matter can be raised in the House—and it is clearly to the advantage of all of us that the matter should be raised. I do not suggest that the House should tonight demand that this step should be retraced; we wish to examine it on its merits.
As I have said, this is a question, first, of the re-organisation itself, and second, of the way in which it is being done. These two things are very closely bound up with each other. The question of the procedure by order and whether it would be satisfactory or not was discussed by the House at considerable length when the Act under which we are now operating was introduced on 25th January, 1946. It was introduced by the Lord President of the Council, whom we are glad to see here tonight and who, I take it, will be leading from the Government side in this discussion because, as the Ministers themselves are concerned, it would be a somewhat invidious task for them to defend their promotion, or demotion as the case may be.
The proposition that this procedure under which we are operating tonight might be appropriate was conceded on both sides of the House for certain cases and at certain times, in war-time or for use for periods of very exceptional pressure. It was considered that there should be examination ad hoc, but, as a suitable method of dealing with major changes when there was no special Parliamentary pressure, as far as I could gather from carefully reading the debate that was not stressed even by the Government.
1539 The Solicitor-General, in fact, spoke at some length on the Bill on more than one occasion. On the Second Reading he said:I can conceive of all sorts of functions of a minor character which it will be necessary from time to time to re-allocate as between one Minister and another. To give the House a kind of example I have in mind, let us take the Home Office which has a number of functions under the Factory Acts and similar Acts. They are functions of importance, but they are minor when considered in relation to the big tasks which the Government have to undertake. If some such functions are to be transferred from one Minister to another, it is a minor administrative proceeding, and to make it subject to affirmative Resolution would be to attribute to it an importance with which it should not be vested."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th January, 1946; Vol. 498, c. 486.]I think there would be general agreement on that point, but, as I say, this is not a question of a minor transfer of certain functions from the Home Office.
On the Committee stage the Solicitor-General said:It is only the case, normally, of a transfer of comparatively minor function independently of the dissolution of a Department in which a negative Resolution is provided for in the Bill."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th February, 1946; Vol. 418, c. 1394.]But the negative Resolution is what we are operating under tonight.
§ Mr. Speaker
May I say a word of warning because there is a Ruling that Orders in Council being made under the Act of Parliament, one must not criticise the parent Act of Parliament which this House has passed. Therefore, one cannot criticise the action, which I understand is perfectly correct, of making this Order.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
No, Mr. Speaker, I would not for a moment attempt to do so. I am merely indicating that the procedure which was envisaged by the Minister at the time, was a procedure relating to a narrower set of orders because the Bill gives power to proceed either by an affirmative Resolution, or a negative Resolution. I submit, with all respect, that it would have been competent for the Government to have proceeded either by affirmative or negative Resolution.
§ Mr. Pickthorn (Carlton)
On that point of order. I respectfully hope I can understand, but I do not quite follow what comes next. It surely cannot be the rule, Sir, that anything which is intra 1540 vires in a Statutory Instrument within the powers of the statute, is thereby out of the purview of criticism for being excessive or unexpected, or what not.
§ Mr. Speaker
No, certainly not, but in the proper way and one cannot do it under a Prayer. If one wanted to do it I should have thought the simple way was to put down a Motion objecting to these powers. In my opinion that would have been the proper way of doing it.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
Yes, Sir. We are most anxious to remain narrowly within your Ruling, because even within it I think we may have a most useful discussion. We have subsequently to go to a wider and more generous Parliamentary occasion, but the first occasion when this comes up for discussion is when the executive act is being taken under the Act, and it would be wrong if we did not bring to the notice of the House of Commons what we are doing tonight.
In the earlier debate the Lord President of the Council spoke at some length of the desirability of the procedure as enabling him to change ministerial titles, and deplored the new titles. On this occasion I think the Government have been responsible for a very poor title. I do not think that the title in this order,The Minister of Local Government and Planning.has worked out very well. To begin with I do not think that "Minister of Local Government" is a very good term. It would be very much better to say "Minister for Local Government." Also, as the words "Town and Country" are being left out, this is left as the only planning Ministry in the whole Government and that seems a bit of a reflection on the others, as it seems to suggest that it is the only Ministry which is taking thought for tomorrow, what it shall eat, what it shall drink and wherewithal it shall be clothed. The Biblical stricture there, was not meant to apply to the Government and this stricture is one which I do not think the other Ministers generally deserve.
I can imagine, as we all can, that even in peace-time periods of intense Parliamentary pressure, where events themselves would compel a very hasty procedure, there might be a legitimate use of such steps as these. But no one can contend 1541 that conditions such as that exist now. Parliament is almost looking for work and leisurely progress is being made on Bills such as the Leasehold Property (Temporary Provisions) Bill or the Salmon and Fresh Water Fisheries (Protection) (Scotland) Bill which is more reminiscent of the fish moving languidly downstream after spawning than an upward rush in eager anticipation of every kind of fulfilment. No, I do not think urgency can be pleaded.
A highly technical Measure where public consideration cannot really help might be an occasion for the use of these powers, but the mere recitation of the functions we are discussing shows how desirable it is to have a wider discussion, such as I hope we shall be able to have at a later date. But we discuss these things now under narrow limits and we are about to discuss the transfer of functions of local government, of rating, of valuation, of public health, of housing and of rent control. These are things which intimately touch the daily lives of every one of us and I have named only a few.
Some of these matters are overdue for attention and I would ask the Government, first, if it is their belief that by this procedure these matters will be attended to more speedily. Does the Minister hope, for instance, that he will be able to give more immediate attention to the problem of rent control? The provisions of these statutes are admittedly chaotic and reminiscent of the jungle. If he can promise us that as a result of the steps he is now taking he will proceed to rapid dealing with these matters that would be a strong reason for the step he is now taking.
Is the progress of housing to be accelerated by this change? It is going from one Minister to another. Will this accelerate the progress of housing or cheapen the cost? If he can say that, I am sure the House will be very greatly indebted to him. Then there is the problem of local government. The innumerable changes which are necessary to keep even the boundaries of local authorities responsive to the changes have been frozen. Are these to be thawed? Is it possible that this will enable a loosening up of that very tight freeze which was intimated by the Minister of Health when we previously discussed these matters? Is that to be loosened?
1542 Those are among the things which obviously must be in the mind of the Government when taking this step. Because they are not taking it simply for the purpose of carrying some powers from one Department and putting them in another. Nor would I for a moment suggest that it was for the purpose of internal agreement or the arrangement of powerful Ministers. It must be for the public good, and we are anxious to know what is the aspect of public good which the Minister thinks will be most forwarded by the step he is now taking.
The Minister of Health was, so to speak, the successor to the former President of the Local Government Board, and the former Minister of Health ruled over a domain rather like the old Empire of Austro-Hungary. It was amorphous and everyone criticised it. But, above all people, the Minister of Local Government and Planning would agree that when it was abolished, or, rather, dismembered, it was found that the new boundaries were just as inconvenient as the old. They were not all transferred. Austria was left. Even so, the re-distribution was widely criticised; it was widely contended that the leaving of the old Austria was the leaving of a head without a body.
I would not suggest that that comparison applies in the case of the new Minister, but I think he finds himself ruling over a domain substantially diminished. I think that for him and his able Parliamentary Secretary this "load shedding" has resulted in leaving these powerful dynamos spinning in the air. Either they are capable of absorbing a great deal more work or else they have been very over-worked in the past; and in the case of the present Parliamentary Secretary of the former Minister of Health none of us could find signs of the crushed and broken man which one would have expected in such circumstance.
It sounds a very reasonable thing to say, "Let health be health. What has it to do with local government or housing?" But immediately the tuberculosis services rise everywhere and say, "Housing and tuberculosis are so closely connected that a positive sputum is almost the only passport to rapid re-housing."
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
And not always that, but I am sure the hon. Member will 1543 not deny that the curative services are closely linked with the preventive services and will remain so linked. This divides them to some extent.
I am speaking as to whether this Order should remain in force or whether it should be annulled. As the Lord President will know better than any other, this is a very old history. It goes back to 1834 when the Chadwick Reports were coming out. They led to the first Board of Health. It was set up in 1848, but because it was not in close touch with the public and with Parliament its powers were stripped from it in 1854. In 1858 it was subject to exactly the same sort of reorganisation as we are now discussing, and the powers divided between the Home Office and the Privy Council—both of them offices which the Lord President has held in his time.
That did not get rid of the problem. Back came the epidemics. There was a Royal Commission in 1868 and the great Act of 1871 and that founded the Local Government Board once more with health powers. Again, in 1919, the Ministry of Health added to the preventive powers the actual care of sickness under the National Insurance Act, 1911. It was the work of great civil servants and. if I may say so, of great statesmen. It was the work of the late Mr. Lloyd George; it was the work of the present Lord Addison; it was the work of Lord Rhondda and great civil servants such as Morant. It is very interesting to note that Morant said at the time that the advocates of a special ad hoc body for health work laid too much stress on treatment to the neglect of preventive medicine. We are moving along that road tonight. Let us beware, and take note of the advice given us by great men in the past.
Morant wanted the body responsible for the treatment of disease to be the same as the body responsible for preventing it. It may be that under pressure of work this severance has to be made, but it is the severance of two things which naturally go together, and it is a severance fraught with danger. How does the Minister propose, under this set-up, to ensure a connection between those two sides of the treatment of a sick person or of a person who may 1544 be sick? As I pointed out in that short historical sketch, this problem has recurred for more than a century. When we have dealt with them by dividing them we have been forced to bring these powers together again.
The care of the sick is now, for the first time for many years, out of the Cabinet. Even the Haldane Committee, when it suggested 10 main divisions of Government, named health as one of them; but, as a result of this Order which we are now passing, health—let us face it—becomes a Ministry of the second rank. That is recognised by the fact that it is dropped from the Cabinet. Or rather, it is not entirely dropped. Scottish health is left in the Cabinet; English health is left out. That may be satisfactory or it may not, but these are points which I think the Minister should explain when he is justifying this Order to the House.
Health is, of course, to some extent connected also with the Welsh Board of Health. I understand that the right hon. Gentleman has had some talk with the Welsh Members and we shall be glad to have it on record so far as this House is concerned. He was good enough to give me some indication of the conversations he had had; and I gather that the head of the Welsh Board of Health will be, so to speak, a dual purpose officer and responsible for two Ministers. I have had some experience of this and we have had this tried before. The Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Health shared a dual purpose officer in Newman, but I cannot say that it was always entirely satisfactory.
In fact, we are drawing a new frontier across an indefinite region and I do not deny that wherever we put the frontier there will be some difficulty. But this is an attempt to draw a new frontier, and that is why we ask the House tonight to consider it from the point of view of a review, an investigation. We are not asking them to come to a decision as to what should be the actual frontier which is to be drawn, because there is another whole kingdom, the proper use of land which was the raison d'etre for the setup of the Ministry of Town and Country Planning of which the right hon. Gentleman was previously the head.
I do not need to stress, nor does anybody, the enormous importance of the 1545 right use of land in this tiny island, where it is continually being encroached on for one purpose or another; and where, for the purposes of agriculture the use of land is becoming of ever greater importance every year, one might almost say every month that passes.
There is certainly, among my hon. Friends, uneasiness about the change which is being made here. Town and Country Planning was formerly in the Ministry of Health, but it was taken out. The purpose, as I understood it at the time, was that it was to be an arbitrator. Now it is taken down from the bench and it is put at the bar. Another place is accustomed to the Lord Chancellor stepping away from the Woolsack and joining in its debates, sometimes taking a strong partisan line; but I am sure that hon. Members will agree that that is not our practice in this House, and that it might lead to uneasiness about the exact position of Mr. Speaker when he was giving a delicate Ruling.
Agriculture is now outside, and housing is inside. It may well be that this can be worked, but it will require careful adjustment. The disappearance of the Minister from the position of an arbiter, and his appearance as the Minister responsible for great executive action such as is implicit in the housing programme, will undoubtedly lead to a certain feeling of uneasiness on the part of agriculturists. Of course, it may lead to uneasiness the other way round. Some of my hon. Friends thought that, previously, housing received rather cavalier treatment. I should have thought that the position of Town and Country Planning in the new set-up will be rather difficult.
The next point is that inevitably there has been a profound upheaval. Only those who have worked inside these great Departments know how profound the upheaval is when a redistribution of functions takes place with a re-grading of great civil servants. Until the tool is made the work cannot proceed, and the tool is now being made again. Like Siegfried's sword, it has been smashed up and is now being forged again; but that takes up quite a part of the opera. Until this has been done, there is no suggestion that Siegfried is going out to look for dragons or anything else. Sir William Douglas, a great civil servant with whom I have worked in more than one office, 1546 is, we are told, to retire at a date to be announced as soon as the arrangements for the reconstitution of the Ministry of Health have been completed. Can the Minister tell us when that will be? The official announcement has been give out, so that it must be envisaged at a comparatively early date. Until these arrangements for the reconstitution of the Ministry of Health have been completed, it is impossible for administration to proceed with that vigorous and clockwork smoothness which is such a feature of our Civil Service.
Local government has been stripped of a number of its powers on previous occasions, and we are anxious to know how it will stand under the new set-up. It lost health powers under the National Health Service Act, 1946, and it has lost police, fire service, electricity, gas and public assistance. All these functions have been removed from it. We fear lest it will slip into a secondary place here. Again, we ask whether the Minister can tonight give some assurance that, at a fairly early date, some adumbration will be given by the Government of their intentions towards local government and that their attitude towards the problem of the reform of local government will be laid before the House.
These are matters which cut across party lines. I do not go so far as the previous Minister of Health, who said that under present conditions no Minister of Health would bring forward any proposals for local government reform unless he was prepared to enter into a long exile in foreign parts. Naturally, that is the last thing that the Minister of Health wished, and he did not bring forward any such proposals. But under this new set-up perhaps it will be possible. Or is it likely that local government will continue to slip away from the many, many problems which are now becoming so urgent as to brook no great delay?
The recent rise in the rates is a very disquieting fact, and whoever is in charge of the forthcoming valuation will find it a problem fraught with political danger to those nominally responsible for it. I notice that the Government have looked the matter boldly in the face and passed by on the other side for the time being. I trust that it will be possible for the Minister to give some indication as to how soon it might be possible for some 1547 advance to be made towards the problem of the reform of local government. How soon may that be expected?
§ The Lord President of the Council (Mr. Herbert Morrison)
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman will get me ruled out of order.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
I will leave that entirely to the Chair. I should not think that the Chair would be harsh upon a Minister seeking to grapple with a problem obviously of such interest to all concerned. The terms of this Order are certainly succinct enough. Here is an Order which says that it was made on 29th January, 1951; laid before Parliament on 29th January. 1951; and is coming into operation on 30th January, 1951. Nobody believes that it is so operating. This is a problem on which public opinion demands to have some say. The House itself, by its debate tonight, will mould the character of the reforms which are taking place.
This is the sort of problem where the opinion of everyone is of interest and, it may be, of great importance. As previous history has shown, unless one can carry the public with one, the machine by itself cannot carry out the duties which are laid upon it. I would say that these changes represent an endeavour towards the reorganisation of what I might call home affairs. In that reorganisation we consider that free discussion should, and must, play a vital part. The argument is not nearly at its end. We do not wish to try to stifle it here at its beginning.
For that reason, I hope that we shall have not only as wide a debate as the rules of order permit, but that none of us will feel himself fettered by party lines. Tonight the House is an anvil, not an arena. It is hammering out new problems, and I trust that it will look upon itself, I will not say as a Council of State, but as an assembly of honest workmen trying to do their best to improve the position of one of the great achievements of our people—the achievement of local government and the great services which have been part of local government for so many years. I trust that the Minister will be able to give the House a lead on these matters tonight, for certainly, so far, the House and the country are still considerably in the dark about what is 1548 to be done, or what is intended to be done, by the changes set out in this Order. 7.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Messer (Tottenham)
I am sure that the House will agree that the speech to which we have just listened from the right hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) was very interesting. I am not sure that we got a lot of information from it, but it was interesting because it called upon the Minister to give us more information, and I join with the right hon. and gallant Gentleman in wanting satisfaction myself about certain of these services.
I suppose every reasonable man will agree, that the wide expansion of services has thrown upon the Ministry of Health an immense amount of work. The amount of work which that Department has been called upon to do since the days of the Local Government Board is perhaps the reason why some of us feel that it would be in the interests of the country if there was a division of functions. There is, however, as outlined in this Order, a division of functions which requires some explanation, so as to give assurance to those of us who are fearful of what the consequences may be.
In that connection, I want to say a word or two about what the right hon. and gallant Gentleman said as to the value of the preventive health services. I hold the view that we cannot have an efficient health service unless it is a unified service, and, under this Order, we see that the services referred to in Part V of the Act of 1936 will remain under the Ministry of Health, but that the public health services will go to the new Ministry of Local Government and Planning.
§ Mr. H. Morrison
Would my hon. Friend be good enough to say what is in his mind when he mentions public health services?
§ Mr. Messer
Yes. In the Explanatory Note, there is reference to local government, rating and valuation and to public health, and, obviously, that refers to the sanitary services. If that question is addressed to me, it surely means that there is need for explanation. As I understand the Explanatory Note, the public health services are to be transferred to the Ministry of Local Government and Planning. I am most anxious that there shall not be a wider division 1549 than already exists between the health services, because, reverting to what I have said, a unified service can be brought about, even though sections of that service should be under different administration. But there is a grave danger unless, by some machinery, those sections of the service are brought together.
The National Health Service Act took away from local authorities what may be termed the positive health services. Local authorities were responsible for the preventive service, they were responsible for the curative and remedial services, and for after-care and rehabilitation. Now, there has been a division, and, unfortunately, experience appears to indicate that the gap which exists is detrimental to the interests of the people. If the new Ministry of Health will, as is shown, concentrate its attention on the new Health Service, what I would like to ask, and receive an assurance upon, is whether it will place an undue emphasis on the curative and remedial services. There is a danger of thinking that that which is sensational is, of necessity, of the greatest importance. Personally, I would not like to say which is the most important of the three divisions of the Health Service, but, by virtue of there being these divisions, I can see the possibility of the gap which already exists being made yet wider.
I have no desire to detain the House with a long speech on this subject, and I have not arrived at a conclusion on whether the division which is going to take place, is the best that could have been done. I am certain that some of the functions of the Ministry of Health should, quite rightly, be taken from it, and it may be that it is right that there should be this new Ministry of Local Government and Planning, but I am anxious to get an assurance that, in regard to the National Health Service, a situation will not develop in which there are different Ministries to which the local government units will be responsible.
At one time, the local authority went to the Ministry of Health for all things, even the sanctioning of a loan for purposes other than health. It was the Ministry of Health, not the Ministry of Education, to which the local authority went when they wanted to raise a loan for education. Apparently, there is now 1550 to be a position in which a local authority—I wonder whether the Front Benches realise that there are microphones in the House? If they did, they would know that an hon. Member may be trying to speak, hoping that he will be heard, but with the knowledge that others, who are not on their feet, are being heard. I am only desirous of getting satisfaction on points which I believe to be of importance. I have referred to the most important of them, and I hope that the Minister will be able to give me the assurance which I seek.
§ 7.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Turton (Thirsk and Malton)
I share the apprehensions of the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Messer) on certain parts of this Order. It would appear that it has been taken at very great speed. It is quite clear from the way in which it was made and laid and has come into operation that the Government were doing something hastily, no doubt, for very good reasons which do not appear on the face of the Order.
I want to confine my apprehensions to one matter which has been touched upon by my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) dealing with the control of the use of land. I believe this is a major problem in this country today, and I fear that this Order will make that problem very much worse. If I may just acquaint the House of the facts of the situation, I would point out that the Scott Report stated that between 1927 and 1939, there was a loss of good agricultural land to development of 800,000 acres. On page 35, the Scott Report went on to say that during the war period that loss had increased very rapidly.
Looking at the later figures, we get from the Monthly Digest of Statistics the fact that between 1939 and 1951—in those 12 years—the acreage of agricultural land has gone down by 500,000, and another factor which we find, and which always strikes me as being very remarkable, is that in the same 12 years the area of rough grazing has increased by 500,000 acres. It is quite clear that both the wartime Coalition Government, the "Caretaker" Government and the present Government have of necessity made great efforts to bring every acre of useless land into agricultural production.
1551 Therefore, when we see the total acreage of rough grazing going up by 500,000, it does not mean that the farmers have allowed land to go into rough grazing, but that the land-grabbing Departments have taken good agricultural land and the farmers, by their industry, have won over from waste land that amount to agricultural land. Therefore, between 1939 and 1951, in fact, there has been a loss of good agricultural land extending to one million acres. Therefore, under the present set up we have lost 1,800,000 acres since 1927. That in a small island is, I believe, a very serious problem for hon. Members of all parties in the House, whether they be interested in agriculture or industry.
What was the set-up for dealing with this matter up to 29th January? Up till then we had the position where there were, in effect, seven land-grabbing Departments. There was the Ministry of Health, which was taking land for housing, water and burial grounds; the Board of Trade, which was taking land for industry; the Ministry of Education, which was taking land for schools; the Ministry of Fuel and Power, which was raping land for opencast coal; and there were the three Service Ministries which were taking land in very large quantities for purposes of defence.
§ Mr. Derek Walker-Smith (Hertford)
My hon. Friend's catalogue is surely not quite complete? He has omitted the Ministry of Works, which is one of the greatest land-acquiring Departments, and also the Post Office, which has had compulsory powers of acquisition for a very long time.
§ Mr. Turton
I could, of course, go through the whole catalogue of the Ministries, but I was merely giving the seven main grabbing Departments. The Ministry of Works is very much like a barrister or a solicitor, grabbing land for other parties and not for itself.
We have seven land-grabbing Departments and one land-saving Department, the Ministry of Agriculture. Up to 29th January, we had an arbiter in the Minister of Town and Country Planning, who had to judge the case of the land grabber and of the land saver. It is quite true that, at times, he himself was a land grabber—and no mean land grabber—in the matter 1552 of the new towns. That was a weakness of the old set-up, but that was really on a par with the case of a judge hearing a cause of trespass in pursuit of development on five days in the week and merely going poaching himself one day in the week. But we have now the position where he will no longer be the unbiased arbiter, for by taking over the Ministry of Health powers concerning housing, water, sewerage and burial grounds, he himself will be doing poaching five days a week and sitting as a judge on the sixth day. I regard that as highly unsatisfactory.
I should like to quote in defence of my argument the words of the present Minister of Local Government and Planning in a very well known circular, which has a very doctoral look about it. It is No. 99. Hon. Members will remember that it came out in November. In paragraph 4, it says:Development and agriculture are inevitably competitors for land, and land which is good agriculturally is often the most suitable for building. But planning and development, though popularly confused, are not the same thing. It is a planner's job to, try and reconcile the conflicting demands of building and agriculture.The difficulty facing the right hon. Gentleman today is that he cannot adequately reconcile the conflicting claims of building and agriculture because he himself is going to be responsible for building. Therefore, I would urge the Lord President to reconsider this question of the control of the use of land. None of us was satisfied with the set-up till 29th January, but we are now very much more dissatisfied, and it is vital when we have the present claims of re-armament and have to prepare this country for an emergency, that we should have a machinery whereunder good agricultural land is not stolen for other uses.
§ 8.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Emrys Roberts (Merioneth)
The hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) has, in my opinion, raised a very important question which deserves the attention of the Government. The rate at which agricultural land, in particular, has been absorbed for other purposes in the last few years should, I think, be a matter for concern to hon. Members in all parts of the House. We have considered this Order with some care, and in 1553 our opinion it should make for a substantial improvement in the administrative efficiency of the Government Departments concerned.
I gathered the impression from the Press that there was to be a major challenge to the Government on this matter tonight. If I now understand the right hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) aright, it is not the intention of the Opposition to divide on the Motion.
§ Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth (Hendon, South)
Would the hon. Gentleman say to what section of the Press he is referring?
§ Mr. Roberts
It was in several sections of the Press, including the Conservative section. As I say, I now understand that the intention to divide on the Motion has been forsaken by the Opposition.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
I think it is a little unfortunate that the hon. Member should devote his time to mind-reading and speculation of this kind. There was never any intention to divide, and I am sure that my speech could not be regarded as anything but a sincere effort to probe the matter.
§ Mr. Roberts
That is the first indication which the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has given of the intention of the Opposition.
On the whole, I think the Government are right to proceed by Order rather than by Act of Parliament in this matter, although I should have preferred the kind of Order which requires positive approval beforehand. I understand, however, that under the enabling Act of 1946, the procedure authorised is the one adopted in this case. It has been emphasised from above the Gangway that once the Government make up their mind, once they are satisfied that this is an efficient arrangement, speed is essential because the matters with which these two Government Departments are concerned, particularly housing, touch the people of this country so intimately that it would be wrong for there to be any prolonged uncertainty and hiatus between the two Departments. I hope, therefore, that the Government will push ahead with the 1554 arrangements as quickly as possible, because it cannot be for the good of the housing programme that the civil servants employed on it should, as it were, be in a state of transition between the two Ministries.
On the whole, I think it will make for more effective and efficient administration if housing and local government are taken over by the Ministry of Local Government and Planning. The Minister of Health has almost a full-time job in looking after the National Health Service. An hon. Member opposite has said that certain functions under the Public Health Acts are apparently also to be transferred to the Ministry of Local Government and Planning. I think he will find if he looks at those Public Health Acts that they are functions concerned with such things as dangerous structures and matters of that nature, and not health functions in the strict sense of the word.
The right hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove referred to the position in Wales, and I was glad that he did so. The Minister of Local Government and Planning was good enough to have a discussion with the Welsh Parliamentary Party on this point, as a result of which I think a large measure of agreement was arrived at. But now that this Order has been brought before the House it is right that the Minister who is to reply should deal with the special position of Wales. The Ministry of Health Act, 1919, provided that a special board might be set up to deal with health matters in Wales. After this Order has come into operation, strictly speaking that Welsh Board of Health will only be concerned with the functions of the new Ministry of Health.
The Ministry of Town and Country Planning also had a regional office in Wales with a controller in charge. I now understand that there is to be one senior official in charge of the offices of both Ministries in Wales, and that the officials will be responsible direct to the Ministries in London. Perhaps I shall be corrected if that is not so. It would be of value if in due course we could have from the Minister an assurance that the officer in charge of these Departments in Wales will have direct access to the Ministers in London, and that his responsibility will be similar in many respects to that of the Permanent Secretary of the Welsh Department of the Ministry of Education.
§ 8.13 p.m.
§ Mr. MacColl (Widnes)
My right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council showed a coy reluctance to trespass beyond the confines of Order in reply to the right hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot), and I do not think I am likely to be more successful in persuading him to give the Government's views on the wider situation brought about by this transfer of powers. But may I put it to him in this way? I think that the reaction among people concerned in local government—the reaction possibly in the Departments themselves—will be much more favourable towards these proposals if they are satisfied that they are the result of a considered and concerted policy for reforming the administration of the social services.
I should like to put to the Government some general questions as well as some particular ones about the implications of these proposals. I should like to consider the matter from the point of view of the Ministry itself. No Government Department, I imagine, is ever likely to resist very firmly the accretion of empire, and one can understand that from the point of view of the Ministry this may seem superficially a very satisfactory arrangement. But I have some misgivings which I should like to put to the Minister in the hope that he can assure me that my fears are quite wrong.
When the Ministry of Town and Country Planning was established, the present Lord Chancellor, who was then Minister without Portfolio, put forward three reasons why the Coalition Government wished to establish the Ministry. The first reason was that town and country planning should have the whole-time services of a front rank Minister. I think we can be quite satisfied that in that respect, at any rate, this proposal is a very happy one. The Minister of Local Government and Planning is a front rank Minister. Indeed, he might also be said, if it were possible, to be a few steps ahead of a front rank Minister. No one can doubt the vigour and energy with which he will attack these problems. The next reason put forward was that town and country planning was essentially a job which required the full time activities of one Minister. The present Lord Chancellor said:It is, we are satisfied, physically impossible for any Minister already busily engaged in 1556 other directions to devote the necessary time and attention which, it is obvious to us from experience, this subject demands."—[OFFICIAL, REPORT, 26th January, 1943; Vol. 386, c. 418.]The first question I should like to put is this. What has happened during the past eight years to make the Government change their minds that town and country planning can now be carried out in conjunction with what is one of the major administrative problems in the social services—the housing programme—and, in addition to that, the complicated and difficult problems of dealing with local government? Does it mean that the Government have ceased to believe that town and country planning can be made sufficiently realistic to be a whole-time job? If that is the reason I must say it fills me with very great dismay.
The third reason that was put forward for having a Ministry was that it should be an impartial, objective Department, able to look at the competing claims not only for land, which has been mentioned by the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) but also for other functions such as the location of indus, tries and new towns, and matters of planning and development. I am left wondering how the Minister of Local Government and Planning will be able to do those things if he himself is one of the major competitors for the use of land and for obtaining resources and materials.
I should like to quote an analogy from a field about which I know nothing, and that is the military field. These words were uttered in this House:It is against all good rules of organisation that a man who is in charge of major strategy should also be in command of a particular unit. It is like having a man commanding an army in the field and also commanding a division. He has a divided interest between the wider questions of strategy and the problems affecting his own immediate command."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th May, 1940; Vol. 360, c. 1092.]Those are the words of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, criticising the accretion of certain powers in 1940 to the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) when he was First Lord of the Admiralty. I am not in a position to judge whether the criticism was a good one or not, but it is relevant to the social services.
With the competition that there is between the different social services for the 1557 comparatively small resources available for their development, it is important that there should be somebody in a position to look at the broad strategy of the social services and not be immersed in the problems affecting his own immediate command. I hope it will be possible for my right hon. Friend to say something about how the Government think it will work out.
Coming to the question of the actual transfer of functions, I found some difficulty. Take for example one point—the question of bylaws. As I understand, under the present Order, the approval of bylaws under the Public Health Acts is going to be the function of the Minister of Health. The approval of bylaws under the Housing Acts dealing with very similar problems, and in some cases employing very similar language, is to be the function of the Minister of Local Government and Planning. It seems to me that from the point of view of local government it would be very difficult to ensure that those bylaws dovetail with each other, but they are part of the instruments at the command of the local authority, which is trying to maintain the general standard of housing in its neighbourhood.
I should like to ask whether there is not the risk there of a lack of liaison between the two Departments? When my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Messer) says that the Order means something I am inclined to think that it must mean that; in view of his great experience I do not like to correct him. But my reading of the Order, while not so wide as that as of the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Emrys Roberts), is wider than that of my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham. As I see it, sanitary powers in general, such as the appointment of medical officers of health and sanitary inspectors, are to be left with the Ministry of Health.
But there are a number of marginal local government functions which are to be separated, which seem to create difficult problems of control. Take the question of water pollution, not river pollution but the actual pollution of the water supply which I should have thought was intimately bound up with the other problems of environmental health which have been mentioned in this debate. As I see it, the powers of Part IV of the Public 1558 Health Act, 1936, which deals with water pollution, are not reserved to the Ministry of Health but are to go to the Ministry of Local Government and Planning. We should have some assurance that the Ministry of Local Government and Planning will have the same kind of expert medical assistance and advice which the Minister of Health has long had and will presumably have to continue to receive in view of the calls upon it in relation to the health services.
To look at the matter from the point of view of the Ministry of Health, it has been said that that Ministry has had too much work to do in the past. I think everybody would agree that that is so. It is also possible and also broadly true that "Satan finds some mischief still for an idle Minister to do." There is a danger that the Ministry in its present form, may find itself with too little to do and that in particular it will have a temptation to interfere with the delegation of the hospital and health services' administration to the regional boards and the Executive Council, which is contrary to the spirit of the National Health Service Act. I was rather surprised that my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham did not make that point.
§ Mr. MacColl
I am glad that I have been able in a humble way to assist an hon. Friend for whom I have the greatest admiration and respect. It seems to me that there is a risk that the Ministry of Health will feel that as they have nothing much else to do except exercise their powers in respect of the National Health Service they will be tempted into greater interference through the medium of those powers.
I should like to know whether the Government have considered combining with the National Health Service the functions of the Ministry of National Insurance in order that there can be one welfare Department dealing with those functions which are already very largely delegated to the Assistance Board and the regional hospital boards? I ask the Government, why, when transferring financial control from the Ministry of Health, they did not transfer it to the Treasury instead of to the Ministry of Local Government and Planning? I have 1559 seen this working from the point of view of a new town corporation negotiating with the Ministry of Local Government and Planning and from the point of view of a local authority negotiating with the Ministry of Health. There is nothing more irritating than to be involved in financial wrangles with a Government Department when all the time the corporation or the local authority feels it is the Treasury which is the effective instrument of control. It would be better if the Government recognised the fact candidly, and left questions such as loan sanctions and audits in the hands of the Treasury.
When transferring powers, I wish the Government had considered transferring the Registrar-General. Leaving him under the Minister of Health will make his function even more exclusively medical than it is at present. My great criticism of the Registrar-General is that he ought to be much more widely a social statistician than he is. This decision will make him draw back into his shell and limit himself to infectious diseases and other vital statistics instead of acting as he should, in conjunction with or as part of the Central Statistical Office.
I put these points to the Government. They are points which a Government, looking at the problem of co-ordinating all our social services should be thinking about when they come to the House with an Order of this kind. I do not say that in any spirit of criticism because I do not offer any final answer to these questions. They are the difficulties and doubts which are held by people in local government and in the country generally. In general, I think that the idea of separating housing from the other health services is a good one, and had there been any question of a Division tonight I should certainly have supported the Government. But as we are having a friendly and amicable discussion of these problems, in a non-party way, it is a suitable and convenient time to put to the Government some rather awkward questions which one would have felt embarrassed to do had the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Kelvingrove been in his usual truculent mood.
§ 8.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Molson (The High Peak)
To see the way in which the Department chiefly 1560 concerned with this Order has gradually developed we have to bear in mind that it was originally the Presidency of the Local Government Board. It would be true to say that throughout all its changes of direction the general supervision of local government in this country has been its most important function. I hope that the new Department will continue to regard the sympathetic and careful supervision and guidance of local authorities as being the most important function which it has to discharge.
It is only in the last 30 years that the responsibility for housing has come to weigh far more heavily upon the Department. I think that it would be generally agreed in all parts of the House that the Ministry of Health has become too large for its satisfactory administration by any single Minister, and when, recently, the creation of the National Health Service resulted in imposing upon that Department an entirely new function of administration it was surely clear that the time had come when some partition of that great and overgrown Ministry was due.
That appeared to be happening in the case of that Department. There had been—just a short time ago—the creation of the Ministry of Town and Country Planning for the reasons which were given by, I think, the hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl). That Ministry being made responsible for the most satisfactory use of the limited land of this small island was, in fact, at the same time deprived of control over the location of new housing estates. It was actually a function of the Ministry of Health, and some of my hon. Friends and I felt that it was quite impossible for the Ministry of Town and Country Planning to discharge its responsibilities satisfactorily as long as a more powerful Ministry was able to put the new housing, estates wherever it wished to do so.
Therefore, for some time we have believed that it is desirable that the Minister responsible for town planning should also be made responsible for the planning of new housing estates that are planned and built by the local authorities. Indeed, historically there was much to be said for bringing this function back under the control of the same Minister, because in so far as there had been town and country planning—and there had been before the 1561 passing of the 1944 Act—it had, of course, been the responsibility of the Minister of Health.
§ The Minister of Local Government and Planning (Mr. Dalton)
And of the Local Government Board before that.
§ Mr. Molson
Yes, and of the Local Government Board before that, as the right hon. Gentleman reminds me. Naturally, I had great sympathy with the apprehensions that have been expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) lest there should be the danger to agriculture that it will tend to suffer more even than it has done in the past, but I doubt very much whether that will be the case. The Ministry of Town and Country Planning was a new Ministry, a small Ministry; and it is known to every hon. Member in the House that the old, large and powerful Departments exercise greater influence in the counsels of any Government than those that are small and new.
As one who is anxious that town and country planning shall be well managed in this country, I welcome the change which is now being made, and I do so for two reasons. I do not think that the Ministry of Town and Country Planning was large enough and powerful enough to act as an effective arbiter if a dispute arose between the Ministry of Agriculture and some other Department; and I also do not believe that, in a matter of this kind, planning of the use of the land of the country can satisfactorily be left in the hands of an impartial outsider.
I believe that the Minister who is bearing, at the same time, the responsibility for the housing of the people of the country and for the supply of adequate water will be able to take all those different considerations into account. I think that it is possible for one mind to take those considerations into account, and to act as a fair arbitor between different considerations for reasonable purposes—instead of having a different person, let alone a different Ministry, acting in each of those capacities.
I approach this Order in a spirit of general sympathy. At the same time, I am sure that the Lord President of the Council will agree that, where a number of closely related functions have for long been administered inside a single Depart- 1562 ment it is difficult, certainly for any outsider, and possibly, at the present time, for those directly concerned, to know exactly where the dividing line can with greatest advantage be drawn, and I hope that the Lord President, when he replies to the debate, which, I hope, he will do shortly. [Laughter.] In the English language the word "shortly" has two different meanings. Either it may be "briefly and tersely," or it may be that the right hon. Gentleman will undertake to do so "without any further delay." What I meant to say was, that I hope that he will give an explanation of this Order, because it is quite likely that some hon. Members, like myself, will be wanting to ask questions, and if they know exactly how the Order is to function it will make it easier for them to make some observations upon it.
I should like to know why there is no reference to the immensely important responsibilities under the National Assistance Act, 1948. Under Part III of that Act every reference to "the Minister" meansthe Minister of Health as respects England and Wales,and these are all those responsibilities for the relief of the aged, and so on, which were retained at the time the other matters were transferred to the Assistance Board.
I have an uneasy feeling that some difficult anomalies may arise. It is has been mentioned to me that in the event of large-scale evacuation from London—and this is a subject with which the Lord President is extremely familiar, because of his former responsibility in this matter—under this Order the plans for the evacuation would be the responsibility of the Minister of Health, and the responsibility for rest centres, and so on, would be the responsibility of the Minister of Local Government and Planning. I hope that is not so, but it is merely one illustration of the difficulties which arise when a single Department is being partitioned, and I should be glad of some assurance from the Lord President that he is quite satisfied the dividing line has been drawn after adequate consideration, and that there will be as few of these unsatisfactory partitions as possible.
It is quite obvious, of course, that wherever the dividing line is drawn there will be some difficult cases which fall just 1563 upon one or the other, and I make no complaint about that. But it is very important that not only general opinion in the country but also local authorities shall understand as soon as possible exactly where the divided responsibility will fall.
I am puzzled as to why this partition of the old Ministry of Health was timed to take place on 29th January, just at the end of the Parliamentary Recess. I should have thought it would have been of great advantage to all those concerned if this Order had been brought into operation several weeks earlier during a time of Parliamentary Recess, when the Departments were not being harassed by constant Parliamentary Questions and by business in the House. That it should have been timed to take place on the 29th January seems to me likely to have resulted in the maximum of inconvenience and disturbance.
If, for one moment, I may fall below the standard of detachment and objectivity with which I have so far been speaking, I wonder whether this Government of planners had really not thought of planning this matter at all, and whether it was only at the last moment that it was found convenient to carry out what perhaps had been a project in their minds for a long time. Generally speaking, I welcome the partition of the Ministry of Health, and I hope that we shall have an explanation which will show that the actual partition of the functions will be such as to enable each of the two Ministers to have a compact and well-defined sphere of functions which will be adequate to engage the activities of both those talented right hon. Gentlemen, and that neither of them will be unduly overworked.
§ 8.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Peart (Workington)
I do not think that the hon. Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson), in his speech, departed from that high standard of detachment and objectivity which he mentioned. I am glad that he has general sympathy with this Order, and that we have also had full praise from the representative of the Liberal Party who is present.
I wish, very quickly, to give the reasons why I support the Order, particularly because of an experience which I 1564 had in the field of local government in my own constituency. The House will remember that a few weeks ago we had a debate on housing. I felt that it would be a good idea to call a conference of every local authority in my constituency, so that, instead of sloganising about housing, we could get together and discuss, free from party prejudice, ways and means to improve the rate of house building and how best to improve the general administrative efficiency of that particular service. At that conference, attended by a borough council, three urban district authorities and a large rural district council, we had an extremely interesting discussion.
We came to a general agreement that with regard to house planning and its rate of progress it was important to have complete co-operation between the regional office of the then Minister of Health and the county planning authority. We found from our experience in Cumberland that too often there was lack of co-operation; too often the local authority would get approval from the regional office of the Ministry of Health and the county planning authority would act as a stumbling block, and that frequently the plans of the local authority were seriously frustrated.
There was a general concensus of opinion that there should be a measure of co-operation between the Departments concerned and the local authorities, and I hope that the transference of functions of government under this Order, will secure co-operation to improve the progress and planning of house building. I agree with the right hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot), who opened the debate, and who, broadly, supported the Order, that we should seriously consider its application to house building and all the problems which are affected by our local government services.
I, too, would like to support my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Messer) on the question of the health service. I think that on that matter, from indications given, he had the approval of the hon. Member for Luton (Dr. Hill). I hope that he will express his approval if he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I think that there is a danger that we emphasise the more dramatic side of cure and prevention. We should think 1565 in wider terms about prevention. That is why my hon. Friend, who has had a very long experience in the field of local government, stressed it, and I am certain that he had the approval of the House.
The right hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove touched upon a most important problem—a matter which I raised on several occasions in the last Parliament. I refer to the reform of local government. I know that I shall not be allowed to go too far in examining the arguments for and against, but I think that there is general agreement on all sides of the House that reform of local government is urgent and long overdue. It was admitted in a previous debate by the last Minister of Health.
§ Mr. Peart
I do not think that in the circumstances any Minister could have brought in a Bill to reform local authorities during the last Parliament. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] We should certainly have set up a Royal Commission, and I advocated one for London, and one for England and Wales. I believe we can all agree that, in principle, local government reform is long overdue—
§ Mr. Peart
I am sorry, Sir, but I was drawn into this argument.
I merely stress the point made by hon. Members opposite, that the new functions of the Ministry created by this Order will be concerned with this very urgent problem. I hope and trust that the new Minister now responsible for planning, with his drive, energy and enthusiasm, will be able to tackle this problem. I believe that it was essential to take this initial step and to have this re-arrangement of functions for better administrative efficiency. If, as the result of this Order, this new administrative set-up can tackle this problem the House will bless the responsible Minister. I am glad that there is general agreement tonight. The Order should improve the efficiency of both local and national government.
§ 8.47 p.m.
§ Dr. Hill (Luton)
The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) referred in the earlier part of his speech to the local implications of this Order, and rightly so. It is important that it should be appreciated that the effect of this Order is at the centre; that it does not of itself make any change in the organisation of the local authority or in the relationship of its services or offices, one to another. Some, no doubt, will issue a warning of what might one day follow, but at the moment it is a central transfer between Departments, and that only.
The hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl) delivered himself of many strange and novel statements, none stranger than his sentence that the Ministry of Health has not very much to do apart from the National Health Service. I confess at the outset that, so far as the Ministry of Health is concerned, this relief is long overdue. I believe that today the National Health Service represents something which will tax the resources of a Ministry and a Minister.
§ Mr. MacColl
The hon. Member is really hurting my feelings. I had the pleasure of a chat with him somewhere else on this problem, and he rebuked me very strongly for not realising sufficiently that the National Health Service was over-centralised in the Ministry. He was in favour of the National Health Service being more local. I learned my lesson, and now he is rebuking me.
§ Dr. Hill
The hon. Member must not be too indignant at a mild rebuke directed to his remark that the Ministry of Health has not very much to do apart from the National Health Service. I shall not follow the red herring he presents to me as to the form of organisation of the National Health Service and decentralisation which might at other times be suggested, nor shall I allow myself to be diverted by the hon. Member for Warrington (Dr. Morgan).
The hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Messer), who speaks with authority and with the full respect of both sides of this House on the subject of health and the health services, took as his theme that we must preserve the unity of the health services, curative and preventive. He examined this Order in the light of that 1567 principle. I believe we should do that. When we examine the explanatory note of the list of functions that are to be removed from the Ministry of Health, there will, I think, be general agreement that some of them are too thinly related to health, if at all.
I pass lightly over the delicate subject of the relationship of burials to health. I do not suggest that the field of coast protection is a necessary part of a health service or a health conception. Then there is rent control and housing. Although it can be fairly argued that housing is an important factor in the maintenance of health and the prevention of disease, at the same time it is the production of houses which is primarily the problem. The health aspect of houses coming into the picture in relation to standards of design. House-building need not remain a function of the Ministry of Health, It has been the pressure of its local government activities for many years which has tended to divert the attention of the Ministry of Health from its primary health functions. Indeed, I hope that the transfer of local government to another Minister may lead to a new and more flexible attitude not only to the problem of local government reform in general, but to the particular claims of the borough of Luton.
When I examine the public health functions which remain and those which go. I find myself unable to accept the general melancholy assessment of the hon. Member for Tottenham, and equally unable to accept the point made by the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Emrys Roberts), which was that it was just a question of dangerous structures. When one examines the various functions it is reassuring that supervision of work in infectious disease, maternity and child welfare, notification of births, qualifications of officers and all such matters remain under the aegis of the Ministry of Health.
It is when—here I want to examine the Order critically—one examines the functions which go, that one meets considerations which should lead to a reconsideration of the position. So far as the majority are concerned, it is right that they should go. Sewerage, and sewage disposal, building and sanitation bylaws, water supplies, wash houses, canal boats, tents, the sanitary problems of hop 1568 pickers—these have become largely engineering functions. Others are closer to health and should remain with the Ministry of Health.
There are a few functions—and I have deliberately selected those which seem most to support my point—about which there can be and should be some reasonable doubt. It is provided that the function—or perhaps, to be more accurate, such advisory functions as are exercised at the centre over the local authorities for this purpose—in relation to the nuisance discovery and action by local officers, is being transferred to the new Ministry. Remember that the words which are used are:In respect of nuisances in premises in such a state as to be prejudicial to health.I have no doubt that the work of discovering nuisances and of taking the necessary action will remain where it is today, but should it become necessary in the future, or should it be thought necessary, to issue any central directive or advice on that subject, it will be issued by the new and not by the old Ministry.
I am glad that the hon. Member for Widnes raised the point that we are contemplating a Ministry which, if it is to do its work properly, will need a medical staff. Yet I hope that this Ministry will not be provided with a medical staff. There is too much dispersal of medical staff already in the public service. At the same time it adds weight to my point that it is wrong to transfer to a Ministry without medical advice the supervision of such local activities, which are, in some part, medical in character.
§ Dr. Morgan (Warrington)
If the hon. Member's scheme should be adopted, how are we to get uniformity of health administration in the country, with one Department doing this minor health work, as the hon. Member calls it, and another one dealing with proper health administration from the point of view of environment and disease? The position is impossible.
§ Dr. Hill
If the hon. Member will contain himself a little longer I shall answer his point in the course of my remarks.
Another point is the activity of local officers in relation to verminous persons. [Laughter.] I resist any attempt to proceed along a familiar line. The care and the cure of verminous persons is unfor- 1569 tunately, essentially a health activity. There may have been some microscopic science, but in the past it has been no kind of engineering consideration. Most of this work has generally fallen within the scope and the practice of the school medical service. It would be a new situation if the Minister of the new Department, with the aid of imagination as a substitute for medical science, could issue suggestions, directives, advice or details of new procedures to be followed in respect of that problem of cleanliness.
There is just one other illustration I want to give. It relates to the supervision and provision of sanitary conveniences in shops and offices. At this moment, all this is a general public health problem, as was shown in the debate a short time ago. That form of provision has become an urgent public health need. The responsibility for that is to pass to the new Ministry unspoiled by medical staff and untroubled by medical advice.
I now pass to the point put to me by the hon. Member for Warrington (Dr. Morgan). With the general proposition of making the Health Ministry a Health Ministry dealing with problems that it can conveniently and efficiently encompass I am in full agreement, but my regret is that there is still a dispersal of medical personnel and medical functions throughout the Departments. This was an opportunity to bring within the scope of the Ministry of Health the industrial health service. This was the opportunity to bring within its scope that part of the Ministry of Food which is essentially Health education. This was an opportunity to gather up medical services and concentrate them in one Ministry, staffed as this one is, by an efficient medical service. It is a pity that this proposal has stopped where it is. It would have been wiser to take advantage of this change—in general, a change of which I approve—to do something bigger in the concentration of health functions in one Health Ministry.
§ 9.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Donnelly (Pembroke)
I apologise to the House and to the right hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut. Colonel Elliot) for having unavoidably been unable to hear the first part of his remarks. I shall therefore confine myself to four brief points. I would first say how glad I am that the hon. Member for 1570 Luton (Dr. Hill), who is something of a Jekyll and Hyde character, emerged tonight as Dr. Jekyll instead of Mr. Hyde. I am not always in agreement with him, but I am glad that he took up the cudgels with my hon. Friend the Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl) about the remark that the Minister of Health has nothing else to do but administer the Health Service.
I know that the hon. Member for Luton speaks with great knowledge because of the time he and his friends took up with the then Minister of Health in the last Parliament, and I should think that one of the greatest problems that the Minister of Health has to face, in addition to the Health Service, is dealing with the doctors themselves. My right hon. Friend has everybody's sympathy in that because it is a very onerous and full-time job.
I want to join those who welcome the combination of the housing and planning functions of the two former Ministries of Town and Country Planning and Health. I again disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Widnes when he says that there is a danger of conflict between the tactical and strategic interests in housing of the Ministry of Local Government and Planning. I always regarded my right hon. Friend's ministerial functions in dealing with housing as strategic and the actual tactical problems of building houses themselves and the actual construction responsibilities as resting with the local authorities. As we know only too well, had we had more progressive local authorities in many parts of the country we would have many more houses built by now. I am sure that in that I shall have the support of the hon. Member for Luton.
Secondly, I come to the observations of the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) about the need to conserve agricultural land. Everybody would agree with his observations, and I also represent an agricultural constituency, but it is very important indeed for us not to over-emphasise the importance of this plea at this time. If we do that we cease to recognise the real fact that this is an industrial nation, the whole reason for town planning legislation in the past, and that its impetus came from the public health movements of the 1840's and towards the end of the 19th century.
1571 If we try to follow a policy of containment of the towns we shall reach a position where we shall go back to the old back-to-backs of the 19th century. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Yes, indeed, because it is all wrapped up in the question of density of house building. If the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton will look into the matter in greater detail, he will realise that people living in towns have as great a right to fresh air as people living in the country.
Mr. Turton: Would the hon. Member deny to farmers the good agricultural land? Why not let the towns have the bad land that will not produce food?
§ Mr. Donnelly
I agree with the hon. Member. If the hon. Gentleman had listened a little more carefully he would have heard me say that this policy, if pursued too far, will lead to a containment of the people living in the towns.
In conclusion, may I support the remarks of the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Emrys Roberts) about the Welsh Board of Health? The people of Wales are glad that the Welsh Board of Health, which has done such good work in the past, is to be maintained and strengthened in the future. I wish to record my own appreciation and that of many of my hon. Friends on these benches from Wales that the two right hon. Gentlemen, the Minister of Health and the Minister of Local Government and Planning, have been able to effect this successful and somewhat Irish arrangement which, nevertheless, will be very successful in Wales.
I say with no disrespect to the Minister of Health that many of us are particularly concerned that there should be no lowering of the status of the National Health Service as a result of the fact that the Minister of Health is no longer a member of the Cabinet. I add my support to all those on these benches who think that the National Health Service is one of the great social experiments of our time, which must not be reduced in status as a result of the ministerial changes that have taken place.
§ 9.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Henry Brooke (Hampstead)
I am bound to approach this Order from two standpoints, that of a Member of Parliament and that of a member of two local 1572 authorities. As a Member of Parliament I hope that the House will approve the Order. I can see the dangers in it, particularly those outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton). To my mind, however, the over-riding consideration from the Parliamentary end is that we allowed a situation to arise where the Minister of Health, under the old arrangements, was forced to carry an intolerable complication of work. I have no idea whether that was the main reason why the previous Minister of Health appeared somewhat testy when he stood at that Box, but I say seriously that it must have been unsound that one Minister should have had to divide his mind in so many different directions and advise the Government on high policy over such a wide range of matters which were not necessarily interconnected.
For that reason it seems to me, from the Westminster end, that it is wise and right that we should try this new experiment. I wish that the new Minister was to be the Minister for Local Government and Planning and not the Minister of Local Government and Planning. I do not like the slightest suggestion of any ministerial control over local government. Nor do I believe that this is necessarily the end of the story. Eventually, we may create some structure quite different from this, but this seems to me a reasonable step to take at present, and I wish the new Minister all good fortune, as well as all wisdom, in the discharge of his responsibilities.
Now may I say a word from the local authority standpoint? After all, I have had to send a letter of apology to the mayor of the borough which I represent to explain that I am not able to be present at the borough council meeting this evening because I am doing work for local government elsewhere. Members of local authorities are suspending judgment about the Order until they see whether, under the new régime, greater or less understanding will be shown of the job which they as elected members have to do.
Fifteen years ago, the Lord President of the Council would have delivered a stirring speech from a local government standpoint on an Order like this. He has also served in the honourable office of Home Secretary. I hope he will not mind 1573 my saying that of the four or five Government Departments with which local authorities constantly have dealings, local authorities generally have found the Ministry of Health more understanding of their problems than any other Government Department. That was not a matter of Ministerial difference; it was a matter of tradition, long built up.
Local government officers and civil servants are in constant contact, and somehow or other it seemed to local authority members and officials that they were able to talk the same language to a greater extent with the Ministry of Health than with any other Ministry. Naturally, they are waiting to see whether the new Ministry will talk local government language, or will confine itself to Whitehall language so that they will need an interpreter to get on with it.
All of us on the local government side are hoping—and, frankly, we are believing—that there will be no set-back in this respect, and that the traditions of the Ministry of Health will be transferred to the new Department—the geographical transfer, at any rate, will be the minimum one—and that the same happy relations, so far as happy relations are a desirable state of things between people on two sides of the table, will persist.
Having said that, I should like to add that the new Minister will be expected by local authorities to study very carefully the technique of getting the best out of local government—not merely getting the best out of it from the Whitehall end, but so comporting himself in his relations with local authorities that they will be free and enabled to do their best work. I commend to the right hon. Gentleman particularly the First Report of the Committee on Local Government Manpower, which was published a year ago, and the very significant memorandum of guidance included in that Report. That agreed memorandum was drawn up by the Committee for the benefit of its subcommittees. The Committee on Local Government Manpower is composed of senior civil servants, elected members of local authorities and senior officers of local authorities. It is significant that they all agreed upon this statement of principles, and the fact that the Report was signed by civil servants is an indication that there was, at any rate, no Ministerial disapproval for what was there said.
1574 If I may read to the House and to the Minister this one paragraph from the Memorandum of Guidance, it should, I think, be accepted as an extremely important statement of what the right relations should be between national and local government:General approach.To recognise that local authorities are responsible bodies competent to discharge their own functions and that … they exercise their responsibilities in their own right, not ordinarily as agents of Government Departments. It follows that the objective should be to leave as much as possible of the detailed management of a scheme or service to the local authority and to concentrate the Department's control at the key points where it can most effectively discharge its responsibilities for Government policy and financial administration.If we could get that universally accepted in practice, and not only on paper, on the local authority side we would be happier than we have been for years.
May I illustrate, by another quotation, the very opposite of the practice which is there recommended? I will now quote from the minutes of the meeting of the London County Council on 24th October, 1950. Mark the year. This was in the report of the Welfare Committee to the Council:The Council on 11th October, 1949, authorised the sale, as surplus to the council's requirements, of a small piece of land forming part of the garden at 88, Coombe Road, South Croydon. The Minister of Health has, however, intimated that he is unwilling to agree to a sale, but would be prepared to consent to a lease of the land for a term of 35 years.The land in question was less than half an acre. The proposed sale price was £25. Instead of that it was laid down by the Ministry of Health that it must not be sold but must be leased, and the rent was then fixed at £1 a year. That interference caused the Council a delay of no less than 12 months in getting on with the job. Besides, delay in itself always costs money. The advantage to be gained must be enormous if it is to justify the waste of 12 months' time. If the new Minister will lend his powers to eliminate from the relations between national and local government that sort of tomfoolery, we shall all get on.
Elected members of local authorities are free and responsible citizens who, voluntarily, have taken upon their shoulders an obligation of which they cannot divest themselves so long as they remain in office. If they find themselves 1575 frustrated by Government Departments or Ministers, they must either speak out, or they must resign. If the new Minister will recognise that principle of freedom, and will assist rather than impede elected members of local councils to discharge their own personal responsibility to the neighbourhood which has elected them, then he will be doing a great service. But, if this change should by any chance impede progress for the better in matters of that kind, let him know from the very start that local authorities will speak out and will assert themselves in a manner that undoubtedly will hold up the intentions of Parliament.
The Lord President of the Council (Mr. Herbert Morrison): I do not dissent in principle from what the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. H. Brooke) has been saying. It is quite legitimate that the local authorities should wait and see about this matter and suspend judgment on it. For my part I have no objection whatever to local authorities asserting their lawful rights or independence and having an occasional row with one of the Departments. I have done it myself and thoroughly enjoyed it, and I do not see why some of the local authority people who remain in office should not follow my excellent example. I know they used to live at peace with the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education. The Home Office was a little firmer with them, and quite right too.
I got on with the local authority departments. They were most obliging to the London County Council, except about a bridge, and even then I got half a million out of them in the end. After all, we had been pretty bad. We had not only defied the Government, but the House of Commons—as we were perfectly entitled to do. It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience and now everybody says we were right. Therefore I hope that the hon. Gentleman is right and that local authorities will always reserve their right to have a "dust-up" with the central Government. I am perfectly sure that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Local Government and Planning will not resent it. If they want a bit of fun he will be there to have a bit of fun back and that ought to add to the gaiety of the nation.
As to the relations they had with the Ministry of Health, I do not see why those 1576 good relations should not continue with the Ministry of Local Government and Planning. My right hon. Friend is a peaceable person to get on with. Moreover, many officers from the old Ministry of Health have been transferred to the Ministry of Local Government and Planning, and therefore when local authorities go there they will not find the place entirely inhabited by strangers; and my right hon. Friend and I hope they will get on all right.
Equally I wish my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health the best of success and good luck in administering what is a very great and complicated Service. I agree with the hon. Member for Luton (Dr. Hill) who made a knowledgeable speech on the problems with which he was dealing. Anyway for a time, my right hon. Friend will not be unemployed. He has there a vast new service and there is a lot of organising work to do. There are a great many problems to be tackled in the great Health Service and those, together with the fairly long list of other things to which he has to attend, will I am sure keep my right hon. Friend fully occupied.
The right hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) quite rightly and reasonably asserted that this was an important Order and it was right therefore that the House should have a talk about it. That, in fact, is what we are doing. As he said, this is not a matter of party politics at all. It is a matter upon which it is permissible for everyone to disagree with everybody else, because it is a judgment of what is a good lay-out for administration. That is all it amounts to. There really is not any party politics in it at all, and, to the credit of the House, I do not think anybody has tried to make party politics out of it.
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman said this is a major transfer of powers, and not a minor transfer, and therefore he queried whether we ought to have done it by affirmative Resolution or even by legislation. It could not now be done by affirmative Resolution because under the Act which I introduced a transfer of powers has to be dealt with under the negative procedure. Therefore it was not open to the Government to put it under an affirmative Resolution once that Act was passed. In any case the important 1577 thing about an affirmative or negative Resolution is that the House has the right to have an argument, and, if it wishes, to divide and upset the decision of the Government. We did not bring in a Bill because the whole purpose of proceeding by Order is to make it unnecessary to bring in Bills.
It was rather foolish that we could not have a transfer of functions between one Government Department and another without bringing in a Bill to do it. After all, the London County Council, and any other municipal authority, can transfer functions from one committee to another by mere resolution of the council, and there is no difficulty. I quite agree that this is somewhat more serious. But, after all, this is a matter of the internal organisation of the Government. It was right that it should be possible for this to be dealt with by Order, always provided that the House could, if it wished, debate it and challenge the action of the Government on a Division. I am not shocked about that at all. I think that it is a reasonable and proper thing to do, with Parliament's full rights protected in the way I have indicated.
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman asked whether this would lead to more speedy action as to housing, local government reform, and so on. I would not argue that that was the purpose of the Order. The purpose of the Order is to provide what we think is a better distribution of Ministerial and Governmental functions between certain Departments of State. Indeed, I would not say that the questions of policy and what will happen on a number of fields of public policy, were particularly relevant. This is a question of where and under what Minister certain functions of Government should be placed. What we have to consider is whether the Government are right in the judgment they have reached on these matters.
I would say that, broadly, these were the reasons for the decisions that we took, subject to their not being upset by the House of Commons. The Ministry of Health had become a very big Department. As a matter of fact, the name was not any longer a true description of the whole of that Ministry, because it had many functions which were not strictly health functions at all. But people like playing about with the names of Ministers 1578 and, after the First World War there began to be a great pressure to call somebody the Minister of Health, and so the President of the Local Government Board was re-labelled Minister of Health in 1919. As a matter of fact my noble Friend the Lord Privy Seal was the first Minister of Health. Some of the functions were somewhat changed, but really it was not much of a change of substance from the functions of the President of the Local Government Board. It mainly meant that we got a more ugly and less dignified designation of the Minister than we had before. I think that the title of President of the Local Government Board meant something, even if there was no board. That did not worry me at all.
I never thought that the title of Minister of Health was a particularly bright idea, but my right hon. Friend has to put up with it. In those days, in the period after the First World War, when Conservative, Coalition and Liberal Reformers were knocking about, they found it easier to reform things by changing the titles of Ministers than by doing anything that really mattered.
§ Mr. Morrison
I am sorry that that little observation should have stirred up the party opposite in that way.
I would say that the first reason for the changes made by this Order is that the Ministry of Health had become very large. It was very big and it was not easy for one Minister to keep his fingers on the administrative organ, particularly as there had been added the very big National Health Service which requires a lot of attention, at any rate for the time being and for some years to come. So it was desirable to diminish the size of the Ministry of Health.
On what principles should we proceed? The first principle that we applied was that the Ministry of Health should really become the Ministry of Health. In addition to the National Health Service functions, which are very big and which will give my right hon. Friend plenty of work to do, we added a considerable list of other functions which are really health functions, some of them related to local government and some to national government. We tried to consolidate health functions, whether the National Health 1579 Service or otherwise; they are with the Ministry of Health and I think that is right.
The Ministry of Town and Country Planning was also the child of history. It must be remembered by hon. Members who are saying that town and country planning ought not to go with housing, that it was with housing from the time of Mr. John Burns and the Town Planning Act of 1909, right up to the days of the Coalition Government. It was in the Ministry of Health; so was housing, and a lot of other things. But, again, the specialists got to work. Planning functions went to the Ministry of Works, which became the Ministry of Works and Planning. They did not stop there, though I do not know why, and the enthusiasts could not be satisfied until they got a Ministry of Town and Country Planning all to themselves, and the Coalition Government gave it to them.
I have my own views about that, but it is part of the history of public administration that, all too often, we surrender to specialist enthusiasts and give them things with little labels to play about with and keep them happy. The truth is that the Ministry of Town and Country Planning did not get enough to do. It is untrue to say that it provided more than a one-man job. Of course, one man could easily make a full-time job out of it, just as he could also have made it six full-time jobs, or, if he was a bright fellow, perhaps 10. The Ministry of Town and Country Planning, of course, had a good deal of work at the beginning in getting an Act of Parliament going and getting it into operation. The late Minister understood it; I hope everybody else does. [An HON: MEMBER: "Do you?"] The hon. Member should not ask me.
Moreover, there is a danger about town and country planning being left with no physical and real things to be concerned with; that is to say, if it is divorced from the realities and the bricks and mortar of life, it can become longhaired. [Laughter.] I think it would be a great pity if my right hon. Friend the Minister of Local Government and Planning suddenly developed long hair. Therefore, I personally always held the view that it was undesirable to leave town and country planning by itself. It 1580 was desirable for it to be dealing with real physical things, to be operating, managing and making things happen, playing about with bricks and mortar, as well as with the pretty pictures on maps and graphs and what-not. Therefore, the Ministry of Town and Country Planning have taken over these functions, a number of which are related to town and country planning, as has been said.
Another point was the transfer of housing to that Department. Housing is one of the kernels of town and country planning. By the way, this is in accordance with an electoral promise which we made in 1945, and which we have just carried out, to take housing to the Ministry of Town and Country Planning. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, a Ministry of Housing."] I do not think so; perhaps hon. Members will look it up. I think it will be found that the proposal was to transfer housing to the Town Planning Ministry. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Well, I have ceased carrying the programme about in my pocket now. It is in "Let Us Face the Future." [Interruption.] Well, all right; perhaps I am wrong, but what does it matter?
Once we take these functions to the Town Planning Ministry—the functions of housing—what are we going to do with the miscellany of a large number of local government functions and the relationships with local authorities on loans, sewers, and drains, which are very much related to planning and housing. Then we begin to get to the point where we say, "Well, you had better make a Ministry of Local Government and Planning." That is the beautiful title we have invented for this Ministry, and I hope my right hon. Friend thoroughly enjoys it. I hope that one day we shall find somebody who will invent names for State Departments as they did hundreds of years ago, instead of having these products of capitalist utilitarianism. They cannot think of decent names. For instance, there is the Ministry of Works—but, perhaps, I had better not say any more about it or I shall be out of order. Well, there it is. Those were the reasons and I think they are all of them tidy reasons that stand up pretty well.
The right hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove put the point, although he did not argue it too much, that there 1581 was a relationship between tuberculosis and housing. I do not dispute that, but there is a relationship between tuberculosis and a number of other things. One could even mention excursion trains to the seaside which keep people's lungs full of fresh air, but that would not be a reason for merging Transport and Health. Therefore, I think that argument was a bit overdone, and that it is right that tuberculosis should come under the Ministry of Health and not under the Ministry of Transport.
All these arguments about prevention and cure, and so on, are useful up to a point. But the question is, how do we tie up things so that they work in the most practical way? An argument was developed by the right hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove, and reinforced by the hon. Member for Thirsk and Mal-ton (Mr. Turton), that it was dangerous for my right hon. Friend to have town planning and housing because he might be biased in favour of housing and against agriculture, and that this would prevent him from being an arbitrator in disputes between the agricultural Ministers and the housing Ministers. I do not think that is realistic. In the first place, my right hon. Friend himself, in association with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, sent out the circular which was quoted by the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton. It was very sound doctrine, as he agreed, and I know nobody who is more enthusiastic than my right hon. Friend—no less than my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture—to preserve England's green and pleasant land, and to preserve our countryside. If I may say so, so am I. I have been active in Government with a view to that being done.
But it must not be thought that by merely having a Minister of Planning without housing, that would necessarily enable him to be a decisive arbitrator. He himself, when Minister of Town and Country Planning, might have disagreed with this Minister or that about a proposition, or even with two Ministers. What happened then, as hon. Members who have been in government know, is what happens now. If my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture takes a strongly different view from that of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Local Government and Planning, there are avenues in the machinery of Government 1582 through which these things can be collectively considered and decided. Therefore, I can assure the House that I do not think it need have any fear on that particular point.
§ Brigadier Medlicott (Norfolk, Central)
The hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Donnelly) put the point that agriculture at the present time was containing the development of towns. Surely, the opposite is the case. The towns are encroaching upon agriculture to the extent of anything up to 20,000 acres a year.
§ Mr. Morrison
I understand that what my hon. Friend was putting forward was that there is always a possible conflict of claim between agriculture and housing, or between agriculture and other interests. I know that is so, because I have had to do something about considering these things. So there is nothing strange about that, but I entirely agree with what has been said, that we must try to watch this building over of agricultural land. It is a curious thing that although the population has not gone up—in some places it has diminished—the area of agricultural land has diminished. I am worried about it. It is a point to take into account—not only from the point of view of food production, but because the green fields and the green scenery are part of the beauty of the country, and I do not want to see it lost.
Reference was made by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to Sir William Douglas and the date of his retirement. I understand that Sir William, who has been long in public service, will be making his departure from the Civil Service at no distant date, but not this side of 31st March, anyway, because as Accounting Officer he has certain duties in that respect. He may be leaving fairly soon, but I do not know the exact date.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Messer), who takes a great interest in health administration matters, was a little mistaken, I think, in his assumption that we had split the health functions between two Departments. I would not say there may not be something in that; but there is not much in it. I think he was a little confused by reference to certain health functions and a list of Public Health Acts, and about some of the functions that have gone to the Ministry of Local Government and Planning. As he will realise on reflec- 1583 tion, because he has local government experience, some of the Public Health Acts are not concerned with health in the sense that the National Health Service is, and not with medical business: they are concerned with sanitation and that sort of thing.
§ Mr. Morrison
All right. I am taking notice of what my right hon. Friend said. If I have repeated what he said, I am sorry.
§ Mr. Messer
I used that as an illustration, and I said that there was a danger that the gap might be widened. I said there was a danger that the National Health Service might not be a unified service.
§ Mr. Morrison
I see. I beg my hon. Friend's pardon. As a matter of fact, the division is pretty reasonable. If a matter is really a health matter it goes to the Ministry of Health. These regulatory functions, administrative functions—it may be proper—should go to the Ministry of Local Government and Planning. My hon. Friend said that the local authorities used to go to the Ministry of Health for all things. Well, I doubt whether that was ever true, because there was always the Home Office, and since 1919 there has been the Ministry of Transport, and there was the Ministry of Education; and there have been certain other Departments of State with local government functions. I am not sure that local authorities could go to one Department only concerning their affairs—unless it was some hundreds of years ago when the Home Office was almost the only internal Department of State. However, that is a small point.
§ Mr. Messer
I said for the purpose of getting sanctions for loans—loans for no matter what service.
§ Mr. Morrison
I think they will now go to the Ministry of Local Government and Planning. I do not think it will be any more complicated. They will go to the Ministry of Local Government and Planning instead of to the Ministry of Health, and when they get there they will find largely the same people functioning, so that they will not feel too lonely, and it will be all right.
1584 The hon. Member for Think and Malton—I have already referred to his point about the loss of agricultural land—said that he had a list of about seven Departments of State that were all land grabbers, and there was only one land retainer, the Ministry of Agriculture. He could have added to the seven, because nearly every Department of State is a land grabber sooner or later. There are the three Service Departments, for example, and the Ministry of Works, too. However, I have dealt with that point. I see his argument—except that the facts are more favourable to him than his argument. I do not think he need worry about it, because the Ministers at the agricultural Departments are not backward in fighting for the rights of agriculture. It is so, and it is right that it should be so; and if they feel that somebody is doing something likely to damage the agricultural interest they will not hesitate to take the matter higher up and to get a fair decision about it, and to make other Ministers discuss it.
The hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Emrys Roberts) kindly gave general support to the proposals embodied in the Order. He thought—and I agree with him—that the proceeding is right and reasonable in all the circumstances of the case. I am glad he thought that the arrangement which, in principle, has been arrived at between my right hon. Friends the Minister of Local Government and Planning and the Minister of Health in respect of the Welsh Board of Health is, on the whole, reasonable and fair in the circumstances; and I am glad to know that the Chairman of the Council for Wales and Monmouthshire concurs in that view. My right hon. Friend assures me that the direct access of the Welsh Board of Health, to which the hon. Gentleman referred, will not be interferred with by the new arrangement. On the contrary, he upholds the undertaking he gave to Welsh Members at the time.
My hon. Friend the Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl) produced evidence in quoting my noble Friend Lord Jowitt as saying that the Ministry of Town and Country Planning would be full-time. I agree that it probably was in the early stages. In any case, my noble Friend, who was then in this House, had to make a case for doing something and he put up the best case he could, and I would say he was right at the time. However, 1585 as time went on it really was not full-time, certainly not for a man of the undoubted energies and abilities of my right hon. Friend, now the Minister of Local Government and Planning. I have dealt with the arbitrator point.
My hon. Friend was also anxious to know whether the bylaw making powers might be in one Department and the relevant policy-making powers and administration in another. I am told the arrangements are that the bylaw making powers go with the relevant policy-making powers in the same Department, so my hon. Friend can be happy about that. I agree that at first sight it looks arguable whether the Registrar-General should be with the Ministry of Health, but I think he should. It could be argued, but what does he deal with? He deals with births, deaths and marriages. Births and deaths certainly have something to do with health, and marriages may have somethine to do with it sooner or later. I therefore think on the balance of the argument that the Registrar-General is rightly with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health.
The hon. Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson), who on these occasions of non-party discussions always makes valuable contributions to our debates, supported the Order on the whole. He thought planning and housing were related, and, if I may say so, I agree with him, as the House well knows. He did say that the Ministry of Town and Country Planning had not been powerful enough to protect itself against the Ministry of Health in an argument. I do not know about that. My experience, as one who has had a lot to with arguments between Government Departments, is that they are all pretty lively and energetic when it comes to an argument. Some of the provisions of the National Assistance Act are still with the Ministry of Health, and I think rightly so because they relate to health administration. Those parts to which the hon. Member referred are still with the Ministry of Health.
Evacuation and reception are not in the Order; I think this must be a matter of administrative arrangement reached between the Ministers. I understand that evacuation and reception will be under the Ministry of Local Government and Planning. What will be under the Minis- 1586 try of Health are the rest centres, which is quite a distinct thing. There may be some confusion there between the reception end and the rest centres, but the rest centres are quite a distinct thing; they are places where people who have been bombed out go to temporarily for accommodation, rest and feeding; they have got nothing to do with evacuation as such. I agree that if evacuation were under one Department and reception of the evacuees under another, that would be wrong, but I think that is not so.
§ Mr. Molson
Can the right hon. Gentleman help me about one matter? The retained health functions are contained in Part II of the Schedule of the Order, and, therefore, the welfare services which are in fact the whole of Part III of the National Assistance Act ought, I should have thought, if they were being retained by the Ministry of Health, to appear in Part II of the Schedule.
§ Mr. Morrison
I think that the explanation is that as this is a power which the Ministry of Health retains, it is not really necessary to set it out in the Order. It is when we come to transfer of power from one State Department to another that we should set it out. I must admit that there are a number of things set out here that are in fact retained. I will consider the point made by the hon. Gentleman, but I hope that there is nothing wrong. I am much obliged to him for raising it, but it is a power which the Ministry of Health in any case have already.
I think that the hon. Gentleman was rather worried that we were a little quick about the dating of the Order—that it was coming into operation rather quickly and that it would have been better if we had waited for Parliament to re-assemble.
§ Mr. Molson
My point was that it would have been better if this Order had been introduced early in the Christmas Recess so that there would have been an opportunity to effect this change before Parliament met which always imposes a heavy burden on the Departments.
§ Mr. Morrison
There are two answers to that. It is hardly an idea to put into the Government's head that we should appear to be evading Parliament so that we can get used to things before Parlia- 1587 ment can interfere with us. I take note of the point. I will bear it in mind, but I do not want to take advantage of it. The real answer is a practical one. There came a time when the Prime Minister decided, with the consent of His Majesty, that certain changes in the composition of the Government should take place—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—and that when those changes took place he was going to make readjustments in the functions concerning State Departments. He thought that that was the time to do it, and I do not think he was wrong.
§ Mr. Molson
I am interested to learn now that it was the Prime Minister who wanted to make the change. A letter was written by the late Minister of Labour stating that the burden on him was becoming intolerable and that he wanted to go to a lighter Department.
§ Mr. Morrison
I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman said that. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why."] This was part of a matter of agreement. I did not know that I was going to be led into matters of Ministerial changes like this. It is true that my right hon. Friend did admirable work and that as Minister of Labour he did make certain representations to the Prime Minister, but in the end it was the Prime Minister who had to make the changes. I do not think that there is anything to make heavy weather about.
The hon. Member for Luton, as I have said, made a well-informed speech about the matters under consideration, and he asked me what the effect of this Order would be on local government administration and so on. Strictly speaking, the answer is that these things are not particularly relevant to the Order. This Order, as I have said, is related to the functions of central Government only, and these things do not change the functioning of local government. I think that he was sound in his argument about the functions to be discharged. He made the point that possibly some of the distribution of functions we made may be wrong. The doubt is legitimate, and we shall have to watch the matter. The glory of this procedure under this Act of Parliament is that if we made a little mistake we can promptly alter it by making another Order. That is how things ought to be, but I hope that we may not have to do so. The hon. 1588 Member for Pembroke (Mr. Donnelly) was generally for the Order, and I am glad that he felt able to welcome the discussions and conclusions which had been reached about the Welsh Board of Health.
I think that I have dealt with the points raised by the discussion. It has been a useful discussion, and it is right that something should have been said on this subject. There has been a great deal of agreement, and in all the circumstances I trust that the House will feel that we are on the right general lines. I sincerely promise that if it should prove that there is something imperfect about this Order we shall be happy to receive representations, consider them and make the necessary revisions. We have had a fruitful discussion of this problem of administration, and I trust that at the appropriate time the right hon. and gallant Gentleman may feel it possible to ask permission of the House to withdraw his Motion.
§ 9.56 p.m.
§ Mr. I. J. Pitman (Bath)
The Lord President of the Council was a bit coy in admitting to my right hon. and gallant Friend that the only justification for this Order ought to be that it makes Government business more rapid and efficient. I thought that he avoided that issue because he did not want to imply that under the present organisation it is slow. It must be obvious that his allegation that it is merely a desire to tidy up nomenclature and make it a really neat looking organisation is a misleading picture. Organisation is nothing unless it produces the results in action. There is no point in changing the organisation or in having any organisation at all unless it is capable of getting business through more quickly.
The great flexibility of the British constitutional system is that Ministers are responsible to the Crown, and if they are autocrats within their own field the need for co-ordination between them arises. It is a commonplace that it is extremely simple to co-ordinate action within the same office. It becomes a little more difficult when it is a matter of co-ordination up and down the passage. Coordination between different divisions of the same Department becomes more difficult still, but if there is to be real trouble it is when a file has to be sent out of one Department to another.
1589 The real benefit from this change arises out of the fact that many of the actions requiring co-ordination will now be coordinated within the same Department, whereas, hitherto, they have had to be co-ordinated between two completely autonomous Departments at the Cabinet level—through the collective responsibility of the Cabinet. It is perfectly clear that this is a re-organisation which has been carefully thought out and is in terms of greater speed and efficiency in the conduct of Government business.
I do not think that the Lord President has made any point about his preference for procedure by order to procedure by a Bill. I think it is admitted that the House can contribute a great deal to proposals of this kind, and that there are hon. Members who could have been particularly knowledgeable and helpful if this re-organisation had been brought forward as a proposal rather than an enactment. There have been today many instances of such ability, as has been shown in particular by my hon. Friend the Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson) and was shown even by the Lord President when he admitted that "there are a number of things set out here that are in fact retained." It has apparently not been authoritatively settled whether the Minister of Health remains responsible for the powers reserved to that Minister in the National Assistance Act. These are good examples of how the House could carry out its right and proper function in dealing with proposals before they become enacted.
Similarly, I think it was very interesting to note the way in which the hon. Member for Luton (Dr. Hill) drew attention to another aspect of the matter, the responsibility for "livestock" on verminous persons. There are a great many things which obviously need to be tidied up, and yet it seems to me that it is obvious that that would have been cleared up in advance if the Bill procedure had been adopted.
When it comes to the question of timing, I do not accept what the Lord President said, namely, that it was an issue of personnel and re-arrangement of the Government which led to this reorganisation. It must be the other way round. This is an issue of careful planning which has been done in the interests of better Government efficiency, and the 1590 element of expediency has entered into it because of selected personnel to fit the new posts which then exist. I do not believe the story that the former Minister of Labour was tired, and that as a consequence this new procedure was thought up overnight and was produced so that there might be this reshuffle. It seems to me fairly obvious that the thing was the other way round; indeed, it is almost an affront to our intelligence to suggest to the contrary.
§ 10.2 p.m.
§ Dr. Morgan (Warrington)
I hope the Government will forgive me if I say that I disagree with not only the procedure involved in this Order, but also the way in which the Order is framed. The very attitude of the Lord President of the Council tonight, the rather frivolous and light-hearted way in which he gave an answer to the discussion showed that the Order was not being treated with the seriousness which one would anticipate from a Government handling such an Order. I know that the Government and I sometimes differ very seriously, but I have been loyal so far to the Government, and on many another occasion I have taken my hat in my hand and walked into the Lobby. On this occasion had there been a Division, I would have asked on grounds of conscience to be excused from supporting this Order.
I have given this matter consideration for a long time. I agree with the division of certain matters between two Government Departments, but the way in which this Order has dealt with purely health matters suggests that there has been no really detailed examination of the division into retained health functions and transferred health functions. The Government should never have dealt with it in this manner. My own view is that the Government should take this Order back and come forward again with a really serious suggestion.
I am sorry that the Government have dealt with this serious matter in such a way. There are many problems dealing both with the curative side and the preventive side. It is a mistake, a delusion, and a fallacy to try to divide health matters into a curative side and a preventive side. There are problems of the preventive side which are interlaced with the curative side, and although these matters can be dealt with quite scien- 1591 tifically, easily and harmoniously between local government and the central Government, that is not in this Order. The Minister who is to have these transferred powers given to him will have one of the most difficult jobs in the world today, although he may think it an easy job.
I can only express my deep regret. I want the House to think this matter over, because I do not want to be more of an embarrassment than I am at present. The matter should not be decided tonight. The transferred and the retained functions should be looked at again; the whole problem should be reviewed. I am sure that it would produce a much finer and better situation. The House of Commons has suffered a defeat. The Government have dealt with this matter and with the health of the nation in altogether a different way from that in which a medical professional man would deal with it. I ask the Government not to try to pass this Order tonight, but to reconsider it. I urge them to review the problem again right from the start.
§ 10.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Pickthorn (Carlton)
We Grenadians very seldom agree. I do not think we have ever agreed before; when we do agree, perhaps we are entitled to ask the House to consider very seriously whether the apparent majority may not be mistaken. I myself have not been in the Chamber all day, though I have been pretty good so I do not say it to reproach the Lord President, but I am sorry that he is not here: because I wish to begin by expressing my extreme gratitude to him. I had been wishing to speak, but feared most of the things I wished to say might be out of order. I would certainly not try to speak out of order, or to push across under some subterfuge something which I knew to be out of order. But the main question which I wish to get on to HANSARD is now quite definitely in order.
The Lord President made what, from him, I suppose, we must call an argument; even for him a comparatively elaborate argument, amid the string of damp squibs of facetiousness to which the hon. Member for Warrington (Dr. Morgan) has referred. It was an argument about a proposal which I will give to the House in his own words. He said that the Government had considered care- 1592 fully whether this change ought to be done by Bill legislation and he explained why they had decided against it and did not bring in a Bill. That relieved my mind very much. It is now very plain that if it was in order for the Lord President to demonstrate why this change should not be done by Bill, it is probably in order for me to demonstrate why it should have been done by Bill.
I propose not to limit myself wholly to criticism of what is being done but to try to indicate why it should not have been done by this method. That must be plainly in order, after the Lord President's speech. I hope to say a word or two about why the thing should not be done by Statutory Instrument though I will not trespass on the time of the House or your indulgence by explaining why it should have been done by Bill, if at all. The Lord President told us one reason why it had to be done: that the job is not adequate. I have no doubt that as a rule the Lord President's jobs are adequate. He said that he did not think that the Ministry of Town and Country Planning was an adequate job. He almost said that this was what you might call a Dalton Refiationary Bill.
It was because of his right hon. Friend's energies and abilities this had ceased to be an adequate job, and something of greater importance and attracting more public attention must be found. That was the Lord President's suggestion as one of the principal reasons for doing it. For all I know, it is one of the principal reasons for doing it. That is not the sort of thing that ought to be done by an Order in Council, the blowing up of "busted" Ministers. That should be done by other methods, and the procedure by Bill is an admirable method which, if the Lord President feels himself Hercules enough to do the blowing up, he had better try. He ought to use the proper pump, and not to try to short-circuit the thing, or he may "bust" himself if he is not careful.
The Lord President was very anxious about titles, too. When we discussed this matter earlier he complained that conservative traditions were going and that nowadays people were not inventing good enough titles for Ministers. "Centuries ago," he said, "men were imaginative and devised fine, sweet-sounding titles for Ministers." He is in great error if he does not think that men now devise fine, 1593 sweet-sounding titles for Ministers. A good many of them would be out of order, but plenty of them are devised, and if he would like to consult me on another occasion I should like to tell him some of them.
This particular title does not really mean what they think it means. I am inclined to agree with the criticism that if they are going to say "Minister of Local Planning and Local Government," it should be "Minister for Local Planning, etc." I do not think that is a purely verbal point; there is a matter of substance contained in it. This, at any rate, I am certain, that if "Minister of Local 'Government and Planning" meant anything it would mean "Minister of Local Government and Minister of Local Planning." What this is intended to mean is precisely the opposite. It is intended to mean "Minister of Local Government and of Central Planning." The Lord President's attempt to devise a sweet-sounding title on this occasion has not succeeded in throwing out much light or much sweetness, and is certainly highly inaccurate.
I want to come to the main point: it seems to me this main thing should in every but the legal and verbal sense be the creation of a new Ministry. Under the Statute they cannot formally create a new Ministry by this procedure, but this amount of transfer of functions, of this degree of importance, amounts in fact to the creation of a new Ministry. I wish to invite the attention of the House for about three or four minutes to reasons why that should not be done by this method.
It has been commonplace throughout all these additions of executive power and the ease of transfer of functions between executive persons is an addition of executive power—to say—I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will do me the justice of saying that I have used this argument over and over again with my own leaders in the past—in introducing Bills, "Of course, it is quite true that, if the powers for which we now ask were to be used bang up to the hilt, that would be intolerable, but Ministers are sensible chaps and we are all honest folks," and all that kind of thing. Never was that argument more over-used than in the passing of the Statute by which this instrument is being given the force of law.
1594 I will not weary the House—I do not think we could weary the Lord President by refracting back to him his own utterances—but I will not take his time nor weary the House by reading all the speeches made by him and his right hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General. But we had all sorts of phrases about "mere adjustments," "the normal thing would be," "matters of" I have forgotten what, and "tiny little affairs" and so on. The whole promise was that this was not to be normally used for any considerable matters. I would like to ask the Lord President or one of his right hon. Friends if they know how often instruments have been used under this Statute. Have they any idea? Nearer twice or 30 times? Has the House any idea?
§ Mr. Pickthorn
The right hon. Gentleman is wrong. The number of times the thing is done,and the amount and quantity that is done at the several times, when added up really alter the nature of the thing which is done. This power has been used on comparatively slight occasions but on my own reckoning, at least 13 times in 1946, 1947 and 1948. I do not know about the last two years. I say that to use it that sort of number of times for that sort of thing—which added up was very considerable, but which could be held to be in terms of the assurances given to the House—and then to come down with a whacking great thing like this, is wholly abnormal in the terms of the arguments on the Second Reading and Committee stages of the Act of 1946. I challenge the Lord President to deny that within the terms of the arguments then used by himself and his learned Friends the present use is wholly abnormal. I do not think there is any possible chance of denying that.
That is one more step in the continual process by which, helped mainly by war—because the greatest war profiteers there have ever been in history have been the forces of Progress in this country; this is one more step in the process by which, helped mainly by two wars, the Executive has continually increased its power, and the House of Commons has got more and more overwhelmed either with the amount of business or with the sense: "Well, we have let this sort of thing go so often, let it go once more."
1595 And now when this was done, it was done in great haste. That cannot be denied. It was done with the minimum of notice. That cannot be denied. And the reasons for the transfers involved in the Schedules have been put today with the absolute minimum of attention and seriousness. This is not one of the greatest matters we have to discuss, only because the matters we have to discuss get greater in inverse proportion to the size of the persons who govern us. Nevertheless it is quite a great matter we have to discuss and it is with very great regret that I see a thing of this sort done by this procedure.
§ 10.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Pargiter (Southall)
I do not propose to talk at great length or to follow the hon. Member for Carlton (Mr. Pick-thorn) into the ethics of the way in which this business has been done. What the House is more concerned with is the effect of what has been done, and whether or not it will be beneficial. At the moment there are one or two questions in my mind as to whether it will be beneficial and nothing that the Lord President has said has answered them.
One of the problems with which the Committee on Local Government Manpower dealt was the relationship between local government and the various Government Departments and to what extent this could be streamlined so as to take up less time. I do not see that anything in this arrangement will help to solve that problem. In fact, if we take a particular case, we can see that it might take more time. When we were dealing with the Ministry of Health, over a vast variety of services, we also had from that Ministry the necessary loan sanction. In other words, if there was a problem for discussion with the Ministry of Health, a proposal was put up to that Ministry, who vetted it from the technical point of view and, if the proposal was all right, gave the loan sanction.
What will be the position now if, for instance, a local authority wishes to build homes for aged persons? In its initial stages, that remains a problem for the Ministry of Health, by whom the plans would normally be discussed, "vetted" and approved. Will it, in future, happen that, automatically, the Minister of Local 1596 Government and Planning will give the necessary loan sanction, or will he also want to "vet" the plans? That is what so often happens when two Departments are concerned; one Department will not automatically approve unless there is some clear cut arrangement that it should do so. I should like an assurance on this problem otherwise I see, not less, but considerably more, local government time being taken up. I want to see, if possible, the strain on local government in relation to the central Government Departments eased rather than anything else.
There has been a tendency of late for the adoption of the general principle that the Minister responsible for approving a scheme also approves the loan sanction. With a scheme involving roads, for instance, the Minister of Transport happens to be the sanctioning authority; the Home Office are responsible for certain services, and are similarly responsible for the loan sanction. I think that the Minister of Education should be responsible for loan sanctions for the particular purposes connected with his Ministry, who, after all, are responsible for seeing that a scheme which is submitted for their approval is a proper one. They should, therefore, be responsible for seeing that the finances are made available for it. It should not be necessary for local authorities to have to deal with two Departments on these matters. If something on these lines could have been conceived in the arrangements concerning the Order, it would have been generally beneficial for local government.
As regards the amalgamation of town and country planning and housing, the general consensus of opinion appears to be that the transfer will be beneficial. I am not sure, however. I am a member of a county council within the Greater London area which is also a planning authority and is very much concerned with a large part of the Green Belt. This council, which is very much concerned in its endeavour to conserve the Green Belt, has within its area a number of housing authorities who are equally concerned with pushing out into the Green Belt to deal with their housing problems.
The general feeling, hitherto, has been that even if the Ministry of Health were to press a housing proposal but the planning authority did not like it, the Minister of Town and Country Planning, at any rate, was impartial. He may now 1597 still remain impartial—that, I know, would be his intention—but there will be the sort of feeling that there is no longer an impartial Minister whom one may approach on this problem of the relationship between housing and town planning, particularly when there is undoubtedly considerable pressure on the Minister to vary the position regarding open spaces and matters of that kind. To that extent, I have an open mind as to whether the new procedure will be good or bad, but, on the whole, local authorities will feel that there is no longer quite the same degree of impartiality.
With regard to many other functions there is, obviously, room for further divisions of function and, having regard to the many changes which have taken place in the arrangements between local authorities and the central Government, it is time that there was some general cleaning up in connection with the different things for which authorities have to approach different Government Departments. For instance, to deal with certain functions concerning children, we must approach the Ministry of Education, but in dealing with the difficulties of deprived children we have to go to the Home Office, and so on. That is all because of the way in which things have grown up, and I hope that at some time or other, my right hon. Friend will give consideration to the general problem. I do not think that he has really dealt with it in this order. He has dealt with one part of it, which may work out, but I am afraid that it will not work out too well.
§ 10.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Ian L. Orr-Ewing (Weston-super-Mare)
I find myself in agreement with a great deal that has been said by the hon. Member for Southall (Mr. Pargiter) but I find myself in disagreement with the Government in having introduced this sort of change in this way. There is so much implicit in this type of change that I feel we should have been able to work it out in rather greater detail. A great many of us, on both sides of the House, have felt for some years there should have been a re-allocation of duties, a re-division of duties, in matters of local government, planning, and so on, and no secret has been made of that. It has not, in fact, been a party issue in any way.
All of us, have been agreed that one of our main objects was to see that local 1598 government should function properly, with a full sense of responsibility. That implied two things. It implied not only that the division of responsibility should be a right and fully understood division at the top, but, also, that there should be greater responsibility delegated from the centre outwards because, unless we have that delegation of responsibility, we could never get fully responsible local government.
What I object to about the manner of the introduction and the proposal of these changes is that there has been no background, no explanation, and, so to speak, no element of hope provided to local government, whatever the changes may have been at the centre. For that reason, I think it is a very dangerous thing. All forms of local government, and all its responsibility to management is affected by what we have before us tonight, yet there is no hope held out to any responsible local government that it will be able to play a larger part, that its voice will be heard to greater effect and that its electors will feel that those whom they have elected to represent them, will have more say in local responsibilities. I may be right or wrong in that, but I have the impression that that is the effect that the Order Paper before us will have on local administration. To that degree, therefore, I deplore the manner in which the Government have put the matter before the House.
It is a very grave matter. I do not suppose any of us would believe that Parliamentary government should exist in this country unless we had behind it sound, democratic, local government. It could not exist and anything which would encourage or help to rebuild something which, I believe, we have lost over the last 50 years—a sense of responsibility in local government—would be of very great service in re-establishing the prestige, if I may put it that way, of a Parliamentary government and democracy.
A great deal has been said about the implications of this Order. I want to draw attention to one particular aspect of the matter. I dislike intensely the idea that the Minister who is now to be called the Minister of Local Government and Planning should be judge, jury, accused, and everything else, all under one head. I object to it more particularly as I represent a rural area, a country division.
1599 This objection may not seem to carry very much weight to those who represent city and borough constituencies where there are no villages and where the functions of the Ministry of Town and Country Planning have been absolutely different from the duties of the Minister has to operate in rural districts. But where it comes into the countryside it enters a field where the Minister is bound to be in trouble under proposals inherent in this Order.
I cannot imagine that he really would like to double himself. He cannot really believe that he can fulfil all the functions and duties under one head. I cannot believe he would be comfortable in setting up an inquiry into the right use of land, or the right planning of a housing estate, where he is to appear for the defendant and for the complainant and give the judgment—sitting beside himself on the same bench—in other words, where one Department of his Ministry is fighting against another Department. If the Minister wants to say something let him get up and say it: I did not hear what he said just now. No doubt he is very expert in these matters. I am talking only as a humble Member of the House, who is putting forward a view as to how these proposals will affect feeling in local government in my part of the country.
There are all sorts of difficulties which the Minister cannot possibly solve in decency, cannot possibly solve in fairness, under the conditions which I suggest. To whom is the Minister to appeal? To whom can he possibly send up such questions for final solution? Under the set-up we have in this Order, there is no appeal beyond the Minister. He will find himself involved in all kinds of contortions and distortions, and it may be—I hope not—injustices against his will. I do not believe that the intention of these proposals is to place him in that embarrassing position in which the whole repute of his Ministry will tumble down day by day.
Who is to set up these inquiries? The Minister himself. Who is to wind them up? The Minister himself. Who is to make the final decision? The Minister himself. Whatever excuse may be given for these proposals, I feel that I can never be happy unless an impartial body is set up which will deal with the final settlement of matters of dispute. I feel greatly disturbed for these reasons: first, 1600 because of the manner in which this has been laid before the House; second, because of the meaning these proposals have as regards the functions and responsibilities of local government; third, because they would hold up to disrepute any Minister who golds the title of Minister of Local Government and Planning.
§ 10.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)
I should like to say one or two words in reply to the criticism the hon. Member for Carlton (Mr. Pick thorn) produced, which I thought entirely unfounded. He did not attempt to deal with the merits of the proposals which the House have been discussing this evening and on which the House are substantially agreed. The hon. Member for Carlton ventured to accuse the Government of having betrayed some assurance which he said was given when the Ministers of the Crown (Transfer of Functions) Act was being discussed. That criticism was entirely unfair, in my opinion.
§ Mr. Fletcher
I have also read through the debates which took place in 1946 when the House passed the Act under which this Order was made, and it is not correct to say that an assurance was given that there would be any limit on the transfer of functions for which the Order in Council procedure would be adopted. It is true that when the Bill was being passed through the House, it was contemplated that in normal cases the transfer of functions which would operate under the Act would be of a comparatively minor nature.
§ Mr. Pickthorn
I have never seen anyone refuse to give way before when another hon. Member's argument was being questioned.
§ Mr. Fletcher
It is perfectly true that during the passage of the Bill it was contemplated that any transfer of functions would be of a relatively minor character, but it was not suggested that they would be limited to minor matters. 1601 What is more important is this. The hon. Member for Carlton, who spoke on that Bill, and a number of his colleagues, realised when the Bill was being passed that once it was passed, it could apply to all kinds of transfers of functions. They said that transfer of functions need not be a minor matter, and that it might be a very important matter. For that reason, they argued that it was not appropriate that the transfer of functions should be subject to the negative Resolution procedure. They said that because the transfer of functions might very well be an important matter, it ought, therefore, to be subject to an affirmative Resolution. That proposal was put forward from hon. Members opposite for the very reason that it was an important matter. However, the House decided otherwise. It decided that the negative resolution procedure was the appropriate one.
Having had this experience this evening, of some three and a half hours' discussion of the Government's proposals, I think that the wisdom of the course which the Government took in 1946 has been justified. We have had a very long discussion on this. We have had a full opportunity for Parliamentary examination of the proposal which the Government have made. In the result, after this discussion, the House has substantially agreed with the merit of what the Government have proposed.
§ 10.37 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
We have had considerable discussion, but not, I think, in any way too, long a discussion. Nor can I agree that the matter has been disposed by this discussion. The House was willing, I think, to give a fair examination to the proposals which were brought forward by the Government. It was disposed to listen, was, indeed, anxious to listen, to the reasons which the Lord President would give for the steps and the merits of the steps which the Government was taking, as well as for the procedure being adopted.
First, I have one word to say to the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher), on both these points. But when he referred to the justification of the Lord President, the odd thing was that the House became more disturbed after the Lord President's speech than it was before. All the speakers after the Lord President had spoken had been critical 1602 of the Government proposals—and not speakers from only one side of the House. With the exception of the last speaker, who is wrong in his facts and his appreciation of what the House had decided, everyone was against the Lord President.
The hon. Member for Islington, East, has said that these proposals met with the general agreement of the House. He was sitting just below the hon. Member for Warrington (Dr. Morgan), who said that if there had been a Division he would not have supported his hon. Friends on this. Then the hon. Member for Southall (Mr. Pargiter), was also disquieted at the proposals brought forward, and there was a very vigorous speech by the hon. Member for Carlton (Mr. Pickthorn). There were also speeches by the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Pitman) and the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. I. L. Orr-Ewing), both of which were critical of the Government's proposals.
After these speeches I think it was straining his appreciation of the situation very much indeed when the hon. Member said that these proposals met with general approval on merit. They did not. The fact is that the Government, it seemed to me, did not quite rise to the height of the argument which it had set before the House tonight. The Lord President of the Council, gave us, as always, an entertaining and skilful speech. But he did succeed in dealing with the fundamental question of public policy, the question of whether it was going to make administration speedier and more efficient. He said that he did not think that was the purpose of the Order. It seems to me that the question is, "What, then, is the purpose of the Order?" That is the point which I put to the right hon. Gentleman. I still press it. It seemed to me this was the question. I do not wish to pursue the argument further tonight, because it is a very big argument.
It is an argument, which as I pointed out in one aspect, has gone on for over 100 years, and has by no means stopped yet, and I certainly think that the matter will undoubtedly, in one form or another, come up again. My hon. Friends the Liberal Unionists have a Motion on the Order Paper on the problems of local government, and I am sure they will do their best to see that in some form or another it is discussed. For my part, and 1603 I am sure for the part of many of my right hon. Friends and hon. Friends also, I and they will do our best to see that some opportunity of the kind is given to them.
I do not think that the spirit of the debate in 1946 was fully grasped by the hon. Member for Islington, East, when he said that no actual pledge on procedure was given. It is quite true that no pledge in terms was given; but in the spirit of the debate and of the speeches—I do not propose to read them all again now; he will see there is such a thing as a spirit of a debate as well as specific pledges—it was there. When Ministers of the Crown specifically pick out the minor questions as the real justification for the procedure adopted, I do not think it is good enough for the hon. Member to say that as no actual pledge was given no actual pledge is here being broken.
In the circumstances, I do not find it possible to withdraw the Motion. We do not, as I said, intend to divide; but I do not think the explanation given of the changes proposed is adequate, and I think the subsequent speeches made it clear that it is not the view of the House either. Therefore, I would not on this occasion ask for the leave of the House to withdraw the Motion.
§ Question put, and negatived.