HC Deb 12 December 1955 vol 547 cc819-21
52. Mr. Moyle

asked the Minister of Health his policy for the future administration of the mental hospital farms and farmland which come within his purview.

Mr. Iain Macleod

My policy with regard to hospital farming is set out in a memorandum which I sent to hospital authorities on 15th March, 1954, a copy of which I have already sent to the hon. Member.

Mr. Moyle

Has the right hon. Gentleman considered the position of employees who may be declared redundant as a result of his policy, and if so, what steps does he propose to take to protect their interests?

Mr. Macleod

We have covered that point in a circular issued a month or two ago, which said that any people who become redundant as a result of this policy will be enabled to claim that their occupation was terminated as a result of the operation of the National Health Service Act, 1946. That being so, subject in the ordinary way to the circumstances of each individual case, they would qualify for compensation.

Mr. Bottomley

Can the right hon. Gentleman say what change of policy was made by the issue of this circular to local authorities?

Mr. Macleod

The right hon. Gentleman ought to study the memorandum. I will send him a copy. Essentially no change of policy was made because it has always been clear, according to the legal advice that I have received, that I can only farm where the farming activities are an essential part of the therapeutic activities of a hospital, and it was really because farming in many cases has gone beyond these bounds that I had to draw the attention of the hospitals to the matter.

Mr. Blenkinsop

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is some anxiety in the country as to whether he is going beyond those limits in pressing hospital authorities to dispose of farm land which is needed for the wider therapeutic purpose? Will the right hon. Gentleman not be pressed too far by the Public Accounts Committee in this matter?

Mr. Macleod

No, the Public Accounts Committee is not a major factor in this matter. It is the powers that are available under the National Health Service Act which constitute the major factor. I think it is clear that nowadays, with the increasing mechanisation of farming, it is becoming more difficult for hospital patients to engage in work on farms. My main duty naturally is to do what I can to help to cure the patients rather than to engage in farming.

Captain Soames

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the hospital at Arlesey in Bedfordshire where the hospital farming operations are making an extremely good profit, and that they could do much better with the money than they would do if they were forced, as is the Minister's proposal, to sell the farm and invest the money elsewhere?

Mr. Macleod

Of course. I recognise that some farms attached to hospitals are making substantial profits. It would indeed be difficult for them not to do so in the circumstances, with pig farms, free swill and a certain amount of free labour. Naturally, I take into account the circumstances in which the farming is carried out but my main duty is not to engage in large-scale farming, but to do what I can to carry out the duties specifically placed on me by the National Health Service Acts.