HC Deb 01 March 1957 vol 565 cc1611-28

Order for Second Reading read.

2.44 p.m.

Major Sir Frank Markham (Buckingham)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I hope the House will welcome this short, necessary and uncontroversial Bill of mine with the same unanimity with which it welcomed the previous Bill. I have said that this Bill is uncontroversial, and I think everyone is aware that it has support from both sides of the House and that it arises from the Guillebaud Report.

The House may also remember that Section 27 of the National Health Service Act, 1946, provides that local health authorities could make provision for ambulance transport when necessary for people who are ill, or for nursing mothers, but, unfortunately, this has never been interpreted as permitting local health authorities to provide ambulances on a repayment basis for purposes outside the Act. Obviously, one such desirable purpose is that ambulances should, on occasion, be stationed at great public gatherings, like race meetings, motor rallies or football matches, where there are the hazards of sporting risks, in addition to crowd accidents.

In all these matters, the promoters of these great concourses, whether it be Silverstone motor rallies or the Northampton or Luton football matches, are willing to repay the local authority for this ambulance service, but at the moment the local health authority is quite unable to provide it. The Guillebaud Committee, in considering this matter, in paragraph 673 of its Report said this: We understand that it is the practice of some local health authorities to provide ambulances to stand by at motor race meetings, etc., to deal with possible casualties; but there appears to be some difference of opinion whether the authorities have any power under the National Health Service Acts to charge the promoters of the meetings for the provision of this service. The Committee went further in its conclusions, and recommended: It seems right to us that local health authorities should be able to levy a charge in such circumstances and we recommend that the statutes be amended if necessary to make clear beyond any doubt that they have the power to do so. This Bill, therefore, is a very small Bill, a necessary Bill, and an uncontroversial one. May I say, in conclusion, that it has been suggested that perhaps this is the thin end of the wedge for making other payments for ambulance services necessary. That was certainly not the intention of the Guillebaud Committee, and it is certainly not my intention or the intention of any of the supporters of the Bill. Nor do I believe that it is the intention of Her Majesty's Government, and I therefore commend the Bill to the House.

2.47 p.m.

Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)

I beg to second the Motion.

It is my very great pleasure to associate myself with the provisions of this Bill, and I do so because I feel that no harm can come from these proposals, but that, indeed, very much good might well do so. I speak from personal experience, in that on one occasion some years ago a member of my own family was very ill and the question of the scope of a certain local authority in regard to the provision of an ambulance arose. There was difficulty in obtaining an ambulance; in fact, it was impossible to obtain one owing to the provisions of the Act which govern this position at the moment.

While there may be some concern in some quarters about establishing the principle of repayment, I am quite sure that it will not in any way be abused. It is far better that the principle should be established if it is to mean that in all circumstances where an ambulance is necessary an ambulance can be provided. I also feel that such a provision in the future might well mean the saving of life on occasion, and I think that at some of the big sports meetings which we all enjoy attending in this country ambulances should, in certain circumstances, he standing by.

I have no doubt that the ambulance services of the country, and the local authorities particularly, would ensure that, when ambulances were asked for in these circumstances, the provision of ambulances to stand by at large sports meetings and events of the kind which are envisaged here would not in any way detract from the power of the local authority to send ambulances on other calls in any other circumstances or in cases of accident that might arise. I therefore have very much pleasure in supporting the Bill.

2.50 p.m.

Dr. Edith Summerskill (Warrington)

I am sure that the hon. and gallant Member for Buckingham (Sir F. Markham), who moved the Second Reading of the Bill, did so with the best possible motives, but there are some considerations which may not have occurred to him. I am wondering whether they have done. I would point out at once that I am speaking in an individual capacity.

I confess that until a little while ago I did not think that we should reach this Bill today, and it is only in the last half hour that I have considered it carefully. As I did so certain possibilities occurred to me, and I am wondering whether they have occurred to the hon. and gallant Member. I think he knows me well enough to know that in a matter of this sort I would not seek to be obstructive. My first inclination is to say that the Bill provides what may be regarded as an extension of our social services. However, I am wondering about some of its possibilities, how, perhaps, it would be applied were it to be passed.

The hon. and gallant Member is in effect giving to private concerns the power to direct local authorities to send their ambulances and staff to any private entertainment. The entertainment could be a football match or motor racing. There are other entertainments.

Mr. Harold Gurden (Birmingham, Selly Oak)


Dr. Summerskill

I did not like to mention it, but I had it in mind.

There is rock 'n' roll, and there are rock 'n' roll films in cinemas where, on that account, there may be casualties. I believe that there have been casualties at cinemas showing rock 'n' roll films. There are other entertainments of which we have read and at which there is the possibility of injury. I am thinking at the moment of an entertainment at which hypnosis is administered. There have been entertainments at which so-called experts in hypnosis have endeavoured to hypnotise people; they have invited them to go on the stage for that purpose.

Let us imagine what could happen. Let us imagine a provincial town on a Saturday afternoon, when there may be at the same time a football match, a meeting at a small motor track, a rock 'n' roll film at a big cinema, and an entertainment of the kind that I have just mentioned. They are all entertainments at which physical injury can be done. Is it the hon. and gallant Member's intention that the organisers of those four entertainments should be able to direct the local authority to send ambulances to them or to be on call in the event of their being needed? Is that the object?

Sir F. Markham

No. It is not to be in the power of the promoting body to direct that an ambulance should be in attendance. The Bill provides that the local health authorities shall have the power to make ambulances available, and the discretion is entirely with the local health authorities.

Dr. Summerskill

Very well, I will accept that.

Suppose that I were the medical officer of health of a local authority of a town where four such entertainments as I have mentioned were taking place. I am trying to be practical, as I am sure the hon. and gallant Member will agree. I am not thinking of any fantastic kinds of entertainments. Suppose that I were the medical officer of health and that the promoters of one of those events asked me to supply an ambulance and staff. I ask the hon. and gallant Member to consider the position of the poor medical officer of health.

The medical officer of health has great responsibilities. The life of the people is his interest. The interests of the council are his interests. He is mindful of the repercussions there will be if he does not send an ambulance and there is an accident. He has to make the decision whether or not to send an ambulance. Let us suppose he decides not to send one and that an accident occurs and there is a casualty. There will inevitably be a great deal of trouble. The matter may very likely be raised in the council meeting. The occurrence could be of such a kind as to arouse the emotions of the entire town. In any case, people will say, "The local authorities are at fault. They should have had an ambulance there. They had power to send one under the new law."

I think that the local authorities of the areas represented by hon. Members here, or most of them, have only limited ambulance services because ambulances are expensive and, secondly, the ambulance service staff have to be trained people. An ambulance driver and the other people who serve with an ambulance must have special knowledge.

An ambulance driver is not just a lorry driver. He has to be an expert driver, and he knows that he is conveying a sick or injured, possibly a dying, person. He must not accelerate rapidly or brake rapidly. If he were to do that he would be a bad ambulance driver. These people are very specially chosen. Not just anyone can be sent out with an ambulance on a Saturday afternoon to a local entertainment. I want to impress upon the hon. and gallant Member that he is making demands on a service which is a specialised service.

I repeat that I am speaking individually. I have not discussed this matter with any group of any kind. If I am wrong in what I am saying the hon. and gallant Member must tell me so. He must tell me, if I am wrong, that such a thing could not possibly happen, and that the medical officer would not have to decide whether to send ambulances to those four entertainments or to any one of them, and that the promoters of those four entertainments could not possibly demand, "We want ambulances."

What is the position today? The position is that they are fully safeguarded. My husband is a rugby football enthusiast and I often go to rugby matches on Saturday afternoons. If a player is injured and has to be carried off there is no time lag between that and his being treated. Certainly I have never observed a time lag. An injured player is always looked after. There is always a doctor in the crowd. My observation is that an injured player is always seen to immediately. If an ambulance is required it comes quickly. I have not heard any grievance expressed by people who promote these events. If I thought there was a problem I would be the first to say so.

The first question then is, where is the problem? We have all of us observed how quickly an ambulance arrives as soon as it is wanted. The ambulance service is already available. I ask the hon. and gallant Member to consider whether, by promoting this Bill, which he has done, I realise, from the best possible motives, he will perhaps embarrass the local authorities. I ask him to consider whether, were the Bill on the Statute Book, it would be effective.

2.58 p.m.

Mr. Dudley Williams (Exeter)

I should like to confine my remarks to some of the points raised by the right hon. Lady the Member for Warrington (Dr. Summerskill). My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Buckingham (Sir F. Markham) pointed out to her that the Bill does not give anyone the right to demand the assistance of an ambulance at any race meeting, football match, or the rock 'n' roll meetings that she mentioned, but it gives permission to the local health authority to station an ambulance at one of these meetings and claim a fee for its services. There is no question of anyone having the right to demand the attendance of an ambulance.

The right hon. Lady said that the fact that there might be four or five such meetings in an area on one day might cause considerable difficulty for the local medical officer of health. He might feel that if he did not supply an ambulance for an event and there was an accident he might be criticised at the council meeting and find himself up against considerable difficulty with people who lived in the locality. The right hon. Lady rightly pointed out what happens at a football match. She did not mention the name of the rugby team of which her husband is a strong supporter, but no doubt it is a good one. If the right hon. Lady has been at Twickenham, as no doubt she has, she must have noticed how an ambulance is available to take the man home within a short time of an injury occurring.

I am sure that the right hon. Lady is right in saying that in the case of a number of sporting events, such as a football match in the middle of a city, ambulance services are readily available. If a rock 'n' roll session takes place in a dance hall in the middle of a town and someone falls over and is hurt in the course of this energetic contest, an ambulance can be quickly summoned and a doctor, no doubt rocking 'n' rolling with the best of them, is available to help the unfortunate victim. But I come from a part of the country which does not readily have these services available.

Mr. David Gibson-Watt (Hereford)

Or rock 'n' roll?

Mr. F. Blackburn (Stalybridge and Hyde)

Does the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Williams) mean an ambulance service or rock 'n' roll?

Mr. Williams

My hon. Friend the Member for Hereford (Mr. Gibson-Watt) has already asked me if we rock 'n' roll in Devonshire. We can do it with the best of them, but there are certain activities in our social life there where it is not easy sometimes to secure medical assistance. I am thinking of some of the sporting events that take place on the wilds of Dartmoor. For instance, there are sheepdog trials which a considerable number of people attend in the heart of the country.

We are also now coming to one of the most interesting periods of the year, the point-to-point season. This is a very important part of Devonshire activities, as my hon. Friend the Member for Tavistock (Sir H. Studholme) knows. When people attend such a sporting event, they are nowhere near a town and there is no ambulance anywhere available if one of the riders is injured and has to be taken to hospital. All that the Bill does is to give power to the local authority to provide ambulance facilities for such events.

Mr. Burden

Would not my hon. Friend agree that the Guillebaud Committee subjected this matter to very considerable and prolonged investigation and, although we naturally pay great regard to her comments, the right hon. Lady the Member for Warrington (Dr. Summerskill) admitted that she had had only half an hour to consider the Bill? In view of the fact that the Guillebaud Committee considered this matter from the point of view of a statutory undertaking so to do, should we not pay great regard to its views and would not the right hon. Lady the Member for Warrington perhaps agree that half an hour's consideration is really not long enough?

Dr. Summerskill

One Clause.

Mr. Williams

I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) is right, and I am obliged for that intervention.

Sir Henry Studholme (Tavistock)

I was about to intervene when my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) did so. I was about to point out that we have a very efficient St. John Ambulance Service in our county and it is very much in evidence at all the point-to-point meetings that I attend. I do not know whether any hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Williams) is aware of that, but it is a consideration to be borne in mind.

Mr. Williams

I have not been picked up by St. John Ambulance people as a result of an accident, but I well know that they do attend the point-to-point meetings in Devonshire. I was not confining my remarks to point-to-point meetings in Devonshire. There are race and point-to-point meetings in various parts of the country where St. John Ambulance Brigades are not readily available. I hope shortly to be attending one with my hon. Friend the Member for Tavistock, where, no doubt, we shall see the St. John Ambulance Brigade in Devonshire giving the services it has given for so many years.

This kind of event is the one which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Buckingham had in mind when he introduced this Bill. I do not think it is right that the local health authority should be expected to provide ambulance services and to make ambulances readily available on the ground at the events I have mentioned. On the other hand, I think it is right that if it is asked by the promoters of such a meeting to make medical assistance available, the local health authority should be entitled to make a charge, which I do not think the promoters would have any objection to paying. Therefore. I believe that this suggested amendment to the National Health Service Act should receive the approval of the House.

I have no doubt that in Committee one or two points will be raised, but I do not think they will be serious ones. One cannot look upon this as controversial legislation, and I feel sure that the right hon. Lady will be able to give us her support when she has had another look at the Bill. She has probably been taken by surprise because the other Bill went through rather quickly, and we all understand that she has not had much opportunity to consider this Bill, to which I hope the House will give a Second Reading.

Dr. Summerskill

May I ask a question before the hon. Gentleman sits down? He has shown himself so reasonable and understanding on a previous Bill that I am sure he will respond now. The hon. Gentleman said he felt that those concerned in a point-to-point meeting in a country district should be able to ask for the services of an ambulance, for which they would be prepared to pay. What is to happen in the urban district from which the ambulance comes on, say, a Saturday, if ambulances are wanted for these other kinds of entertainment? I am thinking of the practical point, which is where the ambulances are to come from. If the hon. Gentleman is to have one for his point-to-point in Devonshire then all the other race meetings in the country will presumably ask the medical officer of health for the urban area also to send ambulances. Will he explain where all the ambulances are to come from, and why a point-to-point should have one rather than a football match or the motor races which have been described?

Mr. Williams

I was only quoting a point-to-point because this happens to be one of the few sporting events I can find time to attend. The right hon. Lady asks what is to happen to all the other events. I think she is going off at a tangent, if I may say so with great respect, because this Bill does not give the promoters of a race meeting or any other sporting event the right to an ambulance. All they can do is to apply to the local authority to provide one. They cannot demand one. If the local authority says, "We are sorry but we have only two ambulances and one is broken down, so there is only one available for the city of So-and-So and, therefore, you cannot have one at your race meeting or motor car rally," they have to accept that. That is the answer to the point of the right hon. Lady.

3.10 p.m.

Dr. Barnett Stross (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)

I do not find myself in disagreement with the last explanation given by the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Williams). I do not think there is any need to make heavy weather of this small Bill of two Clauses, the second of which is only a line and a half in length.

We are here dealing with legislation which is essentially permissive. There is no obligation upon a local authority to obey any injunction upon it from a private individual. If vehicles are not available, they will not be sent. We should remember that most of the vehicles are equipped with short-wave wireless and can very easily be recalled if they are required elsewhere.

We should bear in mind that the essential principle in this country is that every individual should have available in case of need the type of service envisaged so that he may as expeditiously as possible be taken to a place where he can be treated, if he is injured or taken ill. It is a matter of caring for the rights of the individual rather than of talking about groups.

I do not propose to participate in a discussion as to whether people are injured in rock 'n' roll parties or point-to-point meetings. It is possible to envisage the use of ambulances at political meetings, in certain circumstances. I imagine that they might well be useful sometimes, although very much less so now than in the eighteenth century. Had ambulances been available then, I think that there would have been a great call upon them. I can visualise their being rapidly filled and returning for further loads.

Mr. Blackburn

Would they have been free or for hire?

Dr. Stross

For hire, and it would have been very expensive in those days.

There is much to be said on behalf of the Bill because it is permissive. It fills a gap, and is useful legislation. My right hon. Friend the Member for Warrington (Dr. Summerskill) has expressed all the possible objections to it. She was right to think of them and to put them forward for us to consider. I think that, having done her duty in scrutinising the Clauses and stating all the possibilities of mischance in such legislation, she is now content, as I am, that the Bill will probably do nothing but good. I have pleasure in supporting it.

3.13 p.m.

Mr. Harold Gurden (Birmingham, Selly Oak)

I shall speak for only a moment or two, because I am anxious not to talk the Bill out. I congratulate my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Buckingham (Sir F. Markham) upon bringing forward the Bill. It is a small but excel- lent Measure, and I support it.

It brings to my mind the excellent ambulance service which we have in Birmingham. Some of us regret the passing of the old St. John Ambulance Service, which was rather wonderful. Under that service it was possible to hire an ambulance in the manner envisaged by the Bill. It was a mistake so to change the service—I am sure it was an oversight—that one could no longer hire an ambulance for such a purpose.

I also want further to answer the criticism, if it can be so called, of the Bill expressed by the right hon. Lady the Member for Warrington (Dr. Summer-skill). I am happy to note that it was the only point which could possibly be raised in criticism. If an ambulance is needed at any of the sporting events which have been mentioned, it should be got there quickly. If ever an accident occurs, an ambulance should be on the spot quickly, and, as has been said, that very often is the case.

The whole difficulty of people who run ambulance services, particularly in large cities, is to have ambulances stationed as near as possible to danger spots, and for that reason they have ambulance centres. Ambulances have to be on call very near to places where accidents happen. Where is it better to have an ambulance waiting than at the very spot where accidents are likely to occur? If ambulances are stationed where football matches take place, or places where other sporting events are taking place, they are on call for an accident in the surrounding area. I understand that nothing would prevent the ambulance officer withdrawing such an ambulance in order to take a motor accident case to hospital.

I think the right hon. Lady will accept that we could very well use the sporting event ground as the station for the ambulance which has to be somewhere on call in the area. There would be an advantage rather than a disadvantage in that. I hope the Bill will go through this afternoon and through its remaining stages.

3.17 p.m.

Dr. J. Dickson Mabon (Greenock)

I agree that there is a good case for this Bill, at least at first glance, but there are certain doubts in my mind and, while I am naturally inclined to see the Bill go through, I want those doubts removed before I for one agree to it.

First, I wish to ask why the present provisions of the National Health Service Act do not cover the eventualities which may arise? I am not suggesting that the Act covers all eventualities, but I should like to have heard instances explained more fully than they have been explained. The Guillebaud Report, which now, I hope, is the bible for hon. Members on both sides of the House with respect to the National Health Service, made a recommendation on the matter. That tends to bias me in favour of a Bill of this nature, but even so I am not completely convinced that a complete case has been made to the effect that the present position is inadequate.

I should also like to know what demand there has been from various supporting organisations. Have they suggested that ambulance services are unto-operative or that local authorities are unwilling to provide ambulance services in anticipation of accidents at sporting meetings? Is it the case that the ambulance services have put forward the plea that already they are too much tied down by commitments to be able to stand by at these events? If that is the case, it would argue against the efficacy of the Bill as the services could not stretch their present capabilities in the way suggested. That matter should be dealt with more fully before we agree to pass this Bill.

Another point which upsets me very much is the phrase "for reward". That is not because in this context I would disagree with the idea of a reward for ambulance services, but because, like the sponsor of the Bill, I think this could be regarded by malevolent people as the thin end of the wedge. The sponsor himself suggested that as that was a possibility he, his supporters and the Government assured us—I shall not say pledged themselves—that that was furthest from their minds and that this would not be the means of a new health tax being imposed.

I have no doubt that the hon. Member would be among the first to be shocked if the Government, or any Government, used this precedent for imposing a charge, however small, for the use of ambulances in the Health Service. Unfortunately, that is not such a remote possibility, for taxes have been imposed on appliances of all kinds. For instance, men who have lost a limb have had to pay for artificial limb supports. Many of us never thought that such things would come to pass in the Health Service, but they have come to pass, and many other taxes are being dreamed up. In the present Session we have had the tax on each item on the prescription, which is causing great harm, as hon. Members on both sides of the House know, to many of our constituents.

Here is a possibility of a new tax being imposed, and I want a specific assurance from the Government, reinforced by the sponsor of the Bill, that the idea of using this mechanism is far from their minds and that the Bill could not be the thin edge of the wedge in that respect, if I am satisfied on those points I will join with most hon. Members in agreeing to a Second Reading of the Bill, but I am afraid that unless I am satisfied upon them, and particularly upon the last of them, I will oppose it.

3.21 p.m.

Mr. Charles Doughty (Surrey, East)

I am afraid that I cannot answer the questions asked by the hon. Member for Greenock (Dr. Dickson Mabon), for I am neither a representative of the Government nor a promoter of the Bill. It seems obvious to me that when a private Member introduces a Bill to deal with a particular and limited objective, it could hardly be called the thin edge of the wedge of Government or Opposition policy. The sponsor of this Bill has only one objective in view, and that is to provide these ambulances against charge.

Dr. Mabon

Would the hon. and learned Gentleman not agree nevertheless that if the House agreed to a Private Member's Bill it could be said that we had created a precedent in this matter?

Sir F. Markham

The Guillebaud Report, on which the Bill is based, in almost the same paragraph as that which advocates this change, also says, very firmly indeed, that it concludes that the introduction of a charge for ambulance journeys could not in any event be justified on financial or administrative grounds. I gather from that and other paragraphs that any idea of charging the general public or individuals for ambulance services is ruled out. The Committee then swiftly dealt with the stand-by service, which is a different matter, and recommended the change. I commend it to the House with all my heart.

Mr. Doughty

Listening to my hon. Friend the Member for Selly Oak (Mr. Gurden), one would have thought that the St. John Ambulance Association was practically dead, whereas we know that it is very much alive, very active, and is a very useful service which carries out work for the National Health Service, often under county councils throughout the country. I know that my hon. Friend did not intend to imply that the St. John Ambulance Association was dying or dead. It is very much alive.

I support the Bill, and for that reason do not wish to detain the House. I speak as one who on occasion has been a victim in need of the service. Strange as it may seem, many years ago—I regret to say—I used to ride point-to-point at a weight which it may surprise the House to know was 12 stone 7 lb., including saddle and bridle. That was one of the regulations of the race. Many times, when cantering to the starting post, one saw the ambulance and exchanged a merry greeting with the personnel, looking forward to meeting them again in the near future. It gave one satisfaction to know that if one's horse put a foot wrong, or some other horse put a foot wrong, one would not be left lying there while a car was borrowed to serve as an ambulance.

I once saw an accident at a point-to-point meeting. There was no official means of moving the unfortunate man and finally a car was borrowed for the purpose. It was quite unsuitable for the purpose and the man to this day bears the scar of that unfortunate accident. That would not have been the case had an ambulance been there.

Nowadays, of course, if an ambulance should be at a sporting meeting and a disaster occurs in the town requiring the service of a large number of ambulances, that ambulance could be summoned by a wireless message from the control centre—one knows that many ambulances today are fitted with wireless—and could be at the scene of the disaster in a very short time. I mention that in order to deal with one or two of the points raised. I hope that this small but important Bill will be given a Second Reading, and, having said that, I will delay the House no longer.

3.25 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health (Mr. J. K. Vaughan-Morgan)

It might be to the convenience of the House if I stated at this stage the approach of the Government to the Bill. First. I should like to congratulate my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Buckingham (Sir F. Markham) on having taken the opportunity which the Ballot gave him to present this useful Bill. I doubt whether when he deployed so clearly and well the arguments in favour of the Bill he realised how wide the debate might range at times.

This is a very straightforward Bill implementing a clear-cut recommendation of the Guillebaud Committee. I find it hard to believe some of the interpretations put upon the possibilities of the Bill if it became law, either by the right hon. Lady the Member for Warrington (Dr. Summerskill) or, indeed, by the hon. Member for Greenock (Dr. Dickson Mabon). Dealing first with the hon. Member for Greenock, I think that if he reads the Bill, and reads it as is very important, in conjunction with the National Health Service Act—Sections 27 and 63 —he need really have no fear whatever about what can be done under the Bill.

It is certainly not the intention of the Government—indeed, it is not possible under the Bill as at present drafted—that any such charge should be made. There is the difficulty that at present a local health authority has no powers whatsoever to provide a standby ambulance service, and it was in order to clear up that point that the Guillebaud Committee recommended that the law should be amended. At present, local health authorities only have the statutory power to provide an ambulance, strictly speaking, after the event, if I may so put it. It was the Guillebaud Committee's suggestion, as my hon. Friend pointed out, that local health authorities should be given the new powers.

Dr. Dickson Mabon

I wonder if the hon. Gentleman will be good enough to give me a further assurance? I am grateful to be assured on the literal application of the present law and the Bill if it were to become law. I accept that. But could the hon. Gentleman say whether the Ministry has in mind any thought of using a Bill of this sort as a precedent for a future Bill for the purpose of imposing charges for ambulance services?

Mr. Vaughan-Morgan

May I say straight away that this is a Private Member's Bill and that my mind is perfectly clear on the subject? There is no such intention.

To return to the point I was making, namely the sort of occasions on which this power to provide stand-by ambulances might be used. The promoter of the Bill, my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Buckingham, referred to race meetings, the right hon. Lady the Member for Warrington referred to rock 'n' roll parties, another hon. Member referred to pointto-points—or is it points-to-points? I am never quite sure—and a voice in the background murmured "cock-fighting." I really feel that I ought to say that the occasion which occurred to me was the Welsh eisteddfod, today being St. David's Day. I do not know whether we have any psychologists amongst the Members of this House, but if so it might be interesting for them to study what is revealed of the minds of various hon. Members who have spoken by the types of occasion which they have thought fit to mention.

May I also refer to what was said by the right hon. Lady the Member for Warrington. She said that she had had only half an hour in which to study this Bill. I think that she has had a little longer than that, because the Bill has been published for quite a little while. Heaven help us if she devotes many more hours to its study, because if she does she will manage to "cook up" a good many more equally curious arguments.

The right hon. Lady visualised this extraordinary position of the medical officer of health for a borough sitting in his office on a Saturday afternoon choosing between rock 'n' roll, a political party meeting, a point-to-point and various other occasions. I must remind her that it is entirely permissive; unless the off-peak capacity exists in the local health authority and unless the medical officer can provide the stand-by ambulance without in any way jeopardising arrangements for the normal emergency, there is no reason to think that he will ever be faced with the dilemma.

Dr. Stross

I urge the hon. Gentleman not to visit my sins upon the head of my right hon. Friend the Member for Warrington (Dr. Summerskill). The political meetings were mentioned by myself and not by her.

Mr. Vaughan-Morgan

I appreciate that. But she was conjuring up this vision of the poor medical officer of health in this awful dilemma on a Saturday afternoon. I think that is not conceivable in the Bill as it is at present drafted.

It may be of some interest to the House if I mention one other sphere in which the proposal might come in useful. Certain industrial undertakings, the National Coal Board and certain chemical works, are obliged by statute to provide ambulance facilities for their employees, and it occurs to me that it might be possible, by arrangement with the local health authorities, to provide better facilities than can be done at present, without overlapping, if these powers are given to the local health authority. I thought the House might be interested in that point. This Bill would, in fact, remove any doubt as to the local health authorities' power to enter into such an arrangement.

May I also assure the House—although the point has not been raised—that there is no question of extra vehicles being provided. The intention is that those authorities who have spare capacity outside peak hours should be able usefully to employ their ambulances on work which is outside the scope of the present Act. It is the intention of the Ministry to ensure that when ambulances are used under these powers, a full economic charge should be made, and we intend to discuss in due course with the associations of local health authorities, if and when the Bill becomes law, the basis on which appropriate charges could be made.

I think this is a very useful and practical Measure which will extend the scope of the services which the local health authorities can at present carry out, and I therefore commend it to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 38 (Committal of Bills).