HC Deb 10 February 1958 vol 582 cc29-31
51. Dr. D. Johnson

asked the Minister of Health whether the statement of Dr. W. S. Maclay, a principal medical officer of his Department, made in Toronto on 22nd January, particulars of which have been sent to him by the hon. Member for Carlisle, was made with his authority; how far the conclusion embodied in it was based upon facts collated within his Department; and how many of the cases of apparently improper certification, on medical grounds, that have been brought to the notice of his Department by the same hon. Member were studied in arriving at this conclusion.

The Minister of Health (Mr. Derek Walker-Smith)

I understand that this statement was made in the course of a long and comprehensive address to a meeting of Canadian psychiatrists on our British Mental Health Services. It was intended only as a humorous reference to some medical certificates which, as evidence of unsound mind, had been rejected by the Board of Control over a number of years. The rest of the Question therefore does not arise, but the answer to the last part is "None."

Dr. Johnson

Does not my right hon. Friend appreciate that Dr. Maclay, in his statement in Toronto, a report of which stated: … that doctors' reasons for certifying patients as being of unsound mind 'often makes ole wonder whether it is the doctor or the patient who should be certified' was, in fact, drawing attention in, perhaps, rather colourful fashion to the same problem of improper certification that I have submitted to my right hon. Friend and to his predecessors, and will he not ask Dr. Maclay to amplify his statement or his return to this country?

Mr. Walker-Smith

I will certainly discuss it with Dr. Maclay, but I do not think it would be very rewarding to pursue seriously with him something that was meant in lighter vein to sugar the pill of the solid and serious argument to which he was addressing himself on this occasion.

55. Mr. Dodds

asked the Minister of Health how far the statement concerning certifications made by Dr. W. S. Maclay, a principal medical officer of his Department, in Toronto on 22nd January, details of which have been sent to him, was based upon evidence known to his Department.

Mr. Walker-Smith

I would refer the hon. Member to my Answer given today to my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Dr. D. Johnson).

Mr. Dodds

But how can the Minister justify saying that it was said in fun when thousands of people in this country are being certified by one doctor without any special knowledge of mental troubles? When one of his chief representatives goes abroad and makes a statement like that, how can he say he was just having fun? If the Minister is making fun of it, does he not think of the thousands of people who are having to bear this stigma—and their children and grandchildren? Surely, it is not a thing to make fun about.

Mr. Walker-Smith

As I am sure the hon. Gentleman knows, it is not an uncommon practice among practised and persuasive speakers to try to introduce a little lighter note into a serious argument, and it has never been held that that convicts them of any improper levity in their approach to a serious subject.