HC Deb 25 November 1958 vol 596 cc317-32

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Chichester-Clark.]

8.6 p.m.

Mr. Frederick Gough (Horsham)

While expressing my gratitude for this opportunity to raise the matter of Crawley Hospital, I do so with a heavy heart, because I do not like criticising a Government which I most wholeheartedly support. I hope that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health will be present shortly, and I am sure that he would be the first to support that statement of mine from his experience when he was a Government Whip and responsible for my attendance in this House.

This is not a matter of criticising the Government, but I shall be bringing facts to the attention of the House which seem to show beyond a peradventure that I have been misled by four Ministers. In the comparatively short time that I have been a Member of the House I have formed the opinion that no Minister would purposely or willingly mislead his back-bench supporters. I feel and I believe that what I have to say will bear this out, that the Ministers themselves have been badly misled, and that the matter is so serious that I shall ask my hon. Friend, as I did at Question Time last week, to ask his right hon. Friend to institute a full inquiry.

I appreciate the opportunity to put this matter carefully to the House. As long ago as September, 1954, I was asked by various constituents to press the then Minister, now my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour and National Service, to do something about Crawley Hospital which was then, and still is, an old-fashioned cottage hospital designed to serve a small country town with a population of 4,000 or 5,000 people. From that date until now the population of Crawley has increased by 26,000, but the hospital remains in the same state.

On 9th February, 1955, I asked the then Minister a Question to which he replied: … as far as Crawley is concerned there is an £80,000 scheme which would not come into the category of a large scheme. This proposed smaller scheme is for a maternity and outpatients' department."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th February, 1955; Vol. 536, c. 1905.] My right hon. Friend expressed the hope that it would go into the regional board's programme of the South West Metropolitan Regional Board for that or the following year. I must ask my hon. Friend if he has had an opportunity of looking into this, because from that day to this we have heard absolutely nothing more about this £80,000 scheme.

On 14h February, 1955, which was a few days after I asked that Question, I received a letter from my right hon. Friend the Minister in reply to a suggestion of mine that he might put up some temporary buildings, and I gave him some figures which I had obtained from a local building contractor to say that he could have produced something reasonable in the nature of £1.500. He turned it down partly because his advice from the Ministry was that the estimate would be nearer £6,000, but, more important, if I may quote a sentence out of his letter, because it was … to meet a temporary need which is likely to be of fairly short duration. I again emphasise that that was on 14th February, 1955, and I would say that from then until today's date can hardly be described as "of fairly short duration." Indeed, my right hon. Friend went on in this letter to say: As matters now stand the regional board attach a very high degree of urgency to the Crawley scheme owing to the poor facilities of the present hospital. I need scarcely add that the poor facilities of the present hospital are poorer by four years and by a very much enhanced population.

I should like to draw the attention of the House to a speech made by Sir Thomas Bennett, who is the Chairman of the Crawley Development Corporation, at its annual general meeting on 19th March, 1955, which was held at Crawley. Referring to the project of new maternity and out-patient facilities, Sir Thomas Bennett had this to say: This scheme is now before the Ministry of Health for financial approval and a decision is expected very shortly. The Board have appointed architects to prepare working drawings in preparation for the letting of a building contract. Sir Thomas Bennett is a professional man of the highest possible quality and also a public servant of the greatest integrity. I am quite convinced that Sir Thomas Bennett would not have made those statements if he had not had some categorical assurance either from the Ministry of Health or from the Board. He did say that architects had been appointed and that the working drawings were being prepared, and I should like to ask my hon. Friend if he will be good enough to state who the architects were, whether, indeed, there were any architects and what has happened to their working drawings.

At this stage, I should tell the House that all these plans had been to enlarge and develop the present hospital on its existing site, which is in a part of Crawley known as West Green. Shortly after that incident, there was a new Minister, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) became the Minister. I sent him a note that I was going to mention his name today. He was kind enough, shortly after he took office, to receive a deputation, which I led and which was very representative of the people of Crawley. That was during the summer of 1956.

At the end of that meeting, he confirmed to us that the scheme was in hand, but he was not prepared to give us any promise as to when it would start, mainly due to the economic situation then existing in the country. He followed this up on 22nd August, 1956, with a letter to me in the second paragraph of which he said: Since I met the deputation the Regional Board have been working on more detailed drawing. I apologise for referring so often to these working drawings and these detailed drawings, but I wish to do so in order that the House may know that we have had one assurance after another that drawings have existed or drawings have been made.

That was on 22nd August, and I received a further letter from my right hon. Friend on the 30th October, 1956, in which he stated to me that complete agreement with the Board had been reached on plans for the first stage and that he was then in a position to go ahead with the working drawings—working drawings which we had been assured by Sir Thomas Bennett had been dealt with a year before. He was then free to go ahead with the working drawings which he pointed out to me in his letter were essential for getting the work up to the tender stage.

He mentioned in his letter that there was one small planning point relating to a boiler and it was necessary to consult the planning authority. While he was in the process of consulting the planning authority we had, unfortunately, another change and a new Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Runcorn (Mr. Vosper). I immediately got in touch with my right hon. Friend and he was kind enough to send me a letter dated 11th March, 1957, in which he said: As my predecessor explained, all points of design which were at issue between my Department and the Regional Board were settled some time ago. It does take a long time to complete plans for a hospital but work has been going on and a start this year seems possible. That was written on 11th March, 1957— a start this year seems possible. He went on in his letter—and I have no doubt that this was all raised by the trivial point about the boiler, a matter which, as we know, had been put in front of the planning authority—to say that the planning authority, the West Sussex County Council, had raised objections to the proposed site, the West Green site, and wanted the hospital transferred to the other end of the town. He ended his letter by saying: All I can say at the moment is that if the site on which the Board wish to build the hospital is not changed, building is likely to begin this year. I passed the observations about the planning side of it on to the planning authority the West Sussex County Council and I must say that the council bitterly resented the way in which it was put by the Minister. I can only say that that is the way in which it was put to the Minister. I passed on the observations of the West Sussex County Council to my right hon. Friend.

I think that it is as well for the House to hear what those observations were. The county council said: When the master plan for Crawley was settled and approved, the Crawley Hospital site was at the south side of the town at Tilgate. There has never been any question of its being anywhere else until recently. For the Minister to say that there has been a development which might upset his plans for the hospital and to go on to blame it on to the county council for raising objections to the proposed site, which he apparently, in his wisdom, has negotiated with the Regional Board with complete and utter disregard for thee master plan of Crawley, is to endeavour to shift the responsibility for this situation from his Department and the Regional Hospital Board, on to the shoulders of the county council, which is grossly unfair and completely divorced from the facts. I venture to submit that that is absolutely true on the facts. I would point out to the House that the master plan for Crawley was approved by the county planning authority on 30th January, 1950. It was not until 12th November, 1956, that is, nearly seven years later, that the Secretary of the Board sent particulars to the Clerk of the Crawley Urban District Council for redeveloping or. the existing site under Circular 100 procedure.

As can be well imagined, there was then a really first-class rumpus and it ended in the desirability of having a public inquiry. In fact, the local authorities themselves insisted on a public inquiry because they wished the general public to realise and understand where the blame lay for these terrible delays.

That public inquiry took place on 30th April, 1957. It is interesting to observe that at the inquiry the Secretary of the South-West Metropolitan Regional Board said in his statement: The present plans are at a stage which may allow building to commence towards the end of the current financial year. My right hon. Friend considered the Report arising out of the inquiry and eventually decided, on 14th September, 1957, that building was to continue on the existing site, the site which had been chosen all the way along and the site in respect of which we have been told that working drawings were being worked out and completed for several years. According to Sir Thomas Bennett, those working drawings had started two-and-a-half years previously.

We then had a further change, caused by the most unhappy illness of my right hon. Friend the Member for Runcorn. We now have the present Minister. A little bit later, my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Mr. R. Thompson) ceased to be a Whip looking after my activities, and became Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health. As soon as he was appointed, I got in touch with him. He will remember that I said to him, "We shall very soon have a little bone to pick together". He was kind enough to look into the whole of this question.

My hon. Friend wrote to me on 18th November, 1957, a little over a year ago, and drew my attention to the fact that planning took a long time and that the Department bad had difficulty with the planning authority. I hope that he has taken note of what the planning authority thinks in this respect. He said that the scheme had, of course, to be examined again from the financial angle. He said, I would remind hon. Gentlemen, on 18th October, 1957, that the Board was engaged on working drawings. I wonder if all these working drawings have been filed somewhere. There must be a very big file. I have asked a lot of architects about working drawings, and they say that they are not so essential as some people think.

I say now with great respect that that letter was thirteen months ago, and that I was a little bit disturbed when we heard nothing more. I put a Question on 29th October, 1957, and was told the same thing, that there was preparation of working drawings and that bills of quantities were in progress as a preliminary to inviting tenders. The detailed work was heavy and would take some months. Several months have now gone by.

In November, 1957, my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary wrote to me and said: It would have been quite wrong for the Minister to authorise the Board to spend time and money on this detailed work before all the necessary preliminaries had been cleared. Otherwise they may well have had to do the work all over again. My submission is that the Board seems to have done the work not only all over again but about five times over again.

I wrote again after that, on 28th April this year, and again my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary reminded me: The Board estimated nine months to complete the working drawings. We see no reason to quarrel with that estimate. It is curious that there should be that period of gestation of nine months. If we take Sir Thomas Bennett's estimate, we should have had the working drawings by December, 1955. If we take the estimate of my right hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton, we should have had them about June, 1957. If we take the moment when the draughtsmen got busy from the end of the public inquiry, we should have had them, I calculate, about January, 1958. If I take my hon. Friend's letter of 18th October, we should have had the working drawings by mid-July. This is why—I see that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary is rather surprised—I nearly blew up when I received his reply at Question Time last week.

Bearing in mind the obvious difficulties which must occur when there have been no fewer than four Ministers, the fact that we have had an economic crisis and that the Government had to look again at this kind of matter and every other consideration, I nevertheless ask the House to bear in mind the people of Crawley. Whoever is to blame, they are not. They are suffering very much indeed. I feel that my right hon. Friend and his three predecessors have been very badly let down by their advisers. Indeed, I go further and say I cannot think that they have had anything else but completely wrong advice, which has resulted in their being misguided and misled and then misleading myself and everybody else who is interested in this problem.

It seems to me that there is a prima facie case for my right hon. Friend to set up a Departmental inquiry to look into the whole matter, and if there is, as I say there is, culpable negligence, suitable disciplinary action should be taken. Whatever my hon. Friend's answer may be, I once again implore him to get down to this matter. Can he not start on the building without repeating the working drawings, and may we have his assurance that when it starts we can have it done by day and night shifts until the work is completed?

8.28 p.m.

Mr. Joseph Slater (Sedgefield)

I have listened with great interest to the case presented by the hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Gough). Since his party came into power there have been no fewer than five Ministers of Health and during the course of the present Administration he has been dealing with the Department and with four Ministers about a hospital in his constituency.

I have great sympathy with the application he has made to Ministers and their Parliamentary Secretaries in this matter, but when he takes into consideration what has been happening about hospitals in the country generally and the applications and appeals made constantly by hon. Members to the Minister for something to be done, the hon. Member will understand why he has been by-passed and nothing has been done. He has made his appeal to the Minister, detailed drawings have been presented, with alterations and so on, but nothing has been done about building. I have every sympathy with him as with all individual hon. Members who have been pestering the Minister for something to be done in this problem. Let it be understood that up to the moment only one new hospital has been built in this country since this Government came to power.

Mr. Gough

I did not want to make a party political speech, but, since the hon. Member has said that, I think I can point out that my party has gone one better than his party, as I do not think that his Government built even one.

Mr. Slater

We have criticism from hon. Members opposite about six years of Socialism, but in seven years of Tory legislation this Government have not overtaken the problems which they say existed when they came into power. No one gainsays the fact that the country is in need of new hospitals. The hon. Member has spoken about Crawley, but what about Newton Aycliffe? I have put Questions to the Minister about what was to happen with regard to a hospital at Newton Aycliffe, a hospital on Tees-side and a county hospital in County Durham, but up to the moment we have not got anywhere with those.

While this Government remain in power and keep changing their Ministers of Health it does not seem that we shall get any form of progress in the building of hospitals. The hon. Member has made appeals to four successive Ministers, but I fear that when the Parliamentary Secretary replies tonight he will show that, even now, no progress has been made, although the hon. Member has put his case remarkably well.

8.30 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health (Mr. Richard Thompson)

I should like to preface my remarks by apologising to my hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr. Gough) for missing the opening sentences of his speech.

Mr. Gough

They were jolly good.

Mr. Thompson

I am sure that they were admirable, but the business immediately prior to the Adjournment Motion went through rather more quickly than some of us expected.

I am sure that my hon. Friend will acquit me of discourtesy in this matter because, as he knows, I was standing by for this moment for some hours before it actually occurred. The matter my hon. Friend has raised is of tremendous constituency importance to him, but it also has wider implications, because the new hospitals we are building are designed not to serve limited areas but very wide areas.

If I might digress on a personal note, I should say that I have a personal interest in the early completion of a large and thoroughly satisfactory hospital at Crawley, because I think that that would undoubtedly draw off some of the pressure which hospitals in my constituency are sustaining at this time through lack of such accommodation. Perhaps my hon. Friend will allow me to deal with the specific points on which he required a reply a little later in my remarks and allow me to start with some of the history of the matter.

The scheme under discussion was accepted in 1955 as part of the first major now hospital building programme. My hon. Friend will remember that it was announced by the Minister in February, 1955, and subsequently, in July of that year—to his great joy, I have no doubt—Crawley was added to the hospitals which were to be built. An earlier scheme was prepared by the South West Metropolitan Regional Hospital Board to provide outpatient and maternity accommodation as the first stage of a new hospital in Crayley at an estimated cost of £80,000. It is about that scheme that my hon. Friend spoke in certain parts of his speech. He was asking what had happened to the working drawings and matters of that kind.

That earlier scheme was, in fact, abandoned and a new and more comprehensive scheme prepared for the Board by a firm of architects following the announcement by the Minister. My hon. Friend asked me to state who they were. They were Messrs. Yorke, Rosenberg and Mardall, a reputable and responsible firm. I think that that answers the first of his questions, what happened to the original scheme, whether working drawings had been prepared and, if so, what happened to them? All that work had to be set aside following a much larger scheme announced in July. Whilst we may regret the loss of some of the earlier work, Crawley will get a much better hospital as a result of dropping the earlier scheme and, therefore, perhaps the earlier scheme was well lost.

The object of the new scheme was to provide not only for the immediate needs of the growing population of Crawley, which it was agreed were for out-patient, casualty and maternity units, but also to plan a hospital which would adequately serve the ultimate needs of the inhabitants of Crawley.

In view of the increased amount of money which was becoming available, and which enabled the Minister to announce the new programme in 1955, I think that my hon. Friend will agree that it was worth while to accept the delay involved in abandoning the old scheme in favour of something of a more comprehensive and permanent nature. I think, too, that it was worth spending a good deal of time in examining these plans for a new hospital. I do not need to tell my hon. Friend, who has plenty of experience in these matters, what a complicated business this is.

The point is that it is necessary to form an estimate of future as well as of present requirements and to see how what is proposed in one phase fits into the hospital development and provision in the area and also to see that one is getting one's money's worth. It would be quite easy to take a short view on this and to accept and fulfil a short-term scheme, only to find that the accommodation provided was out of date before it was built and that an expanding community such as Crawley had not, at the end of the day, the kind of provision which it had been led to believe it would get.

I can well understand my hon. Friend's concern at the time taken in producing plans, discussing them and revising them; indeed, at times it must have seemed that no obvious progress was being made or that the project had been pigeon-holed. I assure him, however, that the preliminary work which has gone into this will not be wasted, and I believe that in the end we shall find that the time spent in trying to get it right in the preliminary stage will have been worth while.

That brings me to the point of building by stages. A large project such as a new hospital has to be planned so that it can be built in stages, each stage resulting in a workable unit. It is no good producing extra ward accommodation if the heating, catering and all the other services it needs are not there. Equally important, each stage has to be planned to fit in with the ultimate overall plan of the hospital. If we did otherwise it would mean that in the end we should be involved in additional expense in making major alterations to what we had already built.

All this meant that the Board's plans had to be very carefully considered by the Department, not only from the point of view of what should be provided at the first stage but also from the point of view of the hospital ultimately contemplated for Crawley, which by then will be an even larger and more thriving community than it is now.

As I said earlier, the new scheme was received in the Department in July, 1955, in the form of a sketch site plan, a diagrammatic layout of the hospital and plans of what it was intended to provide. For the reasons which I have given, the project required and received protracted study in the Department and informal discussions with the Board's officers and the architects to the scheme. It was necessary to consider how best the departments agreed upon for inclusion in the first phase could be sited and to discuss what should follow in the later stages.

I can quite see that my hon. Friend may think that this preliminary planning took an unconscionable time, and, of course, it is easy to be wise after the event and to conclude that this discussion might have been curtailed had one side or the other abandoned its conceptions on various points. But both the Depart- ment and the Board were concerned to find the best possible solution to the problems posed. Allowing for the fact that this scheme was by no means the only scheme with which the regional board was concerned, I cannot honestly say that there was unnecessary delay in carrying forward the preliminary planning, although I freely admit that it was a lengthy process.

Now perhaps I can deal with some of the specific points which my hon. Friend raised. I will not go over again the fate of the 1954 scheme; that was abandoned for a larger scheme, and I have already dealt with the point.

My hon. Friend wanted to know what became of the various plans that were prepared from 1955 onwards in connection with the scheme—the gestation period. In the course of the discusions and correspondence that ensued between us and the Board, many points of principle and detail in connection with the planning of the first phase were hammered out and, as ideas changed, it was necessary for them to be put on paper. This meant the drawing of revised sketch plans, and their further criticism. For instance, there was considerable discussion on the siting of the maternity department; on whether chronic sick beds should be provided in subsequent stages, and so on.

Further sketch plans were received in May, 1956, and larger scale plans in July of that year. These were once more fully discussed, and, as my hon. Friend pointed out, by October, 1956, it really looked as though the preliminary planning of the first stage of development had been completed.

My hon. Friend referred to the then Minister's letter of 22nd August, 1956—I have a copy of it here—in which the Minister said that the Board had been working on more detailed drawings. These were, in fact, the more detailed sketch plans—that is to say, the sketch plans on a larger scale—that were received in July. Indeed, they might, perhaps, have better been described as more detailed sketch plans rather than drawings. The working drawings referred to in the letter of 30th October from my right hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) are different.

As my hon. Friend knows, sketch plans are an essential part of the preliminary planning. They show the design that it is intended to provide, the position of the rooms, departments, and so forth. Working drawings are in much greater detail, and have to be drawn to such a scale as to enable bills of quantity to be prepared, tenders obtained, and the builder to get on with the job. Working drawings are based on the earlier sketch plans, and it is the practice of the Department—and, I think, the correct practice—not to authorise the laborious work of preparing working drawings until the sketch plans have been finally approved.

I want now to come to the thorny question of the planning dispute. In October, 1956, we had reached the point where we were in a position to approve the sketch plans, subject to the Board's obtaining planning consent to the resiting of the boiler house. At this stage, it was found, most regrettably, that the planning authority—the West Sussex County Council—objected to the hospital being built on the site of the existing hospital, and wanted it built at the other end of the town, on a site which, I absolutely agree, had been reserved for hospital purposes in the local development plan.

The Board had, indeed, proceeded here on the assumption—an assumption which, in the light of subsequent events, I consider unwise—that the new hospital had been accepted on the old site. In its plans, the Board had been very closely associated with the Crawley Development Corporation, and had—wrongly, as it turned out—assumed that the site of the existing hospital, which both the Board arid the Development Corporation regarded with some justification as the logical site for the new one, was also acceptable to the county council.

In fact, it was not acceptable, and the county council, as the planning authority, quite properly pressed its objections. Perhaps I may here and now dispose of the suggestion that the Department attached any blame to the county council for this. That is not so. The county council had an objection, and it was perfectly entitled to press it. That is what it did, and, as my hon. Friend knows, as a result of the dispute, a public inquiry was eventually held, and this caused considerable additional delay.

The public inquiry was held on 30th April, 1957, and after careful consideration and consultation with the Minister of Housing and Local Government the Minister decided in favour of the site proposed by the Board, and this decision was issued on 11th June, 1957. By September, 1957, the Board was authorised to proceed with the preparation of working drawings and bills of quantities.

Now I come to the point raised by my hon. Friend. The Board's original estimate of the time that this would take was indeed nine months. In fact, we did not get these working drawings and bills of quantities in the Department until 15th October, 1958, which was 13 months later, a considerable increase on the original estimate. I think that when the Board made the estimate, it was acting quite properly and thought that it would be able to complete the work in that time, but, in fact, it took longer.

I want to make the point that the drawings were not prepared by the Department or the Board, but by the firm of architects appointed by the Board to plan the hospital. I have already mentioned their name, and they are a reputable and responsible firm. I honestly do not think that there is the slightest reason to suppose that this reputable firm would have dealt with this work in any different way than they would have dealt with any comparable commercial proposition.

What is the conclusion of this matter? We have here a situation in which certainly the Ministry of Health, certainly the Board, I am sure the hon. Gentleman's constituents, and certainly the West Sussex County Council all desire the same facilities—a proper hospital giving adequate facilities to the rapidly expanding community in Crawley and the surrounding district. I am absolutely with my hon. Friend when he feels that if everybody is agreed about the objective, it ought surely to be possible not to turn up too many snags in the achieving of it. It seems to me that that is what we now have to apply our minds to.

My hon. Friend asks for a Departmental inquiry. I do not honestly think that this would serve any useful purpose for this reason. The basic facts about this scheme are already known. My hon. Friend has alluded to them in the most detailed manner, and I have perhaps added some additional particulars of my own. I do not think that this inquiry would help; indeed, it would be a grave disadvantage at this late stage when we are all anxious to get the thing moving. It would interpose one more administrative hurdle, and I doubt if, at the end of the day, it would give us a scrap more information. It would also tie up some of the key people who are involved in this process in something which would not actually produce the hospital any quicker.

Where have we got; what point have we reached? The Board has already gone out to tender. It estimates that the remaining stages, including the scrutiny of the tenders received, Departmental approval and the time taken for the contractor to get his labour and materials on the site, will be completed in time for building work to begin before the end of this financial year, and all concerned are being impressed with the vital importance of keeping to this date. I want my hon. Friend to accept my assurance on that.

On the generality of the matter, my right hon. and learned Friend is extremely anxious to accelerate the procedures for the preparation, submission and scrutiny of plans for hospital building throughout the country as a whole, and we are actively considering this matter, and seeing if the existing procedures can be streamlined and improved in any possible way. Apart from the general approach, to which I have referred, my hon. Friend can be sure that my right hon. and learned Friend and myself will keep in closest touch with the progress of this particular hospital.

I am quite sure that the airing, if I may put it in that way, which he has given to these matters tonight will in no sense have been a waste of time. We shall apply ourselves to this purpose, which, as I have said, all the parties sincerely want, with all the energy at our command, and I hope very much that, as a result of all that has been said, the hospital we shall have at Crawley will come sooner and will sooner be in a position to serve the needs of that growing community.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at ten minutes to Nine o'clock.