HC Deb 12 April 1960 vol 621 cc1146-52

6.30 p.m.

Mr. Walker-Smith

I beg to move, in page 2, line 37, at the beginning to insert: Section one of, and the First Schedule to".

Mr. Speaker

It might be for the convenience of the House to discuss at the same time the next three Amendments, that in the name of the right hon. Lady the Member for Warrington (Dr. Summerskill), in line 37, leave out from "of" to end of line 38 and insert: July, nineteen hundred and sixty"; that in the name of the Minister, in line 38, at end add: and sections two, three and section (Additional matters to be included in annual reports of Registrar General and Registrar General for Scotland) of this Act shall come into force on the first day of October, nineteen hundred and sixty"; and that in the name of the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross), in line 38, at end add: in England and Wales and on the first day of July, nineteen hundred and sixty, in Scotland. We might then have a general discussion on the Minister's first Amendment, which seems to be a paving Amendment.

Mr. Walker-Smith

I have been considering since the Committee stage of the Bill how best I could seek to meet the wish that was then expressed for an advancement in the date of the coming into operation of the Bill. There are really two parts to this question. First, there is the case of the information obtained under the Population (Statistics) Act, 1938—that is to say, the information contained in the Schedule—and, secondly, there is the case of the information obtained about the causes of stillbirth under Clause 2, which is the essential part of the new information which we seek to get under the Bill.

With regard to the first of those matters, the ordinary run of the information, there would be, I fear, a definite disadvantage in introducing new provisions before the end of the calendar year, and that is because we have an annual continuity and comparability already established. The changes in the Schedule, being only marginal, are not such as to upset that. There would, therefore, be a disadvantage in making a break in the annual continuity which would not have any compensatory, or sufficiently compensatory, advantage. Though, therefore, I cannot recommend to the House a change in the date of coming into operation of that part of the Bill, on rereading the Committee stage proceedings I am somewhat consoled at this failure by finding that the concern of hon. Members was entirely with the second point, the new cause of still-birth information, which we are providing under Clause 2.

Having looked at it in that light, I find that we can, in fact, do this by 1st October, and as we can do it I think we should do it. It is not that I expect any great advantage from it in any scientific or statistical sense, because the numbers will be small and the time will be short Nevertheless, as we can do it I think we should do it.

I cannot take the date of 1st July, not because, administratively, I do not think we could do it—merely from the Departmental point of view, I think we probably could do it—but we have before then to get an appropriate form of certificate which we then have to prescribe in regulations, and in order to get the appropriate form of certificate we should enter into consultations with the medical profession. What I would not want to do, and what I am sure the House would not want me to do, is to skimp the necessary medical consultation or, still less of course, be obliged to omit it altogether. That is the risk that I should run if, not content with advancing the date to 1st October as originally suggested by the right hon. Lady the Member for Warrington (Dr. Summerskill), I were to seek to advance it to 1st July. That is why I have tabled an Amendment giving the date as 1st October.

I hope the Amendment will be acceptable to the House. I think it ought to be because it represents at one and the same time the first thoughts of the Opposition and my own second thoughts, and that is probably the highest common factor of agreement and practicability that we are likely to get.

Dr. Summerskill

I must say that the climate in these discussions has changed from what it was in Committee. I cannot understand why the right hon. and learned Gentleman was so difficult and very prickly to deal with when these suggestions, based on common sense and reason, were made. One would have thought that in the Standing Committee I was suggesting some outrageous revolutionary proposal.

Again, we have a compromise. We are very happy to accept it, and we hope that the whole matter will be expedited.

Mr. Ross

My right hon. Friend the Member for Warrington (Dr. Summer-skill)—she represents an English constituency—has expressed herself as satisfied. I wish I could say the same. I wish the representatives of the Scottish office would move in the same direction as the English Minister.

I am very happy that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has been able to have second thoughts on this matter. The other day I was reading over the elaborate reasons that he gave us why he could not do anything about it. Still, we forgive him because he has now accepted our arguments. He says that the difficulties are the new form of certificate and the fact that he had to consult persons. I should not have thought there was any great difficulty about that. After all, we have been dealing with this matter for some time. In Scotland we have the form of certificate. I do not think the English doctors would prove very difficult about accepting something which has been working reasonably well in Scotland. However, the Minister then says that he is changing the matter in Scotland, too. I wonder whether he remembered the words of wisdom which fell from the lips of the Joint Undersecretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Mr. Leburn), for they are really good.

When we suggested that October should be the date and pointed out that even with that date we were being generour in respect of delay, the Joint Undersecretary of State for Scotland who usually looks after matters of agriculture gave us the answer and pointed out that Scotland was very much ahead of events. He did not base his argument rejecting our proposed date on anything like calendar convenience. He said: … I do not base myself on any administrative difficulty of having forms printed. I hope I am not giving anything away if I say that in Scotland we have perhaps beaten the gun, in that forms are, I understand, very nearly ready at this present time.—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee A, 22nd March, 1960; c. 20.] It was because he pointed out that the forms were ready that I changed my Amendment and suggested that we should leave England and Wales alone because of all their difficulties but get the Bill into operation in respect of Scotland as soon as possible, which should be on 1st July.

There is only one thing which is holding up the matter in England and Wales. The Minister says that if only he had had the forms ready and had agreement with the doctors he would have been glad to introduce the Bill even earlier than October. We have the forms in Scotland and, also, we are making relatively few changes in Scotland because we already have this information, because our forms ask for the probable cause and so on.

Therefore, why cannot the House accept the Minister's Amendment for England and Wales and my Amendment for Scotland? Why cannot Scotland keep its lead, administratively, in these matters. In Scotland we have already been asking for the information which is required and it is merely a matter of modifying a form which we are presently using, and we understand that the new form already exists. Why should we hang on from April until 1st January next year? Why cannot we start in Scotland on 1st July this year?

I hope that the Joint Under-Secretary, refreshed from his efforts in the Scottish Grand Committee this morning and looking forward to a rest from mental health, will give us a reasonable answer to these questions.

Mr. E. G. Willis (Edinburgh, East)

I hope that the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland will reply to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) because the points that he has made are very relevant. We have listened to a speech from the Minister of Health in which he explained why he cannot bring the date forward any earlier than 1st October. The point that my hon. Friend made was that all the arguments which may be quite relevant in the case of England and Wales do not apply to Scotland. In other words, the reasons we have had why the date on which it should come into force should be 1st October do not really apply, and do not make sense, in Scotland.

My hon. Friend has suggested—in fact we have an Amendment down to this effect—that we should leave England and Wales as they are and that the Bill should come into effect on 1st July in Scotland. My hon. Friend has pointed out that there is no reason why that should not happen. We have already been told that the forms are ready.

Mr. Galbraith

indicated dissent.

Mr. Willis

The hon. Gentleman shakes his head. Apparently his hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State must have got mixed up with the forms for the Price Review and have thought that he was dealing with still-born cattle instead of humans. Now he tells us that the forms are not ready.

We had a case, a short time ago, where forms required in Scotland had to travel between Edinburgh and London very frequently in order to be approved before they could be printed, and something like several weeks passed before the operation was completed.

Mr. Ross

They have to travel between Joint Under-Secretaries as well.

Mr. Willis

That might be so, and it might be that is the case in this instance. We were certainly told that the forms were practically completed. There were apparently no discussions to take place. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman now apparently indicates that that is not so, but how could the forms have been nearly completed if, in fact, the discussions had not taken place? We are now being told something entirely different, and I think that the hon. Gentleman is entitled to tell us what is the position in Scotland. Is it different from what we were told during the Committee stage? Were we in fact not told the correct position at all concerning Scotland? We ought to be told why, if, in fact what we were told in Committee was correct, we cannot bring this Bill into operation on 1st July. The Minister of Health in his speech did not reply to this. If the hon. Gentleman has finished gathering the necessary information, I shall be delighted to sit down and allow him, in his usual very pleasant manner, to tell us why we cannot have it.

Mr. Galbraith

I will try to clear up this difficulty. What my hon. Friend said in Committee was "nearly ready". I think that what he meant was that there was not the same amount of work to do in Scotland as in England, because the change was not as great.

Mr. Ross

The hon. Gentleman's hon. Friend said: I hope I am not giving anything away if I say that in Scotland we have perhaps beaten the gun, in that forms are, I understand, very nearly ready at this present time."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee A, 22nd March, 1960; c. 20.] It is not just "nearly ready "but" very nearly ready". "Beating the gun" is the important part.

Mr. Galbraith

I think that that was a sporting metaphor suitable to the Undersecretary of State whose main responsibility is in the field of agriculture. Although I agree with both hon. Members that the change is not so great in Scotland as it is in England, nevertheless there is a change and it would be difficult to ensure consultations with the doctors and midwives.

Mr. Ross


Mr. Galbraith

It is all very fine for the hon. Gentleman to say "nonsense". These consultations have not yet taken place and they have to take place. I do not think that they can be completed in time to introduce the scheme in July. Therefore, while I appreciate the anxiety of hon. Gentlemen to get a move on, I regret that I cannot accept the Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross).

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In page 2, line 38, at end add: and sections two, three and section (Additional matters to be included in annual reports of Registrar General and Registrar General for Scotland) of this Act shall come into force on the first day of October, nineteen hundred and sixty ".—[Mr. Galbraith.]