HC Deb 11 May 1970 vol 801 cc977-87
Mr. Worsley

I beg to move Amendment No. 42, in page 10, line 38, at end insert— (8) In this Act `Secretary of State' shall mean ' Secretary of State for Social Services '. We come to the last main Amendment, one which is of the greatest importance on a subject which occupied a great deal of time on Second Reading and a long and closely argued debate in Committee, followed by a vote which was close enough to require the attention of the Chairman of the Committee. So we make no apology, even at this late hour, for again bringing up the question of responsibility of the Government in this matter.

We have chosen a slightly different peg on which to hang our hat this time. Ministers will appreciate our difficulties. I do not suggest that this peg is in any way arguably better than the one we chose before. If I may anticipate what Ministers may say, I recognise that this proposal would create great difficulties for Wales. I do not intend, even for a moment, to step over Offa's Dyke. I appreciate that in Wales a different provision would be required. I have therefore simply left that out.

Mrs. White

I do not think it very flattering of the hon. Gentleman simply to leave us out.

Mr. Worsley

This shows a healthy respect for the hon. Lady and her compatriots. I am sure that they would not allow themselves to be left out if this Amendment were carried.

We realise that this is unconventional. We had a history lesson from the hon. Lady in Committee which I shall not attempt to repeat, nor to specify which Secretary of State is to take over responsibility. Nevertheless, this is the only way we have to argue on what we regard as a critically important matter. We are talking about the principle, and if the Government accept the principle, I shall withdraw the Amendment.

On Second Reading, we had from the Government benches speech after speech supporting the proposal we are putting forward. I think I am right in saying that every Government back bencher who spoke was in favour of a single department in local authorities. This unanimity in the House is reflected by opinion outside. The Government are in the unconvincing situation of trying to convince us that everyone else is out of step.

The nub of the matter is that every argument adduced by the Government, by the Seebohm Report and everyone else for a single social services department at local level has a mirror image and argument for a single social services department at national level. The same issues on getting priorities right and deciding where to put resources, and the same arguments about planning a family-orientated service and a community-based service, if true at local level are also true at national level.

Since this is so, the Government have been reduced to setting up a structure for co-ordinating Government activity of the most extraordinary complexity and cumbrousness. It reminds me of one of those drawings by the late, lamented Heath Robinson in which with almost perverse ingenuity a result is obtained which could have been produced by a most simple method. We have coordination of civil servants and consultants with inspectorates in the same service and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) said, the most extraordinary distinctions about who should answer Questions in this House.

The reason for this cumbrous, complicated and clearly inefficient system is the simple fact that we have two right hon. Gentlemen—only one is in the House at the moment—growling like a couple of sheep-dogs over their respective dinners each determined that the other should not get something that they value. This is the crux of the matter. It is a power fight between two powerful Ministers, and they have decided on partition at the end of the day.

11 p.m.

Mr. Maddan

My hon. Friend's simile is perhaps more apt than he realises, because sheep-dogs always like to eat the other dog's dinner.

Mr. Worsley

I will leave the animal side of the argument to my hon. Friend.

I cannot help noting and regretting the extraordinary contrast between the degree of control the Government have thought it necessary to exercise over local authorities here—this is the only area where we have criticised the Government in any scale—and what they are applying to themselves. The Government are not practising what they are preaching to local authorities.

Various excuses have been put forward. They can be summed up under two headings. The first is that central Government is already overburdened by various administrative changes that have been or that will be made. Local authorities are also overburdened by changes that have been or that will be made. They are having to digest and re-digest the Children and Young Persons Act, 1969. They have hanging over their heads the enormous reorganisations of Maud and of the Green Paper on the National Health Service. The argument that there is a great deal of reorganisation going on, if it were sound, could equally be applied to local government.

The second group of arguments is that these functions, and particularly those in the Home Office, have links with other Government functions, such as the probation service and after-care community relations, which should not be broken. Of course, there are such links—links, incidentally, which are also reflected at local levels. None of these things is half as strong as the links that we are creating by the Bill—within what are now the children's and the welfare departments of local authorities, links so close that they are causing Parliament to create a single department at local level. These are the strongest links of all.

It is because we believe that these links must, if they are to be effectively carried out at local level, be reflected in a similar change at national level that we move the Amendment.

Mr. Maddan

I strongly support what my hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea (Mr. Worsley) has said. I want to quote three passages from the Seebohm Report, because it is as well that the House should be reminded of these passages. In the section on the organisation of the central Government, paragraph 637 contains these words: …it would be no use altering the organisation of the local authority services unless the organisation of central government was changed to correspond with it. That is emphatic.

Second, paragraph 638 contains these words: …it would in our opinion be a fatal handicap to the new and developing organisation we have in mind if it were not to have the support of a single Government Department. This is one case where I believe that more means worse—in other words, with Government Departments more means worse.

The third phrase comes from paragraph 639: … differences in policy and practice between government departments hindered the development of the services at local level and there should be some more visibly effective machinery ". My first reason for supporting the Amendment, therefore, is that Seebohm made unequivocally clear that it is not only desirable but essential to have one Government Department. We are told that this is a machinery Bill. All right. Let us tackle it in those terms. Whatever machinery is imposed by the Bill at local level will be frustrated by the measures, or lack of them, which right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite propose in respect of themselves. We could talk about removing the motes from local authorities' eyes but not the beam in their own. Many such phrases come to mind in this situation.

Second, it is a fundamental tenet of organisational policy that, if there is to be a merger, it must be real. It is no good having mergers in name only. This tripartite committee, at all sorts of levels, with Secretaries of State, Ministers of State, Parliamentary Secretaries, civil servants, advisers, inspectorates and the rest is not a merger. It is not an organisational change. It is just dodging the issue.

Hon. Members opposite sometimes criticise mergers under which no real change of organisation follows, with swollen overheads, enormous staffs, and so on. Anything true said on those occasions is more than ever true on this. The Government are dodging the issue. We are making this point—there is nothing party-political in it—because we want the Seebohm reforms to succeed, and we believe that they will not succeed unless this change at the top is made.

Our Amendment says that the Secretary of State shall be the Secretary of State for Social Services. On Second Reading and in other debates, it has been said that the Secretary of State for Social Services would be in the chair, or his representative would be in the chair, at the tripartite committee. I can think of two good reasons why the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary should himself be in the chair. One is—I have said this before—that his Department has much more experience of dealing with local authorities than has the Department of the Secretary of State for Social Services. The latter has far less experience, and what authority it has in this respect is diminishing in many ways, with the transfer of health functions to area boards, the ending of the medical officer of health in local government, and so on.

The Home Office, on the other hand, with its children's work and the rest, has good experience which is not to be gainsaid. It is not merely a matter of transferring one body of specialist civil servants from one roof to another. It is a matter of understanding at the top in the Department of the right way to deal with local authorities.

Another reason why I should be happy to settle for the Home Secretary is that he has at least had the courtesy to be here all evening, but not one Minister from the Department of Health and Social Security—

Mrs. White

It is only fair to point out that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary is abroad on official business at this time.

Mr. Maddan

All right; that is one. I do not have my Vacher with me at the moment, but perhaps the Minister will remind us how many House of Commons Ministers there are in that Department. We might well have had one of them here during the debate. I compliment the Home Secretary on the interest he is showing. I think that he is making by his presence a very serious bid to gain the chairmanship of this tripartite body. I wish him well in that for the reasons I have stated.

I shall support the Amendment, which mentions the Secretary of State for Social Services, but it will be in the spirit of wanting there to be one Secretary of State only and not of particularly putting my money on the absent horse.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. James Callaghan)

Despite the frowns of the Opposition Chief Whip I should be grateful if I might be allowed to say a few words. I had not intended to speak, because my hon. Friend the Minister of State for Wales was proposing to reply, but having heard the speeches I asked whether she would permit me to say something about the Amendment.

My hon. Friend was obviously going to point out what was pointed out to the hon. Member for Chelsea (Mr. Worsley), that " Secretary of State " comprises all the Secretaries of State. It is six in one—or certainly much more than three in one. On agricultural matters, I find myself signing documents as Secretary of State in common with my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Wales, the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, all of whom apparently have functions in these matters. So what we are discussing is not unique in the field we are talking about; there is nothing exceptional or unique in having a situation in which more than one Minister is responsible for a group of services. Agriculture is a clear example.

But I accept what the hon. Member for Hove (Mr. Maddan) says, that he is concerned that the Seebohm recommendations should be successful. So am I. I think that all of us are. I think that the hon. Member for Worsley—I should say the hon. Member for the Flower Show—for whom I have a very considerable liking, reduced the level of the debate a bit when he said that it was nothing but a power struggle between two shaggy sheep dogs, or words to that effect. There is more to it than that. It is not the personal position of Ministers that is in issue. It is a very difficult question of how the machinery of government should best be organised.

Although it is believed on the benches opposite that the Government can know nothing about anything in particular, I hope at least that it would be conceded that those of us who have had a little experience of seeing Government Departments at work over the past six years have some views about the machinery of government. Indeed, the hon. Member for Hove really answered his own case when he spoke about the experience which the Home Office has with local authorities, which perhaps was not so fully shared by the Department of Health and Social Security. He was pointing out some of the difficulties that would arise if we were at the moment to take a final decision on the proper organisation.

The whole argument of the hon. Member for Chelsea rested on the proposition that if something is good enough for the local authorities it is good enough for the central Government. If that argument is not correct the whole of his case falls to the ground. He has not really thought it through clearly enough. The functions of local authorities in this matter are quite different from those of the central Government. Local authorities' functions are fully executive. Of course, they decide for themselves what resources within their own areas should be applied as between, for example, three very differing types of service—what resources they should apply to residential care for the elderly, to the boarding out of children and to providing a workshop for the physically-handicapped. They must decide these at the operational level, on the ground.

The job of the central Government is to give guidance in these matters, because they have thought it right, and the House has thought it right, that local authorities should organise their services on this basis. It does not necessarily follow that it is automatically right that a Government with several Departments of State should themselves have to have one combined service for this need. We are dealing at the central level with very different problems from those dealt with by local authorities. With respect, this has little to do with the personal position of Ministers, although no Minister likes to lose an interesting service.

The hon. Gentleman should not believe all the terrible passages he reads in the Press written by commentators who must find a story every week of a quarrel between some Ministers somewhere. There is here a genuine machinery of government problem. If hon. Members opposite were ever to take over the Government, they would have the same problem.

Let me give the House one example. On the Children and Young Persons Act we considered the whole question of the care and control of children. We said, and there was general agreement between us, that the care of a child and the control of a child were opposite sides of the same coin; we did not quite know where they merged when the coin was flipped. This proposal suggests that, without experience, we should tear that fabric asunder, that care should be teased out from the Home Office and put under the Department of Health and Social Security, irrespective of the consequences and the shadings in between care and control.

Hon. Gentlemen opposite are allowing a passion for tidiness and uniformity, which I did not think was the principal characteristic of the Conservative Party, to outweigh the pragmatic commonsense that always distinguishes my party. This reversal of roles which has been overtaking the parties during the last few years —if I may interpose a party point—is the reason why we shall win the next election and the Conservative Party will lose it. Instead of approaching these problems with some ideological knowledge, the Opposition are saying that we must reach an agreed solution, irrespective of whether or not the facts fit it. The Government are saying, " Let us stand back and look at this problem carefully. Nobody yet knows the final answer on where the separation should fall. Give us time to see whether it works out."

I assure hon. Gentlemen and all those who wish the Bill well—and I know they do—that there is nothing unusual in Ministers having meetings. Ministers even talk to each other on occasions. Their officials discuss questions with each other. Since this arrangement was announced last February, there has been no difficulty in officials of the Department of Health and Social Security, the Welsh Office and the Home Office meeting each other whenever necessary to decide what guidance should be given to local authorities on these matters. My right hon. Friends and I meet and talk about these issues whenever it is necessary to do so.

After two and a half years in the Home Office I do not know where the solution should finally fall, and if the hon. Member were in office he might have second thoughts about where the dividing line should be. It is not as easy as he thinks. Once the Bill is through and the social

services committee has been set up by local authorities, let us see how it works out.

11.15 p.m.

We need more time to consider this matter. There need be no final decision taken, and I am not announcing one tonight. Let us see where it falls, and we can then reach a conclusion that will be in the best interests of what the hon. Member for Walthamstow, West (Mr. Silvester) would call " the consumer ". I am not yet satisfied that to transfer control would be in the best interests of " the consumer ". Let us wait until we have had experience to see where it should be.

Although there was a dead heat in Committee, I have no hesitation in saying to my hon. Friends that good sense requires us to vote against the Amendment. The hon. Gentleman really wants to make a protest; he does not push the Amendment because he knows it would make a nonsense of the situation. I hope that hon. Gentlemen opposite will go into the Lobby on my side of the House with good heart, knowing that they have taken the right decision.

Question put, That the Amendment be made:

The House divided: Ayes 95, Noes 139.

Division No. 122.] AYES [11.20 p.m.
Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash) Glover, Sir Douglas Mills, Peter (Torrington)
Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead) Cower, Raymond Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)
Astor, John Grant, Anthony Morgan, Geraint (Denbigh)
Atkins, Humphrey (M't'n & M'd'n) Grimond, Rt. Hn. J. Morrison, Charles (Devizes)
Baker, W. H. K. (Banff) Gurden, Harold Munro-Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh
Batsford, Brian Hamilton, Lord (Fermanagh) Noble, Rt. Hn. Michael
Berry, Hn. Anthony Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye) Onslow, Cranley
Bitten, John Harvie Anderson, Miss Page, John (Harrow, W.)
Body, Richard Hay, John Pearson, Sir Frank (Clitheroe)
Boyle, Rt. Hn. Sir Edward Hiley, Joseph Pounder, Rafton
Braine, Bernard Holland, Philip Pym, Francis
Campbell, B. (Oldham, W.) Howell, David (Guildford) Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Campbell, Gordon (Moray & Nairn) Hunt, John Ridley, Hn. Nicholas
Carlisle, Mark Hutchison, Michael Clark Russell, Sir Ronald
Channon, H. P. G. Iremonger, T. L. Sharpies, Richard
Chichester-Clark, R Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye) Silvester, Frederick
Clegg, Walter Jennings, J. C. (Burton) Smith, John (London & W'minster)
Corfield, P. V. Kershaw, Anthony Speed, Keith
Crouch, David King, Evelyn (Dorset, S.) Steel, David (Roxburgh)
Dean, Paul Kitson, Timothy Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir M.
Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F. (Ashford) Knight, Mrs. Jill Taylor, Frank (Moss Side)
Eden, Sir John Lancaster, Col. C. C. Temple, John M.
Elliott,R.W.(N'c'tle-upon-Tyne,N.) Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry Turton, Rt. Hn. R. H.
Errington, Sir Eric MacArthur, Ian van Straubenzee, W. R.
Eyre, Reginald Macmillan, Maurice (Farnham) Vickers, Dame Joan
Fortescue, Tim McNair-Wilson, Patrick (New Forest) Waddington, David
Fry, Peter Maddan, Martin Walters, Dennis
Gilmour, Ian (Norfolk, C.) Maginnis, John E. Ward, Christopher (Swindon)
Gilmour, Sir John (Fife, E.) Marten, Neil Weatherill, Bernard
Whitelaw, Rt. Hit. William Wolrige-Cordon, Patrick TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Williams, Donald (Dudley) Worsley, Marcus Mr. Anthony Royle and
Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro) Wylie, N. R. Mr. Hector Monro.
Winstanley, Dr. M. P. Younger, Hn. George
Alldritt, Walter Gardner, Tony Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire)
Archer, Peter (R'wley Regis & Tipt'n) Carrett, W. E. Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)
Armstrong, Ernest Golding, John Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)
Ashton, Joe (Bassetlaw) Gray, Dr. Hugh (Yarmouth) Murray, Albert
Atkins, Ronald (Preston, N.) Griffiths, Eddie (Brightside) Noel-Baker, Rt. Hn. Philip
Atkinson, Norman (Tottenham) Hamling, William Ogden, Eric
Barnett, Joel Harper, Joseph O'Halloran, Michael
Beaney, Alan Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Orbach, Maurice
Bence, Cyril Haseldine, Norman Orme, Stanley
Bidwell, Sydney Hooley, Frank Oswald, Thomas
Bishop, E. S. Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas Palmer, Arthur
Blenkinsop, Arthur Howarth, Robert (Bolton, E.) Parker, John (Dagenham)
Booth, Albert Howell, Denis (Small Heath) Peart, Rt. Hn. Fred
Boston, Terence Hoy, Rt. Hn. James Pentland, Norman
Brown, Rt. Hn. George (Belper) Hughes, Roy (Newport) Perry, Ernest C. (Battersea, S.)
Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan) Hynd, John Perry, George H. (Nottingham, S.)
Brown, R. W. (Shoreditch & F'bury) Jackson, Peter M. (High Peak) Prentice, Rt. Hn. Reg
Buchan, Norman Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Price, Thomas (Westhoughton)
Buchanan, Richard (G'gow, Sp'burn) Jennings, J. C. (Burton) Price, William (Rugby)
Callaghan, Rt. Hn. James Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.) Probert, Arthur
Carter-Jones, Lewis Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham) Rankin, John
Coe, Denis Kerr, Dr. David (W'worth, Central) Rhodes, Geoffrey
Coleman, Donald Leadbitter, Ted Richard, Ivor
Concannon, J. D. Lee, Rt. Hn. Jennie (Cannock) Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Crawshaw, Richard Lee, John (Reading) Roberts, Gwilym (Bedfordshire, S.)
Dalyeil, Tam Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Roebuck, Roy
Davies, E. Hudson (Conway) Lomas, Kenneth Ross, Rt. Hn. William
Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.) Loughlin, Charles Sheldon, Robert
Davies, Rt. Hn. Harold (Leek) Lyon, Alexander W. (York) Sillars, J.
Davies, Ifor (Cower) MacColl, James Silverman, Julius
Delargy, H. J. MacDermot, Niall Slater, Joseph
Dell, Rt. Hn. Edmund Macdonald, A. H. Spriggs, Leslie
Dickens, James McElhone, Frank Stonehouse, Rt. Hn. John
Dobson, Ray McGuire, Michael Taverne, Dick
Driberg, Tom McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.) Tinn, James
Dunn, James A. McNamara, J. Kevin Wallace, George
Dunnett, Jack MacPherson, Malcolm Watkins, Tudor (Brecon & Radnor)
Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth (Exeter) Mahon, Peter (Preston, S.) Wellbeloved, James
Ellis, John Mahon Simon (Bootle) White, Mrs. Eirene
Evans, loan L. (Birm'h'm, Yardley) Mallalieu,J.P.W.(Huddersfield,E.) Wilkins, W. A.
Faulds, Andrew Mapp, Charles Williams, Alan Lee (Hornchurch)
Fernyhough, E. Marks, Kenneth Williams, Clifford (Abertillery)
Finch, Harold Marsh, Rt. Hn. Richard Williams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)
Fitch, Alan (Wigan) Mellish, Rt. Hn. Robert Woof, Robert
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Mendelson, John
Ford, Ben Millan, Bruce TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Forrester, John Mitchall, R. C. (S'th'pton, Test) Mr. James Hamilton and
Galpern, Sir Myer Mr. Neil McBride.
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