HC Deb 27 May 1970 vol 801 cc1783-8
The Secretary of State for Social Services (Mr. Richard Crossman)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the latest Report from the Review Body on Doctors' and Dentists' Remuneration.

The House will be aware that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in formed the medical and dental professions on 22nd May that in view of the decision to dissolve Parliament the Government thought it desirable to suspend consideration of this long and important report, the product of much hard work by Lord Kindersley and his colleagues, until after the election; and that it should not be published until the new Government could come to a decision on its recommendations. He foresaw that the new Government would give it very early attention.

The professions have, however, strongly urged publication before the election. I had a discussion yesterday with representatives of the medical profession when I made it clear to them that there could be no question of publication of the report alone, but that the Government were willing to review with them the question of publishing both the report and the Government's decisions on it before the election.

They and representatives of the dental profession have accepted my offer of a meeting tomorrow morning with my right hon. Friend and myself to discuss the situation.

Lord Balniel

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the doctors have every reason to be suspicious of the Prime Minister's decision to postpone publication of this report until after the General Election? We thank the right hon. Gentleman for his statement, but it is not enough just to say that the Government will be willing to review the question of publication. After eight weeks delay the doctors and the country as a whole—[Interruption.] are entitled to a categoric statement—[Interruption.].

Mr. Speaker

Order. Parliament is still in session.

Lord Balniel

After eight weeks delay, the doctors and the country as a whole are entitled to a categoric statement that the Government will publish the report now and announce their decision at the same time.

Mr. Crossman

I should like to make it clear that I take full personal responsibility for advising the Prime Minister on this issue. The hon. Gentleman should consider this matter seriously as I have tried to do, in terms of the interests of the members of the medical profession. I came to the conclusion that they would be ill-advised to press for the consideration of the report in an election atmosphere and that it could be considered more impartially and detachedly after the election. They disagreed with me and we have agreed to see them tomorrow to discuss the matter. I cannot say more.

Mr. Pavitt

Does my right hon. Friend recall that when the Kindersley Review Body was established, from 1960 until 1964 the delays were very much longer when the Conservative Party was in power in any decision to implement any of the recommendations? Will he recall that the junior hospital doctors are extremely concerned about the report? Will it not be far better not to publish the report in a hurry, but to go thoroughly into it so that the Government may consider it in due course?

Mr. Crossman

I thank my hon. Friend for repeating the argument I made for due consideration of an extremely complicated and important report. As the Minister who sponsors the medical profession, I deeply regret that this delay has occurred. I appreciate that the doctors have a serious grievance and have to balance the advantages. They have decidedly come down on one side and we have told them that we are prepared to meet them to hear their case.

Mr. Maudling

Will the right hon. Gentleman make it clear that if, after the discussions tomorrow, the doctors still want publication, the report will be published?

Mr. Crossman

I have told the doctors that, since they were anxious to put their case anew to the Prime Minister and myself, we were prepared to meet them and consider what they had to say. I also added that I would give them a quick decision.

Mr. Lipton

May I put in a special word for the junior hospital doctors, the drudges of the profession? If necessary, could my right hon. Friend give priority to the recommendations that apply to the junior hospital doctors so that they may be carried out at once?

Mr. Crossman

I cannot discuss the contents of the report with my hon. Friend, but I can say that no doctor or dentist will lose a penny because of the delay.

Mr. Lubbock

If the right hon. Gentleman says that he is willing to consider the question of publishing the Government's decision at the same time as the Kindersley Report, does it mean that these decisions have already been reached internally? Might not many doctors and dentists believe that they are likely to get a better deal before the election than afterwards?

Mr. Crossman

It is not for me to imagine what the doctors and dentists will do. All I told them yesterday was that they should be very careful before drawing such a conclusion, that throwing it in as part of an election competition was not necessarily the best way of getting an impartial verdict on their case. I did not persuade them. I am meeting them again tomorrow with the Prime Minister and we will discuss the matter with them again. My only motive was that this very important report should be considered in a proper atmosphere.

Mr. Ogden

Would my right hon. Friend agree that the medical profession has done very well out of the Labour Government? Would he compare the speed with which the B.M.A. has made representations on this matter with the failure of the B.M.A., condemned by both sides of the House, to discipline its own members about over-prescription of drugs?

Mr. Crossman

I find the comparison a little far-fetched. One cannot blame the doctors. They are not the last in the queue, but many other people have been negotiating or having discussions. The doctors have their own independent body and I do not blame them for objecting to a delay. I ask them seriously to consider objectively whether the reason was not a justifiable one.

Mr. Maurice Macmillan

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there would be no question of this being an electoral issue if he followed the normal procedure. The whole object of setting up the review body was, in the words of the Commission, to guarantee that the standard of living should not be depressed by arbitrary Government action. The ordinary procedure which the Tory Government followed on every occasion was to publish quickly and to follow the award in full. It was only in 1966 that this procedure was broken, again at election time.

Mr. Crossman

The comparison with 1966 is interesting, but the position was not precisely analogous to the present position. The Kindersley Review Body, if the hon. Gentleman will recall, made a suggestion a few days before the election. I do not think that it is quite the same, and the doctors now have a serious grievance because of the length of the delay. This is something we will consider tomorrow. I should not now be pressed to say more than that before discussions take place.

Mr. Faulds

What are hon. Members opposite moaning about? If they expect to win the General Election, would not they rather take the decision in these matters?

Mr. Turton

Will the right hon. Gentleman undertake to make a statement to the House after his meeting with the doctors tomorrow?

Mr. Crossman

I will certainly consider that.—[Interruption.] Yes, I think that the answer is that I will.

Sir J. Vaughan-Morgan

Will the Secretary of State recall that the Pilkington Commission, in its original report, was absolutely emphatic that in the interests of preserving confidence and goodwill it was essential that the Government should give a decision on the review body's recommendations very quickly?

Mr. Crossman

I am well aware of that. If it had not been for the very unusual circumstances, this would have happened.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Even if the right hon. Gentleman does not feel able to announce for any reason the Government's decision, what objection is there to publishing the report of the independent review body so that we can all judge its rightness or otherwise?

Mr. Crossman

I also considered that possibility with the Prime Minister. We decided that, following precedent, it would be much more satisfactory to have the report and the Government decision considered simultaneously.

This is what I explained to the medical profession last night quite firmly, that I was not prepared to publish the report, as was suggested in part of their letter, so that it could become, as they put it, a major election issue between the parties. [HON. MEMBERS: " Oh ".] They asked for it in their demand yesterday. It is wiser either to have the report and the decision before the election or after the election, but not to have one before and the one after.

Mr. Edward M. Taylor

When the Secretary of State says that no doctor will lose a penny as the result of the delay, does he mean that the doctors will he exempt from any wage or salary freeze that might be imposed by the Government in the event of their coming back?

Mr. Crossman

I am in some difficulty about interpreting that somewhat delphic remark. If, as I would have assumed, the hon. Gentleman means that a Tory Government would have an automatic wage freeze, this is a hypothetical situation. As for us, it does not apply to us.

Mr. Marten

The right hon. Gentleman referred to " unusual circumstances ". Can he tell us what these are, especially as the Prime Minister apparently decided in 1966 when to have the election?

Mr. Crossman

The unusual circumstances to which I was referring are those associated with the proximity of a General Election.

Mr. Snow

In view of the obvious mental reactions of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward M. Taylor), is my right hon. Friend aware that, although Dr. Freud would have been distinctly annoyed, right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite still stick to their long-standing fallacies?

Mr. Crossman

I would not care to say which psychological pundit it was. I am not sure that it was so much a Freudian lapse as an Adlerian lapse.

Several Hon. Membersrose

Mr. Speaker

Order. Mrs. Castle. Statement.