HC Deb 02 February 1971 vol 810 cc1450-1
16. Mr. Ashley

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will make a statement on the discussions he has had about the establishment of a Parliamentary Commissioner for the National Health Service.

Sir K. Joseph

I am still studying the comments made by the bodies that were consulted by the previous Administration on this proposal.

Mr. Ashley

Would the right hon. Gentleman comment on the suspicion that only the top of the iceberg of any maladministration can be revealed due to the understandable but unjustified reluctance of doctors to bear witness against each other? Can he tell the House if and when he intends to appoint a Parliamentary Commissioner for the Health Service?

Sir K. Joseph

The hon. Gentleman is exaggerating, and I think he is being too hard on doctors, but there is an element of truth in what he says. I hope to be able to tell the House something—not on his last point, but on his question—soon.

Mrs. Knight

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that it might be possible to extend the very narrow capabilities of the present Parliamentary Commissioner to encompass health matters?

Sir K. Joseph

I will bear in mind what my hon. Friend says, but the first thing is to decide whether there is a case for some such official in connection with the Health Service.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

Would the right hon. Gentleman recollect the assurance of my right hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) during discussion of the Bill, when he was Secretary of State, that he would bring in some proposal before the Bill got to the House of Lords to cover the concern which was felt about maladministration in the Health Service which did not involve clinical judgment, and that, since that time, the Select Committee has unanimously recommended that this area should be brought within the ambit of the Parliamentary Commissioner, although that proposal has never been discussed in the House?

Sir K. Joseph

Technically, I am not, of course, responsible for my predecessor's proposals but his intention was to consult the interests concerned. He did do so, and I am studying the results of that consultation.

Dr. Summerskill

Would the right hon. Gentleman not agree that there is a need for completely impartial investigations into patients' complaints and that the present procedures by Health Service area authorities are regarded by many people as being not completely impartial?

Sir K. Joseph

It is because I have sympathy with that point of view that I told the hon. Lady's hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South, (Mr. Ashley) that I hoped to be able to tell the House something very shortly.