HC Deb 12 December 1972 vol 848 cc211-3
5. Mrs. Castle

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services why he announced the name of the proposed Health Service Commissioner for England, Scotland and Wales before Parliament had an opportunity to discuss the relevant clauses of the National Health Service Reorganisation Bill and the desirability of combining the post with that of the Parliamentary Commissioner.

Sir K. Joseph

My announcement of 14th November made it clear that Sir Alan Marre's appointment to the Health Service Commissioner posts in England and Wales was subject to Parliament's approving the necessary legislation establishing these posts. Legislation for Scotland has already been enacted. The designation of Sir Alan will enable him to put in hand on a provisional basis the considerable preparations necessary before he could start work.—[Vol. 846, c. 76–7.]

Mrs. Castle

Of course it is subject to the endorsement of Parliament, but is it not discourteous to Parliament for the right hon. Gentleman to pre-empt the situation by announcing the appointment for England and Wales before we have had the general debate on the powers and responsibilities of the Parliamentary Commissioner for which some of us were pressing all through the last Session? In particular—without wishing to engage in personalities, which I do not—does not the right hon. Gentleman think it inadvisable to appoint a former Permanent Secretary to his Department to act as watchdog over the interests of the users of the National Health Service?

Sir K. Joseph

I think that the House and the country would wish the Commissioner to be in action as soon after the Royal Assent to the Bill—if it is achieved—as possible. If that is to be so, there is a whole range of consultations which need to be engaged in now, or fairly soon, in the light of the necessity, of course, for the legislation to be passed—if it is passed—and to come into being in a final manner. As for the right hon. Lady's personal comment—and it was a personal comment, despite her disclaimer—I would have thought, and I think most hon. Members would agree, that a man who has such wide knowledge, as Sir Alan Marre has, of the National Health Service, would be in a very good position to be able to make a flying start on his new job if it comes into being.

Dr. Summerskill

Does not the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that a principle is involved here, in that he is anticipating what Parliament will decide on a key point of the National Health Service Reorganisation Bill, on which he can expect a great deal of discussion and dispute not only about the Parliamentary Commissioner but about his powers and responsibilities?

Sir K. Joseph

I do not think that I am avoiding an issue of principle. Sir Alan will be able to adjust his remit according to that which Parliament finally approves. In a whole range of situations, shadow arrangements are made subject to Parliament passing certain legislation. There are, for instance, shadow staff commissions in operation in both local government and in the health services, and Parliament surely does not object to proper preparations being made to protect the staff. It is all subject to parliamentary legislation.