HC Deb 15 February 1978 vol 944 cc420-2
9. Mr. Dempsey

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what consideration he has given to the resolution calling for the election of area health boards, passed by a recent Labour Party conference; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Harry Ewing

My right hon. Friend and I have considered the terms of the resolution but at the moment take the view that direct election of members of health boards is not consistent with my right hon. Friend's responsibility to Parliament for the National Health Service. At present, about one-quarter of the members of the boards are elected local authority councillors. I think that it would be desirable to await the recommendations of the Royal Commission on the National Health Service before considering any proposals for change.

Mr. Dempsey

Will my hon. Friend bear in mind that, on the basis of his own figures, three out of four members of area health boards are unelected and unaccountable to the taxpayer whose millions of pounds they are spending? Will he bear in mind also that the TUC, the STUC and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities have all supported the principle of democratically elected health authorities? What weight will be given to this formidable body of opinion when my hon. Friend considers the report which he is awaiting?

Mr. Ewing

In the case of COSLA, it should be put on record that its reply to the Monklands District Council was to the effect that it had given evidence to the Royal Commission saying that it thought that there was need for a radical review. Whether that means that members should be elected or not elected is at this stage a matter for conjecture. On the question of responsibility, it is my right hon. Friend who is responsible to the House for expenditure on the National Health Service in Scotland, and, indirectly, the members of area health boards are responsible to my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Monro

Will the hon. Gentleman take it that the Labour Party is not alone in its concern at the appointments made by the Secretary of State to area health boards? Is he aware that the Act envisaged men and women of skill, initiative and experience being appointed to the boards—not for their political affiliation, which seems to be the only matter which the Secretary of State bears in mind?

Mr. Ewing

I have not been disappointed today, because I expected the hon. Member to raise that point and I have come well prepared. Of the 15 area health board chairmen which he, as Minister, appointed in 1973, I reappointed 10. Two of them were not reappointed because they did not wish to be reappointed. Another was not reappointed because he was to become chairman of another board for which my right hon. Friend had responsibility. Only two were not reappointed and were replaced, and since then one of those not reappointed has been appointed to the Mental Welfare Commission. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman wishes to withdraw his disgraceful allegation—I do not expect that he will—but it is totally without foundation.

Mr. Thompson

Will the hon. Gentleman broaden his already broad education by considering a recent resolution of the Scottish National Party conference which called for the abolition of area health boards in those parts of Scotland where there are both area health boards and district health boards? Would that not release a considerable amount of money, which could be spent on health care instead of care for the administration?

Mr. Ewing

I sometimes wonder what the Scottish National Party spends its time on. In the past year it has called for the abolition of the regions, it has called for the abolition of Westminster, it has called for the abolition of area health boards, and it is calling for the abolition of the United Kingdom. I understand that tomorrow is the anniversary of the Declaration of Arbroath. I suggest that instead of the St. Andrew's Cross the skull and crossbones should be flown, because the SNP is the biggest bunch of pirates that I have seen in my life.

Dr. M. S. Miller

Does my hon. Friend accept that the democratisation of administration of the National Health Service should go a lot further? Is it not deplorable that, with a minimal contribution coming from some members of the medical profession and from nurses, this whole field is almost entirely in the hands of the big white chiefs of the hyperdermic and the scalpel? Does this not play its part in some of the problems that we have in the National Health Service today?

Mr. Ewing

I have dealt with National Health Service matters for over two years now. With great respect to my hon. Friend, I sometimes wish that people would stop talking the NHS down. There are many nations throughout the world which would give their right arm to have the sort of health service that we have. There are some things wrong with the National Health Service, but they are not all that much wrong that they cannot be put right. We are always working towards the Utopian situation that we desire.

Mr. Alexander Fletcher

Is there any limit to the number of elections that the Labour Party would foist on a reluctant Scotland? May we have an assurance that the Labour Party conference resolution referred to in the Question, and the resolution which called for abortion on demand, will be treated with the contempt which Labour Party conference resolutions deserve?

Mr. Ewing

I never take seriously the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North (Mr. Fletcher), who is guilty of scavenging for political votes where he can. If the implication of his supplementary question is that he is against democracy, I hope that he will say so.

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