HL Deb 07 August 1918 vol 31 cc659-62

LORD WILLOUGHBY DE BROKE rose to ask whether it is the intention of His Majesty's Government to proceed with the Midwives Bill [H.L.]. The noble Lord said: My Lords, since I placed on the Paper the Question standing in my name my attention has been called to the fact that a similar Question was asked in another place, I think two days ago. As the answer that was there given was of a quite perfunctory character, I think that we have a right in this House to know a little more about the matter, especially as the Bill originated from this House.

The Minister in another place said that the Bill had come to an end owing to an error in drafting, but that it was proposed to bring forward a similar Bill next session. In reference to a Bill of this very serious character, affecting issues which are vital to the life of the nation, I am sure that your Lordships will agree with me that that kind of answer is not satisfactory. It is not a sufficient reason to be told, after a very great deal of trouble has been spent in drafting this Bill, and after a considerable amount of discussion has taken place on it in this House, and after it has been amended and sent down to the other end of the passage, that it has been abandoned because of some error in drafting. We cannot accept its dissolution on the mere statement that there has been an error in drafting, and with being told that the Government intend to produce a similar Bill next session. This method of Parliamentary procedure will not commend itself to people outside who are studying the progress of this Bill.

This is a Bill the importance of which it is impossible to exaggerate, and it seems to me that the untimely fate which it has suffered is an argument in favour of coordinating legislation of this kind, dealing with the health of the nation, under a single authority. It is sincerely to be hoped that the Government will press forward with the Ministry of Health Bill in order that mistakes of this character may not occur in the future. I do not wish to blame anybody in particular for the loss of this Bill. It is the system which appears to be at fault. But it is not very satisfactory to those who wish to promote the welfare of those who were contemplated to be dealt with under this Bill to be told as we may be told, that the difficulty in the way of its passage is that certain lines in the Bill were not printed in italic, and that for that reason the whole object of the Bill is to stand over until next Session. There may not be time to introduce a Bill next Session. It may be put off in a dozen different ways. I therefore beg the noble Lord who is going to reply for the Government to give your Lordships the information to which we are entitled concerning what it is that has stopped this Bill, and to reaffirm the promise given by the Government in another place that they will introduce this Bill, or one similar to it, at the earliest possible moment next Session.


My Lords, may I say one word before the noble Viscount replies. I was taken quite by surprise on hearing the account given by the noble Lord opposite of the fate that has befallen the Midwives Bill. I was aware that it had been postponed, and I could not understand why, because the Bill seemed to have been recognised as one of great importance, and when it was discussed a question was raised by the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, as to whether there was likely to be any conflict between the Maternity Bill and the Midwives Bill. There was no suggestion made at that time that the Midwives Bill was in any sort of danger, and it seems almost incredible to me that the explanation given by the noble Lord opposite can be the real reason for the dropping of the Bill.

If there was some mistake in drafting, what difficulty can there have been in making that right and letting the Bill pass? I hope that it is not actually the case that the Bill has been dropped. The session is not at an end by any means, and if it be only a question of a little trouble in putting a piece of drafting right it really seems monstrous on that account that a Bill of such importance should be allowed to drop. I hope that we shall hear from the noble Viscount that the Bill has not been dropped, and that there may be some prospect of its proceeding this session.


My Lords, I will try, in answering the question of my noble friend, to be as little perfunctory as I can, but I am afraid that there is not a great deal of information to give him. I think that he is under some misunderstanding about the Bill, because he seemed to be under the impression that it was the fault of some Public Department and due to want of co-ordination. This is not one of those matters that would be at all affected by the establishment of a Ministry of Health. I think that the noble Lord is under another misapprehension as to an undertaking or promise that the Bill should be brought forward in the next session of Parliament. The promise that was given was that the President of the Local Government Board would do his best to bring this Bill forward again, not next session, but after the adjournment, which the noble Lord sees is a different thing.


The noble Viscount is quite right; that is what I should have said.


That consoles the noble Lord to some extent.


Not very much.


It means a delay of two months instead of six. I join the noble Lord in deploring the fact that this Bill, over which this House spent a great deal of trouble—and upon which there were keen debates and on one important matter I believe the Opposition beat the Government, which is always a legitimate source of satisfaction to any Opposition—should have been delayed in its progress in the other House.

With reference to what my noble friend behind me says, that if it is only a matter of drafting why could not that be put right in another place, I have to state that it is not a matter of drafting. It is a matter of privilege. There were certain clauses in the Bill connected with the raising of rates which ought to have been altered in a particular form when they got into another place, and ought, in fact, not to have appeared in the form in which they did appear. Nobody is responsible fortunately in this House, and so your Lordships may consider that you did everything you could to promote the fortunes of this Bill. It appears also that it was not one of those cases of privilege where the other House might have waived its privilege. It was one of those cases where the authorities held—and held, I believe, inevitably—that the Bill could proceed no further.

There is, therefore, no other remedy than that proposed by the President of the Local Government Board, who will do his best to bring forward the Bill after the recess. In that case I trust that your Lordships, having welcomed the Bill, will give it a very ready passage through this House, so that it may become law at the earliest possible date. I am afraid that is the whole state of the matter, and I regret that I cannot give a more satisfactory answer to my noble friend. I hope, however, that he will not consider the answer which I have given perfunctory.


My Lords, I am certain that the noble Lord above the gangway will not regard the reply of the noble Viscount as perfunctory, because he expressed all the regrets that a man in his situation could express. At the same time I am bound to remark that this particular incident is very extraordinary and untoward. Here is a Bill on which, as the noble Viscount stated, a great deal of time was spent here and deep interest was taken in what was considered an important though a not very wide matter of social reform; and it certainly is very disappointing, and, I am sorry to say, rather of a piece with the manner in which your Lordships' House is sometimes treated elsewhere, that more care should not have been taken to see that the Bill was considered in another place in its proper form. As the noble Viscount observed, nothing more need be said in the sense that there is nothing more to be done; but a great deal more might be said although there is no great purpose to be served in saving it. I trust that my right hon. friend the President of the Local Government Board will consider it a matter of absolute obligation to make the reproduction of this Bill his first care when we again meet.


I shall be very glad to convey to the President the desires and wishes of the noble Lords who have spoken and especially what the noble Marquess has said.