HL Deb 28 June 1960 vol 224 cc667-76

1. The bodies to which in England and Wales this Act applies are— (c) standing joint committees (for police) of the quarter sessions of a county and the county council, watch committees of borough council and combined police authoririties constituted under the Police Act, 1946: (g) regional hospital boards constituted under section eleven of the said Act of 1946;

3.41 p.m.


moved, in paragraph 1 to omit subparagraph (c). The noble Lord said: I beg to move the Amendment which is in my name on the Order Paper. The purpose of this Amendment is to exclude from the scope of the Bill police authorities, the aim being to exclude watch committees of boroughs, standing joint committees of counties and joint police committees in Scotland. I hope that this proposal will commend itself to the House, because I think that on reflection noble Lords will see, and I hope the noble Lady will see, that police authorities are of such a nature that there ought not to be a statutory right for the presence of the Press and the public.

I will give one or two examples. Suppose a police constable or sergeant or other officer is subject under the discipline code to a charge of irregular conduct, even perhaps of dishonesty; they may be charges of a minor character or they may be charges of a serious character. It may be, however, that at the end of the day he is adjudged by the committee to be not guilty and is discharged—not discharged from the force, but discharged from the charge. In that case it would be unjust, I suggest, that the police officer should go through the embarrassment and painful experience of being publicly charged, hearing his case argued about by the members of the police authority and probably the chief constable taking his part. If he is found innocent the case is still reported, and his neighbours are going to be inclined to say, "There's no smoke without fire"—or "fire without smoke", whichever is the right way of putting it. Consequently the man is hurt. The other point is that from time to time crime, or particular crimes, may be discussed without prejudice to the responsibility of the chief officer of police, and it might be a great advantage to the criminal community if there were to be reports about it. I admit that there are differences in practice between police authorities and that the frequency of such situations arising may be limited, though the case of disciplinary charges against officers can be fairly common.

I think that the noble Baroness, on reflection, will agree that in view of the nature of their work and their duties police authorities ought not to be included within the scope of this Bill, which would involve the presence of the public and the Press at their meetings. I think that that is wrong. It may be said that there ought to be no meeting of a public authority or character where the Press should not be present, but on the Second Reading I gave the example of Select Committees of Parliament, where the public quite often is not present. At the proceedings of the Metropolitan Police the public is not present. I do not know who meets, but I imagine there is some board of the Commissioner and the Assistant Commissioners. I know there are meetings now and again between the Commissioners and others and the Home Secretary. It would be fun to have the Press present, able to report proceedings at these private meetings between representatives of the Metropolitan Police and the Home Secretary.

I do want to put it to the House that it is wrong to treat the provincial police authorities one way and the Metropolitan Police, because it is under the Home Secretary, in another way. It is usual that London is treated worse than any other city—that is one of my grievances. But this is a case where it is proposed that every other city should be treated worse than London; there is no proposal that at certain gatherings of the Commissioners of Metropolitan Police the Press and public could be present. I hope the noble Baroness, continuing the reasonable attitude she adopted on the last two Amendments, will be good enough to see her way to accept this one. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 5, line 11, leave out from beginning to end of line 14.—(Lord Morrison of Lambeth.)


I said a word on this matter on the Second Reading, and I should now like very strongly to support the Amendment which the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, has put before the House. The duties of standing joint committees and watch committees are very onerous and important; but they also from time to time are bound to deal with matters which it is much better should not be disclosed to the public. The illustrations which the noble Lord has given are very good ones, but there are other matters which come before standing joint committees and watch committees which it would be equally undesirable to have publicised and made generally known. This is an exceptional case and I think it is therefore reasonable that an exception should be made for it. I hope that the House will agree. I feel sure that the noble Baroness appreciates the importance of it and I hope she will accept the Amendment.


I have great pleasure indeed in accepting the proposal to exclude police authorities from the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, has two other Amendments down on the subject of the police, Nos. 9 and 10. While we are debating No. 7, as the other two Amendments also deal with this matter, perhaps I may say in connection with them that I am entirely in favour of them and I think they are very aptly put. I had intended myself to do this very thing if the noble Lord had not already done so. I am very glad indeed to accept these Amendments. The police authorities are rather complicated affairs because there are so many different kinds of bodies, standing joint committees, the police authority under the county and the county borough and so on. But as long as the Amendments cover all of them, I think we must treat them all the same, and I would be in favour of excluding them all.


To round off the happy party, perhaps I might say, before the question is put, that the Government are also agreeable to the noble Lady's accepting these Amendments and feel that the Bill would be improved. The exclusion of the police authorities from the Schedule of this Bill will not prevent a police authority, if it sees so fit, from carrying on what may have been its practice in the past and having the public or Press admitted to its meetings. I thought I would just make that clear. Some standing joint committees have regularly had the public and the Press at their meetings. The standing joint committee on which I used to sit myself in Somerset always did. There will be nothing to prevent that from continuing, and I am glad the noble Lady has accepted the Amendment.


I agree with the noble Earl in what he has just said. If a police authority has had the custom of letting the public and Press in, or wishes to do so, so far as I understand it under my Amendment it would not be prevented from doing so—whether I agree with that or not, that would be their business. A local authority could have done that in respect of committees. May I say I am grateful to the noble Baroness for the kindly way in which she has accepted this Amendment. If this Amendment is accepted by the Committee, when we come to Nos. 9 and 10 I will move them formally, because the noble Baroness has already indicated she will be pleased to accept them. I am much obliged.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

3.50 p.m.


, moved in paragraph 1, to add to sub-paragraph (g): Page 5, line 28, at end insert ("but only so far as regards the exercise of their executive functions;").

The noble Lord said: This Amendment follows naturally upon the last Amendment which the noble Lady has so graciously accepted. If your Lordships will glance at the Schedule you will see that sub-paragraphs (g) and (h) cover regional hospital boards and executive councils for the health services. Regional hospital boards are the employing authority for the specialists, and executive councils are the employing authority for the general practitioners. It is necessary from time to time for both authorities to deal with their employees in exactly the same way as, in the cases expounded by my noble friend Lord Morrison of Lambeth, a watch committee or a standing joint committee has to deal with an erring constable. This is not some major breach of medical etiquette or behaviour which is required to be dealt with by the General Medical Council, but merely a matter arising in the ordinary day-to-day administration of the National Health Service. In such cases the employing authority must, quite rightly, deal with its employees, whether they be general practitioners or specialists, but it would be quite wrong that in so dealing with them it incurred for the employee concerned all the odium of publicity.

Sub-paragraph (h), applies to local executive councils only so far as regards the exercise of their executive functions". The British Medical Association, on behalf of the doctors, examined these two sub-paragraphs of the Schedule and reached the conclusion that the object of this particular phrase was to exclude from the operations of the Bill, and the consequent publicity which would be inevitable, the minor or ordinary disciplinary proceedings between the employing authority and employees—in this case general practitioners. They therefore suggested that it would be logical and sensible to include exactly the same provision in the previous section of the Schedule—namely, that dealing with regional hospital boards.

It is fair to say that the phrase "local executive council" does not mean anything in particular; it was simply a phrase intended to cover the work of looking after and paying general practitioners. Regional hospital boards are also executive in exactly the same sense. Both these bodies are appointed by the Minister; both are paying out money collected through taxation and not raised locally; and both are in fact executive bodies. I should say that the British Medical Association have sought legal advice and they are advised that the situation with regard to local executive councils under the Bill will be as I have described it and they therefore feel that it ought to be the same for regional hospital boards. If they and I have misinterpreted this provision we should be glad to have the matter clarified. We do however want to make sure that unwelcome unpleasant and unnecessary publicity is not focused on people dealing with minor disciplinary corrections which have to occur in any service, either in the case of local executive councils or regional hospital boards. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 5, line 28, at end insert the said words.—(Lord Taylor.)

3.55 p.m.


I am not sure that there is not some slight misunderstanding with reference to this Amendment, and also as to the purposes of these two sub-paragraphs in the Schedule. The executive councils, not the regional hospital boards, as I understand it, have two main functions under the National Health Service Act. The first is an administrative function which is already covered by this Bill, in that they are administering medical, dental and pharmaceutical services. Their second function is as a tribunal, when they are dealing with disciplinary or other matters; and in regard to this function they do not come under this Bill: they come under the Tribunals Act. Therefore, so far as disciplinary powers and so on are concerned, the executive councils already come under the Tribunals Act and not under this Bill, although administratively they come under the Bill. The regional hospital boards are different. They do not come under any tribunal at all they are already within this Bill, and are already covered by the Act of 1908 which applies to their meetings. The Press already attend their meetings, and they do not, as I say, function at all as a tribunal or under the tribunal regulations.

The existing Bill does not alter that position in any way, and if there are times when the regional hospital boards have before them matters which are private and which they need to deal with, they can invoke the First Schedule to this Bill and Clause 1 (2), and they can pass a resolution which would enable them to deal privately with any private matter. That would be quite in order. I am advised that it would be a retrograde step to withdraw the regional hospital boards from the Bill because the arrangements there are already quite satisfactory. The public is interested; the business is a matter of interest to the public. They already allow the Press in, and everything has worked quite smoothly. They have no divided authority. They do not come under two Acts. They come simply under the one Act.

I think it would be a mistake to put them in the same category as the watch committees and police committees with which we have been dealing, because their function is to run the regional hospitals. That is a function in which the public are deeply interested, and I should think that for nine-tenths of the time they are dealing not with private matters, such as disciplinary matters in connection with doctors or nurses, but with matters in which the general public as a whole is deeply interested, and in which we should want the general public as a whole to take an interest. Therefore I think it would be a retrograde step, and a mistake, to treat them in the same way as the watch committees, who as to probably nine-tenths of their business are dealing with private matters and perhaps with only a very small proportion of matters in which the public would be able to take any active part, so that, as has been rightly suggested, it would not in any way hurt anybody's feelings if they were not allowed in.

I should hope that Lord Taylor would see that it is of advantage to the regional hospital boards to be part and parcel of this Bill, in that they are dealing, for the great proportion of their working time, with matters which are of the greatest interest to the public, to patients and to everyone, and only on rare occasions with matters when the public would be required to be excluded. On those rare occasions I should hope that the clause in the Bill which enables that business to be dealt with privately would be invoked, and that the business would be dealt with privately. I hope that Lord Taylor and the British Medical Association, or whoever has been considering this matter, will look at this matter from the point of view of the importance of keeping the general public informed about the regional hospital boards and the work they do, and that they will not wish to close the door on them and treat them as though they were police or watch committee authorities. Obviously, they are in a quite different category altogether. I would ask the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, whether, having considered that, he will withdraw his Amendment, because I believe that any fears he may have in connection with private business would be covered by Clause 1 (2) of the Act.


I have a great deal of sympathy with the purpose which my noble friend has expressed in moving his Amendment, but I doubt whether it would achieve his purpose. I may be mistaken about this. But I am under the impression that disciplinary matters are a part of the executive functions of a regional hospital board. If that is so, then the Amendment would not prevent such proceedings from being open to the public. I agree that it would be very objectionable if they were, for reasons which have already been expounded this afternoon. Perhaps the real remedy is to remit matters of that kind to a committee of the regional board which would meet in private. At the moment, of course, that is the practice of local authorities in dealing with disciplinary matters.


I think it is only fair to say that I did not for a moment suggest excluding the Press from meetings of regional hospital boards; and the noble Lady should not suggest that I did so. I happen to think that that is completely pointless. I have been a member of a regional hospital board and I never saw any of their proceedings reported anywhere. The newspaper used to send a junior reporter along, to learn the job, but the meetings were so intolerably dull that I cannot blame the reporters for not reporting them or the Press for not printing the reports. A large part of this Bill is out of this world.

The noble Baroness, Lady Elliot of Harwood, has treated bodies which are executive bodies, spending Government money, as though they were public rate-paying bodies. I did not raise this question, although I was going to do so. But since the noble Lady has done so, I will say that I do not think the public should be at meetings of regional hospital boards, because those boards are agents for Her Majesty's Government and are answered for in another place and in this House; and it is from there that the money comes for them to spend. To say that executive jobs are better done with the Press present is complete rubbish. Anyone who supposes he could run a public company with the Press attending the board meetings is "off his head", and yet that is precisely what this Bill does in regard to regional hospital boards and local executive councils. I will tell the noble Lady that I think she is 100 per cent. wrong.

It is desirable that the public should know about the work of regional hospital boards, and it is proper that there should be a decent Press officer, and that the chairman, and the chairmen of committees, should hold proper Press conferences from time to time whenever there is anything worth saying, when they can be examined. As for formal reports from committees, most of which are taken completely formally because the Press is there, the whole thing is a farce. To return to my modest and humble Amendment, the noble Lady has given a very reasonable answer to it. I wish that she had not gone off the rails in defending something which I had not attacked, but which I have now attacked. She said that local executive councils are also tribunals, and can function as tribunals, and that regional hospital boards do not. She said also that regional hospital boards can go into committee. I consider that those are perfectly reasonable answers. I thank her for them and it is with great pleasure that I now beg your Lordships' leave to withdraw this Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


I beg to move this Amendment.

Amendment moved—

Page 5, line 33, at end insert— ("(other than police authorities)").—(Lord Morrison of Lambeth.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


I beg to move this Amendment.

Amendment moved—

Page 5, line 36, at end insert— ("(other than joint police committees constituted under the Police (Scotland) Act, 1956)").—(Lord Morrison of Lambeth.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Schedule, as amended, agreed to.

House resumed.

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