HL Deb 03 July 1962 vol 241 cc1167-72

2.52 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Third Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a third time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a.—(Lord Newton.)


My Lords, I can only say that I have a certain pleasure in welcoming the Third Reading of this Bill. I emphasise the word "certain", because I want to put on record the fact that I am very disappointed at the manner in which the Committee stage of this Bill was conducted. Your Lordships will agree that we are not here simply to put a rubber stamp on business that comes from another place, but on the Committee stage of this Bill some Amendments were put down, not drafted by myself but drafted and approved by the organisations of the social workers and the health visitors. Some of the Amendments were of a very modest kind, and it seemed to me—I may say, my Lords, that I am echoing something I said on Committee stage—that the noble Lord, Lord Newton, who was replying for the Ministry of Health, had come here simply to tell us why these could not be accepted. It seemed that he was not even prepared to consider them. He was not even prepared—although, of course, he was briefed to give an answer—to take back anything which some noble Lords in this House and myself felt should have further consideration. I felt, indeed, that it was a mockery of democratic discussion.

I should not have raised the matter on this occasion, had I not felt that it was following the pattern of the way health workers in the National Health Service are being treated. Very briefly, I would remind your Lordships that the almoners and psychiatric social workers for many months received a negative answer from the Ministry of Health. because they had made a claim for a higher salary. The Industrial Court reversed the policy of the Ministry of Health and gave them a generous increase. But this argument went on for many months, and they were no doubt treated as we were treated last Tuesday night on the Committee stage of the Health Visiting and Social Work (Training) Bill. Then comes the nurses' case. We had a very good debate last week, in which it was made quite clear that for weeks and months the nurses appealed for consideration. Again, their appeal was rejected and they are forced to go on to the Industrial Court for the matter to be reconsidered. Then, again, on the Committee stage another important group of health workers, the social workers and health visitors, asked me to put down certain Amendments, and these were rejected out of hand.

My Lords, it is not only the number that I bring to your notice. I would say that this attitude, an attitude which I suppose can be only dictated by expediency, finally must be reversed. These women in these organisations are weakly organised, I agree. They do not have the powerful organisations of the doctors or the dockers. Nevertheless, as your Lordships know, although a woman's voice may be weak, when she has made up her mind she finally gets her way. In spite of the lessons which the Minister of Health must have learnt by now, the lesson that he is forced to leave by the backdoor while the women demonstrate at the front of the hospital, the noble Lord (and I do not blame him personally, as I said on the Committee stage, when I implored him to reject the voices of his masters) was on the Committee stage last week, given a brief which, in effect, said, "Do not budge. Do not move an inch. Finally say, No." I bring that point to the notice of your Lordships, because I think it is undesirable that no protest should be made when this kind of thing occurs in your Lordships' House.


My Lords, I should like to rise very briefly to support what the noble Baroness has said. I am encouraged to do so even more, because she did say that, although a woman's voice may be weak, in time she gets her way. Therefore, I feel I am attaching myself to something rather good when I rise to support her now. Although the noble Lord, Lord Newton, dealt with our Amendments most courteously fully, and kindly, certainly it was my impression, too, that, on the Second Reading the Bill was criticised very largely by every noble Lord and Lady who spoke. When the Committee stage came we put down our Amendments, after consultation with the bodies involved, but not one was even promised further consideration. I feel that that was treating the bodies concerned in a rather rough way, and I should like to support the noble Baroness in the words of protest she has now used.


My Lords, may I just say one word in support of my noble friend Lord Newton? The arguments in favour of the Bill and against it were certainly dealt with in debate, and Amendments were put down, but I find it an extraordinary theory that, just because Amendments are put down in a large number, the Government should accept them, even though they disapprove of them. The Government listened to the arguments, and if the arguments were not good enough to convince them they would be quite wrong to accept the Amendments. I find the argument that we have heard to-day quite extraordinary.

2.57 p.m.


My Lords, I agree very much with what my noble friend Lord Derwent has said. When I listened to the noble Lady, it seemed to me that she was advancing a very novel argument, a very novel doctrine. What she was, in fact, saying to your Lordships was this: that because ten Amendments were put on the Marshalled List during the Committee stage of this Bill, at least one of them must have been of sufficient merit to be accepted by me on behalf of Her Majesty's Government. It seems to me that the noble Baroness is really saying to your Lordships that, the greater the number of Amendments put down to a Bill, the greater the obligation, therefore, on the part of the Government to accept one or more of them, irrespective of their merit. That seems to me to be an entirely novel doctrine.

I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, although he supported the noble Baroness in this connection, for saying that I replied adequately to the arguments submitted to me. I think we had two and a half hours on the Committee stage on these ten Amendments, and I certainly did my best to explain to your Lordships why I was unable to accept them. We divided on one Amendment, and the majority of your Lordships supported me, and your Lordships in Committee accepted the advice which I offered on the other nine Amendments.

I should also like to add this further comment. The matters which were the subject of these ten Amendments were all debated during the Second Reading, and were all replied to by me, so I do not think that any Member of this House who was present during the Second Reading debate, or read the Report of it in Hansard, was surprised to find last Tuesday that I was not able to accept the Amendments. Furthermore, these same arguments and these same Amendments were discussed at great length during the proceedings on the Bill in another place, and they were not accepted by Her Majesty's Government there, either. I hope, therefore, the House will think that I am right in refusing to stand before your Lordships in a white sheet, either literally or metaphorically.

Finally, my Lords, may I just say this to the noble Baroness? She said in her opening remarks that your Lordships are not rubber stamps. No, my Lords; we in this House are not rubber stamps. But the noble Baroness said that one reason why I ought to have been more sympathetic was that the Amendments, or many of them, were put down on behalf of the organisations representing the health visitors and the social workers. It is perfectly right that the views of those interested parties should be considered by the Government and by your Lordships alongside the arguments of other interested bodies, but we in this House are not rubber stamps for anybody, not even for those organisations.


Neither, my Lords, are we rubber stamps for another place. The noble Lord, Lord Newton, has just put forward as one of the reasons for curtailing discussion here (or he implied it) the fact that these subjects were extensively discussed in another place. I hope that that will never be accepted as a reason for not having a discussion here.


May I interrupt the noble Lord? I introduced that point in order to elaborate the wider point I was making: that I did not think any of your Lordships could have been surprised that I was unable to accept the Amendments.


My Lords, we had a very thin House throughout the Committee stage, and we did not have the great advantage of the presence of the noble Lord, Lord Derwent. Otherwise, I am of opinion that he would be less ready to jump to the defence of his noble friend.


If I may interrupt the noble Lord, I particularly said that I was not dealing with the merits of the Bill, which were discussed on the previous stages. I was saying that the arguments put forward by the noble Baroness were, to me, extraordinary.


My Lords, I am doing very well: two interruptions in two sentences. I would say that my noble friend was dealing with the merits of the Bill. Indeed, that is a quite proper matter to deal with on Third Reading. But I would say this: I like the sight of the noble Lord, Lord Newton, whether he is in a white sheet or not; it is always an entrancing sight. But anyone who considers what those Amendments were, or who read the Report of the Committee stage or was present at the proceedings, will know that there was absolutely no cogent reason for refusing them. Indeed, one Amendment was to the effect that, although the Bill provides that there shall be one chairman for the two Councils that are to be set up, there may be two separate chairmen. One would not have thought that it would have brought about anything earth-shaking to have met the wishes of the people concerned, primarily women, so that it might be possible, one day, to have a woman chairman for one of those two Councils. I feel that on this particular occasion we were treated to an exhibition of complete stonewalling which was quite unjustified.

On Question, Bill read 3a, and passed.