HL Deb 18 April 1973 vol 341 cc1125-54

3.10 p.m.

LORD ALPORT rose to call attention to the importance of maintaining a representative element in public bodies responsible for administering services affecting the domestic welfare of the people of this country; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I do not propose this afternoon to repeat the arguments which illumined the various stages of the National Health Service Reorganisation Bill, but I freely confess to your Lordships that one aspect of the debates on that Bill which occupied a great deal of the time of the House of recent weeks has caused me to put down the Motion which I now have the honour to move. Consequently, I wish to use some of the views expressed by my noble friend Lord Aberdare to illustrate an important issue which I am asking your Lordships to consider.

Put briefly, the issue is this. I am concerned at the growing habit of Govern- ments to insist on giving administrative authority to boards of Government nominees instead of to boards elected by or representative of classes of people or interests over whom that authority is exercised. Until relatively recently, it was, I think, fairly generally accepted that a public authority should contain a large representative element, particularly where the matters with which that authority was concerned related to the welfare of citizens in its various aspects: for instance, if consumers' affairs were affected, then one or more of the consumer organisations would have the right to nominate a member or members to the body concerned; or it might be in another case that a representative professional organisation had the right to nominate suitable members; or it might be, in another case, that the right of nomination would be exercised by some local authority or by an employers' organisation or by a trade union.

The nominee would certainly in those circumstances represent a sectional interest, but his or her presence on the board had two overriding advantages. First, the class of the community concerned would know that its particular point of view would have a chance of being heard in relation to any decision made by the board affecting its interests; secondly, the representative element of a public board had the effect of producing some sort of balance where conflicting sectional interests arose, and at the same time helped to produce a balancing factor in the relations between the board and the Department of State under whose auspices it was operated. It gave to the board some degree of independence and to the individual members the confidence of judgment which derives from acting in a representative role.

There is, I submit, a fundamental difference between the position of a doctor on a public board who is the nominee of the Secretary of State and one who is nominated, say, by the Royal College of Physicians. Similarly, a member nominated by the Secretary of State because of his long experience of local government is, I should have thought, in an immeasurably weaker position than one who, with a long experience of local government, has been nominated by a local authority because he is perhaps an elected member of that local authority. The former is answerable primarily to the Secretary of State. Indeed, recently I came across the example of a Minister demanding that nominated members of a public body should report to him over the head—or behind the back—of the chairman of that board. I cannot think that that is right.

My Lords, let me now examine the arguments advanced by my noble friend Lord Aberdare on the Report stage of the National Health Service Reorganisation Bill which clearly and frankly illustrate the Government's attitude to the whole question of nomination. On February 13 last in your Lordships' House my noble friend Lord Aberdare said: Our view is that the Regional Health Authority, as the principal agent of the Secretary of State for carrying out his policies, should be appointed by him, of course after consultation. After all…he"— the Secretary of State— is responsible to Parliament for enormous sums of public money—almost £2,000 million a year.… In view of those huge sums, we owe it, I should have thought, not only to the taxpayers but to … potential patients, that they should be properly and wisely spent. He went on to say: I believe, therefore, as I said on Committee stage that he"— the Secretary of State— should have the freedom to appoint members of Regional Health Authorities for their own personal qualities…".—[0FriciAL REPORT, 13/2/73; col. 1427.] There can be only one conclusion from that; namely, that the Secretary of State does not believe that someone nominated by the General Medical Council, for instance, or by the Royal College of Physicians, or by the Greater Manchester Council, is likely to have the right qualities for the job concerned as compared with the nominees of the Secretary of State himself.

This means that where large amounts of public money are at risk the Government must, according to their point of view, have control over those who spend it; and because interventionalist policies are the order of the day, involving a tremendous spread of the use of public funds, the powers of the Government are constantly proliferating through the instrumentality of nominated boards and nominated individuals. The Government have just provided £15 million, as I understand it, for the building societies. Would it be fair to ask when the Government nominees are going to appear on tehe Council of the Building Societies Association? The local authorities have very large sums of money to spend for which Ministers are responsible to Parliament. When are tile Government nominees going to be added to the number of members of the great local authorities? The universities are almost wholly dependent on Government money. One of which I am at present pro-Chancellor will spend about £15 million in the next quinquennium. When is the Secretary of State for Education and Science going to judge whether I have the personal qualities for the job of spending that money or whether a nominee of hers should be appointed? I confess that if she knew what I think about her handling of the universities she would be dispensing with my services forthwith.

Later, at Column 1431, my noble friend Lord Aberdare explained the Government's point of view with absolute clarity. This is what he said: There is a distinction between a body which collectively represents the interests of the public and a body whose members are individually appointed to represent the interests of a particular section of the public. The bask job of the Regional Health Authority and the Area Health Authority must be to plan and administer services in the interests of the public. In that sense we"— that is, the Government— believe we shall meet what my noble friend is asking for in the new service;"— referring to one of my noble friends who intervened in the debate— but we do not feel that the interests of the public are best served by setting up governing bodies which comprise a spectrum of sectional interests. What we are proposing is authorities whose members will for the most part be chosen for the personal contribution they can make.

If I thought that this was the point of view of my noble friend Lord Aberdare alone, or of his right honourable friend Sir Keith Joseph, I should not be worrying overmuch; but I realise that what we are hearing in measured, moderate terms are the slogans of the managerial revolution. I think it was borne out clearly in something further that my noble friend said on that occasion. He said, after I had intervened for a very short time: I do not think I can answer that in a word. My noble friend"—

that is, me— is striking at the root of the managerial arrangements which exist in the Bill."—[Col. 1435.]

He went on to refer to a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Serota, saying that the Annual Report of the Hospital Advisory Service reads: 'I am also concerned at the very considerable gap between generally accepted policies and the reality of the Service as patients find it.' My noble friend went on to say: This is because we have not got a proper management structure at the moment.

My Lords, I am beginning to realise why it is that many Conservatives, or Tory Democrats as we used to call ourselves as opposed I suppose to the Social Democrats of the Party opposite, are feeling increasingly uneasy about the trends of that philosophy within the present Administration at the moment. In earlier days representative institutions, the balancing of sectional interests, the right to a say in the choice of the people, and therefore in their policies, to administer the services which we use and on which we spend the money we pay in taxes—that principle was more or less universally accepted in those earlier unregenerate days. We might be Social Democrats or Tory Democrats but we were all more or less democrats, suspicious of the power of Government and of the influence of Government services and statesmen and nominees. We saw the balancing of sectional interests within our administrative system as being a virtue which was both a protection to our liberties and a deterrent to corruption.

When someone, I think it was Mr. Douglas Jay, proclaimed that the man in Whitehall knows best there was a nation-wide guffaw which did much to undermine the credibility of the first Labour Government. But when 25 years later a Conservative Minister says exactly the same thing, I feel that for a Conservative like myself it is time that I sat up and took notice. I now realise that the Prime Minister's talk about the "quiet revolution" is not simply a figure of speech, but that the managerial revolution is in full swing and before long we will be living in a managerial State. I have no doubt that the prospect will appeal to a number of noble Lords on both sides of the House. Indeed it is significant that the noble Lord, Lord Brown, who is a dedicated manager, gave to my noble friend Lord Aberdare general support throughout the various stages of the National Health Reorganisation Bill. But the prospect, as far as I am concerned, appals me. Let me go back to the words of my noble friend Lord Aberdare: What we are proposing"— he said, as your Lordships wil1 remember— is authorities whose members will be chosen for the personal contribution they can make. One of the personal contributions they will be expected to make quite clearly is to conform to the policies of the Secretary of State of the day, who is responsible to Parliament, mark you, as my noble friend said. They will be appointed no doubt for leading blameless lives politically. They will be appointed perhaps in the later stages as a reward for past support. They will be very efficient, and perhaps not particularly humane or practical in their attitude to the system and services which they administer. They will be withdrawn from the turbulence and contradictions of ordinary life. They will judge people and situations in terms of cost effectiveness, for return on capital employed. They will use all the bogus jargon of the so-called managerial science.

My Lords, I simply do not think that that is the way in which English men and women—I do not know about Scotsmen or Welshmen—are prepared to govern. It is unwise for a Conservative Government to assess the significance of the trade union movement simply in terms of wage inflation, or our membership of the E.E.C. simply in terms of the Common Agriculture Policy, or British industry in terms of the current volume of its capital investment, or the social services in terms of the cost effectiveness of the public funds employed, or local government in terms of the optimum size of financial resources at the disposal of its unit, or the eligibility of individuals for membership of public boards in terms of personal contribution which the Secretary of State—or, more likely, his civil servant advisers—thinks can be made.

I am sure that there are few Members of this House who would suspect that I now have very much in common politically with either Mr. Enoch Powell or Mr. Angus Maude. It may be however of some very small significance that twenty years ago we were all colleagues of the Prime Minister in what was then called the One Nation Group and which has provided the field for the Prime Minister's present Government. Since then our paths have taken us in very different directions, yet in our different ways and from our different standpoints Mr. Powell, Mr. Maude and I have warned the Government during the course of the last month that we do not think that England can be governed successfully or permanently on the astringent, paternalistic, interventionist manner to which the present Administration appear to be committed. I do not believe that public opinion of this country will accept the philosophy and pattern of the managerial State.

It is of course natural that dissent of all three of us should be attributed to our exclusion from the responsibilities and privileges of authority. I can only speak for myself. Everything which I wished for at the beginning of my political life has come to pass. All that I personally could wish for to-day is that the present should go on for ever.

But, my Lords, what I cannot do is to neglect the opportunity which the privilege of the membership of your Lordships' House gives me of voicing my grave anxiety at the way in which the philosophy and actions of the present Government are developing. I believe that with the best of intentions they are falling victims to a most insiduous heresy which, if allowed to prevail, could destroy much of the quality and variety in our national life, and what is perhaps even more significant bequeath opportunities to less well intentioned men in the future which will enable them to destroy the institutions upon which our personal freedom and our political life in this country have been based for many years.

3.28 p.m.


My Lords, I believe that the whole House should welcome the initiative of the noble Lord who has put this Motion down on the Order Paper to-day, and I only wish perhaps that it had been clarified a little in order that more Members would have been stimulated to take part. This, in my opinion, should have been the basis for a most important debate. I believe that in our democratic society with its consequent proliferation of committees it is of paramount importance that these cornmittees—the one the noble Lord spoke about in the Health Service, and all others, because I hope the House does not think for one moment that this debate is entirely devoted to the Health Service—which are being set up from day to day should reflect the needs of the inarticulate majority. We all know that there are those individuals who can always make their voices heard, but the great silent majority who think deeply and is concerned with the matters which concern the whole country is too often unrepresented on these committees.

On the Second Reading of the National Health Service Reorganisation Bill I quoted the Secretary of State who stated in the White Paper that The purpose behind the change is a better, more sensitive service to the public". My Lords, how can this be effected if the choice of the public representatives is left in the hands of officialdom which is mainly concerned behind the scenes with counting the heads and then presenting the Minister with a completed list of the requisite number. Then they feel that their duty is done. And I believe that the reorganised Health Service is a striking case of management by bureaucracy, with its headquarters at the Elephant and Castle

My Lords, decisions made there are going to reach up to the North of Scotland, to the West of Wales and the East of England, and this is wrong. The decisions should be made by the people of the country. Hardly a week passes without our attention being directed to the unimaginative decisions of those who seem to show a disregard for the need for a better and more sensitive service to the public. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, will have guessed what I want to emphasise, and perhaps others also. It is the deliberate exclusion from committees of women; the exclusion of one sex in this country which represents 50 per cent.—indeed, more than 50 per cent.—of the population. They are excluded from committees, both administrative and advisory, where their knowledge and special aptitudes would be invaluable. To emphasise their knowledge, I would remind noble Lords of the large number of able girls who now go to university and who come out recognising that still they are to be condemned to perform the same repetitive jobs, even in the higher echelons, to which women were condemned before. It seems to me that some members of the male sex possess a protective amnesia which enables them to forget that there are two sexes until there has been gross injustice.

Your Lordships' House has, time after time, heard me stand up and, on a matter which concerns the whole country and which often is of particular interest to women ask the noble Lord who is speaking how many women are on this or that advisory or administrative committee, and I will repeat some of the answers that I have received. My Lords, I am not talking about the last century or the beginning of this century; I am talking about what has happened in your Lordships' House in the last few weeks, so that those who are listening to me to-day will be able to recall what has happened, and also in order to emphasise my point. For instance, I would mention the Committee set up a few weeks ago to consider conditions for granting bail. There are unfortunate women in Holloway, desperately anxious to obtain bail—more anxious than any man because they want to get home to care for their families. But not one woman was included on that large Committee. When I asked the Minister about it, obviously he was shocked to be reminded that there were two sexes. I do not blame the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, who has plenty on his plate, but this reflects the attitude of the Civil Service. The membership of this large Committee was drawn up by the Civil Service and presented to the Minister, and he comes here and reels off the names. And there are unfortunate women in Holloway desperately longing for someone to be on that Committee who will understand their feelings as mothers and wives. But their sex has been forgotten. Is this the more sensitive approach that we have been told that we are to have?

The week before last we debated a Report dealing with liquor licensing, which recommended that the public houses should be open for 14 hours a day and that children should be admitted. I do not think it an exaggeration to say that that Report was denounced by noble Lords on both sides of the House. The Minister, again the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross (it seems to me that the Home Office seems completely oblivious that women should be represented on some of these committees) felt that after the debate on the Report there was nothing more to be said; and, of course, assured us that no legislation would be introduced this year. Of the 16 members of this Committee, which sat for a long time and finally made these stupid and harmful recommendations, only one was a woman. I believe that all that expense and waste of effort could have been avoided if the Committee had been representative of the community.

Last week we debated the preservation of historic towns and villages. Having regard to the descriptions which we had of the widespread destruction of beautiful old houses, and having regard to the fact that women are the home makers and that biologically women are constructed to conserve rather than to destroy, I asked how many women were on the Listing Committee. I might have anticipated the answer—my Lords, it was "None". And so we go on, in the 1970s, week after week, with committees being set up which, far from being sensitive to the needs of the population, have, as I said at the beginning, been listed because the Civil Service is told to make a list of people—men—who would be prepared to serve on a committee.

My Lords, let us come to the question of homes. The cruel, harsh concept of a home for the captive mothers and children who live in those high-rise blocks of concrete, stems from building and architectural interests which are almost exclusively male; those responsible for these prisons in which they never live themselves. Never have I heard of a young male architect living on the 20th floor of a concrete block of flats with his wife and little children and having to lock them in there in the morning before going to work. The mother finds it too difficult to go down to the ground floor because the lift may have broken; and even more difficult to come up again. She cannot leave her children outside the building on the concrete pavement because she would not be able to hear them if they cried. Who are responsible for constructing these horrors? They are constructed by men who are anxious to secure a big financial return. Home-loving women with imagination, who might have exercised some restraint on the acquisitive instincts of the builders and architects, are excluded from the preliminary discussions in committee. I invite your Lordships to look at some of these advisory and administrative committees.


My Lords, may I interrupt my noble friend? I am not sure whether she is aware that it is now eleven years since the present Secretary of State for Education and Science and myself drew attention to the deficiencies of these high-rise blocks of flats. But we are women, and no one took any notice of us.


My Lords, as I am sure the noble Baroness will appreciate, what are one or two women against a thousand men? That is the answer, is it not? What we are asking for is proper representation. I have read about that ghastly place called Ronan Point which has been rebuilt. Only one family which formerly lived there, two old people of over 70—one saw their picture in the papers—said that they would go back. They had lived on the 17th floor. They went back yesterday to the fourth floor and the pathetic part of it was that they said they went back because they found there were other people to whom they could talk on the other floors. Not one woman with little children went back. One woman said that she would not go back there, even if she were given a million pounds. But these people are condemned to do so because there is nowhere else for them to go. There is a very long list of people waiting for houses, and so children and mothers are condemned to live in these high-rise blocks by cruel men devoid of imagination and concerned only with their bank balances. I would say that the social historians will condemn the modern architects responsible for these monstrosities as enemies of society.

My Lords, it is significant that the public boards—of which the noble Lord, Lord Alport, has made some mention— responsible for administering many of our great domestic services are deprived by officialdom of the advise and guidance of women. I ask for the foregiveness of the House if I quickly give a comprehensive list. I should like to put it on record in Hansard, for the consumption of the Civil Service and Ministries. My Lords, these are the public boards of this country dealing, as the Motion by the noble Lord, Lord Alport, puts it, with "the domestic welfare of the people of this country". The British Railways Board does not include one woman. The same prejudice is shown by the British Transport Docks Board, the British Waterways Board, the Transport Holding Company, the National Bus Company, the National Freight Corporation, the Scottish Transport Group, the British Airways Board, the Civil Aviation Authority, the British Airports Authority, the National Coal Board, the Electricity Council, the Central Electricity Generating Board, together with all the Area Electricity Boards—the London, the Southern, the South-Western, the Eastern, the East Midlands, the Midlands, South Wales, Merseyside and North Wales, Yorkshire, North Eastern and North Western.

There is one outstanding, amazing, exception, a light which shines in the darkness, the South Eastern, which must have had enlightened and wise chairmen. It has two women: Dame Elizabeth Ackroyd and Mrs. Jolliffe, B.Sc. I will say that these two women know full well that there are thousands of other women equally qualified who are ignored by reactionary officialdom which has decided to keep all the boards of the country, with one exception, a male monopoly. There are no women on the North of Scotland Hydro Electricity Board, the South of Scotland Electricity Board, the British Gas Corporation and the British Steel Corporation. There are none on the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority, the Commonwealth Development Corporation, the Sugar Board, the White Fish Authority, the Herring Industry Board, the Board of Directors of Cable and Wireless and, last but not least, the Post Office which might well profit from the knowledge and common sense of women. My Lords, what a record! What a record in the 1970s when the Sex Disqualification Act was passed in 1919!

In the course of the last year I have served on the Select Committee on the Sex Discrimination Bill. I have listened to the evidence, and we have taken a great deal of evidence over the year which, incidentally, can be obtained from the Printed Paper Office because it has already been published. But it seems to me that if evidence is needed one has only to study Cmnd. 5207 on public boards, presented to Parliament by the Minister for the Civil Service last January. That is evidence of gross discrimination regarding the use of women on public boards responsible for administering services affecting the domestic welfare of the people.

My Lords, whereas my noble friend said that something happened eleven years ago, I hope that this little debate may be like a stone dropping in the pond and that some ripples may go out. We may find, perhaps, some enlightened civil servant who will make it his business to ensure that the Department adopt a more enlightened attitude towards 50 per cent. of the population in this country.

3.45 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure we all are very much indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Alport, for introducing this subject. He has called himself a Tory Democrat. I greet him as a democrat because he has always shown himself to be a person immensely interested in democracy. Democracy is really what we are concerned with in this Parliament and in trying to see that the country runs at all effectively, because democracy is, I think, the only way in which one can successfully govern any country. It is perfectly true that one can use autocratic methods. One can use dictatorial methods for a time. But the trouble with any dictatorship is that it has no means of continuing itself. Democracy alone can do this. Therefore, it is our job to see that democracy works properly.

The noble Lord has made very clear that in his view we must have a better element of democracy in our Government, and especially in all those services which concern the individual and the community. We have learned to realise over the last few years, thanks very largely to the uprising of young people in this country, the importance and significance of participation. I have spent most of my adult life inside a university, and those of us who were in some position of authority in a university were rather staggered when suddenly there arose the demand for participation. We asked ourselves how it could be possible that students who had only just come to the university should be able to tell us how to run a university—how could they possibly contribute? Many tried to resist this, but over a period of time it became clear that unless universities were prepared to allow student participation, in effect there would be no universities, and so student participation has occurred. Wherever I have seen it I have found that, far from damaging the university, it has been of enormous advantage to the university. It has brought fresh ideas, fresh life, into university. It has enabled new things to be done, because the young are always wanting new things. They are quite right to be wanting new things. This type of participation which they have brought into academic affairs must surely also be brought into the running of everything within the community.

The noble Lord has referred to the health and other social services. I think he would agree that we have got to go far beyond that, and that the type of participation to which he has referred—the democratic element inside the whole of our industries in so far as they affect the individual—has become absolutely vital. We had a debate last summer on the Government's Gas Bill, and at that time several of us pointed out that it would be most unfortunate if we set up a central organisation and displaced all the local regional organisations. It is important to understand why this is so because it applies to everything which touches the individual in the community. It is quite easy to have a central organisation to produce gas, to obtain gas from the North Sea or to bring gas over in a liquid form, or to manufacture it in any way you like. A central organisation is perfectly all right for that.

It may well be argued that the central organisation will not be any better for having people elected on it. I am not certain; I think it might be. But it could be argued that the central organisation for production of that sort can be very well run without taking into account the precise needs of the individual. The same may be true of winning coal. The same may be true of making iron and steel. But when it comes to distribution, when it comes to the impact with the individual, when it comes to the point where the householder is involved—where, for instance, the gas cooker is brought into the house—then it matters a great deal whether that gas cooker is properly serviced. That is not something to be done by a central organisation. It is most important that these things are properly done by local bodies. It is most important that one has local representation. It is most important that the consumer comes in on all that. Without that, we have no sort of proper democratic participation.

This goes right through an enormous range of activities. I have just jotted down a few. If one looks, for instance, at the airways, we have had continuous discussions in your Lordships' House on the question of whether B.O.A.C. and B.E.A. should be permitted to close down their present methods of collecting passengers in the centre of London and to insist upon doing it at Heathrow, Gatwick or other airports. It is quite clear that the majority of individuals who travel would prefer to have the local collection. But we are informed that B.E.A. have decided on economic grounds that it is better done at Heathrow, and this overrides the wishes of individuals.

My Lords, if we go on like this, we set up that appalling dichotomy inside our society of "we" and "they". It is "they" who order things, "they" who run things, and "we" are the unfortunate dogs-bodies who get kicked about and are told what we are to do. This is not democracy. We may call it democracy because it is initiated by a democratically elected Government, but democracy is much more diverse, much more fascinating and important to the indidual than just being allowed once in five years to elect representatives. It is a continuing process, and something that affects us all the time. Unless we realise that democracy can only exist if the people believe it serves them, they will throw it over and go for anarchy or anything else. It will only exist if people really believe it is working for them. Therefore it is essential that we find the right method in all our industries, and in everything we do, to facilitate the working of proper democracy.

I have referred to the airways and to the Gas Board. One can turn to the Electricity Board, where exactly the same argument applies. One can turn to transport, the railways, buses, the Post Office, the planning system of the country and everything else. All must be brought close to the individual. It is no good imagining that because someone has devised an academically perfect plan it will be accepted by the hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of people whose houses are knocked down as a result of that plan. They must feel that they have participated in it and they can understand exactly why this has been decided. They may decide that, even though it is in a technical way the right solution, it is socially an abominable solution, and it is better not to have it. These are the ways in which we as people have the right to decide. We must not be told that something has been decided by someone else who knows all the answers—as indeed he may—and that this has to be done. This is not the way in which we should live.

I quote front a speech made on January 20 referring to the individual in the community: …he is increasingly unable to live his own life, express himself, dream his dreams, and realise his ideals, because increasingly the decisions which govern his life, and the life of his family, are taken for him, by remote powers or persons he perhaps has never heard of. Where he will work—regardless of the amount of satisfaction and fulfilment he will get at that work. Where he will live—even in what part of Britain he will live. Whether the community in which he and his family have been brought up will survive as a community, or be destroyed by some technological thunderbolt or regardless stroke of financial lightning…". That was a speech made by Mr. Harold Wilson at Leith in January of this year. I welcomed it very much, because it showed that a leader of a Party was now coming forward with this idea, which is not a new idea, but which is something that concerns every one of us.

The noble Lord, Lord Alport, has I think brought us to the real fundamentals of democracy; to the part of democracy which concerns every one of us. If we believe in democracy, we will welcome his Motion and ask that it be regarded as a first priority by the Government to extend democracy throughout all the activities of our nation and not confine it simply to an electoral system.

3.56 p.m.


My Lords, this afternoon we have had three powerful and eloquent speeches on an issue which should be central to your Lordships' House and Parliament: what sort of democracy will we see evolving in the next five, ten or twenty years? Like my noble friend Lady Summerskill, I feel a sense of disappointment that so few noble Lords are participating in this debate. But the three speeches that have been delivered will be read, I think, for many months and many years as an expression of the very deep concern that was held not only by those who have spoken, but I believe on Benches on all sides of the House, as to how democracy will evolve in this country. I do not envy the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, in his task of replying to my noble friend Lady Summerskill. When one travels and sees the way in which women participate in the highest fields of government and administration, particularly in the developing countries, it is an act of shame that, for whatever reason, women are not allowed to provide for this country the services which the country requires and which women as a group could provide.

Democracy is something more than electing a Parliament every three or four years, or electing a local authority. Democracy is a question of choice, and if democracy is to have any real meaning to the man in the street it must mean that the question of choice should be as low as possible within our community strata. There can be no question that in recent years and with increasing momentum, either to seek the managerial State or to acquire greater efficiency, we are seeing a reduction in the representative element in our society and moving more and more to an authoritarian bureaucratic system. Many of our people to-day work in our industrial groups. They depend for their livelihood on decisions taken by directors whom they never see, and on occasions they may not even know their names. They can be directors who live in another country. This is a factor which will grow, I think, with the development of the international company.

In the social field we have two pieces of new legislation: the reorganisation of the National Health Service, which has been referred to already to-day, and the reorganisation of local government. As regards the latter, this has come about in an attempt to get greater efficiency, and so we have set up these very large local authorities. This must mean that the elected representatives are going to be further away from those whom they represent, and one can already see the structure evolving when responsible decisions are being taken more and more by persons whose qualification is none other than having been selected, yet having no form of mandate or connection with ordinary people. So, my Lords, are we not moving into a society, as my noble friend Lord Wynne-Jones said, when it is a question of "them" and "us". I myself doubt very much whether the efficiency that the Government expect to arise as a consequence of this new structure will come about. But even if increased efficiency were to be achieved, I do not believe that it would last very long, because at the end of the day one needs the co-operation of ordinary people in the way in which the laws are administered.

In the industrial field the Government, in their wisdom, have decided that highly political and economic matters should be dealt with to-day by a Price Commission and a Pay Board—all this sensitive area being removed from Parliament and decisions being taken by some carefully hand-picked men. I cannot myself believe that this is right: nor do I believe that these organisations—since they depend upon the respect of those who are affected by their work—will last for very long. So what can we do? I believe we can give a very clear warning to the Government that any further legislation on the pattern put before this House in recent years we will not accept.

I hope that the House will feel that democracy is still worth fighting for and will see that amendments are made to that legislation to ensure proper representation by the members of the boards. But I think the Government are wrong when they say accountability can arise only when the entire board have been nominated. One can get accountability and control, which is clearly needed where public money is involved, by the terms of reference that one employs and perhaps by the appointment of one or two members with specific responsibilities. There is no need to have boards of this nature merely to achieve accountability. Therefore in future legislation I hope this House will say that we will not have this situation any more.

However, I believe we need to be a good deal more constructive in this matter. My own Party is now actively considering ways and means by which neighbourhood councils could be set up. I am talking here of a village or an estate community that could easily be identified, and these communities should be encouraged to set up councils whose members could represent their views on the bigger local authorities. We think there is a case for a statutory requirement for these councils to be consulted when a local authority is intending to take action which would in any way involve community life. For instance, one can think of speed limits on various roads. One sees on television pictures of women and children standing and holding up the traffic in order to draw the attention of the local authority to the dangers of speed. This should not be necessary: there ought to be some constitutional system or means by which a community could draw attention to its problems before the bigger authority. I believe these councils should be provided with a certain measure of finance so that they could undertake some of the measures needed within the comunity. These are all things that we are considering. I hope that a report will shortly be produced and perhaps it would merit a debate in your Lordships' House—because I think this raises a crucial area of our democratic involvement. I have no doubt at all that this debate will serve as a warning to the Government and provide thought for those who have listened to it and those who will read it.

My last word is this: criticisms are made of our public Civil Service, whether it refers to central Government or local government. I have the highest admiration for the integrity of that Service. I have no doubt at all that in most cases the decisions taken in fact are right, according to the evidence and the circumstances in which the judgments were made. But in human life there is need for compassion and understanding; and this is something that perhaps the Civil Service tends to overlook. It is here that a layman, as a representative, has a crucial part to play, not only in the efficiency of the Service but in the humanity of its administration.


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I ask him, when he uses the words "them" and "us", who is "them" and who is "us"?


My Lords, I have been an employee of a company and I have never had any doubt that the directors were "them" and I was a member of "us"


My Lords, I should like, if I may, to ask my noble friend a question. I think that in his very last sentence he referred to the civil servants and said that he thought, if I heard him aright, that they tended to miss people and that somebody had to direct them. My noble friend spoke of the "layman"; but, with respect, the layman is the Minister. Could I put it to my noble friend that he has been extraordinarily unfair to civil servants who try to do the job? If the layman, who is the chairman of the company, does not do his job then of course the civil servant cannot really do his. The point I am asking my noble friend is this: does he not think that what he is really saying is a criticism of the Minister and not of the civil servant?


My Lords, I was not seeking to criticise the Minister. I was speaking of the layman as being a representative of the community. If the noble Lord cares to read my speech he will see that what I have said was clear.

4.10 p.m.


My Lords, may I straight away express my gratitude to my noble friend Lord Alport for putting this Motion on the Order Paper. The few of your Lordships who have taken part in the debate will have found it of great interest and assistance. I have not agreed with anybody who has spoken so far, except the powerful intervention from the "Liberal Front Bench" which seemed to me to have a good deal of sense in it. When I studied the Motion I found it difficult to know what I should say in reply to the debate, although I had some idea what the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, was likely to say. I hope that my noble friend will consider that I certainly am a Tory democrat and that much of what this Government have done has been in the best traditions of Tory democracy, as I hope to explain in my speech.

It is important to draw a clear distinction between public services that are the responsibility of local government, and those that are the responsibility of central government. In the first case it has always been our policy to encourage the growth of strong, representative local authorities with clearly defined functions. The Local Government Act 1972 is evidence of that with its framework of counties and districts, each with its own district responsibilities. I was surprised when the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, criticised us, because it is our two-tier system that is very much nearer to the electorate than the single-tier system which his Government proposed to create.

We have accomplished a great deal in removing unnecessary restrictions on local government and we have secured for them more effective freedom of action. We have removed a number of specific, petty, irritating controls—such as Ministerial controls over the fixing of market days and hours, the appointment of a public analyst, the establishment of joint education committees, and so forth. We have identified many other irritating, petty controls which we shall remove as soon as opportunity offers.

Moreover, in the Local Government Act we removed certain statutory limitations on the way in which local authorities organise their own administration. Except for an essential minimum they are no longer required to appoint statutory officers or statutory committees. Such decisions are rightly left to their own discretion.

The same Act greatly increases the amount of money that a local authority may spend, under their general power to spend for the good of their area, from one old penny to two new pence—a fivefold increase. And it introduced a new power enabling authorities to delegate a wide variety of day-to-day decisions to officers, leaving members free to concentrate on the broader issues of policy.

We have been reviewing the whole field of local government finance and issued a Green Paper in July 1971 on this subject. Since then we have held discussions with local authorities and these have included proposals for improving the formula used for the distributiton of rate support grant. We hope that these proposals can be implemented from April 1974.

We have also devolved more responsibility on local authorities for their capital requirements. In certain cases, such as the acquisititon of land, loan sanction is automatic. In the so-called "key sector" (including housing, school, health and social services) approval of a particular project by the parent Department automatically carries loan sanction with it and no formal application is required. In the "non-key" sector a block borrowing allocation is made to each authority which can make use of it at its own discretion.

I have listed these particular facts because I would claim that we have done a great deal to strengthen local democracy in the form of local government and to give it greater independence from central Government interference. There remain those services affecting domestic welfare of the people of this country which are centrally administered. These are the services to which most of your Lordships have referred. In these cases it is the Minister who is accountable to Parliament for their efficient provision, and it is only logical that he should have a predominant influence in the appointment of those who carry out responsibilities on his behalf. But that does not mean the total exclusion of a representative element—not in the least.

I was very flattered that my noble friend made such considerable quotation from my own speech on the Report stage of the National Health Service Reorganisation Bill. I was not in the least surprised to find that I agreed with every word I had then said. I am sorry to repeat myself, but I should like to take the example of the National Health Service in this respect because my noble friend referred to it, and it is a critical example. The Area Health Authority, about which he was speaking, will be the main operational tier of the Service. It is right that the Secretary of State should appoint the chairman; but in a total of some 15 members other major interests will be fully represented. I do not think he fully appreciated that four members of the Area Health Authority will be appointed directly by the local authority. They will not be nominated by the local authority and appointed by the Secretary of State; they will be directly appointed by the local authority. That is surely one significant step forward, something that has never happened before. On that authority there will be professional people drawn from the main health care professions. There will be doctors; there will be a nurse; there will be at least one representative of teaching interests nominated by the university. The balance of places will be filled by those drawn from other walks of life whose character and experience are so essential to a management body of this sort. Theirs is a representative function in that their only concern will be the best Health Service for the public, and that without any professional commitment. This seems to me to give the right balance of delegation of responsibility from the centre and reasonable representation of local and professional interests.

When my noble friend seems to look back to a happy past which we are now changing in favour of a new managerial revolution, I can only say that hitherto there has been no democratic nomination in the Health Service. The Regional Hospital Boards are appointed by Secretaries of State. The hospital management committees are appointed by the Regional Hospital Boards. We are giving the local authority the chance to make direct nominations to the Area Health Authority. In the sense of democracy, that seems to be an advance and not the reverse. I should like to deny straight away one or two words—I do not think he meant them in any sinister sense but the noble Lord spoke about those being appointed who had led blameless lives politically, and as a reward for past support. This is not at all the way in which nominations have been, or will be, made to the bodies.

The exact constitution of similar bodies with executive or adjudicating powers varies according to circumstances. In the social security field National Insurance local tribunals are made up of a legal chairman and two members drawn from panels representative of local employers and other insured persons and of employees. Supplementary benefit appeal tribunals consist of a chairman and two members, one of them representing workers and all of them local people. In the Water Bill, which is now in another place, an absolute majority of the members of each regional water authority will be appointed by the local authorities in its area. Short of direct election I should not have thought one could get much more representative than that.


My Lords, I will not delay the House for long but although I came in late this was the area that I was most concerned with and the Minister was kind enough to draw our attention to the tribunal system. As one who had experience as a Minister working in the social security system I found that the layman, although fellow laymen were appointed, was overawed by the tribunal system. Let me be quite fair to the Minister and say at once that I do not know the answer to it, but this is the area in which we get the "us" and "them"; the "we" and "they". We have not found the answer to this, and the tribunal system is growing too rapidly. I apologise for the interruption but I felt that that point should be mentioned.


My Lords, I am delighted that the noble Lord has drawn attention to this. It is an inherent difficulty in any system of tribunals. People are frightened when they go before them, and if the noble Lord has any ideas of a constructive nature which would help I am sure we should be glad to listen to them.

Besides these executive or adjudicating bodies there is also a vast range of others that involve the community in the provision of central services or of an advisory nature. The war pensions committees will be known to the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, and their associated voluntary workers who play such an important role in the functioning of the war pensioners' welfare service. They are made up entirely of local people, including members of ex-Service associations, voluntary bodies, representatives of the war disabled, local authorities and workers in industry.


And, my Lords, some excellent work is done there.


Or take the new community health councils, which we hope will do so much to bring about that participation of which the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, spoke, within the Health Service after 1974. They will be thoroughly representative in composition—half of them drawn from local authorities (mostly from the districts), a third of them from voluntary bodies and the remainder from other local organisations.

There are too many statutory bodies for me to go into them all in detail but I would assure the House that the members of such bodies are selected with the very greatest care and with a view to obtaining a proper balance of representation and experience. I would certainly wish to deny what the noble Baroness said about the Civil Service nominating lists of people who are simply agreed by Ministers. As the noble Lord, Lord George-Brown, said, were there any such temptation it would be a dereliction of duty on the part of the Minister not to assure himself that the balance was correct. If the noble Baroness criticises the lack of women on these various bodies, that is the responsibility of the Minister concerned and not the Civil Service.


My Lords, having been a Minister I absolutely agree, but when the noble Lord says that he must defend the Civil Service is that not strange, because when I challenge a Minister here and ask why there is not a woman on a certain body the Minister looks astonished, looks down the list and agrees that there is not a woman. The noble Lord has said that this is the choice of the Minister, but it cannot be, because on those occasions I have to prod him before he realises that there is not a woman on a body.


My Lords, it is the choice of the Minister concerned but it may not always be the Minister whom the noble Baroness is prodding. I think it would be quite wrong that sex should necessarily be a qualification for membership of a body. Surely people should be chosen primarily for their own qualities and their experience, but in very many cases it is appropriate that the membership of a particular body should certainly include members of both sexes. My own Department is far from backward in this respect. The noble Baroness quoted some clearly selective bodies, but may I draw her attention to the fact that over a quarter of the members of the National Insurance local tribunals, of which the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, spoke so highly, are women; that half of the members of the Briggs Committee on Nursing were women, and that 10 out of 15 members of the Committee on Abortion, under the chairmanship of Mrs. Justice Lane, are women. But in every case there are constraints on the extent of the representative element. There is a need on some bodies, particularly those concerned with executive functions, for specialist knowledge or experience. This applies, for example, to the Attendance Allowance Board where medical knowledge and experience is required. At the same time there are seats on that Board for a disabled person active in the field of voluntary work for the disabled, and for someone with social work knowledge.

There is a proposal in the Social Security Bill (which we have yet to consider in this House) for an occupational pensions board. Membership of this body will clearly call for specialist knowledge in the field of pension provision. Another proposal in that Bill is for a reserve pensions board, whose main function will be the investment of the reserve scheme fund. Its members will clearly need financial and, particularly, investment expertise.

In the nationalised industries, which are intended to run as commercial concerns, the overriding consideration in making appointments must be that the members should have the necessary expertise to discharge their functions properly. Nevertheless, nominations are invited from a wide range of representative bodies including local authorities, commerce, industry, labour and women's organisations. And of course there are a number of different consumers' councils. There is also the constraint of size. To be truly representative a body may need to have a greater number of persons than its efficient functioning permits. Again this is difficult sometimes in consultation. In the field of the disabled, for example, with which my Department deals, there are almost fifty voluntary organisations in England alone which are consulted by my Department.

However, quite apart from appointments to boards, committees, councils and tribunals there is the whole question of community involvement, which was raised in the case of the universities by the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, and in the case of industry particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd. I would say at once that we attach very great importance to this form of community involvement. Within the National Health Service we are seeking what we call a multi-disciplinary approach to problems, which is bringing doctors, nurses and all the health professions into the decision-making process. We also have community health councils to try to involve the community with the management of the Service.

On the industrial front, I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, would agree with me that communication within a firm or factory is very much an objective of good management, and if there is no such communication, surely that is to be held to be largely the fault of the management. We are paying increasing attention to this matter and, as your Lordships know, we have now a very able Minister for Consumer Affairs. Also a modest start has been made in active research by the Home Office Community Development Programme which we hope will encourage more community participation. At present there are twelve projects under way in England

Finally, may I just make two points: first of all, the proliferation of bodies whose members are appointed by a Secretary of State outside the field of local government, and in those services that he administers centrally, should, I suggest, hearten and not dismay your Lordships. For these, by definition, are services that would otherwise be administered centrally by civil servants. I imply no criticism of civil servants; I wish only to indicate that there is greater, not less, representation of local interests in these centrally administered services when they are managed by an appointed board. Secondly, I should like to take this opportunity to pay a sincere tribute to those many citizens who give their services voluntarily on the kind of bodies that we are discussing to-day. They perform an invaluable role, and certainly in my own field of health and social services we could not do without them. I am very grateful again to my noble friend for allowing us to air this subject. It is a matter of great concern to us all and we shall Continue to study it with a view to developing increased community participation in all aspects of the government of the country.


My Lords, before the Minister sits down, could he answer one question which is fundamental to this whole subject? He said at one point in his remarks that, short of direct election, one could not get much more representative than now. I think that that was in relation to the matter of tribunals which was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek. In every sphere which the noble Lord has mentioned, including the extremely important sphere of the Area Health Authorities, the noble Lord has talked about the appointment of representatives by the local authorities, by members of the professions and so on, and he has implied that the whole policy of the Government in these statutory bodies, which are under the control of central Government, is to have the members appointed, and that in the thinking of the Government the idea of direct elections to bodies such as Area Health Authorities or even the community health councils is ruled out for now and all time. That was certainly the attitude which I discerned in the debate on the National Health Service Bill. It would be helpful if the Minister, on behalf of the Government, would spell this out, once and for all, to the House so that people may know that this Government, and the Party which stands behind it, are opposed to direct elections for any bodies such as Area Health Authorities or community health councils.


My Lords, I should hate to rule that out for all time, but we had a debate during the National Health Service Bill on this matter on an Amendment by the noble Baroness, Lady White, and we went into it then. So far as the present is concerned, we do not think it would be practical to run direct elections for Area Health Authorities or for community health councils. We have a system of appointment, after consultation with varying interests, for the Area Health Authorities and for community health councils to be appointed by people from the community that they represent.

4.34 p.m.


My Lords, I do not wish to stand between my noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing and the House and the next debate for more than a minute or two, but it would not be courteous if I did not take the opportunity to thank those who have spoken during this debate, and in particular the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, who has taken off my shoulders any reference to or words of support for the women's interests in this matter. I have in the past done my best to support women's causes in this House, always to my disadvantage. I remember that the first occasion was something to do with birth control, when the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, shot me down by saying that many women preferred—I think she said—"a short life and a merry one".




And I remember on the next occasion trying to support the noble Ladies and their sex and being shot down by the late Lady Horsbrugh, who said that one thing she could not stand in any circumstances was the statutory woman. I am glad that on this occasion I have not had the responsibility of speaking on this matter. But I must say that I was rather surprised that my noble friend Lord Aberdare, in justifying himself for the participation of women in public bodies, should take particular credit for two bodies, one dealing with nursing. I should have thought that as the vast majority of nurses are women, the vast majority of those on that body should be women. The other body is that dealing with abortion. I should have thought that as that is a matter which is exclusively a problem of the female sex, in fact the vast majority on that body should be women. The fact that a few women, or even a reasonable representation of women, are on those bodies shows once again that perhaps these matters are not yet viewed fully with a sense of proportion.

I would say to my noble friend, quite categorically, that when I spoke about past support and blameless lives I meant exactly that. We are not so unsophisticated in public life that we do not know certain of the criteria which Gov- ernments properly use in the very extensive patronage which they exercise when making these appointments. I do not say for one moment that I am aiming at any particular person or board, I am merely talking about the general understanding of the motives which very often animate public authorities of various kinds in deciding who would carry the responsibilities on their behalf. It is natural that that should be the case, but it is not always healthy for the public life of this country that it should be the case.

I do not want to do more than again thank my noble friend Lord Aberdare for the very full way in which he has replied to this debate. It is always a matter of great surprise to me that even a moderate subject, supported by a small number of speakers, evokes from the Government Front Bench and from the Opposition Front Bench as well speeches of great weight, thought and careful preparation. It is a matter for which I know that private Members like myself always feel very grateful indeed. It is quite clear that my noble friend Lord Aberdare and I—he speaking for the Government and I speaking as a purely private Member—are not by any means reconciled in the difference of our views on this matter. I say only that I continue to reserve my position. He has not changed his views at all with regard to the points that he made in the previous debate on the Reorganisation of the National Health Service. I certainly am not convinced in any way by what he has said that the Government understand the principle of participation to which the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, referred, or understand the dangers of the line which they are taking in handling the very sensitive issues so far as public opinion in this country is concerned at the present time. But, my Lords, I am told that if I refuse or delay in withdrawing this Motion, then to-morrow the whole of the contents of the Printed Paper Office will tend to arrive on my doorstep. In order to avoid such an eventuality, and despite what I have said about the reply from my noble friend, I beg the leave of the House to withdraw this Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.