HL Deb 07 June 1978 vol 392 cc1221-6

2.53 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will announce the terms of reference of the public inquiry into the proposal to close the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital.


My Lords, the Government do not intend to set up such an inquiry.


My Lords, arising out of that very unsatisfactory reply, may I ask whether the Government can say whether this is a final or interim decision?


My Lords, the answer was perfectly clear. The Government do not intend to set up an inquiry.


My Lords, Mr. Ennals made a statement about three weeks ago, in which he indicated that he was considering the matter. Is this his final view?


My Lords, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State made it perfectly clear that he was prepared to continue negotiations, he was prepared to continue talks, he was prepared to have further discussion. He intimated that, if necessary, he would be prepared to consider whether he would postpone the closing of the hospital beyond 21st July. He has undertaken to do that. He is at the moment in the process of having further discussions with quite a number of groups.

The Earl of ONSLOW

My Lords, as the noble Lord said that the Government were not prepared to set up an inquiry, could we have the answer, why not?


My Lords, I am surprised that any noble Lord in your Lordships' House should ask this question. Discussions have been going on for four years. We have had debates in this House on the matter. We have had a large number of Questions put down. I think that even those who are strong supporters of the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital could not deny that there has been very full, frank and prolonged discussion on this matter.


My Lords, in view of the fact that after the decision was reached by the Government there has been very strong public pressure on this issue, not only from wide public opinion, the Women's Labour Conference, but also from doctors and the trade union movement, may I ask the Minister whether the Government will reconsider this issue, despite all the difficulties involved?


My Lords, I have made it perfectly clear that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State is having further discussions with a large number of groups of people who want to see him. He cannot really do more than that.

The Lord Bishop of NORWICH

My Lords, would the Minister consider asking the new Lord Lieutenant of London who, I believe, is in this House, and who knows a great deal about women's work, whether her advice would be of use to the Minister? And we congratulate her.


My Lords, if any Member of your Lordships' House feels disposed to put a point of view to my right honourable friend, I am sure that he would be glad to have it.


My Lords, may I ask this of the noble Lord: When it was announced in many newspapers that there would be an inquiry, why was that announcement not then contradicted—or has the Minister changed his mind for some reason or other?


My Lords, my right honourable friend has not changed his mind. Noble Lords and the public at large would be well advised not to believe everything they read in newspapers.


My Lords, this is a very serious matter, because the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital was given to understand that the Secretary of State was examining this matter with care. So far as I know, after making inquiries this morning, they were still under the impression that the public inquiry would be granted.


My Lords, in reply to the noble Lord, I do not know from where those people obtained this impression. The fact that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State is giving further consideration to the matter is perfectly true. The Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital people know full well that they have been in communication with him on a number of occasions in the past few days. They also know that further discussion will take place involving them. I really do not see what more my right honourable friend can do.


My Lords, as Queen Charlotte's Hospital was transferred from Marylebone to Shepherd's Bush, would my noble friend consider naming another hospital, either existing or about to be built, after Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, in order to perpetuate her memory?


My Lords, I can give no undertaking of that at all, other than to say that discussions are taking place as to where the work of the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital should be carried on in future.


My Lords, would the noble Lord ask his Minister whether it would not be a good idea to come to a conclusion very soon? He set 21st July as the date for closure. It is very upsetting to a hospital to be faced with a date and not to know what will happen. If we could receive some assurance that something will be done soon, that would be helpful.


My Lords, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State made it perfectly clear that, as far as he was concerned, the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital was going to close on 21st July. In view of representations to him, he is having further discussions. He has intimated that he might be prepared to extend the date—but only extend the date as regards closure. The closure of the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital will take place, if not on 21st July, at some later date.


My Lords, is the noble Lord not aware that what is disturbing is the fact that his statement seems to say that even after the discussions on no account would there be an inquiry? The classical way of settling disputes of this sort, when it has been made perfectly clear that there are different distinct and authoritative points of view, is for the matter to go to an inquiry. If, after the discussions, he is still not convinced, then at this stage to rule out the classical way of deciding the matter is disturbing. Is the noble Lord not aware of that?


My Lords, the classical way of dealing with matters is not always the best way—a public inquiry by what people would call so-called independent people, who are not people with sufficient knowledge and experience of the running of hospitals. We have consulted. There have been discussions over a period of almost four years with people who know what is involved. No useful purpose would be served by having a public inquiry.


My Lords, would Her Majesty's Government kindly reveal who were the people who made representations to the Secretary of State? There was, as is well known, a full discussion in this House, in which the medical point of view was put. Then we hear just now that representations were made to the Secretary of State, and he then reopened the question. By whom were those representations made? Were they from the trade unions, or the doctors?


My Lords, certainly there are some trade unions involved, and certainly from some people who were very strongly in support of the EGA's view.

Baroness YOUNG

My Lords, would the Minister agree that a public inquiry is a recognised method of putting to the test opposing points of view on a matter of social policy used extensively in local government matters? Would he not agree that consultation in the terms in which he has described it really means talking to people when your mind is made up, and is therefore unacceptable?


My Lords, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has never denied the fact that his mind is made up on this matter.


My Lords, is my noble friend of the opinion that there is something to be said for Ministers who have the courage to make their own decisions and not pass the buck to inquiries?


My Lords, is it not the fact that if you have a public inquiry on this matter it would have to range enormously wide over the whole provision of hospital services, and not just teaching hospitals within central London, and that in this matter two or three years could pass before we ever got any kind of recommendations from such an inquiry?