§ Mr. Roots
I beg to move Amendment No. 33, in page 13, line 4, at the end to insert:'unless such action affects the legal rights or status of a citizen of the United Kingdom'.In Committe the Financial Secretary had pressed upon him at some length the deficiency in this paragraph of the Schedule. He said that he would consider a form of words which would enable, in particular—as an example—action and proceedings taken by consular officers to be dealt with. In these circumstances, as the Government have not tabled an Amendment, I hope that the Financial Secretary will be able to accept this addition.
§ Mr. MacDermot
It is true that in Committee I offered to look further at paragraph 2 and see whether it would be possible at least to bring some of the activities of consuls within the scope of the Commissioner's investigation. I may have raised some hopes in the breasts of hon. Members. I must now dash them. I must make the reasons clear.
1420 On looking further into this, I have to advise the House that it would not be workable, certainly at present, for us to try to include consular activities within the scope of the Commissioner's powers. The first reason is a severely practical one. There are over 400 consular posts throughout the world. They range from such places as Oulu in North Finland to Gallegos on the southern tip of the Argentine, from Katmandu to Tampico to Suva—in fact, to all quarters of the globe.
The Committee accepted that it would be wholly impracticable for us to expect the Commissioner and his officers to be flying all over the globe trying to investigate complaints against these consuls. Nor would it be practicable or consistent with the efficient working of the service to be recalling consuls and their officers constantly to this country in order that they should be interrogated by the Commissioner of his staff. Apart from anything else, this would be a stage where I would need as a Treasury Minister to put my foot down, simply on grounds of expense, if nothing else.
It was having regard to this sort of difficulty that I suggested that we would consider whether it might be possible to deal with these cases by a different procedure, relying largely on correspondence, or by the Commissioner interviewing the head of the department.
When that suggestion was looked into, it found favour on no side. It certainly did not find favour with the Foreign Office, because they thought that it would be very unfair to their staff. After all, we hope and believe that many of the cases that are investigated by the Commissioner will result in the exoneration of the civil servant in respect of the complaint made against him, and the civil servant, naturally, will feel that justice requires that he should have exactly the same rights when he is a consul as any other civil servant to be heard in relation to a complaint that is made against him.
Equally, I must advise the House that the Commissioner-designate himself did not relish at all the prospect of a kind of second-class investigation which he would be expected to make in relation to consular activities and be expected to 1421 make a report and reach a decision without being free to investigate the matter as fully as he would in any other case.
At the outset, just on those simple and practical grounds, at a stage when we do not yet know what is to be the kind of response to the right to make complaints and have them investigated by the Commissioner, we could not accept the responsibility of extending his activities in this way.
However, it is right that I should advise the House that there are other serious objections. I said in Committee that the activities of consuls…are to a high degree dependent on the actions of local authorities and local persons for which we are not responsible and over which we have no control and which it would not be appropriate for the Commissioner to investigate."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee B. 22nd November, 1966; c. 405.]May I illustrate what I was saying there in relation to a specific example of a complaint made against a consul? I will not state the country, but an engineering firm in this country manufactured and supplied some heavy machinery to a foreign firm in a European city. Although the contract called for payment on completion, no payment was made, and the English firm had to sue for the contract price. It issued a writ in the High Court here which had to be served in the country abroad through the consul, in accordance with the Civil Procedure Convention. There was no British consul in the city in question, so the Foreign Office forwarded the documents for service to the nearest post, which was the consulate-general in whose district the city lay.
The documents arrived at the height of the tourist season, when the office was under very heavy pressure—[Interruption.]—I do not know why the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) laughs. It is helpful, when passing legislation, to try to focus our minds on actual circumstances that occur and about which we are asked to legislate. These are the sorts of circumstances which give rise to complaints against consuls.
As a result of that fact, the fact that the round journey of 500 miles or so would have taken two or three days and because of the high cost of effecting ser- 1422 vice in this way, the consul-general decided that service by the local authorities, if it could be effected reasonably, would be preferable to service by a consular official. He instructed the vice-consul to find out from the local authorities whether they could effect service expeditiously under the alternative method provided by the Convention. He received an assurance that they could. The documents were forwarded to the local authorities, under cover of a formal note.
In the event, owing to delays in the local administrative and judicial machinery, service was not effected until many weeks had elapsed, despite frequent reminders to the local authorities that the matter was urgent.
Not unnaturally, the plaintiff company complained of this delay and alleged that it was disadvantaged in the proceedings as a result of it. In the meantime, the vice-consul had been posted from his European station to San Francisco. How would this be investigated by the Parliamentary Commissioner?
Either the Parliamentary Commissioner would stay in this country and the consul and vice-consul would be brought here or he would be expected to visit the country concerned. In either case, the cost would be very great. If the consul and vice-consul were brought here, it would mean serious disruption of the work of two consulates abroad. In any event, it would be difficult for the Parliamentary Commissioner here, without questioning the rest of the staff and examining the consular archives, to satisfy himself that the pressure of work in the consulate general justified the decision to attempt service through the local authorities.
Again, of course, the Parliamentary Commissioner could not satisfy himself about the alleged delay by the local authorities without being in that country. If, on the other hand, he visited the country—and here there would be the same difficulties about cost—there would be the added difficulty that any attempt by him to interrogate the local authorities would undoubtedly cause resentment on their part and might well, apart from anything else, result in the consulate-general receiving less co-operation in the future.
The fact is that, in this case, as in so many cases of complaints made against 1423 consuls, it is their actions in relation to local authorities which are the subject of complaint and it would clearly be out of the question for us to send an officer of this House abroad and expect the other country to allow him to pursue an investigation by questioning and interviewing officials and authorities of that country. Without being able to do that, he would not be able to do anything more than form an assessment or judgment of what the consul had told him.
I think this example shows the serious practical difficulties in expecting the Parliamentary Commissioner here to be able to investigate complaints against consuls abroad. In addition to this, there is the great difficulty of finding any logically defensible way of dividing up the functions of consuls in order to limit the field of activities which should be the subject of investigation.
The Amendment suggests that we should confine it to actions affecting legal rights or status but this would be a wholly unsatisfactory distinction. One can get examples of quite trivial matters which involve, in some technical way, legal rights and therefore would give a right to investigation. Other far more serious matters, the kind of matters which are the subject of quite a number of complaints, would not, however, be within the scope at all.
For example, many of the complaints against consuls involve such matters as procedure by consuls for the repatriation of British subjects, advice and assistance given to British subjects when they run foul of the law or the authorities of another country and commercial information which is given to British businessmen for business purposes. None of these would be within the scope of the Amendment, but they are all instances of the kind of matters raised in our discussions in Committee as being the sort of things hon. Members would like to have seen brought within the scope of the Parliamentary Commissioner.
An added difficulty is that, in many places, the consuls are not full-time members of our diplomatic staff but are honorary consuls who act for little if any remuneration, are usually citizens of the country concerned or perhaps local businessmen. They perform a very useful and valuable service and give a great deal 1424 of assistance. It is doubtful whether they would be prepared to continue in circumstances where they would be subject to this kind of investigation and inquiry procedure. If they resigned in consequence, in many cases we would be hard put to it to find substitutes.
From a practical point of view there is nothing the Parliamentary Commissioner could do here beyond what a Minister can and does do when a Member refers one of those complaints to him. A Minister can call for a report, have the matter investigated by one of his senior officials, and discuss it with him. He can reach a judgment on the basis of investigation largely carried out by correspondence. It would be false of us in effect to ask the Parliamentary Commissioner to step into the Minister's shoes and do that and no more, and then pretend that we were giving some different and fuller type of investigation by allowing that to be done by him.
I am sorry to have spoken at such length, but this is an important matter which concerned many hon. Members in Committee, and I thought that I should explain fairly fully the reasons why we do not think it right to include consular activities.
§ Sir L. Heald
A protest should be made against probably one of the most bureaucratic speeches that has been made in the House for a long time—administrative convenience; the fact that some of the consuls might be apt to resign if asked to protect the rights of British subjects; the difficulty of getting information from different parts of the world. And for what? To deal with a case where the legal rights of a British subject are involved. The hon. and learned Gentleman should be ashamed of putting forward that kind of Treasury brief in such a matter.
§ Mr. Onslow
I share the regret of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald) at the Financial Secretary's attitude to the Amendment. I am grateful to the Financial Secretary for only one small thing. As a former British consul, I am glad to have confirmation that whatever happens the sun still does not set on British consuls.
1425 His argument against accepting the Amendment seemed rather odd, particularly in the light of what the Lord President said on one earlier Amendment. How many complaints are levied against British consuls in a year? How many of them would come within the ambit of this or some other definition of a case of maladministration which might be referred to the Parliamentary Commissioner? It is all very well talking in terms of vast mileage which would have to be travelled by investigating officers looking into this, but it would be nice to have some sort of chapter and verse on that. It would be particularly interesting to know whether the case to which he referred at such length was, in his opinion, one which might have been referred to the Commissioner, for otherwise it is very difficult to evaluate his argument.
I will give the Lord President the credit of believing that he was serious when he held out the hope that by amending Clause 5, which would enable Schedule 3 to be amended by Order in Council, we might be able to bring the activities of British consuls within the ambit of the Bill. It would be a courtesy on his part now to explain how he sees the situation as described by the Financial Secretary having to be changed before the Order in Council could be brought before the House.
Would we have to see the 400 British consuls reduced to 20? Would we have to await the advent of Concord and cheap inter-continental travel? Where is the hope of some amendment in the objections to the informal procedure that enables him to hold out the possibility of bringing the British consuls within the ambit of the Bill? Or is the Lord President just frivolling? I am very much afraid that either he has not studied the brief which the Financial Secretary read with such care and attention to detail or is utterly unconvinced by it, in which case why should the Financial Secretary persist in his bureaucratic objections?
§ 10.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Hogg
I would not have intervened but for the testiness of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Financial Secretary when he saw, or thought that he saw, a smile of polite scepticism at his explanations pass over my counten- 1426 ance. The scepticism was surely well justified.
Under Clause 8, the ombudsman can investigate a case by correspondence and I dare say that in the great majority of cases he will. If he has to travel to interview, or ask an official to return for interview, that surely will be the serious case, the case which requires investigation and which deserves a little extra expense. To present to the House, as the hon. and learned Gentleman sought to do, a picture of the ombudsman having to travel to San Francisco to interview an official because he has found difficulty in serving a document when he was appointed to Helsinki is utterly unreal and if the hon. and learned Gentleman expects those who listen to that kind of explanation not to show a certain amount of amusements and if he resents it when they do, he should offer better explanations.
As for the Lord President of the Council; when he offered the chance by some later Statutory Instrument of consuls being brought in, of course we knew that he was talking with his tongue in his cheek.
§ Sir D. Glover
All the Financial Secretary has said is that vice-consuls who may not be nationals of this country, could not be brought within the ambit of the Bill. That is a dreadful statement to make about the protection of the rights of British citizens. If a citizen is suffering hardship or injustice because of a consul in some outlandish place—and I do not think that my right hon. and learned Friend would mind if I said that that would probably not apply to San Francisco, although it might apply to many places in South America and elsewhere—and if that consul might resign because the ombudsman criticised him, then it would be a very good thing if he did resign and we got another consul.
The reason for the Consular Service was the protection of the rights of British citizens and if it is not protecting those rights, there is something wrong with the Consular Service. It is no argument at all to say, as the Financial Secretary said, that administrative inconvenience might be caused and someone might resign. In that case, it might be a very 1427 good thing if the person concerned did resign.
§ Mr. Robert Cooke (Bristol, West)
I have no wish to quarrel with my hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover) but the Minister said that this was a consul-general in a European country who, because he was busy during the holiday season—although doing what I am not sure, because the troubles of British tourists abroad are usually dealt with by some junior official and not the consul-general—and who, by the Minister's own admission had a vice-consul, had sent or failed to send papers to some local authority in a distant part.
This is all to do with the payment for some goods which have been exported, and surely the interests of British subjects in the export trade must be a concern of the Government. With their 110 or 111 Ministers plus the ombudsman, the Government must be interested in this and yet all we have been told is that it may be administratively difficult to deal with these cases.
I represent a great commercial city, the City of Bristol, which is much given to patriotic gestures in the export trade and doing its best to follow the Government's urgings and edicts to export. Here is another example of the Government for sheer administrative convenience not being prepared to make this great ombudsman, the curer of all ills, able to do his bit in the export drive, and heaven knows that we need all the help we can get. I am thoroughly dissatisfied with the Government's explanation.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Amendment made: No. 25, in page 13, line 13, after action', insert 'so'.—[Mr. MacDermot.]
§ Mr. Crossman
I beg to move, Amendment No. 27, in page 13, line 22, at the end to insert:8. Action taken on behalf of the Minister of Health or the Secretary of State by a Regional Hospital Board, Board of Governors of a Teaching Hospital, Hospital Management Committee or Board of Management, or by the Public Health Laboratory Service Board.This is the Amendment by which we put back into the Bill the decision that regional hospital boards should be excluded from the work of the ombudsman. I shall not repeat all the arguments rehearsed in Committee, but there was 1428 serious objection to this, and there was a strong case for including them in the Bill. The basic argument against that was that there would be an awkward situation: we would have the medical service excluded from the ombudsman's consideration and the administration of the hospitals included; the ophthalmic service would be out, the dental service would be out, the pharmaceutical service would be out, and we would have the administration in.
I would be happy to see the ombudsman's work develop, but I would have thought we would like to see local government having its own commissioner and the hospital service having its own commissioner. So I think that it is better, on balance, that these services should be excluded now, always on the understanding that at a later date they can be put under the Commissioner by order of the House.
§ Mr. Roots
The fact that the Government have decided to move this Amendment to exclude from investigation the regional hospital boards and the other bodies mentioned will, I know, give a great deal of disappointment. Certainly it disappoints me. Since the Committee proceedings were reported I have had a number of letters from people all over the country wanting to have matters which were not entirely clinical investigated.
We have put down an Amendment to the Amendment to make it clear that clinical decisions should indeed be excluded, but if there is anyone who thinks hospital services—for example, regional hospital boards—are not subject to maladministration then he certainly can know very little about those bodies, because in many respects it is instances of maladministration which gives rise to a great deal of hard feeling—in a sense, unjustified, since it is criticism of the hospital services as such, rather than of the medical and clinical services.
I really cannot accept that it is impossible to distinguish, for the purposes of a complaint, between a clinical decision and sheer maladministration. An example dealt with at length in Committee was a useful one—the choice, for reasons other than clinical, of who should and should not have a private room or a private bed—and may be a matter which merits investigation.
1429 I am confining my remarks to stressing the disappointment which, I know, a large number of Members will feel on the final absurdity of the whole position, which is that we find more and more ombudsmen breeding like a sort of fungi, for the Lord President apparently thinks everyone should have an ombudsman. I see we put his Department in, and therefore he may be feeling generous about other Departments.
When we have little ombudsmen for hospital and little ombudsmen for this and for that, it seems that the Lord President's intention is to produce absolute chaos, with ombudsmen investigating ombudsmen.
§ Mr. Crossman
I must correct that. What I said was exactly the opposite. I said, in the case of the Health Service, that I would be in favour of having it all in or all out; that it would be a mistake to have a division between those bodies mentioned in the Amendment and the other side, such as orthopaedics, the dental service, the pharmaceutical service, and general practitioners. It was this artificial division in the Health Service to which I objected. It is wrong to say that I wanted a separate ombudsman. I said, on the contrary, that it was now possible to consider it as a whole, and I would be in favour in due course of considering the possibility of bringing it in later. That is why we have the provision in Schedule 3.
§ Mr. Roots
I had understood the Lord President to envisage—and I should have thought it was the only way to envisage it—an ombudsman for the various hospital and medical services. I do not see how a Civil Service ombudsman could come to a conclusion on a clinical decision. I should have thought that, for all time, clinical decisions were highly unsuitable for investigation by any ombudsman, whether a hospital ombudsman or any other type.
This is another example of taking away from the ombudsman the very aspects which people want investigated. The operations of the Minister of Health already affect members of the public through, for example, the hospital service. The replacement of this paragraph is a very retrograde step.
§ Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West)
I agree with the last sentence of the hon. and learned Member for Kensington, South (Mr. Roots). This is a highly retrograde step. Many Amendments were made to the Bill in Committee, and I am glad that the Government have accepted most of the Amendments that were made. To a large extent the Bill was not discussed purely on party lines. There were several issues on which the division of opinion was across party lines, and it may rightly be said that this was one.
My right hon. Friend the Lord President started off by saying that it would be wrong to have the hospitals in because there is an artificial division in the medical services. These are those things which the Crown is responsible for, which the Minister of Health is responsible for in theory where action is taken on his behalf. This is one category. There are others which are local authority services. This is wholly true, but it is equally true in other fields as well. Transport is an example, where the functions are divided between local authorities and the Crown. But in that case the actions of the Crown's officers and subordinates are to be investigated by the ombudsman, and not those of the local authorities. Why cannot the same principle apply here?
My right hon Friend knows the real explanation for putting this back. The real explanation is that doctors who are not civil servants—I stress that this is the category involved, not those, who in the normal and proper sense work in the Ministry of Health—might be offended if any of their decisions were subject to investigation.
I should like to correct one small point that was made by my right hon. Friend and the hon. and learned Member for Kensington, South (Mr. Roots). It is not true to say that the sole proposal made in Committee was to exclude clinical matters and to include administrative matters. There were several views advanced, and that particular one was put by my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Alexander W. Lyon). I do not share it. I supported the total exclusion of this paragraph, as did many of my hon. Friends, for the simple reason that we do not see why doctors should be a professional class apart.
1431 Why should doctors' clinical judgments not be challenged? A "vet's" clinical judgments, which may affect the property of a farmer, can be challenged as the Bill now stands. The same is true of any other professional judgment. There is good reason why some of them might be challenged. It is interesting that this can be done by the medical branch of the Ministry of Health itself, and, strangely enough, the Ministry's medical branch is not excluded by the terms of the Amendment. In other words, if I have a cause of complaint and I can persuade my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health to use his medical branch to investigate the actions of doctors in the Hospital Service, I can then get the ombudsman to investigate that investigation and, presumably, in the course of doing it, he would have to refer back to the papers which the Ministry's medical branch looked at when doing the preliminary investigation.
But if I want to go about it in a more straightforward way and say, "Something went wrong in this hospital", whether it was someone kept out of a bed for inessential and invalid reasons or whatever it might be, I cannot get the ombudsman to deal with the problem direct. But, as I say, I can in a roundabout route achieve the same object. The Government's case here is somewhat peculiar to say the least.
I accept my right hon. Friend's point that, because of the Amendment regarding the possibility of excluding matters from Schedule 3, the Bill is now considerably better in this respect, but I still think that this particular Amendment has been put down because of the extreme sensitivity of the medical profession to criticisms or inquiries which most ordinary citizens believe to be good and which other professions accept in the interests of society as a whole. That is the real reason for the Amendment, and I regard it, therefore, as rather disgraceful that it should be the only item dealt with by the Committee which the Government have seen fit to put back into the Bill.
§ Mr. Hooson
The Lord President's attitude is very disappointing. We are concerned here with a Bill which gives Members of Parliament assistance in remedying administrative injustices. I imagine that a fair proportion of the 1432 total sum of administrative injustice in this country arises in the hospital services, the decisions of regional hospital boards, and so on. These injustices bear very hard on patients and potential patients. We know from our post-bag that these are the problems we have from time to time which should be investigated. If we are deprived of the assistance of the ombudsman in investigating complaints from patients or potential patients, we shut out of the Bill the people who are least able to bear the administrative injustices, namely, the sick.
This is a highly retrograde step, and the Government have not attempted to justify it. The Lord President's attempt to differentiate between administrative injustice due to a decision of administrative staff and an injustice arising on the clinical side does not bear examination. Many injustices will be shut out from the field of inquiry of the ombudsman.
There is everything to be said for part at least of the National Health Service to be investigated by the ombudsman. We can add others later if it is found to work well. I am sure that the majority of hon. and right hon. Members agree that the Lord President has not made out his case for excluding the hospital services.
§ Dr. David Owen (Plymouth, Sutton)
I am disquieted that the Government have seen fit to reintroduce this paragraph. When the matter was first broached, I wondered whether it would be wise to exclude it, and I had very mixed feelings. The more I read the reports of the Committee stage of the Bill, the more I feel that the case for excluding the regional hospital boards and hospital management committees from the ambit of the Parliamentary Commissioner has not truly been made out.
For many years many of us have been very concerned about the undemocratic nature of regional hospital boards. It is well known that Aneurin Bevin was very upset that he did not find it possible to incorporate local government and a democratically elected element into the organisation and administrative structure of the National Health Service. At that time it was impossible to do so, for many 1433 reasons—the difficulties of introducing a Bill, and so on—but it has always been the belief of many people in our party that a democratically elected regional hospital board should be the eventual aim. Obviously it will be many years before we get this.
We have now, in the Parliamentary Commissioner, a way of exerting some form of control over this section, and though I take the point made by the Lord President of the Council that we cannot include the general practitioner service, and other services which are run by the executive councils, the main administrative service lies in the regional hospital boards, and in the hospital management committees.
I can understand that because of the feelings of the Minister of Health the Government feel that they have to reinsert this subsection, but I hope that they will look again at this issue, and if possible give the House a pledge that they will establish a special hospital ombudsman if the case has to be made out that way. Many of us believe that this could naturally fall within the range of the present Parliamentary Commissioner, and I hope that the Government will think again on this.
§ Sir D. Glover
I am very encouraged, and I support nearly everything that was said about this problem by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson), and the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English). Although I have enormous respect for the individual who will take up this office, I have no great faith in the amount of injustice which will be removed by his appointment.
I find it possible to deal with nearly all the cases of justice which arise in my constituency. The one sphere in which I do not feel qualified to judge is health, which the Government are going to exclude. I think that this applies to most hon. Members. In our ordinary lives we know a good deal about industrial relations, about housing, and about this, that, and the other. The one sphere in which we are inhibited is health. The hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen) is in a fortunate position, because he is a doctor, but most of us are not qualified to judge this issue, and I have a particular problem in my constituency 1434 which I think ought to be included in the ombudsman's orbit.
There are two hospitals in this country, one at Rampton, in Nottinghamshire, and one in my constituency—
§ Mr. English
I believe I am right in saying that hospitals directly under the control of the Ministry of Health are in fact included, which makes this Bill even odder.
§ Sir D. Glover
I am delighted to hear that, because this is the problem with which I find it most difficult to deal. I was not a Member of the Standing Committee, so I do not have the advantage which the hon. Gentleman has.
What happens to the marginal case which is moved from one of the two hospitals which I have in mind to another hospital; someone who is still suffering from a sense of grievance? Who investigates such a case in a way which gives anybody any feeling of justice? I think that this is an even further argument why this aspect of the Health Service ought to be included.
I would not mind if tonight the Lord President of the Council said, "Look here, chums. This is a new field"[HON. MEMBERS: "Brothers."]—I am speaking from this side of the House, with respect, and I would hate the right hon. Gentleman to be my brother. He would ruin my relationship for life. I would not mind if he said, "Look here, chums. We have this new Bill. We do not want to overload it and go too far". If the right hon. Gentleman said, "Let us work it for 12 months or two years and see how it goes," there would be a great deal to be said for it. But the sphere which he is excluding is the one which nine out of 10 hon. Members would like to see included. I say that because, in the majority of cases which arise in this sphere, satisfactory conclusions could be reached, particularly since the ombudsman will only arrive at the same conclusions when the Bill becomes operative.
It is in matters of health that hon. Members feel inhibited, mainly because we do not like to be too critical and to investigate too far. Perhaps we are not ruthless enough in dealing with these problems. However, these are the problems with which the ombudsman should be particularly concerned.
§ Mrs. Lena Jeger (Holborn and St. Pancras, South)
I regret the decision of the Government on this issue because public accountability is most important and elusive in matters affecting hospitals. The complaints which we receive from our constituents about these matters usually come at times of grief, anxiety and vulnerability. It would have been in the interest of the increasing feeling of democracy which exists in the National Health Service had the Government taken a different line on this matter. The Health Service belongs to the people. This element of public accountability should, therefore, have been increased rather than decreased.
I am encouraged to make these remarks following my visit some months ago to Sweden, where I spent a great deal of time looking into the sort of cases with which the ombudsman there—and that is the right term to use for him—must deal. The hospitals and medical services are certainly not excluded in Sweden. Indeed, one might feel that they go to the other extreme.
I was told of one recent case in which the ombudsman figured. A hospital administrator had refused to hand over to the father of a girl who had died in the hospital the complete file relating to her case, medical notes and all. The decision to refuse to reveal the file had been taken in good faith by those in charge of the hospital. In fact, they thought that the documents would distress the father. However, the ombudsman rebuked the hospital authorities and stated that the complete availability of information was the right of members of the public. Following that, all the documents were disclosed.
I am not suggesting that in clinical matters we should go as far as our friends in Sweden. However, it is essential, if the public is to have confidence in the Parliamentary Commissioner, that at times of great stress in people's lives, they should feel that they can turn to him and have their doubts set at rest. Apparently this is not to be the case. I can only express the disappointment felt by a large number of people, particularly since nothing I have heard from the Government convinces me that there is adequate reason for this decision.
§ 11.15 p.m.
§ Dame Joan Vickers (Plymouth, Devonport)
I raised this subject with the Minister in Committee. In New Zealand, Sir Guy Powles gave an example some time ago of the sort of difficulties he must face. He stated:Arising from complaints which were not themselves substantiated, it came to my notice that patients were not always aware of the full extent and likely consequences of certain types of serious gynaecological operations ….He went on to examine this and then made his recommendations, which I think proved fairly satisfactory, and he did similar things in the health department.
We have raised in the Committee some of the areas, which are very large indeed, and although we were told that it was quite easy for us to approach our boards or get in touch with hospital committees, in the area which stretches from Gloucester to Penzance this is very difficult, particularly as Bristol is not a very convenient centre for people to go to.
The point to which I wish to draw the hon. and learned Gentleman's attention is that which he prayed in aid in the Committee. He said, in column 434,I think hon. Members on both sides of the Committee know that for many years there has been concern about the adequacy of the procedure for investigating complaints within the National Health Service, and in particular within the Hospital Service. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Health has gone into this closely and he issued a new circular which some hon. Members may know about, on 7th March this year.He added:In this hospital management circular, H.M. (66) 15, entitled 'Methods of Dealing with Complaints by Patients' he sets out very fully his recommendations to the regional boards and the hospital management committees on the way in which complaints should be handled.I think that in Committee none of the hon. Members—myself in particular—had heard of these recommendations, and we asked how this would work. We were told that it would be possible to have a lawyer to investigate these complaints. I should like to know from the hon. and learned Gentleman if he is going to pray in aid this circular again tonight.
§ Mr. Crossman
I think the reference is 8th December, cols. 371–373, in reply to a 1437 Written Question. I think the substance of the circular was, in view of the interest aroused, published on 8th December.
§ Dame Joan Vickers
I was asking it this is going to be prayed in aid as a reason for not including the Amendment in the Bill tonight. If we are not to have this, I hope that, anyway, the Amendment to the Amendment will be accepted because this would be a definite advance at the present time.
§ Mr. Alexander W. Lyon (York)
In the course of the debate we had on this subject in Committee I suggested that there was a way of reconciling the difference between the two sides.
To some extent the Opposition Amendment to this Amendment goes some way, at any rate, towards bridging the gap. I believe there is a case for excluding from the ambit of the Parliamentary Commissioner's concern areas of clinical judgment which are frequently the kind of decision about which complaints in the hospital service are made, but where it would be extremely difficult for the Parliamentary Commissioner, unless he is provided with a very big qualified staff of medical practitioners, to make any kind of assessment. Therefore, on administrative grounds I think it would be difficult for him to intervene.
But I think it goes further than that. I think there is at the moment a very special concern about the morale in the hospital service, and I disagree with my hon. Friend who tried to equate the position of the medical practitioner within the service with the veterinary surgeon who will come within the ambit of the Commissioner's work, or with an architect or some other professional person.
I think at the moment there is a special crisis among medical staff in the hospital service and that we must pay attention to their morale. Therefore, I believe that if they are concerned that here is another official who may be investigating their work, we ought to bear that in mind in making a decision as to whether we could go to that extent at this stage.
I have no doubt that we shall get over that crisis and that in due course that argument for excluding clinical judgment will pass away. I cannot see any difference between the kind of maladministration that takes place regularly within the hospital service and mal- 1438 administration taking place in any other Government Department.
I listened to the somewhat cursory speech of my right hon. Friend the Lord President in which he said that the real argument was that the hospital service consists of an area of Government concern and an area of local government concern. There is a difference between the normal services provided and the subsidiary services. It has already been pointed out that that applies in other areas in which the Parliamentary Commissioner will work. Surely, it is not beyond the skill of this distinguished public servant to be able to judge where the boundary is to be drawn.
When, however, my right hon. Friend went on to reply to the argument of the hon. and learned Member for Kensington, South (Mr. Roots) to say that he was not suggesting that there should be a "little" Parliamentary Commissioner for the hospital service as well as a local government ombudsman, we got to the crux of the problem.
If we are to say that when we appoint a local government ombudsman we shall be able to make the decision that the rest of the hospital service should come within the ambit of the Parliamentary Commissioner, we would be saying that we will be able to make a decision where the division should come. We shall have to make it at that stage instead of now.
If we are to say that the local government ombudsman will take into consideration the whole of the hospital service, we could equally say at this stage that the Parliamentary Commissioner should also take into account the whole of the hospital service and leave that part of the local government area out of the purview of any local government ombudsman. We are faced with this difficulty of the divided control of the hospital service wherever we decide to make our stand. Therefore, this is not a good reason for trying to exclude the hospital service at this stage.
I do not feel so forcefully about the matter that I would want to vote against the Amendment. I did not vote against it in Committee, for the reason that the Government conceded a major concession in that they took power, which has been accepted in a previous Amendment, 1439 to amend the Schedule by Order in Council at a later date. Experience may well prove that some of our criticisms were so justified that that power will be used.
The sensible view is that all the evidence is in favour of taking the power at this stage. I am sorry that the Government do not see it in this light. I hope that as a result of these representations, they might be prepared to accept the Opposition Amendment.
§ Sir L. Heald
In urging the House to support the Committee in its decision, I should like briefly to refer again to something which might encourage some hon. Members opposite who have spoken strongly about this matter to have the courage of their convictions by referring them to what was said by an eminent member of the Government, who is now Foreign Secretary, in an article he wrote in the New Statesman in 1964, in which he gave an advance view of the kind of thing that what he called the Labour Party's ombudsman would do. I have already referred to his reference to the discretionary aspect. There was to be no question of discretion. He said,The Commissioner will be concerned with those episodes…where all the authorities have behaved correctly, yet the result is absurd or unjust.He went on to mention hospitals:Further, there are cases involving…hospitals".He said,There are cases…where evidence conflicts and the executive wishes to protect its servants. A tribunal under the 1921 Act may be too ponderous; yet the collective authority of parliament, rather than of a single M.P., may be needed to discover the truth. It is this collective authority which an ombudsman…would represent.We all respect the right hon. Gentleman in these matters as someone who has a great interest in the rights of individuals. There is not the slightest doubt that at that time he believed that it was the Government's intention to have an ombudsman who would deal with these matters. This point was raised on Second Reading. Unfortunately, the present Leader of the House was not present when I quoted the Foreign Secretary and no reply was made to the point which I raised in that debate. It is therefore perhaps not altogether surprising that we have the present difficulty.
1440 In view of the strong opinions which have been voiced on both sides of the House on what is not in the least a party question, I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman, who is also Leader of the House, might not show his democratic attitude by taking some notice of individual Members of Parliament. There has been a tendency lately, I am glad to say, which many of us have noticed, which indicates that the right hon. Gentleman is undertaking his duties as Leader of the House with more idea of the rights of individual Members of Parliament on both sides of the House than we have seen for some time, and I suggest that this is an occasion on which he might carry that a little further.
§ Mr. Laurence Pavitt (Willesden, West)
I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend will take note of the many contributions made on this question from both sides of the House and I hope that if he cannot accede to the request at this stage, at least the point which he mentioned—the possibility of extending the provisions to cover this field later—will eventually materialise.
I speak as a member of a regional hospital board and with many years' experience as a member of a group hospital management committee. Within the hospital service there are quite a number of procedures to ensure that one is able to give a fair deal to the patient and also a fair deal in other administrative respects. Procedures are laid down which enable an employee or anyone else in the Health Service or in the hospital service to have his case duly examined. The procedures are very fair, but it is precisely because in other fields, where we have similar procedures, there is a need for a long stop when, after every procedure is exhausted there is still a feeling that justice has not been seen to be done, that there is a need for an ombudsman. This is equally important both generally and in the Health Service.
I would go further than my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Alexander W. Lyon) and say that I am not quite satisfied about the clear distinction between the clinical and the administrative. I believe that in both the hospital service and the Health 1441 Service we are sometimes inclined to be far too sensitive to what the doctors may feel. The patient, too, has his rights. I hope that it will be possible to extend these provisions, because every hon. Member knows, not only from his correspondence but from the many cases with which he deals in his bureau on Friday evening or Saturday morning, that this is an area which it was intended to cover by these provisions. Although my right hon. Friend may not be able to concede the point now, I urge him in his reply to make it clear that we can have an ombudsman for the hospital service.
§ 11.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Hogg
May I add my plea to that of numerous other hon. Members in different parts of the House? It is very late in the evening and we on this side fully recognise that the House has had two or three extremely long and trying debates within the space of only one week, on a varying set of subjects; and we agreed that we would not force Divisions after a certain hour. It is far beyond that hour now. We on this side imposed upon ourselves a self-denying ordinance, but when Parliament expresses a view so clearly and emphatically as it has on this Amendment, it would be very difficult for us to adhere to that resolution if the right hon. Gentleman does not give us some comfort.
The Bill has to go to another place, and the Government often use the advantage of our bicameral system for making alterations in legislation, and if the right hon. Gentleman says that he has not closed his mind to these very serious arguments but will consider them more than hitherto, then we might well leave this in an amicable frame of mind. What is not possible is for a self-respecting House of Commons with an Opposition which is part of our constitutional framework to allow a matter of this kind to go unvoted upon unless the Government, through the right hon. Gentleman, show some signs of paying more attention to what has been said.
§ Mr. Crossman
I should like to thank all those who have taken this matter so seriously even at this late hour. When I started n-y intervention I said that the strongest case so far had been made for the Amendment, but it is a misunder- 1442 standing for any hon. Member to say that it was not discussed in Committee. It was discussed very fully, and from the first it was known to be a major issue, and an issue upon which it was obvious that there are definitely two opinions. My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) said that we could take the whole hospital service, clinical and non-clinical, and that it would be damned good for the doctors to be treated in this way. Yet some people say that there could be no more unfortunate moment than this to introduce this kind of Motion. I can understand the motive of my hon. Friend, who has consulted me because he thought I was stubborn, but I must tell him and tell the House that I see very serious difficulties in making a separation between the clinical and the administrative sides. There is something in the case on both sides, but if one tries to achieve something for only one, then I think many cases would get argued out.
The hon. Lady the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) was right to remind us that the Minister of Health has recently issued Regulations for the redress of grievances in the service, and a strong argument exists for their being tried out before one can say if they are of any use. At a late hour such as this, when the House speaks so strongly, no Minister would do anything but take the House seriously and think very carefully over what has been said. I must say here that what I said about the future in the case of local government, as I showed during the Second Reading of the Bill, is that it is made out because local government has its own organisation away from the centre. The Health Service is not part of that, and I said that this was an "in or out" issue at the moment.
I also emphasised that we had put our Amendments in so that if, in the course of time, it is felt necessary this House can decide, by a negative Order to bring the whole hospital service within the Act. The powers are there, without any change in the Act. That is true. Certainly I will consider this while it is going to the other place, and we will discuss it once again with the Minister of Health, who has very strong and considered views on the subject.
1443 If, as I anticipate, we are not able to concede fully on the matter, the House will have a second defence. It has the power to make a change if it is felt that we have been wrong on this matter.
On the whole issue, I would say in conclusion that we are running here what has been called an experiment. We have been careful to draw the experiment narrowly. If it has been drawn too narrowly, we have the chance in the Bill of expanding the area.
I am grateful to the House for putting it in such a good tempered and thoughtful way, and I would ask hon. Members now if we might conclude our deliberations on this part of the Bill.
§ Sir J. Hobson
I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman did not want to mislead us, but it is not the position that the House can deal with this. The House can only control an Order in Council. The House could not pass a Resolution altering Schedule 2. It is only the Government who can introduce an Order, and the House could then control it.
§ Mr. Crossman
That is perfectly correct. The Government could introduce the Order, but the House could take a view on the Order.
§ Mr. Crossman
I gave the assurance that between now and its passage through another place, in view of what has been said here, we will certainly reconsider this and discuss it with the Minister of Health. This is an important issue. It is not an easy one at all. However, the position needs reconsideration, and we will certainly give it that.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Mr. MacDermot
I beg to move Amendment No. 28, in page 13, line 25, at the end to insert:'being transactions of a government department or authority to which this Act applies or of any such authority or body as is mentioned in paragraph (a) or (b) of subsection (1) of section 6 of this Act and not being transactions for or relating to—The Amendment is designed to meet two points which I agreed to look at further as a result of our discussions in Committee.
- (a) the acquisition of land compulsorily or in circumstances in which it could be acquired compulsorily;
- (b) the disposal as surplus of land acquired compulsorily or in such circumstances as aforesaid.'
Paragraph 8 of Schedule 3 excludes all action taken in matters relating to contractual or commercial transactions from investigation by the Commissioner. That was criticised as being wide wording, on two counts. The first was that the exclusion relates not only to commercial transactions to which the Government or public departments are a party, but also Government action in relation to contracts between purely private parties.
The second class was cases where land was acquired under negotiation, but negotiations where the acquiring authority had powers of compulsory purchase. The point was raised by the hon. Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth) that these were not true commercial transactions, because when one side negotiates with powers of compulsory purchase behind it, it puts the parties on a quite different footing. Both those points are met in the Amendment, and actions taken by the Government in relation to transactions between private parties will now be in. These would include, for example, action taken by the Department of Economic Affairs in relation to private transactions under the prices and incomes policy, by the Board of Trade exercising its powers under the Companies Acts or in relation to proposed mergers, or action taken by the Registrar of Friendly Societies in relation to building society contracts. That is not an exclusive list, but it illustrates the kind of activity which is covered.
The other kind of case would cover not only action in relation to the acquisition of land, but also its redisposal—what I would call the Crichel Down type of case.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Sydney Irving)
It would be convenient also to 1445 take Amendment No. 35, in page 13, line 27, Leave out'superannuation or other personnel matters'.
§ Mr. Hogg
This is a horrible subject to have to explain at this hour, but I think I can do so fairly lucidly. Both Amendments affect paragraph 9 of Schedule 3. Paragraph 9 lists as being excluded from an investigationAction taken in respect of appointments or removals, pay, discipline, superannuation or other personnel matters, in relation to—three classes of public servants, if I may use the term in a non-technical sense.
Clearly, discipline is not amenable to this kind of investigation. That I think, we are all agreed about. The three classes of public servants, although they are lumped together in sub-paragraphs (a), (b) and (c), are really people not in the same categories as one another. Subparagraph (a) covers…the armed forces of the Crown, including reserve and auxiliary and cadet forces;Sub-paragraph (b) covers the Civil Service, roughly speaking. Sub-paragraph (c) includes persons who are employed under contracts for services—a phrase which I do not propose to embark on at this hour but which will be familiar to members of my profession—and those who give services which do not ordinarily rank as service in the sense of regular employment as a servant.
Frankly I do not think the three categories of persons involved under paragraph 9 are exactly in the same position as one another as respects all these words in the Amendments. If it were thought right by the Government to accept in principle some of the thinking behind the Amendments, I would be content if they were redrafted so as to exclude the Armed Forces from the question of appointments or removals, because one must recognise not merely that the Armed Forces are in a different category as regards discipline, but also that the grievances procedure inside them is of a different kind and in some ways more comprehensive than other procedures.
To take the strongest case, I cannot see why, if the Parliamentary Commissioner is to be of any value to any one at any time, he should not be able to investigate maladministration connected with superannuation and pensions and 1446 matters of that kind, together with personnel matters generally, provided, of course, one recognises that, by the time one reaches paragraph 9, maladministration has a very narrow interpretation.
If there is to be any justification for the operations of the Parliamentary Commissioner, this is exactly the sort of thing, amongst others, that he should be looking into. I apologise for the slightly truncated nature of my remarks at this hour.
§ 11.45 p.m.
§ Mr. MacDermot
I shall try to emulate the brevity of the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg), not out of disrespect but because of the hour. The subject matter of the Amendments was fully debated in Committee, and I refer any hon. Members who want fuller argument to that debate.
The Amendments would, first, bring within the Parliamentary Commissioner's scope all matters other than strict questions of discipline within the Armed Forces—the whole range of personnel matters. Secondly, they would bring in virtually all matters of internal relations within the Civil Service. I need not dwell on the third class, in paragraph (c), which is rather narrow, relating particularly to police and teachers, where action to be taken may be approved by a Minister.
The principle on which we have taken our stand on both the Armed Forces and the Civil Service is that our intention is that the Commissioner shall deal with complaints about the relationship between the Government and the governed, and that internal matters within the Government are not for this procedure. There are other and, we believe, adequate procedures for dealing with them. If they are not adequate, they can be ignored.
In the Civil Service we have the Whitley Council machinery, which has a very long history and has commanded respect not only in this country but all over the world. We have very carefully worked out safeguards for civil servants in that machinery. The argument which I regard as most telling, and on which I put great weight in Committee, is that the staff side of the Whitley Council machinery is content with that procedure and do not wish the Parliamentary Commissioner procedure to be imposed upon their sphere.
1447 Entirely different considerations apply to the internal relationships in the Armed Forces, as compared with the Civil Service, let alone those of the Government and the governed. If it is felt that the existing procedures for investigating complaints are inadequate, that is a matter to raise on the defence debates. All hon. Members have experience of taking up complaints with Service Ministers, and I find that I tend to get rather further with constituency cases relating to the Armed Forces than with many other Departments.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked why the exclusion should apply to superannuation and pension matters. It can be argued that it should not apply, since we are dealing with people who, ex hypothesi, have left the service and are private individuals. But the answer is that the subject matter of the complaint, namely, superannuation or pension rights, still derives from and relates to their relationship of service as former Government servants. If we tried to include them in the way suggested, that would itself produce anomalies, because many superannuation matters, like other Civil Service conditions of service, are discussed and negotiated with the staff side. It does not regard this as being different, and the same is true of police and teachers' pensions.
Superannuation questions are often closely linked in the Civil Service with such questions as establishment, redundancy, efficiency and conduct, and there would be great difficulty in admitting superannuation while those matters remained excluded.
I feel that I am already trespassing on the time of the House. I urge the House to reject the Amendment.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Order for Third Reading read.—[Queen's consent, on behalf of the Crown, signified]
§ 11.50 p.m.
§ Mr. MacDermot
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
I do not think that at this hour the House will want a long Third Reading speech. I merely express my own personal gratitude to hon. Members for what has been from my own point of view an 1448 extraordinarily interesting Bill to pilot through the House. I hope that the Bill will shortly become law and we shall be able to start on a quite considerable experiment in our system of Government.
We said at the outset that we felt that certain basic principles on which the Bill was framed were cardinal and that we would stand firm on them, but that subject to that we hoped to be flexible and meet the wishes of the House. I hope that the House will feel as a result of the Report stage today that we have met a number of valuable criticisms of the Bill during Committee.
I pay tribute to the assistance which we have had during this phase of passing the Bill through the House from the Parliamentary Commissioner-designate. It has been of very great help to us to have his advice on a number of points and, as I informed the House, one of the Amendments which we accepted today was the result of a suggestion which came from him.
When the Bill has passed through another place and become law, the next matter to which we shall have to give our careful attention will be the establishment of a Select Committee, which will be necessary to receive the reports of the Commissioner and to give assistance to him and the House in our relations with him.
At one time or another much has been said about the Commissioner being a servant of the House. It is important to remember that in another sense he will be not a servant, but an officer of the House. We are establishing a post with a status equivalent to that of the Comptroller and Auditor General under a Bill which vests him with considerable powers and authority and discretion. These are matters which we should put fairly and squarely on his shoulders.
I am sure that when it is set up the Select Committee will respect his independence and seek to assist him in his task. Having chosen to set up a Parliamentary watch dog, I am sure that we will not want the Select Committee to start trying to do the barking for him. As I said earlier, I conceive that by and large the Select Committee will not be concerned with the investigation of or concerned with the investigations or the reports on particular individual cases. What it will be concerned with is in 1449 helping to work out the procedures and, in particular, the conventions which we must de vise among ourselves as hon. Members in handling complaints which are to be referred to the Commissioner and, secondly, in receiving his reports and seeing what kind of action we need to take as Members of Parliament to put right situations which are brought to light by his investigations.
I believe that this will prove to be a useful and valuable Bill and I commend it to the House.
§ 11.54 p.m.
§ Dame Joan Vickers
I found the Committee stage of the Bill interesting, but, not being a lawyer, I found it at times a little difficult to follow. I am worried about Clause 5, which will put an enormous responsibility on the individual hon. Members concerned. We are now to be a channel through which complaints will go, and I think that it will be extremely difficult for hon. Members to decide which should be the case to be sent on to the Parliamentary Commissioner. In Committee, many of us found that the Financial Secretary did not agree that the examples which we suggested were the types of case which ought to be sent on.
I foresee that there will be a further difficulty. It says here that a complaint must go through a Member of Parliament. Suppose somebody comes to me, as a Member of Parliament, and I, rightly or wrongly, decide that I am not going to send his complaint on. He can then go to another Member of Parliament. The hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned that we have to devise some conventions amongst ourselves. I think that that will he extremely important.
We have been told that the Commissioner will be a sharp instrument. I think some Members may find it is too sharp an instrument, because it may spoil the relationships which exist between a Member and his constituents. For example, suppose someone comes to me and I suggest to him that his complaint is not the type of case which should go to the Parliamentary Commissioner, and he goes to another Member of Parliament who does send the complaint on, and it is investigated, and it is found that I was entirely wrong. If that sort of thing happens constituents will lose 1450 confidence in their Member of Parliament, and that is the thing which worries me about Clause 5.
So I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman may consider issuing, anyhow at the beginning, some form of leaflet of instruction to the public on the type of case they should bring to their Members for sending on to the Commissioner, and to Members as well, so that they understand what type of case should be sent on. Otherwise I think most of us may in complete fear send on every case we receive, particularly if constituents who bring them are persistent.
If a Member sends on a case and it is successful from the complainant's point of view, then there will be a danger that that Member may be thought by many people to be a successful Member and they may decide to send all their complaints to him, because they think he is more knowledgeable than other Members.
I am also nervous that this may become a party political think if we are not careful. It is thought by many people that a Member of Parliament of the Government party has more chance of getting things done than has a Member of the Opposition party. Therefore, this may become a party matter.
I do not want to say anything more, because these are the points which I wanted to draw to the attention of the House tonight. I hope we may find some way to preserve the good relationships which Members have with their constituents. I hope everything will be done to encourage constituents to come to their own Members of Parliament, anyhow at first, and that a convention may grow up that if a Member receives a complaint from a constituent not his own he will refer it to that constituent's own Member and refer the constituent to his own Member.
For there is yet another danger—that a person may circulate 630 Members at one time with his complaint. I do not know how this will be safeguarded against. If we get this kind of handout —some of us have already had it—in regard to complaints, there may be some way in which we can perhaps get together and consult the Commissioner about whether he has had many requests from that individual on a particular case. I 1451 hope that we may have some guidance in future, so that the particular relationship, which I think we all value, between ourselves and our constituents should not be broken down by unnecessary overlapping in taking up cases.
In conclusion, I should like to thank the hon. and learned Gentleman for being so helpful in Committee. Perhaps he will consider the points which I have raised now.
§ 11.59 p.m.
§ Mr. Alexander W. Lyon
I hope the fears of the hon. Lady the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) will be allayed to some extent by the way in which the Select Committee works. I hope that that Select Committee will gradually work out a procedure whereby these difficulties are ironed out.
I do not want to detain the House at this hour for very long, but it would indeed be churlish if at this stage someone from these benches who has so consistently criticised various parts of the Bill were not to pay some tribute to the very fact that this Bill has been introduced and is being passed into law, because this Commissioner is the greatest aid to the liberty of the subject, in his relationships with the State, to have been provided since 1947, when the former Labour Government introduced the Crown Proceedings Act.
It would be wrong to give the impression, simply because some of us at various stages have said that some of the exclusions were too wide, that there is nothing for the Parliamentary Commissioner to do. In fact, the whole field of Government is open to inspection and criticism by the Parliamentary Commissioner, and this will have profound effects upon the relationship between the individual and the State. This is one of the most important Bills which has been before this House since the Government came into power. I congratulate the Government on introducing it and seeing that it goes through.
It is perhaps unfortunate that the right hon. and learned Member for Warwick and Leamington (Sir J. Hobson) suggested at an earlier stage that the Bill is unduly restrictive. That comes ill from one who was Attorney-General in a Government which consistently refused to 1452 introduce the measure, even after the Whyatt Committee had reported in favour of it. The Bill gives power to a Parliamentary Commissioner which is even wider than that suggested by the Whyatt Committee. I believe that this will be one of the really important developments in the history of the relationship between the individual and the State.
§ 12.1 a.m.
§ Mr. Hogg
I am just as agnostic about the virtues of this Bill as I was at the beginning. It is not a question of party politics; it is a question of judgment, and my judgment has always been against it. It is against it now.
I recognised from the start that this was an experiment which the public wanted and which probably the House wanted and, therefore, was an experiment which we should not obstruct. Therefore, although I do not believe in it, I wish it well. It is as well that I should say why I do not believe in it now any more than when it was first canvassed. There has been no change of opinion on my part in spite of the right hon. Gentleman's mutterings now and the occasion when, even this evening, he twitted me for a change of opinion.
Anyone who contemplates an office of this kind is faced with the dilemma of making it either a Frankenstein or a nonentity—a Frankenstein if it has effective powers and a nonentity if it has not. The Government, quite rightly, has opted for its being a nonentity, and in that sense it is a fraud.
One can look at the actual terms of the Bill, on Third Reading, the most significant being the exclusions in Schedule 3 and the carefully drawn language of Clause 5 which prevent anything worth discussing by this procedure from being discussed at all. A Frankenstein would have been a great deal worse, I congratulate the Government on its being a nonentity. A Frankenstein would, I think, have undermined the power of Ministers and would have undermined the authority of individual Members of Parliament. That, I am quite sure, is not to be.
I noted the exclusions, by which I mean the contents of the Bill—not the things which are not in it but which ought to be in it, which would be out of order 1453 now, on the occasion of the Second Reading. My ultimate conclusion about this Bill is that it is a noble facade without anything behind it. It is like the holy water on Mount Athos—"It'll do ye nae hairm and it'll do ye nae guid".
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.