HL Deb 14 May 1970 vol 310 cc728-53

3.53 p.m.

Debate resumed.


My Lords, I am sure that the whole House will be grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Serota, for moving the Second Reading of this Bill. We on this side should like to add our congratulations to the various authors and predecessors of the Bill. Her right honourable friend, Mr. Douglas Houghton, deserves a vote of thanks for his foresight and wisdom in choosing Sir Frederic Seebohm in 1965 to be the Chairman of the Committee. We, too, should like to add our congratulations to Sir Frederic. I think it is a great encouragement to other tycoons that voluntary work for the social services is not the monopoly of young idealists, but is open also to tycoons, who perhaps have the advantage of bringing to these affairs judgment, experience and patience, as well as idealism. We are all extremely grateful to Sir Frederic for bringing those qualities to bear on this problem.

We are also grateful to the other members of the Committee, and not least to the noble Baroness, Lady Serota, who was herself a member of the Committee for virtually the whole of its productive life. With her, I would judge that the Bill does not require, and the House to-day will not want, a long debate at this stage; for, as the noble Baroness has said, we had a full-scale debate on this subject 16 months ago, when the Report was first published. I would judge that our most useful contribution can be made at the Committee stage, if we are vouchsafed one. So I will confine myself to one general point which I should like to develop a little, and end with two minor queries for the noble Baroness.

My main point is that since the introduction of this Bill to Parliament we have seen the birth, or maybe it would be better to say the coming of age, of a new profession of British social workers; a new comprehensive unified social work profession now needing to establish itself beside the lawyers, doctors, clergy, soldiers, sailors, airmen and so on. The British Association of Social Workers came into being formally only on April 24—three weeks ago—but it already has 10,000 members, although that number is nothing like so large as the number of doctors, and the Association is not yet so firmly and deeply rooted in our history. However, I would judge that it is destined to have an importance and be esteemed as highly as any of its elder brother professions.

I do not believe that we can come to a right judgment in matters to do with social workers, in matters to do with social work, and in matters to do with relations between social workers and other professions, unless we reckon fully with the reasonable and rightful desire of this profession to obtain and to secure its own place in the sun. Doctors, clergy, lawyers and so on, are surely firmly enough established, with Bishops, in the House of Lords (at any rate, some of them are in the House of Lords), with the traditions of the great teaching hospitals, or the great Inns of Court. None of these is threatened by the advent of the social work profession. Just to mention these examples is enough, surely, to help us to realise the aspirations that must burn in the breasts of the new up-and-coming social workers. Let us take this opportunity to hail this new profession; to give it room to grow, and work upon which to strengthen itself, as well as encouragement to develop its own institutions, formulate its own professional code and stimulate the growth of local branches.

At this stage in the growth of a new profession there are bound to be anomalies, and these give us some food for thought. There are bound to be at the top some people with lower formal qualifications than some at the bottom. There are bound to be people in other professions more competent than social workers themselves at managing social work. There are bound, sometimes, to be voluntary part-time social workers with a greater flair, deeper insight, and wider experience than the full-time, paid professionals. The fact that other professions have passed through this stage, many years earlier, should help them, and us, to deal gently, patiently and generously with their colleagues in the social work field, and to understand why Parliament has to provide some props that clergy, doctors and lawyers no longer need. So, my Lords, we welcome a new British profession inaugurating, with the help of this Bill, a new social work service for England and Wales, with a new sense of purpose. That is the backcloth of this Bill.

I have a great many questions and issues to raise with the noble Baroness, many of which I raised in the debate 16 months ago, but only two of which I will come back to in a moment, and most of which I shall leave to a later stage. The main question that needs to be asked is: does this Bill measure up to the demands of the occasion? Does it make the most of this opportunity? While I welcome the Bill, as do my friends on this side of the House, and while I think we shall not hesitate to give it a Second Reading, and can assure it a Third Reading as it stands, if that is what is needed in order not to lose the Bill altogether, there is a sense in which I believe it fails to measure up to the occasion. It is too much of a mere machinery Bill: it lacks vision and inspiration. There are limits to the positive and constructive role that mere legislation can play. We do not look to legislation merely to provide imagination and drive, but surely it is possible to invest legislation with a few vestiges of inspiration here and there. I regret that in this Bill, wherever there has been a choice between the dry-as-dust approach and the purposeful phrase, the dryness and dustiness seems to have prevailed.

I submit that there has been a failure to include anywhere in the Bill, which includes many other obligations mandatory upon local authorities, some of which are sure to irritate them (and I should be surprised if we do not hear more about this before this debate is over), any comprehensive duty to promote social welfare in broad and general terms over the whole area for which each local authority is responsible. It is in this respect that I believe the Bill chiefly fails to match what the occasion requires. It is in this respect that the explanations so far given for the omission of this clause have confirmed what so many feared for the high aspirations of the Report—the Report which the noble Baroness herself did so much to inspire; aspirations which led the Committee to recommend a social work department with responsibilities (as they put it) extending well beyond the responsibilities of existing local authority departments. The noble Baroness will, I am sure, remember that phrase in the Report.

Those aspirations are now, I submit, deflated and dragged down to the level of a Schedule at the back of the Bill. It is only by reference to pieces out of this Schedule—such as the Health Services and Public Health Act 1968, Section 12, Section 13, Section 45, and so on; and then by reference back to Section 2, subsection (2), Section 2, subsection (3)(b), subsection (4) and so on—that we get any view of what the new department is going to have as its main role. It is clear that we need precision of that kind in legislatiton such as this, particularly if it involves, as it does, the imposition of mandatory obligations on all county councils, all county boroughs and all the London boroughs. But is it really asking too much to have set out alongside those sections and subsections, "notwithstandings" and "without prejudices", et cetera, a clause or two describing comprehensively, clearly and accurately the main object of this whole exercise, the whole scope of the Bill, the full role of the new department and the broad duties of those who work in it? This was achieved in the case of the Social Work (Scotland) Bill, and although I admit that there are differences in England and Wales, it is an omission which is unfortunate in this particular case. Because there is very much more involved here than an administrative redesigning, though that of course also is required—and I welcome myself the way in which it has been done and agree with most of the difficult decisions that have been needed to be taken in order to bring it about.

But in addition to and over-arching all that, here is a new profession longing for a new sense of purpose, a new setting in which to work, a new approach to their work and a new flexibility of outlook. I say nothing (because it would be out of Order) about fresh resources. No Act can provide all that, or even very much of it; but it could do better than this rather dry and dusty one. However, I say no more about that now.

I should like to pass to two questions for the noble Baroness which it would be helpful to have elaborated a little. One relates to Clause 6(3), directors of the social work department and their selection. It must be that this Bill is casting its shadow before it, and particularly in the case of those local authorities which are faced with the resignation of the officer who is now charged of one or more of the departments that are going to be affected by this Bill. Therefore, although of course the Bill is not in force, and although the regulations that will be devised under Clause 6(3) cannot yet be published, there must be some criteria by which the Minister responsible for the social services is now guiding local authorities; some criteria by which their choice is being approved. It would be helpful to the House for the noble Baroness to give us some indication of what criteria are being used and are appropriate at this stage of the Bill.

The second point I should like to put to the noble Baroness, and upon which to draw her into a slightly fuller explanation, is the matter raised by her honourable friend Mrs. Williams at column 1514 of the debate in another place. This relates to Clause 4(2), sub-committees. Am I right in assuming that there will be a possibility under this Bill, if it is enacted in its present form, of establishing at district level of any local authority below the level of the main authority a sub-committee which may exactly match and closely co-operate in partnership with an equivalent district committee of the area health board covering the same locality, thus making it possible to bring about at the really local level, which is where I believe it matters most, a reconciliation between the health services and the social services which at other and higher levels, for reasons which we deplore but understand, are for the time being being wrenched apart?

My Lords, leaving those two questions for the noble Baroness to deal with if she will when she winds up, I should like to support the Second Reading of this Bill and to assure the noble Baroness that we for our part shall also be willing to give it a Third Reading without further ado if that is necessary to avoid losing the Bill altogether.

4.7 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to follow the example of the noble Lord who has just sat down and not say a great deal on the Second Reading of this Bill. We discussed the Seebohm Report at considerable length some time ago. I think the Bill we wish to see come out of the Report is, on the whole, really quite a good one. The single door (one might say) has its advantages. It is rather curious, looking back on the way circumstances have developed, to notice that in the days of the Poor Law there was a single door which worked as well as it could in those days. A curious thing about the old Poor Law was that the principles were good and well thought out, but what was wrong was the harshness of the way in which it was administered.

There are two points I wish to bring forward on the Bill to which I hope the noble Baroness may be able to give me a reply. The terms of reference of the Seebohm Committee did not include consideration of medical social workers and psychiatric social workers working in hospitals. It is essential for a certain number of social workers to be hospital based, particularly where elderly patients and psychiatric patients are concerned. That gives a direct service to the patient and, at the same time, makes it simpler to hand over to the local authority social service department when the patient is discharged from hospital.

A second, minor point was referred to in the Todd Report, which we debated recently. That is that it was an advantage to have medical social workers in hospital for the teaching of medical students in some of the work they do. So I hope that it will be possible for medical social workers and psychiatric social workers to be seconded from the local authorities to the departments of the hospital, where I am sure their work is essential. I hope also that the secondment will be for quite a long time, not for just a month or six months and then changed over, but certainly for a long time so as to establish a real relationship with the members of the staff of the hospital, to ensure the same kind of stability and continuity of policy. Some of the easier work could be done by social work assistants, leaving the really heavy, serious work to the care of the highly trained medical social worker. So that is one question I should like to put to the noble Baroness.

The second is a simpler one. Patients in hospital are bound to come from more than one area—some come from one local authority and some from another. Supposing they come under the care of the medical social worker or the psychiatric social worker who is seconded to a hospital, there will be no break in the continuity of their care because they are going back to the area of another local authority than the one where the hospital is situated. One saw a good deal of that kind of trouble in regard to local authorities who in the past did not wish to take care of people from other areas. I trust that will not be repeated, and I should like some reassurance on that point.

The other point I would make in criticism of the Bill is that Clause 6 is a little too firm and rigid, where it says that the Secretary of State must approve the qualifications required for the director of social services, and they must be submitted to him. I wonder whether that is really necessary. If we are going to have a statutory committee, surely they could be left to choose their own director rather than to come up to the Department for approval. It is all part of what one could see coming along in the debate that we had the other day on the Green Paper, of putting too much control on the central authority and not leaving enough to the local authorities, whether those that exist now or those that will come in the future. Apart from those comments I have nothing further to say, and I trust that the Bill will go rapidly through your Lordships' House. I am quite sure we should like to see it obtain its Third Reading as soon as possible.

4.14 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to follow previous speakers in not attempting to make a long and detailed speech on this stage of the Bill, but I wish to make a few remarks about training. I am a little concerned in regard to the question of training, having been—as the noble Baroness, Lady Serota, has been good enough to mention—Chairman of the two statutory councils: the Council for Training in Social Work and the Council for the Training of Health Visitors, both Councils being affected by the Bill.

I should like to join the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, in giving a warm welcome to the new profession of social workers, and offering my congratulations to those people who have worked so hard to bring together the various sections of the service in the formation of their national association. For the whole development of the social welfare work of the country which, as previous speakers have said, should, we all hope, take a great leap forward from the enactment of this Bill, it is of great importance to the whole cause of social welfare and also to the new profession, that the training arrangements should stand up to what is wanted from them.

I believe, if I may venture to say so, that the arrangements proposed in the Bill for the training on the social work side are well conceived. Not only well conceived, but in the discussions to which the noble Baroness, Lady Serota, referred, very carefully mulled over in discussions with everybody concerned including the Departments of State. The fundamental principle that is enshrined in the Bill of the setting up of a comprehensive but independent statutory council to be responsible for training over the whole field of this kind of work has also stood up to these discussions' and the necessary give and take between Ministries, between sections of the profession, between everybody concerned, the local authorities and so on. I believe that the conception of a comprehensive statutory council to be responsible for this training is well conceived and is in process of being well worked out in the discussions which are now going on.

I should like to say one word about another Council. I realise that I must not say very much about the Council for the Training of Health Visitors, but it is affected by the Bill. Its title is to be changed, and in future it is to have a separate chairman and not the same chairman as the Council for Training in Social Work. No doubt it was in the mind of Parliament when the original Act was passed that by bringing these two Councils to live together and to have the same chairman they would be drawn closer together over the years. I think that in many ways members of both Councils would agree that they have gained a great deal from being members of a small family and being brought together, as they were by having a common chairman and some common services and housed centrally in a common building. They have learned a good deal about one another and have considerably affected one another's deliberations and decisions.

However it is clear that with the drawing of a line between the work on the social welfare side and the work on the health side, the extreme closeness of the Council for the Training of Health Visitors and the Council for Training in Social Work is not likely to be the best arrangement for the future. Clearly the two Councils will have to work to a considerable extent in agreement, and certainly in friendly relations with one another, but I think both Councils are agreed that in the circumstances the right thing is to have separate chairmen and to carry out their co-operation and make their friendly contacts with separate chairmen rather than under the same chairman. So all that, too, I believe to be well-conceived.

I should just like to add this—I think it should be said, and your Lordships will allow that it is a reasonable thing to say—as the Council for the Training of Health Visitors is affected by the Bill. As I think your Lordships know, there is a great deal of disappointment that it has not been possible to review and reconstitute (or whatever is the right word) the Council concerned with the health visitors on the health side at the same time, or at about the same time, as the Council for social work. Naturally, there are all sorts of fears that, with the social work Council having a secure future, the green light, rousing encouragement, as we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, and as we had already heard from the Seebohm Committee itself, and with little able to be settled for the health visitor Council, what will be for some time the smaller Council may be left out in the cold.

There is also a very strong development among the people concerned who feel that a council looking after the whole field of training for community nursing—not just health visitors but the whole field of community nursing—is as strongly needed as the reconstituted council on the social work side. It. is clear that the Briggs Committee has to do its work, and all that makes it very difficult to know how much can be done at any given moment. I understand that the Government are giving quite a lot of thought to what can be done in the interim on this side. I hope that they are giving some urgency to this matter and that in due course they will see that anything that can be done to make the health visitor Council feel that it is by no means forgotten, that its interests are in everybody's mind, will be done; that certainly they will be given a chairman who can look in the eye the chairman of the great new Seebohm Social Work Council, and that other things which can be done in the meantime to enable the interim years to go well will be done.

May I conclude by repeating that I think the arrangements for training, so far as I can see—and nearly all my friends connected with the work of training in this field I think agree—are conceived along sound lines and have been well worked out. We all very much welcome them.

4.23 p.m.


My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Grasmere, I shall not detain your Lordships for many moments this afternoon. Before I come to what may prove to be more critical matter, I shoud like, if I may, to associate myself with the welcome that was extended by my noble friend Lord Sandford and by the noble Lord, Lord Morris, to the new profession of social worker. In the ten years of my life that I spent as Chairman of the old National Assistance Board I learned the value of training for social workers, I believe that the standard of training in the National Assistance Board was probably higher, than it was in any other department. I believe that the fact that the National Assistance Board succeeded in securing the confidence of the public to a much greater extent than any of its predecessors had done was attributable to the fact that the Board's staff were trained more thoroughly and more adequately than the staffs in many Departments.

This Bill could, I think, have been more conveniently considered with the second Green Paper on the National Health Service; indeed, the noble Baroness, in the course of her speech, frequently had to refer to the Green Paper. It has always been the view of local authorities that the National Health Service could have been best administered as a local authority service in a new and reformed structure of local government. The Government have apparently rejected that view, and no doubt they will in due course set up the new public health authorities in all parts of the country. The local authorities have not changed their view: but if the service is not to be a local authority service they accept the enumeration of functions in Schedule 1 to the Bill as a fair definition of the boundary line between the National Health Service and the local authority social services. The authorities enumerated in the first section will no doubt require some amendment, and no doubt the whole Schedule will require some amendment, but on the whole I think it provides a fair and efficient boundary line between the two services.

The Bill appears at first sight to be a harmless—perhaps I ought not to say harmless, but a very acceptable measure. The greater part of it gives effect to the recommendations of the Seebohm Committee, which I think were received without criticism by both sides of your Lordships' House. It does, however, contain some material of a very controversial character. The local authorities object very strongly to the attempt the Bill seems to make to exercise control, albeit perhaps a remote control, over the manner in which their services are to be organised and administered by the local authorities. All through the Bill one finds again and again an attempt to vest effective control of the service and its administration in the Central Government Department. If one takes first Clause 2 of the Bill, it provides: Every local authority shall establish a social services committee … and so on. No doubt a social services committee will be the most convenient form of administration in the majority of authorities. But it does not necessarily follow that a committee of that sort will be the best form of administration in all the authorities. It would have been better if a wider discretion had been given to the local authorities to establish a committee suitable to their requirements and the needs of their neighbourhood.

Then under subsection (2) of Clause 2 we see: The Secretary of State may by Order designate functions … which the social services committee are to undertake. In subsection (4) we read: The Secretary of State may direct that such of the functions mentioned in subsection (3)(b) as are specified in the direction, being functions which appear to him to be mainly medical in nature, shall stand referred to the health committee of a local authority. And again in Clause 3 subsection (4): Nothing in section 2 of this Act or this section prevents a local authority from referring to a committee other than their social services committee a matter which by virtue of either of those sections stands referred to the social services committee and which in the authority's opinion ought to be referred to the other committee on the ground that it relates to a general service of the authority; but before referring any such matter the authority shall receive and consider a report of the social services committee … I should have thought that there again it might have been properly left to the local authority to decide which of their committees was to offer advice in response to a request from the council. But there it is; they have to have a report from the social services committee.

Clause 6 deals with the staff, in particular with the chief officer. It opens: A local authority shall appoint an officer, to be known as the director of social services … In some authorities, however, an officer known as the director of social services may not be the best form of administration. The Bill ought to leave to responsible local authorities the determination of the functions to be performed. Then, in subsection (4), Clause 6 goes on to say: Until the first coming into force of regulations made under subsection (3) above, a local authority shall not appoint, nor concur in the appointment of, a director of social services except after consultation with the Secretary of State … The clause goes on to provide that the Secretary of State may make regulations about the qualifications of the chief officer.

That administrative structure seems to owe its origin to the Children Act 1948. Nearly all of these provisions to which I have referred find their parallel in that. The Children Act has not worked particularly well. Indeed, many people consider that it would have worked much better had the restrictions under which it functions been less severe. The local authorities have been encouraged to expect that the attitude of the central Government towards them had changed, and that the approach in future would be more moderate than it has been in the past. That was the view of the Royal Commission. It was the view that was quite strongly expressed by Lord Redcliffe-Maud's Committee on the Management of Local Authorities, and it seems to have been the view of the Government themselves.

The White Paper, which presents a contrast to what is provided in this Bill, says in paragraph 60: As the Prime Minister made clear in his speech to the Association of Municipal Corporations at Scarborough on September 17, 1969, the Government believe unequivocally in greater freedom for local authorities within the framework of national policies laid down by Parliament. The reorganisation of local government creates an opportunity, which the Government intend to seize, for achieving this aim. Then, in paragraph 67, the White Paper says: The Commission recommended, as did the Committee on the Management of Local Government in still more specific terms, a reduction in statutory control over the internal administration of local authorities. The Government accept this recommendation. They agree that in general the statutory requirements that authorities should maintain separate committees for specific purposes are now obsolete—though this does not, of course, imply that the importance of particular committees has diminished; it means only that the services in question are now firmly established. The same applies, in general, to provisions requiring the approval of Ministers to the choice of officers for certain posts. The Government will, however, have regard to the exceptional considerations which apply to the police, and to the Seebohm Committee's recommendations for the personal social services, which will be the subject of early legislation. My Lords, it is really impossible to reconcile those two paragraphs with what is contained in this Bill. Here, in the Bill, the Government have done the exact opposite. Almost every one of the things which were condemned by the Redcliffe-Maud Committee, and in the Government's own White Paper, are to be found in this Bill. It is not surprising that the local authorities feel that they have been thoroughly misled over this matter. In the very first Bill which comes to Parliament in which these matters are involved we find exactly the provisions against which the Redcliffe-Maud Committee recommended and which the Government purport to have rejected. I hope that the noble Baroness when she comes to reply, will give us some explanation of how these inconsistencies appear to have come into being.

I am told that in another place it was said that the final paragraph, which refers to "exceptional considerations" in the police service and in the Seebohm Committee's recommendations, justifies the departure from the declared policy of the Government which this Bill represents. But there is nothing exceptional about the considerations which apply to these social service committees. The committees are already in existence. Many of them have been so for many years. The services, too, are already in existence. All this Bill will do is to regroup them at the top and to rearrange the administration from the centre. There is nothing else "exceptional". I feel strongly that in this matter the Government ought to have followed their own White Paper, and that the Bill should have contained provisions which would give local authorities a proper and responsible position in the administration of these vital services.


My Lords, I wonder whether, with the leave of the House, I might intervene just for a moment, before the noble Lord sits down, on the point that he has been making. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Platt, will forgive me. I, too, find this mandatory clause objectionable, and I can well understand why the local authorities do. I dealt with the point myself when we had our full-scale debate on the Report. But I must say that my fears were a good deal set at rest by what the honourable lady, Mrs. Shirley Williams, said in another place on the Committee stage, at column 13, when she made it quite clear that the Government regard this mandatory provision in particular as being temporary, to cover the initial period of the setting up of these committees. I think it would help us very much, and help the further passage of this Bill, if the noble Baroness could say anything further to elaborate or develop what her friend in another place said at that point.


My Lords, perhaps the noble Baroness would at the same time also tell us whether the intention is to repeal this Act when these services have established themselves.

4.38 p.m.


My Lords, this is a Bill which I think we can support fully in its Second Reading stage and hope that it will go through its other stages with considerable ease and celerity. It allows for work to begin on the main recommendations of the Seebohm Report which, on the whole, was well received when it was debated in this House in January, 1969. The schedule of services which will in future be referred to the social services committees seems to be a reasonable one. There is, of course, a lack of detail, and one might go so far as to support the noble Lord, Lord Sand-ford, in saying that there is some lack of inspiration in the wording of this rather brief and dry Bill. But I suppose the real inspiration, the thing which will make this scheme succeed or not succeed, lies in the future appointments of directors of social services.

It was said by several of us in the debate on the Seebohm Report to which I have just referred that collaboration between the medical profession and the social services is of paramount importance, and that implies a thorough involvement of the general practitioner in the whole structure of these services. That does not seem to be referred to in the Bill, and I take it that this is not the appropriate place for it to be mentioned; it will come under the duties of the new directors of social services. These directors will be absolutely key appointments, and I suppose none of us quite knows yet what type of a person a director of social services is going to be. I imagine that he is rather an experimental kind of person, and that in some districts he may have had one kind of background and in other districts quite a different kind. It may be many years before we come to any firm conclusions on what kind of a person he should be. Therefore, I do not share the slight doubts raised by the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, and the almost condemnation voiced by the noble Lord, Lord Ilford, on the proposed reliance of the local authority on the central Department for making these appointments.

What the Bill actually says is: The Secretary of State may make regulations prescribing the qualifications requisite for a person's appointment as a local authority's director of social services. That seems to me wise. It would, of course, be nice to know at this stage a little more about what kind of qualifications the Secretary of State has in mind. Then, reading straight on from that, the Bill says: Until the first coming into force of regulations made under subsection (3) above, a local authority shall not appoint … a director of social services except after consultation with the Secretary of State et cetera. So this is clearly a temporary measure and, I should have thought, an extraordinarily wise one. Local authorities vary greatly in quality. The best of them, with a wide choice of expert people whom they might put in a post of this kind, have, I am sure, nothing to fear from the central authority, who, I am certain, would immediately be likely to accept any recommendations they put forward for a suitable director.

However, I would remind the House of what I thought were the very wise words of the noble Baroness, Lady Brooke of Ystradfellte, in her opening of the debate on the Seebohm Report. With your Lordships' permission, I will read some of her words, and I think that will complete everything I have to say. She said: the first chief officer responsible for the suggested new social welfare department must be of comparable calibre to the other chief officers already in the field—in finance, housing, the medical officer of health, the chief engineer, and so on. Some doubt has been expressed as to whether sufficient men and women up to the job will be forthcoming, but I am not pessimistic about this. To me. the one thing that must be avoided at all costs is the unsuitable appointment of an existing local government officer simply because he may be in danger of becoming redundant if he is not given the new post. This has been known to happen in the past, with disastrous results locally. Much better to retire such a person with proper compensation than imperil the future of the new department."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29/1/1969; col. 1174.] I personally feel that these appointments are of such importance that, as a temporary measure, the regulations in Clause 6 are in fact wise ones. I support the Second Reading of this Bill.

4.46 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to make a few brief comments on this Bill, which largely implements the recommendations of the Seebohm Committee as they relate to machinery. That it is an extremely important Bill nobody will deny, least of all the Association of Municipal Corporations, some of whose reactions are rather apprehensive. I have no doubt that the noble Baroness, when she replies, will say something about those apprehensions.

The Government have decided to unify the health services outside reformed local government and by taking this decision have made it necessary to define, for statutory purposes, a boundary between the personal social services and the National Health Service. The Association which I mentioned just now naturally regret this decision but, given that a sharp boundary must be drawn, they would not dissent from the line drawn in Schedule 1 to the Bill. Apart, however, from the division of functions the Bill is drawn in terms to which the Association's first reaction is complete opposition. It has evidently been drawn to correspond closely, as they say, with the provisions of Part VI of the Children Act 1948, and is in nearly every respect as restrictive as that Act which was passed 22 years ago.

The White Paper on Local Government Reform was quoted just now by the noble Lord, Lord Ilford, and I do not want to over-emphasise the point which he has already so ably made. But I feel that it requires a very definite reply from the Government. After all, I think it is worth repeating what the White Paper says the Prime Minister made clear in his speech in September, 1969, that: the Government believe unequivocally in greater freedom for local authorities within the framework of national policies laid down by Parliament. The reorganisation of local government creates an opportunity which the Government intends to seize for achieving this aim. And the White Paper continued: The Commission recommended, as did the Committee on the Management of Local Government in still more specific terms, a reduction in statutory control over the internal administration of local authorities. The Government accept this recommendation; they agree that in general the statutory requirements that authorities should maintain separate committees for specific purposes are now obsolete. I do not want to over-emphasise this point, but I believe that, unless something is said to explain the apparent contradiction to which the noble Lord, Lord Ilford, has drawn attention, there will remain a feeling (which I am sure is false) that there is almost an element of hypocrisy in the contrast between the lip service which the White Paper pays to the concept of greater freedom for local authorities and the actual terms of this Bill now before us.

The Bill is one of rigid control and Clauses 2, 3, 6 and 7 are, in the eyes of local authorities, highly objectionable. In their view, the general effect of those clauses is wholly out-dated and completely out of line with the Government's stated wish to increase the powers of local authorities. The Association's view in relation to social services, as in relation to many other matters, is that legislation should require local authorities to do things, and that their committee and departmental structure should be left to local authorities. This is a view which has been commended, particularly in relation to the committee structure, both in the Royal Commission's Report and in the Government's White Paper, so it is difficult to see why social service functions in particular are so different that we must revert to the legislative pattern employed 22 years ago.

Assuming, however, that the Government wish to see social services departments as such emerging in different authorities, would it not have been sufficient to pass an adoptive Act enabling local authorities to set up such departments if they wish, and then, after a period of years, to reach a conclusion as to whether those authorities which had not adopted the Act administered their services efficiently? Even if something more positive is called for—and I think the Association would to-day dispute that it is—is it necessary for Parliament to lay down that there shall be a social services committee and a director of social services, whose qualifications the Secretary of State shall prescribe, and that the committee and departments shall do only those things which the Act or the Secretary of State state they may do, and that they shall work under the general guidance of the Secretary of State? That is not giving local authorities more power.

The issue here is wider than simply the organisation of social services, and that is why I mention it on Second Reading. There is the question once more of a complete moving of control; what some of us regard as excessive centralisation. The view can be taken that local authorities are simply a convenient device for administering certain services, that they must do so in a uniform way from place to place under the guidance of central Government, and that they must conform closely to central Government policies. There are no doubt many people among us who for tenable reasons take that view, and this Bill will certainly not offend them. But the alternative view, which is the view I would take, is that independent local government is an essential part of a healthy democracy, and that unless there is substantial scope for local initiative local government will inevitably become torpid.

Healthy local government implies giving to local authorities far greater discretion in a number of ways, an important one being freedom to make their own internal arrangements. This Bill is a very rigid measure. There are a number of possible compromise positions. Surely it is not necessary to provide for a mandatory committee and a mandatory officer, to prescribe his qualifications and to circumscribe the functions of both of them. There are a number of other points which might be raised, but I do not wish to delay the House over them. In any case, I think they would be better raised in Committee and no doubt they will be.

In conclusion, I have one point on the question of timing. Compulsion, if there must be compulsion, should surely not precede local government reform, nor, more importantly, should it precede the legislation necessary to implement whatever changes take place in the Health Service. There are three reasons for this. First, the choice of officers may be difficult for some authorities at a time of great uncertainty. Secondly, the loss of mental health social work may be damaging to the morale of some health departments, again at a time of great uncertainty as a result of the second Green Paper. And, thirdly, the Children and Young Persons Act 1969 is being brought into force by stages, and a major stage will be reached on October 1. If there is to be implementation of Seebohm and reorganisation of child care departments while coping with this measure, it is not hard to foresee a good many difficulties arising, although the problem may be greater for some authorities than for others. From the point of view of bringing into force a major reorganisation, a singularly bad time has been chosen.

It is very unfortunate that, as foreshadowed in Clause 10, before reorganisation of local government those district councils which have claimed delegation of welfare functions must now surrender them. It is to be hoped that in each case due regard will be paid to local circumstances before decisions are taken. The Seebohm Committee was quite emphatic that there should be only one central Government Department, responsible both for the relationship between central Government and social service departments and for providing overall national planning of social services. Since the Seebohm solution has been found to be right for local government, it is also right for central Government. In the opinion of local authorities, the Bill should contain a clause on the lines of the Scottish measure, empowering local authorities to promote social welfare generally. I have no doubt that the points I have mentioned will receive more attention in Committee, and that the noble Baroness will also reply to them when she speaks.

4.58 p.m


My Lords, may I first of all thank all noble Lords who have spoken for the welcome they have given to this Bill, although certain noble Lords, particularly Lord Ilford and Lord Milverton, have expressed reservations about which I shall say a word in a moment. As I see this Second Reading debate, two major issues of principle have been raised: the first, by the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, on the general question of the scope and nature of the Bill. with his specific point about the need for a general power; and the second by the noble Lords, Lord Ilford and Lord Milverton, in relation to the mandatory nature of this Bill and the reactions of local authorities to it. Several noble Lords have raised other points and I shall try to deal with them in my reply. But if by any chance, as sometimes happens, I overlook them in the course of my remarks, I assure all noble Lords concerned that I will write to them.

May I first deal with what the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, referred to as the dry-as-dust nature of the Bill? I must confess that I find all Bills rather dry, and I have yet to see one that has inspired me with any particular feeling of excitement. It is the language of lawyers that writes down some of our most exciting thoughts in this rather dreary way. But, to be quite fair, I must also admit that when I first held the print of this particular Bill in my hand I, too, felt a slight sense of disappointment, until I realised that of course this is the way the law has to be. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, that the presentation of this Bill as an organisational Bill in no way derogates from the immense significance that it can have in terms of the development of our social services.

It is primarily, as the noble Lord so rightly said, a machinery Bill, and it is a machinery Bill because, as I have tried to explain, at this stage in the development of the services, and having regard to the proposed developments to come, it was the view of the Government that we should not attempt to recast now the functions of local authorities. I would also remind the noble Lord that there have been changes in the powers of local authorities since the Seebohm Committee reported. Since July, 1968, as the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, is as aware as I am, two major pieces of social legislation have been passed which have considerably enlarged the responsibilities and duties of local authorities in relation to the care and control of children and young people and, under Section 45 of the Public Health Act, the promotion of the welfare, in the broadest sense, of the elderly. Our whole anxiety at this stage in our history is to get the organisational change which in our view will create the machinery for local authorities to go forward in the development of their comprehensive personal social services.

It has been extremely gratifying to have the support of noble Lords in all parts of the House for the demarcation lines between health and social services which were finally drawn. This was an extraordinarily complex problem and a very difficult decision to make, although I must confess that there are some who seem to be under the impression that dividing lines do not exist already. The whole of the National Health Service is not by any means in local government: the hospital service is directly outside it. All we are really doing in this Bill is changing the lines of division. It is the local authority health departments that will be divided, not the Health Service itself. The object of the change is to integrate the Health Service into one single service, as opposed to its present tripartite form, on the one hand, and to correlate it to the unified social services in local government, on the other.

The noble Lord, Lord Sandford, also asked me two particular points. The first was in relation to the selection of directors, and the noble Lord, Lord Platt, very wisely, pointed out the difficulties here: the problems, the varying backgrounds from which staff would come, and the fact that in the initial stages, as the noble Baroness, Lady Brooke, reminded us when she introduced the Seebohm Report debate a year or so ago, one would be experimenting, in the sense that initially we should be appointing to these new posts of directors people with varying backgrounds, possibly from a range of professions. This is because, as the Seebohm Committee themselves knew, no single profession presently combines all the professional experience and knowledge which these new posts will require.

The Ministers' approach to these questions, I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, will be along the lines recommended in paragraph 620 of the Seebohm Report itself. This said: The objective should be to secure that … heads of … departments are people professionally qualified in social work (including those qualified in residential care) who have received training in management … or administrators with qualifications in social work … Already, even before the Bill has become a Statute, some 50 individual local authorities have consulted the Government Departments, which for this purpose have set up a joint staff who will be available and willing to assist and advise local authorities if they are considering appointing directors-designate in advance of the passing of the Bill.

Lord Sandford's second question related to the possible inter-relationship between the district sub-committees (if I may so call them) of the proposed new area health authorities and the district committees in the revised local government structure, and whether this was a possible means of uniting at neighbourhood and district level the health social services in terms of their community operations. I listened to the noble Lord with very great interest on this point. Since the publication of the Green Paper we have been giving particular thought to the status, functions and membership of these district committees: who should serve on them; how they should relate to local government; what should be the balance of professional membership, lay membership and voluntary organisation membership. All these are issues that we are now considering, and I will certainly bear in mind the noble Lord's point, remembering at the same time, of course, the White Paper on Local Government in relation to district councils.

My Lords, may I now turn to the other question of principle which is worrying both the noble Lord, Lord Ilford, and the noble Lord, Lord Milverton; namely, the mandatory nature of the proposals in this legislation? I had hoped that this was not going to be a controversial debate, but I cannot allow the remarks which the noble Lord, Lord Ilford, made about the Children's Service to pass without some comment from my own experience. I am afraid that I would not agree with him that the Children Act was a bad piece of legislation, which has worked against the best interests of the Children's Service.

In my view, the Children Act 1948 was a necessary piece of legislation following the Report of the Curtis Committee; and it has served to illustrate how one can bring forward a service in terms of development if one organises it in this way and if one defines specific responsibilities as the Children Act defined and concentrated the responsibilities of children's committees and children's officers. We have seen immense development in the field of the children's services, and I hope that those developments can be carried through just as effectively and even more successfully into the new, combined social service departments

Nor can I agree that all local authorities take the same rather gloomy view of this Bill as that expressed by the noble Lords who are opposed to its mandatory nature. In fact, some local authorities have welcomed it, and I think the measure of their interest is the fact that some 50 have been in touch with the interdepartmental group for advice on the ways in which they should approach the task of appointing the new director of social services. I fully appreciate, as do the Government, the fact that their decision to make the new social service departments statutory departments in local government, and to create a statutory post of director of social services, runs counter to the general trend of what I call the "mini-Maud". This was a matter which the Government considered carefully and seriously. Indeed. the White Paper on the "major-Maud"—that is, the Royal Commission on the Reorganisation of Local Government—set out, I hope very clearly, why it had been decided to make an exception in the case of the implementation of the recommendation of the Seebohm Report.

I am sure that the Seebohm Committee were right to recommend that, at least in the beginning of these new services, they must be mandatory on all local authorities. We know that if this matter were left to the choice of individual local authorities, as the noble Lord, Lord Milverton, suggested, some would appoint a director of social services and would organise their departments in this way and some would not.

The noble Lord, Lord Ilford, asked if I could put a time limit on the mandatory situation that the Government propose, and if I could say whether the law would be repealed after a certain period. I cannot, of course, give either a time limit or an assurance of an appeal; but I hope that any Government, of whatever colour, would naturally watch carefully and closely the development of these new services and decide in the light of that experience and development whether or not it is neecssary in the circumstances of the future to continue the proposed mandatory provision. I hope that both noble Lords who expressed their concern on this particular matter will accept what I have said. As they probably know, local authorities are by no means united about this. I understand their concern about the principle, but I can assure noble Lords that this matter was very carefully weighed by the Government before coming to this decision which we believe in the circumstances to be the right one.

The noble Lord, Lord Amulree, reminded us that in some respects the provision of a "single door" on which to knock took us back to one of the basic principles of the Poor Law. I hope that that is not so; because, although the concept of a service for the family from the cradle to the grave is one that we all very much support—and it is certainly one of the principles of this Bill—it also raises difficulties of the kind that he mentioned and on which he sought my assurance: namely, if a patient comes from one area health authority for, say, hospital treatment in another, would this mean that there would be no continuity in terms of social work care and support? Are we, in fact, going back to the position which existed fand which in my view was one of the worst features of the Poor Law) where patients were pushed over the borough boundaries.

No, my Lords. I am convinced that this is not the way in which division will work. We have a long tradition in local government of continuity of social care. I see the possibility whereby social workers in our hospitals will in fact become members of the combined social services departments; and I agree wholeheartedly with Lord Amulree when he asks that if this were to happen they should be seconded there for a reasonable period, both to gain knowledge of the hospital and also to try to assist in the education of other members of the health professions working in the hospitals. I can give him my view that if this reorganisation were to take place in that way, it would be necessary for the social service Departments to maintain continuity between their officers and those of the area health authority.

My Lords, I hope that, with those assurances, the House will now agree to give this Bill a Second Reading. I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, particularly for the assurance he gave at the outset when he said that he was willing for this particular Bill to go forward to Third Reading and to receive the Royal Assent as quickly as possible. I mentioned at the outset the anxiety that some of the workers in these services have felt for a considerable period of years. I am sure that to agree to give this Bill a Second Reading today, in the knowledge that it will go through all its stages with the greatest possible speed, will be the greatest reassurance we could give to the workers in the service who have waited so long.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.