The purpose of the Adjournment subject which I now bring to the attention of the House, and the purpose of the Questions which I previously addressed to the Minister of Health in regard to this question, is one that is traditional in our House of Commons procedure. I am, in fact, seeking to let the voice of humanity be heard amid the darkened counsels of officialdom. As the Parliamentary Secretary is aware, I asked the Minister to see that conditions of humanity prevail over what I called a signal illustration of Bumbledon in Barnet. Since then, I am glad to see that some progress has been made in this matter along the paths of common sense and common humanity. I am grateful to the Parliamentary Secretary for his courtesy in at once informing me of the developments that have since taken place.
I think that it would be convenient if I gave to the House a brief outline of the facts in this matter. The matter concerns the Wellhouse Hospital at Barnet and certain old men who have been living there for some considerable period now. Before the war the Wellhouse Hospital was a Poor Law institution; but on the outbreak of war it became a hospital, and the majority of the people in the institution were moved further away from London. However, when this change was made a few elderly men were left behind, by common consent and agreement, to go on living in the Wellhouse Hospital. That is not to say they were thereby using hospital accommodation in the ordinary sense of that word; that is, by continuing to live there they were not using up accommodation which might have been used as a sick ward. My information is that these old men have quarters consisting of a dormitory and a living room, and that these two rooms are not suitable—at any rate, in their present state—for use as hospital wards.
When I originally raised this question in the House there were eight old men concerned, since when one of the younger of the eight old men has, I am happy to say, found employment as a gardener and has taken his discharge, amid the good wishes of all. But the problem of the seven remains. Now, of these seven old men, the eldest is 85 and the second eldest is 82; and, although I have not worked this out, I imagine that their average age is probably slightly nearer 80 than 70. Most of these old men have been at Wellhouse for a period of between To and 20 years—
I cannot accept that. I think it is wrong in any event, on the figures I have; and, secondly, I doubt whether the hon. Member for Barnet (Dr. Taylor) has taken into account the fact that the one old man who has gone was one of the younger of the old men, so that thereby the average age—
I understand that one of those in the sixties has gone. I am not labouring the point, but if the average age of those remaining is worked out it will be over 70. Whether it is nearer 80 than 70, as I say, I am not quite sure, and I do not intend to detain the House by canvassing elementary mental arithmetic with even so distinguished an expert as the hon. Member for Barnet, because there are other considerations in this, and I hope that the hon. Member for Barnet—who has played a somewhat peculiar part in these trans- actions—has, after all this time, at least begun to have some glimmer of realisation that this is not a mere arithmetical matter. It is, as I have said all along, a matter of common sense and of common humanity. If I may respectfully say so, a good deal of the difficulties involved in this matter could have been saved had the hon. Member for Barnet shown some appreciation of that fact rather earlier in the transactions with which we are today concerned.
I return to the question of these seven old men. There they live, whatever the precise mathematical ratio of their average ages, pursuing the quiet and sober pattern of their lives. To these seven old men Wellhouse was home; life had not given them the comforts and consolations of a home of their own, to which no doubt most of us here look forward in our later years. They had, and have, unfortunately, no home of their own; but at least they had that place which they had, through long custom, come to regard as home. They had at any rate the consolations of genial companionship and of familiar surroundings. Nor were they idle, for they did odd jobs for the hospital; they did gardening, and they made themselves useful in every way that they could. The hospital was glad to have them there, and they were glad and grateful to have the opportunity of being there. There, then, they lived, doing harm to none, and doing good within their own perhaps limited capabilities. It may be that in their own quiet way they thanked God that they had this opportunity, after the stresses and uncertainties of life, to complete the evening of their days in this quiet retreat.
Now, nothing in life is permanent, and it would have been a matter of regret, but perhaps not of surprise, if their living on at Wellhouse had been interrupted by one of those disasters to which life is, unfortunately, exposed, such as the calamity of war, or one of the natural calamities which we know as an "act of God." What, in my submission, is, or should have been, unthinkable is that the instrument whereby the quiet, harmless life of these old men was interrupted was the coming into force of an Act which has been so widely publicised as an Act which is the instrument of great good to the community as a whole. It should, in my submission, have been absolutely unthinkable that this thing could have happened, not as a result of a national disaster, or some more localised disaster, but simply because the cold and unfeeling hand of officialdom stretched out and laid its grasp upon these poor and unoffending old men.
What happened at this stage was this. At the beginning of June the Barnet Guardians Committee were informed of an agreement between the Regional Hospital Board and the Hertfordshire County Council, who, of course, remain responsible in law for the old men, who are technically able-bodied, though having regard to the advanced age of some of them, there are no doubt things which can be and are done for them by the hospital out of the generosity of their spirit. As a result of this agreement between the Hertfordshire County Council and the Regional Hospital Board, who were due to take over the hospital on 5th July, and have now presumably done so, these eight old men, as the number then was, were to be moved from the Wellhouse Hospital at Barnet to the nearest county council institute which was at Ware, a distance of some 20 miles away.
Now, the Barnet Guardians—who have acted throughout in this matter in a way which would commend itself to the common sense and the common humanity, both of this House and of the wider community whom we represent—were strongly opposed to this compulsory transfer of these unfortunate old men, and they made their protest, as it was seemly and right that they should, both to the Hospital Board and to their Member of Parliament, the hon. Member for Barnet.
The hon. Member asks whether they made a protest to the Hertfordshire County Council who, he says, are "legally responsible" for looking after the eight old men. I am not quite sure at this stage whether they made a protest to the Hertfordshire County Council or not, but I draw the attention of the House to the very significant words the hon. Member used in his interruption. He said that the Hertfordshire County Council were "legally responsible" for the maintenance of these eight old men. I see that I am to have many interruptions from the hon. Member before I am through with this speech, but the phraseology of that interruption exactly typifies the whole mental attitude with which the hon. Member approaches this great human problem. His only concern is where the legal responsibility in this matter lies, and as a member of the hospital board he takes refuge behind that technicality and like the Levite of old passes by on the other side.
It is important to clear up the question of the authorities about which we are talking. The hon. Member is talking about the Barnet Guardians as though they were a body which had no connection with the Hertfordshire County Council. The responsible body is the Hertfordshire County Council, and the distinction which the hon. Member is trying to make is completely misleading. I hope he appreciates that he is making a distinction which is not a real distinction in law at all.
I hoped that I was bringing a measure of clarity to this matter, but if I have not succeeded so well with the Parliamentary Secretary as with other Members of the House, the House will no doubt draw its own conclusions as to the reasons for that. The position is that nobody disputes that the legal responsibility for these men, as they are technically able-bodied, rests with the Hertfordshire County Council as the appropriate authority. It was on this point that the Minister of Health tried to make the point at Question Time on 1st July, when he said that what in fact I was doing was to impugn the authority and the discretion of the democratically elected local representatives of the people. But that is not the point at issue here. The point is that the Hertfordshire County Council stated on 8th June that they were quite prepared for these old men to remain at Wellhouse Hospital; that they were writing to the Hospital Board, and that in their opinion the Hospital Board would have no objection to that.
And so it is misleading to try to pin the responsibility for this upon the Hertfordshire County Council, when the decision of the Board that these men could not stay at Wellhouse, was the operative decision that led to the necessary and incidental decision that, because they could not live there, the Hertfordshire County Council would therefore have to transfer them to the institution at Ware. Had the Board done what the county council wished them to do and suggested it was likely they would do, and had they allowed them in the first instance to remain where they were, then it follows that there could have been no reason for the compulsory transfer of these men to the county council institution at Ware. I am glad that the Parliamentary Secretary has brought this up, because it will be clear that his right hon. Friend distorted the issue—unfortunately not an unknown thing for him—at Question Time on 1st July. I had not intended to labour that point, because it is the Parliamentary Secretary who is here and not, unfortunately, the right hon. Gentleman.
That was the position on 8th June. A week later the guardians were informed that the hospital board were quite prepared to agree, and the hon. Member for Barnet said that he had consulted the chairman of the board, who I think I am right in saying is another Member of this House who sits on the Benches opposite, the hon. Member for South Tottenham (Mr. Messer), and that in fact the decision of the board was that these men should be removed before the appointed day, that is, before 5th July. I draw attention to that, and I again regret that the hon. Member for South Tottenham, like the Minister for Health, is not in his place today.
The hon. Member has said he regrets that the hon. Member for South Tottenham (Mr. Messer) is not here because of what he is going to say about him and then admits that he has not given the hon. Member notice to be here. Surely his experience of the House is sufficient for him to know how utterly improper that is according to the conventions of this House?
The hon. and learned Member knows as little about this matter as about some other matters on which he favours the House with his observations. I was proceeding to point out to him, in particular, and to the House, in general, that it was not necessary for me to inform the hon. Member for South Tottenham because I am not attacking him, but on the contrary—and the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) would have found this out if he had postponed, his ill-judged intervention for a moment or two—it was the hon. Member for South Tottenham who attacked me on 1st July when this matter was last before the House.
Was not the hon. Member for South Tottenham (Mr. Messer) present when the hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith) stated to Mr. Speaker that he would raise this matter on the Adjournment, and, therefore, has not the hon. Member for South Tottenham been informed as to the nature of the Adjournment?
I am very much obliged to my hon. Friend. That is quite true; the hon. Member was in the House. He attacked me on that occasion, and he knew that the matter was coming up today, and he ought to be here. As far as attacking the hon. Member for South Tottenham is concerned, the hon. and learned Member for Northampton is no doubt learned enough to recall the old French proverb:
I am only the wicked animal who defends himself when he is attacked.
The hon. Member for South Tottenham on that occasion tried to impugn the accuracy of the statement in my Question on this matter on the grounds that the regional board had no power whatever in this matter until 5th July. In the light of the circumstances as I have already explained them to the House, I would call that a highly disingenuous statement on the part of the hon. Member. When he
was saying that, he must have known that in his official position he expressed the view of the board that these men should be removed before 5th July.
On a point of Order. Here we have a flagrant attack upon the hon. Member for South Tottenham and a charge of having misrepresented facts of which he was aware. He has not been given any notice to be present. Is it in Order to make these attacks upon an hon. Member to whom no notice has been given?
I am much obliged to you, Mr. Beaumont, for your Ruling. So far as courtesy goes, the point has been clearly made by my hon. Friend the Member for South Edinburgh (Sir W. Darling). It should not be necessary in those circumstances to point out to the hon. Member for South Tottenham that I would refer to his part in this transaction, since he had already taken part on the previous occasion when this matter was brought before the House. The hon. and learned Member for Northampton who knows nothing about this matter at all, would serve the interests of the House in general and himself and his hon. Friend in particular if he refrained from misguided efforts to defend him in his absence.
Let us be quite clear about this. It is said that the hon. Member for South Tottenham was here when the hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith) gave notice to raise this on the Adjournment. Did the hon. Member for Hertford tell the hon. Member for South Tottenham that when he raised this on the Adjournment he was going to challenge the statement made by the hon. Member for South Tottenham and to say that he had deceived the House? That is the point and that is the attack which it is most improper to make without notice.
The hon. and learned Member plunges deeper into the mire. The criticism made by the hon. Member for South Tottenham on 1st July was that I was misleading the House and if the hon. Member for South Tottenham and the hon. and learned Member for Northampton think it is likely that I should let such a challenge pass unresisted then they have a very different idea of the conduct that is expected from a Member of Parliament from that which I have. On that I hope that the hon. and learned Member for Northampton will allow us to proceed with this matter, of which he knows nothing and in which his interruptions become ever more irrelevant and more unhelpful to the general business and procedure of the House. That was the position in June as between these bodies, the Hertfordshire County Council and the Hospital Board, and the poor, unfortunate eight men at Barnet.
Earlier the hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith) spoke about seven old men and later the number was eight. If the number is not now eight I would be obliged if the hon. Member would tell us whether one has now disappeared.
I do not think the story is involved or complicated. The hon. Member would no doubt have had no difficulty in following it had it not been for the distractions supplied by his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton. We are now at the end of June. In answer to the hon. Member for Spen Valley (Mr. Sharp) he came into the House after I started my speech. I had explained all that. At the time of which I am speaking the number was eight, but the number is now seven, because one of the old men has gone away and voluntarily taken his discharge to do a job of gardening. I explained that earlier, but I repeat it now for the benefit of the hon. Member.
In the last week of June the county council wrote to the Hospital Board suggesting that the old men should remain at Wellhouse for the time being, as the county council were not providing accommodation in the Barnet district. I want for a moment or two to come to the question of principle in this matter. So far as I can understand it, the opposition to these old men remaining in this place, which I say again was the obvious course, to anybody animated by the ordinary laws of common sense and common humanity, was based apparently on the principle that assistance and hospital functions should not be mixed together. In principle no doubt that is right and nobody challenges that as a matter of general principle. What I say to the House is, how can it be right in principle or in theory to evict and transport these seven old men against their will to an institution some 20 miles distant? That is to my mind the question of principle that arises in this case.
I said earlier that since I raised this matter originally in the House certain progress had been made along the lines of common sense and common humanity. The men have, in fact, not been moved from the Wellhouse Institution. The Hospital Board and the Hertfordshire County Council have, in fact, now agreed that the seven men should remain at Wellhouse pending the finding of other suitable accommodation, and the Hertfordshire County Council hope in due course to accommodate these men in a home for old people in Barnet, which is now being considered. What we do not know is how long it will take to provide this alternative accommodation. My information is that no very speedy results can be expected in this matter, and the hon. Member for Barnet will probably agree with me that it is likely to be a long time before this home for old people is established in Barnet. Therefore, it is my duty, in view of all the circumstances in, this case, to ask the Minister for a specific guarantee that however long this waiting period may be these men will not compulsorily be transferred against their will from Wellhouse to Ware.
On a point of Order. I would seek your guidance, Mr. Beaumont, because I can foresee difficulties later on. The hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith) is now asking me to give an assurance which I could not give, unless there were a change of law. I do not want later on to find myself in great difficulty on the point. I am not exaggerating when I say that I could not give the assurance for which I am now asked unless the law were changed.
If the hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith) could indicate how it can be achieved without any legislation he will be in order. If not, it is not permissible on the Adjournment.
I am grateful to the Parliamentary Secretary for raising the point which clarifies the position. The House and the country are by now pretty well aware of the limitations on Ministerial control and, therefore, Parliamentary control, over the various services and industries which have been set up or taken over by this Government during the progress of this Parliament.
The hon. Member must not misinterpret my words. I am talking about the County Council, and in no sense was my point of Order directed to the regional hospitals board. For the Regional Hospital Board I can speak in this House, but I cannot give an assurance for the County Council on matters which are within their statutory concern.
I am obliged to the Parliamentary Secretary, but I do not think we need anticipate from the Hertfordshire County Council any desire or intention to act in a way inimical to common sense and common humanity in this matter. I make no criticism of them. It is the Hospital Board whose attitude I call in question and it is their part in this matter which gives rise to concern. All I want from the Minister is his assurance that, in so far as it may be necessary, he will use his influence and persuasion to see that this thing does not happen. I will supplement that by saying that, if on any occasion it does happen or is likely to happen, I also shall use such powers of influence and persuasion—although, no doubt, in a lesser degree—as I may personally possess to see that it does not happen.
I must say a few words on the general principle arising out of the unhappy affair. In my view it should never have been necessary for me to have to come to the House to raise this matter. The hon. and learned Member, who knows very little about this matter, may say it was not necessary for me to do so; but it is more likely to be recognised as another sign of the enduring efficacy of our traditional method of Parliamentary ventilation of the grievances of the citizen, If this matter had not been brought up on this level, who is to say what would have been the future of these helpless and humble old men at Barnet? I hope that cases like this will not be typical of this brave new world into which we are alleged to have been introduced by the coming into operation of this Act on 5th July.
Here was a case clearly, by its nature, exceptional, temporary and non-recurrent; surely, in such a case it is not asking too much that regulations should be interpreted in the light of common sense and of common humanity. A fortnight ago the Minister of Health made that speech at Manchester to which so many references have been made. For myself I was not greatly concerned about his famous reference to "Vermin," which I took to be made in the ebullience of schoolboy abuse. It was the reference to the "deep burning hatred" in his heart that shocked and disappointed me. How much better it would have been if the Minister of Health was animated by a deep love of humanity and a deep desire to serve the community and those individual citizens who compose it, however humble and helpless they may be. For my part, I am indeed proud if, in however small a way, I have been able to assist the cause of these unfortunate old men.
The House will have listened with considerable surprise to the remarkable speech of the hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith). Hon. Members will have wondered what on earth he was talking about and why he should consider it necessary to address himself with such vigour to a problem which apparently had been completely solved. It is a usual courtesy of this House, before asking a Parliamentary Question about another hon. Member's constituency, to inform that other Member of such an intention—and a very pleasant courtesy it is. It is also a usual courtesy that, having asked a Question about another Member's constituency, one gives that other Member a chance to ask a supplementary question before putting an end to any further questioning by giving notice to raise the matter on the Adjournment. The hon. Member for Hertford, when he raised this matter in the House, did neither of these things—he neither notified me that he intended to raise a matter about my constituency nor, having asked the Question, did he give me a chance to ask a supplementary; he rose and announced that he asked permission to raise it on the Adjournment.
In view of those remarks may I ask two questions of the hon. Member for Barnet (Dr. Taylor)? First, is it, or is it not, his custom to read the Order Paper, and does he suggest that he suffered any disadvantage by not receiving notification of the original Question? Secondly, is it not a fact that the hon. Member did not rise in his place to put a supplementary till after I had given notice about the Adjournment, and does he not appreciate that I should not have given notice at that stage had he risen in his place after the original Ministerial answer?
Before I give way again—which I will certainly do as often as the hon. Member wishes—I must say that if ever I have had occasion—and it has not been very frequently—to raise matters in other Members' constituencies, particularly those of hon. Members opposite, I have invariably taken the trouble, in common courtesy, to notify the hon. Member concerned. We must begin to expect this kind of conduct from the hon. Member for Hertford, when he did not apparently bother to notify the hon. Member for South Tottenham (Mr. Messer) that he was going to attack him on this very Adjournment. He certainly did not bother to notify me that he had won the Adjournment, even although it concerned a matter in my constituency.
On the contrary, as usual, the hon. Member for Hertford is wrong. I asked him, in fact, whether he was intending to pursue this matter in view of the fact that the whole thing had been satisfactorily settled. I admit that thereby I showed that I would know about it, but he had made no effort whatever to notify me beforehand.
The hon. Member for Barnet was present when I notified my intention and, surely, he is able to read as well as anybody else the coming Business of the House. Surely he does not suggest that it is the duty of hon. Members to spend their time writing notes to each other upon matters of which they should be aware in the normal course of their Parliamentary duty.
That is precisely what I am suggesting. That is a common courtesy which obtains amongst hon. Members, at any rate of this side of the House.
The background to the story of these eight old men of Barnet is very interesting. Long ago, from 1834 until 1930, the Wellhouse Hospital, about which we have heard today, was administered as a Poor Law institution by the Barnet Board of Guardians. Then, in 1930, the Hertfordshire County Council, under the local Government Act of the previous year, took over the institution. It was then that the Hertfordshire County Council had the great opportunity of converting this institution into a proper hospital. I am sorry to say, particularly as at that time it was dominated by friends of the hon. Member for Hertford—although I am not surprised to say it—that they did not take the opportunity which this change in administration offered, and continued to administer it as a public assistance institution. They placed it under a Barnet Guardians Committee, which has continued in operation in charge of this hospital until 5th July.
The hon. Member has suggested a lack of humanity by the regional hospital board which, in fact, took over the administration of Wellhouse about only eight or nine days ago. I should like to show the hon. Member, in case he does not know, precisely the amount of humanity to the sick poor in Barnet which his party betrayed in the years leading up to the war.
Oh, yes. There is certainly a majority of Conservatives. There is no doubt about that at all. I must ask the House to allow me to continue. I have been fairly good in giving way, and I should like to develop my argument.
I was saying, just before the hon. Member's last interruption but one, that he had accused the regional hospital board of lacking humanity in the matter of these eight old men—the board whose administration of this hospital started just eight days ago. I therefore turn to the record of this hospital under its previous administration, under the Hertfordshire County Council, composed, let us say, of "Independents." I think there will be no doubt in this House, and in the country as a whole, who these people were who carried out the administration of hospital services, and more particularly the Well-house Hospital, of Hertford and of Barnet up to the war. For that quotation I turn to the Hospital Survey, prepared, as the hon. Member for Hertford, I hope, knows, by the Ministry of Health and the Nuffield Foundation during the war as
a kind of "Domesday Book" of the hospital services in this country. This is what the surveyors say:
County of Herts. During the pre-war years the population of the County was increasing particularly in the south-western area which was being drawn into the London suburban fringe. Hospital services did not keep pace with this development. The county council was content to rely on giving limited assistance to the voluntary hospitals and to refrain from developing any municipal service apart from the single Public Assistance hospital at Wellhouse, Barnet. The result has been to create a general deficiency of beds which is peculiarly acute in the Watford area, and a general shortage of specialist assistance, pathological services and other essential facilities. The chronic sick and fever accommodation are generally poor, maternity beds are inadequate. A vigorous drive for the development of a proper hospital service is urgently needed.
They are blaming the hon. Member. Is the hon. Member aware that on 23rd June the secretary of the Barnet and District Old People's Welfare Committee wrote to the Minister to say that these eight old gentlemen had spent many years in their present surroundings, that they were usefully employed, and that to move them at this stage would be tantamount to pronouncing death sentence upon them? Would the hon. Member come to the point as to whether or not he associated himself with the movement of these old men, which would be tantamount to a death sentence?
The hon. secretary of the Barnet and District Old People's Welfare Association, as far as I know and I have tried to ascertain, has never until now taken any interest in these eight old men. He has never visited them, so far as I am able to ascertain, and he is in fact relying on hearsay. I will willingly withdraw this, if I am wrong. The reason why there is this agitation will become apparent in a minute. I am not blaming the Barnet Guardians, who have acted with increasing humanity over the years. In fact the hon. Member for Norwich (Mr. J. Paton) has been a member of the Barnet Guardians, and so has the hon. Member for North Bradford (Mrs. Nichol). When my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich became a member of the Barnet Guardians he set out to try to exercise a liberal and reforming influence, and he found, I am pleased to say, that the Barnet Guardians were acting conscientiously in as liberal and generous a manner as the regulations permitted. It is also fair to say that the Barnet Guardians have had a continuous struggle to try and get any improvements done at the Well-house Hospital. The Hertfordshire County Council has, I am afraid, shown very great reluctance to spend any money at all on what is a disgraceful hospital building. I will willingly give way if I am wrong but I do not think the hon. Member for Hertford has visited the Wellhouse.
I thought he was speaking entirely from hearsay. If he had he would find that it is a very tragic and very terrible old building which should have been rebuilt long ago, by any standards at all.
I am coming to that. I wish to turn for a moment to how they got there at all. As the hon. Member for Hertford says, in 1939 the inmates of the Wellhouse Home, which was the euphemism for the public institution, were evacuated to Ware. Most of them went to Ware and some went to Middlesex. It depended on where they came from. This was done to clear the beds in the Wellhouse Hospital for possible air-raid casualties. The Guardians allowed these old fellows to stay on. This was done for several reasons. The first was that they had some slight value in doing odd jobs about the place. Let me say at once that they are not great ones for odd jobs. Who would be at 82? It is not fair to expect much from these old fellows, and that was not the prime purpose in allowing them to remain. No doubt there was an element of humanity in permitting them to remain because they had been there a long time. But equally there were old ladies and other people of whom that could be said. But the old men were allowed to remain, and the main reason, I think, was because the day room in which they lived could not possibly be used for hospital purposes. Indeed, anybody who has seen the dayroom in which the old gentlemen live would know it is a perfect relic of Dickensian times.
—and it may have been this that was in the mind of the hon. Member when he talked about Bumbledom and Barnet. I do not think it was a Labour Board of Guardians which was responsible for that particular bit of Bumbledom, if it occurred at the Well-house. At any event, the day room occupied by these old gentlemen is part of the old workhouse. It is a very attractive old room but its attraction arises from its age rather than anything else. It is not the last word in comfort but it is all right. In addition they occupied a very large dormitory intended for a great many more patients than in fact are in it now. Indeed the evidence of that is that there are now seven wash basins for seven old men. I have yet to see the public assistance institution where they provide a wash basin for each of the inmates.
No, I was delighted to find it, but I was just giving that fact as evidence that there was greater space than they needed. The final and most interesting reason of all is that there lived in the Wellhouse the old labour master of the public assistance institution, and it was felt that if these old men were moved, there would be nothing for him to do. I am not suggesting that it was the most substantial reason, but it was one of the reasons why they remained, to provide a job, for the old labour master, and it suited everybody that they should remain.
As the hon. Member for Hertford has said, one of these old men has discharged himself, and a very good thing for himself and everybody else. The responsibility for them lies quite definitely with the county council, who admit it, but are only too glad not to exercise it.
When the matter was first raised in May—the hon. Member was misinformed when he said it started in June—the guardians approached the county council and asked what could be done about these old people because it was obvious that they were healthy, and it was not the function of the regional hospital board to provide care for healthy people. The county council said they would have to take them into Ware institution, as they could not house them locally. When the guardians protested the county council replied, "You can treat them as technically sick and they can stay on in the hospital. It will be a regional board responsibility, and that will be that." It was a possible solution, but a highly unsatisfactory one, because the question of allowances, and so on, would then arise and might present all kinds of problems.
The guardians then approached the Regional Board and asked if the Board would stretch a point and retain them. The Regional Board were confronted with the difficulty that, when they looked at the Act, it appeared that if any national assistance cases were remaining in a hospital, those beds which they occupied appeared to be handed over to the county council for national assistance work indefinitely. Because of this situation, the regional board were most reluctant to say, "Yes, go ahead." If the regional board were to continue to exercise national assistance functions in the Wellhouse Hospital, then the outstanding job of trying to improve the Wellhouse Hospital would be seriously interfered with. I understand that as a result of further negotiations, the county council and the regional board have reached agreement. We are keeping on the old men for the time being but without prejudice to the future.
I must say a word about the future. The Parliamentary Secretary has spoken of the difficulty in which he finds himself as a result of not being able to give a 100 per cent. assurance about the county council responsibility without alteration in legislation. From the hospital point of view there are two points to be borne in mind. These old men occupy a large night ward. Their day room is quite useless for any practical purpose except that for which it is now used, otherwise it would speedily degenerate into a tool shed, or something of that kind. The dormitory they occupy is unusable as a hospital ward because a narrow staircase leads up to it. On the other hand, adjacent to it is a large dormitory which has been converted into flats or rooms for male nurses, and one of the successes of the Wellhouse has been the male nursing organisation which they have developed to try to cope with their nursing shortage. It is possible that it might be necessary to expand the quarters of the male nurses, and then it would be necessary in the public interest, if nothing else, that the night quarters occupied by the old men should be vacated.
Whether that happens or not, these old men are certainly full of beans. They are healthy, vigorous old chaps. One has lived to 85, and there is no reason why he should not go on for very much longer than that. One is 62, and there is no reason why he should not live until he is 85. Long before these old men have passed away, the Wellhouse Hospital will have to be rebuilt and the quarters where they are living must come down. It would be fantastic, as the hon. Member appears to seek to establish, that the regional hospital board should give some kind of pledge to provide accommodation in perpetuity, and to retain these old buildings simply because the county council has failed in its duty to provide other accommodation for the old men.
The House will have wondered how it was that the hon. Member for Hertford came into this picture. It has been revealed in the local paper. In fact the "Barnet Press" points out that the hon. Member for Hertford has been briefed by the new Conservative candidate in Barnet who is in a peculiar position inasmuch as his wife is a member of the Barnet guardians. That, presumably, explains the interest which the hon. Member for Hertford suddenly starts taking in my constituency.
Does the hon. Member really find it a matter of surprise that, where he is in this peculiar dual position of being both the Member of Parliament and an interested party as an officer of the regional board—
Yes—and as, therefore, his constituents cannot get satisfaction from him, does he think it peculiar that they should come to one of the two Members for the county who are not associated with his political way of thinking?
I must say I find it peculiar, particularly as there happen to be two Members of Parliament, albeit on this side of the House, who are ex-members of this Board of Guardians—I am not sure that one is not still a member. It is, I am afraid, a straight Conservative racket, an attempt to make propaganda out of the unfortunate situation in which these old men find themselves and which, I am pleased to say, by a little common sense has now been satisfactorily solved without the assistance of the hon. Member for Hertford.
Does the hon. Member think it improper that the wife of a person who happens to be a Conservative candidate, who herself is interested in public work, should take some interest in the old men of Barnet, especially when their Member apparently takes very little?
The part of it which was a racket was the misuse of the plight in which these old gentlemen found themselves by an attempt—forgive my saying it—to cast certain aspersions on the hon. Member for Barnet, who is having a very tough fight with his local Conservatives, and who are out to attack him in every possible way.
Could I ask my hon. Friend this question? He was described only a moment or two ago as an officer of this board. For the benefit of those hon. Members who are trying to follow this dispute as intelligently as possible, would he please say whether it is correct to describe him as an officer of the board?
It would indeed be improper for me to be an officer. I am a member of the board. It is only right that I should point out that we are not members of that board upon a geographical basis. Each of us is a member of the board as a whole, and it is our duty to serve the region as a whole, and not to represent either geographical interests or individual areas.
Is the hon. Gentleman proposing to raise a point of Order? I would remind hon. Gentlemen that we are not now in Committee, and that the hon. Member has already exhausted his right to speak.
Before this Debate took place I could not understand why the hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith) was going on with the Adjournment at all. In fact, the matter was quite satisfactorily settled some days ago, and several days ago I told the hon. Member how it had been settled. Since I have listened to the Debate, the purposes of the hon. Gentleman have become plain. So far as I can see, we get nothing out of this discussion except a certain amount of publicity, in which the hon. Gentleman so vulgarly delights.
The hon. Gentleman is always so self-righteous. He is always inclined to lecture us on how we should behave. I hope it is not outside Order today to refer to his own conduct in view 04 the way we usually behave in this House. First of all, he has attacked my right hon. Friend in circumstances in which I am sure, had my right hon. Friend been here himself, the hon. Gentleman would have lacked a certain courage.
Again, on a point of Order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I do not know the record of the Parliamentary Secretary, but I am not going to have my courage impugned in this House or elsewhere. I have given sufficient proof of courage I hope, at a time when I do not know how the Parliamentary Secretary was employed.
On a point of Order. If the hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith) is stating that I have never served, I would point out that in fact I was a Lieut.-Commander in R.N.V.R.
I was saying that the hon. Member has raised these points in a form which can only be calculated to convey an impression of shortcoming on the part of my hon. Friend the Member for Barnet (Dr. Taylor). When the matter was originally raised by way of question and answer, the hon. Gentleman referred to a
signal illustration of bumbledom in Barnet."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st July, 1948; Vol. 452, c.2370.]
The hon. Gentleman is always more interested in the sound of words than in what they mean, and he was no doubt pleased at the way in which they rolled off his tongue; but by using the words "bumbledom in Barnet" he was referring not to Hertfordshire and to its county council, although they were the responsible authority at the time, but to some body in Barnet, for he introduced the
word "Barnet." I know that the hon. Gentleman is supposed to be an expert on matters of local government but I would tell him, and ask him to believe, that all the time, over the whole of the period that we have been discussing, the Hertfordshire County Council have been responsible for these matters. That fact should be taken into account.
Let me also tell the hon. Gentleman, since he does not seem to be aware of it, that the Wellhouse Hospital is a mixed institution. Under the National Assistance Act, while the premises are transferred to and vest in the Minister of Health, the regional hospital board have an obligation laid upon them to provide accommodation in those premises, to the satisfaction of the Minister, for such of the persons there as are not in the category of sick persons. The county council, however, are responsible for these aged gentlemen. Any dispute about the accommodation at Wellhouse falls to be settled by the Minister of Health.
I am sorry if I am talking in elementary terms, but it is important to appreciate this position. If the hon. Gentleman had appreciated it I doubt whether he would have put some of the things he said in the way that he did. It will, therefore, be seen, if the hon. Gentleman has followed me, that it is not open to the regional hospital board to take any action to remove the seven old gentlemen—
No, it would not. It would be legally possible for the Minister of Health formally to determine any arrangement of the kind mentioned in the Schedule to the National Assistance Act, in each case, and the county council, being the authority responsible for the care of the men would have to make alternative arrangements. I can say that the Minister would not, in fact, formally bring to an end any such arrangements unless he were satisfied that suitable alternative arrangements had been made. I am talking now about accommodation. I am not talking about the responsibility for the men in question, as I indicated when I rose to a point of Order. The county, council is at any time free to move the men to other accommodation. That discretion on their part is not subject to any direction on the part of the Minister.
Therefore, I could not begin to give assurances upon that point, because the Minister is not the responsible authority. The county council is perfectly free and has complete discretion and is not open to any direction from the Minister. Therefore—if I am carrying the hon. Gentleman with me—so far as assurances go, if they are to be given they will, of course, have to be given by the county council. All I can say is to repeat what I put in the letter to the hon. Gentleman which is that I have been informed that the Board and the county council have agreed that the seven men may remain at Wellhouse, pending the finding of other suitable accommodation, and that the county council have in mind—although I would not rule out a move to other suitable accommodation—the provision of an old persons' home in Barnet.
In the same way, when the hon. Gentleman wants to take this matter on to a wider field and suggests that we must be careful to avoid difficulties of this kind in the country as a whole, again I am in no position to give an assurance. I would however say to the hon. Gentleman that I have a greater trust in our major local authorities than he has. I made it plain on the Committee stage of the National Assistance Bill that I have every confidence that the councils of the counties and county boroughs will carry out their responsibilities with care, and with careful consideration of the personal interests of everybody with whom they have to deal. I hold that view. I see no reason to suppose that the welfare authorities throughout the country will do other than discharge their new National Assistance functions in accordance with everything that I understand to be covered by "the voice of humanity," which was the phrase used by the hon. Gentleman in opening his speech.
Having said that, I would insist that whatever may have been the difficulties—and I do not deny that there were difficulties—the hon. Gentleman is wrong in supposing that at any point of time the legal responsibility resided with anybody other than the County Council of Hertfordshire. Therefore, while he may criticise the regional hospital board for wanting to acquire the premises without any able-bodied persons in them, he must not imply that the regional hospital board had any right to override the county council. He should also recollect that the county council were, after all, the parent body of the Barnet Guardians' Committee, which was really only a sub-committee.
No, I do not agree. I insist that the regional hospital board could not have moved the men without the consent of the county council. The county council have been responsible all the time. I am not criticising the county council in any way, for I think they wanted to help the regional hospital board in what I hope will be regarded as a commendable objective, namely that of getting rid of mixed institutions and having places that are wholly for the sick or wholly for the able-bodied. The hon. Gentleman must take it from me that, in fact, the county council could have had the last word at every point if they wanted to use it. We have already, I hope, settled the matter some days ago to the satisfaction of everybody concerned, and I have no reason to suppose that any more difficulties will be found in this case.
I am sorry that the matter should have been raised in the way it has been raised, and I deprecate the use of language about cases of this kind which can only inflame tempers and make matters extremely difficult for all the authorities concerned who, I believe, are trying to do their job as well as they can in somewhat difficult circumstances.
I am very sorry that hospital board business prevented me from hearing what has already been said in this Debate. I rise only to make one or two observations on the general approach to what is a very difficult problem. I occupy a peculiar position in that I am Chairman of the North-West Regional Hospital Board, and I am also Chairman of the National Old People's Welfare Committee. That sometimes places me in a very difficult position, because with all the desire that I have to improve the hospital service, I think it would be wrong if any steps were taken to improve that service at the expense of any unfortunate section of the community.
I have endeavoured, therefore, in the negotiations which have taken place, to carry with me the local authorities concerned in the contention that to suggest that the Board at any time had authority to deal with these old people is wrong. It is wrong because before 5th July it had no power whatever over those hospitals where there were also non-sick and, what is more, under the National Assistance Act the county council had the right of preserving those places in hospitals which were occupied by the non-sick. In any negotiations which have taken place between the Hertfordshire County Council and the Board, efforts were made to reach a decision which would be the least inconvenient to all concerned. Anybody who knows anything at all about hospital administration knows quite well that it is impossible to have the same standard of work in any hospital which is a mixed institution. Therefore, the whole aim is to have a hospital dealing with the sick, and suitable homes dealing with the non-sick.
When the Hertfordshire County Council discussed with the board what should be done in this case they assumed the responsibility for transferring these old people to a place which was some distance away, at Ware. It was evident that that was by no means the best solution to the difficulty, and later, therefore, the County Council considered it what way they could improve on their original intention. Then they agreed with the board that they would not claim their rights under the National Assistance Act of preserving these places, and the board, in their turn, gave an undertaking that they would permit these people to remain in Wellhouse Hospital until such time as the county council had been able to make arrangements which would have been more suitable than the original arrangements intended.
I hope that this new service will not be hampered by questions being raised on the Floor of the House which would create difficulties for those who have the task of dealing with this new institution. If the hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith) had cared to approach my hon. Friend the Member for Barnet (Dr. Taylor), or myself, not only would he have received all the information that he was seeking, but he would also have received an assurance that nothing would have been done, as far as the board is concerned, to make matters worse for these old people. I hope that in future other methods of approach will be adopted. If we are to achieve success in this service it will be in consequence of a measure of toleration and willingness to co-operate on the part of all concerned. It is not an easy job, and I hope most fervently that the job will not be made harder by the action of any hon. Member raising questions on the Floor of the House which might easily have been settled satisfactorily and harmoniously by private approach.
The Parliamentary Secretary and the hon. Member for South Tottenham (Mr. Messer) have attempted, successfully, to pour some oil on troubled waters. I follow the hon. Member for South Tottenham when he pleads for toleration and co-operation. It is interesting to hear pleas for toleration and co-operation from those who are now acting as the bravos of bureaucracy and the henchmen defending the Minister of Health. There were times in former history when toleration and co-operation might have been forthcoming, possibly to the greater advantage of mankind, of our own country and, indeed, of the hospital system itself.
Some observations have been made about the right of my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith) to raise this matter. I for one think that he has done a public service in raising it. That it is inconvenient to the henchmen of the Minister of Health I quite agree, because high expectations have been very properly placed by the public on this new health service, which was not entirely the creation of the Minister of Health but the creation of the commonsense of all political parties in the country. I can understand the irritation of those who claim this as their own doing, at the well-directed criticisms which my hon. Friend has made against them.
A number of other matters have been introduced, but they have not been introduced by my hon. Friend, who kept, I think, to the simple story. This is the simple story that the Parliamentary Secretary, with all his sweet reasonableness and knowledge of local government, has tended rather to overlook: seven of eight old men have been bandied about by bureaucracy, and that bureaucracy in all its crudities, cruelties and ineptitude is being defended by the Parliamentary Secretary, by the hon. Member for Barnet (Dr. Taylor) and the hon. Member for South Tottenham.
Here are seven or eight old men—let us also speak of the happy eighth, who has gone beyond the clutches of bureaucracy—who have existed in comparative peace and comfort over many years. It is true that we have had diverse accounts of their comforts. The hon. Member for Barnet perhaps thinks, like the Minister of Fuel and Power, that one bath every fortnight is sufficient. The hon. Member for Hertford says these men liked their accommodation. To use a phrase not often quoted in these days of housing reforms "Be it ever so humble there's no place like home"; to these old men this was home.
First one local authority suggested that they should go to Ware, and insisted that they should go there until they finally commanded the ear of an apparently disreputable person of verminous character—the wife of a respectable Conservative candidate. Another public authority had some other purpose for them, and the ultimate result—and this is a triumph not of bureaucracy, but of common decency and humanity for which the Parliamentary Secretary can take no credit—was that these old men, because the case was taken up so doughtily, are now still enjoying the seven basins and all the comforts and privileges of their home.
The hon. Member has told so many and confusing stories, with so much interruption, that I cannot be sure where he stands. What I shall always remember is his declaration that the seven old men should not have seven basins—coming from him as an important member of the regional board and one of the henchmen of the Minister of Health.
This has been a valuable discussion because, as the hon. Member for Hertford said, this House was not afraid to take up the case of the unfortunate, unhappy and abused old men—and whether they were abused by the Socialist Government, with its talk of the brotherhood of men or not, these men have been abused. The common sense of this country is sympathetic to old men, even old men like the hon. Member for West Ealing (Mr. J. Hudson); it is profoundly shocked to learn that these harmless old men, who were really doing no harm, even if they were doing very little good, have not even the comfort and care of the Socialist Government, this Government which, for a quarter of a century, proclaimed all these humanitarian principles.
It is quite clear that the Parliamentary Secretary, with late common sense, recognises the fact that in this difficult period of change-over the problem of the responsibility of one Department and another—the responsibility as between the two—has meant for these old men much unsettlement. They have been greatly disturbed, and I justify my words when I say that these old men have been bandied about. They have been through a period of great uncertainty, and now they are where they are I hope they will long live in the comfort they find quite congenial—in the house of seven basins so much derided by the hon. Member for Barnet, who seemed so inadequately to represent their views.
It is quite true that the regional board have made arrangements with the Hertfordshire County Council, but they have not done so as a matter of legalistic and bureaucratic interference. It has surely been done as a matter of humanity. I was sorry to learn from the hon. Member for South Tottenham, who is so interested in the management of hospitals, that this lack of con- sideration, this bureaucratic approach, is to be found throughout the whole of the newly-founded hospital system in this country. I know what he said is correct; these old men are there by the grace of the regional board, and the old men of this country will be delighted to learn that, Wherever they are, they are there by the grace of the hospital regional board. I do not like that, and I am sure the hon. Member for South Tottenham does not like it. I hope he will soon change it.