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National Health Service Employees (Dispute)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 19th November 1957.

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Photo of Mr Robert Mellish Mr Robert Mellish , Bermondsey 12:00 am, 19th November 1957

On a point of order. I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 9, to draw attention to a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely, the refusal of the Minister of Health to make any statement, or to take any action, on the position arising from the overtime ban which is now being applied to over 7,000 hospitals throughout Great Britain.

The reason I ask for this Adjournment Motion, Sir, is because yesterday, you will remember, there was a Question to the Minister of Health on this matter, which was not reached. You ruled, quite rightly, that at time you saw no urgent public importance, and we anticipated that the reply of the Minister would deal with the point anyway. But if you look in HANSARD, Sir, you will find that his reply was to the effect that he was not proposing to make a statement on this matter.

On the issue as to whether it is of urgent public importance, the fact is that this ban started yesterday, that every hospital in the country is affected, and that every hour the ban is on will mean that the position is worsening. It is imperative, therefore, that Parliament should know from the Minister of Health what action is to be taken on this all-important matter. I beg of you, Mr. Speaker, in the absence of any action by the Minister of Health, to allow us to discuss the matter now and compel the Minister to tell us what his proposals are.

Photo of Mr William Morrison Mr William Morrison , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

I could not find that as coming within the Standing Order. It has been ruled in the past that the refusal of a Minister to make a statement is not a ground for moving the Adjournment of the House under this Standing Order. The hon. Member and I have no difference at all as to the importance of the matter which he is raising, but in my view it is not yet opportune. I cannot find it within the Standing Order.

Photo of Mr Robert Mellish Mr Robert Mellish , Bermondsey

Of course, Sir, I understand that this is your Ruling and it is improper for me to question that, but when does a matter of this character become urgent? Has a hospital to fall down? Has it to stop completely? The point is that the longer the ban goes on, the worse will be the problem. When does it become urgent?

Photo of Mr William Morrison Mr William Morrison , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

The hon. Member is raising a lot of hypothetical questions. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I could not answer the question in that way. We must abide events, and if a situation arises which justifies something of that kind, I will, of course, form another opinion.

Photo of Mr Arthur Blenkinsop Mr Arthur Blenkinsop , Newcastle upon Tyne East

Further to that point of order, Sir. I wonder whether you could advise hon. Members whether there is any means by which we can secure the kind of statement from the Minister of Health that we are used to hearing from a Minister when there is a dispute. Can you at least suggest a way in which we can persuade the Minister of Health to tell us what action he is taking? Even if it is not a matter that can come up under Standing Order No. 9, surely it is one for the House to be seized of. Is there any method by which the House can protect itself against the determination of Her Majesty's Government to say no word about it?

Photo of Mr William Morrison Mr William Morrison , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

It is not for me to answer that. No doubt what has been said has been heard. If an occasion arises when a statement should be made, I have no doubt that the Minister will make one, but there is no way that I can tell whereby what the hon. Member wants can be done. The hon. Member can try his hand at Questions in Parliament, he can take advantage of an Adjournment debate at a later stage, but the view I have formed is that this ban started only yesterday and that everybody knew it would take place. Personally, speaking entirely without bias, I would rather wait until we have a little more experience of what is happening before we divert ourselves from the Orders of the Day for a matter of this kind.

Photo of Mr Robert Mellish Mr Robert Mellish , Bermondsey

Then, if I am in order, may I give you notice, Sir, that I intend each day to raise with you this question until we get the Minister of Health on his feet?

Photo of Mr Charles Hale Mr Charles Hale , Oldham West

Further to that point of order, Sir. May I respectfully suggest to you the dilemma which now faces private Members? Here is a matter which no one doubts is a matter of grave public importance and about which there is widespread public indignation. If the Minister refuses to answer a Question, there is no point in putting Questions down. If the Leader of the House consistently refuses to find Parliamentary time for the discussion of Motions in the names of private Members, we have no remedy by putting down a Motion.

If we cannot adopt the procedure under Standing Order No. 9, it means that the rights of this House are being frustrated at a time when no Supply Days are available for the Opposition and, therefore, no facility whatever is available, all being concentrated in the hands of a Government who themselves, being under censure, decline, contrary to the long tradition of the House, to find Parliamentary time for discussing what is a Motion of censure upon the Minister.

Photo of Mr William Morrison Mr William Morrison , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

In the past, when difficulties of that kind have arisen, it has always been found possible, through the usual channels, to arrange a debate. In the past, we have managed to get on with such opportunities of interrogation as lie in the hands of the Opposition and hon. Members generally. Unless there is a definite proposal to alter our rules, I must abide by them.

Photo of Mr Hugh Gaitskell Mr Hugh Gaitskell , Leeds South

I am sure you will appreciate, Sir, that the suggestion you have made, that arrangements might be Made through the usual channels, is not quite so applicable at this time of year when the Opposition have no time, though, naturally, we would be glad to pursue the matter and hope for a response from the Government. In the meantime, would you be prepared to accept a Private Notice Question on this matter tomorrow?

Photo of Mr William Morrison Mr William Morrison , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

We will see what happens. I understand that there is an opportunity for the Opposition.