In that case, the proposal is wholly admirable and I shall support it.
One can think of many other matters on which one would wish to question the Minister. For example, if the Post Office, by using its licensing powers, began discriminating against private local mobile radio schemes and wished to extend its monopoly into this sphere, would I be entitled to ask the Minister why licences were being refused to a group of doctors?
In that case, the new Clause is equally admirable and I will support it.
In Committee we spoke at length about the monopoly powers of the Corporation and I instanced a variety of cases in which difficulty might occur, including data processing and pipelines. I hope, if the new Clause becomes law, that we shall be able to keep an eye on matters of this kind and question the Minister.
We should not forget that it would be relatively easy for a Minister who did not want to answer Questions to claim that all of these matters came within the day-to-day administration of the Post Office. I do not know how the sponsors of the new Clause would get round that one.
I hope that that will be so, although it is a forlorn hope. I put some better propositions in Committee. I regret that the hon. Member for Putney did not support me then. A forlorn hope is better than no hope, and I will, therefore, support his proposal.
Will not the words
… other than those of day-to-day administration
take the steam out of the new Clause and reduce the ability of the new Minister to answer Parliamentary Questions to the ability which Ministers at present have in respect of other nationalised undertakings?
Most other undertakings either produce or manufacture. Different Questions will arise through the operation of this Corporation, because the new Post Office will be providing consumer services, involving the organisation of mail, the telephone service and other essential items in the lives of every citizen. One cannot, therefore, make a strict comparison between those sort of services and the functions performed by other publicly-owned basic industries.
It would appear that if one were anxious to raise a Question under the present Clause one would ask for a general direction. It could be illogical and in some cases foolish, but it would be done so that the Question could be accepted by the Table and a supplementary question could be asked. I do not think the proposed Clause helps very much. I might wish to raise a Question about mail from a soldier in Cyprus, who asked that it should be delivered intact to a constituent, being interrupted. I would not be able to ask a Question about that under this Clause.
Once we indulge in the extension of enterprise there is a lack of public accountability whether we like it or not. We are giving the Executive more power and still more power. The danger is the growth of the Executive and the development of remote control.
That is true, Mr. Speaker, but this Clause would mean that I would no longer be able to ask Questions, for example, about the development of delivery of 4d. mail as I can at the moment. We are giving more power to the Executive whether we like it or not. This is disturbing and it makes it more difficult to bring about a democratisation of certain services administered from this House. It is on those lines that the Bill should develop. If I thought this Clause was necessary I would be happy to support it, but, like the hon. and gallant Member for Down, South (Captain Orr), I have doubts about it.
It may be argued that it is better than nothing, but I cannot see any great difference between the Clause and the existing opportunity afforded to hon. Members to put Questions about the nationalised industries.
If I have to ask for a general direction, whether it be the coal, steel or electricity industry, or to get to know something about the operation of the new Post Office Department, I cannot see that there would be any difference in practice. I am expressing my views which are based on apprehension. The apprehension is lack of democratisation in administering services from this House. This is to be deplored and regretted. I hope my right hon. Friend will try to give us some hope that he intends to introduce a greater degree of public accountability for this service than that which operates for the others at present.
This little debate on the new Clause seems to me to be a considerable Parliamentary occasion. I have been much moved by the words of the proposers of the new Clause in looking back through the history of other nationalised corporations, and regretting what has been done in allowing the House to be deprived of its right to inquire into publicly-owned corporations to any degree. The hon. Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg) expounded this with great ability, and I heartily endorse his sentiments.
The constituents whom I have the honour to represent are quite unable to understand how it is that a Member of Parliament should not be allowed to inquire on their behalf into the maladministration, mistakes or whatever that go on in the corporations already nationalised. Without being patronising, I would say that the hon. Gentlemen who have spoken have seen the light on this matter. I could not sufficiently praise their courage in doing so, especially on a day when the Whips will be replaced by scorpions. I give them my warmest support, and again commend their political courage in putting the new Clause forward.
But I join other hon. Members in questioning why they did not go the whole distance and include day-to-day business. I suppose that they were got at even by the relatively easy régime that has existed on the other side of the House until now, and therefore flinched from including it.
I am convinced that the House will come to regret it most bitterly if the Government do not take the opportunity so ably provided for them as a partial get-out from the awful jam Governments, Oppositions and hon. Members always find themselves in when they set up a nationalised corporation. I plead with the Minister to allow the new Clause to be accepted. I know that it goes against the doctrines that have ruled hitherto in the party opposite, but many doctrines that hitherto applied to the Labour Party have been abandoned in the past few years, and this is one which would be unwept if it were abandoned. I plead with the Government to accept the new Clause because I believe that every Member of Parliament and every voter sincerely wants this to happen.
I shall not comment on what the hon. Member for Gosport and Fareham (Dr. Bennett) said about Whips and scorpions, except perhaps to remind him that in the original which he had in mind the threat to chastise with scorpions turned out in practice to be an empty one.
I humbly accept your correction, Mr. Speaker.
The hon. and gallant Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) asked what the purpose of the new Clause is. My answer, in the hallowed phrase, is that its purpose is the avoidance of doubt, because all that it seeks to do is to apply to the new Corporation the answerability to the House which applies to every existing public Corporation.
Now I have an answer to the hon. Member for Gosport and Fareham and my hon. Friend the Member for Coat-bridge and Airdrie (Mr. Dempsey), with whose speech I largely agree, who wanted to know why we put in the phrase
… other than those of day-to-day administration.
If we had not, we should have been asking for a greater degree of accountability to the House on the part of the new Corporation than is given to it, with the agreement of both sides of the House, by the Railways Board, the Steel Corporation, the Gas Council and all the rest. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why not?"] I agree—why not?
I have never believed in autonomous public corporations and I am not being wise after the event. I opposed the thing from the first stage in 1942, when the concept was first delivered, fathered by Herbert Morrison out of the body of the General Council of the T.U.C., or vice versa—it is not for me to say who was the father or the mother. But between the two they hatched it up and sprang it on the Labour movement, and I have opposed it since then.
Nevertheless, both Labour and Conservative Governments since then—and this House without real demur—have accepted that the nationalised industries should be run by public corporations with a certain degree of autonomy which included relieving them of the obligation of having to account through the Minister to this House for their day-to-day administration.
I am with my hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie in that I would be happier if the words he referred to were left out. But if they had been my right hon. Friend could well have said two things. First, he could have asked, "Why are you asking that this Corporation should be more answerable than the House has ever demanded of other corporations?" It would have been a good question and difficult to answer. Secondly, he could have said, "If you include answerability to the House on day-to-day administration you will gravely interfere with the ability of the Corporation to operate on a commercial basis." That I would not have been so quick to accept, but it is precisely what the House has always accepted.
Therefore, if these words had been omitted, my right hon. Friend could easily have demolished the new Clause and, of course, we do not want him to demolish it, so we included them in order to make crystal clear that we want the Corporation to be responsible to the House, although no more and no less than the British Railways Board, the British Steel Corporation, the National Coal Board and the other corporations.
The hon. Gentleman may be making it difficult for the House later on. Does he suggest that, if new Clause 6 is not accepted but voted down, we shall not be able to ask Questions of the same type as in the case of the other corporations? If he is going to accept that in order to get the Clause through, we might be more inhibited later on than we would be otherwise.
The hon. Gentleman has, characteristically, anticipated the point. If all we are seeking to do by this new Clause is to lay down for the Corporation what has grown up by custom and practice and the gentle dictates of the Table to be the behaviour of the House towards the other corporations, and if we are doing no more than apply to this new Corporation what applies to the others, hon. Members may well ask, "Why do we have to spell it out in words?" They could also argue that, if the new Clause had never been introduced they could have continued their practice in every way.
My answer to that is simple. We do not even know yet what Minister is going to be the sponsoring Minister for this Corporation. We do not know whether he is going to be in this House or in another place. We do not know whether, in the default of the thing being spelt out, someone might not try to read something in the Bill which would give ground for a lower accountability of the Corporation to the House than the other corporations have got.
That was why we spelled it out, for the avoidance of doubt. The original series of nationalisation Acts of which, in respect of relations between the Corporation, the Minister and Parliament, this is a pretty faithful copy, were not clearly written—that is the series from 1940 to 1950. Looking at those Acts we will not find a clear or complete acceptance of the matters hon. Members can press a Minister on. The very term "day-to-day administration" is pretty imprecise.
What has happened in the last 20 years is that in their wisdom, various Speakers have given advice, and the Table has built up a good body of case law, amended from time to time. Some Questions are now admitted to Ministers about public corporations which would certainly not have got past the Table in 1951 or 1953. Like all good laws, the administrators have sensibly varied and amended it to keep up with the needs of the times. We have now reached the situation when a lot of Questions are asked about what might even be called day-to-day administration in the public corporations, and we get away with it.
My experience, which is longer than the hon. Gentleman's, is that most Questions are answered if the Member who asks them is persistent and clever enough to ensure that he gets an answer. That applies to some hon. Members; I do not know whether it applies to the hon. Gentleman. We get a lot of these Questions on the Order Paper, and the House gets a lot of information about the administration, including some aspects of day-to-day administration. As is the way here, we have rubbed along and found a good practical modus operandi. We do not entrench too far upon the limits of order and the Ministry does not entrench too far in its claims of invulnerability for a public corporation.
We are seeking to see that the Post Office shall be no different from the Coal Board or the British Steel Corporation in that regard. If anyone asks, "Why spell it out?" it is for the avoidance of doubt. I hope that this deals with those like my hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie who think that we have not gone far enough. I rather suspect that my right hon. Friend thinks that we have gone too far—there is a little niggle at the back of my ear lobe which leads me to think that he will not accept the new Clause.
If he does not it can only be because he thinks it goes too far. It would not surprise me if he said that the Government cannot accept it because they cannot tie the hands of the Corporation, they cannot do anything that will prevent it doing its job as a good commercial organisation. If he says that, my question is: how does the British Steel Corporation carry out its job as a good commercial organisation, because it is subject, no more and no less, to the same Parliamentary accountability as is contained in the new Clause? How does the Coal Board operate as a commercial organisation?
Any attempt to resist the new Clause would be an attempt to create a greater freedom from public accountability for this Corporation than for any other corporation. That being so, whilst I hope that my prophecy, not for the first time, turns out to be wrong and that the Minister will accept the new Clause, if he does not do so, I hope that my hon. Friends will press it as hard as they can.
The new Clause has furnished the crucial debate of the whole Bill, and has attracted some notable contributions, particularly from my right hon. Friend the Member for Flint, East (Mr. Birch), the hon. Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg), whom we are glad to see back, and not least the hon. Member for Poplar (Mr. Mikardo). The hon. Gentleman, whose expertise on the nationalised industries is unique in this House, told us that he disapproved of autonomous corporations, but in doing so he gave me the feeling one has when reading an article in one of the juicier Sunday papers on the terrible conditions of vice to be found in certain quarters of the world. There seems to be a parallel between the hon. Gentleman's deep and abiding interest in the nationalised industries which cancels his dislike, and the way in which the reporter on the seamy side of Singapore is able to stifle his natural instincts of disgust to bring the good news to those at home.
I am puzzled by the Clause because, if we accept it, I wonder whether all our labours on the Bill in this House, going back for many months, and for years with the Post Office, have any value. Why bother to change the Post Office into a public corporation? What is the advantage, unless we attract to its service the sort of people whom autonomous corporations are now seeking to employ and to whom they are offering great rewards?
The Postmaster-General described himself as being the chief executive of the Post Office for the time being. The time will come when he will become Chief Whip and someone else will have to do the job, and a reasonable solution would be to have somebody who did it on a semi-permanent basis.
I cannot help thinking of the evidence which the hon. Member for Poplar was so active and industrious in getting and which formed the basis of the main report of the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries last year. In Committee I quoted the evidence of Lord Heyworth, an eminent businessman and Chairman of Unilever Ltd., given before an earlier Select Committee but quoted in paragraph 786 of Cmnd. 371:
If people came to look at everything I did in a year after the events, the shareholders would be horrified because they would see that sonic of my decisions were quite wrong. The more I felt that someone was looking over my shoulder all the time and was going to examine these things at any time later, the less I would be inclined to take a decision, the less
decisive I would become, and pretty well certainly the less good would be the results."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee D, 4th March. 1969; c. 971.]
There has been much talk by the sponsors of the new Clause about public accountability. It was in that spirit that my hon. Friends and I moved during the Committee stage an Amendment suggesting that what was desirable was an efficient audit of the Post Office. I believe that if our Amendment had been accepted, a high degree of public accountability would have been attained, and we should not at this late stage be seeking to reintroduce it by a form of words which, whatever else it is, is certainly unacceptable to the Parliamentary draftsman.
If one wants accountability, I do not think Question and Answer in the House of Commons produces the sort of accountability which is of any real use. It simply discourages from taking executive posts in the organisation the sort of people whom the Postmaster-General is seeking to attract.
The hon. Member for Poplar made the point that acceptance of this Clause would put the Post Office on an exact par with the other nationalised industries and that they would have to furnish as much as or as little information as the other nationalised industries have to furnish. I feel that we get a reasonable amount of information on the other nationalised industries. It was felt that the desire to make the Post Office, a public service, into an autonomous corporation was partly based on the feelings of Lord Heyworth which I have quoted that Members of Parliament were breathing down the back of his neck.
I find myself in the difficult position that I have found the hon. Member for Poplar an admirable chairman. I follow his views closely, and on the whole he is probably right. If the effect of the Clause is simply to put the Post Office on a par with the other nationalised industries, it would be right to support the Clause. I know that the right hon. Gentleman is sensitive—whether in the lobes of his ears, I do not know—to the noises which are made behind him, but I would encourage his hon. Friends to press on with their Amendment. It will certainly get substantial support from this side of the House. I feel that it might have the result of putting on the Statute Book something which, however good the Minister's intentions, the Parliamentary draftsman would not wear.
The new Clause touches upon a fundamental principle of public ownership as we on this side of the House understand it: that an industry which has been taken into public ownership, or created directly by the State, should at all times be accountable to the House.
My hon. Friends for Barking (Mr. Driberg) and Poplar (Mr. Mikardo) have outlined the discussions which went on for many years in the Labour Party. I have always supported the view which they have advanced, which in those days we used to call the Bevan form of public ownership, as opposed to the Morrison form of public ownership. We should take the view of Aneurin Bevan that any form of public ownership should have the maximum accountability to the House of Commons, to the people whom this House represents. I still think that this is a very valid argument.
I am grateful for the intervention. I hope that my right hon. Friend will take notice of it because I have something to say in a few moments which is particularly relevant to his conscience.
It is on this issue of public ownership that so many of us feel strongly. We have had divisions of opinion on both sides in Committee. Hon. Members opposite have rushed to our assistance to ensure that there is proper public accountability for the nationalised industries. At the same time, they consider that there should not be too much investigation into the activities of the great monopolies. We on this side of the House have always argued that a great industry in private hands which forms a massive monopoly is anti-democratic. But the same can be said of such a monopoly if it is taken into public ownership and there is no accountability.
As I see it, the consultative councils have been pretty hopeless, and if my right hon. Friend proposes to argue later on that something similar is to be established in respect of the Post Office he need not bother, because what has been done along these lines in other industries has been a complete failure—[Interruption.] Before hon. Gentlemen opposite cheer too loudly, let me remind them that, while they approve of public accountability in the House of Commons, they are not too sure about appointing a number of Ministers to effect public accountability. They even oppose the principle of giving the responsibility to my right hon. Friend or his equivalent when the changeover occurs. They fall into the trap of complaining about the powers of those whom they call faceless civil servants but not being prepared to agree to Ministers being appointed to ensure that a public industry is accounted for properly in this House.
I must support the new Clause unless my right hon. Friend's explanation satisfies me that what is envisaged in it will take place when the Bill is finalised in any event. In reply to a similar debate in Committee, my right hon. Friend said:
There will also be ample opportunity for Members to raise Questions on the Floor of the House, and these will be answered in the same way as that in which my right hon. Friend the Minister of Power, for instance, or the Minister of Transport replies on the Floor of the House. I do not think that hon. Members need have any doubt at all that Members of the House of Commons will find some way if they have serious points to raise on behalf of their constituents, of cross-examining the Ministers responsible. That will continue to be the case."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee D, 3rd December, 1968; c. 138.]
I go along with what my right hon. Friend said in that observation, but I am at variance with him when he speaks of hon. Members finding some way of questioning Ministers, because I do not think that is satisfactory. A straightforward method by which Ministers are answerable to the House should be clearly laid down. I am not sure, for example, that I welcome the idea of a Minister of Power. I would prefer to see a Minister responsible for the gas industry, another responsible for the electricity industry, and so on. I believe that this is the real essence of public accountability.
In this context I part company with many right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite. While they echo our aspira- tions about the principle of public accountability, many of them in Committee have said that they cannot support the idea of having a number of Ministers to make public accountability effective. Therefore, I hope that my right hon. Friend, when he replies, will be able to go a little further than he did in Committee and say that he will take cognisance of the serious misgivings which have been expressed from this side of the House. I am willing to acknowledge that perhaps some of those misgivings might not have been expressed in such totality if many of my hon. Friends had been aware of the passage to which I have just referred. At the same time, I do not believe that we have ever reached a sensible method of public accountablity in the publicly-owned industries, and we ought not to build into a new industry some of the failings and faults which exist in those industries.
I believe that new Clause 6 will make a great contribution to ensuring that we do not commit some of the errors which we have made in previous forms of public ownership. Here is a first-class opportunity for my right hon. Friend to remove the doubts which many of us have that the public accountability which now exists is insufficient and that future public accountability will take cognisance of those failings by making them good in this legislation for the creation of a new public corporation.
Having been able to exercise such a nice discrimination in the selection of my audience, I will proceed.
Indeed, we also support the observations of the hon. and gallant Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) about the possibility of going further concerning the accountability to this House of the revised Post Office.
In giving this support, I remind the Postmaster-General, if he needs reminding—which I doubt—that we have supported him on the Bill in general. We have taken the view that the Civil Service kind of establishment, in the ordinary sense, is not a proper body to administer things like the national giro and the data processing service or to run the kind of enterprise which modern systems of telecommunications require. We have at every stage expressed anxiety on this point. We believe that a major problem facing politics in this country, which has not been solved by this Government, by their predecessors, or, I acknowledge, by the Liberal Party, is: how do we organise and administer large-scale enterprises so as to preserve some sense of public service, introduce an element of competition and at the same time, retain some element of public accountability?
This is an immense problem. I say, without hesitation, that the nationalised industries have not answered it. Nor, I hasten to add, have the big private undertakings. Therefore, we must think of some new way of constructing and administering these large-scale organisations. I hope that in carrying out what is in a sense an experiment in the reorganisation of the Post Office, we shall think of new ways of doing this, and, in particular, of new ways of introducing this element of accountability.
In reply to my intervention the hon. Member for Poplar (Mr. Mikardo) appeared to suggest that the present system was satisfactory. He said that I had not been in the House for very long, but I must tell him that during the time that I have been in the House he has not been here very often. The hon. Gentleman went further and said that one gets good answers to Questions. I remind the hon. Gentleman that I read HANSARD diligently, and I notice that he has asked very few Questions on this or any subject during the last three years. The hon. Gentleman referred to the arrangements made way back in 1942 by Mr. Herbert Morrison, and no doubt they were as he outlined them, but I must tell the hon. Gentleman that his knowledge of what goes on now is not as great as mine.
The hon. Gentleman is learning quite fast. He will eventually learn that there are much more sophisticated ways of getting information from Ministers than by putting down Questions.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, because that leads me to my next point. The hon. Member for Walsall, South (Sir H. d'Avigdor-Goldsmid) said that it was not just a question of Parliamentary Questions, that there were other ways of getting information, and indeed that we ought to preserve certain other rights. My experience has been that where it is assumed that Questions on matters of day-to-day management cannot be answered, Ministers will not answer letters on those matters. I have received many letters dealing with matters relating to the British Railways Board in which I have been told that the Minister cannot deal with the issue I have raised because this is a matter of day-to-day management and not a matter of general policy.
The hon. Gentleman says that, but there have been complaints about this from hon. Members on both sides of the House. If there is a convention about the admissibility of Questions on the Floor of the House, this seems to govern the willingness or otherwise of Ministers to answer queries raised in correspondence and by other means. I accept what the hon. Member for Poplar says as a result of his great experience, his great age and length of tenure in this House, and I shall follow his advice, for which I am grateful, but it is my experience that the degree of accountability to this House of various boards, and the British Railways Board in particular, is inadequate. It may be adequate for the hon. Gentleman, but I do not believe that it is adequate for the House. I believe that the present degree of accountability will not be adequate in respect of the Post Office. I hope that the new Clause will do something to ensure that it is not less adequate than it is in respect of the organisation to which I have referred.
I agree that we ought to go even further than it is proposed to go in this Clause. There is a precedent worth following in the arrangements for answering Questions about the National Health Service. This is one sphere in which we are not inhibited in the kind of Questions that we can ask. I have no reason to believe that this arrangement in any way interferes with the working of the hospitals or the administration of the National Health Service, and I should like to see us following that pattern, which goes further than the proposal of the hon. Member for Putney.
I am surprised to find that my general support for the Clause has been repudiated by some hon. Members on both sides of the House, but it is still there, and I hope that we shall get a favourable reply from the Postmaster-General.
I agree with a great deal of what was said by the hon. Member for Cheadle (Dr. Winstanley). The hon. Gentleman is clearly interested in the nationalised industries. That being so, I am surprised that he does not know that my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar (Mr. Mikardo) is Chairman of the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries, and that he has put in an enormous amount of work on that Committee and produced with his colleagues some reports which have been invaluable to hon. Members on both sides of the House, even if he has not been in the Chamber to put down Questions as often as the hon. Member for Cheadle would have desired.
I acknowledge that. I am aware of the debt that we owe the hon. Member for Poplar in this respect. I have read the Select Committee's Reports and benefited from them. I merely commented on the narrow point of my intervention about the admissibility of Questions and the satisfactoriness or otherwise of getting answers to them. That was all.
I regret that I have not had the benefit of hearing the whole of the debate, but I heard the tail end of the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mr. Dempsey). I agree very much with what he said. I regret that my hon. Friends who have put down the new Clause have sought to exclude accountability for day-to-day matters.
The hon. Member for Walsall, South whose speech I heard, said that Lord Heyworth found it a disadvantage to have people looking over his shoulder. When the hon. Member quoted Lord Heyworth, I was reminded at once of the late Herbert Morrison, because when I first entered the House of Commons—with my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and other colleagues, on both sides—that was precisely the argument that Herbert Morrison used to persuade us to divorce the public corporations from day-to-day accountability to the House of Commons.
Herbert Morrison said that the managers of the nationalised industries ought not to be looking over their shoulders at Members of Parliament. I remember very well how he said, "We do not want the managers of the nationalised industries to be Civil Service-minded. We want the thrusting, adventurous people who are imaginative." And so we got General Sir Brian Robertson and a whole galaxy of people from the Army, from the Navy or, sometimes, from private industry.
At that time I was inclined to agree with the advocacy of Herbert Morrison, but after a short experience, after nationalisation of the coal industry—
—I came to the conclusion that we suffered two acute disadvantages from the system that the Labour Government embarked upon in those days. On the one hand, the nationalised industries were exposed to the misrepresentation of the Press, and sometimes of hon. Members opposite—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro) was not here at that time.
The hon. Member did not come until later. He has certainly made up for it since, but he was not here at that time. I regret it, because the place would have been livelier had he been here.
At that time, we realised that the newly-nationalised industries suffered from the disadvantage, on the one hand, of misrepresentation, as I, at least, and some of my hon. Friends saw it, by organs of the Press, and equally, as one learned from one's constituents, by certain bureaucratic practices on the part of a quite low level of manager in the nationalised industries. Therefore, we had twin disadvantages. We could neither expose the lies or misrepresentation about the nationalised industries, nor could we expose the bureaucracy on behalf of our constituents.
My hon. Friend the Member for Poplar asked why we should treat this piece of public ownership differently from the other public corporations. That is not a very revolutionary sentiment. I should have thought that the experience that my hon. Friend has had, along with me, in the House of Commons would have led him to say that we want to go a little further and that we want, indeed, day-to-day accountability.
Thinking about this over the years that I have been in the House of Commons, trying to deal with constituency trivialities, as we all have to deal with them from time to time, affecting nationalised industry, I have realised that it has caused the utmost irritation to our constituents. I am embarrassed at mentioning this, because of its triviality, but some years ago in Manchester the railway management insisted that access to a certain station forecourt would be allowed only to a certain number of licensed taxi drivers in the city who were also licensed by the Railways Board. When those taxis were not on the rank, as frequently happened, passengers arriving in inclement weather, which is sometimes associated with Manchester, had to walk down an unprotected access to the station to try to hail a taxi several hundred yards away. A letter to the Minister did no good; I agree with the hon. Member for Cheadle about that. When I tried that, I was told by the then Minister of Transport that it was a matter of day-to-day administration and that he would pass my letter on to the Railways Board. Similar situations existed in Leeds and Liverpool. A deputation of Members attended upon the head of British Railways and asked him to end this absurdity. Even then, our request was not acceded to.
I was advised that the Minister had taken responsibility in the original Act for a certain old Railway Act. I discovered, because of the Minister's researches and the advice he gave me, that it was possible to table a Question. Though the Table and the Minister had originally said that it was not possible, in the end I tabled a Question. It may have been coincidence and nothing to do with my advocacy or that of hon. Members on both sides who had gone to see General Sir Brian Robertson, but this situation was ended almost immediately. It should have been swept away in a gale of laughter long before that.
What opportunities do hon. Members have, therefore, to deal with what may appear to be trivia but are, in fact, matters of immense importance to constituents? As a Socialist I say that they are of immense importance when considering the relevance of public ownership. That is the political lesson. It is important that people should be made aware of the shortcomings of the system under which hon. Members can raise these matters.
In the early days, we had to try to intervene for a few minutes on the one day of the year when the House wanted to deal with the grand sweep of the whole industry. How absurd it was that we had to deal with trivia on the one day which was set aside for an analysis of the coal industry, for example. Yet that used to be the only opportunity hon. Members had to ventilate these grievances in the House. The system which operates has been a great disadvantage. The sooner the House puts an end to it, the better it will be for the management of the existing nationalised industries and the better we shall be able to represent our constituents.
I am deeply moved by my hon. Friend's speech. I agree with it. As I said earlier, I would rather leave out the last few words of the Clause, but we are dealing with this horrible thing called practical politics. When one is dealing with a Front Bench of good comrades who are also pragmatists, one must try to table something which they are able to accept.
I well understand how my hon. Friend feels, because he and I have shared these feelings for many years.
Over the years, many people have said, as Herbert Morrison did, that one could not have the nationalised industries exposed to this kind of day-to-day examination. There have been references already to the National Health Service, spending over £1,000 million a year of public money and employing an enormous labour force. Aneurin Bevan insisted—and, presumably, secured Cabinet consent—that it be accountable in every detail to the House of Commons. The National Health Service, what is more, was introduced in an atmosphere of high controversy. The Tories voted against it on Second Reading and Third Reading.
After the Act became operative in 1948, hon. Members opposite put down an enormous number of Questions dealing with trivial matters in the National Health Service, and people said, "Look what happens when Ministers are exposed to this kind of treatment in the House", but, although the motive may have been political, it could properly be argued that hon. Members opposite were also looking after the interests of their constituents. So they were serving two purposes; they were acting as Members of Parliament in the clash of opinion with the party with which they disagreeed, and, co-incidentally, they were also dealing with their constituents' affairs.
After a relatively short time, Questions addressed to the Minister of Health became more serious, and today, although one can still put down a Question for Oral Answer about a trivial detail of the National Health Service, hon. Members do not, in the main, abuse the Order Paper.
I put it to the House, and to my right hon. Friend, who had a radical past, that it would be good for Parliament and good for our democratic processes if the Executive and the people whom the Executive appoints to the management of nationalised industries were exposed to more critical examination on matters of detailed administration which affects the people of this country.
The Postmaster-General must be feeling very lonely, sitting there under a storm of shot and shell from both sides of the House. In the last hour and a half he has heard from no one who did not ask him to accept the new Clause.
I speak on this matter as a convert. I admit that at the time when Herbert Morrison was guiding the House—I was not here—while the first batch of nationalisation Measures were going through in the 1945–50 Parliament, I was a great believer in divorcing the nationalised industries from Parlia- mentary control. But gradually—the one sinner who repenteth is worth more than the ninety and nine—I have become more and more convinced that it is essential for the proper running of these national monopolies, if they are to remain in public ownership, to maintain some day-to-day supervision of their activities on the Floor of the House.
They are by their nature monopolies. The public have no redress elsewhere. People cannot buy electricity or postage stamps somewhere else, so, if there is inefficient service, the only redress open to them is by complaint to their Member of Parliament and through the Member making representations either by Oral Question or by letter to the Minister concerned.
No one has yet pointed out the futility of asking a Question which receives a stone-walling Answer and takes one's constituent no further. Could we not take it further and try a more effective way than Questions of dealing with our constituents' complaints?
I agree. I do not suggest that the present system is ideal. We understand that those who want publicity put down a Question; those who want to solve a constituent's problem write to the Minister about it. Once the Minister has said, "No," in public, one has "had it". But we have that right in many cases, although not in others.
The concept of consultative councils has been a disaster. The sooner they are wound up and the small amount they cost saved, the better. In all the years since nationalisation, I doubt whether they have ever solved one problem. On rail closures, they are only brought in like members of the public at the public inquiries, and not consulted beforehand. So Herbert Morrison's concept that they would protect the public has been proved wrong.
I should like the new Clause to go much further. I do not withdraw my objections to the system, but we must have real accountability to Parliament from all these nationalised industries. The new Clause is the best thing that we could get—I understand why it has been framed as it has—in this very bad Bill. Some hon. Members have not understood the limitations. Under the new Clause, some of the points of the hon. Member for Manchester, Exchange (Mr. Will Griffiths) will still be outwith the Minister's orbit. The crossed nibs in post offices mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West (Mr. Birch) will still not be among the subjects about which we may question the Minister. What we shall be able to do is ask him why he is opening a new factory to produce the crossed nibs. It is a strange thing that in all my working life I have never been able to write with a Post Office pen: they all have crossed nibs—
If my hon. Friend has so much belief in this remedy of asking Parliamentary Questions and thus putting everything right, why has he not asked Questions, as he has been able to do up to now, about crossed nibs?
I am a great believer in free enterprise and I thought that there must be a great free enterprise factory churning out these crossed nibs on a Post Office contract, and I did not want to inhibit its work.
Because of the width of Ministerial responsibility in matters affecting the Post Office, the National Health Service, and so on, one can write to the Minister instead of tabling a Question. I have often been astonished to learn, when I have written to the Postmaster-General about a matter which the hon. Member for Manchester, Exchange would call trivial, the reason why a letter has been delayed. The Post Office must have an enormous and expensive policing mechanism for ascertaining this information. The information one gets is history—why a letter has missed a certain post and so on—and it does not guarantee that a letter posted today will reach its destination tomorrow.
How much does it cost to run this policing service? Did the Minister take the cost into account in deciding to establish the Corporation, and will this service continue, despite the cost? Even if the cost is high, this type of accountability is necessary in the public interest, particularly if we are to have national monopolies of this kind, private and public, remembering that in the private sector we have the Monopolies Commission.
Has not my hon. Friend noticed that the battle has been won? It is obvious, from the goings on opposite, that the Government fear that they may be defeated on this issue. I predict that the Postmaster-General has arranged a form of words which will satisfy his hon. Friends. I look forward to seeing how the Government overcome what until a few moments ago might have been an impossible situation for them.
I am encouraged by my hon. Friend's intervention. In recent months back benchers have shown the valuable job that they do in that the Executive can no longer feel confident of getting a Measure through without listening to the voice of hon. Members. There has been a collective voice on this issue. [Interruption.] I appreciate that hon Members want to hear the Postmaster-General's answer to our case—[Interruption]—and at present there is so much noise that I almost cannot hear myself speak.
Is my hon. Friend aware that we have been talking about the possible activities of the Government Whip? We were trying to ascertain sotto voce whether he intends to move the Closure on my hon. Friend.
I must reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Sir Harmar Nicholls), who said that as a result of our arguments the Government now perhaps had a form of words which would satisfy their supporters. We should be grateful if we could hear them. We have been debating this matter for about two hours. If the Minister had said an hour ago, "I am entirely convinced by the arguments we have heard and we will accept the new Clause", or even if he had said, "We are convinced that public accountability is essential", we should not be debating this matter at half-past 11. The House would have felt that it had done a good job and we could have gone home full of the virtue of feeling that the great British public had been protected as a result of our efforts. But now we shall go home not knowing what was in the great brain of the Postmaster-
|Division No. 178.]||AYES||[11.30 p.m.|
|Albu, Austen||Fowler, Gerry||Mapp, Charles|
|Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)||Freeson, Reginald||Marks, Kenneth|
|Alldritt, Walter||Galpern, Sir Myer||Marquand, David|
|Anderson, Donald||Gardner, Tony||Mason, Rt. Hn. Roy|
|Ashley, Jack||Gray, Dr. Hugh (Yarmouth)||Mayhew, Christopher|
|Ashton, Joe (Bassetlaw)||Greenwood, Rt. Hn. Anthony||Mellish, Rt. Hn. Robert|
|Atkins, Ronald (Preston, N.)||Gregory, Arnold||Mendelson, John|
|Atkinson, Norman (Tottenham)||Grey, Charles (Durham)||Mikardo, Ian|
|Bagier, Gordon A. T.||Griffiths, Eddie (Brightside)||Millan, Bruce|
|Barnett, Joel||Griffiths, Will (Exchange)||Miller, Dr. M. S.|
|Bence, Cyril||Hamilton, James (Bothwell)||Mitchell, R. C. (S'th'pton, Test)|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Hamling, William||Molloy, William|
|Bishop, E. S.||Harper, Joseph||Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire)|
|Blackburn, F.||Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)||Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)|
|Blenkinsop, Arthur||Haseldine, Norman||Moyle, Roland|
|Booth, Albert||Hazell, Bert||Murray, Albert|
|Boston, Terence||Henig, Stanley||Newens, Stan|
|Bottomley, Rt. Hn. Arthur||Herbison, Rt. Hn, Margaret||Oakes, Gordon|
|Boyden, James||Hobden, Dennis||Ogden, Eric|
|Bradley, Tom||Hooley, Frank||O'Malley, Brian|
|Bray, Dr. Jeremy||Horner, John||Oram, Albert E.|
|Brooks, Edwin||Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas||Orbach, Maurice|
|Brown, Hugh D, (G'gow, Provan)||Howarth, Robert (Bolton, E.)||Orme, Stanley|
|Brown, Bob (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, W.)||Howell, Denis (Small Heath)||Owen, Dr. David (Plymouth, S'tn)|
|Brown, R. W. (Shoreditch & F'bury)||Huckfield, Leslie||Owen, Will (Morpeth)|
|Buchan, Norman||Hughes, Emrys (Ayrshire, S.)||Page, Derek (King's Lynn)|
|Cant, R. B.||Hughes, Roy (Newport)||Parker, John (Dagenham)|
|Carmichael, Neil||Hunter, Adam||Parkyn, Brian (Bedford)|
|Carter-Jones, Lewis||Hynd, John||Pentland, Norman|
|Coe, Denis||Jackson, Colin (B'h'se & Spenb'gh)||Perry, Ernest G. (Battersea, S.)|
|Coleman, Donald||Janner, Sir Barnett||Prentice, Rt. Hn. R. E.|
|Crawshaw, Richard||Jeger, Mrs. Lena (H'b'n & St. P'cras, S.)||Price, Christopher (Perry Barr)|
|Crosland, Rt. Hn. Anthony||Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)||Price, William (Rugby)|
|Dalyell, Tam||Jones, Rt. Hn. Sir Elwyn (W. Ham, S.)||Probert, Arthur|
|Davidson, Arthur (Accrington)||Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham)||Rees, Merlyn|
|Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.)||Jones, T. Alec (Rhondda, West)||Richard, Ivor|
|Davies, Dr. Ernest (Stretford)||Judd, Frank||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)|
|Davies, Rt. Hn. Harold (Leek)||Kerr, Mrs. Anne (R'ter & Chatham)||Roberts, Rt. Hn. Goronwy|
|Oaves, Ifor (Gower)||Kerr, Russell (Feltham)||Roberts, Gwylym (Bedfordshire, S.)|
|Delargy, Hugh||Lawson, George||Robertson. John (Paisley)|
|Dempsey, James||Leadbitter, Ted||Rodgers, William (Stockton)|
|Dewar, Donald||Lee, Rt. Hn. Frederick (Newton)||Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)|
|Diamond, Rt. Hn. John||Lee, John (Reading)||Rose, Paul|
|Dickens, James||Lestor, Miss Joan||Rowlands, E.|
|Dobson, Ray||Lever, L. M. (Ardwick)||Shaw, Arnold (Ilford, S.)|
|Doig, Peter||Lomas, Kenneth||Sheldon, Robert|
|Driberg, Tom||Luard, Evan||Short. Rt. Hn. Edward (N'c'tle-u-Tyne)|
|Dunn, James A.||Lyon, Alexander W. (York)||Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)|
|Dunnett, Jack||Lyons, Edward (Bradford, E.)||Silkin, Hn. S. C. (Dulwich)|
|Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth (Exeter)||McCann, John||Silverman, Julius|
|Dun woody, Dr. John (F'th & C'b'e)||MacColl, James||Skeffington, Arthur|
|Eadle, Alex||MacDermot, Niall||Slater, Joseph|
|Edwards, William (Merioneth)||Macdonald, A. H.||Small, William|
|Ellis, John||McGuire, Michael||Spriggs, Leslie|
|English, Michael||Mackenzie, Gregor (Rutherglen)||Stonehouse, Rt. Hn. John|
|Ennals, David||Mackie, John||Taverne, Dick|
|Evans, Fred (Caerphilly)||Mackintosh, John P.||Thomas, Rt. Hn. George|
|Evans, Ioan L. (Birm'h'm, Yardley)||Maclennan, Robert||Thornton, Ernest|
|Finch, Harold||McNamara, J. Kevin||Tinn, James|
|Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston)||MacPherson, Malcolm||Tomney, Frank|
|Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)||Mahon, Peter (Preston, S.)||Urwin, T. W.|
|Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale)||Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)||Walden, Brian (All Saints)|
|Ford, Ben||Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.)||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)|
|Forrester, John||Manuel, Archie||Wallace, George|
|Watkins, David (Consett)||Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)||Woof, Robert|
|Watkins, Tudor (Brecon & Radnor)||Williams, Alan Leo (Hornchurch)|
|Wellbeloved, James||Willis, Rt. Hn. George||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|White, Mrs. Eirene||Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)||Mr. Neil MacBride and|
|Wilkins, W. A.||Woodburn, Rt. Hn. A.||Mr. Alan Fitch.|
|Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash)||Goodhew, victor||Onslow, Cranley|
|Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead)||Gower, Raymond||Orr, Capt. L. P. S.|
|Astor, John||Grant, Anthony||Page, Graham (Crosby)|
|Atkins, Humphrey (M't'n & M'd'n)||Grant-Ferris, R.||Pardoe, John|
|Baker, Kenneth (Acton)||Gresham Cooke, R.||Pearson, Sir Frank (Clitheroe)|
|Baker, W. H. K. (Banff)||Grieve, Percy||Peel, John|
|Balniel, Lord||Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds)||Percival, Ian|
|Batsford, Brian||Gurden, Harold||Peyton, John|
|Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton||Hall, John (Wycombe)||Pike, Miss Mervyn|
|Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torquay)||Hall-Davis, A. G. F.||Pink, R. Bonner|
|Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gos. & Fhm)||Hamilton, Lord (Fermanagh)||Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch|
|Biffen, John||Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye)||Price, David (Eastleigh)|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Harvie Anderson, Miss||Pym, Francis|
|Birch, Rt. Hn. Nigel||Hawkins, Paul||Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon|
|Black, Sir Cyril||Hay, John||Ridley, Hn. Nicholas|
|Blaker, Peter||Heald, Rt. Hn. Sir Lionel||Rippon, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey|
|Boardm-m, Tom (Leicester, S. W.)||Higgins, Terence L.||Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)|
|Body, nichard||Hiley, Joseph||Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hn. John||Hill, J. E. B.||Royle, Anthony|
|Boyle, Rt. Hn. Sir Edward||Hornby, Richard||Russell, Sir Ronald|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. Sir Walter||Howell, David (Guildford)||Scott, Nicholas|
|Brown, Sir Edward (Bath)||Iremonger, T. L.||Scott-Hopkins, James|
|Bruce-Gardyne, J.||Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)||Sharples, Richard|
|Bryan, Paul||Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford)||Silvester, Frederick|
|Buchanan-Smith, Alick (Angus, N & M)||Johnston, Russell (Inverness)||Sinclair, Sir George|
|Buck, Antony (Colchester)||Joseph, Rt. Hn. Sir Keith||Smith, Dudley (W'wick & L'mington)|
|Bullus, Sir Eric||Kaberry, Sir Donald||Smith, John (London & W'minster)|
|Burden, F. A.||Kerby, Capt. Henry||Speed, Keith|
|Campbell, B. (Oldham, W.)||Kershaw, Anthony||Stodart, Anthony|
|Campbell, Gordon (Moray & Nairn)||Kitson, Timothy||Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir M.|
|Carlisle, Mark||Lambton, Viscount||Summers, Sir Spencer|
|Chichester-Clark, R.||Lancaster, Col. C. G.||Tapsell, Peter|
|Clark, Henry||Lane, David||Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)|
|Clegs, Walter||Langford-Holt, Sir John||Temple, John M.|
|Costain, A. P.||Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)||Tilney, John|
|Crouch, David||Lloyd, Ian (P'tsm'th, Langstone)||Turton, Rt. Hn. R. H.|
|Crowder, F. P.||Longden, Gilbert||van Straubenzee, W. R.|
|Currie, G. B. H.||Lubbock, Eric||Vaughan-Morgan, Rt. Hn. Sir John|
|Dance, James||MacArthur, Ian||Vickers, Dame Joan|
|Davidson, James (Aberdeenshire, W.)||Mackenzie, Alasdair (Ross & Crom'ty)||Wainwright Richard (Colne Valley)|
|d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry||McNair-Wilson, M. (Walthamstow, E.)||Wall, Patrick|
|Dean, Paul||McNair-Wilson, Patrick (NewForest)||Walters, Dennis|
|Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F. (Ashford)||Maddan, Martin||Ward, Dame Irene|
|Digby, Simon Wingfield||Marten, Neil||Weatherill, Bernard|
|Drayson, G. B.||Maude, Angus||Whitelaw, Rt. Hn. William|
|Eden, Sir John||Mawby, Ray||Wiggin, A. W.|
|Elliot, Capt, Walter (Carshalton)||Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.||Williams, Donald (Dudley)|
|Elliott, R. W. (N'c'le-upon-Tyne, N.)||Mills, Peter (Torrington)||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Emery, Peter||Mills, Stratton (Belfast, N.)||Winstanley, Dr. M. P.|
|Ewing, Mrs. Winifred||Miscampbell, Norman||Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick|
|Eyre, Reginald||Morgan, Geraint (Denbigh)||Wood, Rt. Hn. Richard|
|Farr, John||Munro-Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh||Worsley, Marcus|
|Fortescue, Tim||Murton, Oscar||Wright, Esmond|
|Foster, Sir John||Nabarro, Sir Gerald||Wylie, N. R.|
|Gilmour, Ian (Norfolk, C.)||Neave, Airey||Younger, Hn. George|
|Gilmour, Sr John (Fife, E.)||Nicholls, Sir Harmar||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Glover, Sir Douglas||Noble, Rt. Hn. Michael||Mr. Jasper More and|
|Goodhart, Phillip||Nott, John||Mr. Hector Monro.|
I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.
I believe that this is a Clause which will commend itself to hon. Members on both sides of the House. If I am right in that supposition and there is a body of support which I confidently expect for this, it will be my duty to press the Clause to a Division. I trust that that course will not be necessary, because I rather hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to accept it. There is every reason to suppose that he will look upon it favourably, because it does something which he has, from time to time during the proceedings on the Bill, made fairly clear would be quite close to his heart.
The problem about the creation of a Corporation is that it removes to some degree the element of public accountability. I make no bones about saying that I am no great lover of the public corporation. In parenthesis, I welcome the disappearance of London Transport which is shortly to come under the control of the Greater London Council.
I was illustrating the point that this is a good Clause because it will retain the element of public control, which the public corporation does not. I was quoting the example of London Transport which will come under the elected body of the G.L.C. just as the new Clause enables my right hon. Friend still to answer Questions in the House.
On Second reading I said that I was not greatly enamoured of moving the Post Office away from the direct control of the Minister. From time to time in the long drawn out Committee proceedings hon. Members on both sides of
the Committee made remarks which suggested clearly that they agreed largely with what I was saying, although those remarks were sometimes incidental. For example, the hon. Member for Howden (Mr. Bryan) said this:
Amendment 1 seeks to preserve the office of Postmaster-General, which must be to his advantage.
I hardly think that the hon. Gentleman would seek to preserve the office unless he were also seeking to preserve the functions of the office, and one function of the office is answering Questions on what the Post Office is doing. He said later:
I do not believe that it is acceptable if this is independent of the Minister.
He was making it fairly clear that he viewed with some anxiety the separation of the Corporation from the effective control of this House.
The hon. Member for Acton (Mr. Kenneth Baker) said this:
We begin on this side of the House by saying that we would like the post, and indeed the title of the Postmaster-General retained. It is a great and a very historic post."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee D, 26th November, 1968; c. 4–44.]
I can hardly believe that the hon. Member for Acton was saying that he merely wanted the title to be retained, that he wished to strip the Postmaster-General of all his power but to leave him with his title. I therefore take it that the hon. Member for Acton shares my doubts that, in creating a separate Corporation, we are removing it from the effective control of this House, and removing the element of public accountability which has been an essential feature of the operation of the Post Office for so many years and which, compared with post offices which I have seen in other countries, for example, in the United States, has been a beneficent feature. It has been a feature which has enabled us to keep a close check on the efficiency of the Post Office.
In parenthesis, that efficiency has today broken down. I have not received a parcel which I was expecting to receive, but I hope that this is not indicative of general inefficiency—
I put the other bracket on the parenthesis a moment ago. That has closed it. I should like to pray in aid my right hon. Friend himself who said in Committee:
The suggestion in this series of Amendments"—
he is referring to a series of Amendments which was put forward by hon. Gentlemen opposite—
is that postal services should remain a Government Department, because it is said to be such a separate business from the telecommunications, and should be run separately by a Minister.
What my right hon. Friend said is true. Hon. Gentlemen opposite ran away from the consequences of the whole proposition when they came face to face with it, having themselves advocated the Corporation which the Bill seeks to set up. I understand that when the present Government came into office in 1964, they found the whole idea of the creation of a public corporation to be fairly well advanced and took over proposals which had emanated from the previous Government. I believe that I am correct in that statement.
Certainly there has been no lack of inducement among hon. Members opposite for the general principle of the Bill. The general principle was supported by them on Second Reading.
I hope that I shall not stray again. I shall do my best not to do so. I was about to say that ever since they accepted the broad ideas set out in the Bill in the proceedings in Committee, hon. Gentlemen, realising what the consequences of that would be, have been endeavouring to run away from them in Amendment after Amendment. The general effect has been to try to recreate the missing element of public accountability which has been removed by the creation of the Bill itself.
The whole history of the Committee month after month, week after week, day after day, has been to try to find some means of recreating the element of public accountability between this House and the Post Office. The new Clause provides that step. It does what hon. Gentlemen opposite have been trying to do throughout the Committee stage. It provides that the Minister shall answer Questions addressed to him on all matters concerning the Post Office other than those of day-to-day administration. It is the half-way house which hon. Gentlemen have been seeking.
It removes from the Minister the necessity of saying what happened to Mr. So-and-So's past today, although on occasion it has been a good thing that he has been able to do that and some of us will be sorry to see that function go. But we must reconcile ourselves at this stage of the Bill to that loss. I am sure that when hon. Gentlemen opposite consider the consequences of this provision they will want to support it, and I hope that it will have the support of my hon. Friends.
To illustrate the point—I shall not take a great deal more time since I have established the general necessity for the new Clause—the hon. Member for Norfolk, Central (Mr. Ian Gilmour) said
The Postmaster-General has not discharged the burden of proof to show why he wants to set up this Corporation."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee D, 28th November, 1968; c. 63–73.]
He may have been right if he was referring to the matters which appear in this Amendment.
It is true that no adequate alternative means of public accountability has been suggested. There have been other suggestions, of course. Instead of what is proposed in the Amendment, such methods of accountability as councils of consultation, other local organisations and means of communication at various levels might be established. But nothing can replace the accountability which is found in this House by putting Questions to the Minister. That is the form of accountability that the Clause seeks to perpetuate. Time and time again it has been proved that there is no alternative for it. We have consumer councils, but I am sure that no one would say that they have replaced the system of putting Questions to the Minister. If one of our constituents finds himself in difficulty with a Government Department, he does not approach the consumer council. He comes to his Member of Parliament, who asks a Question of the Minister concerned.
Unless the Clause is carried, this procedure will no longer be open to us. Not only will Questions on day-to-day administration be excluded, but all others except those concerned with major financial policy. Anything lower than that level cannot be touched. The Clause seeks to bring into being a half-way house of administration and policy which otherwise is excluded from the examination of this House.
I will not weary the House with further examples. I could go through the proceedings in Committee and show that on practically every Clause hon. Members attempted to recreate the possibility of interrogating the Minister. This Clause seeks to re-establish it. I hope that my right hon. Friend will not make it necessary for us to go into the Division Lobby but will say that this is a method for which he has been searching and which he has decided to accept.
I agreed with a great many of the points made by the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins). I am sure that we all agree that the consultative councils set up under previous nationalisation Acts have proved to be nugatory. No one has ever got anything out of them. They are a pure waste of time.
I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman when he says that he wants to establish a halfway house. I have never been very keen on halfway houses. Surely the point is that it is precisely on matters concerned with details of administration that Members of Parliament can produce their maximum effect.
Supposing the hon. Gentleman strayed from his constituency, went into a post office in Penge and found that the nibs were crossed. If he wrote a letter to the Postmaster-General or asked a Question about it, he could be fairly certain that next time he went to Penge the nibs in the post office would not be crossed.
If the Bill is passed as it now stands, in similar circumstances the hon. Gentleman would be told by the Postmaster-General that this was a matter of day-to-day administration. If the hon. Gentleman then wrote to the head boy set up under the Bill, whatever he calls himself, he might get an answer, but he would be more likely to be told that it was a matter for the North, South, East, or West manager's department. Sooner or later a letter will come back from the North, South, East or West manager's Department, very likely in perfectly courteous terms, saying, "I am sorry that the nibs in the post office in Penge were crossed, but they will stay crossed."
That would be a powerful action, but if a general direction were issued that there should not be crossed nibs, I doubt whether it would penetrate as far as Penge. It is precisely in these detailed matters that we can do something. The principle of taking detailed administration away from the Floor of the House was the conception which the late Herbert Morrison had when he set up the nationalised industries. I do not think that it has worked very satisfactorily. The idea was that it would be too terrible if these great men were worried about details.
The Post Office is not so much a business as a service. I have been a service Minister in a service Ministry where thousands of people come under one's control. There were endless individual cases of letters and questions, but I was not utterly crushed by them.
We should think about what we are trying to do. I feel that this is a retro grade step. We have made mistakes previously in the nationalised industries. It was a mistake to take any kind of control away from this House. When I first came to the House we could ask why the 3.30 from Manchester was ten hours late, and we got some interesting answers.
Under your guidance, Mr. Speaker, I trust that I shall be able to resist the temptation. I will not pursue that further.
We must record the fact that if the House loses all control our constituents will not be pleased. If they get bad service in the post office and their Member cannot ask about it and get a proper letter about it, they will be very cross, and quite right, too. I hope that the House will rise in its wrath and at any rate pass the Amendment, although I do not think that it goes far enough. If the Labour Party forces this Bill through it will be called the "crossed nib party" It means that it will have given way to the will of the Iron Mellish. I hope that hon. Members will not start doing this at this stage. If we pass the new Clause we will have struck some blow for good administration.
The right hon. Member for Flint, West (Mr. Birch) has raised some interesting historical parallels. I agreed when he mentioned the time when we were able to ask Questions why the 3.30 was ten minutes late arriving at St. Pancras—
I was trying to be helpful to my hon. Friend and to the House by saying that the right hon. Gentleman mentioned ten hours late, referring to the time when transport was in the hands of private enterprise. I think that my hon. Friend misunderstood that.
I am sorry my hon. Friend has not quite grasped the point I was trying to make, but I am grateful to him for trying to help me. I was referring to wartime when it was called, I think, the Ministry of War Transport, and the right lion. Member for Derby, South (Mr. Philip Noel-Baker) was one of the Ministers concerned, and one could ask him for detailed answers about the arrival of trains and that sort of thing.
The important point that has to be made here is that when the argument cropped up after the war about whether detailed questioning was inhibiting to the Departments concerned, whether it led to a lot of delay and bureaucratic nonsense, the Minister was always most emphatic that it did not, that on the contrary it kept the Department and the service concerned on their toes. I believe in this very strongly.
After the war—I hope Mr. Speaker, that you will allow me to indulge in these reminiscences—
No, but I saw you tapping in that ominous way. The experience of this House after the war is strictly relevant to the Clause, because when the post-war Labour Government started to nationalise various industries, as they thought to take them effectively into public ownership, and so on, there was considerable dispute within the governing body about the extent of accountability, and Herbert Morrison, to whom the right hon. Gentleman referred, was on the whole in favour of not too much accountability, because he said that it would lead to those industries which were supposed to be expanding, virile, and dynamic industries—they used the same adjectives then as they do now—being too Civil Service minded, always looking over their shoulders in case a Question was coming up in the House, and so on.
The opposite view was taken by Aneurin Bevan, the greatest man, in my view, whom this party has produced in the last few decades, if not longer, who was in favour of total accountability, including accountability for details, and when he was appointed Minister of Health and had the fairly complicated job of setting up the National Health Service he insisted in the Cabinet on having total accountability in this House. He could be questioned on why only two bed sheets, or blankets, were provided in a particular hospital on a particular night, and so on. It never inhibited at all his administrative duties and responsibilities.
I think that the maximum accountability is desirable. In this Amendment, giving way to more moderate opinion, I agreed to the final words,
other than those of day to day administration".
I should have liked day-to-day administration raised at Question Time also, but, even so, I think that some hon. Gentlemen on that side of the House, and some of my hon. Friends on this side, will agree that the Clause represents a considerable improvement on the situation which would exist if it were not carried. I think that it would be a tremendous mistake to remove this whole vast enterprise from Parliamentary scrutiny at Question Time, and that is what the Clause is entirely concerned with.
The trouble about some of the nationalised industries—not all of them—so far is that they have been run largely by people who do not believe in public ownership, and they have been run without fuller workers' participation—
I just managed to get out the word "participation". In this case the Clause does not deal with that matter, as you, Mr. Speaker, have so kindly reminded me, but it deals with the question of accountability to this House. Failing full workers' participation in the running of an industry, which is another democratic safeguard, accountability to the Minister in this House seems to me to be of vital importance when we are considering the public ownership of any industry or service. I very much hope, therefore, that hon. Members on both sides of the House will support this new Clause, although I hope most of all that my right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General will feel able to accept it, because unless he does so there will be a very difficult situation for this House and this party.
I have enormous sympathy with the point of view put forward by those who have been advocating this particular new Clause. I have been alarmed once or twice by the number of times I have found myself in agreement with the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins). Like myself, he does not like this Bill. I said on Second Reading that I thought it was a bad Bill, and he clearly agrees with me. I was surprised, however, that during the course of the Committee proceedings he failed to support one or two of the Amendments which I moved which would have restored Parliamentary accountability in many cases; and particularly when I sought to remove the monopoly powers from the new Corporation and keep them in the hands of the Minister as the trustee for Parliament, the hon. Member for Putney, while he spoke sympathetically, did not actually support me when it came to a Division.
I think the hon. Gentleman is misunderstanding the point I am making. I remember that when I was talking about monopoly powers he made a very eloquent speech about the film industry, which he knows something about. He then spoke sympathetically on the case I was making but failed to support me in the Lobby. I—[Interruption.]
than nothing. The hon. Gentleman defended it, as did the hon. Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg), on the ground that while it would not allow the Minister to be questioned about day-to-day administration, it would allow the Minister to be questioned about what I believe he called the "grey areas". In other words, instead of the stereotyped Questions that one can put down—and perhaps some of the sponsors of the Amendment might tell me if I am wrong in the interpretation—the kind of Question which is probably the only one one can put down to any Minister, asking him to use his powers of giving a general direction, one could now put down Questions about such things as, for example, the misuse by the Corporation of its licensing powers.
If, for instance, the Corporation sought, wrongly, to extend its monopoly by refusing, say, the kind of licences that are already given to private mobile radio stations and one thought that the Corporation was misusing its power in order to extend its monopoly into a field in which it should not, under this provision one could presumably ask the Minister of the day a Question about it.
|Division No. 177.]||AYES||[10.0 p.m.|
|Albu, Austen||Blackburn, F.||Brown, R. W. (Shoreditch & F'bury)|
|Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)||Blenkinsop, Arthur||Buchan, Norman|
|Alldritt, Walter||Booth, Albert||Cant, R. B.|
|Anderson, Donald||Boston, Terence||Carmichael, Neil|
|Ashley, Jack||Bottomley, Rt. Hn. Arthur||Carter-Jones, Lewis|
|Atkins, Ronald (Preston, N.)||Boyden, James||Castle, Rt. Hn. Barbara|
|Atkinson, Norman (Tottenham)||Bradley, Tom||Chapman, Donald|
|Bagier, Gordon A. T.||Bray, Dr. Jeremy||Coleman, Donald|
|Barnett, Joel||Brooks, Edwin||Crosland, Rt. Hn. Anthony|
|Bence Cyrll||Brown, Rt. Hn. George (Belper)||Crossman, Rt. Hn. Richard|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, provan)||Dalyell, Tam|
|Bishop, E. S.||Brown, Bob (N 'c'tle-upon-Tyne, W.)||Davidson, Arthur (Accrington)|
|Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.)||Jeger, Mrs. Lena (H'b'n & St.P'cras, S.)||Owen, Will (Morpeth)|
|Davies, Dr. Ernest (Stretford)||Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)||Page, Derek (King's Lynn)|
|Davies, Rt. Hn. Harold (Leek)||Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Paget, R. T.|
|Davies, Ifor (Gower)||Jones, Rt. Hn. Sir Elwyn (W. Ham, S.)||Parker, John (Dagenham)|
|Delargy, Hugh||Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham)||Parkyn, Brian (Bedford)|
|Dempsey, James||Jones, T. Alec (Rhondda, West)||Pearson, Arthur (Pontypridd)|
|Dewar, Donald||Judd, Frank||Pentland, Norman|
|Diamond, Rt. Hn. John||Kelley, Richard||Perry, Ernest G. (Battersea, S.)|
|Dobson, Ray||Kerr, Russell (Feltham)||Perry, George H. (Nottingham, S.)|
|Doig, Peter||Lawson, George||Prentice, Rt. Hn. R. E.|
|Driberg, Tom||Leadbitter, Ted||Prico, Christopher (Perry Barr)|
|Dunn, James A.||Lee, Rt. Hn. Frederick (Newton)||Price, William (Rugby)|
|Dunnett, Jack||Lee, Rt. Hn. Jennie (Cannock)||Probert, Arthur|
|Eadie, Alex||Lee, John (Reading)||Rankin, John|
|Edwards, William (Merioneth)||Lestor, Miss Joan||Rees, Merlyn|
|Ellis, John||Lever, L. M. (Ardwick)||Richard, Ivor|
|English, Michael||Lewis, Arthur (W. Ham, N.)||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)|
|Ennals, David||Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)||Roberts, Rt. Hn. Goronwy|
|Ensor, David||Lomas, Kenneth||Roberts, Gwilym (Bedfordshire, S.)|
|Evans, Fred (Caerphilly)||Luard, Evan||Robertson, John (Paisley)|
|Evans, Ioan L. (Birm'h'm, Yardley)||Lyon, Alexander W. (York)||Rodgers, William (Stockton)|
|Finch, Harold||Lyons, Edward (Bradford, E.)||Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)|
|Fitch, Alan (Wigan)||McBride, Neil||Rose, Paul|
|Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston)||McCann, John||Rowlands, E.|
|Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)||MacColl, James||Shaw, Arnold (Ilford, S.)|
|Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale)||MacDermot, Niall||Sheldon, Robert|
|Ford, Ben||Macdonald, A. H.||Shore, Rt. Hn. Peter (Stepney)|
|Forrester, John||McGuire, Michael||Short, Rt. Hn. Edward (N'c' tle-u-Tyne)|
|Fowler, Gerry||McKay, Mrs. Margaret||Short, Mrs. Renée (W'hampton, N. E.)|
|Freeson, Reginald||Mackenzie, Gregor (Rutherglen)||Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)|
|Galpern, Sir Myer||Mackintosh, John P.||Silkin, Hn. S. C. (Dulwich)|
|Gardner, Tony||Maclennan, Robert||Silverman, Julius|
|Ginsburg, David||McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.)||Skeffiington, Arthur|
|Gray, Dr. Hugh (Yarmouth)||McNamara, J. Kevin||Slater, Joseph|
|Gregory, Arnold||MacPharson, Malcolm||Small, William|
|Grey, Charles (Durham)||Mahon, Peter (Preston, S.)||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Griffiths, Eddie (Brightside)||Mahon, Simon (Bootle)||Steele, Thomas (Dunbartonshire, W.)|
|Griffiths, Will (Exchange)||Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)||Stonehouse, Rt. Hn. John|
|Hamitton, James (Bothwell)||Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.)||Taverne, Dick|
|Hamling, William||Manuel, Archie||Thomas, Rt. Hn. George|
|Hannan, William||Mapp, Charles||Thornton, Ernest|
|Harper, Joseph||Marks, Kenneth||Tinn, James|
|Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)||Marquand, David||Tomney, Frank|
|Haseldine, Norman||Mason, Rt. Hn. Roy||Urwin, T. W.|
|Hattersley, Roy||Mayhew, Christopher||Walden, Brian (All Saints)|
|Hazell, Bert||Mendelson, John||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)|
|Henig, Stanley||Mikardo, Ian||Wallace, George|
|Herbison, Rt. Hn. Margaret||Millan, Bruce||Watkins, David (Consett)|
|Hobden, Dennis||Molloy, William||Watkins, Tudor (Brecon & Radnor)|
|Hooley, Frank||Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire)||Wellbeloved, James|
|Horner, John||Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)||White, Mrs. Eirene|
|Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas||Moyle, Roland||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Howarth, Robert (Bolton, E.)||Murray, Albert||Willey, Rt. Hn. Frederick|
|Howell, Denis (Small Heath)||Neal, Harold||Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)|
|Huckfield, Leslie||Newens, Stan||Williams, Alan Lee (Hornchurch)|
|Hughes, Emrys (Ayrshire, S.)||Noel-Baker, Rt. Hn. Phillip (Derby, S.)||Willis, Rt. Hn. George|
|Hughes, Roy (Newport)||Oakes, Gordon||Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)|
|Hunter, Adam||Ogden, Eric||Woodburn, Rt. Hn. A.|
|Hynd, John||O'Malley, Brian||Woof, Robert|
|Jackson, Colin (B'h'se & Spenb'gh)||Oram, Albert E.|
|Janner, Sir Barnett||Orbach, Maurice||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Jay, Rt. Hn. Douglas||Orme, Stanley||Mr. Charles Morris and|
|Jeger, George (Goole)||Owen, Dr. David (Plymouth, S'tn)||Dr. M. S. Miller.|
|Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash)||Body, Richard||Currie, G. B. H.|
|Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead)||Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hn. John||Dance, James|
|Astor, John||Boyle, Rt. Hn. Sir Edward||Davidson, James (Aberdeenshire, W.)|
|Atkins, Humphrey (M't'n & M'd'n)||Brown, Sir Edward (Bath)||d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry|
|Awdry, Daniel||Bruce-Gardyne, J.||Dean, Paul|
|Baker, Kenneth (Acton)||Bryan, Paul||Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F. (Ashford)|
|Baker, W. H. K. (Banff)||Buchanan-Smith, Alick (Angus, N & M)||Digby, Simon Wingfield|
|Balniel, Lord||Buck, Anthony (Colchester)||Drayson, G. B.|
|Batsford, Brian||Bullus, Sir Eric||Eden, Sir John|
|Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton||Burden, F. A.||Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton)|
|Bell, Ronald||Campbell, B. (Oldham, W.)||Emery, Peter|
|Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torquay)||Campbell, Gordon (Moray & Nairn)||Erringron, Sir Eric|
|Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gos. & Fhm)||Carlisle, Mark||Ewing, Mrs. Winifred|
|Biffen, John||Chichester-Clark, R.||Eyre, Reginald|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Clark, Henry||Farr, John|
|Birch, Rt. Hn. Nigel||Clegg, Walter||Fortescue, Tim|
|Black, Sir Cyril||Costain, A. P.||Foster, sir John|
|Blaker, Peter||Crouch, David||Gilmour, Ian (Norfolk, C.)|
|Boardman, Tom (Leicester, 8. W.)||Crowder, F. P.||Glover, Sir Douglas|
|Goodhart, Philip||McMaster, Stanley||Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)|
|Goodhew, Victor||McNair-Wilson, M. (Walthamstow, E.)||Royle, Anthony|
|Gower, Raymond||McNair-Wilson, Patrick (New Forest)||Russell, Sir Ronald|
|Grant, Anthony||Maddan, Martin||Scott, Nicholas|
|Gresham Cooke, R.||Marten, Neil||Scott-Hopkins, James|
|Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds)||Maude, Angus||Sharples, Richard|
|Gurden, Harold||Mawby, Ray||Silvester, Frederick|
|Hall, John (W ycombe)||Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.||Sinclair, Sir George|
|Hall-Davis, A. G. F.||Mills, Peter (Torrington)||Smith, Dudley (W'wick & L'mington)|
|Hamilton, Lord (Fermanagh)||Mills, Stratton (Belfast, N.)||Smith, John (London & W'minster)|
|Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye)||Miscampbell, Norman||Speed, Keith|
|Harvie Anderson, Miss||Monro, Hector||Stainton, Keith|
|Hawkins, Paul||More, Jasper||Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir M.|
|Hay, John||Morgan, Geraint (Denbigh)||Summers, Sir Spencer|
|Heald, Rt. Hn. Sir Lionel||Morgan-Giles, Rear-Adm.||Tapsell, Peter|
|Higgins, Terence L.||Murton, Oscar||Taylor, Frank (Moss Side)|
|Hiley, Joseph||Nabarro, Sir Gerald||Temple, John M.|
|Hill, J. E. B.||Neave, Airey||Tilney, John|
|Hornby, Richard||Nicholls, Sir Harmar||Turton, Rt. Hn. R. H.|
|Howell, David (Guildford)||Noble, Rt. Hn. Michael||van Straubenzee, W. R.|
|Hutchison, Michael Clark||Nott, John||Vaughan-Morgan, Rt. Hn. Sir John|
|Iremonger, T. L.||Onslow, Cranley||Vickers, Dame Joan|
|Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)||Orr, Capt. L. P. S.||Wainwright, Richard (Colne Valley)|
|Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford)||Osborne, Sir Cyril (Louth)||Wall, Patrick|
|Jennings, J. C. (Burton)||Page, Graham (Crosby)||Walters, Dennis|
|Johnston, Russell (Inverness)||Page, John (Harrow, W.)||Ward, Dame Irene|
|Joseph, Rt. Hn. Sir Keith||Pardoe, John||Whitelaw, Rt. Hn. William|
|Kaberry, Sir Donald||Pearson, Sir Frank (Clitheroe)||Wiggin, A. W.|
|Kerby, Capt. Henry||Peel, John||Williams, Donald (Dudley)|
|Kershaw, Anthony||Percival, Ian||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Kitson, Timothy||Peyton, John||Winstanley, Dr. M. P.|
|Lambton, Viscount||Pike, Miss Mervyn||Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick|
|Lancaster, Col. C. G.||Pink, R. Bonner||Wood, Rt. Hn. Richard|
|Lane, David||Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch||Worsley, Marcus|
|Langford-Holt, Sir John||Price, David (Eastleigh)||Wright, Esmond|
|Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)||Pym, Francis||Wylie, N. R.|
|Lloyd, Ian (P'tsm'th, Langstone)||Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon||Younger, Hn. George|
|Longden, Gilbert||Ridley, Hn. Nicholas|
|Lubbock, Eric||Ridsdale, Julian||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|MacArthur, Ian||Rippon, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey||Mr. R. W. Elliott and|
|Mackenzie, Alasdair (Ross & Crom'ty)||Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)||Mr. Bernard Weatherill.|
I think that I can help. At the moment, one can ask Questions only on general matters about which the Minister can give a directive to the Post Office. For example, one can ask the Minister to give a general directive that the Post Office shall introduce a 4d. or a 6d. post. But the whole range of what someone referred to as the "grey areas", between that general directive, which relates to matters of high policy only, and—
The laboratories with which I am concerned tonight are National Health Service hospital laboratories, Public Health Laboratory Service laboratories and teaching and university hospital laboratories.
The frequently inadequate conditions under which staff in such laboratories are expected to work were spotlighted by the Sunday Times on 6th April. The article said that in a pathology department of a provincial hospital:
A patients' six ft. square waiting room doubles as a staff locker room.
Staff rooms for the 28 technicians, five secretaries, two cleaners and a porter are non-existent.
In the bacteriology room, where the danger from the bacteria is acute, food and clothes lockers clutter up the already limited space.
Although it was a cool spring day the poorly ventilated room was uncomfortably close.
Off the corridor is a toilet used by male and female patients and staff.
This debate is particularly concerned with the danger of laboratory staff contracting turberculosis. Statistical proof that such a hazard exists was provided by the Reid Report in 1957. The survey showed that, during the period 1949–53, the incidence of observed frequency of pulmonary tuberculosis among laboratory technicians was higher than the national average, being 3·4 times higher for males, 1.7 times higher for females and 2·7 times higher for both together. The Reid Report did not advance any reason for the apparent discrepancy between male and female incidence, and probably the rate for females was falsely low.
An examination of the figures for the age group 15 to 24 shows that, although a higher incidence is expected among females than among males, in fact the reverse was observed. The observed rates are 4·6 times higher for males and 1·9 times higher for females. The most noticeable drop occurs in the female junior technicians. What the Reid Report seems to have overlooked was the very rapid turnover of females in laboratories at that time, and that by far the greatest turnover occurred in the second, third and fourth years of employment, a fact commented on in the 1954 Annual Report of the Ministry of Health. These are the very years when incidence is highest and young persons are at greatest risk. There is no way of knowing how many females contracted tuberculosis during their stay of two to four years in laboratories which was not diagnosed until after leaving the service. It is, of course, relevant to note that the turnover has declined since 1957.
It was the misgivings about the situation as it now stands that led my right hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) to ask the Secretary of State for Social Services on 21st April what was the proportion of cases of tuberculosis diagnosed in the past ten years on staff working in hospital laboratories. The Minister replied that the in- formation was not available. Even if this information is not available to the Minister, there are a number of pointers which tend to indicate that the incidence has probably increased in recent years and that this increase is not entirely due to the increase in staffing which has taken place.
Evidence for this opinion is varied and includes a survey by the Association of Scientific Workers in 1959, which demonstrated that of over 100 laboratories, 25 per cent. reported having had cases of tuberculosis infection. A report in The Lancet in 1963 said that one hospital in the North of England had had six cases in ten years; there were two cases reported in Blackpool within the space of three years, both since 1960; two were recently reported at Preston; two similar cases at Chesterfield; four in one Glasgow laboratory of which three occurred after 1960; and there were further cases at Wolverhampton, Ormskirk, Belfast, Manchester, all since 1960.
Most laboratory infections are probably not due to accidents such as breakages but are usually caused by inhalation of organisms present in the air. These organisms are present in aerosols, the microscopic particles of fluid liberated into the atmosphere when certain common laboratory experiments are carried out. Because of their minute size, they remain in the atmosphere subjected to air currents, and unless there is adequate ventilation and extraction, they will persist for some time, always being a danger to staff. The accidental breaking of a culture tube can be seen and precautions taken immediately, if necessary evacuating the laboratory. Aerosols cannot be seen, and for this reason are far more dangerous.
Another hazard arises from those specimens received in laboratories for which the diagnosis being considered is in no way tuberculosis. Examples are routine urines subsequently found to be from cases of renal tuberculosis, sputa for malignant cells found to be from cases of pulmonary tuberculosis, faeces for dysentary organisms from cases of tuberculosis, enteritis and so forth.
Following the publication of the Reid survey in 1957, a special working party of the Public Health Laboratory Service was set up. Its terms of reference were:
To indicate the dangers that accompany tuberculosis work in the laboratory so as to
enable pathologists to take such precautions against them as seem desirable in the circumstances.
In addition to reviewing some of the hazards the report made a number of recommendations designed to minimise or prevent tuberculosis infection among laboratory staff. In the main the suggested measures were directed at bacteriology departments, although some covered all types of staff. The major criticism of the report is that there was no obligation on the part of the employing authority or pathologist to implement any of the recommendations if they were not considered "desirable in the circumstances". In 1961, the Ministry of Health issued a Circular on Prevention of Tuberculosis among Hospital Staff, drawing attention to the recommendations of the working party and asking hospital authorities to act upon them. Among the recommendations made were the following:
The first was that protective hoods—in other words, metal cabinets fitted with a suitable exhaust-fan-system in which dangerous procedures can be performed—should be used in a laboratory whenever more than a few cultures have to be made, particularly when the conditions are cramped. However, the Association of Scientific Workers survey in 1965 showed that 28 per cent. of surveyed laboratories doing culture work were without a protective cabinet.
The second recommendation was the B.C.G. vaccine should be offered to all negative skin-test reactors, and that this should be done on starting work in a laboratory where tuberculous material is handled. The recruit should not be allowed to handle tuberculous material until the reaction has become positive.
This recommendation is particularly important today since it has been found that an increasing number of young people are not naturally immune to the disease owing to better health standards, milk control and a reduction in the disease. For this reason the Ministry of Health offers B.C.G. vaccination to schoolchildren at about the age of 13. However, some parents do not take advantage of this, and their children, if they start work in a laboratory, are at a greater risk than those possessing immunity to the disease.
Until the schools vaccination programmes has been going for about 20 years, there will always be a problem for recruits to laboratories. The Association of Scientific Workers survey in 1965 showed that 25 per cent. of the surveyed laboratories did not provide this facility. It is worth remembering that the age at which the incidence of laboratory tuberculosis infection has been shown to be the greatest is between 15 and 24 and this group is the one that would be best protected.
The third recommendation was that all recruits should be X-rayed before employment, and thereafter at regular intervals, depending on the degree of risk; an annual examination probably represents a fair compromise. Whilst this is not a preventive measure as such, it is nevertheless important to technicians that they should be aware as soon as possible that they may have contracted tuberculosis before it becomes an active open lesion. This gives a far better chance of early cure and less risk to family and working colleagues. Regular X-rays may also provide evidence that a particular laboratory has an unduly high degree of risk to the staff. For these reasons and the fact that the staff feel somewhat more protected and cared-for, regular X-rays are important. The Association of Scientific Workers survey in 1965 showed that 12 per cent. of hospital authorities surveyed still did not provide either regular—that is annual—or irregular examinations.
The fourth and final recommendation to which I wish to refer was that "entirely untrained persons should not handle tuberculosis material. A recruit who has attained some skill in bacteriological techniques may be allowed to handle tuberculous material under supervision". This practice is probably adhered to in most laboratories, but there are exceptions. "Under supervision" can mean only under qualified and experienced supervision, but there are known cases of junior technicians with three years' experience in the laboratory, only part of which may have been in bacteriology, who are responsible for the handling of tuberculous material entirely without supervision. Most hospitals have to rely on the unqualified student and the junior technician for the bulk of the routine work, including the bacteriology, and not all hospitals ensure that they are adequately supervised.
The doubts surrounding the implementation of the working party's recommendations led my right hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North on 21st April to ask the Secretary of State for Social Services:
how many hospital laboratories carrying out cultural tests of tuberculosis material do not have protective cabinets; how many hospitals do not provide annual X-ray tests for staff working in the laboratories; how many hospitals do not carry out tuberculosis skin tests on newly appointed laboratory staff; how many hospitals do not provide B.C.G. vaccine for negative reactors working in their laboratories; what steps he has taken to ensure that the recommendations made by the Working Party in 1958 about precautions in hospital laboratories are carried out.
The Secretary of State replied
The recommendations of the Working Party on Precautions against Tuberculous Infection in the Diagnostic Laboratory published in 1958 were commended to hospital authorities. A survey of most regional board areas in 1966 showed that the main recommendations were being carried out in the majority of hospital laboratories working with tuberculous material. All children requiring it are now given the opportunity of B.C.G. vaccination before leaving school and subsequent tuberculin testing is no longer necessary."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st April, 1969; Vol. 782, c. 19.]
It is my contention that this reply was totally inadequate. It did not answer the Question. What does the phrase "most regional board areas" mean? How many? What does "the majority of hospitals working with tuberculous" material mean? May we he given more specific information on this point as well?
I believe that the Ministry must undertake to make available on a continuing basis the figures of the rate of infection; continually to review the precautionary procedures; to enforce certain basic procedures where they are not being carried out—these include protective cabinets, regular x-rays, skin tests; to provide decent working conditions where these are obviously lacking. It must also ensure that the Industrial Injuries Act governing laboratory infection with tuberculosis is being effectively applied to medical laboratory technicians.
Laboratory technicians are giving a vital service to this country for life, health and medical research. They work away in back rooms, not always seen, not always thanked as they should be for what they are doing on behalf of the community. We must ensure that all reasonable precautions for their own health and welfare are always taken.
I should like to thank my hon. Friend for raising tonight the subject of health hazards which exist for laboratory technicians in the National Health Service. His was a well-informed and well-briefed speech, and it raised a number of points which, if I do not deal with them tonight, I shall certainly want to look into. I agree that we owe a great deal to the laboratory technicians in the National Health Service, and, apart from the matter of health hazards, my hon. Friend will know something of the Zuckerman Committee, which has been looking into the career structure of technicians in the Health Service, and our response to it, recognising the significance, as we see it, of the scientists and technologists working in the Health Service.
I want first to say something about laboratory hazards generally and then to comment on tuberculosis and to raise one or two other hazards as well. Hospital staff whose work has the prime objective of improving the health of other people ought to be ahead of other workers, not behind, when it is a question of their own health; although the staff themselves may not speak loudly where facilities for themselves are concerned, hospital management ought to ensure that the best possible arrangements prevail. I am sure my hon. Friend agrees with that point.
We are concerned tonight particularly with the hazards in laboratories, and it is true to say that almost any toxic or explosive substance, almost any pathogenic organism, can potentially constitute a hazard. The first line of defence is the proper training of the staff. Best current advice on techniques of handling material must be given to staff, who must practise them so that correct laboratory procedure becomes second nature to them.
The next line of defence is the provision of the necessary physical facilities by hospital management. This means the construction of modern, well-designed laboratories with sufficient space and special protective measures where these are called for; for example, the provision of lead screening for protection against ionising radiations. The third line of defence is that management should provide for regular surveillance of workers subject to special hazards, with medical examination and monitoring of the working environment at intervals.
Let me deal first with the risk of tuberculosis infection, which I know is the special concern of my hon. Friend. I cannot deny that it exists, but, although we do not know precisely how many Health Service technicians have contracted the disease, we think that the number must be very small. It is relevant for me to draw attention to the fact that notifications of tuberculosis have continued in recent years to show a welcome decline in the population as a whole, from 20,500 in 1962 to 13,200 in 1967. That is a very substantial reduction. Between 1966 and 1967, there was a marked reduction in notifications of respiratory tuberculosis, the number of deaths from tuberculosis reaching a new now level of 2,043 in 1967.
For hospital staff, the greatest risk occurs in the post-mortem rooms, where technicians do not normally work. Specimens from post-mortem rooms are processed in laboratories but should not transmit infection since the process of fixation, by heat or chemicals, should render them safe. Liquid or semi-liquid specimens and cultures are the real danger, and should always wherever possible be handled under exhaust ventilation. This is usually provided in the form of hooded benches or cubicles, and technicians are trained to use these facilities.
My hon. Friend has referred to the report entitled "Precautions against Tuberculosis Infection in the Diagnostic Laboratory", published in January, 1958. It was prepared by a working party of the Public Health Laboratory Service and the Department's Central Pathology Committee. Its recommendations were brought to the attention of hospital authorities. In 1961 a Circular was issued to hospital authorities, and it reported that the Standing Tuberculosis Advisory Committee and the Central Health Services Council had reiterated the working party's advice, and hospital authorities were asked to ensure that it was being acted upon.
In 1966 the Department followed up the circular and asked hospital authorities to report on the situation in their regions. The survey did not seek to find out how many laboratory staff had contracted tuberculosis, but among the questions asked were the following: how many laboratories handling potentially tuberculous material had protective cabinets, and gave their staff annual X-rays and tuberculin tests on appointment. The replies varied, of course, but most regions reported that the majority of laboratories were implementing the recommendations. My hon. Friend wanted the figures. I will write to him and give him the analysis of the replies, which, on the whole, were encouraging.
However, I must agree that anything less than 100 per cent. compliance where the health of staff is at risk is not satisfactory. We have, therefore, decided to carry out a further survey next year to check that any defaulters in 1966 are now complying with the requirements. As part of that inquiry, we will consider seeking information about the incidence of infection among laboratory staff. As a result of that survey we shall have not only more information on compliance but information which we have not got at present of the incidence of infection among laboratory staff.
Some laboratories are so unsatisfactory that a new laboratory may be the only answer, particularly since the work load has increased greatly in recent years and the number of technicians involved has greatly expanded. The Government also have in hand a major hospital rebuilding programme. New laboratories are getting their share, but there are many other competing demands on the capital available.
I turn now to another infection which my hon. Friend did not raise but which is of similar concern. I refer to infective hepatitis. Anyone handling human blood or serum may contract this infection, and it is a particular risk for staff in haematology departments, blood transfusion centres and renal dialysis units. Infections occur, although they are comparatively rare, but there is no evidence that technicians have a higher infection rate than the general population.
Pathologists were reminded in November, 1966, by the Central Pathology Committee of the main precautions necessary in handling potentially infected material. The Central Pathology Committee did not think that it was a significant problem but agreed that staff should be warned of the dangers. A Working Party of the Public Health Laboratory Service reported in 1968 on infection risks in haemodialysis units, and, among other things, recommended on precautions to reduce the risk of hepatitis. This report was published in the British Medical Journal and a copy sent by the Department to all dialysis units.
The risk from ionising radiations is seldom substantial in pathology laboratories, but it may exist in other hospital departments where technicians work. Here hospital authorities are expected to comply with the Code of Practice for the Protection of Persons against Ionising Radiations arising from Medical and Dental use. This comprehensive Code, which was revised in 1964, was prepared by a Panel of the Radioactive Substances Advisory Committee. A survey which was carried out last year by the Department to check the extent to which hospital authorities were putting it into effect showed a reasonable degree of compliance. The Code prescribes maximum permissible doses for all staff in accordance with international recommendations, lays down physical measures for protection, and requires monitoring of radiation levels and in certain circumstances medical examination of radiation workers.
A watch is kept on current scientific views on carcinogenic substances. A circular is about to be sent to hospital authorities passing on advice of a subcommittee of the Central Pathology Com- mittee about the extent to which certain substances—now prohibited or controlled by the Department of Employment and Productivity in their use in factories—can safely be used in hospital laboratories.
It is not only in hospital laboratories where there are hazards of infection or dangerous substances. Workers in Public Health Laboratory Service laboratories which are constantly dealing with infected or contaminated materials are also subject to risks to their health. A constant watch is kept on the situation, and staff are well trained in the necessary precautions. These problems are, of course, a part of the whole wide subject of care for the health of all people who work in hospitals, and I should not like my hon. Friend to think that, because we have concentrated tonight on a particular and special section of the staff, we are not very much concerned with the care of the health of all hospital staff. It is, of course, a much larger subject, with which I have not time to deal tonight.
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this subject in the constructive and well-informed way that he did. One or two points that he raised, with which I have not dealt in detail in my reply, I will look into and write to him about.