National Health Service Bill
Order for Second Reading read.
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."The Bill extends the power to make and recover certain charges for the National Health Service. The general reasons for that were explained during the debate on the financial and economic situation in January, and they were then accepted by a majority of the House. But, of course, the Opposition then made, and I dare say will go on making, an attack upon the Government for touching this service at all. I think it may well be that many people who are not themselves engaged in political battles will, in their heart of hearts, be surprised, if a general saving of public expenditure is to be made—and "is to be made" is the key consideration—to find that this field should be automatically put out of bounds. It is one which should at least be explored. We are not concerned today with a purely financial attempt at retrenchment at all costs. Far from it. When the Government were seeing whether any savings could be made in the Health Service the considerations they had constantly in mind were: are there any obvious abuses to be rectified? Can we sooner or better reach what is the ultimate objective of us all, improving the public health, by pruning or re-arranging some of the present services or, indeed, by getting the emphasis altered in the right direction? By this Bill we can make some such improvements while, at the same time, restraining the expenditure. There are two general points to be remembered on the financial side of the Health Service. It is important to remind hon. Members and people outside this House that this service is paid for as to 90 per cent. out of taxation. It is not an insurance system in any sense of the word. Let me remind hon. Members that the employed man's card, on which the stamps are put each week, represents 9s. 5d., or 113 pennies. The employed man himself pays 5s. 1d., that is, 61 pennies out of the 113 pennies. But out of the 113 pennies the total contribution which goes towards the Health Service is only 10d., which is a minute contribution towards the £400 million that it costs. That is what we in this House would call a grant in aid, and it is neither an insurance premium nor a payment for services to be received. It is just a contribution. This was very much in the mind of Sir Stafford Cripps when Chancellor of the Exchequer, because I remember that in April, 1949, he was saying that there was a good argument for a special charge or tax in connection with the Health Service to help to finance it and—this is the important point—so that people generally should remember that the service had to be paid for out of taxation. To impose a charge is, therefore, not breaking faith with anybody. The fact that right hon. Gentlemen opposite have done it before emphasises that point. The second general financial point is this: it was the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Gaitskell), who, last year, put a ceiling of £400 million on to the service and to keep public expenditure below that ceiling he recommended the House to put charges both on dentures and on spectacles. He did not put any charge on prescriptions, but it was he and his colleagues who two years before had taken power to do it. They took the power, but when the time came in 1951 they did something else. They put on charges, and they accepted the principle that a ceiling of £400 million sterling was reasonable for this service. All that we are doing in the Bill is to work to exactly the same ceiling as did the Labour Government last year, and because costs have risen we are doing exactly the same thing as they did; that is to say, we, too, are putting on charges. When I say that we are making it possible to put on a charge I really mean a charge, and I do not mean the sort of thing which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan) meant in 1949 when an Amendment was moved and accepted to give the Government of the day power to do it then. What the right hon. Gentleman said was:
When is a charge not a charge? When proposed by the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale. As a matter of fact, we are in some difficulty over this whole matter, upon a procedural matter. I know that hon. Members will be wanting to discuss many implications of the proposed charge on doctors' prescriptions, which is to make up most of the charge with which we are dealing. The Bill does not deal with that at all, but I hope that sufficient latitude may be given by the Chair for that ground to be covered. The Bill deals with a very small part of that problem. Regulations will be laid under the Act of 1949, the Labour Government's Act. We have had to introduce a Bill to tidy up the power of making Regulations. We are making no new decisions. The Labour Government, in 1949, took the decision that it was a proper thing to put a charge on doctors' prescriptions. We do not need any Act to carry that out. We are merely putting life into the Labour Act and we shall make Regulations to impose a 1s. charge, which, in itself, may well save the Exchequer something like £12 million sterling. They made the plan, and we are taking the action. It is a shared business. There was one small gap in the Act of 1949. The Labour Government took power only to issue Regulations covering prescriptions and appliances prescribed by doctors. I do not know whether it was an oversight or by intention—and it is immaterial which it was—but they did not take similar power in the case of prescriptions and appliances provided in the outpatient departments of hospitals. If we are to ask the generality of people to pay a charge for prescriptions it seems only right that the fact that the particular person gets his medicine or appliance from an outpatient department of a hospital should not be of tremendous advantage to him. Clause 1 deals with that aspect of the matter. It is only to that extent that the matter arises technically in the Bill. It does not deal with in-patients. They continue to get everything free. There is no power to impose a charge upon them. As regards outpatients, if there is a dispensary for them in the hospital there will be no charge to the recipients of National Assistance or to war pensioners who are being treated for accepted war injuries. They will continue to get the issue free. If there is no dispensary, those people and the other outpatients will have to go, like everybody else, to a chemist and get their prescriptions made up. They will fall within the same group of provisions as were published by the Labour Government in 1949, dealing with prescriptions. I will say what is generally proposed; we are still having conversations with doctors and chemists about the practical difficulties arising, particularly in rural areas. The proposals are that persons having prescriptions made up by chemists must pay not more than 1s. Persons who get their medicine from dispensing doctors pay 1s. when the medicine is dispensed. It is very often the case that more than one item is prescribed on a form, but the proposal is that the shilling will be paid per form and not per item on the form. There will be no exemptions. Everybody will pay, in the first instance. Those in receipt of National Assistance grants will claim, presumably, their refund, and they will get it from the office where they draw their assistance when they next go there to get it. They will produce for that purpose a special receipt which the chemist or the dispensing doctor will have given them. It is a perfectly simple procedure. [HON. MEMBERS: "Form filling."] Form filling? It is only a receipt given by the chemist. They take it to the place where they receive their payment in the normal way, and they will get the money paid back to them. The same applies to war pensioners in respect of the charge incurred by reason of their accepted war disability."We are, in fact, confining the power to make Regulations to withhold free sales up to a certain amount—not to impose a charge. That is not a power to impose a charge. This is to restrict the free service on the pharmaceutical side up to 1s."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th December, 1949; Vol. 470, c. 2261.]
I should like to be clear about what is in the mind of the right hon. Gentleman. He says that these people will have their shilling refunded when they get their payments in the normal way. They get their payments in the normal way at a post office by means of a book in which the sum due is printed. Have they to wait until special books have been printed? How long have they to wait?
I am sorry if I am not making the position clear.They will get their receipts, worth 1s. or 2s., and when they go with their books they will hand over these receipts and get the corresponding number of shillings. They will not need new books at all. As to its being done at the post office, I did not put in "at the post office" because I am advised that there are cases where the money is not obtained at the post office and in which the recipients get the money by post or by some other means. The normal place is the post office and the normal procedure will be that they will hand in their books and these receipts, and get the corresponding number of shillings. Nothing could be simpler than that. I have a lot to say. Perhaps it would be more convenient if I ran through the Bill. Cases of hardship will be dealt with in exactly the same way as was proposed by the right hon. Gentleman last year in the Act of 1951. That is on the prescription point. In regard to appliances, Clause 1 takes power to charge when the appliances are provided by hospitals. This principle was conceded by the Labour Government in the Act of 1949 because it allowed charges to be made for appliances provided by doctors but not by hospitals. The Bill brings in hospital out-patients, but only for a very small range of appliances.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will let me make some way with my speech.
I only wanted to say that I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not twist the use of the term "appliance" as used by doctors. It was put into the Act in a technical way, to cover bandages.
I thing that the right hon. Gentleman's recollection is at fault.A great many rumours and exaggerations have got about on the subject of the appliances with which we intend to deal. We do not propose to touch artificial legs or arms. There is a very short list, and if it is for the convenience of the House perhaps I might be allowed to give it. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] First is the surgical boot. Hon. Gentlemen will realise that people who have surgical boots prescribed for them ipso facto do not require ordinary boots. [An HON. MEMBER: "Oh!"] They do not. It is quite reasonable to make a charge for this appliance. The proposed charge will be £3 a pair, and there will be a charge for repair, in the case of women from 6s. to 13s. 6d. and of men from 8s. to 13s. 6d. The second group is surgical abdominal supports, and we propose a charge of £1 each on them. The right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale probably knows that there have been a good many cases of alleged abuse reported, of prescribing what was not much more than a reinforced corset. The third item is elastic hosiery, charged at 5s. to 10s., according to its character. The fourth on the list is wigs, charged at £2 10s. each. It had been suggested at one time that hearing aids should also be charged for as being analogous to the spectacles and the teeth. However, when it was realised how big a backlog in hearing aids there is still, and that it would have been unfair to many who have been on the list for so long that, just by a fortuitous act on the part of the House they should be made to pay when their next door neighbour did not, these were not put on the list. So the list is surgical boots and repairs, surgical abdominal supports, elastic hosiery and wigs. This is expected to bring in about £250,000. There will be no charge for hospital appliances in the case of children under 16 or in full-time attendance at school, persons in receipt of National Assistance or their dependants or war pensioners in respect of "accepted" disability. And, as in the case of the Act of last year, hardship can be dealt with by the Assistance Board.
Can the right hon. Gentleman say what proportion of the cost of these items is represented by these charges?
It is roughly about half, as was the case with the other charges put in by the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends.Now I will pass to Clause 2, which deals with the big subject of this Bill, namely, dental charges. This provides for a charge of £1 or less for the actual fee for dental treatment, though it sets a maximum possible charge, where dentures are provided, of £4 5s. The estimated saving is of the order of £7½ million. We suggest two exemptions in Clause 2 (3)—school children, and mothers who are either expectant or who have borne a child within 12 months, are to have completely free treatment. All that those persons will have to do who come within the exemptions will be to sign a declaration when they visit the dentist and satisfy him of their identity. Probably the reasonable way to do that is by showing the ration book. There is no question of any doctor's certificate or other document. We trust entirely in the honesty of these people and I am sure that it will not be misplaced. However, in case free treatment may be given to people who might come forward when they are not really entitled to it, there must be an ultimate sanction. That is in Clause 5, which is common form in cases of this kind. It says that where it is afterwards discovered that knowingly false statements were made, a prosecution can follow against the person who has tried to get the benefit. Otherwise there is no formality short of signing the declaration that they come within the exempted classes and of identifying themselves.
Can I not finish the dental Clause? I may be going to deal with the very point which the hon. Gentleman has in mind, and, anyway, he cannot be certain that I shall not.These proposals have led to a great deal of argument as to whether we have chosen the right exemption age. It is suggested that instead of it being the school-leaving age, as it is in the Bill, it would be better to continue the exemption up to the age of 21, from the point of view of the future dental health of the nation, and having also in mind that men who are called up will, during their term of National Service, get free treatment. It is argued that it is rather unfair that young women should not get the advantage which the other sex gets owing to the call-up. If we were to do anything of that kind, we should, naturally, reduce the amount we hope to recover by these charges; I must warn the House that it would be a reduction of the order of £1 million. However, I said at the beginning of my speech that money was not the sole criterion and that we also wanted to get the emphasis right. Therefore, after further examining this point, the Government are prepared to accept the suggestion of raising that exemption age from the school-leaving one to 21—that is, under this Clause. I emphasise that it is under this Clause because there is no reason why, if dentures are provided, the recipient should not pay the normal charges under the Act of the Labour Government.
From 16 to 21?
Yes. Should there be cases of hardship they will be treated in the same way as the Labour Government showed us. I admit that the £1 charge is a rough and ready way of dealing with this, but the Government recommends it largely to keep the free treatment more or less to the priority classes; that is to say, young people up to 21 and expectant and nursing mothers.It is a sad result of the recent system that the school dental service has gone rather into a decline. We hope that these changes may encourage more dentists to enter into contracts with local authorities to work in that service, possibly on a part-time salaried basis. If that happens it will, in the long run, be very much to the advantage of the health of the nation, because the more care that can be given to the teeth of children and expectant and nursing mothers, the better, as I am sure the House will agree. As for the £1 charge, arguments have been put to me by friends of mine in the House and outside and by correspondence with hon. Members in different quarters of the House, to the effect that a £1 charge put on in this way will reduce real conservation work for the adult population. I am not fully persuaded that a maximum charge of £1 need necessarily do this, and to describe it as "rotting the miners' teeth" as did the right hon. Gentleman, is the wildest of exaggerations—
The right hon. Gentleman does not know what he is talking about.
I know that the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale is always assumed to be the only person who knows what he is talking about, but I claim that this was an exaggeration. However, there is a case to be made that it would be a good idea under the Act that all examinations should be free of cost, and that the charge should begin only after the mouth has been examined. If we allowed the clinical examination to be free I think we should be quite within the principle of the Act. And in so far as it was a mistake in judgment to provide otherwise when we first made these proposals, I am quite prepared to stand in a white sheet and say so. I am also prepared, on behalf of the Government, to move the necessary Amendment so that this can be discussed and, I hope, put into the Bill.There is one other point on teeth in Clause 4, about bridges. I mention it because it was of interest to my two predecessors when they were administering the service. In Clause 4 we make it clear that a bridge comes within the scope of the charge for dentures. Apparently there was some doubt about it. Bridges, generally speaking, are more expensive than dentures, but people who have had them put in instead of dentures have been getting away without any charge. That is obviously an unfairness as between citizen and citizen and we propose to alter that in Clause 4. The other point of Clause 4 is that it extends the power which local authorities already have to make charges at day nurseries. At present they can make certain charges, but only for meals and particular articles and residential accommodation. This will enable them, if they so wish—it is a local government option, not a Government decree—in appropriate cases to make charges. It may interest the House to know that there are at present something like 45,000 places in day nurseries and that they cost about £5,250,000, of which the taxpayer finds half and the ratepayer half. The average cost per place is about 45s. a week and of this some of the authorities recover only 7s. 6d. We feel that in many cases no hardship would follow if further charges were made, recovering either the whole or part of the cost, but it is left to the local authorities to decide whether they put them on and what kind of arrangements they will make. This is only an enabling Clause but it may, possibly, save the Exchequer up to £500,000. I have already referred to Clause 5, which deals with evasions. I do not think there is anything very much else in the other Clauses, which are mostly machinery, except, perhaps, to point out on Clause 6 that it is for the National Assistance Board to determine whether a person should be exempted from the charge, or part of the charge, on grounds of hardship and that they can grant assistance to persons for the purpose of meeting any of these charges even if they are in full employment. This will be entirely for the Board to decide and, of course, if they feel that their general discretion is insufficient, they can always come back to the Government and to Parliament.
There is a form of words which puzzles me, and perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would enlighten the House about them. Apparently the National Assistance Board can give assistance to persons receiving
What is the meaning of that? It is referred to in the Explanatory Memorandum, which states that"dental treatment outside the National Health Service."
[HON. MEMBERS: "Where does it say that?"] There are only two pages of the Explanatory Memorandum. It is in paragraph 9, which refers to Clause 6 (2)."Clause 6 (2) empowers the National Assistance Board …"
Can I help the right hon. Gentleman? It probably means that the Assistance Board will be able to help those people who incur expenses subsequent to advice and treatment being given by a dentist outside the Assistance Board.
The right hon. Gentleman is obviously not satisfied with that explanation.
What is the Minister's explanation?
I will see that the right hon. Gentleman gets one later.
The Minister does not know.
Quite frankly, offhand I cannot say. I apologise to the House—I might as well be quite honest about it. I think that the Clause is meant to cover all the points which were covered in the provisions about the National Assistance relief in respect of the charges of last year. I will inform myself further, and I offer my humble apologies to the right hon. Gentleman and to anybody else who feels deeply on this matter. I am very much obliged to the right hon. Lady for her explanation, but we will leave it at that for the moment.
If the right hon. Gentleman suggests that my explanation is not the right one, does that mean that if a poor patient is in an area which is not serviced by a dentist who was serving the present scheme that patient would be unable to have a refund of his or her expenses?
This is an important point, but it is quite simple. All emergency dental treatment up to £1 would be carried out by the dentist outside the Health Service; he would be able to charge anything up to £1. Will the Assistance Board pay anything up to £1 which the dentist wants to charge?
I dare say that the right hon. Lady's explanation is the correct one but, as I have said, I will look into it. I am not a dentist, like the hon. Member for Wolverhampton. North-East (Mr. Baird), and this is a very technical point—
It is the right hon. Gentleman's Bill.
Dealing with bridges is quite complicated enough without getting into this difficulty. A reply will be given to the right hon. Gentleman, but I was under the impression that the Clause was merely carrying out the same arrangements as the previous Act had done; but if I am wrong I am sorry. I was saying that if the Board are not satisfied with their discretion, they can always come back to Government and to Parliament.Those are the general provisions. I said the other day, and I repeat now, that it is not any pleasure for the Government to ask for the imposition of these charges, but we still have to view these matters in the light of our perilous economic situation. Because of that, we have no alternative, and so long as the real hardships can be guarded against we hope that these economies will not be crippling to anybody.
I wish I could get on.
Before he leaves the matter of hardship, will my right hon. Friend allude to the question of prescription forms, with particular reference to the chronic sick? In other words, will it be permissible to prescribe well ahead in order to deal with these cases?
In the presence of so many distinguished members of the medical profession in the House, I am sure they would agree that I should be the last person to lay down anything in this field for doctors to do. I am quite sure that the doctors are just as much seized of these difficulties as anybody else. I am not going to lay down the law here and now as to how doctors are to do their prescribing.
This is not a point for medicals; it is a very important point for the House. There are people whose illness is of a kind which necessitates that periodically—perhaps, weekly—they must have a supply of certain drugs.
Why cannot that be put in the debate?
Because we are at this point in the Bill, and it was raised by an hon. Member on the Prime Minister's side. It is not an unreasonable question. I am sorry if I upset the Prime Minister, but this is a point which has arisen at this stage of the debate and I intend to put it. Will the Minister tell us: Where there is chronic illness and a predictable amount of drug is needed—perhaps, every week—will practitioners be permitted under the Bill to make allocation ahead, so that the patient does not come every week to pay 1s.?
As I understand, that is more or less the practice now. Doctors know about that quite well and do, in fact, prescribe quite a bit ahead of time. All I am saying is that I do not think that the lay authorities ought to lay down in black and white to a profession like the medical one, exactly how they should prescribe in any particular case. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am glad at last to have assent to something I have said. We all know that doctors frequently prescribe in chronic cases for a considerable period, and I shall do nothing in the Bill which would stop that. I am not going to interfere with their professional ways of doing their business. But all this, of course, will come up under the Regulations; it has nothing to do with the Bill. That shows the wisdom of allowing a fairly wide debate on this matter. I was saying that it is no pleasure to have to introduce this sort of Bill, but that the background all the time is the economic situation, which hon. Members from time to time lose sight of, as do people outside. These administrative provisions will have to be covered by Regulations, and it will be open to the House to debate those Regulations when they come along. They will not come until after the passage of the Bill. I want to be quite fair to the House. Although I have full power, and have had ever since we came into office, as did hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, to impose the major charges under the 1949 Act, it is much more decent and proper, in the Parliamentary sense, so long as we are making amendments and extensions, to wait until the Bill has received the Royal assent, if so that be. I see the right hon. Gentleman agreeing with that and I hope he will agree with me in this. I think it is only fair now for hospitals to warn people who attend to have appliances prescribed for them and to say, "This Bill is before Parliament and if it is passed you will have to pay a certain amount towards these appliances if you do not get them before the Bill is enacted." I think that that warning should be given and I hope the House will not think it improper. As there is no dissent, I hope the House will think it fair to do that as quickly as possible. There are no exemptions under the hardship provisions of the Bill except those I have mentioned. The fact remains that the cost of prescriptions this year is expected to be more than £50 million. If charges are introduced the assumption is that the estimate will go down; we estimate by about £12,500,000. Hon. Members opposite, or at any rate their leaders, have accepted that there is a case for reducing this vast bill for medicines. The former Prime Minister, in 1949, said in the House that there was
and there was an occasion when the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale himself shuddered at what he called
"excessive and, in some cases, unnecessary resort to doctors and chemists."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th October, 1949; Vol. 468, c. 1019.]
That was in November, 1949, when the cost of the pharmaceutical service was £35 million. Now it is £50 million. If £35 million was a cascade, it is a Niagara today."the ceaseless cascade of medicine which is pouring down British throats."
There are increased costs.
Oh, no, the increased costs do not cover anything like that; it is the increased number of prescriptions.There have been requests for exemptions for old-age pensioners, Service men, and various other categories, but the Government do not feel that it would be right to give any of these groups exemption as such, although we have considered the problem in all its aspects. I have just said that persons in receipt of National Assistance benefit will, of course, receive repayment of the charge, just because they are on Assistance. Out of the old age pensioners that covers, I am sorry to say, something like 750,000. They would be immediately exempt and of the other four million old age pensioners if there are cases of hardship they will be able to make their case. Part of our plan, as outlined in the Budget, is to increase the pension rates. [HON. MEMBERS: "Not enough."] It is more than hon. Members opposite were able to achieve. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] The war-disabled who need medicine because of their war disability will be automatically repaid, but that is as far as we can go in that field. We examined the question of the industrially injured people, who have a special scheme of their own, but it has not been found possible to bring them in. I am not sure whether it would be justifiable. Then there have been criticisms about the dental scheme to the effect that we were retarding the much desired improvement in dental health, but we think that by the re-arrangements made in the Bill and which I have mentioned today this will be altered. The real trouble there is that we have only 10,000 dentists. If we had more than that things would be easier and the teeth of the nation would be better. To try to do as much as we can seems to be the answer.
If the dentists are shifted from the School Dental Service they still have to be paid; how will that save the £25 million?
I think it would work out.I want to say a word before I close on something which is very much in the mind of hon. Members in all parts of the House: that is the relationship to this Bill and to the £400 million ceiling of the effect of the Danckwerts judgment. Perhaps I may be allowed a brief reference to that. I explained on Tuesday that the effect of the adjudication was broadly to increase the remuneration of general practitioners in the basic year of 1950–51 by £9,750,000. But the total bill that would fall in course of payment next year as a result of increases in previous and subsequent years might be of the order of £40 million although, of the £40 million, only £10 million would, in fact be attributable to the increased cost of their remuneration in the next financial year. That is to say, the £10 million is next year's part and the other £30 million, in rough figures, is the backlog for other years. For next year the estimates, excluding Civil Defence, have left a little headroom below the ceiling and I am estimating that if no other great changes occur, no major catastrophes, and the charges in this Bill have the effect we assume, the ceiling will be exceeded but not by very much—by comparatively little. That is on the assumption that the £30 million payable next year is taken out of this account altogether. That is the assumption I made; it is not to be counted against the ceiling. The conclusion is that it is not the intention of the Government, as a result of the Danckwerts award, to increase any of the charges I have mentioned in connection with this Bill and that if, as a result of this award and the £10 million or so next year, the figure of £400 million is surpassed in 1952–53, that is a situation which we shall all have to accept. The ceiling will have gone up pro tanto and that is that because it is a situation which could not have been fully foreseen by anyone. I hope that clears up the doubts of the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale. In the last debate he said that we were trying to destroy the National Health Service because we always hated it.
The free National Health Service.
Nothing could be further from the truth. We have not always hated it and are not trying to destroy it. I only have to remind the House and the nation that it was a Conservative Minister who, in war-time, took the first step along this road under Lord Woolton, as Minister of Reconstruction, and under the Prime Minister in command. There is no reason for us either to want to destroy it or to hate it. [An HON. MEMBER: "You voted against it."] The fact remains that unless we restore our present precarious situation, unless we can restore confidence in sterling and stop the drain on our reserves it is not the National Health Service which will be destroyed but the very foundations of our economy which will be shaken—that is the danger we have to face—and much that all of us together have created and enjoyed would disappear in the twilight of national bankruptcy.Those are the grim facts which, fundamentally, are the justification for the financial parts of the Bill. The other portion, which tries to turn the emphasis into a slightly better direction than it has been in the last few years, is the more constructive portion of the Bill which I now commend to the House.
I have seen the right hon. Gentleman perform at the Dispatch Box on many occasions, but never have I seen him so uneasy, so unsure of himself and so ignorant of his facts as this afternoon—and I am not surprised. He has this afternoon come to this House and done something which I believe is without precedent. He has presented a Bill on its Second Reading, a Bill so manifestly unjust in certain respects that he has had to come and promise to amend it because, I take it, his followers refused to allow him to wait until Committee stage.I am very sorry for the Minister to find he has been deserted this afternoon by the one whom I regard as the architect of the Bill, the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I feel that the Chancellor might at least have given the Minister a little more support during the next few hours. What the Minister has announced must be eleventh hour changes, because I recall last week, when my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) pressed him to tell the House what he proposed to do, the Minister was a little coy, and refused to disclose what the changes were to be. So, therefore, I say that they must be eleventh hour changes. I am not surprised. My right hon. and hon. Friends have gone up and down the country during the last few weeks protesting against this mean Measure. Furthermore, I feel there have been other forces at work. I see the hon. Member for Enfield sitting opposite, and I recall that in the old days, when I was Minister of National Insurance, he used to make most constructive suggestions, for which I was grateful.
Yes, but I sit for Wolverhampton.
I beg the hon. Member's pardon. My memory for the faces of hon. Members opposite is greater than my memory for their constituencies. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree I am right in saying that he has on occasions taken particular interest in matters of social welfare. I cannot believe that hon. Members like himself, and his hon. Friends, have allowed the Minister during the weeks which have elapsed—and there has been a great deal of procrastination—to come to this House with this Bill without insisting that there should be some amendment to it.After all, I think it must have been a little difficult for the Government to make hon. Gentlemen sitting on the back benches opposite forget that in the Tory Election Manifesto of October, 1951, it was said:
"… in health some of the most crying needs are not being met."
Hon. Gentlemen opposite say "Hear, hear," yet they are prepared this afternoon to come to this House and listen to the right hon. Gentleman expounding a Bill which is emasculating the Health Service of this country. They have been asked to forget the health provisions in the Tory Election Manifesto just a few weeks after they were asked to erase from their memories the section about food in the same Manifesto, which read:
I suspect also there are other forces at work. The right hon. Gentleman is in charge of a very large Department and I believe he employs many distinguished doctors, both full-time and part-time. I think that if any one of those people had been consulted before this Bill was even printed they could have told him that the degree of dental caries is greater among the adolescent groups than among any other age group. These changes, quite major changes in the dental charges, have been made today and I think that is some evidence that this Bill was hastily conceived by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and thrust upon a bewildered Minister of Health who, quite understandably was not familiar with a Department, which is highly complex and technical. He has shown this afternoon, and I have every sympathy with him, that it has been quite impossible for him to grasp all the technical details of his Department. But it seems that these advisers of his have been brought into the picture only very recently and that, I say, is another example of the mismanagement of the business of Government. The right hon. Gentleman made a point in his early remarks of reminding the House that my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) was responsible in the first place, for introducing some of these provisions. Let us look at the whole picture. I recall the Chancellor of the Exchequer making a certain remark with regard to this Bill which struck me as being a little curious. This was shortly after the present Government was returned. He said:"Food subsidies cannot be radically changed in the present circumstances. …"
I think that this afternoon the Minister of Health showed, by his hesitant manner, why that legislation had been left behind. I think the whole House will agree with me that it is a very unstatesmanlike approach for any Chancellor of the Exchequer to make to a piece of legislation left over in the pigeonholes of Whitehall. The very fact that the previous Government, after a most exhaustive discussion, had not thought fit to charge for treatment along the lines proposed in this Bill should be the very reason for at least delaying it, and not rushing in at the first opportunity, which is what the Government have done. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said he was not going to be out-manœuvred. The Bill was printed and remained in the Vote Office for many, many weeks. Meanwhile the Minister of Health was compelled to do what his predecessors had to do, but too late. He showed this afternoon that he has found himself in a great difficulty. He has been apologetic with regard to the other provisions to which I am now coming, and I will show him just how difficult it will be to administer this Bill. I am rather sorry that he did try to ride away on the Regulations. But there are some things this House must be told about in detail this afternoon of how these provisions are to be administered, because they are of the utmost importance to the poor sick of this country. I say that we on this side of the House have no desire to out-manœuvre the right hon. Gentleman. I even tried to help him myself. All that we on these benches wish to do is to put the case for the sick and the poor. If this Bill is proceeded with, I believe I shall be able to prove that it is one of the most heartless pieces of legislation ever introduced by a Tory Government. The only excuse which I can find for the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends is that their ears have been so deafened by the raucous voices of the brewers in the last few months that they have been unable to hear the protests of the poor and the sick. One excuse offered by the right hon. Gentleman—we are so tired of hearing this in this House—is that the reason right hon. Gentlemen opposite do things is that they are guided by the previous Government. The excuse offered, which he felt justified this charge, was that the previous Government had made a charge for dentures and spectacles. I say there is no comparison between what is a once-for-all-time charge, and borne in the main by healthy people, and a charge for treatment for sickness which may continue for weeks; and for life, in the case of a chronically sick person. No argument which the right hon. Gentleman has advanced this afternoon disguises the fact that the Government now propose to erect a financial barrier between the doctor and the poorest in the community. I thought I understood the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he addressed himself to this proposal many weeks ago. I thought he said that where there was hardship help will be given. I ask the Minister who is to reply to the debate to define to this House what is meant by the word "hardship." Every old person in the lowest income groups, whether he is on National Assistance or not, will suffer hardship; and so will all small pensioners, the widows, the blind persons, the orphans, the chronic sick, the epileptics, the diabetics and the tuberculous. It was the chronic sick who were in the mind of my right hon. Friend when he pressed the Minister to say whether a doctor would be able to prescribe heavily. The point of his question was whether a doctor could give, say, insulin for a diabetic to cover several months on one prescription at a charge of 1s., or whether he could give treatment for an epileptic to cover several months on one prescription. The right hon. Gentleman, who said that there is no intention of interfering with the treatment of doctors, must realise that there is an ethical side to this business. No doctor, however warm- warmhearted he may be, can say to a chronic sick person—and these people have to have continuous treatment for the rest of their lives—"I will give you a prescription to cover three months treatment," and then wash his hands of the treatment. Of course, the doctor bears a very heavy responsibility. These people will be called upon to pay 1s. for each prescription every time they see the doctor, which will be very often. The right hon. Gentleman is placing this heavy burden on the aged and the widows with dependent children. I will take those two groups to begin with. Does the House realise that if the Minister does this he will deny adequate medical care to the old people and the dependent children of widows? We all deplored the fact that the coalminers made a violent protest when this Bill was printed. The responsible leaders of the trade unions asked the coalminers not to do what they had threatened to do, which was to withdraw their labour on Saturdays. But does the House realise what was in the minds of the coalminers? They were not necessarily thinking of their own wives having to pay 1s. for treatment. They were thinking of the thousands of men disabled through pneumoconiosis, which is another chronic disease. There are thousands of them in the South Wales coalmining area who will be called upon to pay shillings for prescriptions for the rest of their lives. I think that it was my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) who said, either to me privately or in the House in the eloquent way he has of expressing himself, "Are these men to be denied for the rest of their lives a little relief in the morning when their disablement is at its height?" This is the reason why the coalminers made a protest. It is not as many hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite thought. It is not, as they thought, that there is a Communist element which sees this as a way of attacking the Government. It is because they know the position from bitter experience among the men with whom they work. That is the defect of the Government. They are so remote from the lives of the workers that they can frame this legislation, and only at the last moment do they realise that it will bear so heavily on the poorest in the community. While I am on this point, I should like to ask the Minister to explain Clause 6, which makes a provision for those in full employment who are unable to meet these charges. Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us the wage limit below which a worker can apply for repayment? Now I come to prescribing. I am very pleased that the right hon. Gentleman mentioned the question. If he will read the debate which took place in another place yesterday, he will see that a distinguished doctor addressed himself to this subject and made some recommendation. I always like to be constructive on these matters, and I have given a good deal of thought to this question. I propose to suggest a remedy. I propose to suggest to the Minister exactly what I should do if I was in his place. I do this after having given a great deal of thought to the matter and after having discussed it with many doctors. Has the Minister considered this factor? Here he is imposing this charge of 1s. on prescriptions which, there is no doubt about it, will bear heavily on thousands of poor families, when he knows that the most flagrant abuse of the scheme exists in the field of prescribing. I say this deliberately. It is an abuse, in the main, by the better-off section of the community at the expense of the worse-off. He knows, because he addressed the Lincolnshire Division of the B.M.A. I can tell from the speech that he made that he had been informed by his advisers what the position was. He said:"Our predecessors, in the shape of the present Opposition, have conveniently left behind them legislation, out of which I do not propose to be manoeuvred, enabling a charge to be imposed on prescriptions."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th January, 1952; Vol. 495, c. 54.]
he did not talk about balancing the Budget then—"The drug bill has, in fact, got out of control, and it is for this reason that the Government proposed a 1s. charge on prescriptions."—
I would not deny that the drug bill of £50 million a year is too high. It is one-eighth of the total expenditure on the Health Service. But the Minister must know that it was never out of control before 1946, when only the lowest-paid workers were entitled to treatment. It is out of proportion today because, as the right hon. Gentleman has learned, high-powered salesmen on behalf of the drug manufacturers are persuading doctors to prescribe expensive proprietary drugs for their more well-to-do patients. As most hon. Gentlemen know, every doctor is supplied with a national formulary by the Ministry of Health. It contains economical and adequate prescriptions suitable for most of the complaints with which a doctor is called upon to deal. Today doctors are departing from the national formulary and prescribing unnecessary and expensive drugs. [An HON. MEMBER: "Oh."] The hon. Gentleman need not say "Oh." I never make this kind of statement—and a distinguished doctor in another place said something similar—without knowing that my facts are absolutely true."The wider question raised by what has happened is whether all this prescribing is really necessary. … There may be pressure by the patient convinced that he cannot get better without a 'bottle,' or high-powered salesmanship by the travelling representatives of the drug manufacturers, or the difficulties today experienced by the doctor in ascertaining the cost of prescribing."
Sorry, but they are not.
Perhaps my hon. Friend, who always disagrees with all his medical colleagues over everything—
That is not true. I am on the Council of the B.M.A. and take part in their discussions on these matters—simple or intricate. I am elected not by British doctors, whom I frequently oppose politically, but by my medical friends in the West Indies.
Perhaps my hon. Friend will listen to these figures. I leave it to the House to decide. Incidentally, behind me are other hon. Members who are doctors, and perhaps they will address themselves to this point. According to a Ministry of Health report the approximate proportion of proprietary prescriptions under the National Health Insurance Scheme before the war was 3 per cent. This rose to 7 per cent. in 1947 and to 12 per cent. in 1948. By the end of 1949 it was 21 per cent., and today I believe it is over 30 per cent.Who are consuming the expensive drugs? I should like to remind the right hon. Gentleman that he told the House, quite rightly, that 90 per cent. of the cost of the Health Service came out of the pockets of the taxpayers. I should like to quote from the memorandum of the Birmingham Executive Committee of the Health Service, which was set up by the right hon. Gentleman's Department.
I want to give the evidence, because this is most important. The average cost for a prescription for the whole country is 3s. 8d., and a little inquiry shows that, district for district, there are astonishing variations. Recently, a number of pharmacists practising in seven districts of one large area of Greater London compared the cost of their prescriptions over the last 12 months, and the pharmacists, of course, are only too happy to give the Minister this information, if he wants it, although I know that he does not, because he has already got the information. In one of these suburban areas of high rateable value, the cost of a prescription was as high as 7s. 6d.; in a favourite residential area on the borders of Middlesex it was 6s.; in a large and varied urban district, it ranged from 2s. 10d. to 4s., while, in a crowded industrial borough, it was as low as 2s. 3d. Furthermore, may I draw the attention of the Minister to an article in the "British Medical Journal" of 9th February, and I am inclined to think that this article was published for the Minister's benefit. It is on prescribing, and it makes most depressing reading. It constitutes the report of a survey of 17,000 prescriptions on Form E.C.10, which the Minister has mentioned, conducted by the Department of Therapeutics in Edinburgh University by Dr. Dunlop, who was responsible for the review. It discloses that one prescription alone for Vitamin E cost £14 and that many more cost about £5. His conclusion was the right one. After criticising the position in the country today, due to over-prescribing, he said that good prescribing was often economical prescribing. It is so easy for hon. Gentlemen opposite to say "You knew all about this: why did not you do something about it?" I have a good answer. We knew the trend, and we recognised that it was a serious trend, and, if the Minister searches those pigeon-holes again, he will find out what we did. We prohibited the prescribing of proprietary drugs publicly advertised, which, therefore, encourage patients to take them, although they had no great therapeutic value, but it was impossible then to anticipate the means which would be adopted by the drug manufacturers to circumvent us. I think I am right in saying that, during last year, since we introduced that prohibition, the position has considerably worsened. This over-prescribing is well known. I am sorry that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is not here, because I would have said that, while he was busying himself looking for legislation which the previous Government had discarded for good and proper reasons, he was being out-manoeuvred to the extent of millions of pounds in the wealthy areas of this country. Clearly, the source of the Minister's saving should not be the pockets of the sick poor but the millions of pounds spent on expensive drugs consumed by the better-off people. I have said that I would conclude this portion of my speech by telling the Minister what to do. I want to give him some good ideas. First, I would revise the national formulary more often, and, if necessary, amplify and modify it. Next, I would instruct chemists not to dispense proprietary drugs unless the doctor indicated that there was no equivalent in the national formulary. Not for one moment do I want to penalise one sick person, whatever the income of that person may be, but if there is an equivalent in the national formulary, then it is gross extravagance to prescribe a prescription costing £14 or even £5, which has to be paid for by the taxpayers of this country. I have only one more question on prescriptions. The right hon. Gentleman has said that a charge of a shilling will be imposed on every prescription. It is possible for a conscientious doctor to prescribe a few tablets or some ear drops, the cost of which will be under a shilling, but, in order to prescribe that, of course, he must have a consultation with the patient. I want to know whether, in that case, the patient will be allowed to pay less than a shilling. It is a very important matter to the very poor in the community. The Minister may well say, "I will consider that; it is a very good suggestion," but now I want to show him some of the difficulties he will run into. If a conscientious doctor has prescribed a few ear drops costing less than a shilling, when the patient goes to pay for the prescription, it will be disclosed for the first time that the cost of the treatment is less than a shilling, and the doctor who gave the prescription will not be very happy at this disclosure, having regard to the fact that he is being paid on a capitation basis. Whether we like it or not, the doctor—and this is one reason why there is heavy prescribing—likes to be persona grata with his patients. The Minister may say that it would not be fair to the doctor to reveal this, and that, therefore, the shilling must be paid, irrespective of the value of the prescription. In that case, it will not be surprising if the number of prescriptions valued at under a shilling and there are many—disappear altogether, with a consequent loss of money to the Revenue. There is another point, and this concerns the question of heavy prescribing. While many people will be deterred from going to the doctor, there are others who will not. I can see old age pensioners saying to the doctor, "Do not give me a prescription for an 8 oz. bottle, which is what you always do. Give me a 10 oz. or 12 oz. bottle, or, possibly, even prescribe a 16 oz. bottle." Two 8 oz. bottles would last a week, and, therefore, the cost of prescribing on that basis would be 2s.; but, if the doctor could be persuaded to prescribe one 16 oz. bottle, the cost would only be 1s. But the result would be waste. I would say that, in this House, there is not a single hon. Member who has not in his bathroom a bottle of tablets, lotion, medicine, ointment or a few bandages unused. No wonder the charge for prescriptions is £50 million a year, and, although the Minister thinks he is making this economical approach and—I am telling him now what our exhaustive inquiries have led up to—although he thinks he is approaching this matter wisely, all he is going to do is to encourage people to have more medicine, lotions and tablets than they need, and that these will go to clutter up the cupboards of the country. I cannot believe that the Government have really considered the effect of this mean Measure on the children of the country. During the last few years, the infantile mortality rate in this country has dropped considerably. Last year, we were all proud of the fact that our vital statistics are quoted in other countries, and, only on Friday, a Norwegian journalist came and discussed our vital statistics with me, and I was proud to tell him how good Britain's were. Infantile mortality has dropped to such an extent that in three quarters last year we established three new low records. I am among the first to recognise the relationship between a low infantile mortality rate and better feeding of our children, but do not let us ignore the fact that since the free National Health Service was introduced no mother in this country has been deterred from a consultation with a doctor on grounds of expense. To the ordinary housewife every penny counts. As for the gentlemen in the Cabinet who decided this—and this had to be decided at a very high level—I do not believe they realise that a poor housewife in this country has to think not in terms of shillings but in terms of pennies. This charge, of course, will mean she will wait before she summons a doctor, and that means a return to the old method of self-medication, with the inevitable results. I will go as far as to say that if this charge continues this Tory policy will be reflected inevitably in our vital statistics in the years to come. I come now to National Assistance. I understand that all those on National Assistance will be exempt and certain others will be allowed to claim from the National Assistance Board repayment on presentation of a receipt. Now at least the Minister knew that the procedure was of great importance to this House. He knew he would be asked by his hon. Friends what the procedure would be. It will be recalled that when I was Minister of National Insurance I was at great pains to assure those people who were entitled to National Assistance that they could apply for that assistance without their need being disclosed. We made a special provision for this because it was discovered that many people in dire need were not seeking assistance because their pride forbade it. This Bill will expose a person's poverty once more to her neighbours. The Minister outlined the procedure and I want to know from him if I am absolutely correct in my understanding of it. Perhaps he will say whether I am right or wrong. I hope I am wrong. As I understand it, a poor person will visit a doctor and then a chemist, whom she will inform that she desires a receipt, thereby disclosing her circumstances to the other customers and the staff. It may be the Minister will devise something to obviate this, but then she may have to visit the Post Office. She may have a book but if she has not a book she may come within the category of a hardship case. Then she goes to the Post Office with a receipt for 1s. or 2s. to claim a refund and once more she will receive unwelcome publicity. [HON. MEMBERS: "They go there anyhow."] Hon. Gentlemen opposite are so removed from the lives of the poor—"It is apparent that in those areas, where, prior to 5th July, 1948, the greater proportion of the population were panel patients, the prescription cost was considerably lower than in the better residential areas, where the majority of persons were formerly private patients. This is attributed to the fact that doctors in the more densely populated areas, who were formerly prescribing national formulary preparations, continue to do so, and the remedy is to encourage doctors in the other areas to prescribe these preparations more."
If the hon. Member listens, I will explain. It shocks me to realise how ignorant hon. Members opposite are. They say these people go there anyhow. They certainly go there with a book if they are entitled to assistance, but this Bill makes provision—
So did the 1951 Bill.
There is provision in the Bill to cover people who are in full employment. We are now dealing with a Bill which will impose a shilling charge for the first time.
We are imposing a charge of a shilling on every prescription. It is no good the hon. Member saying that has happened. Never before has a shilling charge been imposed, and now it is to be imposed. The hon. Member will see from Clause 6 of the Bill that people in receipt of a full wage can obtain repayment.Let us take the case of a widow in receipt of a full wage. When infectious disease affects two or three of her children she is faced with prescription charges of maybe 3s., 4s. or 6s. a week. She obtains a receipt and she is forced to go to the Post Office or to the Assistance Board, and she reveals to her neighbours what her position is in order to receive repayment. I want to know from the Minister whether that is the provision and whether the policy which the Labour Government adopted, a policy which allows needy people to obtain help without their need being disclosed to a third person, is to be reversed.
I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for giving way. Surely she must realise that these provisions for National Assistance, that these restrictions on the 1947 Act, and that this power to recover a shilling are taken word for word from the Act passed by the Socialists.
I am glad of that intervention and I am grateful for the attention of the House. I am also glad to see that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has returned.
I heard a report of what the right hon. Lady had said. In my present position, I have to receive distinguished visitors, and I had an appointment at 5 o'clock. I kept the appointment very briefly and then came at once to the House.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman, and as I would not wish to say anything behind his back I repeat that I said he was the guilty man and that he should be sitting holding the hand of his right hon. Friend the Minister of Health. [Laughter.] The right hon. Gentlemen may laugh, but if they only came to me I would advise them. The mistake is that the Minister of Health has not a woman to advise him.This all arises out of the intervention of the hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain MacLeod). He has shown the House better than I can what I meant when I said that the Chancellor of the Exchequer conceived this Bill too hastily. I said that it was then thrust on the Minister of Health. What I am saying does not stem from any swotting I have done during the last week. It comes from the knowledge I acquired through the last few years when I investigated what would happen if the shilling charge were imposed. The hon. Member for Enfield, West, intervened to say that we introduced the legislation. We did not. We examined the matter very carefully and for all these reasons we rejected it. As the Minister has not intervened to say that the procedure I have outlined is wrong, I presume it is right. On consideration he must realise the heartlessness of this Measure. Furthermore, has he considered the effort involved for a sick person? Unfortunately, poverty and loneliness too often go together. He is now proposing that a sick person shall go to a doctor once and go to a chemist twice. He no doubt knows what happens in every chemist's shop. The first time the sick person leaves a prescription. At the same time he will ask for a receipt so he returns a second time for a bottle of medicine and a receipt. Those are two visits that an old sick person has to make. Then there is a third visit to another office for repayment of the charge. Does the Minister understand that old sick people, contemplating these different visits, and knowing what the charge on buses and trams is, will be deterred from attending to obtain treatment?
That does not worry the Tories.
This is Tory legislation at its worst. In its heartlessness it savours of the old Poor Law, and the underlying principle of the Poor Law, I would remind the House, was to make the application for help in cases of need such an unpleasant process that the aged sick and the needy would rather suffer than seek assistance. Here we are, back to the 19th century, back to the same methods adopted in those times by the Tories.
Back to the Poor Law.
If I cannot reach the hearts of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Minister of Health, may I remind them of this? I know this will appeal to them. Not only will this transaction prove a burden on the poor patient; it will absorb the valuable time of the chemists. The chemists will have another form to fill in, and the Minister of Health will soon receive representations from the chemists of this country asking for a higher prescription charge.I asked a London chemist what he considered was the average number of prescriptions dispensed by him. He said about 75. For a high proportion of prescriptions in the poor areas a receipt will be requested. I am afraid the Chancellor of the Exchequer will have to face the fact that there will be a bigger administrative cost. Furthermore, not only will the chemists be asking for higher pay, but there will be the loss of time of the officials in the Post Office and the National Assistance Board refunding shillings. Now I turn to day nurseries. The Minister dismissed this subject in about a couple of sentences. Does he realise the true position? He dismissed it because he believed, as so many hon. Members opposite believe, that day nurseries are used by lazy women. They feel that the day nursery is a place where women can park their children while they earn high wages. Has he examined the facts? I am sure he has not, because he has not had time. Let me give well documented facts of what the real position is. The Minister who is to wind up may well say that the previous Government reduced the accommodation in day nurseries on grounds of expense. But when we did this we recognised that there were certain mothers and children who should have acess to day nurseries. Let me illustrate the point. Since the advent of the present Government and their policy of cuts in the social services, the Kent County Council proposed to close all its day nurseries, and the result was that the women who were using the day nurseries in Kent demonstrated in the streets. Let us see what kind of family Kent caters for. I trust the Minister will listen to this, and if he likes he can have all these documents. In a nursery in Kent likely to be closed—the decision has been postponed until May—of the 42 children attending the nursery, the mothers of three were dead; the parents of 21 were divorced or separated; the mothers of two were widows; 14 of the children had unmarried mothers and two of the mothers were crippled. Those were the reasons why those children were admitted. Let us look at other nurseries under the London County Council. This is typical of them all. In 5 per cent. of the cases the mother was in hospital, in 6 per cent. the father was in the Forces, in 6 per cent. the father was in prison, in 9 per cent. the mother was a widow, in 14 per cent. there was an inadequate joint income, in 15 per cent. the father was disabled, in 17 per cent. the child had an unmarried mother, and in 28 per cent. the child had been deserted by the father. Can the Minister justify penalising this tragic little army of mothers and children? This is not economy. This is a short-sighted policy. These are the children who, if neglected now, will fill our Borstal institutions and prisons. This is a time when the Minister and the Chancellor must recognise that this service is a good investment. Where will the children of the unmarried mothers go if we do not undertake some responsibility for them? Unfortunate young women with a stigma placed upon them will go to find minders. These are the children for whom the Chancellor of the Exchequer should have responsibility. [Laughter.] I apologise to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It would have been worse if I had said the Minister of Health. I apologise for keeping the House, but I must say something about surgical appliances. The Minister of Health cast an eye upon me and said—I was longing to support him on this, but I could not—that women were having abdominal belts which were not necessary. That is absurd. Women do not wear abdominal belts or surgical boots unless they are necessary. Furthermore, they do not try to get them because they want to get the maximum from the Health Service. The right hon. Gentleman has forgotten that equipment of this nature is ordered by a specialist for the patient, and it is a burden to be endured, not sought. By the way, when the Minister told the House that surgical boots would be charged for and that this was only fair because people have to wear boots anyhow, he had apparently not been reminded—I am told this is a fact—that surgical boots need more frequent repairing than ordinary ones. I should like later to be given the evidence to prove that this part of the service is abused. I now come to the Dental Service, with which I believe my right hon. Friend will be dealing at some length later. Let me say something about these cuts. It is proposed to charge up to £1 for dental treatment. Who will be most affected by this charge? Certainly not the better off. The most serious consequences will be that people who hitherto during the last year or two have gone for a regular inspection will not go in the future. They will have second thoughts about going when they realise that it will cost them £1. Furthermore, has the Minister considered that it will pay people, in terms of hard cash, to delay treatment, for while three fillings done on three different occasions will cost £3, three arising out of one examination will cost only £1. I am sure he has not thought of that. In fact, the right hon. Gentleman has put a premium on neglect. We are all glad, of course, that the adolescent has been exempted. I have already said what I think about that. If the right hon. Gentleman had taken advice earlier from his experts, any doctor in his Department could have told him that they should not have been included. My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mr. Baird) asked about school dentists. I suppose it is very attractive to some people when they are told that if this Bill is introduced the number of patients will decline, as of course they will, and the dentists will be forced into the School Dental Service. I understand that the rates of pay in the school medical service are £800 to £1,200, whereas the average figure of gross earnings of dentists is about £220 a month. Therefore, there must be a time lag before this transference takes place, and, meanwhile, irreparable harm will be done. I will conclude by saying that during the whole of this century, the enlightened section of the medical profession, the social workers of the country, the people who worked in voluntary organisations at the beginning of the century and Government Departments also, have emphasised the need to approach disease from the preventive angle and have instanced the importance of dental treatment. Today, the Conservative Government have taken a retrograde step calculated to destroy a social service which is an indispensable part of a healthy community.
It is a great comfort to me in my highly nervous state to reflect that at any rate in a few minutes' time I shall be able to give one answer to one question, though it is rather a personal one. I shall be able to answer those constituents who with irritating frequency keep coming to a new Member and asking, "Have you spoken yet?" I am advised that a new Member exercising his privilege on these occasions must be very careful not to say anything controversial.Many hon. Members present here today do, I am sure, look back already on many powerful speeches and regard them in a regal way from their safe and large majorities. But they do, perhaps, remember how very naked and defenceless they felt when they were in my shoes. They could not fill up the gaps in rhetoric and oratory by a little bit of prejudice or abuse. They could not resent the fact that other hon. Members were not paying attention by leaning forward and saying with a great lack of self-consciousness, "You baboons." They could not win the headlines—sometimes I believe the principal object of a speech—by rounding on their own Front Bench and describing their own right hon. Friends in that historic phrase as "squalid Tammany Hall bosses." All these things are denied to me on this occasion, and I appreciate that my contribution is only a cup of cold water which will be dashed into the fiery furnace of this debate. Let me now say something—for I am afraid I must since it is expected of me—about the topic which we are discussing today. I have three things to say about this Bill. I daresay none of them is very novel, but I do not believe that is necessarily objectionable. The first is that the Bill itself is not a novel Bill. One has only to read the first few lines of it to realise that it extends "the existing powers." In my submission, it is a Bill which should not excite controversy over its principle, but only over its details. Whether in fact the details are wise or not is, of course, a matter for full discussion. My second point is that this Bill is not to be a shackle on the National Health Service for ever. It is clear from Clause 3 that, to a large extent, it is experimental. Clause 3 says that the Minister shall have power to vary the amount to be charged under this Measure or under any other regulations, and that he may direct that it shall cease to be payable. It is therefore a Bill which explores methods of making the National Health Service even better than it is today and assures its solvency. The third thing about it is that when I look at the National Health Service Estimates—I have no experience of these matters—although I see that there is to be a decrease under heading D of the General Medical heading, it is counterbalanced by the other payments which are, in fact, being made to the credit and thus there is in the end a credit. It is an interesting comment on Parliamentary discussion that the total figures are so rarely brought into operation. That leaves me to say only this. I do not suppose that anybody in this House really thinks that the last word has been said about the administration of the social services, and, in particular, of the National Health Service. We know—and it is idle to pretend that it is always the other side that makes mistakes—great advances were made in the National Health Service as conducted under the leadership of hon. Members opposite. Of course, they made a great contribution. I do not believe they are so vain as not to know that there are some things that could be adjusted and improved. We are all trying to improve the service, and, as has already been said, get value for our money. In that, surely, we are all together. The right hon. Lady the Member for Fulham, West (Dr. Summerskill)—I was rather jealous that she should have taken my point—dealt with the question of expensive drugs. I have been told by medical practitioners in my constituency that there is the great danger that an ordinary drug which can be paid for under an ordinary prescription is not being prescribed, and that instead an expensive proprietary drug is prescribed. Ordinary general practitioners have said that there is a great leakage there. I believe that matter has already been mentioned by some of my hon. Friends, and it was certainly mentioned in another place. It is something that has to be done as part of the scheme. It is another experiment or progression to be made. In the same way I am told by the surgeons and medical practitioners I meet that in Manchester there are instances of over-staffing and of duplication, and that great savings could be made in the hospital services in that respect. Quite frankly, I am personally uneasy about the charges in respect to old age pensioners. I know it has been said that it is administratively impossible to exclude them. I am puzzled by this because I am told that it is done in Northern Ireland. A different coloured prescription form is used. One is free and the other is not. Therefore, I am not wholly satisfied as yet that it is administratively impossible to exclude old age pensioners. Whether there are other reasons for not doing so is, of course, another matter and should perhaps have to be taken into account in the whole picture. In many countries some charge is made. In New Zealand, in Denmark, and even in the Isle of Man a charge is made, and according to the best information I have received there has not, as yet, been any increased mortality in the Isle of Man on that account. The truth of course is, as the right hon. Lady said, that there are bound to be some cases of hardship in human affairs There is unfairness, there is hardship, there is loss of dignity at times—of course there is. It is a thing to be avoided, but in my submission it is not a thing upon which to base the economy of the country today because, as I see it, we are fighting a very stern battle today. We are, not tomorrow or next year, but today, under the black shadow of financial disaster. Hon. Members will remember, or at least some of them will, that in the old days that great Commoner, William Pitt, just before he died, was told of the result of the Battle of Austerlitz, and he turned to his secretary and said, "Roll up the map of Europe, it will not be required these 20 years." If we fail this year to stave off financial disaster we can roll up our National Health Service Act, because it will not be wanted for 20 years; we should have no money, only chaos and disaster. That is a right way, surely, in which we should meet this problem. It is not for me, perhaps, as a new Member, to say anything about the functions of the House, but personally I feel that our functions in this battle are rather limited, though we can help in a small way. The battle is to be won in the fields and the factories and the homes and the churches. We can set a standard here: we can give a lead; we can do no more. We can say, "Shall we talk reasonably, shall we be patient, shall we be fair?"; and if we do that, the country will pay attention to what we say. But if we sit here and discuss these matters viciously and with cleverness, with hate and and with spite, what do we expect from the country? Hon. Members, who have been very patient with me, and indeed I am grateful, will excuse me if I make what is probably an awful mistake for a young Member to make, and that is to refer to Shakespeare. Perhaps other Members have done so on these occasions. I want to refer to those fine lines in "King John":
"This England never did, nor never shall
We all remember that. Do we remember the next line?Lie at the proud foot of a conqueror."
It is a grave responsibility for us this year, under this financial crisis. It is we who must see that we do not give way to too much irritation, prejudice and passion, and it is we who must make sure that the Commons of England are not the first to wound our country."But when it first did help to wound itself."
May I, on behalf of the whole House, congratulate the hon. Member for Bolton, East (Mr. Philip Bell) upon his most entertaining and instructive speech? He spoke with such ease and with such confidence that I am quite sure that all his friends must be delighted with him. We look forward to hearing him on some other occasions when the rules of combat will enable us to hit back.The House will perhaps forgive me—indeed they will probably be relieved to know it—when I say that I shall not be able to address them at any length today because the medical profession have not assisted me very greatly in the last week. It is, therefore, perhaps appropriate that we should be talking about the National Health Service Bill this afternoon. At the beginning I want to make one reference to a subject with which the Minister closed his speech, because it seems to me to be one which overshadows the whole of this debate—and it is the recent arbitration award which gave the general practitioners £10 million a year more and £40 million altogether in back money. I do not want to reflect upon the arbitrator because it is not his responsibility, but I believe that that award has shocked the majority of people in Great Britain. Something has gone wrong with the sense of values in this country when we can confer £40 million upon one branch of the medical profession and at the same time propose to impose charges on old age pensioners. I am sorry that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is not here, because my quarrel in this matter is very largely with the Treasury. It is not with the Minister of Health, because innocence and ignorance exempts him from attack, but I have a quarrel with the Treasury because I consider that this year, last year and the year before, the Treasury, and the Treasury alone, have been responsible for this violation of one of the chief pieces of architecture of the Welfare State. That is not because of the fact that the Treasury is safeguarding the national finances, because that is the Treasury's job, but because the Treasury is so ignorantly manned that it has not adjusted its conventions and its principles to the extent to which the State has now intervened in so many practical fields. In the old days, it was quite easy for the Treasury to be sagacious, because all it need do was to increase or reduce a few taxes. Therefore, all we required at the Treasury were arithmeticians who could add or deduct. Unfortunately, that is all we have got there now, but with this difference—and I beg right hon. and hon. Gentlemen in all parts of the House to try to seize the significance of this, because I have put it over and over and over again—that to the extent to which the State intervenes in practical fields of administration, physical factors must be taken into account in adding up the sums. That is why I resisted in Committee, as the right hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) knows, against the right hon. and gallant Gentleman and some of his hon. Friends, a proposal to put compulsory arbitration into the National Health Service scheme. I objected on two grounds. In the first instance, it was because every trade unionist knows that there is nothing so ruinous of conciliation machinery as a compulsory arbitration clause. Once that is there, negotiating skill is no longer necessary. Each party refuses to budge, knowing that finally the compulsory arbitration clause can be made operative, and all negotiations end. That is the first point, and, as hon. Gentlemen know, I resisted that all along the line, although I was exposed then, as now, to the most malicious misrepresentation in the Press. Although letters were being written by eminent members of the medical profession demanding that this tyrannous power of the Minister to make regulations should not be permitted; although we had all that agitation, nevertheless I refused to do so because I thought it would destroy the Whitley machinery, I thought it would ruin relationships between the Government and the medical profession and secondly—and this is the most important reason of all, of which the Treasury ought to take note—because it puts the Budget outside the House. We have just been told today that the sacred ceiling has now gone. It was so sacred last year. I am very anxious, naturally, not to make an attack on the ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer, because he also had been at the Treasury for so short a time that he had not been able to acquire sufficient control over it, and he bought the idea of a ceiling. What does a ceiling mean? A ceiling means a figure that must last more than two Estimates. That is the meaning of it—that a spending Department must suit its behaviour to the fact that not only in that particular year but for a number of years that is the figure it must not exceed. I am glad that the Chancellor is in his seat. Does he mean that by ceiling? I should like to know—[HON. MEMBERS: "He does not know."]— because his ceiling has already been busted—and it has not been done by the House of Commons. It has been done by somebody outside. Really, this is not good enough. This really is crazy nonsense, that the House of Commons should be outside this control so—
Message to attend the Lords Commissioners.
The House went; and, having returned—
Mr. SPEAKER reported the Royal Assent to:
1. Consolidated Fund Act, 1952.
2. Industrial and Provident Societies Act, 1952.
4. Diplomatic Immunities (Commonwealth Countries and Republic of Ireland) Act, 1952.
National Health Service Bill
Question again proposed. "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
I should like to conclude the point I was making which I myself and, I think, most hon. Members would regard as one of very great substance, that is, that now that the State is entering into either direct or indirect contractual relationship with so very many people, it ought not to put so large a proportion of the Budget outside its control and leave some outside body or person to decide the Chancellor's Budget for him.Indeed, this was discussed, as I said earlier, at some length, and hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, who were then in opposition, withdrew their own suggestions and Amendments in consideration of what I then said:
in fact this division was made in order that the doctors might not become civil servants and suffer Civil Service disabilities—"I specifically said yesterday that by the division we had woven into the 1946 Act the doctors were not in contract with the Crown;"—
I said then that the Minister could not be indifferent to the demands made upon the Chancellor of the Exchequer by an arbitrary decision over so wide and important a field. It is not a question of the Crown. It is not, therefore, a mere matter of a constitutional quibble, but when we bring in so many as 400,000 people into direct contractual relationship with the State, the only way in which we can hope to get the finances of the nation under proper control is by always reserving the right of the Government to refuse to accept any recommendation made by an outside body. It is to my mind lamentable that we should now be faced with an enormous bill of this description which makes nonsense of our discussions here. I am not saying that the general practitioners were not entitled to an advance; I think they were. I myself said when I was Minister of Health that if any funds were available for the improvement of the situation in any part of the National Health Service, the general practitioners had the first claim, but there is all the difference in the world between providing a reasonable increase in their remuneration and adding this enormous sum which would be an irritant in every industrial negotiation in Great Britain. The fact is that the gap between professional awards and manual workers' standards is getting too wide. It also should be borne in mind that we now have a different situation from what we had before, because very large numbers of professional workers are now educated at the expense of the State. They no longer have to give up earning money for many years in order to equip themselves, because while they are undergraduates they are kept by the State in better conditions than many of the manual workers providing the grants for them. So the judge and those bodies who are arbitrating on professional standards are really arbitrating on their salaries, because what they are attempting to do is to maintain their own status and own standards. But the constitutional implications for us are exceedingly serious. The reason I brought the Treasury into this matter so clearly was because—I will be quite frank with the House—we have been the victims of this Treasury behaviour. I said last year, and I was attacked for it by some of my own friends, that when I accepted the 1s. prescription charge I was manoeuvring, but I would rather manoeuvre to have Socialism than manoeuvre to destroy it. What was the situation when we discussed the Bill? I made it so clear that hon. Members opposite thought that I was not quite serious about my proposals. Neither was I. I will tell the House why. Once more all that the Treasury—all these clever gentlemen—had done was to look at the number of prescriptions and then to say, "Now, if we charge 1s. for each of them we shall get £10 million." Any fool could have done that. It means just so many prescriptions, a bob for each one and so much money for the Treasury. It was no good arguing with them. It has been no good arguing with them since then because the physical and administrative implications which lie in the field of the spending departments do not preoccupy the Treasury. They just arrive at the simple sum and then demand it. There is a way of saving money on the Health Service which has no administrative complexities, although I do not approve of it. The simple logical thing to do is to put a certain service outside the Health Service. We can say, for example, that we cannot afford to provide any dental treatment and that we cannot afford to provide any drugs, and then put them outside the Health Service. It is easy. Let the public pay. Mark this, I do not approve of it. I am only pointing out that we ought to begin to get some administrative sense into this and the Treasury ought to get some; but what we cannot do is to have a service half in and half out, because, once we start that, all kinds of administrative difficulties arise. When we discussed the Bill behind which the Government are now so eagerly sheltering, I said that there were difficulties which are inherent in the regulations. I said that I had been asked a number of questions as to how I proposed to use the power which imposed the charge on prescriptions. I pointed out that if I could give the answers, there would be no excuse for my not having had the regulations ready, but I did not then know all the answers and before the scheme could be made a practicable one it would have to be discussed with representatives of the chemists and the doctors to see how it was to be worked out. What we were faced with was a demand from the Treasury, which, as my right hon. Friend has just said, turned out to be so administratively complex that it was not worth going on with, which is exactly what we thought all the time. There was no legerdemain and no concealment. I explained all that to the House. Indeed, the hon. Gentleman who is now the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade and the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Home Affairs saw that what I was saying was a defence against imposing the regulations. So it was. We realised that we could not charge old age pensioners; we could not invoke all the massive machinery of the Assistance Board in order to decide whether an old age pensioner, an unemployed person or a sick person was 1s. this or the other side of a line. But that is what the Government are proposing to do. They do not know how much money they will save. They have not told us, and they do not know. All they know is that millions of people will be plagued, tormented and humiliated quite unnecessarily merely in order to give the Conservative Party another excuse to invade the National Health Service, which they have wanted to do all the time. It seems to me that the whole scheme with which we are presented is based upon a mean-spirited attitude towards the social services. I do not know why hon. Members in all parts of the House, even on the other side of the House, do not take a pride in what is happening. After all, this was a very great experiment, one of the greatest experiments in human behaviour that the world has ever seen. It was said, "It is too dangerous to trust poor folk with free this, free that and free the other; they will abuse it, bring it down in ignominy and destroy it." What are the facts? The first full year's experience of the National Health Service enabled us to predict the medical behaviour of 46 million for the next year—after only one full year. It is true that we had Supplementary Estimates in the first two years, but we had not had one full year's experience at that time. After only one year's experience I was able to give an Estimate to the Chancellor of the Exchequer which held good for the whole of the next year's expendi- ture In other words, the British people had disclosed a predictable pattern of behaviour after only one year's experience. Yet, instead of people being proud of it, and instead of our saying, "Here are fine people who are beginning intelligently to use this free service," the scheme has been spat upon and abused ever since without any justification at all. In 1950–51 the expenditure on the dental service and the ophthalmic service was falling, and it had been falling for some time. In other words, the level of the expenditure had merely been due to the fact that we were working off arrears of neglect. The same thing was true of artificial limbs. It was not true of the pharmaceutical side. We know many of the reasons for that; my right hon. Friend has given many of them. In the first place, it is because the medical profession is an ill-disciplined profession. I say that advisedly, with more experience of it than most. That is not entirely the reason for the rise on the pharmaceutical side. Suppose the amount is £4 or £5 million a year; that is £4 or £5 million a year out of a gross expenditure of £450 million. Is that any reason for destroying the essence of the Health Service? The reason for the increase on the pharmaceutical side in the last few years lies mainly in the enormous increase in the use of anti-biotics, streptomycin, auromycin, and penicillin; not only the sulphonamides but also the anti-biotics. Very expensive new drugs are coming into existence, and they are very largely responsible for keeping a number of old folk alive, and also young folk as well. What is being said by some writers on medical finances? They are saying that the nation cannot afford this. They say, in effect, "Let us have a selective list of dying. Let the poor die first." That is what right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite say. The order of their priorities is, "If you cannot keep all of them alive, keep only the well-to-do alive." That is what they did before, and it is what they will do now. That is exactly what is behind all this. I thought that a mistake had been made last year, but there was something to be said for what the Labour Government did. They decided to put a term to this. They said, "We will keep it on until 1954, and then we will end it, because we believe that by then we shall be out of our troubles." What are this miserable crowd doing? They are keeping it on permanently. They put hoardings all over the country a few years ago saying, "We fought for the Health Service." Who are they fighting now? They are fighting the poor. At a moment when unemployment is growing all over Great Britain, these health charges are being imposed. People look only at one side of the balance sheet all the time. They are always looking at the expenditure side. They cannot see the other side of the balance sheet. The other side is to be found in growing productivity year after year in Great Britain because our people are healthier. I beg hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite to consider what is going to happen when these Regulations are in operation. It would be sheer demagogy to suggest that we ought to consider only the electoral results of what we do. I believe that Members of this House should consider first what is in the nation's interests and afterwards what the electorate will think about it. Do hon. Members really believe that they can convince this nation that paupers should be victimised while at the same time millionaires are let off from taxation? Is that on their order of priorities? There is no majority for that in this country. If the Conservative Government went to the nation tomorrow on this they would be decisively defeated, not because the people want something for nothing, but because the people were beginning to take a decent sense of pride in the fact that every person in this country had access to the best that medical knowledge could provide without let or hindrance of cash. That was something of which everybody, including the Conservatives, were beginning to be proud. Now the Conservatives are proceeding to pull it down. Where it will stop, I do not know. We have heard a lot of nonsense about the school dental service. More rubbish has been talked about that. Hon. Members opposite do not seem to realise that a large number of children are going to the dentist in the ordinary way, which is what we wanted to happen, for the school dental service was not what it was cracked up to be; it had grave deficiencies, which was one of the reasons I always intended to assimilate it into the wider scheme, keeping the dental inspectors in the schools to report on the school children. We are told that there are not enough dentists, but we did not have enough even when the curve was rising. I am informed that many dentists are not now even fully employed. I am informed that for some time the lists have been falling. Once more the Treasury have got it wrong, because once more the little men were adding up their silly sums and not realising that from the start off it was the physical facts which came first of all. Then they could work out their sums afterwards. That is why it is ridiculous to take this step for the sake of saving money. How much is going to be saved? We do not know, because nobody knows. At a time when we are spending £1,500 million a year on making weapons of war, we cannot afford £20 million a year to keep a free Health Service going. It is nonsense. It does not make sense. In fact, the arms programme of Great Britain is now being made by the Conservative Government into an excuse to dismantle the Welfare State. As everyone knows who cares to look up this matter at all, one of the reasons why in this country we have a sound Parliamentary democracy and why the Communist Party does not grow here is because we have introduced into our social life a greater sense of equity than on the Continent of Europe. The party opposite are taking the first long step in establishing in this country the beginnings of the end of British Parliamentary government."that they were in contract with the regional hospital boards and the executive councils."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th June, 1949, Standing Committee B: c. 1727.]
I want to deal closely and with relish with the vulgar, crude and intemperate speech to which the House of Commons has just listened. Before I come to the speech of the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan)—and I acknowledge freely that he represents what I may call the real opposition to this Measure—there are one or two matters to which I should like to call the attention of the House.I am told that apart from the Socialist Opposition, the Liberals are to oppose this Bill. I expect that in the course of the evening we shall have a speech from the Liberal benches. I should like to remind the Liberal spokesman of something and I should like him to deal with it when he speaks. When I knew that the Liberals were to oppose the Bill, I looked to see what part they took on the National Health Service Bill last year. For many hours we debated it on Second Reading, in Committee, on Report, and on Third Reading. Nine minutes of that time was occupied by the Liberals. There was one Liberal speech on Second Reading. It was described as a very helpful speech and it supported the Bill. Turning up the Liberal candidates' handbook for the General Election on 1950 I found this paragraph about the health charges:
"Until expansion would be financially possible partial charges could be made to adult patients, reduced in cases of need for some services such as the general dental service (reserving a free priority service for expectant mothers and children), for spectacles, use of ambulances and hospital board and lodging."
Tell us what the Tories said.
I will do that, too. I should like the Liberal spokesman to explain if that still represents Liberal policy.I want to deal first of all with the opposition which comes from the Opposition Front Bench. The right hon. Lady the Member for Fulham, West (Dr. Summerskill), who opened this debate, is not in her place, but I can address these questions to the right hon. Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. Marquand), who I understand is to speak. He must have read very unhappily the speeches that he made a year ago in this House. He knows perfectly well a year ago he received the full support of this side of the House for his Bill. We knew exactly where he was going, and those who sat behind him knew perfectly well, too.
I know perfectly well that I explained in detail why a prescription charge was not merely unworkable but undesirable, and I know perfectly well that I explained why a charge on appliances would be inhumane as well as thoroughly undesirable. As for a charge for dental treatment, that never entered my head. I never thought that anyone could think of anything so insane.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, and I will deal with all those points one by one. The right hon. Gentleman is not going to be allowed to escape the dilemma in which he is now. Does he not remember a year ago coming to this House and explaining that the gap was £30 million; that the Chancellor could only give him £7 million; that he had a gap of £23 million left and he hoped first of all to cut the forecasts for the regional hospitals boards by £10 million—incidentally, he went into the Lobby on Tuesday against the Minister of Education for the same thing—that he found himself with a deficiency of £13 million and that he wanted money for the hospitals? That is a clear summary of his case, and he then said it would be self-deception and deception of the House of Commons to say that this money could be found elsewhere than by charges.The right hon. Lady the Member for Fulham, West, and the right hon. Gentleman who is to wind up for the Opposition have not so far attempted to argue that there should not be a limit on the National Health Service. They have not dared to argue that the ceiling placed by Sir Stafford Cripps, before Korea, maintained by the late Chancellor of the Exchequer in the surplus year 1950, and maintained by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in this year should go. But the logic of events presses just as closely on my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health as it did on the right hon. Gentleman opposite a year ago. Last year, the right hon. Gentleman wanted £13 million for the Health Service and he wanted to spend £15 million more on hospitals. He found that money by charges. This year, my right hon. Friend wants to spend, even taking into account certain fairly small cuts in the capital account of the hospitals, £20 million more. Governments can change in a year, but logic cannot, and the problem that confronts my right hon. Friend is exactly the same as that which confronted the right hon. Gentleman opposite a year ago. I invite the right hon. Gentleman opposite to answer a question when he winds up for the Opposition. In these circumstances, following the thesis he put to the House a year ago, what exactly would be do to get this £20 million? There are only two places—and he knows this perfectly well—where the money can be found in the National Health Service. The first is in what is called the "hotel charge" in hospitals. The second is by a fee for consultation with a doctor. We should dearly like to know from the right hon. Gentleman tonight which of these solutions, or what alternative solution, he would choose. He can consult the speech of his hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Messer) of a year ago, because that hon. Gentleman saw the dilemma coming and expressed it very nearly in the terms in which I have expressed it. We want to know from the right hon. Gentleman what he would do, and where he would find the £20 million. The history of the charges in the National Health Service is by no means complicated. Here I want to come more closely to the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan). I would like before I start to say that I am delighted that he has recovered sufficiently to be at this debate today. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, East (Mr. Philip Bell), who quoted Shakespeare today will agree that to have a debate on the National Health Service without the right hon. Gentleman would be like putting on Hamlet with no one in the part of the First Gravedigger. Let me deal first with the problem with which the right hon. Gentleman dealt, in passing, that this Measure is connected with the Chancellor's Budget. He said that in some ways it is a miserable Budget, because it makes the rich richer. It really does not lie in the mouth of a member of a party whose Budgets for successive years were the delight of the speculator and the joy of the spiv, to say that. The first mention of charges in this connection was, as the right hon. Gentleman will remember, in the 1949 Budget speech of Sir Stafford Cripps, when that right hon. Gentleman said:
my right hon. Friend has quoted this—"There is, indeed, a very good argument for imposing some special charge or tax. …"—
Now we come to 24th October, 1949, the beginning of the proposal of the charge for prescriptions. The Leader of the Opposition, who was Prime Minister at the time, announced in this House—no "ifs," no "buts" about it—that they were going to save £10 million, with certain exemptions, from the pharmaceutical service. He added:"but … we should await the outcome of another year."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th April. 1949; Vol. 463, c. 2093.]
The right hon. Gentleman has quoted it, and said he shuddered to think of the cascades of medicine that were pouring down our throats. He has been shuddering for 28 months, because it has been going on all the time. It is just not true that the cost of drugs is the major influence in the cost of the pharmaceutical service. The cost of drugs has gone up, in the period that we are discussing, from £35 million to £50 million or £51 million, and the number of prescriptions has gone up from 202 million, to 207 million, and now to 229 million. The case for the shilling charge is much stronger now than it was then. The right hon. Gentleman reminded the House of what happened on Friday, 9th December, 1949, when this charge was put on in another place and was brought to this House, when there was an attempt to shuffle it through without any discussion at all. There was a vote at the end, and it was 138 to nine. The debate is worth reading. The right hon. Gentleman has quoted what he said. I recommend every hon. Member of this House to turn up his speeches. It is true that if we read now we can find, like raisins in a bun, arguments put forward by the right hon. Gentleman why this charge was impracticable; but he knew something at the time that nobody else did. He knew that he was going behind the back of his Cabinet and his leader to defraud the House of Commons."The purpose is to reduce excessive and, in some cases, unnecessary resort to doctors and Chemists."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th October, 1949; Vol. 468, c. 1019.]
That really is a most unworthy statement. [HON. MEMBERS: "Cheap."] In point of fact it was the Treasury Committee which was appointed to try to work out the practicability of the proposals that reported them impracticable.
I have nothing to withdraw. The right hon. Gentleman has been a long time in this House and I do not think that he objects to this form of debating at all.I want to take up his next point. In the Budget speech of 1950, Sir Stafford Cripps said:
He was referring to the Cohen Committee. He went on:"It is not proposed to impose any charge immediately … since it is hoped that a more easily administered method of economising … can be introduced shortly."
The Cohen Committee has now become the official alibi of the Socialist Party for their muddle over the prescription charges. The Leader of the Opposition, in a most extraordinary statement to the Rouse—I gave him notice that I would raise this point—on 31st January, 1952, gave as the most important reason why this charge was not introduced, that the Cohen Committee was set up and was managing to restrict from the drugs which could be prescribed a great many things which were not drugs. He said:"The power to charge will, of course, remain so that it can be used later if it is needed."—[OFFICIAL, REPORT, 18th April, 1950; Vol. 474, c. 60.]
Let us look at how they got a closer hand on it. The right hon. Gentleman did not seem to be aware—I know that the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale is—that the Cohen Committee was set up not after October, 1949, when we had this proposal but in July, 1949, and it had been going for four months at the time of this proposal. The Committee's first Interim Report, which has not been published, was in December, 1949, and there have been four other reports since. The terms of reference of the Cohen Committee bore not the slightest relationship to the main problem which was before the House at the time. It was the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale himself who said, in the debate of 9th December:"We did get a closer hand on it."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 31st January, 1952; Vol. 495, c. 380.]
The terms of reference of the Cohen Committee had nothing to do with that sort of problem. The Cohen Committee have not succeeded as we know, in reducing in any way the flow of drugs or the money spent on drugs, but the Cohen Committee have succeeded in doing admirable work in excluding from the National Health Service such things as glucose, whole-meal bread, disinfectants, toilet preparations and the like. That is the contribution which is being made, and if that is what the Leader of the Opposition calls getting a closer hand on it then no wonder the pharmaceutical service and other things are in the mess they are."It is aspirins, bandages and so forth, costing less than a 1s. which in a large number of cases could have been purchased by the patient. … That is where the abuse Lies."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th December, 1949; Vol. 470, c. 2263.]
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves that point, he has pointed out clearly to us that there has been a great and steady increase in the numbers of prescriptions issued in the service. Would he, at the same time, give corresponding fall in self-medication, both in cost and numbers, if he has any conception of it?
The fall in self-medication is not something that can be gleaned from the Estimates, but I am not dodging that point. I will come back to it in a few minutes because I appreciate the importance of dealing with that matter.The history of the dental charge is much more simple. Here I want to put an inquiry to the right hon. Gentleman. I am not doing so in any hostile spirit. It is something I genuinely want to know and have always wanted to know. The Coalition White Paper in February, 1944, in words similar to the ones which the right hon. Gentleman used on Second Reading in 1946, said that a full dental service remained a proper objective, but that there were not enough dentists. On Second Reading the right hon. Gentleman used these words:
That seems to me to be about as good sense as has been talked about dentistry, in this House of Commons or anywhere else, but it also seems to me to be a proposal that there should be a half in and half out service which the right hon. Gentleman condemned in his speech tonight. Everything that has happened in the Dental Service stems from the failure to obey what the right hon. Gentleman said on Second Reading. It is from that that the cuts in remuneration came; it is from that the School Dental Service reduction has come; it is from that that an honoured profession has become a music-hall joke; it is from that the 1951 Act and the 1952 Bill come. I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman to tell the House why it was that he failed to carry out the undertaking he gave to this House about the dental services on the Second Reading of the Act."We have not enough dentists and it will therefore be necessary for us in the meantime to give priority treatment to certain classes—expectant and nursing mothers, children, school children in particular, and later on we hope adolescents. Finally we trust that we shall be able to build up a dental service for the whole population."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th April, 1946; Vol. 422, c. 45.]
I anticipated that point in the statement I made. It was discovered that dentists were leaving the School Dental Service not merely on account of the National Health Service. They were leaving it long before the National Health Service came into operation, because the outside dental profession was much more attractive than the School Dental Service. I could not in fact have provided the priority services without taking over many functions from the local authorities. I should have had to take them over entirely. It was therefore much simpler to take the whole population into the dental service and work off the hump, and the hump has been worked off.
I am grateful for that explanation but it is entirely inaccurate. [Interruption.] Oh, yes, certainly it is. First, the figures of the right hon. Gentleman about the School Dental Service are inaccurate. The right hon. Gentleman made a great reputation in the previous two Parliaments by always speaking at the end of the health debates and never answering any points. He is much less effective when he comes down into the arena. First, he does not know the figures. In 1939 there were 866 dentists in the School Dental Service. It is true that the figure now is not much less, 40 or 50 were the last figures I saw. But the figure at the end of 1947, before the pull of the National Health Service drew the dentists and the potential dentists away from the School Dental Service, was about 1,060, and it is from that figure down to the low one of 810 we have now that is the measure of the failure of the right hon. Gentleman to carry out his guarantees.
Just a moment. I appreciate that the right hon. Gentleman is in need of care and protection.
No. Will the hon. Gentleman give the school population at the same time?
At the end of 1947 the number of dental officers was 1,063, equivalent to 921 full-time officers. Up to that time the number had been increasing rapidly. At the end of 1948, when the National Health Service started, it was down to 1,026 and by the end of 1949 it had dropped still further to 884—
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves that point would he—
I am dealing with the right hon. Gentleman—
But the hon. Gentleman is assuming all the time that the children who were formerly dealt with by the school dental officers were not dealt with. Very large numbers of them were dealt with in the general Health Service itself.
That is utterly ineffective. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Of course it is. The right hon. Gentleman simply does not know what he is talking about. When I deal with the effect of these charges I shall deal with that point as well. For the moment I will only say this to the right hon. Gentleman: He went down about a month ago to explain his conduct in this House to his constituents—something which I gather is in the nature of an annual event. Unless "The Times" of Monday, 10th March, misrepresented him, he said this:
Nobody can complain about the enthusiasm with which the right hon. Gentleman started to carry out his plans, because he made it quite clear that he was not going to be restrained even by the commitments he made himself."When we come to debate the National Health Service cuts, I assure you I will not be restrained by any previous commitments made by anyone."
The hon. Gentleman is not doing himself justice, and he is misleading the House. He knows quite well that the School Dental Service was always the Cinderella of the dental profession and that we had never had an efficient school dental service in this country. He also knows that a large proportion of the children today are being treated by the ordinary dentist in his surgery and the health of the schoolchildren today is higher than it was before.
Of course the health of the schoolchildren is higher today—[HON. MEMBERS: "Dentally."] Dentally, medically and in every other way. So it was last year and the year before and throughout the century.Of this question of the School Dental Service and whether these proposals will be effective, which is in my view, the main justification for these proposals if there is one, I will speak later. I want to come to the 1951 Bill. Mr. Speaker, do you recall that on the occasion of that Bill the Opposition held on the Floor of the House one of what are laughably referred to as their private Parliamentary meetings? This was a great convenience for hon. Members because, although explanations of these meetings in the Press are unusually full, they are rarely verbatim and they do not include the Division lists. But we can see exactly what happened at the end of the day a year ago when these proposals were before the House. We can see exactly how much the froth and the speeches were worth. The general tenor of hon. Members who spoke against the Bill was, shortly, that they disliked the Bill a great deal but that they preferred the Bill to a Tory Government.
I am glad the hon. Gentleman agrees, because it has obviously escaped him that he has ended with both the Bill and with a Tory Government. The Bill, as was the case last year, is to some extent dominated—
It being Seven o'Clock, and leave having been given to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9, further Proceeding stood postponed.
Bechuanaland (Bamangwato Tribe Chieftainship)
I beg to move (under Standing Order No. 9), "That this House do now adjourn."I move this Motion in order that the House may consider the action taken by the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations in deposing Seretse Khama as chief of the Bamangwato tribe. In my view, the statement made this afternoon by the Under-Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations will have very severe repercussions in Africa, but, at any rate, there will be one thing to mitigate the effect of that statement. It is that the House of Commons, in the middle of debating one of the most controversial Bills of the Session, has found time to debate the problems of the Bamangwato tribe. It cannot pass without notice that when we are engaged in very bitter political disputes about domestic matters, we should find time to debate this question. It is also significant that this British Parliament, which is responsible for many millions of Africans in Africa, should regard an issue affecting the Africans as being an issue of definite public importance. Tonight, in Serowe, the feeling must be not dissimilar from the feeling that there was in December, 1936, at the abdication of King Edward VIII, and it is appropriate that we should discuss it. The statement made in the House this afternoon by the hon. and learned Gentleman on behalf of his noble Friend was the final chapter of a very long story, extending back two and a half years. If one looks at that story from the time when Tshekedi Khama was the Regent of the Bamangwato tribe, through to the time when Seretse Khama returned from England to become Chief, one can see a great variety of reasons for excluding either Seretse or Tshekedi. In the first place, we were told that the presence of Seretse Khama in the tribe would create trouble, that the tribe was very likely to suffer from disputes about the dynasty, and that it would be better if there was a period of rest and quiet. So, after an official inquiry, both Seretse and Tshekedi were excluded from the Reserve. At that time, the last Government made a very bold move in trying to establish, in what was primarily a tribal community, a system of native councils. Those councils were to be operated under direct rule. Then, last year, there was pressure to return Tshekedi to the Reserve, and the present Government decided not very long ago that he should be allowed back as a private person. Now, we are faced with the position that even the hon. and learned Gentleman himself is prepared to admit that Seretse Khama is very popular in the Bamangwato tribe and that he is not being excluded on the grounds that he is unpopular. He is being excluded for some other reasons, for reasons of high policy. We know from the evidence of the observers who came back from Bechuanaland last year that the question of Tshekedi had to be considered in the same terms as the question of Seretse, and in the last reference to it in Mr. Lipson's report, speaking about the question of Tshekedi, these words appear:
I am not in dispute with the hon. and learned Gentleman or with the Government on this point, because in the statement this afternoon we are told that even though Seretse is popular, he is not allowed to go back. Now, we are told that the tribe needs a chief. We are told that it is impossible to leave the position as it is at present and that there must be someone to guide the destinies of the Bamangwato. But Seretse himself has been excluded. One of the first questions I want to ask the hon. and learned Gentleman is, Why the hurry? What is the reason for making this statement at this time? Seretse Khama himself was only summoned four days ago to be told this decision. Last Sunday, he knew nothing whatsoever about the Government's intention. Four days have elapsed from the first interview with Seretse Khama on this matter before the final banishment takes place. Why the hurry? We have just had a change of Secretaries of State for Commonwealth Relations. Lord Ismay, who occupied the post, must have turned his attention to the question of the Bamangwato. Now, Lord Ismay has left that post to go to defend the liberties of the free world. Is he responsible for this policy, or is the present Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations, Lord Salisbury? In the debate on Tshekedi Khama last summer in another place, there was a reference by the present Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations to the whole question of the treatment of individuals, and among his remarks he had this to say:"The chief fear of very many of those who were opposed to Tshekedi's return would probably be removed had Seretse also been allowed to return."
said the present Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations—"In the past, an individual, unless he had committed an offence, was not only secure against the deprivation of his civil rights and liberties, but he was entitled to the protection of the law. Now it seems, in Bechuanaland at any rate, that that is no longer true. If he is inconvenient to the powers that be, if he is unpopular, as is alleged in this case, or equally, if he is too popular in another case, he can be proceeded against by administrative order, though he may have done nothing wrong at all … That is a doctrine"—
Why the hurry? It is known that a delegation from Bechuanaland was to visit this country next week and that that delegation was to make representations to the hon. and learned Gentleman's noble Friend about the future of Seretse Khama. In fact, the hon. and learned Gentleman himself has admitted that passports were already issued. But not only was it announced publicly that this delegation would not be received by the Secretary of State; this decision was announced so as to forestall their arrival. We are entitled in the House to answers to these questions. What I am concerned with for the moment is the statement made in the House this afternoon by the hon. and learned Gentleman. It was a very clever statement in that it suggested throughout that the present Government were simply following the lead given by their predecessors and by the previous Secretary of State. If one examines it carefully, however, one can see that there has been a very considerable change of policy with regard to Seretse Khama. First, the previous Secretary of State made it quite clear at the start that the tribe did not really want Seretse Khama. There is no doubt that at the time Seretse went back to become chief of the tribe, there was some confusion there in that he had married without their consent. That was true; that was one of the reasons given by the last Government for their policy. But now, the situation is totally different. Now, the Bamangwato tribe have rallied to their Chief and to his wife and to their child. That reason, therefore, holds good no longer. Second, we are told that the present Government are following the policy of their predecessors. What about the question of the native councils? The previous Government believed that there was a possibility of introducing the beginnings, at any rate, of self-government in the Bamangwato. Now, however, we are told by the present Government that all that is to go and that there is to be a reversion to the arrangement by which there was a chief. I see some sense in the policy of establishing native councils. Seretse himself made a statement at one stage in which he said that he would be quite prepared to renounce the chieftainship if he could serve his tribe in a new and more democratic set-up. It is along those lines that one might have expected some sort of an answer to be found. But contrary to that, the present Government have completely cut across the policy that was designed and organised by the previous Government. Finally, one may reasonably ask why Jamaica was chosen as the place in which Seretse Khama's services might be of some use. We were told in the statement by the hon. and learned Gentleman this afternoon that Seretse at one time demonstrated his total incapacity for any office. We were told in the White Paper of March, 1950, that he demonstrated that "he was unmindful … of his public duty," and now, we are told that the Government hope that he will have a successful career in Jamaica. Why is he not going back to serve the people of Africa in Africa? The hon. and learned Gentleman knows the reason very well. He knows that if Seretse Khama set foot in Africa again, he would be hailed by the Africans as a national hero; and that is why there was the suggestion that he should be transferred to some other part of the world. The truth is that all these debates we have had on the future of the Bamangwato tribe have had an air of unreality about them. We have been told we were discussing the question of mixed marriages; we have been told we were discussing the question of the arrangement of the tribe and its internal affairs and there is, of course, truth in all that. But at the same time, behind the whole thing lies the crisis in the Union of South Africa. Any consideration whatsoever of this matter which does not allude to South Africa is an unreal consideration and I very much hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman will refer to this when he speaks. First, we have the position of the High Commissioner in South Africa, a totally impossible position. He is responsible as the Supreme Commander for the Protectorates—that is part of his job—and he is at the same time our Ambassador to the present South African Government. It is an impossible position to put any man in and that is one reason why the influences of South Africa and South African politics are so strongly felt in the Bamangwato Reserve. We know that the present South African Government feel very strongly about the question of the future of Protectorates and about mixed marriages. Dr. Malan, the Prime Minister, has made it clear time and time again that it is his intention, if possible, to bring the Protectorates back or bring them into the Union of South Africa, and after Seretse Khama married Ruth—after, mark you—it was made an offence in South Africa for a black man to marry a white woman, or vice versa. Those two issues, which are burning issues in South Africa, are bound to influence the position of the Government. It is not as if we had any particular fetish ourselves about mixed marriages. To the best of my knowledge, it is no offence and is not looked down upon particularly in any other part of the Commonwealth for there to be a mixed marriage. Certainly one of the big problems which South Africans face in South Africa is that there is a large section of the population which is the result of mixed marriages, although the marriages were not quite so evident in these cases as the fact that they were mixed. That is the problem which faces them in Africa, and although I can see that the Government might make a case and say that in the delicate situation in which we find ourselves we have to consider South African opinion, in my view we have to look at the wider picture. Unless we look at the problem of the Bamangwato tribe and of Seretse Khama against the background of the whole of Africa and in the wider picture of the world as a whole, we are not going to arrive at a satisfactory settlement of this problem. Africa is facing this. It is either going the way of Apartheid, which we must remember Malan is trying to enforce in South Africa, or it is going the way which the last Government pointed, with I think the agreement of all sides of the House, that Africa should go towards native co-operation. What effect is the decision announced today going to have on Prime Minister Nkruma in the Gold Coast? What is he going to think about it and of the intentions of a Government which bring it into effect? What effect will it have in Nigeria, in Tanganyika and as far north as the Sudan? What effect will it have on the African delegates coming to London next month to discuss the question of Central African federation? All these things to be considered by the Government if they are to arrive at a satisfactory settlement of this problem. I say to the Government quite frankly that they are playing the Russians' game; this is one of the ways in which we can convert people to a completely cynical view of the intentions of the Western world. The truth is that the Tory Party have never understood the meaning of the new Commonwealth. It was Tory policy which lost us the American Colonies in 1776. It was Tory policy which could very easily have lost us India in the period after the war. We are seeing now Tory policy applied in this instance. The fact is that in Seretse and Ruth is the focus of the whole problem of Africa in two people. It is not an exaggeration to say that a decision of this kind is going to affect far more things than whether the Bamangwato tribe themselves enjoy a satisfactory and effective development of their own life. I say that this decision was unjust and unwise, and if it is the precedent for what we can expect from the present Government in their policy abroad, then the sooner they get out the better. If tonight this Government were to resign, it would be as welcome in Africa as it would be in this country."we are very familiar with in countries east of the Iron Curtain."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 27th June, 1951; Vol. 172, c. 390–1.]
I beg to second the Motion.I should first like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) on his speech in opening this debate. By that speech he has been himself a very worthy son of his father. Lord Stansgate, in another place, is still standing for the ideals of liberty of which he was such a great champion in this House, and those of us who recall those days will remember him first in the Liberal Party, standing for the very essence of Liberalism, which is a belief in liberty, and, secondly, when we welcomed him into the ranks of the Labour Party, taking that mantle upon his shoulders. As one of the older Members of this House, I very sincerely congratulate his son upon that speech and say that in that speech he expressed all the best—and that is very great—in the record of his father. In seconding this Motion, I do not think any hon. Member of the Government will complain that I adopted a different attitude when the Labour Party formed the Government from that which I am now adopting in opposition. I think I was one of the first hon. Members in this House to seek to move the Adjournment of the House when Seretse Khama was first excluded from his country, and I say frankly to the House that I think a very grave mistake was made by the Labour Government when it took that action. But that is no excuse for the hon. and learned Gentleman, speaking for the office of Commonwealth Relations, now to defend his action upon the White Paper which was then introduced because, as many of us expected, every argument in that White Paper has been repudiated by the events which have followed. What was the argument in that White Paper? It was that Seretse Khama, because he had done perhaps the most fundamental thing of all human life in marrying the woman he loved, even though that woman was a white person, would be rejected by his tribe and that there would be disunity in it. Exactly the opposite happened. I regard that as an extraordinary advance for the principle of the equality of human relationships. I know that there has been a colour bar on the side of the Indians and Africans, as well as on the side of the Britishers, but that the Bamangwato tribe should not only have endorsed Seretse as their chief but should have welcomed his wife, indeed should have come to admire the courage of his wife in those circumstances, and should have again and again endorsed their claim that he should be their Chief, is one of the greatest features of human advance and racial equality that there has been in this century. If this House of Commans had had broad ideas about human equality and was thinking in the terms of a future human family in which racial differences would be abolished, the Government would have welcomed this declaration of the Bamangwato tribe and made it an occasion to allow Seretse and Ruth Khama to return to Bechuanaland, rather than have adopted the attitude which has been adopted by the Government on this occasion. I wish to speak very frankly. Even when the Labour Government issued its White Paper, none of us believed that the excuses made in that White Paper were the real reason for the exclusion of Seretse. We all knew that the real reason was the attitude of the South African Government. What was true then is equally true today.
I agree it is more so, because the Government have had the stupidity to choose for the occasion of this announcement a time when the issue of the colour bar is at its height in the South African Union.From the Labour benches in this House it was argued that the more liberal elements in South Africa did not want Seretse to return, because if he did it would play into the hands of Dr. Malan. The opposite is true today. By the Government of Great Britain endorsing in this disgraceful way the principle of the colour bar, it is assisting the South African Government at the very moment of the struggle against the Liberals in South Africa upon this issue of the colour bar. I wish to say more than that. I would say to the Government, with some knowledge of the feeling in Africa, what I said to the Colonial Secretary the other day regarding the Central African federation, where the proposal is that the federation should be imposed despite the opposition of the African people; that by that he was endangering the co-operation of the African people. I say that the action of the Government today over Seretse Khama will alienate the whole African population in the British Colonies against this Government and against this country. When Seretse Khama was excluded from Africa, I was visiting the Sudan and Kenya, Nigeria and Uganda. Everywhere I went the people regarded the personal issue of Seretse Khama as embodying the rights and liberties of the African population as a whole. I say to the Government that its effect on the social conditions in this country has been serious. But historically the policy of the Colonial Office since the change of Government and the policy of the office of Commonwealth Relations will in the long run be a greater disaster to this country even than the social distress which it is causing; because it has meant the alienation of all hope of good will between African races and this country. I would refer to the argument used by the hon. and learned Gentleman in his statement today, that there has been a vacuum since Seretse Khama was deposed, and that that can be filled only by some other African becoming Chief of the Bamangwato. I recognise that a vacuum has been created. But it has been created by the exclusion of Seretse Khama from Bechuanaland. I have had many conversations with him and I have conveyed the gist of those conversations to the Government. In them I indicated that he was quite prepared to play his part in a new democratic conception of the government of Bechuanaland. Now the right hon. and learned Gentleman says that he must be banned forever as Chief. I say to him that will inevitably mean that the people of Bechuanaland will first regard as an alien and an imposter any other Chief which this Parliament imposes on them, and secondly will make it much more difficult to establish the democratic constitution in Bechuanaland. Then there is this proposal to send him to Jamaica. It is a degrading thing that a British Government, when it has done this wrong, should seek to buy off the victim, first by a promise of money, and second by sending him to an island in the distant Atlantic. It makes me ashamed of the sense of human values of this House and the rights and liberty of the individual. Hon. Gentlemen opposite, when someone is deported from Russia or a satellite country of Russia, suddenly become Liberal and defend the rights of the individual. But when it is the case of an African in a British Protectorate, suddenly it becomes all right. Liberties and human values are the same in Africa or in Europe or all over the world. I hope the House will indicate by its attitude tonight that though this Government may do this shameful and disgraceful thing, the people of Britain do not endorse it and will show at the earliest opportunity—not only for the sake of our people here but for the sake of the people of Africa—that they will rid this country of a Government which is denying the fundamental liberties and freedoms.
Every hon. Member of this House will agree with the opening sentences in the speech of the hon. Member for Bristol. South-East (Mr. Benn), when he said that it was a great thing that in the midst of a very important debate on another aspect of our affairs we should stop to discuss and argue about the rights and wrongs of a case affecting one person. That has always been one of the shining traditions of this House, and I am sure everyone will agree that our prayer will be that it may long continue to be so.When I listened to the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East, I recalled very forcibly the exclamation of Shylock:
I respectfully suggest to the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East, and the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Fenner Brockway) that this evening we are here as judges of a very important issue. Therefore, we should approach the matter in a sensible, straightforward and judicial fashion."A Daniel come to judgment! yea, a Daniel! O wise young judge …"
What is the point of the quotation?
I am sorry that the hon. Member does not see the point. I will not delay the House by trying to educate him now.I turn to one or two of the questions raised by the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East. The first question he asked was, "Why the hurry?" I should have thought that, if he knew anything at all about Africa, if he had lived there, and if he knew the Africans, he would have found the answer immediately in the White Paper to which he referred—namely, the report of the Commission sent out to investigate the position. I draw his attention to page 14 of the report of Mr. Bullock and Professor Macmillan, where it says:
I refer to the last sentence of Mr. Lipson's report, in which he said:"Perhaps our overriding impression is this, that the greatest need of the people of the Bamangwato Reserve is a period of peace to go about their everyday affairs freed from the distraction of continuing disturbances resulting from consideration of the affairs of the members of the chiefly house."
I respectfully suggest that that is the real importance of the decision which was of necessity given by the Government at this juncture."Meanwhile, conditions in the tribe are deteriorating owing to lack of strong leadership."
I know that the hon. Gentleman does not wish to misrepresent me. He will recall that one of the points I made was that this delegation which represents the tribal leaders was due to arrive in this country tomorrow week, and although the need for speed is strong, it must not be forgotten that delay, at least until that stage, might very well have eased any decision that had to be taken.
I appreciate the point the hon. Member has made, but I must say that I still adhere to the view that this matter is so urgent, and that the conditions there have deteriorated so rapidly that, if anything, my right hon. Friend should have made this decision before now.The next point the hon. Gentleman raised was why should Seretse be sent to Jamaica? Of course, Seretse is not being sent to Jamaica. It has been suggested that he can do valuable work there. Again, if the hon. Gentleman knows the conditions both in Africa and in Jamaica, he will agree that Seretse, with his African background, can do a very useful job in Jamaica. I should have thought that if he was to go anywhere, Jamaica would indeed have been a very proper place for him to go.
The hon. Gentleman has twice suggested that I know nothing about Africa. Perhaps I may just tell him that I spent over a year there and this included visits to Bechuanaland. I never suggested that Seretse was being sent to Jamaica. I simply asked why was Jamaica picked as the place for which an offer was made. My point is that he may do something in the Bamangwato Reserve itself. If he cannot do it there, there are plenty of other places in Africa which could take advantage of his talents.
If I misquoted the hon. Gentleman, I am sorry. It was the hon. Member for Eton and Slough who asked why Seretse was being sent to Jamaica, because I took down the actual words.
I accept that, but I put it to the hon. Gentleman that when a man is excluded from his own country—[Interruption.] If I may say so to the Government Front Bench, it is exactly that attitude which causes feeling on this matter. It is an attitude which expresses not only class superiority but racial superiority, and that is the thing which is ruining the world today.
The hon. Member for Eton and Slough asked why Seretse was being sent to Jamaica. I am trying to follow the advice which I respectfully gave to the House; namely, that we should try to avoid emotion and approach this problem from a judicial point of view. But on every occasion when I have listened to the hon. Member for Eton and Slough, not only in this House but outside, I have found it difficult to avoid emotion. He gives me the impression that everything he says and his whole line of approach is that everything that the British people in this country and in this House do is wrong. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Yes, indeed. That is my impression and I am entitled to form my own impression. Everything we do is wrong. It used to be the same before 1939. Everything the British Government do is wrong. Everything that every other Government does—including the attitude of the people in the Empire—is all right. I firmly object to that attitude.I put it on record once and for all that having had the privilege, like others, of seeing and observing at close quarters the great work done in most parts of the British Empire over a long period, I believe that this country and our people have made a greater contribution to the scheme of things in this world than any other nation. I will not retract from that.
I content myself by refuting the hon. Member's interpretation altogether.
The next question raised by the two hon. Gentlemen was that of mixed marriages. That has nothing whatever to do with the case of Seretse Khama. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] It has nothing whatever to do with it. Then both hon. Gentlemen asked, "What is the effect of this on the Africans?" They asked what it would mean. They tried to paint a rather lurid picture. I believe that this rightful action of the British Government will have a very good effect on the Africans throughout the whole of the Continent.Now that I know the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East has had actual experience in Africa, I think he will agree that one of the most important considerations to every African in every part of that great Continent is the tribe and the tribal life. At the moment in the Bamangwato Reserve the whole of the tribal life is disintegrating. This action will do more than anything else to restore the tribal pride of the Bamangwato.
The hon. Gentleman makes a great mistake if he supposes that in this matter I did not recognise the importance of tribal life, the importance of the tribal dynasty and indeed the importance of what my right hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) did in trying to superimpose some measure of representative native council. But if the hon. Member says that the Africans do not know what is good for them—
The hon. Member must not make a second speech.
I think that the steps which have been taken will have nothing but a good effect, once more cementing together the whole of the Bamangwato tribe.
The hon. Gentleman does not believe that.
Yes, I do strongly.
May I interrupt the hon. Gentleman?
No. I am sorry. I have given way a good deal already.There is a further point I want to make before I get on to the general theme. It is a matter of great regret to me—and I hope that it will not occur again—that South Africa should be dragged into this debate. It will do infinite harm. South Africa has nothing whatever to do with this question of Seretse. We have had many important debates in the previous Parliament on the question of Tshekedi Khama. Tonight, I suggest that the issue is a very narrow one, namely, the question of Seretse Khama, and, therefore, it is right and proper that we should dismiss altogether any considerations concerning Tshekedi Khama from this affair and concentrate upon the one problem of Seretse. In order that we may have a proper appreciation of the state of affairs and judge properly the action of my hon. and learned Friend and of his noble Friend in another place, it is desirable that we should go back and consider briefly the background of this whole question. Hon. Members know as well as I do that it really started with the intimation by Seretse to his uncle Tshekedi that he, Seretse, was going to marry an English girl. Not unnaturally, as we all appreciate, this must have come as a shock to Tshekedi Khama and to the members of the Bamangwato tribe; and, rightly, Tshekedi, in the position in which he was then, did the proper thing in suggesting that Seretse should postpone his marriage to the English lady and go back to the tribe for consultation. The reply that Tshekedi received from Seretse to that proposition was that Seretse was already married. Following on that, and I am jumping the interval in order to save time, the next really important thing that happened was that a kgotla was held—the first one, as the right hon. Gentleman will remember—to consider whether, in these circumstances, Seretse was still entitled to remain the Chief-Designate. I think I am right in that, and I see that the right hon. Gentleman agrees. In my view, what happened at the first kgotla—again the right hon. Gentleman agrees—was that Seretse was condemned by the whole tribe. That, I believe, is where the great mistake was made in the whole of this question. If the right hon. Member for Smethwick, when he occupied a position in the Government, had at that juncture said that this was a question for the tribe to decide—as, indeed it is—and, if they had decided against Seretse, he would accept that decision right away, we should not have had any more of the trouble that we have had during the past two years.
It happened before I was Secretary of State.
It was on one of my first days in the House when I heard the right hon. Gentleman make the announcement.
The kgotla happened before that.
I am much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman, but it does not affect the issue. It was an action of the Government of which the right hon. Gentleman was a distinguished representative.
A junior Minister.
Therefore, the whole trouble arose from that particular point, and I respectfully suggest, and with conviction, that the real issue here has been brought about by the wrong action of the then Government, and that is where all this trouble springs from. It is another legacy left by the Socialist Government to the present Government, and I believe that it was right and proper that, at the earliest possible moment, this Government should tackle and resolve the problem.In supporting, as I do, the action that has now been taken, there are certain grounds for that attitude. Let us consider three points. What has been the effect of the decision of five years' banishment on Seretse himself? Every hon. Member in this House who knows Seretse, has kept in touch with his position and has been following the situation very carefully, will agree that Seretse is almost a nervous wreck today, and one can well imagine it. [Interruption.] I do not agree that that is silly. I have been in touch with all these matters concerning him; just as much as the hon. Member himself.
If the hon. Gentleman will address his remarks to me, it would be much simpler.
I beg your pardon, Mr. Deputy-Speaker.The effect of this banishment on Seretse himself has been very serious indeed, and I do not believe that today he would be capable of taking over his position as Chief, even if he were called upon to do so. If that is the case now, what will be the effect of another three years of this uncertainty? It is quite unfair to Seretse himself that he should be kept in suspense for nearly another three years. Then, again, I have already commented on the question of the effect on the tribe. We have the observations of the Commissioners who went out there, and who reported that the whole position was rapidly deteriorating. Finally, and equally important, there is the effect on Her Majesty's Government. How is it possible for a Government to do all they want to do to bring about progress in this area if we have this very unsettled state? Hon. Members who know Africa will agree how very important it is, and how such things as these disturbances have a very adverse effect on every African in the territory. I submit that it was not only right and proper, but that it was the bounden duty of H.M. Government to resolve this unhappy position at the earliest possible moment, and I believe that they have taken the only step which they could take to do so. I admit, and everyone will agree, that it is unfortunate on Seretse, but I disagree with the hon. Member for Eton and Slough when he says that Seretse is an ordinary individual. Seretse is not an ordinary person. He is a person of royal blood, and he has special obligations to fulfil. We well know that a person in that very special position in any part of the world has very great obligations towards the people over whom he is seeking to rule, and Seretse has been shown, in the statement made by my hon. and learned Friend today, that he has failed to consult with his people when he contemplated choosing a consort. His failure to do so, as my hon. and learned Friend's statement today says,
I come back to the central question. This is not a question of mixed marriages at all. If Seretse or any other African came to me and said, "I propose to marry an English girl; what do you think about it?" I would say to him, as I have done in the past in similar cases, and as I should do again in the future, "That is a matter for you, but if you are asking my opinion, for what it is worth, I think it would be very unwise of you to do so." Let us face up to it. It is not liked by a very large number of Europeans, and, equally important, it is not liked or looked upon with favour by the Africans themselves. That, I submit, is where the real point comes in—that Seretse made a great mistake in not considering the obligations which he would be called upon to undertake in due course, and, therefore, cannot now expect any great consideration from his people, or, indeed, from this House, in the unhappy situation in which he finds himself. I am afraid that I must simply conclude by saying that I do feel most strongly that this difficult situation is an unhappy and unfortunate legacy left by the mistakes of the previous Administration, and that I believe that it was the duty of H.M. Government to act quickly. In my view, they have acted rightly, not only from the point of view of justice and from every other consideration, but, I believe, in a way that will react to the best interests of the Bamangwato tribe themselves."betokened lack of responsibility in a potential ruler, and by his precipitate marriage he was unmindful of the interests of his tribe and of his public duty."
Like many of my hon. Friends, I have taken a considerable interest in this issue from the start, and I agree with the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Beresford Craddock) that a tribal kgotla voted against Seretse Khama at the first tribal meeting when this trouble arose. Since then, however, the tribe have changed their mind and, as far as I know, tribes, like a Parliament and like anybody else, have the right to change their mind. Eventually, the tribe were in favour of accepting Seretse Khama and his white wife.About a month ago, some of my hon. Friends and myself put down a Motion, for which time has not yet been found, suggesting that Tshekedi Khama, the uncle of Seretse Khama, should be allowed to return to his native land and that Seretse Khama should be allowed to assume the chieftainship of the tribe. That suggestion was turned down by the Colonial Secretary, who said that Tshekedi Khama would be allowed to return under certain terms and that Seretse Khama would not be allowed to return. I asked him a supplementary question on the point—whether that would introduce peace and harmony into the tribal territory; and his answer was that the Government expected that it would. What has happened? It has introduced discord and nothing but discord. Indeed, it was bound to introduce discord. That was why my hon. Friends and I put down the Motion which has not yet been discussed. I am not concerned with the personality of Seretse Khama. I am concerned with the question of principle. Seretse Khama, in my opinion, did gievous wrong under the laws and customs of his tribe by marrying against his tribal customs and by marrying so precipitously without giving the tribe time to think the matter over. Therefore, I am not concerned with him. But I want to ask these questions—and I hope we shall have answers to them, because much depends on them. Has any pressure been brought to bear upon Seretse Khama to abdicate—for that is what it amounts to—and to agree to the terms which the Government have offered? Was any pressure brought to bear on him?
The next question is: has he voluntarily and freely agreed to the terms now proposed by the Government?
He has refused them.
I am glad to have been given that answer, which is at least something definite. It is important. We are considering Seretse Khama's future, and he has refused to accept what the Government have offered. That is a genuine answer from the hon. and learned Gentleman and now we know where we stand.
May I add, in order to help the hon. Gentleman, that the Jamaican offer remains open in spite of his refusal and that we hope he will accept it, but that is up to him.
The chief point is that he refuses the solution of the problem offered to him by the Government. That raises a very important point indeed. The first point is, therefore, that the chief person concerned objects to the proposed arrangement.The next question I ask is, what about the tribe? It is not a tribe throughout the whole of Bechuanaland, which is a huge territory as big as half Europe. This involves the chieftainship of a very small tribe in Bechuanaland. The question is, what do the tribe want? After all, these tribal laws are not as definite and as rigid as our laws, but everyone agrees that the question of the chieftainship should rest with the tribe. The question is, were the tribe consulted before this offer was made by the Government, and have the tribe indicated in any way that they do not want Seretse Khama back?
If I may intervene—and I am using this method in order to assist the hon. Gentleman, for these points have been raised suddenly—the indications are that the majority of the tribe want the return of Seretse. I think it is right that I should say so. Obviously, I have qualifications to add to that in the sense of an explanation of why, as in the case of the White Paper, the decision of the kgotla is, in our view, not paramount.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for replying so candidly, and that makes the position even more clear. According to the hon. and learned Gentleman, who has means of information which are not available to the ordinary hon. Member, Seretse Khama himself and his tribe object to the proposals put forward by the Government.
I do not think the tribe know of the proposals. All I can say is that in the kgotla, as last indicated, the majority of the tribe wanted the return of Seretse Khama. That is the latest information about the kgotla. They do not know about this proposal, and when I say "the majority," there are views about how big the majority is and how far the situation remains like that.
I am sorry if I over-stated the hon. and learned Gentleman's reply. What he says is perfectly true. As far as we know, the tribe want Seretse Khama back, although they are ignorant of the offer made by the Government. I suggest that the offer which the Government have now made will not bring the tribe round to their point of view. Of course, the tribe have not been consulted about this offer. I do not know why, then, the Government have decided to exile Seretse Khama from his country. Is it because they do not consider that he would be a competent Chief? If that is the reason, and assuming for the sake of argument that Seretse Khama would not prove an efficient administrator or an efficient Chief of the tribe, I suggest that it would be best to allow him to be tried in that position and to let his own people deal with him. If he proved to be a failure, then as far as I know the tribal laws, they could remove him.The Government's objectives are no doubt perfectly good. They want to preserve unity and peace and harmony in the tribe, but I ask them: is this the way to do it, by deposing the lawful Chief of the tribe—for that is what it amounts to—instead of letting the lawful chief take his chance so as to see what he can do and then leaving it to the tribe, if necessary, to depose him? In India, this sort of case arose several times and the general rule was to allow the Princely chief to carry on. We had the paramount power and we could not allow Princes to mis-govern their territories very badly, because we were indirectly responsible. We therefore allowed the Maharajas and the Rajas to carry on until it was proved conclusively, to their subjects, that they were not fit to rule. Several of these Maharajas and Rajas were deposed by the paramount power, and in my experience in India I did not know a case where his subjects objected. First, however, we gave a chance to the lawful successor to the throne, and then his own people condemned him and we removed him. I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that he might clear up this point when he replies: why had we to step in like this and take the odium of this whole affair? Why should we create a lot of ill feeling amongst the Africans, where the situation will probably be mis-represented against the British? Why not allow the tribe themselves to deal with him? There might be some disorder, or there might not, if Seretse Khama went back as Chief, but why not risk that instead of taking the bigger risk of bringing the Government of Britain into odium and creating a lot of feeling in the African territories? I hope the hon. Gentleman will answer that important question when he replies. The next thing which troubles me is this—and my hon. Friends have already referred to it: was this an opportune moment at which to make this new offer to Seretse Khama? Again, the Government have sources of information which I have not, but I confess that it seems to me to have been a very inopportune moment to bring forward such an offer. I am, however, only seeking information; I never reach decisions without knowing the facts as far as I can get them. It appears to me and to many of my hon. Friends to have been a very inopportune moment, and, quite frankly, the suspicion on these benches is that this trouble has been caused by South African interests. Whether that is so, I do not know, and I hope the hon. Gentleman will clear the point up in his reply. Again, it has been said by some of my hon. Friends that a bribe, more or less, was offered to Seretse Khama by offering him a job in Jamaica. I do not know whether that is true, but what post was offered to him? What is the nature of the post in which he can "perform useful service," and what are the terms? Is he to be paid by the Jamaican Government or not? We should like to know these things. Meantime, until these questions are answered, I do not think we can come to a realistic decision on this point; and I beg whoever is to reply to the debate for the Government to be frank and candid with the House.
We have now reached another chapter in this very unfortunate story. I would say at once, in regard to a remark that was made by the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Beresford Craddock), that he regretted that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Fenner Brockway) introduced emotion, that to me any question relating to the liberty of any man is bound to raise, in all of us, the deepest emotions.
Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman allow me? I am very much obliged to him. I agree that that is undoubtedly so. I could not agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman more. However, I respectfully suggest to him—and, as a member of the same profession, doubtless he will agree with me—that it is the duty of this House, as the judge, not to approach this thing in an emotional way, for the task of the House tonight is a judicial one.
Well, one may approach all manner of matters in a judicial way, but it is difficult to put on one side one's deep feelings when one is considering the liberty or the position or the rights of a fellow subject. One of the most cruel punishments that can be inflicted upon any man is the punishment of banishment from amongst his own people and from his own country—and especially if that man has done nothing that, so far as one can see, entitles anyone to condemn him even for the smallest offence.I only wish that some of the speeches to which we have listened tonight had been delivered on other occasions when this matter has been raised in this House. I agree entirely with what was said by the hon. Member for Eton and Slough in congratulating the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn), who, unfortunately, is not in at the moment, for his robust liberalism. I wish that that robust liberalism had found expression when we were asking that Tshekedi should be returned to his own people, for he had done nothing whatsoever except to look after his people for more than 20 years—and yet, nevertheless, was banished from them for trying again to safeguard their future. But the robust voice of liberalism found it best to be silent on that occasion. Perhaps it is just as well that those of us who still believe in it remain in the Liberal Party, and are not to be tempted by the profits of office in any party. Reference has been made to the question of mixed marriages. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Spelthorne said that that had nothing to do with the present decision, whereupon there were protests from this side of the House. This has everything to do with the question of mixed marriages, and has had right from the very outset. It was the Government of the day in their White Paper who said that mixed marriages had got nothing to do with it. It is in the White Paper, paragraph 16:
"His Majesty's Government are fully aware of the very strong feelings that are aroused on the subject of the merits or demerits of mixed marriages, but that is not the issue which is here raised."
It is not quite the same point.
I really do not see wherein lies the difference. I think that it is a distinction without a difference. At any rate, it is one of the most hypocritical statements that was ever made in any White Paper. The question of whom any young man or young woman should marry is a question for those two and for nobody else, and it is not right that anyone should interfere with them. It is a question of their lives and their choice, and no one has any right to interfere with that right or that choice.But what had happened here? Reference has been made to the fact that now there is a general call amongst the Bamangwato tribe for the return of Seretse, and the hon. Gentleman the Member for Swindon (Mr. T. Reid) has directed particular attention to that now, and says that that is the position, and that he has put down a Motion directing the attention of the House to that. But that call was made after his marriage. There were three kgotlas. They are referred to in the White Paper that was issued by the then Government. In the first one they were against Seretse. In the second one there were more people voting for Seretse. I am not sure that they were not in the majority. In the third one, in June, 1949, when he returned to the Reserve, as is pointed out in paragraph 7:
Nevertheless, the Government of the day banished him—and banished him for a period of years unnamed. It is made quite clear in paragraph 15. They had asked him to give up his rights voluntarily. Paragraph 15 says:"At a third meeting of the tribe in that month there was a decisive majority in favour of Seretse as Chief with his European wife."
Then comes this sentence:"Seretse was unable to accept that view, and His Majesty's Government had, therefore, to make their own decision which was announced in Parliament on the 8th March. It was to the effect that the High Commissioner had been instructed to withhold his recognition of Seretse as Chief for a period of years, sufficiently long for the disappearance of the present tendencies to disruption which threaten the unity and the well-being of the tribe."
whatever that might be—"The period required would certainly not be less than five years, and at the end of that time"—
It was then that the appalling decision was arrived at. That has been the cause of all the trouble. Hon. Gentlemen now are saying that the paramount thing is the future of the tribe. I do agree, but they flouted the future of the tribe in 1950. I agree that Africans do not like these mixed marriages, but his own people, having met three times, said about the future of the tribe in June, 1949, "This man has married a white woman. Nevertheless, we should like him back, and we should like his white wife with him." What did the then Government do? They appointed a commission of inquiry, and the inquiry was held, and it reported, in paragraph 11:"the situation would be reviewed."
Now, the date of the inquiry precedes the decision to banish him, and to banish him for an unstated number of years. That was a crime against liberty committed by the then Government. I do not remember a voice, except that of the hon. Member for Eton and Slough and some of my colleagues, being raised in protest."His Majesty's Government must, however, state categorically that the Judicial Enquiry unanimously advised against the recognition of Seretse. It expressed its belief that in these circumstances Seretse's absence from the Bechuanaland Protectorate was essential to the peace and good order of the Bamangwato Reserve, and that a period of direct rule would be in the best interests of the Bamangwato."
There were plenty more.
How many voted when it came to Tshekedi?
That is not the point.
I remember that, unfortunately, I was not present when the Consolidated Fund Bill was debated, and it was one of my colleagues who raised this matter for a short while.
No; the right hon. and learned Gentleman is at fault.
I believe he really is mistaken there. The issue of Seretse was raised on the Consolidated Fund Bill by Members of the then Government party, and the issue of Tshekedi was raised on a Supply Day at the discretion of the Opposition at that time.
I am obliged to the hon. Lady. I said I was not present, but I thought that I had left it to my hon. Friend to raise it.
What happened was that the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Fenner Brockway) raised it; the right hon. and learned Gentleman's colleague the hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Bowen) raised it, and the then hon. Member for Oxford, now Lord Hailsham, also mentioned it.
It was my hon. Friend the Member for Cardigan (Mr. Bowen) whom I had in mind. Unfortunately, I could not be present, and I know that it was raised at a very late hour. At any rate I was right about this. When I raised the much more straightforward case of Tshekedi, who was not Chief, who resigned from his position as Chief, I had to seek the assistance of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen now on the Government side of the House to get it even debated. When we did get it debated and divided the House, although there were many voices sympathetic with Tshekedi, hon. Members voted in the other Lobby in the main.Now let me turn to another matter. There is one thing that is absolutely clear in my mind, and that is that no one has the right to interfere with these people except their protectors. No one from outside has any right to dictate; and certainly not somebody taking and upholding the views of the Prime Minister of South Africa, Dr. Malan. What he is doing within his own territory is bad enough, but at any rate he has no right to threaten anybody outside that territory. I am very glad to hear the protests that have been made about that today, and I hope that it is absolutely clear that that has nothing to do with what has happened since with regard to this.
It is absolutely clear.
Very well. That is something at any rate. There is a reference to it, though, in paragraph 17 of the White Paper:
There is a categorical statement, but I cannot help reading that in conjunction with paragraph 10, which refers to the report of those who made the statement. They issued a report and delivered it to the Government of the day. The Government then said they had considered whether the report should be published, and added:"His Majesty's Government were of course aware that a strong body of European opinion in southern Africa would be opposed to recognition; but, as stated in the House of Commons on the 8th March, no representations on this matter have been received from the Government of the Union of South Africa or Southern Rhodesia."
Even unbalanced and incomplete, at any rate let us have a look at it. We might be able to fill up the lacuna and add the bits for ourselves. But we were denied that. The White Paper goes on:"As the report and the accompanying evidence form only a part of the matters considered by His Majesty's Government they would present an incomplete and unbalanced picture."
I asked in previous Parliaments what those arguments were, and I ask it again now. Would it not be in the interests of everybody if, even now, that report were published? Is it not obvious that those arguments were: "If Seretse is allowed to be accompanied by his wife, Miss Ruth Williams, a white woman, back amongst his tribe, there will be protests from South Africa and trouble will be caused by that." Was that the argument contained in the report? Is that the reason this report was then suppressed? If that is so, it is hypocrisy now to say that Malan is not again interfering. He interfered at the time when this wrong was done in the initial stages. We should not be debating this now if this action had not been taken and Seretse and Tshekedi both banished. That is the position. What is to happen? Fortunately the new Government have seen fit to allow Tshekedi to go back home. I understand that efforts are being made for him to go back there quietly, and we all hope that he will. Now comes the question: What is to be done with Seretse? Can he go back as Chief? It will be very difficult. Really he is treated by his own people, and rightly, as more than King: he is father, guide and leader, like the great Khama, his grandfather, before him, and like his uncle Tshekedi before him. What has happened with regard to that young man? He was sent to schools, sent to colleges in South Africa, and sent to Oxford. Then, when he is about to take over and take a wife with him, with the approval of the whole of the tribe, along comes the Government here in Britain and says: "No. Go away. You are not fit to be Chief. Go away for a number of years. We can- not tell you how long, but certainly not less than five." What is likely to be the influence of a man like that when he is brought back at the end of five years? The damage has been done. It was done then; that is the point. I am not a bit surprised, therefore, that suggestions are made that Seretse feels the position is such that it cannot go on like that, and that he is ready to resign. I would hope that would be so. Then suppose he did—and this is why I was asking the supplementary question of the hon. Gentleman today. He has given up as Chief because the position has been rendered impossible, not by the present Government but by the action of the then Government saying plainly to the tribe: "You have unfortunately got a Chief who is not fit to govern you for at least five years." I will not refer to recent events, but supposing this country had tried that suggestion with James II, I wonder what would have been the position? We would have said to him: "Go away. You are not fit to govern. Go off with your new Queen and little boy. Get away to Paris. We do not know for how long, but certainly for five years, and then we will have you back upon the Throne." It really is an impossible situation, and anybody who acts after that has to deal with the situation so created. Now comes the question whether he could go back as a private citizen. He is entitled to. He is certainly entitled to go back amongst his people. His property is there; his home is there; they speak the same language. He is entitled to do that, but there is the difficulty that if he does go and there is a new Chief, to whom will the tribe then owe loyalty? That again is a difficulty that has been created. I myself would wish to see him go back. Whether he could go back immediately or not, I really do not know, because of the situation that has been created by this action. My one regret—and I blame the Government for this—is that they have acted so precipitately in this way; they should have taken more time to consider the right thing to be done in the interests of everyone. Someone rightly said that the paramount interest is the interest of the tribe. Of course, along with that, naturally, is the interest of this young man and his wife and children. How can we best deal with the situation created now? I wish that the knife had not been brought down this afternoon upon this matter, and that more time had been given to discussion and finding better ways of dealing with the situation. We are well aware that the whole of Africa, thank God, is awake. It is not a question now of merely South Africa but all the way from Arab belt to the Cape of Good Hope, and what we are doing in one place is now known in the others. What we want above everything now is wisdom, understanding and tolerance in dealing with these people—holding out the hand of friendship, helping them along the road we all wish they would go. I deeply regret that this action has been taken this afternoon, instead of waiting to see whether we could not devise some better way of getting out of the difficulty that was created on 8th March, 1950."Moreover certain arguments are advanced and views expressed in the report which are not accepted by His Majesty's Government, and with which they could not associate themselves. The danger that such parts of the report would be quoted without its being made clear that they had not the approval of the Government is so great that His Majesty's Government have decided that the report cannot be published."
I listened with pleasure and sympathy to the speech which we have just heard from the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies). I agree with almost all that he said, but not quite all, as the next few minutes may show, but I do not think that he made out a very strong case for delay.Seretse Khama married without permission, and not merely against the advice of his friend and uncle and Regent. I think that we may be inclined, in view of the great publicity which this matter has received, to see more in it and to attach much more importance to it than the matter really deserves. This is not so unusual in history. There are plenty of precedents among rulers, leaders and heads of families and other persons where an individual choice, freely made, has, nevertheless, led to consequences which have affected a career, and I think that we are apt to exaggerate the importance of this matter. It is, indeed, commonplace enough in the general pages of our history and to almost every people. The last Government came to what was obviously an interim decision. They got out of their difficulties by banishing Seretse for a time. They may have hoped that swiftly, before it was too late, the marriage would be dissolved or would have proved childless, or the second or third wife might come along, which would have been perfectly proper according to the morality of the tribe—and that is the relevant morality—and the matter have resolved itself in that way. The Secretary of State in the Labour Government was not right to take that chance. But much time has now passed, much difficulty has arisen and much controversy has divided and thwarted this tribe. It seems to me that there is danger if a solution is not found, and that is why I think that the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery did not make out a good case for delay in case something should turn up. I cannot myself feel that anything is likely to turn up, and since the paramount interest is that of the tribe, I think that a decision was required, and Her Majesty's Government have shown courage in making a decision. It has been said, "No one should threaten, least of all Dr. Malan." Let it be placed indubitably on record that Dr. Malan did not threaten to take a view about this matter or intervene in this matter. I think that it would be wise, as well as gracious, if Members of this House on both sides realised the sovereign independence of the Union of South Africa and left them to manage their affairs, as we would reasonably ask them to leave us to manage ours. I understand that Dr. Malan did not intervene at all, that he made no recommendations and no representations, directly or indirectly, and that the British Government did not ask for any advice or help from South Africa. My own opinion is that that was a mistake on both sides. I consider that the relationship between Europeans and Africans and coloured and Indian peoples in the sub-Continent is such a vital matter that there ought to be consultations between powerful Governments, sister-Governments in the Commonwealth, upon all matters that touch their interests, and especially upon controversial matters like this.
The hon. Gentleman has made a very important statement. He stated that to his knowledge Dr. Malan neither directly or indirectly has brought any pressure to bear in any way on this question at any time. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman was in direct personal contact with Dr. Malan, but I should like to know whether he can give us any information as to where we can get any authoritative opinion that Dr. Malan at any time kept aloof and did not make any statement of any kind on this matter.
I can only say that the right hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker), who was the Secretary of State at the time, told me personally that that was so, and the Under-Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations has told me so today. I take their word for it. Nevertheless, I consider that to be a mistake of British policy.I think that the relationship between Britain and South Africa is so important that in all these matters touching our interests, and especially matters of a controversial nature, there ought to be this kind of consultation. I think that, may be, a solution of this matter would have been much easier if there had been consultation, and if the difficulties and the apprehensions which may have influenced right hon. Gentlemen opposite had been frankly brought out into the open and, had they existed, clearly stated. The hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Fenner Brockway) said that the law affecting mixed marriages was altered quite recently since Seretse left Africa. I think, as a matter of fact, that is an error. The law affecting colour relationships between white and coloured people has been altered lately, but the law between black and white has been in force for a considerable time and outdates this controversy by many years. I do not think that we can leave mixed marriages out of this matter, and I want to say a word or two about that subject in the hope that what I say may not stir up emotional feelings and but by its very practicalness—practical common sense perhaps—will lead to understanding. Let a man marry whom he likes freely, but if he occupies a position of responsibility, if his head wears a crown, or if he is the head of a State or a leader—perhaps a leader of a party—he must be careful whom he marries. I have not the slightest doubt that if the Leader of the Opposition, through some accident to his present wife, were next week or next year to marry a girl from the Bamangwato tribe, in spite of the friendly exhortations and the presence at the marriage feast of the hon. Member for Eton and Slough, this event would undoubtedly hasten the advent to the leadership of the Labour Party of the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan). [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Is that not a fact? It is all very well to say that a mixed marriage 6,000 miles away is all very fine to us here, all white men in this Parliament, but it is when we bring this matter into our homes and into our families that we realise the depth of feeling which it arouses. There may be places in the British Commonwealth where mixed marriages are accepted, but southern Africa is not one of those places. Consequently, this question is a relevant one. I said in the lifetime of the previous Government, and I repeat it now, that our leaders are right to bring this matter to an end because this man did not consult his tribe and did not listen to his uncle, Regent and guardian, and has taken a course which would be most difficult and most disagreeable to Europeans and Africans alike in the setting in which Bechuanaland is placed. Under the arrangement made between this country and South Africa in 1925, and enshrined in an aide-memoire of that date, there is an obligation on this country and the South African Government to consult each other on the matters relating to the High Commission Territories. Therefore, we ought not to ignore the opinion of our fellow countrymen and our fellow Commonwealth folk, many of them our own kith and kin, of both races within South Africa. Let it not be misunderstood and thought that the policy of separateness in South Africa is a policy of Afrikaans-speaking people. It is a policy of both the white races, and, in my experience, 95 per cent. of them. It is not a policy which will be broken down or changed in favour of some ideal solution by hot words and angry sentiment but only by working together over a long period of time. The question is much simpler than it seems. The young man may marry whom he likes, but he cannot inherit if he marries such and such, just as the Leader of the Opposition could not possibly lead the Opposition if he married a girl from the Bamangwato tribe. [HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."] Could he?
On a point of order. Is it in order for an hon. Gentleman opposite to make several references to private matters relating to the Leader of the Opposition? Surely he could take any other example he liked instead of making an attack on the Leader of the Opposition and bringing to this issue a party political matter.
There was no attack. I have the utmost regard for the Leader of the Opposition, whose private life is an example to all of us. I took that example because simple-minded hon. Members opposite would not understand this unless I brought it home to them.
It is expedient that Seretse Khama—"It was expedient that one man should die for the people."
Bad taste after bad taste.
I have yet to learn that it is in bad taste to quote from the Good Book.
It depends on the context.
Caiaphas said it.
This is a case where Seretse Khama, because of the choice he has made, which I hold him free to make, is not suitable, in the circumstances in which he is placed. It is a very simple issue, often repeated in our history, and there is no need for us to get fussed about it. The appointment of a Chief is an appointment of the Paramount Power. It must be so, because these people and similar peoples are not yet ready to appoint people by elections themselves.
They had Chiefs before we got there.
Cetewayo was one of them, and he ruled in a manner which would do the hon. Gentleman a power of good, but it is hardly one which would appeal to the Fabian Society. Since we have this responsibility, we must exercise it, and exercise it for the good of the tribe. Because the Labour Government, up to a point, and the present Government, in the difficult circumstances of the time, have acted in the interests of the tribe, I give them my full support.
I hoped that nobody in this House would ever be putting forward the proposition that because Seretse Khama had contracted a mixed marriage, that fact alone should disqualify him from the chieftainship of the tribe. I was surprised and shocked to hear the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser) do so.This territory is under the protection of the British Empire, and it has for long been a doctrine for which the British Empire has stood that the colour of a man's skin should not stand in the way of his rights. If an African tribe said, "We object to this man because he has contracted a mixed marriage," the Imperial Power might feel it wise to defer to local sentiment; but that is not the position here. The tribe have made their views quite clear, and it is certainly not for the Imperial Power, the one that claims to have the wiser judgment and the longer view, to impose a racial barrier if the African people themselves do not wish to impose it. What was in issue here was not only the mere fact that the marriage was mixed but whether it might have been contracted precipitately and without due regard for the people. I take it that we should all accept the view that somebody who holds a high and royal position must have regard in all his acts to the feelings and wishes of his people. If he is going to do something such as contracting a mixed marriage, which is bound to be the subject of a great deal of criticism, then it is all the more enjoined on him to exercise the very greatest care and consult his people first. The late Government were faced with the situation that this was a mixed marriage, but that it was a marriage which had been contracted apparently with imprudence and precipitancy and without previous consultation with Seretse's people. Then side by side with that consideration came some other considerations. In the first place, there was the question as to the mass of tradition which surrounds an African chieftainship being a suitable instrument for dealing with the problems of the 20th century, and whether this was not the time to make some alterations in that form of government of that territory which would be more suitable to the needs of the times. There was also the question of the relationship between the Bamangwato and what I believe are sometimes called the "client" tribes in the Bechuanaland Territory. For all these reasons there was a case for saying, "Here we have a situation where sooner or later some alteration in the form of government or of the chieftainship will have to be made, and possibly a native council will take the powers of the chieftainship, or the powers of the Chief may be altered through the creation of a native council." At the same time all this coincided with the conduct of a particular chief, which was called in question. Put all those factors together and it might not be unreasonable to say, as it has been said, that we should have a five-year trial period, during which we would be entitled to make certain alterations in the form of government of that territory. That was what was being attempted. It is entirely open to hon. Members in any quarter of the House, and it is perhaps particularly to the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies), to say that the decision to have this five years' waiting period was all wrong.
I said it today.
Yes, I said the right hon. and learned Gentleman has a right to say it, as has my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Fenner Brockway).
So did I.
I do not wish to exclude anybody. The Members of the Government are in actual touch with the latest information from that part of the world, and it is certainly open to them to say that this peoriod of trial, in which it was hoped a new form of government would be created, is breaking down. They are the people in most immediate contact with the territory. It is certainly open to any hon. Member who wishes to criticise the late Government to say that the five-year trial period was a wrong decision.But anyone who says that imposes upon himself the responsibility for finding what is the right position. I cannot speak for any of my right hon. Friends in front of me, but I do not believe that they or anyone else who was connected with the late Government would in any way feel any resentment or any sense of injustice in hearing the present Government say that this five-year plan was wrong, but only if the present Government can come along and offer the right solution at the present time. If that five-year trial period is rejected, then the only possible alternative to it is to accept Seretse Khama as Chief despite the risks that attach to that aproach, as they do to the handling of all these African problems. Certainly in many of them enormous risks hang on a decision. I repeat that the only possible alternative to the five-year trial period would be the acceptance of Seretse Khama as Chief. What were the reasons advanced for the five-year trial period? The first one is that Seretse Khama acted imprudently and precipitously, and with lack of counsel in his marriage. That might be a reason for delaying his advancement to the chieftainship because he is a young man in whom imprudence, particularly in such a matter, is a venal offence, but it could not possibly be advanced as a reason sufficient in itself for excluding him forever from the chieftainship. The other reason advanced was that it might be possible during these five years to develop an improved form of Government in Bechuanaland, but that is exactly what the Government say they cannot do without a Chief. The line may be taken that we do not care very much for African chieftainship as an intrument of government and that something more modern is wanted. There are reasons for saying, "We cannot get along in managing the affairs of the African people without paying regard to the deep-rooted views of the African people." But this solution is neither the one nor the other. It is to be the solution of a chieftainship but a chieftainship which can have no roots in the people, nor can it have the influence and the sanction of tradition behind it. There is no justification, either in justice or in expediency, for this solution. I say to the Members of the Government and to their supporters behind them—"Be as loud and critical as you like of the late Government, but having rejected the solution which the late Government adopted and which we are now told is unworkable, you should seek a decision which does not offend human justice, as the permanent exclusion of Seretse Khama must do, and which does not offend against common sense, as does the attempt to create a kind of synthetic chieftainship, which has no reason or sense behind it. We have been told with great emphasis by the Under-Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations what the decision of the Government is. May I say here that we in this House hold the hon. and learned Gentleman in the greatest respect, and we know that he is anxious in this matter, as in all matters, to reach a right and just solution. That is why we were profoundly distressed to hear of this decision from his lips. He has told us that this decision has not been influenced by the wishes or policy of Dr. Malan, but the policy of Dr. Malan's Government in the Union of South Africa is one of the great factors affecting not only the Union of South Africa but African politics and African government throughout that country. One may say, as did the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale, that Dr. Malan's governance of South Africa is for the South African people to determine, but we cannot divide the world up in that manner. A policy which affects the rights of the Africans is bound to create problems for us as the Power which rules over so many African subjects. Nobody wants to point to the divisions of policy between the different countries of the Commonwealth with any pleasure but there is no good dodging the fact that the policy adopted by Dr. Malan's Government differs from the policy of any British Government, not merely in degree and in detail, but in a fundamental principle. It has always been the rule of our Government that we should work to a position where there is complete equality of rights between men, whatever the colour of their skins. Some may say that we have advanced towards that goal too slowly, but at least we have held that that was where we were going. Dr. Malan does not hold with that view. His Government is based on the principle of the permanent inferiority of the black man, and, by a horrible perversion of Holy Scripture, Divine authority is claimed for that. Anything that we do in Africa after a decision of this kind must inevitably be interpreted as a personal injustice to Seretse and an affront to his people who want him there. It is bound to convince a great many Africans, who do not have the advantage, which we will have of hearing the Under-Secretary on this subject, that the policy of the Government as announced today is a victory for the doctrine which inspires Dr. Malan's Government, and to which any British Government, by their very nature, must be opposed. That is why the decision, if it is persisted in, is liable to have frightful consequences. I am sorry to see the attendance in the House tonight. The decision we are making is one of the greatest that this Parliament has been called upon to make. We are now at a great watershed of history. I believe the Government are making a decision that will turn British Imperial development and human development down a wrong and disastrous turning. I beg the Minister and his colleagues in the Government to think again on the matter, and to think of the frightful consequences on African opinion that will follow from this decision.
It is monstrous that the hon. Member for Fulham, East (Mr. M. Stewart), should accuse my hon. and right hon. Friends who form part of the present Government of making this decision to which he attaches such immense importance. The decision, as the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) said, was made by the Administration of which the hon. Gentleman was a member last year and the year before. Therefore, if all these considerations were so important to his mind at that time, why did he not take the action that anybody would who felt strongly and sincerely on these matters and go into the Lobby with the Liberal Party, some of his own colleagues, and many others like myself from our benches?
The decision taken by the present Government excludes Seretse permanently. That was not the decision taken by the late Government. I do not think the Government Front Bench would say that it was. If the hon. Gentleman says that the decision of the present Government follows logically from that of the late Government, perhaps he will develop the argument and show how that comes about.
The point is quite clear. Not only did the late Government make the decision, but they recognised, in the White Paper, that they were doing it. They said "at least five years," but there was every prospect, and they knew it perfectly well, that at the end of five years there would merely be another extension of five years. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."]The decision that my noble Friend has had to make on this occasion has clearly been made in the best of faith in order to do right as far as possible both by the tribe and by the individuals concerned. It has been made necessary for him to do it because of the mishandling of the situation right from the beginning—not simply when the right hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) was in occupation of the office, but before that when his predecessor was in office. Why did the tribe change, between the first kgotla and the second kgotla, from opposing Seretse to supporting him? The reason was the indecision in supporting the original decision of the kgotla. Had it been made clear to the tribesmen of the Reserve that they would get the support of His Majesty's Government, as it was at that time, I have not the slightest doubt that what was decided at that first kgotla would have held good to the present time. What happened? The dynastic quarrel which had been going on in the Bamangwato for many years took a new turn. The opportunity had arisen to oust from his position Tshekedi Khama, one of the most outstanding Africans of our time, just as his father was one of the outstanding Africans of his time. It was an opportunity to get rid of Tshekedi, who was a firm governor and a firm father of his people to them, and of putting in the opposite faction. That is precisely what happened. Anybody who knows Africa, as hon. Gentlemen opposite know it, will realise that it is easy in those places for quarrels within a tribe suddenly to change the point of view of the tribesmen, especially when, as in this case, the leadership of a not very popular but an exceedingly efficient and outstanding African was at issue. What has happened tonight is that hon. Gentlemen opposite are taking sides, not so much on a great issue of principle but in a dynastic quarrel in a tribe in a British Protectorate.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way—
No, I have only a short time. There have been a number of speeches from that side of the House and very few from this, and I have to sit down in five minutes.What has been so unfortunate and unhappy throughout this controversy has been the fact that emotions which so often present themselves on the other side of the House when matters of this kind arise have inflated the problem from the real issue, which concerns a tribe, to the gigantic issue of race relations and the colour bar. That is not the basis on which we tonight should be judging this question. We should consider first of all the position of the tribe. What, after all, would have been the situation in the tribe in five years' time had the ruling given by the previous Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations held? Does the hon. Gentleman really think that it would have been possible to put back Seretse after that long time? Does he really think that, in spite of all the lack of contact Seretse would have had during those five years, and with the changes and developments in the political life and institutions and point of view of the Africans, he would have been able to go back and become the effective leader which that tribe must have, particularly when that tribe, on the admission of the late Government, was restless and divided and would have continued to be so had this ruling held? What really was happening was that the late Government, finding itself in a quandary, was merely postponing making an inevitable decision, hoping against hope that something would happen to get it off the horns of the dilemma on which it was impaled. What did the Government do? Not only did it do a great injustice to the tribe but also to Seretse himself. If, as the Government knew, he could never go back there, why did it not have the courage to tell him so straight away? Why did it not make it possible for him, a young man not to waste a year or two years of his life, as has happened, but to get on with making a career for himself in some other sphere where his services might have been of the greatest value? That, after all, is what my right hon. and noble Friend has done. He has acted fairly with Seretse. He has told him the truth as he sees it, in the interests of the tribe and of Seretse himself. What is more, he has issued to Seretse a challenge. I have never met him, so it is not for me to say whether he should take it up or not, but it seems to me to be a reasonable challenge. It is that in the event of his showing that he has all the capacities, if the situation is such that in due course his banishment from his own tribe—not from the chieftainship but from his own country—should not be perpetual, after an alternative Chief is securely established in the native administration, Seretse and his wife can return. That, surely, disposes once and for all of the accusation that this is connected with the mixed marriage. This is an issue which affects the individual, the chieftainship and the tribe, and it is on that basis alone that we judge it tonight.
I have promised to condense a number of points into a very few minutes, and so I hope I shall be excused if my speech is rather disjointed and I do not give way to interruptions.I thought that a rather unworthy personal smear was made by the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Beresford Craddock) when he said that Seretse Khama is, or must be, by now what he described as a nervous wreck. That is completely untrue, as any who have had the pleasure of meeting Seretse Khama in the last few days, or even this evening, will know perfectly well. I now come to the statement made this afternoon by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Under-Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations. There are one or two points upon which I should like to comment. It contains more than once, quite rightly, the word "promised," "The White Paper … promised review …"Surely, it can be understood that to the people in Africa it is quite evident that Her Majesty's Government are breaking that promise. They do not distinguish clearly, as we do here, between one Government and another. They simply know that it is the British Government—His or Her Majesty's Government—that are breaking a promise once given. My next point on the statement is that there is a somewhat dishonest understatement about halfway through it, where, as with an apparent concession, the hon. and learned Gentleman said:
Note the expressions, "considerable proportion," "on occasion" and "their readiness." In fact, that means, as I have no doubt the hon. and learned Gentleman knows, that probably 98 or 99 per cent. of them demand him, and have demanded him, as Chief, not merely on occasion, but at every kgotla held since the British intervention. There is a rather material point towards the end of the statement. I cannot help feeling that if a statement of this kind is being put out today, or whenever it may be, to the tribe, in a way the Government are trying to put a sort of bluff across the Bamangwato. The statement says that the Government"It is true that a considerable proportion of the tribespeople have on occasion demonstrated their readiness to designate Seretse as chief."
I should have thought—I speak subject to correction by the hon. and learned Gentleman, who has much more legal knowledge than I have—that it could not just be done by an ipse dixit of that kind but that an Order in Council would be needed, and that that in itself would not be an irrevocable act and could not be described as permanent and final, since, obviously, no Government or Parliament can commit absolutely its successors. Perhaps the hon. and learned Gentleman will deal with that point in his reply. There are many things in the speeches made by hon. Members opposite on which I should have liked to comment. One thing that, surely, is quite clear is that it is true that all this trouble has had a bad effect on the unity and morale of the tribe. They had been torn by dissension. But there is one thing, and only one thing, that does unite the tribe, and that is their demand for the return of Seretse. That is the only basis of unity. I, with some of my hon. Friends, have always maintained throughout the last year or two, throughout all this troubled business, that the only satisfactory solution of the problem was to allow both Tshekedi and Seretse to return. Right at the end of the statement there is a slightly hypocritical indication or promise:"have decided that their predecessors' refusal to recognise Seretse must be confirmed and made permanent and final …"
Will any District Commissioner in the foreseeable future take the responsibility of saying that the alternative Chief is so securely established that it is safe for Seretse to go back? I do not think that as things are he will, and I think the tribe will break up and rend internally into a number of groups of squabbling king makers if Seretse does not go back. I understand that Seretse Khama refuses this job in Jamaica. His reasons for doing so are honourable. One of them is that he says Jamaica is, after all, a much more advanced country than Bechuanaland and there are many educated and skilled Jamaicans, and he does not see why he should do one of them out of a job which they could do perfectly well. The whole statement and atmosphere of speeches of hon. Members opposite are nauseatingly hypocritical because everyone knows it is the welfare and interest of the tribe which ought to be paramount. But what has been paramount in this business throughout is the disgusting racial prejudice of Dr. Malan."that Seretse Khama should absent himself … until an alternative chief has been securely established with his own native administration."
I regard the wider question, of which the statement we are debating tonight is a part, as a very difficult one. There have been divisions of opinion on our side of the House about this problem, and indeed on the other side, too, on some aspects of it. We are certainly not inclined to think that there is any easy and simple solution which would settle the whole thing in a moment.But, although I make that approach to it, I can find no excuse for the unholy mess the Government seem to be making of this whole problem. The statement which the hon. and learned Gentleman read this afternoon has been very carefully drafted to try to tie up the decision which it announces with the previous decisions of the Labour Government. They are thereby trying to cover up the nakedness of what they are doing themselves. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn), to whom we are very grateful for raising the matter, said, if we read the statement with any care we find there are, in spite of the careful drafting, extremely important departures from the policy of the previous Government. There is all the difference in the world between saying, as we did, that it is a very difficult problem to face, so let us have an interlude of five years so that the situation may settle down and they may even choose a third chief—it is certainly a possibility—and we can look at it again in the light of events. There is all the difference in the world between saying that and what the statement says, that this is permanent and final and there is no more flexibility nor chance of adjustment. Moreover, this has been done in a way calculated to make the worst possible impression in the tribe. The statement, in that it contains a studied disregard of the express views of the tribe, almost looks as if the Government were going out of their way to provoke the known views of the tribe in this matter. Here there is also a great and complete departure from the policy we announced and carried out on this side of the House. Our policy was to exclude both Seretse and Tshekedi Khama for a period of at least five years in order to give a chance for the tribe, which had been much troubled, to settle down and also to enable more representative institutions to be developed. The hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Alport) asked what we would have done at the end of it all, but there has been a very great interruption of the course of things as we had intended and hoped they would go. I must say outright that the chances of the tribe settling down, the chances of developing representative Government, were very gravely prejudiced by the other side of the House for party advantage. First of all the Prime Minister took the Motion that the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) had on the Order Paper about Tshekedi Khama, changed it, and used it in order to try to beat the Government. On our side of the House there were clear views, and the Liberal party had extremely strong views. But on the other side the present Prime Minister was taking this as something which he thought he could use to beat the Government. Then came the issue of this statement which has no relation at all to the sort of things they were saying in this House and in another place when we discussed the question of Tshekedi. The Motion was moved in this House, and in another place by the present Secretary of State who committed himself to a number of statements of principle about this very matter which he has certainly violated today. He said:
And he made great play with that. He said:"A British citizen should not be deprived or restricted in his rights and liberties except as a result of some offence of which he has been convicted under the law."
The whole of this White Paper disregards both those principles enunciated on 27th June in another place by the present Secretary of State. I think those two debates were the turning point in the problem with which we now have to deal. Undoubtedly, the disorders which broke out in the tribe, the consequences of which we still feel, were connected with that debate, and the irresponsible course on which the present Government set itself for party advantage has led it to the present position in which it is. They have allowed Tshekedi Khama to go back, but Seretse Khama is kept out. That is awakening the alarm of the tribe. It is awakening a fear that the Government wanted Tshekedi Khama as chief if he was sent back while Seretse Khama is kept out. That was made clear in the reports of the observers and at a meeting of which I have a record between the High Commissioner and the leaders of the tribe in Serowe on 19th December. Fears have been awakened by the acts of the Government of which this statement is the final completion. These fears cannot be resolved by mere words. Then after awakening all these fears that the Government will force Tshekedi Khama back on the tribe comes this decision, and it is against the background of all that that we have to consider the matter. This will confirm the very worst suspicions of the tribe. My hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg) said the White Paper containing provisos has been the one stable factor in the whole situation. Now it is, in effect, torn up, but the net result is that the tribe is getting the complete and total opposite of what they want and have constantly made clear that they want. Some things were disregarded before, but now they have everything opposite to what they want, and that is what the Government has done largely because of the position it took up for party advantage on an earlier occasion. I must tell the hon. and learned Gentleman that it makes the chances of another chief being chosen very slight indeed. That is the basis on which this whole statement of policy rests, and the chance is now very slight. Indeed, if we take into account the steps which the Government have taken since they have been in office, they are really making nonsense of their own policy and showing themselves to be extraordinarily clumsy and inept. I should like to say a few words about the offer of employment for Seretse Khama. There is much to be said for an offer of employment in itself. Of course, it is for him to accept it or not. I want to make two comments about it. First, there are many other places besides Jamaica, some of them far preferable, where offers of employment could be made. Secondly, and this is much more serious, to combine the offer of employment with a deposition—because that is what it amounts to, although it is not legally and technically that—from the chieftainship and all the rights of chieftainship, really is an offer which it is extremely difficult for any honourable man to accept. This is putting forward an offer in a way which makes it practically unacceptable. There again, the Government are contradicting their own policy. There is something to be said for making an offer of this sort: there is nothing to be said for putting it forward in a way which makes it derisory. Again, I must ask the hon. Gentleman about the timing of the actual announcement. I mentioned this at Question time today. I cannot overcome my invincible suspicion that this is designed to forestall the deputation that is coming from the tribe, and to give the Secretary of State ground for the ill-advised decision that he took not to see this deputation which has already been announced. I do not know, and perhaps the hon. Gentleman will tell us, whether or not this deputation has actually left, but it is at least on the point of leaving. That makes it all the more suspicious, if this statement goes out a day or so before they are due to leave, that this timing has this shabby end in view. It is really unworthy of the Government of this great country that it should time things like this in order to forestall deputations. In any case, the deputation ought to be seen. On this side of the House we certainly do not necessarily identify ourselves with the view of the deputation. Indeed, nobody knows exactly the view of the deputation. But the deputation with strong feelings like this, and after all these troubles in the tribe, is ready to come over to this country at its own expense. When the Secretary of State who is responsible for them announces that he will not see them, and then issues a statement like this, which is in order to forestall their departure and to make their arrival nugatory, that really is most unworthy. The decision not to see this deputation was made, of course, by the previous Secretary of State I hope that it might be possible, without loss of face, for the new Secretary of State to think about it again. This is not the whole big issue. It is only a small issue in relation to all the others, but it is a matter of some importance. We on this side of the House attach importance to it. If the Government do not change their minds, they will be going deliberately out of their way to flout the tribe; to flout their known views; to trample upon them; to give the impression that they really pay no attention at all to them, and that they have no concern with their views. That is the general impression given by the whole statement of the measures taken before it comes—that there has been a grave and dangerous flouting of the views of the tribe, that a situation has now been created which is calculated to have the worst possible effect on the tribe. I do not want to say anything more, because words can become misrepresented as they get carried across the world. We cannot possibly agree with, or associate ourselves with, the statement we heard this afternoon. It is in itself a very grave departure in very many respects from our own policy. It is in itself unwise, unnecessary and ill-timed. Even if we accepted the premises from which the Government depart, it is still contradictory and likely to be very dangerous indeed."We have to take into account far wider considerations than merely local administration."
The debate has covered a number of varying arguments and has ranged over a fairly wide compass. I am not complaining about that. There is a genuine division of opinion among hon. Members opposite. Hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite have different views about the way in which the problem of this tribe could be settled. It has happened in other matters also that this division has occurred.I want, first of all, to deal with the matter on the footing that right hon. Gentlemen opposite accept the decision of the White Paper, and to see exactly what the Government have done today. Some hon. Gentlemen opposite sought to say that the decision of the Government today was entirely different from the one in the White Paper. The right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down was making that point, and so was the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg). The decision of the White Paper was to exclude Seretse from the chieftainship, and to review that decision after a period which would certainly not be less than five years. During that period, the White Paper said that it was hoped that representative institutions would be developed of the sort described in the White Paper, and which the hon. Gentleman envisaged when he spoke in the debate on the Consolidated Fund Bill last year; but it has been proved impossible to develop these institutions without having a chief. The object of the White Paper could not be achieved because it was found that, in the tribe itself, in order to form the African Council which it was the policy both of the previous Government and of this Government to form, nobody would come forward unless there was a chief around whom to group this council which the White Paper hoped would be formed. One of the main bases of the reason in the White Paper for coming to this decision and leaving the chieftainship open was falsified, and the object of the Government today, which is the wellbeing of the tribe on the lines laid down in the White Paper, has been advanced along those lines. In my submission, the decision which has been reached today to make the exclusion of Seretse permanent is one that does logically follow from the decision of the White Paper, because the hopes which were expressed have not come true. Hon. Gentlemen opposite also sought to say that one of the reasons why the Government had been inept or clumsy in this case was the timing. I would assure the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) that, in the period in which the previous Secretary of State, Lord Ismay, was in office, this matter took up more of his time than any other single subject in the Commonwealth Relations Office. There were more meetings and discussions about this than any other single subject.
May I ask the hon. and learned Gentleman one question? If this matter was discussed so much, how is it that Seretse only knew that the matter was under consideration last Monday, four days ago; and, secondly, why, if the Secretary of State was so keen to reach the right solution, he announced that he would not meet the delegation from the Bamangwato tribe?
This Government regarded the matter as one on which they must make up their own minds, and in that they differed from the previous Government. With regard to the question of timing, the hon. Gentleman suggests that the same course should be followed by this Government as was taken by the previous Government, namely, that they should oscillate and vacillate, not come down on any decision, but put it off. It will be remembered that, in the first kgotla of November, 1948, the tribe came down against Seretse. If it was right to exclude Seretse—and I am arguing this part of the case on the assumption that is was right—then this was the time, in November, 1948, for the decision to have been taken so as to end the uncertainty in the tribe.The second occasion on which the Labour Government should have come to this decision was when the result of the Commission of Inquiry was known to them. As was said in the White Paper, they, too, came down on the same side and unanimously advised against the recognition of Seretse. Even when the White Paper was issued, a compromise was adopted of not making the decision final, with very bad results to the tribe. Instead of taking that final decision, the Government said it would be reviewed in five years and at the same time sent out three observers.
The hon. and learned Gentleman has said something which I think is of profound importance. A question was put to him about it in the opening speech—why could not this matter have waited for two or three weeks, at the most? Why could not the Government have waited to make up their minds until they had received and heard the deputation? I gather that, in reply, the hon. and learned Gentleman said, "That is the difference between our Government and the last Government. We make up our minds." Does that mean that in all questions affecting the African Colonies the Government intend to make up their minds without receiving representations from the native populations?
The right hon. Gentleman has misunderstood me. The question was in two parts and I was answering that part about timing. I will come to the question of the deputation in a moment. I need not recapitulate what I said, but it was in answer to criticisms suggesting that the Government had timed this decision in order to coincide with certain events in South Africa. The time-table was laid down before those events happened; it had nothing to do with them; it is not connected with them; and I think the hon. Member concerned did a disservice to the well-being and the unity of the tribe by connecting the two things or imputing that, in the view of the Government, those things were connected.In fact, I believe it can be said that some of the remarks made in the debate are not calculated to assist the tribe in the object we all have in mind—the achievement of unity and well-being. I do not mean that there should be no criticism advanced and no arguments, but I criticise the way of presenting them and I think that, in the case of one or two passages, it would have been better to have expressed them not exactly in that way. The situation about the deputation is this. When I intervened, I said we knew that the majority of the tribe at present would almost certainly express their preference for Seretse Khama. The exact majority is, I think, a little more in doubt than the hon. Member for Maldon said, because it is a long time since the kgotla was held and he probably has not taken into account the followers of Tshekedi who are in the Reserve—those of them who were silenced by the rather energetic and vociferous minority. We might differ quite honestly about the size of the majority. The hon. Gentleman said it was 90 per cent. I should have thought it was lower. I agree, as I did in my intervention, however, that probably a decisive majority, as is said in the White Paper, was in favour of Seretse at the previous kgotla. We know what the deputation would have said. They would have come along and said, "A decisive majority of the tribe want the return of Seretse Khama." I am dealing with the point of whether the deputation could have added anything new to the arguments or to our knowledge. We knew what they were going to talk about. They have their constitutional methods of making known their wishes through their district officers and the commissioners to the High Commissioner in South Africa. Their views have been expressed, and what they amount to is, as I say, that a majority of the tribe wish the return of Seretse Khama.
Is the hon. and learned Gentleman not aware that in recent discussions in December and January last with the Resident Commissioner and the High Commissioner, representatives of the tribe, according to the records of this discussion which I have, expressed very strongly the feeling which they had that Tshekedi himself had always been received in London and had had his case very fully discussed in London—and as the hon. and learned Gentleman knows, I have myself been a supporter of Tshekedi. It was, therefore, not unnatural, perhaps, for those persons to fear that possibly their views might not have received attention in London.
Obviously, that is a perfectly sound point, but the difference between the two has been explained to the tribe. The difference is this, that Tshekedi's views were excluded by the majority of the kgotla. They did not allow the minority to have any views. The hon. Lady probably remembers what I am alluding to—that when the observers went out Tshekedi's partisans and followers were not allowed to express their views. Therefore, to my mind, and, I hope, to the minds of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, that is reason for allowing Tshekedi to come over here—
May I carry my point a little bit farther? Tshekedi's views were not indeed expressed publicly in the kgotla of the tribe, but they were expressed—and expressed cogently, I believe—to the representatives of the late Government.
Yes, but they were not allowed to be expressed within the Reserve, and it was thought right that they should be allowed to be expressed here. Also it will be remembered that a distinction was made in the White Paper between Tshekedi and Seretse. In the case of Tshekedi, he was excluded only from the Reserve; in the case of Seretse, he was excluded from the whole of the Protectorate. I submit to the hon. Lady that the case was not at all the same, and that it was also necessary to have Tshekedi here in order to explain the terms that were offered to him. It could not be done at all that distance. It was necessary for the Secretary of State to see him, just as he had to see Seretse, and put forward the terms that he should go back to the Protectorate in due time, giving up all political activities.Of course, that is again where—I am making no complaint about it—hon. Members opposite seem to differ. Some of them are in favour of the Government's decision to allow Tshekedi to go back; and some, like the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker), are not in favour, because, as he argues, by sending Tshekedi back we shall give the impression that we are trying to make Tshekedi the chief of the Bamangwato tribe. The policy which has been laid down by my noble Friends, is that it should be made perfectly clear to the tribe that there is no intention of allowing Tshekedi to assume the position of chief, or, in fact, any political position at all in the Reserve. I submit that that is one of the definite steps of the policy by which we are trying to achieve this unity, well-being and progress of the tribe. The first step is to remove an injustice to Tshekedi and allow him to go back, but taking no part in politics. The second step is to end the uncertainty of the tribe caused by the vacuum of having no chief round whom to group themselves. I agree that this is the responsibility of the Government, and it is the responsibility of the whole Government and the whole Cabinet, and not the responsibility of one Minister or another. The second step is to support the conclusions in the White Paper as to the reasons why Seretse should not be chief of the Bamangwato tribe. But making the exclusion permanent instead of temporary is necessitated by the fact that until the Bamangwato have a chief round whom to group themselves they can be in no position to make the progress we want, and the administration must be faced with insuperable difficulties in their day-to-day administration of the tribe. It is for that reason that, ever since this Government came into office, my noble Friend has given such anxious and close attention to the situation of the Bamangwato tribe. If hon. Gentlemen opposite suspect that there is any dark political reason, or the desire for party advantage, as the right hon. Member for Smethwick said, let us examine that. What party advantage could we get today by running into all this trouble from hon. Members opposite? Others have said that we were trying to carry out a manoeuvre for the advantage of the party. If we are looking for a quiet life and the possibility of not raising any more arguments, opposition or criticism than possible, why not let the thing go for five years? Unless the reason was the good of the tribe, what earthly reason was there—
It might have been for the benefit of somebody else.
I will deal with that in a moment. What earthly reason was there for us to run into this trouble? The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) says that it might have been for the benefit of somebody else. By that I presume he meant the benefit of Dr. Malan. I imagine he means that, otherwise I cannot answer what he says.
Something of the kind.
I do not think that the hon. Gentleman, even with his fertile and twisting mind—I mean no disrespect to him; I mean one that is very subtle—can find any reason why—I am sorry the hon. Gentleman should leave the Chamber, because I genuinely did not mean any disrespect to him, except to say that he has got a very flexible mind, which sometimes approaches a thing from all angles.
Leave him alone.
I am only trying to apologise to the hon. Gentleman who has left, if he took any remark of mine as meaning any disrespect.
It is a clumsy way of doing it.