My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.
The Question was as follows:
To ask Her Majesty's Government whether, on conclusion of their agreement with the General Medical Services Committee on 31st March 1984, they will arrange for the reimbursement of those general practitioners concerned, with the cost of the salaries of their wives who are employed full-time on qualifying duties in their practices.
My Lords, we expect the General Medical Services Committee to discuss this matter with the department early in March.
My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that I was much reassured to learn that this Question was to be answered by so fair-minded a man as the noble Lord but that I have not, as yet, derived much comfort from his Answer? Does the noble Lord think it right that we should continue with an arrangement whereby, if a general practitioner lives with his practice nurse or his practice receptionist, he can claim reimbursement of much of her salary and employment costs, but that if he is sufficiently unwise to marry the lady he can claim almost nothing? Is it right that we should continue with that arrangement? Is it any encouragement to us all to return to Victorian values?
My Lords, I should be the first person to recognise that there are many hard-working, devoted spouses of general practitioners and that they do to some extent suffer, but, as I have already said, the profession's representatives will be raising the matter in the near future with the department. It is fair to say that successive Governments have taken the view that it is not possible to reimburse wives or relatives in exactly the same way as it is possible to reimburse non-relatives, for the simple reason that the risk of abuse is, I am afraid to say, unacceptably high. For that reason, it is best to leave it to the discussions which are to take place in March.
My Lords, will the noble Lord allow me to be the second to recognise that many wives of general practitioners perform a very real service in helping their general practitioner husbands and that it is only fair that there should be some form of modest compensation? Is the noble Lord aware, as I am sure he is, that at present there is considerable confusion and uncertainty about the matter and that a second agreement will be welcome? Will the noble Lord accept that, so far as I and my noble friends are concerned, one must be aware that, unless their professional duties are properly recorded and monitored, there is scope for a degree of abuse of a system under which wives are compensated? Will the noble Lord also accept that it would be helpful, once agreement has been reached, if there could be an opportunity for an exchange in this House on an issue which affects very many general practitioners, their wives and their cohorts?
My Lords, I am sure that all those views will be taken into account in the consideration which is to take place in March, and, if it can be arranged through the usual channels, I am sure that the matter can then be discussed in your Lordships' House.
My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord if he will discuss particularly with his colleagues those doctors who practise in rural areas, because it could be that the wife is the only trained secretary in a particular district and that the general practitioner might have to go miles to find somebody else who is qualified?
My Lords, those points will certainly be borne in mind when the discussions occur in March.
My Lords, could not the matter be dealt with in the same way as secretarial allowances for Members of Parliament: that general practitioners should receive so much for expenses? Whether they pay it to their wives or to somebody else is up to them.
My Lords, that poses a rather different question, and I do not think that I am going to be drawn this afternoon on the question of the salaries of Members of Parliament or the remuneration of the wives of Members of Parliament.