HC Deb 19 October 1949 vol 468 cc645-7

Regulations may authorise the Minister, if he thinks fit, to publish particulars of any disciplinary action taken by him in respect of any breach of any Regulation under the Act of 1946 or the Act of 1947, including the name and address of any person in respect of whom such action is taken and the name of any Executive Council recommending such action.—[Mr. Marlowe.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

7.45 p.m.

Mr. Marlowe (Brighton)

I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

The point which this Clause raises is a short one and arises from practical experience. I understand that recently a practitioner was dealt with by way of disciplinary action by an executive council and, as hon. Gentlemen will agree, one of the most important sanctions in any form of disciplinary action is the publicity which goes with the matter. It appears that this practitioner having been fined the maximum amount of £100 for a serious breach of the Act—that is, for what is called "infamous or scandalous conduct" under the Act and for deceiving innocent patients—it was found not practicable to publish the name of this offender in the Press. The reason, as I understand it, was that there was some fear that if the name were published and if the nature of the offence and the fine were disclosed, the executive council might find themselves laid open to an action for libel.

The House will agree that it is desirable that when these offences are committed full publicity should be given so that the offender may be discouraged from repeating the offence, and the public may be warned against the person who is capable of committing such an offence. This Amendment is designed to meet those circumstances so that, if the name of the offender is published under the direction of the Minister, the executive council would be protected against any libel action and full publicity would be given. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will agree that the objective is a desirable one and that he will be prepared to accept this Clause.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

I beg to second the Motion.

Mr. Bevan

I appreciate what the hon. and learned Member has in view in moving this Motion. As he says, there is a difficulty at the moment. If we publish there is no statutory immunity against an action for damages. However, I have looked at the proposed new Clause several times and have come to the conclusion that it is too heavy a hammer for this nut.

First, we must distinguish between two different kinds of tribunal. There is the central tribunal, which is a judicial body, against which an appeal can lie to the Minister. There we have the proper form of procedure. In that case the decisions are published and both the name and the penalty. In the case of the local committees, however, the procedure is not so formal, it is not so judicial, and it does not seem to me that the name of the offender and the punishment should be published, because it cannot be said in such instances that the full panoply of the judiciary has given protection to the person involved. The local Press publishes the fact that there has been a case and publishes the details of the punishment or the fine, as the case may be, but not the name. As a general rule I suppose the name is known to the local population and, therefore, the utmost deterrence is achieved. If, however, in minor offences, where the fine is small because the offence is trivial—

Mr. Marlowe

Would the right hon. Gentleman forgive me for interrupting? He has referred to minor offences. This case was a conviction for flagrant breach of the regulations and taking advantage of innocent patients to obtain additional fees for work which could have been done under the National Health Service. I would not have thought that was a minor offence.

Mr. Bevan

By "minor" I mean offences distinct from those which are brought to the central tribunal. In the case of the central tribunal the offending person may be removed from the list, but with the local tribunals more limited punishments are meted out. It seemed to me undesirable that the name of the general practitioner, the dentist, the ophthalmic optician or the chemist who has been before the local tribunal should always be published in the local Press, no matter what was the nature of his offence. That seemed to me to be going a little further than was necessary. It would cause hardship and hurt to individuals who might have been guilty of a thoughtlessness or something of that sort, about which they had been pulled up by the local tribunal, and they might find themselves chided by their friends and pointed at in the streets. The existing machinery is working fairly well and I would be content with leaving full publicity to the decisions of the central tribunal only, concealing the personality of the offender who has appeared before the local tribunal. I hope the hon. and learned Member will agree.

Question put, and negatived.