§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 2.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Ronald Russell (Wembley, South)
I beg to move, That the Bill he now read a Second time.
I am very pleased to have the opportunity of sponsoring this Bill. I make it clear that I have no personal connection with the profession of opticians, except as a completely satisfied customer. I am sponsoring the Bill because I have been lucky in the Ballot, and I believe that it is a very worth while cause. I am very glad that the Bill is supported by the hon. Member for Manchester, Exchange (Mr. W. Griffiths), who is an optician by profession. I am also only too happy to have the support of others who have expert knowledge of this subject, like the hon. Member for Putney (Sir H. Linstead), and two former Ministers of Health, one former Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health and a member of the medical profession.
The objects of the Bill are to provide a recognised status for opticians by providing them with registration to promote a high standard of professional education and conduct among opticians and, in so doing, to protect the public against the activities of unqualified and untrained persons who pose as opticians. At present anyone may call himself an optician or practise as an optician even though he is completely unqualified. He may examine eyes or supply glasses without any training. If he does so he is not breaking any law. There are a number of "quacks" who do that. They are mostly itinerant quacks who call themselves opticians, purport to test eyes and supply glasses, which are often quite useless, at exhorbitant prices. There is evidence of the harm done by these persons, yet it is impossible to prevent it under the present law.
May I give one or two examples. The first is taken from the Sunday Pictorial of 10th November, 1957, which is the story of a quack operating from Sheffield who admitted that he had no qualifications and was not an optician under the National Health Service, but he had experimented on boys in the barrack room when he was in the Army and he had 828 dabbled in optics ever since. One of his customers was blind in one eye. He was supplied with spectacles by this quack. As a result, after examination by expert opticians, the spectacles were giving only 75 per cent. vision out of the good eye whilst it was claimed that the spectacles would help him to see out of the blind eye. This patient's wife also was supplied with glasses, which were completely out of focus. These two pairs of glasses cost £4 each. The couple were supplied under the National Health Service with correct glasses for about 30s. each. Clearly something ought to be done to stop quacks like that operating on people who are uninformed.
There was the case of the man in Essex who was charged with the theft of spectacles, with obtaining money by false pretences and obtaining credit by fraud. This man went round rural areas testing eyes and arranging for spectacles to be supplied or new lenses to be fitted in existing ones. These patients gave him money in advance and rarely received glasses. One man was very deaf and the quack told him that he needed nerve glasses which would automatically make his hearing clearer. He paid a cheque for £5 10s. but never received any glasses. I understand that there are no lenses which will help to cure him of his deafness in any way.
There are other examples I could quote, but I will not take up the time of the House. I have plenty of examples if any hon. Member is in doubt.
The history of the attempts to obtain registration for opticians goes back over 60 years to the time when the British Optical Association was formed. The last time a Bill was introduced into this House was on 13th May, 1927, when, by coincidence, a namesake of mine, Mr. West Russell, who was the hon. Member for Tynemouth for many years, moved the Second Reading of what was called the Optical Practitioners Registration Bill. That Bill was not given a Second Reading because it was already being considered by a Departmental Committee. On that occasion the then Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health, the late Sir Kingsley Wood, said:… undoubtedly there is a case for something to be done …."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th May, 1927; Vol. 206, c. 841.]He pointed out, though, that there was a difference of opinion as to the method 829 of approach. However, nothing has been done by legislation up to this very day.
This Bill originates from the Crook Report, and very largely follows it. I would remind the House that the Crook Report was the result of an inter-Departmental committee set up in 1949 by the then Minister of Health, the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan):To advise, on the assumption that it would he to the public interest that provision should be made by legislation for the registration of opticians, how registration could best be carried out and what qualifications should be required as a condition of registration.That Committee produced a unanimous Report in 1952.
Since then, there have been a number of discussions between the Ministry of Health and representatives of all sections of the profession. I am not going into those in detail. I am sure that the Parliamentary Secretary will wish to do so when he speaks in this debate.
This Bill is based largely on the Crook Report. Since it was published my cosponsors and I have received representations from the dispensing opticians that the Bill departed from the Crook Report, and also from the Ophthalmic Group Committee of the British Medical Association. Following discussions we have had with some of those representatives we have agreed to seek to amend the Bill in certain respects when it goes to Committee, if it is given a Second Reading. I think it may be convenient if I outline the proposed amendments as I try to explain the Bill.
Clause 1 sets up a General Optical Council, and thus follows a familiar practice into which I will not go in detail. Its constitution is set out in the Schedule to the Bill. The only difference between the composition of the General Optical Council as suggested in the Crook Report and the composition as laid down in the Schedule is that the Council has two more members; it is to have 23 instead of 21. The Ophthalmic Group Committee of the British Medical Association considers it is under-represented in that constitution. That is a matter which, of course, could be discussed in Committee.
Clause 2 as at present drafted lays down that the General Optical Council 830 shall establish two registers of opticians; by subsection (1, a) a register of ophthalmic opticians qualified to test sight and to fit and supply spectacles, and by subsection (1, b) a register of dispensing opticians qualified to fit and supply spectacles whether or not they are also qualified to test sight. By subsection (2) the Council is empowered, if it thinks fit, to maintain a separate part of the register of ophthalmic opticians in which those engaged only in sight testing can be registered. There are, I understand, about 8,100 opticians in Great Britain, of whom 7,300 are ophthalmic opticians and 800 dispensing opticians.
I understand that the dispensing opticians, and, to a certain extent, medical men connected with optics, want to see eventually only two kinds of opticians, those testing sight and those who fit and supply spectacles, and they want eventually to abolish the state of affairs in which opticians do both. Of course, there is controversy in the profession about that. They hope eventually to close down entirely the first register, the one under subsection (1, a). They do not like this Clause as drafted.
We have agreed, with the support of ophthalmic opticians, to meet this objection, and I propose, therefore, to table an Amendment in Committee which will make it obligatory for the General Optical Council to establish three registers from the outset. In other words, what is now subsection (2) will, with, perhaps, suitable alterations to bring it within the wording of subsection (1, a and b), become subsection (1, c). I suggest, if that happens, the first register, to distinguish the different kinds of opticians should, perhaps, be called the "register of ophthalmic dispensing opticians" which will leave the other two, the one of ophthalmic opticians and the one of dispensing opticians.
The Bill does not lay down any procedure for eventually closing the first register even to new entrants, and the Crook Committee did not do so either. In paragraph 66 of the Crook Committee's Report, it is said:… we therefore recommend that the first register should not he closed until the proposed General Optical Council are satisfied that the development which we have forecast has reached a stage which will justify the maintenance of the second and third registers only ….831 It goes on to say:The public interest would be a main consideration in this connection.Paragraph 69 says:It will be for the General Optical Council to judge when this stage of evolution of the ophthalmic optical profession has been reached.I ask the House to note that it says merely "to judge". It does not say how it should be done or who should take any action. I cannot imagine this House would agree that the power to close down this register should be given to the General Optical Council or to anybody outside this House, still less to fix a date now when this register should be closed, because doing that may affect the livelihood of many people. We have to watch that very closely. It would also affect the chosen careers of new entrants. We have therefore, to be very careful about how we do this, and nothing is laid down in the Bill about it.
Clause 3 deals with the qualifications for being registered. It has been represented to us that subsection (3) of the Clause as at present drafted would possibly exclude correspondence courses or apprenticeship courses and thus debar the children of parents of limited means from managing to obtain qualification. There is no intention to do that, and, therefore, if that is not clear I would propose, if necessary, to table an Amendment in Committee to make that change.
§ Mr. W. R. Williams (Manchester, Openshaw)
While the hon. Gentleman is talking about possible Amendments in Committee, I wonder whether he will be good enough to look at line 42, on page 2, in subsection (4) of Clause 3, where are the words:and is of good character".That seems to me to be a rather nebulous form of words. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will say something about them, or agree that we may in a rather more specific form of words when we are in Committee on the Bill.
§ Mr. Russell
That is a matter which could be taken up in Committee.
I come to Clause 4. We have been told that subsection (2, a) would exclude ophthalmologists who test sight for dispensing opticians. There is no intention to do that, and I shall be only too happy 832 to table an Amendment in Committee. Probably the best way of doing it would be to insert the words "registered medical practitioner" in line 28, on page 3, after the words "registered ophthalmic optician" in line 27. There was no intention of excluding those people from the Bill.
Clauses 5 and 6 cover training institutions and the candidates' examinations and qualifications. Clauses 7 and 8 deal with supplementary provisions relating to registers and their publication. Clauses 9 to 16 deal with the proposed Disciplinary Committee to be formed by the Council and with various disciplinary matters. Clause 17 deals with the proposed Education Committee, and Clause 18 with the proposed Companies Committee. Clause 19 empowers the Council to set up other committees if it thinks fit.
Clause 20 lays down penalties for people who pretend to be registered. It will prohibit any unregistered person from calling himself an ophthalmic optician, a dispensing optician, a registered optician, or an enrolled optician. It does not prevent anyone calling himself an optician, without prefix or suffix. Nor does it prevent the testing of sight or the supplying of glasses by other than registered opticians. I believe there is a general feeling that there should be a prohibition of that kind, but if we include that we shall have to exclude things like sunglasses or glasses which merely magnify. I do not think anyone would wish to have that prohibition.
We are really going back to paragraphs 87 and 88 of the Crook Report, which states:We feel, however, that in registering opticians it would be desirable to legislate against unregistered persons who claim to prescribe or who supply spectacles for use be the public, and also against the indiscriminate sale of spectacles or spectacle lenses by chain stores.That may be done by some such phraseology as is used in Section 1 of the Dentists Act, 1921.
§ Mr. Frank Beswick (Uxbridge)
It has always been the wish of everyone concerned to eliminate this undesirable class of person from purveying spectacles, but the difficulty has always been definition. It has always been argued that it is impossible to define the spectacles referred 833 to and still exclude sunglasses. Is the hon. Member sure that the information which he now has at his disposal would enable him to solve a problem which has defeated the Ministry?
§ Mr. Russell
I cannot say at the moment that I shall be able to draft a Clause of that kind, but I am sure that with the help of the Department something could be drafted to include what we want to include without having to cover sunglasses or simple magnifying glasses, which it could not possibly do anybody any harm to buy. At any rate that is something which can be looked into in Committee, and I would propose submitting an Amendment on those lines.
I have had anxiety expressed by one or two of my hon. Friends, particularly the hon. Lady the Member for Hornsey (Lady Gammans), that the prohibitions laid down in Clause 20 might take away the livelihood of long-established opticians who are not qualified in any way by examination but who have been carrying out perfectly good practice for many years. I understand that such a prohibition would not do that, because examination is not necessarily the only qualification. Therefore, there is no danger of these people's livelihoods being taken away from them. That is some thing which nobody in the House would want to do.
Clause 22 refers to advertising and publicity, and it has been suggested that subsection (1, a) might prohibit dispensing opticians from advertising. We do not want to do that, and again am ready to move or to accept an Amendment in Committee to make this absolutely clear. I gather that subsection (1, b) might threaten the use of the name "medical eye centre" which has become long-established all over the country. It is not the intention of the Bill to do that. The wording, therefore, is something which we should be only too glad to put right in Committee. There are a few other criticisms from members of the medical profession whom I have already seen. We should be only too glad to consider all their criticisms and objections in Committee if the Bill is given a Second Reading. It would be an ideal way of dealing with the objections.
I hope that I have said enough to convince the House of the need for the 834 Bill. I believe that there is general agreement on its main principles, and I have already shown how, by Amendments in Committee, we propose to meet objections which have already been brought to our notice. I hope that when the Parliamentary Secretary intervenes he will feel able to support the Bill and the Amendments which we shall make.
I believe that this is a very deserving Measure in the interests of both the profession and the public. This is a very old calling, which goes back to about the thirteenth century when Roger Bacon first used a single lens, or crystal, to improve vision, and it is a profession worthy of the support of the House. There has been a long enough struggle to obtain registration for the profession. I believe that we now have a chance of ending this battle once and for all by giving the Bill a Second Reading and by being willing to discuss it very thoroughly and amend it in Committee.
§ 2.35 p.m.
§ Mr. W. Griffiths (Manchester Exchange)
I should like to congratulate the hon. Member for Wembley, South (Mr. Russell) on his good fortune in the Ballot, on his courage in selecting a Measure of this kind and of such considerable importance, and on the way in which he has presented it to us today.
I support the Motion that the House should give the Bill a Second Reading. In doing so, I am fortified by the knowledge that among the names on the Bill are those of my right hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. Marquand), a former Minister of Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Blenkinsop), a former Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health, as well as my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin), who is a distinguished member of the medical profession. The Bill is also supported by a very great number of my hon. Friends.
As is customary in the House, I have, first, to declare my interest. As is already well-known to many of my colleagues, I am by profession a consulting ophthalmic optician, but I hasten to add that, like many other men and women who come to the House of Commons, I am primarily here because I convinced a sufficient number of the electors in the Exchange Division of Manchester to send 835 me here, and not because of my profession.
My view, like that of most other hon. Members, is that the work which hon. Members do outside the House of Commons is only of interest to the House in the specialised knowledge that it can bring to the House and the technical information that hon. Members can deploy. But the actions of all of us are always conditioned in these matters by what is in the public interest. That is why I support the Bill, because I believe that it is primarily in the public interest, as I hope to show in my speech.
It is my view that, if not the whole of the House, then, certainly, the overwhelming majority of Members are not concerned primarily about raising the status of any professional body as such. When a Bill of this kind faces them, hon. Members are concerned that in agreeing to raise the status of a profession they are, at the same time, taking part in an operation which is compatible with their conception of what is in the public interest. I believe that that consideration of what is in the public interest is foremost in the minds of those who are sponsors of the Bill.
I know that my colleagues have been the recipients, during the past few weeks, of literature from various professional bodies urging courses of action upon them which are in conflict. And, of course, hon. Members find it somewhat difficult to distinguish between these various groups and to understand what are their functions. May I follow up what has been already said by the hon. Member for Wembley, South? He told the House a few minutes ago that the number of opticians in Great Britain is about 8,100. Of these, about 7,300, or 90 per cent. of the total, are ophthalmic opticians. About 800 are dispensing opticians.
As to their functions, the 7,300 are employed upon the testing of sight and the provision of spectacles, whereas the job of the 800 dispensing opticians, in general terms, is the supply of optical appliances on prescriptions provided either by an ophthalmic medical practitioner, or by a consulting ophthalmic optician. Their job is purely the measurement of faces and the technique of attending, as it were, to the cosmetic consequences of the pre- 836 scription of the ophthalmologist or the ophthalmic optician.
Ninety per cent.—the 7,300 ophthalmic opticians—are wholeheartedly in support of the Bill and they have come, as the hon. Member for Wembley, South said, to an understanding with the dispensing opticians on the points of dissent. Perhaps I should say that, since the National Health Service was instituted, in 1948, the astonishing figure of 40 million of our fellow countrymen, so I was informed the other day, have had their eyes examined under the National Health Service. In about ten years several people will have attended three or four times for consultation, but of that 40 million, 80 per cent. in England and Wales and 92 per cent. in Scotland were examined by ophthalmic opticians.
I think that it is true to say that in this period—it is on the record in the Minister of Health's Report and in the observations made by Executive Councils—the ophthalmic opticians, who have done the majority of the work in the supplementary eye service, have had the lowest record of complaints in any part of the Health Service. The work of the ophthalmic opticians was commented upon in the Guillebaud Committee's Report, which is the only detailed examination of the whole of the structure and operation of the Health Service that we have up to date. The Guillebaud Committee went out of its way to commend the way in which ophthalmic opticians have functioned under the Health Service. I think that they have a rather remarkable record. That is not to say that, like all professions, they have not got the "dirty dozen," but I think that they have a remarkable record when one considers that the men and women operating this service had no statutory recognition and were entering into a contractual relation-ship with the State without the advantages of a long tradition of State registration which so many others had.
I am sure that hon. Members were surprised to hear of what the hon. Member for Wembley, South correctly informed us, namely, that unlike the majority of Commonwealth countries or the U.S.A., any person in this country may examine eyes and prescribe glasses and in doing so does not break the law. 837 The position under the Health Service is quite different. Here, only opticians holding the necessary qualifications in accordance with the statutory regulations are recognised. Nevertheless, despite this measure of, as it were, State registration, it is still true that the chain stores continue to flourish, and that, at the periphery of the service, the quacks flourish.
Generally, as the hon. Member for Wembley, South told the House quite clearly, they batten on the poor and the elderly. To some extent the growth of sales in the chain stores and the growth of the operation of what I call the periphery quacks has increased since a financial barrier was placed between the patient and skilled service available to him by the institution of charges on that section of the Health Service in 1951.
I shall not give any further examples of the quacks' behaviour because I think that the House has heard sufficient on this point front the hon. Member from Wembley, South. I would, however, say one thing about the chain stores. I think that it was Lord Crook, the Chairman of the Interdepartmental Committee set up by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), in 1949, who recorded that he presented himself at a chain store and asked for a pair of spectacles. A girl assistant provided him with a pair marked No. 10. He returned to the same store two hours later and saw another girl assistant who presented him with a pair marked No. 11. That is the alarming experience which the noble Lord underwent and it was of the greatest use to him in presiding over the Committee and agreeing with the rest of his colleagues that State registration was desirable.
§ Mr. Norman Pannell (Liverpool, Kirkdale)
Is it not a fact that the chain stores supply a chart with printing of various sizes against which are numbers which also appear on the spectacles, so that any person of normal intelligence can test his own eyesight?
§ Mr. Griffiths
Good heavens. I am not going to be drawn into argument. I cannot believe that the hon. Member is serious.
§ Mr. Griffiths
All I can say is that the whole of responsible opinion in the medical profession and in the ophthalmic profession would say that it is an undesirable practice.
I make one simple point. I ask any hon. Member in the House to shut one eye and then the other and he will probably find that he can see much better with one eye than with the other. It is a fact that spectacles supplied in the chain stores have the same pair of lenses for each eye, and I think that the layman can appreciate at once that that must be an undesirable practice. I must leave it there because other hon. Members want to speak.
§ Sir Eric Errington (Aldershot)
May I ask the hon. Gentleman, who is a consulting ophthalmic optician, what are the arrangements under existing conditions for the training of those who wish to become ophthalmic opticians?
§ Mr. Griffiths
I will come to that in turn, or perhaps I had better answer it right away. The existing training is a very extensive one, running into three years' full-time training, which will soon be four years, with a very high educational standard which has been raised in recent years. It is all in the Crook Report, which the hon. Member has no doubt read, or will read for himself now.
To continue, it was the unanimous view of the Crook Committee that one of the consequences which would follow on a Bill of this kind would be the setting up of a body in the shape of a General Optical Council, one of the functions of which would be to see that there was institutional training on a level compatible with the seriousness of the professions responsibilities and also supervision of examinations, which, at the moment, are based on a high standard but one which is voluntarily accepted by the profession itself. I would have thought that a higher standard, one which is, nevertheless, a realistic standard, would have been far better left to a council such as is proposed in the Bill.
It is my view that such practices as the House has heard about from the hon. Member today, so far as chain stores are concerned, are wholly undesirable. I hope that if the Bill receives a Second Reading something will be written into the Bill during the Committee stage which 839 will make it illegal for chain stores to sell sighted spectacles while still permitting a legitimate trade in sun spectacles and hand readers. That is a matter which may be dealt with in Committee. All the professional bodies, those of the doctors, the ophthalmologists, dispensers and ourselves agree that that should be written into the Bill, if we gain the agreement of hon. Members that this Measure is desirable in the public interest.
I will deal briefly with the origins of the Bill and the setting up in 1949 of an Interdepartmental Committee under Lord Crook. I will not read the terms of reference of the Committee, about which hon. Members will know, or can read for themselves. It was assumed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale, the then Minister of Health, that it was desirable that there should be registration in the public interest. The Committee was not set up to argue about whether registration should be granted, but to determine the proper methods to be employed to carry it into effect. The Committee represented all the professional bodies concerned including the medical profession. Among its members were a physicist, a physiologist, representatives of the teaching profession and the general public.
The Committee reported in 1952, after three years, and its Report was unanimous. I will not repeat the recommendations of the Committee, because the hon. Member for Wembley, South has already read them to the House. Since the Crook Committee reported, the Report has been considered seriously by the professions concerned and discussions have taken place with the Ministry of Health and the Department of Health for Scotland for two or three years. It was my understanding that agreement had been reached which would provide the basis for agreed legislation. We know that successive Ministers of Health have promised that a Bill would be introduced as a Government Measure as soon as Parliamentary time permitted. Only last week, the Minister of Health told my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne. East that he would introduce a Bill as soon as Parliamentary time permitted.
Reference has been made to the objections to the Bill and hon. Members 840 will have received communications from the ophthalmic group of the British Medical Association and from the dispensing opticians. Without going into details, I will say that some whose names are on the Bill met representatives of the objectors during last week. I understand that those who support the Bill do not believe that any of the objections to the Measure cannot be reconciled during the Committee stage discussions, nor that they are of sufficient weight to justify withholding a Second Reading for the Bill. That is a clear undertaking given to the objectors, but I wish to refer to one objection about which it would appear at this stage to be difficult to reach agreement.
It is known that there is a proposal to set up three registers under this Bill: one for ophthalmic opticians with a dual function; one for dispensers; and a third for sight testing opticians who do not sell or provide spectacles. At present, that third register will be very small because there are few who fall into the third category; only those who work in eye hospitals, or on research work at the technical colleges. It is hoped that the numbers will grow as the status of the profession increases. Some who object to the Bill want a clause written into it that the General Optical Council, on a certain unspecified date in the future, and when the third register of non-dispensing sight testers becomes larger, will bring to an end the first register on which, at the moment, there will be 7,300 dual-purpose opticians.
Our view is that it is not good Parliamentary practice to set up a statutory body and say that it shall now be charged by Parliament on an unspecified date in the distant future, and under circumstances which cannot possibly be other than hypothetical, to end the livelihood of a section of the people. That has never been the practice of Parliament, as I am sure the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Sir R. Boothby) will confirm. We agree to the setting up of the third register, but we do not agree that Parliament should place an obligation on the Council to bring the first register to an end at some unspecified date in the future. It would be better to come back to Parliament at the right time, and, in the light of circumstances as they have developed, and ask for the abolition of the first register if a stage 841 has been reached in the status of the profession when sight testing can be divorced from supplying spectacles from the same source.
I hope that the House will give a Second Reading to this Bill, as its provisions are so obviously in the public interest in its design. We can assist in improving it during the discussions in Committee, and if what emerges is unsatisfactory hon. Members will have an opportunity to amend it further or to reject it completely when it reaches the Report stage. A Private Member's Bill has a long way to go, but I think that hon. Members will agree that in the public interest this Bill should at least have a Second Reading. The good points about it outweigh any minor reservations which hon. Members might have.
§ 2.57 p.m.
§ Sir Robert Boothby (Aberdeenshire, East)
Placing my No. 11 spectacles upon my nose, I propose to make a few brief observations about this Measure and to say at the outset that I support the Motion for a Second Reading. I am fortified in this view by a message from no less a person than Lord Crook himself, who has told me that he is sure that, were the Measure given a Second Reading, any blemishes it has at present can be removed during the Committee stage discussions, and will be so removed.
At the same time, I am bound to point out that the Bill has not been received with hilarity either by the B.M.A. or by quite a number of opticians, and I think I know the reasons. First, it deals with a number of controversial issues which were the subject of unanimous recommendations by the Crook Committee, and it deviates to a certain extent from those recommendations and deals with them in a different way.
Secondly, the B.M.A. wrote in April of this year to the Minister of Health asking what he proposed to do about this legislation and whether the Association could have further consultations on the matter. A reply was received from the Ministry to the effect that the Government—exactly as has been said by the hon. Member for Manchester, Exchange (Mr. W. Griffiths)—in due course, and when Parliamentary time afforded the ability to do so, intended to introduce a Measure, and indicating that the Minister would be prepared to have 842 further consultations with the B.M.A. on the subject.
Suddenly they were presented with this Bill, which was introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Wembley, South (Mr. Russell), with eight days' notice. There was then all the usual business of emergency midnight meetings and special committees to consider this and that. I am bound to say that the B.M.A. is easily ruffled; but it ought not to be ruffled unnecessarily; and I think it was ruffled to a considerable extent on this occasion.
It reminds me rather of the old days of Bretton Woods and the American Loan. We were told for weeks on end that a Government Measure would be introduced to deal with the great issues of currency, trade and everything else. There would be plenty of time for consultations. Suddenly, we had the American Loan shot at our heads, with the Bretton Woods Agreement, and we were given four days in which to say "Yes" or "No" to the whole outfit, with disastrous consequences for the country—I am glad that you are not listening to me, Mr. Speaker, because I cannot feel that this is entirely in order.
I contend that this method is not the best way of introducing legislation designed to register opticians and enable those who wish to do so to achieve professional status. I further contend that the way in which the Government are now tending to ignore the recommendations of Royal Commissions and interdepartmental committees is becoming something of a scandal. I should be grossly out of order if I made any reference to the Royal Commission on Betting or to the Report of the Wolfenden Committee, much as I would like to dilate at considerable length on both those topics. The fact remains that committee after committee is set up by the Government and public-spirited men of great distinction spend a great deal of time and trouble working on them. They produce almost unanimous reports, and nobody pays the faintest attention to them. This has been going on ever since the war, and if it goes on for very much longer we just shall not get eminent men outside politics to serve on committees. They will think, with considerable justification, that it is a waste of time.
843 My hon. Friend the Member for Wembley, South, has satisfied me to a very great extent about the amendments which he mentioned in his opening speech, and which he said he would be prepared to accept or to consider seriously. The supplementary ophthalmic service is now to continue indefinitely, and it seems more important than ever that the safeguards recommended by the Crook Committee should be implemented. I was going to ask, before my hon. Friend made his speech, that the Clause establishing the registers should be subject to very careful examination in Committee. I was glad to hear from him that the three registers recommended by the Crook Committee are now to be established.
I very much agree with what the hon. Member for Manchester, Exchange said on this point. I do not think we can give to the General Optical Council power, on its own initiative, to close down one of these registers at any time it thinks fit. I would suggest, as a compromise to be written into the Bill, that the General Optical Council should have the right to make a recommendation to Parliament if at any time it thinks that one of the registers should be closed down, and that Parliament should then take the necessary action. That might be acceptable to everybody concerned. Parliament cannot delegate to the General Optical Council the right to do that off its own bat in view of the very strong recommendation of the Crook Committee that the living of existing practitioners should not be adversely affected.
I further suggest to my hon. Friend that the functions of the ophthalmic optician and the dispensing optician should be more clearly defined than they are in the Bill, in the interests not only of the public but of opticians themselves. And it is clear that the composition of the General Optical Council will need a little revision. Only three ophthalmologists out of 23 members is a pretty small quota and might reasonably be increased.
§ Mr. W. Griffiths
The hon. Member knows, of course, that the unanimous Report of the Crook Committee, upon which the ophthalmologists served, recommended no more than the number that is in the Bill. The total has been 844 increased by the addition of more lay members.
§ Sir R. Boothby
I know, but it makes a larger total. It makes the three look a little smaller than they did when the whole Council was smaller and another one might well be added.
I am only throwing out what, I hope, are one or two constructive suggestions. I have one more to make—that Clause 4 (2, a) of the Bill is so drawn at the moment as practically to prevent 800 medically-qualified ophthalmologists testing sight in medical eye centres situated on the premises of dispensing opticians carrying out the greater part of their practice. That might be amended in Committee to include ophthalmic medical practitioners as well as registered ophthalmic opticians. All these phrases are rather complicated.
§ Sir R. Boothby
I am glad of that. With these rather mild protests as to the method and timing of the Bill, I am not opposing it. I certainly think it should go through, especially as the B.M.A. is in favour of the registration of opticians and has never had any wish to prevent their achieving professional status. On the contrary, it desires that they should do so. But the creation of a new profession—it almost amounts to that—with a Council, with disciplinary machinery and power to make recommendations affecting an important part of the Health Service is a very important matter which should be taken seriously. It is my belief that the introduction of this Bill at rather short notice by a private Member should not be thought to have established a precedent for making major changes in the Health Service without adequate notice and full consultation with the B.M.A.
§ 3.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Frank Beswick (Uxbridge)
I wish, first, to support the criticism made by the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Sir R. Boothby) about the treatment of Reports from Royal Commissions, and Government-appointed Commissions of one kind or another. The hon. Member mentioned one or two Commissions which have seen their Reports pigeon-holed. He might well have made reference to the Gowers Report. It seems a little odd that this Government should have allowed this 845 Bill to be taken over by a private Member when, next week, we are to have a Private Member's Bill taken over by the Government, the Maintenance Orders Bill.
We have been dabbling about with all kinds of little odds and ends and have not time to debate foreign affairs. In the middle of all this confusion the Government put this Bill—on which they have been working in the Departments, I understand, for some years—into the capable hands of the hon. Member for Wembley, South (Mr. Russell). I should like to acid my word of congratulation to the hon. Member for having the courage to take up this very complicated Measure. Having had all the literature that has been sent to us this week, and having seen the conflicting and confused counsels that have been offered to us, I could well have understood the hon. Member if he had seized upon something a little less difficult to bring before the House with the opportunity he has. However, he has chosen this Bill and I congratulate him upon it.
I also want to say that I understand, appreciate and admire the spirit in which my hon. Friend the Member for the Manchester Exchange (Mr. W. Griffiths) has supported this Bill. He emphasised what I wish to emphasise, that our guiding principle in these matters should be what is in the best interest of the public. He might well have taken a much more narrow professional point of view, but he chose to support it on the grounds of public interest.
I believe that most hon. Members know that the Co-operative movement provides an excellent optical service to its members. The movement's attitude has always been that the highest professional standards should be applied to this service, and that there should be a registration of the professional people engaged in it but that there should not be any unnecessary restriction of the scope of the service to members of the general public on purely professional grounds.
The Bill, as I understand it, seems to be a nice balance of interests. It endeavours to protect the public, and it will especially protect the public if we make the Amendment dealing with the provision of spectacles by completely unqualified persons. If that can be made illegal, and if it is possible to define 846 the articles for which we are legislating, that will no doubt be a considerable improvement to the Bill.
As I have said, I think that the Bill tries to protect the public and to improve the professional standards, but it has not adopted a very narrow vested interest, as at one time seemed possible. I was especially pleased to notice the provisions of Clause 4.
I would add only one further word on the subject. I hope that among all the commitments which the hon. Member has made to these various bodies he will find none conflicting with another. It is difficult to say, before reading his speech tomorrow, exactly the purport of some of the commitments which he has accepted. Nevertheless, I sympathise with him and I am sure that he has been endeavouring to meet reasonable requests from all these professional bodies. I, too, believe that we ought to give the Bill a Second Reading and attempt to deal with the detail in Committee.
§ 3.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Richard Sharples (Sutton and Cheam)
I intervene very briefly to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wembley, South (Mr. Russell) on having had the courage to introduce a very complicated and technical Bill. In considering a Bill of this kind we are fortunate to have available the professional experience of the hon. Member for Manchester, Exchange (Mr. W. Griffiths), because to we laymen these matters are very complicated.
My hon. Friend has answered most of the questions which I have had put to me in a fairly voluminous correspondence from my constituents and this has the effect of making my speech considerably shorter than would otherwise have been the case. The main omission from the Bill as originally drafted is the failure to carry out recommendation No. 18 on page 3 of the Crook Report, which specifically recommended thatno unregistered person should be allowed to practise ophthalmic or dispensing optics.If that part of the Bill can be strengthened on the lines which my hon. Friend has suggested, it will go a long way to meet the point of view of those who object to it.
I think that in his undertakings to move Amendments in Committee my hon. Friend will be able to satisfy the points 847 of view of most of the others whose objections have been brought to my notice. It is a little unfortunate that the Bill has had to be brought forward without perhaps having the unanimous approval of the profession, but I am certain that that can be put right in Committee. I support the Bill and I very much hope that we shall give it a Second Reading.
§ 3.15 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health (Mr. Richard Thompson)
It may be for the convenience of the House, and is certainly with no desire to curtail debate on this important matter, if I intervene quite briefly now to indicate the attitude of Her Majesty's Government towards this Bill.
We are all indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Wembley, South (Mr. Russell) for the able manner in which he introduced this Measure, and to the hon. Member for Manchester, Exchange (Mr. W. Griffiths) for his equally able support. It is fortunate that my hon. Friend used his good fortune in the Ballot in this way, because there is no doubt that for many years now there has been widespread public acceptance of the fact that statutory registration of opticians was desirable.
As one or two points have been made about hurry and lack of consultation before the Bill was brought forward, perhaps I could say a word or two about the history of the matter. As hon. Members will recall, the Government set up, in 1949, what has been called the Crook Committee:To advise, on the assumption that it would be to the public interest that provision should be made by legislation for the registration of opticians, how registration could best be carried out and what qualifications should he required as a condition of registration.Ophthalmic and dispensing opticians, and the medical profession were represented on that Committee, which reported unanimously in 1952. In 1953, the Ministry of Health issued a tentative memorandum on points for inclusion in legislation, and had detailed discussions with the organisations representing opticians, with the Faculty of Ophthalmologists, and with the Ophthalmic Group Committee of the British Medical Association. Those discussions resulted in a second memorandum, on which 848 there was a further round of consultations and correspondence with many other bodies, and with the Joint Committee of the British Medical Association and the Faculty of Ophthalmologists.
While it was not possible to meet all the points that were raised, none of them was pursued by any of the bodies concerned between 1954 and the present year, which, I think, indicates how wide a measure of acceptance the proposals in the memorandum enjoyed at that time. I do not think that it is to be expected that a Bill of this kind, when there is a certain amount of difference of emphasis and opinion among those who are broadly in favour of it, will be absolutely acceptable to all interests at the Second Reading stage, but I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Wembley, South, that most, if not all, of the points of difference that have come up are quite capable of being resolved during the Committee stage.
The Bill, in fact, follows very closely on the memorandum to which I have referred, and on the majority of the recommendations of the Crook Report. Indeed, one might say that it differs only in two major respects from those recommendations. The first is on the question of making provision for the closing of the register, on which the hon. Member for Manchester. Exchange had some pertinent comments to make, and the second is on the other matter which hon. Members have raised, the prohibition of the testing of sight and the sale of glasses by unqualified persons.
There is, however, another matter in the Bill, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Sir R. Boothby) referred and about which I think I should say something. The impression has got about that the effect of Clause 4 (2, a) would be to take away from doctors the power of testing sight. I am quite certain that that is a misconception and I should like to clear it up as definitely and as conclusively as I can. The object of the Clause is to prevent the testing of sight being carried on by an unqualified person in the course of the business of the body corporate—that is to say, a firm of opticians.
Although it has been alleged that this would interfere with the present common practice whereby an ophthalmic medical practitioner tests sight on the premises of 849 a firm of dispensing opticians I do not know whether it could possibly be held that this sight testing is carried out in the course of the optician's business. But however that may be, nothing could be further from the intention of the Clause. There is no intention whatsoever to interfere in any way with the right of an ophthalmic medical practitioner to test sight and prescribe glasses on the premises of a dispensing optician or elsewhere. If it seems appropriate that a clarifying Amendment putting the issue beyond a peradventure should be made in Committee, it would certainly have the wholehearted support of the Government and. I am sure, of everyone else in the House.
As I have said, the many points of detail in this Bill are, I am sure, capable of being resolved in Committee without too much difficulty, and I ought to say that subject to such improvements as may be agreed in Committee, the Government welcome the principle of this Bill which is one for which there has been widespread public demand and need for a considerable time. We consider that it is a useful Measure which would put on a properly controlled and supervised basis the activities performed by about 8,000 ophthalmic opticians and about 900 dispensing opticians who operate in the United Kingdom and in Northern Ireland.
Therefore, for my part I hope that when we have had some further discussion on this subject—and I do not doubt that there are many other points which hon. Members will wish to raise—the House will see fit to give a Second Reading to a Measure which, I must agree, is long overdue.
§ 3.23 p.m.
§ Sir Eric Errington (Aldershot)
This matter is one of considerable importance to the public generally. I realise that it is no fault of my hon. Friend the Member for Wembley, South (Mr. Russell) that this Bill, with its 28 Clauses and a Schedule, comes before the House with such a limited amount of time for its consideration. It is in those circumstances that it has to be scrutinised carefully.
My feeling about the Bill is that it is a genuine attempt to deal with this problem which has lasted for a considerable time and which, indeed, has lasted some 850 five years since the Crook Committee reported.
I have some anxiety about the terms that are used and the definition of the various functions. Until a week or so ago I did not realise the distinction, technical or otherwise, between the ophthalmic optician and what is called the dispensing optician. Now there is a suggestion of a third type who will be able to combine, at any rate to some extent, the functions of both. In those circumstances, I am anxious about Clause 2 of the Bill, which provides:The General Optical Council shall establish and maintain—(a) a register of ophthalmic opticians, that is to say, persons qualified both to test sight and to fit and supply optical appliances; and (b) a register of dispensing opticians ….Then there is a provision, which, I understand, the sponsor of the Bill proposes to amend to the extent of providing for a register of ophthalmic opticians engaged only, or proposing to engage only, in the testing of sight.
I have not yet been able to ascertain why the definition has not been more in line with the suggestions of the Crook Committee. The quotation from the Crook Report which I wish to make is this:We feel sure that ophthalmic opticians themselves will agree with us that it would he unfortunate if the public were mistakenly to infer that they possess any diagnostic training or ability which properly pertain only to medical men. Their registration would not imply an ability to diagnose ocular or other diseases.Following that general view of the situation, the Committee defined the categories in the following way:An ophthalmic optician is concerned with the investigation of the functions of vision, with a view to the correction or relief of visual defects due to anatomical or physiological variations, without recourse to medicine or surgery, and with the prescribing, fitting and servicing of optical appliances for these purposes. A dispensing optician is concerned with the making up of optical prescriptions and the fitting and servicing of optical appliances.It might be said that this is a Committee point, but I venture to suggest that it is something more than that, in that what the House is being asked to do—it may be a proper thing to do, and I do not argue that now—is to leave to the proposed General Optical Council the definition of the three types of optician. 851 I suggest that, when the matter is considered in Committee, as I am sure it will be, very careful attention should be paid to this matter, which may at some time be of great importance to people generally who will probably know very little about the definitions and details with which we are now dealing. It should be made plain in the Statute exactly what we are providing for in these categories and not be left in this rather general form.
§ Mr. Russell
I will tell my hon. Friend now that I shall be glad to consider that point in Committee.
§ Sir E. Errington
That is of considerable importance.
The other provision that I wish to refer to shortly is that contained in Clause 22 (1, b), which gives the General Optical Council the power to make rulesprohibiting or regulating … the use by registered opticians and enrolled bodies corporate for the purposes of their practice or business, of names other than those under which they are registered or enrolled.I hope that no difficulty will arise in respect of medical eye centres. I understand that a medical eye centre is normally a place used by the ophthalmologist, together with the dispensing optician, and it is a convenient place provided by the National Ophthalmic Treatment Board. It is always known as a medical eye centre, and if it is necessary to ensure that a technically-qualified optician is working there, I see no reason why the name of that qualified person should not be there as well as the name "Medical eye centre".
There are other matters which will obviously arise in Committee. The Bill has suffered from a few technical difficulties at its birth but I hope that, as a result of its going to Committee, it can make a very useful contribution to this important subject.
§ 3.32 p.m.
§ Sir Hugh Linstead (Putney)
I should like to add my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Wembley, South (Mr. Russell) and the hon. Member for Manchester, Exchange (Mr. W. Griffiths) for having brought in the Bill. I should also like to express sympathy with something said by the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick) earlier about the fate of recommendations of Royal 852 Commissions and Departmental Committees, but we must remember that the job of a body such as the Crook Committee is somewhat different from the duty of a Government when they receive the Report of that Committee. If a Committee or a Royal Commission were to do its work thinking always of the political implications of its recommendations, we should very often get much less satisfactory reports than we do at present. I do not think that we need necessarily complain if a Government take a recommendation of a Committee, look at it through political eyes, and come to a different conclusion, for purely political reasons.
The Bill is not merely the result of a few years of discussion and investigation it is the completion of a very long process, going back to the National Health Insurance Act, 1911, or possibly even farther than that. Those forty years have seen the gradual growth of the optical profession, and if we give the Bill a Second Reading we shall be crowning the result of many years of hard labour and negotiation by the leaders of that profession and the Ministry of Health.
I appreciate the complaints of my hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeenshire (Sir R. Boothby) about the inadequate time for discussion with the British Medical Association. I think that he would be the first to recognise that nobody dealing with a Bill of this kind would lightheartedly create difficulties with the Association. On the other hand, Private Members' Bill procedure is what it is, and we have to take it with the tide on the one day in the year when it is possible to do something with that procedure. Instead of complaining about the inadequacy of consultation, we ought to be content with congratulating the sponsors of the Bill on having seized the opportunity in spite of the difficulties.
The Bill raises one or two interesting general questions connected with the development of professions. Usually professions begin by being unorganised; then they organise themselves and, at a certain stage, come to the State, which takes them over and gives them statutory recognition.
One recognises the process. It is one, first of all, of education and examinations. Then it is a question of registration and protection of title. Finally, we reach 853 the very difficult question of how far we should limit the practice. All those stages are represented in the Bill. One of the most important things always done by Parliament when it has to deal with the recognition of practitioners is to make certain that existing practitioners are not prejudiced by the crystallisation of registration, practice and examination. We are right to be very careful and tender over the rights of all existing practitioners in the Bill. With the Bill as it is now, plus the assurances my hon. Friend the Member for Wembley, South was able to give to the House, nobody engaged in the optical profession has anything to fear from financial or other loss resulting from the Bill. Indeed, all of them have something to gain.
The Parliamentary Secretary made it quite clear that the fears of doctors in relation to Clause 4 (2, a) are groundless or, if they are found to be well based, can be dealt with in Committee. It will be particularly important to see that we so arrange the closing down of the register that we do not prejudice anybody by the procedure we adopt. I would not have thought it was entirely necessary to come back to Parliament and have a completely new Bill or new legislation if we want to close the register. To shut the door and prevent new entrants coming in but not attempt to put any existing practitioners out of business might be done by an arrangement whereby the General Optical Council makes a proposal for an Order in Council which becomes effective on an affirmative Resolution of the House. There should be something of that kind rather than wait for the always chancy business of being able to get legislation. That is a typical matter we can discuss in Committee. I would have thought that we should have no difficulty in obtaining an Amendment which would satisfy those concerned.
Where I find greater difficulty is in meeting a point mentioned by one of my hon. Friends and the Member for Uxbridge, which is how far we are justified in preventing in the first case and, secondly, how far we are able to prevent unqualified practice. Even the medical profession has not protection of practice. Anybody by and large can practise as a doctor. He is not prevented by law. The dentists, of course, have almost complete prohibition of dental practice except by registered men. In this sphere we are 854 wise not to have attempted in the Bill, either by defining too closely the different classes or by a direct prohibition of practice, to make, for example, the sale of spectacles by unqualified people illegal. Let us examine it by all means in Committee. There is obvious substance in it. We shall probably come out of the same door through which we went and find it very difficult to amend the Bill to define what can or cannot he done by the unqualified man.
Having said that, I once again warmly congratulate the hon. Member for Wembley, South and the hon. Member for Manchester, Exchange, the mover and seconder, respectively, of the Bill. I commend it to the House, and I hope that we shall give it the examination it deserves in Committee.
§ 3.40 p.m.
§ Mr. H. A. Marquand (Middlesbrough, East)
I did not attempt to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, earlier until I felt well assured that no great degree of opposition was manifested in the House to the Bill. I hope that if, for a few moments. I explain why I support the Bill I shall not be endangering its prospects of reaching the Statute Book.
§ Mr. Anthony Marlowe (Hove)
The right hon. Gentleman may be right in saying that no opposition has been expressed so far in the debate, but I should like to make it clear to the right hon. Gentleman that I personally am opposed to this Bill.
§ Mr. Marquand
That is a very interesting observation. Then, perhaps, I had better confine my remarks to the shortest possible time, in explaining to the lion and learned Gentleman and to the House why I personally think that a Bill of this nature is desirable and should be given a Second Reading.
When I was Minister of Health I was approached by the optical profession who asked me: "How do we and the supplementary ophthalmic service stand now under the provisions of the National Health Service Act? What does the future hold for us? What are the Government's intentions in view of several years' experience of the Health Service?" I told them at that time, looking at the whole situation, considering the past experience of the working of the ophthalmic services within the Health Service, reviewing 855 future prospects, and the ability to supply the necessary ophthalmic experience and optical experience and the treatment of eyesight defects, that there was no likelihood for years to come of our being able to dispense with the supplementary ophthalmic service.
I do not think that that situation has changed very much. I certainly believe that in these circumstances it is very wise to encourage the optical profession and to give it the opportunity to develop its own educational service and to build up its own professional standards. If we do this it will be a protection for the public. If we enable the optical profession to improve its standards, its training, its conditions for entry into the profession under public supervision of an optical council controlled by the Privy Council, we shall then be safeguarding the rights of the citizen.
The danger, as everyone knows, is that unskilled, imperfectly qualified persons may fail to diagnose deep-seated organic defects in the eye and may fail to report those, as they should do, to properly qualified ophthalmic surgeons. The sort of training which is provided for under the Bill, it seems to me, would give a safeguard to the public, an assurance that persons insufficiently qualified to be able to observe those warning signs and report them to the proper quarters would be eliminated in practice. They would have a better assurance than they have had in the past when they resort, as many of us are obliged to do, to a service which is not fully medically qualified that they will get a service on which they can rely for being warned in time of any occasions when they should go to a medical practitioner.
That, in brief, is the reason why I put my name to this Bill. I am glad it has been put forward. I congratulate the hon. Member for Wembley, South (Mr. Russell) who moved the Second Reading, and the hon. Member for Manchester, Exchange (Mr. W. Griffiths), who supported him. I hope that they will succeed with the Bill. I think they have met very reasonably indeed the various criticisms which have been put forward. They are all matters which can be dealt with in Committee. The most admirable assurances have been given by both the hon. Gentlemen that all those matters can be considered in Committee.
856 It is unfortunate. I think, that the Government did not bring forward their own Bill, but those who have listened to the speech of the Parliamentary Secretary will realise that if they had it would not have been very different from this one. Hon. Members who support the Government, or say they do, may bear that in mind when they are considering the Bill, which. I hope, will be given its Second Reading today.
§ 3.44 p.m.
§ Mr. John Hynd (Sheffield, Attercliffe)
I want to say only a few words in support of the Bill and to ask a couple of questions which it may be well to raise now so that they may be considered, if necessary, in advance of the Committee stage. Although it is true to say, as the hon. Gentleman the Member for Putney (Sir H. Linstead) did, that there is no absolute bar to anyone carrying on medical practice without the necessary medical qualifications, there is in existence the disciplinary practice of the British Medical Association which provides a very strong protection for the public against the practice of any doctor who is qualified and who for other reasons has been found by his colleagues unfit to practise officially. In most cases when a doctor is struck off the Medical Register he has hopes that some day his name will be restored, and that is a deterrent against his carrying on practice whilst he is not registered.
§ Sir H. Linstead
Surely there are large groups of people who are practising medicine who have not been on the Medical Register at all. People like osteopaths are perfectly free to practise.
§ Mr. Hynd
That is what I am saying. There is no bar in those cases, but people who have been registered and have qualifications and, therefore, can represent themselves as qualified may be deterred from carrying on practice whilst they are struck off the register for some other reasons, because they can hope that their names may be restored. Osteopaths are recognised by the public as being in a different category, though I am not saying whether they are better or worse.
I am not going fully into the Schedule of the Bill, but I see that it is provided 857 that the General Optical Council shall consist of(a) four persons nominated by the Privy Councilbut these personsshall not be a registered optician, a registered medical practitioner, or a director of a body corporate carrying on business as opticians.I presume that the intention is that generally they shall be lay members of the Council, apart from one mentioned in paragraph 2 of the Schedule, who can be nominated by the Privy Council.
I hope, therefore, that it is the intention that there shall be three lay members, for the reason that the constitution of the Disciplinary Committee and the Investigating Committee, referred to in Clause 9, raises a point which it is worth bearing in mind from the experience of the General Medical Council. It is to be the rule, under Clause 10 (3), tosecure that a person, other than the Chairman of the General Optical Council, who has acted in relation to any disciplinary case as a member of the Investigating Committee does not act in relation to that case as a member of the Disciplinary Committee.The General Medical Council originally had two lay members and since its rule was that no member who had served on its Investigating Committee should deal with a case dealt with by its Disciplinary Committee there arose a very difficult quandary.
Either the two lay members had to be stabilised on their respective committees and could not change over and get wider experience or, alternatively, there was an overlap when they changed places so that the one who came from the Investigating Committee could not deal with something which came before the Disciplinary Committee, because it had been dealt with by the Investigating Committee during the previous twelve months when he was a member of that committee.
I hope, therefore, that there will be three lay members on the General Optical Council and not two, so that this difficulty about disciplinary cases can be overcome. This is very important. It is clear that in a body of this kind, where the future careers of opticians may be at stake, there should be someone who is not directly interested in the profession sitting there with a watching brief, guaranteeing that the point of view of the public and that of the consumer are 858 being taken into account, and ensuring that there is no closed shop or Star Chamber operating within the profession.
It will be accepted that the experience of the General Medical Council has shown this to be vitally important in the interests of the profession and of the Council itself. I hope that this point about laymen on the General Optical Council will be borne in mind when we discuss the Bill in Committee.
§ 3.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Marlowe (Hove)
I am sorry to strike a discordant note in this otherwise harmonious discussion, but my opposition to the Bill arises on the grounds that, whatever laudable objects it may have. I do not think we have gone about the business in the right way.
It may well be true that there are some parts of this Bill which many of us would support and endorse. At the same time, there are other parts of it which have not found favour with many people who have a very close knowledge of the profession. I should like to make clear, even at this early stage, that I shall not use any tactical measures to make it impossible for my hon. Friend the Member for Wembley, South (Mr. Russell) to bring the proceedings to a conclusion at the appropriate time.
This is clearly a very important Measure. I rather agreed with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. Marquand), who said that if a Measure of this kind has to be introduced it should be a Government Bill. I think that is perfectly right. Had it been a Government Bill, there would have been far greater opportunity for considering all the arguments which have been presented to us from interested quarters. I think that all of us over the last week or so have received a great deal of literature, most of which we found very confusing because this is a field in which we have not any specialised knowledge and we do not share the advantages which the hon. Gentleman the Member for Manchester, Exchange (Mr. W. Griffiths) has. I personally should have liked to have studied this important Measure a great deal more before coming to a conclusion upon it.
Had it been a Government Bill, clearly it would have been better prepared. I say this without any reflection on my hon. Friend the Member for Wembley, 859 South. I know only too well, as one who has himself introduced a Private Member's Bill, the difficulties under which a private Member labours. I apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Wembley, South for not being present when he introduced the Bill, but one has a clear impression after listening to this debate for a little while that what my hon. Friend has been driven to do is to say, "It is perfectly true that this Bill does not in its present form represent what we want, but we will make a series of changes in Committee which will make it into an entirely new Bill."
I do not believe that we in this House ought to deal with important Measures of this kind in that way. It may be all very well in a Private Member's Bill, when dealing with a comparatively minor topic, to say that we shall be able to amend it on the way and get it right in the end. Here we are dealing with a question of professional standards of very considerable importance, and I do not think that it is satisfactory for Parliament to say, "We have got this Bill. We do not really know what it is going to do, but we will hammer something out as we go along and hope that something better will emerge at the end." That point would have been met had the view expressed by the right hon. Gentleman opposite been accepted that it should be a Government Bill, when, of course, it would have been given suitable time and opportunity for examination.
My hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeenshire (Sir R. Boothby) and the hon. Gentleman the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick) drew attention to the extent to which public committees and commissions are now ignored. I rather agree with them on that point. The surprising thing is that both of them accepted this Bill in spite of the fact that it is of that very nature, that it ignores many of the recommendations of the Crook Committee. Although they take the view that committees and commissions should not be ignored in that way, both my hon. Friend and the hon. Gentleman opposite, while accepting that that would happen in this case, nevertheless support the Bill.
860 What I am concerned about is that it appears from the representations that have been made to me that this Bill, however it is amended, may have some effect on those engaging in this profession or various branches of it at the moment. I think that Parliament ought to be slow to interfere with the rights of people who are carrying on a perfectly legitimate business or profession without our being fully aware of what the consequences will be. One particular aspect of the matter has been set out in the Memorandum of the Ophthalmic Group Committee of the British Medical Association, which has been sent to all of us. It states in paragraph 9:The Crook Committee recognised that opticians who today do both sight-testing and dispensing could not reasonably have this right taken away at once, or at any time, without warning.It also laid down the conditions which must be satisfied so that the rights and interests of all sections were safeguarded and no hardship was caused.
The appropriate committee of the British Medical Association has examined this matter. It probably has a great deal more knowledge about it than any of us. It came to the conclusion that the Bill should be opposed, or at any rate should not be supported. I pay great respect to the expressions of opinion of people who have considered these matters and who know a great deal more than I do about them. Had the Bill been introduced in a different way we might have been in a better position to judge whether the representations that have been made to us for and against were justified or not.
As at present advised, I cannot help feeling that the House is not in full possession of the arguments either way and that we ought to reject the Bill in order to give the Government an opportunity to introduce a properly considered Measure upon which all of us would be better advised.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 38 (Committal of Bills).