HC Deb 04 May 1960 vol 622 cc1169-71
Mr. Charles Fletcher-Cooke (Darwen)

I beg to move, in page 9, to leave out lines 19 to 21 and to insert: (c) such a person is convicted by any court in the United Kingdom of having falsely or fraudulently procured the entry of his name on the register maintained by the board. I move this on behalf of my noble Friend the Member for Hertford (Lord Balniel), who is unable to be here today. I move it in tentative, if not in interrogative, form, because I have to confess that my attendance at these proceedings has been lacking in assiduity. Its theme is to ensure that cases of fraud, in particular fraudulent entry of a name in a register, should be found by courts of law rather than by a disciplinary committee. Other things being equal, it is right that the courts of law, which are accustomed to the difficult task of finding fraud, should remain entrusted with the task unless there is good reason for taking it away from them.

I can well understand, under Clause 9 (1, b), that in the case of a person who … is judged by the disciplinary committee to be guilty of infamous conduct in any professional respect; there is a strong case for saying that the committee would have special knowledge of what is or is not infamous conduct, and should be entrusted with that task because it might have qualifications which a judge might lack. But the simple issue of whether or not a person's name has been fraudulently entered in a register is something which a court of law handles every week. What is the objection to leaving the finding in a case like that to a court of law? If there is no objection I suggest that on constitutional and legal grounds it should deal with the question.

Mr. Walker-Smith

I will try to answer the point put with characteristic clarity and moderation by my hon. and learned Friend. As I promised my noble Friend the Member for Hertford (Lord Balniel), whose absence today we understand, that I would do during the Committee stage, I have studied this point. I appreciate the motives which both he and my hon. and learned Friend have in mind.

I should perhaps make it clear that there is no question of shutting out the jurisdiction of the courts and that in the appropriate cases it will still be the court which will decide whether there has been a fraudulent entry on the register. Although this Amendment arises on Clause 9, I should refer my hon. and learned Friend to the provisions of Clause 7, whereby a person may be prosecuted for fraudulently procuring the entry of a name on the register.

I now turn to subsection (1, c). The disciplinary committee can remove a name from the register if it is satisfied that it has been fraudulently entered. As the Bill stands, the disciplinary committee can proceed under subsection (1, c) either after a conviction under Clause 7 or, if it is satisfied, without such a conviction. Ordinarily, the best way in which the disciplinary committee may be satisfied that there has been a fraudulent entry will be the fact of a conviction by the court under the provisions of Clause 7.

The question is: why is the other method needed at all? It is needed to deal with cases which come to light only after a lapse of time but whose fraudulent aspect is clear when they do come to light. Under the Amendment these cases, albeit culpably and patently fraudulent, might remain on the register, for the reason that the procedures under Clause 7 are of a summary nature; that is to say, they are procedures undertaken before petty sessions. As my hon. and learned Friend will know, summary proceedings must be instituted within six months of the commission of the offence, under Section 104 of the Magistrates' Courts Act, 1952. It is to catch cases which reveal themselves belatedly but clearly as being cases of fraudulent entry that we require this provision.

I can assure my hon. and learned Friend that the position is properly safeguarded, because a right of appeal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council is provided under subsection (3), and subsection (4, c) ensures that where such an appeal is made the removal of the name from the register does not take place until that appeal is appropriately disposed of. In those circumstances, I hope that my hon. and learned Friend will agree that these provisions, which are broadly in line with the provisions already enacted in Section 35 (1) of the Medical Act, 1956, and Section 13 (1) of the Opticians Act, 1958, are both necessary and appropriate, and will withdraw his Amendment.

7.45 p.m.

Mr. Fletcher-Cooke

I am most grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend. I would have preferred an Amendment allowing the prosecution a longer period than six months under the petty sessional jurisdiction. At the same time, I fully appreciate the force of what my right hon. and learned Friend has said; indeed, the precedents are very strong. In those circumstances, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.