HC Deb 04 May 1960 vol 622 cc1174-80

Amendments made: In page 14, line 8, leave out "twenty-three" and insert "twenty-one".

In line 15, leave out "four" and insert "three".

In line 18, leave out from "whom" to "and" in line 19 and insert one only shall be a registered medical practitioner".

In line 21, leave out "eight" and insert "seven".

In page 16, leave out line 17.

In page 17, line 29, leave out sub-paragraph (5).—[Mr. Walker-Smith.]

Mr. Walker-Smith

I beg to move, in page 18, line 13, to leave out from "succession" to end of line 14 and to insert "and a common seal".

This is a somewhat technical Amendment, the intention of which is to bring the Bill into line with the repeal of the law of mortmain by the Charities Bill which has completed its passage through another place and which received a Second Reading in this House on 28th April. The Charities Bill makes similar Amendments to many existing Statutes, including the Opticians Act, 1958, the Dentists Act, 1957, and the Medical Act, 1956.

Amendment agreed to.

7.59 p.m.

Mr. Walker-Smith

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

This Bill has been a long time in preparation. There was a full, and indeed protracted, discussion of the Report of the Cope Committee and of the points of view of the many interests involved. During that time all points of view were patiently listened to, and alternative solutions canvassed, with the object of reaching the highest common factor of equity, agreement, and administrative viability.

I feel that the event has shown that the time, although protracted, was well spent because the Bill received not only a unanimous Second Reading in the House but a general expression of welcome and assent on all sides. The Committee stage was useful but at the same time short and harmonious, and the Report stage today has been mainly an exercise in writing into the Bill the improvements suggested from diverse sources, again commanding the assent of all sides of the House. It is true that the Bill as we now have it provides for one fewer profession than we originally hoped, but it is not a final figure and it was never our intention to legislate for a fixed or inflexible membership. The procedure will be open-ended and new professions can come in by Orders under our improved Clase 10, which we have made subject to the affirmative Resolution.

I should perhaps indicate to my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Sir H. Linstead), who said that he was glad that there would be no grudging spirit about the operation of Clause 10, that there is a statutory function prescribed for the Council and it is after the Council has discharged its function that the Privy Council comes into the picture and makes the Order of which Parliament is then seized by the affirmative Resolution.

The other changes which have been made are one and all by way of improvements. In particular, the test for admission to the initial register under Clause 3 is an interesting example of the way in which we can improve these Bills in the House of Commons. In the original Bill we had the test of qualification and experience; in Committee we added the test of training; and on Report today we have added the test of practical competence. This is a further illustration of a point, on which I personally have had a good deal of evidence in longer and more complex Bills than this, of the way in which a Bill can be improved in its passage through the House and of the value which the Minister in charge of a Bill can get if he listens with an open mind and objective judgment to suggestions made from all parts of the House.

I am not allowed by the rules of order on Third Reading to refer to what is not in the Bill, but I am in order in describing the position which we have in regard to subpoenas now that the statutory powers which were in the Bill as originally presented to the House have been omitted by decision of the House. I emphasise to the House that it does not mean that there would be no power of subpoena at all in respect of these disciplinary committees. Such committees exercise a jurisdiction of a judicial nature and are generally recognised as constituting tribunals, or what are known as inferior tribunals. I should, of course, add that the epithet "inferior" casts no slight upon them; they are an inferior tribunal in relation to the Supreme Court.

So far as such tribunals are concerned, it was stated over fifty years ago that the court had at all times lent its aid to inferior tribunals where they themselves lack the means of enforcing the attendance of witnesses. It occurs, for example, in the second edition of Short and Mellor's Crown Office Practice, which was published in 1908. I think that I can best indicate to the House the position and principle as I understand it to be by reading a short extract from the judgment of Lord Justice Swinfen Eady in Rex v. Wiltshire Appeal Tribunal, 1916, reported at 86 Law Journals, King's Bench, page 121, which judgment was cited with approval in a later case by Lord Caldecote, Lord Chief Justice, in Rex v. Hurle-Hobbs, 1945, I King's Bench, page 165: Then, with regard to the attendance of witnesses before them, the tribunals being inferior courts and not in this respect in the position of one of the superior courts, have in themselves no power to enforce the attendance of witnesses. For that reason they have to invoke the assistance of the King's Bench Division to compel the attendance of witnesses in proper cases, and the master of the Crown Office, on being satisfied that they are proper cases, has power to issue a subpoena. The procedure therefore in such cases is that a party can apply to the Crown Office for a subpoena and it is for the Master of the Crown Office to satisfy himself that it is a proper case. I need hardly remind the House that the Crown Office is a part of the Supreme Court of Judicature set up by Act of Parliament. This would seem a perfectly proper and appropriate procedure, and indeed it has been referred to several times of recent years by the Statutory Committee of the Pharmaceutical Society, even though the Pharmacy Act, 1954, does not confer any express powers to secure the issue of writs of subpoena.

Meanwhile, as the House knows, Lord Simonds' Committee is sitting and pursuing its beneficent activities, and it should be in a position to report relatively soon. If, as a result of the Report of Lord Simonds' Committee, amendments fall to be made to the Bill in another place, they will come back to the House in the ordinary way of procedure. If his Report calls for legislation in a wider and more general field than simply these supplementary professions with which we are concerned in the Bill, then that general legislation would govern the proceedings of these Committees, albeit under the terms of a general Act and not under the terms of this Bill.

But in any event, whatever the outcome the time factor is quite all right, because it is obviously bound to be some time before the Council and Boards are set up under the Bill, before the initial registers are prepared and before the disciplinary committees are functioning. Before that time arrives the matter can be dealt with in whichever way is appropriate.

It is not, of course, for me in any way to anticipate the report of Lord Simonds' Committee, but, if I may say so for myself, I can see the force of the argument put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Putney in Committee that a recognition of professional status, such as it is the object of the Bill to achieve, involves the grant of appropriate procedures to those professions and that appropriate procedures require appropriate mechanisms to make them work.

That is the position in which we stand about subpoenas, and I hope that it is satisfactory to the House. We were very anxious not to delay the Bill further. I am conscious that because of this aspect rather a longer time has already elapsed between the Standing Committee reporting the Bill and the House considering it on Report. We should certainly have been most reluctant by any further delay in any way to risk not placing the Bill upon the Statute Book in the current Session. I am sure the House will agree that the important point now is to put these professions on to an appropriate professional basis and to provide the procedures appropriate thereto. The Bill has that effect, and for that reason I commend it to the House.

8.10 p.m.

Mr. K. Robinson

I think that at this last stage of the Bill we might renew our congratulations to the Cope Committee, who initiated it, and to the right hon. and learned Gentleman's advisers who for many years have succeeded in reconciling the conflicts of many interests and in inducing a considerable number of somewhat meddlesome forces to pull in the same direction.

Now we have a significant step forward for seven professions, most of them small in numbers, but all of them performing most valuable functions within the National Health Service. The number of professions covered has now been reduced from eight to seven, but now we can say at any rate that all the professions covered by this Bill positively want the benefits and the status that it confers and willingly accept the obligations that it imposes.

We no longer have with us the speech therapists who were discussed on the right hon. and learned Gentleman's Amendments. I would only add that their decision to opt out of the Bill is theirs alone. It was, I know, reached after very considerable discussion, some of it I believe agonising discussion, and after hearing the views of both sides expressed with great strength. Certainly much persuasion to remain in was offered by this House and in Committee. However, I would agree with them to this extent, that although I agree with the Minister that they could properly be considered a profession supplementary to medicine, they are in a somewhat different category from the other seven professions covered by the Bill. I believe this fact tilted the scales in inducing them to opt out of the Bill. But now that they have taken that decision, I think that they have no regrets. At any rate, if they do in years to come, they will have the consolation of knowing that the Bill does not slam any doors and that the door is open at all times for applications to be made under Clause 10 from any profession not now covered by the Bill.

The Minister told us the position about the question of powers of subpoena, and we are grateful to him for having made the situation clear. In Committee, many of us, in particular my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Ginsburg), were a little unhappy about the position as it was then left. We hoped that the Simonds Committee would have reported by now. I appreciate that the Minister has delayed the Report and Third Reading of this Bill in the hope of getting the Committee's Report, and I equally appreciate that it might have been dangerous, so far as the risk of losing the Bill was concerned, to delay any further.

I rather take the view of the hon. Member for Putney (Sir H. Linstead) that these disciplinary committees could not possibly function if they were denied any powers of subpoena. We remember all too vividly the Fox case that gave rise to misgivings that were expressed by right hon. and hon. Friends of mine. I have always felt that in that case it was not so much the existence of powers of subpoena that was the trouble. The trouble arose out of the failure of the Home Secretary to claim Crown privilege for evidence which had been obtained by the police in somewhat questionable circumstances in pursuit of inquiries in connection with a possible criminal charge which was subsequently dropped. I know that this must have been a difficult decision for the Home Secretary, to balance public interest on the one hand with the rights of the indiviual on the other, but for my part I think he took the wrong decision.

I was very glad to have the right hon. and learned Gentleman's confirmation of what the hon. Member for Putney said in Committee, that if we leave the Bill in its present form these disciplinary committees will be able through Crown Office procedure to apply for subpoenas in appropriate cases. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has not exactly given an assurance that whatever happens when the Simonds Committee reports, professions covered by this Bill will be treated exactly like the other professions under whose registration Act there are now express powers of subpoena. I would be glad if he would give that assurance that they will be treated on all fours with the others in whatever changes may be made. We are glad to support the Third Reading of the Bill and wish it well.

8.16 p.m.

Sir H. Linstead

I join in the thanks expressed to my right hon. and learned Friend for having at long last brought this Bill to fruition, at least in this House. There was a danger after seven years of negotiation that the Bill would be lost in the wilderness.

The hon. Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. K. Robinson) referred to the professions as meddlesome forces. If I may change the simile, perhaps my right hon. and learned Friend will allow me to describe him as a latter-day Moses who has led these professions out of the wilderness to what we all hope will be the promised land. Anyhow, their future is largely now in their own hands and they are the mistress of their fate.

I should like also to thank my right hon. and learned Friend for the clear statement which he has made about the position of the disciplinary committees and subpoenas. I owe an apology to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary for having introduced this without warning to her in Committee and for having taken the wind out of her sails, but the position as my right hon. and learned Friend has left it tonight is perfectly clear.

We were worried in Committee lest, having created this disciplinary machinery, we should deny it the opportunity of functioning adequately by its inability to bring essential witnesses before it. What my right hon. and learned Friend has now said makes it clear that they will not have that inhibition and they should be able to function satisfactorily. I am grateful to him.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.

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