HC Deb 19 May 1980 vol 985 cc218-24

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the draft Dental Qualifications (EEC Recognition) Order 1980, which was laid before this House on 22 April, be approved.—[Sir George Young.]

12.1 am

Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)

I do not think that this order should go through on the nod, particularly when the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments has drawn the attention of the House to it. I should have thought that the Minister would have said something about it in view of the fact that the House took the trouble to set up a Joint Committee to examine the position of this instrument and others.

Under article 4 a person who is disqualified in another member State is disqualified on registration in the United Kingdom. We do not want a string of disqualified dentists visiting the United Kingdom, but under article 7, which relates to practitioners who render services while visiting the United Kingdom, a person can be similarly disqualified if convicted of a criminal offence, whether in a member State or elsewhere. However, article 7(2) refers to the fact that No prohibition shall be imposed under this Article on the grounds of conviction of a criminal offence which does not, either from the trivial nature of the offence or from the circumstances under which it is committed, disqualify a person for practising dentistry. On the one hand, the disqualification is looked behind and there is an examination to see whether, for example, a motoring offence or perhaps an offence of drinking, which may not be considered as affecting the dental practice, can be put to one side. On the other hand, under article 4 there is no such qualification.

In evidence to the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments the Department made clear that it does not look behind the disqualification. That, I think, is unfortunate because the qualifying phrase in Article 7 could reasonably have been included in article 4 so that a person who is disqualified unsatisfactorily in a member State and where there is no examination of the disqualification in a member State is regarded as being disqualified—that and nothing else.

A person can be disqualified for reasons that we in this country would find entirely unsatisfactory. He has no right of appeal and no right to make representations that the disqualification was based on a criminal penalty which was of a trivial nature or that from the circumstances in which it was committed it did not disqualify a person from practising dentistry, or that the offence was such that it did not disqualify a person. That was thought by the Joint Committee to be less than satisfactory and it was on that point that it decided to report the matter to the House.

Officials, in evidence to the Committee, agreed that they looked behind qualifications but did not look behind disqualifications. The order, in schedule 1A, lists the qualifications which they will accept as being suitable for qualifying dentists coming to this country. That is reasonable. However, it is anomalous to give a qualified disqualification to visiting dentists but to accept completely the disqualification of other member States without any qualification or examination whatsoever. That is the effect of the instrument.

Mr. Nicholas Baker (Dorset, North)

The hon. Gentleman and I have discussed this matter. What we are really saying is that we would have to accept a disqualification which might be trivial but accept the qualifications of foreign dentists which we regard as unimportant. I am not sure that the two issues are as out of line as the hon. Gentleman suggests.

Mr. Cryer

The Ministry has gone to the trouble to list in detail the European dental qualifications in schedule 1A, thereby suggesting that the qualifications have been examined, to ensure that a standard is enforced by law. That is the impression gained from the instrument. However, it has used two standards for two classes of persons practising dentistry in this country—the person who seeks to practise permanently but who is disqualified and who has no examination of that disqualification, and the person who is visiting to practise but who has a qualification because a disqualification which is based on a trivial criminal offence need not be applied. The general drift of the Joint Committee's comments is that that is anomalous. That was reinforced by evidence to the Committee which is not available in the Vote Office because it is not yet printed, but it is available in the Library.

The Joint Committee does not report an enormous number of instruments to the House, although it examines an enormous number. Since the House set up the Committee to do a job, it would be wrong for the order to be passed on the nod without reference to the point raised by the Committee.

12.8 am

Mr. Stanley Orme (Salford, West)

My hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer), who is the Chairman of the Joint Committee, is well versed in these matters. He has drawn to the attention of the House the discrepancy between article 4 and article 7 of the order. Perhaps the Minister can explain why the General Dental Council supports the qualifications for member States in the order, while the Committee is not satisfied in the respects which have been outlined. I do not believe that a serious discrepancy is involved. Disqualification is meant to apply to any dentist in the member States who is disqualified for the reasons set out in the order. However there is a discrepancy between how other member States and Britain operate in regard to disqualification. Perhaps the Minister will reply to that.

12.10 am
The Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security (Sir George Young)

I am grateful to the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments for the thoroughness with which it examined the order. I read the draft minutes of its meeting last week. The hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) and the right hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme) both contrasted the provisions in article 4 with those in article 7, both of which deal with disqualification.

Article 4 of the draft order provides that a dentist who has been disqualified in a member State from practising dentistry because of some criminal offence or professional misconduct shall not, while so disqualified, be entitled to registration under the provisions of the proposed new section 2A.

Article 4(2)(A) of the order emphasises that a disqualifying decision in that respect is limited to one expressed to be made on the grounds that the dentist has committed a criminal offence, or has misconducted himself in a professional respect, and not on any other grounds. Article 4(2)(B) emphasises that the effect of a disqualifying decision is that the dentist is prohibited from practising in his own State.

The Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments has expressed concern that that provision might be the cause of injustice, in that it would allow a person disqualified in his own State for a criminal offence of a trivial nature to be debarred from his entitlement to registration in this country. The Joint Committee asked why, in article 4(2)(A) of the order, the reference was to a criminal offence simpliciter, and that the article contained no qualification that it should not be of a trivial nature. The reason is that it is for each member State to decide what its disciplinary legislation shall be. There is no need to assume that, in framing and operating disciplinary legislation, controlling bodies of the dental profession in respective member States will not be responsible or fair minded.

Article 4(4) of the order provides that a person refused registration in the United Kingdom on the grounds of a disqualifying decision in his own State may appeal to the General Dental Council. Any such appeal is to be decided by the disciplinary committee of the General Dental Council and it is to be noted that the issue before that committee in such an appeal is the issue whether the disqualifying decision was a disqualifying decision within the meaning of article 4(2). It is not for the disciplinary committee to go into the merits of whether it would have disqualified the dentist concerned had it been seized of the matter. I understand that that is a general application in the way in which we enforce or recognise foreign decisions.

I turn to article 7. As persons rendering dental services temporarily, which is covered in article 6 and 7, while visiting the United Kingdom will not be registered in the dentists register, the disciplinary procedures provided in the Dentists Acts for use against registered dentists could not be applied. Article 7 provides a parallel procedure which might be operated by the disciplinary committee of the General Dental Council to impose a prohibition on the person concerned in respect of the rendering of dental services in the United Kingdom in the future.

The recognition directive requires that in the temporary provision of services the visiting dentist shall be subject to the same rules of conduct which apply in the host State, as in this case the United Kingdom. The wording of article 7 therefore follows closely that used in section 25 of the Dentists Act 1957, which relates to the erasure of a name from the dentists register kept by the General Dental Council in the United Kingdom. In particular, the disciplinary committee of the General Dental Council, under section 25 of the Act, may not cause erasure of a person's name on account of a conviction for an offence which does not, either from the trivial nature of the offence or from the circumstances under which it was committed, disqualify a person for practising dentistry. Consequently, article 7(2) of the draft order excludes consideration of criminal offences of a trivial nature when the disciplinary committee is considering imposing a prohibition on a visiting dentist providing services temporarily.

I hope that that gives the hon. Member for Keighley and the right hon. Member for Salford, West the explanation that they were seeking.

Sir Graham Page (Crosby)

Although my hon. Friend has gone at a speed that would be admired by Steve Ovett or Sebastian Coe, I think that I gathered that he confirmed the statement made by the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) that there is a difference between a dentist from another European State coming to Britain to practise permanently and one who is visiting. Suppose that there is a dentist who is qualified in Germany, and who becomes disqualified there for some trival offence. He comes to Britain, but because he is disqualified in Germany he cannot practise here. However, if he has come here on a visit, we can, under article 7, disregard that trivial offence and allow him to practise here. Is it the case that if he wishes to set up permanent practice here we must study carefully the disqualification, but if he comes here visiting, we can disregard it? That is how the order is worded, but it is so ridiculous that I cannot believe that it is intended.

Sir G. Young

I understand that if a dentist were disqualified in Germany he would not be allowed to practise even temporarily in the United Kingdom.

Sir G. Page

But that it not what the order says. Article 7 makes clear that one can disregard trival offences by a visiting dentist and allow him to practise here. That is why the Statutory Instruments Committee drew attention to the order. Although an explanation was given by witnesses who came before us, I still think that there is ambiguity in the order.

One point that my hon. Friend did not deal with is whether we get reciprocal treatment in other European States. Are we being rather over-conscientious? Are other States passing such orders? The House ought to be told.

Sir G. Young

By leave of the House, I can confirm what I said in my earlier intervention. The provisions of article 6 refer only to dentists who are established in another member State. If a dentist has been struck off in his own member State, he is no longer established as a dentist there and cannot provide services even temporarily in this country.

Mr. Nicholas Baker

I do not have article 7 before me, but I believe that I am right in saying that the reference to a trivial offence by a visiting dentist refers to a trivial offence committed here, not in the country of origin.

Sir G. Page

The order does not say so.

Mr. Cryer

Article 7 refers to a visiting dentist having committed an offence "whether in a member State or elsewhere ". Does not the framework of the order give rise to the possibility that a dentists could have committed a trivial offence in West Germany, and, while it was being considered by the German dental council, come to this country as a visitor and be allowed to practise, because the General Dental Council regarded it as a trivial offence? He could go back to Germany and find that the dental council there had disqualified him and he would automatically come under article 4 and be disbarred from practising here. The DHSS has not gone behind the disqualification process of the other member States.

Sir G. Young

If the dentist had been disqualified in Germany, he would not be allowed access to the register in this country and, therefore, would not be allowed to practise here temporarily or permanently. That is the crucial safeguard.

Mr. Cryer

But the Statutory Instruments Committee was concerned about the framework of the order and that it should not be ambiguous or unclear. The Minister has not answered my point that there are two standards and if a criminal charge were hanging over a dentist we could find that when he came here as a visitor he was allowed to practise because we regarded the offence as trivial, whereas he might be disqualified by his member State because the offence was not regarded as trivial.

Sir G. Young

If the hon. Gentleman is looking for confirmation that the criteria for disqualification in this country and other EEC States may be different, I can confirm that that is so. In this country, certain trivial offences are automatically disregarded, which is not the case in certain other European countries. As for access to the register, there may be slightly different criteria in the various European countries.

Question put:—

The House proceeded to a Division

Mr. Newton and Lord James Douglas-Hamilton were appointed tellers for the Ayes, but no Member being willing to act as Teller for the Noes, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER declared that the Ayes had it.

Question agreed to.

Resolved, That the draft Dental Qualifications (EEC Recognition) Order 1980, which was laid before this House on 22 April, be approved.

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