HC Deb 02 May 1984 vol 59 cc488-90
Mr. Meadowcroft

I beg to move amendment No. 6, in page 2, line 41, after 'Council', insert

'and such bodies representative of the interests of the general public as seem to the Privy Council to be appropriate'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this, it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 7, in page 3, line 5, leave out from 'Council' to end of line 7 and insert

'and to such bodies representative of the interests of the general public as seem to the Privy Council to be appropriate to the modifications they propose to make and consider any observations of those bodies thereon'.

Mr. Meadowcroft

The amendments refer to section 25 of the Opticians Act 1958, which the Bill deals with in clause 1 (2). Under section 25 of that Act, the Privy Council has the power of veto over rules made by the General Optical Council concerning a wide range of topics, including advertising. The Government's proposed amendment will give the Privy Council the power to change such rules rather than to veto them. They intend apparently to use this power to change the rules to allow opticians to advertise.

In principle, we do not object to advertising, although it might have been preferable if the Government had left the GOC to reform itself. However, we believe that it is crucial that, especially in such a sensitive and important area, the advertising should be carefully handled. Therefore, the amendments seek to ensure that the interests, in effect, of both sides of the equation are met, and that the general public and such representative bodies as might be noted in certain circumstances, are consulted in addition to the other bodies mentioned.

I think that the Government accept that in recent years there has been a growth in the number of voluntary bodies. Obviously hon. Members on both sides of the House welcome that. Often those associated with the NHS would prosper by being involved more in the process. Therefore, it would seem advantageous to widen the powers of consultation in the Bill. It is clearly important that the Government should tread cautiously about advertising in the Health Service, and it would seem to be beneficial to keep the interests of the consumer uppermost in our minds at all times. I hope that the amendments will enable the Government to do that.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

I do not quite know how the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Meadowcroft) has the nerve to address the House about the interests of the consumer. About five hours ago I was busy defending the interests of the consumer while explaining the possibilities of extending choice and competition, and he was defending the opticians' monopoly, hinting that his party would defend the solicitors' monopoly on conveyancing next year, and defending, almost to perfection, the present status of the profession vis-a-vis the wider interests of the consumer.

On the other hand, we are always happy to welcome a sinner who repents. I think that the Liberal party agrees with our proposals on advertising. We think it desirable to have advertising, and I can assure the hon. Gentleman — as I hope that he will have assumed from my previous speeches—that we shall bear the interests of the general public very much in mind. I do not think that statutory consultation with bodies representing the general public is the right way of going about things. We shall certainly listen to voluntary bodies with interest and we shall undoubtedly have the interests of the consumer uppermost in our minds throughout.

Like the hon. Gentleman, I hope that we shall not have to use the powers. The chance has now come for the GOP to reflect on where we are, to go away and to come back with proposals of its own that protect legitimate professional interests, stopping advertising about how to carry out professional tasks but opening up advertising about location, price, and all the things that we talked about earlier. I think that the hon. Gentleman agrees with me on that, and I hope that he will now accept that his amendments are not necessary.

Mr. Meadowcroft

The Minister is very provocative, even at this late hour, and it would be dangerous to rise to provocation. We noticed that he was defending the cause of the consumer; indeed, he was about the only person on his side of the House who was doing it. We are well aware of his position. In the light of the hour and of the Minister's assurances and sympathetic comments, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

I beg to move amendment No. 8, in page 3, line 9, after 'which', insert

'.subject to the following provisions of this section,'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to take Government amendment No. 9.

Mr. Clarke

The amendments fulfil a commitment that we gave to the Standing Committee that considered the Bill. If we do have to use the powers—as I said a few moments ago, I hope we do not—to amend the GOC's rules on publicity without its consent, the order we make will be subject to the affirmative and not the negative resolution procedure. The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) asked for it and we are honouring our commitment.

Mr. Dobson

I thank the Minister for honouring his undertaking.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments made: No. 9, in page 3, line 11, at end insert—

'(9) No order to which this subsection applies shall be made unless a draft of the order has been laid before and approved by resolution of each House of Parliament.

(10) Subsection (9) above applies to an order—

  1. (a) which is made by virtue of paragraph (a) of subsection (6) above and approves rules subject to modifications; or
  2. (b) which is made by virtue of paragraph (b) of that subsection.
unless it is contained in a statutory instrument that states that the General Optical Council have indicated their consent to the terms of the order either in the course of consultations under subsection (6)(b) above or in observations under subsection (7) above.".' No. 11, in page 3, line 34, leave out subsections (8) and (9).—[Mr. Kenneth Clarke.]

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