HL Deb 16 June 1921 vol 45 cc602-6

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I do not propose to take up much of your time this afternoon, but I. should like to offer a few words in explanation of this measure. The purpose of the Bill is to give effect to certain of the recommendations of the Departmental Committee on the Dentists Act, 1878, which reported in 1919. At present that Act regulates the registration of dentists, but the Committee found that grave injury to the public health results from the fact that under the existing Act anyone with a minimum of training can practice dentistry, provided he does not call himself a dentist. The Committee recommended that legislation should be introduced to prohibit unregistered and unqualified persons practising dentistry, but in order not to prejudice the legitimate interests of non-registered practitioners they proposed that bona fide practitioners should be admitted to the register and that certain dentists' mechanics should be admitted after a short period of training. They also recommended the provision of machinery for scrutinising the claims of unregistered dentists before admission to the register, and to govern the dentist profession.

The Bill carries out these recommendations of the Committee. It provides for the appointment of a Dental Board, which will be responsible for the register and the supervision of the profession. After a year no person will be allowed to practice dentistry, unless he is on the register, or is a duly qualified medical practitioner. The Bill provides that persons who are now inbona fide practice shall be admitted to the register under proper safeguards, and dental mechanics after passing an examination. All Regulations under the Bill will be laid before Parliament, and may be annulled if an Address is presented within 21 days. The Bill also provides for a right of appeal to the High Court against a refusal to admit to the register, or a decision to remove a practitioner. The measure makes no charge on the Exchequer. The expenditure will be defrayed from fees, and if there is any surplus it will be spent on dental education and research.

There is only one point of substance on which there is any difference, and that is in regard to the form of the register. The admission of the unqualified practitioner has been regarded with some misgiving by Sir Frank Colyer; and a different form of register has been suggested. The matter has been discussed at considerable length and Sir Frank Colyer's points have been answered by the Chairman of the Departmental Committee, Mr. Acland. The Government support the view of the Committee, but the matter is really one of detail which can more properly be dealt with in the Committee stage, and I, therefore, propose to postpone the arguments in support of the policy of the Committee, on which the Bill is founded, until that stage is reached. The British Dental Association has forwarded to the Ministry of Health a memorial, extensively signed by dental practitioners in this country, in favour of the Bill.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2ª.—(The Earl of Onslow.)


My Lords, I do not wish to detain you with a long speech on the Second Reading of this Bill, as I propose to put down an Amendment for the Committee stage. At the same time, I do not wish your Lordships to think that this is altogether an agreed Bill. There is, in fact, considerable opposition to a certain part of the measure, and on behalf of the Ivory Cross Society, of which I am at present the Chairman, I shall have something to say in the Committee stage. There is no opposition to the Bill, as a Bill, by dental practitioners or the Society. It is, in fact, welcomed by dental practitioners and by my organisation, but there are certain features of it to which they strongly object, principally in regard to the wholesale admittance of the unqualified practitioner. In deference, to the noble Earl, who has shortened his speech this afternoon, I will reserve any further remarks for the Committee stage.


My Lords, no one desires to prolong the debate at this moment, but it is right that I should support the observations of Lord Greville when he says that there is an element in this Bill which will have to be carefully scrutinised in Committee. We are all in favour of the Bill, and in favour of protection for the dental profession, but there are not enough dentists to supply the population, and it is evidently proper we should do all in our power to make the profession as attractive as possible. In order to arrive at an agreement the Committee seemed to have been led, as aquid pro quo to the unqualified practitioners, to admit the existing ones en bloc as fully qualified dentists.

That might be good tactics from a Parliamentary point of view, but it is extremely bad for the people who suffer from toothache, and we shall have to consider closely whether we are going to allow a number of practitioners, some of whom are little better than charlatans, to be admitted by a stroke of the pen to the full advantages, privileges, and dignities of dentists in order to facilitate the passage of the Bill. That appears to be the point. There may be an answer, and if it is a good answer we shall bow to it. As at present advised, however, I think the Government should consider carefully whether a change in the Bill in this respect ought not to be inserted.


My Lords, I was a member of the Departmental Committee, which sat for a long time and took a great deal of evidence. There is no suggestion that all unregistered men should be admitted en bloc to the register. On the contrary, we limit the admission of them to those men who have been in good practice for five years and can bring evidence as to good character in that practice. We also recommended that those men who have not been five years in practice, but who would submit themselves to a qualifying examination, should also be admitted. We have all received letters and circulars from a certain number of gentlemen, more noisy than wise, who wish to keep out all the unqualified men from the register. I do not know whether it is realised that by far the greater part of the dental work in this country is done now by these unregistered men, and it would be a monstrous thing to prevent them from carrying on their practice altogether. More than that, the dental work of the country cannot be done unless these unqualified men are allowed to practice, and we, therefore, recommended a carefully-drafted clause providing that only those should be placed on the register who can give evidence of good character and a proper conduct of their profession.

In these circulars and letters, which your Lordships may have read—or may not have read, but put in the waste paper basket for other people to read there is a suggestion that a special list of these men might be made. A way that would be vary much better would be that the register should show the qualifications of every dentist opposite, his name, and that those who were unregistered or were on the register without qualification should have the fact shown opposite their names by the words "In practice." That would indicate to people who wish to consult the register whether a man had degrees, or whether he had been placed on the register because he was in practice. I venture to think that not a single member of this House has ever gone to look at a register to see what degrees his dentist has obtained. It matters very little.

The noble Marquess spoke of the privileges of being on the register. I hardly like to mention it here, because I suppose that even what I say circulates outside, but there is a great deal more than privilege in being on the register. The fact of a dentist being on the register means that the way in which he carries on his profession is controlled; that he is obliged to obey the ethics of the profession; that he cannot do this and he cannot do that; that he may not canvass; and that he may not advertise for work. The register, therefore, is not only a privilege; it is a controlling influence. The important point that we want to insist upon is that in future there should be no unregistered men operating in the dental profession anywhere in the country, and that every man in the profession shall be liable to control as to the way in which he carries on his work.

Those are the huge advantages of this Bill, and unless it passes, I can assure, your Lordships that good men will not join the dental profession. Why should they '? Why should a father allow his son to join the profession, when he knows that the butcher, the baker or the candlestick-maker may take a house next door and practise equally with him? This will prevent men from going into the profession. If this Bill passes, you will increase the number of qualified men who will join; you will stop unregistered men from practising in the future; you will control the way in which the whole of the, dentistry of the country is done; and you will secure better treatment for everybody. I would, therefore, if I may, venture to congratulate, the Government on having brought in a Bill within two years of the issue of the Report of the Committee. This, I think, must be almost a record.

On Question, Bill read 2ª, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.