HL Deb 25 June 1964 vol 259 cc333-44

4.5 p.m.

Debate on Second Reading resumed.


My Lords, I think it is our duty in this House to try to legislate with logic and reason, and with humanity. Humanity and tolerance, however, do not mean that we should accept the word of every crank that he has the right of exemption from the ordinary law of this country. I have seen something of the activities of these Exclusive Brethren and my experience has been very much like that described by the noble Lord, Lord Craigmyle. As he says, they are a breakaway from an American sect, and if we are going to legislate for every such breakaway, Heaven help us!

These people are asking for tolerance for themselves. They show very little tolerance for others. They are unbelievably cruel to people who are involved with them by marriage. I have seen utter misery produced as a result of their demanding that a person who was a chartered accountant should give up his chartered accountant's qualifications because he was married to one of the Exclusive Brethren. Immense family pressure was brought to bear. His wife refused to eat with him and his children were instructed not to eat with him. I dare say, as the noble Lord, Lord Craigmyle, surmised, in due course we shall be asked to give them legislative release from the necessity to register as chartered accountants. How they can logically register as pharmacists and then opt out of the Pharmaceutical Society, I fail to understand. How they can register as doctors and fulfil their alleged faith, I fail to understand. I think the whole thing is terrible and dangerous nonsense, and the sooner we reject this Bill the better.


My Lords, I hesitate to take part in this debate, because I have no opinion about the Brethren concerned, but I am concerned with the Pharmaceutical industry, though not a member of the Pharmaceutical Society. I am also a Scotsman, and the funny thing about this Brotherhood, about which we have heard such a lot—probably more than we need have heard in connection with this Bill—is that it is mainly Scottish. I do not know whether it is the climate, the water or the air. I agree with everything the noble Lord opposite said about the cruelty and the extraordinary situations which arise among these people. But, after listening to the debate, there are two points that I feel I might draw to the attention of your Lordships. The noble Lord, Lord Fraser of Lonsdale, asked: how did they talk with people in their shops? The same applies to customers, and we have not heard anything about the public or the customers in this matter. I am right in saying that this is one of the problems. They live in these extraordinary communities and it is a great inconvenience, to say the least of it, to the Brotherhood, if there is no pharmacist to whom they can talk.

The other point I want to make is this. As the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, said, the pharmaceutical qualification is unique in that by Statute a pharmacist cannot practise unless he is a member of the Society. And this little Bill is solely designed to obviate that proposition, which means that if pharmacists are not members of the Pharmaceutical Society, and the law is not altered, they cannot practise as pharmacists. The noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, said that they could get other work, based on their training, but with considerable sacrifice. As the noble Lord, Lord Craigmyle, said, sacrifice is their affair. But it so happens that I am associated in business and friendly with the President of the Pharmaceutical Society, who is now abroad. When I last saw him, I took the opportunity of asking about this Bill—was it all right? The answer he gave me was, "Yes, it seems to be the only way out of a complex situation which arises from the extraordinary beliefs of these people and which concerns, not only their livelihood, but also the services which are required by other members of the Brotherhood."

I feel strongly in agreement with what the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, said: that this Bill, which deals with the extraordinary situation arising out of a fanatical minority, does not pose any difficulty to Parliament, and I believe that your Lordships would be wise to give it a Second Reading.

4.10 p.m.


My Lords, I feel a certain amount of confusion, and I think some other noble Lords may feel confused, too, over this obscure but important question of disciplinary control. We have been told, as I understood the noble Lord who introduced the Bill, that when these persons for whose benefit it has been brought forward cease to be members of the Pharmaceutical Society they will accept voluntarily the disciplinary control of the Pharmaceutical Society. We have also been told by the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore—and he may be right—that whether they are members of the Pharmaceutical Society or not, they will still continue to be subject to disciplinary control by that Society or by some other body, appointed, I suppose, by the Pharmaceutical Society. Which of those two sets of circumstances is the case, I do not know. I hope that when the noble Lord comes to reply he will make it clear to us what the control will be when these persons cease to be members of the Pharmaceutical Society. To my mind, that is the most important aspect of the whole matter.

I find it difficult to be very sympathetic to these 26 persons, out of 7,000, who desire exemption, but, at the same time, there is force, I think, in the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, that that is, after all, the way in which our democratic society proceeds. But it is important, and, indeed, essential, in the interests of the public, that these persons should continue to be subject to the same disciplinary control as they would be if they were members of the Pharmaceutical Society.

4.12 p.m.


My Lords, I hope it will never be said of your Lordships' House that it placed any obstacle in the way of any man's observance of his religious beliefs, if honestly held, and if socially they are not harmful to the community. I think we are here to-day on a wrong tack altogether. What is being asked for here is that a certain privilege should be given, under the guise of a Pharmacy Bill to a small section of the people. With respect, my own point of view is that if there is a small body of opinion in this country which needs protection of this kind, then it should be given under some Bill, with a heading such as "Exclusive Brethren Bill" and not under the umbrella of a Pharmacy Bill. That would be one method of dealing with a small group of people who feel that they are being unfairly treated. It should not be done in the form of a Bill dealing with matters relating to pharmacy, under the guise of preventing hardship to a few people whose views may be objectionable to a great many people and, in my view, are irrelevant to the main purpose of the Bill.

4.14 p.m.


My Lords, I feel some difficulty about this Bill, even after the admirably clear and interesting speech of my noble friend Lord Craigmyle. It seems to me rather ridiculous to say that we are interfering with this small minority in the practice of their religion. The utmost that we could be held to be saying is that they cannot be registered as pharmaceutical chemists. That is really distinct from interfering with people's religion. It may be, under the present law, an inevitable consequence of their religion that they cannot become registered pharmaceutical chemists. It is also, so far as I can see, an effect of their religion that they cannot become barristers. I cannot pretend that that fills me with any great alarm, but their religion clearly would forbid them from becoming members of one of the four Inns of Court, and, as that is the only method of becoming a member of the Bar, they cannot become barristers.

I should like to know from my noble friend who is to give the Government's view how many professions they are debarred from entering at the present moment. The noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, said that we should be setting a precedent; and I think she may be right. I feel that we should know how far this is likely to be extended. I should like to see a list, if the Government can provide one, of the professions and occupations which these people feel they are at present debarred from joining on religious grounds, and to know how much legislation would be necessary on the analogy of this Bill.

I quite agree with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, that, if we simply consider this particular profession, this Bill is harmless. But I think we should be careful of the precedent we are setting, and draw a fairly clear distinction between saying that people should be free to practise their religion, and saying that, because of their religion, we have to change a great many laws of the land.

4.16 p.m.


My Lords, I do not want to prolong this debate unduly, but I want to make it quite clear that this is a Private Member's Bill and each one of us is free to support it or not, as we please. My noble friend Lady Summerskill (I am sure she will not mind my saying this) was speaking entirely for herself, and not for the Opposition; but I am sure she will receive a good deal of support, not only from the Opposition but also from a great many noble Lords on the other side of the House. I would ask that we should each of us look at this question on its merits, and decide for ourselves whether we want to support the Bill or not.

I think the greatest condemnation of this Bill was given by the noble Lord, Lord Craigmyle, when he said that this was damaging in principle, but not in practice. Do we want to support a Bill which is damaging in principle? For my part, I am sure the principle that a person should, under the guise of religious conviction, opt out of the law of the land which is at the moment applicable to all pharmacists is a bad one. Do we really want to support something which, to my mind, is quite irrelevant to pharmacy, and to say that this should be a reason for opting out of the provisions of the Pharmacy Act? There is also a good deal in what the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, said about the control over pharmacists. If you are not a member of the Pharmaceutical Society, there is a weakening of control. But I do not want to enter into the merits of this matter. I am concerned with the principle that, on something which, to my mind, is quite irrelevant to the question of whether you are a member of the Pharmaceutical Society, you should be able to opt out at your leisure. Therefore, I hope that every noble Lord will consider on this question of principle whether or not he wants to give a Second Reading to this Bill.

4.20 p.m.


My Lords, I will not keep your Lordships more than two minutes, but I sincerely hope that the Government will not accept this Bill. I say that with some hesitation, because I know my noble friend Lord Grenfell well enough to know that he would not support any Bill that he did not consider was absolutely just. But we are living in an age when sectarian barriers are being broken down. We remember with reverence and affection His Holiness the late Pope John and his relationship with our own Primate, and also the hope of a greater union between the Roman Catholic Church and our own. There was also a meeting, I believe, between the Methodist Church and our own, in the hope that there might be a union of Communion between the two. I feel that the sectarian barriers should not be allowed to become so strict that, as the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has said, they interfere with the law of the land.


My Lords, may I venture to suggest that a great deal of this discussion has proceeded upon the assumption that Parliament was entirely wise in passing the legislation which made membership of the Pharmaceutical Society compulsory upon everybody who qualified himself as a pharmacist? If that principle is to be applied generally, a great many curious consequences will arise. It is not necessary that a man should be a member of the British Medical Association in order that he should practise as a doctor; nor that he should be a member of the British Dental Association in order that he should practise as a dentist; nor a member of the Law Society in order that he should practise as a solicitor. Most of the members of those professions do, in fact, join the appropriate society, but are we to contemplate that it is a desirable thing that members of every occupation should be compelled to join some society which deals with that particular occupation, whether they wish to do so or not?

Is it not worth while considering for a moment whether it was not a mistake in the beginning to impose this requirement? I am not talking about the necessity for discipline or anything of that kind. Before membership of this Society was made obligatory upon those in the pharmaceutical profession, they were subject to discipline, and they could, if necessary, be removed from the register. This is something which is entirely separate from professional qualification and professional discipline, and I do not see that the issue should be confused by bringing in those points.


My Lords, before the Minister replies, may I ask one question? Many years ago, I used to be Chairman of the Statutory Committee of the Disciplinary Committee of the Pharmaceutical Society—everybody else, of course, was a pharmacist. My recollection is that it is a Privy Council appointment, and a statutory Committee. If it is a statutory Committee, it can have powers only over those persons over whom it is given powers by Statute. I did not quite follow the statement that these gentlemen would be prepared to submit to those disciplinary powers; because either they are among the persons over whom the statutory Committee have powers or they are not. If they are not, the statutory Committee would not have powers over them.


They are registered and, therefore, would be subject to discipline.


My Lords, dealing with the point the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, and I made, if the House gives this Bill a Second Reading, will the Government see that there is inserted in it a qualitative provision that if these persons are admitted to practise as full pharmacists, they should be made by Statute subject to exactly the same dis- ciplinary measures as the regular members of the Society?

4.25 p.m.


My Lords, my noble friend Lord Grenfell has given such a clear exposition of the text of this Bill that, in spite of the width the debate has ranged over since then, I do not think your Lordships will wish me to add anything. With regard to the merits of the Bill, if your Lordships feel that my noble friend has made out a good case for it, Her Majesty's Government would not wish to dissuade you from giving it a Second Reading. As this is a Private Member's Bill, and as Her Majesty's Government are neutral on this point, it is really not for me but for my noble friend to reply to the various questions that have been asked. But as the noble Baroness suggested that perhaps Her Majesty's Government should not be neutral on this point, but should have been against it, I think I must say something to give the reasons for neutrality.

It would not be proper for me, from this Dispatch Box, to follow those of your Lordships who have commented on the rights or wrongs of a religious minority. But, perhaps, the useful thing to do would be to say something more of the history of Section 14 of the Pharmacy Act, 1954, which we are discussing. Before 1933, there was no compulsion on a pharmacist to be a member of the Pharmaceutical Society. There was a form of registration, but it did not quite take the form it is in to-day. In fact, because pharmacists did not have to be members of the Pharmaceutical Society, in 1933 only about 60 per cent. were. The Departmental Committee on the Pharmacy and Poisons Act reported in 1930 to the Lord President of the Council on the Pharmacy Acts, and they thought that the comparatively small number of pharmacists who were members of the Society was weakening it. Therefore, Section 1(1) of the Pharmacy and Poisons Act, 1933, made it obligatory for a registered pharmacist to be a member of the Society. Hence Section 14 of the Pharmacy Act, 1954, which consolidated the 1933 Act, among others.

I should like to make it clear, bearing in mind the background, that so far as the control of pharmacists is concerned, registration is the important point. The object of compelling pharmacists to be members of the Society (what the provision says is that when a pharmacist becomes registered, he automatically becomes a member of the Society) was to strengthen the Society; it was not done from the point of view of keeping an eye on the pharmacist himself.

The noble Baroness, Lady Summer-skill, said that registration is an essential part of membership. But that is putting it the wrong way round. Membership is really an essential part of registration, because it is registration that is the important point: it is on the registration that any discipline of a pharmacist is maintained. I should like to assure my noble friend Lord Swinton that the Pharmaceutical Society, when they maintain discipline among pharmacists, would have just as much ability to do so on a registered pharmacist if he was not a member of the Society, if the Bill goes through, as they would on one of their own members.

My noble friend Lord Ilford referred to what my noble friend Lord Grenfell said about the discipline of these Exclusive Brethren in volunteering to come under the Society's control. That, if my noble friend will forgive me, is not quite what I understand. I understand that legally they have exactly the same discipline as any other pharmacist. That, I think also answers the point raised by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner.

Section 14 of the 1954 Act, if repealed altogether, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Douglas of Barcloch, was suggesting, might lead to what the Committee in 1930 wanted to avoid— the weakening of the Society. It might be possible that if everybody, irrespective of religious convictions, was able to opt out of the Society, the number might eventually go back to 60 per cent. of the total. Her Majesty's Government feel that the action taken by the few who would take advantage of this Bill would not unduly weaken the. Society. My noble friend Lord Conesford asked me whether this was the thin end of the wedge, and whether, in fact, there would be a large number of other societies from which this particular sect would wish to opt out. My information is that there are no other professions in England where a statutory provision exists on the lines of Section 14 of the Pharmacy Act. It is understood that a similar state of affairs applies to solicitors in Scotland. This is the only other case of which I am aware.

My Lords, I should like your Lordships just to consider this, that this Bill does not apply exclusively to one religious sect. Clause 1 seeks to add to Section 14 of the 1954 Act: Provided that any person who satisfies the registrar—

  1. (a) that he has a conscientious objection to being a member of the Society, and
  2. (b) that his conscientious objection is based upon religious beliefs which he shares with others,
shall not by virtue of registration become a member of the Society or, if he is a member of the Society, shall cease to be a member thereof. So, in fact, although my information is that only one sect wishes to take advantage of this Bill, the same course is open to anybody who feels on religious grounds that he cannot join the Society.

4.34 p.m.


My Lords, I am exceedingly grateful to my noble friend Lord Denham for his words on this Bill, and I am also exceedingly grateful to everyone who has spoken. I think I must reiterate what my noble friend Lord Denham has said as regards discipline. This Bill is to allow for the registration of this small minority without their being members of the association. The registration allows for the discipline; not membership of the association. Once the man is registered and has paid his fees, he comes under the full discipline of the Pharmaceutical Society.

The noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, mentioned that this is a novel precedent. I do not see that myself, because, as my noble friend Lord Denham has said, this is a unique situation. I have discussed this with the solicitor of the Pharmaceutical Society, and he has no knowledge of any other society to which Statute demands that the people practising should belong. The noble Lady also mentioned the Jehovah's Witnesses and Plymouth Brethren. These, I know, were mentioned in another place as the Bill went through. But I am advised by the Pharmaceutical Society that at the present time neither of these sects has come forward and re- fused membership; it is only this one sect which has done so.


Which sect is that?


The Exclusive Brethren is the only one. The Jehovah's Witnesses and Plymouth Brethren have not come forward and refused acceptance. I must point out, as noble Lords will already know, that this Bill has passed through another place; but that is merely by the way. I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill, that this Pharmaceutical Bill is really an Amendment Bill to the 1954 Act. My honourable friend in another place told me in a letter that

Resolved in the affirmative, and Bill read 2a accordingly.

if he had seen the difficulty which was going to arise he would have incorporated these clauses in the original Bill. I do not think this is going to be damaging in principle, and I hold most firmly that it would be wrong for us to cast out this Bill and so refuse to recognise the religious feelings of a small minority, however strange, as I have already said, those feelings may be. I cannot withdraw this Bill, and I ask your Lordships to give it a Second Reading.

4.40 p.m.

On Question, Whether the Bill shall be now read 2a?

The Lordships divided: Contents, 40; Not-Contents, 37.

Ailwyn, L. Ferrers, E. Meston, L.
Amulree, L. Ferrier, L.[Teller.] Ogmore, L.
Blackford, L. Fortescue, E. Rea, L.
Brecon, L. Gardiner, L. Redesdale, L.
Cawley, L. Goschen, V. Samuel, V.
Champion, L. Grenfell, L.[Teller.] Sandys, L.
Coleraine, L. Harvey of Tasburgh, L. Sandwich, E.
Colville of Culross, V. Henley, L. Shackleton, L.
Congleton, L. Horsbrugh, B. Shepherd, L.
Daventry, V. Iddesleigh, E. Sinha, L.
Denham, L. Ilford, L. Spens, L.
Douglas of Barloch, L. Luke, L. Tenby, V.
Drumalbyn, L. McNair, L. Williams, L.
Dudley, L.
Albemarle, E. Greenhill, L. Salisbury, M.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Hobson, L. Silkin, L.
Attlee, E. Ironside, L. Soulbury, V.
Auckland, L. Killearn, L. Southwark, L. Bp.
Boston, L. Longford, E, Spencer, E.
Burden, L. Mabane, L. Strang, L.
Conesford, L. McCorquodale of Newton, L. Strange of Knokin, B.
Crook, L. Margesson, V. Stuart of Findhorn, V.
Darwen, L. Massereene and Ferrard, V. Summerskill, B.[Teller.]
Elliot of Harwood, B. Merrivale, L.[Teller.] Taylor, L.
Falkland, V. Milverton, L. Wolverton, L.
Forster of Harraby, L. St. Davids, V. Worcester, L. Bp.
Fraser of Lonsdale, L.

Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

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