HL Deb 29 November 1972 vol 336 cc1249-51

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will give an assurance that the proposed Committee which is to inquire into the regulation of the medical profession will be in no way restricted in the scope of its inquiries or in the ambit of its recommendations.


Yes, my Lords, it will be open to the Committee to consider any matter and make any recommendations within their terms of reference, which have deliberately been drawn very widely.


My Lords, while thanking the Minister for his generally satisfactory Answer, may I ask specifically whether the terms of reference (which, although drawn widely, are to inquire into what changes need to be made in the existing provisions) exclude discussion as to whether there might be more than one body and whether, for instance, the function of disciplinary action might be altogether separated from that of registration? As the terms of reference do not touch on the question of finance, may I ask whether they exclude discussion of, for instance, whether there should be an annual retention fee, and what penalty should be imposed if the doctors do not pay?


My Lords, the terms of reference are very wide and I think the noble Lord can be certain that his points are fully covered. The Committee will be free to make any recommendation that seems to them desirable about the composition of a body to regulate the medical profession or, pre- sumably if they wish to do so, to make provision for more than one body. The terms of reference would also enable consideration to be given to the method of financing such a body.


My Lords, would the noble Lord impress on the Committee that some degree of urgency attaches to their deliberations, and would the Government declare that they are well disposed towards any legislation that may be needed to carry the Committee's recommendations into effect?


My Lords, it is a little early to do that, since the Committee has not yet been appointed. I am sure my right honourable friend will impress upon the Chairman that he and his Committee should proceed with the utmost dispatch.


My Lords, would the Minister say whether the terms of reference include, for instance, the co-ordination of two bodies into one, or three into two; in other words, to bring the controlling body under one head rather than under a number of heads? Would the terms of reference cover that situation?


My Lords, the terms of reference are to inquire into the changes needed to be made in the existing provisions for the regulation of the medical profession. I am sure that it is entirely open to the Committee to make any recommendations they may wish.


My Lords, may I ask the Minister whether, if the Inquiry is to take a long time, the Government will use their influence to see that Interim Reports are published? Secondly, and so that we get the matter in proper perspective, may I ask whether the Government are aware that millions of people in this country are very grateful for the services which their doctors provide?


Yes, my Lords, I am aware of both those points.


My Lords, will the Minister agree that the recommendations should not result in a lay majority in the final structure of the G.M.C., but that doctors will be assured that their affairs are guided by adequate and proper medical representation?


Yes, my Lords. Again it will be up to the Committee to make any recommendations they may wish. But it did not seem to Her Majesty's Government that the regulation of the profession would very well be accomplished by a body which was not, in my right honourable friend's phrase, "a predominantly professional body".


My Lords, will the noble Lord tell me whether it would be relevant to this Inquiry to include a compulsory sabbatical period for our overworked general practitioners whose services we all appreciate? Is the noble Lord aware that it would give much comfort and succour to members of an overworked profession if there could be a sabbatical period in which they could keep themselves up to date and also get a rest, while still receiving their remuneration?


My Lords, I will certainly take note of what the noble Lord has asked me. I should not think that came within the terms of reference.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that many of the young doctors I have talked to who refused to pay the fee are up against an autocratic body in the G.M.C.? Will the Report of this Committee guarantee to give to these people, who have been on strike against paying the fee, some sort of technological change in this whole body?


My Lords, I very much hope that the establishment of this Inquiry will put at rest some of the fears which have been expressed by the junior doctors. This is the object of the Inquiry, and I hope that it will be successful in that regard.