HL Deb 31 January 1980 vol 404 cc997-1003

[No. 64]

Clause 25, page 21, line 1, after ("1957") insert ("or a registered member of the British Acupuncture Association and Register Limited").


My Lords, I beg to move that this House doth disagree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 64. This is a somewhat unusual Motion, for reasons which I will explain in a moment, but it is not without precedent. The only case I can find which happened fairly recently was in 1903, but the history of this amendment is really rather exceptional. The reason it is an unusual Motion is that there is a longstanding agreement between the two Houses that, if an amendment is passed on a Private Bill, which this is, in one House, that amendment is not disputed in the other House. That is the normal procedure; but what has happened in this case is that this amendment, when the Bill was before your Lordships—and it started in this House—had not been put down by the petitioners, and so up till now your Lordships have had no opportunity of discussing the amendment.

It was then sent to the other place and in the ordinary way was sent up to a Select Committee. When it came back for the Report stage and Third Reading, for procedural reasons which I think, after being carefully briefed, I understand, though I will not weary your Lordships with their procedure, the amendment was not called and so could not be discussed. Therefore, here is this amendment which has not been discussed in either Chamber, and there might well be a divergence of opinion between the two Houses. If this amendment had come before your Lordships in the first instance you would have seen that it is roughly similar to one that was put down in the South Yorkshire Bill which your Lordships turned down. So here is this suggestion that it should go forward to law, without either Chamber having discussed it.

Our Rules of Procedure are very different from those of the other place and we could, of course, debate this amendment now. But, in view of the long-standing agreement about which I have spoken, it would be quite wrong if we had anything to do with the merits of this amendment. However, I have had messages from both sides of the other place—I do not know whether I ought to say so—that they would very much like to discuss this amendment, if they have the opportunity. Therefore, it would seem only polite and reasonable for your Lordships to agree with my Motion, so that the other place can discuss this amendment.

If your Lordships agree and the amendment goes back to the other place, and the Commons insist on it, I have not the slightest doubt that when it comes back to us we would accept the amendment on the nod, because of this long-standing arrangement. We do not want any dispute between the two Houses. I have been asked to do this, and I hope your Lord- ships will agree. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That this House doth disagree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 64.—(Lord Dement.)

3.42 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend, Lord Derwent, for raising this matter of the Commons amendment to Clause 25 of the Bill. It may be helpful to the House if I say a very few words about it. The Secretary of State at the time recommended against the exemption which has been sought for members of the British Acupuncture Association and Register Limited. The Commons Committee granted their petition, but said in its report that it had accepted the Secretary of State's recommendation. It is not at all clear how this came about, but in a matter of this kind the Government feel—and I understand that Ministers concerned in the former Administration agree—that the other House should be given an opportunity to look at this matter again.

In another place, this clause was amended to exempt from its provisions registered medical practitioners and dentists who might practice acupuncture. That was justified, because doctors and dentists, unlike acupuncturists, are registered by statutory bodies—the General Medical Council and the General Dental Council. I am sure that most acupuncturists have no desire to put their patients at risk, and that, therefore, they endeavour to practise their profession hygienically. But the organisations to which some belong are not statutory bodies and have no means of enforcing discipline upon any members who may not maintain acceptable standards. It was for these reasons, I am sure, that a Select Committee of your Lordships' House, under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Ampthill, in November last year, did not grant a petition by the same British Acupuncture Association against a clause similar to this in the South Yorkshire Bill. If Clause 25 of the West Midlands Bill became law, conferring exemption from its provisions on members of the British Acupuncture Association, it would be an unfortunate precedent, or at least an anomaly.

However, I do not want to make a stand on the merits of the amendment. I should like to support the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, in the view that another place should be given the same opportunity that this House now has of noting the divergence between the actions of our respective Committees on the West Midlands and South Yorkshire Bills. This opportunity would be welcomed by both sides in the Commons, and this House would naturally take the matter no further if the Commons decided to retain the amendment.


My Lords, I am familiar with the circumstances of the matter now before your Lordships' House. Your Lordships have had the benefit of hearing the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, who I think we all recognise is a great authority on procedure in your Lordships' House, and we have heard the circumstances put by the noble Lord the Minister who is involved in this matter. All I want to do is to remind your Lordships that we are not seeking to reject the amendment on its merits, but merely providing the Commons with an opportunity to consider an unusual turn of events, and in that way we support the Motion and the Government.


My Lords, I rise but briefly to indicate the support of my noble friends on these Benches for the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, in his Motion that your Lordships' House do disagree with this amendment. Like him, I shall resist the temptation to stray into the merits of the case, but since the noble Lord, Lord Cullen, touched upon them briefly let me just say this. We in your Lordships' House seem to have occupied a great deal of our time recently in discussing restrictive practices of one kind or another operated by the professions. As a doctor, I should like to make it entirely clear that I personally have no wish whatsoever to place obstacles in the way of other people coming along and doing work which I might otherwise have to do myself. Nor do I want to say anything in particular about acupuncture, save that it seems to me to be very effective on Chinamen, but not particularly effective elsewhere.

Having said that, I think it is important that another place should be given an opportunity to make sure that, when practices of this kind are allowed to be conducted, they are in fact conducted by people with professional training and with clear professional opportunity. I do so much agree with the noble Lord that it is very important indeed that another place be given another, better opportunity to reconsider this amendment.


My Lords, I certainly do not want to enter into the merits of the case, but before we dispose of this matter I think I should acquaint your Lordships with certain matters that occur on the procedural side with regard to Private Bill procedure. The reason why we have not acted in this way since 1903, as the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, told us, is a very good one. The principle of comity between the two Houses in Private Bill procedure is of very great importance for the smooth working of the system. It is for this reason that our Companion to the Standing Orders, on page 176, reads: If there is any disagreement between the Houses on amendments to Private Bills, the same procedure of sending reasons for disagreement is followed as for Public Bills. In modern times the policy on Private Bill legislation is so co-ordinated between the two Houses that the need for this procedure seldom, if ever, arises. Another factor is the unwritten principle, scrupulously observed, that in a Private Bill neither House re-inserts a provision which has been struck out by the other House unless by agreement between the two Houses". So the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, is asking us to take a most unusual step in rejecting this Commons amendment.

The history of Clause 25 is that there was no petition against the clause in this House, but the British Acupuncture Association and Register Limited petitioned against the Bill in another place and succeeded in obtaining an exemption from the requirement to register under the clause. This exemption was granted by the Select Committee on the Bill, who reported that they had allowed Clause 25 with amendments after evidence of need. They heard argument and evidence from both the promoters and the petitioners, and they also had before them a report from the Secretary of State for Social Services which said, in respect of this clause: The Secretary of State recommends that there is no need for district councils to be empowered to register medical and dental practitioners who are already subject to statutory registration, although it would appear to be inappropriate to extend exemption from the provisions of the clause to members of a body of which the requirements for membership do not include provision for statutory registration."; in other words, the British Acupuncture Association. In the light of the evidence, they made the amendment to which the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, is now asking the House to disagree.

I just want to point out that there will be certain serious consequences in accepting this Motion. First, we will have a situation in which a decision of a Committee of one House, taken in quasi-judicial proceedings after hearing evidence from both sides, is overturned by the other House without having heard such evidence. I think it is fair to say that this would represent a reversal of what had hitherto been regarded as the legitimate expectations of the parties to Private Bill proceedings, quite irrespective of the departure from the usual rule of comity between the two Houses.

Secondly, there is a danger that a departure from the usual rule of comity in this case may be taken as a precedent for further departures in future years, and this could damage the smooth working of the system for dealing with Private Bills that has for so long operated so well.

Thirdly, there will inevitably be further delay in reaching Royal Assent on this Bill, which started its progress in this House in November 1977 and would, apart from this Motion, have completed its passage today. Normally, therefore, I would advise your Lordships that the principle of comity between the two Houses should prevail and that we should not seek to overturn the decision of a Commons Committee. However, in the present case, as your Lordships have heard from spokesmen on both Front Benches, there are other considerations.

Both Government and Opposition seek an opportunity for reconsideration of this amendment in another place, at the same time undertaking not to oppose the amendment any further if it is confirmed by decision of another place. Moreover, as the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, has pointed out, to disagree to the Commons amendment is consistent with the decision of a Select Committee of this House on the South Yorkshire Bill. I am not saying that different committees may not make different decisions in different circumstances. That is indeed at the heart of all private legislation. The trouble is, as I was saying before in the case of the Isle of Wight Bill, that this clause is again one better suited to public general legislation and there is, therefore, an argument for uniformity.

To sum up, therefore, I have very considerable misgivings about the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, and its possible effect on future private legislation, but your Lordships have heard spokesmen from both Front Benches supporting the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, and the decision must lie with the House.


My Lords, I thank noble Lords for their support. I have been assured—I cannot be more accurate than that—by the other place that the Bill will not be held up by this action. I cannot actually promise the Chairman of Committees that the next occasion on which I shall move a Motion of this kind will be in the next 77 years!

On Question, Motion agreed to.

3.52 p.m.


My Lords, with the leave of the House, I beg to move that the House doth agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 65 to 261 en bloc.