HL Deb 04 November 1997 vol 582 cc1321-3

3.14 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will introduce regulations for the new profession of "counselling", to include registration and requirements for training and standards of proficiency.

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, we have no plans to introduce statutory registration. We believe that the existing mechanisms for voluntary registration and the regulation of professional practice are sufficient to ensure that the public and employers can know who is trained for work in this field and who is not. However, we continue to work actively with the professional bodies concerned and with health service staff to maintain and develop mechanisms for registration and regulation which are in the public interest.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her Answer. Excluding counselling prescribed by the medical profession, can anyone put up a notice and offer counselling without any qualifications or any form of licence? Is the Minister aware that inexperienced counsellors, although often well meaning, have sometimes created more stress than was present in the first place?

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, I am afraid that the noble Lord's last point may be correct where inexperienced persons offer counselling. It is true that in the private sector anybody can, as the noble Lord said, put up a sign and offer their services. However, in the NHS, employers and those medical or other practitioners who refer people to counsellors, clinical psychologists or psychotherapists must ensure that the person to whom they refer the patient is qualified. Individuals could approach one of the professional bodies which regulate in this field. Two professional bodies which offer the registration of counsellors are the British Association for Counselling and the British Psychological Society.

Lord Walton of Detchant

My Lords, does the Minister accept that there is often confusion about the distinction between on the one hand a psychiatrist, who is a medically qualified individual concerned with the treatment of disorders of the mind, and, on the other hand, the graduate psychologist, who is concerned more with examining mental processes? In the specialty of psychology, there are those who receive postgraduate training in counselling and there are those who receive it in educational psychology and clinical psychology. Is it not therefore right that, as the British Psychological Society would wish, the profession of psychology should soon be subject to statutory registration and regulation?

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for that clear explanation of the confusion of titles in this area. Representatives of the British Psychological Society recently met my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health, Mr. Boateng, who has ministerial responsibility in this area, and he took the view that the case for registration was persuasive. However, given the very full parliamentary timetable, he thought that it was unlikely that time would be found to take the matter forward into legislation in the near future. I understand that he assured the society's representatives that officials will continue to work with the society to ensure that the existing systems of regulation and promotion are maintained.

The Earl of Lauderdale

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the services offered by the people from Cruse, which offers bereavement counselling, are well appreciated all over the country?

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for raising that point. It is sometimes easy to ridicule some aspects of counselling, but I am sure that we all know of people who have been greatly helped by supportive contact with professionals or in the more formal psychotherapy setting which the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, described

Lord Annan

My Lords, is there not a danger of over-bureaucratisation in this matter? We already have large numbers of quangos; do we want to add yet another? Is it not true that over-registration could create a situation where if I tried to comfort a widower who had recently lost his wife and my comfort unfortunately resembled that of Job and the widower committed suicide, I might then be prosecuted because I do not have a diploma in counselling?

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Annan, has indicated precisely the difficulty of establishing a professional watershed in this field. As I said in response to the previous Question, this is an easy area to over-bureaucratise or to ridicule. But the point with which the British Association for Counselling is concerned is the registration of individual professionals practising in this field, which is slightly different from setting up another quango.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil

My Lords, will the Minister accept congratulations for resisting any temptation to regulate the torrent which exists?

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, I believe that the torrent is fairly free-flowing as it is. When I asked for advice in this matter, I was informed that there were 17 national bodies representing people working in this field. One can understand the difficulties of trying to regulate that situation, even if one wished to.

Baroness Flather

My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree with me that counselling is not a new profession? I trained as a counsellor at the Tavistock Centre 20 years ago. I am disappointed. I hope that the Minister will make it clear that this is not a flash in the pan or something that has suddenly appeared. Newspapers have begun to talk about counselling. Counsellors have been working successfully in very difficult circumstances. I speak as a vice-president of the British Association for Counselling. Will the Minister make it clear that that body has a registration scheme and anyone who is in doubt can turn to it and ensure that he or she gets a trained and properly accredited person? That body accredits people all the time.

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness for giving an authoritative account of the development of this particular skill. As I hope I made clear in an earlier response, the British Association for Counselling and the other very important national body, the British Psychological Society, maintain registers to which people can apply.