§ 7.2 p.m.
§ Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank rose to call attention to the future of the professions; and to move for Papers.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am afraid that my choice of subject this evening and my good fortune in the ballot have led to some uneasiness in the ranks of government. Perhaps I may say as a preliminary that that was certainly not my intention. The difficulty is that this evening I intend to discuss the matter before the House in what I might call generic terms. In view of the number of other noble Lords who intend to speak, I entirely appreciate that it will be difficult for the Minister to deal with all the detailed points that may arise, particularly because they could be outside the scope of her own department. I do not ask for a detailed reply to the points that I may make, though I hope that the noble Baroness will respond in a warm and supportive way to what I and others have to say.
§ My theme is a generic one. Having spent the greater part of the past five years as director-general of the Royal Institute of British Architects, I shall choose to illustrate my theme and the matters that I wish to raise from my experience during that time. My theme is simply that the self-regulating professions are an essential part of a pluralist society. Although they must change to meet changing needs, they ought not to be diminished, as sometimes they have been, by the actions of government.
§ The modern professions, as we know them today, are largely a 19th century phenomenon. Medicine and law, which are so well represented in this House, had been long established. But the civil engineers established themselves as a professional body in 1818 and the architects did so in 1834. They were followed by the pharmacists in 1841; and other professions thereafter. They were established—this is an important point to which I wish to return—on the basis of an unwritten social contract. By insisting that their members should be properly qualified and by enforcing discipline, the professions said that they would ensure a service to their clients and ultimately to the public which was marked by competence and quality. In return—this was the other half of the social contract—they would be free from day-to-day interference and not obliged to compete in the commercial rat race.
§ The rise of the professions has been described as part of the process of the gentrification of the Victorian middle classes. There is something in that. Typically the sons of builders, for example, became architects in the next generation. I do not doubt that there was an element of Victorian hypocrisy in all that. On the part of some practitioners there was not only a search for excellence but for status too, and status sometimes flowed over into unjustified privilege.1199
§ But for all that, for more than 100 years the professions have served the country well, maintaining high standards of performance and integrity. It is a good record. They have offered and offer today careers open to talent. They have provided a good service to clients and the public and redress of grievance to those with a complaint against them. If they had not been invented 150 years ago, we should be eager to invent them today. Perhaps I dare say to the noble Baroness that the self-regulating professions were models of what I understand the Citizen's Charter apparently seeks to achieve.
§ However, in the last quarter-century there has been a dramatic change in the climate in which the professions have been obliged to operate. In the first place there has been a disposition on the part of government to regard them as in restraint of trade and more recently there has been a wish to see them subject to unrestricted market forces. I remember the reports of the National Board for Prices and Incomes in 1967 and 1968 and the report of the Monopolies Commission in 1970. There has also been the growth of the consumer movement, challenging the professions to explain themselves and seeking to test their claims in terms of the quality and the cost of their services.
§ I do not complain that the professions should be scrutinised by government and their agencies from time to time. I shall return to that point. I welcome the growth of the consumer movement. I have felt myself part of it since I joined the Consumers' Association in its earliest days. I also accept the major changes of the late 1970s and early 1980s that are now part of history. I do not wish to turn back the clock.
§ The fact is that the social contract of a century ago has been broken, but not by the professions. The question now is how far the process should be allowed to go. Let me repeat and reinforce my argument that the self-regulating professions have clear obligations to satisfy if they are to claim respect and ask to be left alone. Those obligations were well set out by the noble Lord, Lord Benson, who will speak later in this debate, some three years ago in an article in the Financial Times. On that occasion he referred to nine principles. I shall abbreviate and quote from three of them.
§ The noble Lord said that the governing body of a profession must set the ethical rules and professional standards which are to be observed by the members. They should be higher than those that can be established by the general law. He also said that the rules and standards enforced by the governing body must he designed for the benefit of the public and not for the private advantage of members. He said further that the governing body must take disciplinary action, including if necessary expulsion from membership, if the rules and standards it lays down are not observed or a member is guilty of bad professional work. I refer in an abbreviated form to those three out of the nine principles which the noble Lord, Lord Benson, set down; and I endorse them all.
§ There is a need for the professions to continue to change and develop. I take for granted, for example, that professional education is not simply a period of 1200 initial training leading to proper qualifications but of continuing professional development. It is an inescapable obligation on the professions to require that of their members. I also take for granted that in respect of professional conduct and discipline the professions should have a speedy and transparent procedure. There is a strong case that in today's world that should include a lay element. Indeed, I would put new obligations on the professions, for example, positively to encourage women and ethnic minorities. Both are much under-represented in most professions, including architecture.
§ Professional institutions are not trade unions with obligations only to their members, and they should never behave as though they are. However, in turn governments should recognise that most professional institutions give significant parts of their time and resources to making a contribution to public policy which is not inspired by their members' own self-interest.
In The Times on 3rd February of this year there was a leading article about the professions under the heading, "Professional foul?". If I may say so, it was The Times at its most wilful and confused. The article stated that the professions still occupy what it called,
an enviable niche in the British class structure".
and that little had changed in the past decade. Indeed, it claimed that Parliament protected the professions from reforms. The article stated that that counts,
among the more damaging hypocrisies of British public life".
§ Half-way through the leading article changed tack. It said that great currents were flowing to change the professions. The decline of deference was a factor. So was the European Community's competition policy and, curiously—despite what the leader had earlier said—that the professions were making a major impact within the European Community. The European market was dominated by British accountants, and British architects were not far behind. As we all know, many other professions are actively earning for Britain abroad.
§ Finally, in the leading article The Times reverted. It said that political parties should not show undue tenderness towards the professions. Hard questions had to be asked and difficult dilemmas grappled with. I refer to the words of the article; they are not mine. A series of leading articles in The Times would now explain the separate professions.
§ However, the professions came out rather well. They had changed and were changing. For example, architects were closest to a free market profession. That was meant as a compliment by The Times. Restrictive practices had been abandoned. The old days were over. That is close to the truth of the matter. Most professions today are not bastions of privilege. They rarely pursue restrictive practices. They are open to talent and remain committed to providing a service of quality to the public.
§ Indeed, there is an irony in the fact that we are having this debate. The idea of professionalism is applauded today as never before. Men and women are proud to be called professional in sports, the arts and business. It is a mark of distinction and achievement. In our daily lives we ask for a good professional job 1201 from those who repair our car or replace our plumbing. Indeed, for much of the time we wish that they were a great deal more professional than they are and that we could turn to a professional body to safeguard our own interests.
§ The role of the professional institutions is also profoundly interesting to those emerging from centralised and bureaucratic state control in Eastern Europe. Many of the professions have been called upon for advice in establishing or re-establishing their opposite numbers in Eastern Europe. Informed opinion in those countries believes that professional bodies can be an important stabilising factor in society, being neither state controlled nor part of the commercial market.
In November 1990, the Lord Chancellor gave the Hamptons Lecture entitled "Professional Standards in the 1990s". He was mainly concerned with the legal profession and I have no wish to enter upon those controversies today. However, a number of his thoughts were of general application and I do not dissent from one of them. The Lord Chancellor said:
We start from two broad principles. First, in general, the person requiring the goods and services is the single best arbiter of the goods and services he needs and can afford … Secondly, the person most able to indicate in what ways it is possible to respond to the needs of the customer or client is the person whose job it will be to provide the goods and services sought. This is even more true in the case of the professions, where professional independence has a special role".
He spoke about the importance of maintaining quality. He said:
The role of Government, I would suggest, should be limited to action when it seems that this balance has shifted too far one way or the other, or where external factors prevent it being struck correctly".
The Lord Chancellor also said:
It is a fundamental part of the Government's policy towards the professions that they should be self-regulating".
§ I do not believe that I have quoted the Lord Chancellor out of context. I draw attention to the points that he makes. First, the professional called upon to provide a service is the person best able to judge how to meet the client's need. Secondly, the maintenance of quality in the provision of the service is important. Thirdly, the Government should have a limited role; the professions should be self-regulating.
§ I refer briefly to the architectural profession. There are no problems of entry to it today. There are more students in schools of architecture than ever before. It is not a secure profession. As many as a third of all architects have been made redundant during the current recession and two out of five are less than fully employed. Many practices, like other small businesses, have become insolvent. It is a poorly paid profession. A salaried architect in private practice is likely to earn between £20,000 and £25,000 a year. In the past year the UK earnings index has risen by 8 per cent., but the average earnings of architects have fallen by 2 per cent., with falls as large as 16 per cent. for sole principals.
§ I refer to those figures because they are not evidence of cushioned privilege. What is true of the architects' profession is true to a lesser or greater extent of others. Yet at the same time, far from leaving the profession to get on with self-regulation, the Government 1202 propose to reduce funding for architectural education from five years to four and are considering an end to the protection of title so that anyone may call himself an architect irrespective of training and qualifications. They are opposed to recommended fee scales, although they give clients total discretion to choose, and in the recession fees are rock bottom. In the Local Government Act 1992, the Government are intent on introducing compulsory competitive tendering for architectural services which makes it increasingly difficult for architects to offer a quality service.
§ Those matters represent an interference in some way with the ability of the architectural profession to regulate itself and to maintain the quality of its service to clients and the public. Through many of those proposals the Government seek to equate value for money with price at the expense of quality on the assumption that cheapest is best and what the public want. It is a short-term policy and strikes at the idea of independent professional judgment in service of the client and public. I do not want to pursue those specific issues now—indeed, there is no time to do so. I merely wish to point out that they show how government action can erode the idea of professionalism despite what was said by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor.
§ I do not ask the Minister to answer those specific points tonight. But I ask her to confirm to your Lordships that the remarks of the noble and learned Lord, applied to the professions as a whole, represent the policy of Her Majesty's Government. I ask the Minister to confirm that the professions are indeed the best judges of how to respond to their clients on the basis of their competence and training; that the maintenance of quality in the services that they provide is at the heart of the role of the professions: and that, in the words of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, it is a fundamental part of the Government's policy towards the professions that they should be self-regulating.
§ I repeat that the self-regulating professions have made an immense contribution to the quality of life in this country. They have changed radically in response to the spirit of our times but remain an important element in a plural society. An obligation lies on them to continue to fulfil their part of their contract with society. However, in turn government —I refer to all governments and not specifically to this Government —have an obligation to sustain the professions and to acknowledge the unique contribution that they make to the life of our nation. I beg to move for Papers.
§ 7.23 p.m.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, for giving me the chance to make a maiden speech relating to the future of my own profession. It is said by many to be the second oldest profession in the world; I refer to insurance. I have had a 40-year career in that profession and have only recently retired.
Insurance is important to the UK if only for the consistent stream of invisible earnings which it has brought. Together with banking, foreign exchange and other commercial activities it has helped regularly 1203 to plug the gap between the visible exports and imports. We should not be surprised by that. When one considers that the UK is a tiny land mass as compared with our competitors, when one considers our lack of natural resources and our high standard of living, which leads to fairly high labour costs, one realises that we shall always need to survive by the skill of our people. The professions are very much about the skill of our people.
Recently one section of the insurance industry has come under severe difficulties. I refer to the losses which presently exist in the international commercial account. The result is that we are in danger of swinging from invisible exports to invisible imports as we pay out claims to third-party nations. We must decide how important to the nation is the reversal of that situation. I have attempted to analysis some of the problems and to look at possible solutions. I have found seven problems which I wish to discuss tonight.
First, there are problems which can and I am sure will be solved by the industry itself. I shall begin with catastrophes. Between 1987 and 1991 we have had a great deal more than our usual share of catastrophes and they have hurt. What do we intend to do about that? Catastrophes happen and quality insurers survive them. Today the quality insurers continue to survive them. Those who are not have probably let their standards slip.
The second problem that we have at present is poor underwriting, which leads directly from my previous observation. Happily, losses invariably lead to calls for better training and higher standards. That is exactly what is happening in the industry at the present time. For example, Lloyd's has recently had three excellent reports. The first was that of the task force led by David Rowland and recently reports have been published Sir Jeremy Morse and Sir David Walker. All state in excellent prose what we the professionals instinctively knew; that times have been too easy for too long and that a small minority of us have let our standards slip.
I shall now turn to the problems of the industry which the UK alone can never solve. The first may surprise your Lordships. It is sustained low insurance rates. They arise from too much capacity world-wide. There are several reasons for that. The first and perhaps most important is that far too many people become excited about what they can do with premium by way of investment before they must release it for claims. That became a cult at the beginning of the 1980s when investment rates were high and those in this country reached 20 per cent. In some countries that is still an important reason for capacity, particularly in the USA.
Another reason for capacity is the increasing sophistication of other countries in the world. Many countries used to depend on the UK for their insurance. However, they no longer need to do so because they have learnt how to handle their own business. There is a third reason, oddly enough. The loss cycle appears statistically not to hit all countries at the same time. For example, the existing loss cycle hit the UK before hitting other countries. There were two storms in three years each of which was supposed 1204 to happen only once in 100 years. That hurt us. That hurt has definitely spread to our colleagues on the mainland of the EC, although interestingly it is somewhat disguised. They have mechanisms for not showing the hurt as much. It has not yet spread to the USA despite the many well-publicised bankruptcies of insurance companies. However, the companies that really count in the USA are still making profits.
The next problem relates to comments that I made earlier; it is the growth in other markets. How are we to stay significant when people no longer need us as much. We have for some time recognised that we in the UK will not receive low-risk business from abroad. We are basically underwriters of high-risk business and we try to write a balanced book. We specialise in such things as catastrophe; the catastrophes to which I have referred are hurting some people at present. We like risks which are so big that they need the whole world's capacity. Only when the whole world is needed can we in the UK obtain the rates which we believe are correct.
We are innovative and are leaders in new products. Regularly we rate new products such as the hovercraft, those connected with space, and so forth, without any underwriting experience. In my view, we still have skills in abundance. Another aspect which we are heavily into and which needs considerable skill is retrocessions. "Retrocessions" is a funny word and effectively means re-insuring the re-insurers. The further one gets away from the original risk, the more complex it is, as certain excess of loss underwriters have recently found.
Finally, as regards the problems which the UK cannot resolve itself, there is the plethora of claims arising from past years which we thought were decently put away and buried. When I mention asbestos, pollution and lung disease noble Lords will understand what I am talking about. How is it that when we think that we have got rid of a year we have unreserved claims going back as far as the 1960s and 1970s? There are three steps to that chain. The first is political. It used to be the case that if someone sued you for negligence he had to prove that you were guilty. However, in many cases the burden of proof has reversed. For products, particularly those in the name of consumerism, now if there is a loss, it is up to the manufacturer or the distributor to prove that he was not negligent.
Secondly, there is a legal issue. It used to be that if you were sued for negligence, it was reasonable to state that you had done everything possible to act in the state of the art as it was known at the time. Now using 1992 state of the art we regularly attack people for things that they did in 1970. Thirdly, we have a social problem. It used to be that the exclusion that we put into our policy in 1970 would hold. Today it does not and lawyers explain why what was an exclusion is now a cover. That started with the USA, it spread to the EC, and the UK is edging closely behind them. The United States sees insurance today as a deep pocket which will pay for claims which its society requires and which is powerful enough to make 1205 recoveries in premiums later. Of course, that is totally different from insurance as it was originally founded in the UK, which was based on the law of fortuity.
I turn finally to two areas in which the UK could help the insurance industry if it believes that the need to continue that invisible export stream is sufficiently important. First, as regards taxing reserves, cases exist where the Inland Revenue has disallowed reinsurance to close on the ground that it represents a carry forward of undistributed profit. Sadly, there is now evidence to prove that those underwriters were not reserving too much but too little.
There is a real need for further liaison and discussion between the industry and the Government on this question. We need much more science as regards our reserves. I give one simple example. Let us suppose that an underwriter writes a catastrophe account where statistically he expects to pay only one claim in 20 years and that claim will be horrific. We regularly tax him for the first 19 years on 100 per cent. profit. If in the 20th year he receives a claim which takes away 19 years' gross premium—that is, before tax—he makes a loss overall, as opposed to a small profit over a 20-year period which he should have made.
That leads me neatly on to the last point which is another area in which we could help the insurance industry if we think it is sufficiently important. Despite everything that has happened, the industry still sees uneven playing fields in the EC. For example, I am told that German insurers regularly receive generous untaxed carry-forward against catastrophe. I am told that over the years that has allowed them to increase their capital base and to use that capital for regressive acquisitions. That certainly puts UK insurance companies at a disadvantage. Of course, it is now too late for us to look for good acquisitions; they have all been taken up within the EC.
When I move to France I find that the French Government have shareholdings in all the major insurance companies. When I think about the possibility of capturing French business from a leading commercial or industrial assurer, I remember that they are highly reliant on the French Government for their business. They are not likely to switch from existing insurance companies in which the government participate to support the British insurance industry. Therefore, we have freedom of establishment but we believe that the playing field remains tilted and worse; today the industry is weak just at the time when it should be strong.
I shall quickly recap. There is no doubt that the industry will turn itself round. It clearly expects to make a profit in 1992, which is a relief. It is tackling the problems of higher standards which it certainly needs to achieve to weed out poor underwriting. It will always have to compete with the rest of the world. It is not for me to say how important the industry is to the UK. I can only draw attention to the industry's track record on its earnings for the country and promote the idea that there should be closer liaison between it and the Government in an effort to continue such earnings for the country.
§ 7.33 p.m.
§ Lord Howie of Troon
My Lords, as many of your Lordships know, I am a fellow of the Institution of Civil Engineers and, therefore, I am speaking as a member of a profession. I shall speak about civil engineering but I hope to avoid the error of special pleading.
Before I do that, I am extremely pleased to congratulate the noble Viscount, Lord Chelmsford, on his maiden speech. I believe I am right in saying that insurance, banking and possibly shipping are the main elements of our invisible earnings, but I must point out that consulting engineering follows very closely behind, and that is in a profession which consists of no more than 200 member firms. That is something of an achievement.
Before I turn to civil engineering, to which your Lordships know that I am devoted, I should like to make some general remarks about the professions. I remind the House, as I have in the past, of the book The Acquisitive Society which was published 70 years ago and written by Professor R.H. Tawney. Although it is 70 years old, it is still referred to in legal textbooks dealing with professional negligence when an attempt is being made to define "profession". Professor Tawney says:A Profession may be defined most simply as a trade which is organised, incompletely, no doubt, but genuinely, for the performance of function. It is not simply a collection of individuals who get a living for themselves by the same kind of work … It is a body of men who carry on their work in accordance with rules designed to enforce certain standards both for the better protection of its members and for the better service of the public".Professor Tawney goes on to talk about those rules. He says:But their object is clear. It is to impose on the profession itself the obligation of maintaining the quality of the service, and to prevent its common purpose being frustrated through the undue influence of the motive of pecuniary gain upon the necessities or cupidity of the individual.The difference between industry as it exists today and a profession is, then, simple and unmistakable. The former is organised for the protection of rights, mainly rights to pecuniary gain. The latter is organised, imperfectly indeed, but none the less genuinely, for the performance of duties".Perhaps those sentiments have been rather eroded over the 70 years but they remain central to the idea of the profession.
The important words which are repeated throughout that definition are "service" and "quality". It is impossible to maintain the kind of quality in the profession of architecture, which the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, mentioned, or in civil engineering under the conditions of compulsory competitive tendering which the Government have imposed upon local authorities. I know that there are limitations to that but nevertheless, we were told not once but several times during the passing of that legislation that the ultimate determinant would be price. I know that the word "quality" was used by noble Lords on the Front Bench opposite from time to time but we always came back to the ultimate determinant; namely, the cost of the service to be offered. That is not a professional way of doing business.
I shall illustrate that by a brief anecdote which is 150 years old. When the great engineer Brunel was 1207 asked to make proposals for what became the Great Western Railway, he was asked by the promoters what would be the cheapest route. He said, "No, I will not give the cheapest route. I will give you the best route". He did that and it is still there. It may be the long way round, as we all know, but it is the best, smoothest and flattest route in the country. That is what a profession is about: the provision of quality.
However, that needs self-confidence which, of course, Brunel had. It is fair to say that that kind of self-confidence is lacking in the engineering profession today. That is partly a matter of status, the position of the profession in society as a whole and the esteem in which it is held. I would not go on about that but for the fact that just before Christmas the Prime Minister met a delegation from the Engineering Council which was led by Sir John Fairclough, the chairman of the council. The Prime Minister said quite rightly to that delegation that British engineers are not held in the same esteem in this country as are their contemporaries in Germany. That is true. However, the Prime Minister did not stop there. He went on to say that something had to be done about it. I wrote to him asking what that "something" was likely to be so that I could support him and help him if at all possible. Your Lordships will not be surprised to know that I received the kind of letter one usually receives from the Civil Service—it left the matter more or less where it started. Perhaps the noble Baroness, Lady Denton, can revive the subject, find out what the strategy is and see whether it can be implemented.
Peter Lilley, as Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, appeared several weeks ago before the Select Committee on Science and Technology. He said that the Government's assistance to the status of the engineer would be through certain initiatives in the field of innovation in engineering which he had put in train. He felt that if engineers were innovative, status would follow. I wonder how true that is.
One can think of the great suspension bridges of recent years. The designers will scarcely be known to many Members of this House. One thinks of Bernard Wex and Bill Brown of Freeman Fox; as innovators they revolutionised the design of suspension bridges by rethinking the aerodynamics of the suspended deck of the bridge. Their work changed the face of bridge-building in that until the 1960s Americans had led the field world-wide; since then British engineers have led the world.
One thinks of the Forth road bridge, the Severn, the Humber, the Rio Nitero and the Bosporus. They are all British-built bridges, all innovative and none of them has brought much in the way of improved or increased status. One thinks of the explosions in high-tech architecture, which are admirable. We know the names of the architects and greatly admire and praise them. But their work would be less interesting were it not for the work of Peter Rice—I am glad to say that the RIBA recently honoured him with a gold medal; that is a marvellous gesture—Ted Happold, Tony Hunt, Jack Zunz, Frank Newby, Mark Whitby and many more. They are all innovators in structural 1208 engineering but no increase in status has occurred. The claim by Lilley therefore falls somewhat short of what is likely to happen.
Finally, I mention the Engineering Council. It was set up in the early 1980s, almost exactly 10 years ago, after the report of the Finniston Committee—of which I was a member —on the engineering profession. The Finniston proposals were not fully implemented—members of a committee do not really expect that—but it is fair to say that the Engineering Council failed to deliver what it could be expected to do. The council recognises that and Sir John Fairclough, its chairman, is setting in train an initiative in which the Engineering Council will be "re-hab'd"—rehabilitated—or reorganised, along the lines of self-regulation as the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, mentioned earlier.
I hope that that reorganisation is successful. However, the Engineering Council needs encouragement from the Government. The best possible encouragement would be an element of funding. I ask only one question. The Design Council, although its work is slightly different from that of the Engineering Council, is funded to the tune of around £6 million a year. That is considerably more than the Engineering Council has received in the whole of its nine or 10 years of existence. Why?
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Lord Benson
My Lords, I should perhaps declare an interest. I am a member of the accountancy profession and have been practising that profession for the past 66 years. Around eight years ago my profession set down what it believed were its obligations to the public. It is worth recounting them because they are the foundation on which all professions must be built and on which their futures depend. Moreover, any profession which follows those obligations will have no need to fear the future. The Government can always be satisfied that it is healthy.
The nine obligations to the public are these. First, the profession must be controlled by a governing body which in professional matters directs the behaviour of its members. For their part the members have a responsibility to subordinate their selfish private interests in favour of support for the governing body.
Secondly, the governing body must set adequate standards of education as a condition of entry and thereafter ensure that students obtain an acceptable standard of professional competence. Training and education do not stop at qualification. They must continue throughout the member's professional life.
Thirdly, the governing body must set the ethical rules and professional standards which are to be observed by the members. They should be higher than those established by the general law. Fourthly, the rules and standards enforced by the governing body should be designed for the benefit of the public and not for the private advantage of the members.
Fifthly, the governing body must take disciplinary action, including, if necessary, expulsion from 1209 membership should the rules and standards it lays down not be observed or should a member be guilty of bad professional work.
Sixthly, work is often reserved to a profession by statute —not because it was for the advantage of the members but because, for the protection of the public, it should be carried out only by persons with the requisite training, standards and disciplines. Seventh, the governing body must satisfy itself that there is fair and open competition in the practice of the profession so that the public are not at risk of being exploited. It follows that members in practice must give information to the public about their experience, competence, capacity to do the work and the fees payable.
Eighth, the members of the profession, whether in practice or in employment, must be independent in thought and outlook. They must be willing to speak their minds without fear or favour. They must not allow themselves to be put under the control or dominance of any person or organisation which could impair that independence. Ninth, in its specific field of learning a profession must give leadership to the public it serves.
It is one thing to define the obligations, it is another to see that they are observed. It is an unending battle for the members of my profession and its governing body to see that its 100,000 members observe those obligations at all times. There will never be perfection but the striving is there.
For my part I believe that on the whole the professions in this country have served the public well. I have only one reservation on that point. But as far as I know all of them seek to improve their standards year by year; to tighten their disciplines and to give better service to the public. The one reservation that I have is that in recent years I believe that some professions have paid too much attention to marketing themselves and selling themselves to the public.
That has been exacerbated—in fact it has been to some extent caused—by the doctrine of government which, as far as I can detect, regards the professions as an undesirable monopoly which must be broken open. These two factors together are unfortunate. I believe that they have damaged the image of the professions. Some of the members have fallen below the standard of professionalism which is necessary for the conduct of their profession. In short, some of the nine obligations are at risk.
If there is time I should like to mention five other subjects. The first is that I do not share the rosy views of the noble Viscount, Lord Ullswater, who in an earlier debate expressed great satisfaction with manufacturing industry in this country. For those who move in the inner circles of industry it is common ground that our manufacturing base is too small and has been diminishing for a long time. The average productivity in manufacturing is below that of our competitors. In that respect all the relevant professions, particularly my own and the numerous branches of the engineering profession, have something vital to contribute. All of them ought to 1210 concentrate on introducing a much higher standard of professionalism into the management of manufacturing industry than has been the case in the past.
The second point is one which I believe other noble Lords have mentioned tonight. I believe that a professional body, provided it observes the obligations which I have mentioned, should be self-regulating. In my experience the members who are engaged in the cut and thrust of professional practice every day of their lives and in open competition are the persons best fitted to set the standards for the profession and to see that they are observed by all of them.
The third point is that in my view all the professions should be guided by written standards. Several professions have not gone far enough in that respect. I believe that they should close the gaps in their armament. My own has been fairly active in that and has done a good deal. But it is an unending road—we shall never reach the end of it. We have been fortunate in that we have been able to establish an international code of accounting standards. That is a good step forward. It has been a help in assisting international finance and trade.
The fourth point is that everybody makes mistakes and the professions are not free of that. Errors of judgment arise, as does negligence in varying degrees of severity. Negligence must be punished. Of that I have no doubt. But the country is now developing into a litigious society and whenever there is a breath of an error of judgment or negligence actions for damages are immediately launched. Usually they are launched against the professions if they possibly can be because it is known that we are covered by insurance for the most part. These claims have become so extravagant and the legal cost involved in dealing with them so enormous that I believe that in due time they will have to be restricted by statute. If that does not happen we shall not be able to recruit into the professions the quality of person whom we want. Already America has found that it is unable to recruit in some professions for the reasons which I have just given.
The last point is this: I believe that in every profession the citizens should be allowed to join irrespective of colour, creed, class or money. Several of the professions have not been able to achieve that. I believe that they should direct their attention to it very carefully. We have only one bar in my profession and that is this: the standards we set require a certain quality of intellect before a member can join. He must also be subjected to a proper educational and training standard which we have defined. We can do nothing about intellectual capacity because that is a matter for nature. But the training and education which are needed, not for our benefit but for that of the public before we can admit anybody to a profession, must be dealt with in the schools and universities. We have found grave defects in some of those fields which prevent members of the public from joining our profession. We have had a wearying afternoon and my time is up. I shall leave the matter there.
§ 7.56 p.m
§ Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior
My Lords, perhaps I may first offer my congratulations to my noble friend Lord Chelmsford for his thoughtful maiden speech on insurance, which, as has just been said by the noble Lord, Lord Benson, impinges on all of us in the professions. Many years ago we thought in terms of hundreds of pounds and now we think in terms of millions of pounds.
I also express my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, for initiating this debate on the future of the professions, since, as stated in the book written by Lewis and Maud on Professional People:To be a professional man or woman today is to live with uncertainty".There is uncertainty about the role and funding of professional education in the higher institutions. There is uncertainty about the acceptance of longstanding and established ethical standards and guides or codes for professional conduct. There is also uncertainty on the part of women and minority groups in the professions. Recently there has been some uncertainty about the impact of the European Community on the role and work practices and whether they are compatible with the generally accepted duties of a professional person.
I wish to address three issues briefly this evening. The first is women in the professions; the second has been touched on by a number of speakers—namely, codes of ethics and conduct, and the third is education. I am indebted to the United Kingdom Inter-Professional Group—Women's Issues Working Party, for very helpful data on the role of women in the professions. As we know, there is an increasing number of women in the professions. In 1990, of the 10 professions surveyed by the inter-professional group, 17.5 per cent. were women, although their numbers varied very considerably. For example, in engineering only 0.5 per cent. were women, whereas in pharmacy the figure was 40 per cent. In my own veterinary profession, in which I declare an interest, the figure is 26 per cent. These figures have been reached over a period of years. The start was the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919, which allowed women to join the professions. In the past 20 years the numbers have increased considerably.
The corollary of that is that women are somewhat under-represented on the ruling bodies of their professions. Their representation on the ruling bodies is certainly disproportionate to their numbers. However, the outlook is good. In the undergraduate population of our universities, the numbers of men and women students reading for professional subjects are about equal and, in due course, the proportions will change considerably.
One of the pleasing things about the survey that was undertaken is that sexual—or should I say "gender"?—discrimination is not reported to be a problem in the professions, although isolated incidents do occur and receive the attention of the press. Yet women holding senior posts are few in number both in the universities and in the professions. In my own profession, for example, there is no woman professor. There is only one female Reader in the 1212 country and only five out of the 54 senior lecturers are women. In the government service only one out of 41 holders of divisional status is a woman. There are no women in the higher ranks.
The conclusion is that, despite good progress and the complete rejection of the concepts which were accepted at one time—that it was a waste of time to train women and that they can contribute only about 50 per cent. of their efforts on their profession—we have still to come to terms with policies that will suit the career needs of women. The major issue now is not recruitment, as was the case at one time, but the retention of women in the professions. Things that must be attended to include maternity leave schemes. In this country we do not do as well as elsewhere in the European Community. The European Commission has proposed 14 weeks' maternity leave on full pay. In this country, the provision is six weeks on 90 per cent. of full pay with a flat rate thereafter. In Denmark, however, it is 28 weeks on 90 per cent. of full pay. We also need more child care facilities so that women can participate more fully in their professions when they have had their children. We must have retraining programmes for women who are returning to their professions following the rearing of children.
I now wish to turn briefly to topics that have been discussed previously—namely, codes of conduct and ethical guides to conduct. Such guides have been claimed to be a form of restrictive practice and self-serving but, as we have heard, such guides and codes must not be assessed against economic criteria, but more properly by the public interest test, which is: do they serve the public interest as well as they should? I believe that they safeguard the public against the unqualified, the incompetent and the unscrupulous and in doing so they are without beneficial economic effect to the professional.
I believe that it would be disastrous to remove from the professions their codes of ethics or written guides to professional conduct. They uphold both the standards of knowledge to be acquired before one can be admitted to a profession and the standards of' conduct and behaviour to be adhered to hereafter. Wickenden, a former president of the Institution of Electrical Engineers, has described them as maintaining,Professional status as an implied contract to serve society over and beyond all specific duty to client and employer in consideration of the privileges and protection society extends to the profession".Retention and recognition of professional codes of practice will ensure that that definition is upheld.
This leads me to a consideration of professional education. A minority in some professions—including my own—has criticised education in the higher institutions of learning by saying that such education is irrelevant to the needs of the practising professional. I sincerely hope that your Lordships will reject such a notion. In my opinion, an advanced level of education is a distinguishing feature of the professional adviser. If that is not accepted, we may all become do-it-yourself experts in due course.
As well as the professional aspect of education, there is also the need for familiarity with liberal education. To my mind, the professional person 1213 should be as broadly based in the sciences as in the humanities. Unfortunately, the education of professionals has been placed in jeopardy by the inadequate provision of educational grants and services. There is no such lack of support on the part of vice-chancellors of universities, but there is a fear that cost and value have become confused. Individuals may well know the cost of everything but the value of nothing.
Perhaps in this context the professions themselves need to pay attention to their continuing education or continuing professional development. This has already been mentioned. In some professions, it is a mandatory requirement for its members. In others, that is not the case. I believe that in all professions it should be a part of the implied contract to the service of society, and that the individual should keep himself or herself up to date with the developments and advances within his or her specific field. It is the responsibility of the profession to attend to this aspect of education.
§ 8.7 p.m.
§ Lord Walton of Detchant
My Lords, perhaps I may join with the noble Lord, Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior, in congratulating the noble Viscount, Lord Chelmsford, on his lucid maiden speech and in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, for introducing this topic and for dealing in such an outstanding way with so many of the issues which are relevant to the work of all of the professions. The noble Lord is absolutely right in saying that within the past 20 years or more the professions in this country have been under continuing attack from the media, from the public and, at times and to some extent, even from the Government.
Since I qualified in medicine some 47 years ago, the transformation wrought by research and development in medical practice has been enormous. At the same time we have become increasingly aware that public scrutiny of the practice, procedures and regulation of the work of the medical profession is an important aspect of modern-day society of which we in the profession have to take careful note. The days of paternalism and of "doctor's orders" are certainly long past. The practice of medicine is now a partnership in which the doctor recommends a form of treatment or management and in which it is up to the patient to decide whether to accept that advice.
I believe that the education of undergraduate medical students in this country is still the best in the world, despite reductions in the unit of resource in our universities. It is carefully and continually monitored by an inspection process under the auspices of the education committee of the General Medical Council. Nowadays, half of our medical students are women. The intellect and motivation of both sexes is outstanding. They enter the profession as people of exceptional quality and exceptional dedication. The fact that they continue to practise and to develop so effectively after graduation is a great tribute to the teachers who educate them in our universities and hospitals. We have much more concentration now on 1214 principles, on the continuing importance of clinical apprenticeship, on problem-based teaching and on the communications skills which are so crucial to the doctor-patient relationship.
But there are clouds on the horizon. The declining recruitment to academic medicine in clinical specialties is a matter of grave concern and one must hope that the annual charade whereby the remuneration of clinical academics lags far behind that of their NHS counterparts is something that will soon become a thing of the past.
We also have in postgraduate education in medicine, in general practitioner vocational training lasting some three years after the statutory internship, a total of 10 years in all before a GP can practice independently in the health service, a programme of training which is the envy of many other countries in the world and which is now being copied in many states of the United States of America, where in certain places the family doctor is almost a thing of the past. Our specialists too are highly trained and the General Medical Council monitors programmes of postgraduate training and of continuing education from the day of graduation up to retirement. But of course the profession is aware of public criticisms and expressions of concern. We hear about poor communication skills. We hear of doctors having little time to talk. We hear of doctors being uncaring, unsympathetic, unkind or unwilling to admit their mistakes; and we even hear the criticisms that a minority of consultants are alleged to neglect their NHS duties for private practice.
Certainly, from my experience in the profession, these are a very small minority. Most NHS consultants are greatly overworked, as I said in the debate on the Statement earlier today, and have intolerable hours. Our consultant establishment in the National Health Service in this country in every specialty falls far below that in other parts of the Western world. Within my own specialty of neurology there are 10,200 neurologists in the United States, 5,000 in Japan, 3,000 in Germany, 350 in Holland, 400 in Finland and 194 in the entire United Kingdom. Only Ireland, with six, fares worse in the developed world. Despite the efforts of successive Secretaries of State, the hours of junior doctors are still far too long. In my day housemen certainly worked impossible hours, but the complexity of modern medicine means that an error in a drug dosage, a misinterpretation of a laboratory result due to fatigue and impaired concentration, can have serious consequences.
It is important that these matters be given considerable attention. There is in the public mind often some confusion between the responsibilities, on the one hand, of the British Medical Association and, on the other, of the General Medical Council. The BMA is a professional association—the doctors' trade union. I, among others, deeply regretted the confrontation which arose between that association and the Government over the NHS reforms. But I believe that the profession and the association have come to terms with the situation and are now determined to build upon what is good and what is beneficial to patient care but to monitor carefully 1215 those parts of the reforms which they believe may be shown by experience to be detrimental. This new attitude of constructive collaboration is much to be commended and I believe that continuing debate and negotiation will follow.
The BMA does many other things, such as giving advice to the profession on ethics and standards of practice. It also has a Board of Education and Science. Its openness of attitude can be judged from the fact that it has recently commended the proposal that there should be introduced statutory regulation for the osteopathic profession, a topic upon which I had the privilege of introducing a Bill into your Lordships' House a few months ago. I believe that it has now been taken up in another place. This kind of open attitude towards those practising alternative or complementary medicine is one which will continue.
But as the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, said, the responsibility of self-regulation imposes immense demands on any profession. As Ralf Dahrendorf, now Sir Ralf, said in his Jeffcoat Lecture, the self-regulation of the professions is one of the glories of a learned society. He spoke with authority, then being a German citizen, pointing out that regulation by the state as an alternative was fearful and in his view quite unacceptable. But as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, said in his article in the Spectator in 1988, self-regulation must never be allowed in any profession to be a cover for incompetence or unsatisfactory or less than adequate professional behaviour and practice.
I had the privilege of serving for 16 years on the General Medical Council, first, under Lord Cohen of Birkenhead, and subsequently under the most distinguished and elegant presidency of the noble Lord, Lord Richardson. During his day an increasing degree of openness was introduced into its procedures. I was happy during my own presidency of seven years to be able to introduce many more such innovations. These included the establishment of a health committee, under the noble Lord, Lord Richardson, in his day, to deal with doctors who were patently not wicked but who had often in the past come before the disciplinary committee; doctors who were sick and who needed medical help and support.
The noble Lord introduced an increased number of lay members and during my presidency the lay members representing the public interest on that council were increased progressively from seven to nine and then to 11. No decision relating to the registration of a doctor could be taken without the committee in question including in its membership at least one lay member. Increasingly, we introduced new recommendations on standards of medical care which we expected the medical profession to recognise and to follow. More and more of the doctors coming before our professional standards committee—more particularly the preliminary screening committee and ultimately the professional conduct committee—were being accused not of the kind of sexual misdemeanours which are so rare but which commonly hit the public press but were being accused and disciplined because of neglect or disregard of their responsibility to patients.
1216 Under my distinguished successor, Sir Robert Kilpatrick, a number of things which I hoped to see introduced into the self-regulation of the profession are now becoming a reality. My proposal that a lay screener should be included with the doctors to examine complaints has become a reality; a specialist registration so that the public can determine which doctors have been adequately trained in a specialty has become a reality; and now performance review in order to be able to deal sympathetically but firmly with doctors whose clinical and professional performance falls below an acceptable level is under consultation and it is hoped that it will become the subject of legislation.
Professional self-regulation is, as Ralf Dahrendorf, said, one of the glories of a free society. We must fight to preserve it. But that professional self-regulation must always be achieved with the aid of lay opinion and advice. It is important that all of our professions should, in preserving that self-regulation, be cognisant of the demands and the wishes of society.
§ 8.18 p.m.
My Lords, I too am extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, for initiating this debate. It has been fascinating to listen to leaders from a whole range of professions defining what a profession is and saying where the professions should go. In particular, I think we were all most interested in the discourse of the noble Viscount, Lord Chelmsford, on the difficulties of an occupation—that is the word he used—becoming a profession. The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, gave a simple definition; that there should be competence—competence means proper education—and a sense of service.
I do not wish to take up much of your Lordships' time because, in following the noble Lord, Lord Walton, I have little or nothing to say about the General Medical Council of which he gave a characteristically clear and complete account. I should like to make a few simple remarks about the building up of a professional attitude in the only profession about which I know anything—medicine.
I believe that the answer lies in the past, the past's effect on the present and the present's effect on the future. It depends to a very large degree upon selection and initial motivation. Someone who is just put into medicine who does not passionately wish to enter that profession will have a certain difficulty in accepting the very tough compelling requirement to meet the ethos of the profession, and clearly that of other professions.
Selection and inspiration at an early stage and throughout education—for example, undergraduate education—is of paramount importance. It must lead the medical student, and the students of other professions, to accept what has been enunciated over and again this evening; namely, the service. The service that is given to those who require it must take absolute preference over the interests of those giving the service. That is asking a very great deal. But if it is inculcated in the young and becomes part of their everyday assumption as they learn their clinical work, it will be such that they do not say to themselves with 1217 smug piety, "We must put the patients first"; it will just be there in their being, in their bones and in their breeding. But, nevertheless, it needs much support.
Fortunately, support for the medical profession is very considerable. There is, of course, the support of the subject itself, which is such a fascinating one. There is also the support of the patients because, after all, they are giving their confidence, hopes, anxieties and the care of their most precious possession—their bodies. If that does not have an effect in supporting the ethos of "patients first", there must be something very wrong with the selection and with the unhappy person who is entering the profession and who is wrong to do so.
In addition, there are all sorts of helpful things to support those who, as the years go by, become tired and have to give what is an effort whereas earlier it was so easy. I refer to the great medical institutions like the Royal Colleges which provide a wonderful focal point for communication and for a feeling that it matters very much to have the privilege of being a fellow or a member of such a college. Perhaps most clearly in my mind is the Royal College of General Practitioners. It is a young and extremely successful college and one which is doing an enormous amount to help the general practitioner—sometimes a lonely figure—to follow the basic ethos of "those served must come first".
The noble Lord, Lord Walton, talked about the GMC. In his report on the regulation of the medical profession, Sir Alec Merrison stated that he felt that the GMC should have the contract—"contract" was his word—with the general public and that the contract should be such that, on the one side, the profession was held up by the obligations of the contract and, on the other side, that the general public should feel a confidence that their affairs were properly protected, and that the behaviour and, as the noble Lord, Lord Walton, recently said, the competence—and, indeed, the manners of the profession—should be of a truly professional quality.
I should like to suggest to any group that is considering—and there are several in the pipeline, one of which, the osteopaths, was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Walton—becoming a profession that it will be registered and thus controlled by the fear of the sanction of exclusion. It is possible that the GMC, far from infallible of course but relatively ancient (about 150 years and it is still there) could, at any rate, be used not as a model but as something about which to think.
I shall cut short my time and thus ensure some goodwill to all men by expressing my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers. I feel very confident about the future of the professions, even if governments do want to dip their toes into our affairs. I believe that they are based on real foundations; namely, the foundations of years and years of thought and experience by people who have been proud to practise.
§ 8.27 p.m.
§ Lord Colwyn
My Lords, I should wholeheartedly like to endorse the sentiments expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank. At the same 1218 time, I should like to apologise both to him and to my noble friend the Minister on the Front Bench that, owing to a miscalculation of timing over the Introductions and the Statement this afternoon, I am already late for a previous engagement. However, I promise to speak for only three or four minutes this evening.
Any debate on the professions should highlight the fact that they have a unique and vital role to play within society as a whole. That is derived from the fact that—in itself—membership of a profession does not confer any particular status or standing. However, duty and responsibility are inalienable facets. They transcend market forces. They are owed to every citizen irrespective of age, gender, origin, social or financial standing.
The professions are mindful of those duties and responsibilities. Systems have been nurtured based on self-regulation and independence to ensure that quality of service and successful delivery are of paramount importance. However, the professions have observed with concern the extent to which in recent years economic, social and political factors have undermined that framework. That has applied particularly to those professions whose members derive their income via public funds. Failure to agree the basis of funding for such services threatens to undermine the ability of such professions to honour the duty and responsibility to society. In recent weeks, the actuality of that dilemma has been heightened in the context of my own profession of dentistry.
As I am sure noble Lords are aware, negotiating procedures to determine dental remuneration have become deadlocked. A majority of members of the British Dental Association has voted in favour of ceasing to accept new patients under the National Health Service. The view has been expressed that that decision could mark a watershed in the history of the NHS, indeed, possibly even the point when Beveridge's noble concept of free health care at the point of delivery was irretrievably lost. This is a matter on which history will judge. However, irrespective of the course which the current dispute takes, one cannot fail to be alarmed when considering that such action has been deemed necessary by a profession whose hallmarks are quality of delivery, concern for patient care and cost effectiveness.
It is right and proper that the Government of the day should be mindful of public expenditure. However, it is equally indisputable that the professions who run those services have the expertise to decide how they should be run. Therefore it is the professions that have a central and crucial role to play in determining the financial regimes which are ultimately put in place. The principles of the free market economy, such as performance-related pay, may not always be appropriate in this forum. In particular, if the concepts of the Citizen's and Patient's Charters put forward by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister are to find resonance, the professions and Government must co-operate in a spirit of partnership, drawing on mutual respect and expertise.
1219 For that reason, I applaud the endeavours of the United Kingdom Inter-Professional Group, currently under the secretariat of the British Dental Association. The group, whose prime objective is to promote an awareness and understanding of the professions, is keen to maintain a dialogue with Government, and in particular those government departments whose activities are likely to have an influence on those of its member professions. I endorse those goals unreservedly and wish the group every success in achieving them.
§ 8.32 p.m.
§ Lord Ackner
My Lords, I attend this debate essentially at the direction of a Lord Chancellor. I must emphasise the indefinite article. The Lord Chancellor, if he were ever able to conceive an uncharitable thought, might well wish me further. I of course refer to Lord Chancellor Bacon who some 350 years ago said:I hold every man a debtor to his profession".Those, like myself, who for nearly 50 years have enjoyed the fellowship, the kindness, the advice, the stimulus and the satisfaction of a busy career—in my case at the Bar and on the Bench—are very much "in the red". There is however a temptation that having once attained the utmost rung that some may:then unto the ladder, turn his hack, look in the clouds, scorning the base degrees by which he did ascend".I propose to pay off a little of my professional overdraft by voicing my deep anxiety at the deprofessionalisation of the legal profession which is gathering pace. As it accelerates, it involves an ever-increasing shift of power from the judiciary and the legal profession to the Executive. That is a most unhealthy situation.
It is always a great pleasure and an education to hear the noble Lord, Lord Benson, speak, in particular on a matter which is so dear to his heart —the professions. In 1976 he presided over a Royal Commission which in 1979 produced a report with a total of 139 recommendations. It took four years—that is, from 1979 to 1983—for the Government to produce a White Paper (Cmnd. 9077) giving their views on the Royal Commission's recommendations. Under the heading in the first annex "Recommendations which are the responsibility of the Government", the Government's first response to the White Paper related to Chapter 3 of the report entitled "Legal Profession".
The three recommendations to which the Government directed their first response were, first, that the demand for the services of lawyers will grow; the profession should plan accordingly. Secondly, when the decisions arising out of the report have been taken and implemented the profession should have a period of orderly development free, so far as possible, from external interventions. That is because those interventions (Royal Commissions and the like) involve a profession in great costs and are very disruptive. The third recommendation related to a matter essentially concerning the solicitors' branch of the profession.
The government response was in these terms: 1220The existence, strength and vitality of an independent legal profession and public confidence in it are fundamental to our freedom under the law. Responsibility for qualification and admission and for conduct and for discipline, properly rests with the profession and the Government looks to the profession in exercising that responsibility to take steps as occasion demands to secure that its practices and rules properly satisfy public expectation and requirement".In a second annex to the White Paper entitled "Recommendations which are the responsibility of the Profession" there was included the Royal Commission's own recommendations, inter alia, that the profession bears the responsibilities for ensuring that the quality of its members' work is of a satisfactory standard and that an independent authority, such as a legal training board, should not take over the control of all legal education, the responsibility in that area resting upon the governing bodies of the profession.
Some six years later there was, on this and other matters, a complete volte face by the Government. A Green Paper was published which made no mention of the Government's 1983 White Paper. In due course the Courts and Legal Services Act 1990 became law. As a result, the profession in future is to come under the control of the Lord Chancellor's Advisory Committee, a lay-dominated committee whose members are all appointed at the whim of the Lord Chancellor of the day. That body will effectively dictate, not just the framework and detail of the education, training, standards and discipline of all those who provide legal services in our courts, but the very way in which the services are to operate. In the debate on 25th January 1990 my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham made the incisive comment:The idea that an independent profession should effectively be governed by such a ludicrous body, of which we have seen only too many examples in the past 25 years of my experience of Parliament, is too terrifying to imagine".—[Official Report, 25/1/90; col. 1251.]It was stressed again and again during the debates that the insistence on the domination of that committee by laymen is but a process by which the Civil Service will exercise control over what has hitherto been an independent and separate part of our national life. Such laymen, it was observed, may simply be the political appointees of the day. In the words of my noble and learned friend Lord Oliver of Aylmerton in the same debate, such a committee is:an instrument by which the executive can, in a very large measure, control a legal profession which until now has been self-regulatory, and by which it can, by the creation of new classes of practitioners in the courts, secure an even greater control than it enjoys at the moment over the composition and of course, ultimately, the conduct of the judiciary at all levels".—[Official Report, 25/1/90; col. 1247.]In one of the debates a very modest amendment was sought which required the Lord Chancellor to appoint the chairman of the committee only after obtaining the concurrence of the Lord Chief Justice; further, that there should be three additional judges appointed to the committee—a presiding judge (a High Court judge who is currently involved in judicial administration); a circuit judge (a judge of the Crown Court and the county court); and a stipendiary magistrate. The noble Lord, Lord Murray of Epping Forest, observed: 1221The people who make the advisory committee work are those who have experience in the legal system. They know what needs to be done and how to go about doing it. No one knows better the needs of lay people than the judges before whom such people appear … I do not see that there is a particular case for a lay majority".—[Official Report, 25/1/90; col. 1243.]All that was achieved was the appointment of an additional judge, a circuit judge.
In Scotland the ultimate control of matters confided to this advisory committee resides with the Lord President, Scotland's Lord Chief Justice. Your Lordships may not be aware or have by now forgotten, as a result of so much media attention in relation to this legislation being devoted to the issue as to whether solicitors should have extended rights of audience, that the Government have laid down in the Act that laymen, provided they meet certain requirements, shall have the rights of audience—the right to appear in all courts from the lowest to the highest. When I say "laymen" I refer to those who are not lawyers; in other words, those who are neither barristers nor solicitors. The Government in support of this radical proposal produced no evidence that there was any shortage of lawyers properly qualified to serve the public in the courts. Indeed, the proposal in the Bill as subsequently enacted to extend the rights of audience to solicitors was in itself designed to provide a yet further supply of advocates.
A similar proposal was included in the analogous Scottish legislation. In the Second Reading debate on the Scottish Bill, my noble and learned friend Lord McCluskey referred to a lecture given by the distinguished American scholar, Dean Griswoold, who had considered the history of the introduction of laymen into the courts of the United States and the harm done by it. He quoted another distinguished academician, Dean Pound, who said:The harm which this de-professionalisation of the practice of the law did to the law, to legal procedure, to the ethics of practice and to forensic conduct, has outlived the era in which it took place and still presents problems to the promoters of more effective administration of justice".This process of de-professionalisation was carried even a step further. In a clause and a schedule frequently described during the debates as "grotesque" which are now Section 71 and Schedule 10 power has been taken to appoint laymen—I use the term in the same sense as previously—to all judicial positions from the House of Lords downwards provided they have achieved the appropriate rights of audience. At no stage during the debates did we hear any evidence that there was a shortage of properly qualified lawyers to act as judges. Indeed, by extending to solicitors appointments to the judiciary in the higher courts a new supply of judges has been made available by the Act, making this potential dilution of the quality of the judiciary totally uncalled for. Significantly, as with the case of the advisory committee, no such provision appears in the Scots legislation.
I am at heart an optimist. I have a profound belief in the vitality of the legal profession—that is, the Bar, the solicitors and the Bench. I believe that they have sufficient strength to withstand the increasing de-professionalisation which is taking place.
1222 However, this optimism will not be justified unless there are enough of those who are prepared to stand up and be counted. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, for providing me with one such opportunity.
§ 8.44 p.m.
§ Lord Rea
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I should like to make a few remarks in the gap before the main speakers. I apologise for not putting my name down. I had thought that I would not be able to be present at the beginning of the debate but as it was delayed I was able to hear most of what was said.
As another professional I should like to make a few comments. I feel somewhat inadequate, following the impassioned and extremely well-articulated speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner; my words will be fumbling in comparison.
I noted with surprise that there is an important omission from the list of professions represented here this evening; that is education, at all levels from school to university, although my noble friend Lord Walton of Detchant alluded to the teaching of doctors. I feel that a brief word is due on behalf of the teaching profession.
Today there is very low morale in the profession and we may ask why. I suggest it is not only because of the relatively low financial rewards that teachers receive but also because the profession is not being allowed by the Government to be self-regulatory. That is the criterion cited by the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, in quoting the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, and it is a fundamental characteristic of any profession.
Occupational stress is not caused by hard work alone but by hard work without autonomy, when the worker works to someone else's rules and end points. I suggest that many aspects of the Government's intervention in education over the past decade can be regarded as interference in areas which should properly have been left in the hands of the profession. I speak here of aspects of the national curriculum, and particularly the laid down requirements for assessment and testing at certain ages. Particularly under criticism here is the testing of seven year-olds which is held up to ridicule by most teachers. They feel that the extra large workload interferes with teaching.
Perhaps I may make a brief remark about my own profession. I do not need to say much because my two noble medical friends who are much more eminent than I have defended the profession's interests remarkably well. I should like to thank my noble friend Lord Richardson for his kind remarks about my own college, the Royal College of General Practitioners.
One reason why complementary medicine, which was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Walton, has become increasingly popular is that practitioners in this form of healing can spend more time listening to their patients' anxieties. Many doctors are felt to be too mechanistic in their approach so that they are not aware of the whole person and the interaction between the life circumstances of patients and their symptoms.
1223 Relevant here is a tip from a wise old physician and I have just been reminded of his advice. He said, "Never examine a patient in your overcoat". That suggests that if a professional gives people his full attention and really listens to them he will gain their confidence and make a much better assessment of the clients' needs. Therefore, litigation will be much less common, thus avoiding one of the saddest spectacles that we see, particularly on the other side of the Atlantic, where one profession is pitted against another. At the same time, the clients' satisfaction will he greater and the job will be better tailored to their particular needs. I shall finish at this point and allow the closing speakers to wind up.
§ 8.49 p.m.
§ Baroness Hamwee
My Lords, I too thank my noble friend Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank for introducing this debate and for setting it in the context of the pluralist society. The varied contributions which have been made this evening fully justify his setting the debate in that context.
I should like to mention, if I may, three topics: training, the place of women in the professions and the accessibility of the professions. I am a solicitor and must declare an interest to that extent but my points about training will also apply to other professions. This subject has been touched on by other noble Lords. I believe it is essential that each profession itself should reflect society. The noble and learned Lord the Master of the Rolls recently spoke about the problems of training of solicitors. He said that we must not have a legal profession which is recruited and trained on the basis of a pre-qualification means-test. I believe those words deserve repetition and taking to heart. I do not believe that what I am saying is special pleading on behalf of my own profession because the issues that are raised are of interest and concern to the whole of society.
In regard to the training of solicitors, when they have taken a degree they then go on to take a year—this may vary according to their background—of postgraduate professional education. For that year they are excluded from the mandatory grants system operated by local education authorities, from the student loans system and from receiving tax relief on the cost of training. The discretionary grants which are operated by the local education authorities have reduced very dramatically over the last few years as a result of constraints on local authority expenditure, and therefore on local education authority expenditure. The local education authorities are not required to make grants for postgraduate training.
This means that the trainees have to rely on their parents to fund them. They have to take up what a trainee in my firm referred to as "bar work"—in other words, part-time evening work. I am sure we all understand how that must interfere with the energy that otherwise would be devoted to studies. If they do not do that they have to look for loans. They cannot go to the government student loans service. They need, for this, to go to a high street bank and pay the interest levels that are charged.
1224 I have talked to trainees in my firm and they have referred to their contemporaries as having taken out loans of £3,000, £5,000, £8,000 and even £10,000. It seems to me that to start one's professional career with that sort of burden round one's neck is no way to begin. There is a new source of funding and, though in a sense it is to be welcomed, it carries within it the seeds of very considerable concern: that is, that solicitors' firms like ourselves are providing funding for our future trainees. In other words, the firm to which a trainee is to be articled will provide funding for the cost of the course and for living expenses.
I say that that system contains the seeds of concern because the firms which can afford to provide that sort of funding are by definition the successful firms: they tend to be large firms in the City. Certainly they are the firms which are profitable; not the smaller firms, nor the firms which operate a large legal aid practice. I think it is a matter of considerable public interest that our profession, like other professions, is not polarised. I believe the funding of our profession by a small number of firms representing a small area of society carries with it a potential problem. I think it most undesirable that we should create a greater polarisation in our society. There is a lack of equality of opportunity as a result of the lack of funding for training. As a result, society suffers.
There is also a danger to firms within the profession which cannot afford to recruit and pay these costs. An alarming number of solicitors' firms, in the current recession, are going to the wall. I think we may be in danger of regressing to a position of 50 years ago, or perhaps more. My father, who is also a solicitor, paid a premium to be trained, and we are in danger of going back in part at least to that sort of situation.
Secondly, I should like to refer to the position of women in the profession. The noble Lord, Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior, particularly referred to this. I am sure I do not need to commend to the Minister the work of the Women's National Commission and a report which was published, I think, late last year by the Working Group on Women Returners. It quoted another report, which has itself been referred to earlier, on women in the professions. This came from the United Kingdom Interprofessional Group, whose conclusion was that the professions have not yet come to terms with developing policies which will suit the career needs of women. Very few have specific measures in place which will suit the position of women, particularly those with children, although the position is changing fast.
Comments about women in the professions are not really very different from comments about women outside the professions. It may sometimes be thought that professional women are in a better position and that they are more able to look after themselves. I do not think that is so. In the solicitor's profession, where we are not allowed to incorporate ourselves but have to work in partnership—which has many benefits—the sex discrimination legislation and other legislation does not bite. More importantly, women in a partnership or hoping to go into a partnership do not have the language even to discuss the issue with their 1225 potential partners. I prepared for my firm our own partnership deed. Because it was not an issue for me, I did not include the topic—I am ashamed of it—and I did not write into the deed a clause about maternity leave.
I should like to take just a moment or two, because it deserves to go on to the record, to mention the conclusions of the Women Returners Working Group in connection with professional bodies. The working group recommended that consideration should be given to whether formal full-time work is essential to fulfil the requirements for work experience in order to achieve full professional status and also as to whether professional career breaks can be allowed while acquiring qualifications. They recommended that professional bodies should find ways of keeping in touch with women members on career breaks and whether they should allow them a reduced membership fee. They also recommended that the bodies should encourage employers to enable women returners to work part time and also encourage them to be flexible on age requirements for posts.
I should like to mention the issue of accessibility of the professions. By that I mean that we should consider whether we as professionals make ourselves accessible to those we should be aiming to serve. The concepts of professionalism are valuable but I believe we risk losing them because we make ourselves exclusive. We use language and jargon which is not always understandable to our clients. Perhaps I may be allowed to use the word "client" to encompass patients and all others who are clients of professionals. The Polytechnic of Central London undertook a recent study of law centres and it compared the work of law centres with that of private practice. Many of the respondents mentioned the negative characteristics of solicitors in private practice, such as excessive formality, a lack of interest and a distant attitude.
As I say, that does not apply so much to law centres and I ought to insert here a reference to the legal aid work carried out by the legal profession and refer to the need for quality in that part of our work as well as in private practice. This echoes what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon. There is concern, which is shared by the Law Society, that the emphasis by the Legal Aid Board on quality is becoming an emphasis on speed and high volume, and that there is a risk of creating a second-class service. Knowing the difficulty that many private practices have in sustaining a legal aid practice—indeed it is almost becoming a separate and discrete area of the profession—I subscribe to the concern that many solicitors who entered the profession are finding that they cannot now serve all their clients.
I have spoken about our language and our inaccessibility. We are sometimes our own worst enemies because we are too conscious of our own status. We should trumpet the benefits of our professionalism and the schemes which our professions run to protect the public if one member of the profession falls short. We should trumpet our sense of duty and service to the community. I understand that over 50 per cent. of all partners in solicitors' firms 1226 undertake public service work—what those of us who watch "LA Law" would now know as pro bond. That takes the form of work for Citizens' Advice Bureaux, law centres and so on, and the considerable work that is undertaken for local charities and local bodies. We should trumpet what we do in a way which does not alienate the public and does not make some members of our society feel that professionals are only for the middle classes.
§ 9 p.m.
§ Lord Williams of Elvel
My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, for introducing the debate and for raising this important question. We have heard a very distinguished maiden speech from the noble Viscount, Lord Chelmsford, to which I shall return in a minute.
When I received—as I am sure did other noble Lords—several briefings on the debate, I was advised by the Royal College of Nursing that it hoped that its briefing might be of use in the context of what might be a wide-ranging debate. That is only too true; it has been a wide-ranging debate. We have heard the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, give a spirited performance on the subject of the legal profession. We have heard the noble Viscount in his maiden speech deal with the subjects of insurance, the problems of the insurance industry and insurance brokers, and whether insurance is indeed a profession. I shall return to that point. My noble friend Lord Howie of Troon talked about civil engineers, and the noble Lord, Lord Benson, talked about the accounting profession. The noble Lord, Lord Soulsby, talked about vets, and our resident dentist (who, like the British Dental Association, has alas voted with his feet) talked about dentists. Therefore, we have covered a wide range of professions in the debate. I am sure that the noble Baroness will find it difficult to wind up the debate in a manner which covers the subject—the future of the professions.
The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, posed the question: what is the difference between professional associations and trade unions? He answered that trade unions exist to protect the interests of their members, whereas professional associations have a quite different function. I am not entirely convinced by that particular distinction. I think back to the old craft unions, which insisted on severe standards for their members. For example, the plumbers' union established clear criteria by which one could become a member of that union. When I think of the BMA or the BDA, if I may use all those initials, or indeed of the Royal College of Nursing, I wonder where the difference between a professional association and a craft union in the old sense of the word lies.
If I were to try to define what a professional association is meant to do—and I shall return to the very important contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Benson—I would say that the object of a professional association is to enforce what in the old days we used to call the pre-entry closed shop—an ugly term. In other words, unless one had certain qualifications 1227 which were established and monitored, one could not practise in the job for which one was recruited. That is known as a pre-entry closed shop.
The pre-entry closed shop poses problems which various noble Lords have described. It also has several advantages, which noble Lords have also described. In favour of the professional association and the pre-entry closed shop is self-regulation. As the noble Lord, Lord Benson, said, it is much better for people who are in the profession itself, or in the craft, to decide whether their colleagues are able and properly qualified to exercise that profession or craft. Secondly, it is voluntary. Nobody has to join the association or the craft union if they do not want to do so. Thirdly, if it is properly run—which is again one of the criteria which the noble Lord, Lord Benson, produced—it will enforce discipline on its members to continue to adhere to the standards on which the professional association has decided.
The argument against the pre-entry closed shop professional association is that it could become a self-regarding coterie of people acting against the interest of the consumer and in their own interests; in other words, preserving a small element of interests which act against the populace at large.
Between the arguments in favour and those against, there is of course a knife-edge balance. Here we come to all the problems which have been raised by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, the noble Lord, Lord Benson, and other noble Lords. Where the balance tips over in one direction, one is in the business of politics. There may be public discontent. For example, for one reason or another, there is public discontent with a variety of professions at the moment. Conveyancing is one example. In this House we have had many debates about whether solicitors should be allowed to have a monopoly of conveyancing or whether building societies should also be able to do so. That is an example of public discontent which raises political problems, and I apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, if I offend her.
We can also have Euro-directives where the European Community in its great wisdom decides that—for instance, in the case of the accountancy profession—self-regulation along the lines described by the noble Lord, Lord Benson, is not right for Europe and there may have to be in the future (we should have to see whether that happens) a kind of General Medical Council arrangement for the accountancy profession.
There is also the problem of restrictive practices—in advancing the standards of professional associations, associations encourage their members to adopt procedures which disadvantage the consumer, because the consumer cannot go elsewhere. That is a restrictive practice.
Fourthly, as the noble Lord, Lord Benson, rightly pointed out, there is a general problem of a government perhaps deciding that market forces will rule and price is the only thing that matters. That was the point made by my noble friend Lord Howie of Troon. Quality goes out of the window and it is all a question of price.
1228 The results are that if there is overmuch intervention from government and overmuch litigation in the way described by the noble Lord, Lord Benson, and then the possibility of litigation and statutory intervention, the professions will be diminished. On the other hand, if there is too much encouragement of the professions as a pre-entry closed shop, the interests of the consumer will be disregarded.
I have no particular objection to a pre-entry closed shop. That is the way the political world works. We must recognise that the professions in the future, like the trade unions in the past, will always be on the edge of politics. But if there is a perceived objection to something that surveyors, engineers, solicitors, barristers, judges, accountants, insurance brokers or somebody else are doing, it will become a matter of political discussion. Indeed, it is right that it should do so because we live in a democratic society.
Given that basic fact, it seems to me that there are two principles which should govern our view of the professions. They were put very clearly by the noble Lord, Lord Benson. No professional association is worth anything unless it is rigorous in the maintenance of its own standards and the standards of its members. As the noble Lord said, that rigour should increase from year to year, not diminish.
Secondly—I come back to what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, said—professionals cannot at the same time be professionals and competitive entrepreneurs. The two occupations do not go together. Quality, as used by my noble friend Lord Howie, in the sense that this is the best way of doing things, is not necessarily compatible with the entrepreneurial spirit about which we hear so much from the present administration. So I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, got the matter just about right in his introduction.
When I was an active banker in the City of London, an expression used was, "My word is my bond". I do not believe that anybody in the City of London now would say that. Telephone conversations are recorded now in the City of London. I believe there has been a diminution of that attitude. That is my worry.
The Financial Services Act was designed to make sure, that if there were rules it should be the investor who was protected. I refer again to what the noble Viscount, Lord Chelmsford, said about insurance. In fact, the Financial Services Act has simply imposed a series of almost intolerable burdens on those who have to operate it—the professionals—without protecting the investor. I believe that it has broadly failed. I hate to think that a similar fate could befall all the other professions that we have been discussing this evening.
§ 9.12 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Baroness Denton of Wakefield)
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, for bringing this matter to the attention of the House and for giving us the opportunity to debate this important subject. As the noble Lord suggested, I had some concern about speaking this evening because I feared that the debate would be so wide-ranging (as indeed it was) that I 1229 might not be able to answer all the points raised. I ask for the forbearance of noble Lords if that is the case. I should like to say what a privilege it was to be in the House for the maiden speech of my noble friend Lord Chelmsford. The professionalism and skill of his delivery certainly disguised the fact that it was a maiden speech.
The professions in the United Kingdom have a long history. They make an important and valued contribution to many aspects of British life, as has been illustrated today by the diversity of the professions to which noble Lords have referred in their remarks.
The professions play an important role in the process of wealth creation upon which this country depends. Professions account for a major source of invisible earnings. Figures for 1991 show that the net overseas earnings from consultants, including the legal profession but excluding the medical profession, were £1,544 million. That is a most significant achievement.
The professional institutions also play a part in representing their professions, co-ordinating views across their membership and in pioneering the development of new standards. Noble Lords may be aware, for example, of the Engineering Council's report on risk and its proposals for a new code of practice. The report follows concern over disasters such as the Clapham rail crash, the Zeebrugge ferry sinking, the King's Cross fire and other incidents. The council is trying to take action to avoid similar disasters in future by issuing the code which should ensure better risk assessment and risk management. That work is a welcome contribution towards putting provisions in place. It tends to indicate that the professionals of engineering and others in technology are the people who will be able to deal with environmental issues.
The future offers challenges and opportunities for the professions. But it is not a time to be resting on laurels. As an example of the challenges, I quote a recent speech by the Governor of the Bank of England at the official launch of the Securities Institute, the new professional body for stockbrokers, asset managers and corporate financiers. Mr. Leigh-Pemberton said that whatever the regulatory regime, the competence and ethics of practitioners are bound to remain the essential underpinning to a sound and honest market. That is a heavy responsibility and one to which attention has been drawn frequently tonight.
I wish to take the opportunity to draw particular attention to the role that the professions can play in assisting the establishment and growth of small firms which provide the seed corn for new employment and for innovation. There needs to be much more effort by the professions to tailor services to the needs of small business customers. Some of the larger accountancy firms have specialist divisions dealing with small business. Solicitors can also offer valuable services which can be particularly useful during the formation of a small company. Many solicitors belong to the Lawyers for Enterprise scheme which offers a free initial consultation for those running young or 1230 growing businesses together with a clear indication of what further advice might cost. That is extremely important. Not everyone meets on the golf course these days or even knows how to write a brief for a professional. The professionals should listen to their small firm customers and identify their needs.
In particular I ask the banking profession to do that. Last year the Treasury and the Bank of England conducted an inquiry into the relationship between banks and small businesses. As a result, banks were asked to ensure that their managers looked carefully at the needs of small business and to produce voluntary codes of practice. They have since been issued. However, many small firms are still anxious about their relationship with the banking profession. It is important that that situation is monitored and that the banks are fully aware of the ongoing anxiety. Bankers train to high standards and their skills would benefit small firms if shared easily.
The ability of businesses to compete in the marketplace depends on businessmen and women and their advisers having rapid and easy access to the help that they need. My department has announced the intention to pilot between 10 and 15 first-stop shops. First-stop shops will be useful to small businesses and their professional advisers, providing a gateway to the more specialised services offered by TECs, the Department of Trade and Industry, other government departments, venture capitalists and others. That approach will help small business and professional arrangements. In marketing their services, I hope that the professions will be encouraged to look at that principle and to consider whether there might be ways of streamlining delivery of their services. It is important that those shops represent private sectors and professions as well as the public sector work. I am delighted to say that the design profession will be represented in that area. That profession can contribute greatly to wealth creation.
Demographic changes, and changes in working patterns and practices, will affect the future development of all the professions. The professions need to come to terms with developing policies which will suit the career needs of women, provide greater flexibility and cater for late entrants. As was pointed out by my noble friend Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior, a report by the UK Inter-professional Group, published in 1990, indicated that very few professions yet have specific measures in place which will help women, in particular those with children, although the position is changing fast. That is not so at the Garrick, I might add, although I am delighted that the proposer of the debate was seen to be supportive of change.
Much remains to be done in the professions, as was identified by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. The substantial resources invested in training professionals will be wasted if women professionals who wish to take time off work to care for their children or other dependants are deterred from returning. Professional women are sometimes assumed to be in a better position than most. However, the Women Returners' Network identified that they lose confidence and that 1231 they need flexible working hours and opportunities to keep up to date with their profession. Many men as well as women need dual career support.
Professional bodies must scrutinise their practices to ensure that they do not prevent women from qualifying or continuing to practice after a career break. They should do all that they can to persuade employers to adopt measures to assist women returners and late entrants.
Your Lordships have spoken about the challenges facing the professions in the future and of the tensions which exist between the various forces shaping the future of the professions. It is one of the UK's marks of freedom from the continental system that the UK professions have been able to develop associations of professional members without being subject to an ordre of the continental type. Over time self-regulation has come to be backed with registration Acts and Acts setting up bodies such as the General Medical Council, which the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, knows well. However, the underlying theme has remained that of self-regulation. That underlying theme has been widely praised and sets a worldwide standard. As was said by the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, that is the ideal.
Yet it also carries with it dangers which occasionally emerge. They are the dangers of restrictive practices, put in hand by oligarchic leaders of the profession. Sometimes such leaders do not recognise the restrictive practices as such; they appear to be part and parcel of the process of professionalism and justified on that account. The opticians' rules against the advertising of prices were a case in point. The opticians believed that it would be unethical for an optician's practice to show prices for spectacles. The result, in a profession widely seen as a retail trade, was a restriction on the effect of competition with the inevitable prevalence of high prices.
There is, therefore, a certain dualism in the UK system of professional self-regulation. The Government believe that the system works best when there are checks and balances, allowing professional self-regulation on the one hand while preventing the development of unnecessarily restrictive practices on the other. The noble Lord, Lord Williams, identified the need to be aware of the dangers of the two sides and the political nature into which they could stray. I stress that the Government are not against professionalism.
The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, referred to the Hamptons Lecture given by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor on professional standards in the 1990s. In that lecture the noble and learned Lord stressed the value of professional self-regulation and the need for the professions to combine the maintenance of high standards with responsiveness to changing client needs. He was of course particularly concerned with the legal profession. The noble and learned Lord has not so much intervened directly in that profession as enabled it better to reform itself and provide an incentive for it to do so. The Courts and Legal Services Act 1990, referred to by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, was a vehicle for those reforms. It is framed in such a way as to bring together 1232 developmental and public interest elements in the provision of legal services. Therefore, the need for strong professional standards and the necessity for innovation are recognised. The Act established the Lord Chancellor's advisory committee on legal education and conduct as the mainspring of that approach. It has a lay majority and as such views the subjects that it considers—which are at the heart of legal services—primarily from the client's perspective. That is very much in tune with the Citizen's Charter approach. We all wait with interest to see the impact of the committee, which will set a powerful example of the way to encourage the development of professional services without foregoing the protection of the public.
The legal services ombudsman recently published his first annual report. It makes interesting and constructive suggestions to the legal profession's complaints handling bodies.
We are grateful to my noble friend Lord Chelmsford for sharing his knowledge. He emphasised that true professionalism weathers the toughest times. We should not dismiss a whole profession because of the behaviour of a small minority of its members, as the noble Lord, Lord Benson, said. I am sure that my colleagues will know about the issues he raised on the question of European comparability and transparency.
The noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, raised the question of price. The belief is that the professional will provide work at a price which represents value for money. The Brunel conversation could still be held today. As a past member of the Engineering Council and chairman of its finance and general purposes committee, I have spent long hours concerned with the status of engineers. I suggest that industry must concern itself more with the status of engineers and let its young people through and reward them accordingly.
The noble Lord raised the question of the £6 million that he believes is given to the Design Council compared to what is given to engineering. I should point out that in 1991–92 £104 million was given in support of innovation, much of which goes towards engineering. The work of Sir John Fairclough tackles the issue at the core.
Of course, we were delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Benson, was able to take part in the debate and all professional organisations owe a debt to him. We support his plea for more professional management in manufacturing. It would be really good to believe that industrialists could be classified as a profession. The noble Lord also drew attention to the challenge that the global nature of business brings to the professions the problem of the increasingly litigious nature of society, where there is much work to be done.
The noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, drew attention to how much doctors have adapted to change and the partnership of the doctor and the patient. He also drew attention to the profession's responsibility to look after its young—junior doctors in this case—and those less fortunate in current times. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said, we should recognise how that can help in the pro bono area. I 1233 know that the support which the professions give to CABs is much appreciated. The noble Lord, Lord Richardson, so elegantly pointed out that being a professional is not an easy task. It brings responsibilities as well as privileges.
I am sorry that my noble friend Lord Colwyn had to leave. Patients currently have high expectations and respect for their dentists. The profession has well earned that respect and I hope that patients will have no cause to change that view over the coming weeks.
The noble Lord, Lord Rea, said that teaching should be a profession and the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, pointed out that professions are not trade unions. It is important that teaching is looked upon as a profession because that means that both education and teachers are more highly valued. One of the problems which we have seen is that teachers have stopped people from entering the profession by saying that they could do something better. I believe that we have now overcome that hurdle and we should see change.
Completion of the single market brings both new opportunities for UK professions and benefits UK employers and customers of professional services. Noble Lords are aware that last year the UK implemented a Community directive which recognised professional qualifications in the European Community. The effect of that directive is to allow a professional qualified in one member state to be recognised as a fully qualified professional in the analogous profession in other member states. It is thus a great step forward in allowing real freedom of movement to professionals throughout the Community.
We welcome such opportunities. They give qualified professionals the right to practise and use their skills in 19 countries, opening doors to them which in some cases have been closed for centuries. We welcome the competition which those opportunities will bring and which should improve services to the consumer.
I had the privilege of entering your Lordships' House just over a year ago. I continue to be amazed at the combined knowledge represented in the House. Tonight we have yet again seen evidence of that great depth of wisdom. It has become clear that a profession or a code of practice is as good as its members make it or, as the noble Lord, Lord Williams, said, as long as it is properly run. I believe it has been a worthwhile debate. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, for making it possible.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank
My Lords, perhaps I too may say how much I enjoyed the maiden speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Chelmsford. I was particularly glad that he referred to the invisible earnings of his profession, which closely matched what was said later by the noble Baroness, Lady Denton, in regard to the profession's wealth-creating record. He said that what the professions had in abundance were skills. In saying that, he hit the nail on the head.
1234 This evening we have been discussing the extent to which the professions, being self-regulating, may remain free to make their own contributions from their own skills to the quality of our life in this country as well as to the wealth of the nation. The great variety of contributions emphasised how far that will be the case.
Time and the procedures of the House do not allow me to pursue the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Williams, that the professions are no more than pre-entry closed shop trade unions. I doubt whether that is true of many; it is certainly not true of all. However, that argument must be left to a later occasion.
My noble friend Lady Hamwee said that the professions should trumpet their skills. That is absolutely right. The professions should make clear what they contribute to society, how far they have changed, the extent to which they are accessible and the degree to which they recognise that they must continue to make a contribution to their claims to be self-regulating.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Denton, for her remarks. In the course of her comments and in particular her reference to the noble Viscount, Lord Chelmsford, I understand that she endorsed what he said. If so, I am well content. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.