Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Monkswell: I was going to say that I have been driven to speak by the last speaker, but I had intended to contribute anyway, so perhaps I should say--this may come as a surprise--that I am driven with alacrity to defend architects. Perhaps I should say first that I am a member of MSF, the Manufacturing, Science and Finance trades union, which currently has some difficulties with the Royal Institute of British Architects.

Secondly, and probably more importantly, I have used the services of architects and I have friends in the architectural profession. Furthermore, because of my

1 Apr 1996 : Column 44

involvement directly and indirectly with the civil engineering and building industry over a period of 30 years, I can testify to the professional competence of architects. The professional way in which they go about their business extends not only to their professional competence in a technical sense but also, generally speaking and in my experience, to the way in which they treat other professionals as well as people involved in their own business.

I shall concentrate my remarks on Amendment No. 200, which is grouped with Amendment No. 199. Part of my reason for speaking is that I fear that the concentration on the minimisation of costs and administrative burdens addresses only one side of the equation. We have had 17 years of this Government, whose constant cry is that they are keen on reducing taxation. We need to recognise, however, that all that they have done is to reduce the taxation levels of the very rich; the taxation burdens for the rest of us have increased. That is the first point. By concentrating on arguments about reducing taxation, the Government have lost track of the other side of the equation, which is the fact that we must be aware of the need for the provision of adequate and decent levels of service. By concentrating on just one side of the equation, the Government have effectively lost their way in terms of being a government of the country. Judging from the opinion polls, my view is shared by the vast majority of the British people.

I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, will not take it amiss if I say that if he were to press Amendment No. 200, he would in effect be going down the same kind of road as the Government, because by concentrating on one side of the equation, if I may put it like that, there is a risk of losing sight of the other side of the equation. I hope that the noble Lord will think again about Amendment No. 200 and take on board the need to look at both sides of the equation.

Lord Elton: I, too, am tempted to my feet by the intervention of my noble friend Lord Caithness. I had expected to say that it was a great pity that my noble friend had not been here for our earlier consideration of the Bill, but having heard his speech I am not quite sure whether that is what I want to say.

I am puzzled by what my noble friend said. The burden of his message was that architects are to be mistrusted and done down at every possible turn because he has had such a bad experience with them and so, he says, has everybody else. How strange, therefore, that he should object to the constitution of a body which determines who may be allowed to practise as architects, when the majority of that body is appointed to protect the public interest while only a minority is elected by the profession. I should have thought that my noble friend would argue for exactly that. I hope that he will repent of his intervention.

Lord Ezra: I, too, was a little puzzled by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness. I have come over the years to respect his views on things. However, not being a member of any of the professions about which we are speaking and not belonging to any of their organisations,

1 Apr 1996 : Column 45

but speaking as somebody who may potentially employ the services of an architect, I would take it amiss if there were not a register of those eminent people so that I could be assured that the architect I selected had the normal, required professional qualifications. I strongly support the amendments proposed by my noble friend Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank. A simple register, administered with minimum cost, is what we require. I very much hope that my noble friend's amendments to that effect will be accepted.

Lord Lucas: I am delighted that at last we have had the opportunity to hear the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, whom I had hoped to see on Thursday. He is here now, however, and in prime time and I am sure that achieving that was the real intention behind the Division on Clause 111 stand part which the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, called. I can find no other reason for that action.

I am rather taken by the thought that 30,000 architects are all standing up, crying out for the Bill. One wonders what would happen if one were to pile them all on top of each other. One asks oneself whether they would stand up. I am sure that my noble friend Lord Caithness would have some opinions on that point.

We support this part of the Bill and the efforts made to bring the provisions to fruition by the companions in arms in architecture of the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers. Despite what my noble friend Lord Caithness said, we believe that they will prove to be a worthwhile change to the legislation.

On the amendments, I find myself in the same camp as the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell. The noble Lord began by taxing my imagination and I wondered whether we were talking about the same Bill. Eventually, however, we returned to the Bill and the noble Lord supported the attitude that I shall take to Amendment No. 200. All's well that Monkswell, I suppose.

The aim of the amendments is to ensure that the new Architects Registration Board does not spawn several new large and expensive committees. We are certainly sympathetic to that aim. We have established a new professional conduct committee but, having abolished the Board of Architectural Education and the admission committee, the last thing we would wish to see is large new committees rising from the ashes, as it were, to take their place. I accept that such committees may be bureaucratic and expensive to run, and one of our aims in reducing the size of the Architects' Registration Council of the UK was to reduce registration costs.

We agree with the minimalist approach implied by the amendments. Our proposals would reduce the board to only 15 members and we would not wish the board to be supplemented by vast committees. However, I do not think that the proposed amendments are the right way to deal with this possibility.

While I might agree with the sentiments contained in Amendment No. 200, I do not think legislation is the right way forward. After all, any professional body is bound to act reasonably with regard to the interests of that profession, and this would include avoiding unnecessary costs.

1 Apr 1996 : Column 46

There must be a certain amount of trust and a new organisation should be free to run its own affairs without having its hands tied unduly by legislation. If, at some time in the future, the board were to act in a way contrary to the spirit of this legislation, there is the possibility of changing the composition of the board both through elections and through the appointed members.

The proposals in Amendment No. 199 to insist on a majority of board members on all committees established by the board unnecessarily ties the hands of the board, which ought, in establishing its small, effective but inexpensive committees, to be granted the freedom to choose who should serve on them.

Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank: I, too, very much regret the fact that the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, was not able to be present on Second Reading because I thought that the points that he made were very much Second Reading points. Although I recognise their weight, I found his remarks today a little intemperate and prejudiced. If the noble Earl does not mind me saying so, the answer to his claim that the Bill is a "load of rubbish"--those were his words--although it is argued that it is designed to protect the public, was extremely well given by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, who pointed to the membership of the board, a matter to which we shall return when we reach Amendment No. 211.

At the time of the passage of the original legislation, the professions had much greater status and were taken for granted by the public. However, their status has changed greatly during the past 60 or more years. Although I do not necessarily agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, has said about the composition of the board, the fact that by election it can be changed by that part of it which is subject to nomination is safeguard enough. I say to the noble Viscount that I would not resist an argument, if it were put forward by the profession of chartered surveyors, that it should have registration. I say cautiously that I think it is mean of him as a chartered surveyor to try to interfere with the entitlements of architects when I am sure that the great majority of that profession would not wish, in a similar way, to interfere with the wishes of the profession of surveyors, if it decided to pursue this course.

I am grateful to the noble Lords, Lords Monkswell and Elton, and to my noble friend Lord Ezra for the support they have given to the spirit of my amendment. I am not entirely happy with what the Minister said in referring to the composition of the board, which could not be quickly changed, as sufficient guarantee against the possibility that this would not be minimalist but would grow by the establishment of new committees. He said specifically that the last thing the Government would wish to see would be large new committees arising. I believe that this provides some guarantee that, should there be any danger of it, the Government will endeavour to find ways to reverse that trend, which would not be in keeping with the contents of the Bill or the intentions behind it.

1 Apr 1996 : Column 47

5.30 p.m.

Lord Elton: The noble Lord was kind enough to thank me for the support for his amendment. In case he intends to do it again at a later stage, I point out that I was not saying anything about his amendment but supporting this part of the Bill against the misguided attack of my noble friend Lord Caithness. I reserve the right to attack anything that the noble Lord brings forward at the next stage with just as much ferocity as that, if the need arises.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page