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Lord Lucas: I shall instantly satisfy my noble friend by saying that I shall not give him an answer now and that I shall write to him.

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I turn to the amendment. One of the duties of the new board will be to consult such professional bodies as it considers appropriate before adopting any qualifications, practical experience, and examination requirements for registration. I can fully understand the concern of the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, to make it absolutely certain that the chartered architectural bodies will be among the consultees. Their advice on the criteria for registration will be of particular importance to the board.

Let me therefore assure the Committee that in carrying out that function the board will have to act reasonably in deciding which bodies to consult and in having regard to any advice received. It would clearly be unreasonable for the board to fail to include chartered architectural bodies in its consultations, or not to consider their representations. For that reason, I see no need for a specific reference to that group of consultees on the face of the Bill. I hope that I have reassured the noble Lord and that he will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank: I hesitate to intervene between the Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Finsberg, but the answer to the noble Lord's question is that there are acceptable reciprocal arrangements between the member states of the European Union under the architects' directive. The point is most important and it is one to which the new registration body must give continuing attention.

I am grateful for what the Minister said. In particular, I am comforted by his comment about the board having to act reasonably. To say that the profession should be among the consultees might seem to diminish its relative role. I am sure that was not his intention, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Lucas moved Amendment No. 202:

Page 66, line 40, leave out ("within three") and insert--
("(a) where the application is made on the ground that he satisfies subsection (1)(a), within three months of his application being duly made; and
(b) where the application is made on the ground that he satisfies subsection (1)(b), within six").

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 202, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 204 to 208 and 214 to 217.

Clause 116 sets out the functions of the registrar of architects and requires him to notify applicants for registration of a decision within three months. That will allow sufficient time for routine applications. However, a small minority of applications, mainly from overseas, require the board to exercise its judgment about the standard of competence attained and may require the applicant to pass an examination. That will need more time. Amendment No. 202 therefore will allow six months instead of three for the registrar to notify applicants in such cases.

Clause 117 requires the professional conduct committee to make a disciplinary order against a person whom it has been found guilty of unacceptable

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professional conduct or professional incompetence. This order may involve erasure from the register, suspension, a fine or simply a reprimand. Amendment No. 204 would replace this requirement with a discretion and would give the committee freedom not to impose any form of disciplinary order if it considered the matter too trivial to merit any punishment.

Amendment No. 205 is consequential to this change (to Amendment No. 204). Instead of publishing the names of people against whom a disciplinary order has been made, the professional conduct committee would be required to publish a list of those whom it has found guilty of unacceptable professional conduct or professional incompetence and give a description of the nature of the conduct or offence concerned.

Amendment No. 214A corrects a minor drafting error. If an appeal against a disciplinary order or against the removal of a person's name from the register is going to be made to the High Court or the Court of Session, the clock will start running from the date the notice of decision is served, instead of the date of the disciplinary action concerned.

Amendment No. 208 corrects a drafting error in Clause 117. As drafted, one of the possible penalties for failure to pay a fine imposed on a person found guilty of unacceptable professional conduct or professional incompetence would be a further fine. This was not intended. Instead, the amendment will make the penalty for non payment of a fine, either suspension or erasure from the register.

The other amendments in this group, (Nos. 206, 207, 214, 215, 216, 217) are necessary consequential amendments. I trust that this group of amendments will meet with the Committee's approval. I beg to move.

Lord Monkswell: Perhaps I may refer to a comment which the Minister made about Amendment No. 204. He suggested that the amendment would give the professional conduct committee the discretion not to impose a penalty against someone whom it had found guilty of professional misconduct or incompetence. He suggested that the reason for not imposing a penalty was that the transgression might be considered too trivial.

I am not sure that the Minister meant to make that suggestion and perhaps I may suggest another scenario. The misconduct or incompetence may be of a serious nature but the standing of the architect and the fact that he has been found guilty will be enough of a penalty in itself. That will give the professional conduct committee the ability to declare the fact that they have found someone guilty, even though for a significant offence, yet impose no penalty. Does the Minister confirm that that is an acceptable understanding of the amendment?

Lord Lucas: I hesitate to leap onto that possibly shaky ground. I shall consider what the noble Lord said and shall write to him if, after consideration, I in any way disagree with what he said.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 116, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 117 [Discipline]:

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Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank moved Amendment No. 203:

Page 67, line 43, at beginning insert ("serious or repeated").

The noble Lord said: I hesitated in tabling the amendment, which is self explanatory, because I strongly believe in the need to maintain a high level of competence in the profession. Although the profession might not like my comment I must say that it, like every other profession, has its bottom 10 per cent. which it could do without. I have no wish to protect them and it would not be proper to do so given my previous comment that the overriding purpose of the legislation is to protect the public and not the profession.

Nor would I agree that the amendment includes the provision "serious and repeated". I am substituting "or" for "and", which is an important factor. Either the shortcomings should be serious or they should be repeated. It would not be sufficient that the two factors should be taken together. I hope that I have made that clear, although I am not sure that I have.

We all make mistakes in our professional life and elsewhere and there is no point in pursuing a minor or one-off error of the kind that everyone makes from time to time. I am aware that there is always a danger of certain vexatious complaints resulting in a great deal more work than the new board can undertake. I hope that the Minister will see the intention of my proposal and will respond in the spirit of it. I hope that he will strongly support the need for the new board to do all within its power within the terms of the Bill to ensure that the profession serves the public in the best possible way.

Lord Lucas: The noble Lord explained himself very well and I have a clear understanding of the difference between "serious or repeated" and "serious and repeated". An error which is not serious but has been repeated is perhaps the noble Lord's continuing demotion of my noble friend Lord Caithness!

The Government are opposed to Amendment No. 203 on the simple ground that it is unnecessary. There are already two opportunities to decide whether an allegation of professional incompetence is taken further. First, persons appointed by the board, or the professional conduct committee itself, must satisfy themselves that there is a case to answer. Secondly, the professional conduct committee has discretion to satisfy itself whether professional incompetence has taken place. In both cases it will be possible to decide that the matter is sufficiently trivial or isolated not to be regarded as professional incompetence.

The addition of the words "serious or repeated" would do little to clarify matters. After all, their interpretation is a matter of opinion and it would be for the same committee to decide. In any event, I expect that the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, will be doubly reassured by the Government's Amendment No. 204, which removes the requirement for the committee to make any disciplinary order if it considers none to be necessary.

I hope that my remarks have convinced the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

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6 p.m.

Lord Elton: Before the noble Lord withdraws the amendment, as I am sure he will, I ask my noble friend to notice that as presently drafted, Clause 117 requires that the case "shall" be investigated where there is an allegation of either of the two kinds of offences mentioned. Therefore, the discretion to which he referred is not apparent on the face of the Bill. If the Bill said that the case "may" be investigated, what my noble friend said would be plain to all who read the legislation. I hope that my noble friend will seek further clarification about that before the next stage because it would be a great pity if this machine, which is intended to be smooth, simple and cheap to run, were required accidentally to investigate every scintilla of doubt in relation to professional propriety. For once, I find myself in modest agreement with the noble Lord opposite.

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