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Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, we agreed in Committee to consider the concerns of the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, to ensure that serious conflicts of interest do not arise in relation to the committees that Ofcom will be able to establish and, in particular,

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whether unanimity should be required in the proceedings of its committees before a declaration of interest by a member of one of those committees could be disregarded.

I believe that the noble Baroness accepts that the highest standards should apply to decisions taken by the members of Ofcom itself. As the members of Ofcom will be acting collectively, we consider that unanimity in meetings of Ofcom and between its members would be appropriate before a declaration of a direct or indirect interest should be disregarded.

As I mentioned in Committee, the Secretary of State must satisfy herself before appointing the chairman and other non-executive members that they do not have financial or other interests which would affect them prejudicially in carrying out their functions as members of Ofcom. However, a member of Ofcom having any form of direct or indirect interest in a matter falling to be considered at a meeting will have to declare that interest. It will be for the other members of Ofcom to decide unanimously whether or not the nature of the interest declared was such that it should disqualify the person concerned.

We will expect the committees established by Ofcom to operate to the highest standards. However, in the case of those committees that are purely advisory in nature, many of their members will be chosen because of their experience or because they represent particular interests. We believe that it would be inappropriate to require unanimity to disregard a declaration of interest on those advisory committees, especially as a single dissenting voice could prevent anyone declaring an entirely legitimate interest from participating in discussions in which their experience would be of value. Therefore, in connection with committees of a purely advisory nature, I hope the noble Baroness will agree that a degree of flexibility should be provided to allow Ofcom to authorise the procedure under which declarations should be dealt with.

With regard to those executive committees established by Ofcom to carry out functions on its behalf, we accept that a higher level of propriety should be expected than might be applied just to advisory committees. Again, as it is likely that many members of executive committees will be chosen for their skills, their experience or to represent particular interests, we do not believe it appropriate that a single voice should be able to prevent participation by those declaring legitimate interests.

Amendment No. 78 therefore proposes that a two-thirds majority of those present and eligible to vote should be in favour of allowing a person declaring an interest to continue to participate in a meeting, subject to the number in favour being above that required for a quorum of the committee. It would again be for the members of the committee in question to decide whether any interest declared was of such a nature that the person should be debarred from participating further in the matter under consideration.

Turning to Amendment No. 79, I can appreciate the purpose which lies behind it. As I have said, we expect Ofcom and its committees to operate to the highest

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standards and they should be as open and transparent in their proceedings as possible. We have accepted changes to the Bill to ensure that Ofcom should follow the principles of good governance applicable to it. While I do not believe that it should be necessary to place the matters covered by the amendment on the face of the Bill, Ofcom should certainly follow its spirit. We would therefore expect Ofcom to be as open as possible about the reasons why declarations of interests made at its meetings were disregarded.

Turning to the noble Baroness's more specific question, as publication of interests is a matter of good governance, there is nothing in the Bill in regard to either the board or committee members. I would expect the same practice of good governance to be applied to both.

In the light of what I have said, I hope that the noble Baroness will accept Amendment No. 78 as an improvement and will agree to withdraw Amendment No. 79.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for her explanation. I certainly welcome government Amendment No. 78. It is a curious situation where the Marshalled List is wrong and my later amendment is dealt with first.

The Minister raised an interesting point with regard to the difference in the treatment of executive as opposed to advisory committees. That is something I shall wish to consider further in case there are any other implications. I welcome the response of the Minister to my amendment and I beg leave to withdraw Amendment No. 79.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Blackstone moved Amendment No. 78:

    Page 13, line 3, at end insert—

"(3A) It shall be the duty of OFCOM, in granting authorisations for the purposes of sub-paragraph (3)(b), to secure that a resolution for those purposes does not allow a person to take part in a discussion or decision at a meeting of a committee established by virtue of paragraph 14(1)(a) unless at least the following requirements are met—
(a) the number of other members of the committee in favour of the resolution is not less than two thirds of those who are both present and entitled to vote on the resolution; and
(b) the number of other members of the committee in favour of the resolution is not less than its quorum."

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Blackstone moved Amendments Nos. 80 to 86:

    Page 13, line 5, leave out "non-staff" and insert "non-executive"

    Page 13, line 12, leave out "non-staff" and insert "non-executive"

    Page 13, line 17, leave out "non-staff" and insert "non-executive"

    Page 13, line 19, leave out "the other non-staff" and insert "other non-executive"

    Page 13, line 42, leave out "Subject to the following provisions of this paragraph,"

    Page 14, line 2, leave out "non-staff" and insert "non-executive"

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    Page 14, line 39, at end insert—

"Public records

21A In paragraph 3 of Schedule 1 to the Public Records Act 1958 (c. 51) (administrative and departmental records of certain bodies to be public records), in the Table, in Part 2, at the appropriate place there shall be inserted—
'Office of Communications.'"

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Baroness Blackstone moved Amendments Nos. 87 and 88:

    Page 15, line 7, leave out ""non-staff" and insert ""non-executive"

    Page 15, line 8, leave out "a staff" and insert "an executive"

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Dentists Act 1984 (Amendment) Order 2001

7.4 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath) rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 30th October be approved [8th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Lord said: My Lords, as part of the Government's modernisation programme for the NHS, we seek to modernise and make more robust the system of professional self-regulation of the healthcare professions. The order before your Lordships' House today is an important first step towards that aim.

Many of the processes and rules of professional regulatory bodies are bound by primary legislation which pre-dates the modern era of openness and responsiveness. The Government have addressed this by taking powers in the Health Act 1999 to modernise this legislation more rapidly and easily than was previously possible.

Section 60 of the Health Act 1999 enables amendments to be made to primary legislation dealing with the regulation of healthcare and associated professions by Order in Council. The order before your Lordships House today concerns dentistry, and I should like to pay tribute to the role of the General Dental Council. Under the presidency of Professor Nairn Wilson and his predecessor, Dame Margaret Seward, the council has pursued a policy of modernisation since at least 1995. This order will place dentistry among the first professions to make life-long learning a mandatory requirement. But it is just the first part of a programme of reform, and work has already begun on a second order which will cover the fitness to practice of dentists.

The first issue addressed by the order is the composition of the council. The current situation is unsatisfactory because the council is too large to be a fully effective decision-making body and the lay representation too small to ensure a fair balance of patient and consumer interest.

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Articles 3 and 4 of the order empower the GDC to reconstitute its council. The exact composition will be the subject of an Order in Council which requires the approval of the Privy Council. The GDC's current thinking is to have a council of between 25 and 30 members, of whom one-third would be lay people and the remainder dentists and professionals complementary to dentistry.

Article 5 of the order provides for the rationalisation of the GDC's committee structure. This provides for the creation of an additional continuing professional development committee and the abolition of the education committee. There has been a misunderstanding in the profession about the education committee proposal. This is a technical amendment. The GDC will continue to have such a committee, with strong representation from the educational institutions to advise on its duty to set educational standards and accredit training institutions, but it will no longer be a statutory committee.

The abolition is proposed because, in contrast to the council's other statutory committees, the education committee has no statutory powers; it cannot suspend or erase a dentist. Removing the committee from primary legislation would therefore give the GDC more flexibility should the composition of the GDC committee responsible for education need to be altered.

Finally, I wish to turn to the other main objective feature of the order, which is about life-long learning for dentists. Continuing professional development programmes are the means by which dentists ensure that their practice is up to date with developments in medical and dental science.

Article 8 of the order empowers the registrar of the GDC to erase from the dental register the name of a dentist who has not met the council's re-certification requirements. However, the GDC recognises that these requirements have to be easily understood by dentists and any sanctions applied fairly. Article 8 also provides for the GDC to make rules on the operation of the re-certification scheme, including the conditions which dentists who have been erased would have to meet to secure restoration to the register.

To provide further assurance that the scheme is fair to dentists, the order provides a right of appeal to a newly-constituted continuing professional development committee for dentists who have been notified that they are to be erased for non-compliance with the council's re-certification scheme. A further right of appeal will then be available to the Privy Council.

Article 9 empowers the GDC to make rules on the procedures to be followed by the CPD committee and the rules of evidence that the committee would have to observe.

I believe that the proposals before the House today are sensible and very much underpin the modernisation of regulation within the profession of dentistry. I commend the order to the House.

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Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 30th October be approved [8th Report from the Joint Committee].—(Lord Hunt of Kings Heath.)

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