Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Lord Ackner: My Lords, I should like to add a few comments to what has just been said. The delays which have been described are referred to by the Master of the Rolls as,


The gloomy report to which reference has been made comes as no surprise for this one simple reason. In the centre of page 3 of his report, the Master of the Rolls says,


    "The judicial strength of the Court was increased by two in 1993, and by three during the last year. This last increase, although very welcome, was half the number which I then judged necessary to begin reducing the backlog. There was never any ground for hoping that three additional appointments would do more than slow the rate at which the backlog increased. So it has proved, despite the great contribution made by these additional Lords Justices".

Therefore, "too little, too late" is a fair comment on the observations of the Master of the Rolls. In his final conclusions--four of them in all--the Master of the Rolls in the third of them said in terms,


    "If oral hearings are to be significantly shortened, the judges must receive skilled professional assistance, on a one-to-one basis, as is the practice elsewhere".

I raised that point on the last occasion of the increase of judges in the Court of Appeal and I ask yet again whether any serious thought is being given to it. What is being overlooked in thinking that the small increase in judicial manpower will assist is the fact that there was sitting last year, as retired Lords Justices, four hard-working, highly competent members of the judiciary--Sir John Megaw, Sir Michael Kerr, Sir Francis Purchas and Sir Tasker Watkins. None of those four can sit this year because--I do not criticise the legislation: I support it--having reached 75, they are no longer able to sit in a judicial capacity. So the position will be increased in difficulty by that.

The other feature that goes towards the backlogs is the increase in litigants in person, the product of cutting down on legal aid. That fouls up the lists and wastes the time of the court in trying to understand what on earth the appeal is about and then explaining it in some detail. All in all this is a very sorry picture and I beg leave to doubt whether the additional three judges will slow up what is occurring at the moment to any real degree. Their appointment will certainly provide no cure.

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, I am grateful for the support given to the Motion by my noble and learned friend Lord Ackner and by the noble Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg. In the course of my observations I intimated that a review of appellate procedure will take place in the near future and obviously the question of the extent to which skilled help is required for the Lords Justices will then be taken into account. As the report of the Master of the Rolls indicates, there has been some increase in the support for the judiciary in the Office of Civil Appeals during the time that I have been Lord Chancellor. But the question of whether that should become much more

26 Mar 1996 : Column 1645

general is an important one which I would expect to be looked at very closely in the review to which I have referred.

It is clear, as the noble Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, said, that the method of working which has been developed requires more judicial time out of court than hitherto was the case. I believe that that aspect is well understood and will continue. I also entirely agree with the view that the Lord Justices in the Court of Appeal and the other members of the court--the Master of the Rolls, the President of the Family Division and the Vice-Chancellor when they sit there as in other parts of their jurisdiction--are extremely hard working and the amount of material of high quality turned out by the Court of Appeal during the year is extremely impressive to anyone who is given an opportunity to study it.

I think it right therefore that this order should be passed on the view that a more thorough investigation of the situation and review of the civil appellate procedure should proceed. The review by my noble and learned friend Lord Woolf is primarily of civil justice at first instance and it is therefore natural that to follow that there should be an investigation of precisely what arrangements for the future should arise out of that and in other ways in relation to the Court of Appeal.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Employment Protection (Continuity of Employment of National Health Service Employees) (Modification) Order 1996

7.47 p.m.

The Earl of Courtown rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 8th March 1996 be approved [13th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Earl said: My Lords, this order under the Employment Protection (Consolidation) Act 1978 is to preserve the continuity of employment of doctors and dentists in the registrar grades when they move between different health service employers. By the registrar grades I mean the grades of registrar, senior registrar and specialist registrar. The new grade of specialist registrar will gradually replace the grades of registrar and senior registrar.

Registrars, like other doctors and dentists in training, provide services as well as receive training. Indeed, doctors' training in this country is a practical training. They provide a valuable part of the National Health Service.

When National Health Service trusts were established, following the National Health Service and Community Care Act 1990, the contracts of employment of the staff working in hospitals were in general transferred to the trust. However, an exception was made for doctors and dentists in the registrar and senior registrar grades. This recognised the importance of higher specialist training and the fact that most doctors in higher specialist training would have to move

26 Mar 1996 : Column 1646

between different hospitals in order to gain the necessary experience to complete their specialist training.

In practice, the health boards in Scotland are no longer involved in the provision of clinical services or indeed in personnel management for staff who work in hospitals. It is quite usual to have the situation at present that a registrar is effectively employed by a trust on behalf of the health board, which is the nominal employer. The boards, however, recognise that the employment of the doctor is effectively on behalf of the trust which is responsible for the hospital in which the doctor works. We are going to simplify this by transferring the contracts of employment of hospital registrars to trusts.

The situation in England is roughly parallel to that in Scotland. The registrar grades have been employed by the regional health authorities, which are to be abolished under the Health Authorities Act 1995. The registrar grades will have their contracts transferred to NHS trusts with effect from 1st April this year, and they will have their continuity of service protected. This date, 1st April 1996, is also the grade commissioning date for the specialist registrar grade.

Following consultations with the British Medical Association, Ministers in Scotland as well as England have given an assurance that they are willing to preserve the continuity of service of doctors and dentists in the registrar grades. In other words, a doctor should not suffer a disadvantage from having to rotate between different hospitals as part of his or her training.

Under the Employment Protection (Consolidation) Act 1978 the right to sue for unfair dismissal is restricted to employees who have had a minimum period of service. While we do not expect any doctor to be dismissed, the order will provide that a registrar would not lose continuity of service by virtue of having moved between different health service employers. There are certain other rights under the Act which also depend on a qualifying length of service.

The transfer of the contracts of employment will not alter the terms and conditions of service of the training grade doctors nor is it intended that it should have any adverse effect on their career prospects.

In Scotland the Scottish Council for Postgraduate Medical and Dental Education holds the funding for 100 per cent. of the basic salary costs of doctors and dentists in the training grades. We do not envisage that the transfer of the contracts of employment will in itself affect the funding arrangements.

These changes will affect about 1,000 hospital doctors in Scotland in the registrar and senior registrar grades, most of whom will, over the next year, enter the new specialist registrar grade. The creation of the single grade in higher specialist training was a key recommendation of the working group on specialist medical training otherwise known as the Calman Report.

The order will assist in making an orderly transfer of the registrar grades to trust employment. The educational supervision through the postgraduate deans and the Scottish Council for Postgraduate Medical and Dental Education will remain. I hope that the medical

26 Mar 1996 : Column 1647

and dental professions will recognise the value of this further safeguard for the registrar grades. I commend the order to the House. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 8th March 1996 be approved [13th Report from the Joint Committee].--(The Earl of Courtown.)

Lord Dubs: My Lords, I shall not take up the time of the House for more than a moment or two. Perhaps I may first declare an interest in that I am a non-executive director of a NHS trust. I have one question. I notice that the order comes into effect on 1st April 1996. What is the position as regards people in the medical and dental professions in the period up to 1st April 1996? Presumably, the point of continuity is that they will be prevented from suffering certain disadvantages through a break in their employment. That is a welcome feature of the proposal.

I wonder, however, whether some persons who changed their position in the period up to 1st April 1996 may not be covered by the order. If that is the case, what can be done to stop their being at a disadvantage? Obviously, no one is in favour of retrospective legislation. In this case, however, retrospection would remedy what I fear could be some significant injustice caused to people caught by the order not having been introduced earlier.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page