Wednesday, 12 February 2003
Private Business. - The Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (Charters Amendment) Bill 2002: Second Stage.
Maurice Hayes (Independent)
I am delighted to support this Bill, on which we will be able to work to remove some of the infelicity that Members have noticed. I also pay tribute to the work of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland and recognise how important it has been, not only in medical education in Ireland but also as a form of invisible export of knowledge and education, from which there is a spin off because those who are educated in this way are ambassadors and friends of Ireland. The work the college does around the world has great potential for the economic enhancement of the country as well as helping us in other ways.
On the medical education front, it is extremely important that we enable the college to be in the position where its graduates have a tradable and recognisable qualification, particularly within these islands. The health service in Northern Ireland depends on people with qualifications from Dublin, Edinburgh or London. It is vital that they should be on an equal footing and transferable and that standards and validation are the same. I am glad the college is preparing itself for this.
I find the Bill difficult to read because of the necessity of referring to other documents. I get worried when a person needs a shelf of books in front of him or her before a Bill can be read. Anyone affected or influenced by legislation in any field should have one document before him or her where he or she can find out his or her rights and responsibilities. I take heart from the explanatory memorandum which suggests that will be the outcome of the exercise. Why could that not have been the starting point? I would be interested to hear what the draftsmen to say about that, whether there could have been a process of consolidation with everything between the same two covers.
I was worried about the rights of appeal in these difficult disciplinary matters and suggest to the college the possibility of a visitor. I know there is provision for the censors, who seem to have quite an onerous task. However, in this day and age, the idea of a totally self-regulating body is rather passé. It might not be a bad idea to have an external presence among the Senators, as other colleges do, such as a visitor.
I was also somewhat worried about a phrase suggested in the insertion in paragraph 16, stating that the council shall be afforded the widest flexibility as regards the governing of the college. While one should not require people to dot every "i" and cross every "t", I find it difficult to get a satisfactory legal definition that comprehends what "the widest flexibility" is, other than "Let's do whatever we like". I suggest we look at that on Committee Stage.