HC Deb 11 June 1920 vol 130 cc785-95

Whereas it is desirable to provide further funds for the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons to enable it to conduct examinations, prosecutions, and inquiries, authorised by statute and generally to carry out such other objects or duties as may be considered beneficial to the veterinary profession and necessary for the promotion of the art and science of veterinary medicine and surgery.

Brigadier-General COLVIN

I beg to move to leave out the word "prosecutions."

So far from being hostile to the Bill, I am very much in favour of it in every way; but we are very apprehensive that money to be raised under Clause 2 may be used for the prosecution, or even the persecution, of the unregistered practitioner. The unregistered practitioner is essential to the community in the present day. It is no doubt a counsel of perfection that every man in veterinary practice should have a diploma or certificate, but that is not possible at the present time, and the unregistered practitioner has reason to apprehend that he may be subjected to prosecution under this Bill. I move this Amendment in order that I may, I hope, elicit an assurance from the Minister in charge of this Bill that the unregistered practitioner will not be subjected to bye-laws which may really result in his not being able to continue in his profession. There have been bye-laws passed by the Royal Veterinary College which have not been enforced up to a very recent date, and by that enforcement they have necessitated veterinary surgeons dismissing unregistered practitioners who were in their service. We are assured by those in charge of this Bill that it is not the intention of the Bill to persecute the unregistered practitioner, but we do want something more substantial to indicate that they will not use the powers and the money they obtain by this Bill in inflicting any new and unnecessary hardship on the unregistered practitioner.


In seconding this Amendment, I should like to say it is moved with the object of letting the House and public know that there is very strong feeling throughout the country that a very useful class of public servants, known as unregistered veterinary practitioners, should be protected from any evil effects to themselves and their calling under this Bill. I am sure it is not the object of the Bill that they should be subjected to those evil effects, and, from the assurance we have from the R.H.G. representing the Ministry of Agriculture, I am sure the remarks that will fall from him will completely clear up any fear there may be throughout the country on this subject.


I quite understand that this Amendment has been moved, not for the purpose of pressing it, but in order to enable me to make a statement, which I hope will remove any misapprehension which exists at present. Of course, as regards the actual Amendment to leave out the word "prosecution," it must be clear that one of the objects of the Royal Veterinary College, and one of the objects to which they apply their funds, is to prosecute those of their own number who are guilty of unprofessional conduct. Obviously, discipline must he maintained, and though that is by no means the only object, it is one of the objects, and a proper object if the high standard we wish to maintain in the veterinary profesion is to be maintained. But a good deal of fear and apprehension has been raised on two points, first of all on the question whether this Bill will in any way stop the practice of the unregistered practitioner. It is a fact that a very great deal of the ordinary work in regard to smaller matters is carried on to-day by unregistered practitioners, and, indeed, farming operations could not be carried on at the present time if this practice were stopped, because there are not enough veterinary surgeons to do this class of work. There is nothing whatever in the Bill to prevent these unregistered practitioners from carrying on their practice, provided only they do not represent themselves to be veterinary surgeons.

In addition to that, there has been a considerable amount of fear caused by a particular amendment which was carried by the Royal Veterinary College in respect of one of their bye-laws, which deals with the specific case of what is called "covering," which means this: a fully qualified practitioner has an assistant, who is unregistered and who is not fully qualified. He acts as an assistant. There is no objection to his doing so. The Government certainly has no objection, and I do not think the promoters of the Bill have any objection, provided he does not use the qualifications and status of his chief to enable him to palm himself off as a registered practitioner. A bye- law, No. 53, was passed recently to stop that practice. It is as follows: Any of the following practices on the part of Veterinary Surgeons is considered by the Council to amount to conduct disgraceful in a professional respect within the meaning of Section 6 of the Veterinary Surgeons Act, 1881. (iii) Covering or by his presence, countenance, advice, assistance or co-operation knowingly enabling an unqualified person (whether described as an assistant or otherwise) to attend or treat any patient or otherwise to engage in veterinary practice. Nothing in this paragraph shall, however, prevent a qualified veterinary surgeon from employing a bonâ fide student or articled pupil, provided that he is not employed in such a way as to lead the public to suppose he is qualified. The wording of that bye-law, and the construction to be put upon it has induced a great fear that it is the intention of the college to put a stop to this system. Every kind of objection has been made to this bye-law. The college has been very strongly urged to repeal it, and to go back to their original bye-law on the same subject. This is as follows: 54. If any veterinary surgeon shall permit his name to be used by any unqualified or unregistered person, or do or permit any other act whereby an unqualified or unregistered person may pass himself off as, or practise as, a veterinary surgeon, he shall be deemed guilty of conduct disgraceful in a professional respect within the meaning of Section 6 of the Veterinary Surgeons Act, 1881. 1.0 P.M.

To the bye-law in that form there was no objection, but to the bye-law introduced in its new form very strong objection has been taken, and a great deal of apprehension has been raised on the part of unregistered persons who have been assistants to registered practitioners. I undertook, in conjunction with my hon. Friend behind me (Mr. Cautley), who is in charge of this Bill to-day, to remove this apprehension if possible, so that there shall be no fear of any injustice being done to the unregistered person. I put the matter to the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons as to whether they were prepared to withdraw the objectionable bye-law and to go back to the old one. It was pointed out that that was not sufficient, and that it would be open for them in the future, after obtaining the passage of this Bill, to go back to the old bye-law—to reverse their decision. I, therefore, asked them this question: whether they would give an undertaking that they would not alter this bye-law again in future without, first of all, consulting the Ministry of Agriculture. So we will be posing as guardian angels looking after the interests of these unregistered persons. I am glad to say that the Royal College has given the necessary assurance. In order that the matter may be placed beyond all doubt, so that what they have said may be on record and be pointed to hereafter, I propose to read their letter to the House:

"Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons,

10, Red Lion Square,

London, W.C.1.

June 1, 1920.

Veterinary Surgeons Act (1881) Amendment Bill.

Sir,—At a meeting of the Council of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons held to-day, I was instructed to state for your information that at the quarterly meeting of the Council held on 9th April last notice was given, in accordance with the provisions of the Charter, for the withdrawal of the existing bye-law relating to covering, i.e., bye-law 53 (iii), and for the substitution in its place of the old bye-law 54. This Motion will be taken at a special meeting called for the purpose on July 1, and will be confirmed by a subsequent special meeting in the usual way.

The Council hereby also undertakes that no alteration in this bye-law shall be made in future without consultation in the first instance with the Ministry of Agriculture.

I am at the same time to give this official assurance: that there is nothing in the Amendment Bill which will interfere, nor has the College any desire to interfere, with the work of unregistered persons of any description in the performance of operations on or the treatment of animals, provided they do not represent themselves to be qualified veterinary surgeons.

I am, Sir,

Your obedient Servant,


Secretary and Registrar."

I think that letter is satisfactory. People who wish to be very critical may say that the by-law has not actually been withdrawn, and that the under-1.0 P.M. taking only amounts to a notice of withdrawal to be carried out on a certain future date. I am to explain that the reason for that is simply this: that under the constitution of the College no by-law can be altered, withdrawn, or amended unless three months is given, and subsequently there has to be a second meeting confirming the appeal, or Amendment, or whatever the action may be. But the letter coming from the Secretary of the Council is really an obligation of honour, and there can be no doubt about it that the full intention of the council to withdraw that bye-law, and to replace it by the old bye-law. We have that assurance which I have read to the House, which, therefore, will be public property, that no alteration will in the future be made without consultation with the Ministry of Agriculture. I hope that that assurance, coupled with the further assurance that so far as interference with the general practice of unregistered practitioners goes there is no intention, as stated in the letter, of that sort, provided always they do not endeavour to pass themselves off as fully-qualified veterinary surgeons. I hope that these two assurances will be sufficient, and will remove not only the objections to the Bill that the Mover and Seconder of the Amendment and others have felt, but also restore confidence amongst the class—the very useful class—of those unregistered practitioners with whom we do not want to interfere in any way.


May I ask whether the Council of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons has the power, as indicated in that letter, and by the Speech of the right hon. Gentleman, to bind their successors for all future time as regards the making or the unmaking of bye-laws.


I would not like to say that they have thaèÍkáwer. But the undertaking which I have read out to the House, I feel is quite sure, is sufficient to prevent any abuse taking place in the future.


As one of those who have put down an Amendment I should like to say that the explanation which has just been given by the right hon. Gentleman, the Parliamentary Secretary, is perfectly satisfactory as far as I am concerned. We know it can only be an obligation of honour, but for my part I accept the letter of the Secretary of the Royal College as a matter which is binding upon them in honour, and that is quite sufficient, without any further legal obligation attached to it. There is no doubt that the new bye-law passed is illegal and beyond the power of the college. It excited the suspicions of those of us who sat on Standing Committee B. They, therefore, pressed on the Parliamentary Secretary to intervene on behalf of the unregistered practitioner, and I am sure they are all very much obliged to him for what he has done. For the future the unregistered practitioner will look to the Ministry of Agriculture as his guardian angel, as the right hon. Gentleman has said. I hope now the controversy with regard to that particular matter will be ended. It is necessary that the Royal College should have power, and, therefore, that the word "prosecutions" should remain part of the Preamble.


On behalf of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, who have entrusted me with this Bill, I desire to say that I agree with everything that has fallen from the right hon. Gentleman, the Parliamentary Secretary. Following out the terms of the letter which he read, notice has been given to call this meeting to repeal the bye-law to which exception has been taken, and the college will revert to the old bye-law for the protection of its members. I do not admit, however, that the right hon. Gentleman was right in his view that the passing of the bye-law was illegal. I should like to say this, that the present Bill does not deal with the powers of the veterinary surgeons at all. None of the old Acts or the amending Acts, or any of them, touch at all the practice of operations for the doctoring of animals at all. äkápower that is given to the College is to set up a teaching school to exercise disciplinary powers over its members, and it has the power to secure to those of its members who have gone through an expensive training the right of reserving to themselves the title of duly qualified veterinary surgeons. Beyond that it gives no power, and it is open to anybody to perform these operations on animals providing they do not represent themselves as duly qualified veterinary surgeons. This measure is a proposal, not so much for the protection of the men who are qualified, but for the protection of the public at large, and it provides funds for the increase of veterinary knowledge and practice and for the extension of research work. The unqualified men who perform certain operations on sheep and pigs are doing not only a useful but an important work for agriculture. This Bill does not interfere with them in the slightest degree. I accept what the right hon. Gentleman has said and I think the Amendment may be withdrawn.

Captain ELLIOT

I confess that I feel sympathy with a body of men who have had to make considerable concessions in altering their constitution, and I hope that they will be allowed to get their Bill. Later on I should like to discuss the question of the further extension of veterinary science, but perhaps that is a matter which would come more appropriate on the Third Reading. I wish to state, however, that the power to prosecute is urgently necessary. The University of Leeds has a five years' course for a veterinary surgeon, and it is rather hard that a man who has gone through that training should be placed in the same category as anybody who has been assisting perhaps only for three or four months. The practice of the qualified man getting the assistance of non-qualified men was a great evil, and in trying to get rid of it the College deserves every support from this House. The concession they have made goes a long way indeed, and I think they will fulfil the assurance which has been read out although I know they cannot bind their successors. I am aware that when a Minister gives that as a complete assurance he is taking considerable risks, because professional fees run very high on this question, and they are very jealous of other people who are not in their particular union. As it would be a rather risky thing to give the union such power it is also a very risky thing to give a body of any professional men such powers. I hope for these reasons the Amendment will not be persisted in.

Captain Sir B. STANIER

As one of the promoters of this Bill, and after the pledge that has been given, I hope the House will be satisfied that everything has been done to safeguard what we call the old cow doctors who do most admirable work and are very qualified men, although they have not got the veterinary surgeon's certificate. The promoters of this Bill do not mean to injure those men, although the pledge given is only contained in a letter in the annals of this House. It is said that the letter will not be binding on their successors, but the committee of the Veterinary College are men of renown and in every way honest, and this pledge, having been given here, I do not think it will hardly be possible for them to go against it. The Bill is out for the support of the veterinary profession, and it is also out to safeguard the public, and after this pledge has been given, I hope the Bill will be passed.

Lieut.-Colonel FREMANTLE

I should like to add a word in the same direction from the extremely important analogy of public health. In the matter of public health we are constantly coming against the question of veterinary surgeons, and we have to consider the particular point as to how far we are able to rely on unqualified veterinary surgeons for safeguarding our milk supply. I have the double obligation of representing the line which is most likely to secure the proper protection of the milk supply, and that of the ordinary Member of Parliament of seeing that justice is done to our constituents who have not obtained the same qualifications. I think the matter rests between the ideal and the actual. On the ideal, I am bound to admit that some of my worthy colleagues in the sphere of public health are inclined to look rather too much to the ideal as if it were practical at the present time, and they are out for entrusting everything to fully-qualified practitioners of veterinary science, and they would like to have the most rigid regard for discipline, to keep up prosecutions with the utmost rigour possible, and this was the bone of contention of the unqualified surgeons against this Bill.

In that respect I endorse what has been said with regard to the necessary powers for the qualifications of members of the Veterinary Surgeons College. I have some analogous experience from the point of view of a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons, and one knows that the same kind of line would be adopted by the members of the College of Veterinary Surgeons. I quite agree that a pledge given by the Council of such a college would be regarded by its successor as binding, subject to any amendments put forward through the proper channel, and I join in the tributes to the honesty and so on of the Council, but I am bound to say that even veterinary surgeons of the highest degree are human, and may forget a promise that their predecessors have made. That point has to be borne in mind, and, although without a doubt the Council of the College of Veterinary Surgeons in 1950 would feel it self bound by anything that the Council of the College had promised in 1920, it is extremely probable that they will have entirely forgotten any promise that has been made to the Minister, and may, therefore, act in disregard of it. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to bear the point in mind, so that if he cannot definitely embody this promise in the Bill it may be remembered by his department in the administration of the veterinary law. I look upon the right hon. Gentleman's department as analogous to the Ministry of Health. It is the Ministry of Veterinary Health, and it is essential to our public health service. Therefore, I wish to have a definite policy to promote the proper use of veterinary surgeons.

I have already said that some of my colleagues in the public health service are extremely anxious to act only through fully-qualified veterinary surgeons. I should wish to do that if it were possible, and I hope in the next world that we may have officials fully qualified in every respect. Enthusiasts and idealists very often lay down this kind of principle on paper; they wish everybody to be absolutely up to the mark in every respect, and to trust only men who are up to the mark with the powers conferred by the State. We have, however, to meet the actual needs at the present time, and the supply of veterinary surgeons includes a large number of men who are unqualified, and who have not been able or willing to go through the five years' course of preparation and instruction in veterinary work. We cannot get a proper supply of veterinary surgeons fully qualified who have gone through the five years' course, and the present time, when horse traffic is being constantly taken over by motor traffic, is exceptionally difficult. It takes away a large amount of the remuneration which, after all, is the attraction to young students to go through the five years' veterinary education. We have therefore to be content with the services, to a very large extent, of unqualified veterinary surgeons. I have some knowledge of country life, and I have very great respect for these men, whose common-sense very often makes up for the letters acquired by examination. I hope that the leaving in of the word "prosecutions" will not prejudice the work of the unqualified surgeons, but at the same time I say quite definitely, from my knowledge of the College of Veterinary Surgeons, with which I have had many dealings, that I feel fairly confident that prosecutions will not be undertaken in any unjust sense. It is necessary, if you are going to aim at a higher standard in any profession, to have your disciplinary powers, as well as such funds as are proposed to be provided by this Bill. I am, therefore, extremely anxious that we should retain the word "prosecutions" in the Preamble, and I hope that the Amendment will not be pressed.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.