HC Deb 11 November 1966 vol 735 cc1782-94
Mr. J. E. B. Hill

I beg to move Amendment No. 11, in page 25, line 25, after 'person', to insert 'who has been!.

It might be convenient, Mr. Speaker, if we also take the following Amendment standing in my name, Amendment No. 12, in line 26, after 'institution', insert: 'and who has himself previously received appropriate instructions from a veterinary surgeon'.

Mr. Speaker

If there are no objections, so be it.

Mr. Hill

This is an attempt to put into legislative form the requirement that lay instructors, when teaching or supervising students' practical work in the operations listed in the Schedule, should themselves have been instructed by veterinary surgeons or practitioners. The operations that the students would be carrying out as part of their practical tuition might include operations that they could not legally carry out on their own. It is, therefore, important that the educational supervision should be adequate and proper.

We hope for a general expansion of agricultural tuition with the Agricultural Training Board, the apprenticeship scheme and the recommendations of the Pilkington Committee on agricultural education, especially the suggestion for more practical training of students on approved commercial training farms. All this means that there will, we hope, be many more full- and part-time students in more places of instruction. Much of this will be in stockmanship, where a sound veterinary understanding of what the stockman does with animals is essential.

There has, therefore, been considerable discussion between the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Education and Science, the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, the British Veterinary Association and the National Farmers' Union and the R.S.P.C.A. on the desirable syllabus and type of instruction that should be given.

Particular concern for animal welfare has been expressed, as well as the need for adequate safeguards, bearing in mind that the age of students undergoing this tuition—and, therefore, taking part in these operations—has been reduced from 18 to 17. The reduction in age, which was advocated by the Department of Education and Science, led to some misgivings being expressed by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and the British Veterinary Association. It is fair to say that the discussions were based on a letter of 28th April last from the Department of Education and Science, which was circulated to local education authorities as a guide to the ideal arrangements for instruction.

The principle was that the initial teaching and demonstration in certain operations—such as the castration of calves, sheep and pigs, trimming of the feet of cattle, the debudding of calves and certain minor operations—should be given by qualified veterinary surgeons or practitioners. Further training and demonstration and supervision of work which students need to do in order to become proficient need not necessarily be done by a member of the veterinary profession, provided that it was done by a teacher or member of the local education authority staff who—and these are the important words has received instruction from a veterinary surgeon". I think that it is fair to say that that letter became the basis for the subsequent agreement.

But an examination of the relevant parts of the Schedule will show that the requirements that the teacher should himself have had veterinary instruction is omitted. It is therefore possible that the teachers themselves, for instance a junior instructor on a farm, might not have had any veterinary instruction at all. This is thought by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and the British Veterinary Association to be most unsatisfactory.

The point has come to notice only recently because the new Schedule 3 came out only a few days before the Committee stage of the Bill on 2nd November. Had we had more time, the Government could have drafted the desired restrictions and safeguards more exactly. I agree that there is an inherent difficulty about deciding what constitutes veterinary instruction so as to make an instructor fulfil the required conditions-Personally, I believe that the word "appropriate" in the second Amendment meets the variety of cases which might arise.

If the Amendment were accepted, I would suppose that new staff would in future clearly be required to have had a course of veterinary instruction covering the subjects which they themselves were to teach and demonstrate and in which they were to supervise the work of students. I accept that there would be a difficulty with existing staff, some of whom would have had considerable previous veterinary instruction and others less and yet all might be very competent in the work which they were being asked to undertake. In institutions it should not be too difficult to have a once-and-for-all operation in which a member of the veterinary profession checked and if necessary examined the instructing staff in order to satisfy himself that they had sufficient veterinary knowledge to fulfil their duties. I hope that the word "appropriate" will be acceped as meeting the case.

Mr. John Mackie

As the hon. Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. J. E. B. Hill) said, the purpose of his Amendment is to ensure that a person giving instruction has himself received appropriate training from a veterinary surgeon. Local and other educational authorities have been advised by the Department of Education and Science that instructors should have been trained by a veterinary surgeon. I say at once that I think that the training of these young people should be carried out by persons who are themselves trained, and I hope that education authorities will ensure that they are.

3.15 p.m.

Unfortunately, it has not been possible to specify this in the Bill, because there are no easily recognised training courses or certificates of training available to be included in a definition. This means that the appropriate training would be very difficult to define. This is an administrative matter upon which the Department of Education and Science is co-operating with the veterinary profession, and arranging courses. It would perhaps be better left like that, because of the difficulty in reaching a wording that would cover all training which could be defined.

We will keep a close watch on the situation and if it is thought necessary and is practicable, an amending Order can be introduced under the provisions of Clause 19(5). In resisting this Amendment I would like to give the assurance that we will certainly look at this point. With that explanation I trust that the hon. Gentleman will be prepared to withdraw his Amendment.

Mr. J. E. B. Hill

I appreciate the difficulty of the Parliamentary Secretary. The Government could have got this right had they allowed more time for the Bill. At this late stage, as this is the last occasion on which the Bill can be discussed in Parliament, having been started in the other place, I have to accept that there is no way of improving the drafting. In view of the undertaking given by the Parliamentary Secretary that this will be watched and, if there are any complaints of insufficiently qualified instructors they will be looked into swifty and, if necessary, an amending Order brought forward, I beg to ask leave to withdrawn the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. John Mackie

I beg to move Amendment No. 13, in page 25, line 28, after 'maintained' to insert 'or assisted'.

The purpose and effect of this Amendment is to extend the definition of "recognised institution" to cover not only institutions maintained by an education authority but also those assisted by such an authority.

Mr. J. E. B. Hill

I thank the Parliamentary Secretary for submitting this Amendment. It was in response to my criticism in Committee that the paragraph as drafted was too narrow. This has widened it so that the Schedule includes all institutions which would be supported by public money.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. J. E. B. Hill

I beg to move Amendment No. 14, in page 25, line 32 at the end to insert: 'or an institution recognised for the purposes of this paragraph by the Secretary of State'. May I say how grateful I am that a starred Amendment has been called. It replaces one which had a very fleeting appearance on the Notice Paper, but which the Parliamentary Secretary was vigilant enough to spot. He was kind enough to suggest that the wording could be improved. I have accepted his advice, because this Amendment should enable any independent institution not in receipt of public funds to be recognised if it should wish to give instruction and training covered by the Schedule.

At the moment I cannot think of any such institution, but as the Schedule stood the test was whether the institution received a grant from public sources. That seemed to be unnecessarily restrictive, because a charity or large firm might want to set up an institution to train people as stockmen and equally might not require any public funds. I would not, therefore, wish legislation to go forward which cut out in advance any such desirable development.

Mr. John Mackie

In accepting this Amendment, and reverting to Amendment No. 13, I would recall that in Committee we promised the hon. Gentleman that we would look at the question of independent institutions giving instruction in this field. As far as we are aware, no such institutions are involved in this type of training. However, we agreed to take the opportunity of extending the definition to cover not only maintained institutions but also those assisted by local education authorities.

We think that the legislation will now adequately cover all institutions likely to be involved.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. George Jeger (Goole)

I beg to move Amendment No. 15, in page 25, line 39, to leave out 'or mule;' and to insert 'mule, cat or dog;'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Eric Fletcher)

I think that it would be for the convenience of the Committee if we discussed at the same time Amendment No. 16, in page 25, line 41, leave out 'boar, cat or dog' and insert 'or boar'.

Mr. Jeger

The effect of the Amendments is simple. It is to place cats and dogs in the category of animals which cannot be castrated by lay persons. In Committee we had considerable discussion about this, and the proposal met with no real opposition. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary said that he would consider the proposal before Report. It has now fallen to me to move the Amendment. I did not press the matter in Committee.

Under the Protection of Animals (Anaesthetics) Act, no castration can be effected by lay people. It must be done by qualified veterinary surgeons or practitioners. The effect of the Amendments would be to make this position quite clear. This proposition has the approval of all the veterinary associations, the N.F.U. and the R.S.P.C.A. I hope that the Minister will be able to accept it.

Mr. J. E. B. Hill

The hon. Member for Goole (Mr. George Jeger) has moved an Amendment which the professional interests would like. As both the hon. Gentlemen and I are appointed by the Privy Council as members of the Council of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, I have sympathy with the Amendment.

However, it is my duty, representing the Opposition, to present some wider considerations which are, perhaps, outside my responsibility when thinking purely in terms of the Royal College. Before amending the Bill, which is, after all, the Bill the Government arrived at after much consultation, there are certain questions on which we should have more information.

First, is it alleged that serious cruelty and ineffieciency arises under the existing law? The hon. Gentleman emphasised that in all cases of the castration of dogs and cats an anaesthetic is required. Any operations which are being conducted at the moment by unqualified people such as assistants and stockmen are subject to all the existing legislation with regard to cruelty to animals, anaesthetics and the rest.

Secondly, we should consider who would be affected by the change. First, it would include any owner or stockman who at present is exempted by the provisions of Part I of Schedule 3. These people would be stopped from carrying out operations which they may have been accustomed to carry out on their own farms. This might especially apply to those who regularly have experience of castrating other farm animals, although I agree, and I should make it plain, that the operations and methods required for cats and dogs may be dissimilar to those for farm animals. I do not know to what extent these operations are carried on. I cannot believe that there are not stockmen, owners and farmers who do not themselves carry on these operations and who have done so perfectly satisfactorily.

Mr. George Jeger

No doubt the point of view that the hon. Member is putting forward has been considered by the National Farmers' Union, which is in favour of my Amendments.

Mr. Hill

I do not quite know how positively in favour the N.F.U. might be held to be. I should have thought that on balance it was prepared to leave the matter to the judgment of the House and the Government. I do not think that the Union feels strongly either way. I would say that its satisfaction is in having reached agreement on the other farm animals. Be that as it may, all I am asking is whether we know to what extent the practice is already going on without serious complaint or injury.

The second category of people who would be affected by the Amendment would be specific organisations such as some of the animal welfare societies and, in particular, the People's Dispensary for Sick Animals, which in many dispensaries throughout the big cities employs trained assistants who work under the supervision of veterinary surgeons or veterinary practitioners and carry out these operations. I am informed that a considerable part of the work of these dispensaries is the castration of dogs and cats. It is done in the dispensaries with chloroform and all the rules are observed. I am told that any doubtful or difficult case is at once referred to the veterinary surgeon.

The People's Dispensary therefore opposes this total prohibition and has not been party to the agreement, first, because it regards it as illogical to prohibit lay treatment of cats and dogs while allowing it for farm animals. What is, perhaps, more significant is the view of the P.D.S.A. that the ban would mean that its dispensaries could no longer cope with the work which is brought to them.

The P.D.S.A. has told me that it currently has 20 vacancies for full-time veterinary surgeons and is offering a starting salary, which, I should have thought, would attract people if they were available, of £1,300 a year. It is significant that these veterinary surgeons are not forthcoming. Therefore, the P.D.S.A. says that the ban would be likely to produce more indiscriminate breeding by stray animals.

Here is a question for the Parliamentary Secretary to answer. From his investigations—I admit that time has been short, but I asked him about this in Committee—is there any evidence or danger that the demand for qualified veterinary skill in this respect might exceed the supply? It is the Government's responsibility to see that professions produce sufficient numbers of qualified people, but we are aware of the increasing shortage in most of the professions. Indeed, in most professions the tendency is to rely on auxiliary help for some of the simpler tasks which do not need expert professional skill.

3.30 p.m.

I do not see any redundant vets. Within the Ministry it has always been the load on the Ministry's veterinary surgeons which has limited them in further campaigns for the eradication of animal diseases. I am glad, in parenthesis, to see they are starting on brucellosis.

But could it not be that the agricultural demand for veterinary surgeons would be the indirect cause of a shortage elsewhere, as in towns covered by the P.D.S.A.? If this urban shortage of veterinary surgeons be accepted, and lay operations on dogs and cats under six months are prohibited, what will be the effect on the problem of stray animals breeding indiscriminately? Here there is a divergence in the forecasts by the P.D.S.A. and the R.S.P.C.A., but I think both will admit that, in the short time available, it is very difficult to make a reasonably accurate judgment.

Today we are mainly concerned about animals and the people who tend them, but there is one final question, and I think the House of Commons as a whole must be the judge. Suppose the Amendment is accepted, and suppose some unqualified person is found to perform this operation—and, let us say, with all the skill and care and due observance of the statutory requirements. In such a case do the Government intend to prosecute? I think that is the necessary consequence of an absolute ban, and I think it must be faced.

These, to my mind, are the difficulties of the Amendment, and even if on this subject I feel schizophrenic because of my dual responsibility, I thought it right to indicate these doubts. Obviously, there is much to be said on both sides. There are no politics in this. In my view, it is a matter for individual judgment and decision, at any rate for Members of the Opposition, but it is the Government's responsibility to decide whether this Amendment will, on balance, operate to the improvement or to the detriment of animal welfare.

Mr. John Mackie

This Amendment is a difficult one. When we discussed the problem in Committee upstairs the decision was made that the Government should make some further inquiries and table an Amendment if the inquiries justified it. We have, even in the short time since, made further inquiries, but, unfortunately, the results were not such as to enable the Government to come to a definite conclusion and to table an Amendment in time for today's debate. Therefore, I am very grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Goole (Mr. George Jeger) for moving this Amendment to enable us to discuss the whole question of the ages at which cats and dogs can be castrated.

I should first of all make it clear that what we are dealing with is the age, if any, at which cats or dogs may be castrated by laymen. Now whatever the decision on this point, the provisions of the Protection of Animals (Anaesthetics) Act will have to be complied with and an anaesthetic used. The hon. Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. J. E. B. Hill) made this point and made it very well.

I should like, however, to summarise the arguments for and against allowing laymen to carry out these operations on dogs and cats. The veterinary profession is opposed to laymen carrying out castration at all; not only on cats and dogs, but, I think I am right in saying, on other animals, but, of course, they recognise the difficulties, which the hon. Member for Norfolk, South put to us, involved in prohibiting lay castration in the case of farm animals. Their case is quite simple. They hold that this is veterinary surgery and that no exemption should be made for laymen as there is no need for such an exemption.

The People's Dispensary for Sick Animals, on the other hand, says that if cats and dogs are to be removed from group (c) and added to group (a) on humane grounds there is no logical reason for not excluding the other animals in groups (b) and (c) on the same grounds. I have already mentioned the practical difficulties of this, and I appreciate the point very much.

The organisation operates a large number of clinics and no doubt carries out a large number of the operations which are under consideration. In some of its clinics, the operations are carried out by laymen under veterinary supervision. There is undoubtedly an economic factor here. The P.D.S.A. is a charitable organisation providing a service for people who cannot afford the normal fees of a veterinary surgeon.

Both the veterinary profession and the P.D.S.A. may be said to have an interest in this. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, whose interest is solely in the prevention of cruelty to animals, recommends that lay castration of dogs and cats should not be permitted. It does not seem to feel the same apprehension expressed by the hon. Member for Norfolk, South about the possibility of an increase in stray dogs and cats, particularly in urban areas, as a result of its ban.

Other bodies to whom we appealed for advice have not yet replied. Informally, I understand that the Kennel Club is surprised that laymen castrate dogs. In any case, unfortunately, our consultations have not been as detailed as we would have wished, because of the shortage of time.

Therefore, after the Bill becomes law, I think that we should have a look at this again. But, before I go on to that, I might take up the point about prosecutions. This could land us in considerable difficulty, because we know that it is likely that some shepherds would carry out these castrations which the hon. Member for Norfolk, South mentioned. To prosecute them would be an extremely difficult operation.

On the question of the lack of veterinary surgeons, the intake should cope with the demand, but nevertheless there have not been enough people to fill the complement which is required. As the hon. Gentleman said, the P.D.S.A. itself is 20 short. That should be a warning to us to watch our step here, should we think of accepting this Amendment.

I would point out to my hon. Friend the Member for Goole that it is quite possible, under the provisions of Clause 19(5) to amend this by Order. That Order would have to receive the approval of both Houses of Parliament which would ensure that, before any change was made, the subject would again be discussed.

On balance, I suggest that the Amendment which my hon. Friend has put down should be resisted, purely because the discussions which we have had have not brought out a case either way. But the points made by the hon. Member for Norfolk, South are valid ones. I think that it would be better to leave cats and dogs in group (c) and to have further discussions.

In view of that explanation, I wonder whether my hon. Friend would consider withdrawing his Amendment?

Mr. George Jeger

This is the second time that I shall have withdrawn this Amendment, or failed to press it, in spite of the fact that, in Committee, my hon. Friend said that he would give urgent consideration to it and was on the point of moving a similar Amendment himself. However, he has given the House the assurance that it will receive detailed consideration in the future and that, if necessary, an Amendment will be brought forward. With that assurance, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

3.39 p.m.

Mr. John Mackie

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Goole (Mr. George Jeger) for withdrawing his Amendment and allowing the Bill to proceed to Third Reading.

The one thing to which I am particularly glad to refer is the welcome which the Bill has received both in Committee upstairs and on Second Reading. This is the first Bill to get this far under the new Second Reading Committee procedure. This in itself is very interesting, and I express my appreciation to right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House for being so helpful n getting the Bill under way. I know that the profession wants the Bill as early as possible, and I have great pleasure in asking the House to give it a Third Reading.

3.40 p.m.

Mr. J. E. B. Hill

I, too, am glad that the Bill is at last approaching the Statute Book. It has had a long history, defeated by one General Election, remounted, and now at last completing the course late on a Friday afternoon.

I think that it is a good Bill. The defects which have been mentioned can be remedied, and they represent the narrow balance which did not achieve perfect agreement and legislative expression. It will enable great improvements to be made. It is important that the majority of the council should be elected members. The temporary list will encourage overseas students to pursue post-graduate studies in this country, and it is very important that the power to change fees should be there.

We welcome, too, the accompanying probability of a new Royal Charter to match the Bill. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber)—who is sorry not to be here today—was right when, in the closing stages of our discussion in Committee, he suggested that it was worth waiting to get a new Schedule 3 so that we could send out a complete Bill from this House.

It is from Britain that higher veterinary standards and higher standards of animal welfare are spreading. Our veterinary profession is working overseas to a considerable extent. I hope that some of the under-developed countries will look at the Bill as a pattern for arranging veterinary matters. The profession is faced with a formidable challenge in the prevention and cure of animal diseases, and I hope that this Measure will give it a good foundation on which to pursue its work.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed, with Amendments.