HL Deb 10 April 1946 vol 140 cc675-9

4.27 p.m.

VISCOUNT BLEDISLOE had the following Notice on the Paper: To ask His Majesty's Government how many trained veterinary surgeons were serving with His Majesty's Forces at the end of the European war, and how many are still so serving; and, whether, in view of the seriously deficient average milk yield of our British cattle, attributable to avoidable bovine diseases, and the prospect of there being no appreciable improvement until more practising veterinarians are available in Great Britain, the demobilization of those still in the Forces can be accelerated; and to move for Papers.

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, this is really a supplemental Motion to that which has just been withdrawn. I only desire to mention in this connexion that I understand there are still about 500 veterinary surgeons in the Forces and that, although provisional arrangements have been made for the release of a large proportion, very few have been actually released. As the total number of veterinary surgeons in practice in this country is about 2,000, the release of 500 more now in the Forces will very materially assist plans for the control of disease in our dairy herds. I would, therefore, ask the noble Lord opposite for a detailed reply to my question. I beg to move for Papers.

4.29 p.m.


My Lords, it was thought more convenient, in consultation between the noble Viscount opposite and myself, that, rather than interrupt the flow of the milk debate by reference to the subject of this second Motion, the noble Viscount would make his speech on that Motion and I would reply to it on this. I wish to say to the noble Viscount at once that the Government are fully sympathetic with the objects which he has in mind, and indeed that follows from the acceptance of the principle of the last Motion by His Majesty's Government through the mouth of my noble friend Lord Ammon. The noble Viscount will, of course, not suggest, and does not suggest, that veterinary surgery is the sole factor in dealing with this difficult and important question of bovine diseases. His Majesty's Government, however, recognize that it is a most important factor, and it is from that standpoint that, in giving this answer on behalf of the Government, I approach the matter.

I ought to tell the noble Viscount that, comparatively, the Forces are concerned with only a handful of veterinary surgeons outside of those who serve in the Royal Army Veterinary Corps. They are so insignificant in numbers outside the Army Veterinary Corps as to be quite negligible, if indeed there are any now at all. But in answer to the question which the noble Viscount specifically put, I may say that at the end of the European war the number of qualified veterinary surgeons in the Army Veterinary Corps was 418, now reduced to 348, of whom 53 are Regular officers. In the desire to accede to the views expressed by the noble Viscount and those on whose behalf he speaks, and recognizing the importance of the objectives in view, arrangements have been made under which during the next two months a further 50 veterinary officers will be released. The result will be that at that time there will be in the Army Veterinary Corps only 298 qualified veterinary surgeons, of whom 53 will be Regulars, so that the total number who could possibly be made available for practice in civilian life would be about 240, which is only 5.4 per cent. of the qualified veterinary surgeons who number upwards of 4,000. I think it is 4,400, somewhat more than the figure given by the noble Viscount just now, though of course I am not able to say what the difference is between those who are qualified and those who are in active practice.

I think the noble Viscount will agree that the action taken by the Government indicates the Government's desire to be helpful in the matter to which he referred. I interested myself in the facts of this position after seeing the noble Viscount's Motion on the Paper, because I was rather surprised and I wanted to know why veterinary surgeons were required in such numbers in the mechanised Forces of to-day. I have satisfied myself, however, that there is a real need. There are only thirty such officers operating in the United Kingdom, and there are very many more animals to be looked after by the veterinary surgeons than I had thought—upwards of 27,000 Army animals. Apart from India, the Veterinary Corps is also, of course, responsible for dealing with the remounting of the Army in the various theatres, and there are other services which they have to fulfil. I may say to the noble Viscount that it is not the intention that any new entrants should be taken into the Army Veterinary Corps until the post-war establishment is definitely settled.

Now I will go, if I may, a little beyond the actual question put to me by the noble Viscount, because I wish to make it clear beyond a peradventure that the Government attach great importance to the whole question of the provision of properly qualified veterinary surgeons and regards that as a necessary condition of creating an agricultural industry of the quality which has been sought and which is so necessary for this country. Consequently the Government adopt in the main the recommendation of the Loveday Committee that has been announced by my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture in another place. That will involve not merely a call upon Government funds, which is recognized and expected, but also arrangements with the universities for the purpose of putting education and qualification in veterinary surgery on the same footing as education and qualification in the medical profession. It will require legislation. I noted what the noble Viscount said about that legislation being non-controversial. I hope and believe that that may be so. There are, of course, great demands upon the legislative programme, but I will draw the attention of my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture specifically to what the noble Viscount has said upon this point and the importance which he attaches to it. His voice carries great weight having regard to the position he holds on the technical bodies in agriculture, quite apart from the position he holds in the esteem of your Lordships in this House.

If my words could reach, outside the walls of your Lordships' Chamber I would say to the young men and women who are seeking a profession, and to their parents, that those young men and women might well consider the health, the interest, and the public usefulness to be derived from adopting the profession of veterinary surgeon a: a career. It is the desire, the aim and the intention of the Government that veterinary surgery shall be a profession worth while, and that that profession shall be improved in standards and in standing, so that it takes its place in its own sphere on the same basis in the same public esteem and with the same usefulness as the medical profession does in its sphere.

4.37 p.m.


My Lords, I am greatly obliged to the noble Lord opposite for the very full reply of a reassuring character which he has given to the House. In the statement made in another place on the subject of the adoption of the Loveday Report it was particularly mentioned—and was very reassuring to the agricultural community—that what was called the Chancellor Report, which was a subsidiary report dealing with unqualified veterinary surgeons, would also be acted upon. I take it the noble Lord is prepared to endorse that statement, because there is no doubt that the elimination of unqualified veterinary practitioners will do very much to promote an inflow of recruits of the right type. There are too many quacks and Mrs. Games, if I may call them so, in the veterinary profession to-day who have indirectly the effect of deterring the right type of educated young man from entering the profession. He would be more likely to do so as the result of the Government's decision, especially if they make up their minds to put the profession on the same footing in status and in emoluments as that of the medical profession in this country. In these circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.