HL Deb 17 May 1966 vol 274 cc909-21

3.58 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I am sorry once again to have to inflict my voice on the House to-day. I beg to move that the Veterinary Surgeons Bill be read a second time. I do not need to remind your Lordships that the purpose of this Bill is to bring into one enactment, with modifications, the legislation at present in several Acts governing the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and the veterinary profession. This Bill is the Veterinary Surgeons Bill as amended on the Report stage in the last Parliament, and I do not think I need go into any further detail about it, except on the constitution of the Council and on Schedule 3.

Your Lordships will remember that on the Report stage in the last Parliament I gave an undertaking that I would ask the Minister to have another look at the constitution of the Council. The opportunity afforded by the Dissolution of Parliament was taken, and the interested bodies were consulted. The Councils, both of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and of the British Veterinary Association, have recommended that the number of elected members under Clause 1(1)(a) should be increased from 20 to 24. The Minister has not accepted this recommendation, and I should like to give you his reasons.

In the first place, I must make it quite clear that the purpose of this Bill is to protect the public and not the veterinary profession. While the views of the veterinary profession, therefore, are undoubtedly of importance and must be carefully considered, the profession is not in a better position to judge public interest than the Government. This Bill, and indeed the Act of 1948, are aimed at protecting the general public against veterinary practice by persons who are unqualified or otherwise unfit to practise veterinary surgery. This is done in the first place by prohibiting the practice of veterinary surgery by persons not on the Register or the Supplementary Register. But this is not sufficient. Positive action has to be taken to ensure that every person admitted to the Register is fully qualified and that while on the Register he conducts himself in accordance with professional standards. The Royal College has therefore been charged with the duty of supervising education so as to ensure that new entrants to the Register are fully qualified, and it is also charged with the duty of supervising through its disciplinary procedure the actions of persons already on the Register.

These two functions of the Royal College are almost identical with the functions of governing bodies of the medical, dental and related professions. In these cases the governing bodies, while consisting mainly of professional men, have a majority of appointed members. We could, of course, in 1948 have followed the same pattern and appointed a governing body for the veterinary profession, but the Royal College was in existence. The profession is a comparatively small one and it seemed unnecessary to create a new body for this purpose. The Royal College was therefore charged with these duties. The College is, of course, still an examining body in its own right, although since 1948 its work in this respect has been considerably curtailed by the substitution of certain universities for the College as the examining bodies for qualifying degrees in veterinary surgery. Nevertheless, because the College is still a College, it was considered right that there should be a majority of elected members, but not a substantial majority. Therefore provision was made for what the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, in the course of the discussions, recently called "a bare majority". The Minister has therefore decided that this position shall be maintained.

This decision is a compromise between the principle that the governing body of a profession such as this should consist of a majority of nominated members, and the tradition that a college established by Royal Charter should be self-governing. Like all compromises it is open to attack on both sides. A further consideration is that the Council is a large one—41 members—not very much smaller than the General Medical Council dealing with a profession over ten times as large. If there were to be a change in the constitution it might be thought proper to reduce numbers rather than increase them. I hope, having given these explanations, that your Lordships will accept the Bill as it stands.

There are one or two further points I should like to bring out. Some criticism has been made of Schedule 3, and in this Bill the Ministers are given power to amend the Schedule by Order, subject to the Affirmative Resolution procedure. After the Dissolution of Parliament, discussions were started with interested organisations and these are proceeding. It is improbable that they will be completed in time to enable us to amend the Schedule here, but there will be no delay in introducing an Order amending the Schedule as soon as possible after the Bill receives the Royal Assent and after the completion of these discussions. I do not think there is any need to say any more. The Bill is a useful measure, and I have no hesitation in commending it to your Lordships for a Second Reading.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a—(Lord Champion.)

4.5 p.m.


My Lords, once again I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Champion, for having introduced this Bill, which is quite an old friend now. As he had said, the Bill is reintroduced by the Government in exactly the state in which it was when your Lordships had finished dealing with it on the Report stage in the last Parliament. The noble Lord will not be surprised when I say that that has come as a disappointment, not only to me, but to the veterinary profession. The one change that the profession hoped would be made was in the representation of the profession elected by the profession to the Council of the Royal College.

On a Council of 41 the number of members of the Council elected by members of the College residing outside the Republic of Ireland is at present 20. The Amendment which I moved on Report stage would have increased the number from 20 to 24. That, incidentally, would have restored the balance between elected members, on the one hand, and members appointed by the Privy Council and by universities, on the other, to roughly what it was in the Council when constituted by the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1948, without the addition of the Republic of Ireland members—that is, about 5 to 4. The noble Lord was good enough to say, in reply to my Amendment on Report stage, that it had come to his notice that on this point there still exists a measure of objection to what is contained in the Bill, and he said that it is a large measure of objection. He kindly undertook to see the Minister of Agriculture himself and bring to his attention what my noble friend Lord Balerno and I had said in the debate and what he had heard elsewhere. That, I know he has done.

What makes me all the more disappointed that the Bill is unchanged is that, as the noble Lord has mentioned, since then the Royal College itself has had an opportunity to reconsider the matter and has expressed itself in favour of the change by a majority of 2 to 1. I am told that there were absentees, and I do not think it would be worth while laying any stress on the views those absentees would have expressed had they been there, but the fact is that the majority was about 2 to 1 of those who were present. In these circumstances, I do not propose to go over the arguments in favour of the change, but I give notice of my intention to put down Amendments on the Committee stage to increase the number of elected members in Clause 1 from 20 to 24, and to provide that after the next election, at which nine members would be elected, six should retire annually instead of five. There would be conditions about the drafting of the provisions in Schedule 1 dealing with the transitional stage, getting on to a system where six retire annually from one where five retire annually. That is a matter which we can examine when we come to it.

At this stage I would only say this. The noble Lord has referred to reasons why he thinks the change should not be made. Considering that the cost of the Council is defrayed by members of the profession and that the profession is in favour of this small increase in the number of members of the Council, I would ask: is it reasonable, whatever members of other professions may think proper for their governing bodies, that Parliament should go against the wishes of this profession and refuse to allow the change to be made? The noble Lord has said that the profession is not in a better position to judge the public interest than is the Government But it has to be remembered that the Privy Council has power under the Bill to override the Council of the Royal College. Under Clause 22 it is given default powers. Furthermore, if the Bill is intended purely to protect the public, then one would have thought it would be proper for the expenses of the Council to be defrayed by the Government.

The noble Lord says quite rightly that in a case like this one has to reach a compromise, but he himself admits that there is a bare majority of elected members. What the profession wants is an effective majority, a majority that they can count on being a majority at every Council meeting. This is what they think would be right. I am not going to argue this case in detail now, but I am bound to say that it is right to consider that where the public interest has to be protected the veterinary profession itself should do that protecting, because the vast majority of the Council, whether elected or not, are drawn from the veterinary profession. So one is bound to take the view that this is a self-governing statutory body of the profession, entrusted with the duty of protecting the public interest. That is the position, and what the profession is asking is that in a democratic system such as ours that body should have an adequate majority of elected members.

The forerunner of this Bill was very much improved during the stages through which it passed in your Lordships' House in the last Parliament. At this stage I would only ask: is it too much to hope that in this Parliament we can improve it still further, and make it acceptable to the veterinary profession in this country as a whole, and more in consonance with democratic ideas?

4.13 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Champion, on introducing this Bill once again, and to assure him that we do not get tired of his politically mellifluous voice. It is always a pleasure to hear him, though one is sometimes led away by his persuasiveness.

I rise to support the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, in what he has said about the Government's not seeing fit to make this Bill rather more democratic. It is, in fact, entrenching a vested interest, the vested interest of old age, which is perhaps one of the worst of them all. Who in this profession is opposing an increase in the size of the Council of the Royal Veterinary College in this manner, an increase in the proportion of elected members? Certainly not the British Veterinary Association. Nor the Association of Veterinary Teachers and Research Workers, who have also come out very strongly in favour of this enlargement. And, as the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, has pointed out, the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons itself is, by a two to one majority, in favour of an increase. The only person who can possibly be objecting and preventing this increase from taking place must be the mythical Mr. Jorkins, under the misconception that he is protecting the public. How a predominance of old gentlemen on the Council of the Royal Veterinary College can be a better protection to the general public than an enlarged Council consisting of more young men, beats me completely. If you want to avoid protecting the public, then you keep a small number on the Council and they will keep the status quo and the dignity of the old profession.

I should like to draw the attention of the noble Lord, Lord Champion, to something that happened in another place recently during the passage of the Universities (Scotland) Bill. In the Committee there were very indignant speeches, very forceful speeches, made by a number of the noble Lord's friends—they came largely from Clydeside—for the inclusion in the courts of the ancient universities of a number of lecturers of the universities, men of the junior staff. This was an innovation put forward with all the force which those from that part of the world traditionally have; their Motions were carried, and two members of the junior staff of each of the old Scottish universities will sit on the court of each of the old Scottish universities. I should like to warn the noble Lord that, if this Bill goes down to the other place for consideration in its present state, it is bound to meet with a great deal of hostility on this point. It would be very much better if he were to get the Bill properly into order in this House, so that it can have an easier passage in the other place where there is, perhaps, greater pressure of business. It might be rather politic of him were he to think this matter over.

There is, furthermore, unfortunately, a growing impression that the veterinary profession consists of two entities—the academic and the practitioner. The present constitution of the Council of the Royal Veterinary College provides, perhaps, one of the reasons why this impression has grown up. Therefore an increase in the size of the Council, in the number of elected members, would help towards the lessening of this division. The veterinary profession is an important profession and it must be made dynamic, but if there are a lot of old fuddy-duddies with an interest in the status quo, using all the guile that old men have to keep it so—and I speak as an old man myself—we shall not have the profession as dynamic as it could be.

The noble Lord, Lord Champion, compared the numbers of the veterinary profession to the numbers of the medical profession in this country. It is not numbers that matter; it is the geographical distribution that matters, and the geographical distribution is much the same Unfortunately, there is a degree of schizophrenia on this subject. There are the dual functions of the College, control of the profession and control of the teaching instruction, and there are also the dual entities of the profession. If this Bill goes forward, both of those aspects of schizophrenia in the profession will be continued. If, on the other hand, there is an increase in the number of elected persons, then I think it will lead to a more united profession and one that will be more progressive and more forward-looking. I therefore hope that the Government will reconsider this point, and will themselves put forward an Amendment when the Bill comes up in Committee.

I must now ask your Lordships' pardon if I return to the matter of an Amendment which I raised when the earlier Bill was in Committee; that is, why fish are not included in the new Bill. I attended a meeting of the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee on April 26, when the Committee were addressed by Sir Frederick Brundrett, who is the chairman of research and development in the White Fish Authority, and also by Dr. H. A. Cole, the Director of the Fisheries Laboratory of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Both addresses were most interesting, and both of them forecast that fish farming would be taking place in the future and might develop in this country in the not distant future.

When the noble Lord, Lord Champion, was disputing my Amendment (and it is to fish farming, as distinct from catching a wild fish, that I am referring), he said, referring to the definitions of "animals" and "veterinary surgeon", that they … are not primarily intended to show what veterinary surgeons may or may not do. They are intended to make quite clear what other people, however well qualified they may be in their occupation, cannot do."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. Vol. 272 (No. 35), col. 1013; 15/2/66.] So I think the point made against my Amendment was based on a misunderstanding. The noble Lord, Lord Champion, continued: If fish were to be included in the definition of animals, it would mean that the various fisheries scientists of the fishery laboratories and aquaria would be unable to treat fish, diagnose disease in fish, or give advice about disease or treatment of fish … I am not quite certain that the noble Lord was entirely correct in saying that. He could charm the hind legs off a donkey, and certainly at that time he charmed the hind legs right off me, and I withdrew the Amendment. But suppose that, some fifty or sixty years ago, this attitude had been adopted towards the veterinary profession in relation to birds. There was then practically no work being done by veterinary surgeons in relation to birds, and it would have been perfectly proper to exclude birds. To-day, the veterinary profession plays a big and important part in the poultry industry, but it has not affected in any way the operations of those who are dealing with birds in wild life, with pheasants or grouse.

It has not affected the zoologists who treat grouse for the grouse disease, and it has not affected ornithologists on Fair Isle who take and look after birds that have broken legs or other injuries. The other scientists who are interested in birds have been in no way inhibited by the fact that the veterinary profession have been given the right to look after birds. Therefore, if fish are included in this Bill, I cannot possibly see how it will affect the operations of those zoologists and other biologists who have already been doing such excellent work with fish, almost entirely with the wild fish, and why they cannot go on with their work.

There is another point. If fish are excluded, why are reptiles included? Much more veterinary work is being done on fish than on reptiles, and there is a much greater likelihood of intensive fish farms coming in this country than there is of intensive snake farms. Moreover, my Lords, there is the Brambell Report on the husbandry of animals under intensive systems. It is quite clear from that Report that, if any action is taken upon it, it will be for the veterinary profession, in the first instance, at any rate, to draw attention to the malpractices which are alleged. It would be quite as possible to have malpractices in fish farming as it is to have malpractices in intensive poultry farming, and it would be perfectly logical and sensible that the veterinary profession should be authorised to look after and protect the fish farms, as well as the poultry farms.

Science knows no boundaries, and scientists have no demarcation disputes. They come and go in their various subjects, as they overlap, without any marked friction; as from the zoologist to the botanist, to the medical man or to the veterinarian. You find many veterinarians working in medical labs. On the other hand, you find doctors of medicine working in veterinary labs, or working on animal husbandry experimental farms. There is a perpetual and continuous exchange, and until now nobody has ever thought that, because the veterinary profession was charged in that Bill with looking after these animals, it excluded the scientists from also operating in that field. There never has been a dispute, so why should we start to think there could be a dispute now?

I cannot understand why the Government should be so unenlightened in these matters, and why they should be so against progress. Why, again, should they be in favour of the vested interests of the few fish scientists who are located in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food? I think that there is every justification for having this as a tidy Bill. All the history of animal legislation in this country has, in the legislation, kept fish with vertibrates, and at the Committee stage I am certainly going to move that the definition of "animals" excludes invertebrates—that is, as it is in the famous Cruelty to Animals Bill of (I think the date is) 1858—the anti-vivisection Bill. That definition, that "'animals' excludes invertebrates", means that "animals" includes the whole of the rest of the animal kingdom except man himself.

I certainly hope that the noble Lord, Lord Champion, and his advisers will take another look at this question. It is a small matter, but I think that in the interests of tidy, logical, scientific legislation the fish should be included and not specifically excluded, as they are in the Bill as it now stands. I ask that, here again, the Government should free themselves from their interest in these vested interests.

4.29 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Champion, for having reintroduced this Bill; and, like my other two noble friends, I would say that I certainly never get tired of listening to him. But I would join with them in their protests about the Government's attitude towards the constitution of the Council. I think there is a slight tendency on the part of the Government—and I am not speaking merely of this Government—to forget that the professions think, and I believe think not unreasonably, that they are likely to know best about the problems concerning their own profession. I hope that the noble Lord will be able to persuade his right honourable friends to realise that their opinion is really to be taken seriously. However, I should like to thank the noble Lord very much for having given what I feel is a rather faint gleam of hope about Schedule 3. I am sorry that it has not taken a more concrete form up till now. I sincerely hope that he will do his best to urge those responsible to get on with the investigations into this problem as soon as possible.

4.30 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken on this Bill. We have had throughout its every stage some first-class advocacy by noble Lords on this very difficult point of the constitution—the size of the Council and its general make-up. I am bound to say—I told the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, this and he has mentioned it to-day—that I saw the Minister about this matter, as I promised, and put before him as forcefully as I could every point that was made concerning it in the debate, and I asked him to give it exceptional consideration. In addition, I accompanied my right honourable friend when a deputation from the British Veterinary Association met the Minister last Thursday, when the point was made, I think strongly, that the Royal College had decided 2 to 1 in favour of the Amendment proposed by the British Veterinary Association.

The Minister at that point said that he would carefully consider the point put by that delegation. Up to now I have not heard his final decision; so it is not possible—though I had thought it might have been—for me to make some pleasant noises to-day in this connection. I am not promising now that such pleasant noises will be forthcoming; I had merely supposed that if the Minister had changed his mind between Thursday last and to-day (and clearly the decision is his) I should have been able to make an announcement to-day.

We have been advised by the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, that if I did not do so myself he would put down an Amendment at a subsequent stage. I am not at all surprised that the noble Lord threatens me with this, as does also the noble Lord, Lord Balerno. I can understand it because they have been so keen about this matter. But I must say to the noble Lord, Lord Balerno, that I cannot quite see why the proposal in the Bill should lead to a lot of old gentlemen, fuddy-duddies, sitting in the Royal College. After all, apart from the 20 persons who are to be elected by the profession, there are four to be appointed by the Privy Council; and I should not like to accuse the Privy Council of appointing fuddy-duddies and old, decrepit gentlemen to a College of this sort. And the universities, too, are involved here. I should hope that the universities would not appoint fuddy-duddies, just to be rid of them for the short time that this College actually sits. But one never knows. This is a point that the noble Lord made. I am sure it will be taken into consideration by those people who appoint on behalf of the Privy Council, and by the universities.

The noble Lord also said that it seemed as though we, the Government, were in this Bill driving a wedge into this profession and forcing a division between the academics and the practitioners. I do not think the noble Lord can be right about that. I should have thought that if any division were being forced in this connection it was being forced by those very people who have from time to time put down the Amendment to alter the constitution of this Council, because they say: "After all, there is a big division between us, the practitioners, and the other people appointed in another way". I cannot quite accept this. This is a point which I am sure we must return to at a later stage.

I am sorry that I have not been able to carry the noble Lord, Lord Balerno, with me on this business of the mention or non-mention of fish in the Interpretation Clause. There is nothing at all in this Bill to prevent any veterinary surgeon from specialising in fish and in fish treatment. All it says is that we are not going to make it an absolutely exclusive province of the veterinary surgeon. I should have thought that this was not too bad. In any case, judging by what I know of the noble Lord's persistence, we shall have to return to this again at a later stage.


My Lords, I am interrupting at this present moment. The veterinary profession has no exclusive rights over poultry, quadrupeds or mammals. Is the inference being made by the Government that the inclusion of fish in the Bill would give the veterinary profession exclusive rights? They have not got exclusive rights at the present moment.


My Lords, I shall have to go into this matter again, and I will, of course, talk to the noble Lord about it. It seems to me that we are a little at cross purposes. He seems to be saying something that I do not understand, and I seem to be saying something that he equally does not quite understand. Most of these are points that we shall have to discuss at a later stage, and I hope, meanwhile, that your Lordships will be prepared to give the Bill a Second Reading.


My Lords, speaking on behalf of the Liberal Party for the moment, may I ask the noble Lord whether he considers that just because you are old you are necessarily a fuddy-duddy?


My Lords, I am very old myself; and I will not accept for one moment that an old man is necessarily a fuddy-duddy.

On Question, Bill read2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.