HL Deb 10 March 1988 vol 494 cc880-2

8.5 p.m.

Baroness Trumpington rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 22nd February be approved [18th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this statutory instrument which the House is invited to approve is designed further to safeguard animals against suffering due to incompetent medical diagnosis and treatment by unqualified persons.

The Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966 provides for a restriction of practice of veterinary surgery by unqualified persons, the objective being to safeguard the welfare of animals. Schedule 3 to the Act lists the small number of treatments and operations which may be given or carried out by lay persons.

Although the arrangements have generally worked well, there has been some concern and uncertainty about the scope of the exemptions in Schedule 3. In practice we think it is already very unusual for owners of animals or their employees to carry out major medical or surgical treatment, but it may sometimes happen. It was never the intention of the Act to sanction the incompetent performance of, say, the amputation of a limb or the removal of an eye or, for that matter, the medical diagnosis and treatment of a serious condition. The amendment order is designed to remove any doubt there may be on this score.

At the same time we would wish to avoid introducing new restrictions unless they are very well justified. The proposed amendments therefore are modest and include only two new restrictions: first, that farmers and their employees will no longer be able to carry out major operations on animals used in agriculture; and secondly, lay persons will no longer he able to castrate or spay kittens and puppies.

The proposed amendments also include some sensible relaxations. Trainee stockmen will be newly exempted from the restrictions of the Act so as to allow for them, as part of their training, to learn the techniques of disbudding calves. It is also proposed that the ambiguous wording relating to what treatment owners of animals and their employees, or members of their household may perform on animals should be clarified to restrict activities to minor medical and minor surgical treatment. I beg to move.

Moved, that the draft order laid before the House on 22nd February be approved [18th Report from the Joint Committee].—(Baroness Trumpington.)

Lord Carter

My Lords, from this side of the House I am glad to support all the provisions of the draft order. In fact, I think that in my years as a farm worker as an unqualified person I carried out almost all of the treatments listed in Part I.

There is one exception, I understand that the National Farmers' Union, the British Veterinary Association, the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and the RSPCA all support the draft order with the one exception of Clause 4(c) relating to the docking of the tail of a dog before its eyes are open. I think that the Minister is aware of the concern on that point. As I understand it, the veterinary surgeons would like that provision to be placed in Part II of the order so that vets can use their discretion when tail docking is required for therapeutic purposes.

The Minister will also be aware of the European convention on pet animals. I am informed that eight EC member states have signed and it would be appreciated if the Minister could give the House an indication whether the Government intend to sign the convention and, if so, that they will not opt out of the tail-docking provisions of the convention.

The order tidies up the provisions of the 1966 Act. There is the change with the introduction of the word "minor" in the first and second clauses. How minor is "minor" and who decides it is not defined. As I understand it, under the 1966 Act with the well known exception of laparotomy (which I know the noble Baroness will understand), unqualified persons can perform almost any operation. One example that I was given was the amputation of all four legs of a cow. That was certainly not minor. It was absolutely correct for the Government to put the situation right; but one has to ask why it has taken so long to put matters right.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Carter, for his very kind reception of this humanitarian order. The noble Lord asked me about the docking of dogs' tails. Although the primary responsibility for the draft convention of which the noble Lord, Lord Carter, spoke lies with the Home Office, I am advised that the Home Office is engaged in necessary consultation on all the wide-ranging issues that in its present form the draft raises and at this stage is not in a position to make a decision on whether we shall sign the convention. In the light of that explanation, I believe that it is wiser to leave the provisions as they are in existing legislation for the time being.

With regard to the definition of "minor medical treatment" and "minor surgical treatment"— perhaps I may take the two together—when this order was last discussed counsel suggested that the term "minor medical treatment" should be more precisely defined. However, subsequent discussion between counsel, the RCVS and officials concluded that to try to do that could cause more problems than it would solve, particularly since that term reflects the use in current legislation of the same formula. That also applies to the term "minor surgical treatment". The bodies consulted were unanimously in favour of the amendments in this order, which undoubtedly remove the risk of incompetent practice.

If I may say one last word, the noble Lord, Lord Carter, will be glad to know that it will be entirely in order for him to carry out a laparotomy on me—or for that matter any other dumb animal—should I be in need of the relievement of bloat.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

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