HL Deb 05 March 1990 vol 516 cc966-8

2.46 p.m.

Lord Molloy asked Her Majesty's Government:

What measures will be taken, and when, following the Page Report, by the Universities Funding Council on resources for veterinary colleges.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, Dr. Page's committee was commissioned by the Government to assess the future need for veterinarians and the implications for the intake of veterinary schools. We have accepted all the main recommendations of the Page Report by removing the ceiling on the intake to veterinary schools and discontinuing associated manpower reviews.

The report has been passed to the Universitites Funding Council for its attention. The UFC has already set aside the previous recommendations concerning the Glasgow and Cambridge veterinary schools. My right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is considering the recommendations directed to his ministry.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her detailed reply. Is she aware that the veterinary profession realises that the Page Report on veterinary education removes the threat of further closures of veterinary colleges and veterinary schools for which the profession is very grateful? However, can the Universities Funding Council remove the threat of lack of sufficient funding? The recommendations of the Page Report can be a huge success provided that the funds are available.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his first comment. It is appropriate to thank all noble Lords in this House who assisted in that process, in particular the noble Lord, Lord Molloy.

The recommendations of the Page Report advocate moving from 335 to 370 places by using the flexibility of staff/student ratios and then increasing the number of places to 400 by extending UFC funding. It recommends that there should then be added flexibility through the universities themselves considering top-up fees to students.

Lord John-Mackie

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware of the difficulties in the agricultural industry at the moment caused by various diseases, in particular mad cow disease? Any cutting of veterinary services would be a major mistake in view of such difficulties.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, the case for extension of places in the schools has been well made. The flexibility of the recommendations of the Page Report will make it possible for the schools themselves to respond to the need for an increased number of vets in that area.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, I also welcome the decision not to close the schools in Glasgow and Cambridge and to retain the six existing university schools. Was not one of the findings of the Page Committee that there will be a serious shortfall of vets over the next decade? Can the noble Baroness say what steps are to be taken by her department in concert with the Ministry of Agriculture to ensure that there will be no shortage? Or are the Government relying on the immigration of vets from overseas?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, the noble Lord raises a very important point that was established by the Page Committee. In addition to overseas vets coming into the country and the speeding up of the processing of those applicants, measures that may help in the short term are flexibility in encouraging part-time workers, the encouragement of people to work beyond the age of retirement, and a possibly increased role for the veterinary nurse. The extension of places will help in the longer term.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the British Veterinary Association and the Royal College hope that there will be no discrimination in fees? Will the Government also note that the threatened closure of the Glasgow and Cambridge schools caused a blight on the veterinary profession resulting in great anxiety and that it is hoped that that situation will never occur again?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, we are pleased that the threat which hung over the two schools has been lifted. There is no intention to discriminate as regards fees. However, if the intention is to introduce top-up fees, that will be across the board, with mechanisms to meet the particular hardships of individual students.

Lord Annan

My Lords, was not one of the reasons for the shortage of veterinary students the fact that the University of Cambridge was unable to fill the places in its veterinary school because the colleges did not admit a sufficient number of students to fill that school?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, the noble Lord raises an important question about the flexibility of access to our institutions which was fully discussed last week. Perhaps that point will also be taken on board.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, will the Minister bear in mind that the matter to which she has just referred will be strongly challenged and denied by the British Veterinary Association and the Royal College?

Noble Lords

Order, order!