HL Deb 05 July 1994 vol 556 cc1210-22

7.42 p.m.

Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what action they propose to take following the decision of the Commission of the European Union to withdraw support for the sectoral directives and advisory committees on training for the health professions, with particular respect to veterinary training; and how this will affect the health and safe movement of animals moving within and into the Union.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to ask Her Majesty's Government what initiatives they are taking and hope to take as regards the sectoral directives and support for the various advisory committees and their sub-committees of the health professions in the European Union. Many who are not familiar with such matters have been taken completely by surprise to learn how serious the situation is. Perhaps your Lordships will permit me to give a brief background to the situation.

The health professions in the European Union—for instance, doctors, veterinarians, dentists, nurses, midwives and pharmacists—have sectoral directives which were adopted by the European Community in 1975. They cover mutual recognition, training and advisory committees. Mutual recognition was a means to ensure the freedom of movement of professionals within the Community and it was based on the concept of a comparable high standard of training. I emphasise that it is not identical training between the different countries.

The advisory committees on training are the means whereby educational standards, including facilities, course content and clinical teaching experiences, are assessed with respect to the phrase "comparable high standards of training". It is important that each health profession can feel confident that professional persons from another European Community country meet the educational standards of the host country and are competent to practice that health profession in that host country. Of course, the importance of competence will vary between professions. No one would wish a totally incompetent health professional to be permitted to practice in their own country. But that is a very real possibility and we should be concerned about it.

But of even greater concern is the potential, though unforeseen, danger of this type of individual failing to recognise important diseases or, even worse, certifying that they do not exist. As regards the veterinary profession, that could mean a failure to recognise a highly contagious disease entity, especially one introduced from a third country, or an animal or group of animals, certified either mistakenly or even falsely to be free of disease. That occurred recently with serious consequences to the equine population of the United Kingdom with respect to equine viral arteritis.

With the development of a single market, the freedom of movement of animals and foodstuffs of animal origin occurs without border checks of the importing country. It is therefore imperative that the health of livestock, and also derivatively that of people in the European Union, be safeguarded by a competent veterinary profession within the Community.

It is these considerations that have led the veterinary profession in this country to be particularly active—in fact, the leaders—in their Advisory Committee on Veterinary Training. It initiated a system of visitations to veterinary schools—one in each member country of the European Union—to see at first-hand the quality of facilities for training, the curriculum, the staffing and the supply of clinical materials rather than rely solely on a written submissions. The visitations are similar to those that occur in this country, in the United States, Canada and Australasia. In those countries, schools failing to meet the requirements of that country are put on probation or, in some severe cases, the degree awarded is not recognised by the licensing authority.

Initially, one school per European Union country was visited. While the reports produced had no force of authority to discontinue the recognition of a given degree, in some cases a major upgrading of facilities resulted from the visitation report.

The success of the pilot scheme was acknowledged, and in 1990 the Commission agreed that the Advisory Committee on Veterinary Training could embark on a programme of visitations of the remaining EC schools, which would be completed by the end of the decade. The programme was to be funded by the Commission. However, in 1993 the Commission unilaterally announced that it would not fund the visitation programme after 1994; and if the programme were to be continued, the profession itself would have to organise and to fund it. At the same time, the meetings of the advisory committee were reduced from two days twice per year to one day per year. That is a totally inadequate time for the consideration of any reports that might emanate from the visitations. A similar curtailment of advisory committees was experienced by the other health professions in this country and in the European Union.

One is forced to conclude that the Commission of the European Union has little concern for the concept of ensuring comparably high standards of veterinary training, or indeed for other health professions such as dentists where funding for visitations has suffered a cut-back similar to that of the veterinarians.

The question might be posed: can the Advisory Committee on Veterinary Training and the visitations continue in the absence of Commission support? There are mechanisms by which this might be achieved; for example, through the European Association of Establishments for Veterinary Education. The deans of veterinary schools in the European Union have taken up the challenge but the task is daunting and considerable financial support will be required to fund and to organise the work of the visitations and the advisory committees. It is generally beyond the abilities of the veterinary schools in the various countries to fund that.

While there is no conflict between the aims of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, which in this country is responsible for the assessment of the quality of veterinary education, and the Advisory Committee on Veterinary Training in the European Union in monitoring standards, the big difference is that the royal college has a statutory duty to carry out visitations under the terms of the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966. The Commission has no such powers and were visitations to be organised by non-Commission bodies, such as the European Association of Establishments for Veterinary Education, it would have to rely on the goodwill of schools agreeing to invite visitors in the first place and to accept any report that might be produced—and, more importantly, to do something about that report if it contained criticism. There are already signs that certain schools within the European Union have indicated that they might well refuse to be visited and reported upon by any group that can no longer be recognised as an official Commission visitation.

The responsibility for those issues lies with two directorates-general: DGXV, responsible for the advisory committee on veterinary training and the free movement and right of establishment of veterinarians throughout the Community; and DGVI which is responsible for agriculture and the free movement of livestock and the safety of food products. I am aware that the Minister must wear two hats when replying to this Unstarred Question.

Pressure is necessary on both those directorates-general since there is much at risk including the diagnosis of disease, the proper use of veterinary medicines and honest and accurate certification, to mention a few, as well as freedom of movement within the Community.

Because the mutual recognition directive of 1978 obliges the United Kingdom to register European nationals who graduate from European Union veterinary schools and who wish to work in the United Kingdom, it must surely be the responsibility of the European Union, through the Commission, to ensure an acceptable standard of veterinary training throughout he Community. An increasing number of veterinarians from the European Union are registering in the United Kingdom—up to 200 per year—and of course that number is likely to increase as the number of countries joining the union also increases.

There are differing, but nevertheless important, implications of inadequate training of graduates for each health profession. In the case of the veterinary profession the health standards of the national herds and flocks of farm livestock, as well as those of sports and companion animals in the United Kingdom, as well as in the Community, may be put at serious risk with enormous financial and important welfare implications.

Several health professions in the United Kingdom share the anxiety of the veterinary profession about the threat of the Commission to withdraw support for the sectorial directives and advisory committees. The implications of that are wide and I hope that the Government will be willing to mount a robust challenge to the attitude adopted on those issues by the Commission.

7.53 p.m.

Lord Carter

My Lords, the House will be extremely grateful to the noble Lord for tabling this very important Question. Although it is directed mainly at veterinary training, as the noble Lord said it goes much wider and affects all the other health professions. I must admit that until I was briefed for the debate, I was not aware of the implications of the actions of the Commission. I have been briefed by the BMA, pharmacists, dentists and nurses, all of whom share the anxiety expressed by the noble Lord.

With regard to doctors, it seems that 19 years after the adoption of what were called the doctors' directives, discrepancies in both basic and specialist training throughout the European Union are still evident. It is clear that the work of the advisory committee on medical training is of vital importance. However, it is equally clear that its effectiveness is severely limited. The problems are twofold; it is under-funded and under-staffed, and it cannot meet as often as necessary. On the whole, its recommendations have not been given the force of law and have gone unheeded in many European Union countries.

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain has written to me. It makes the point that: In most countries of the European Union the 'qualified person' in the pharmaceutical industrial company who authorises the release of a batch of medicine must be a pharmacist. Bearing in mind that medicines with a marketing authorisation in various member states should be able to move freely among these member states, the importance of a consistently high standard of education and training for pharmacists throughout the European Union is clear". The noble Lord who opened the debate mentioned dentists. We know that dentists with an EU qualification and EU nationality are free to move and establish anywhere in Europe. That freedom will extend next year to the EFTA countries through the new European Economic Area. It is essential, in order to protect the public health, that there are proper safeguards of the quality of training throughout an ever-widening Community.

With regard to nurses, the Advisory Committee on Training in Nursing is one of a number of committees established by the Council of Ministers to advise the Commission on matters relating to the education and training of health care professions. In the past, the ACTN has performed valuable work for the Commission in a number of key areas such as cancer, elderly people, primary health care, and continuing and specialist nurse training, and in the drafting of the legislation which now regulates the movement of nurses among the member states. Again, the ACTN has had its finance reduced and the number of meetings curtailed. The ACTN for the period 1994–97 should have begun its work in April 1994 but that meeting and a rescheduled meeting in May were cancelled. Those are just some brief remarks regarding the effect on other professions.

I turn now to the thrust of the debate which deals with the vital matter of veterinary education. The EC Commission, in a letter from Mr. Mogg, the director-general of the internal market and industrial affairs, to Professor Van den Bergh, the chairman of the Advisory Committee on Veterinary Training, dated March 1993, expressed the view that, the heavy involvement by the Commission in the system of visitation of veterinary schools is no longer appropriate … and would more appropriately be run by the profession". How would it do that and with what teeth? What would the veterinary profession do about an inadequate veterinary school in one member state even if every other member state were unanimous regarding its inadequacy? Is it conceivable that a similar attitude would have been adopted regarding the inspection and licensing of abattoirs? Would it be left to the industry in the member states?

This dereliction of responsibility has implications in two main areas; one of educational and another of national concern. In education, the system of performance indicators which rules the survival and prosperity of universities and their colleges includes vital judgments concerning their international standing. Yet we are about to lose a procedure which could have provided data on which to base such comparisons and indeed to confirm that UK and Irish schools are currently above average by European or other standards. Instead, they continue to be compared with non-veterinary science courses—a comparison which is relevant but dangerously incomplete since, for example, the obligation to teach a registrable degree course removes the flexibility simply to omit components which are inconvenient or understaffed.

If, sadly, any of the veterinary schools in this country were to close, the chances are that, in order to satisfy future demands for veterinary graduates in Europe, they would be replaced by the number of schools of dubious effectiveness elsewhere in Europe and, if present disastrous trends continue, with minimal supervision. It cannot make sense for sub-standard schools to proliferate anywhere in Europe while elsewhere first-rank schools risk closure. Least of all can it make sense to lose the excellent inspection system which permits such comparison as well as encouraging forward planning. I say at once that many European schools produce graduates whose performance equals or excels the performance of our own. The problem is the proliferating number of schools unlikely to attain a comparable standard.

The public should be aware that animal welfare and public health now depend on the legal right of any EC veterinary graduate to practise here, however inept, inadequate and devoid of practical training their course may have been. We are forced to pretend that their qualification is worth the paper it is written on. In most European schools, that is not a problem, but in a growing number of schools it is. Above all, in principle it is a grave threat if we accept qualifications which are unaccredited. That is not simply a matter of freedom of movement of goods and services. It is a matter of hoodwinking consumers that their health, welfare and safety standards are being properly safeguarded when, in reality, the Commission is choosing to abandon all responsibility. In short, it will insist that anyone can cross its internal frontiers and inflict services on the unsuspecting public under the protection of an unvalidated qualification.

As the noble Lord said in his opening remarks, while it was recognised that the EC would stop funding of the visitation system for veterinary schools at the end of this decade, the short notice of intention to cease funding for inspection of schools has come as a major surprise to many and leaves little scope for an alternative system to be put in place in the near future. While that development may be considered to be irresponsible by many, what is more important is that an inspection system should continue and that, whatever system of inspection is finally agreed, the Commission should act on reports from visits to schools as it is the best body to do so.

It may be more than just coincidence that the Commission decided to cease funding future visitations after it received an unfavourable report from a visiting group to a particular veterinary school on mainland Europe. If the Commission is not going to act on such reports, then there has to be a rethink of the whole concept of free movement of animals within the Community. However, what interested parties would hope for, above all, is an improvement in standards of veterinary education in all European countries.

High standards of training are fundamental to all areas of veterinary activity, whether it is caring for companion animals or safeguarding human and food animal health. Any shortcomings will inevitably rebound on the latter. Those standards are fundamental too to the various control measures envisaged for the single market, not least in the field of veterinary public health where veterinary ante-mortem inspection plays a vital role in arrangements for ensuring meat hygiene. As the noble Lord said, the system relies on the veterinarian's ability to recognise diseases in food animals and this, in turn, requires that the veterinarians involved should have had sound practical training in the diagnosis of such diseases. How can the Commission be sure that all veterinarians are receiving the required level of training if it fails to monitor standards across the Community?

The outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease in Italy last year and the problems with animals imported from eastern Europe into Britain have highlighted the reliance that Community policies for safeguarding animal health place on uniformly high standards of disease identification, reporting and control, and the fact that the health and welfare of herds and flocks in one member state may be crucially dependent on the standards of inspection and certification in another.

In terms of animal health and imports from countries outside the EC, frontiers can no longer be drawn on national lines, but have to be seen in terms of the Community as a whole. Here again, the necessary standards can be maintained only if levels of training are equally high, with the training embracing certification and professional ethics as well as animal health. Mutual reliance on another's certification means that everyone has to have confidence in the diagnostic ability and the clinical competence of their veterinary colleagues. In the absence of monitoring, where is that assurance to come from?

Mutual recognition of veterinary qualifications and measures allowing the free movement of veterinarians in Europe also assume that levels of training are uniformly high. Again, that requires that standards are monitored. If the Commission presses ahead with its proposal, we know for a fact that the profession itself will be invited to assume responsibility for visitations. However, without the weight of the Commission behind it, it is difficult to envisage a body with the necessary authority to gain access to schools on a Community-wide basis and achieve improvements where necessary.

Sadly, having rushed to introduce legislation for the single market, the European Commission seems to be taking a back seat in its operation, leaving it to member states and others to implement the rules and regulations as they see fit. Its proposal so suddenly to withdraw funding for the ACVT's system of visitations without consultation is especially unfortunate. As the practical effects of the legislation start to be felt, a system of monitoring is more necessary now than ever before. Standards of veterinary training underpin so many of the Community's activities. Having spent the past five years devising arrangements for the single market, the Commission should not now abrogate its responsibility for helping to ensure that they work.

We already know that in the first year of the single market we have had the importation of brucellosis and warble fly. It is a very serious matter. I can say that most livestock fanners are convinced that there is an animal disease time bomb ticking away as a direct result of the mad rush to a single market in the movement of animals without ensuring that the necessary standards of veterinary education and veterinary practice apply throughout the European Union. Those responsible in the Commission for that situation will bear a very heavy responsibility if our worst fears regarding imported animal disease are confirmed. An equal responsibility will lie on the Council of Ministers if it allows the Commission get away with it.

When he replies, I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure us that the British Government are doing their utmost to get such a dangerous decision reversed. This year is the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. It would, indeed, be ironic if, during this year, the European Union took such a backward step.

8.5 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Earl Howe)

My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend Lord Soulsby for initiating what has been a helpful discussion on such an important matter. The concerns expressed in my noble friend's Motion relate, as he explained, to a number of different professions. However, above all, it is the concerns relating to the veterinary profession on which, like my noble friend, I intend to concentrate.

My noble friend has considerable experience in this field as he is a veterinary surgeon who was formerly Dean of the Veterinary School at the University of Cambridge and a member of the Council of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. We all agree that to ensure the health and safe movement of animals, and the quality of animal products, moving within and into the Union, it is essential that the veterinary surgeons who are certifying that movement are trained to a comparably high standard. Although the provisions for veterinary training in the UK and the EC have been outlined during the debate, I hope that it will be useful if I draw together briefly the background to the whole matter.

The regulatory body, and competent authority, for the veterinary profession in the UK is the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. The Royal College Council, as constituted under Section 1 of the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966, is comprised of elected members of the profession, members appointed by the six UK universities which provide veterinary training, and members appointed by the Privy Council; one such appointee is the Chief Veterinary Officer.

In 1978, two European Community Directives (78/1026/EEC and 78/1027/EEC) laid down procedures for prescribed training in veterinary surgery and the mutual recognition of qualifications in the EC. Those directives covered the requirements for training, mutual recognition of EC veterinary qualifications and freedom of movement and rights of establishment of veterinary surgeons. The number of professions with such "sectoral" directives is quite small —doctors, dentists, nurses, midwives, pharmacists, veterinarians and architects; and, more recently, lawyers. The two veterinary directives require member states to allow veterinary surgeons, who have undergone the prescribed training and obtained the scheduled qualifications, to practise on any of their territories.

The veterinary sectoral directives were implemented in this country in 1980 via an amendment to the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966 which inserted a new section listing the recognised qualifications across member states. They have been amended from time to time since then to reflect expanded membership of the Community. On 31st March 1994, there were 16,432 veterinary surgeons on the RCVS register, of whom 663 were nationals of a member state registered under the provisions of Section 5A of the Veterinary Sturgeons Act 1966. In 1993 the number of EC qualified veterinarians admitted to the register was 122.

The Advisory Committee on Veterinary Training (ACVT) was established in 1978 with the purpose of ensuring that standards set down in the veterinary directives were being met and maintained. The decision sets out the responsibility of the committee, to ensure a comparably high standard of veterinary training in the Community". The ACVT is comprised of representatives nominated from various sectors of the veterinary profession, including the competent authority in the member states and is supported financially and secretarially by the Commission.

By discussion, consultation and an exchange of information designed to develop common approaches, the ACVT advises the Commission on the subject of veterinary training. As an advisory committee it makes recommendations to the Commission and has no legal powers. The Commission of the European Union holds the ultimate legal powers to ensure compliance with the veterinary training directives.

In its earlier years, as my noble friend mentioned, the ACVT met for two days, twice a year. Subsequently meetings were reduced to two days per year and the savings used to finance visitations to veterinary schools in member states. In 1991 the Commission agreed to assist substantially with the cost of the first cycle of evaluation visits, which was expected to last about eight years and cover all veterinary schools in the Community. The programme of visitations was therefore intended to ensure that all schools would be visited by 1999 but, to date, only about 10 per cent. have been visited.

As both my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Carter, have already said, these visitations, although few in number, are the only means whereby compliance with the directives can be assessed and pressure brought to bear to bring about improvements where deficiencies are identified. Without that pressure it is feared that many schools will fall below the required standard. From discussions that officials have had with officers of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, it is apparent that serious deficiencies have been identified following visits in some member states.

The Commission's report on subsidiarity to the European Council last December expressed the intention of reviewing a number of the sectoral directives based on the harmonisation of training, including the veterinary directives. The United Kingdom supports the application of subsidiarity and will, of course, examine the results of any such review. Nevertheless, the potential costs to the Community and the UK of inadequate standards of veterinary training are such that any proposed changes would have to be examined very carefully.

In March 1993, the Commission intimated its intention to withdraw its financial and managerial support for the system of visitation of veterinary schools by the ACVT by the end of 1993, which naturally caused the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and the British Veterinary Association serious concern. The Government shared that concern and the previous Minister, my right honourable friend John Gummer, instructed officials to enter into discussions with senior Commission officials in the hope that they would agree to support the ACVT.

I firmly believe that it is misleading to draw comparisons between the veterinary and other health professions in the context of the principle of subsidiarity; there is no direct comparison between the movement of humans within the European Union and the movement and trade in animals and animal products. If these are not controlled there is severe risk of hazards to public and animal health.

Last November, MAFF officials and representatives from the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons met the Directorate General to discuss their concerns. They were encouraged by that meeting into believing that the Commission was sympathetic to their arguments, and could accept the logic that not all professions should necessarily be treated in the same way. In January, the RCVS was informed by the Commission that it acknowledged the value of the present system, and proposed that responsibility for visitations should pass to the European Association of Establishments for Veterinary Education or EAEVE (that is, the deans of veterinary schools).

My right honourable friend the Minister, together with senior veterinary officials, met the president of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and his colleagues in February of this year and following that meeting my right honourable friend wrote to Commissioner Steichen expressing her deep concern that the Commission was withdrawing support for the ACVT. She has received assurances from Commissioner Vanni d'Archirafi in DG 15 that the Commission will continue to monitor results of the visitations by the EAEVE and receive the opinions and recommendations of the ACVT on these visits. The financial arrangements for the EAEVE visits are still unclear and discussions are continuing with the Commission to resolve the question of funding.

As your Lordships will readily appreciate—and as my noble friend emphasised—to ensure confidence in the operation of the internal market in the veterinary sphere, it is essential that veterinary surgeons throughout the Community are trained to the same high level of competence in accordance with the two directives. Deficiencies in their training could lead to a failure to recognise serious animal diseases and put the whole Community at risk by spread of disease through animals or their products. We have to be sure that all veterinary surgeons in the European Union are trained to a comparably high standard in the interests of public health, animal health and disease control. The public also rightly expects that their livestock and companion animals will receive a consistently high level of veterinary attention irrespective of the origin of the veterinary surgeon.

The noble Lord, Lord Carter, raised his anxiety about inept veterinary surgeons practising in Great Britain. Suitably qualified veterinarians from the European Union have the automatic right to be registered in the UK if their qualifications meet the terms of the relevant directives. However, they will not, of course, be guaranteed employment here and the vet will have to use his or her own endeavours to obtain a position. With regard to negligence, vets from other countries who become members of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons are subject to the same provisions that apply to other members of that college.

In the single European market, the obligation is clearly placed on the exporting member state to ensure that consignments meet all the conditions for intra-Community trade. The importance of correctly completed, valid veterinary certification in preventing the spread of disease, and protecting the welfare of animals in transport cannot be over-emphasised. No evidence suggests that official veterinary services in other member states are any less competent than those in the UK. There have been occasional errors in veterinary certification but these have been taken up immediately and vigorously with the member state concerned.

The UK is pressing for harmonised EC standards of veterinary certification based on the principles drawn up by the Federation of Veterinarians in Europe (FVE), in particular that veterinary surgeons should only certify where they have personal knowledge of the facts. There is a draft Council regulation on the certification of animals and animal products requiring certification based on the original FVE principles to be adopted throughout the European Union. The regulation includes penalties for false or misleading certification. In a wider context at a recent OIE meeting in Stockholm, there was unanimous acceptance of a resolution to adopt the FVE principles of veterinary certification.

Since the completion of the Single Market in January 1993 and the discontinuation of vaccination against foot and mouth disease in Europe, we have seen a large increase in imports of cattle into this country from other EU member states and an equally dramatic increase in our exports of sheep. The increased trade in animals will put increasing reliance on veterinary certification at the point of origin, which, as I have said, is now the principle of the single market. For this to be successful it is vital that satisfactory Community standards of veterinary education are maintained on an international basis and that a common understanding is developed, and put into practice, on the principles of certification itself.

The noble Lord, Lord Carter, referred to concerns about the effectiveness of the advisory committees, particularly with regard to the health professions. A meeting recently took place between representatives of the different health professions within the Department of Health. It was convened to discuss the problems experienced by the different advisory committees and ways in which the work of those committees could be progressed. At the meeting it was agreed that the group constituted a useful forum and should be reconvened on a regular basis.

It has been evident for some time that the effectiveness of the advisory committees is severely limited. I am aware that there is a widely held view that they are underfunded and understaffed by the Commission, and as a consequence they do not meet as often as necessary. The worry is that work on visitations to medical schools and dental schools, for example, has been impeded for lack of resources. Of particular concern at the present time is the failure of those member states who have still to nominate their delegates to the advisory committees, which has prevented the committees from resuming their meetings. Various efforts have been made by the UK to persuade the relevant member states to submit their nominations to the Commission, and the matter was raised again by the UK delegate to the committee of senior officials on public health at its meeting in Brussels on 30th June.

I have no difficulty in agreeing with the noble Lord, Lord Carter, that the advisory committees perform an essential function. That is particularly true of those serving the health professions, as continual develop-ments in technology, skills and knowledge need to be reflected in all aspects of training.

My noble friend's Motion refers to the withdrawal of support for the sectoral directives and advisory committees on training. It is important that I should make clear that that support has not been withdrawn. There are no proposals on the table arising from the review of the directives presented to the European Council last December. However, the Commission's handling of other matters has, in the Government's view, been less helpful than it might have been. It is a great pity that the withdrawal of the EC Commission's support for the ACVT visitation scheme was presented as a fait accompli. The Commission's decision to shunt it into a siding was never put to or discussed by the full ACVT. Proposed meetings of the committee were cancelled, and it was only on 1 st June this year—for one day—that the committee was able to meet. It is vital that the ACVT should be enabled by the Commission to monitor compliance with the directives and to ensure that deficiencies identified through visits are corrected.

My right honourable friend the Minister has put our concerns to the Commission and has received an encouraging response which she is now considering. She has been assured that the Commission will continue to monitor results of the visitations by the EAEVE and receive the opinions and recommendations of the ACVT on those visits. We have received assurances that the principle of visitation is one which the Commission firmly supports. We shall maintain pressure to see that the proposed voluntary scheme for visits to the veterinary schools in member states gets off the ground and has a proper programme of visits. We shall ensure that if deficiencies are identified the Commission is pressed to take action.

My noble friend's Motion tonight has highlighted an area of the utmost importance to public health, the well-being of our livestock industry and our trade. I can assure your Lordships that the Government continue to support the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons in its efforts to ensure the maintenance of high standards of veterinary education throughout the Community.

The Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until twenty minutes before nine o'clock.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 8.22 to 8.40 p.m.]