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House of Lords

Thursday, 14th January 1999.

The House met at three of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Wakefield.

Royal Assent

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg): My Lords, I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that the Queen has signified her Royal Assent to the following Act, passed in accordance with the provisions of the Parliament Acts 1911 and 1949:

European Parliamentary Elections Act.

Equine Dentistry

Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What action they are taking to regulate the qualification of people practising equine dentistry.

The Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Lord Donoughue): My Lords, those equine dental procedures that are considered to be acts of veterinary surgery may be undertaken only by a registered veterinary surgeon or by a registered dentist at the request of a veterinary surgeon.

Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. However, does he agree that there is some urgent need for a revision of Schedule 3 of the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966, which would regulate not only veterinary dentists but also all other paraprofessionals who operate on horses in one way or another?

Lord Donoughue: My Lords, I confess that I always tremble a little when the noble Lord rises to speak on these major issues of policy strategy because his great knowledge dwarfs anything that I can ever hope to achieve. However, I am very relieved--I think--to say that I agree with everything he said and is going to say. Yes, I can confirm that we do feel that there is a need for amendments in this respect. We very much appreciate that the 1966 Act is somewhat clumsy in its operation and, in many ways, inadequate in its definitions. That leads to problems for veterinary surgeons--that is, problems of delegation to, for example, the nurses. Indeed, it can lead also to problems for animal owners because where non-qualified people carry out such acts, they risk causing harm to the animal and a loss of insurance compensation. We are fully appreciative of the situation, but I cannot give the noble Lord any timetable because the department also has a number of other priorities, especially as regards legislation. Nevertheless, I can tell the noble Lord that I

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thought the letter from the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons of 2nd December, which set out the case very clearly, was excellent. I am very sympathetic to it.

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, despite what the Minister said--in other words, from the horse's mouth--is he aware that many of the horse-owning lay public regard "equine dentists" as qualified individuals and ask them to undertake really complicated bits of work, such as extractions of teeth, which they should never be doing? Indeed, anything above the rasping of teeth or the most basic requirements should be carried out only by fully qualified veterinary surgeons.

Lord Donoughue: My Lords, that issue is set out in the letter and is one of the matters that the department is considering.

Baroness Byford: My Lords, I should like to press the Minister a little further on the matter. I understand that negotiations or discussions have been taking place between the noble Lord's department and the veterinary college. However, can the Minister say when they started, when they will conclude and when we might perhaps see the outcome of such discussions?

Lord Donoughue: My Lords, I can tell the noble Baroness that they started in response to the 1996 report of the Royal College and discussions have continued since that time. However, I cannot say when they will conclude because they will only do so satisfactorily with changes to Schedule 3 to the Act. I really cannot give any guarantee on when the latter might take place.

Baroness Sharples: My Lords, is the Minister aware that insurance companies may refuse to pay when treatments which cause damage to horses are carried out by unregulated vets?

Lord Donoughue: My Lords, we are aware of the situation. Indeed, that is one of the problems associated with using unqualified people in such operations. All owners should be aware of the risks involved, and that could also apply in the area of artificial insemination.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, as regards instances where horses' teeth have to be extracted due to dental decay, would it not be wise to advise owners to consider a change of diet and encourage them to give more carrots to their horses and fewer sugar lumps?

Lord Donoughue: My Lords, as a frequent feeder of sugar lumps to certain horses, I take note of what the noble Baroness has said.

Lord Rowallan: My Lords, this is a serious subject. Are the Government aware that three people in the United Kingdom have practised equine dentistry for over 20 years? They are Bob Livock, Gary Singh, and Steven Holmes. They estimate that they spend more than 25 per cent. of their time rectifying mistakes made by other people, often vets. Should not the Government seriously consider talking to these three gentlemen with

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a view to setting up a training centre because it is now possible for people to go to the United States and after only three weeks obtain a certificate of proficiency in equine dentistry, when they are obviously not proficient in that subject?

Lord Donoughue: My Lords, I am certainly not proficient in that subject. This is a matter of how one regulates the profession and who is qualified to do what. We are in the process of considering that matter but it is quite complex. A whole range of issues have been put to us that require legislation. I assure the noble Lord that I certainly take those issues seriously, but I cannot guarantee rapid action.

Kosovo: UK Monitors

3.14 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What assessment they have made of the effectiveness of the contribution made by United Kingdom monitors in the international endeavour to preserve the ceasefire in Kosovo.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, British members of the Kosovo Verification Mission (KVM) played a crucial role in securing the release yesterday of eight Yugoslav Army officers captured on 8th January by the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). The head of KVM has also paid fulsome tribute to two British verifiers involved in mediating with both sides after fighting around Podujevo over the Christmas period. United Kingdom monitors were first deployed in Kosovo as the UK Kosovo Diplomatic Observer Mission. When the KDOM was folded into the OSCE Kosovo Verification Mission, British monitors based in Prizren played an important role in encouraging displaced people to return to their homes and in building confidence among local communities.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her comprehensive reply which confirms that these unarmed monitors are successfully playing a vital role, with the additional functions of negotiating about hostages and forestalling local attacks. But who will take the difficult decisions, if nonetheless serious hostilities break out, on when the NATO extraction force will be sent in from Macedonia in order to rescue the monitors?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, for his recognition of the important role being played by the British element in the verification mission. They are, of course, not only negotiating on the hostage issue, but they have also played an important part in ensuring that the hostilities which were engaged in over the Christmas period were put on one side in a period when I think it is

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acknowledged there is heightened tension. Ambassador Walker, the head of the OSCE, should the need arise to use the extradition forces currently in Macedonia--I am sure that all of your Lordships hope that the need does not arise--would make a request to NATO for that to be taken forward. That would involve both the OSCE element and the NATO element.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, is the Minister confident that once the snows melt the monitors will be able to contain what is clearly a potentially threatening conflict? Can she confirm reports that heavier weapons have been coming in from northern Albania for the KLA and that Serbian troops have been involved? Would she care to comment on the remark of Carl Bildt, the former mediator, that NATO and/or the Europeans would have done well to put their forces into northern Albania as well as into Macedonia?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, this is a period of heightened tension. The verification mission is being strengthened at the moment. Currently 110 Britons are involved. It is hoped that that number will increase to about 150 by the end of this month and that the full force of the mission will rise to about 1,200 at the end of the month. We must take advice from those on the ground. Major General Drewienkiewicz himself--Major General DZ, as he is commonly known--has indicated that he wants a period of consolidation with regard to the verification mission before talking about any additional people who might be brought in. This is a period when we shall have to watch the situation closely. This matter is being discussed today by the EU political directors. It is considered on a weekly basis by NATO ambassadors, and of course the UN Secretary General is reporting regularly to the Security Council on the issue. Therefore it is not just a matter of what is happening on the ground; we also need to keep in touch with what is happening at a political level internationally.

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