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Baroness Byford: My Lords, I should like to add my support for the order accepting that it is a tidying up operation. The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and the British Veterinary Association point out that the current legislation is restrictive, as the Minister said. There are a significant number of veterinary nurses qualified to undertake more than is presently allowed by the 1966 Act.

The Minister said that the measure was a response to the Government's action plan for farming. However, the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons council in June 2000 made representations to the Government. Its aim was,

Some of the changes in the order were proposed by the RCVS in November 2000 and put to the Government for consideration. We are grateful that the Government responded. I understand that the RCVS and the BVA are setting up a working group to consider the 1966 Act, looking in particular at veterinary nurses' governance and their training programme.

I understand that the amended paragraph 6 of the schedule opens the way for listed veterinary nurses to treat animals other than companion animals. In the first instance this will probably apply to horses and equine animals although I accept that the Minister said that it will apply to all species. That is urgently needed as in the Veterinary Record of 27th April this year Mr Julian Wells, the outgoing chairman of the British Small Animal Veterinary Association, reflected that,

    "the drop out rate of veterinary nurses between enrolment and qualification was currently being investigated as it stood at somewhere around 50 per cent".

That is a terrible drop-out rate.

I have one or two questions for the Minister. Does he envisage that the measures proposed in the draft order might be a forerunner to imposing greater restrictions on veterinary procedures which are

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normally carried out by farmers on their own livestock? The Minister also talked about student nurses getting approval to participate in minor procedures under approved supervision. We welcome that.

Will the Minister clarify paragraph 6(c) which states:

    "the registered veterinary surgeon or veterinary practitioner directing the medical treatment"?

My question may sound flippant but it is not intended to be in this modern day and age. Does that mean that the relevant person will be in the same room? The Explanatory Memoranda uses the words "under the direction". Could such direction be given, for example, via video conferencing or by personal supervision at a remote distance if an emergency arose?

A slightly broader question relates to the number of state veterinary surgeons currently employed. The Minister, in response to a Written Question to Mr Morley on 5th July 2001, confirmed that their numbers dropped from 600 in 1979 to 286 in 2001. Is the Minister confident that there are sufficient state vets in the field regularly visiting farms or does he share my concern that the number of farm visits has declined over recent years? What figures does he have to share with us tonight?

As I said, the proposed changes are welcome. I hope that they may encourage more people to come forward as veterinary nurses and that in giving qualified veterinary nurses a greater challenge we might reduce the numbers who are currently leaving the profession prematurely.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth: My Lords, on behalf of my party, I, too, welcome the amendment. It is good that veterinary nurses will be able to carry out minor operations under supervision.

The caring role of veterinary nurses is extremely important from an animal welfare point of view. The order introduces a dual role for veterinary nurses—of caring and of carrying out minor surgery—which is good for their development. As we have heard, their powers have been the subject of lobbying from the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. The proposal will free it up and provide important training for student nurses, many of whom go on to become veterinary surgeons. I have encouraged a number of young people to become vets. They need encouragement because it is a very exacting profession. A vet's life is a very busy one; it is a first-class career. Sadly, over the past 15 years or so morale in the veterinary profession has been rather low, particularly during recent times as a result of the foot and mouth epidemic. It was good to see the other evening that the profession is still in good heart; they are resilient people.

There is, as the noble Baroness said, a shortage of vets. The figure for 1980 was around 600 and is now 300. During the previous Parliament, I tabled a Question to the Secretary of State on the matter. An examination of the figures for each year from 1980 to 2000 shows that most of the reductions occurred during the 1980s. That was very short sighted.

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The order is a shot in the arm for the profession. We must compare it with the crash situation during the 1980s, when there were proposals to close the vet schools at Glasgow and Cambridge University. I strongly supported the campaign to keep both open. The late Robert Rhodes James, the MP for Cambridge, did sterling work to try to keep Cambridge vet school open, and we were successful in that campaign. I trust that we will never again have to conduct campaigns on such an obvious matter. Indeed, after foot and mouth we live in more enlightened times of necessity. People must be encouraged to join the profession.

There is a problem in large animal practices—it is becoming increasingly difficult to recruit vets. Young vets tend to prefer to enter domestic animal practices. It is important that efforts such as that which we are discussing this evening encourage people to go into large animal practices.

We must give the amendment a fair wind. I have checked it out with the British Veterinary Association. I gather that there are minimal objections, if any, to the order because the association made most of the proposals. I trust that it will be a success.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I am grateful to both Front Benches for supporting the principles of the order. It will give us flexibility and provide a greater range of activity for veterinary nurses, who are an important part of the total profession.

I turn to the questions that were raised. The noble Baroness asked about new paragraph 6(c) in Article 2 and the meaning of "directing". That part of the order relates to the veterinary nurse, in relation to which directing may be slightly more remote and would involve overall charge; it would be further applied in relation to student veterinary nurses, when the involvement has to be direct, continuous and personal. There is a distinction between those two parts of the order.

The noble Lord, Lord Livsey, rightly said that there have been changes in the numbers of vets. There are problems with veterinary education and problems resulting from the balance of the veterinary profession, which is weighted in favour of household pets rather than large animals and farm animals. The proposal will help the resources on the latter side. In terms of numbers, I believe that the noble Baroness added a zero to the initial number. I recognise the figures referred to by the noble Lord. I believe that she said 6,000—

Baroness Byford: No, my Lords, 600.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I must have misheard the noble Baroness.

The figures are extraordinarily complicated. The quoted figure does not take account of the fact that some of those who were previously in the State Veterinary Service now work for the Meat Hygiene Service or another service. The bulk of the substantive cut occurred in management levels because of the rationalisation of regions during the 1980s and 1990s.

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In a recent Parliamentary Answer, I referred to field vets. During the past 10 years, the figures have remained roughly constant. The problem is not therefore with the number of field vets and therefore farm visits; the diversion during the past few years in particular in relation to particular diseases has reduced in some parts of the country the number of farm visits. There have been queries about the total numbers and whether the management structure is now appropriate. I shall let both Front Benches have the figures for field offices. That is the most appropriate approach in this context and most apposite to the order.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Horticultural Development Council (Amendment) Order 2002

8.6 p.m.

Lord Whitty rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 10th May be approved.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the Horticultural Development Council is an executive non-departmental public body that is funded by a statutory levy on growers of horticultural produce and which commissions near market research. The council was established by the Horticultural Development Council Order 1986, under the provisions of the Industrial Organisation and Development Act 1947. The main function of the council is to commission research and development on behalf of the horticulture industry. The order excludes apples, pears and hops, for which separate arrangements apply. Mushrooms were added to the order when it was amended in 1990.

The purpose of the amendment order is to make the necessary changes to take account of the Treasury's instructions relating to the Whole of Government Accounts—WGA—project. The move to WGA for government departments and NDPBs, such as the HDC, entails a standardisation of accounting years for those parts of government. Currently, the HDC accounting year runs parallel with its levy year; that is, from 1st October to 30th September. To facilitate consolidation of the accounts, WGA requires that departments and NDPBs have an accounting year ending within three months of 31st March. For the sake of clarity and administrative efficiency, the HDC wishes to maintain common accounting and levy years, with both years commencing 1st April. As the dates applying to levy years are stipulated in the Horticultural Development Council Order, the legislation must be amended.

In simple terms, the change will be effected by introducing a six-month levy period commencing on 1st October of this year and running until 31st March of next year. The next levy period will be from 1st April 2003 to 31st March 2004, and subsequent levy periods will be for 12 months commencing 1st April.

We also considered that it would be appropriate to make some minor changes at the same time. These are: an amendment to the description of "processing" in the interpretation section of the order to clarify the

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processing costs to be deducted from the value of a grower's sales when calculating liability for levy; clarification of the fact that the rates payable on a rateable packhouse are eligible for deduction from business turnover when calculating liability for levy; clarification of the fact that aquatic plants are also liable for levy—again, levy is already being collected from growers of those plants under an existing category, and this provision is for clarification; and clarification of the fact that all herbs, not just edible ones, are liable for levy.

Therefore, the most significant changes to be made by this order are in connection with the change in the levy year. However, in terms of the industry, that will have no adverse effects on levy payers and we shall not be asking them to pay anything extra in the way of levies. The overall amount of the levy will be no different; the only difference will be in the timing. As I explained, there will be a six-month and a 12-month levy.

In relation to the six-month levy period, levy payers will be assessed on sales as shown in their accounts for the calendar year 2001. The six-month period will mean that growers will pay only half the levy that would have been due under the old system. For the year commencing 1st April 2003, the levy will be calculated on sales in the calendar year 2002, and the same will apply in subsequent years. I hope that that clarifies the situation. I commend the order to the House.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 10th May be approved [30th Report from the Joint Committee].—(Lord Whitty.)

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