I want to direct attention to exactly the same point that Senator Linehan has touched upon. The Bill, so far as it attempts to make the position of veterinary surgeons under the new political conditions satisfactory—that is to say, to regularise the position of veterinary surgeons—is worthy of support. I am not going to deal with the details of the Agreement between the two Governments in that respect, but it is clear that the main purpose of the Bill is to place the veterinary surgeons of this country in relatively the identical position they were in before the Treaty. Why the Minister should introduce new powers and give new privileges to veterinary surgeons I do not know. So far as I have read the debates that took place on the Bill in the other House, there has been no justification uttered in favour of the proposal to extend the powers and privileges of the College of Veterinary Surgeons.
In dealing with this Bill it is just as well, perhaps, to start at the beginning. To show what is the position of veterinary surgery in this country, let me say that, according to the census of occupation, there are 294 veterinary surgeons, of whom 65 reside in Dublin City and County. That is to say, these 229 people outside of Dublin are going to be granted the privilege of attending and caring the whole livestock of the country. For instance, in the County of Offaly there is one veterinary surgeon. You have there 5,500 farmers, 12,000 horses, 96,000 cattle, and 55,000 sheep. Therefore, what we are asked to say is that all the livestock and horses in that county are to be placed in the care of one veterinary surgeon, except that possibly a farmer or a farmer's man may be allowed to do work which is supposed to be the privilege of a veterinary surgeon. But this question goes a little further. As Senator Linehan has pointed out, the Bill, as originally introduced, aimed at preventing anybody performing operations, administering medicine, selling medicine, or doing anything of that kind except a veterinary surgeon. Even on the last stage of the Bill in the Dáil, when all the amendments had been gone through and pretty well agreed to and when certain modification had been made, the Minister explained that he wanted to exclude everybody except the farmer or other persons who habitually keep animals for profit or the servant of any such person, from performing such operations.
I know of a man who lives not far from the ancestral home of the Minister who is called upon by his neighbours, over a very big area, to perform simple operations, administer medicine to livestock, and so on. I do not know whether he keeps animals for profit. Possibly he does. If he has not been in the habit of doing so and wants to come in under this Bill, he may now take to the breeding of white mice. Therefore, there can be easy evasion of the provision. It would be an easy thing for a man, if he wants to evade this provision of the Bill, to bring himself within it by adopting the method I have mentioned. Throughout the country there are many people who are not farmers, farmers' servants, or herds attending livestock of one kind or another. It is inevitable that that must be so because of the very small number, proportionately, of veterinary surgeons that there are.
One of the Acts referred to in this Bill is the Veterinary Surgeons (Amendment) Act, 1920. When that measure was introduced in the British Parliament a discussion took place in reference to a new by-law that had been introduced into the regulations of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons dealing with the question of unregistered practitioners. Occasion was taken of the introduction of the amending Bill on behalf of the Veterinary College to criticise this new by-law. There was great danger that the Bill promoted by the Veterinary College would not be passed because of the opposition of members representing farmers, of members concerned with sport and livestock to this by-law, which appeared to prevent livestock owners from calling in the aid of unregistered practitioners. I propose to refer to one or two speeches that were delivered when the debates took place on that Bill. I do so for the purpose of showing that there is a certain amount of breach of promise in this section on the assumption that this section has been put in at the instigation of the veterinary surgeons. The Minister reminded us that the Irish veterinary surgeons are part of the Royal College. It was on behalf of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons that certain promises were made. The British Minister of Agriculture (Mr. Boscawen), speaking in the House of Commons, said that he wanted to speak of the fully-qualified practitioner who had an assistant who was unregistered and was not fully qualified. He went on to say:
There is no objection to his doing so. The Government certainly has no objection, and I do not think the promoters of the Bill have any objection, provided he does not use the qualifications and status of his chief to enable him to palm himself off as a registered practitioner.
I do not know whether any veterinary surgeons in this country in practice have unregistered practitioners working alongside them, but I gather from the discussions that took place in this British debate—whether it has since been remedied I cannot say—that some of the university colleges outside the supervision of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons did train persons who did not succeed in getting their diplomas. They were unqualified practitioners, and unregistered, and yet they were allowed to practise as assistants to qualified men. Whether there are many persons of that kind in this country I cannot say, but if there are this Bill would prevent them from acting in the treatment of live stock.
The member of the House of Commons—Mr. Cautley—who spoke on behalf of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, said the College had entrusted him with the care of the Bill. In the course of his contribution to the debate he said:
"None of the old Acts or the amending Acts, or any of them, touch at all the practice of operations for the doctoring of animals at all. The power that is given to the College is to set up a teaching school to exercise disciplinary powers over its members, and it has the power to secure to those of its members who have gone through an expensive training the right of reserving to themselves the title of duly qualified veterinary surgeons. Beyond that it gives no power, and it is open to anybody to perform these operations on animals providing they do not represent themselves as duly qualified veterinary surgeons. This measure is a proposal, not so much for the protection of the men who are qualified, as for the protection of the public at large, and it provides funds for the increase of veterinary knowledge and practice and for the extension of research work.
The unqualified men who perform certain operations on sheep and pigs are doing not only a useful but an important work for agriculture. This Bill does not interfere with them in the slightest degree.
The Minister for Agriculture, in the House of Commons, read a letter received from the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons on this particular matter. Portion of this letter I propose to quote. It is dated June 1, 1920, and says:
The Council hereby also undertakes that no alteration in this by-law shall be made in future without consultation, in the first instance, with the Ministry of Agriculture.
That is dealing with a by-law which was withdrawn because of the criticism of those who opposed the new powers which the College of Veterinary Surgeons sought. The letter goes on:
I am at the same time to give this official assurance that there is nothing in the amendment Bill which will interfere, nor has the college any desire to interfere, with the work of unregistered persons of any description in the performance of operations on or the treatment of animals, provided they do not represent themselves to be qualified veterinary surgeons.
That promise was made by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, and the letter was signed by the Secretary to the Council. Speaker after speaker, in the later stages of that debate, made it plain that, though there was no legal obligation upon future governors of the college to abide by that promise, it was an honourable undertaking and would be maintained. Section 46 of this Bill seems to me to be clearly a departure from that promise, given on behalf of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, in so far as their Irish members are concerned. Sub-section (3) of Section 46 says:
Nothing in this section shall render it unlawful for any farmer or other person who habitually keeps animals for profit
to do any of those things to which I have referred, but if anybody wants to perform these operations and to evade the Act all they have to do is to keep hens or dogs or any other animals and attempt to sell them. That will be called "keeping animals for profit." If it is going to be so easy to evade a provision of that kind, ought it to remain in the Bill? If it has any value at all, it seems to me it is to give a privilege to the veterinary surgeons which they never yet had—to give them the beginnings of a monopoly of a right to treat animals. If there were a sufficient number of qualified veterinary surgeons in the country to perform all the duties that they are called upon to perform, there might be a great deal to be said for giving this institution a monopoly of the work. If there were a sufficient number of registered and qualified plumbers, it could be said that they should have the government of their own occupation and a monopoly of its functions. But we have only 200 or 300 veterinary surgeons in this country and the care of all the horses, cattle, pigs and poultry is to be entrusted to them except in so far as farmers and farm servants are to be allowed to treat them.