Wednesday, 23 March 2005
Veterinary Practice Bill 2004: Committee Stage (Resumed).
For the purposes of clarity, section 78(4)(c) of the Bill reads as follows: "evidence that the Fitness to Practise Committee decides is appropriate to and will assist it with its inquiry, such as the testimony of a person who has expertise in an area of veterinary science, or any other area that is relevant to the inquiry, or the testimony of the applicant." My amendment proposes to delete this paragraph. As it currently stands, the interpretation of that subsection suggests that the fitness to practise committee can require the applicant to give evidence against himself or herself. Our interpretation is that the current wording is inappropriate. I hope the Minister will be as practical this morning as she was last night and accept my amendment.
We discussed that issue on Second Stage within the context of the section. I went back to the Attorney General on the basis of the concerns expressed. He advised me that as it stands it is legally sound. The option has been given to the fitness to practise committee where it is considered appropriate to call for direct testimony from the complainant over and above the original complaint, which is usually a letter or whatever. I have been advised by the Attorney General that, in the context of the current legislative framework and the concerns that have been outlined, the normal procedures are being enshrined in this legislation. People who make a complaint can follow it through, but one is not complaining against oneself. One must give evidence, but one is not giving evidence against oneself. One gives evidence in the way in which one perceives things have been done. It is for the fitness to practise committee to make an adjudication on the rights and wrongs of the case. While I appreciate that the Senator comes from that ilk, and I do not come from that persuasion, I have been advised that the legislation is legally sound as it stands.
I move amendment No. 90:
In page 57, subsection 6(a), line 16, after "oath" to insert "or affirmation".
I tabled this amendment in previous legislation. I was very intent on tabling the amendment in order to insert the words "or affirmation". As I explained previously, there are a whole host of reasons for tabling the amendment. For example, the oath might not have the same standing for someone who does not belong to a religion or believe in God as it would for others who have a faith or practise a religion. Given her advice from the Attorney General, the Minister's response will probably not favour the amendment. However, I must reiterate the case for differentiating between the two.
Our information is that the matter is not fully covered by the Interpretation Act. This is solid legal advice available to me and my back-up parliamentary research team. I am interested to hear the Minister's advice on whether the issue is covered by the Interpretation Act.
I support the amendments, as I did in the past. First, some Christian denominations believe that one should not swear an oath. Quakers, for example, believe it is wrong. Second, oaths are sworn far too easily. The most amazing evidence is given under oath, after which contradictory evidence is brought forward both in the courts and in tribunals. As a practising member of the Christian church, I hate to see any denigration of the Bible. I would prefer to include the word "affirmation" rather than "oath".
This issue was raised during the debate on the Civil Registration Bill. The advice is still that the Interpretation Act indicates that an oath in legislation can be construed as including an affirmation. I appreciate what the Senator is saying but, unfortunately, this is how things are currently. There is always someone who will find out the truth in the end, even though one may have to wait a while. I am advised that the Interpretation Act may have to be considered within this context. As it is in existence since 1937, perhaps the legislation should be reviewed. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is the person who will introduce reform of the legislation. While I appreciate there has been a change in recent years, as it stands, the advice from the Attorney General is that the oath is inclusive of an affirmation.
Given that the Senator raised the issue on a number of occasions, he might introduce a Private Members' Bill on the matter.
It depends on how far-stretched my resources will be.
Senator Henry raised an important point in regard to the lack of value people may place on taking an oath and the manner in which people can be disrespectful towards taking an oath. The majority of good thinking people are not like that, but there are people who will say anything to get them out of a situation. This has been borne out in recent years in evidence given in high profile cases by high profile people. There has been a direct contradiction in evidence given under oath and factual information, which comes out at some stage. This demonstrates the fact that the oath and the Interpretation Act need to be revisited. Our information is that the Interpretation Act does not cover this issue. We will table amendments until there is a review of the Interpretation Act or until the area is examined and affirmation is possibly inserted. The Parliamentary Counsel could perhaps use this standard insertion in future legislation. However, we will revisit the matter on Report Stage.
If it is possible, feasible or allowable for the Senator to provide me with the advice he received, I will ask the Attorney General to evaluate it on his behalf. The Senator has raised the matter on a number of occasions. The Attorney General is very fair-minded and if there is a good case for a re-evaluation of the Act, I would be more than happy to discuss it with him on the Senator's behalf.
The amendment to section 81(2), which contains one of the sanction provisions, is designed to provide for an appeal mechanism in line with sections 80, 82 and 84. The penalty provided for under this section relates to advising, warning or censuring a registered person following fitness to practise proceedings. This sanction could be imposed either in conjunction with or in substitution for any other penalties. Even when imposed on its own, however, it represents a finding against a registered person and, as such, the person will be named in the council's annual report. On this basis, the person should have the same appeal provisions available as for other potential sanctions and the amendment is designed to achieve this end. A consequential amendment arises in respect of section 81(1) to allow, in the interests of fairness, people to appeal sanctions as well as penalties.
This is a technical amendment designed, in effect, to align section 82 with sections 80 and 81 and represents a continuum of the sanction.
I move amendment No. 98:
In page 63, subsection (1), line 31, after "appropriate" to insert "if the Council is of the opinion that the offence is such as to render the person unfit to practise veterinary medicine or veterinary nursing, as the case may be".
As it stands, section 84 is flawed because there is no test, criteria or requirement by which the council can judge a person should be struck off the register by reason of having been convicted of an offence. Our amendment uses the wording set out in section 48(2)(d), which makes it clear that merely being convicted of an offence is not sufficient and that the offence must be one which, in the opinion of the council, renders it inappropriate for the person to practise veterinary medicine or nursing, whichever the case may be.
This amendment might go too far in that it would require the council to demonstrate how the ability of a person to practise has been affected by a decision on a matter by the courts which might be totally unrelated to and outside the person's veterinary practice. However, it must be noted that we are referring to a conviction for a serious matter which, if the person was to continue to be registered, could bring the profession into disrepute. It should also be noted that the person affected has the full appeals procedure available to them and, in the final analysis, the courts would determine whether the decision of the council is reasonable.
I have some concerns regarding this issue in that it may be taking matters too far. An offence may or may not be serious and may not really interfere with a person's ability to practise as a veterinarian. It could be restrictive. The council must consider situations where serious issues that would have an impact on a person's ability to carry out their work professionally arise. However, the courts will determine what will be the consequences. There are issues of a personal nature which would not prevent a person from working as a veterinary practitioner. One might tie people up and that would be somewhat unfair.
The wording addresses the situation from the viewpoint of the offence, in that the offence itself would render whether the person was fit to practise. The wording addresses the offence and not personal issues. There is currently nothing to allow the council to make such a judgment. We are referencing section 48(2)(d), which uses general wording to make it clear that merely being convicted of an offence is not sufficient and that the offence renders whether the person convicted of that offence would be unfit to practise as a veterinary surgeon, practitioner or nurse. The offence itself renders whether the person will be allowed to continue in their profession.
We are allowing that the council "may" make that decision. I would prefer not to have it stated that the council shall make the decision. There are offences of a criminal nature, such as drink driving, which result in prosecution but which may not interfere with a person's ability to practise as a vet. The council may make the decision and it would be obliged to do so if the offence was serious. No one wants the practice brought into disrepute. In light of the fact that there are so many vets on the council, that would be in the back of their minds and they would not want it to happen. I have given the council flexibility but I would rather not be too prescriptive because there are always individual cases and we must show recourse. People have the opportunity to go court if they do not agree with the sanctions.
This amendment involves a considerable amount of work. I am providing for the first time for the recognition of veterinary nurses. This has been broadly welcomed and recognises the fact that nurses increasingly play a role in the treatment of animals. The demand for veterinary nurses is further evidenced by the fact that a course is now available in UCD for those wishing to qualify as veterinary nurses and the first tranche of students will graduate this summer. I am anxious that the Bill will provide a basis for the profession of veterinary nursing to develop to its maximum potential, consistent with the requirements of public health and animal health and welfare.
Some concern was expressed by Senators during Second Stage about an aspect of the definition of the practice of veterinary nursing. This concerns a number of procedures which could be carried out as the Bill put it, "other than in the presence of a veterinary practitioner". Since the Second Stage debate I and my Department have had further consultations with the Veterinary Council, representatives of the profession and the veterinary nurses. Arising from this I am glad I am in a position to accept the substance of Senator Henry's amendment and that of Senator McCarthy which will replace the term "other than in the presence of" with "under the direction of a veterinary practitioner". In the circumstances it is not necessary to specify supervision, as proposed by the amendment. Accordingly, the Bill will provide for two categories of procedure which may be carried out by a veterinary nurse, namely, those that may be carried out in the presence of a veterinary practitioner and those that may be carried out under the direction of the veterinary practitioner.
A range of technical amendments are being introduced to improve the definition of "veterinary nursing practice" by further qualifying some of the terms, by restricting some activities to be done in the presence of a vet and by deleting others that do not fall within the definition of nursing practice.
The second dimension of amendment No. 99 proposes a number of technical amendments to section 92 to better define the practice of veterinary nursing. These amendments take account of some useful contributions received from the veterinary faculty in UCD, consultations with the profession and veterinary advice within my Department. In making these amendments I am glad to be able to take on board the substance of amendment No. 102 to section 92(b)(iv), tabled by Senators Henry and McCarthy, in regard to X-rays. In framing the specific wording for this amendment I have taken particular account of the advice of the veterinary faculty.
As regards the other amendments I propose to make to section 92(2), reflected in many cases of advice from the veterinary college, I wish to clarify and qualify certain technical terms. I also propose that certain procedures in the area of administration of medicines which require veterinary supervision or where a vet would need to be on hand to deal with any adverse consequence could be administered by nurses only in the presence of the veterinary practitioner. On the other hand, I propose to delete reference to certain forms of administration, for example, those administered orally which need not be reserved for veterinary nurses. In regard to animal medicines generally, there is specific legislation governing the distribution, sale and administration and this, in any event, will apply.
I believe the various technical changes I propose to make to section 92(2) will improve the definition of "veterinary nursing practice". I express my gratitude to those who made useful contributions in the process. A consequential cross-referencing amendment, namely, amendment No. 105 to section 92(3) arises as a consequence of the above amendments.
I am advised there is a textual error in amendment No. 105. It relates to line 25 where "section (2)(b)" should read "subsection (2)(b)".
I wish to refer to amendments Nos. 103 and 105. Senators Coonan and Phelan have tabled amendments Nos. 103 and 105 to the provisions governing the carrying out by veterinary nurses of minor medical or surgical procedures. The effect of these amendments would be that ministerial regulations would be required before nurses could become active in this area. I draw the attention of Senators to the amendment under which nurses will carry out functions of this type under the direction of a veterinary practitioner. The published version of the Bill also provides for a definition of "minor" in the context of medical or surgical procedures. In view of this and given that we are not adopting a similar approach in respect of the other tasks which a nurse may carry out under direction of a veterinary practitioner, I do not see why it is necessary to provide for ministerial regulation making powers in this instance.
I will not ask the Minister to repeat any of her reply. On the issue of veterinary nursing there is a general school of thought that the profession has been recognised in that people, out of a love for animals, study to become veterinary nurses. A diploma course is available in Ballsbridge.
Up to then there was a diploma course in only one of the institutes of technology, perhaps Athlone. In general, this profession which is associated with veterinary practice is being recognised. There are courses that offer the facility to those who wish to become veterinary nurses and there is a good chance of obtaining a third-level qualification in that area. The veterinary nurse is an integral part of any veterinary practice as is the general nurse in the surgery of a general practitioner. It is an important role.
Our amendment No. 101 seeks after the word "practitioner" to insert "but under the direction and supervision of such a practitioner,". This goes back to the point made last evening in regard to supervision, of not allowing a person to carry out procedures and to conduct elements of the practice if the need arises. There is also an element of supervision which ensures that the person is able to operate to a high professional standard and the advantage that one is supervised by a member of the profession who has sufficient experience. It also provides that people will operate within safe parameters and outlines what is regarded as allowable.
The second amendment in that grouping, amendment No. 99, deals with the taking of images by X-ray. Section 92 (iv) provides for the taking of images by X-ray. Senator Henry's amendment seeks its deletion and the insertion of a reference to radiology equipment. That is a broader and more applicable reference. I am not sure if that is the advice the Minister has received from the veterinary faculty.
The amount of work that has gone into this amendment is incredible and I congratulate all those who put it together because it covers everything extremely well. It is important to remember veterinary nursing is a profession in its own right. It was always interesting to note there were far greater penalties for pretending to be a vet than pretending to be a medical doctor. I would not like if veterinary nurses were more supervised by members of the veterinary profession than medical nurses are by members of the medical profession. The balance has been well struck here.
It is worth considering Senator McCarthy's point about radiology equipment. The important point in regard to the taking of images by X-ray is that it would cover CAT scans. However, does it cover MRI scans which are not pictures by X-ray? I do not see why they should have someone supervising them. This will become more important because it gives soft tissue information. With animals, soft tissue information can be very important, especially in very valuable animals. I suggest the Minister look at this issue unless she is informed that everything within that department is all right.
X-ray departments and MRI departments are usually separated and I would hate to think we had to revisit this excellent Bill on such a small issue. I ask the Minister to look at that issue between now and Report Stage. I cannot get over the provision for administering medication intraosseously, enterically, by inhalation or by intravenous injection. The whole issue has been gone into with such care. I did not realise they would give intraosseous medication. If one has osteomyelitis, perhaps it is best thing to do. Perhaps it should be done with humans also. I congratulate whoever drew up that amendment as it is very thorough.
I withdraw amendment No. 103. I compliment the Minister on giving due recognition to the veterinary nursing profession in the Bill. The important words in amendment No. 99 are "while assisting and in the presence of a veterinary practitioner" and, second, "under the direction of a veterinary practitioner". There is another set of operations or procedures that a veterinary nurse may carry out.
With reference to a previous section which was dealt with last night, will the Minister clarify the regulation that a person employed by the farming community can carry out certain procedures by way of emergency treatment? Does this mean that a farmer could employ a veterinary nurse, for example, in the calving or lambing season and that said nurse will be allowed carry out these procedures?
I congratulate the Minister. This is one of the areas of deep concern to veterinary practitioners and nurses. I do not have a solution to it. I acknowledge the work done by Senators Henry, McCarthy and Coonan. As far as I can see, with the exception of the query from Senator McCarthy, the Minister and her officials seem to have drafted the challenge and come up with answers that seem to have solved it. I hope that is the case. They have listened carefully to those involved and managed to deal with their concerns.
I acknowledge the substantial changes made in the section relative to veterinary nurses. It is a significant redrafting process which meets many of the submissions expressed on Second Stage. In my opinion it will be welcomed by everyone.
We must allow a balance between both nursing and veterinary practice. It was on this basis that we changed the terms "under the direction of" and "in the presence of". The phrase "in the presence of a veterinary practitioner" refers to when particular procedures are carried out. The term "under the direction of" could refer to an administrative matter or to stitching or some minor procedure. If the Bill was to say "under the direction of" and "under the supervision of", then the vet would always have to be present with the nurse.
As almost all of those involved in the profession of veterinary nurse are women, the nurse would never have the freedom to do certain things which she is more than capable of doing without the supervision of a veterinary practitioner. We have aimed to achieve the balance. There is a lot to be said for giving some freedom to nursing practitioners, particularly as they have particular skills. It is similar to the situation that obtains in respect of doctors who possess all the skills but who sometimes do not wish to perform certain procedures. A doctor is hardly ever asked to stitch a wound and often prefers a nurse to do it. There must be a balance between the two professions. This is the first time recognition is being given to veterinary nurses.
Many people are interested in pursuing this profession, which complements the work of the veterinary practitioner. In reply to Senator McCarthy, this is the reason I did not wish to include supervision because this would tie them down completely and they would require to be constantly supervised. In my view, the phrase "with the direction of" the veterinary practitioner is preferable. The vet will be familiar with what people can and cannot do, both legislatively and practically. They should be allowed to have the freedom afforded under the direction of a veterinary practitioner.
There is a little confusion about the other issue. There is nothing to stop a farmer employing a veterinary nurse but the nurse is only allowed carry out certain procedures because, under this legislation, other procedures would be outside the ambit because the vet would be required to supervise or give direction. Veterinary nurses carry out procedures in the small animal practice but it would be rare for them to carry out procedures on farm animals. I wonder whether it would be a useful employment for a veterinary nurse to work in the farming sector. There is nothing to say, however, that it cannot be done, as long as it is within the ambit of this legislation.
There has been some confusion about what a person can do in an emergency as opposed to a routine situation. Normal animal husbandry is not being tied up in this legislation because this would be impractical. We are trying to strike a balance between normal, day-to-day farm work and what needs to be done on a professional basis.
The issue of X-rays also caused me some angst. The Department received further advice from the university faculty. MRI scans are usually done in a hospital. There are occasions when scans are provided by farm relief services, for example, and they would need to be excluded as a consequence if this was included in radiological equipment. It was in order to provide that flexibility that this has been introduced and as a result of advice from the dean of the faculty.
The Minister has clarified most of the issues in respect of veterinary nurses and this is to be welcomed. She referred to animal husbandry. A farmer who looks after his animals regards them as his first concern. Must he or she engage a vet or could he engage a veterinary nurse in certain situations? Could a farmer engage a nurse when a vet is not available if it is a case of animal welfare?
It would have to be done under the direction of a veterinary practitioner if it is outside the criteria set down because the question of insurance would arise if a person who is not entitled to do so decides to make a diagnostic decision. It is a different matter if procedures are carried out following directions from a vet. The vet must make the diagnosis. This is the reason I wish to keep the balance because there are professional and insurance issues to be considered. If a person does something they believe they are professionally competent to do, problems will arise if they are not professionally qualified. This situation may change in the future. Nursing has changed in the past 25 years. It may be that the profession of veterinary nursing will move to postgraduate level or that a different type of management situation will come into play. At present, however, nurses must operate under the direction of or in the presence of veterinary practitioners. If a farmer was to lose a large animal because an unqualified person made a mistake, that would be a retrograde step.
This amendment was already discussed with amendment No. 99. I draw to the attention of the House the correction required in the amendment. In the last line of the amendment, the word "subsection" should be substituted for that of "section".
This amendment is to provide legal certainty in regard to what veterinary nurses, who are provisionally registered, may lawfully carry out having regard to other legislation which may impinge on their activities. Section 97 provides a basis for provisionally registering as veterinary nurses, persons who are practising as such, on the date of publication of the Bill. Such persons will be enabled to continue working as veterinary nurses for up to five years while they obtain a requisite qualification.
Concerns were raised with my Department by the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland about the potential involvement of provisionally registered nurses in taking of X-rays without having the necessary training. Accordingly, this amendment will address this concern by making it clear that in carrying out any function they are subject to any relevant legislation, in this case the Radiological Protection Act 2000, which requires completion of a formal course of training in veterinary radiological techniques and radiological protection measures before operating X-ray equipment.
It refers to provisionally registered veterinary nurses who are practising. I do not want to circumvent a situation whereby people working in the area would be excluded as a consequence of the Bill. They are given a timeframe to attain the proper and necessary qualifications. They must do so regarding other legislation that impinges upon them.
'under the care of a registered practitioner' has the same meaning as it has in Regulation 44 of the Animal Remedies Regulations 1996, save that Regulation 44 shall be read as if any reference to a registered veterinary surgeon in that Regulation were a reference to a registered practitioner within the meaning of this Act.".
The Veterinary Practice Bill for the first time provides for a legally-based veterinary premises accreditation regime. As a result of more recent consultations and further reflection in my Department, this amendment will improve the definition of a veterinary premises, both in removing a potential loophole and avoiding the inadvertent inclusion of some activities.
The Bill provides that farms where animals are being treated in the normal course would be excluded. It is not desirable that the exclusion should cover a situation for a vet who has his or her practice on a farm. Accordingly, I propose to refine the definition of "farm" to close this potential loophole. This amendment will meet the essence of the concerns and underline the amendment tabled by Senator Henry. However, it is not possible to accept her amendment as drafted because it would have the effect of making every farm where a vet treats an animal subject to veterinary premises accreditation standards.
The amendment will address the issues at the heart of amendment No. 117 from Senator McCarthy by referring to premises owned or occupied by the owner of an animal being attended to by the registered person.
The amendment contains two further technical changes to the definition of a veterinary premises for the purpose of the veterinary premises accreditation regime. As drafted, the definition could include slaughter plants and export inspection points where vets from my Department carry out official functions which fall within the definition of veterinary practice. Another issue was identified where veterinary practitioners could be called on to examine or treat animals at a variety of sporting events such as race meetings, showjumping events and other commercial sales. The locations referred to are not veterinary premises in the ordinary meaning of the word. It is, therefore, not sensible to subject them to the same conditions as veterinary premises.
Having consulted the Attorney General's office, I propose to provide for a regulation-making power in this new section to enable Ministers for Agriculture and Food to deal with situations which may arise. This is preferable than attempting to list exhaustively, with sufficient precision, the various situations that may arise. I hope this amendment addresses the concerns underlying amendments Nos. 115 and 119, where it is proposed to qualify the word "practise" with the word "regularly".
This amendment will make the provisions governing the premises accreditation regime more effective and workable.
I am glad the Minister has come this far on these amendments. The definition of veterinary premises was so wide that the Minister could have been guilty of overregulation, not that we would accuse her of any such misdemeanour. I am glad the Minister has recognised that many places exist where veterinary practices could be situated.
may take place otherwise than at a premises to which a certificate of suitability applies, then the Minister may, following consultation with the Council, prescribe places and events where such veterinary examination or treatment of an animal may be carried out by a registered practitioner without the requirement of such a certificate of suitability.
(2) Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1), the regulations referred to in that subsection may provide that the veterinary examination or treatment specified in the regulations shall be performed in compliance with conditions so specified which conditions may provide for one or more of the following:
(4) In this section 'veterinary examination' means the examination of an animal by a registered practitioner to determine the fitness and suitability of the animal for sale or participation in a sporting event, as the case may be, and such examination may constitute the practice of veterinary medicine.
(5) Every regulation made by the Minister under subsection (1) shall be laid before each House of the Oireachtas as soon as may be after it is made and, if a resolution annulling the regulation is passed by either such House within 21 days of the day on which that House has sat after the regulation is laid before it, the regulations shall be annulled accordingly, but without prejudice to the validity of anything previously done under them.".
This is the new regulation that I propose to introduce to address the concerns of the Members of the House on an exhaustive list being provided.
I move amendment No. 120:
In page 77, subsection (1), line 38, after "person" to insert "or two or more registered persons applying jointly".
This amendment refers to the certificate of suitability. It was raised during negotiations with Veterinary Ireland. Veterinary Ireland proposes that the Bill should be amended in order to allow more than one vet to apply jointly for a certificate of suitability.
At the outset the legislation did not make provision for corporate practices. I understand this was contemplated at an earlier stage but was left aside so that the overall issue of corporate practice by professions generally could be dealt with in a single piece of legislation. I understand the matter of partnership law, as it relates to the professions, is likely to be examined by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment as part of a forthcoming review by the company law review group. In these circumstances, and having consulted with the Attorney General's office, it will not be possible to make provision for the joint application suggested in the draft amendment. Nonetheless, it will be possible for veterinary practices to make private contractual arrangements among themselves enabling a single applicant to make an application in effect on behalf of that practice.
I am not sure that it stands, but there is a reference on page 78 to a registered person. This term is much used and I suggest it should be very definite and should say a person registered under Part 4 of the Bill. I do not know if there is a need for this, perhaps the Minister has already included a reference to it. The term "registered persons" is mentioned on a number of occasions without reference to Part 4. I will take the Minister's advice on this matter about which concerns were raised.
We would not have a concern about this issue, in that the legislation refers to a registered person as defined, and we are happy with that.
I move amendment No. 121:
In page 84, line 25, after "suitability" to insert "or a copy thereof".
This section refers to the obligation to display a certificate of suitability. The current wording of section 123 reads: "A certificate of suitability shall be displayed in a prominent place at the veterinary premises to which it relates." As the section stands, the original certificate must be displayed at the premises to which it relates. This amendment would allow a copy of the certificate to be displayed.
This is an important amendment. The value of original documents is incredible and in some situations only an original document is accepted, but I do not believe an original should be displayed publically where it could quite easily be stolen. Perhaps one could display a copy, and the original could be seen on demand if necessary. Original copies are so valuable in this situation. Will the Minister consider this between now and Report Stage if this amendment is not accepted?
I support this amendment. Such documents are very valuable and can easily be lost. Retail shops must show a licence for selling certain products, and very often a copy is on display while the original is available for inspection. Will the Minister give some thought to this before Report Stage?
This is not about the display of the veterinary practitioner's degree. This is about the certificate of suitability for a veterinary practice, which would come from the council. There might be some confusion there. This is not about an original of a qualification, but the suitability of the premises as certified by the council. Such a document could be changed, and a copy could be bogus. In my view an original would be preferential. This document states that the premises is suitable, not that the vet is a vet.
One must apply to the council which will then determine the suitability of the premises. Perhaps there was some confusion on this. It is not about the veterinary practitioner's certification, it is about the certification of the premises.
I said at the beginning of my contribution that it was about the certificate of suitability. I understand that and I welcome the Minister's clarity, but this goes back to the point made by Senator Quinn. Original documents are always very important and it is important to retain them, not least when one is dealing with bodies operated by human beings subject to human error. For example, a housing application to a local authority used to be simple but is now a very detailed intricate document, which looks for certificates of income, copies of identification and birth certificates. As a matter of practice, if someone comes to me for help with filling out a form, I will not give original certification to a local authority, as in my experience it can get lost. This incurs a replacement fee on the person submitting the form. I accept what the Minister says, but for the purposes of expediency and to make matters more manageable this amendment should be considered. There is an issue with regard to original documentation, which should be guarded.
The vehicle registration certificate for a car is a document many people lose and it is a cumbersome process to replace it. One must write off, give a fee and wait and give various commitments that one has not passed it on or that nothing untoward has happened to it. This amendment would eliminate such bureaucratic and unnecessary tasks. I accept the Minister's clarity but this amendment would allow a premises to display a copy of the certificate. The original certificate of suitability should be kept in a safe place with the original university degrees.
Will the Minister take on board Senator Quinn's remarks about having the original certificate on the premises and ready for inspection? Everything Senator McCarthy has said about the loss of original documents is correct. It is a nightmare to replace lost documentation.
I agree to some extent with the Minister's point that copied documents may not always be genuine. However, the Minister could work with her counterpart in the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to ensure that county councils issue two original certificates, one for display in the owner's practice and the other to be retained for safe keeping. This would solve the problem.
It is the function of the Veterinary Council to determine the suitability of premises and it is desirable that the certification from that body should be displayed at all times. I assume vets agree the original documentation should be so displayed on their premises. As Senator Coonan observed, there is always a risk in regard to copies.
I am not setting myself up as an authority in this matter. However, my instinct is that this amendment is superfluous. It is good to see the original document and it is clearer and more attractive than a copy. There is a pride for the owner in displaying the original certificate.
I do not wish to be pedantic in regard to this issue but it is more than desirable that the certificate be displayed. That is a requirement of the Bill. I will not lose too much sleep over this but I ask the Minister to continue the pragmatism she has displayed throughout the course of this debate. I wish to reiterate a point made by Senator Quinn. The original document could always be available for inspection afterwards.
The provision should state that only the original can be displayed. It is important that those who present an animal at a veterinary practice should be able to see the original certification and be confident that the premises is suitably registered and the practitioners properly qualified. I understand Members' points regarding the danger of an original being taken or lost, for example. However, it is important that the original should be displayed.
I am surprised Members are perplexed about this issue. Senator Quinn has always been a man who is upfront with the consumer and concerned with consumer choice and information. The display of the original certification gives credence to the premises. However, I appreciate it can be troublesome to replace lost documentation. The best approach is to keep a copy for oneself which will facilitate replacement if the original is misplaced. The legislation requires that fire safety and other certificates must be displayed and this gives credence to the premises and confidence to the consumer. I hope Senator McCarthy will sleep well tonight even though I am not in a position to accept this amendment.
Regulations have recently been passed which stipulate that drivers must carry their original driving licence in each vehicle they own and that copies are not acceptable. In line with the Minister's suggestion, I have taken a copy of my licence for safe keeping. When I lost my licence last year, I was able to get a replacement easily because I had the copy. There is some sense in the Minister's suggestion in this regard.
This is a technical amendment which defines an offence for failure to display a certificate of suitability, thus enabling the penalties provided for under section 124 to apply. A linked amendment arises in section 124.
This amendment arises as a consequence of an amendment to section 123. By inserting a reference to section 123 in this section, the penalties for what are summary offences can be applied to failures to display a certificate of suitability.
I move amendment No. 125:
In page 85, paragraph (b), line 16, to delete "veterinary".
An authorised officer should be in a position to enter any premises about which he or she has concerns even if it is not a registered veterinary premises.
An authorised officer must obtain a search warrant in order to enter a premises. There is a substantive concern here and I propose to deal with it in an amendment to the next section.
I move amendment No. 126:
In page 85, subsection (1)(a)(i)(I), lines 28 and 29, to delete "by a registered person".
This provision is very restrictive in that only the premises of registered practitioners can be inspected without a search warrant. Situations may arise in regard to a person who has been struck off, for example, or a veterinary nurse who is acting in the manner of a veterinary surgeon. It is wiser to give authorised officers the power to deal with such situations as they see fit. It is more likely problems will arise in regard to those cases I have mentioned than in the case of registered practitioners.
It seems great minds think alike and I support Senator Henry's amendment. This amendment was requested by the Veterinary Council during protracted discussions I had with its members on this legislation. It enables the council to search properties other than those operated by registered vets. I ask the Minister to take on board the points made by Senator Henry and accept this amendment.
I am concerned at the powers the State has given to so many inspectors in the past ten years. The first instance related to drugs and the ability to perpetrate a forced entry in searching for illegal substances. Everyone was in agreement with this development. Findings of the first tribunal led to new developments in regard to tax inspectors. Over the decade, authorities in many areas of life have been given increasing rights, including the right to invade or perpetrate a forced entry in one's own home.
I refer, in particular, to the Competition Authority. I argued strongly against the right of the Competition Authority to raid my home, by forced entry, without my notice and without my being able to stop it. I held the view that the State might be going too far in that instance. The Veterinary Practice Bill 2004 provides a similar example. Veterinary Ireland pointed out that an authorised officer can use forced entry to visit one if one is a veterinarian. If one is not a veterinarian, a court order must be obtained. This seems to discriminate against veterinarians.
I listened to what Senator Henry stated and she is actually making the opposite case. Veterinary Ireland told me that the powers to inspect premises, which are set down in section 127 and which are aimed particularly at registered persons, are quite extensive and include the right to make forced entries. Section 128, which is apparently aimed at non-registered persons, provides for the use of District Court warrants in certain circumstances. In the interests of equity, this requirement for a warrant should also be included in respect of inspections under section 127.
I am dealing with the same topic as Senator Henry but I take the exact opposite view to her in respect of it. She asked whether the officers should not have the authority to enter premises. I am concerned that the State is giving too much authority to too many inspectors to visit premises, including people's homes in many cases. In the instance under discussion, people's homes may well be visited. Why can the home of a veterinarian be raided by way of forced entry, while the raiding of the home of a non-veterinarian requires a court order?
Senator Quinn's comments make a great deal of sense. The most law-abiding people will be in the most invidious position. They are the ones whose homes can be raided without a warrant, as the Senator stated, whereas court warrants will be required to inspect the premises of those who have set up fly-by-night establishments, for example, and who are not veterinarians at all. Perhaps the Minister will consider addressing this matter.
I am concerned about use of the phrase "enter any premises, if necessary by the use of reasonable force". An officer should only have that power on obtaining a District Court order. Only one body in this State can administer that kind of justice, namely, the Garda Síochána, and it is the only body that should have that type of power. This is a serious matter. If the Minister is to pursue this further in the legislation, the provision should stipulate that the powers to enter premises should be exercised only on foot of District Court warrants. I have experience of officials, the vast majority of whom are fine. I do not want officers entering premises by using reasonable force. It is not acceptable.
I have considered this issue. As the legislation stands, the officers of the Veterinary Council can enter one's practice without a warrant if one is registered but cannot enter one's home. A search warrant would be required in the case of those who are not registered. I will reconsider the position. Perhaps we are going a little too far and perhaps search warrants should be required in all cases. Will the House allow me to re-evaluate this and obtain further advice from the Attorney General on how I can address this? To be fair, everybody has put forward views. The council may not be particularly enamoured of my thoughts but veterinary practitioners are concerned and it is on that basis that I would like to reconsider the matter and seek advice from the Attorney General.
Having listened carefully to what the Minister said, I would have thought it reasonable that the Veterinary Council, with which veterinary practitioners are registered, would have the right to enter a premises unannounced. However, any other officer acting outside this remit should be required to have a warrant before gaining entry. Will the Minister consider this?
I am satisfied with the Minister's statement that she will re-evaluate this aspect of the Bill. There is an old saying that an Englishman's home is his castle. I do not know what one calls an Irishman's home but it seems that in the past ten years we have passed much legislation affording rights to people to invade one's home. I have argued against it each time. In this case, the Minister states that we are referring to the practice rather than the home but I know some veterinarians whose homes and practices are within the one building.
I am happy with what the Minister said. If the matter is considered between now and Report Stage, we might be able to arrive at a solution. It seems unfair, however, that if one happens to be a veterinarian, one's home can be invaded without a court order, while a court order is required if one is not a veterinarian. This seems to give a bias to the legislation in the wrong way. However, I can understand the point——
As the Bill stands, one would not be allowed to enter a veterinarian's home without a search warrant. If his practice was in the home, one could only get into the practice and not the home. This stipulation could be superfluous, however, particularly if the point of entry for both is the same.
In light of the fact that many vets have stated that this provision is a little over the top, I will reconsider the matter. There are reasons, other than those that fall within the scope of this legislation, that a veterinarian would be investigated. A different type of legislative issue would have to be dealt with if issues arose concerning drugs or if the Department of Agriculture and Food had to conduct an investigation. However, the issue in question is one for the council. Having reflected upon it, I would like the opportunity to re-evaluate the position and perhaps consider the need for search warrants where they are necessary to enter the premises of non-registered persons. This would be fairer on those who are registered.
I move amendment No. 127:
In page 86, between lines 31 and 32, to insert the following new subsection:
"(2) Where an authorised officer takes possession of or removes from the premises for examination and analysis, any animal pursuant to subsection (1)(h) which is not the property of the registered person concerned, then:
(a) the authorised officer shall take reasonable steps to notify the owner of the animal of such seizure or removal, within a reasonable time after taking possession of or removing the animal, save where it is not possible to identify the owner notwithstanding reasonable diligence,
(b) where the owner so requests, the authorised officer shall return the animal to the possession of the owner unless there are reasonable grounds to believe that the owner is responsible for serious ill-treatment or neglect of the animal, and
(c) where an animal is returned to its owner following seizure or removal under this section, the subsequent production of the animal in proceedings (including disciplinary proceedings) under this Act shall not be required, and the production of photographic or scientific evidence regarding the condition of the animal shall be sufficient in any such proceedings.".
This amendment is quite similar to amendment No. 126. It concerns the property rights of the owners of animals on the premises raided by authorised officers. It is clear that an authorised officer can seize the property of a veterinarian. However, there must be protection for the third party rights of owners of animals. I will not labour the point because I believe the Minister has enshrined it her own response. One knows how precious some animals are to their owners.
That is a practical issue and advice is being sought thereon from the Attorney General. I hope to address the issue clearly and definitively on Report Stage.
I move amendment No. 128:
In page 86, subsection (3), line 36, to delete "dwelling" and substitute "premises".
This amendment comes under the same umbrella as its immediate predecessor and I accept the Minister's previous contribution in this regard.
The explanatory memorandum to the Bill states, "Section 127 empowers authorised officers to enter a premises (excluding a State premises) for the purpose of inspection." Why is the Minister excluding State premises? I am particularly concerned about premises where difficulties might arise. Irrespective of whether it is a State premises, access, if required, should be available.
I am protecting the interests of my Department. If State premises are not excluded, the council would have access to the Department of Agriculture and Food, in which veterinary practitioners who come under my regulation, as opposed to that of the council, are employed. This would mean that the Department could be raided. I know some of the Senators would love that to happen. I am excluding State premises and the Department itself so that the council will not be in a position to raid the Department. Although some of the vets in the Department may be members of an organisation, they come under the auspices of the legislation and regulations relating to the Department and are subject to investigation by it.
My point is that there will be occasions when matters arising on State farms will need to be investigated and there may be difficulty in terms of gaining access. The Minister should look more closely at that area. Difficulties can arise between those responsible for managing State farms and people coming in to perform investigations.
Is the Senator referring to activities such as testing? Such activities do not come within the ambit of this legislation.
Issues of this nature have arisen in certain parts of the country and discussions in respect of them remain ongoing. However, that matter falls outside the ambit of the legislation. We are concerned with granting the council access to members who, under the council's rules and regulations, may be behaving in an untoward fashion. We excluded the State, as it has its own rules and regulations. I agree that there are issues about access but these will be addressed in different legislation.
Amendment No. 129 involves removing the term "place" substituting it with that of "premises". This will address the concerns of Senators Moylan and Quinn. We are making specific provision in respect of empowerment to obtain search warrants to enter State premises.
I thank the Senator for drawing attention to the error in this section of the Bill, as published, wherein the reference to the Companies Acts should cover the period from 1963 to 2003 and not 1963 to 2001. The draft amendment will correct this.
I move amendment No. 133:
In page 92, line 41, after "16(1)" to insert "and a statement of such reasons shall be laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas".
This amendment intends to ensure that the Minister is required to inform the Oireachtas of the reason or reasons for the removal of any member of the council.
This idea is new to me. I cannot accept the amendment as it is somewhat gratuitous. The implication is that if I, or any Minister, decide to remove a nominee, as opposed to an individual who was elected or recommended, I would be obliged to inform the Oireachtas as to the reason for the removal. There could be personal or other reasons a political nominee might be removed from a board. It should be a matter between the Minister and his or her nominee. No one would accept a nomination to a board if his or her private business was being aired in the Oireachtas. The Senator could ask me for the reason instead.
While I accept that there may be a generic approach to board appointments, there is an issue of accountability. There is always a debate about this House's usefulness, the manner in which announcements are made and the relationship between the Oireachtas and State and public bodies. I ask the Minister to examine the issue. Members are entitled to this type of information and to expect the Minister to be accountable to the House. I accept the Minister's statement and, as we will not make any progress on the issue at this time, I will consider tabling the amendment again on Report Stage.
I thank the Members. So far, it has been a very constructive debate with much discussion and food for thought.
I thank the Minister and acknowledge her contribution. She has listened to the Second Stage debate and has taken points on board. The Bill is all the better for that and if she accepts a few outstanding points, it will be better still. I compliment her for the manner in which she has listened to our suggestions. I remind the Minister that she stated she would allow me to appoint the farming representative to the council.
I thank the Minister and her officials for the time and thought they have put into this Bill and for their careful examination of the amendments. It is gratifying to have a Minister come here and take what we say seriously. Sometimes, one gets the impression that a rubber stamp is all that is required of this House.
I also thank the Minister and her officials for being so helpful and for accepting so many amendments. I look forward to concluding our deliberations on the Bill on that basis. Some 135 amendments were tabled and there was little disagreement on most of them. During the past two and a half years, when Deputy Joe Walsh was Minister for Agriculture and Food, one Bill — the An Bord Bia (Amendment) Bill — came before the House, the debate on which took approximately half an hour. However, this second Seanad Bill from the Department in the past two or three years is a very detailed and at times complicated.