Friday, 1 July 2005
Veterinary Practice Bill 2004 [Seanad Bill amended by the Dáil]: Report and Final Stages.
This is a Seanad Bill which has been amended by the Dáil. In accordance with Standing Order 103, it is deemed to have passed its First, Second and Third Stages in the Seanad and is placed on the Order Paper for Report Stage. On the question "That the Bill be received for final consideration", the Minister may explain the purpose of the amendments made by the Dáil. This is looked upon as the report of the Dáil amendments to the Seanad. For Senators' convenience, I have arranged for the printing and circulation of the amendments. Senators may speak only once on Report Stage. The Minister will deal separately with the subject matter of each group of amendments. I have also circulated the proposed groupings. A Senator may contribute once on each grouping. The only matters, therefore, which may be discussed are the amendments made by the Dáil.
Amendment No. 1, which took on board a similar amendment tabled in the Dáil by Deputies Naughten and Crawford, provides for greater transparency in the Veterinary Council's affairs by requiring that details of gifts received should be shown in its annual report.
The purpose of amendments Nos. 2, 3, 4 and 9, which concern section 33, is to address an issue raised by the council with my Department regarding removal from the register of persons who fail to pay the requisite registration fee. This procedure had previously been dealt with in section 79, which provides for disciplinary procedures arising from fitness to practise proceedings. Through amendment No. 2, the council is enabled to remove a person for non-payment after a period of three months following the due date. However, the council has been given leeway to decide if there are extenuating circumstances, which would justify retention of a person in a particular case. Consequential amendments arose in sections 79 and 86, with the latter section being deleted.
The third grouping is amendments Nos. 8 and 22 to 25, inclusive. During the passage of the Bill through the House, there was considerable debate about the powers of entry that would be given to authorised officers of the council. I indicated that, having considered the matter since publication of the legislation, I had considerable sympathy with many of the views expressed and that I was in consultation with the Attorney General on the matter.
I tabled amendments in the Dáil to address the essential concerns about powers of entry to be granted to authorised officers of the council. Authorised officers when carrying out an investigation on behalf of the council, will have to obtain a search warrant to enter any premises, be it a veterinary premises or otherwise. However, as provided for in the new section 128, authorised officers will be enabled to carry out routine inspections in the context of the grant or renewal of certificates of suitability without the need for a search warrant on the assumption that the application will give his or her consent to enter the premises concerned. The substantive amendment arises in section 127 with consequential amendments arising in sections 75, 125, 126, 128 and 129.
I welcome the amendments. During the debate in the House, Senator Quinn, myself and others expressed concern about this issue. The Minister promised she would come back to the House with amendments and she has done so. She referred to the requirement for a court order for an authorised officer to enter "any premises". Does that include farms?
This issue was the subject of much discussion in both Houses. With regard to farms, there must be reasonable suspicion before an application can be made to the court. I have provided for equity in this matter in that a search warrant must be obtained regardless.
The fourth grouping is amendments Nos. 11, 12 and 14 to 19, inclusive. These relate to the accreditation of veterinary premises, which will be put on a statutory footing for the first time under the legislation. During the passage of the Bill through the House, a number of amendments were made to section 106 to better define instances where the certificate of suitability should not apply. Following further reflection, particularly on the exemptions aspect and on amendments tabled in the Dáil, I tabled a further amendment to address scenarios where, apart from farms, a veterinarian may treat an animal away from his or her registered premises. This also addresses, for example, the case of a pet owned by an elderly person or a horse kept as a companion animal. This amendment covers these situations but also makes clear that the practitioner must nonetheless practise from an accredited veterinary premises.
I also took on board advice from the Office of the Attorney General that the relevant provisions should be reformulated to make them clear and more coherent. Furthermore, the amendments also make it clear that the requirements for a certificate of suitability become mandatory only after the Veterinary Council has made a regulation specifying the details relating to different classes of veterinary premises and the application procedure for such premises.
As regards amendment No. 18, during the debate on the Bill in this House concerns were expressed about the requirement that an original of a certificate of suitability must be displayed on the premises. At the close of the debate I undertook to discuss this matter further. Having consulted with the Attorney General I brought forward an amendment to enable the council to issue a certificate extract from the register of certificates of suitability. This extract will fulfil the display requirement.
In summary, the reformulation of sections 105, 106, 108, 112, 123 and 124, together with the deletion of section 109, makes for a more coherent code governing the premises accreditation regime. I understand that the council is happy with these provisions from the point of view of implementation.
I thank the Minister for bringing in these amendments, particularly amendment No. 18, because when we debated this point we envisaged lost and stolen certificates scattered all over the countryside. The Minister's suggestion is admirable.
It is an extract from the register, not a photocopy. All veterinary surgeons sign a register and an extract from that will be adequate. We have beaten this point to death, with all due respect to the Senator.
The fifth group of amendments consists of amendments Nos. 5 to 7, inclusive, 10 and 13. These are five technical amendments to the Bill made on Committee and Report Stages in the Dáil. They concern sections 63, 102 and 107 and are introduced with a view to correcting textual and cross-referencing errors.
I congratulate the Minister on the Bill. We put so much work into it here I was afraid it would come back with numerous amendments. I am glad the Dáil recognised how much effort went into it and accepted all our suggestions.
I also congratulate the Minister on her visit to Russia. I was concerned that the Russians would never again buy beef from us after receiving the atrocious meat that was sent there some years ago. I frequently go to Russia and the Minister is correct that it is a significant market. I am sure her Department will help beef suppliers ensure that prime Irish beef is available in the best supermarkets in Russia.
I too thank the Minister and the officials of her Department. This Bill has been a long time coming but as a result of much discussion and effort on all sides in this House it has been dramatically improved.
I also welcome the Minister back "from Russia with love". Does the Minister have good news for the farming community in regard to the overshoot on the beef premium? Has she made any progress on the €90 million and more lost to the farming community?
I thank the Chair for that. There is something else I could say to him but I will refrain from saying it.
I would be interested to hear the Minister's comments on that aspect of her visit to Russia.
I thank all those involved in preparing the Bill, especially for the amount of discussion conducted with the various representatives of the veterinary profession such as the Veterinary Council. They have made a wonderful contribution. It shows that when everyone works together the community benefits as the farming and veterinary communities will from this Bill.
It seems this is the last time we will be here to discuss the Veterinary Practice Bill.
I welcome the Minister back from Russia. We were afraid the Russians would keep her there because of the excellence of her work.
I echo my colleagues' comments. The Veterinary Council, Veterinary Ireland, practising veterinarians and their associations, had concerns about this Bill. On its initial Stages we were all concerned as to how well the Minister would listen to us. Not alone did she listen but she acted too, for which we thank her. She and her Department and Ministers of State were very receptive to many good suggestions which came from all sides of the House.
During our last debate here on the Bill Senator Henry said the Minister should give us some bone. Not alone did she give us the bone but she gave us the carcase, dissected and put together again, remodelled, reshaped and rebuilt. All those who contributed to it have broadly accepted it. Everyone in the House thanks the Minister, as do all members of the profession concerned, and those who deal with them. We congratulate her, the Department officials and the Ministers of State.
I thank the Seanad and the Members of the Lower House who facilitated the passage of this Bill since it was introduced in October 2004. Some 75% of the amendments introduced arose from discussions within both Houses and have been reflected in the legislation. Whether this Bill will last as long as the previous one which was enacted in 1931, we must wait and see. I hope it will last a considerable period.
I thank the Veterinary Council which was very helpful and supportive in our discussions, the Irish Veterinary Union and most particularly my officials. I also thank the officials in the Office of the Attorney General who facilitated a significant amount of change and debate, which is reflected in an excellent Bill that covers everyone's concerns.
It is a practical Bill which I hope augurs well for the future of the Veterinary Council. I thank the Seanad for facilitating the finalisation of this Bill on the day the House rises.
I join Members in congratulating the Minister on the passage of the Bill and hope it achieves all that she and everybody else wishes for it. We were very encouraged yesterday to hear the President of the European Commission, Mr. Barroso, speak strongly in defence of the Common Agricultural Policy and its role in the EU budget. That was good for Ireland. I wish everybody well for the summer recess.
When is it proposed to sit again?