Wednesday, 9 November 1960
Seanad Eireann Debate
Minister for Agriculture (Mr. Smith): Since the Supreme Court's ruling on the Solicitors Act, 1954, the position of the Veterinary Council of Ireland in relation to the exercise of its disciplinary powers has been a most unsatisfactory one. The council has, in fact, found itself obliged to refrain from the exercise of these powers in any case. It has expressed to me its deep concern at the present unsatisfactory position and its anxiety to have the position rectified in the interest of the veterinary profession. The Council of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons is equally anxious that this should be done so that the reciprocal arrangements in the matter of disciplinary proceedings, as provided for under the Veterinary Agreement with the British Government, should again effectively apply. It is in these circumstances and for this purpose that this Bill was introduced.
The existing provisions relating to the Veterinary Council's disciplinary powers are contained in the Veterinary Surgeons Acts, 1931 and 1952. Section 34 of the Act of 1931 provides that the council may erase from the Register of Veterinary Surgeons persons convicted of crimes. Section 36 of the same Act provides that the council may, where it finds after due inquiry or investigation that a person has been guilty of professional misconduct, erase the name of such person from the register. Section 7 of the Act of 1952 provides for suspension of registration on account of professional misconduct.
The proposals in the Bill involve the modification of Sections 34 and 36 of the Act of 1931, and of Section 7 of the Act of 1952 to provide that erasures, or suspensions of registration,  on account of conviction for crimes or of professional misconduct could be effected by the Veterinary Council only on direction of the High Court. The council would as heretofore be enabled, after due inquiry, investigation, or consideration of the case as may be required, to decide that appropriate disciplinary action, that is, erasure or suspension of registration, should be taken. It would be open to the person concerned to apply, within 14 days to the High Court for cancellation of the council's decision and the High Court, on hearing the application, would either cancel the decision, or confirm the decision, and direct the council to take the appropriate disciplinary action, that is, erasure or suspension of registration. Where the person concerned did not within 14 days apply accordingly to the High Court, or where he delayed unduly in proceeding with an application, the council would be enabled to apply to the High Court for confirmation of the decision and the High Court would, unless it saw good reason to the contrary, confirm the decision and direct the council to take the appropriate disciplinary action.
The construction of the Bill is quite simple. It substitutes for Section 34 of the Act of 1931, which deals with erasures on account of conviction for crimes, the new section set out in Part I of the First Schedule. This new section, which is an amended and extended version of the existing section 34, provides for the proposed new procedure I have already explained. The section set out in part II of the First Schedule replaces Section 36 of the Act of 1931 dealing with erasures on account of professional misconduct and, as well, Section 7 of the Act of 1952 dealing with suspensions of registration on account of professional misconduct. It also provides, of course, for the proposed new procedure. The Second Schedule to the Bill shows the particular provisions of the 1931 and 1952 Acts which require to be repealed in consequence of the provisions contained in the two new Sections 34 and 36. These repeals are routine ones.
Professor Hayes: We are in complete agreement with this Bill. It is undoubtedly, as in the case of the Solicitors (Amendment) Bill, necessary that whatever legal difficulties there are in the way of taking defaulting members of the profession off the register should be overcome. This Bill is for the purpose of overcoming that difficulty. As in the case of the Solicitors (Amendment) Bill which we had earlier, the Minister has been in touch with the appropriate authority of the profession—in this case the Veterinary Council of Ireland. He tells us—and I am sure he is correct— that they are in agreement with the provisions of this Bill.
This Bill has a further complication which I think makes it important that it should be passed, that is, that there is a reciprocal arrangement between this country and Great Britain which, of course, means that there should be no delay in giving power here to the appropriate authority to deal with people who are behaving in an improper manner professionally. We are in agreement with the Bill.
Seán Ó Donnabháin: This amendment of the Veterinary Surgeons Acts is consequent on what happened in connection with the Solicitors (Amendment) Bill but it is much more simple than the Solicitors (Amendment) Bill. There are actually no money questions involved. The amendments in this Bill are necessary on account of the decision of the Supreme Court in connection with the actions of a similar body, the body governing the solicitors' profession.
As Senator Hayes pointed out, it is an agreed measure between the Veterinary Council and the Department of State responsible for the control of the Veterinary College, but I would suggest that the House has some responsibility in checking over the details in the Bill. The principal point I would ask the Minister to check is the use in Part I of the First Schedule of the  words “forthwith send by post”. I do not know whether there is an ordinary legal definition of what “forthwith” means but I would interpret it as meaning immediately, having regard to the ordinary everyday use of the word.
The Veterinary Council usually meet in the evening time and make a decision. According to this word “forthwith”, that should be sent out that evening. I suggest to the Minister that there is no necessity for the word “forthwith”, which does not occur in the Solicitors (Amendment) Act. I suggest that in the cases in which it occurs the words “forthwith send by post” should be altered to the extent of dropping the word “forthwith” and putting in the word “registered”. I think that the letter sent by the Registrar of the Veterinary Council should naturally be sent by registered post. It probably would be sent by registered post because if it were not so sent, it would give a delinquent or the person to whom the letter was sent an opportunity of saying he never got the letter or that it was never delivered.
This word “forthwith” is absolutely unnecessary. There might be some complication if the letter were sent out on the second day afterwards or even the day after. Some legal person, a solicitor or other, might say it was not sent out forthwith. I think the word “forthwith” is unnecessary and suggest that the word “registered” be inserted.
These are small alterations in respect of which I have got sanction from an important member of the Veterinary Council to bring up and I would appeal to the Minister to accept them. The Bill is an agreed measure between the Veterinary Council and the Department of State concerned but we have a duty still to check on it. I suggest that the Minister should seriously consider making these alterations in the Bill. The word occurs in a few sections, apart from appearing in Part I of the First Schedule.
Mr. L'Estrange: As the Minister and previous speaker stated, this is an agreed measure. We are all glad to know that the Veterinary Council of  Ireland were consulted and that they expressed complete agreement with all the provisions of this Bill. I welcome the Bill and I am glad to see that the Veterinary Council and veterinary surgeons are prepared to help in putting their house in order.
We all know that reputable veterinary surgeons are in the vast majority in this country and a special tribute is due to the majority of them for their wonderful work in dealing with the bovine tuberculosis eradication scheme but, unfortunately, a small percentage—and I want to say it is a very small percentage— do not adhere to the high standards set up by the majority. That small percentage has done untold harm in this country in the past few years.
We have discussed the Solicitors (Amendment) Bill. We know that if a solicitor defaults or if money goes wrong, then the individual suffers, but, unfortunately, if veterinary surgeons are dishonest or do not do their duty, then the whole community can suffer. Unfortunately, that is what has happened. I think it can be truthfully stated that never in the history of this country has such a small minority of people, through their transgressions, done so much harm as has been done to the economy of our country by unscrupulous veterinary surgeons in their work in relation to the bovine tuberculosis eradication scheme. Because that small majority gave certified figures without examining cattle, there is no doubt that they have done irreparable harm to the export industry, on which to a large extent the prosperity of each and every one of us depends.
We know that due to their mal-practices, the British farmers have lost faith in our store cattle, and I venture to suggest that their mal-practices have cost this country millions of pounds. We have lost probably something between £5 million and £10 million. Under the powers which the Minister had, I think he dealt very leniently with them. Some of them should have got from five to ten years in Mountjoy Prison. There are people wanted by the law for  doing much less harm than they did. I sincerely hope that when this Bill is passed, the Veterinary Council will deal severely and strictly with that very small minority—and I want to stress that it is a very small minority.
Mr. Smith: I do not think that Senator Ó Donnabháin need have any fear regarding the two points he raised. I can tell the Seanad that in fact the points were considered in the drafting stage. So far as I know, the legal meaning attached to the word “forthwith” is that once findings of the council have been arrived at, these findings should be conveyed on the date on which they were reached. That is what is regarded as the meaning of “forthwith”.
The draftsmen also had another matter to consider, that is, what was in the original Act. The word “forthwith” appears in the original Act and as is the case with all draftsmen, they try, when amending an Act, to stay as near as possible to the original.
As I say, they examined this and found that it was all right. After all, when you come to look at it, the individual affected by the council's decision has only 14 days in which to appeal to the High Court, if dissatisfied with the general findings. That being so, the council must convey, with all haste, their decision to the person affected by it.
On the question of posting by registered post, as every Senator will realise, the council did, I am sure, on all occasions send by registered post, but there are reasons why such a provision should not be contained in the Act. In this case also, the original Act does not contain what is suggested by the Senator, that is, sending by registered post. The original Act contains “send by post”. It is better that the council should have that freedom and the practice is to send by registered post. These two matters have been considered by the draftsmen and they are satisfied that what is here is safe. It is what was in the original Act and there was no fault to find with it. For that reason, I do not think the Seanad need have any fears that any complications  of the kind the Senator referred to could possibly arise.
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