asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what action he intends to take on the recommendations in the Monopolies and Mergers Commission's report on the "Supply of Veterinary Services in Relation to Restrictions on Advertising"; and if he will make a statement.
Following discussions which I and the Director General of Fair Trading have had with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, the college is to issue a code of advertising practice to provide guidance to its members with regard to their general right to advertise and the ways in which they may advertise. The code will come into effect on 1 June 1985.In its report published in 1976 the Monopolies and Mergers Commission found that restrictions in the college's guide to professional conduct prohibited individual veterinary practices from engaging in any form of advertising, promotion or publicity except for a bare minimum that the profession regarded as being essential for keeping the public informed of the existence and location of practices or as being desirable in the interests of the profession as a whole. The commission concluded that these restrictions operated against the public interest, and it considered that they should be terminated and replaced by a rule that would permit veterinary practices to use such methods of publicity as they thought fit subject to certain constraints in respect of claims of superiority, inaccuracies, claims to specialisation, and professional propriety.The college's code of advertising practice, together with consequential amendments to the guide to professional practice, represents a significant relaxation of the rules governing advertising by vets. I welcome this, In certain respects, notably the continuing prohibition of fee advertising and direct mailing, the new rules are more restrictive than the commission's report considered necessary to protect the interests of either clients or patients; and I should have preferred the code to follow more closely the commission's recommendations in these respects. But I note that the college's advisory committee constantly reviews the college's position in ethical matters, and I hope that the college will keep under review the scope and operation of its rules on advertising, and in the light of experience of its operation consider the scope for further relaxation. I have asked the Director General of Fair Trading, as part of his responsibilities for keeping competition in the economy under review, to review the operation of the code in consultation with the college, and to report to me in two years' time.