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Veterinary Surgeons and Animal Welfare (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019

Volume 795: debated on Wednesday 6 February 2019

Motion to Approve

Moved by

That the draft Regulations laid before the House on 13 December 2018 be approved.

Relevant document: 13th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee (Sub-Committee B).

My Lords, I will speak to both sets of regulations. I would from the outset like to place on record my appreciation of the work of veterinary surgeons. They undertake a wide range of tasks in our country and the profession is widely respected. With two members of my family in the profession, I am well aware of the challenges they face.

These statutory instruments aim to ensure that there will continue to be a functioning regulatory and legislative regime for the professional regulation of veterinary surgeons and farriers, and enforcement of legislation for protecting animal health and welfare for when the UK leaves the EU.

I turn first to the Veterinary Surgeons and Animal Welfare (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019. In the UK, the veterinary profession and its standards are regulated by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons—the RCVS. Since 1966 the Veterinary Surgeons Act has provided a mechanism for veterinary surgeons who have qualified outside the UK to register to practise here. That mechanism, in so far as it applied to EEA and Swiss nationals, was subsequently amended to reflect the requirements of the recognition of professional qualifications directive after it was adopted in 2005.

Part 2 of this statutory instrument will ensure the operability and consistency of the system for registering EEA and Swiss qualified veterinary surgeons after we leave. Under the European system, EEA and Swiss nationals who hold degrees from veterinary schools recognised by the EU are entitled to have those degrees automatically recognised in any member state. When the UK leaves, EEA and Swiss qualified persons who wish to register to practise in the UK will still be able to do so; however, they will have to follow the same process as those who have qualified elsewhere. That process is currently set out in Section 6 of the Veterinary Surgeons Act, and requires that an applicant satisfy the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons that they have,

“the requisite knowledge and skill”,

to practise in the United Kingdom.

If the RCVS is satisfied that the degree the applicant holds meets this requirement and is equivalent to one from a UK veterinary school, there is no further assessment of their skill and knowledge. The Royal College estimates that a large majority of applicants from the EEA will meet this requirement. If the applicant does not hold such a degree, they must undertake and pass a professional examination administered by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. This would help ensure consistency of approach to the regulation of veterinary standards in the future. These changes do not affect those already registered to practise veterinary surgery in the United Kingdom. Transitional arrangements also ensure that those who are in the process of registering with the RCVS on exit day are entitled to have their application considered under the current rules.

Part 3 of this statutory instrument makes a minor technical amendment to Section 29 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006. Section 29 currently provides inspectors in England and Wales with a power to enter premises to check compliance with the Welfare of Farmed Animals Regulations. Inspectors are appointed by local authorities, Welsh Ministers or the Secretary of State. This technical amendment ensures that that power of entry will continue to be available after exit day.

I turn now to the Farriers and Animal Health (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019. This statutory instrument will ensure that the system for recognising farriery qualifications continues to function effectively after the UK leaves. This statutory instrument also amends Section 64A of, and Schedule 3 to, the Animal Health Act 1981, as well as three exemption orders under the Veterinary Surgeons Act, to ensure the operability of these pieces of legislation after EU exit.

In Great Britain, since 1975, farriers have been regulated by the Farriers Registration Council under the Farriers (Registration) Act. Interestingly, farriery is not currently regulated in Northern Ireland. Under the European system, EEA and Swiss nationals who hold farriery qualifications, or who have certificates attesting to their experience, are entitled to have those qualifications or that experience recognised in any member state. Part 1 of this statutory instrument will seek to ensure consistency of professional standards by proposing to use the same system for recognising the qualifications of farriers from the EEA as that used for farriers from the rest of the world. This means that those farriers whose qualifications and training are not equivalent to the UK standards, but who have two or more years of professional experience as a farrier, will need to undertake a professional assessment. If they have less than two years of professional experience, they will need to undertake full professional training in the UK, followed by the professional assessment, before being registered to practise in the UK. This will help to ensure consistency across the profession and will help to protect the health and welfare of horses.

We have of course discussed these proposals with the Farriers Registration Council, which is content with them. I emphasise again that these amendments do not affect the rights of those already registered to practise farriery in the United Kingdom.

I come to the powers of entry under the Animal Health Act. Part 3 of this statutory instrument makes technical changes to the Animal Health Act 1981 to ensure its operability. The amendment to Section 64A ensures that, where local authority inspectors in Great Britain currently have a power of entry and check compliance with certain legislation, that power will remain available to them after exit day. The relevant legislation includes orders regarding cattle and equine identification, vaccination in the event of avian influenza or foot and mouth disease, and the monitoring of zoonotic disease.

A further operability amendment, to Schedule 3, removes an EU obligation which will no longer apply after the UK leaves the EU, as the relevant authority will already need to be satisfied that adequate measures are in place to prevent any risk of the spread of foot and mouth disease before it can decide not to slaughter susceptible animals. This is a technical change and I emphasise that we will of course continue to co-operate with our friends and colleagues in the EU on disease control in the future. Disease does not respect borders and boundaries, and we must continue to collaborate and work together.

Three exemption orders under the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966 all currently permit specific minor veterinary surgery procedures to be carried out in the UK by persons other than veterinary surgeons, provided that they have successfully undertaken an “approved course”. In the UK, before a UK course can be approved, the Secretary of State, rightly, must consult with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. As a member of the EU we were required to recognise any training undertaken in an EEA country which would allow a person to carry out that procedure there. There is no EU minimum standard for such training, no requirement that the member state in question must consult their equivalent to the RCVS and, importantly, no guarantee that the course is of the same standard as those undertaken in the UK. In the future, it will be for the Secretary of State and in some circumstances DAERA—as the responsible authority in Northern Ireland—to decide whether any non-UK course meets the appropriate standard, to ensure that there is more rigour. This will help maintain high standards of animal health and welfare in the UK.

These statutory instruments aim to ensure that there will be a functioning regulatory and legislative regime for the professional regulation of veterinary surgeons and farriers, and enforcement of legislation that protects animal health and welfare when the UK leaves the EU.

My Lords, I am delighted to speak on the veterinary surgeons and animal welfare regulations and I strongly support them. We are all well aware that there is some division on whether Brexit is a good or bad thing, but I respectfully suggest that this consequence of Brexit, this SI, is a good thing. It will help to ensure high standards of animal health and welfare and, most importantly, protect the public, which is the purpose of professional regulation.

Up to now, the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons has had the power to ensure that all those whom it admits to its register to become members of the Royal College, which is the legal requirement to practise in the UK, meet certain quality assurance standards. In particular, they have to have been trained in a professionally accredited institution. This applies to all graduates of every vet school in the world, including the UK, except those from EU member states. By virtue of EU law, all graduates of any institution recognised by the member state Government have to be automatically granted admission to the register of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, whether or not that institution has been subject to a professional accreditation process. This SI will eliminate that anomaly.

There is an accreditation process in Europe, run by the European Association of Establishments for Veterinary Education, or EAEVE. Under the SI, the RCVS will be able to acknowledge graduates of EAEVE-accredited schools as meeting the RCVS quality assurance standards, thus admitting them to membership of the Royal College—and it has committed to this. However, a minority of vet schools in Europe have not been EAEVE accredited; they have either submitted and failed, or have not submitted to the accreditation process. For the first time, graduates of such schools will not be automatically admitted to the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons register. They will have an alternative route, which is currently used by graduates of many vet schools throughout the world: namely, sitting the statutory examinations of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. I would submit that all this is eminently consistent and fair.

There is a small downside. Currently, about 13% of EU vets admitted to the MRCVS register are from EU schools which are not professionally accredited in any way. Therefore, this SI may slightly reduce the number of vets able to work here. I submit that that is a small but worthwhile price to pay to assure the public that any MRCVS vet meets proper professional quality assurance standards. We face a shortage of vets in the UK and that is likely to be exacerbated by Brexit. However, lowering standards is not the way to respond to this. A new graduate stream of vets from the University of Surrey will enter our labour market this summer and a new vet school in the Midlands is planned at the Universities of Keele and Harper Adams. In the immediate future, the solution to our workforce shortage is to facilitate the employment of vets from EU or global institutions which are accredited to the satisfaction of the RCVS. Those vets are available and keen to come to work here. The Home Office needs to enable and facilitate that, and a first major step would be to restore vets to the shortage occupation list.

In summary, I strongly support this regulation. It will remove an anomaly, strengthen animal health and welfare and strengthen the assurance of the public.

My Lords, I am happy to join the noble Lord, Lord Trees, in welcoming the veterinary surgeons regulation, and I also support the farriers and animal health regulations. I have just one comment, which relates to a point I raised on the fisheries regulation we discussed earlier. Our attention there was drawn to Annexe B, which summarised the effect of the amendments. I cannot help noticing that we do not have such an annexe for these regulations. I wonder whether the Minister could see if we could have such an annexe in future cases, because it is extremely helpful when one has a very telegraphic list of things, no doubt according to the usual practice. One finds that in both of these regulations; the first operative part amending the Act is a series of omissions and phrases with “or”, without any guidance on what they are talking about. The inclusion of an annexe would have been extremely helpful for understanding the general effect of the proposed amendments.

My Lords, I had not intended to speak, but I have enjoyed listening to the debate so far, and I declare an interest as my son’s lovely girlfriend is a veterinary surgeon. I very much agree with the opening remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Trees. We hear a lot from all sides of the Brexit debate about the fear that there may be a lowering of standards. It is wonderful that this affords an opportunity to ensure that our veterinary surgeons are of the highest possible standard, which we all expect and enjoy. So I too very much welcome these regulations.

The noble Baroness reminds me that I probably should have declared an interest. My wife, who owns horses, benefits greatly from the services of veterinary surgeons and farriers.

My Lords, I am grateful to be able to participate in this debate. I agree with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Trees, that we all wish our veterinary surgeons to be of the highest standard and it is incumbent on us in this House to ensure that the public have the highest confidence in them. However, I disagree most strongly with his position that Brexit will be good for animal welfare and the veterinary profession.

We need to reflect on the very real challenge posed by Brexit about how we will get the number of vets that we will need in future. I will come on to the specific issue of no deal, where there are particular issues about how we will get the number of vets, but I echo the comments from the noble Lord, Lord Trees, that it would be wonderful if the Government could confirm tonight that vets will be added to the shortage occupation list. This would allay some of those concerns. Given that 50% of normal vets and 95% of vets in slaughterhouses come from Europe at the moment, how we ensure that we get qualified vets in the UK in future is absolutely critical. Although the Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Trees, mentioned that, at the moment, only 13% of applicants come from colleges and veterinary schools around Europe which are not accredited, that is still a significant number and these regulations will create more barriers and fees. On top of that, if the Government keep to their stated immigration limits, there is a real risk that we will not have enough vets post Brexit.

That is particularly the case if we have a no-deal scenario. It was sobering to read the comments of the former Chief Veterinary Officer, Nigel Gibbens, who said that if we have a no-deal scenario, we will need an increase of 325% in veterinary certifications, to deal with the certification of animals and animal products at our ports. That is a major issue, which is relevant to this statutory instrument, as confirmed by the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. It asked the department how we will ensure we can get more vets should we face a no-deal scenario, with that requirement for 325% more veterinary certifications. The answer the committee received was about this new para-professional job, called a “certification support officer”. This was news to me, and I have to say that, having read the information from the department, I am not really that much clearer about what these officers will do to address the huge shortfall in access to veterinary services if we leave the European Union without a deal. Defra has told the committee that it will not undertake veterinary duties, which begs the question: if these jobs are currently undertaken by vets, what administrative tasks will the new post of certification support officer be undertaking?

Is the Minister confident that these new postholders will be able to do the job? I for one am not clear what it is, but they will have to understand veterinary legislation and all the requirements for giving those certifications. Yet all they will receive is six hours of online training with an exam at the end. I understand that when the RCVS first discussed this with the department and with other departments, they were talking about post-training induction and a probationary period which would be under the direct supervision of a qualified vet. Having read some information online about the certification support officer, I can no longer find any indication of post-training induction or any probation under supervision. These certification support officers will be getting just six hours of online training, yet they will effectively be on the front line at a very important point, as the noble Lord, Lord Trees, says, where we have to assure the public that they can have confidence in public health and animal welfare.

In the supporting material the department makes it clear that it has made no estimation of how many certification support officers might be needed. Yet we know from the former Chief Veterinary Officer that there is an expected 325% increase in the need for veterinary certificates. So why has the department not done any estimation of how many new postholders we will need? Why is there not an impact assessment for this statutory instrument? That seems quite a necessary piece of information for Members of this House to have.

How many of these certification support officers do we now have in place? If we do leave in March, we are going to need these certification support officers, because we do not have enough vets to assure the public that their health, the health of people on the continent and the health of our animals are safe. That is an important point.

The noble Lord, Lord Trees, was right to raise the point about ensuring that our vets have the highest standards. I have been really proud that our country has in recent years been able to send our vets out to parts of Europe which have needed our expertise and our training to ensure that animals’ lives are bettered. We are talking here tonight about how we are going to register vets from other European countries in the UK. What is unclear is how the Government are going to get EU countries to register UK vets. Our vets do wonderful animal welfare work. I remember when I was at the RSPCA—many years ago now—we regularly sent vets out to countries outside Europe but also to places such as Greece, to deal with some of their equine and canine problems. If we cannot get our vets registered, how are our UK animal welfare organisations going to be able to send out our vets to carry on their work supporting animal welfare charities in Europe? It is possible that we will have to set up 27 bilateral agreements with all the other member states, and some of those countries may not be willing to have our vets going over there.

I am grateful to the Minister for setting out the purpose of these SIs so clearly and for meeting me and others before today to discuss the technical changes being made. I thank the RCVS and the BVA for the briefings they have sent. I declare my interest as a dairy farmer, and endorse the Minister’s words of appreciation of vets and the work they undertake.

I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Trees, for his professional viewpoint and endorsement of these SIs. As the Minister is aware, Labour does not oppose these SIs, which are required to ensure that the UK has an operational system for regulating veterinary qualifications from EEA veterinary schools and to enable inspectors to enforce certain animal welfare standards following the UK’s exit from the EU.

Additionally, the UK must enable the system for recognising farrier qualifications from the EEA, enforcing animal health regulations and approving courses for certain equine and veterinary procedures to remain operationally effective. Nevertheless, I have several concerns about the implications of these SIs—particularly the veterinary surgeons regulations—for business, animal health and welfare, and the public. The noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, was correct to raise concerns in her remarks.

Your Lordships’ House will appreciate the central role vets play in ensuring that standards are upheld in animal health and welfare, food safety and public health. The prospect of Brexit has raised concerns that there will not be the veterinary capacity to carry out these fundamental roles. In a no-deal scenario, the UK will require more work from vets to meet the increased demands for the certifications needed for export of animals and animal products, and for pet travel. The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee warned of the risk of UK exports of animals and animal products being delayed at the borders because of a shortage of vets, and was concerned that the department was,

“cavalier about enough suitably qualified staff to take on this work being available”.

An increasing shortage of vets was becoming apparent before the referendum in 2016. It is all the more worrying that, according to figures from the Major Employers Group, the veterinary profession is already reporting shortages in the UK of 11.5%. This is why we should be concerned that the changes in the SI may exacerbate an already challenging situation.

The Minister will be aware that EEA veterinary surgeons make up half of all new veterinary surgeons who register with the RCVS every year. EU nationals are critical to the UK, particularly in abattoirs, where 95% of vets are from the EU, responsible for upholding animal health, animal welfare, public health and trade. Worryingly, recent figures from the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons show that 32% of non-UK EU veterinary surgeons are considering a move back home and 18% are actively looking for work outside the UK, indicating that Brexit will exacerbate these shortages.

Does the Minister share my concern that a no-deal Brexit will exacerbate current shortages in the veterinary profession and create significant risks for trade, animal health and welfare, and food safety? What help are the Government providing to vets? What communication is being undertaken with them so that in six weeks’ time, in the event of a no-deal scenario, they are ready for an increased demand for export health certificates for animals and animal products?

The Explanatory Memoranda for both SIs say that,

“it is no longer considered appropriate to provide more favourable treatment”,

to EEA vets and farriers once reciprocal arrangements end. Can the Minister explain why these memoranda do not comment on whether, as with other EU exit regulations, there has been a policy change? Why has no consultation been undertaken with vets and businesses but only with the devolved Administrations? Indeed, the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, drew attention to the lack of an impact assessment.

The RCVS has advised that the SI will enable it to automatically register veterinarians in its veterinary schools if the school is approved or accredited by the European Association of Establishments for Veterinary Education—EAEVE. However, the RCVS will not register graduates from certain other EU veterinary schools where the RCVS does not have sufficient assurance of educational standards. In the case of farriers, I believe it is the Farriers Registration Council that has the equivalent role.

Although the change would impact only approximately 13% of EU veterinary applicants each year, the House may be concerned about the potential impact of this policy change at a time when recruitment is already challenging. Given the shortage of UK-trained vets and our dependence on vets from Europe, is immediately restricting the registration of graduates of non-EAEVE-accredited veterinary schools at this critical juncture prudent? Does the Minister share my concern that this may not be in the interests of farmers, stables, slaughterhouses and other supply-chain businesses that are reliant on vets and farriers? Can he assure the House that the increased demand for veterinary services will not lead to increased costs for UK exporters?

I would also be grateful if the Minister could advise whether the RCVS has the flexibility as a regulator to phase in the requirement in the event that the shortage of veterinary surgeons reaches crisis point under a no-deal scenario. Will he commit to monitoring the impact of the new arrangements and to publicise his department’s assessment?

The next concern is about cost. I am aware that non-EAEVE-accredited applicants would still be able to join the RCVS register, provided that they pass the UK statutory membership examination, which costs applicants £2,500 to sit. Does the Minister share my concern that the cost of the exam may deter EEA vets from choosing to seek work in the UK when they can work freely in any EEA state without the need to sit an additional, costly exam? Does he think that businesses may be forced to fund the cost of an applicant’s exam, if the recruitment crisis continues?

There may also be concerns regarding the RCVS’s ability to manage a sudden influx in demand for examinations, especially in the event of no deal, when the UK would urgently need to recruit more vets, some of whom will not be EAEVE-approved. Can the Minister assure the House that the RCVS will have sufficient capacity to manage any increase in candidates seeking to take the statutory examination? What contingency measures are in place to ensure maximum flexibility within the system so that any unexpected spikes in demand can be managed in a timely fashion?

Given the importance of filling veterinary surgeon vacancies as soon as possible, can the Minister advise how long it would take an applicant to organise and sit the exam, and how long they will have to wait to receive their result? Delays could prevent a veterinary surgeon registering and taking up a crucial post. A non-EAEVE-approved student may be unable to travel to the UK, so can the Minister advise on whether non-EAEVE-accredited applicants will be able to sit the test outside the UK? This may be necessary to prove their credentials for visa purposes in the future.

I am grateful to the Minister for clarifying in his opening remarks that this SI makes various amendments to different parent Acts. Thus I am well aware, and content, that the regulations also maintain entry into premises for both vets and farriers, in order to perform their duties. I also thank him for clarifying that there are other Acts, as well as those mentioned in the documents, to which the instruments apply.

I am also grateful to the Minister for clarifying that, in the case of farriers, the technicality of removing the express requirement to take EU interests into account with regard to foot and mouth does not signify any change in oversight or precautions, because this is covered in other requirements to prevent the spread of disease in all situations and to every aspect of interest. It is important to recognise that not only is the scourge of foot and mouth well known but it is understood that there will be no let-up in precautions against all possibilities of an outbreak of disease.

I also have concerns regarding the reciprocal nature of arrangements between the UK and EU following exit day. This was mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter. In paragraph 7.2 of both Explanatory Memoranda, it says that following exit,

“the EU will no longer recognise UK qualifications”.

Will the Minister confirm that this will indeed be the situation from day one, affecting not only UK vets currently working in the EU but those considering various posts in the future? There is a large contingent of UK vets who undertake veterinary work in Greece, Spain and other member states. After exit it will no longer be EU member states or the Government in the UK that reciprocate access. Instead, it will be a matter of reciprocity between the RCVS-maintained standards and the EAEVE standards. I recognise that the RCVS is the authorised regulator in this regard, but can the Minister confirm that RCVS standards will be recognised as compliant with EAEVE standards, so that UK vets can continue to practise in the EU? I have every confidence in the RCVS’s ability to perform the functions of the regulator, and that it will have ultimate oversight of EAEVE standards, but can any assurances be given that RCVS standards will be recognised internationally?

All this should underline for the Minister how critical it has now become to ensure that the veterinary profession has enough personnel of the commensurate standard to maintain all the necessary functions. Could the Minister confirm their status on the shortage occupation list under the new scenario drawn up by the Migration Advisory Committee? Will the Minister undertake to insist that the requirement to have sufficient vets is understood and recognised as being of the utmost national importance, to merit special status?

Finally, I refer to the new role of certification support officer. This has already been mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter. I understand that the RCVS has approved this initiative from the APHA that certain administrative tasks can be undertaken by CSOs to reduce the burden on overstretched vets. While this further underlines the need for the veterinary profession to be on the shortage occupation list, it also brings up another point to be recognised. As I understand the role, about which the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, has raised certain other concerns, the overall risks of the veterinary function remains with the vet, any partners and the business concerned. If the Minister confirms that I am correct, that will underline the need to monitor outcomes closely so that the department is clear whether this is a good initiative and whether it would be only a temporary scheme pending longer-term solutions.

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their considerable contributions to this debate. We are all extremely fortunate to have heard such a powerful speech from the noble Lord, Lord Trees, who obviously comes to this House with unique expertise and knowledge of the veterinary profession. He quite rightly referred to high standards and protecting the public. I want to add, and have written here, that it is also about protecting the animals.

As I do not have any horses now, I probably do not have to declare the points that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, referred to about the use of a vet and a farrier, but we have all raised the importance of those professions. Again, I acknowledge the contribution of veterinary surgeons and farriers, who do so much to ensure high levels of animal health and welfare—and indeed, from the veterinary point of view, the protection of public health and food safety, and facilitating international trade. On behalf of the Government, I sincerely thank them all for the great work they do. I was very struck by my noble friend Lady Morris of Bolton’s intervention as well: the veterinary surgeon profession is, as I said in my opening remarks, overwhelmingly respected. I am afraid to say that, over time, we have seen many professions lose that reputation. So many vets are ambassadors for enhancing animal health and welfare.

A number of questions were a little detailed. In particular, I might need to write to the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, on the more intricate details of his request. I understand what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, said about the merits of annexe B. When I find SIs particularly impenetrable, the Explanatory Memorandum usually takes me back to an English version, but I will again take back and reflect on what was said about annexe B in the earlier SI being a helpful way forward.

On operability, where degrees meet our high standards due to having equivalent curriculum and training, holders of those degrees will be registered to practise. I think 87% of the EEA and Swiss nationals are unlikely to notice any changes at all, but a small number of cases have been highlighted where that will not be the case. It is right, as the noble Lord, Lord Trees, said, that those who do not have the standard of qualification should, if necessary, sit a statutory examination to prove that they can practise safely and effectively the UK. That will not affect anyone who is currently here or, as I said in my opening remarks, anyone during a transition period.

The noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, referred to mutual recognition. Indeed, the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, referred to the great work our vets, doctors and so many people do around the world by way of support and so forth. UK nationals wishing to practise veterinary surgery in the EEA after we leave will be subject to the rules of the individual member state where they wish to practise. Although I would very much like to have vets who trained here remain here, I also understand the global reach so many of them have by going back to countries where that training is of benefit.

Almost all noble Lords mentioned veterinary surgeon shortages. The noble Lord, Lord Trees, rightly referred to the intake from Surrey and what we look forward to from Keele and Harper Adams. I assure your Lordships that Defra provided evidence to the Migration Advisory Committee strongly supporting the return of veterinary surgeons to the shortage occupation list. The MAC is due to report in spring this year.

The noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, raised the issue of official veterinarians and certification support officers. The Animal and Plant Health Agency launched a new role of certification support officer. It is designed to provide administrative support to official veterinarians, for the processing of export health certificates. The CSOs will work under close supervision of the official veterinarian so that they can continue to maintain high standards for the products we export. This will ensure that we use the valuable time of official vets more efficiently, to focus on the final assurance required to authorise and sign the EHC. As the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, rightly said, this role was approved by the RCVS last November. There are clearly a number of preparatory and administrative aspects to issuing export health certificates—such as checking documents, identifying products or sealing containers—that a CSO can perform. We have consulted the RCVS and the BVA. The entry qualifications and curriculum have been adjusted in response to their comments, and the BVA has asked for these to be kept under review.

As I said, CSOs will work under the direction of the official vet, who can judge which task can be delegated. Ultimately, the official vet must be satisfied that the required conditions have been met before signing the certificate. As the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, again referred to, with the approval by the RCVS council at the beginning of November, the registration and training scheme went live on 17 December, free of charge to encourage uptake. Only official veterinarians can sign certificates for animal products intended for the EU, except in the case of fishery, shellfish and composite products intended for human consumption, which can be signed by a non-veterinarian, referred to as an official inspector in the certificates of those products. Certificates for an animal by-product—not for human consumption—have to be signed by an official veterinarian.

I will say to the noble Baroness that the issue of any assessment is not part of this SI. However, we are providing free training for 200 CSOs and 400 official vets, and recruiting 56 full-time staff at the Centre for International Trade to process export health certificates. We fully realise that we will clearly want to see how this proceeds. We think, given the advice we have received, that this will be sufficient, but we need to make sure that this works, and we recognise there will be an increased demand for export health certificates. Our discussions with the industry indicate that between its existing capacity, the use of CSOs and its ability to bring more vets into the market, it should be able to meet demand. Clearly, we will want to ensure that that is the case.

Turning to the 13% that will potentially be affected in the future, the first thing to mention is that, as raised by the noble Lord, Lord Trees, 10 schools in Europe do not currently meet RCVS-equivalent standards. It is absolutely possible that the 10 schools currently not accredited by EAEVE will eventually meet the RCVS standard if they make changes to their teaching curriculum. I hope that makes sense. I understand what the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, says about recognising that we need more vets but there is, as the noble Lord, Lord Trees, recognised, an anomaly. We therefore need to reflect that we want parity of standards; that must be in the public interest and in the interests of animals.

On the issue of the exam fee, raised by the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, I looked at this because I was interested in it myself. That fee is comparable to those of other professional regulators in terms of its purpose to recover the administrative costs of running a professional exam, including a clinical practice component. I should also say that the RCVS considers that—as I have said, we very much hope that those schools will come to the same standard—it has sufficient capacity to manage any anticipated increase in the number of candidates who may wish or need to undertake the statutory examination.

I should also say, coming from a dairy farming background, and I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, for raising this, that foot and mouth is something that could not be worse news for any livestock farmer. I assure the noble Lord and others that I have, with the Chief Veterinary Officer, been in a number of practice runs with all devolved Administrations: this is something that is kept alive and very current, so that we are always fine-tuning and testing our response. Clearly, with disease, wherever it is—and there is now African swine fever in Belgium—we all need to be on our guard about biosecurity.

There were several points about details of timing and statistics, particularly from the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester. I will look at Hansard and reply with the best detail I can. Clearly, we are all looking forward and I think my diplomatic words were “strongly pressing” for vets to be put on that list. I assure noble Lords that the department, APHA and all of us who are engaged in this recognise the crucial role of vets. I put on record that we in the public sector owe an enormous debt of gratitude to EU nationals—we wish them to remain here and they will always be very welcome here—who have done so much to advance public health and animal health. They are crucial and I very much hope that, if there are any opportunities for any of us to meet them, as I do, we will stress the importance of what they are doing.

These are technical regulations in two very important parts of the animal health and public health arena and I think they are very important for our security.

Motion agreed.