In 1989, my right hon. Friend the Minister established a working party under the chairmanship of Dr. Ewan Page to review the need for veterinary manpower in the United Kingdom both for the public service and for the private sector, and to make recommendations on how any increased manpower requirement might be met.
The Minister will recognise the increasing demand for vets arising from our own legislation and from European directives and requirements. Only recently veterinary training at Cambridge and Glasgow was under threat. That threat has now been lifted, but in 1990 we brought in more than 400 vets from overseas. Will the Minister give us every assurance that the Government will not allow the nation to fail in those important services through not having sufficient trained vets from this country?
Of course—we should be failing in our duty if we did not maintain the high standard of veterinary surgeons that this country has traditionally produced. Because we recognised the increasing work load that veterinary surgeons would be required to undertake under EC rules, we implemented the Page committee's recommendation that the ceiling on the intake of university students should be lifted. Universities are now recruiting more students to achieve the intake level of 400 per year.
That is not the simple answer to the problem. Veterinary expertise and manpower will be required in a whole host of areas in the future. Even if some exemptions were introduced for the smallest slaughterhouses, they would relate to their design and construction—not to the hygiene standards that must be maintained in all slaughterhouses.
Does the Minister agree that health, and the quality of the product, can give our farmers an important competitive edge? What positive steps is he taking to promote animal health campaigns to eliminate, for example, enzootic abortion in sheep or to deal with fallen livestock? Small amounts of money spent now could reap important rewards in the future.
The Ministry has animal health schemes which it is keen to promote, and a growing number of farmers are joining them. Yesterday, in Standing Committee on the Draft Welfare of Pigs Regulations 1991, which is the successor to the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston (Sir R. Body), I said that as we shall have higher welfare standards for pigs and for pig meat—although we shall be pressing hard for Europe to follow our lead—I hoped that British producers would use their marketing advantage. There is nothing unethical about that.