I beg to move amendment No. 47, in schedule 1, page 33, line 24, leave out ‘3 years’ and insert ‘12 months’.
This is the point about the licence period being extended to three years that the Minister alluded to a moment ago. Paragraph 5 states:
“Regulations may not provide for licences to be granted for a period of more than 3 years.”
As the Minister will know, the frequency of inspections is usually the same as the licence period and therefore the maximum period allowed for in the Bill is too long and ought to equate more with the anticipated inspection regime.
The experience of local authorities in terms of animal legislation and legislation relating to, for example, hot dog stalls or whatever, is that businesses, including those of well meaning people, can go downhill quite quickly. A lot can happen in three years. It is more sensible to go for a 12-month period, particularly given the flexibility the Minister referred to in the previous set of amendments. If we are to have flexible arrangements with a looser licensing regime, a lower fee and so on, the gold-plated standard for certain premises ought to be 12 months and we could then look at it being less onerous for individual cases.
The drafting of the Bill reflects both the Government’s view that an inspection and enforcement regime should be proportionate and risk based and our desire not to overburden local authorities too much. We are talking about introducing licensing regimes for a significant new area of activity, but at the same time we did not feel that we should be prescriptive by insisting on annual inspections. If a local authority licenses a long-standing and well run activity, which it feels it does not need to revisit every year, we believe that it should have the freedom to do that. We are not talking about a requirement for an inspection every three years, but a requirement that an inspection should take place at least every three years. Local authorities will still have the power to inspect premises on a much more regular basis if they so wish. We simply do not feel that the Government should take a prescriptive approach.
I understand the Minister’s concerns. Can he clarify one point for me? If a licence has been granted for three years by a local authority that feels that the risk is acceptably low and it subsequently appears not to be so low, perhaps because an inspection has taken place, what power does the local authority have to curtail that licence?
At any stage in the process, the local authority would have a power to carry out an on-the-spot inspection. If it were not satisfied with what was going on—the premises may have changed hands or have deteriorated for some other reason—it has the power to take away or alter the licence.
We are keen to avoid a rigid approach in which every premises has to be inspected every year. There will be many more premises that local authorities or the state veterinary service will have to inspect under the Bill. We would prefer to have quality inspections rather than quantity inspections. For example, we would like professional veterinary surgeons to be used more often in inspections. Given the resource implications of that, it may make more sense to allow local authorities to make a judgment based on their experience. They will know, for example, that one place does not need to be looked at every year but that another needs to have a good inspection with a vet so that it can satisfy itself that the welfare needs are being met.
Again, I think the Minister and I are not too far apart. We both understand why we have taken the view we have. I understand the need for flexibility; there are benefits.
I also concur that an inspection if there is one should be, as the Minister describes, a quality one rather than simply a quantity one. I am concerned, however, that conditions can deteriorate in three years. Therefore local authorities might be blindsided, as it were, about something that is happening and that will not be detected for a while. Animals will suffer as a consequence. That has to be weighed in the balance.
Equally, even if a local authority detects a problem within the three years, taking a licence away may not be quite as simple as the Minister describes. Presumably there is a right of appeal. The process will be expensive. The local authority may well then take the course of least resistance and just let the licence run out. I am not altogether convinced that that is the correct approach, but I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.