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Clause 62 - Commencement

Animal Welfare Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 1:45 pm on 26th January 2006.

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Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 1:45 pm, 26th January 2006

I beg to move amendment No. 45, in clause 62, page 32, line 5, after ‘appoint’, insert

‘within 3 years following the passage of this Act’.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 46, in clause 62, page 32, line 8, at end insert

‘within 3 years following the passage of this Act’.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

This comes back to the issue that we have touched upon on some occasions and skirted around on others, namely the extent to which the Bill is an enabling Bill; indeed, the matter was referred to in the previous exchange. To what extent can we expect the Government’s promises to be delivered and within what time scale?

I hope that the Minister will accept that Members in all parts of the Committee have taken him on trust when he has promised to do certain things that we all want. In exchange for that we have provided the Government with powers. However, as part of that exchange there has been no guarantee—nor perhaps could there be with an enabling Bill—that those powers will be introduced.

Clause 62 states that only three clauses will come into effect on day one. They are clause 55, which just says that Ministers can do something, clause 61, which just specifies the extent of their powers, and clause 63, which gives the title—it is good to the know that the Bill has a title, but there nothing else in clause 63. Nothing in the rest of clause 62 specifies a date or a time scale for any of the secondary legislation by which we all set so much store and which might otherwise not be introduced.

As hon. Members will know from previous legislation, there is a litany of cases down the ages in which promises about secondary legislation have been made as part of enabling legislation, but that secondary legislation has not appeared. The first Act that I remember working on as a researcher was the Environmental Protection Act 1990. There are   provisions in that Act which have still not been introduced 16 years on, even though there was cross-party agreement on them.

The Bill contains an enabling power, and the Minister is on record as saying that those powers will be introduced through secondary legislation, but that does not guarantee that those powers will be introduced. Suppose, for example, that the Government have a change of philosophy, that the Minister changes and the new Ministers takes a different view, or that there is a change of Government. All sort of things can happen to derail the process on which we have all agreed so far.

As a quid pro quo, in exchange for our agreeing to significant enabling powers, the Minister ought to be prepared to specify something in the way of an enactment date for those powers. I fully accept that the regulatory impact assessment sets out a timetable for regulations and codes. It goes up to 2010, with performing animals as the last entry. Of course, the Minister will readily recognise that that is not legally binding and therefore, in a sense, is no more of a guarantee than his words. I do not wish to be pejorative or insulting. I am just saying that the timetable is not a legal guarantee, any more than what is said in this room. There is no guarantee that things will follow on. The Minister will know that the EFRA Committee and others have raised considerable concerns about the use of secondary powers. If we are to rely heavily on those secondary powers, at the very least we need some guarantee as to when they will come in.

Amendments Nos. 45 and 46, in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-West, would set a time scale by inserting the phrase

“within 3 years following the passage of this Act”.

That would give us some guarantee of when the powers would come in. The Minister may say that that is unrealistic and it will take five years to deal with performing animals, or whatever amount of time he has set out in the regulatory impact assessment. That is fair enough. If he wants to say that it will take five years, or even eight years, that is fine, but we want an assurance that all the good work that we have done on the Bill—we are now coming to the end of it—will be put into practice and that all the things that we have agreed should happen will actually happen. One way of achieving that is to include in the Bill some sort of requirement that it occurs. If the Minister is committed to animal welfare, as I know he is, it is in his interests to ensure that that happens, rather than see the good work that he has done disappear off into the distance.

Photo of Ben Bradshaw Ben Bradshaw Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Local Environment, Marine and Animal Welfare)

The hon. Gentleman has drawn the attention of Committee members to the tension that we have touched on throughout the proceedings between our desire to introduce the laws and our desire to ensure that there is proper scrutiny and consultation. Will he reflect on that? In a moment, I think that we will be pressurised to commit ourselves to deal with greyhounds earlier than we currently plan to do. Not only is there a capacity issue in terms of my   hard-pressed civil servants getting the codes and draft regulations drafted, there is also the question of parliamentary time, if some of these matters need to be dealt with by the affirmative resolution procedure.

The hon. Gentleman has written to me about the regulatory impact assessment. I do not know whether he has a copy of my letter. Basically, I have replied in the affirmative and said that we still intend to stick to the timetable laid down in the RIA. The impact of his amendment would be that, if commencement orders had not been made within three years of Royal Assent, they could not be brought into force at all. I do not think that he would want that to happen.

Perhaps I can give the hon. Gentleman some more assurances about our intentions. The clause follows standard practice. Only the barest provisions—those that enable us to bring the other provisions into force—will come into force on Royal Assent. All the others will come in by commencement orders. In England, the Government have committed themselves, as part of their better regulation agenda, to bring regulations and orders into force on common commencement dates. Those dates are 1 October and 6 April. Although much depends on the speed with which the Bill completes its parliamentary stages and is submitted for Royal Assent, it is my strong hope that we will be able to commence the main provisions of the Bill in England in October.

In some cases, a slower timetable may be necessary. To cite one example, in clause 5 the provision to ban mutilations must clearly be brought into force at the same time as the regulation that specifies the exemptions to the ban. However, we have given various commitments—some in the Bill—not to introduce regulations without a full public consultation. Those consultations take time. A 12-week period is prescribed in the Government’s code of practice on consultations. There is a complex relationship between the date of Royal Assent and common commencement dates, and between the Bill’s statutory provisions and its regulation-making powers.

We certainly intend to bring the Bill’s provisions into force within three years. We set out that timetable in the RIA that I sent to you, Mr. Gale, your co-Chair, Mrs. Humble, and all members of the Committee. As I say, it is our intention to stick to it. I hope that, in light of those assurances, the hon. Gentleman will seek to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 12:00 pm, 26th January 2006

I am grateful to the Minister for his explanation and for confirming his intentions, which is useful. It is particularly useful to have him on record as remaining committed to the timetable of the regulatory impact assessment. I suspect that that is as much as we can get out of him, so I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 62 ordered to stand part of the Bill.