First Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation
Monday 6 December 1999
[Mr. Edward O'Hara in the Chair]
Draft Scotland Act 1998 (Transfer of Functions to the Scottish Ministers etc.) (No. 2) Order 1999
The Minister of State, Scotland Office (Mr. Brian Wilson): I beg to move that the Committee has considered the
draft Scotland Act 1998 (Transfer of Functions to the Scottish Ministers etc.) (No. 2) Order 1999.
The purpose of the order is to transfer two regulation-making powers from a Minister of the Crown to the Scottish Executive Ministers, which requires some explanation. Earlier this year, both Houses approved a private Member's Bill promoted by the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison). The Breeding and Sale of Dogs (Welfare) Act 1999, which aims to improve the welfare of dogs at licensed breeding establishments, received Royal Assent on 30 June and will come into effect on 30 December.
The Act will introduce additional requirements for the licensing and inspection of dog breeding and Scottish rearing businesses. It will make it a condition of the licence that bitches are not mated if they are less than one year old, that they do not give birth to more than six litters of pups each, and that pups are not born before the end of a period of 12 months since the bitch last gave birth. I am tempted to say that that might impinge on a current controversy in Scotland, but I shall set that aside.
The Act will require the licence holder to keep accurate breeding records in a form prescribed by regulations, which must be made available on inspection; it will provide for more severe penalties for breaches of legislation; it will restrict the places where puppies can be sold to licensed premises or pet shops; and it will require dogs sold by licensed breeding establishments to licensed Scottish rearing establishments or pet shops to wear identification tags or badges containing information in addition to where they were born; as specified in regulations. From an animal welfare point of view, this worthwhile measure is welcomed on both sides of the House.
However, the Act contains two provisions conferring regulation-making powers on the Secretary of State to be exercised by statutory instrument. They relate to the breeding records that must be kept and made available for inspection by the licensed breeder, and the information, in addition to the place where the dog was born, that must be shown on the identification tag or badge of certain dogs sold by such establishments.
The regulations are currently subject to negative procedure in the United Kingdom Parliament. However, under the Scotland Act 1998, matters relating to dogs and their welfare fall within the devolved competence of the Scottish Parliament. It should therefore be for Scottish Ministers in the devolved Parliament to make the regulations for Scotland, subject to the scrutiny of the Scottish Parliament. Powers in enactments made before the Scotland Act have already been passed to Scottish Executive Ministers by the transfer arrangements under the Act. Unfortunately the provisions of the Breeding and Sale of Dogs (Welfare) Act did not provide Scottish Executive Ministers with the necessary powers. Subject to approval elsewhere, the order will address that anomaly by transferring the regulation-making powers to Scottish Executive Ministers.
The order does not transfer any additional legislative powers to the Scottish Parliament. It merely transfers regulatory powers to Scottish Executive Ministers in a subject that Parliament has already agreed should fall within the competence of Scottish Executive Ministers and Parliament.
With that explanation and reassurance, I commend the order to the Committee. I hope that the purpose of today's sitting is absolutely clear to everyone; the measure may not bark very loudly but it will clear up a technical impediment to the implementation of worthwhile legislation in Scotland.
Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield): When the order dropped onto my desk at the end of last week, and I saw that it related to the transfer of functions and was a No. 2 order, all my antennae quivered as I considered what further devolution was about to occur under the Scotland Act 1998. I confess that, when I read the order, it was a case of the mountain having heaved and brought forth the pooch; there was no more to it than that. The Minister will be reassured to hear that the official Opposition will not oppose the order or seek to press it to a Division. I cannot speak for the unofficial opposition, although many of its members have constructive comments.
Orders such as this are a pleasure to read. My hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere wanted a regime to apply throughout the United Kingdom to ensure that standards of care for dogs were maintained, including a regulatory framework to be fulfilled and implemented by the relevant Secretary of State. Dogs are bred and sold on a United Kingdom-wide basis. I am sure that the Minister will agree that there is considerable trade both north and south of the border, and that it occurs not in any particular part of the country, but is ubiquitous.
One impact of the order is that it makes possible the application in Scotland of regulations that are different from those which pertain to the rest of the United Kingdom. We must hope for close co-„ordination between Scottish Executive Ministers and United Kingdom Government Ministers to ensure that changes do not create different regimes north and south of the border. I cannot believe that such changes would be in the interests of dog breeders or of any other parties dependent on the regulations, or that they would best maintain the quality of animal husbandry for dogs.
My point relates to the overall way in which devolution is expected to work. It depends on constant co-operation at ministerial level, which should be maintained irrespective of which Governments are in administration north and south of the border. Such a process is one of the consequences of devolution, and it is to be hoped that it works. The Opposition are committed to trying to ensure that it does.
Subject to those comments, I welcome the decision to ensure that the intention behind the Scotland Act in devolving dog welfare to the Scottish Parliament is maintained by the order.
Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine): Does the Minister expect any similar orders to be laid before us, or is this the end of the road? Furthermore, the order requires consent in three different places; at what stage is the order in its passage through those places? Will the Minister confirm that paragraph 3(2) of the order amends the Scotland Act 1998 only in relation to the breeding of dogs and specifically for the purposes of the order?
I echo the wish that when it makes sense for regulations to apply north and south of the border, it is proper for people to adopt them. Conversely, when a different need is perceived, it is equally proper for different regulations to apply. The passage of the Scotland Act has not brought about a change. Orders such as the one before us were commonly in the hands of separate Secretaries of State, who, although they were of the same political persuasion, often seemed to produce different regulations north and south of the border without different legislative frameworks. The electorate can make choices, and they are entitled to do the same thing north and south of the border.
Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne): It is a great pleasure to share yet another sitting with you, Mr. O'Hara. Moreover, it is a pleasure to see a Scottish Office Minister with something to do—I am delighted that his civil servants found him something useful with which to while away an afternoon. I am also delighted that so many hon. Members representing Scottish constituencies were able to make the long journey here for such an important matter so early in the week.
There are two issues that, although not quite formally declarable, are nevertheless relevant, so I believe that the Committee should be aware of them. First, I am a cat lover, not a dog lover. Secondly, I have no Scottish ancestors or Scottish connections.
Mr. Wilson: That is why you are still a Member of Parliament.
Mr. Wilshire: Well, exactly. I mention it because I would be only too willing to stay away from issues of this sort—I am happy that the people of Scotland should organise things for their own dogs in their own way—but until such time as Scottish Members of Parliament stop interfering in the affairs of my constituency in England, I shall make it my business to involve myself in the affairs of Scotland.
There is some good news in what I want to say. I shall resist the temptation to debate dog breeding in general, just as I shall, on this occasion, the Scotland Act 1998, although I believe both subjects to be relevant to the matter before us. However, the Whip should not assume that, the next time that my name appears on the list for a Committee of this sort, I will be as helpful as I am this afternoon. I am sorely tempted to debate both matters because, notwithstanding the Breeding and Sale of Dogs (Welfare) Act 1999, the order is but a small example of the sort of mess that a Government can get into when they go charging off down devolution routes without thinking through the issues properly.
Mr. James Wray (Glasgow, Baillieston): On a point of order, Mr. O'Hara. Are these kinds of racist remarks allowed? It is obvious that the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) is anti-Scottish.
The Chairman: There may be a certain mild prejudice in the remarks of the hon. Member for Spelthorne, but I would not describe them as racist.
Mr. Wilshire: I understand the point that is being made but, as I said, I am an Englishman and proud of it. People must understand where I am coming from. I shall, however, resist the further temptation to get locked into a debate about Englishness and Scottishness, although it would just about be in order.
Two issues concern me. The first is why the Breeding and Sale of Dogs (Welfare) Act was not dealt with by the Scotland Act 1998. However, the Minister gave an explanation for that, which I wholly accept and which made absolute sense. What he did not tell us—it is important that he does—is why the Breeding and Sale of Dogs Act 1973 was not dealt with by the 1998 Act. Surely to goodness a Government who had done their homework would have spotted an Act that had been on the statute book for more than 20 years before the Scotland Bill was put before the House. Can the Minister assure us that there are no more similar little matters lurking, or are we to be brought back here time after time to clear up the mess that the Government have got themselves into through not doing their homework properly? Why was the 1973 Act not dealt with by the Scotland Act 1998?
Before we decide whether we want to press for a vote, I should also like to know, after all the trouble and expense of preparing the paperwork, bringing nine people down from Scotland and getting the Minister over here with his civil servants, how much this afternoon's farrago has cost the taxpayer.