Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Fourth Special Report

The Regulatory Impact Assessment

Recommendations 66 to 70

66. Given that Defra has had well over two years since its initial consultation on the draft Bill in January 2002, we are both surprised and concerned that the appraisal of alternatives to regulation in the Regulatory Impact Assessment accompanying the draft Bill is not better developed. Defra's excessively simplistic assessment of options fails to quantify the benefits of the legislation or its alternatives, which limits Defra's ability to demonstrate that the benefits of the proposed legislation would exceed the costs. (Paragraph 274)

67. Defra's assessment of the probable enforcement costs arising from the implementation of the legislation as "negligible" appears to us to be simplistic in the extreme, for the following reasons:

  • Defra appears to have ignored the probable increase—at least initially—in prosecution and conviction numbers from the new offences which the draft Bill would create.
  • Defra does not appear to have accounted for the fact that proposals in secondary legislation will require appropriately skilled personnel to provide enforcement and inspection services and veterinary expertise in newly regulated areas such as animal sanctuaries, livery yards and greyhound tracks. We received evidence suggesting that there is a significant skills shortage in these areas and we are therefore concerned that the Regulatory Impact Assessment does not quantify what extra resources will be required nor how they will be provided. The Regulatory Impact Assessment states that "each piece of secondary legislation will be subject to a separate RIA and consultation once it is decided to take forward work on that particular regulation/order", which suggests to us that
  • Defra has given no detailed consideration to the likely resource implications of its proposed secondary legislation.
  • Defra has proposed that local authorities should operate their licensing services on the basis of full cost recovery, yet the practicalities of this proposal are nowhere discussed in the Regulatory Impact Assessment. (Paragraph 282)

68. We consider that the Regulatory Impact Assessment accompanying the draft Bill fails to demonstrate that the benefits of the proposed legislation would exceed the costs, as is required by Cabinet Office and National Audit Office guidance. The Regulatory Impact Assessment shows evidence of a lack of thorough consideration, on the part of Defra, about the likely consequences of enacting the draft Bill. It fails to demonstrate what measurable benefits would arise from enactment and provides only weakly evidenced and limited cost information. We are concerned that Defra's poor assessment of the likely long-term implications of the draft Bill, together with the extent to which Defra proposes to defer policy decisions to secondary legislation, indicates that Defra is not yet properly prepared to legislate in this area. We therefore consider that the Regulatory Impact Assessment lacks credibility and provides an inadequate basis for pre-legislative scrutiny. (Paragraph 283)

69. Consequently, we recommend that, before a final Bill is introduced to Parliament, Defra produces a new Regulatory Impact Assessment which better meets the requirements of Cabinet Office and National Audit Office guidance. The revised Regulatory Impact Assessment should include:

  • a more thorough options appraisal
  • a quantification of benefits
  • a more comprehensive consideration of costs, including the costs of secondary legislation
  • evidence to demonstrate that full cost recovery by local authorities is a realistic operational objective, and
  • evidence to demonstrate that sufficient appropriately skilled personnel exist to provide enforcement and inspection services and veterinary expertise in newly regulated areas such as animal sanctuaries, livery yards and greyhound tracks. If such evidence is not available, Defra should explain how it proposes to address this shortage. (Paragraph 284)

70. We also recommend that, in order to gauge whether costs are accurately reflected in its Regulatory Impact Assessment, Defra consults with the appropriate authorities about the likely costs of enforcement, licensing and inspection. (Paragraph 285)

We do not accept that the draft RIA failed to meet Cabinet Office and NAO guidelines. The Cabinet Office was consulted at all stages during the preparation of the RIA and we also worked closely with local authority associations and representatives, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and other government departments, the professional veterinarian associations, the RSPCA and other major welfare organisations, the police, industries and groups that the Bill may impact on and the Small Business Service. The Cabinet Office has indicated that they are satisfied with the contents, including costs, of the revised RIA.

However, in the light of the comments made by the Committee, we propose to make a number of changes to the RIA to address some of the concerns highlighted. Two tables will be inserted that demonstrate the number of visits that the RSPCA, the principal enforcer of animal welfare law, makes in a 12 month period to 'welfare cases' and the costs associated with these visits. The tables show that by having a specific welfare offence the need for so many visits to such cases will be reduced leading to savings.

In addition, we have added more detail to explain the benefits, in terms of improved animal welfare, that regulation has brought to existing activities (e.g. pet shops, dog breeding, animal boarding and riding establishments) and to show that we can therefore expect similar benefits to result from the regulation of new activities.

Another major criticism was that the RIA did not explain why enforcement costs for local authorities would not rise significantly. A table will be inserted that shows the average number of existing licensed activities per local authority compared with the average number proposed under the Bill. Although there will be more licensed activities under the Bill for local authorities to administer, the table shows that because of the move from 12 month to 18 month licences, the average number of inspections per local authority over a three year period will not rise significantly (from 109.2 to 121.0).

We will also mention the scope for contracting staff from other agencies, e.g. the British Horse Society, to assist with licensing work where there is a need for additional help.

We intend to bring forward the proposed regulation of greyhound tracks by one year from 2009/10 to 2008/9 in response to the concern that a timescale of the end of the decade was too far away. We will however emphasise the need to have time to allow the greyhound racing authorities to continue to implement change and the need for time to train local authority inspectors.

In terms of presentation, the table that was at the end of the main body of the published RIA (page 82 of that document) that summarised the costs set out at each annex will be moved to the Option 3 costs section together with its introductory paragraph.

Annex A (Proposal to licence circuses and other performing animals in entertainment) will be amended to reflect more accurately the proposal to licence all trainers/suppliers of animals with a requirement that professional entertainments and advertisers, including film, theatre, television and circus should only use animals provided by a licensed trainer.

The statistics (the risk that the Bill addresses) will be updated from 2002 to 2003 figures and the number of animal rescue centres/ sanctuaries will be changed from "no statistics available" to an estimated figure of 700 to reflect the total figure at Annex E.

The revised RIA will also refer to the possibility of centrally provided training to help local authorities to get to grips with new ways of working under the Bill.

We will also add annexes relating to the licensing of dog breeders, animal boarding establishments and riding establishments.

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