Draft Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006 (Consequential Provisions) (England and Wales) Order 2006


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Mr. Robert Goodwill (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con): I am somewhat disappointed that the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire interpreted the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater as any sort of discrimination or prejudice against Scotland. I celebrate the richness and diversity of our heritage, both cultural and culinary. Last week, I enjoyed the pleasures of an Arbroath smokie for my breakfast, and I know that many people from north of the border enjoy their holidays in my constituency. We aim to cater for their tastes, as well as providing our native cuisine.
Can I ask the Minister about the register of disqualification? It is eminently sensible and logical to have a person who is disqualified from running a riding establishment or a transport business, or from keeping a pet north of the border, disqualified in England and Wales too, and vice versa, but how will that be handled in practice? Will there be two separate databases with common access or will there be a common database? And who will have access to the database? Will animal welfare organisations, as well as statutory authorities such as local authorities, be allowed to see who is on the register? Can we have some clarification on how things will work in practice, and whether the data will be accessible to every member of the community as well as to organisations?
2.55 pm
David Cairns: I am grateful that the Committee recognises that there is nothing outstandingly controversial about the proposals, which are common-sense, modest measures. However, I shall try and answer the questions that have been raised.
The hon. Member for Bridgwater raised quite properly issues of cross-border co-operation on animal welfare and outbreaks of certain diseases. I assure him that there is a great deal of co-operation between the Scottish Executive and the UK Government on animal health and welfare issues relating to such outbreaks. I was not a Minister at the time of the outbreak of foot and mouth disease, but I know that in the contingency planning for the potential avian flu, there was an enormous amount of very close co-operation between the Minister in the Scottish Executive Environment and Rural Affairs Department and his equivalents here, and also between the Scottish Executive Health Minister and their equivalents in the Department of Health. Everyone understands that we have a border, which, as the hon. Gentleman rightly says, animals do not respect in that sense, so it is imperative that we work together closely. I assure him that those issues are taken very seriously and are the subject of close co-operation.
The hon. Gentleman asked some quite proper questions about evolving policy in Scotland on tail docking and mentioned that the consultation will finish early in the new year. He has his views on tail docking, and this House has expressed its view as far as it affects England and Wales, but not, I think, Northern Ireland. Obviously, this House has settled its position, but the Scottish Parliament’s powers in that matter are entirely devolved, and it has yet to establish its definitive position. I cannot answer the hon. Gentleman’s questions about whether there is a difference between the jurisdictions, because the Scottish Executive is yet to settle its policy. However, I am more than happy to continue this discussion as its position becomes clearer in the new year.
The order is quite narrow and recognises that when somebody has been disqualified in Scotland, they cannot just come to England and carry on as if nothing had happened. The legislation passed in this place has been acknowledged already in the Scottish Parliament to ensure that that cannot happen.
The hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby neatly sidestepped the many Yorkshire delicacies that we could have mentioned, but we shall pass on from that. He asked who will have access to the register. I do not know the answer, but I shall write to him and copy in the Committee when I do.
Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby) (Lab): It is difficult to sustain the unbearable excitement of this Committee without making a comment. I understand the Conservative Opposition being interested in the animal part of the order—it is relevant to them and their situation in that it concerns dumb animals.
I do not think that the question about tail docking, which was contentious in this Parliament, has been answered. For dogs, a lot depends on this question: depending on what the Scottish Parliament decides, might tail docking become easier in Scotland than in England, resulting in the cross-border trafficking of dogs to Scotland to have the docking operation done there for cosmetic, working or breeding purposes? What would be the legal position of dogs docked in that way when they take up residence again in this country?
David Cairns: My hon. Friend is inviting me to speculate on a question to which I simply do not know the answer, because I do not know what the Scottish Executive’s eventual position will be. Constitutionally, issues relating to animal welfare and cruelty are entirely devolved, and so there is no reason why the regimes north and south of the border have to be the same—they could be different.
As I understand the debate, the Scottish Parliament is not necessarily looking for a regime that is more liberal than ours, and it might come out with a stricter one. It would be unwise for me to speculate further, because we do not know what the policy will be north of the border after the consultation.
Mr. Goodwill: Is the Minister aware that Stuart Shearlaw, Central Scotland police’s senior animal health and welfare officer, is on the record as saying that the proposed rules would be difficult to enforce, were they different in the two countries? And is the Minister aware that the enforcement authorities realise that differences in the law, north and south of the border, would make it almost impossible to enforce the legislation?
David Cairns: I was not aware of those comments. The ability to operate different regimes north and south of the border is routinely taken into consideration when such matters are decided. Ultimately, however, I return to what I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby: the situation is clear; these issues have been devolved to the Scottish Parliament, and it is up to that Parliament to advance whatever regime it sees fit.
Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): I am sure that the Minister shares my view that hon. Members should not be looking to influence a decision by Scottish Members of the Scottish Parliament.
David Cairns: I would not go that far. We must accept that there are other views. Will the hon. Gentleman refrain from making any comment whatsoever when the Scottish Parliament is debating Trident? Will he give a firm commitment that he will make no public statement whatsoever that would influence Members of the Scottish Parliament one way or the other, when they are deciding about Trident? No; he will not. I think that the unbearable excitement is getting too much for the hon. Gentleman, so I shall move on.
It is a matter of some considerable regret to find out that the hon. Member for Bridgwater has broken the healthy start website—my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries and Galloway says that it was working perfectly well when he accessed it this morning. I shall hotfoot it from this Committee to the nearest computer and, if it is not working, I assure the hon. Gentleman that we will get the relevant person at the Department of Health to put the plug back in again.
The hon. Gentleman asked another important question about the qualifying provisions. The measures emanate from social security legislation—as I have said, they have an impact on health, which is a devolved matter—so the qualifying provisions and definitions of low income are the same north and south of the border.
The hon. Gentleman also mentioned some cross-border matters, as did the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire. Although it is true—we are in the realm of theoretical possibility—that, because we have devolved this power to Scottish Executive Ministers, they rightly have ownership of the policy, in practical terms they will ally themselves with what the Department of Health is doing because of economies of scale in purchasing and so on. However, if at some later stage they decide that, for whatever reason, the health needs of Scottish babies and children require them to prescribe different foodstuffs, they have the power to do so. In practice, Scottish Ministers and the Department will function as one on this issue, which is the locus of the section 93 order, which is subject to the negative resolution procedure. In a slightly unusual move, we are giving the policy ownership to Scottish Executive Ministers, who are essentially giving back the practical implications. Bearing in mind the distinction between policy ownership and how such matters are worked out in practice will help us to make some sense of the issue.
I should like to mention why, as the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire has said, there was a gap in the animal welfare legislation. We can move forward with the section 104 orders only when the relevant Bill inthe Scottish Parliament has received Royal Assent. I understand that that happened on 11 July, therefore there was insufficient time to lay the order before the summer recess. We returned from summer recess a wee while ago but, parliamentary time being what it is, this is our first opportunity to deal with the matter. I am advised that, as far as we are aware, nobody has fallen between the gaps in introducing and streamlining this legislation. If I am wrong about that, I shall let the hon. Lady know.
A lot of questions were asked about the renewable obligations certificates. Essentially, to deal with process issues, we changed the definition of what functions could be exercised by the Secretary of State under the 2006 Act introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith. I have been asked why we did not just move forward on that at the same time. Section 104 orders are used executively to devolve any new function under the devolutionary settlement. We are considering only one such order on this occasion, but at times we deal with a number of them.
I take the hon. Lady’s point that we might simply have included a clause in the Bill that said that the function should be executively devolved to Scottish Executive Ministers, and I am not enough of a constitutional expert to know why that route was not preferred in that instance. However, it is important to make a distinction between this order, which is devolving a function, and one that devolves an area of policy. We are not devolving policy. Scottish Executive Ministers do not have the legislative competence to change the policy in that regard—they merely have the legislative ability to carry out the functions. It might be that somewhere amidst that distinction is the reason for our taking the section 104 order route rather than the route suggested by the hon. Lady even though, prima facie, it seems to be a matter of six and two threes.
The hon. Member for Bridgwater asked aboutthe status of bio-plants. Traditionally, renewable obligations certificates—certainly as they have operated from the UK Government—have been platform neutral, and it has not mattered whether they relate to biofuels, wind or wave. The Deputy First Minister in the Scottish Executive has been exploring ways of differentiating within ROCs with regard to encouraging wave generation, and that consultation is ongoing. He may seek to differentiate further down to biofuels, but, again, that is an issue for the Scottish Executive, and one that is just beginning to be worked through. The hon. Gentleman also asked when the report into wind and wave will come out. I do not know, but I will ensure that he is sent a copy as soon as it does.
Wave and tidal energy has enormous potential around the Scottish coast. I went to Inverness recently and saw the great work that is being done at Wavegen in order to harness it. There are enormous technical difficulties involved in getting it right, and a lot of environmental questions about which bits of shoreline are used. Those questions can, however, be overcome, and we should encourage wave and tidal energy electricity production.
The hon. Gentleman is right that we are talking about allowing people to make up their own minds on microgeneration and distributed generation. We are talking not about centralisation but about the opposite—making the process of microgeneration simpler and more streamlined, without people having to go through the hoops that existed before my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith introduced his private Member’s Bill.
I hope that I have clarified the issues, and I shall write to hon. Members where I have said that I willdo so.
Question put and agreed to.
Resolved,
That the Committee has considered the draft Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006 (Consequential Provisions) (England and Wales) Order 2006.

DRAFT SCOTLAND ACT 1998 (TRANSFER OF FUNCTIONS TO THE SCOTTISH MINISTERS ETC.) (NO. 3) ORDER 2006

Resolved,
That the Committee has considered the draft Scotland Act 1998 (Transfer of Functions to the Scottish Ministers etc.)(No. 3) Order 2006.—[David Cairns.]
Committee rose at eight minutes past Three o’clock.
 
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