35.The Draft Legislative Reform (Constitution of the Council of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons) Order 2018 was laid before the House of Commons on 1 March 2017 by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (‘the Department’). It was accompanied by an explanatory document. The Department has also provided the Committee with a copy of responses to the 2015 formal consultation and a subsequent 2016 informal consultation on proposals to amend the governance structure of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, and amend the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966 using a Legislative Reform Order.
36.The Order is intended to be made under sections 1 and 2 of the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act 2006 (‘the 2006 Act’), which allows a Minister to make provision by order for removing or reducing any burden resulting directly or indirectly from legislation and to promote principles of better regulation.
37.The Minister has recommended that the draft Order be subject to the affirmative procedure. The House of Lords Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee has concluded that this proposal is appropriate.
38.The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (‘RCVS’) is the competent authority for and governing body for the veterinary profession in the UK. The purpose of the draft Order is to reduce the size of the Council of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (‘the Council’), to make changes to the process of appointments for certain classes of member, to introduce a limit to terms of office and provide a mechanism for removal for poor conduct or behaviour. The draft Order seeks to amend the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966 (‘the 1966 Act’).
39.The responsibilities of the Council and its Members are set out in statute, including: to advise on the recognition of UK veterinary degrees and supervise pre-registration veterinary activity; to consider recognition of foreign and Commonwealth degrees; to make regulations regarding the registration of veterinary surgeons and the practice of veterinary students; and, to undertake certain responsibilities relating to conduct and discipline.
40.The Council currently consists of 42 members. The Department’s explanatory document sets out the challenge of such a large council, noting:
A consequence of having a Council of 42 is that it is usually able to meet only three times a year. It is expensive for Council to meet more often, as each Council meeting costs circa £24k through reimbursement of expenses and loss of earnings.
As the Council cannot meet often enough to take time-pressured decisions it has, since 2013, delegated certain matters to an ‘Operational Board’. This has led to concerns about accountability and delays to decisions.
41.The draft Order would, between 1 July 2018 and 1 July 2021, gradually reduce the number of vets on the Council, replace Privy Council appointees with lay persons appointed by an independent committee subject to the Nolan principles, and add 2 places for veterinary nurses appointed from the Veterinary Nurses Council (who are themselves directly elected). Appointees from UK university veterinary schools would be reduced from current 2 per school to a total of 3 appointed collectively by UK veterinary schools. The current totals and the final totals to be achieved by 1 July 2021 are set out in Table 1 below.
Table 1: Proposed Changes to Membership of the Council
Privy Council Appointees
Independently Appointed Lay Persons
UK University Appointees
42.The draft Order would also limit the number of four-year terms to which an individual may be elected or appointed to a maximum of three, and require a two-year break before an individual may then stand again. In line with many other professional bodies and non-statutory RCVS committees, the draft Order also proposes a mechanism by which Council members may be removed for issues relating to poor conduct or behaviour.
43.In this section, we assess the draft Order against the criteria set out in the Standing Orders of the House. We make no assessment of the policy within the draft Order.
44.Issues of animal welfare and regulation are of significant public interest; however, we are content that, based on the information provided by the Department and the responses to two public consultations, there is nothing highly controversial in the proposals. We agree that the draft Order does not make an inappropriate use of delegated legislation and therefore does not raise any issues in respect of this test.
45.Under Section 1 of the 2006 Act, Ministers may seek to make changes to remove or reduce a burden resulting from legislation. The Secretary of State has set out the view that the size of the Council at present is an “obstacle to efficiency” with high costs and an impact on the timeliness by which decisions are taken. If the draft Order is made and the size of the Council reduced, it is intended that “the Council could meet more frequently without increasing costs, reaching and communicating decisions more effectively.” We agree that the proposed draft Order would remove a burden resulting from legislation.
46.Under section 2 of the 2006 Act, Ministers may seek to make changes where the activity is transparent, accountable and proportionate and targeted only at cases in which action is needed. In the explanatory document accompanying the draft Order, the Department has set out its application of these criteria. They note that lay members are not currently a statutory requirement, nor is representation for veterinary nurses despite their regulation by the RVCS, limiting the accountability of the organisation. Additionally, new appointment and disciplinary terms are intended to improve both the accountability and transparency of the organisation. The draft Order makes gradual, proportionate change to the make-up of the Council, and enables the removal of the need for an Operational Board, currently required to fulfil some of the Council’s responsibilities without a basis in statute. We agree that the regulatory principles set out in the 2006 Act are being complied with.
47.The Department has stated that
The constitution and governance arrangements for the Council are laid down by statute—section 1 of, and Schedule 1 to, the [1966 Act]. The RCVS has no discretion to deviate from these arrangements and a change in the legislation is the only means available.
We are satisfied that this test has been met.
The Department’s proposed change to the operation of the Council is intended to ensure it can effectively carry out its statutory functions. The draft Order proposes to make the change incrementally, with initial changes beginning in July 2018 and the 24-member Council being in place by July 2021. The draft Order is not intended to alter the regulation of the veterinary profession itself, only the means by which the regulation is administered. We agree that the effect of this Order is proportionate to the policy objective.
48.The Department has set out its opinion that
The Secretary of State is satisfied that the provision in the draft Order strikes a fair balance between the public interest and the interests of any person adversely affected by it.
The proposed changes will reduce the representation of certain groups, most significantly reducing the number of UK university places from 14 to 3. We note that the Department expects the Veterinary Schools Council to be responsible for ensuring effective representation for veterinary schools on the RCVS Council. As all groups retain representation on the Council, and the proposed changes are overwhelmingly supported by the Council and consultees, we conclude that this test has been met.
49.The Department has set out that
The proposed order will not remove any necessary protections and should bring governance of the RCVS closer in line with recognised, regulatory best practice. The reduction in the size of the Council will address issues surrounding the efficiency and accountability of decision-making but will also maintain sufficient members to provide the diversity and capacity it needs to achieve its objectives.
We accept the Department’s view and recognise that the aim of making the Council a more effective regulator may improve the protections provided to individuals covered by it. We are content that no necessary protections would be removed.
50.The draft Order does not seek to make any changes to rights and freedoms currently being exercised. The staggered approach to reducing the size of the council should ensure no current members are seriously impacted. We are satisfied that this test has been met.
51.The proposed changes made by the draft Order are intended to bring governance of the RCVS closer in line with recognised, best practice. We agree that this draft Order is not of constitutional significance.
52.The draft Order does not raise any issues in respect of this test.
53.The Department carried out a formal consultation on the changes proposed in the draft Order between 29 October 2015 and 24 December 2015, including on the appropriateness of using the LRO process to achieve this change. A subsequent informal consultation on the final proposal was held between 21 March 2016 and 11 April 2016. The informal consultation was targeted at the 87 groups who were proactively consulted on the formal consultation, and others who chose to respond.
54.The formal consultation had 52 respondents, categorised by the Department as: 12 organisations and 40 individuals (32 veterinary surgeons and 8 other interested persons). The Department’s explanatory document concludes that:
There was overwhelming support for the change to the membership of the Council and very strong support to have a mix of both lay and veterinary membership and to include veterinary nurses on Council.
The majority of respondents supported the proposals set out in the consultation, with some dissent on the methods of appointment and election of members of the Council. Proposals that triggered the most dissatisfaction were veterinary surgeons and nurses being able to vote for both categories of council members rather than their own category (31 per cent in favour and 56 per cent against) and creation of an additional body of veterinary surgeons and nurses and appointed lay persons to appoint members of the Council (38 per cent in favour, 31 per cent against). The Department did not subsequently pursue these proposals.
55.The informal consultation had 13 respondents, categorised by the Department as: 7 organisations and 6 individuals (5 veterinary surgeons and 1 other interested person). Due to the size of the consultation and its informal status, no qualitative analysis has been published by the Department; however, the summary of responses indicated that respondents remained supportive of the proposals. As a result of this stage of consultation, the Department removed from its final proposal a requirement that six elected members of the Council who had served for the longest time without re-election should retire each year and removed the proposed vacant place created in case a veterinary associate role overseen by the RCVS was created.
56.Both consultations heard from respondents who were concerned about lay members of a regulatory body being in the minority. In the formal consultation 15 per cent of respondents opposed veterinary surgeons continuing to form a majority on the Council. In its explanatory document, the Department responded
Our view is that the proposed introduction of six independently appointed lay persons as part of a smaller overall Council should satisfy conditions of transparency, accountability and consistency and be sufficient to protect the public interest.
We accept the Department’s response and note that the veterinary profession has been self-regulating; however, in seeking effective regulation we suggest that the Council and the Department keep this balance under review.
57.We conclude that the draft Order has been subject to an appropriate level of consultation, and the decision by the Department to proceed with the draft Order has taken account of the responses received.
58.The draft Order does not raise any issues in respect of this test.
59.The Secretary of State has stated he is satisfied that the proposals are compatible with the legal obligations arising from membership of the European Union. We agree.
60.We conclude that the draft Order meets the required preconditions and tests.
61.We conclude that a satisfactory case has been made in favour of the proposal and recommend that the draft Order be approved using the affirmative resolution procedure.
33 Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, , October 2015
34 Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, , March 2016
35 Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act 2006, and
36 House of Lords, Unpaid Work Experience (Prohibition) Bill [HL], Draft Legislative Reform (Constitution of the Council of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons) Order 2018, Draft Legislative Reform (Regulator of Social Housing) (England) Order 2018, 18th Report of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, Session 2017–19, , Para 5
38 Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, , accessed 28 March 2018
39 , p12
40 Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, , accessed 28 March 2018
41 , p12
42 , p15
43 , p16
44 As above.
45 Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act 2006,
46 , p2
47 As above.
48 Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act 2006,
49 , p4
50 , p14
51 , p15
52 As above.
53 , p5
54 , p20
55 , p5
56 As above.
57 As above.
58 , pp23–26
59 , p19
60 , p20
61 , p35
62 , p39
63 Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, , June 2016, p1
64 As above.
65 , p20–21
66 Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, , June 2016, p3, and , pp29–30
67 , p29
68 , p21
69 , p29
70 , p6
Published: 23 April 2018