Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Having said that with great accord, I have only a few questions on the processes. I do not want to delay the Committee for long; I realise that there are a lot of other orders to come. First, it is clear that the process

7 Mar 2007 : Column GC9

of giving out information will be very wide and extensive. You cannot do it once; it must be ongoing. Leaflets must be available everywhere. How is it expected that that will carry on? Where will those leaflets be available?

Quite a lot of deposits are these days provided by local authorities, in support of tenants on a low income and putting statutory tenants into housing provided by registered social landlords. I was wondering what encouragement there would be from the department to ensure that local authorities also provided that information as and when they provided a deposit. At the end of the day, it is the tenant’s deposit.

As the Minister rightly said, there are two aspects to the scheme; the custodial and the insurance. Under the custodial scheme, as I understand it, a statutory declaration will be required. If no agreement can be reached, and it is going to be terminated by a statutory declaration, then the administrator will be able to hand over the deposit. One reason for this is to clear it out of court. Must the statutory declaration be taken before either a court or solicitor? Is it a legal document? A statutory declaration normally is, and would require legal intervention. Can we clarify that?

On the insurance, there is a slightly different process with two interesting areas, one where the landlord is contactable and deemed unco-operative. The process for deciding whether the landlord is contactable is to send him or her a letter, and it is deemed to have been served. But “contactable and unco-operative” might actually mean “uncontactable”. What steps will be taken to ensure that that is not the situation? The second interesting area is the landlord being uncontactable, but the Explanatory Notes blithely say that if he is not contactable no procedure can take place, because it is assumed that he ought to be able to challenge the decision. That seems topsy-turvy. If he is uncontactable, how on earth can one continue the process if he has to be around to decide whether he agrees? Where do the processes for the contactable and unco-operative and the uncontactable leave the tenant? The tenant could end up back in court when the landlord is seen to be uncontactable.

4.15 pm

The third area is where the landlord does not continue with the scheme that he first started with. One of the reasons why that might happen is because for some reason the scheme administrator thinks that the landlord is not co-operating. The Minister said that he might not pay the membership fees or there might be some concerns about the deposits. There are only three schemes, so if one scheme says the landlord is hopeless and it cannot go on with him because he has not paid his membership fees, why would the other schemes take him on board? What compulsion will there be to ensure that deposits can safely be moved from one scheme to another without a hiatus? I know there is protection, but it is interim protection and is shorter and less than it was under the original terms of the legislation. This is one of the areas that concerns me most because there could be a big black hole here, and I want to be sure that tenants’ deposits cannot fall into it.

7 Mar 2007 : Column GC10

I hope those are five fairly clear questions, and I will be extremely grateful if the Minister will respond to them. However, I support the scheme, and I will support the amendments when I know that the Minister’s team has come up with perfect answers.

Baroness Scott of Needham Market: This side is also happy to support the principle and the detail of the business in front of us today. I know that my noble friend Lady Maddock, who is our housing spokesman, campaigned hard for this here and in another place. It is good to see it come to fruition.

Nowadays the general thrust is that we should avoid regulation at all costs, but this demonstrates that when industry is given an opportunity to reform and manage itself, it sometimes fails. When that happens, the state has a responsibility to step in and make life better for tenants. This has been some time in coming; it has taken almost three years to get these regulations. However, I shall not carp about that because the department has done a thorough job in consulting and in coming up with a scheme that appears to deal satisfactorily with all the concerns. From that point of view, this scheme is the opposite of one of the other great outcomes of the 2004 Act—home information packs. The proposals about them were rather rushed through and we are left with great uncertainty, with changes having to be made because the industry is not ready. This is the better of the two approaches and I wish HIPs had been dealt with in this way.

I have a couple of points of detail. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, I lost track of what will happen in insurance-based schemes when landlords are uncontactable. Paragraph 7.10 of the Explanatory Memorandum states that,

I could not find anything else in the memorandum that would explain what would happen at the point when one really could not contact the person. It is not clear to what extent the scheme would have to try to find someone. It is very difficult to imagine a situation in which someone owning a property that they are letting out would actually disappear altogether—but then we do not know how hard the scheme would have to try to find someone. A lengthy delay in that regard would leave tenants in some difficulty, so like the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, I should like clarification on that.

What arrangements will be made for monitoring how all this is working? From the point of view of the landlords and tenants, we clearly think that the scheme will work; but one can never be sure, so we need to keep an eye on how this is working from both points of view, particularly with regard to the relative merits of insurance versus custodial schemes. The law of unintended consequences is always alive and well, and some changes in behaviour may happen as a result of these provisions that none of us could have predicted. It is useful if trends are monitored before they become problematic. Apart from that, we are happy to support this.

7 Mar 2007 : Column GC11

Baroness Maddock: As my noble friend said, this is something that I have taken an interest in for a very long time—since the days when I was a councillor in Southampton, over 20 years ago. I welcome the measure, having taken part as a Front-Bencher in the passage of the Housing Act 2004, but I have one or two comments to make. Since I gave up being on the Front Bench, I now sit on the Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee. Having been involved with primary legislation for most of my parliamentary career, it has been very interesting to follow secondary legislation in a detailed way, which I have never had the opportunity to do before—and never been forced to do, I suppose. I hope that one or two comments that I make will be helpful in that regard.

I know that this measure has taken a long time to be introduced—and having been involved with the Bill, having listened to the Minister today and having been in the Merits Committee, I recognise the huge amount of consultation that has gone on. The fact that the department has listened to that consultation and has acted is part of the reason why it has taken a long time. However, the department gets involved in a lot of this type of legislation and does a lot of consultation, and the way in which secondary legislation comes through the department is not always timely. Is that because it is not appreciated within the department how time-consuming the type of legislation that the department deals with is? Is there a need to look at whether the department has enough staff and the right staff to do this? It is clear that all sorts of things happen—and sometimes things happen because people are pressed for time, and mistakes are made. Then we find that we need to consider another statutory instrument in the committee to put right the mistake that has been made. I say that in a helpful way, based on my experience.

In addition, my noble friend asked about reviewing and monitoring how the process works. Another thing that I have discovered from looking at secondary legislation is that that is not always done. It is time-consuming—and probably one reason why the department finds it so difficult to deal with. One problem is that on the issue of housing and local government we do not very often get the opportunity to have primary legislation. The slots are rare. That means that huge Bills come through—and the 2004 parent Act was enormous. For the Minister responsible for the Bill—not the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, who is responding today, but the noble Lord, Lord Rooker—it was a huge task to get through it, and a huge task to get through the secondary legislation. I can see that for a Minister in that department, just as it was for me when I was on the Front Bench, there is no time to check whether the measures are all coming along at the right pace. Things could be improved, despite the good consultation, by an examination of how the department looks at secondary legislation, and whether there are enough people to do what I recognise is an enormous task.

Baroness Andrews: I am grateful to noble Lords for that warm reception. I particularly pay tribute to the role of the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, throughout the process. It is amazing that, however

7 Mar 2007 : Column GC12

long one speaks, there is always something to ask and holes discovered in the process. I shall do my best to answer those questions.

Publicity is important. We have done our best to use all the technologies at our disposal, which can be updated. We have a full range of leaflets, all downloadable from the website. Of course, we can keep them updated and people can order them as they wish. We have a telephone line to order leaflets, and I have talked about the radio. After the scheme commencement, all three service providers have a budget for ongoing publicity and marketing, and each has a dedicated call centre. We have spent over £1 million on publicity, within the budget allocated for setting up the schemes. There are a number of different bits of information on, for example,

The noble Baroness is quite right about the statutory declaration. It must be taken before a court or solicitor. The scheme administrators will be supplying the necessary guidance and documentation to assist anyone who wants to make a declaration. We are intent on it being an honest declaration, so we must watch that process as closely as possible.

On the contactable but unwilling landlord, the scheme requires reasonable efforts to contact the landlord. There is obviously a limit to what we can do—we find this in many parts of legislation requiring this sort of thing—such as writing to them at the last known address, or the address registered with the scheme, and supplementing that by e-mail and telephone contact. One idea is that the scheme will encourage landlords and tenants to stay in contact with each other, ensuring that they know where each other is. Indeed, if the landlord is not contactable for any reason, the scheme should also know for what periods the landlord might not be contactable, and the tenant can provide that.

If the landlord is uncontactable in the insurance-based scheme, then I am afraid that the tenant will have to go to court. That is one reason we have the single-claim arrangement so explicitly worked out. In the custodial scheme, the tenant can also get the deposit back through the single-claims process.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, raised the question of moving deposits. The custodial scheme is, of course, the catch-all scheme. If one insurance scheme becomes unwilling to offer protection, and the other is likely to decline under those circumstances, the landlord would have to lodge the deposit in the custodial scheme. If he fails to do so, the penalties I have described kick in. The tenant will have to apply to the court, and the deposit then paid will be three times the size of the original deposit; there is an incentive for the landlord simply to use the custodial scheme.

On monitoring, the schemes have obviously been set up to be governed by robust contractual arrangements, setting out key performance indicators to deal with the number, quality and so on of the arrangements. That is the most effective thing we can do on monitoring. Through those contractual arrangements, we will have a tight reign on the scheme providers and be able to follow exactly what is being achieved on a regular basis. That will be a very close working relationship

7 Mar 2007 : Column GC13

where we can check what they are doing against delivery and performance targets, and there are penalties for those who fall below the standards.

I think that I have answered all the points. I take the point about the seriousness of consultation and the need for resources and capacity to deal with it. The department is aware of the technical administration of legislation and we do our best, although we do not always have resources to put into the things that we would like to.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Docking of Working Dogs’ Tails (England) Regulations 2007

4.30 pm

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Rooker) rose to move, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Docking of Working Dogs’ Tails (England) Regulations 2007.

The noble Lord said: I am pleased to speak on three sets of regulations—the first relates to animal welfare—in one speech. Obviously, I will be happy to reply to separate points. The regulations are a key part of the implementation of the Animal Welfare Act 2006, the bulk of which will come into force on 6 April 2007. The Mutilations (Permitted Procedures) (England) Regulations consolidate existing legislation relating to the mutilation of animals, by which I mean the carrying out of a procedure that involves interference with sensitive tissues or the bone structure of the animal.

The Animal Welfare Act 2006—

Baroness Byford: Forgive me for seeking clarity. Will the Minister speak to all three regulations together? We assumed that they would be spoken to in the order in which they appear on the Order Paper.

Lord Rooker: No. I will make one speech covering all three regulations. I will obviously be happy to reply to them separately.

The Countess of Mar: But—

Lord Rooker: I will give way. I arrive here as a humble servant of the House. I am here only because the Committee wishes it and I will do whatever is required. But my speech groups the regulations together. We can discuss them and I will be more than happy to answer questions on each separately.

The Countess of Mar: It might help the Committee if I say that I am going to object to the Docking of Working Dogs’ Tails (England) Regulations, and it might be better if we took that one separately.

Lord Rooker: I am happy to answer them separately, but this speech is one speech. I cannot tear out a page, although I can find the relevant paragraph, which might be in the middle of a page.

7 Mar 2007 : Column GC14

The Countess of Mar: Perhaps we can have an assurance that they will be called separately at the end rather than en bloc.

Lord Rooker: Yes, without a doubt. All I am moving is that the Committee report that it has considered the Docking of Working Dogs’ Tails (England) Regulations, so we should consider that. It is one piece of legislation, but naturally I have one speech to cover all three sets of regulations, which will then be moved separately at the end when the Committee has considered them—or has not considered them, as the case may be. It so happens that my first page refers to the second set of regulations on the list, but I have moved the first one that we are considering.

The Animal Welfare Act 2006 prohibits all mutilations of animals other than for medical treatment, subject to exceptions that may be specified in the regulations. It is the latter permission that the Government are exercising here. It is commonly agreed that certain mutilations are necessary for an animal’s long-term welfare or management benefit, whether for reproduction control and identification or better management, leading to improved welfare. In addition, some forms of mutilation, for example the ear tagging of certain animals for identification purposes, are required by law—not just UK law, but European law.

The procedures that are permitted are set out in Schedule 1, with conditions attached to their use, such as the use of an anaesthetic or the maximum or minimum age at which the procedure can be performed, as set out in Schedules 2 to 9. In addition, Regulation 3 provides that the procedure must be carried out,

Those safeguards provide more generally for all kinds of cases that may arise. Regulation 4 exempts any procedure that is carried out in an emergency, to relieve pain or to save life. However, the person carrying out that procedure is still obliged to comply with the requirements in Regulation 3 as far as is reasonably possible.

In deciding which mutilation should be permitted, we have largely repeated those permitted under existing legislation. As I said, this is largely a consolidation measure. We have also consulted widely on any other procedures that should or should not be allowed. We believe that the status quo has been replicated in most cases. However, unlike present legislation in which certain procedures are banned, the new regulations also ban outdated and unacceptable practices not specifically outlawed at present. Indeed, we identified 20 practices that are not currently subject to legislation, but which are no longer generally considered justifiable on animal welfare grounds. They will no longer be permitted. They include procedures such as applying corrosive acids to the skin, de-voicing cockerels, ear-cropping dogs and drilling tortoises’ shells.

The Mutilations (Permitted Procedures) (England) Regulations are accompanied by the Welfare of Animals

7 Mar 2007 : Column GC15

(Miscellaneous Revocations) (England) Regulations 2007, which revoke current legislative provision relating to certain mutilations of farmed animals, which are now replaced by the mutilations regulations.

The Docking of Working Dogs’ Tails (England) Regulations supply the necessary mechanisms by which the principle of the limited tail docking of dogs agreed by the House of Commons last March may have effect. I am sure that Members of the Committee will remember that that issue was particularly contentious during the passage of the Bill—of course, before I joined Defra—and that the Government’s view was that it was right to let Parliament decide the issue. There was a thorough debate, and all the main parties allowed MPs a free vote in which a ban on tail docking, with exemptions for working dogs, was the preferred outcome. The docking of dogs’ tails for cosmetic purposes is therefore banned.

That exemption for working dogs agreed by Parliament allows a dog that is likely to be used for certain specified types of work to have its tail docked by a veterinary surgeon. The dog will have to be no more than five days old at the time of docking, and the veterinary surgeon will have to certify that he or she has seen evidence, specified in the regulations, that the dog is likely to work in one of the few permitted areas—law enforcement, activities of Her Majesty’s Armed Forces, emergency rescue, lawful pest control or the lawful shooting of animals. The vet’s decision whether or not to dock is discretionary. This legislation does not require a vet to dock an eligible dog’s tail. Veterinary surgeons will continue to be permitted to dock the tail of a dog at any age for the purposes of its medical treatment. To ensure that only dogs are docked that are genuinely likely to work undocked, the regulations detail how those dogs will be identified and certificated.

Regulation 3 outlines the evidence that the vet must see to certify the dog as a working dog. He must reasonably believe that the dog is no more than five days old and he must see the dam of the dog. Another piece of evidence required relates to the work that the dog is intended for, such as Armed Forces identification, emergency rescue identification, police identification, Prison Service identification or Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs identification. Evidence that the dog will be used for pest control would be provided by a shotgun or firearm certification, or by a letter from a person involved in sport shooting—this is outlined in the detail of the regulations—that the dog is likely to be used for that purpose.

In addition, Regulation 3 in Schedule 1 provides that the dog can only be of a certain type, such as a spaniel, a terrier or a hunt-point-retrieve breed. Regulation 4 outlines how a docked dog must subsequently be identified. That must be done by microchip before the dog is three months old. We expect that in most cases the docking and microchipping will be done at the same time. However, vets were concerned during the consultation that the size of the puppy at less than five days old could mean that it is not always suitable to microchip at that time. Therefore, it was felt best to leave that to the discretion of the vet and provide him or her with

7 Mar 2007 : Column GC16

the ability to microchip the dog later when it was more appropriate to do so. Microchipping is a known and effective identification tool and is already compulsory for dogs with pet passports.

Schedule 2 details the form of the certificate which the owner of the dog, or the owner’s representative and the veterinary surgeon, will both sign. We are working closely with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons to produce the certificate before the regulations come into force.

I am pleased to speak to the regulations in Committee. As I said, they are a crucial part of the implementation of the Animal Welfare Act of last year, and are a significant part of animal welfare legislation overall. I shall be more than happy to respond to the points made, and will move each statutory instrument separately in accordance with normal procedure. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Docking of Working Dogs’ Tails (England) Regulations 2007. 9thReport from the Statutory Instruments Committee.—(Lord Rooker.)

The Countess of Mar: I declare my interest as an honorary associate of both the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and the British Veterinary Association. I have been, but am not currently, an owner of working dogs. I am speaking only to the Docking of Working Dogs’ Tails (England) Regulations 2007.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page