All 1 Lord Gardiner of Kimble contributions to the Farriers (Registration) Act 2017

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Thu 6th Apr 2017
Farriers (Registration) Bill
Lords Chamber

2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords

Farriers (Registration) Bill

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Excerpts
2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords
Thursday 6th April 2017

(7 years, 3 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Farriers (Registration) Act 2017 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Gardiner of Kimble) (Con)
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My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend Lord Caithness for introducing the Bill, speaking so powerfully as to its merits and giving us some of the background to this matter. I also acknowledge my honourable friend Byron Davies for his piloting of the Bill through the other place.

As noble Lords will know, farriery has been and is central to the well-being of the horse. Indeed, I was brought up with the expression, “No foot, no horse”, which succinctly captures for me how important the skill of the farrier is. Farriery deserves sensible and proportionate regulation, and the Bill proposes precisely that.

The proposals have been worked on since 2013. A project team was set up with officials from Defra, the Scottish and Welsh Governments and a working party of members of the Farriers Registration Council and staff. A consultation was jointly held by Defra with the Scottish and Welsh Governments in late 2013, which addressed all the major elements of the proposals. The legislation would extend to England, Wales and Scotland.

The purpose of the Bill is to protect and maintain the public interest and to protect the welfare of equines, by modernising the governance, structure and operation of the Farriers Registration Council and its statutory committees. This will enable the FRC to overcome practical difficulties caused by out-of-date legislation, reduce the risk of legal challenge and modernise the FRC’s structure and operations in line with the Government’s principles of better regulation and the practices of other regulators. Its most crucial aspect is the need to introduce full separation of powers between the council and its investigating and disciplinary committees. I was most grateful for what the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, said about the importance of such arrangements.

The investigating committee is set up to carry out the preliminary investigation of cases or complaints against farriers that could amount to professional misconduct. If the investigating committee deems this to be the case, it is sent to the disciplinary committee. The disciplinary committee determines whether the charges made are proven, and can where appropriate apply sanctions—in the most serious cases, up to and including the removal of a person from the register of farriers, meaning that the person would no longer legally be able to practise farriery. The function of these committees is vital to the regulation of the farriery profession, and the Bill makes changes to modernise the law and ensure that it is fit and proper for regulation in the 21st century. In particular, as my noble friend Lord Caithness said, it imposes a full separation of powers.

As the law currently stands, the investigating committee and the disciplinary committee are made up of members of the council. This does not fulfil the principle of separation of powers and the removal of possible bias. Currently, the same body which sets the standards for the profession is responsible for investigation of and adjudication on possible breaches of those standards. That is very important, as the decisions of the investigating committee or the disciplinary committee may be subject to legal challenge by those whose cases are being determined on the basis that they did not have the right to a fair trial. Equally, members of the public may view the lack of impartiality as farriers looking after their own.

Consequently, it is vital that changes are made to bring the law up to date, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, rightly inferred. The Bill proposes that members of the investigating committee and disciplinary committee must be persons who are not members of the council; nor may they be an “officer or servant” of the council—that is, paid staff of the FRC. The provision is retained that a person on the disciplinary committee cannot sit on a case if they served time on the investigation committee in respect of the same case. This ensures that full separation of powers is met and that the investigation and disciplinary committees meet the requirements of a modern regulator.

I will address some of the issues that have been raised, including the number of farriers who sit on the council. The council is made up of 16 members. Currently six of those members are practising farriers, and the Worshipful Company of Farriers appoints three more members, who may or may not be practising farriers. The remainder of the council is made up of two veterinary surgeons and five lay representatives appointed by various interested bodies, as set out in the schedule to the Bill.

Following consultation with the farriery profession regarding representation of practising farriers on the council, the Government have responded to the concerns of the farriers, and the Bill proposes that at least one of the members of the FRC who is appointed by the worshipful company must be a currently practising farrier. This brings the constitution of the council to a minimum of seven currently practising farriers out of 16 members. In response to the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, I emphasise that, as set out in Part 1 of the schedule,

“‘practising farrier’ means a registered person who carries out farriery”;

that is, is actively and currently engaged in the profession. The Government have also decided, following a consultation process, that the chair of the council is to be elected from among the members of the FRC, rather than appointed directly by the Worshipful Company of Farriers, as is the case currently. The noble Lord, Lord Addington, also raised this.

I stress that it is vital that as a regulatory body the FRC should reflect a balance of interests rather than bloc voting, and must also avoid the risk of regulatory capture by the profession it is regulating. It is also government policy that the split between farriers and non-farriers should be approximate rather than specified exactly in statute, and managed by the FRC itself according to the needs and skills requirements of the council at any particular time. I believe that the proposals allow for this flexibility, and for fair representation of the farriery profession on the FRC without risking regulatory capture. I also believe that it would not be in the interests of farriers if there were not a fair representation of third parties on the council to assist them in the regulatory environment of their profession.

Also in response to the noble Lord, Lord Addington, I say that the Government consider that should the FRC require future administrative amendments to its structure or that of its committees in order to continue to function properly and effectively as a modern regulator, such changes should be able to be made more swiftly than currently; that is, without the need for primary legislation. The use of secondary legislation to secure any further changes would clearly need to be on the basis of maintaining the public interest. This would be in keeping with other regulatory environments. For instance, a similar power exists in paragraph 24(1) of Schedule 1 to the Architects Act 1997, under which the Secretary of State may make an order to amend the provisions of that Act. The proposed power in the Bill includes provision for the Secretary of State to consult fully and, additionally, obtain the consent of Scottish and Welsh Ministers, given that farriery is a devolved matter.

The Government have consulted fully on the proposals, and the nature of the responses suggests widespread support for the Bill. Indeed, it is very much the prevailing view that there is an urgent need for the modernisation and reform that the Bill proposes, and it is vital for the profession that the Bill is passed.

I endorse the importance of the profession of farriery in terms of equine welfare and the need to ensure that the highest professional standards are maintained. The Bill provides a modern regulatory environment for a profession on which all horse owners rely. Again, I thank my noble friend Lord Caithness for introducing it and I, too, wish it a safe passage.