That the Bill be now read a second time.
My Lords, as we all know, it is extremely difficult to get a Private Member’s Bill through another place, so I am very happy to congratulate my honourable friend for Gower, Byron Davies, on the excellent work he did in getting the Bill through all its stages in the Commons and to congratulate the Government on helping it get this far.
The purpose of the Bill is to:
“Make provision about the constitution of the Farriers Registration Council”—
which I will call the FRC—“and its committees”. The FRC is the regulatory body for the farrier profession in Great Britain. Its statutory responsibilities are provided for by the Farriers (Registration) Act 1975 and include maintaining a register of farriers, determining who is eligible for registration and regulating farriery training. Further, the FRC investigates and, where necessary, determines disciplinary cases through its statutory investigating committee and disciplinary committee—and there is the rub and the mischief that leads to the Bill.
For those who are following the Bill, I am grateful to the Government for the help they gave me in producing the Explanatory Notes, which go into some detail. I will take the House very briefly through the Bill. At the beginning, I underline that the FRC is not a trade union but a regulating body. As such, it has to have an up-to-date constitution. As we all know, our noble friend Lord Bew reported in September last year. He set out the danger of regulatory capture, where a profession exercises undue influence over a regulator. The whole point of the Bill is to ensure the good name of farriery for the future.
There are three organisations involved. There is the FRC, but there is also the Worshipful Company of Farriers, which sets professional standards and qualifications on a worldwide basis. People from all over the world use its standards. The British Farriers and Blacksmiths Association is the trade association. They all work in harmony for the benefit of the profession, by and large. Inevitably, there are some tensions—but that is good for a regulatory body as it keeps it up to the mark.
The Bill has three clauses. The first introduces the schedule and the second gives power to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to make further changes to the constitution of the council and its committees through regulations. That is a significant change. At the moment, everything has to be done by primary legislation, which is why we have the Bill before us today. The third clause gives the extent, commencement and short title of the Bill. The Bill extends to England, Wales and Scotland.
The schedule is also in three parts. The first part relates to the constitution of the FRC, and the number remains at 16. What is new is that in future the appointment of a member of the council will be for a term of four years, and somebody can serve for only two terms. That is a step forward, bringing the legislation into line with other regulatory bodies. Parts 2 and 3 of the schedule deal with the constitution of the investigating committee and the disciplinary committee. This is where we get the separation of powers from where the regulatory body, the FRC, to date has been judge and jury in its own case to where you now have the regulatory body and then separate investigatory and disciplinary bodies. That is normal procedure. It is for the benefit of not only the profession but of everybody who owns a horse, and for public confidence in the profession.
To return to the constitution, it is worth pointing out that the council will consist of three persons appointed by the Worshipful Company of Farriers, one of whom must now be a farrier—and there are lots of farriers within the worshipful company; four practising farriers, an appointment made in accordance with the scheme made by the council; two registered persons appointed by the National Association of Farriers, Blacksmiths and Agricultural Engineers; two veterinary surgeons appointed by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons; and one lay person from each of five outside bodies. I put it to your Lordships that this is hugely important because it includes bodies such as the British Horseracing Authority and the British Equestrian Federation, which are looking at the health of horses as a whole.
I ask noble Lords to give the Bill a Second Reading. This is an important, almost unique opportunity, given what is before us in the next two Sessions of Parliament, for us to get the Bill on to the statute book. I commend the Bill and I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for bringing the Bill forward. I am afraid I must take a bit of the responsibility for it being in front of noble Lords in the first place. A while ago, one of the elected farriers on the existing board came to me and said that there were problems. I will not go into details because I do not think it would add anything to the process, but my advice was, “Go and talk to your MP”. He and the other elected farriers on the board—then there were four, as there will be now, but slightly different criteria were used from those in the Bill—went and spoke to their MPs. After a great deal of churn, we have ended up with a new Bill, and I must thank Byron Davies for getting it through the House of Commons. When we initially spoke about this I did not think that would happen, so congratulations to all those involved in piloting the Bill through.
The problems were basically explained to me as being cultural—there had been a breakdown. The solutions that the elected farriers wanted were not exactly those in the Bill, but I appreciate that this is better. Even they would say that half a loaf is a hell of a lot better than no bread, so I hope we get the Bill through. As the noble Earl has pointed out, this will probably be the last opportunity to do so.
I have a few questions for the Minister, and indeed the noble Earl if he cares to chip in. Could we get a working definition in the Bill of what a working farrier actually is? Some of the problems stemmed from the fact that it was felt that some of the committees did not understand the realities of being a farrier—that is, a person who travels around the country, usually in a small vehicle, having to deal with half a tonne of horseflesh that may not be that co-operative. Indeed, it has been said that farriers usually have a girlfriend or boyfriend who is a nurse because frequently that is how they meet. It is a hard, dirty, physical job, and having people who understand that would help. I make it at least five farriers on the council specified in the Bill. If the noble Earl or the Minister could give a definition of what exactly the word means, that would help.
The process of appointing the chair has changed, and a description of how that has changed would help to clarify what has gone on here. The noble Earl has remarked on the capacity to change this much more easily, if something goes wrong, as we are using statutory instruments. I think that would be a last resort, as he has said, but it would mean that things could actually be changed that much more quickly in future.
If we get these clarifications in place, we should do everything we can to ensure that the Bill gets through because it will make the situation better. With that, I wish the Bill godspeed, and hope that we do not actually have to take up too much time getting it through.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, for tabling the Bill, and for so ably taking the baton from his colleague, Byron Davies, who sponsored the Bill in the Commons. I now realise I should also be thankful to the noble Lord, Lord Addington, for his initiative, which led to the Bill in the first place. I think we will discover during the debate that that initiative was well worthwhile.
I make it clear at the outset that we intend to support the Bill without amendment and we very much hope that it can clear the remaining hurdles to become law, although I had some sympathy with the points that the noble Lord was raising, particularly about the definition of a farrier. I certainly had to look up that term before I came into this debate in order to understand completely what it meant. However, I do not want to encourage anything that might mean the Bill does not become law, so I do not know what the logistics of that would be. I am sure the Minister will explain all.
As the noble Earl rightly recognised, regulation in many professional services and welfare sectors has moved on since the introduction of the original Act in 1975. I have personal knowledge of the standards now expected in the regulated sectors, because I sat for many years as a doctors’ fitness to practise panellist, as well as chairing part of the regulatory oversight for the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. Those regulated areas have moved on and are constantly reconsidering and improving their standards of oversight, and it is right that we should do so in this area.
I recognise the importance of modernising the regulation of farriers to ensure that the public can have continued confidence in the quality of the service being provided and have recourse to an independent judgment when things go wrong. That is why we support the proposal to separate the powers of the farriers’ registration committee from those of the investigating committee and the disciplinary committee. It is now common practice in regulatory bodies that those who set the standards are different from those who adjudicate on them, so the changes come into line with good practice elsewhere.
We also support the changed membership of the Farriers Registration Council to increase the number of practising farriers, along with two veterinary surgeons, as well as broadening the involvement of the organisations which have already been mentioned. This should indeed help to strengthen the council’s knowledge of up-to-date, professional, technical and training issues, so that it is better able to set achievable standards and deliver them. We also support the time limits on office and the arrangements for the election of the chair. Again, all these seem to coincide with good practice elsewhere.
These proposals are a sensible balance between the majority of working farriers and those involved in the Worshipful Company of Farriers. Both have a role to play, but our ultimate aim has to be to provide a modern and professional regulator that commands public confidence and operates transparently. The Bill achieves that aim and we are very happy to support it.
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.
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. It is with sadness that I have to say that my noble friend Lord Shrewsbury, who had his name down to speak, and would have been a great asset to our debate given his knowledge of the horse industry, clearly spread a plate before coming under starter’s orders. But I know that he fully supports the Bill as it stands.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Addington, but I think he painted a gloomy picture of the real situation. I thought it was a little negative. If we go back to the consultation exercise and look at the question on the mix of registered farriers to lay persons, 67% of the respondents thought that the current mix was right. On another question, 67% of respondents thought that the chairman should continue to be appointed by the WCF. The Government agreed that initially and said that the status quo must remain, but they have moved significantly. I think that they are probably right to have done so; they have shown a willingness to listen.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, for supporting the Bill. It is quite right that such a Bill should go out of this House with unanimous support, as a message to all. To my noble friend the Minister, I thank him for his support and time. He was absolutely right to say no foot, no horse—and don’t I know how difficult it is to get shod when one has poor feet. I can at least say that my feet hurt, but the poor horse cannot. Therefore, we rely very much on the skills of the farriers, to which the noble Lord, Lord Addington, drew our attention.
This Bill does not need any more rasping. I believe that we can clinch it and get it well shod. I wish all noble Lords a very happy Easter and thank the Government for making time for this Bill. I beg to move.
Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.
House adjourned at 4.01 pm.