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How did the Act on Welfare and Management of Animals Come About?

ALIVE News, May 2011

Fusako Nogami

The Act on Welfare and Management of Animals introduced as a lawmaker-initiated bill and enacted by the Diet in 1973 and subsequently revised by the Diet in 1999 and 2005. In both the 1995 and 2005 revisions there is a stipulation that the act will be reviewed every 5 years. I would like now to give you a very simple explanation about how the act will be revised.

  • What is a “lawmaker-initiated bill”?

In Japan, legislation can be initiated in the form of “cabinet-sponsored bills” or “lawmaker-initiated bills”. Before a bill can be introduced in the House of Representatives, it requires the support of at least 20 Members of the House of Representatives (and if the bill requires budgetary action, it must be supported by at least 50 Members). Similarly, before a bill can be introduced in the House of Councillors, it needs the support of at least 10 members of House of Councillors (and if the bill requires budgetary action, it must be supported by at least 20 Members). (Article 56, Diet Act) Lawmaker-initiated bills are often planned in order to directly reflect public opinion. Moreover, when the legislative process moves too slowly due to the bureaucratic way of doing business, political initiatives are sometimes employed.

In order for the political parties to review the concept and content of a law, a project or working team needs to be formed. The team members collect opinions and information from experts and people who are knowledgeable about the areas in question. The parties review the collected information and the work with related governmental bodies to firm up their plans for the proposed legislation.

A lawmaker-initiated bill requires unanimous approval at the debate committee stage, therefore it needs to be coordinated, pre-arranged and adjusted with the members of different parties. Finally, if and when an all-party agreement is reached, the bill will be enacted.

Laws are enacted by the efforts of Diet Members who have been elected by the citizens, so it is understood and believed that public opinion is directly reflected in new legislation. Accordingly, the process of the lawmaking is not open to public. In addition, pre-arrangements and adjustments are routinely carried out between the governing and opposition parties, so debates about the law do not usually take place in the Diet. Lawmaker-initiated bills are considered to be a good thing because they tend to reflect public opinion rapidly, however, the transparency of the law-making process is opaque.
Lawmaker-initiated bills comprise less than 10% of the bills in Japan. (By contrast, in the United States, most of the bills are lawmaker-initiated bills.)

  • What is a “Cabinet-sponsored bill”?

In Japan, most plans for new legislation are introduced by the Cabinet. They are debated in the Diet and then the decisions are made by the majority rule. Under the Japanese parliamentary system of government, the Cabinet is formed by members of the party or coalition that captures a majority of the seats in a general election. Accordingly, government-planned legislation is also enacted by majority vote in the Diet.

The opposition parties usually review and check the potential problems with prospective legislation and ask questions about it in Diet debates. The debates are recorded in the minutes in order to preserve and secure the transparency of the discussion. However, when a law is established during a session, the results of debates are not reflected in the new law and the decision as to whether to enact it is made by a simple majority vote.

If the deliberations become complicated to the extent that the bill cannot be passed while the Diet in session, the bill will be dropped. A dropped bill is sometimes revised and resubmitted for the next Diet session.
The consistency of lawmaker-initiated bills is rigorously examined by the Cabinet Legislation Bureau. This examination process is exhaustive and lengthy. When bills are drafted, any outstanding expressions or sections are eliminated, and so the laws tend to be conventional. The drafting of legislation introduced by Diet Members is performed by the Legislation Bureau of the House of Representatives or of the House of Councilors.

  • Advisory Committee and Councils

In the process of lawmaking for Cabinet-sponsored legislation, the individual bills are drafted by the ministries that have jurisdiction over each concerned area. A ministry draws up the first draft of a legislative bill once it has decided either to enact a new law or to amend or abolish an existing law in order to achieve a policy goal it has set in the course of performing its administrative duties. A committee is usually formed composed of experts, scholars or organizations in the concerned area and they make suggestions to the ministry in charge of the bill in question.

The contents of bills should reflect the public’s voice. However, the ministry that introduces a new bill usually assigns the committee members, so they tend to favor the ministry’s intentions. Sometimes the committee members are not familiar with the concerned issues, which makes one wonder how the decisions of appointment are made. In recent years, committee members have also been selected from among the general public.

Please check the following link (in Japanese) to find out how the committee members for the Veterinary Affairs Council were selected.

“Those who are interested in applying to become committee members, please chose one topic from the list below and send us your opinions and suggestions concerning the topic. Please send the following information to the address below. Make sure to include your name, address, date of birth, gender, employment history and telephone number with an ID photo and resume.” The committees are usually open to the public and the minutes are also made public. However, in some cases certain sessions are not open and the minutes are only partially available. In case that a committee cannot handle specific issues, a sub-committee or a working group will be formed.

  • Examination Committees

The Animal Welfare Working Group of the Central Environmental Council was held in June 2011. In the reading materials of the meeting, the following is stated.
“Review of Act on Welfare and Management of Animals”, June 16, 2010.

1. Background
(1) The Act on Welfare and Management of Animals was enacted in 1973. It was a lawmaker-initiated bill and it has subsequently been revised twice, in 1999 and in 2005.
(2) In the 2005 revision, “the government will review the act every 5 years after the enactment. If necessary, appropriate measures will be applied” (Article 9.) According to this, FY2011 is the 5th year since the last revision came into force in June 2006. The situation is currently under review, and if it is deemed necessary, a revised bill will be submitted to the Diet in 2012.

2. Future schedule
There are a large number of issues that need to be addressed. The Animal Welfare Working Group of the Central Environmental Council formed a subcommittee to discuss the issues in detail in August 2010. The present revision focuses on issues that many animal protection organizations have worked on. This shows that the revisions are intended to reflect public opinion. In the discussions concerning the revision of the Wildlife Protection and Proper Hunting Law, the committee consisted principally of scholars, organizations advocating hunting, and farmers who had suffered animal-related crop damage, so for the most part public opinion was not reflected.

  • Public comments

Diet Members who are elected by the people of the country make laws. However, the enforcement of these laws and the implementation of law enforcement rules are decided by the various administrative bodies. This process does not involve the Diet so public comments are collected in order to reflect public opinion into laws as well as from the standpoint of democracy.

However, in most cases, public comments are not collected after governmental and ministerial ordinances have been established, so the collected comments are mainly a means for lawmakers to “hear” the voice of the nation; they will not necessarily be reflected in the lawmaking process.

On the other hand, in order to reflect public opinion, after the public comments are collected a series of meetings are held until an agreement is reached. This effort is made in an attempt to take account of public opinion as much as possible when enacting the law.

Citizens groups often act as if the quantity of comments was more important than their contents. So on occasion, many people sometimes send letters that contain the same content. Actually, the same content will tend to be counted as a single opinion, so the quantity should not be the first priority.
In Japan, the public comment system was established in June 2005. It is still a new system but in terms of involving the public in lawmaking, it represents a highly significant advance.


For more information about the Public Comment System: