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5 Feb 2003 : Column 409continued
Mr. Cameron: That is absolutely right. In fact, what the Government are suggesting could make matters worse, because if we have more of these passports more horses could find themselves transported in horrible conditions right the way across Europe. That is what the Government system will make possible.
The first drawback is the cost. There are estimates that the passports will cost around £20 each, or perhaps a little more. There are estimates of 850,000 horses in the UK. So even if half already have passportsand they do notthat is around £9 million of new cost.
The situation could be much worse. If every horse will need a vet's examination before the passport is issued, the cost could be as much as £100. Think of the small riding school or livery stable. They suffered from foot and mouth disease, because they could not go off the roads. They are desperately worried about the Hunting Bill, and now they have this.
Mrs. Hayes has a riding stables near Lincoln. She has 16 horses. She believes that the system could cost her £1,600. That is a lot of money for a small business. Another owner of a BHS and ABRS-approved riding centre has written to me saying that
Mr. Cameron: My hon. Friend is entirely right. There will be people who have owned horses for many years, but will not comply. As a result, it will be those horses that suffera point that I shall deal with at the end of my speech.
In conclusion, I ask the Minister to set all those drawbacks and disadvantages against the perceived benefits and ask himself whether the case is made for a compulsory system. What is the mischief? What is the problem that we are trying to overcome? In this country, there is not really a problem, because we do not eat horses, so why the extra cost? I end where I beganwith a plea about bureaucracy, regulation and this Government. My heart sank the other day when I read that the Government now have a Minister for the horseit is probably this Ministerand even an official for the horse. Indeed, I can see three of them sitting in the loose boxes. The press release announcing those appointments said:
The Minister for Rural Affairs and Urban Quality of Life (Alun Michael): I congratulate the hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) on obtaining this debate and providing the opportunity to illuminate the issue of horse passports. I cannot congratulate him quite so enthusiastically on the way in which he opened the debate; he appeared to be trying to audition for the role of pantomime dame, with a sort of childish chorus around him lead by the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames). That is the sort of jocular attempt to ridicule anything that is being done that one occasionally expects from the Europhobes on the Opposition Benches. I was particularly surprised about the criticism of the British Horse Society.
Mr. Cameron: I hope that the amount of time that I spent listening to people involved in the industry was obvious from the amount of material that I cited, and all I ask of the Ministerhe probably cannot answer all my questions nowis that he take the issue seriously, because it will affect a lot of our constituents. I did not make any jocular reference, and I hope that he will not do so. Let us just get on with the issue.
The hon. Gentleman also criticised the fact that we now have a Minister for the horse and an official for the horse. The first Minister for the horse was Lord Donoughue, who has always been passionate about the place of the horse in British society, and it was a good initiative. However, when I took over the responsibility
The hon. Gentleman sought to ridicule that initiative, but it was strongly welcomed by organisations such as the British Horse Society, the British Equine Federation and many others, because they realised that the Government are seeking to work with the industry to try to ensure that the possible contribution to British society and the rural economy is developed.
The hon. Gentleman also mentioned something that I suggest needs a lot of careful thought: he said that some of the organisations that have spoken to him have proposed using microchips, rather than the passport option. The problem is that we have to meet the requirements of the European legislation, which is very specific on the nature of the passport. There is something in the microchip option, and I have some sympathy with those in the industry who have pointed in that direction. Of course, there are parts of the industry that use that technique without its being compulsory in any way, but we have to meet the requirements.
A full consultation exercise on introducing horse passports was carried out in the summer of 2000. The main objective of the legislation is to provide assurance across Europe that horses that have been administered with medicines that have not been authorised for use in food-producing animals cannot be slaughtered for human consumption. A degree of certainty was being sought in introducing that legislation.
In deciding how to implement the measure, the Government listened to the concerns of the equine industry and acted accordingly. Full implementation of the new legislationwhereby all horses are required to have a passport, not just those entering the human food chainreceived the support of the majority of those in the equine industry, who view it not only as a safety measure to prevent horses administered with prohibited medicines from entering the food chain, but as a way of improving the breeding and welfare of horses.
The Government therefore announced on 14 February 2002 that all horses will have to have a passport to bring the UK in line with European legislation. We set an implementation date of 31 December 2003. Part of the reason for doing that was to give the industry full opportunity to plan and prepare for that implementation date. I emphasise the fact that the UK must comply with the legislation. This is a case not of regulation being imposed on the industry, but of the Government listening to the industry on how EU legislation should be implemented in this country.
The Government agreed with the industry's wishes that passports should continue to be issued by the various private sector organisations, particularly the breed societies that have been issuing horse passports for years.