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5 Feb 2003 : Column 413continued
Alun Michael: I am grateful, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The advent of passports for all horses will create a level playing field, because all horses, not just pedigrees as at present, will have to have a passport. That will remove the perceived discrimination against registering pedigree horses. The loss of important blood lines will be threatened if those horses are not registered.
Alun Michael: No. With regard to the cost of a passport, 56 organisations and associations are approved to issue horse passports, which are valid for the lifetime of the horse. With all horses requiring a passport, we believe that the average cost will come down to between £20 and £30. However, we understand that some organisations or associations may offer an even lower price for passports for horses owned by riding schools and charities.
The legislation will be enforced, as is normal for animal health legislation, by the local authorities. Passports will be required before a horse is sold, which will also help enforcement of the measure. For horses going to be slaughtered for human and pet consumption, enforcement at the slaughterhouse will be the responsibility of the Food Standards Agency. I am pleased that a large part of the equine industry supports the need for a passport for all equines.
In addition, since the announcement on 14 February last year, we have continued to listen to the concerns of particular sections of the industry, such as areas with semi-feral breeds, such as Dartmoor and the New Forest. I have met representatives of those concerned with the situation, and I am considering the case for special rules to apply in such areas. The issue is not simple and straightforward, which is why I have met people personally and ensured that there are meetings with my officials in order for their concerns to be taken on board.
I am aware that, more recently, concern has been raised about how the introduction of passports will impact on abattoirs that slaughter horses for human and pet consumption. We are considering whether and how it might be possible to minimise that impact. That is a serious point. We hope to send the draft legislation out to the industry for comment very shortly.
The database is a unique example of collaboration between the equine industry and the Government. The database will help the Government, because, for the first time, there will be information on the location of horses that could be crucial in a horse disease outbreak. That would provide more knowledge of the size of the horse population in the country
Alun Michael: No, I did not say any such thing. I said that the information made available though the passport system would be fed into a database, which would be of advantage both to the horse industry and in the event of horse diseases becoming a problem in this country. The hon. Gentleman should be aware that frequently diseases and problems that have not been anticipated arise in fairly short order.
Alun Michael: The horse industry sought certainty about what would happen and within what time scale. We provided both certainty and a generous time scaleinformation on the way in which implementation of the European directive would be pursued has been available for more than a yearso that the industry would know where it stood and could make plans and organise. That is true of the passport-issuing authorities, of which there are more than 50, which provide the service for their memberships and for wider horse ownership. Some have been examining the potential impact on organisations and horse owners that have not until now been tied into one of the existing passport systems. As I said, the database is not a part of the implementation of the passport schemeit is a bonus. In parallel to implementation, we are trying to work with the industry to achieve a measure that is of benefit to the industry.
Conservative Members do not appreciate it, but it is a fact that Ministers get up each day and try to make the lives of our constituents better and to work with industries, such as, in this case, the horse industry[Interruption.] I appreciate that the hon. Member for North Wiltshire, who keeps