Previous SectionIndexHome Page

5 Feb 2003 : Column 413—continued

Mr. Gray: Absolutely scandalous.

Alun Michael: It would be helpful if the hon. Gentleman, who is occupying the Opposition Front

5 Feb 2003 : Column 414

Bench, listened to what is being said instead of muttering in the way that he does. He has already intervened with a declaration of interest—

Mr. Gray rose—

Alun Michael: No. This is Back Benchers' time and I am responding to a debate introduced by a Back Bencher.

Mr. Gray: Nonsense.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Order. We should conduct the debate in a slightly more civilised way.

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.

Mr. Soames: Will the Minister give way?

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.

I am pleased that the Government are working with the industry to consider the BEF's proposals for a central horse database to be established on information

5 Feb 2003 : Column 415

supplied by the passport-issuing societies. The industry is very much in favour of that, and I met representatives personally to explore those possibilities at an early stage in introducing the legislation.

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—

Mr. Soames: Will the Minister give way on that point?

Alun Michael: I am not sure of the normal conventions of an Adjournment debate, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I thought that I was responding to the hon. Member for Witney, who introduced the debate.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: For the Minister's clarity, may I say that it is entirely up to him to decide whether to give way to interventions, in the normal way.

Alun Michael: I am grateful to you for that clarification, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In view of that, I give way to the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex.

Mr. Soames: Will the Minister tell me what horse disease he has in mind that could possibly require the issuing of passports to every horse and pony in the land?

Alun Michael: I said no such thing.

Mr. Soames: Yes you did.

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.

Mr. Cameron: Given that there are clearly unanswered questions—the Minister cannot answer the question about what disease might arise—and given that I have made clear the number of bodies that are

5 Feb 2003 : Column 416

unhappy with the decision and do not feel that they were listened to, would it not be a good idea if the Select Committee were to consider the matter, to call some evidence and to have another go at examining the issue, before we produce an enormous bureaucracy that affects so many people in the country? I ask the Minister to think about it before coming back so quickly.

Alun Michael: The horse industry sought certainty about what would happen and within what time scale. We provided both certainty and a generous time scale—information on the way in which implementation of the European directive would be pursued has been available for more than a year—so 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 scheme—it 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—

The motion having been made after Seven o'clock, and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. Deputy Speaker adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at seventeen minutes to Nine o'clock.

4 February 2003: in col 238, under heading "HOUSE OF LORDS REFORM (NO. 5)", text should read:

Motion made,

Question put and negatived.

 IndexHome Page