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Public Bill Committee Debates

Farriers’ Qualifications (European Recognition) Regulations 2008

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Mr. Eric Illsley
Benyon, Mr. Richard (Newbury) (Con)
Brown, Mr. Russell (Dumfries and Galloway) (Lab)
Dobson, Frank (Holborn and St. Pancras) (Lab)
Gardiner, Barry (Brent, North) (Lab)
Gray, Mr. James (North Wiltshire) (Con)
Griffith, Nia (Llanelli) (Lab)
Jackson, Glenda (Hampstead and Highgate) (Lab)
Keen, Alan (Feltham and Heston) (Lab/Co-op)
Linton, Martin (Battersea) (Lab)
McDonagh, Siobhain (Mitcham and Morden) (Lab)
Paice, Mr. James (South-East Cambridgeshire) (Con)
Redwood, Mr. John (Wokingham) (Con)
Shaw, Jonathan (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)
Shepherd, Mr. Richard (Aldridge-Brownhills) (Con)
Webb, Steve (Northavon) (LD)
Williams, Mr. Roger (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD)
Chris Shaw, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee

Sixth Delegated Legislation Committee

Thursday 12 June 2008

[Mr. Eric Illsley in the Chair]

Farriers’ Qualifications (European Recognition) Regulations 2008

8.55 am
Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire) (Con): I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the Farriers’ Qualifications (European Recognition) Regulations 2008 (S.I. 2008, No. 646).
I am pleased to serve under your chairmanship again, Mr. Illsley. The issue raised by the regulations is far more important than perhaps the Government recognise. When the regulations were debated last week in the other place, Lord Rooker made the point at the outset of his remarks that they had been in force since 19 October 2007. That the Government brought in the regulations without any reference to this House is not something of which they should be proud, so we sought, by the usual process of a prayer, the debate that is now taking place but which is long overdue. We wanted the debate because the Government have not taken fully on board the potential impact of the regulations on animal welfare and even human safety.
I shall start by reminding the Minister and the rest of the Committee of the significance of the regulations to horses. Representing a constituency that surrounds Newmarket, I obviously have a particular constituency interest in the racing industry, of which farriery is a huge part. In my area, 7,000 jobs depend on the racing sector. I do not pretend that a large number of the people who hold those jobs are farriers, but farriers are an integral part of preparing a horse for racing. Of course, thousands of horses throughout the country are kept for other pursuits—hacking out, riding, use by riding schools and many other equestrian activities—
Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con): Hunting.
Mr. Paice: And hunting, within the law of course. All those activities require competent and professional farriery. There are estimated to be approaching 1.4 million horses in this country. I hope that even those who have never been near a horse will appreciate that if a horse’s feet are not right, the horse is useless. I emphasise that farriery is not just a case of nailing a piece of metal to a horse’s hoof. A significant degree of veterinary skills is involved in managing a horse’s hoof, keeping it in good order and cleaning it, and the horse’s hoof contains some of the most sensitive parts of the animal. The frog, in the middle of the hoof, is an extraordinarily sensitive part of the anatomy. If that is in any way damaged, the horse can become temporarily or, quite easily, permanently lame, and a lame horse is pretty useless.
Obviously, it is an animal welfare issue if a horse is caused to become lame. There is a significant economic loss because the owner cannot use the horse for whatever purpose was intended. As I have described, many horses are kept for economic purposes. However, there is also a human safety issue, because if the animal is lame or it has been badly shoed or the foot badly trimmed with the result that the horse could suddenly become lame, there is a serious risk of the rider being thrown off the horse or, if the horse is on a road, of it causing an accident, because a sudden wince of pain in a horse will cause it to do various things that might not be expected of it. There is, therefore, a serious issue of health and safety.
I shall explain the nub of the problem that has given rise to the debate. It goes way back to the time when the relevant list of professions was devised by the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills—I think that it was called something else at the time. It devised a list of activities under the European regulation that involved public health and safety. That list of professions, which included obvious things such as doctor and dentist—I shall come back to some of the others—was to be treated totally differently in respect of temporary workers from elsewhere in Europe and particularly in respect of the need for recognition of qualifications. One cannot come into this country to practise as a vet, for example, without a qualification that is mutually recognised across Europe.
Mr. Gray: My hon. Friend makes an important point about who is and who is not qualified. Is he aware that veterinary nurses, many of whom are extremely well qualified, senior people, but, none the less, not quite as central to a horse’s well-being as a farrier, have to be qualified whereas farriers do not? Is not that difference between the two strange?
Mr. Paice: I was about to come to that point. My hon. Friend is right: veterinary nurses are included in the list of activities and professions involving public health and safety. What is even more important is that when the draft list was produced by the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, it included farriers. I understand that they were removed on the instructions of DEFRA officials. Frankly, if that is true, I want to know who was responsible—the House deserves to know. Those officials had probably never been near a horse, or they could not possibly have taken the view that removing farriery somehow did not involve public health and safety.
The failure to leave farriery on the list of occupations is the nub of the problem, because it prevents the Farriers Registration Council from making any checks on the competence of people coming into this country to practise under the temporary provisions arrangements. That is what we are trying to correct by having this debate.
The principal issue is that apparently somebody can come into this country on the basis of two years’ experience, but there is no way of checking that two years. We have to remember that more than half the countries in Europe do not have any form of farriery registration system, so there is no mechanism to check whether somebody from one of the other countries actually has any qualification. They are probably coming from a country that does not have such qualifications, or certainly no registration of them, and therefore all that can be done when they come in and say that they want to work under the temporary provisions is, basically, to decide whether they are telling the truth.
Barry Gardiner (Brent, North) (Lab): I have listened to the argument that the hon. Gentleman has constructed, particularly around public safety. Given the number of working horses elsewhere in Europe, has he any evidence that horses that have been shod by the farriers whom he is afraid might come into the UK and begin to practise here have caused a higher incidence of accidents such as the ones that he spoke about? That would give some evidence basis for the policy that he proposes.
Mr. Paice: I am astonished to hear that from the hon. Gentleman. I believe he was Minister for the horse at one stage, in which case he would have known full well that the standards of equestrianism and horse management and care in many parts of the EU, particularly among newer members—the former Soviet countries in eastern Europe—are abysmal. There are major welfare problems with horses, donkeys and mules, which are regularly used as part of the transport and agriculture systems in some of those much poorer countries. He has only to discuss the matter with any of the horse welfare organisations and he will get chapter and verse.
No, I cannot stand here and say that there have been X cases, as they have probably never been recorded. We do not have records of the problems of animal welfare and horse welfare in particular, which are so legion in some of those countries. I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman is not fully aware of that. The fact is that this country has some of the highest standards of farriery in the world. I do not want our standards to be diluted by the advent of people without those standards and competences.
It may be a perfectly reasonable argument—the hon. Gentleman is not advancing it, but it has been advanced—to suggest that if farriers come here and do not do a very good job, no one will employ them. Yes, but it will not be discovered that they are not doing a good job until it happens, by which time some horses may have been permanently damaged. I am very opposed to the idea that we should find out whether someone is competent by whether they damage a horse. That is an extremely ill-judged approach.
I want our very high standards to be maintained. It is not right that someone should be able to come and practise in this country by saying that they have been carrying on a business for two years. I refer again to the remarks of Lord Rooker in the other place that
“the test is that of supplying the necessary information, not a practical test. It requires documents: evidence from the member state and details from the competent authority.”
That will apply only to countries that have a competent authority, because he went on:
“Where there is no competent authority, they have to provide the documents to show that they have legally been carrying out a business”.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 3 June 2008; Vol. 702, c. 142.]
It is easy for someone to provide documents to prove that they have been carrying out a business. That does not mean that they have been an effective, good and competent farrier. The Minister’s comment underlines the shambles that we have in the proposal.
Mr. Gray: My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point about Lord Rooker’s remarks in the other place. I think I remember correctly that he went on to say that temporary farriers in the UK will be allowed to practise for one year on the basis of two years’ experience—unqualified—in the European Union; so a junior farrier who practises in his own business in Poland can come here, demonstrate that he has a business of some kind and, on the basis of that piece of paper, with no other qualification, purport to shoe horses in this country. Is not that a disgrace?
Mr. Paice: That is the great concern that we have. As my hon. Friend has raised the issue of the relevant periods of time, perhaps I may refer to two other issues that were debated in the other place. I do not want to prejudge what the Minister may say today, but he may raise those again.
First, in this country, someone must undertake a total of four years of training and competence testing before they can be registered as a farrier with the Farriers Registration Council. That is a significant period of apprenticeship and qualification, which ensures that the high standards to which I referred are maintained. Lord Rooker referred in the other place to the fact that some 400 people in this country are registered as farriers and hold no qualifications. He is right; but that is only half the story.
When the system was introduced, it was deemed right—the same has happened with many other activities—that what are known as grandfather rights should be retained, meaning that recognition was given to someone who had been practising for a long period, and they could continue to do so, on the basis that their experience should be sufficient. Some of us will be old enough to remember grandfather rights being accorded when special training was first required for HGV drivers; there is nothing novel about it. However, the whole idea of grandfather rights is that they gradually become extinguished, as the people get older and cease to practise the activity in question. Therefore, the 400 farriers who are operating without qualifications are a diminishing number.
Now, as part of the regulations—this is another great concern—the six years is being enshrined in European legislation, so that in future the concept of grandfather rights will not die away and wither on the vine. Anyone will be able to say, after six years of working, that they should be entitled to registration. It is a slightly separate issue, but it is part and parcel of the proposals overall. That is wholly wrong.
We are faced with a situation in which someone will be able to come to this country, including from countries that have no registration systems, and say that they have two years’ experience; and there will be very little that anyone can do about it. As I said earlier, because the Government decided, one way or another, not to include farriery on the list of occupations involving public health and safety, there is no mechanism for checking their competence. That is the gist of my argument against the regulations.
The Government ought to address that fundamental issue, because it is not right to expect others to carry the cost, particularly when those people will be in competition with them. The whole purpose of them coming to this country is to practise their skills in competition with our domestic skills base—there is nothing wrong with that in itself, but at least the competition should be slightly fairer in terms of the necessary fees and charges.
However, the most important things about that competition are competence, qualification and skills, which are the real reasons for this debate. Even at this very late stage, we are trying to make the Government recognise that they are putting horses at risk and, through that, the public, riders and others associated with horses. It all goes back to the decision taken by, I am told, DEFRA officials to remove farriery from the list of occupations involved in public health and safety. That was a serious mistake and I hope that the Minister, even at this late stage, will recognise it.
9.13 am
Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Illsley. I would like to put on the record my congratulations to my noble Friend, Lord Addington, who picked up on the fact that these regulations had been signed off in DEFRA after little or no consideration by those in another place and in this House.
As the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire pointed out, in this country, farriery is an important service in the horse industry, which in turn is important economically and recreationally. Horses are sometimes kept by people with great knowledge and understanding of equine matters and the health requirements of horses. Sometimes, however, they are kept by families who might not have the expertise and professional knowledge that people keeping horses for economic reasons might have—even though they might care for their animals very deeply, and obviously be very fond of them and invest much time and money in keeping them. They will rely, therefore, on professionals, such as vets and farriers, in order to keep their animals in good health. That is one of the reasons why we are concerned that those in the profession have the highest standards and the necessary qualifications so that people who employ them can be confident that they are receiving best service and advice.
The other day, I was interested to see that a retired police man up the road from my home has started to keep Shetland ponies. They are not often shod, but a farrier was looking at the ponies with him. He told me that the ponies have their hooves trimmed four times a year to ensure that their feet remain well and that they do not suffer discomfort. The work of a farrier does not only involve shooing of horses, but giving advice and tending the hooves. In fact, a lot of difficulty arises because people do not understand that their ponies can suffer from laminitis when they have access to too much grass. Farriers can certainly advise on such matters and ensure that hooves are kept in such a condition so that laminitis is limited or does not happen.
We are worried that people coming into the country can, after producing written evidence, take up the profession of farriery. It is so important that horse owners are assured that the services that they pay for are of a high standard. Most farriers are self-employed and are therefore responsible only to themselves and their clients. In my part of the world, there are very few large practices. As in the case of GPs, when people are in a single-person practice, there is no one to keep an eye on what is happening in respect of the broader circle of service. It is an added danger that someone coming into the country will not join a practice of farriers and be subject to supervision and surveillance as they become established, but is likely to set himself up as a self-employed farrier with little supervision.
The hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire made the good point about farriery being excluded from the list of professions that are subject to public health and safety regulations. Such controls are obviously important for animal welfare, as they are for human safety. During shoeing and any treatment that horses receive, the way in which the horses are handled is important. Given his training and expertise, the farrier has the greatest responsibility for such matters. A horse is greatly dependent on how it is shod and the condition of its hooves. Its behaviour can suffer adversely if those services have not been delivered in a proper and professional manner.
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