Farriers’ Qualifications (European Recognition) Regulations 2008

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Mr. Paice: All I was doing was referring to what his noble Friend had said. On 3 June, he said:
“No one has mentioned it but it is worth putting on record that these regulations have been in force since 19 October last year.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 3 June 2008; Vol. 702, c. 140.]
One Minister is right and one is wrong.
Jonathan Shaw: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman understands that it is a matter of the different aspects of the different regulations.
I have outlined how the Government have engaged with the Farriers Registration Council. We have to implement this directive, and we will do so. We will ensure that horse owners and employers are aware of the different parts of the register so that they can make informed choices. I have said that colleagues in DIUS will be keeping the matter under review and will consider it in October 2008. It is right that we, along with other member states, have a capable and highly able farrier industry. If sufficient evidence comes to light that shows that the welfare of animals is not adequately safeguarded because of lack of professional training and/or expertise in farriery in relation to temporary service providers, we will consider this evidence in conjunction with our colleagues in the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills.
9.59 am
Mr. Paice: I would like to come back on a couple of points the Minister has made. I am grateful to him for responding to the various points that have been raised, but I cannot, in all honesty say that he has assuaged my concerns. His remarks about informing people that these temporary provisions would be, for farriers, on a different part of the register is a piece of bureaucratic-speak that does not relate to realities on the ground. It may be that a trainer in my constituency with 100 horses may well have the back-up systems to be able to know the difference and in any case, a trainer is likely to have his own farrier, but as my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire said, myriad horses are owned by individuals up and down the country, from children’s ponies to the horses we see on bits of paddock all around our towns and cities, whose owners will not have the ability to know what all the different bits of the FRC register mean. The Minister referred to accepting DEFRA’s responsibility to inform them, but to the best of my knowledge, there is no formal mechanism to inform them and I think there is a lot of wishful thinking in that.
The second point that I wanted to pick up is the issue of a competent authority. The Minister said that the directive requires there to be a competent authority and I have never disputed that, but that authority will not, to the best of my understanding, judge the competence of the individuals who seek to come to this country. That is the real issue. We have absolutely no concern—I respond to the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate—this debate is about xenophobia. It is not about trying to keep out foreign competition; it is about maintaining standards. Of course we accept that there are farriers in other countries who have very high standards, but we are concerned that these regulations allow people to come to this country after just two years in business—and I stress that phrase “in business”. It does not say “two years solid experience in farriery”, but “two years in business”—they could have been doing something else for three quarters of the time, but practising a bit of farriery as well.
Jonathan Shaw: I can assure the hon. Gentleman that it is in farriery, not in other businesses.
Mr. Paice: I am happy to accept the Minister’s assurance, but again, without going back over it all, that is not what his noble Friend said in the House of Lords 10 days ago when he kept saying “in business”. He never referred once to it being in farriery, but even it if is in farriery, it is only a two-year period and our concern is that, when they come to this country with just two years’ experience, no qualification, necessarily, there is no check on their competence before they go out and practise. While my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire and the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate are perfectly correct to refer to caveat emptor—it is a standard philosophy for people on the Opposition Benches at any rate and I am pleased that the hon. Lady adopts it too—that must be balanced with the ability of the individuals, the emptor bit, the buyer, to make the assessment. It is too late when somebody has come and messed up your child’s pony and possibly ruined it for life, to find out that you have got it wrong. Where you have a system of registration of competence, which we have for people practising in this country, it is right that people coming in should also be able to demonstrate that competence and I do not believe that simply saying “two years’ experience” is sufficient.
I made the point in an intervention about why farriers are not included in the list of occupations involving health and safety and I heard the Minister’s defence of why veterinary nurses were included. I accept everything that he says about veterinary nurses—they are highly experienced and trained and competent people—but I think he underestimates how much damage an inexperienced farrier can do to a horse. That is a theme that runs right through this.
Finally, unless I dozed off for moment, which I doubt, I do not think the Minister responded to the point that I and the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire raised about the inability of the FRC to make any charge for carrying out the process. The British registered farriers will therefore have to absorb it in their own fees. I am happy to give way if the Minister wants to intervene.
Jonathan Shaw: If I cannot furnish the hon. Gentleman with that information today, I will ensure that all members of the Committee receive it in future.
Mr. Paice: I thank the Minister.
Mr. Williams: Perhaps when the Minister writes to the hon. Gentleman on the issue of charging, he will also consider whether people coming into this country and getting on that part of the register have to be insured. That is an important point not only for the farriers but their clients.
Mr. Paice: That is an extremely good point and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. Overall, while the Minister has made a brave defence of the order and has tried to assure us that he intends to keep the whole thing under review—
Alan Keen (Feltham and Heston) (Lab/Co-op): I have tried my best to find a point at which it is 100 per cent. relevant to intervene. To illustrate that we do care about horses, does the shadow Minister recall the story before the Mexico Olympics when there was great concern about the athletes having to compete at 6,000 or 7,000 ft above sea level? A well-known gentleman, who married particularly well in this country, addressed the athletes before they left and told them not to worry because he had played polo in Mexico City the year before. Chris Finnegan, or his brother—another great boxer—showed his concern by asking what the horses thought about it.
Mr. Paice: I am grateful for that intervention. I have not in any way tried to insinuate that Labour Members do not care about animal welfare. I would not dream of doing that.
Jonathan Shaw: No, we have introduced lots of legislation.
Mr. Paice: Indeed they have. I certainly do not wish to imply that they do not care. But perhaps they do not fully understand the implications for horse welfare of the proposal. That is the fundamental reason why my opposition to these regulations remains.
Question put:—
The Committee divided: Ayes 8, Noes 3.
Division No. 1]
Dobson, rh Frank
Gardiner, Barry
Griffith, Nia
Jackson, Glenda
Keen, Alan
Linton, Martin
McDonagh, Siobhain
Shaw, Jonathan
Gray, Mr. James
Paice, Mr. James
Williams, Mr. Roger
Question accordingly agreed to.
That the Committee has considered the Farriers’ Qualifications (European Recognition) Regulations 2008 (S.I. 2008, No. 646).
Committee rose at nine minutes past Ten o’clock.
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