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House of Lords

Thursday, 13th May 1999.

The House met at three of the clock. THE LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Southwark.

The Horse Industry

Baroness Wharton asked her Majesty's Government:

    What progress has been made in improving the dialogue between them and the horse industry.

The Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Lord Donoughue): My Lords, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has maintained its dialogue with the horse industry in respect of the department's responsibilities for animal health and welfare. Moreover, we have actively encouraged all parts of the industry to collaborate to promote the wider economic interests of the horse industry. The setting up of the British Horse Industry Confederation in early March this year was a major step in that direction, which I was able to welcome in a speech at the National Equine Forum on 25th March.

Baroness Wharton: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that response. I also thank the Government for the steps they have taken to help set up the British Horse Industry Confederation. However, given the fact that over 100,000 people are employed in the industry and some 2.4 million people in this country ride, why has no government department accepted responsibility for the horse, particularly given MAFF's involvement now with the BHIC?

Lord Donoughue: My Lords, the short answer is because no department has been offered the responsibility or asked to take it. This is a complex area involving a whole network of departments. MAFF deals with some aspects of welfare and a lot of veterinary matters. The Home Office deals with the racing industry, which includes betting regulation and off-farm welfare. The Department of the Environment deals with rating and planning issues involving the horse industry and what might be called the "right to roam" of the horse. Customs and Excise are also involved. It is a complex area. The Government are actively concerned with this question and are looking to see whether they can resolve it. My impression is that the Prime Minister, for whom alone this is the decision, has had other matters to engage him of late.

Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior: My Lords, is the Minister aware of the concerns of the British Equine Veterinary Association and other bodies, such as the Federation of Veterinarians in Europe, that there is

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urgent need to review the regulations concerning the provision of equine medicines, both in this country and in the European Union?

Lord Donoughue: My Lords, we are aware of a number of concerns in this area, particularly relating to the European situation. I suspect that the noble Lord, with his great experience, has in mind the problems with the minimal residual levels and the 1990 directive which attempted to ensure that there were not veterinary products in food. Of course, on the continent the horse is seen as a food animal but here it has higher ambitions. We certainly do not want, for instance, our race horses to be prevented from using veterinary products, of which Bute is a prime example. We have been pressing this in Europe quite strongly. I assure the noble Lord that in 1990 we had a statement, but not entrenched, that Europe would be sympathetic to our position. The German presidency has submitted a paper on this matter. It has been considered by a working party which is looking at possibilities such as indelible marking of horses which are clearly not for eating. We hope that that will be discussed at next week's meeting of the Agriculture Council. We are still fighting hard for the British position and the position which our vets have so strongly argued to us.

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, following on from the supplementary question of the noble Baroness, Lady Wharton, does the Minister agree that the horse concerns MAFF only if it can be eaten or worked? Apart from that, the Ministry of Agriculture has absolutely no responsibility for the horse. Any of the ministries mentioned by the Minister could equally well have answered this Question. Does he agree that other European countries have ministers for horses? This surely is not a difficult matter for the Prime Minister to decide.

Lord Donoughue: My Lords, it is true that most other European countries which have a serious horse industry have ministers for the horse who, it so happens, are normally ministers for agriculture. That is a logical position. It is equally true that our problem is that the 1947 Act defined the agricultural horse as being one that works on the farm or is involved in food production. If it is not as defined in the Act, it is not treated as a horse in that way. These complex issues are being considered. I felt that the noble Baroness was going to ask why on earth I was answering the Question. I have to say that the same thought crosses my mind most times I am at the Dispatch Box!

Viscount Allenby of Megiddo: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the majority of cruelty cases have been dealt with under the 1911 Act, and that that Act is now in need of revision? Can he say what plans there are to revise that Act and, in particular, equine welfare matters?

Lord Donoughue: Yes, my Lords. The noble Lord raises an important issue. The International League for the Protection of Horses is one body which has been to see us. The concern is that the existing Act may be too narrow and requires waiting until there is terrible existing evidence of cruelty to horses before action can be taken.

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It is argued that it would be better if it were possible to take action to protect the horse where the behaviour of the owner or manager is such as to raise serious questions that cruelty would arise. That is being considered. However, that is a question for the Home Office, not for MAFF.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, I have a non-financial interest to declare as the new confederation's representative on the horse and pony taxation committee. Like the Minister, I welcome the creation of the confederation. Whoever the proper Minister to answer the Question may be, I would welcome him. I am grateful to the noble Lord for the work he has done to help bring about the confederation. However, can the Minister say whether, like me, he was disappointed that from start to finish the rural England discussion document did not mention horses? That was a grave omission. Does the Minister think that there is any chance of that omission being remedied?

Lord Donoughue: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for reminding us about interests. Perhaps I should declare that I own a small, and certainly a rear, part of a very good jumper. However, on rural matters, it is true that our statement in March contained very little reference to horses. Indeed, it could be argued that the horse is a very important part of our rural economy and of rural society. I can assure the noble Lord that we intend to take it much wider. That statement, especially the parts relating to the right to roam and access, was about access on foot. We are considering legislation in the area of rights of way, including bridleways. We hope to produce a consultation paper next month and will look to legislation in the future. This is a very important issue. Indeed, the number of accidents on the roads involving horses amounts to anything up to eight per day. I believe it is most important for horse to have the same right of access to the countryside as human beings.

Arms Exports

3.15 p.m.

Lord Archer of Sandwell asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they propose to introduce legislation on strategic export controls, as announced in July 1998 in the White Paper Strategic Export Controls (Cm 3989).

The Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Simon of Highbury): My Lords, as I stated in the Written Answer which I gave to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, on 29th March (Hansard, col. WA21), the Government are currently reviewing the proposals contained in the White Paper in the light of responses received and are committed to introducing legislation as soon as time is available in the legislative programme.

Lord Archer of Sandwell: My Lords, although I congratulate my noble friend the Minister on that encouraging news which will be widely welcomed by all

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who hope for a more stable world, can he improve his response in two respects? First, is it intended to extend controls for the brokering of arms deals and the issuing of licences to manufacture outside the United Kingdom by UK companies? Secondly, will the Government set in place arrangements to monitor the accuracy of end-use certificates?

Lord Simon of Highbury: My Lords, I thank my noble and learned friend for his opening comment. In trying to be positive about the two particular issues he raises, I can say that the White Paper contained a proposal to introduce controls on traffic and brokering in the most critical areas. Those include arms to all arms-embargoed countries and equipment used in torture. However, there were varying responses to the review as to how far to take any control. That issue, together with the other issues in the White Paper, is currently under review.

In terms of the end-use monitoring, I can tell the House that the Government attach great importance to ensuring that UK exports are not diverted or re-exported to undesirable end-users, in line with our published national criteria. The EU code of conduct sets out the factors to be considered by member states in assessing the risks of diversion. Comments on both those issues are also contained in responses to the White Paper, and will be taken into account.

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