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Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, the purpose of Amendments Nos. 58, 168 and 171 is to ensure that the exemption that we have introduced to protect those acting to protect the physical safety of a child, or to protect him or her from pregnancy or sexually transmitted infection, shall not apply if the accused is or has been a registered sex offender or the subject of an order designed to prevent sexual harm.
The noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, referred to various aspects of the clause that make it probably too wide and untargeted. I do not wish to spend time on the detail, but rather to deal with the principle, which, as I understand it, as advanced by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, is that a convicted sex offenderI shall ignore how one precisely defines that termshould never be able to rely on Clause 75 as a defence to any of the relevant offences.
I fully understand the noble Baroness's concerns, and completely agree that the clause should not become a means of people putting forward bogus defences. But I do not believe that addressing the issue as the noble Baroness suggests, by an amendment of this sort, is the appropriate way.
I believe that the provisions in the Criminal Justice Bill, which will reach this House in the next two to three weeks, would be the better way to address this question. They deal with cases where the fact that a defendant has a conviction for a sex offence is relevant to the facts of the charge in question. The existing law means that it is only in very exceptional circumstances that evidence of such previous convictions is admissible in trials.
If someone previously convicted of sex offences against a child were charged with a new sexual offence involving a child, it would not generally be possible now to refer to the previous convictions in the trial for the new allegation. However, proposals in the Criminal Justice Bill would make such evidence available to the court in a much wider range of circumstances. The court, therefore, when considering whether the exception was made outand the exception exists for the purposes of court proceedingsor whether the defendant had in fact
I think that it is better for the court to assess whether in a particular case the evidence relating to the previous conviction is relevant, and, where it is fair, for it to be admitted, rather than providing a blanket prohibition on a whole class of offenders from relying on the exemption, even where there might be clear evidence that the defendant was acting for the protection of the child.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, the noble and learned Lord has not answered my question. In all the cases I have cited, what would have been the position if those involved had stopped short of committing actual sexual offences and relied upon the sexual education exemption in the Bill? There is a lacuna in the Bill which, sooner or later, will be used by people who have malintentions against young people.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, as I understand the hypothesis put by the noble Baroness, the putative offender conducts sex education lessonshe does not commit any other offence but simply teaches sex educationand obtains some kind of sexual gratification from that. If that is all, and there is no element of grooming involved, is that an offence under the Bill? The answer is that it is not.
Clause 13 relates to causing a child to watch a sexual act. If the noble Baroness is referring to potentially causing another person to watch a third person engaging in a sexual activity, plainly she is right. But, as I understood the noble Baroness's point, looked at from the outside it would be ostensibly a straightforward biology lesson.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, the noble and learned Lord and my noble friend are missing the point. It is possible that the activity undertaken by these persons could be offensive and their defence for what they were doing could be that they were helping a young person to deal with confusion about his or her sexuality or helping a young person who had difficulties in his or her sex life. The defence has a wide interpretation which could be used by persons who are up to no good. Such people would be allowed to adopt the defence, which could be accepted. If the people in the cases I have cited had done what they were charged with but simply stopped short of the full offence, their behaviour would have been offensive but their defence would be allowed under the Bill as presently drafted.
The noble and learned Lord said that there are other ways of dealing with this issue and that he was sympathetic to what I was trying to achieve, but he did not impress me too much with his answer. We are dealing with a sexual offences Bill and this is a sexual offences issue. What I am referring to can be dealt with in the Bill. The remedy is not to give a blanket defence for people who have a malintention rather than a genuine educational intention.
I am bothered that the noble and learned Lord is palming off this issue by saying that another Bill is coming along and that that is the way to deal with it. It should be dealt with in this Bill. If the noble and learned Lord is not able to improve on my wording I shall go away, pick up the points made by my noble friend and the noble and learned Lord and try to find a way of ensuring that young people are protected from people who have malintentions against them using the defence set out in the Bill. I go back to what I have said previouslyI make no apologies for itthat this Bill could in practice be a paedophile's charter. That is something that I do not want to sign up to. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Viscount said: My Lords, the Government intend to introduce horse passports at the end of this year. However, I believe that there are two important issues that Ministers must address before doing so. First, is it really necessary to require all horses, ponies and donkeys to have a passport in order to meet European Decision 2000/68/EC? Secondly, if the Government are determined to pursue the introduction of passports for all horses, whether or not they end up in the human food chain, are the current proposals the most sensible option? The answer to both questions would seem to be no.
The European decision aims to prevent horses that have been given drugs which might be harmful to humans from entering the food chain at the end of their lives. Under the Government's proposals, all horses, ponies and donkeys will have to have a passport from the age of six months onwards and owners must carry it with them whenever they travel. When they acquire the passport the owners must state whether or not the horse can enter the human food chain. Restricted drugs will then be entered into the passports of animals that may be used for human consumption.
It would be perfectly possible to prevent horses that have been given restricted drugs from entering the human food chain without introducing a universal horse passport scheme. The Government could simply stipulate that only horses with a passport could be presented at slaughterhouses for human consumption. As most British horses do not enter the human food chain, this would save thousands of owners across the country having to apply for passports and the industry as a whole many millions of pounds.
The Government have estimated in their own Regulatory Impact Assessment that such a scheme would cost around £140,000 to £300,000 per year. This compares with the £17.6 million start-up cost and the £2 million annual running cost of introducing universal horse passports.
Can the Minister point to the section of the European Commission's decision which states that all horses across the EU must have passports by December 2003? Can he tell the House what measures other European countries are taking to implement the decision? Have any other member states decided to opt for passports only in cases where the horse will enter the food chain?
The Government, to be fair, did consult. It consulted the British Horse Industry Confederation, the BHIC. Unfortunately neither the BHIC nor, indeed, the British Equestrian Federation appear to have consulted their own industry as thoroughly as they might have. Many sections of the British horse industry, which will not benefit financially from administering the scheme, are opposed to the introduction of universal horse passports.
I am particularly worried that vets may be deterred from giving drugs to horses in an emergency if the owner does not have the animal's passport on them at the time. This could lead to unnecessary suffering.
In terms of breeding, I see no advantage in such a scheme. Racehorses need passports but that is just to race, so to protect the punters. This country has bred world-class showjumpers and event horses and maintained rare breeds for centuries without the need for a universal horse passport scheme.
Turning to my second point, if the Government are determined to pursue the introduction of passports for all horsesI would urge them to think againare the current proposals set out in the draft statutory instrument the most sensible option? I fear not. The statutory instrument seems to apply only to England. Can the Minister confirm that we are not going to have separate regimes with separate rules in Scotland and Wales, which would only further increase costs and also add to confusion?
Perhaps, at this stage, I should declare my interest as an owner of three horses at home in Oxfordshire and a very charming Highland pony called Tommy who lives in Scotland. As far as I can see, I shall have to have different passports for different horses in different regimes.
The draft order also states that all existing passports, because they do not conform to the Government's requirements as they do not contain a Section IX statement about whether or not the horse can go into the food chain, will need to be recalled. In reality, the only people who actually need return a passport for a Section IX form to be inserted are those who may allow their horse to enter the human food chain. The simple safeguard would be that anyone presenting a horse for slaughter for human
It is envisaged that all horses, ponies and donkeys will need a passport once they reach six months old. That may cause practical difficulties for breeders of racehorses with a number of foals to register. Existing practice on most studs is to apply for passports in batches after the last foal of the season has arrived. This problem could be dealt with by requiring owners to acquire passports by the end of the year in which the animal was born.
Finally, there is the issue of owners declaring that their animals cannot go into the human food chain. As drafted, this is irrevocable. Once an owner has declared that a horse cannot be used for human consumption, this can never be changed. As most owners do not like the idea of their horse or pony being eaten, they will undoubtedly sign this declaration. This could, in time, result in the complete halt of horses being sent to specialist equine abattoirs.
How will owners deal with the disposal of carcasses at the end of a horse's life? The concern must be that the more irresponsible owners may turn them loose towards the end of their lives or export them to other EU countries without the same passport requirements. The live export of animals over vast distances causes enormous distress, yet it is something that this scheme will probably encourage.
The risks could be reduced and the future of specialist equine slaughterhouses secured if owners did not have to sign the Section IX form until nearer the end of a horse's life. Six months would then have to elapse between the signing of the declaration and its disposal, during which any medications administered would have to be recorded.
The Government's consultation on the draft order ends in June. I believe that there are serious disadvantages to the Government's proposals for the introduction of universal passports. The cost to the horse industry in this country will be enormousmore than £20 million probably. The implications for animal welfare are serious.
It is a bizarre world in which passports are required for beef cattle, but without a record of drugs. Indeed, current laws allow pigs, sheep and chickens to go passport free. Yet the Government are stipulating that all horses must have passports recording their veterinary history. A universal passport scheme is unnecessary.
It would be interesting to hear from the Minister which of these animals are the most widely consumed across the EUI think we can be fairly sure that it will not be the horse. Perhaps the noble Lord could also tell the House what restrictions will be imposed on horses being imported from outside the EU for slaughter and consumption.
In terms of health issues I would suggest that there are many more serious than this. There is a simple solution to this problemonly horses entering the food chain should require passports. The Government have rejected this. I urge the Minister to think again.
Baroness Mallalieu: My Lords, I have to declare an even larger interest than the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, because I have 13 of the things at home and I know that five of them have not got passports. Almost all of them are old horses; they will all be put down at home; none of them will go for human consumption. But if I want to register my new foals this year with Weatherbys, the non-thoroughbred register, I have to pay a vet who comes and does DNA sampling, micro-chipping and identification certification for which I pay him a minimum of £50. I then have to pay a fee for the passport of £50.25. If I do not get the application in before 30th September, that will rise to £138.50 per horse. This is an expensive business.
I would support strongly the principle of a universal registration system for equines in this country and I would support it fully if I could be confident that it was likely to have real benefits for horse welfare and to encourage responsible horse ownership. But I have real concerns and I wondergiven that I have to take this at a gallop because of the three minuteswhether the Minister would try to allay some of my worries.
First, I wonder why, instead of allowing a free-for-all, in effect, in the provision of passports, DEFRA has not set up one comprehensive register which could be consulted with ease, which it could administer, or someone on its behalf, for a reasonable fee. Instead, the delegation of the issue of passports to a whole range of quite separate bodies, all of which seem to have different requirements, seems a recipe for a failure to get to grips with the registration system.
Like the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, I am particularly concerned about vets and their position. Can we be reassured that there will be no question of a vet not being able to prescribe required medicines to horses which have no passport. Unless that is the case, there is a real danger that owners will not call out a vet because they are afraid that they are going to be asked for a passport they do not have. In some cases, vets may be reluctant to prescribe medicine which they consider to be necessary for fear of their own position.
I should like to know also what steps DEFRA is proposing to take to inform horse owners both about their obligations and about their options because I am not at all clear as to where I can go to obtain, as it were, the appropriate passport for my old retainers at home and where I can do it relatively cheaply. Perhaps I may also echo what the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, said about animals being abandoned. It is already going on in the New Forest, in the Quantocks and on Exmoor. In some parts of Northern Ireland it is a serious problem. It is not just horses abandoned because owners have lost interest or will not pay necessary veterinary expenses, but we see in fields large numbers of horses which are sorely neglected because owners
Finally, what plans do the department have for enforcement of these provisions? What will it cost? What provisions, if any, are being made for what I very much fear will be a much larger number of abandoned animals?
Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Astor has raised the contentious issue of horse passports. The concept of horse passports was mooted in 2000 when DEFRA undertook consultation on the issue and received widespread support. As a spin-off to this legislation that all equids are to have a passport, DEFRA intends to collect data on every horseits breed, its age, its unique equine life number and locationto create a national equine database. One would not necessarily argue with that.
On the other hand, the argument is that this will improve breeding, sport and welfare of horses. However, the registration of breeding and sport horses is already catered for by the various breed and competition society passports. These could be easily amended to incorporate medicines under Option II of the consultation document. On a positive note, one area in which passports will be of importance is in the monitoring of infectious diseases, such as African horse sickness and West Nile fever, that threaten our shores.
It is important to remember that this legislation is not primarily for the purposes of breeding, sport or welfare but for food safety of the eaters of horse meat in the European Union. As has been stated, animals must be declaredfor lifethat they are not destined for human food. We must respect the concerns of the consumer but whether such draconian regulations are the way forward is doubtful.
Several concerns arise. First, there will be 58 authorities able to issue passports. These will be based on a silhouette which is noteworthy for its unreliability. By far the most effective and secure method is the microchip and this can readily lead to the establishment of a central register.
Mention has been made of the veterinary surgeon who may be in a quandary. He knows that he cannot use Annex IV drugs for food animals but what about horses where passports are missing, animals that have been involved in accidents, strays or where the passport does not conform to the animal?
Foals must have a passport when they reach six months of age. But what about a foal-at-foot when a mare leaves a stud to go for service? Will the young foal a few weeks old need a passport, and how accurate can a silhouette be for later life?
Viscount Ullswater: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Astor for putting down the Unstarred Question for debate this evening. I think that I should declare an interest in this matter at the outset in that I am a member of the Jockey Club.
The European Commission decision requires all equines to have a passport as a means of safeguarding the food chain. Although it is difficult to assess the number of horses and ponies going for slaughter for food, it would appear that some 10,000 animals are disposed of in this way each year.
The thoroughbred horse industry is very used to passports. Weatherbys have been issuing passports for 40 years, and it is their key document of identification. As the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, said, with a DNA parentage check on foals, microchips for all foals from 1999 onwards and the identification silhouette check undertaken by a qualified vet, the thoroughbred industry has understood the need for passports for many years. So the horse passport is not new.
Passports are to be issued by organisations approved under the EU legislation. At present there are about 59 such organisations. Is the Minister confident that all these organisations are going to apply the same criteria to the issue of passports? It is one thing issuing a unique lifetime number to an animal, but if one is not able to identify the animal properly, the passport is rendered worthless.
Like my noble friend Lord Soulsby, I ask the Minister to think again about microchips, as they represent the most practical and cost-effective means of uniquely identifying horses. Stolen, lost or straying animals will not be accompanied by their passports and are therefore difficult to trace back to the owner. Neglected or abandoned horses can also be more easily traced back to the last keeper.
The design of the passport is also important. Passports that have already been issued should not need to be recalled to be updated to comply with the new requirements. It must be possible to have Section 9, for instance, issued by way of an adhesive page to be attached to an existing passport so that the passport can remain with the animal. Think of the disruption to racing if all passports have to be recalled in December this year for the addition of new pages.
As we have heard, there are serious concerns about welfare too. Will the cost of issuing a passport drive the owners of some low value ponies and donkeys simply to abandon their animals and turn them loose? In August 2002 Dartford Council reported that it had picked up 100 abandoned horses in the space of a year in the area near the Dartford Tunnel. We get back to microchips again.
Will the need to sign a declaration in Section 9 at an early stage of an animal's life remove the best way of disposing of the animal when its useful life is done? A knackerman will charge for taking an animal away for rendering. There is a substantial cost for incineration.
In our search for the protection of human beings from unwanted substances entering the food chain, we must not abandon all our thoughts of humanity to the patient animals that serve us and give us endless days of pleasure.
Lord Burnham: My Lords, I consulted my daughter who is very expert on this particular subject. My question was greeted with an hysterical scream. The hysterical scream represents the degree of knowledge about the details of the regulations.
A number of points need to be made, of which I shall mention just onethe question of VAT. I believe that the Government have left undecided the question of VAT. Is VAT payable on passports? The implications of that are enormous. Defra has shrugged its shoulders and told the horse societies that they must talk individually to Customs and Excise. Customs and Excise is to make the decision.
At present VAT has not been included by the societies and passports are being issued VAT-free. If there is a change and it is decided that it has to be included, bureaucratic chaos is inevitable. The various societies are one thing. They are mostly relatively well organised and have prescribed communication systems. But outside that there are 400,000 to 500,000 owners who will be affected and largely do not at present realise or recognise that they must do something about the matter. "Passport" is a bad word. The majority of small owners are sayingif they know anything at allthat their horses never go abroad and do not require a passport. These questions are asked in the revised Defra consultation document. Replies are required by 30th June, with parliamentary approval to be given in November and the regulations to come into force by 1st January.
Other noble Lords, if they are considering the subject, will have realised the various problems which arise which must be answereda number of them have already been mentionedand which will undoubtedly delay the implementation of the regulations. Towering above all is the question of whether owners intend their horses on death to enter the food chain. They must make a decision to the vet which is recorded and which is irrevocable. If the answer is no, there is no problem, but if the answer is not no, almost everything on a long list of drugs and embrocations, internal and external, including flea powders and wormers, will be banned. As I say, the decision is irrevocable; an owner cannot change his mind. The decision remains if the horse changes hands. A new owner is bound by the same conditions.
Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, I thank the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, for this very timely debate. Short though it is, it involves many people, thousands of equines and millions of pounds. I declare an interest as a breeder of registered highland ponies and the owner of a small rural riding centre which was badly hit, being in an area surrounded by foot and mouth disease. The centre provides an outlet for people on holiday and for those who want to enjoy the countryside by seeing it on horseback.
I am a life member of the Highland Pony Society, a member of the National Pony Society, Ponies (UK), the British Horse Society and the Shire Horse Society. I am not speaking on behalf of those societies this evening but from a personal point of view.
The main options seem to be either passports for all horses or passports for only those slaughtered for human consumption. Ponies running free on Dartmoor, Exmoor and in the New Forest will not be required to have passports until they leave those areas. Why could that not be the same for all equines? Many people have old ponies around 28 or 30 years old who have served their owners and are in retirement. What advice do the Government give about those old family friends? I do not think that enough thought has been given to the matter.
Horse societies may be in favour of passports, as it is a way of increasing their finances. Keeping ponies is expensive, especially vets' bills, which are often excessive. The passports will increase that. Small rural riding centres that have to pay business rates find it hard to make ends meet, and passports will increase the stress. The passports will guarantee more paperwork and bureaucracy. The countryside is being strangled with red tape.
I am in favour of passports for equines going abroad, but not for those who stay at home. It would be fairer if equines in Britain were reclassified as an agricultural animal, as in other parts of Europe. Appleby Horse Fair takes place around now. How will all the gypsy horses have passports and be policed when rural villages have lost their policemen?
A £5,000 fine or six months in prison for having a horse, pony, donkey or zebra without a passport seems totally disproportionate compared to someone without a driving licence who kills an innocent person and gets only a suspended sentence. How will the unfair situation be explained to children when their parents forget to get a passport for their pony?
Lord Willoughby de Broke: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Astor for expressing so clearly the concerns and reservations about the legislation. I have some sympathy with DEFRA, and with the Minister, to the extent that his department is now relegated to the status of a branch office of the Directorate-General of Agriculture in Brussels. It seems that he has no option but to implement the directive with which we are dealing.
To what extent did the Government resist this typically heavy-handed and costly EU directive? What was the position taken by DEFRA officials and our permanent representatives in Brussels when the measure was in its early stages? Did they fight it in the committee rooms? Did they fight it in the bars and on the beaches? Did they fight it in the fleshpots of Brussels, or was our "strong voice in Europe" reduced to the usual impotent squeak of protest before the ritual cave-in? Did our representatives support the directive and, if so, why? After all, they are charged with looking after our interests and not those of our horse-eating partners in the European Union.
When the measure was considered by the EU standing committee on zootechnics in 1999, it was passed by 64 votes to 23. Which way did our representatives vote then? It is important to know. The Minister will not be able to give me an answer this evening, but I would be grateful if he wrote to me with that detail.
If the aim of the regulation is to protect our Belgian and French friends from getting tummy ache after enjoying their pony burgers, surely a simple solution would be, on the lines of that suggested by my noble friend Lord Astor, a regulation stating that no equine shall be exported or allowed to enter the food chain unless accompanied by a passport containing a duly completed section on medical treatment. If the aim is to identify horses, I add my name to those of my noble friends who have suggested that microchip technology would be far more effective and much more cost effective. If microchip identification is unacceptable at the moment or too advanced for the EU bureaucracy, why not use our strong voice in Europe, our seat at the table, to change its mind?
I hope that the Minister will tell us that he has listened to what everyone has said, and will do what he canas branch managerto reduce the cost, red tape and bureaucracy of this extra burden on the rural community.
The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, I must declare an interest, in that I seem to be keeping half the vets in Surrey in Mercedes with my veterinary bills, and the farriers grow rich and wax prosperous on my shoeing bill. I drive four palomino ponies, named Belisarius, Mundus, Justinian and Theodora. As noble Lords know, those are the great characters of early 6th-century Constantinople.
Have we gone stark, staring, raving mad? Why do we eat horses in Europe? It can all be blamed on Napoleon. When he invaded Russia and the French army's ration system broke down, it then slaughtered its horses and ate them. Consequently they could not ride home, and consequently the whole thing went pear shaped and they managed to acquire a taste for horseflesh.
Has DEFRA gone stark, staring, raving mad in saying that we have to have the regulations? We have existed for a thousand years without horse passports. Just because the French muck up the invasion of Russia and take a liking to eating horseflesh, we suddenly have to have horse passports, let alone the fact that we cannot bury livestock, and that every sheep has to have an ear tag. DEFRA is the department for making absolutely certain that it is weighed down with regulation, red tape and incompetence. I thought that the old Ministry of Agriculture was bad, but DEFRA! I think that I may have said enough.
I remind your Lordships that a "passport" means, "Please make it easier to pass towards the Porte, or the centre of government of the Ottoman empire". It was originally something to make things easier. But this is DEFRA using a passport to make the ownership of Shetland ponies more difficult.
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