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The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, I genuinely seek information. In the eating of horse flesh in the past 20 years, how many instances have there been of damage being caused to human health because something was wrong with the drugs that were administered to horses? Are we chasing a chimera?
Lord Whitty: No, my Lords, because the judgment is made not on the basis of the number of cases that may or may not have been recorded but on an assessment of the effect of the medicines, as is done with human medicine. If such medicines have been deemed to be dangerous to humans, it is incumbent on the authoritiesincluding, in this case, the Commissionto make proposals to minimise the danger.
Noble Lords are right that were the EU not to have made this proposal and if it was not concerned about the eating of horses, we should probably not be debating this matter tonight. However, it is also true that at every stage in the consideration of this matter, the majority of those organisations dealing with horses in this country have been in favour of the proposal for passports and of the proposal that they should cover all equines in this country. That applied when we were first considering the directive and in relation to the consultation in 2000 and, so far as we can tellin terms of responses so far receivedit applies in relation to the current consultation, which will end at the end of this month.
In the 2000 consultation, for example, the following organisations indicated their support for passports for all horses: the British Horse Industry Confederation, the British Horse Society, the British Equestrian Federation, the Thoroughbred Breeders Association, the British Equine Veterinary Association, the British Hanoverian Horse Society, and so on. There were organisations that opposed the approach. However,
Baroness Byford: My Lords, I accept the organisations that the Minister stated. There are many ordinary horses and ponies out there and most people have ordinary horses and ponies. I wonder what response the Minister had from what I call the more scrubby end of the trade rather than the elite end, if I can put it that way.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I am not sure which I should designate as being the scrubbier end of the trade. There are responses from other bodies and individuals to the latest consultation. We must assess that at the end of June. As some noble Lords said, there were some contrary views during the 2000 consultation. My point is that the vast majority were in favour.
There have also been allegations that we were goldplating and taking action before other countries. Germany, Sweden and Luxembourg have already fully implemented the legislation. The Netherlands, Spain and Denmark are planning to do so before the end of 2004, as, indeed, is Belgium: the issue of the ride from Ghent to Aix will be covered in its provisions. The noble Earl referred to Napoleon. I do not have the full details about France, but we understand that the French have also implemented the proposals. In Ireland, the facility to issue horse passports for all equines is already in place. It is not true that other countries are not implementing.
Viscount Astor: My Lords, can the Minister explain why in the Government's own regulatory impact assessment, option 2 was just passports for horses for human consumption? It is the Government's own option and not one that has been invented on this side of the House.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, it is one of the options put forward in order to meet the criteria of the directive, but it was not one that was favoured by the industry. Therefore we have a double responsibility: first, not to gold plate legislation and secondly, to take into account the views of the industry in our drafting of the legislation. A number of questions were raised on our proposals, many of which are covered in the consultation. I am sure that remarks in this House, including the points raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Ullswater, on the administration of the passport system, can be taken into account in developing our response to that consultation. Not all issues are closed.
I was asked a number of questions by my noble friend Lady Mallalieu, including why we did not have a national scheme rather than relying on individual organisations to produce the passports. The answer is
My noble friend Lady Mallalieu also asked how widespread our publicity on this is going to be. Once we have completed the consultation and decided in the light of that consultation how the scheme will work, we will need to engage in a widespread publicity campaign once the legislation is finalised. The societies involved in this scheme will also be engaged in that publicity. There is currently information on the Defra website and in a number of society communications. The full publicity will be needed before the point of implementation.
The noble Lord, Lord Soulsby and my noble friend Lady Mallalieu asked what happens under the scheme if a vet comes across a horse that does not have a passport. The easiest way to deal with such a case would be for the vet not to administer the medicines. However, we are discussing with the veterinary organisations the best and most practical way of dealing with this situation. Annex 4 of the council regulations says that the medicines must never be given to food-producing animals and therefore should not be used unless it is clear the animal will not enter the food chain.
It is necessary to have some understanding with the veterinary organisations as to how they would deal with a horse that did not have that disclaimer. It is not impossible to see that there will be options available to vets in those circumstances rather than simply refusing to use the medicines.
The noble Lord, Lord Burnham, asked about VAT. It is for Customs and Excise to say whether VAT would need to apply to these passports, but there is a complexity in that many of the organisations helping administer the scheme are charities. Therefore, we have yet to finalise the position in relation to VAT.
I think some of the costs referred to by my noble friend Lady Mallalieu and others relate to costs for particular societies. In consultation with the industry, we estimate that the average cost for the additional burden on the horse owner from this scheme would be £20 to £30 for each passport, which would be valid for the lifetime of the horse. There may be a particular problem with elderly horses but compared with the cost of keeping the horse for a lifetime, it is hardly a huge expenditure. Indeed, some societiesfor instance, the British Horse Society and the British Driving Societyare offering a lower cost. This is therefore not a huge expense on the horse-owning public.
The burden of negative comments on the scheme needs to be set against some of the positive benefits that the industry and others see it. They include the fact that passports will enable medicines that are not authorised for food-producing animals to continue to be administered to all horses not intended for human consumption. As noble Lords have rightly said, that is
The noble Lord, Lord Soulsby, and others referred to the proposed national equine database, which would be possible only if all horses required an identity document. If we go along that road, which is not part of the legislation, the Government will know far more than previously about the number of horses kept in the UK and the important and growing role that the horse industry plays in our rural economy. The British Equestrian Federation proposals for a central horse database would achieve its objectives through the information based on that supplied by the passport-issuing organisations. There is therefore a positive benefit from a public/private partnership in this area.
Noble Lords referred to feral horses, for example. Specific arrangements are being made in relation to Dartmoor, Exmoor and the New Forest and we are looking at other areas where that might also apply.
This has been an interesting if somewhat negative debate in terms of the contributions. I see my time is up, but if I need to answer other points I will do so in writing. In the meantime, I thank the noble Viscount for initiating the debate and all noble Lords for participating in it.