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On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

Farriers’ Qualification (European Recognition) Regulations 2008

6.12 pm

Lord Addington rose to move, To resolve that this House calls on Her Majesty’s Government to revoke the regulations laid before the House on 10 March (SI 2008/646).

The noble Lord said: My Lords, one or two words of explanation are probably called for on why I am moving this Motion. I would not be called one of the usual suspects in this House when discussing equine activities, but I happened to be in the right place at the wrong time to get myself involved in this. A good start is living in Lambourn, which, to those who do not know it, is to jump-racing what Newmarket is to flat-racing. I happen to have a wife who rides and a child who has a pony, and they happen to have a farrier, one Pete Baker, who is an influential member of the United Kingdom Horse Shoers Union. He asked my wife for advice, as she works for an MP in the House of Commons, and then about what should be done in this place. A conversation ensued—and then I realised that there was something in what he said, something of concern that should be addressed.

The basic concern, before we go into detail, is that farriery in this country is regulated by an Act that goes back to 1975. It sets out certain criteria by which this practice can take place and a legal framework that guarantees—as closely as possible; let us not overhype any qualification in this context—or gives a degree of certainty at least that the person undertaking that activity knows what they are doing, no more, no less. Members on these Benches are not usually the ones who cry against European regulations as a matter of course. We are quite enthusiastic about Europe, as a rule. But these regulations interfere with that certainty and that level of reassurance acquired by a long-established regulation that allows for an apprenticeship scheme to be gone through and allows people to qualify by other means for farriery. Should we be worried about this? We should if we do not understand what exactly is going on.

We are not asking to cross-reference qualifications. In many other parts of these regulations we accept that somebody can become qualified through practice. I have become dangerously familiar with the 1975 Act over the past few weeks. I have established that this

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principle of “You have been doing the job for a long time; there is no protest against you, so you should come in and be able to do it” is accepted. However, two years would seem to be a very short space of time.

What does training usually mean? It usually means that you are capable of addressing a series of problems and are prepared to deal with things as they happen. Horses are half a ton of nervous muscle, full of flight-and-fight response, which occasionally kill people—not that many, but people get hurt around horses all the time. Farriery means that you are using blades to cut around a part of a horse. There are sharp nails, and bits of hot metal are applied to that horse. Things can go wrong, but the better and more convincing the training, the less likely that is to happen.

What do the provisions address? Somebody after a very short period of experience potentially could come in and start practising. Even if we take into account the emotion that the horse may well be a family pet, it is several thousand pounds-worth of livestock that could be damaged. The person who makes a mistake is immediately at risk. One kick can kill, even one from a comparatively small pony. The person holding the animal is at risk. If the farrier has made a mistake and the person is riding that horse on the road, for instance, the animal may well shy and there is a danger that it may slip.

As an aside, I say that the community now accepts hard hats and back protectors. I have a little ongoing fight with my wife that as my five year-old starts to jump she will have to wear a gum shield, as do the jump jockeys. That apparently is a cultural step too far for part of the equine community. But there is a risk. Anything that enhances that risk should be regarded very seriously.

So what do we have? We have the principle of the free movement of labour against whether these people can be safely allowed to do the job. Let us not pretend that the whole of Europe is full of limping horses. There are places where farriery is carried out properly. The concern here comes in the nature and the size of the task, those who have to implement it and the timeframe and resources available for them so to do. You have to cross-reference the skill level across the rest of Europe—the 26 nations—or to go for entrance by experience. That may be two years, but you will be lucky not to have made a mistake within two years of practising something from a very basic level of skill. If you have been dealing with the same horses on a regular basis you may well get away with it over the two-year timeframe. I do not say that you always will, but the danger is there.

We are trying to preserve the reliability of the qualification and name of farrier. Will the Government tell us exactly how they intend to allow us to know how they are implementing this procedure? I have ignored those who have six years’ experience and are registered under other parts of the Act; the temporary matter is probably the most immediate. Will the Government allow us to know the processes by which, first, these people are being cross-referenced and, secondly, they are reporting and paper-trailing back those who are qualified through experience?

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How should this take place? The Government may say that it is all on the website. If I wanted to hide something I would stick it in the middle of a website. It would be nicely and safely tucked away without a reference to where it is—“Oh, you can find it; just keep on clicking and you will get there”. It was suggested in the meetings with various officials that it would not be unreasonable for the Government to undertake to tell us where this information will be stored—not us here but those who are the consumer group, through the relevant publications. Horse and Hound stands out; I am afraid to give out the advertising but it is more or less the bible of the equine community.

The information should be signposted. What is the process we are following? What is happening to the Farriers Registration Council and have the Government assessed exactly whether they have enough resources to carry this out? This group draws its fees from the farriers themselves. It is rather odd that we should pay to allow competition in, but Europe is a funny place and this means the farriers can go across to other nations and practise themselves. How is this going to take place? Will the Farriers Registration Council have sufficient resources to make sure that this change takes place? There is the cross-referencing, the layering and the different types of qualification out there. Which one is better or worse? It may well prove that we do not have the best qualifications. We may have the best registration system but qualification moves on. We do not know and certain places do not have any qualification.

Can the noble Lord show us where the signposts will be and will he make sure that the general public know, so that there is more faith in the new system about where people are coming and going in the process? It should not be too many people. If the Government take a proactive step now, the slightly chaotic mess we have got into may be averted. What is required is information and clarification. Others may disagree about the nature of these qualifications but I think that, as a minimum standard, the Government must say what they are going to do about signposting information so people can understand what is going on. If there are major problems, everybody will know and we stand a chance of raising sufficient noise to get them corrected.

I hope I have not gone on too long about this. The fact is that there is a real concern in a large part of our leisure sector, where people are dealing with pets and valuable livestock at the same time, and their own safety. If the Minister can tell us how he proposes to minimise any risk of greater integration, I will be very relieved at the end of this debate. I beg to move.

Moved, To resolve that this House calls on Her Majesty’s Government to revoke the regulations laid before the House on 10 March (SI 2008/646).—(Lord Addington.)

Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior: My Lords, my reading of the regulations is that they allow individuals who have practised farriery but who do not possess a registrable qualification in their own country to come to the United Kingdom and practise farriery provided that, during any period of two years before the date of application, they have been regularly and gainfully engaged in shoeing horses other than as an apprentice

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or one undergoing a course of training. I should declare an interest in that I am a member of the Worshipful Company of Farriers and hence have a specific interest in this.

In this country, there are three grades of qualification in farriery. First there is a diploma of the Worshipful Company of Farriers; secondly, there is an associate of that company; and, thirdly, there is a fellowship. All involve intensive apprenticeship, and it takes several years before a person can be recognised as a fellow. Consequently, we have a high level of competence in the farriery profession in the United Kingdom.

I recognise that these regulations are part of the treaty of Rome directive on the recognition of professional qualifications. The Explanatory Note accompanying the regulations comments that a full impact assessment has not been prepared as no significant impact is evident, but I completely differ with that assessment of the regulations. As the noble Lord, Lord Addington, mentioned, shoeing horses is by no means a simple or easy procedure. Substantial harm can occur if horses are badly shod. This instrument could also have a significant impact on sectors other than horses. Donkeys, for example, require farriers. They do not wear horse shoes, or donkey shoes, but if they are working on soft ground, their feet need to be looked at periodically. Indeed, the training for donkey farriery is much more rigorous and extensive than that for horses.

The way to avoid the problems which the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and I have identified is to allow only persons holding approved farrier qualifications that are recognised in the United Kingdom to be recognised here. Hence I join the noble Lord in asking the critical questions about policing that he has asked of the Minister. How will this be looked at and regulated? What harm might occur to horses that have been shod by perhaps incompetent individuals who have not gone through the apprenticeship schemes that our farriers in this country have undergone?

Lord Dear: My Lords, in rising to support the Motion to revoke proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Addington, I ask the House to forgive the fact that I missed the first two or three minutes of his speech. I was detained elsewhere. I declare an interest in that I am a member of the Countryside Alliance, which has some interest in this subject.

We are looking at something that has fallen between two major government departments, the DIUS and Defra, and is borne upon by European Union directive 2005/36 on mutual recognition of professional qualifications. All of that adds up to a classic example of the law of unintended consequences. As one picks one’s way through the barbed wire entanglement of regulations and statutory instruments, one comes to a point where the result could not have been intended or imagined and is certainly unacceptable.

I should like to dwell on the two words “rider” and “horseman”. Riders are people, often with considerable competence, who sit on top of a horse and generally do not fall off. Horsemen know a good deal more than riders about the animal on which they are riding. All horsemen have known for some centuries the four-word truism which is as true today as it was centuries ago: “No foot—no horse”.

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To the uninitiated, a horse stands on a lump of bone which has underneath it a piece of metal to protect its feet from the road. Nothing could be further from the truth than that. As all horsemen know, the hoof conceals one of the most complex physical systems in the animal kingdom. Not only is the hoof involved, but underneath it, near to the ground, is the very sensitive sole and the frog. Inside the hoof you have a complicated, complex system of laminae and blood vessels; above that, suspensory ligaments; and, then, a very complicated system of bones that makes up the lower leg. All of that can be made or marred by the farrier. “No foot—no horse” is true, as I have already said, and yet farriery appears to be now classified in the basket labelled “metalworkers”. That seems quite ridiculous. There is clearly, in the minds of officials, a confusion between blacksmiths on the one hand and shoeing smiths on the other, to use the old cavalry definition. A farrier operates in that middle ground between skilled metalwork and considerable veterinary knowledge.

6.30 pm

I do not intend to take up too much of your Lordships’ time tonight, but looking at protocol 33 to the EC treaty on the protection and welfare of animals, which requires member states,

when formulating policy, it seems to me, first, that that is legally binding and, secondly, that neither the 2005/36 directive nor the supporting regulations that we are looking at tonight appear to have considered welfare at all.

We are here tonight to look at health and safety considerations. It alarms me, as it may alarm other Members of your Lordships’ House, to see that farriery is not included as a profession with health and safety implications. The all-pervasive health and safety regime in which we now live—a regime which reaches all the corners of life that other legislation cannot reach—has not seen fit to include it. The dangers posed to horse riders, horse carriage drivers and members of the public on or off the road when a horse is stressed through pain or bad shoeing are quite enormous and cannot be overemphasised. In lay terms, a horse beyond control which is bucking, bolting and lashing out is likely to be a result of bad shoeing, and accidents, of course, will happen. It also seems strange that veterinary nurses are included in the list of occupations with health and safety implications which excludes farriers. When I kept horses of my own and employed both veterinary nurses and farriers from time to time, I would quite willingly put up with a veterinary nurse who had minimum qualifications but I would certainly never go to a farrier whom I could not trust.

As has already been alluded to by other noble Lords this evening, foreign standards vary. We cannot always in all corners of the European Union get to grips with the sort of standards that are being espoused there. To face a circumstance where somebody from the farther reaches of the EU claiming six years’ experience can come here and practise full time, or claiming two years’ experience can come here and work temporarily, but in which the regulatory authority

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has no ability whatever to establish clearly the quality of that foreign experience or the resulting competence is quite bizarre.

The UK has approaching 1.5 million horses and 4.5 million people who ride annually. We have a farriery industry which, I understand, earns itself £250 million set within a critical part of an equine industry that is worth £4 billion. Yet we are looking at something today which could disrupt much of that industry and those people who use it or are employed within it. I close simply by saying, as I said at the beginning, that I support the Motion proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Addington, to revoke the regulations and I hope that Her Majesty’s Government will cause, in that revocation, Defra, the DIUS and the equine sector to work together to produce workable regulations that meet the clear objectives of the legislation which these regulations patently have not managed to reach.

Lord Higgins: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Addington, on his diligence in researching this matter and on pressing for time to have a debate on it, because the House ought to consider it. I should declare an interest, because my daughter is a veterinary surgeon involved in equine reproduction. I have no financial interest, merely a concern for the welfare of horses generally.

When I first looked at this issue, I was struck by the way that the European directive operated. I have complained on many previous occasions that the Government go around gold-plating European directives. This seems to be the other side of the coin. The directive’s effect is actually to undermine the position with regard to the regulation of farriers. The other thing that surprised me somewhat was the way in which the matter had apparently been looked at by our statutory instruments committee, which decided that there was nothing of particular interest to which it should draw attention. The reason for that is probably to be found in the memorandum produced and submitted to that committee, which is available to your Lordships. On the policy background, it stresses strongly that the purpose of the Farriers (Registration) Act,


However, the memorandum does not indicate the kind of concern that has been expressed this evening. If I understand it correctly, the main concern is that whereas we have a regulatory system which requires people to undergo training and, effectively, to have qualifications, it is proposed that those from other parts of the European Union with no more than a number of years’ experience can carry out permanently the task of a farrier. Indeed, if they are to do that on a temporary basis, they will need only two years’ experience. Experience is no guarantee of competence; they may have gone around other European countries for that period and been grossly incompetent.

None of that emerges from the Explanatory Memorandum, which contains a very strange paragraph

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that points out that there have been consultations with various bodies involved with these issues. It states:

So far, so good. The memorandum continues:

That is a total non sequitur. The memorandum reflects the fact that concern has been expressed but in no way states how it is to be resolved. Apparently, we have gone along with the proposals in the directive and are implementing it in a way involving dangers that both previous speakers have pointed out. Surely we ought to have an arrangement whereby those who deal with horses in this way are suitably qualified and are subject to registration.

The other matter of concern is that apparently the regulation specifies that no charge may be made for registration. In that case, perhaps the Minister can explain how the process of registration is to be financed. At the moment, that is not at all clear.

Effectively, we should ask the Government where they stood when the negotiations on this directive took place. Were they involved in its drafting? If so, did they support the position that is now in the directive or did they oppose it but were outvoted so that we are now stuck with it? I hope that the Minister can explain the position. Surely we should go back to the drawing board and rethink the matter. It is not satisfactory that unqualified people should be able to register and then practise, with all the dangers that noble Lords who have already spoken have pointed out.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I admire the noble Lord, Lord Addington, for introducing this debate. He laughs modestly but I admire the way that he has introduced it because it draws attention to the fact that, once more, we are being saddled with regulations from the European Community that we do not want. That is the sort of point that my noble friend Lord Pearson of Rannoch loves to dwell on and I recommend that he thinks about it.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Addington, I did not ride horses. Being tall, I was always given the largest horse and I found it all rather terrifying, so I never got beyond hanging on to the saddle with one hand. Most people did not think that that was a very suitable way to go riding, so I did not do too much of it.

I declare an interest in that I am a liveryman in the Worshipful Company of Farriers. That is not a pecuniary interest; if anything, it is a reverse pecuniary interest but it is an interest nevertheless.

I am worried about this measure because I think that it will lower the standards of farriering. At the moment, farriering in England involves a four-year apprenticeship. A person is then awarded a diploma by the Worshipful Company of Farriers, the purpose of which is to protect horses and the people who look

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after them from the attention of unqualified people. As I understand it, a Frenchman registers and then sets about his trade. In the European Union, a qualified farrier is not assessed, he does not have to take examinations and he is not given a diploma, but the United Kingdom diploma is regarded throughout the world as the gold standard that people should try to achieve. It was brought in by the Farriers (Registration) Act 1975 and was set up to protect horses.

I simply ask why we in the United Kingdom should accept lower standards. We have set the highest standard and other people should be trying to climb up to it, rather than our being made to climb down, all for the purpose of some kind of uniformity. Uniformity should be accepted only if it is for the better.

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