7.34 p.m.

Viscount Astor rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what progress they are making in bringing forward passports for horses.

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.

2 Jun 2003 : Column 1115

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.

In the Government's Final Regulatory Impact Assessment published on 27th March this year, the Government rejected this simple suggestion on the basis that,

    "This option has a high risk of legal challenge from the EC for not implementing the measure fully".

They went on to argue that a universal passport scheme was the only option that,

    "fully implements the Commission Decision".

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 claim in their Final Regulatory Impact Assessment that the draft statutory instrument published earlier this year does not include,

    "any gold plating or add any requirements that are additional to those contained in the Commission Decision".

However, this is clearly not true given that the Government could meet the requirements of the decision--that horses which have been given certain medicines should not enter the food chain--without introducing a bureaucratic, universal horse passport scheme.

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.

The Association of British Riding Schools, which has 65,000 members, believes that,

    "The introduction of horse passports will put British breeders at a disadvantage competing against European breeders in countries with simpler control systems. It is unenforceable. It will increase costs and create welfare problems. The consultation process was seriously flawed. Only a narrow and unrepresentative sample of the horse industry was consulted".

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The Pony Club, which has 33,000 members, has stated that,

    "We are concerned at the financial burden placed on our members by yet another cost. Many of them operate on a very tight budget. We share the industry's anxiety about the risk of old horses and ponies being dumped rather than pay the passport price".

The Donkey Society--we must remember that donkeys are included in these proposals--is also not in favour.

The Government have claimed that universal horse passports,

    "may well result in additional benefits to horse welfare and breeding".

Having read the comments made by many of the horse and pony societies in this country, these assertions are not immediately obvious. The concerns of the industry seem to be the opposite: that the introduction of a passport scheme could be detrimental to the welfare and breeding of horses.

The National Equine Welfare Council has explained:

    "In the UK, the percentage ending up in the human food chain is tiny. Many will also, especially with smaller ponies of low end value, just abandon the ponies rather than face the passport cost or a possible fine".

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 horses--I would urge them to think again--are 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

2 Jun 2003 : Column 1117

consumption without a completed Section IX in the animal's passport could be rejected. If a vet was asked to administer restricted drugs to a horse without a Section IX, he or she could simply stamp it across the front page of the passport.

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 enormous--more 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 EU--I 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.

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In terms of health issues I would suggest that there are many more serious than this. There is a simple solution to this problem--only horses entering the food chain should require passports. The Government have rejected this. I urge the Minister to think again.

7.44 p.m.

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 wonder--given that I have to take this at a gallop because of the three minutes--whether 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

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have lost interest. One sees them in fields of ragwort while driving along any motorway in this country. I cannot see the owners of those horses rushing out before the end of the year to obtain documentation for their horses.

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?

7.48 p.m.

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 horse--its breed, its age, its unique equine life number and location--to 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 colts.

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 declared--for life--that 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?

Of the options offered, Option II is to my mind the most realistic. It has the benefit of being simple, practical and workable. I commend it to the Minister.

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7.51 p.m.

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.

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The Government seem determined to bring hunting to an end and with it will go the collection of fallen and elderly stock by the hunt kennels.

Will the Government consider an amendment to Article 10 so that a stamp of "not fit for human consumption" could be added if Annex IV drugs are applied?

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.

7.55 p.m.

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 one--the 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 saying--if they know anything at all--that 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 answered--a number of them have already been mentioned--and 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.

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7.58 p.m.

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 in 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?

8.2 p.m.

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.

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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 can--as branch manager--to reduce the cost, red tape and bureaucracy of this extra burden on the rural community.

8.5 p.m.

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.

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I was looking vaguely through an anthology of poetry, and the following thoughts came to my mind:

    "Their's not to make reply,

Their's not to reason why, Their's but to do or die: Into the valley of Death Rode the six hundred". "Sorry, sergeant-major, I don't have a horse passport. Need I go?" Or:

    "A horse! a horse! my kingdom for a horse".

"Sorry, sir, it hasn't got a passport." Or:

    "I sprang to the stirrup, and Joris, and he;

I galloped, Dirck galloped, we galloped all three; 'Good speed!' cried the watch, as the gate-bolts undrew; 'Speed!' echoed the wall to us galloping through". Then the watchman has to say, "Very sorry, could you and Dirck and Joris please stop, because we haven't checked your passports".

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. 8.08 p.m.


Lord Mancroft: My Lords, there seem to be two separate, although related, strands to the question brought to our attention by the noble Viscount, Lord Astor. They are not quite the same strands to which my noble friend Lord Onslow referred.

The first is whether the Government's plan to introduce passports for all of Britain's 900,000 horses is a proportional solution to the problem of drug-free horsemeat entering the food chain. My research shows that all those horses that need passports for international travel, whether to compete or for breeding purposes, already have them. The current system works more than adequately as I have not come across evidence of major problems.

The vast majority of horses do not need passports for the simple reason that they do not travel abroad. Very few horses from this country are intended or likely to enter the food chain, so the most obvious solution to the problem is to ensure that any horses that are sent abroad for meat must have a passport. No passport, no travel, no meat problem. I should imagine that that is a relatively straightforward solution to a relatively simple problem. I cannot think for the life of

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me why the 90 per cent of horses in the UK that do not travel abroad, and which consequently will not enter the food chain, should be obliged to subject their owners to pointless bureaucratic processes at some expense but for no discernible benefit.

The second question concerns whether the European Commission's decision means that the Government are obliged to introduce passports for all horses in order to comply. I understand that the Government are obliged to ensure that horses containing certain drugs do not enter the food chain, and to prevent that from happening, no horse should travel without a passport listing the drugs that have been administered to it over a period before travel.

The wording of the decision does not compel the introduction of a universal passport scheme, although that may be the best solution for those countries that have a vibrant horsemeat market, which the United Kingdom does not. The manner in which that decision is implemented will be different in each country. I am sure that the Minister will tell the House how carefully the Government have consulted. I am sure that that is right, but while those horse organisations that will benefit financially from universal passports are in favour, the organisations that will not benefit are clearly not in favour.

My research, which was as extensive as it could be in the time available, leads me to conclude that those who need passports are happy with the current system, and that those who do not know virtually nothing of the Government's proposals and do not want to know. I am in their camp.

I also understand that the Government believe that a universal passport scheme could lead to a national horse database, which in turn will raise the standard of horse breeding and improve welfare. That is an interesting idea, but it is not relevant and it is probably wrong. The UK already has one of the best breeding industries at many levels in the world. Of course there is room for improvement, but I cannot see how a database will make a difference. Your Lordships might like to remember how often the House has been told of the benefits to be accrued from the Home Office's database of firearms' ownership, which four or five years later, has still to be set up.

If your Lordships cast your minds back to dog licences, one of the reasons why they were abolished was that responsible owners licensed their dogs and irresponsible owners did not. The same applies to car tax discs. I see no real benefits in compelling all owners to have passports for their horses. Even if there were benefits, they are peripheral to tonight's debate.

I shall finish where I started. Does every horse in Britain really need a passport to ensure that no horse containing proscribed drugs enters the European horsemeat market? Are the Government really obliged to set up a universal passport system at an estimated cost of £20 million to meet their obligations to the Commission in respect of decision 2000/68? The short answers I suspect are no and no.

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8.12 p.m.

Viscount Falkland: My Lords, I hope that the House will accept that in speaking from these Benches I am in no way anti-European when I ask how likely it is that we would be discussing passports for horses, ponies and donkeys if we were not members of the European Union. I suggest that the issue has little relevance to our horse culture.

I cast my mind back to discussions that we had on dangerous dogs some years ago. The noble Lord, Lord Soulsby of Swawffham Prior, will remember those discussions as an issue about which some of us felt quite strongly. The Government's arguments had some justification, which reflects the remarks made by the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu. One of the strongest arguments was that the owners whose dogs needed to be registered were the least likely to register their dogs. The same goes for horses or ponies that should be registered because their owners are likely to mistreat them, lose or get rid of them on purpose. Such owners are the least likely to put information on a passport or some identity form.

This proposal was originally introduced by the European Commission as a means to simplify trade--that was probably unnecessary as well. Some time later, we came across the question of the food chain, which really does not apply to us. As other noble Lords have said, it applies to Belgium and France in particular.

The Government would have done better had they turned their attention to the shocking and indescribable conditions of horses exported from here for slaughter to those countries that eat horses, stamped on that and got it properly under control before acceding to this measure. Policing is an especially difficult problem, as was mentioned. One visualises all kinds of shifty little men with briefcases and notebooks going around riding stables, presumably to check the papers, but probably for other reasons as well.

The Government have not thought this through. They say, "If Europe does it, we have to do it". I personally wish that Europe had said that all dogs should be registered, because the reasons for registering dogs are much more cogent and persuasive than those made for horses and ponies. I wish that the Government would take a little more time. If we were dealing with the matter outside the context of the European Union, there would be more consultation and consideration of the detail and of proper information before it arrived at your Lordships' House.

8.15 p.m.

Baroness Byford: My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Astor for giving us the opportunity to refer to the order tonight. He fully explained his reservations about the introduction of the order, which I cannot repeat in the limited time at my disposal.

I have three specific questions. First, is the order necessary in a country where horsemeat is not eaten? Secondly, should the scheme enhance breeding

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programmes, as has been proposed? Is that really its purpose? If so, let us have that made clear. Thirdly, will the requirements be applied to countries outside the United Kingdom? What happens to animals that are imported into countries for human consumption?

In a country where horsemeat is not eaten in the same way as it is on the Continent, why should owners in England--I stress England--be burdened with rules designed to cover but so very few? Why indeed? As other noble Lords have said, horses or ponies sold for export for human consumption could be required to have a passport before they are exported. That point has been clearly made by all noble Lords who have spoken.

Has that suggestion been made to the Government? Have they raised it with the European Commission? If so, what was the outcome of those discussions? Did the Government vote in favour of the horse passport scheme, or was theirs the only voice expressing concern? Or is this yet one more statutory instrument that must be implemented whether it has the support of England or not? As I said, will countries outside the EU be required to meet such restrictions, or is this yet again bureaucracy and cost placed on European citizens?

We have heard noble Lords on all sides of the House express concern--in fact, no one has spoken in favour of the scheme. That should concentrate the Government's mind on questioning the consultation that they have undertaken. The order is costly. It is estimated to cost £20 million--obviously, with ongoing costs after that. There is concern about animal welfare and the likelihood that animals will be dumped.

I also have practical concerns, because the order refers only to England. What happens to cross-border movement of animals kept in Scotland or Wales when they are shooed from one side where they do not need a passport to the other where they do?

The whole question of the universal passport scheme has been raised again in the debate; it has been considered unnecessary, costly, unenforceable and runs the risk of increasing animal welfare concerns, about which all noble Lords are anxious. The order is not required by other countries outside England.

In a country where the majority of horses are kept--we have heard the figure of 900,000, of which only 10,000 which the overseas market--is this really the way to deal with a statutory instrument? Interestingly enough, if it had not been for my noble friend, we should not have had this opportunity to debate the instrument at all.

There are many questions that the Government need to answer; I hope that the Minister will. He should be able to do so. My noble friend Lord Willoughby de Broke said that he is happy to be written to. Finally, in the age of microchips, cannot we use them to help with this issue?

8.19 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Whitty): My Lords, I appreciate the initiation of

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this debate by the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, and the contributions of noble Lords.

A number of misconceptions have been running round the House in the course of this debate. The noble Baroness correctly said that no noble Lord who has spoken appears to be wholly in favour of the proposition. It is perhaps incumbent on me to explain some of the background. The Commission proposed it at the initial stage. There was concern about the availability of certain medicines that are frequently used to treat horses but which have not been authorised for food-producing animals. Under EU law, horses count as animals that could get into the food chain. The Commission decided that in order to protect the human food chain, all horses needed to be accompanied by an identity document. The directive is based on that proposition. It is also true that by requiring all equines to have passports, the UK can continue to use those medicines that are frequently used for horses that are in no sense destined for the human food chain and at the same time help those consumers in other EU countries who do eat meat.

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 authorities--including, in this case, the Commission--to 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 tell--in terms of responses so far received--it 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,

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those organisations, which have some experience in this area, strongly supported the approach and represented the vast majority of those who replied.

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 gold-plating 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.

Nor are we gold plating. By transposing the legislation, we are not introducing anything over and above the EU proposals. Failure to implement the proposals could lead to legal challenge.

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 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

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that passports are already being issued by a significant number of societies under the Horse Passports Order 1997. It is not necessary to re-invent the wheel and therefore we have devolved a responsibility to those organisations and by and large that has been accepted within the industry.

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 societies--for instance, the British Horse Society and the British Driving Society--are 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

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the vast majority of British horses. Horse owners will have more information on the horses that they purchase, or are considering purchasing, because a requirement of the new legislation is that the passport must accompany a horse being sold. One can therefore check on ownership details such as age and so forth. There may be breeding benefits, because passports may discourage the indiscriminate purchasing of low-value and poorly kept animals, thereby having a positive effect on horse welfare.

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.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 8.35 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 8.32 to 8.35 p.m.]