Horse Passports

Oral Answers to Questions — Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 22nd April 2004.

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Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet 11:30 am, 22nd April 2004

What representations she has received on horse passports.

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The Government have received a range of representations about horse passports. Some have been over-simplistic, opposing horse passports altogether—though they are a legal requirement—and others, particularly among the horse industry, have been constructive and have endorsed our approach of working with the industry to seize the opportunity to create a comprehensive horse database.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

The Minister is aware that horses and ponies are kept in great swathes of the UK where the veterinary and other infrastructure is insufficient to satisfy the demands of the new bureaucracy. There are growing concerns on the one hand about the export of live equines for slaughter, and on the other about the imposition of a bureaucracy whose demands people have no reasonable way of meeting.

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The hon. Gentleman mixes two issues, the first of which is horse passports. Introducing the passport system and putting in place the necessary work to ensure that all horses have passports is a major issue. We are aware of that and we are talking to the industry about how best to ease the pressure. The second issue is the export of live animals for slaughter, which we have no intention of encouraging. The Under-Secretary and I have worked hard with the industry and animal welfare organisations, and Britain is taking a lead in ensuring, first, that we do not create a business in live horse exports and, secondly, that the welfare of animals in transport is protected and improved.

Photo of Richard Ottaway Richard Ottaway Conservative, Croydon South

There is a link between the two issues of live exports and passports because a continental abattoir will not accept horses without a passport. The Minister must realise that. A million horse owners are going to have to pay up to £50 to have a compulsory ID card, all to pay for a huge DEFRA database that will be a bureaucratic nightmare. Does the Minister accept that the best way to protect our horses is to withdraw his regulations, stand up to the EU and be the Minister for the horse, not for Brussels?

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his new duties. I hope that when he has played himself in by listening to the industry and understanding the issues, we can have more intelligent questions. We have no intention of creating what he described as a huge DEFRA database. Instead of leading a bureaucratic approach to the implementation of any such database, we are working with the industry and it will be industry-owned. In the fullness of time, I hope that Conservative Members will realise that they are losing their audience in the horse industry, whose people are increasingly recognising that it is this side of the House that is interested in the future of the horse and the industry, and that the Conservatives are doing them no favours.