Clause 1 — Powers of local authorities in England to detain horses

– in the House of Commons at 11:09 am on 16 January 2015.

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Photo of James Arbuthnot James Arbuthnot Conservative, North East Hampshire 11:09, 16 January 2015

I beg to move amendment 1, page 2, line 8, leave out “an” and insert “a pony, jennet,”

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means), First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 2, page 2, line 35, in clause 2, leave out

“to whom the horse belongs” and insert

“both to whom the horse belongs and an address within the United Kingdom at which proper service as defined under this section may be made”.

Amendment 3, page 2, line 36, in clause 2, at end insert—

‘( ) For the purposes of this section proper service of a notice may be made by posting by first class post to the address of the person to whom the horse belongs a written notice—

(a) stating that the horse has been seized and the date and time at which it was seized; and

(b) giving details of how contact can be made with the person detaining the horse.”

Photo of James Arbuthnot James Arbuthnot Conservative, North East Hampshire

It is strange that I should have views on both this Bill and the one that preceded it. I entirely support this Bill, which does something necessary and helpful.

Amendment 1 clarifies the definition of “horse” in clause 1. I just suggest that it should, as the Welsh equivalent Bill does, make it clear that the word “horse” includes ponies and jennets.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Liberal Democrat, Somerton and Frome

I am not trying to be clever or unhelpful, but I do think that the normal definition of a horse would include anything that was of the same species as a horse—that is to say equus ferus caballus—which ponies and jennets are. Donkeys are separately identified because they are not the same species. They are equines, but they are equus africanus asinus, if I remember correctly, and therefore they have to be defined separately, but—

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means), First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. I very rarely pick up on points like this, but the hon. Gentleman must address the Chair—or must look as if he is just occasionally addressing the Chair—and not have his back to the House.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Liberal Democrat, Somerton and Frome

Please forgive me, Madam Deputy Speaker. I have not been in the House for very long, as you know, and that is a mistake that incomers make. I do apologise. I also sound like I am lecturing the right hon. Gentleman, but I am not trying to; I am simply saying that I think his amendment is otiose.

Photo of James Arbuthnot James Arbuthnot Conservative, North East Hampshire

My hon. Friend is almost certainly right. It is clear from his intervention that he knows far more about this matter than I do—he probably knows far more about most matters than I do.

Photo of Mark Tami Mark Tami Opposition Whip (Commons), Opposition Pairing Whip (Commons)

The right hon. Gentleman has said the legislation is already in place in Wales, and, as a Welsh MP, may I say that I think it is important to make the distinction, as the vast majority of animals left on these fields are ponies?

Photo of James Arbuthnot James Arbuthnot Conservative, North East Hampshire

As it happens, until a couple of years ago we had, in the meadow next to our house, a pony—that sadly died at the age of 35, which I think is going it some, frankly. It was as a result of the knowledge of our own pony, who was called Porky, that I moved this amendment. If this amendment is unnecessary and we do not need to describe what a horse is, as my hon. Friend Mr Heath suggests, I will move on to my second and third amendments.

I think these two amendments are more important. I think they genuinely address what may be a problem with the Bill, but my hon. Friend the Minister will no doubt set me right on that when he comes to speak. I think the problem may be this: the detention of a horse under the provisions of this Bill could be continued beyond 24 hours if the person who detains the horse does not know to whom the horse belongs, provided he tells the police about it, but it could not be continued beyond 24 hours if the person who detains the horse does know to whom the horse belongs, but does not know how to get hold of him. These amendments are intended—despite my own, no doubt, cack-handed drafting—to deal with that. My hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome will no doubt tell us whether they achieve the clarity and helpfulness I intend to achieve, but that is the purpose behind them.

Photo of Barry Gardiner Barry Gardiner Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

One can only speculate as to why Mr Arbuthnot has brought forward this group of amendments. However, Opposition Members would not wish them—or amendment 4, which is to be debated later—to delay the passage of the Bill, so I will be brief.

Amendment 1 attempts to clarify further the definition of what actually constitutes a horse, and I would encourage the Minister to put on the record later in the debate a full definition and whether, indeed, this covers a jennet or a pony. The term “jennet” is used to describe a Spanish jennet horse. It is, I understand, a fairly new breed registration dedicated to an attempt to recreate the coloured variety of gaited horses that resembles the historical jennet or “Spanish jennet.” It would seem obvious, therefore, that the term “horse” as already used in the Bill would cover a jennet, but I await the Minister’s response.

The term “pony” is used to describe a small equus which, depending on context, can be a horse that is under an approximate or exact height at the withers—usually 14.2 hands, if memory serves me correctly, with the hand being 4 inches in imperial measure—or alternatively is a small horse with a specific conformation and temperament. Again, the Minister may wish to elaborate.

Amendment 2 would require the detaining authority to inform the owner of the horse, if the identity of such a person is known, at an address within the UK. Amendment 3 allows for such notice to be given by way of a written communication, delivered by first-class post. According to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, however, the vast majority of horses it deals with do not have any identifiable owners. Clause 3 already states that when a horse has been detained the detaining authority should give notice of the detention to an officer in charge of a police station and, if known, the person to whom that horse belongs.

These amendments appear well intentioned, but they are potentially cumbersome. The right hon. Gentleman who has moved them has elaborated on their intention, but I am afraid has not, to my satisfaction, made a case strong enough to warrant Opposition support. Of course the guidance that emerges from this Bill may well detail good practice, which involves notice being given wherever possible at a specific address and, where it is warranted, this being given by way of first-class post. On that note, I await the Minister’s response.

Photo of George Eustice George Eustice The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 11:15, 16 January 2015

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend Mr Arbuthnot for tabling these amendments and asking some important questions about the Bill.

Amendment 1 seeks to add ponies and jennets to the definition of a horse covered by the Bill and, in turn, to the provisions on horses in the Animals Act 1971. It may be helpful to quickly explain how the provisions in the Control of Horses Bill amend the Animals Act 1971. The Bill carves out special arrangements in the 1971 Act for stray and fly-grazing horses and other equidae. Its leaves the measures in the 1971 Act as they apply to other livestock unchanged. The provisions cover a range of equidae. As well as horses, the Bill’s provisions apply to asses, mules and hinnies. These equidae need special mention because, as Mr Heath pointed out, they are not horses. Each is a different species. Horses are of the equus ferus caballus, and ponies are of the same species, as the hon. Gentleman pointed out. It might also be worth clarifying that for the purposes of the law a donkey is an ass as far as the legal definition is concerned, so they are also covered.

A pony is just a small horse and does not need to be specified, so they are already covered. Similarly, a jennet is a small breed of horse. Thus neither ponies nor jennets need to included in the definition of horse.

For completeness, I should say that I asked a number of questions about the definitions when scrutinising this Bill with officials, and I therefore point out that a mule is the offspring of a male donkey and a female horse, and a hinny is the offspring of a male horse and a female donkey. That is made clear in the legislation.

I understand the reasoning behind amendments 2 and 3. My right hon. Friend just wants to make it clear that there is a proper process for contacting the owners of a horse, where this is known. Unfortunately, it is not always easy for a person or local authority detaining a horse to identify the owner and then serve them with a notice of detention. Many fly-grazed horses cannot be identified through microchipping, as required by law, and even when a horse can be properly identified, the person detaining it might not be able to access to its identification data.

We considered these points and decided that the police should remain the central point of contact for reporting detained or missing horses, and that notice of detention should be registered with the police in any case, even when the person detaining the horse is able to notify the horse’s owner. Under the existing provisions in the Animals Act 1971, the police have systems in place for registering this kind of information, which is often shared with local authorities. Horse owners should therefore contact the police immediately if they are concerned that their horse might have been detained.

The Bill leaves it open to the person detaining a fly-grazing horse to contact the owner directly, if the owner is known to him, but I believe that it would be a backward step to prescribe what form such action should take, such as sending a letter by first-class post, as my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Hampshire suggests. The person might know which caravan the owner lived in, for example, and could go and knock on their door and talk to them. Alternatively, they might know the owner’s e-mail address. It would be wrong to be prescriptive in this regard.

I asked questions about this again when we were considering the Bill, and I want to reassure my right hon. Friend. Clause 3(2) of the Bill states:

“The right to detain the horse ceases at the end of the period of 24 hours”,

and goes on to say that the person detaining the horse must notify the police and the owner, if they know who that is. If the Bill had required notification of the police or the owner, but not both, he might have a stronger case for requiring more clarity. I believe that the requirement to notify both, and to contact the police in any event, will provide sufficient clarity. As the shadow Minister, Barry Gardiner, pointed out, we are keen to get the Bill through and it would be wrong to introduce measures that were inconsistent with the 1971 Act. I therefore hope that, in the light of these clarifications, the right hon. Member for North East Hampshire will be able to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Julian Sturdy Julian Sturdy Conservative, York Outer

It is a pleasure to speak briefly to amendments 1, 2 and 3, tabled by my right hon. Friend Mr Arbuthnot. I must also put on record my thanks for his support for the Bill. On amendment 1, the Minister has already set out how a horse is defined for the purposes of the Bill. The shadow Minister, Barry Gardiner, has set out his position on that as well, and I do not need to say more on that.

I should like to speak briefly to amendments 2 and 3. I completely understand the very sensible intentions behind the amendments, but I believe that the police must remain the central point of contact, as the Minister has said. It is also clear that there has to be flexibility in these circumstances. First-class post might be the most appropriate way of notifying an owner in certain circumstances, but it is essential to have flexibility on that decision, and not to specify in statute exactly what should be done. The Minister talked about the time involved, and using first-class post might delay the notification so that it did not arrive within the required four clear days.

I fear that the introduction of detailed specifications of how notifications should be served could unnecessarily delay what should be an immediate process relating to animal welfare. Such delay must be avoided in the interests of all parties involved, not least the fly-grazed horses, in the light of the welfare issues involved. I therefore hope that my right hon. Friend will not press his amendment to a vote.

Photo of James Arbuthnot James Arbuthnot Conservative, North East Hampshire

I am not entirely convinced that we have dealt fully with the circumstances in which someone might know the owner but not know how to get hold of him. I hope that my hon. Friend Julian Sturdy will consider this point further when the Bill goes to another place, but in the circumstances, and given the gracious way in which he has dealt with the matter, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.