That can often be the case. If we are looking to change the legislation, we must ensure that we stamp out tethering and animal welfare abuses regardless of who owns the animal, but my hon. Friend is right to highlight that point.
As I said, such incidents are a regular occurrence. In 2016, a pony was found tethered among fly-tipped rubbish. It was so badly tangled up in a discarded bicycle that it could not even stand. This pony, which had a life-threatening injury, was lost to the authorities after the owner simply moved it and tethered it in another location before they could arrive. Sadly, just before Christmas last year, a member of the public came across a pony that had been tethered in a wooded area. The tether had become tangled around the surrounding trees and, in a desperate effort to break free, the one-year-old pony had strangled himself and lay dead in the mud at the end of his tether. It is therefore clear that the practice desperately requires stricter regulation.
HorseWorld, the charity that started the campaign, was spurred into action by the alarming case of a mare that gave birth to her foal while she was tethered. Unable to protect her foal from the other horses who roamed free in the same field, the mare became seriously distressed. Of course, protection of the young is one of our most basic instincts. Research into tethered horses in Wales, where tethering is rife, showed that 10% of tethered horses had young foals. Those are just a few examples of the horrors associated with long-term tethering but, because tethering is not restricted by law, people can tether horses unchecked beyond the reach of the law, resulting in tethered horses reaching despicable stages of neglect before they can be rescued.
I want to touch on the current regulations and legislation surrounding equine welfare and explain why they are not protecting tethered horses in practice. The Minister may refer to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ code of practice, which acts as a guide to safely tethering horses, but the code is not being adhered to in reality, as demonstrated by an investigation conducted in south Wales in 2014 by the excellent University of Bristol’s veterinary school, which gave five main conclusions.
First, the code of practice states that water should be made available on a regular basis in a spill-proof container, but the research concluded that up to 90% of animals were not given water regularly. Secondly, the code states that animals should, as a minimum, have shelter from the sun and wind and that the area should be well drained in the event of heavy rain, but the research tells us that no shelter was provided in over 80% of cases. Thirdly, animals should be given the freedom to exercise off the tether for a reasonable period at least once a day. In reality, however, less than 3% of horses spent more than five minutes a day off the tether, and no one would argue that five minutes is a reasonable amount of time. Fourthly, according to the code of practice, the tethering site should not contain anything that might injure the animal, but the reality is that sites contained potential hazards in 50% of cases. Fifthly, the code states that tethered horses require a high level of supervision, with inspections
“no less frequently than every 6 hours”.
However, it was found that only a third of horses were visited that regularly. While we have a code of practice, it is clearly not being adhered to, and the fact that an individual can move an animal before they ever reach the stage of being prosecuted renders the code of practice redundant.