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Horses, Ponies And Donkeys

Volume 130: debated on Tuesday 29 March 1988

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5.20 pm

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to protect horses, ponies and donkeys against abandonment by their owners; to provide for statutory code of practice on the tethering of horses and ponies; to oblige owners to arrange for a humane method of identification for their animals; and for purposes connected therewith.
I have been reliably informed by people throughout the country that this is the moment for which horses, ponies and donkeys have been waiting. Indeed, a representative of each of those groups was brought to Westminster this afternoon, but I thought it inappropriate to attempt to bring them into the Chamber.

On a more serious note, the Bill attempts to deal with the abuses that these animals undoubtedly suffer. A report recently produced by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals states that 3,000 horses in Britain live a miserable existence, tethered by a length of rope or chain to a stake in the ground. That restrictive life style is made even worse in many cases when poor tethering and lack of attention mean that horses suffer severe discomfort and even death.

People who lack suitable facilities for these animals choose to restrict their movement by tethering, usually by a rope or chain attached around the animal's neck to a head collar and then fastened to a stake secured to the ground. Increasingly, parents buy a pony for their child without giving any thought to the requirements of the animal's upkeep or the costs involved in looking after it properly. The RSPCA inspectors' research found that many people had no idea of the amount of land required or quality of food needed to look after these animals properly. The cost of keeping a horse is enormous.

The horsemeat trade to the continent is especially prevalent in my part of Britain, the south of England. Horses waiting for the knacker's yard have a low economic value and do not receive anything like the attention they require. A particular cause for concern is the large number of horses and ponies left to fend for themselves on areas of hostile or non-habitable land, such as the Essex marshes. They are often left for several months before being rounded up. In the middle of the night, a van mysteriously arrives, the horses, ponies and donkeys are put into them, and they are then used for horsemeat. These incidents are repeatedly reported but neither the police nor the local authority can take any action.

We should consider the plight of horses used to earn a livelihood—for example, in sea coaling in the north-east of England. Many areas have a tradition of horse keeping dating back to the use of pit ponies, which were well cared for, but now some of these animals are not kept in a wholly suitable fashion.

I should like to outline the precise need for this legislation and why I believe that the Protection of Animals Act 1911 is not sufficient to give the protection that so many hon. Members want for these animals. Over the past year, the number of convictions secured for cruelty to animals increased by 17 per cent. Complaints to the RSPCA from the general public about tethered horses rate second only to those about the ill-treatment of dogs. Complaints increase when temperatures drop and horses tied to stakes or trees on wasteland are exposed to rain, wind or snow, with no shelter or little attention. An excellent code of practice has been drawn up for the proper tethering of equines by the RSPCA, the British Horse Society and the Horse and Pony Protection Association.

The Bill will attempt to put a stop to illegal tethering by making it an offence to tether a horse without proper provision for the animal's well-being. Owners guilty of such ill-treatment shall commit an offence under section 1 of the Protection of Animals Act 1911. Horses can be badly treated because they are not classed as farm animals, and this is a gap in the law.

My long-term aim is development of an identification system for these animals, because few are properly marked. Although I recognise that it might be difficult to undertake such a scheme, one hallmark of the Government is that they have never stood back from attempting to introduce legislation simply because it is too difficult. The Government seek to introduce legislation because they think it is right.

As it stands, the 1911 Act makes it difficult to prove an offence, whereas this Bill defines suffering more easily, making ill-treatment a specific offence and thus making it easier to obtain convictions. More important, the Bill will prevent suffering, and it is in that spirit that I hope that the House will support it.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to he brought in by Mr. David Amess, Sir Bernard Braine, Mr. David Alton, Mr. Gerald Bermingham, Mr. Harry Cohen, Mr. Robin Corbett, Mr. Stan Crowther, Miss Janet Fookes, Mr. Harry Greenway, Mr. Ken Hargreaves, Mr. Greg Knight and Mr. Allan Roberts.

Horses, Ponies And Donkeys

Mr. David Amess accordingly presented a Bill to protect horses, ponies and donkeys against abandonment by their owners; to provide for a statutory code of practice on the tethering of horses and ponies; to oblige owners to arrange for a humane method of identification for their animals; and for purposes connected therewith : And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 15 April and to be printed. [Bill 135.]