HC Deb 26 January 1961 vol 633 cc313-4
7. Mr. E. Johnson

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food why, and under what regulations, horses cannot be imported from Russia to race in this country; whether these regulations apply to the whole of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics; and if he will review them to see if they are still necessary.

10. Mr. Dodds

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is the nature of the difficulties which prevent his Department agreeing to Russian horses competing in this year's Grand National at Aintree; what discussions have taken place on the matter between his Department and the interests concerned; what advice has been given; and if he will state the evidence available to his Department concerning the incidence of horse sickness in Russia.

Mr. Soames

The Order which was made last September under the Diseases of Animals Act, 1950, prohibits the importation into Great Britain of horses from a number of countries, including the U.S.S.R. The advice at that time of an international organisation concerned 'with animal diseases was that these countries either had African horse sickness within their borders or were dangerously close to affected countries.

An international meeting was held last week to review developments and consider future policy. As a result of the further information given at this meeting, the Secretary of State and I are advised that the situation in the U.S.S.R. and the countries immediately bordering it does not justify continuing the prohibition on the importation of horses from the U.S.S.R. An amending Order, will, therefore, be made removing the U.S.S.R. from the list of prohibited countries. The prohibition will be replaced by a procedure under which the U.S.S.R. Government, or any other Government from whose country we import horses, will be required to certify that the particular horses and the premises from which they come are disease free, and that African horse sickness has not existed in the country concerned for at least twelve months.

Mr. Johnson

Is my right hon. Friend aware that that Answer will give general satisfaction? It is all the more welcome because Russian horses have already been run in the United States. Further, does he not agree that visits of racehorses to other countries do more to promote good international relations than do visits of politicans?

Mr. Soames

I am all for horses coming from other countries to participate in races and such like in the country. On the other hand, this is a very serious disease. It could be catastrophic to the bloodstook industry if it ever came here. We must make sure that full protection is given.

Mr. Dodds

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there are many people who are rather puzzled about all the fuss that was made, until the meeting last week? France and America welcomed Russian horses long before this meeting. Why is it that we seem to be trying to create an iron curtain against Russian horses? Is the right hon. Gentleman interested to know that a knowledgeable gentleman has written asking me to recommend to him that he should put £1 each way on the Russian horse "Epigraff."

Mr. Soames

There is absolutely no question of creating an iron curtain. Last summer this disease was very rife and spreading very rapidly. It had spread well outside the Middle East countries and into countries bordering Russia, particularly Iran and Afghanistan. On requesting advice from the international organisation, we were told that Russia was among those countries to which there was a danger of it spreading. In fact it did not reach Russia.