HC Deb 18 April 1975 vol 890 cc903-8
Mr. Mates

I beg to move Amendment No. 9, in page 17, line 52, at end add: '7. In the application of this Part of this Schedule to Scotland, for the references to the Lord Chancellor there shall be substituted references to the Lord Advocate'. This amendment gives the Lord Advocate powers to regulate the conduct of proceedings by the Disciplinary Committee in Scotland that are the same as those as the Lord Chancellor has in England and Wales.

Amendment agreed to.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

2.5 p.m

The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Dr. Shirley Summerskill)

Those hon. Members who have been following the progress of the Bill with any measure of interest will no doubt be aware that when it was first considered on the Floor of the House on 24th January, the Second Reading Debate concluded in a state of what I think I might fairly call some animation. Despite that, we had a most amicable and useful Committee stage, during which it proved possible not only to make some substantial improvements to the Bill but for me to set the record straight on the Government's attitude to the Bill. I am aware, however, that the Official Reports of Standing Committee C are not always so avidly or so widely read as are the reports of debates on the Floor of the House, and I therefore welcome the opportunity of Third Reading to clarify and set on record the Government's attitude to the Bill.

I have been able to work most effectively with the sponsor, the hon. Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates), and I am confident that his efforts and those of the Committee, with whatever assistance I have been able to give, have been such as to make the Bill a more workable and, therefore, a more valuable measure than it was when it was first before us.

On Second Reading the Government thought it right to draw to the attention of the House, and of the sponsors in particular, such doubts over matters of principle as they had about the Bill. Some of the difficulties could be removed by amendment, and I am pleased to say that that has now been done. Others of rather less weight, however, remain and I am sure that the hon. Member for Petersfield in deciding to proceed has given due thought to them. That is a matter for him, since it is upon those in whose interests he has introduced the Bill that the burden of operating this legislation and its restrictive effects will fall in practice.

In brief, on Second Reading I made three points. Each related to the question whether it was necessary or desirable to impose statutory restrictions, enforceable by penal sanctions, upon the conduct of the trade of farriery which would be given effect by means of a substantial machinery of supervision over the trade.

On the issue of necessity, I queried whether, in view of the existing law relating to the protection of animals, the Protection of Animals Act 1911, and the particular nature of the trade of farriery, which tends to ensure that the incompetent man goes out of business, the additional protection afforded by the Bill—and there undoubtedly will be a measure of additional protection—was warranted Secondly, I drew attention to the effect in recent years on the number of apprentice farriers under training of the substantial financial contribution made by the Horserace Betting Levy Board working in close conjunction with the Worshipful Company of Farriers. In 1967 there were 16 apprentices under training. This year there are 129. In that period the grant has increased from £2,000 a year to £15,000. In consequence I asked whether the Bill was essential, as the sponsors alleged, to ensure recruitment of farriers. Both of these questions were worthy of consideration on Second Reading, and I am sure that the sponsors have given due consideration to them.

My third doubt was about the effect of the Bill once it became an offence to shoe a horse without being registered as a farrier. The difficulty I foresaw here was that no one seemed to know for certain either how many horses there were to be shod or how many farriers there were, or how many people at present were shoeing their own horses. One of the difficulties that I suggested might occur was that once the Bill was brought into force, there would not be enough farriers to shoe the horses and the result would be that horses would have to go unshod, and, despite what some hon. Members have said about this in the past, I believe that this could cause not only inconvenience to owners but suffering to the horses themselves, a most undesirable consequence.

I am glad to say that the sponsor has found solutions to these two problems that were acceptable to the Committee. By adding a new list to the register of farriers, it will be possible to allow those who have been shoeing their own horses with competence in the past, but not for gain, to continue to do so in the future. Secondly, the commencement provision of the Bill has been altered to allow the provisions relating to the council, to registration and to training to be brought into force generally and at an early stage, but to enable the penal sanctions in the Bill to be applied to various parts of the country gradually and only when it is quite certain that in each area of the country there are sufficient farriers to shoe the horses there.

As I said, I felt it right to clarify the Government's attitude to the Bill. What I said on Second Reading was very much on the lines of what Lord Wells-Pestell had said last summer when an earlier version of the Bill was before another place. The Bill that returns to that place is in an amended, and, I believe, an improved form. The sponsors are certain that if it is passed, it will have a desirable effect upon the supply of farriers and the quality of their work. I am sure that all hon. Members would support these objectives. I hope that they will be fulfilled in practice.

I end by taking this opportunity of congratulating the hon. Member for Petersfield on steering the Bill, which is, I believe, his first experience of handling a Private Member's Bill, through the House with such success.

2.10 p.m.

Mr. Carol Mather (Esher)

The Minister referred to the somewhat stormy passage the Bill received during its Second Reading. I am glad that since then we seem to have reached some kind of agreement about the necessity for the Bill, although the Minister said just now that she had some lingering doubts. She qualified this by saying that she was quite satisfied that most of the doubts were removed by various amendments that my hon. Friend the Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates) has introduced.

My information about the Bill has been gained from a working farrier. I was convinced by him that this was a necessary Bill for the health, well-being and continuance of the profession. He was in no doubt about this at all.

I take this opportunity of congratulating my hon. Friend on introducing what is a quite complicated Bill, on steering it

through the House with considerable skill, weathering the storms and overcoming the difficulties. He is to be commended for his handling of what is his first Private Member's Bill. I wish the Bill well in another place.

2.13 p.m.

Mr. Mates

We have come a long way since 24th January, when a very confused and new Member of the House was left wondering what had hit him on what he thought would be a harmless Friday afternoon. May I extend my personal thanks to the Under-Secretary of State for her tremendous co-operation in amending this Bill, which is better as a result of her efforts. I would also like to take this opportunity of asking the hon. Lady to pass on my thanks to her officials who worked very hard on the Bill. It is significant that, despite the controversy at the beginning, every amendment except two has been tabled by me on behalf of the Government. Co-operation has been absolute and I am grateful for that.

The scope of the registration has been widened to try to overcome any fears that we might be adding to an existing shortage of farriers. The hon. Lady has mentioned the apprentice schemes. It is most encouraging that the number of apprentices now at work is significantly greater than it was three or four years ago.

The Bill does not just attempt to provide a greater number of farriers. Linked closely to that is the attempt to give them a guarantee of a worthwhile career which will not be interfered with by untrained and unskilled people entering their area of operation. This was very much in the minds of the sponsors in drawing up the Bill.

The Minister rightly said that if the Bill should reach the statute book and is not unduly delayed in another place it will be up to the sponsors to make sure that it works. I fully agree with her and I can tell her that the Worshipful Company of Farriers is extremely conscious that it has the responsibility of seeing that the scheme operates efficiently and that this growth in and encouragement of the farriers' trade over the past five or six years continues to flourish.

2.17 p.m.

Mr. Michael Marshall (Arundel)

I should like to take this opportunity of intervening briefly to tell my hon. Friend the Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates) that the West Sussex farriers have been following the Bill with the closest interest. Those of us who have not had the opportunity to take part in the Committee proceedings or elsewhere would not like this occasion to go by without saying how much we appreciate what is contained in the Bill. The West Sussex farriers regard the compromise that has been struck as entirely reasonable. The wider registration seems to strike a workable balance. I should like my hon. Friend to know this, because the farriers of West Sussex represent a significant section of the farrier community.

Mr. Mates

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks. I know from the correspondence I have had since I took the Bill under my wing that there has been no opposition from any branch of the farriers' trade. All farriers are unanimous in considering this to be a sensible measure. I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.