HC Deb 06 July 1990 vol 175 cc1278-85

Lords amendment: No. 2, in page 2, line 16, leave out from "includes" to end of line 17 and insert pony, mule, donkey or other equine animal".

Mr. Harry Greenway

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

I know that other people want to get in, so I shall endeavour to present these points properly yet as quickly as possible.

The amendment was proposed in a spirit of compromise by Lady Masham on my behalf to give a clear definition of horse, and to include ponies and donkeys which are often ridden by children. Mules are not ridden as often as they were 100 years ago, but they might become fashionable again. The words, "other equine animal" include all the other animals which were in the original definition: mare, gelding, foal, colt, filly, stallion, ass and hinny.

I have been asked to mention three fairly unusual equines because, people being what the are, we may find children riding such equines on the road.

Some years ago I was riding a rig and was disturbed by its extraordinary behaviour.

Mr. Robert G. Hughes

Perhaps it would be helpful if my hon. Friend could say what a rig is.

12.45 pm
Mr. Greenway

The Oxford dictionary defines a rig as an animal which has been imperfectly castrated (or spayed), or whose genital organs are not properly developed; especially a male animal (ram, bull or horse) with only one testicle". A rig can be exceedingly dangerous, in that it can have its mind on a mare on heat. If there is a rider in the saddle he may be put in great danger, such as I have experienced. I have been bucked higher in the air by a rig than by any other equine. No equine can stand as vertically as a rig can, and the rider is often in danger of falling over backwards with the rig on top of him.

Mr. Soames

My hon. Friend makes a good point about rigs. They can be dangerous. A year ago, my sister-in-law bought a children's pony which, she left in a field with a rig. When the pony was taken back to Norfolk, she discovered it to be in foal. That is how dangerous rigs are.

Mr. Greenway

I am sad to hear of my hon. Friend's experience. I hope that the foal was acceptable—

Mr. Soames

It is a sweetheart.

Mr. Greenway

At least that outcome was useful, but terrible things can happen.

In another place, there was much debate about zebras. As children may find zebras attractive and they are sometimes ridden, they should be dealt with, too. There are many things that not all hon. Members know about zebras. They are definitely members of the horse family, as are asses, so they are covered by the Bill. Biologically, a zebra is closer to a horse than is an ass; although it is difficult to break in and train them for riding, it has been done. I understand that in the 19th century a member of the House of Lords was in the habit of driving a four-in-hand in which the horses were replaced by zebras. Between the wars, some intrepid white settlers in the Happy valley of Kenya occasionally rode zebras. I do not know whether they stayed on for long—zebras do not like having riders on their backs.

Mr. Soames

I can confirm that. A distant cousin of mine, Jack Soames, used to ride zebras regularly in the Happy valley.

Although this discussion about zebras is important, I urge my hon. Friend, given his important position in the horse world—he does an enormous amount in the House in that connection—to counsel people strongly against riding them: they are extremely tricky and disagreeable animals. I was told by a white hunter in Kenya that in Africa more people are killed by zebras each year than are killed by lions.

Mr. Greenway

My hon. Friend has regaled the House with some fascinating and important information. Few people stay on a zebra, but I am not surprised that his uncle did so, given the wonderful stock from which my hon. Friend comes, nothing would surprise me. I am grateful for his important contribution.

Mrs. Gorman

Will my hon. Friend clarify that the Bill will affect camels, which are ridden by children at zoos? I understand, as we have strayed into the wilds of Africa, that wildebeest are sometimes mounted by British children in Happy valley, or anywhere else.

Mr. Greenway

Camels and wildebeest are not in the horse family; the Bill deals with equines. Some perverted people ride rams or tups and other animals they should not ride, but that is outside the scope of the Bill so I hope that my hon. Friend will forgive me for not dealing with it.

Zebras can be crossed with horses and asses and the resulting hybrids are easier to break in and train than zebras. That possibility is covered. Huxley, writing in 1862, said:

It is a very rare thing to see a Hinny in this country However, I have occasionally seen one. Given how things have changed in the past 128 years, the conclusion must be that there are many more zebras in Britain than hinnies, so if such improbable and unlikely mounts as foals and hinnies are to be covered by the Bill, it is right that zebras should be.

It would be wicked if anyone rode a foal because it would damage the young equine and could have serious repercussions for the rider. The amendment will cover that possibility. The new definition is simpler but more comprehensive than the former one, and I commend it to the House.

Mr. Michael Brown

I am unhappy about the inclusion of the word "donkey" in the Lords amendment.

I have the honour and privilege to represent the seaside resort of Cleethorpes. For most hon. Members, the word "Cleethorpes" conjures up visions of seaside, donkey rides and the promenade. One of the greatest pleasures for young people of visiting Cleethorpes is the opportunity to enjoy the benefits of normal seaside pleasures. Donkey rides have been a traditional seaside pleasure at Cleethorpes and at other seaside resorts in the north, such as Skegness and Blackpool for a long time.

Mr. Harry Greenway

A donkey is not referred to as an equine, although it is within the equine family. Most often, donkeys are ridden on beaches, so there would be no danger in children riding them. I caution that donkeys are incredibly dangerous to ride and I have seen them unseat the best jockeys without difficulty.

Mr. Brown

I know quite a lot about the donkeys at Cleethorpes. Two years ago, the mayor of Cleethorpes, Mrs. Gladys Nuttall—

Mr. Atkins

The mare?

Mr. Brown

No, the mayor. Mrs. Nuttall had a distinguished career. She and her family ran the donkey rides at Cleethorpes for many years. She and I are worried that because the donkeys set off from the promenade they may be within the scope of the Bill. Horses that are owned by riding stables, ridden by children under 14 and which go on to a public highway, as well as donkeys that go on to promenades before they get to the beach, would fall within the scope of the Bill. It would therefore be necessary for Councillor Mrs. Nuttall and her family to provide children under 14 with hard hats.

Mr. Soames

My hon. Friend raises an important point about his constituency. I am familiar with the donkeys there. They are a fine breed.

My hon. Friend should not ignore the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway). Donkeys are absolute brutes. Some two years ago, I suffered a terrible fall from a donkey when riding in a donkey derby at a village fete. The donkey was completely unscathed but I was quite badly injured.

Mr. Brown

I am distressed to hear that, but my hon. Friend is overreacting slightly. I take the point that donkeys can be bad tempered. I know the donkeys at Cleethorpes better than anyone else, and have always found them more agreeable than the average donkey. The issue is the danger that donkeys pose to children under 14 and whether they should therefore come within the scope of the Bill.

Between February and June 1988—covering half the summer period—out of a sample of 500 horse-related accidents, five resulted from fall from a donkey, three of them involving children under 14 and one involving a three-year-old, who cut his head. We should set the danger posed by my hon. Friends the Members for Crawley (Mr. Soames) and for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) into perspective. if the Lords amendment is accepted, donkeys will be within the scope of the Bill, yet only three out of 500 horse-related accidents involved children under 14.

Seaside resorts, especially the traditional type, are going through a difficult time. Providers of donkey rides in constituencies such as mine do not have an easy time. They have to work hard over long hours, especially during the summer season, to make ends meet. If they have to provide hard hats for potential customers, charges may increase. In Cleethorpes, by necessity, a great deal of the seaside leisure activity, including donkey rides, must take place as much on the promenade as on the beach. There is pressure on seaside resorts not to allow animals to go on to the beach —some people complain that dogs and other animals put dirt on it. If pressure continues o remove animals from the sand, the promenade will be used more for donkey rides at seaside resorts. That will inevitably bring providers of donkey rides within the scope of the Bill. Let us remember that donkey rides are an inexpensive form of entertainment and leisure for the children of not-so-well-off families. I fear that charges for donkey rides would be bound to increase.

1 pm

Mrs. Gorman

My hon. Friend is referring to the possibility that people hiring out donkeys will have to provide at the same time helmets for riders because of the small chance, less than 1 per cent., of an accident occurring. Has my hon. Friend considered the question of cross-infection as a result of helmets being passed from one wearer to another? There has been a great increase in the incidence of head lice infection in society, particularly in schools. Unless the helmets about which my hon. Friend is speaking can be sterilised between use, cross-infection could present a great danger.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I remind hon. Members that we are dealing with the definition of a horse.

Mr. Brown

I see the relevance of my hon. Friend's intervention, but I must abide by your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker. She is suggesting that if a donkey is defined as a horse, the donkeys of Cleethorpes will come within the scope of the Bill and the providers of donkey rides there, Councillor Mrs. Nuttall and her family, will have to go to the expense of providing a dozen or 20 helmets, which during the day will be passed from one child to another.

I will not detain the House longer. While I do not oppose the Lords amendment, I urge the Minister to appreciate the concern that has been expressed by the providers of donkey rides at seaside resorts such as Cleethorpes.

Mr. Atkins

We have had an important discussion—including a humorous discussion, as I would have expected from the interventions of my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames)—about the definition of a horse. Hon. Members have dealt with the issue in some detail and have been specific in their remarks.

The matter was referred to by Lord Stoddart in Committee in another place on 20 June, having also been mentioned by parliamentary counsel when the Bill was being redrafted in the spring. Hon. Members who attended the Committee on 4 April or who read the Official Report of those proceedings will recall that the definition was already in some difficulty at that stage.

The hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) moved an amendment to include rig in the definition. My hon. Friends the Members for Crawley and for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) defined a rig, but I have a further definition from the "Encyclopaedia of Flat Racing" by Howard Wright:

a rig is a horse who has one testicle which has not descended into the scrotum: more rare is the example in which neither testicle has descended. The condition may be inherited and is likely to cause aggressive behaviour unless treated by castration. That sums up the situation. Such an animal is an equine animal, and whether or not it was clear that it was covered in the former definition, it is certainly covered in the present one.

Of the 17 unsuccessful amendments that were tabled in another place, five were concerned with the definition of a horse or size of horse to be covered by the Bill. In Committee on 20 June, there were amendments to limit the scope of the Bill to horses over nine hands—in other words, to exclude Shetland ponies, foals, asses, mule and hinny. Lord Stoddart argued that a fall from a small animal would not be as dangerous as a fall from a large one. He also suggested that to ride a foal would damage the animal in a critical stage of its life.

Lord Monson moved an amendment on report to restrict the Bill to riding foals over five months. One reason for changing the definition was to remove the word "foal" from the face of the Bill without removing protection to children riding them.

The definition of a foal is a loose one. The "Oxford English Dictionary" states that it is:

the young of the equine genus of quadrupeds; properly one of the male sex, a colt; but also used where the sex is not specified, a colt or a filly. Under the definition of "colt" it states:

while the young of the horse is still with the dam it is usually called a foal. No one wants to suggest that a child or anyone should be encouraged to ride such an animal. That is why it no longer appears on the face of the Bill. However, if a child were to ride such an animal it should be protected from injury and by the use of the words "or other equine animal" such protection is guaranteed. The phrase, "ass, mule or hinny" is now coverd by "mule" and "donkey".

My hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) referred to the problems of the Cleethorpes sands. Exemptions can probably be made for donkey rides and I shall endeavour to see during the consultation period whether that is necessary. That is an important point which I expected him to raise on behalf of his constituents.

Another reason for choosing that definition of horse was that it covered every member of the horse family, whether or not it had been thought of. Lady Nicol asked whether "jennet" was covered. It is a small Spanish horse and so is covered. She used the term as an alternative to "hinny", sometimes called a "jenny". All are covered. I am astonished that there are so many names for horses, not being a horse rider myself—

Mr. Don Dixon (Jarrow)

It is a Geordie expression.

Mr. Atkins

The hon. Gentleman tells me it is a Geordie expression. It is a delightful one.

The fifth amendment, in another place, to deal with the definition, had the most effect on changing the legislation, apart from the concern over foals. Lord Monson wanted to include zebras in the list. He admitted that it was difficult to break in and train zebras for riding, but he referred to a 19th century member of the other place who was in the habit of driving a four-in-hand in which zebras were substituted for horses. He also mentioned settlers in Happy valley in Kenya who occasionally rode zebras. I do not know which of the three species of zebra they were —Burchell's zebra or bonte quagga, Grevy's zebra or the Mountain zebra—but all three will now be covered in the unlikely event that they are ridden.

Lord Monson also mentioned that zebras can be crossed with horses and asses. I do not know what such crossbreeds are called, and I await the answer of my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley. It is a pity that he is not here. I do not know what sort of animals could be crossed thanks to the wonders of modern genetic engineering. However, if they are members of the family Equidae they will be covered by the Bill under the new amendment, and children under the age of 14 will not be allowed to ride them without the appropriate protective headgear correctly worn.

Mr. Ken Livingstone (Brent, East)

I am unhappy about the clause, but not the Bill, on which I congratulate the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) for getting it this far. I am certain that it will be passed, and it will have my vote.

The amendment is too narrow and relates to a world that has gone. I take up the Minister's point about genetic engineering. It would be a stronger amendment if "equine" was not included, and it simply read:

leave out from 'includes' to end of line 17 and insert 'pony, mule, donkey or other animal'. As the Minister said, new amimals are not being created. The range of members of the equine family referred to today, and the various crosses which can occur, are undoubtedly covered by the clause. However, during the past 10 years we have seen, at Cambridge university, the creation of a new animal, the geep—a cross between a sheep and goat. There has been the insertion of a rat gene into a mouse to create a supermouse of enormous size. My worry is that before the end of the Act's lifetime—I assume that it will be on the statute book for decades to come —we shall be living in a world where completely new forms of animal have been created. It would be much better if the amendment did not contain the word "equine" but allowed for developments that will take place arising from future genetic engineering so that any animal created in a laboratory that becomes part of circus or holiday entertainment would automatically be covered.

We are dealing with size. The problem arises when anybody falls from a great height.

One reason why we have evolved to an average height of about 5ft 10 in for a man and a couple of inches smaller for a woman, but have not evolved beyond that, is that if large numbers of people were 7 or 8 ft tall, falling over would carry a high risk of injury or death. Putting people of any age on the back of an animal immediately creates a similar problem.

I vote for the amendment with reluctance because it is flawed by being so restrictive. I hope that the Government will continue to consider the problem in case there is a tremendous increase in genetically engineered animals. Given the billions of pounds being invested in genetic engineering by multinational corporations, before the century is out we are likely to have peculiar new animals created specifically for profit. Clearly young children are likely to be drawn along to see interesting, exotic beasts.

Mrs. Gorman

Given the hon. Gentleman's knowledge of genetic engineering, does he know of any experiments to cross newts with frogs? We might get nogs or fewts.

Mr. Livingstone

I detect an element of humour in that intervention, but there is a giant salamander which is 6 ft long and if people were to ride it there would be a serious risk of injury if they fell off. The animal is very rare and is found only in the colder parts of China, Manchuria and Japan, and fortunately it would be far too expensive to ue it for rides. However, the gene which controls size in the giant salamander could be inserted into another animal —that is the world that we now live in.

The Government should keep the issue under the most vigorous scrutiny so that the intention of the Bill is not flouted by genetic engineers and crafty people who would no doubt earn vast sums of money if they got young children to ride on exotic new animals. It is not merely a case of existing species of cross-breed; genetic engineering would give us the opportunity to recreate extinct animals if their bones are preserved. For example, the quagga, a member of the equine family, could be recreated by inserting its genetic material into the ovum of a horse or zebra, and I am certain that something of the sort will happen in the next 10 years. The quagga would be covered by the Bill, but a completely new form of animal, which was not in the equine family, would not. I hope that the Government will keep the issue under consideration in the years to come.

Question put and agreed to.

Lords amendment: No. 3, in page 2, leave out lines 19 to 27 and insert— "road" does not include a footpath or bridleway but, subject to that, has

  1. (a) in England and Wales the meaning given by section 192(1) of the Road Traffic Act 1988; and
  2. (b) in Scotland the meaning given by section 151(1) of the Roads (Scotland) Act 1984.

(2) For the purposes of the definition of "road" in subsection (1) above—

  1. (a) "footpath" means a way—
    1. (i) over which the public have a right of way or, in Scotland, of passage on foot only; and
    2. (ii) which is not associated with a carriageway; and
  2. (b) "bridleway" means a way over which the public have the following, but no other, rights of way: a right of way on foot and a right of way on horseback or leading a horse, with or without a right to drive animals of any description along the way."

Mr. Harry Greenway

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

The amendment restricts the scope of the Bill to the road, excluding bridleways and footpaths. On Report on 27 April, my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Waller) moved amendments which were intended to restrict the scope of the Bill in such a way. I agree that the worst injuries to a hatless child falling off a horse would occur on the road. Therefore it was important to make it crystal clear where the wearing of a hat was most important. I agreed to the amendments which were duly passed by the House then.

Unfortunately, my advisers in the Department of Transport realised that the wording was not ideal to achieve what the House had agreed upon. This amendment was drafted by Parliamentary Counsel to meet our desire and was duly passed in another place. It is intended to restrict the scope of the Bill to roads where there is a risk of collision between vehicles and horse riders. That is why bridleways and footpaths are excluded. However, it will be illegal for children to ride horses on the footpath alongside a road without protective headgear. I commend the Lords amendment to the House.

Mr. Atkins

I have been endeavouring to react to the will of the House by speaking briefly. This is a neat compromise, and who am I to argue with Parliamentary Counsel? I am delighted that the amendment has found acceptance in another place and I hope that it will find it here.

Question put and agreed to.

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