HC Deb 08 February 1994 vol 237 cc143-7 3.30 pm
Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)


Madam Speaker

Order. Hon. Members who are leaving the Chamber should do so quietly so that we may get on with the business. I am sure that you can make yourself heard, Mr. Greenway.

Mr. Greenway

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend section 1(1) of the Horses (Protective Headgear for Young Riders) Act 1990 so as to increase the age set out therein. At the turn of the century, the life of everyone depended upon the horse. Horses pulled the plough to harrow the soil and the implements by which the seeds were sown. When it was time to harvest, the horses were there again, pulling the cutting machines and the carts of grain, straw and stubble so that people might be provided with bread, and other horses and animals upon whose existence man depended might be given sustenance.

Horses pulled buses in our streets, fire engines, milk floats, hackney carriages, refuse carts, tinkers' carts and the conveyances of city gents and their ladies, and they carted childen to schools if these were any distance from home. Doctors went round their patients on horseback. Bishops travelled their dioceses on horses, and gaiters remain the official dress of bishops. Indeed, Archbishop Geoffrey Fisher, who crowned our present Queen, never wore anything else when on official duty.

Members of Parliament often travelled to the House in carriages or by some other means of horse transport. No area of life was not touched, directly or indirectly, by this noble creature.

Sadly, there was plenty of terrible cruelty through neglect and wanton beatings. However, most horses were loved and thoroughly cared for by their owners. This was especially true where the owner was wise enough to realise that the cared-for horse lasted much longer and was able to work much better than the abused horse. There was manure in plenty on the streets for everyone, but even then there were those who, in the discharge of their self-appointed task of defending the environment, saw that as wanton pollution.

Then came the internal combustion engine—or, as Winston Churchill so aptly described it, "the infernal combustion engine". Growing numbers of machines have gradually seen cars, lorries and other motor vehicles replace horses in carrying people to the places to which they want to go and in trawling loads of everything, from beer to bridges for rivers and roads. Horses have become ever fewer on our roads, and a horse and cart is now a very rare sight in towns, although driven ponies and traps have returned to some country areas as a healthy, fresh-air means of transport. Nowadays, the only horses seen on our roads are those ridden by children and adults for pleasure, and police and Army horses, which do superb work.

This morning, I had the pleasure of riding a 21-year-old mare called Launceston, an Army horse, in Hyde park's Rotten row, with Captain Charlie McEwen. As ever, the experience was marvellous—on a crisp, sunny morning—and I was reminded again of the need for me to do all in my power to keep horses among us, and for the House to do the same. Horses are so civilising, yet so challenging, that their influence on society can only be good.

In 1964, as a senior housemaster at Sir William Collins school—a comprehensive for 1,100 boys at King's Cross—I was allowed by my then employer, London county council, to take 20 groups of boys each week for lessons in riding and stable management, paid for by ratepayers and taxpayers, and to observe the effects. Those were fine, tough boys, who stood no nonsense from anyone; but they had to respect the horses to be able to ride and control them, and they had to be able to control themselves to achieve that.

My scheme spread to cover disabled children in special schools, who benefited enormously from riding. It must continue, for both ordinary and disabled children.

Horses now face such dangers on the roads that it may soon become too dangerous to ride on roads unless something is done to improve safety. In 1993, riding attracted 3.5 million people; it seems incredible that it is not mandatory for all riders to wear hard hats on the roads.

On 29 August 1993, The Times reported that there were 32,000 admissions to casualty departments every year as a result of contact with horses—which is an accident rate of 87 men, women and children per day. According to the Daily Mail of 24 September 1993, every year 30 people are permanently paralysed and 15 lose their lives.

As the department of neurosurgery at the Radcliffe infirmary pointed out in 1984, all six of the unhelmeted and improperly helmeted riders who died that year died of primary brain damage; with proper headgear, they could have been saved.

The great danger is that horses may become extinct as their practical uses diminish and the roads become ever more dangerous. Furthermore, we are told that a county the size of Oxfordshire is disappearing under the bulldozer every 10 years: that can only mean ever more riding on roads at a time when traffic is increasing vastly every day. We must ensure that the legislation controlling riding on roads is adequate to provide enough protection for riders to be safe in traffic. Protective headgear can and will save lives.

We should bear it in mind that even the most experienced riders will fall from time to time. Recently, the country was in a state of consternation when it was learned that Her Majesty the Queen had fallen from her horse and fractured her wrist. Naturally, there was much speculation about what would have happened if the accident had been more serious, as it easily could have been.

Her Majesty could have experienced a much worse injury had she fallen on the highway, or fallen on her head with only a headscarf to protect her. The worst could have happened if the horse had been at a walk on the road—let alone if Her Majesty had been travelling at a spanking trot, or even galloping, on a horse that bolted: that can easily happen even to the best horses.

Moreover, even the best horses can suddenly forget their manners and rear, or behave unexpectedly. The Daily Mail of 18 January 1994 stated that the Queen's accident was just one of a number of royal riding accidents, some of which had been fatal: William III, who succeeded James II in 1689, broke his collar bone when his horse stumbled on a mole hill at Hampton Court. He subsequently developed pleurisy and died. Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel suffered a similar fate when he fell off a horse in Hyde park and died in agony three days later. The leisurely ride of Bishop "Soapy Sam" Wilberforce of Winchester was interrupted when he was thrown from his horse and killed instantly. A startled Prime Minister Melbourne watched Queen Victoria stumble from her mount.

Those notable examples show that riding can be dangerous. As a spokesman for the British Horse Society put it: Riding is genuinely regarded as having some element of risk attached to it. It is sensible to take precautions against these risks". Our ancestors did not have the choice, but protective headgear, in the form of hard hats and helmets, can and does save lives. At £25 and £35, that is not too high a price to pay. At present, no law requires the use of a hard hat above the age of 14, but organisers of safe-riding initiatives, including the British Horse Society, of which the Queen is patron, on whose council I have served for 21 consecutive years, and whose award of merit I am proudly wearing today, constantly recommend safe riding hats for everyone, whatever their age.

We must do our utmost to ensure that all riders are safe. We are on moral high ground. How can we let parents say to their children who are under the age of 14, "You have to put your hard hats on because we are going riding, but I do not need to wear one"?

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Harry Greenway, Mr. Richard Spring, Mr. Sebastian Coe, Mr. Tony Banks, Mr. David Faber, Mr. Simon Hughes, Mr. Richard Tracey, Mr. Stuart Randall, Mr. John Carlisle and Mr. kin Mills.

  2. cc146-7
  3. Points of Order 264 words