HL Deb 29 January 1970 vol 307 cc474-96

3.49 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to move the Second Reading of this Bill. Some of your Lordships may remember that in 1964 I introduced into this House a Bill which became the Riding Establishments Act, and this present Hill seeks to amend that Act. In my opinion, it does so in some extremely important ways.

The 1964 Act was necessary because former legislation on riding establishments was entirely permissive, and of course local authorities could not be forced to take any action for the control of riding establishments. Control there had to be, because even in those days, as I pointed out at the time, we had 100,000 weekend riders, and the number of riding establishments was 2,000. The number of people riding to-day, especially the weekend riders, has increased very greatly; I am informed that we now have half a million weekend horsemen. It is rather odd, but the number of riding establishments does not appear to have increased in proportion to the number of horsemen. If we take the two big horse shows of the year we find that they were viewed on television by an audience of 8 million, which shows the great popularity of riding now.

One of the reasons for the 1964 Act— as I pointed out at the time, an excellent thing—was that a great number of people from an urban background were taking up riding, and quite a few of the people keeping riding establishments were of the same background, although they had not perhaps the practical experience of the pre-war keepers of riding establishments. It was then a trade handed down from father to son, and of course those people were brought up in the country.

Unfortunately, the 1964 Act has not by any means achieved the purpose for which it was intended. The purpose was to prevent suffering to horses in riding establishments and to ensure that the customers got a fair deal, inasmuch as the horses they rode were fit and that they were taught something about horsemanship if they so desired. I might mention that the Ponies of Britain Society, in conjunction with the British Horse Society, with whom they work very closely, are sponsors of this Bill. During the last eighteen months the British Horse Society have sent a very experienced horse master round a great number of these establishments. He has visited 787 riding establishments in the South of England to ascertain whether the objects of the 1964 Act were being fulfilled. Of those 787 establishments, 196 failed to meet the major requirements of the Act in at least one respect, and 33 failed in three or more respects.

Apart from these inspections, 35 stables were visited on receipt of complaints from the public. I will not weary your Lordships with them all, but I have a long list of cases here and perhaps I could read one which concerns an establishment with seven ponies. All were listless and undernourished; the stabling was dark, badly ventilated, badly drained and dirty. Three ponies were turned out on about a half acre of woods and two others on about the same amount of poor grass. Cabbage leaves and potato peelings had been thrown down for them; no water was provided in the fields; saddles were badly worn and patched with old pieces of material, and one saddle was totally unserviceable. All that, my Lords, at a licensed riding establishment. It would appear that the authorised inspecting officer of the local authority must have slipped up there.

I have here a great number of news-paper cuttings which tell the same story. I will read just the headings. In the Daily Express we find: "Underfed holiday ponies suffer in seashore slavery". Another, which I think is from a local newspaper, says: "Joy riding can be hell for the horses". There are a great number of these Press cuttings on this subject, and if any of your Lordships takes the News of the World (I rather doubt it, though I do not see why you should not) you may have seen a really shocking case reported in last Sunday's editions. It related to a fire which occurred at a small farm in Devonshire. Searches found a number of emaciated dogs, and dying and dead animals, and on these premises was a notice, "Riding stable". They could not find any ponies at the time of the fire. When the local authority were asked about this they did not seem to know much about it. The farm had not a riding establishment licence, and of course should not have been allowed to let out horses for hire.

With regard to the breaches of the Act, I think they are due to a large extent to ignorance on the part of the people who have these riding establishments. One reason is that we have in the London area alone 25,000 people who ride every weekend; and riding establishments in urban areas are found to be very cramped for grazing and for room generally; and stabling can be very bad. Also, perhaps some of these people who have riding establishments start them with very little capital. They employ casual and part-time juvenile labour. The licence-holder is often absent for a long time from the premises. I have mentioned all these reasons, but there are many others, with which I will not bother your Lordships. The British Horse Society have interviewed every major licensing authority in the South of England and I can say that, on the whole, the licensing authorities support this amending Bill.

I come now to the Bill. Under the principal Act, by which I mean the 1964 Act, the licensing authority have only two choices: they can either refuse a licence, or if they grant one it has to be for a year. That is not satisfactory. If the licensing authority grant a licence for a year, they cannot revoke that licence. True enough, at the end of the year they can refuse to renew the licence; but they cannot revoke it in those twelve months. During that time they may receive reports of the bad treatment of horses, but they can do nothing about it. Of course, proceedings can be taken in a magistrates' court, under either the Cruelty to Animals Act or the 1964 Act; but, having regard to how heavily overloaded the courts are, there is little point in doing that because probably the year would be concluded before the court could deal with the matter.

The main object of this Bill is to empower a local authority to issue a provisional licence for three months. If at the end of those three months they are completely satisfied that the licence holder is a satisfactory person, they can then grant a yearly licence or another three-monthly provisional licence. This Bill of course has to be read in conjunction with the principal Act, the Riding Establishments Act 1964. As I have just said, Clause 1 is designed to enable the licensing authority to grant a provisional licence. In this connection, should your Lordships be kind enough to give the Bill a Second Reading I shall on the Committee stage be introducing an Amendment. As the Bill now stands, there is nothing to prevent a licensing authority from granting provisional licences ad infinitum. As a result of the Amendment that I hope to introduce they will be able to grant only two provisional licences, and if at the end of the period the licence holder is not satisfactory then he will be granted no more licences. I think I need say no more about Clause 1.

Clause 2 is a long clause. Here there is a suggested alteration to the principal Act. For subsection (4) of Clause 1 of that Act there is substituted a new subsection, followed by a new subsection (4A). The only matter with which I need weary your Lordships in connection with subsection (4) is that under the Bill the licensing authority have to be satisfied that the applicant is of experience. In the new subsection there appear the words "proven experience". On the Committee stage, if the Bill gets that far, I shall introduce an Amendment to strike out the word "proven". Such persons will have to be of experience or holders of approved certificates. Clause 4 of the Bill contains a list of the approved certificates, including any other certificate… prescribed by the Secretary of State by statutory instrument. May I now point out some other suggested alterations to the original Act? Clause 2(1) emphasises that the horses must be fit and that they must be in very good condition. That provision is set out in paragraph (b). The Bill also states (but I am going to move an Amendment on Committee to alter this) that they have to be of a suitable type and size. My Amendment will be designed to leave out the words "and size". Paragraph (b)(ii) is important. This provision was not in the original Bill at all. It reads: that the feet of all animals are properly trimmed and that, if shod, their shoes are properly fitted and in good condition. Some shocking cases have been reported of horses and ponies turned out for a long time in a field Especially if the field is not flinty, or if it is not a hard field, their feet grow misshapen. This can be most inconvenient for them. Obviously, ponies and horses have to be properly shod. There have been cases of extremely bad shoeing.

Then we come to sub-paragraph (iii). If old buildings are to be used, they have to be up to the same standard as new buildings in relation to the comfort of horses and ponies. Another suggested alteration is that where horses are maintained at grass, supplementary feed will be provided as and when required. A number of instances have occurred where people have turned horses out into a grass field but do not appear to understand that if the grass gets poor there is little for the horses to eat. Horses cannot eat earth. It is further provided in this clause that where horses are stabled they shall be groomed. That provision did not appear in the original Act. It is most necessary for the health of a horse or pony that if it is kept inside it should be groomed. If it is outside, in its natural environment, it can roll and play about and keep, as it should naturally be kept, the circulation to the skin. If they are stabled and they are to be fit, they really must be groomed. The Bill also provides that veterinary first-aid equipment and medicines must be kept in the premises.

I now come to the last point in these numbered paragraphs, the subject of fire safety, which is extremely important. Sub-paragraph VII of the new subsection (4)(b) provides—and this is not in the original Act—that the local authority shall have regard to the need for securing: … that the name, address and telephone number of the licence holder or some other responsible person will be kept displayed in a prominent position on the outside of the premises and that instructions as to action to be taken in the event of fire, with particular regard to the extrication of horses, will be kept displayed in a prominent position on the outside of the premises.". I now come to the new subsection (4A), which prohibits the working of unsound animals, and provides for responsible supervision. In paragraph (a) it is made a condition of every licence granted that— a horse found on inspection of the premises by an authorised officer to be in need of veterinary attention shall not be returned to work until the holder of the licence has obtained at his own expense and has lodged with the local authority a veterinary certificate that the horse is fit for work; ". That was not in the original Act. Paragraph (b) is necessary. It lays down a condition that no horse will be let out on hire for riding or used for providing instruction in riding without supervision by a responsible person over 16 years of age … There have been instances—and I have actually seen some of these when driving along a main road—of perhaps 12 to 15 ponies or horses being ridden and no adult with them. I heard of one case where habitually a number of ponies are hired out under the control of a girl of 12. That is highly undesirable in these days of heavy traffic, because the average motorist appears to think that a horse has a steering wheel and four-wheel brakes, and does not appear to understand that horses can be very highly strung and nervous animals.

In paragraph (c) we say: a riding establishment shall at no time be left in the charge of any person under 16 years of age … ". There may be some doubt about that, because people may say, "You may leave livestock in the charge of people under 16 years of age." You might leave cows, pigs, or poultry, but the point is that nobody is going to come along and ask to take the pig out and ride it, or anything like that. It is necessary, in the case of horses, to have somebody responsible, somebody who can judge, when the person comes into the stable yard, whether he is, perhaps, a complete novice; and the person in charge must be someone who can judge the right pony or horse to allow the would-be rider to take out.

My Lords, I am afraid that I am being rather long, but I am being as brief as I can. We then come on to the question of insurance. Under the new subsection (4A)(d) every licence holder must have third-party insurance. We did not have that in the old Act. We then come to the last paragraph of the new subsection (4A)—and this may puzzle some of your Lordships. Paragraph (e) says: a register shall be kept by the licence holder of all horses in his possession aged three years and under … and so on. We have had many instances of riding establishments that apparently have very little knowledge of how to treat young stock, yearlings and foals, with the result that they have been under-nourished and generally maltreated.

Clause 3, I am glad to say, is a short clause, and it forbids the hiring out of horses aged three years or under, or of mares immediately before or after foaling. There have been instances of a far too immature horse being ridden, and mares either just after foaling or just before foaling. This clause says that a mare may not be ridden within three months after foaling. We then come to Clause 4, which deals with the "approved certificate". This clause sets out the institutions and the approved certificates. Perhaps in some ways it might be better for the Secretary of State to prescribe by Statutory Instrument all the approved certificates, but that could be a subject for amendment.

I said earlier on that we have the support of the British Horse Society and the Ponies of Britain Society, who have done a great deal of work on this Bill. We also have the support of the Veterinary Association, the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and the Association of British Riding Schools. All these organisations, in principle, support the Bill. As I have said, the object of this Bill is to tighten up the original Act, and simply from the point of view of saving time—I could speak for two hours on this—I have not told your Lordships of the appalling cases of maltreatment of these animals by some riding establishments. Some instances have been described as "diabolical", and by other similar adjectives by the Press. I do not think owners of riding establishments do it out of malice—indeed, I am quite sure they do not: it is done out of ignorance.

I hope that if your Lordships are kind enough to give this Bill a Second Reading, we may be able to improve it a great deal on Committee stage.

It is a Bill in a good cause, as any Bill must be which seeks to alleviate mismanagement and suffering of our fellow creatures. Alter all, for thousands of years the horse was man's only means of transport, and to-day gives hundreds of thousands of people great pleasure and relaxation. So I really think that the horse deserves a little Parliamentary time and attention to see that, through ignorance, he is not unduly exploited. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a. —(Viscount Massereene and Ferrard.)

4.21 p.m.


My Lords, when the 1964 Act was introduced into your Lordships' House, the noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard, described the great increase which had taken place in the number of people riding or wishing to ride who came from urban back-grounds with little previous knowledge of horse management. What was true in 1964 is almost certainly even more true to-day. Indeed, early in his remarks the noble Viscount told the House that the number of people riding at weekends has more than doubled; and, of course, they are riding on roads which have become even more full of motor cars.

The 1964 Act aimed to protect horses in riding establishments and to ensure that such businesses were properly run. I think it was generally agreed in all parts of both Houses that that Act took a practical step in the right direction, but the noble Viscount has made it quite clear that the improvement in conditions still leaves a lot to be desired. In 1961, the Horses and Ponies Protection Society published a survey of 1,200 riding establishments, and 30 per cent. were found to be in a deplorable condition. The noble Viscount called that evidence in aid during the debate on the 1964 Act. He has told the House how the British Horse Society has recently had 787 visits made to riding stables, and that over one-quarter were not up to the standards required by the Act. Obviously, there is a need to tighten up the law and that is what the present Bill seeks to achieve.

The House will be grateful to the noble Viscount for his very clear explanation of the importance of Clause 1. Under the principal Act a licence may only be cancelled following a vet's report submitted to the local authority and after proceeding in a magistrates court, which could take months; whereas the provisional licences provided for in Clause 1 will be valid for only three months at a time.

Clause 2 proposes a new subsection (4) for Section 1 of the principal Act. I am not entirely happy about paragraph (a), which rewords a part of the 1964 Act for which the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, argued successfully. The wording which Lord Silkin achieved in the principal Act required the local authority to examine an applicant's credentials, but with discretion left to the local authority. The new wording will remove that discretion, for an applicant will have to be of "proven experience" or "the holder of an approved certificate", if the noble Viscount's Amendment is made. I realise that inexperience is something which can bedevil these businesses, but so can absenteeism or lack of capital outlay. As the proposed subsection (4) will still give local authorities complete discretion to withhold a licence on any grounds, I wonder whether a little more thought can be given to the wording of paragraph (a) at the next stage of the Bill.

Many noble Lords who are knowledgeable about the management of horses will, I am sure, be pleased to see the additions to the principal Act which are made in paragraph (b)(i) to (viii). But may I ask the Government whether they are satisfied that these new sub-paragraphs (i) to (viii) of paragraph (b) can be coped with by the veterinary service. Under the principal Act certain matters have to be investigated and reported to the local authority by vets before a licence can be granted. But except for sub-paragraph (viii) all of these are adding new provisions to the 1964 Act; and, indeed, as the noble Viscount explained, sub-paragraph (ii) is completely new. I wonder whether the Government have information on how the veterinary service has been managing to cope with Section 1(4) of the principal Act, and whether they can reassure the House that vets will be able to cope with these extra duties laid on them by this amendment.

Lastly, I wonder whether the new subsection (4A)(c), at the bottom of page 3, is in fact workable. What happens if no one is in charge? No mention of this possibility is made, in which case a licensee proceeded against under paragraph (c) might simply deny the presence of anyone in charge during his absence. The thinking behind this new paragraph is perfectly understandable, but is it possible that the wording is defective? Those are a few points which I submit do not affect the principle of this legislation. The noble Viscount has made a strong case for this amending Bill, and I hope that the House will be unanimous in giving it a Second Reading.

4.28 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to support this Bill very strongly. Enough has already been said about it to eliminate the necessity for my saying anything very extensive, but I should like to say that I agree entirely that it is a very necessary Bill. My noble friend who introduced it said that the principal Act, of 1964, was almost entirely permissive, and I agree with him. It is high time we had something a little less permissive. During the past few years we have become a little too used in many walks of life to permissive methods, and it might be a good thing to dispense with them.

In case some of your Lordships think I am trying to plug one of my favourite subjects a little too hard, I should point out that the horse is deserving of consideration, more than are other domesticated animals. They all are, of course; but, after all, the horse works for us. Certain dogs work for us, too, but not the majority, whereas the entire purpose of the horse is to work for us. Therefore he deserves particular consideration, and that consideration this amending Bill will provide.

I took the point of my noble friend Lord Belstead about subsection (4A)(c). There is nothing there to say that anybody at all need be in charge, but that omission can easily be remedied at the Committee stage. I must say also that I should have liked to see the figure of "18" instead of "16" in both paragraphs (b) and (c). It is often said that to-day young people are much more mature than they used to be. But what is maturity? It is not only factual knowledge; it involves an ethical sense as well. I think that few boys of 16 have developed quite the sense of responsibility which is necessary in a position such as this. I should like to see the age raised to 18; but that will be a matter for the Committee, and we can discuss it at that time. Meanwhile, I sincerely hope that your Lordships will give the Bill a Second Reading, and I support it strongly.

4.31 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to support the Second Reading of the Riding Establishments Bill which the noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard, has introduced. I think that, after the 1964 Act, this amending Bill is overdue, and we are grateful to the noble Viscount for having given your Lordships' House an opportunity to discuss it and, I hope, give it a Second Reading. But as the noble Viscount said when introducing the Bill, and certainly in the light of the questions which were asked by the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, I imagine that certain Amendments will be necessary on the Committee stage.

As the noble Viscount has said, these ponies and horses give a great deal of pleasure to a large number of people by way of recreation and exercise, and particularly to children; and I think it is right that those in control of the establishments from which these ponies are let out for hire should be competent people. Unkindness to horses, as the noble Viscount said in his speech, can be caused through wrong feeding, lack of feeding, lack of pasture, no shelter, no grooming, poor shoeing and so on; and also through using overage ponies. Often, the horses or ponies which are taken into these riding establishments are rejects, and probably unfitted for the hard work which they get when out on hire. I think it is right that these establishments should have competent and proper veterinary inspection, though I should like to echo what the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, said: that is, whether the veterinary service will be able to cope with this, in view of the many duties which have been put on it in recent years through certain measures which have gone through this House, is another matter. Nevertheless, I do not think there is a great number of riding establishments in each town, and it should not take a great deal of time for a competent vet and his assistants to go and inspect the stables, the horses and so on.

I would emphasise that one of the most important parts of this Bill, as I think, is that which insists that competent people are in charge. I am not sure whether 18 or 16 is the right age at which to be in charge of ponies going out on our overcrowded urban roads; but what is important, I think, is that the riding establishments themselves should be in the charge of a responsible and competent person. Most of us have seen heavy and inexperienced riders hacking on undersized ponies, drumming them, kicking them, jagging their mouths; but I suppose it is another payride to the riding establishment. Most of these establishments are, I think, properly run —they have to be if they are to be successful—but as the noble Viscount said in his speech, I hope that competent veterinary inspection will also take into account whether some of these seaside ponies are being given far too many rides at the busy seasons, the holiday periods, so that they arrive back at night having had insufficient feed and absolutely tired out. That is the kind of thing which has happened, as has been mentioned, through lack of capital and through trying to make the business pay without having had enough capital to start in the first place. That is why I place great emphasis on the inspection not only of the ponies and the establishments but of the people in charge, I most sincerely hope that this Bill will get a Second Reading, that Amendments will be brought forward in Committee, and that it will eventually find its way on to the Statute Book.

4.36 p.m.


My Lords, I did not mean to speak on this Bill, because I have to attend a meeting tonight concerning sheep, but I should like to bring to your Lordships' attention certain aspects of horse-management. I have had six years' personal experience of looking after horses, and I know that to-day it is doubtful if one can keep a horse indoors, in a fit condition— groomed, shod, with saddlery looked after, et cetera—at under £10 a week. It seems to me that the major demands on these establishments are made at the weekends, and that therefore these horses have to be over-ridden at the weekends to make up for the lack of custom through-out the week. If they say, "Very well, we will let out a horse at £1 an hour for two hours a day, six days a week", then the establishment is just breaking even. But that is not what happens. What is most likely to happen is that the horse will be let out one hour a day for five days—that is £5—and five hours on the Saturday. That makes £10, and then they are breaking even. So I think it should be brought to the notice of all proprietors who want to set up riding establishments that it is not "all beer and skittles". With those few remarks, I wish to support the Bill to the full extent.

4.38 p.m.


My Lords, I hope the House will forgive me for speaking on three sitting days in succession, in one week. I promise not to do it again. I had not intended speaking to-day, but the noble Viscount has made such a careful statement about the objects of the Bill that I think a word from this side of the House would be opportune. I should like to congratulate and thank the noble Viscount for having introduced this measure, and for having realised that his original Act is defective. It requires a certain amount of courage and greatness to recognise that one has perhaps not been entirely successful in one's efforts. I hope he will have better luck this time.

The present Bill will require a good deal of amendment, and I hope it will receive the most careful consideration in Committee. These are not formal words: this matter really does require careful consideration. The noble Lord, Lord Belstead, whose speech we greatly appreciate, has indicated a number of points which require careful thought; and so has the noble Lord, Lord Somers. I promise that I myself will also go through the Bill carefully to see what can be done. It occurs to me that the Bill is virtually an entirely new measure. It so revolutionises the existing 1964 Act that I wonder whether it would not be possible to scrap the original Act and start all over again. Whether it is possible within the confines of this measure to do that, I am not sure. I should like to think about it. I know it has been done on certain occasions when a Bill had been so revised as to become virtually a new one; but I also know that it was not entirely satisfactory to the House when it was done. I think that to have two Acts in existence on a matter of this kind, requiring so much legislation by reference to the original Act (it is impossible to follow the terms of the Bill without reference to the 1964 Act) is a complication which if it is at all possible I should like to avoid.

There is one other point. I wonder whether the noble Viscount has consulted the local authorities. After all, they have to administer the Act once it is law and they will probably have certain views about it. It would be worth while between now and Committee stage, or at any rate in the next week or two, to see whether the local authorities or their organisations have any views or suggestions. In the meantime, I hope that the House will give the Bill a Second Reading.

4.42 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that this Bill will get a Second Reading and that it will get on to the Statute Book; but I am doubtful whether it is necessary. All the cases that my noble friend mentioned appear to be matters of pure oversight or dereliction on the part of the local authority in administering the existing law, which is most Draconian. I wonder whether it is necessary to have any fresh legislation; but I feel that a lot more administration is required. Whether it would help matters if a little more information about horses and ponies was available, I do not know. I suspect that, to start with, Her Majesty's Government have no idea how many horses and ponies there are in the country. I ask the noble Lord who is to reply whether he will be kind enough to give that figure to the House. I personally have never noticed it in any of the forms that I have had to fill in; yet as one goes about the countryside one sees field after field inhabited by ponies and horses eating the forage of the country. I feel sure that, from their own point of view, Her Majesty's Government ought to know the equine population of the country in the context of preparation for war and so on.

I hesitate to suggest that there should be a licence fee payable on horses and ponies; but since they are no longer a source of necessary power on the farm, but are pets or a source of pleasure, and since one pays so much per head on a dog, I do not see why one should not pay so much on a horse, a pony or a donkey. But I am looking forward with great interest to hearing the figures of the total equine population.

4.45 p.m.


My Lords, may I say at once that I welcome this Bill completely; but I think it does not go far enough and I have one or two suggestions to make. The problem is that during the lifetime of many of us the horse has degenerated from an animal of use into an animal of pleasure. This has been due to the invention of the internal combustion engine. At the same time, the supply of competent horsemasters from the cavalry regiments and the gunner regiments has gone down to practically nothing and the standard of horsemaster-ship in this country has become deplorably low. The pony clubs have done their best to improve this standard and have achieved some success; but, at the same time, the veterinary profession, although they may be extremely good with sick horses, have little personal experience of horsemastership and are already over-burdened with their ordinary duties and the duties which have been thrust upon them under the old Riding Establishments Act.

What I suggest should happen is this. In the first place, a provisional licence should be given to suitable applicants, and thereafter licences should be renewable at least once a year. At the same time, every local authority (the members of which have probably little if any experience of horsemastership) should appoint a panel of competent people to inspect and advise about these renewals. I do not think there is any reason why the competent panel should be selected from a lot of specified institutions, but one can think of half-a-dozen, starting with the Pony Club and the Masters of Hounds Association, many of whose members would gladly give their services for nothing on a part-time basis, just to inspect a small number of riding establishments each year in order to make recommendations for renewal of licences. I proffer the suggestion that all licences should be renewable and that inspection should be done by an authorised but not necessarily a professional body.

4.47 p.m.


My Lords, may I say one word in support of the Bill. I think that its appearance before the House is very timely, in view of the present enormous increase in riding throughout the country. This is an excellent trend; for it means that the great pleasure that one has had all one's life from being able to own and ride a horse is now passed on to people in all walks of life and of all generations, from Pony Club age upwards. This is an extremely popular and valuable form of exercise and sport. I hope very much that the points raised will be considered. The noble Lord, Lord Hawke, thinks that horses are no longer used at all on farms; but in the hill farms in the areas where I belong several shepherds are mounted; and this makes their life easy, for they have great distances to cover. I agree that the carthorse has almost completely gone; but horses are used occasionally on farms for special purposes.

I hope that the House will support the Bill. Obviously, Amendments will be proposed. I think it would be a pity to try to scrap the Bill in order to have one Bill which incorporated everything, which is what Lord Silkin suggested. That is only going to delay matters. The matter is urgent, since the Society for Ponies of Britain has been working for a long time on the Bill and has produced some excellent proposals. I should regret it if we had to hold things up and to start all over again in order to amalgamate two Bills. I can understand the legal view-point of the noble Lord, Lord Silkin; but I think it would be a mistake. It would delay the passage of this Bill and its effects, which are of great importance to all of us who care about horses and riding and who want to see the sport encouraged throughout the country. I should like strongly to support the Bill.

4.50 p.m.


My Lords, if I may bother the House for a few moments, may I say that I know where there is a field in which there are a hundred donkeys in perfect condition. These donkeys are used for hire during the summer on the beaches and for various events, and they are admirably kept in every way. I do not want to oppose what has been said—I arrived in the Chamber rather late and did not hear the first part of the debate—but I think that if we are going to consider riding establishments we should also consider the rather large business of the use of donkeys for races and on the beaches during the summer.

4.51 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that the noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard, will be gratified by the general support which he has received for his Bill. I sympathise with the objectives which the noble Viscount seeks to further in the measure which he has brought before us. As I understand it, the Bill has two main objectives: first, to make better provision for securing the welfare of horses kept at riding establishments, and, secondly, to ensure that the public using the facilities offered by riding establishments get a square deal. As I say, I have sympathy with these objectives and, again, the attitude of the Government towards this Bill is one of neutrality. That is not to say, however, that the Government have no objections to any of its provisions. As I shall explain, there are one or two aspects of the Bill which cause some concern, and if it proceeds to a Committee, as I expect it will do, it will be necessary to look at the wording a little more closely.

My Lords, it is a little over five years since the Riding Establishments Act 1964 was passed, and rather less since it came into operation—which was on April 1, 1965. It is probably not quite so well established as the noble Viscount made out that the experience gained in the operation of that measure over this relatively short period has been sufficient to allow a proper assessment of its value and its defects. The noble Viscount has told us of consultations with various bodies having an interest in the welfare of horses and ponies; but he did not tell us about any consultations with the local authorities. And, after all, local authorities have the main responsibility for operating the 1964 Act. If there is general agreement that the 1964 Act needs strengthening it would seem sensible for appropriate changes to be made; but I agree with my noble friend Lord Silkin that it would be wrong to precipitate action which might not fully meet the case and might lead only to pressure later on for further changes in the law. I am sure we all agree that we do not want to have repeated amendments of the law. That would lead to confusion and would not be in the best interests of riding establishments; nor would it be in the best interests of the horses kept in them.

My Lords, under the 1964 Act no person may keep a riding establishment without first obtaining a licence from a local authority. Before determining whether to grant a licence the local authority is required to obtain and consider a report from an authorised veterinary surgeon or veterinary practitioner and to have regard to a number of factors designed to provide for the welfare of the horses and the proper management of the establishment. Perhaps I ought to say to the noble Earl, Lord Fortescue, that licences are already renewable now. The licence, for which the Act specified a fee of 10s., is renewable annually. The amount of the fee was raised to £10 by the Miscellaneous Fees (Variation) Order 1968, follow- ing representations from the local authority associations who were anxious to cover the administrative costs involved. I understand that they say the average cost of vet fees is about £8 per establishment.

The Government are aware that the effectiveness of the Act has been criticised, but they have no evidence that the local authorities are not carrying out their responsibilities under the Act. Undoubtedly the great majority of the riding establishments are well run. I was asked by the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, whether I had any information about the possibility of the veterinary surgeons being able to cope with the present inspection required under the 1964 Act. My information is that they have been able to cope. I accept what the noble Viscount has said about his consultations with the organisations concerned, from which I assume that the veterinary organisations are of the view that the vet service can cope with the new and rather more stringent requirements which the noble Viscount is proposing in this Bill.

My Lords, Clause 1 of the Bill would empower local authorities to grant up to two provisional licences, each valid for three months, to keep a riding establishment if, having regard to all the circumstances, the authority were satisfied that they would not be justified in granting a full licence. Conceivably there is a little inconsistency between this provision and those in Clause 2, in which more stringent conditions are now provided. On the one hand, the Bill seeks to raise the minimum standards in the licensed establishments; on the other it proposes to permit the licensing, albeit for a limited period, of establishments which may not measure up to the stanwards which the noble Viscount is setting. He may care to ponder that.

I appreciate that the object of the clause is to give a measure of discretion to local authorities not to delay licensing, or continuing a licence in respect of an establishment where the shortcomings are of only a minor nature and where there are prospects that the defects will be remedied in the near future. On this point, therefore, Her Majesty's Government are content to be guided by what is said by your Lordships; but I suggest that the noble Viscount might care to look at that point again.


My Lords, may I ask a question of the noble Lord?—he is very good to give way to me. He has just said that it appears that the vast majority of riding establishments are very well run. I do not think my noble friend ever claimed anything else. What he is trying to do is eliminate the quite substantial minority which is badly run.


My Lords, I do not think there is any argument between us: I accept what the noble Lord says. I was going on to say that 1 also feel that the noble Viscount may care to look at the fee prescribed for the provisional licence. The local authority associations represented that issuing a provisional licence would be a more expensive business than issuing a full licence. A provisional licence would relate to a marginal case where extra inspection would be required and where the veterinary surgeon would spend more time, and his bill might be a little higher as a result of the extra work he would have to put in. There is an argument for another look at that point, and I have no doubt that the noble Viscount will wish to look at it. One remedy might be to allow the full fee to be charged for the first provisional licence, and to provide for a subsequent provisional licence, or an annual one, granted immediately following the provisional licence, to be issued for a reduced fee. That point might be considered later.

Clause 2 of the Bill amends Section 1(4) of the principal Act. It requires the local authority to be satisfied that an applicant for a licence is suitably qualified in the management of horses. It amplifies and extends the factors to which a local authority must have regard in considering the granting of a licence and it imposes additional obligations on persons licensed to keep riding establishments. Like the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, I am not too happy about the requirement in paragraph (a) of the new subsection (4) that the local authority shall, in considering an applicant's suitability, have regard to his experience, proven or otherwise. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, that the words in paragraph (a) seem likely to be a source of trouble. For example, what would be the position of a relatively inexperienced person who proposed to run an establishment with the assistance of a highly qualified manager? I appreciate the reason behind this amendment, but the noble Lord might care to have a look at these words again.

I do not think that the factors to which the local authority must have regard in considering the grant of a licence, as amplified by the new subsection (4)(b), are unduly onerous or restrictive, and a well-run establishment should have no difficulty in measuring up to the required standards. But one small point which mystifies me is why the local authority, which is empowered to impose discretionary conditions for securing the objects specified in paragraphs (i) to (vii) of the new paragraph (b), has no such power in respect of the requirement in paragraph (viii). Again, I do not invite the noble Viscount to tell us now., but he might care to look at this point before the Committee stage.

The new subsection (4A) which it is proposed to add to the 1964 Act would impose a number of additional obligations on a person licensed to keep a riding establishment. If the Bill proceeds to Committee stage, I suggest, as did the noble Lords, Lord Somers and Lord Belstead, that it will be necessary to look rather more closely at the wording of some of the provisions in this new subsection. The drafting of the provisions which follow also seems to need a little tidying up.

The noble Lord, Lord Somers, spoke about the possibility of making the age in subsection (4A) 18, rather than 16. I suggest that some Amendment will be necessary, since in subsection (4A)(b) reference is made to the requirement that the person should be over 16 years of age, whereas in subsection (4A)(c), the requirement is under 16 years of age. I suggest that this ought to be brought into line, and at the same time the noble Viscount might well consider whether 18 might be better than either under or over 16. In any case, the Government will be prepared to accept what is agreed by your Lordships.

There is one further point that I should like to mention before I sit down. I do not know whether the noble Viscount has considered the need for reviewing the penalty prescribed in Section 4(1) of the principal Act, but it seems to me that a fine of not exceeding £25 may be on the low side, particularly now that the fee for an annual licence is put up to £10. If the noble Viscount agrees that there may be a case for increasing the maximum fine, Her Majesty's Government suggest for his consideration that something of the order of £50 may be appropriate.

I was asked by the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, whether I could tell him the equine population of this country. I am afraid that the figures do not appear to be in the archives of the Home Office, the Department responsible for this Bill, but I will see if I can find out from the Department of Agriculture and let him know later. I do not want to detain your Lordships by going into further details. I would simply say that if the noble Viscount would like to consult with me and my advisers before Committee stage, I shall be glad to give him such assistance as I can.

5.4 p.m.


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, for the sympathetic manner in which he has dealt with this Bill. Regarding the noble Lord's point on local authorities, may I say that although we have not contacted all of them, we have contacted a great many. We have consulted with them, and generally they are favourably inclined to this Bill. I think it was my noble friend Lord Hawke who said that the principal Act would surely be sufficient if the local authorities carried out their duties; but I cannot really agree with him. The Bill we are now discussing gives the local authorities far more bite.

The noble Lord, Lord Beswick, questioned the granting of provisional licences and said that this might lower the standards. Obviously, the local authorities want to be fair, and it is difficult for them to decide if a man ought or ought not to have a licence. Where there is a borderline case, why not give the applicant a trial period? The noble Lord also mentioned the question of experience under subsection (4A).

I hope to put down an Amendment on Committee stage regarding the fee for a provisional licence, which will have to be the same as the fee for a full licence, but I would agree with the noble Lord about considering whether there should be some rebate. I take the noble Lord's point about the age being over 16 in paragraph (b) and yet under 16 in (c), and I will certainly look at that point. Of course, we may even consider 18, which I think is probably better. The noble Lord suggested that the maximum fine should be increased. I am all for increasing fines—provided, of course, that they do not apply to me. But considering the effect of inflation, I think that a maximum of £50 would be excellent.

I should like to thank all noble Lords who have supported me. I am sure that your Lordships would not want me to comment on the speeches individually, but I should like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Camoys. I understand that this was his maiden speech, and I should like to congratulate him and hope that he will address the House many times more, and not always on the subject of donkeys. On this point I would put my noble friend's mind at rest by saying that the Bill does cover donkeys. I think the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, answered the points raised by my noble friend Lord Fortescue. I do not think that there is any more that I need to say, except to thank the House for its reception of this Bill.


My Lords, before the Question is put, I wonder whether I may be allowed to apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Camoys. In my igorance I had not been aware of the fact that this was his maiden effort, and I, too, should like to congratulate him.


My Lords, I was rather cheating, because I was handed a note informing me that my noble friend was making his maiden speech.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.