HL Deb 13 May 1974 vol 351 cc736-50

2.52 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. The basic intention of this Bill is fourfold, most importantly to prevent unnecessary suffering by horses and ponies, to promote the proper shoeing of those animals, to increase the number of farriers by training and to prevent unqualified people from doing the shoeing. These are the reasons for introducing it now. The numbers of horses and ponies continue to increase rapidly. Farriers are in great demand, and therefore some untrained and ignorant people are able to cash in on this need for farriers; they offer their services at short notice to unsuspecting owners and disappear back to their normal place of work without the owner knowing where they came from. This often leaves a very lame horse, an angry owner, and sometimes weeks while the horse is unusable and lame. Some horses have even had to be destroyed, and they are certainly not safe to ride when in that condition. In these days, with petrol prices increasing so rapidly and public transport sometimes unable to cope with the travelling needs of the general public, I think it is true to say that we are likely to see more horses and ponies used, at least for some specific purposes, as well as just for pleasure.

The increased popularity of riding is often instanced by some particular activities such as show jumping, three day eventing, pony trekking (which is becoming very popular), driving, and even polo. There are many other activities which use the horse or pony, and these activities stretch the capabilities of farriers more and more. It is very difficult to estimate exactly the number of horses and ponies, donkeys and mules that there are in this country. It is estimated at just under half a million although the Sunday Times eight days ago did say that the population was one million. Anyway, it is certainly growing, whatever the actual population is. Of course this population does omit the undetermined number of people using shanks's pony.

There are about 1,600 farriers in the United Kingdom. This is quite a conservative estimate, and it definitely makes clear that each farrier has to shoe approximately 1,200 feet and look after these feet at regular intervals. Some of these horses and farriers are not exactly relative to one another; the farriers are not necessarily spaced about in proportion to the number of horses. Some farriers work a very seasonable time, and others a very concentrated time in a short period of activity. I would suggest that the situation must be dealt with, or it may get out of hand, before too many animals have suffered at the hands of ignorant people making a quick profit. There are, of course, certain animals that are never shod; possibly donkeys come into this category more than any other. But their feet need trimming, and they need trimming by people who know what they are doing, or they can get out of true.

A great deal of work has been done in the past on behalf of the farriers by various bodies, notably the Worshipful Company of Farriers and the National Master Farriers and Blacksmiths and Agricultural Engineers Association. They have been trying for years, even from as far back as 1924, to obtain statutory registration of farriers. The farriers want this Bill to be passed into law. The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons support it, even agreeing to be on the Council. There are many other bodies; the British Horse Society, the Jockey Club, the Pony Society, Ponies of Britain, the R.S.P.C.A., the Council for Small Industries in Rural Areas—all of these have shown active support, and there are others, too, and they are all connected with the horse and pony world. The time surely has come to regularise the situation and help the farriers to do their job properly.

Perhaps I should explain some of the clauses briefly. It is, to those who have read it, quite a lengthy Bill, but I think it is only lengthy because we have tried to make it absolutely complete and to cover all eventualities. No doubt there will be people who will say that these have not been covered. But I think it is very clearly set out, and therefore I will not elaborate at any great length. Clause 1 makes the Worshipful Company of Farriers responsible for standards of competence and the conduct of people who are shoeing horses. Clause 2 provides for the Registration Council and its constitution and powers are outlined in Schedule 1 to the Bill. Clauses 3 and 4 explain how the register is organised. The fees of course, will be kept to a minimum, merely to make the control of the register self-supporting financially. The next two clauses refer to false representation and the removal of names from the register.

Clause 7 is extremely important, in my opinion, because it says who can and who cannot register. Those who are able to register in Part I of the register—and I am only summarising it now—will have had to pass some exam. Those registered in Part II will have been actively engaged in the trade on the appointed day. People who are registered in Part I, which is obviously important, will have had to be shoeing for 18 months out of the past 24. The second point on Clause 7 is also important, because it applies particularly to people in remote areas. Scotland is obviously an area that comes to mind. There are often very few or no farriers at all. By tradition a gillie or some other person shoes the horses. This problem has been very fully understood, and I think anybody who has read the Bill will see that subsection (6) will allow this practice to continue, although the people concerned must obviously register.

Clause 9 allows an appeal if an application to register has been turned down. When registering, of course, in Part I appropriate certificates will be sent, or in Part II an acknowledgement will be sent. Then we come to Clauses 11 and 12 and these give the Council powers to approve training and exams, in keeping itself aware of all the current developments going on in this particular field. Clauses 13, 14 and 15 provide for the Investigating Committee and the Disciplinary Committee. These committees give people a chance to state their complaints. On the strength of that, obviously names can be removed from the register, but appeals can be made to the High Court, or the Court of Session in Scotland. Clause 16 makes it very clear that it is unlawful for unregistered people to shoe, or to pretend that they have qualifications to do so. There are some very important exceptions, which, I should like to name: farriers' apprentices, farrier trainees, veterinary surgeons, people giving first-aid in an emergency, and owners shoeing their own horses.

I now come to the Schedules, and I have already mentioned Schedule 1 which sets out the composition of the Registration Council. I should like to point out here that if anybody feels extremely strongly, and if it is required, representatives of the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, or the Small Industries Council for Scotland, are more than welcome on this Registration Council. Schedules 2 and 3 deal with the constitution and procedure of the Investigating Committee and the Disciplinary Committee.

Finally, I would re-emphasise one or two points, even though I have been fairly brief. The Farriers' Company have had a Charter since 1674 which was granted by King Charles II, and they have continued their active association with this ancient trade ever since then. There are over 20 well-known organisations, including the farriers themselves and veterinary surgeons, all closely connected with horses and ponies. They want this Bill, and they cannot all be wrong. There are few families nowadays who have not been brought into contact with horses, ponies, or donkeys at some point in time. Anybody who has seen the suffering at first-hand will know how necessary it is to stamp out the callous cruelty inflicted by ignorant, inefficient people, and it is high time that we acted. Perhaps I may close with a quotation from Benjamin Franklin, which some of your Lordships may know: A little neglect may breed mischief For want of a nail the shoe was lost, For want of a shoe the horse was lost, And for want of a horse the rider was lost. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Newall.)

3.2 p.m.


My Lords, there can be few, if any, in this House who do not applaud the noble Lord, Lord Newall, for the motives which prompted him to bring this Bill before your Lordships' House. Indeed, we all wish the four intentions of the Bill well, and all I shall try to question is whether they will be fulfilled by the Bill as it stands, or whether at some later stage amendment of the Bill will be advisable in the interests of preventing suffering to horses, promoting proper shoeing, dealing with the increase in demand, and preventing unqualified persons from undertaking jobs which require great skill, knowledge, and qualifications.

I intend to be brief in speaking on this Bill, because the real discussion will come at a later stage when we try to move Amendments in order to improve it. Certainly, nobody on these Benches would wish to stop the Bill going through, or to prevent it from being in substantially the same form as it is now. But speaking on behalf of the Scottish Liberals, and also on behalf of my noble friend Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran who would like this said as a Welshman, we consider in spite of what the noble Lord, Lord Newall, said, that it does not deal with the special requirements of remote areas. I shall come to that point, which I particularly want to make, at a later stage. But before doing so I should like to mention one or two points which the noble Lord, Lord Newall, may like to take up at the end of this debate. I mention them because they are points about which I am not clear.

The noble Lord said that under Clause 16 of the Bill a person will be allowed to shoe a horse belonging to him. I wonder why, because he owns a horse, he should be magically so qualified as to be able to shoe it. Certainly, I have pared the feet of many of my horses, done first-aid, removed shoes, drawn nails, and done things of that kind. But I would not presume either to cold shoe or hot shoe any horse that I own, without taking a course of training and submitting myself to examination by a competent body. This is a slightly doubtful provision to allow through, if one is really intending to prevent the suffering and exploitation of horses, and the shoeing of horses by unqualified persons. I am not clear how the trimming of feet is covered, and this is an important point. As the noble Lord, Lord Newall, said, a large number of donkeys and hill ponies—and there are a very large number of ponies used for deer work, pony trekking, riding in the hills and things of this kind—are ridden unshod, and a large number of breeding ponies are kept semi-wild.

For instance, in Scotland most Shetland ponies will run wild unshod. Icelandics, Garrons and ponies of that sort running wild on the hills will all be unshod. At least annually, if not more often, those ponies require to have their feet trimmed, looked over and levelled up, and so on. I do not quite see how, under this Bill, that will necessarily have to be done by a qualified person. I feel that a slightly different question arises here. If it is necessary that this should be done by a qualified person, then the level of qualification will have to be lowered, because it is stupid to try to arrange for people to acquire skill in making shoes, in remedial shoeing and in learning about all the different kinds of shoes that have to be made, in order that they may be able to do day-to-day, or month-to-month or year-to-year trimming on the feet of horses which are more or less running wild. This Part of the Bill requires a good deal of clarification.

It would be better if the arrangements left to the Council were slightly wider in the sense that one does not want one qualification. I think that one wants whole layers of qualifications which will apply to the whole business of tending the feet of horses, both when they are sick and require remedial attention and in the day-to-day work of keeping them fit and keeping their feet in sound condition. A qualification to trim could be a qualification on its own. It does not require any skill or ability at actual ironwork, at blacksmithing, but it requires a certain knowledge of how a foot should grow and how a foot should be trimmed and pared. This skill can be acquired, quite readily, by a skilful person, and I should like to see provision made for the Council to give a qualification showing that somebody is qualified at that level.

Then, of course, there is ordinary shoeing, which is the ordinary, day-to-day putting on of an uncomplicated shoe on an uncomplicated foot—because there is a difference between the feet of horses, just as there is between the feet of people. If you are lucky enough to have a horse or pony whose feet are reasonably uncomplicated and reasonably easy to shoe, then there should be a level at which a blacksmith or a farrier is qualified to shoe that horse. In addition to those there are horses with peculiar feet, damaged feet, sick feet, and so on, where remedial shoeing or specialist shoeing of some sort is needed. For this there should surely be some higher qualification in the register which marks out a farrier as a man of particular skill and training. The noble Lord may well say, "Ah, but if you have a horse like this, you should go to the vet". That is all very well, but the vet is a very busy man in most remote areas. He has many other animals to see to besides horses—cows, sheep, cats, dogs, and anything from budgies to elephants in some parts of the world—and therefore one cannot rely on asking the vet to do remedial shoeing. If one is to promote the better knowledge of shoeing and the higher skill in farriery, one should also be promoting the top skills which are remedial farriery, where a balanced shoe has to be put on a horse with a bad action, and so on.

I come now to the specific point where to some extent I cross swords with the noble Lord, Lord Newall; that is, how Scotland is dealt with in the Bill. I should have preferred a Scottish Bill because in Scotland different conditions apply. There are different bodies I should have liked to see involved in this, not merely a representative from the Royal Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, or the Small Industries Council for Rural Areas of Scotland—as the Scottish Country Industries Development Trust is now called—but also bodies like the Highlands and Islands Development Board and the Royal Dick Veterinary College at Edinburgh. I do not see why the Council for Scotland should not be a wholly Scottish Council with the equivalent Scottish representatives and perhaps some other representatives from Scottish bodies that do not have an English equivalent. Indeed, my noble friend Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran I am sure would welcome a similar Council for Wales.

I should like to emphasise the Scottish side of it because in Scotland we have our own law. Not only that, but we have some words of farriery different from those in England—for instance, a "doorman" and a "driver" are the same person but one is the English and the other is the Scottish term. Therefore I should very much like to see the Bill amended to provide a purely Scottish committee to deal with the administration of its provisions as they apply in Scotland.

The problem in Scotland is even greater than was perhaps admitted by the noble Lord, Lord Newall, in his introduction of this Bill, because in Scotland I am quite sure that we have far fewer farriers to call upon. We have a much greater problem in training. For instance, to give your Lordships an idea of the problems that can arise in training—and this has nothing whatever to do with farriery but is actually to do with family planning—my wife was involved in a committee starting a family planning clinic in the town of Thurso which found a doctor qualified to take on the advisory part of that clinic. The Society promoting this worthy cause advised that the doctor should have a refresher course, and so the doctor said, "Oh yes, and where can I find a refresher course in family planning?" They said, "Why don't you take evening classes in Glasgow?" Now it is 300 and something miles from Thurso to Glasgow by train so the poor lady could not have done it—it was not "on". That is the sort of thing we want to avoid. We want to get a Council in Scotland that will look into the problem of farriery in Scotland and will work out ways and means to combat the problem.

We also want people who are already in societies which know their way about. For instance, the Scottish Country Industries Development Trust, as it was called, and which is now called the Small Industries Council for Rural Areas of Scotland, is very knowledgeable in this matter. It is in touch with many blacksmiths around the countryside and it is the body which could do most to put people in touch with blacksmiths. The Highlands and Islands Development Board is another body that is equally knowledgeable. They are the sort of people who know where to find the premises, the skills and the interested parties. Then indeed there is the Royal Highland and Agricultural Society who have for years run shoeing competitions and who could well be brought into play as part of the Council.

Noble Lords can see, therefore, that we have plenty of talent in Scotland from which to draw to make a purely Scottish Council—and I should like noble Lords to realise that what I am asking for is not a committee or sub-committee but a totally separate Scottish Council to administer this Bill if it becomes law. I am hoping that we shall have a Council so well based in existing Scottish bodies that it will know its way around from the start and will be able to get under way from the very beginning the prevention of suffering and the promotion of farriery. So, my Lords, while we on these Benches support the intentions of this Bill, we are indeed extremely critical of the way in which it is proposed to deal with the matter in Scotland and we shall hope to be able to introduce Amendments at a later stage to deal with that aspect of the Bill.

3.18 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Newall very much on having introduced this Bill and on having explained exactly what it is supposed to do and why it is necessary. As he explained, its purpose is to provide some form of regulation on the shoeing of horses, and to make it clear that only those who know how to shoe—and who can prove that they know how to shoe—should be permitted to do so. Of course the Bill may not be perfect, as the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, indicated. I am bound to say that I know the Scots like to consider that in many ways they are different from the English—which indeed they are. But I thought that the way in which farriery was carried out throughout the United Kingdom was fairly standard. However, we shall certainly look forward to seeing in what way the noble Viscount intends to amend the Bill. I thought the term "farriery" was fairly limited, and of all the subjects that one might have thought could be raised in this debate family planning is the last one that could have been imagined. However, one never knows.

I am bound to admit that I am not an equestrian, either by nature or by hobby. I had a go once when I was about eight years old and I was thrown from a pony. I suffered such acute pain and distress that I was quite convinced that I was within minutes of immediate death. But it turned out that that was only my first experience of being winded. However, I found the whole exercise so wholly disagreeable that, as a result, I have always regarded horses as dangerous at both ends and uncomfortable in the middle. I suppose that I ought to declare an interest in this matter, albeit an interest of the most modest and limited proportions. Those who claim to know about these things tell me that my name derives from the fact that one of my forebears was skilled and practised in the art which we are at present discussing—indeed, the heraldic appendages of which some of your Lordships find yourselves possessed would seem to support this view—since mine incorporates a horseshoe, regrettably placed upside down so that all the luck falls out. But I can assure your Lordships that any skills which my predecessors may have had in the art of farriery have all long since been washed clean away in the sands of time.

I am never likely to find myself a candidate for inclusion in the register as proposed in Clause 3 of the Bill. I have always had a great fear and respect for the back legs of a horse, and nothing on earth would induce me to get hold of one, and least of all to attack it with a hammer. But I feel sure that in general this Bill will commend itself to your Lordships, because in this day and age education and training and apprenticeship play such a tremendous part in all facets of our life, industrial and agricultural. It is only relatively recently in agriculture that we have had the craftsmen's certificate, where people are persuaded and encouraged to go along and prove that they are skilled in a certain subject. Having done so, they are then permitted by law to ask a higher rate of pay. Indeed we had specifically set up the Agricultural, Horticultural and Forestry Training Board, to train people in various aspects of those subjects.

Then we have codes of practice to ensure that animals are kept in proper circumstances. They must have sufficient ventilation and food, space for watering and air space. There is always concern in regard to the health of livestock. Indeed, as your Lordships well know, the exporting of livestock is a subject that causes great concern. I have heard your Lordships on many occasions request—and indeed I have been obliged to defend the fact that the request should not be met—that unskilled people should be permitted to take blood samples for brucellosis, in order to encourage the quick spread of the brucellosis eradication scheme; but for a variety of good reasons this course has not been permitted. Always the accents are on concern for animals, on health and on skills; yet it is extraordinary that any totally unskilled person may hit any form of rusty nail into the shoe of a horse in any manner, provided he is doing so in the name of shoeing. I feel it is high time this particular craft was brought under some form of regulation. As I see it, all the Bill does is to ensure that those who wish to shoe horses are known to be competent and knowledgeable in the art. While the machinery suggested in this Bill could be a little cumbersome. I do not think in practice it will be so. As with the Industrial Relations Act there may be a few small teething problems. Thereafter, I dare say the similarity may end!

One drawback may be that fewer people will be available than at present for shoeing horses, simply because those who have not obtained the appropriate certificate will be prohibited from carrying out this work. I hope this will not be so. The Bill ought to encourage those who may not have the required skills to carry out this work nevertheless to obtain such skills. I believe it is a fact that the Worshipful Company of Farriers at present spends something like £400 on each apprentice, encouraging him to be trained in farriery and seeing he is taught properly. That same apprentice, having had all that special teaching, goes out into the world to shoe animals in a knowledgeable and competent manner and yet there is no benefit for him over anyone else who at the moment is allowed to shoe horses. Therefore I consider this to be a modest and a simple Bill. To me it is quite extraordinary that it has not been produced before. I hope the Bill will receive the agreement of your Lordships, and I wish my noble friend the best of luck with it.

3.25 p.m.


My Lords, in supporting this Bill, the Second Reading of which the noble Lord, Lord Newall, has moved so cogently, I want to speak briefly only on one aspect, namely, the principle of statutory registration. Although I am a newly admitted Liveryman of the Farriers Company, something I formally declare at the outset, let me say that my own acquaintance with horses and their problems—and indeed with their speed—is very limited.

Over the years Governments of all kinds have been chary of extending the area of statutory registration, although they often accept the principle of it on the Second Reading of a Bill, and then quietly proceed to whittle down its main provisions or even to cut its throat at the Committee stage. I am sure that will not happen on this occasion.

The critics often use three arguments: First, that the work of the group seeking recognition is not sufficiently important for the dignity of statutory registration. Secondly, though this is suspected more often than it is said, it is sometimes thought that the real purpose of the promoters of statutory registration is to give status and respectability to a large number of untrained persons who, once they are on the register, proceed to erect high standards with the purpose of keeping others out. Neither of these comments can be applied to this proposition. There is a third argument, and it might be thought to have weight, as it did recently in the case of the Hairdressers Bill. That argument is that it is enough for a register of trained and experienced persons to be published and for the choice to be left thereafter as to whether a trained person is selected. It has to be faced, although perhaps it is not generally realised, that that is the basis of medical registration. With few limitations anyone is free to practice medicine. The purpose of the register is to enable people to choose between the trained and the untrained—and let it be said that some people have a strange preference for the untrained.

Does that argument apply in this case? I think not. For one thing, intelligent though they are, horses cannot choose. The issue here is essentially one of cruelty clue to unskilled shoeing. That is of the very essence of the case. In any case, in the subsequent registration of professions, practice was limited by law to the trained, as for example in the case of dentists and the veterinary profession. I would urge, first, that effective protection of horses is much more likely to be achieved by restraining, so far as is practicable, the activity of the inexperienced and the untrained from the outset, and that in this case the Government should not seek to apply the principle they insisted on before agreeing to the passage of the Hairdressers Registration Bill. To put it mildly, the perils to our heads through unskilled hairdressing are not to be compared with the pain and damage caused to horses by inefficient shoeing.

As has been said, the details can be dealt with in Committee. Some may doubt whether the horse owner should be exempt; others may think that the machinery is somewhat cumbersome, and indeed the traditional use over the years of the word "blacksmith" may pose problems. But on the basic point I urge upon your Lordships that if the case is made out on cruelty grounds alone, that is sufficient to warrant the protection of horses by the registration of farriers and the limitation of the practice of the craft to those on the register. I hope the House will give this Bill a Second Reading.

3.30 p.m.


My Lords, first I should like to pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Newall, for bringing this important Bill before the House. I should like also to declare an interest in that ever since I was a very young man I have always been interested in horses and ponies. The first recollection I have of having directly to deal with the trade of the blacksmith or farrier was in the very early days of the last war, when I was put on to a Board to pass out some farriers. There were about 700 horses to shoe which were due to go abroad fairly soon, so naturally the farriers were all passed out pretty quickly or the job would not have been done. So as far as I know, no ill effect came about so far as the horses were concerned. Only last week I happened to meet one of the gentlemen who were passed out then and I asked him what he was doing now. He is now the head of a firm of farriers employing 12 to 14 other men, and his son has gone into the business, making the third generation of blacksmiths in that family. I call that a very good record. He shoes horses of all descriptions and is well recognised in the area in which he lives as a master of his craft, as are all the men who work for him. He tells me that he always puts it to the young men to go to work for him that they should register as farriers and they do, which, in the centre of a horsey part of the world, is right and proper, and is quite easily achieved.

Having said that, however, I must also say that I do not think the same conditions apply all over Britain as in the more horsey centres such as Lambourn, Newmarket, Gloucestershire and the Home Counties. As the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, has said, there are different problems in Scotland and particularly in the Highlands and Islands. I should like to say a word or two about the Islands because I have intimate knowledge of one of them. I was interested to hear the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, say that evening classes were suggested for one person living near him, but that these were in Glasgow, 320 miles away. Exactly the same thing happened to me regarding something else, which shows that this kind of thing can happen, as I know only too well.

I have a letter here from a friend who writes pointing out the following on this subject. I quote from his letter: If there is known to be cruelty, I should have thought that the Bill falls down completely on Clause 16(1)(vi) which says that a person may shoe a horse which belongs to him. This could surely produce the most likely source of any cruelty. I do not know how many of the speakers upon the Bill this afternoon have tried to shoe a horse. I know that I should be a dreadful failure if I tried to do it myself and that I should no doubt inflict cruelty upon the animal and that the animal might inflict cruelty upon me.

If somebody owns a horse but is totally impecunious, he may decide to have a go at shoeing it himself rather than wasting money on a blacksmith. This could easily be cruel, though it would be legal. Conversely, I may own a horse but be incapable of shoeing it and have no blacksmith within miles so I have to get the first person I can, be it the local plumber, iron worker, groom or stalker. This is probably not cruel but it would be illegal. If it were not done the horse or pony—and there are still ponies working in outlying areas on hill work of various kinds—might well go without being shod at all and without having its feet trimmed, which would be more cruel. I think, therefore, that I find myself in agreement with the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, and with the writer of that letter, that there is a case, no matter how good the Bill is for the central parts of Britain, for further thought in amending it so far as the outlying areas of Scotland are concerned and maybe of Wales as well, though I am not competent to speak in any way for Wales.

I wonder whether it is possible, as has been suggested by the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, that some form of Scottish Council could be set up to make direct liaison between the shoeing authorities in England and in Scotland. If that were the case, I believe that the problems are so different that it would make for a better Act of Parliament. I do not want to take up too much of the time of the House. I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Newall, for bringing the Bill forward and to commend him, if this is not presumptuous, for his brief speech in doing so, which is always welcome to me. I do not want to spoil that by going on too long myself.