HL Deb 05 May 1975 vol 360 cc157-66

5.49 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that the Farriers (Registration) Bill be now read a second time. A Bill similar to this was debated by your Lordships in May last year. In essence, this is the same Bill, with the same intention of furthering the cause of farriery in order to avoid suffering to horses, to promote the training of farriers and to prohibit the shoeing of horses by unqualified people. The intervening period of time has allowed a great many people to discuss the Bill, to write letters, to draw conclusions and to make any number of suggestions. These were considered in the other place and, as a result, the Bill is now much better than it was previously. Perhaps I should remind your Lordships that the Bill is wholeheartedly supported by every one of the organisations connected with the horse, whether or not they are represented by name on the Registration Council. People who have raised objections to any part of the Bill during the intervening time have been fully listened to and, in the case of Scotland, which has some very wild and woolly areas, many of the alterations have been made with a view to helping such areas.

My Lords, the Bill is not basically controversial and even the Home Office, faced with the task of trying to understand a Bill wholly connected with outdoor country pursuits, now admits that it could be beneficial. Thus a great hurdle has been overcome. I hope your Lordships will agree that it is unnecessary for me to go through every provision of the Bill item by item, especially in view of the lateness of the hour and the fact that virtually the same Bill was passed by your Lordships' House, all the arguments having been very fully aired.

Basically, the Bill requires farriers to register, but contains provisions for competent people to continue to shoe horses without earning their living from farriery. This will ensure that the numbers of people able to shoe horses will not be reduced as soon as the Bill becomes law. Drafting Amendments have been suggested, including many proposed by the Government and put forward in another place. Another major change is that there is a new Part III, which allows people to shoe so long as they are not doing it for gain. They can do it for themselves or for others. I believe that the Bill will come into force within six months of being passed. However, the penalties section is excepted; that is Clause 16, and the Secretary of State may allow that clause to come into force on different dates in different areas. In other words, the penalty clause—that is, the provision which allows for people to be fined—can come into force at different times in different areas. I believe it is possible to say that there will be some areas in which Clause 16 will never be applied.

My Lords, I believe it to be extremely important that local people should be very fully consulted before any areas are taken into the scheme. Consultations should be held with such bodies as local agricultural societies or, perhaps, in the case of Scotland, with crofters' organisations or the Royal Highland Society. At this stage and for the benefit of people in Scotland who have recently made representations to me, I can give very definite assurances based on the knowledge which I have gained from talking to the Worshipful Company of Farriers—which your Lordships will remember has the right to choose the chairman and two members of the Registration Council—that no area will be put forward for inclusion under Clause 16 without the fullest consultation with the local agricultural societies and suitable representative bodies where agricultural societies may not be in operation. There is no reason at all why the Registration Council should want to go against local wishes and, as I said earlier, it is quite conceivable that some areas may never have Clause 16 applied to them. The Council's task is ultimately to further the cause of horse-shoeing to the benefit of all people connected with horses and of all who enjoy having them. I very sincerely commend the Bill to your Lordships and I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a. —[Lord Newall.]

5.56 p.m.


My Lords, I am one of those who took part in the debate just over a year ago when this Bill came forward in a slightly different form. I should humbly like to thank those who have worked on it since it has had various discussions in another place, including my noble friend Lord Newall and the Worshipful Company of Farriers, for having very considerably improved the Bill. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, will not mind if I also thank him and his colleagues in another place for the part which I know they have played.

My Lords, I speak from the same point of view as I did last year—that is, from an offshore island on the Atlantic coast of Scotland. There are areas in the High-lands and Islands of Scotland where there are very few or, in some cases, virtually no farriers or blacksmiths. To make a livelihood, a man who carries on the trade of blacksmith will not have enough horses or ponies to shoe to give full-time employment and must spend his time mending agricultural machinery and motor cars. Indeed, he is very good at that. I was very glad to hear my noble friend say that he thought local agricultural societies should be consulted. I would add to that that it would be a good thing if it could somehow be written into the Bill—without making Amendments, which I am sure nobody wants if they can be avoided—that the local branch of the NFU should be consulted where there are no agricultural societies. While there are representatives of bodies connected with the horse on the proposed Council, many bodies will not be represented at all in the outlying areas. I just want to emphasise the importance of the Council's taking local opinion, for those are the only people who will know whether there is an adequate number of farriers or black- smiths, or indeed whether there are any farriers or blacksmiths in the area at all.

5.57 p.m.


My Lords, since a similar measure came before your Lordships last summer, it has been possible to do considerable research. I have talked to all sorts of interested people and, in particular, to a considerable number of blacksmiths. As my noble friend Lord Newall said, since it was before us last the Bill has been considerably improved. Indeed, I believe that in the South-East of England there is considerable demand for a measure of this sort. However, as one gets to the more remote parts of the country, so one finds that opposition to the measure increases. It seems that the horse world in the hunting counties is generally in favour, but that, in areas where there is no hunting and little winter work for blacksmiths, there is opposition. Thus, it is scarcely surprising that there is a grave shortage of farriers in the remoter areas, as, clearly, they cannot exist on work which is available for only a small part of the year. For instance, between Aberdeen and Inverness—a distance of 100 miles—there is only one old man who, unfortunately, is able to do very little work now. That is a very serious situation over such an enormous area. I have heard from a blacksmith who recently went South from Aberdeen to shoe two ponies and who found 12 waiting for him. The bush telegraph had worked and, as soon as people heard that a blacksmith was coming, all those ponies arrived. Unfortunately, willing as the smith was, he found himself unable to shoe all the ponies, because their feet were in such appalling condition from having hammered up and down the roads with no shoes on.

Your Lordships will therefore see that any measure which might restrict the number of people carrying out shoeing could have a very serious effect in these areas. It is very different in the South, where one firm may employ several farriers. In these remote areas, it will be a very serious matter. The Long Title of the Bill says that it is, To prevent and avoid suffering by and cruelty to horses. There can be no doubt that we all applaud the aim, but what worries some people is whether the Bill will have the desired effect; indeed, we fear that it will have the reverse effect. At our Pony Club camp last summer, despite strict instructions to the contrary, four children arrived with unshod ponies. They had been trying for some time to get their ponies shod and they could not get it done. At Easter this year, six out of 20 ponies turned up unshod. It was found that in the autumn one local blacksmith had got kicked and, as a result, was unable to help them out.

Thus the situation gets steadily worse. One or two people in the area are partially trained. I have an employee—engaged on something totally different—whose father was a blacksmith, and thus he was virtually brought up in a smithy. There is also a young boy who went on a short farrier's course as part of his general horse training. No doubt my noble friend Lord Newall will tell us that these people would not be allowed to continue shoeing. But what concerns me is what will happen in 10 or 15 years' time when these young people, or other people who are now able to do the shoeing, will not be allowed to do so?

There is no harm in using these people to trim up horses feet, or put back a nail or tighten a loose shoe. This would be very much better than having animals running around unshod. It seems also that the Government hold these doubts. The Minister in the other place questioned whether the Bill was warranted or essential. I am, therefore, at a loss to understand why the Government let the Bill through if they did not consider it necessary or warranted. The sponsors of the Bill seem to think that by nominally improving the status of farriers, nominally raising these worthy men from tradesmen to members of a professional body, more people will come into the trade. But I am very doubtful about this. I cannot see that it would have this effect, although it would be nice if it did.

More money for training is required. I am sure that the increase in grants from £6,000 to £10,000 per annum, and the employment of a full-time instructor, which, I understand is to take place, will be applauded by all. The increase of men in training from 16 in 1967 to 129 this year shows what an effect a comparatively small amount of money can have on training. There has been no need for a protectionist Bill such as this to bring about this increase in the number of students. In many cases master farriers are not prepared to train and employ apprentices entirely because of the financial burden this places on them. Except in a few cases master farriers cannot afford the time to train boys, and here again the whole problem is financial.

Clause 19 gives the Secretary of State the power to appoint the days on which to bring Clause 16—the penal clause—into force in various undefined areas. I ask who is to advise the Secretary of State as to what boundaries should apply to these areas, and when the status of these areas should be altered? I gather that this may be the Registration Council, but what concerns some of us is that the Registration Council, if it is to consist of the people largely responsible for promoting the Bill, does not really know what is happening in the remoter areas. I was therefore particularly pleased to hear my noble friend Lord Margadale stress this point.

We must have proper consultation in the local areas. It is not right that only agricultural bodies should be consulted; there are other bodies with horses equally interested—riding clubs, pony clubs, trekking organisations and the like. I should be much happier, if the Bill is to proceed, that there should be written into it an amendment to the effect that the body which will be responsible for advising the Minister will be the Registration Council, and that it will enter into consultations before this action takes place. Otherwise, people who are involved at the moment, such as members of the Farriers Company, or others promoting the Bill, will pass on and this matter will be forgotten. One will wake up one morning and find that one's area has been scheduled as an area in which unregistered farriers will no longer be able to practise. There should be a safeguard against this, and I hope that such a provision is written into the Bill in due course.

6.5 p.m.


My Lords, this is the second occasion on which we have heard the noble Lord, Lord Newall, introduce this Bill in your Lordships' House. I was going to say that he was commendably brief on the last occasion, but he has been even more brief this time. I am sure that your Lordships will thank him for that.

The Bill is an old acquaintance and, as sometimes happens with old acquaintances who have been away and who one has not seen for a long time, when one sees them again one rather enjoys them all the more. As the noble Lords, Lord Margadale and Lord Burton, have said this Bill comes before us in rather a better shape than the previous one. I do not wish to suggest by that that the Government are out of sympathy with the Bill. But the noble Lord, Lord Burton, could not quite understand why, if the Government had any reservations in their mind about the Bill, they should ultimately have let it through another place. We must remember that this is a Private Member's Bill, not a Government Bill. If the other place, or for that matter your Lordships, are so minded to feel that there is some merit in a Private Member's Bill, it is part of the responsibility of the House to give it a Second Reading and then for the House, if it has any reservations, to seek to put it right at subsequent stages.

The noble Lord, Lord Burton, said that he might feel disposed to move an Amendment. It is not for me to suggest to him whether this would be a right or a wrong course—he is very much in the hands of your Lordships' House in that regard—but the time factor may arise. This Bill has already passed through all its stages in another place. As the noble Lord will know, any Amendment would have to go back to the other place for consideration there. I wonder, in view of what the noble Lord said, whether it is really necessary for such an Amendment.

The noble Lord, Lord Margadale, referred to the offshore islands. I think that both the noble Lord, Lord Margadale, and the noble Lord, Lord Burton, felt that some useful purpose would be served if it could be written into the Bill that there was an obligation on the Registration Council to ensure that appropriate inquiries are made of everybody likely to be interested. I think that this is clearly implied in the Bill; indeed, I do not think there is any doubt about this. It is not the responsibility of the Secretary of State to do this.

The whole purpose of the Bill is to establish a Farriers Registration Council, and it will be the responsibility of that Council to see that every organisation that has an interest in the business of farriery should have an opportunity to express its opinion. It is not limited merely to one or two. Anyone in an area has the right to communicate with the Registration Council and to express views, comments and observations before Clause 16 is implemented. I should have thought that that would be sufficient to meet the situation. It is the responsibility of the Registration Council to advise the Secretary of State on this matter and I do not share the anxiety of the two noble Lords as to whose responsibility it is.

I also want to emphasise that the Worshipful Company is a highly responsible body. I think we can safely assume that the Registration Council, which is to consist of 16 people who are familiar with the purpose of the Bill, will also discharge their responsibilities in a highly satisfactory way. I do not think there is any reason to suppose otherwise, and I should have thought that the point made by the noble Lords would be met. As regards training, I accept the figures given by the noble Lord, Lord Burton. I would point out that this year the grant from the Horse Race Betting Levy Board is to be in the region of £15,000 and if noble Lords feel, as I think the Government, the proposer of the Bill, and the Worshipful Company feel, that this Bill will improve and enhance the trade of farriery, I should have thought there was something to be said for putting this on a much higher footing. The money will be available to encourage more people to come in and, eventually, those areas that have no or not many farriers at the moment should benefit.

As the Government understand the Bill, this is a sincere and genuine attempt on the part of the Promoters to provide over the whole of the United Kingdom people competent to undertake the responsible task of farriery. It seems that this Bill goes a very long way towards doing this. If the standards can be raised, and if it can be seen as the skilled job which it undoubtedly is, it is likely to attract more and more people. It is not the intention of the Government, if and when this Bill gets on to the Statute Book, to apply it immediately. With the exception of Clause 16, it will be universally applied within six months of the Bill's receiving the Royal Assent. As noble Lords have pointed out, there will be a number of areas which will not be able to fulfil the conditions laid down, and because of this the penal clauses will not be applied until such time as they are in a position to meet the other requirements of the Bill. The Government see this Bill as a sincere attempt to improve the skills and the numbers of farriers, and because of that they give their blessing to it and feel that it will do much to fulfil what the Promoters have in mind.


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down may I ask him a question? I think I am right in saying that there are only about 100 farriers in Scotland, and 1,500 in the country as a whole. On the proposed Registration Council, I believe there will be only one representative for Scotland out of 16 members. Does the noble Lord think that one out of 16 people on the Council will ensure that the remoter areas get proper representation?


My Lords, I just do not know. The noble Lord has given comparative figures for Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom and, in the circumstances, this would seem to indicate that Scotland has very reasonable representation on the suggested Registration Council. If noble Lords from Scotland are not satisfied with that, presumably they can do something about it. But I should have thought that this aspect had been carefully gone into. As the noble Lord knows, the body has been nominated by Scottish organisations and sources, and that being so Scotland will have representation. I should have thought it would be comparatively easy, through the various organisations in Scotland, to see that the Act was properly applied.

6.17 p.m.


My Lords, it only remains for me to thank noble Lords who have taken part in the debate, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, who said so much of what I should have said, and said it so much better. May I also thank my noble friend Lord Margadale for his intervention. I very much understand his dis- quiet, as well as that of the noble Lord, Lord Burton, but I think it would be wrong to allow your Lordships to go away with the feeling that there is only one Scottish representative on the Registration Council. There is only one named representative, but one must not forget that there will be two people who are engaged in carrying out farriery, one or both of whom could easily be a Scotsman. There will be two people who should be employees carrying out farriery and one of those could be a Scotsman; two people appointed by the National Master Farriers', Blacksmiths' and Agricultural Engineers' Association, one of whom could be a Scotsman; and so I could go on, including the veterinary surgeons. There is no need to think that the Scottish element will not be fully represented.

If I may say so, it is not a representative of the area concerned who may be under consideration. I think that the Registration Council would go to great lengths to find out from the area concerned what is the situation. As the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, has said, they would not stop at agricultural societies; it would be a totally representative body which would be consulted. Knowing that the Registration Council is there to do a job on behalf of horse owners and horses, and farriers in particular, I would have no anxieties. Undoubtedly, the money will grow with the years. I commend this Bill to your Lordships and hope that it may pass the second stage.

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