HL Deb 09 May 1977 vol 383 cc9-24

2.53 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. The Farriers (Registration) Act came into being on 22nd May 1975. Its purpose was: to prevent and avoid suffering by and cruelty to horses arising from the shoeing of horses by unskilled persons; to promote the proper shoeing of horses; to promote the training of farriers and shoeing smiths; to provide for the establishment of a Farriers Registration Council to register persons engaged in farriery and the shoeing of horses; to prohibit the shoeing of horses by unqualified persons; and for purposes connected therewith". With the passing of that Act and the subsequent registration, this NN as the first time that the farriers themselves had begun to be organised. The initial stage was to try to get together a head count which was starting completely from scratch. Obviously there were shortages of farriers in some areas. No one knew how many there were; some farriers were better than others, but there were perhaps too many "fly-by-night" ones.

There have been serious gaps in the past years for the proper training of young and potential farriers. Moreover, anyone could call himself a farrier and perhaps lame horses, and so take away the livelihood of the more qualified but perhaps less businesslike members of the craft. Nobody wants excessive legislation, particularly those who live in the countryside. They hate laws, anyway. Nevertheless, all the organisations connected with horses approved the original Act and supported it, for without some knowledge of the national pattern of farriers there was no basis from which to improve their lot.

When the Act came into fore, the horse population was believed to he growing. I would submit to your Lordships that with petrol prices increasing, car taxes higher and the enormous inflation that we have seen over the past two or three years, there is quite a good chance that horses may be used more and more. So it is even more important to keep the craft of farriers a flourishing one. Horses are vital and they are going to be more so; but a very important part of their function is their ability to move, so their feet come into this rather strongly. Necessarily it is a skilled job to remove shoes, prepare the feet and fit new shoes. There is a growing need to ensure for the future a continuing supply of farriers.

In the period since the Act came into being the Farriers Registration Council has had time to assess the manpower situation in farriery. Broadly speaking, a list of 2,000 farriers has been compiled, with an estimated number of 1,500 who were active practitioners. In quality they varied from excellent craftsmen to the casual free-lance operator picking up odd fees here and there. These latter are often a menace to the horse and to the reputation of the craft, if their work is unsatisfactory.

In quantity there are just about enough farriers to shoe all the horses in the country. But—and this is very important—a significant number of them are nearing retirement and, in addition, geographically the distribution leaves something to be desired, even with the portable forge which is often carried in the car boot. The main need for the craft is an injection of young, well-trained recruits, and I am glad to be able to report to your Lordships that, so far as is known within round numbers, there are 150 apprentices in training formally and many others learning informally.

With experience it has been found that many fairly qualified, active and practising farriers could not comply with the timetable as laid down in Section 7 of the Act. Some competent men could not take advantage of the provisions of Section 7(7) because they did not comply with all the conditions therein. This situation has arisen from a very worthy attempt to insist on the highest standards, but too quickly for the registration. It must be remembered however that as with the dentists' registration, when the registration actually starts one has to include all those who are practising and allow them to continue.

Nevertheless, in spite of this amendment the objective of the main Act remains completely valid. It is necessary to include as many practising farriers in the registry as soon as possible, so that Section 16 of the Act, which makes it unlawful to be unregistered, can be brought into force as early as possible, particularly in those areas where there are known to be enough farriers. Let us not forget that there was very little information available in 1974 and 1975, when the Act was originally started. Some noble Lords may very well be tempted to say, "I told you so". If they do that, I am most grateful to them for saying so; they can preen themselves justifiably. I did not think anybody could always be right, and I personally did not expect to be. As I said before, we were trying to do the job correctly. So this amending Bill will extend the qualifications for registration to ensure that all those practising can register. It will provide a simplified certificate, not a statutory declaration, for veterinary surgeons to support the applications from owners. It will admit other evidence if a certificate from a veterinary surgeon is not available, and it will reserve to registered farriers the description "farrier and shoeing smith".

In this context, I should like to mention that at Committee stage there will have to be one small amendment made to Clause 2(2)(b) of the amending Bill, to the timing of registration and the description "farrier" or "shoeing smith". The Amendment will seek to change to 6 months the 12 months' period for making it an offence to call yourself a farrier or shoeing smith. It is thought to be ample time for people to get organised and become registered, and to avoid calling themselves a farrier or shoeing smith if they are not properly qualified. This has been suggested after discussion with the Home Office.

Once this amending Bill has been passed, the Council will undoubtedly turn its attention to formulating an educational programme so that—if your Lordships will excuse a pun—a stable career will be available which young men can fairly be encouraged to take up. The programme will be based on the training and examinations of the Worshipful Company of Farriers and the Association of Master Farriers. Apprenticeship must remain the prime means of training entrants, but increasingly that will be augmented by formal training courses at technical colleges, if enough masters are not ready to take on apprentices.

There are two proposals awaiting study for setting up a national school of farriery, which will give immense encouragement to recruiting and will ensure that there is a sufficient supply of craftsmen of the highest quality in future. Discussions are also taking place with the Educational Advisory Service of the Manpower Services Commission with a view to financial assistance being made available from the Government to assist farrier students in their training. Those of your Lordships who have looked at this new Bill will notice that there are other minor adjustments, but they are included only to remove doubt or to simplify the original Act. None of them is otherwise of great consequence.

It is as important as ever to get the registration of farriers completed, and without this Bill it will not be possible to do so. May I remind your Lordships that the original Act was supported by all the major horse-connected organisations. When registration has been completed it will enable the Council to continue its good work. May I say that already one complaint has been received by the Council in respect of bad farriery, and it is being looked into.

The registration that will ensue will make sure that an accurate list of farriers will sort out the genuine people from the imposters and will assist in the formation of better training facilities. It will also encourage young people who want to become farriers. I beg to move.

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

3.2 p.m.


My Lords, with your Lordships' permission, I intervene at this stage because it might be helpful to give some idea of the Government's attitude towards this Bill. If I say that the Government welcome the Bill, I do not want to be misunderstood. There has not been a collective conversion in our attitude to the statutory registration of farriers. Some of your Lordships will remember that when the 1975 Act was before your Lordships' House there were certain reservations on the part of the Government, and I think it fair to say that the main one was that the Bill sought perhaps to achieve too much.

The noble Lord, Lord Newall, has made it clear that the Act to which Parliament gave its approval in 1975 has proved unworkable. Perhaps I might say that I do not think one can lay the blame for that at the Government's door, and of course the noble Lord did not attempt to do so; but in view of the history of this measure, if we were to advise that the turn of events provided an opportunity for second thoughts, that would be a precise indication of what has happened. It has been possible to have second thoughts about the working of the 1975 Act, and that is a view which the noble Lord, Lord Newall, has quite properly taken. The Government bowed in 1975 to the pressure of those who supported this measure and we continue to stand by that decision. Since experience has shown that it in fact contained defects which are incurable except by amendment, the Government welcome a Bill which will put those defects right and enable the work of the Farriers Registration Council to be carried out in the way it was originally intended.

Whatever the Government's view may have been at the time on other aspects of the Bill which became the Farriers Registration Act 1975, we did not question those provisions which set out the various qualifications which would entitle a person to register with the Farriers Registration Council. We assumed, perhaps incautiously, that the Worshipful Company of Farriers and the Bill's sponsors in both Houses, in consultation perhaps with agricultural and equestrian bodies likely to be knowledgeable in such matters, had fixed on reasonable and attainable standards of experience and skill. I can understand that the supporters of the idea of registration should have wished to set their sights high. Unfortunately, however, farriers were, and doubtless still are, an amorphous body of men (and, I ought to say, women, because I do not want the noble Baroness to correct me on that) whose experience has been acquired in a variety of ways, and whose practice of the craft varies considerably, in frequency and regularity.

As the noble Lord, Lord Newall, has explained, up-to-date and accurate information on the subject came to light only when the newly created Council set about the business of finding those who would be affected by the requirements of the 1975 Act and examining carefully their applications for registration in the light of the criteria specified in the Act. It seems, if I may presume, to sum up the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Newall, that those who devised those criteria had, from the most laudable motives, set too high a standard at the outset. In particular, it would seem that insufficient attention was given to the principle, which is normally adopted in introducing legislation of this kind, of ensuring that all existing practitioners of the craft should qualify for registration, so that persons should not be deprived of their livelihood.

As the noble Lord, Lord Newall, has explained, the amendments the Bill would make are designed to remedy those defects by observing that principle and by making other related changes. If I sound a note of caution, it is not with the intention of trying to impede the progress of this Bill in any way but only to emphasise the inadequacy of the information available to the Government. We know very little more now about farriers and farriery than we did two years ago. We have examined the proposals in the Bill very carefully and they seem to us to be likely to overcome all the problems which have so far come to light. I am afraid, however, that the Government are simply not qualified to give Parliament a categorical assurance that, as it would be amended by this Bill, the 1975 Act will then serve to do the job it is intended to do. On our part at least, the absence of any comment should be interpreted as a matter of faith rather than knowledge.

The only other major provision in the Bill is to separate the two unlawful acts which are created by the 1975 Act. These are: the practice of farriery by persons not registered with the Registration Council and the use or adoption by an unregistered person of the style, title or description, "farrier" or "shoeing smith", or any other form of words which might suggest that he was so registered. The position at present is that neither of these acts constitutes a criminal offence because the Secretary of State has not yet made an order bringing into operation the section of the Act, Section 16, in which they are set out. The Bill before us would remove the offence of the misleading use of the title "farrier", and so on, from Section 16 and transfer it to a new section which would come into operation following a fixed period after the passing of the Act. This would leave the offence of unlawful practice of farriery to be activated by order of the Secretary of State.

The advantage of this difference of treatment is that the "title" offence is less sweeping in its effects. If there was a shortage of farriers in any part of the country, horses could continue to be shod by unregistered persons, provided that they did not use the prohibited titles or styles. The "practice" offence, however, is comprehensive and once it is introduced the problems of a shortage will be difficult to overcome. The Government recognise that, without teeth, the Council's task of securing registrations will not be easy. In the Government's view, the compromise now proposed is a satisfactory one, which will reconcile the Council's need to secure some sanction, with the risks of introducing the full sanctions before the question of supply has been determined.

As the noble Lord, Lord Newall, has explained, under the Bill a person who was qualified to register as a farrier would have to decide during the 12 months from the date of Royal Assent either to register with the Council, or to stop describing himself in the way I have outlined. Your Lordships will remember that the noble Lord, Lord Newall, indicated that he would seek to cut this period by six months, by means of a suitable Amendment. So far as the Secretary of State's order is concerned, I can only repeat what I said two years ago; namely, that the Secretary of State would need to be satisfied—and this is important—about the numbers and dispositions of farriers in Great Britain before considering making an order.

We are well aware of the reservations that were expressed at the time, that in some of the remoter parts of Scotland there are few farriers and a case might be made out for not activating the penalty provision in those areas. At this stage, I cannot say what the Secretary of State's intentions are about Section 16, because we think it best, first, to see what effect this Bill will have—if it reaches the Statute Book—on the numbers of farriers registering. It would be fair and reasonable to say that the Secretary of State is unlikely to implement Section 16 in those areas where there is not an adequate number of farriers, and this may go some way to meet the anxieties of a number of your Lordships. When the Farriers Registration Council has so to speak, closed its books—at least so far as existing farriers are concerned—in some 12 months' time or six months' time as the case may be, it will be in a position to present to the Secretary of State the kind of informa- tion he will need before he considers action which will make unlawful any farriery, subject to the exceptions provided for in the Act, which is carried out by anyone not on the register.

In welcoming this Bill, as I said at the beginning I should not wish the House to misconstrue the Government's attitude to it. As is traditional in this House with so much Private Members' legislation, the Government's attitude is one of neutrality. But I hope that what I have said will afford some reassurance to any of your Lordships who may have been surprised by the need to amend the 1975 Act so soon.

3.14 p.m.


My Lords, like others who supported the present Act when it was before this House in 1975, I am sorry that it has been necessary to amend it so soon. I live in a part of the country where there is a pressing need to raise the standard of farriery. There are plenty of farriers, but too many of them are not good enough. Therefore, I thought that the Act was on the right lines when it sought, from the outset, to set standards of improvement in the quality of work. But I now see that it would have been better to follow the practice of other crafts and professions that have instituted systems of registration. The veterinary and surveyors' professions, and many others, have faced this problem and have concluded that the right course is to let all existing practitioners in, without attempting to set new standards of quality at the outset, and thereafter to seek to raise standards. I am sure that that is right for this profession, too. Therefore, I support the Bill and am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Newall, for bringing it forward at this stage.

Above all, I think it is important that the registration scheme should be put on a basis which allows it to be made a working scheme very quickly. The plain fact is that, at present, registration has very little to offer those who would seek it. As the Act stands at the moment, the time is some way off when the scheme could be implemented and, as I understand it, not one in five of those farriers who are qualified to register have done so. There are two reasons for this: first, they have nothing much to gain by registering at the moment, because we are some distance from the restriction on practice, or on the use of the name, which will in due course come; and, secondly, the fees are rather on the high side. This has been necessary, because the Registration Council has to cover its expenses out of its fees, and since the registrations are low the fee for each registration has to be high. Better by far if the number of registrations could be increased and the fee dropped. At present it stands as high as £15 in the first year and £10 in subsequent years, which is quite a lot in a craft of this kind even if we allow for present-day inflation.

As I have said, I speak mainly from a knowledge of the South of England where there is no shortage of farriers and the main need is to raise the quality. Some other parts of the country are in a very different position indeed. In the remoter parts of Scotland and Wales, there is probably no foreseeable possibility of farriery becoming a full-time occupation; it will always he something done by people who are also occupied in other ways. In those circumstances, one has to provide for some flexibility of standards and of qualification. But what is necessary, above all, is that standards should be raised as quickly as possible in those parts of the country where it is practicable to do that. This will be partly a matter of dealing effectively with complaints of poor work—and we have heard that the first complaint has now come in—and of refusing registration to men such as those who have broken apprenticeships and started to practise before completing them. In the long run, the health of the craft depends upon building up and maintaining a sufficient flow of well-trained new entrants.

As the noble Lord, Lord Newall, told us, this is going to depend in large part on the training done by master farriers. As I understand it, the problem of recruitment is not—at present, at any rate—a problem of attracting youngsters to become apprentices. In my part of the country there have been one or two advertisements in local newspapers by would-be apprentices seeking master farriers to take them on. The fact is that not enough suitable master farriers are anxious to take on apprentices. One has to accept that not all competent farriers would necessarily make good trainers of apprentices, but I think that there are enough who would do it if the present discouragements to taking on apprentices were removed or alleviated.

These discouragements are, in the main, three. First, there is the problem of the apprentice who works as an apprentice for two years, for example, out of the four for which he is indentured. He then looks around him and thinks that he knows just as much as some other young men who are practising the trade without apprenticeships and that he has only to buy a second-hand van, put some tools in it and go around the country seeking business in order to earn a great deal more money than he is getting as an apprentice. That is an attitude which registration must be used to counter.

Secondly, there is the problem of block release for training in technical colleges. At the moment, the requirement is that apprentices should be given block release for three weeks in the first year and two weeks in each of the next three years of the apprenticeship. There used to be a small grant which the master farrier could use to help to cover the lad's wages, but that has gone now and the master farrier has to pay the full wages during the period of block release. They do not complain of this, but there have been rumours of substantial increases in the periods of technical college training. I have no doubt that some technical college training is right and necessary, but most farriers operate on a small scale and cannot afford to release apprentices for long periods, especially after the first year. After the first year, the apprentice has become part of the team—at any rate, for a limited scope of work such as removing shoes and doing some preliminary preparation of feet, although even at that stage the apprentice will be far from doing the whole job. I was delighted to hear recently from the chairman of the registration council that he considers it is now generally accepted that very long releases are out of the question and that courses will have to be short and concentrated. If this view is made generally known to master farriers, it will considerably modify their present reluctant attitude towards apprenticeships.

Third, there is the proposal for a National School of Farriery. As the noble Lord, Lord Newall, said, two proposals for a national school have been put forward. I do not know the details of these proposals, nor do the master farriers—in general at any rate—but they are well aware that the proposals exist. I hope that there is no idea of setting up a school that would turn out finished farriers, as it were, who had not had experience of the craft on the ground, as carried out by the farriers who are in the business. These lads ought to have experience of the kind of business that they themselves will, in due course, look forward to running. It is not a craft to be learned wholly, or even in large part, in any school or college, although a specialised school of farriery might be much better than an ordinary technical college, especially if one or two good master farriers could be persuaded to serve on the training staff. Probably that kind of arrangement would be possible only if the national school were associated with a regular responsibility for shoeing horses on a fairly wide scale. For instance, it might be associated with one of the permanent and busy equestrian centres. That would provide practical work throughout the year without competing directly with existing farriery businesses. Even so, I feel that the apprentices who went through the school—and I very much hope that it can be set up—should also have experience of a normal business.

The three points which I have indicated to be the basis of anxiety among master farriers at present are those upon which some assurances are needed to get things working as they should. At bottom, the problem of ensuring a flow of well-trained recruits is that of getting the master farriers on the right side, as it were. This is not by any means an insoluble problem. I do not think it is even a difficult problem. I have discussed the scheme with the farrier who looks after my own needs. Like his father before him, he is a firm supporter of the basic purpose of the scheme. I have also spoken about it to the local secretary of the Master Farriers' Association, who is himself a respected practising farrier. Like most of their kind, these are sensible and public spirited men who are very ready to co-operate in a properly thought out plan to improve the long-term efficiency and standing of their craft. Indeed, I believe that this would be the general response of the whole of the craft.

Therefore, I very much hope that assurances can be given about some of the uncertainties and anxieties that I have mentioned as regards the place of the master farrier in future plans for training. However, the first step—and that is why I so much welcome and support the Bill—is to make it clear that the system of registration will come into force at a known and not too distant date. Let it work in practice and then everything will fall into place.

3.29 p.m.


My Lords, I want to delay the House only for a minute or two. I took part in the debate on the other Bill. Noble Lords who have listened to the debate today will agree that we all wish to further the interests of the farrier and good shoeing with as little bad effect as possible on horses and ponies. However, I expressed—as did several other noble Lords who cannot be here today—certain misgivings at the time of the last Bill. I have not heard those misgivings covered today, either by the noble Lord, Lord Newall, or by the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell. However, I was glad that the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, struck a note of caution when he said that it would probably take a little more time to implement the system than might be anticipated.

There are two points I wish particularly to stress; namely, that, in the outlying areas—I am thinking particularly of the highlands and islands of Scotland and probably a few hill areas of Wales or even England, although I do not know them individually—if there is a limited number of farriers, or almost no farriers at all, to send them away to technical colleges, though highly desirable in principle, is not really a starter. If they go away as little more than boys to the lights of the big towns, they will not return to the villages to work. They will be lured into other jobs.

When I spoke on the last Bill I think I said that around me on a certain island off the West Coast of Scotland there were five blacksmiths. Now there is only one left and he, for his own reasons, is not prepared to take an apprentice. If he went out of business tomorrow, I do not know what would happen. Therefore, when the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, refers to a note of caution, I hope he will persuade the Minister concerned and the Worshipful Company of Farriers that, under Section 16 whereby penalties are not imposed in a certain area, in fact they will not be imposed until there are at least some farriers, otherwise considerable cruelty will be caused by not shoeing horses at all, which would be highly undesirable. Cruelty was one of the first matters that was mentioned in connection with this Bill.

3.32 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to trespass upon the time of the House for just two minutes. Having listened to this interesting debate, I am grateful to the noble Lord who raised this issue and I should like to pose two questions. First, with the coming again into our fields and farms of that wonderful creature which has helped mankind so much—the horse—there is not the slightest doubt that it will be essential to increase the supply of farriers. Since this country earns a lot of money through the Ministry of Agriculture. Fisheries and Food in the breeding of bloodstock and the export of first-class racing and other types of horse, an approach might be made either to the National Agricultural Advisory Council or to the Ministry to see whether or not the Ministry is now taking a constructive interest in this matter. Those of us who many years ago may have come from marginal areas in some of the mountains of Wales know that the good old strong horse can do a job with much more ease, at less cost and he does not compact the land in the same way as the heavy tractors. Therefore, this Bill is essential to the small farmer.

Mankind should still realise that the first great invention—and your Lordships can find it in Virgil's Georgics—was the invention of the horse collar, whereby man managed to hitch the plough to the horse and began to produce his food. Despite the sophistication of Summit Conferences, and so on, the production of food is the first priority for mankind today.


My Lords, we recall how much need there was, until a few years ago, to bring together the different aspects of this problem. It was then that my noble friend Lord Newall took it upon himself to try to rectify this situation and, after much research and hard work, he produced a Bill, for which we were all grateful. As we know, he was successful in putting the Bill on the Statute Book. As the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, has said, it was then expected that there would be need for modification. That has proved to be the case and today we have heard from my noble friend Lord Newall of the need for modifications in some directions. The noble Lord has made clear to us the purposes of this Bill and we are grateful to him for it. Like so many other Members of your Lordships' House, being interested in horses he considered that there was great need for this procedure with regard to farriery; and with the present expanding equestrian interest in the country the Bill has proved even more timely.

I was interested in my noble friend's remarks with regard to the possibility of having a school of farriery which would dignify the status of those engaged in the craft, would probably get more recruits and would result in better service both to the owners and to the horses which they look after. Without taking up any more of your Lordships' time, I would just thank my noble friend for the trouble he has taken and congratulate him on the success of the Bill so far.

3.35 p.m.


My Lords, I should like first to say how grateful I am to the Government for giving encouragement to something which is so obviously needed. I am sure that all those who are running the Registration Council will hope that the Home Office will be able to bring in Section 16 to those areas where it is advisable to do so as soon as possible. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Helsby, for his support, and I assure him that work is going on all the time in the Registration Council, although it is not always easy to see it at every stage. Until the registration is properly done, we cannot carry out a head count, which is the start of all the business we have to do. In this day and age I do not think that the cost of £10 per annum for registration is very high, when one considers the cost of shoeing a horse.

With regard to the deterrents, the only one I should like to mention particularly is the block release problem. I know that discussions are taking place through the Worshipful Company of Farriers in an endeavour to secure Government grants for apprentices when attending courses at technical colleges. This will relieve some of the financial burden on the masters. I certainly agree with his description of the majority of farriers in this country as being good hard-working men.

I am well aware of the views of the noble Lord, Lord Margadale, and those of his friends, and I can assure him that his words will be carefully looked at and that caution will reign supreme. If anybody is thinking of bringing in Section 16, it is most unlikely that the Home Secretary will be advised to apply that section to the highlands and islands at the moment. I also thank the noble Lords, Lord Davies of Leek and Lord Barnby, for their interventions.

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