A number of constituents have written to me about the welfare of horses and the Central Equine Database.
As requested, I have looked closely into the Government proposals for this. I agree with the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of state, for Rural Affairs and Biosecurity that “the horse is central to our fabric of society” and I am pleased to know that the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) are working hard to ensure that it is safeguarded.
I am delighted that legislation to tackle fly-grazing has been introduced, and that the Control of Horses Act has been made a reality. Enforcement of this law is the responsibility of local councils, which are also responsible for upholding the horse passport regulations more generally, mostly through their Trading Standards or Animal Health Officers, and I would of course expect these bodies to fulfil their obligations.
New passport regulations are also an important step in improving the safeguarding of horses. These will be implemented as soon as is practical and the aim is to extend microchipping to all equidae, of all ages. Defra consulted on changes to reflect the new EU Equine Passport Regulation in spring 2017 and the legal provisions are fundamentally the same as those that have been in place since 2009. The Regulation is primarily a human health measure to make sure that horses do not enter the human food chain if they have been treated with medicinal products not authorised for food producing animals.
One of the key changes is the requirement that all Member States have a national Central Equine Database (CED) containing important information about the identity and status of equines. The Equine Sector Council described these efforts as "a triumph for Britain's horse sector and Defra", so I am confident that this will go a long way further towards helping protect these gentle, sensitive creatures.
Since the consultation closed, Defra has made good progress establishing the CED which will contain up-to-date information from all Passport Issuing Organisations allowing enforcement bodies to verify the food chain status of every animal and help locate owners of horses that are abandoned, lost or straying.
Usability testing of the CED has been successfully completed and more than two thirds of all Passport Issuing Officers (PIOs) have provided data for the CED. Enforcement bodies including local authorities and the Food Standards Agency are already able to search records and the database will be fully operational for PIOs by the spring.