Julian Sturdy MP is confident that strong cross-party support for the private member’s bill he has tabled, outlining new measures to tackle the scourge of fly-grazing, will lead to an effective change in the law soon.
With the Control of Horses Bill having passed its second reading in the House of Commons, the York Outer MP said legislative change was urgently needed to turnaround what he described as a “country-wide horse crisis”.
Its urgency is heightened by a change of rules over the border in Wales, he said, which has raised fears of the situation worsening here. The Welsh Parliament is a step ahead of England. In January, it introduced new rules which reduced the amount of time local authorities have to detain abandoned horses from 14 days to seven days. If the owner comes forward and pays costs before the end of this period, the animal is released, if not the animals is either rehomed, sold or euthanised.
Mr Sturdy is concerned that the action taken in Wales may lead to the problem there “crossing the border” unless rules in England follow suit. Currently horse owners in England still have 14 days to come forward to claim detained animals before local authorities can seize them and pursue their disposal. The private members’ bill seeks to reduce this to four days.
Speaking to Country Week, Mr Sturdy said: “There is a danger that if nothing happens in England, then we will see a lot of illegal fly grazing coming over the border. This is a country-wide horse crisis we are facing that has to be tackled.”
He said he was aware of numerous incidents along the trunk roads out of York to the east coast involving abandoned horses. One collision on the A1079 involving a lorry led to one horse being killed at the scene and another later put down by the RSPCA after suffering severe internal bleeding.
Farmers’ crops have been destroyed too, with as many as 30 horses illegally left to graze on farmland in the worst cases, he said. It is also considered to be a persistent problem along sections of the A166 near Stamford Bridge.
“There are a lot of responsible horse owners out there and a few that are causing these problems,” Mr Sturdy said. “The Government felt it could be dealt with through anti-social behaviour laws which do give powers to local authorities to seize animals. The problem is that they have to be able to identify the owners of those animals first.
“There are some powers there but they are absolutely worthless because there is no way of identifying the owners of these animals. By changing the 1971 Animals Act and shortening the time frame to four days before the animals can be seized and either sold in the market or rehomed with a charity or sadly, if there is no alternative, humanely euthanised, then that gives much more powers to local authorities to deal with this quickly.
“Now, the bill moves into the bill committee where it will be rewritten to include private land, which is crucial. The only thing that will be a constraint is time. We are up against the clock to get it to the House of Lords before Parliament is dissolved at the end of March, but as there is broad support I think that time will be made available.”
Progress for lobbyists
Organisations representing farmers and landowners, together with animal welfare charities have led calls for fly-grazing to be tackled.
The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) provided recommendations ahead of the bill’s first draft.
Lucinda Douglas, NFU county advier for York East, said the bill must be amended to cover private land: “The way the bill is drafted at the moment, the powers are only available to local authorities - and it is a power rather than a duty so it will not be possible to force them to act - and they are not available on private land. The NFU will continue to work with Julian Sturdy to achieve the necessary amendments to the bill at the committee stage.”