Viscount Astor, the Tory peer who wrote to Horse & Hound voicing concern about equine passport legislation, is poised to put down a motion to defeat the proposed legislation when it is laid in the House.
“Negative instruments [which become law if there is no objection rather than being voted in] can be a formality, but this one is controversial,” says Viscount Astor, who will mount the challenge with a cross-party group of peers.
If details in the order, still languishing with government lawyers just two months before the proposed deadline for owners to apply for passports, are not radically changed, Astor believes his motion has “a good chance of success”.
He advocates issuing passports only to horses which are expected to enter the food chain an alternative the government presented to the horse industry at the early consultation stage.
Defra is hedging over why the proposed legislation is taking so long to return to the House, although Lord Whitty has told the Lords that the final version would be laid before Parliament “shortly”.
“The lawyers have other legislation to deal with as well,” maintains a DEFRA spokesman. “The Horse Passports Order is a difficult piece of legislation that raises a number of issues that warrant careful consideration. But we aim for the legislation to be sent to Parliament in early November 2003.”
No details of the “issues” are available, and DEFRA has indicated in the past that no major changes are in the pipeline which makes the hold-up all the more baffling.
The final version of the statutory instrument must lie in the House for 21 days before it becomes law. If this happens, more than half-a-million equine passport applications will have to be made in less than a five-week period including Christmas if the deadline of 31 December is not changed.