Campaigners are determined to find a new way to amend the Animals Act to reduce liability on responsible animal owners — and ultimately reduce insurance premiums — despite the failure of a Private Members’ Bill on the subject earlier this month (news, 20 March).

Pembrokeshire MP Stephen Crabbe’s bill, calling for changes in the law to protect responsible animal owners from unfair compensation claims, failed on Friday, 14 March because not enough MPs turned out to vote.

The bill was written by lawyers at the Countryside Land and Business Association (CLA), in consultation with Defra, the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), Countryside Alliance (CA) and the British Horse Society (BHS).

CLA spokesman Richella Logan told H&H that the organisation would continue to fight the issue — seen as one of the only ways to halt spiralling insurance premiums (see below).

“Taking this issue forward as another Private Members’ Bill, or anything other than a government bill, would be pointless,” she said. “So we’re going to ask whether it can be added to the coastal access review.”

The government is looking at ways to open England’s coastline to the public, and the CLA believes that if farmers continue to be held strictly liable for their animals’ actions they may resist this.

“But it would only be a partial solution to link it to that,” said Miss Logan. “The government announced recently that it is thinking about renewing public rights of way legislation, and though it’s too early to know where and when, it might be possible to tag it on to this, too.”

The NFU said it would support the Animal Act amendment being added to the Coastal Access Review.

Defra still supports the principle of an amendment to the Animals Act, but had not considered how to take it further after the failure of the bill.

“We worked with Mr Crabbe to ensure the contents of the bill were correct,” said a Defra spokesman. “Obviously it is of significant importance to the horse and farming industries and we continue to support it, but because this only happened last week, it’s too early to know how yet.”

The BHS said it was disappointed Mr Crabbe’s bill failed, but would work with all parties to take the issue further in any way possible.

How the act affects horse owners

The Animals Act 1971 has become a focal point for those battling high public liability insurance premiums after the landmark Mirvahedy v Henley court case in 2003 widened the scope of the Act. Since then, owners have been found liable for their animals’ actions, even if they have not been negligent in any way.

This news story was first published in Horse & Hound (27 March, ’08)