The Conservatives would “tear up” Labour’s draft proposals for a “horse tax” and rethink disease responsibility and cost sharing if voted in.

So said shadow minister for agriculture and rural affairs Jim Paice, addressing the National Equine Forum in London on 4 March.

“We agree with the principle behind sharing responsibility for disease control, but we are not committed to the draft proposals,” he said.

Mr Paice, whose constituency includes Newmarket, said a new government would speak to vets and owners before drawing up plans. And it would take responsibility for the areas a government should, he said, “such as biosecurity at our borders”.

He was hinting at the “lucky escape” Britain may have had after two horses with swamp fever managed to travel from Romania virtually undetected.

He also asked for opinion on whether the system of passports is working.

“It looks as though about two-thirds of equines have passports, although there is anecdotal evidence of forgeries and stolen horses being issued with new ones,” he said, adding: “If they remain compulsory, how do we address the massive evasion that exists which could undermine any response to a disease outbreak?”

Mr Paice touched another nerve — transport. He said the Tories are “well aware” of how much difficulty drivers’ hours legislation and what constitutes “commercial activity” is causing.

“I can’t say I have an answer. But I promise I have an open door to anyone who has constructive proposals on how to minimise the impact,” he said.

He also stressed the new parliament will be given the opportunity for a free vote on the repeal of the Hunting Act.

Paul Jepson, of the Horse Trust, has been leading a working group to prepare the UK for African Horse Sickness.

He told H&H he believes Mr Paice “understands”.

“He’s a pragmatic ‘animals man’ from an agricultural background, and he knows what he’s talking about,” said Brig Jepson.

This article was first published in Horse & Hound (18 March, ’10)