DEFRA is gathering opinion on amendments to the Animals Act 1971 which could ease the burden of insurance premiums.

In 2003, a landmark judgement (Mirvahedy v Henley) by the House of Lords placed responsibility on the owners of horses that escaped from a secure field and caused injuries to a motorist. The ruling set a precedent under the Animals Act, making the owner of any animal that could potentially cause damage liable for its actions, no matter what precautions were taken to prevent it.

Two weeks ago, Minister for the Horse Barry Gardiner wrote to “stakeholders”, including the horse, farming and insurance industries, after Laurence Robertson, Conservative MP for Tewkesbury, introduced a Ten Minute Rule Bill — a type of private Member’s Bill — calling for the Act to be amended to allow for “a defence of reasonable care”.

“My partner and I have horses, so it’s a personal interest, but I also chair the All Party Parliamentary Group for the horse,” said Mr Robertson. “It’s not just about horses, but dogs and farm animals, too.”

Mr Robertson’s Bill was first heard on 12 July and is scheduled for a second reading tomorrow, Friday, 20 October. Such Bills rarely result in law, due to lack of parliamentary time.

“Amending the Act seems a popular and reasonable thing to do, but we wouldn’t want to take this step without being aware of any possible implications or sources of opposition. None has emerged so far,” said a DEFRA spokesman.

Graham Cory, the British Horse Society chief executive and British Horse Industry Confederation chairman, has written on behalf of the whole industry in support of change.
“There needs to be some kind of reasonable care defence,” he said.

Jason Anthony from Oxygen Insurance was involved in the Mirvahedy case. He said that amending the Animals Act would be an “attractive proposition”, but with insurance premiums affected by a large number of variables within and outside the horse industry, he could not predict the effects.

Mr Gardiner is planning to meet Mr Robertson, to discuss how to progress his Bill.
“It could be re-tabled, or introduced under the Ballot Scheme, but if these don’t work, we’ll look at other legislative mechanisms,” said a DEFRA spokesman.