Your vote counts: crucial equestrian issues for general election candidates

  • A ban on trail-hunting, equine ID and horse and rider road safety are among the issues to be considered by equestrians in the general election tomorrow (4 July).

    H&H has reported that Labour was likely to pledge to ban trail-hunting, and this was included in the party’s manifesto. A spokesperson for the party told H&H: “The next Labour government will strengthen the Hunting Act to close loopholes and end trail-hunting that is used as a smokescreen for the illegal hunting of foxes, deer and hares.”

    Labour will not ban drag-hunting as the party does not believe it is a “loophole used as a cover for illegal foxhunting”. But the hunting community has strongly refuted the claims about trail-hunting.

    “They have made that statement, but where is their evidence?” British Hound Sports Association (BHSA) managing director Oliver Hughes told H&H. “Since the hunting ban in 2004, there have been about 250,000 days’ hunting, and about 600-700 convictions; 0.2% of which were down to what are now BHSA accredited hunts. That shows that the Hunting Act works; we are hunting within the law.

    “Our main responsibility now as a hunting community is to prove to politicians, police, the press and the public that trail-hunting is legal, legitimate and well regulated, and there’s no need for any interference or further legislation. On 14 September, our national trail-hunting day will be the day to demonstrate that; it will be 30 venues rather than one, but it will be the 2024 equivalent of the Countryside March.”

    Countryside Alliance CEO Tim Bonner told H&H that Labour’s decision to put hunting legislation at the top of its rural agenda again is “completely unjustified and out of touch with the priorities of rural people”.

    “If it is determined to bring forward legislation it must be absolutely certain that any new law does not impact on hunts that are operating legitimately in exactly the way the Labour government told them to when it passed its original prejudiced legislation,” he said.

    The British Horse Council (BHC) has set out its priorities for the next Government, in three questions sent to candidates (see below).

    BHC chairman David Mountford told H&H the BHC has spent years working on key issues with the Government, and has built up good relationships with the relevant departments.

    “We don’t know yet how the new Government will progress the issues we’ve been working hard on such as equine ID,” he said. “The next steps will be to start building relationships with newly elected politicians; we have established relationships with civil servants.

    “The purpose is to wake potential MPs up to why the equestrian industry is important, and some of the critical issues that need addressing.”

    Mr Mountford said the first question highlights the size of the sector, and the issues it faces, in particular equine ID, the second its diversity and the importance of making equestrianism available. “And finally, road safety for horses and riders, to help make sure riding is safe and accessible for as many people as possible.”

    Labour did not comment on the BHC questions but a Conservative spokesperson told H&H: “We want to work with the sector to implement digital horse ID, in a way that works for all. We also want to ensure that our business rates regime doesn’t restrict anyone in having access to horse riding facilities.

    “We have already implemented changes to the Highway Code to specifically give greater protection to vulnerable road users, like horse riders. We will continue to push public education, and where necessary, police enforcement.

    “While the Labour Party wants to concrete over our green belt, we Conservatives want everyone to be within 15 minutes of green space. We will work with land managers to increase access for everyone, including horse riders.”

    A spokesperson for the Lib Dems told H&H: “Horses are a vital part of British history and culture and the horse industry makes a crucial contribution to our economy.

    “Liberal Democrats stand ready to work with the sector and seek solutions to concerns around equine identification. It is also our long-standing commitment to fundamentally reform the broken business rates system to alleviate pressures and remove barriers to investment.

    “Too many horses and riders are losing their lives on our roads. Liberal Democrats want to see increased awareness of the Highway Code’s provisions for safe driving around horses, and we are committed to significantly increasing the amount of accessible green space, giving riders and the public more access to a healthy natural environment.”

    Questions to candidates

    1) The horse industry is worth £9bn a year to the UK but faces ever-growing challenges that require an effective horse identification system. What will you do to implement digital horse ID?

    2) More women, over-45s and disabled people ride than take part in other physical activity, yet unfair business rates are restricting access to riding. What will you do to ensure this activity remains available for everyone?

    3) Last year 66 horses were killed on the roads and the situation is getting worse, while access to-off road riding is becoming more limited. What will you do to keep horses and riders safe?

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