DEFRA is unlikely to release final details of the passport scheme before the end of August at the earliest, despite the fact that owners have just a few months to apply for a passport before the end of the year deadline.
After any revisions have been made, the legislation will still have to be laid in the Commons and Lords for 28 days before it becomes law, and even when it is published, “grey areas” are likely to remain, particularly concerning enforcement and public awareness.
In addition, fears are growing over a likely end of year rush, as several major passport-issuing organisations (PIOs) have not even started processing applications, pending the response on details such as the controversial Section IX “slaughter for human consumption” declaration.
Meanwhile, the government’s promised campaign to raise awareness among owners has yet to materialise.
“We can’t spend any money on the campaign until the legislation is passed, so we’re waiting for this,” says DEFRA’s Jane Morley. “It’s difficult to target horse people, but we are thinking of trying to get to them through tack shops and feed merchants. We’re aware that it’s a massive task and the deadline is to get people’s applications in by the end of this year.”
So far, the volume of applications and enquiries received across the 50-plus PIOs suggests that not even a quarter of owners of the estimated one million equines in England — Scottish and Welsh legislation is still in its early stages — will have applied for a passport by 2004.
The BHS has processed just 2,000 applications so far, and Sport Horse Breeding of Great Britain (SHB(GB)) around 2,500.
“Applications are increasing, but we believe that many people are waiting until later in the year to apply. This will cause problems due to a large influx towards the end of December,” says Hannah Cripps, who is in charge of passports at the BHS, which has taken on two extra staff to handle applications.
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