Can the Minister say whether the inspections will be carried out by officers of his Department?
Horse Industry Bill, 1970: Committee Stage (Resumed).
So far as I can say, intially it will be by officers of the Department.
With regard to this section the offences it creates will depend essentially on the subjective assessment of the inspectors. I realise it is impossible to establish subjective standards but there will be a certain amount of subjective judgment as to whether a horse is in a condition likely to cause suffering. One can imagine an old horse with knocks or some equivalent ailment which is not causing any suffering but which could well give the appearance of suffering. If you are going to have subjective standards, and I submit they cannot be avoided in this section, it would be important to insert the word "knowingly" in each of the subsections so that the offence is knowingly committed by the owner of the riding school or riding establishment. At the moment it creates an absolute offence based on a subjective assessment by an inspector of the Department. I suggest it would be more equitable to insert that it would be necessary to prove that the offence was knowingly committed.
If that amendment were made it would open the door to a type of ill-treatment that could be common enough. It would be legalising a type of ill-treatment that arises from ignorance of the proper way to handle animals. So far as the subjectivity of the examination that will be carried out under this section is concerned, we must expect that the people who carry out such inspections would be able to recognise real ill-treatment. I consider the section as drafted in the Bill more effective that what Deputy Cooney has suggested.
Perhaps the Minister would compromise and insert the idea of mens re in subparagraph (a) only? I agree that with regard to equipment or failing to provide a cure it would not be necessary but it should be applied in cases where a horse that is suffering from some ailment is let out on hire.
Would the Deputy not agree that this could open the way for much unwitting ill-treatment of horses? I accept that such unwitting ill-treatment might in a way be blameless but nevertheless it would be real. I think that section 31, subparagraph (a) as it stands would be more effective and would provide more protection for the animals than what Deputy Cooney has suggested.
On looking at the matter in a certain way one would have to agree with the Minister. If a person is so incompetent as unwittingly to cause any suffering to a horse or unwittingly to countenance it after it happens, that person's licence could stand to be revoked. My objection is one of principle; a provision where the offence is based on subjective assessment creating an absolute offence is objectionable in any legislation.
My view is that we should keep the purpose of this section before our minds. It is the most effective protection the animals can have. I think the proposed amendment would weaken the section.
There might possibly be some difficulty of proof under subsections (a) and (b). There should be a specific provision that, if the horse is kept at the establishment, it is deemed to be kept for the purpose of letting it out for hire.
That is understood under the section.
Speaking as one who sees it from, as it were, the other side of the law, there is a loophole which should be closed.
We are talking about riding establishments. These are maintained for the specific purpose of hiring out horses. It is unnecessary to spell it out.
As the section stands, it is not wrong to have a horse which is suffering from some particular condition unless the horse is let out for hire. I would provide that, if the horse is there, it is deemed to be let out for hire. As the section stands, one would have to prove that the horse was actually let out for hire.
If the section is amended as suggested by the Deputy, that would preclude the keeping of a horse under treatment for some injury as a result of an accident or something. He would be unfit for hire. I do not think we should specify in the subsection that he was for hire. An injured horse will be kept on the premises with the other horses and he could not be deemed to be there for hire while he is actually under treatment.
If he is under treatment I do not think any inspector would bring a prosecution. The owner would be providing curative treatment. I am not pressing the amendment, but I think there is a loophole.
I gather there are some amendments. Could we fix some time tomorrow evening after Questions?
I do not know what has been arranged between the Whips but I am prepared to facilitate the Deputy.