The country’s largest welfare charities, countryside and farming organisations today welcomed the passing of the Control of Horses Bill which will become law before the General Election.
The new law will deter and help to swiftly resolve cases of ‘fly-grazing’ – the practice of placing horses on private and public land without permission.
It will bring England into line with Wales, which introduced a similar law in early 2014 and may have led to the practice growing in England where charities estimate the number of horses fly-grazed to be more than 3,000, causing misery for horses, communities and taxpayers.
Lee Hackett, BHS Director of Equine Policy, said: "This is a groundbreaking day for horse welfare. It is great testament to what can be achieved when people come together with a common goal.
"The BHS has been immensely proud to be part of this process and to have worked alongside other equestrian charities and rural organisations to make the voice of our horses heard.
"The limitations of the current legislation have been such a source of frustration to all who care about horses, not least our incredible team of Welfare Officers who time and time again are faced with almost impossible situations.
"The changes that have been achieved today will make a huge difference. Make no mistake, there are still many challenges ahead, but the new legislation will be an enormous help in addressing these problems.
"We have seen the improvements in Wales that came about as a result of their equivalent Act and hope that the same will happen in England.
"We are extremely grateful to Julian Sturdy MP for bringing forward the Private Members Bill which led to this milestone day for horse welfare."
Martin Clunes, President of The British Horse Society, commented: "As an animal lover and someone lucky enough to be a horse owner, I am delighted to hear that Julian Sturdy MP’s Private Members Bill has finally completed its parliamentary journey and will soon become law.
"I am immensely proud to be the President of just one of the organisations that has helped bring this legislation to pass.
"As much as I am a horse lover, I am also a landowner, and I am so pleased that these changes will not only help our horses, but also make life considerably easier for those who find themselves with the distress of this problem being dumped quite literally on their doorstep.
"Fly grazing and abandonment have devastating effects on people and horses, so today’s news is both very welcome and much needed."
World Horse Welfare Chief Executive Roly Owers said: “After almost three years of campaigning, all of the organisations in our coalition are delighted that Julian Sturdy MP’s Private Members Bill has successfully been passed and will become law before the election.
"This law will make a big difference to horse welfare, as charities have been struggling to help the thousands of horses being bred indiscriminately and kept without proper care. It will also help landowners, farmers, communities and taxpayers as it will make action to remove horses much more swift, straightforward and less expensive to take.
"The success of the Welsh legislation demonstrates that these laws will work if they are used – so do use them.
"We are all immensely grateful to Julian who fought so hard to get this Bill on the table, and successfully secured cross-party backing through Parliament.”
CLA President Henry Robinson says: “We are pleased that farmers and landowners will no longer suffer damage to their land and risk liability for horses that are not theirs and can deal with illegally left horses in a more timely and cost-effective manner.
"Our members have long been disadvantaged by existing laws used to address fly-grazing and we are pleased that Government has now responded to their concerns.”
The Private Members’ Bill tabled by Julian Sturdy MP for York Outer makes small, but important, changes to the Animals Act 1971 (the law most frequently used to address fly-grazing cases).
The updated law will require landowners to keep any horses placed on their land for only four working days, as opposed to the current two weeks, and will allow more options to dispose of the horses besides public sale, such as gifting them to a charity, selling them privately or humane euthanasia.
The Bill will receive Royal Assent within the next fortnight and thereby become law.
Cllr Ann Lucas OBE, Chair of the Local Government Association’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said: “Illegally tethered horses are a real problem for both urban and rural local authorities.
"These horses often suffer from injury and malnutrition, but as well as being an animal welfare issue, they place a significant financial burden on councils who have to spend large sums to impound and look after them.
"They also pose a real risk to people simply going about their business, be that driving on our highways, or enjoying playing fields, nature reserves or parks.”
Cllr Lucas points out that at a time when local government has to make every penny count, it is wrong for taxpayers to face the costs of collecting and caring for these animals on behalf of irresponsible owners.
She says: “This Bill would ease the financial burden on councils while helping to deter the practice in the first place.”