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New hope over riding school insurance

[Thursday 06 December 2007]
A vitally important Bill for all horse and animal owners
A vitally important Bill for all horse & animal owners

RIDING SCHOOL owners, farmers and landowners are keeping their fingers crossed this week for a House of Commons Bill which could allow them to avoid crippling damages should one of their animals injure someone.

Until 2003, owners were not considered to blame if normally docile animals were involved in accidents, a matter of great concern to riding stables where many of the pupils are inexperienced children.

Then the House of Lords ruled that any owner whose animals were involved in an accident should be fully liable for any injuries even if they had obeyed all health and safety rules – and insurance rates soared so high that scores of small equestrian businesses were pushed to the edge of bankruptcy.

Since then, MPs – mainly from rural constituencies, where equestrianism has been one of fastest growing businesses for two decades – have been fighting to have the ruling overturned but without success.

But a Private Member’s Bill due to be introduced in the House of Commons this week will mean that responsible owners of animals will be protected from unfair compensation claims, according to the Country Land and Business Association (CLA), one of the organisations campaigning to get the Bill into law.

The Tory MP for Preseli Pembrokeshire, Stephen Crabb, is proposing a Bill which aims to ensure that animal owners cannot be unfairly forced to pay compensation. Should it successfully pass it could become law by next summer.

Stephen Crabb commented: "The existing situation is grossly unfair to responsible animal owners, including many in my own constituency. Not only are rural businesses placed at risk by the huge increase in premiums since the House of Lords judgement, but the millions of people who enjoy horse riding face extra costs as a result. Many stables have already closed and many more are threatened."

The progress will be followed with great interest in North Yorkshire, where equestrian businesses have been a major lifeline for many farmers whose livelihoods have come under the greatest threat in recent years since the 1930s.

Says Yorkshire CLA Director Dorothy Fairburn: "This is a vitally important Bill for all horse and animal owners. It doesn’t seek to free animal owners from blame or a duty of care but it would free people from the unfair burden of strict liability."

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