Livestock keepers exposed to claims despite government backing for reform

A Bill that would have protected responsible animal owners from unfair compensation claims has failed despite junior DEFRA minister Jonathan Shaw confirming in the House of Commons that it had government support.

The Private Member’s Bill was introduced by Stephen Crabb to clarify the Animals Act 1971 and limit liability for damage caused by domestic animals such as cattle and horses.

Strict liability for genuinely dangerous animals, for example large cats or venomous snakes kept as pets, would remain.

Jonathan Shaw said in the debate held on Friday, 14 March: “We are pleased, as a government, to confirm our support for the Bill…”

“The case for amending the Act is, we believe, persuasive.”

The failure of government to amend the Bill accordingly angered Countryside Alliance chief executive Simon Hart, who said a significant number of riding stables had been put out of business as a result of soaring insurance premiums due to the legal liability it places on them.

“This Bill addressed an inherent unfairness in the 1971 Act and would have provided important legal clarification for animal owners. While it is very disappointing that the Bill has failed at this stage, the Minister’s support suggests that this is an issue that must be revisited at the earliest possible moment,” Mr Hart said.

“The current situation when livestock farmers, keepers of animals and riding schools can be sued for accidents over which they have no control is blatantly unfair. This Bill will encourage responsibility on the part of keepers and boost rural businesses.

He added: “If the case for amending the Act is persuasive, then the Act obviously needs to be amended as soon as possible.”