HC Deb 21 February 1826 vol 14 cc653-7
Mr. Martin

, of Gal way, next rose to move for leave to bring in a bill to amend the 3rd George 4th, c. 71, entitled "An Act to prevent the cruel and improper Treatment of Cattle." The hon. gentleman said, that he wished to extend the protection which was granted by former measures to cattle, to all domesticated animals. Why was not a dog entitled to the same protection as a horse? He was prepared to show, by affidavits, that there were numerous instances of dogs being flayed alive. It had been asked, were they to legislate upon individual instances of monstrous cruelty? He would reply by stating a case which had been mentioned to him by Mr. Halls, the magistrate of Bow-street. That gentleman had informed him, that he had seen a parcel of wretches take a dog, flay him alive, taking the skin completely off, put a collar about his neck, and after dragging him a mile, throw him into a river. Mr. Halls added, that, so much were his feelings wrought upon by this exhibition, that he did what was certainly a violation of the law, but was highly to the credit of his humanity—he took the boy who was holding the collar, and flung him into the river after the dog. He (Mr. M.) stated nothing now but what he gave chapter and verse for. As to the fact which he had stated relative to the cutting out of the tongue of a bull, and its being severed from the surrounding integuments by a brutal fellow who had thrust his hand into the animal's mouth for the purpose, and lastly, as to the tongue being handed about the crowd in a plate for money, the person who held it, saying, "please to put something on the tongue," he would appeal for the truth of the statement to the hon. member for Oxfordshire, before whom the offenders, he understood, were brought. Could any one, after hearing such a statement, refuse their protection to the unfortunate animal, who was so often subjected to such treatment? He had taken the opinion of his majesty's Attorney-General on the subject, and, he was happy to say, that the opinion of that learned person, beyond all doubt a good one, was decidedly unfavourable to the legality of such proceedings. The Attorney-General conceived that it was as unlawful to hurt a bull in that manner, as it would be to maim or torture any other animal [The Attorney-General here indulged in a smile]. The learned gentleman might laugh, and no doubt he considered him and his case as a fit subject for ridicule, but he could tell him it was not a matter of ridicule elsewhere. It had been observed, both of the bills, which he had carried, and of those which he meant to pass, that he legislated on particular cases. While, however, he admitted he had selected cases of animals tortured through the means of the skin, as those best fitted to convey to the House the nature of the torments which poor dumb creatures were forced to endure, because it was well known that no part of the frame was so sensitive as the skin; still he could produce many other instances of the most horrible tortures inflicted upon every species of domesticated animals, with every refinement upon cruelty. He contended, however, that the proof of one such act was as good as a thousand: what had happened to one dog might, and probably had, happened to hundreds; the business of the legislature was to prevent, not to punish; and, in defiance of the dicta of the late Mr. Windham and all his patrician supporters of the present day, he would maintain that the dog and the bull should be equally protected from the savage ferocity of an ignorant mob; and that the legislature, listening to the unanimous sense of all the character and respectability of the country, should interpose its authority, and guard against the recurrence of such scenes as had been described. His purpose was to alter and amend the former act, as far as regarded domesticated animals; and he would, in addition to the clauses contained in the bill of last year, which had been lost, propose another clause, granting magistrates the power to compensate individuals in a humble station, for the loss they might incur by giving information of the perpetration of the crimes which it was his object to punish or prevent. He hoped the Attorney-general would not consider a fine of three or four pounds, or the imprisonment of a week, a sufficient punishment for such offences as he had described; and that if he held the maiming other people's property a felony, he would not object to making the wanton torture of animals, even if they were a man's own property, a high misdemeanour, somewhat different from the punishment allotted to the over-driving of a horse; and, if he objected to the power being granted to a magistrate of summary conviction, he would at all events allow the case to be fairly tried at the quarter sessions. It would remedy a defect in sir James Macintosh's bill, which made it necessary to prove malice against the owner before a conviction could be obtained against any person who maimed and wounded cattle. As he saw the hon. member for Oxfordshire in his place, he should like to know the reasons which had prevented him from punishing the person who had baited the bull, and maltreated it in the manner he had described. If the hon. member had any doubts as to whether the bull was privileged by his bill, he could tell him that the Attorney-general had given it as his opinion, that it was, and had further added, that bull-baiting was illegal. The hon. member, after some further remarks, concluded by asking leave to bring in the bill.

Mr. Butterworth

, in seconding the motion, said he considered the suppression of such nuisances as that which this bill was meant to suppress, of minor consideration, compared with those scenes of outrage and brutality which attended the practice of prize-fighting. When men were hardened and brutalized, by habitually witnessing the violence and bloodshed which accompanied prize-fighting, it was impossible they could think of treating inferior animals with tenderness. He regretted that such exhibitions, instead of being denou ncedby the authorities, were in too many instances allowed to proceed, if not directly encouraged. He had reason to believe, that two years ago a prize-fight took place at Warwick, When the magistrates of that county not Only declined to interfere to prevent such a scene, but caused constables to attend it for the purpose Of preserving order. If this statement were true, nothing could be more disgraceful to those authorities. Such abominable outrages were calculated to brutalize the minds of the mass, and to render them insensible to the quantity of pain which they inflicted on inferior creatures. He trusted the hon. gentleman would turn his attention to the prize-ring, as by suppressing that source of demoralization and depravity, he would be doing more good than he could possibly expect to effect by all his acts against the ill-treatment of cattle.

Mr. Ashurst

said, that he was not present when the hon. member for Gal way had addressed the House on the subject of the bull; but he had been informed that the hon. gentleman had said, that aft individual had torn out the tongue of the bull, placed it upon a plate, and had then gone about collecting money upon it. Was that a correct statement of what the horn member had said?

Mr. Martin.


Mr. Ashurst

begged leave to say, that a complaint had been made to him of conduct similar to that which the hon. member stated; but when the parties came before him to substantiate that complaint upon oath, it assumed a very different aspect. It appeared that, during the time the bull was getting baited, a ferocious dog, which had been tied up in a House adjoining to the spot where the baiting took place, escaped from his kennel, attacked the bull, and actually bit off a small portion of its tongue. On the witness who, saw this circumstance, being asked whether the tongue had been cut out, he said, that if it was, he did not see it.

Being further asked, whether he had seen the tongue put upon a plate, and carried round the meeting, he said that he saw no such thing done, and that he did not believe that it had been done. He then asked the witness, whether he could mention any person who had set a dog upon the bull after its mouth had become covered over with a bloody foam. To that question he got no answer upon which he could act officially as a magistrate. The hon member had asked him, whether he conceived bull-baiting to be illegal. For his own part, he must say, that he knew of no law by which bull-baiting had been prohibited; and, as long as he knew that lands were held at Windsor, at Oakingham, and at Stamford, on condition of keeping a bull for baiting, he could not believe that it had been prohibited. Besides, he knew of no case in which it had yet been decided that bull-baiting was illegal. No person who knew him could charge him with being guilty of giving encouragement to the practice; but he did not believe it to be prohibited by any law at present in existence.

Mr. Martin

said, he had an opinion of the Attorney-general, which he would get published, declaring the illegality of bull-baiting.

The Attorney General

said, he did not rise to object to the motion of the hon. member. What precise object he sought to attain by the present bill, he could not comprehend from the hon. member's speech; but, if he thought that his former bill wanted amendment, it was only fair that he should have an opportunity of amending it. In answer to the question which had been put to him, he would reply, that he was of opinion that the offence of bull-baiting was punishable by the existing law. There was no occasion to introduce a bill to render prize-fighting illegal, as it was so already. He conceived that the recent assembly at Warwick to bait a lion was a riotous and illegal assembly, and as such it might have been dispersed by the magistracy. To those persons who did not know him he would say, that he was the last person in the world who would become an advocate for cruelty; and that he opposed these motions, not because he loved cruelty, but because they would not answer the objects which the hon. member for Galway had in view; because they would give rise to numberless petty vexations; and lastly, because he did not know where the House would stop, if it once began to legislate, not with regard to the security of property, but with regard to the feelings of the animal. His hon. friend ought not to introduce his measures in detail, but should introduce them upon some general principle, which could be fairly discussed and decided on by the House. His hon. friend, on each of his motions, brought forward instances of cruelty which he believed to be true, but which generally turned out to be either false or greatly exaggerated; as had been the case that night with regard to the tearing out of the bull's tongue. Nothing could be so unsafe as to legislate upon the statement of one or two individual members, and not upon some great and general principle. He would not object to the bringing in of the bill, but he did not by so doing pledge himself not to oppose it hereafter.

Mr. Martin

, in reply, stated, that he had a letter from the clergyman in whose parish this bull-baiting had taken place, describing the particulars of it in the terms which he had used.

Leave was given to bring in the bill.