HC Deb 25 June 1845 vol 81 cc1185-9

On the Motion for going into Committee on the Dog-Stealing Bill,

Mr. David Dundas

wished to call the attention of Her Majesty's Government to this Bill. One of the provisions introduced in the measure was, to make a man liable to transportation for seven years for stealing a dog; but after the recent amendments which had been made in the criminal law, he thought it ill became any one who wished well to the criminal jurisprudence of this country, to permit such violent penalties to be rashly introduced into our criminal code. He fully concurred in all that could be said in praise of the motives which induced the hon. Member (Mr. Liddell) to bring in the Bill; but he, at the same time, thought it was the duty of the Government to step in and prevent the passing of any provision which would impose a penalty of transportation for seven years for the stealing of such an article as a dog. He also thought that the law, as it at present stood, quite sufficient for all exigencies that might arise. By the Statute of the 7th and 8th Geo. IV., a penalty of 20l., over and above the value of the dog, could be imposed on any person stealing it; and for a second offence, imprisonment for twelve months, with hard labour, might be imposed in default of payment. The Act also authorized a magistrate to issue a search warrant in cases where dogs had been stolen; and, under these circumstances, he thought no alteration of the law was really necessary. A person did not commit felony by stealing a ferret or any such animal; and he would wish to know what distinction could be drawn between a favourite cat and a favourite dog, that would justify them in making the stealing of one a larceny, while the stealing of the other was not larceny. The hon. Member for Cockermouth, who had much experience in criminal law, had stated that he would much rather see men tried before a judge and jury than before a justice. He concurred fully in that opinion, if the sentence was to be transportation for seven years; but while the law, as it present stood, gave powers to magistrates to suppress the crime of dog stealing, he did not wish to see it altered until it was proved to be insufficient.

Mr. Henley

said, in his neighbourhood the crime of dog stealing was very little heard of; but still he had been informed that there was a difficulty in procuring search warrants in instances where dogs had been stolen. It was thought that the cases were such as to render it hardly worth while to take that course, and it was also feared that the issue of a warrant would induce the parties to cut the dog's throat.

Sir J. Graham

said, he would advise his hon. Friend not to persevere in fixing the penalty for dog stealing at transportation for seven years. But he wished, at the same time, to remark to the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Dundas), who had objected to that penalty, that there were some strange anomalies in the law as it now stood. He had been credibly informed that in one case, where a dog worth 25l. or 30l. had been stolen, the indictment against the offender had been laid, not for stealing the dog, but for the felony of the collar, which happened to be worth 7s. 6d. The party was convicted, and was at present undergoing the sentence of transportation for the offence. He was not going to enter into any argument with the hon. Member in reference to the nature of the penalty that ought to be imposed for dog stealing; but he would beg leave to ask whether it were not surely a fiction in the law which would not allow a person to be indicted for stealing a dog worth 20l., while he could be transported for stealing a dog-collar worth 7s. 6d.? A very short time ago, the penalty of death was attached to the larceny of a sheep; and it was now transportation for life. The same state of the law applied, he believed, to the stealing of a jackass: and he would wish to know why they were to transport a person for life for stealing a jackass, or for seven years for stealing a dog-collar worth 7s. 6d., while no indictment could be preferred for stealing a dog worth 20l. and upwards?

Mr. Liddell

was quite prepared to take the advice which had been so kindly offered to him by his hon. Friend opposite, and by his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, with respect to the propriety of withdrawing the penalty of transportation for seven years. He was very glad that the right hon. Baronet had alluded to the anomalous state of the criminal law in reference to dog stealing, as that was one of the reasons which had induced him to bring in the Bill. There was also another motive which influenced him in doing so. It should be recollected that the penalty of transportation would be the maximum penalty, and that it would not reach casual offenders, but the members of the gang of regular dog stealers who existed in this metropolis in order to commit these thefts, and then extort exorbitant sums from the owners for their restoration. It was when the character of these persons was known to the judge and jury through the police, that the penalty of transportation for seven years would apply for a repetition of the offence. He did not, however, conceive that penalty essentially necessary for the success of the Bill, as there were other portions of it which he thought would amply effect the object which he had in view; and he had, therefore, the less objection in giving it up. One of the reasons why search warrants were not alone sufficient was, that stated by his hon. Friend the Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley), that dogs were frequently destroyed when it was known that search warrants for their recovery were issued; and another reason was the extreme difficulty of knowing in which of the many receptacles for stolen dogs that existed in the metropolis the animal was probably detained, so as to be able to state the matter on oath in the information. He did not profess to provide a remedy in that Bill for all cases that might occur; but he believed his Bill would give facilities for the detection of offenders which did not now exist. Without trespassing farther on the time of the House, he hoped the Bill would be then allowed to proceed in Committee.

Mr. Escott

thought the distinctions in the law of property, which that Bill sought to do away with, had been originally introduced for very wise and beneficial purposes; and that if the alteration made by the present Bill were hereafter carried further, it would produce very bad effects in the criminal jurisprudence of the country. He would, therefore, wish to resist it at once. It was said that greater facilities were necessary for searching after stolen dogs; but he thought they could not be adopted without an increase of the penalty attached to the offence. When the Bill was first introduced, it was generally supposed that there were no means of punishing a person for dog stealing; but so far from such being the fact, it now appeared that a penality of 20l. over and above the value of the dog might be imposed. If his hon. Friend opposite (Mr. Dundas) divided against the Bill, he would be happy to join with him in doing so; and, at all events, he trusted the sense of the House would be taken on the third reading of the Bill.

House in Committee.

On the 2nd Clause,

Mr. Hawes

moved the omission of the clause, as he thought the law as it at present stood sufficiently stringent.

Mr. Liddell

said, he had advisedly constituted the offence of dog stealing a misdemeanour in the clauses. He did not agree with the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Escott), in thinking that the distinction in the law, which refused to admit dogs or other animals kept solely for the pleasure and gratification of the owners to be regarded as property, was a wise one, especially as dogs were, from their utility and sagacity, to be in many cases considered in a very different light.

Mr. Watson

thought the penalty inflicted by the clause too much for stealing all the dogs in England.

Mr. Curteis

said, as a sportsman and a farmer, he should stand up to support the value set upon dogs. He could assure hon. Gentlemen that the loss of a valuable sporting dog was a very serious matter indeed. Without giving any opinion as to whether the penalties proposed to be fixed by the Bill were too stringent or not, he wished, as one who kept a great number of sporting dogs, not only for his own amusement, but for that of his friends and tenants, to bear testimony to the great value which was, in many cases, set upon them.

Mr. Williams

said, as the hon. Member (Mr. Liddell) had already made a very liberal concession in withdrawing the penalty of transportation from the clause, he did not think there could be much difficulty in allowing it to pass.

Mr. Borthwick

considered that the dogs which this Bill was intended to protect, were the very worst species of dogs. They were a race of dogs which were only admired for their extreme ugliness. He believed that more persons died of hydrophobia from bites by these pet dogs, than by any other description of dogs. He should support the Bill, however, as it would tend to put down a bad association.

Mr. Hawes

said, that this and the following clause appeared to him to be so objectionable, that he should divide upon it.

The Committee divided on the Question, that the clause stand part, of the Bill:—Ayes 33; Noes 6: Majority 27.

List of the AYES.
Berkeley, hon. Capt. Hope, A.
Borthwick, P. Lincoln, Earl of
Brotherton, J. Mackinnon, W. A.
Buller, C. Manners, Lord J.
Busfeild, W. Marsland, H.
Cardwell, E. Newry, Visct.
Clive, Visct. Protheroe, E.
Craig, W. G. Repton, G. W. J.
Curteis, H. B. Russell, J. D. W.
Dalmeny, Lord Sutton, hon. H. M.
Duff, J. Thesiger, Sir F.
East, J. B. Vivian, J. H.
Fitzroy, hon. H. Williams, W.
Fuller, A. E. Wodehouse, E.
Gore, M. Yorke, H. R.
Goulburn, rt. hon. H. TELLERS.
Graham, rt. hn. Sir J. Liddell, hon. H. T.
Henley, J. W. Beresford, Major
List of the NOES.
Escott, B. Wawn, J. T.
Hindley, C.
Trelawny, J. S. TELLERS.
Warburton. H. Bouverie H.
Watson, W. H. Hawes, B.

The remaining clauses agreed to, and the House resumed.