HC Deb 24 March 1852 vol 120 cc46-52

Order for Second Reading read.


said, in moving the Second Reading of this Bill, he would call the attention of the House to a case which occurred last summer in his own immediate neighbourhood, where a farmer's dog in a rabid state had bitten a labouring man, together with several sheep and cattle, and had done a great deal of mischief. He had been applied to, as the nearest magistrate, to interfere, as the owner refused to have the animal destroyed; and it was only then, when examining the law on the subject, that he found that, though magistrates in the Metropolitan districts and in Corporate towns had power to act in a case of this sort, there was no such power in the Rural districts. This was an anomaly which he thought ought not to exist, for there was no apparent reason why there should be one law for the town, and another for the country. The third clause in the Bill related to a matter upon which a large body of his constituents had petitioned the House for the last two Sessions. It provided for the better regulation of carts and tracks drawn by dogs; and here, too, it was worthy of remark, that the practice of harnessing dogs under carts and trucks was permitted in the country, although it was expressly prohibited in London, and within a circuit of fifteen miles thereof. The effect of the prayer was, that carts drawn by dogs should not be allowed to be used at all—that a law which existed in the Metropolitan as well as in Corporate towns should he extended to the county districts, seeing that carts of the description he had mentioned had been the cause of most serious accidents. The last clause was to prevent farmers from keeping savage bulls in fields through which public footpaths ran. A gentleman residing on the borders of Wales assured him lately that it was a very common practice in that country to keep a savage bull in a field on purpose to prevent the public from using the path; and many serious accidents had been occasioned in this way. The Bill now before the House to give protection in these and similar cases, was a very short one, and he hoped the House would sanction the second reading.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."


begged to express his great gratitude to the hon. Member for having taken the public under his protection; but he must be permitted to doubt whether the provisions of the Bill just introduced would be the best adapted for securing the object in view. His hon. Friend was probably aware that the owner of a rabid animal might, without the intervention of the law at all, either confine it or destroy it. The owner, therefore, did not require the aid of the law to deal with a dangerous animal as he pleased; and what was now proposed, was to give to other persons than the owner the means of disposing of animals of this description. Now, of course, the owner would take care not to insinuate any thing to cause suspicion to be thrown upon his animals, and, therefore, it was only in case a dog had exhibited his madness in public that this law could be brought into operation. According to the Bill, if the animal took his measures so cautiously and prudently as only to bite one credible witness—if he exhibited his vagaries only when one credible witness was by—then nothing could be done; but when another credible witness was at hand, or had been bitten, the two could go arm in arm together and request the intervention of some neighbouring magistrate, while in the meantime, of course, the animal was ranging the country at large. Perhaps the magistrate' was not at home, but, when found, these credible witnesses, who might be very credible, but very timid, might make Oath, as to what they had seen or experienced, and then the magistrate was to issue a mandate. Armed with this document, the two credible witnesses bad then to go and find a constable, who might perhaps be at the time engaged from home in the apprehension of vagrants, or on some other equally onerous duty; but this person, when they could lay their hands upon him, was to go forth in pursuit, and, in order to stimulate him, he was to be entitled to half-a-crown for killing the dog when he could; catch him, which sum was to be paid out of the poor-rates. This was intended as a sort of head money, not for the purpose of buying a rope or club wherewith to compass the animal's death, but as a stimulus to the constable to exert himself as much as he possibly could in the pursuit. Well, after all this tedious process, the constable perhaps succeeded in destroying the dog; but now came a part of the Bill to which he (the Attorney General) must object. Immediately the animal was discovered to be in a rabid state, the district for two miles round was proclaimed; every dog was to be put under a ban, and every owner was required to provide for his dog a muzzle. That provision seemed to him to be rather an unfair thing upon the owners and upon the innocent dogs, whose comfort, as every body knew, was much diminished by a muzzle. In the first place, why was a circle of two miles fixed upon, for it might possibly happen that the dog might exhibit symptoms of madness at a considerable distance from his owner's residence? There was an anecdote extant on this subject which would probably convince his from Friend that the Bill was unnecessary, and that all the protection requisite in such cases was already provided. A Quaker, while passing through a village, being assailed by a yelping cur, calmly said, "I will not kill thee, but I will give thee a bad name," whereupon he raised a cry of "Mad dog!" and the villagers came out and knocked the animal on the head. Now, this was a summary remedy; but it was one which the law left open at present, and be thought it afforded at least as much protection as the Bill now before the House, which left the animal untouched until two credible witnesses had attested its madness, until they had found a magistrate, had got his order, had hunted up a constable, had delivered the magisterial mandate, and until the constable, who might not be, particularly expeditious about the matter, had effected the dog's destruction. He thought this was not a case in which there was the least necessity for the interference of the Legislature; and, in his opinion, it was most desirable not to load our Statute-book with laws which would render it ridiculous. As to the next clause of the Bill, relating to dogs drawing carts or trucks, he certainly could not understand why the Act of Parliament on the subject should have been confined to the Metropolitan districts, except on the supposition that dogs in a rabid state were more likely to worry their species, and to do more mischief, in a populous than in a thinly inhabited district. Not having at hand, however, any statistics on this point, he was unable to decide whether any Act of Parliament was required, though he admitted that this would be part of a subject worthy the attention of the Legislature. In the last clause of the Bill it was enacted, "That it shall not be lawful for the occupiers of any field or enclosure that has a public highway passing through it to keep any bull in the said field unless the said bull is securely fastened by a tether." The Bill applied to all bulls, as to all dogs, and enacted that it should not be lawful for any bull, however harmless, to be at large in a field unless it was fastened up. He could not imagine any thing more likely to irritate a bull which had been in the habit of quietly grazing among the cows, than to be tied up and debarred from their society. It was enough to make the quietest bull go mad. He trusted the hon. Gentleman would consent to withdraw the Bill; but if the hon. Member declined, he (the Attorney General) should feel it to be his duty to move that it be read a second time that day six months.

Amendment proposed, "To leave out the word 'now,' and at the end of the Question to add the words ' this day six months.'"

Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."


said, the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General had amused the House with a speech, but had not touched the main principles of the Bill. The hon. and learned Gentleman had only touched imperfections of detail, which might be remedied in Committee. He contended that the matters which the Bill proposed to deal with were a constant and a crying evil, and called for immediate legislative interference. He saw dangers in the country almost daily, which arose from allowing fierce dogs to go at large. He considered the practice of employing dogs to draw carts, as was now carried on, was most dangerous, and he was of opinion that the practice ought to be placed under proper regulations. He was willing to admit that some improvement might be made in the details; but he hoped his hon. Friend would not give up the third clause.


said, he considered there were too many objections to some of the provisions of the Bill to allow of its passing in its present shape. Unless the Bill was suitably amended he should himself move at the proper time that the third clause be referred to a Select Committee to inquire into the condition and usage of dogs used for drawing carts or trucks by poor people in the country.


said, that in places where mad dogs were discovered, the magistrates sometimes issued public notice that all dogs found abroad without muzzles should be destroyed. Doubts were sometimes expressed whether they had the power to act upon such a notice; and this ought to have been set at rest by a legislative enactment in a Bill like the present. He saw no reason why a distinction should be made between the district of fifteen miles round the Metropolis, and the rest of the country. It would be desirable if in Bills relative to Turnpike Trusts a moderate toll were allowed to be taken from these dog-carts. In any new Highway Bill they ought to be placed under the control of the police. The result of his inquiries proved that in very many parts of the country these dogcarts were made use of to carry on a traffic in stolen goods. The carts were fitted up with false bottoms; the owners of them pretended to be marine store dealers, and by this means the stolen goods were conveyed away without the surveillance of the police. He did not think the Bill met the difficulties that surrounded the question, and he hoped the hon. Member would not press it to a division.


said, he considered dogcarts to be a very great nuisance. They should either be done away with altogether, or put under very stringent regulations. They had been excluded from the borough which he had the honour to represent (Leicester), by the by-laws of the town, sanctioned by the Secretary of State. He did not see why such a law should not be extended to other places.


apprehended danger to the public liberties in the matter of dog-carts. He doubted whether the owners of dog-carts were properly repre- sented in that House. As a proof, nothing had been said of the number of times that dog-carts had been run over by horses. Men kept dog-carts, because it was substantially their interest to do so. If anybody would give them a full-blood horse to use instead, no doubt they would do it. He never saw cruelty to a dog in these vehicles, although he had seen many cases of cruelty to horses. There had been an attempt to raise a prejudice against the use of dogs, upon a theory that they were never intended to draw. In a colony where the Governor was trying to introduce the use of bullocks as beasts of burden, an influential Maroon captain went to the Governor and said, "Massa Governor, I don't think God Almighty made a bull to carry something." The Governor replied, "Captain Palmer, let us see whether a bull will carry something, and if he will, depend upon it God Almighty made him for it." So if dogs displayed a capacity for human service, he saw no reason why mankind should doubt that they were made for it. It seemed to him that the poor and needy were far from having had a perfect hearing on this occasion.


said, he very much agreed with the hon. and gallant Member, although he believed there were objections to the use of dog-carts upon public roads. The dogs were apt to bark, and horses were often much frightened at them. Some police regulations were wanted with regard to them, and he also feared they were often maltreated and neglected. Still they gave the means to some persons to earn an honest livelihood. It had been suggested that a charge should be made for them at the turnpike gates; but the practice was for the man to set his dogs loose just before he got to the gate, and to draw his cart through himself, thereby evading the toll.


had never known an instance in which a horse did not start at the approach of a dog-cart; and thus these vehicles were daily and hourly placing the lives of persons who travelled upon the turnpike roads in jeopardy. He quite agreed that they ought to be placed under a more strict police surveillance; and that also, on the score of humanity to the dogs, for he could assure the House that he had seen cases in which the feet of these poor animals were quite raw from drawing, not a few light goods merely, but heavy hulking fellows who were too idle to walk.


said, he would with- draw the Bill, but he hoped some hon. Member would propose a measure for making the law the same with regard to dogcarts in the rural districts as in the Metropolis.

Amendment and Motion, by leave, withdrawn; Bill withdrawn.

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