HC Deb 29 March 1865 vol 178 cc457-69

Order for Second Reading read.


in moving the second reading of this Bill, said, that it was not brought forward with any view to the protection of game, but in the interest of the tenant farmers themselves. Great damage and loss was occasioned to the owners of sheep in Ireland by the enormous number of dogs which were at large in that country. From the earliest period of the day to the latest period of the night, all parts of the country swarmed with dogs, and many of the people seemed to think it impossible to perform the ordinary functions of life without having a dog at their heels. The dog had been called the friend of man; that was true, and in that sense the people of Ireland would never want friends; but he thought that in this case, as in some others, they might say, "Save me from my friends." He could best illustrate his case by reading extracts from some letters he had received. One gentleman said it was of very little use that wolves had been destroyed, for in that country they had what was equally obnoxious, an enormous multitude of useless dogs. Another gentleman, who was a medical man, complained that in going his rounds to see his patients he could not do so with safety, being constantly subject to the attacks of these animals. A gentleman from Belfast wrote that half-starved curs roamed about the streets, and were very dangerous to children and old persons, and that he was constantly afraid of being attacked by these animals in the by-streets. The destruction of sheep that went on was hardly credible. Compensation had been demanded by the butchers of Londonderry for the destruction of sheep in the town-parks, and it had been shown that in one district the butchers could not turn out their sheep in these parks, although surrounded by walls, without having them worried by dogs. A valuable Return had been moved for some time ago by the hon. Member for Clonmel (Mr. Bagwell), which would give some idea of the damage done by dogs to sheep. It appeared by that Return that in 1861 there were no less than 8,809 destroyed by dogs. In 1863 the number of sheep reported by the police as having been killed by dogs was 7,324. This, however, gave little idea of the number of sheep killed, because the Returns only showed the number of which the police had cognizance. Keepers of sheep were placed under a peculiar disadvantage in consequence of this nuisance of dogs being allowed to exist without any remedy, and their position was greatly aggravated by the fact of the Poison Prohibition Bill, which received the assent of Parliament and the Crown last year. He would now call attention to the number of dogs supposed to exist in the country, and this in itself gave rise to a very curious calculation. By the Census of 1861 the number of inhabited houses in Ireland reached nearly 1,000,000. Now it would be a very low average indeed to allow one dog to each house. [An hon. MEMBER: More likely two.] Some hon. Member said that two dogs to each house would be a fairer average; but allowing only one to each house, that would give 1,000,000 of dogs in the country. Let the House but compare that number with the amount of live stock in the country. According to Mr. Donnelly's Agricultural Return there were 3,300,000 head of cattle and 3,056,000 sheep, and 1,000,000 pigs. So that taking those Returns to be correct, there would be nearly one dog to every 3½ head of cattle, and one dog to every three sheep, and one dog to every pig. Those who were in favour of the prosperity of Ireland would see at once that the number of sheep and pigs would probably be very largely increased if the number of dogs in the country was reduced. Now, it was evident from the fertility of its soil, and the mildness of its climate, that Ireland was peculiarly adapted to the rearing of sheep. It was, therefore, of the utmost importance to that country that every encouragement should be given to the rearing and feeding of sheep, and to the sale and manufacture of wool. It appeared to him that his Bill would go far to effect those objects. He would, no doubt, be asked why he did not go to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and request him to put on the assessed taxes in Ireland? Now, he believed that every one who alluded to the statistics which had been recently brought before the House, and which had been disclosed before the Taxation Committee of Ireland, must allow that this was not the time for putting any additional taxes upon that country. Even if it were otherwise, he was prepared to show that the result of the imposition of the tax upon dogs in Ireland would be too trifling to justify any experiment of the kind by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It appeared that the number of inhabited houses rated at £20 a year, which would be liable to the house duty, was only 30,000, and the number of horses not engaged in agricultural or other business, which would be liable to the assessed tax, was 33,000. The taxes, then, upon those two items, which formed more than a half of the English assessed taxes, would only amount in Ireland to £50,000 a year. What he proposed was rather in the nature of a registration fee than a tax. It might be said that it was a hard thing to put a tax or registration fee upon dogs in a country where there was no such thing as assessed taxes. But it should be recollected that in almost every country on the Continent power was given to each commune or municipality to impose a registration fee or tax upon dogs, in the interests of public health. In France the municipal councils were charged with certain duties with a view to the prevention of accidents arising from the multiplication of dogs, and in some cases very severe ordinances indeed were issued in reference to this subject. In May, 1845, for example, it was forbidden to allow more than a certain number of dogs to exist in a dwelling-house, by which the safety or the health of the inhabitants might be compromised. Neither were dogs allowed to go at large without muzzles, or without a plate attached to the neck of each dog, showing the name and abode of the owner. Pull directions were also given to the mayor of the town what to do in the case of a person being bitten by a mad dog. In France generally a tax was imposed upon dogs for the benefit of each commune—such tax not to exceed ten francs, nor to be less than one franc. In Belgium, by the law of 1825, which had been repealed but was subsequently re- enacted, every dog was required to be registered, and commissioners were appointed to go round and inspect the different houses of the commune, with a view of compelling the enforcement of the law in this respect. The tax upon dogs in Belgium, as well as in the Grand Duchy of Baden, yielded a considerable revenue. Crossing the Atlantic, he found that in Massachusetts the inhabitants of each town were empowered to make such bye-laws as they thought necessary for their protection against the danger of dogs. Penalties not exceeding ten dollars were inflicted for offences against those bye-laws, and no person was allowed to keep more than two dogs. It was also required that every dog should carry a plate with the name of the owner and his abode inscribed upon it, and any dog without such an appendage might be killed. In Turkey it appeared there was no particular law against dogs, which swarmed in that country. The dogs, however, there acted the part of scavengers, and, curiously enough, it was said the disease of hydrophobia was utterly unknown. Now, his object was not to tax the country, but to impose such a registration fee as would have the effect of reducing the number of dogs. He proposed, too, that every dog should bear the name and residence of its owner. He did not think that the farmers of Ireland would grumble at a registration fee of 2s. 6d. on each dog. By an old law of George III. there was a tax of 10s. placed upon sporting dogs, and 2s. 6d. for every other kind of dog. He therefore only proposed to go back to the old legislation of the Irish Parliament in imposing this registration fee of 2s. 6d. on each dog, subjecting any person who shall not register his dog to a penalty not less than £2 nor more than £5. He had been pressed to make certain exemptions in the case of sporting and other dogs; but he did not think it advisable to assent to any. It was in the interest of the farmers and of the public health and safety that he introduced this Bill. Now, as to sporting dogs, if they only compared his Bill with the charge imposed upon such dogs in England, the gentlemen of Ireland would find that they were very well treated. According to his Bill a gentleman in Ireland with forty couple of hounds would have to pay only £10 a year; whereas the English gentleman was compelled to pay £48 a year, or, in the event of a composition, £39 12s. a year. He now came to the mode by which he pro- posed to carry out the provisions of his Bill;—and here he knew he would be met with the objection that it would make the police unpopular in Ireland to impose this additional duty upon them. But if the people saw that the police were enforcing the law with impartiality in what was for the interest of the public, he could not for one moment believe that it would make the police unpopular. The same objection was raised when it was proposed to give the police the power of collecting the excise; but the result had been such that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had said that since that time the law against smuggling had never been so well enforced as now or the work better done. The objection he thought not worth considering. He proposed that every person keeping a dog shall give notice thereof to the constabulary, who were to enter it in a book kept for that purpose; the constable was to transmit annually a copy of the entries and account of fees to the Clerk of the Poor Law Union; and he proposed to remunerate the constabulary for their additional labour by assigning to them a portion—two-fifths—of the fees. He was not much experienced in drawing up Acts of Parliament, and he was therefore willing to leave it to the Chief Secretary for Ireland and other hon. Members to make such moderate provisions in the Bill, so that something was done to abate the nuisance, as they might consider necessary. Almost daily he had received a large bundle of letters, especially from tenant farmers, medical men, and the inhabitants of towns, in favour of a measure of this kind, and he hoped the House would legislate upon the subject in a manner so as to get rid of the evil complained of. A remedy had been required for some years past, but he delayed bringing in a Bill for the compulsory registration of dogs until after a similar measure had been passed for the registration of births and deaths in Ireland; not wishing that the registration of the former should precede a registration for human beings. He hoped the House would read the Bill a second time.


seconded the Motion.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Sir Frederick Hey gate.)


said, that every hon. Gentleman who had been in Ireland was aware that a vast number of dogs were allowed to prowl about that country, and that they destroyed a large amount of property every year; indeed, the country was literally swarming with dogs. He believed that the Return moved for by the hon. Member for Clonmel was perfectly correct in stating that in one year alone 8,000 sheep were destroyed by dogs, that was no doubt within the actual number; and he particularly recollected that on one occasion the destruction of sheep was so numerous in Donegal that it was at first supposed to be the result of some systematic outrages against property, and the attention of the Government was called to the subject; but upon inquiry it was traced to the enormous quantity of dogs that were kept in the neighbourhood. The hon. Baronet had said that the number of dogs in Ireland might be taken to be 1,000,000; but he (Sir Robert Peel) considered there were a great many more; and if they calculated them as three to every two houses—which would be a fair calculation—there would be found to be between 2,000,000 and 3,000,000 dogs in Ireland at this time. The hon. Baronet said he did not want to have the assessed taxes extended to Ireland; and, indeed, it was quite evident that to impose an assessed tax upon dogs only would not pay the Government, and, therefore, some other machinery must be invented for taxing them, in order to correct the crying evil which every one admitted. But he asked those who had read the Bill whether they thought it possible that Parliament would assent to its provisions? The hon. Baronet wished to throw the duty upon the constabulary, and he had made a joke about the registration of births and deaths in Ireland; but let any one suppose what the police would have to do in keeping the accounts relative to between 2,000,000 and 3,000,000 dogs. They would not only have to register all the dogs in the country, but by the eighth clause they were required to be particularly careful not to register any puppy less than six months old. Now, the idea of the police going about the country with a veterinary surgeon, which he must do in order to ascertain the exact age of a puppy was ludicrous, because if they registered and charged for a dog under six months old they would become liable for some penalty themselves. He at once protested against the constabulary being so employed. He admitted the evil, but they must not attempt a remedy which would be infinitely more laborious than taking the census or collecting agri- cultural statistics. The constabulary would be constantly registering dogs, going about from house to house in search of them, and then to have to ascertain their ages—duties which would render any public functionary in Ireland most unpopular.


said, it was only intended to register the owner's names.


said, the constabulary would have to keep the books, and do all the necessary work. By the third clause of the Bill the money received for registration was to pass through the hands of the constabulary and the clerks of the Poor Law unions, but there was no effectual check provided with respect to the receipts and disbursements. He decidedly objected to that proposal. He should be happy to amend the Bill in Committee, but he thought it would be almost impossible to do so satisfactorily. He had turned his attention to the subject, assisted by the Inspector General of Constabulary, and the latter had submitted to him provisions for a measure which might meet to some extent the evils complained of. The heads of proposals were as follows:—That no person should be allowed to keep a dog without a licence, and was subjected to a penalty if he did so; the licence to be issued by the Inland Board of Revenue, and supplied by all the distributors of stamps and postmasters, the charge to be 2s. 6d. for one dog, 2s. for two dogs, and so on, and 5s. above a certain number. The licences to be in force for three years, and to be filled up in due form by the clerks to the justices of the petty sessions districts, who should register them in a book, for which they should receive a fee of 6d.; the licence to be signed by one or more justices of the peace, and the books to be kept by the magistrates' clerks open to the inspection of every one who wished to inspect them. The owners to be liable to a penalty for damage done by their dogs if they were allowed to go at large unmuzzled; and any one finding a dog within his field or enclosure was to be at liberty to destroy him, and the owner, if discovered, should be made liable for any sheep destroyed by that dog. [Sir FREDERICK HEYGATE said, the owner was liable under the present law.] In that case the provision would not be required, but it might be desirable to re-enact it if any new Bill were introduced. It was proposed that the penalties should be recoverable at petty sessions. With regard to property destroyed by dogs, the owners of which were not known, he thought the value should be recoverable by grand jury presentment. ["No, no!"] These were simply suggestions with the view of meeting a crying evil, and he thought if a Bill to such effect were submitted to the House with the sanction of the Treasury, it would be far more likely to meet the evil complained of than the present Bill, which he could not support, and which he trusted the hon. Baronet would withdraw.


said, there was no doubt that the subject was one of great importance to Ireland, but he could not concur in either of the propositions submitted to the House. He thought that the tax of 2s. 6d. for a dog was too small; in his opinion the amount ought to be 10s. for the first dog, 5s. for the second dog, and 2s. 6d. for every other dog. He agreed in thinking that the eighth clause should be struck out of the Bill, for he would rather place a tax on a puppy than upon a grown-up dog, as a man with a grown-up dog might have an affection for it, and be willing to pay the necessary tax for keeping it. He felt great regret in not being able to support the present Bill, but he hoped the right hon. Baronet the Chief Secretary for Ireland would introduce a measure on the subject after consulting with some individual more qualified to give an opinion in the matter than the functionary he had named.


thought the Bill suggested by the right hon. Baronet the Chief Secretary for Ireland would answer the purpose as well, if not better than the measure under consideration. Colonel White, a large farmer in Ireland, had written to him that he had forty sheep killed by dogs in one year, and that, having reason to believe that the dogs belonged to his tenantry, he assembled them and asked them to reimburse him for his loss, and, on their refusal to do so, informed them that he would allow no one of them to keep a dog unless he paid 5s. a year to the schools on the estate, the result of which was that he never afterwards lost a sheep. The right hon. Baronet objected to the Bill on the score that it would throw a great deal of work on the police; but there was every reason to believe that the registration fee would tend greatly to the decrease of dogs, and the consequence would be that very little work would have to be done under the Bill. He objected to the employment of the constabulary in this matter. They were a highly respectable body of men, but as a police force he regarded them as a failure. If the present Bill were withdrawn, he hoped the Chief Secretary for Ireland would give a pledge to bring forward a measure on the subject.


said, that the nuisance resulting from the number of dogs in Ireland was almost indescribable. He knew that in his county at lambing season a farmer having twenty or thirty sheep was obliged to keep a man up all night watching them to guard against the depredations of these animals; and yet, in spite of all precautions, a great number were always destroyed by the dogs. The evil was admitted on all hands ["No, no!"] He should like to know who said "No." The dogs in his hon. Friend's neighbourhood must be of a different race if they did not attack his sheep and lambs. The chief objection taken to the Bill before the House was that it would impose duties on the constabulary which they would have difficulty in performing; but he had always observed that any attempt to place additional duties on the constabulary was invariably opposed by those having the direction of that force. He had himself proposed that certain revenue duties should be performed by the constabulary, and the gentleman at the head of the force was terrified at the proposal; but he had since seen cause to change his opinion, and admitted that the plan worked well. The constabulary performed their duties generally in an efficient manner, but the Chief Secretary for Ireland, when he wished it to be believed that the constabulary were already overworked seemed to be drawing too largely on the credulity of the House. The plan suggested by the Chief Secretary was a very fair one, and he suggested that the present Bill, when read a second time, should be postponed until after the discussion on the proposed Government Bill, and if the House sanctioned that Bill, the one now under consideration would not, of course, be proceeded with.


believed that the destruction of sheep in Ireland by dogs was greatly exaggerated, and objected to a different legislation on this subject being applied to Ireland from that which was in force in England and Scotland. Must there be a passport for a dog if it was transferred from one district to another? Again, how was a constable to tell that a dog was of an age to require registering? Was he to examine its teeth—a process that might in some cases be attended with inconvenience to the examiner? Really, to make the Bill complete, they ought to have a registry of the births of all dogs; and as soon as a litter of puppies was born, a constable should be sent for to ascertain which of them was to be kept. In conclusion, he was glad that the Chief Secretary had acquitted the people in the county of Donegal of all blame for the destruction of sheep in the mountains. These poor persons had been persecuted, and in many instances utterly ruined, owing to the groundless accusations preferred against them. The hon. Member then moved, as an Amendment, that the Bill be read the 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 "upon this day six months."—(Mr. Scully.)

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


said, the police were in truth a standing army, and if they were to be employed in the duties cast on them by this Bill, they would become ten times more distasteful than they were to the people of Ireland, and believing the principle of the Bill to be exceedingly exceptionable, he would second the Amendment.


thought the general feeling was in favour of something being done to check the undue multiplication of dogs in Ireland. Such a proposal was intended as much for the benefit of the poor as for the benefit of the rich; for many small farmers were unable to keep their sheep in consequence of the ravages committed by dogs. He did not wish to interfere with the gratification which any man derived from keeping a dog, but against the loss of that gratification must be set the loss now occasioned to property from the excessive number of those animals. A system of registration would enable them to make the owner look after his dog, and more effectually to enforce against him his present legal responsiblity for the injury it did to other people. The only reason for making the constabulary the instruments for giving effect to the law, and also for conducting the primary registration, was that by the fees paid upon such registration they would have some interest in seeing that the law was carried out. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Ireland proposed that, instead of a registration under the constabulary, there should be a licensing system under the Board of Revenue or the clerks of Petty Sessions. But even under that plan, who were to see that dogs really were licensed? If the constabulary were to do so, then the objections urged by the Chief Secretary would equally apply to his own plan.


said, the Bill afforded an excellent illustration of the system on which the legislation for Ireland was generally conducted. A local, exceptional, and temporary state of things was found to exist, and straightway they based upon it a universal and permanent law. In certain parts of Ireland there had been a great depopulation, and as a necessary consequence of that there was a great surplus of dogs. These animals, having nobody to look after them or claim them, ran about the country wild, doing occasional mischief. But that only happened in Londonderry. Donegal, and those districts where the people, having had their dwellings levelled, had emigrated, or had gone into the workhouse, or had died by the roadside; and how were they to get at and register such dogs, which really had no owner? Were the police to shoot them, or hunt them down, and bring them before a jury? No depopulation had taken place in his own county (Wexford), and he had not heard of a single complaint there on this matter. Because a grievance existed in a few places, why were they to punish the whole country? Under that Bill nobody could keep a dog for the protection of his sheep or cattle without registering it; but in England the farmer could keep farm dogs free of trouble or charge. It would be better that the English assessed taxes should be extended to Ireland than that the present measure should become law. There was no warrant whatever for such a Bill; nobody would think of proposing it for any other country but Ireland. The Bill could not, in his opinion, be altered so as to be acceptable to the House, and probably the best way of dealing with it would be to reject it altogether.

After a few words from Captain STACPOOLE,


briefly supported the Bill, observing that he had only the other day received a letter from his steward informing him that he was obliged to keep men on the look-out all night in order to prevent the destruction of his sheep by dogs, and he knew that many persons in the county Down had given up keeping sheep in consequence of the loss of them by the depredations of the dogs.


thought it was generally admitted that some legislative remedy was needed in this case, and he believed that in Committee it would be easy to amend such of the details of the Bill as required improvement. He thought the right hon. Baronet the Chief Secretary for Ireland might devise such a measure if he would consult with the Irish Members on the subject.


said, he would vote with the Chief Secretary for Ireland if the House went to a division. If the Government said the constabulary were not fit to take charge of the working of that measure, he must accept that opinion; and that objection was fatal to the Bill. In England they taxed the dogs which had been kept in the preceding year, and they did that from the utter impossibility of taxing them prospectively. That fact, also, went to the root of everything in the present Bill, which required, as the first thing, that the owner of a dog should give a certain notice. In England they did not attempt to deal with puppies, but left them alone. By the Bill, every man who had a dog that was not registered was made liable to a fine of 5s.; so that if a man happened to have a number of bitches, it was easy to see to what cumulative penalties he might be exposed almost before he was aware of it. He knew nothing of the number of dogs or puppies in Ireland; but if legislation was needed on the matter, it would be much better to follow the English mode, which was recommended by long experience of the assessed taxes, and make people pay for the number of dogs they had the year before—a fact which could be got at, and which would equally serve their purpose. Was it intended that there should be a license to shoot dogs that did mischief? It was very questionable wisdom to encourage people to take the law into their own hands, and if there was to be a shooting of dogs it was possible that some other shooting might take place.


in reply, said he was surprised that the Chief Secretary should object to the police being intrusted with the duties which the Bill would impose upon them, because he had] thought the right hon. Baronet's confidence in the force was very large. The county of Londonderry and many other places where large numbers of sheep had been destroyed by dogs were not at all depopulated, and it was quite an error to suppose that it was only in a very few exceptional and isolated districts that the evil against which the Bill was directed prevailed. The tenant farmers in many parts of Ireland had sustained serious loss from the ravages of dogs, and no effectual remedy for the evil existed. He was quite ready to agree to the proposal of the right hon. Baronet, if this Bill were now read a second time, to postpone going into Committee till the Government had brought in a Bill on the subject, and then both Bills might be considered pari passu.



Question, "That the word 'now,' stand part of the Question," put, and agreed to.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read 2°, and committed for Wednesday 31st May.

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