HC Deb 23 March 1904 vol 132 cc540-51


Order for Second Reading read.

MR. AILWYN FELLOWES (Huntingdonshire, Ramsey),

in moving the Second Reading, reminded the House that the whole question of the law relating to dogs was considered in the year 1897 by a Departmental Committee over which the hon. Member for Chelsea presided. Of the several recommendations made by the Committee, the principal were that there should be greater stringency in granting exemptions from licence duty, and that additional powers should be given to county councils, enabling them to make by-laws for keeping dogs under proper control. Since 1897 several Bills dealing with the subject had been introduced, one of which, brought in last year by the late Mr. Hanbury, was very similar to the measure to which the House was now asked to give a Second Reading. Owing to the unfortunate death of Mr. Hanbury, and to the stress of public business, that Bill had to be dropped; but the Board of Agriculture had all along felt that some legislation was absolutely necessary. The present Bill proposed to consolidate certain existing enactments and to give effect to several of the recommendations of the Committee of 1897. The principal object of the Bill was to afford protection to owners of live stock from injury by dogs, particularly by sheep worrying. The gravity of the evil was known to many Members of the House, and certainly the information which had come to the Board of Agriculture showed that the feeling with regard to the matter was very widespread. The worst sufferers were those who lived in the great sheep-shearing districts of Scotland and Wales. He thought he ought to allude to the statement of the Chief Constable for the county of Banffshire, in which he stated that during four years prior to 1901 the number of sheep reported to him as worried was 333, and during the first half of the year 1902 no less than ninety-six sheep were worried. This had proved to be a very serious loss to the agriculturists of that county. The county of Banffshire was by no means an exceptional case. He would give the House one or two more examples out of a very large number which had reached the Board of Agriculture. In June last year there were seventy-six Southdown sheep killed at St. Mary Cray, Kent, and twenty injured in one night, and in January last year in Yorkshire there were twenty-one sheep worried. Last year at Banbury, in Oxfordshire, there were sixty-one sheep chased into a stream and drowned, six of them being actually worried. As regarded Scotland, he had already alluded to Banffshire, but he might say that there were many other cases with which he would not trouble the House. With reference to Wales there were last year cases where valuable prize sheep were worried, and in Ireland a gentleman from Tipperary had informed him that he lost something like £150 in ten years through sheep worrying by dogs. Those were only a few cases out of a great number which had been received by the Board of Agriculture, and the direct annual loss to agriculturists was very considerable and most serious; also there was indirect loss from the chasing of in-lamb ewes. Several resolutions has been sent up to the Board, not only from the chambers of agriculture in this country, but also from the Scottish Chamber of Agriculture and from the majority of the important agricultural societies of the whole kingdom. He might also point out that when Lord Onslow met the representatives of Scotch agriculture in Edinburgh special stress was laid upon this question of sheep worrying in Scotland. Therefore, he thought he had shown that this Bill was really necessary, and it was one which agriculturists all over the country urgently desired. He hoped the House would give the Bill a Second Reading.

The Bill consolidated and amended the law relating to the liability of dog-owners, assimilated the laws of the three countries, and made owners liable without proof of the mischievous propensities of the dog. It, also gave power to the Board of Agriculture to make orders with regard to the wearing of collars by dogs, and that power would probably be delegated to the local authorities. The Bill also amended the present procedure of obtaining exemptions from dog duty, on the ground that the dog was kept solely for the purpose of tending sheep. That system had not worked well, and there was an enormous number of dogs that got exemptions to which they were not entitled. In the county of Montgomery,1,747 licences were issued, and the exemptions numbered 6,220; in the county of Dumfries, 4,471 licences were issued, and the exemptions numbered 12,386; and in the county of Inverness, 2,748 licences were issued, and the exemptions numbered 17,772. [Cries of "Oh, Oh!"] It was proposed under the Bill to make the consent of a Petty Sessional Court a condition precedent to the granting of a certificate. That was the scope of the Bill, and he hoped it would be read a second time.

Motion Made and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."

MR. BAYLEY (Derbyshire, Chesterfield)

said it was an extraordinary measure which created a lot of new offences. Under it they would have to go to the magistrate to ask him to define a shepherd dog, and would later have to go before him again to pay a half-sovereign—not once nor twice, but perhaps half a dozen times—for their stray dogs. Under the present law, if a dog was proved to have chased and injured cattle the owner was liable, but this Bill would make it an offence that if a dog only chased a flock of geese or a herd of sheep without doing any damage at all, the police—if they wanted a case—could haul the owner before a magistrate. The Bill provided that, with a view to the prevention of worrying of sheep, no dog was to be allowed to stray between the hours of sunset and sunrise. In his opinion the real reason for the Bill was not the question of sheep worrying, because under the Common Law if it were proved that a dog had injured any neighbour's sheep the owner was liable to a penalty. The real reason—especially in England—was that the dogs were wanted to be kept in between sunset and sunrise for the protection of game and the assistance of the gamekeeper. He was glad that sporting dogs were not exempt from the Bill, but he regretted that it gave no power to the local authority, although power might be given later by the Board. In his view it would have been better to have left the matter in the hands of the district or county councils. He begged to move that the Bill be read 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. Bayley.)

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

MR. O'MARA (Kilkenny, S.)

said that under this Bill any poor, miserable animal, the joy of a widow's home, was affected. [Laughter]. Hon. Members laughed at that remark, but he thought that under this Bill cruelty to poor women's pet dogs might arise. He was not be lover of dogs himself, but that provision to prevent dogs from straying during all, or any, of the hours between sunset and sunrise, was absurd. They were legislating for all the dogs in the country, because the Bill did not define what a shepherd's dog was. He was sure the ordinary policeman could not tell a shepherd's dog from any other dog. He had no objection to a dog wearing a collar, but he objected to the wearing of a collar being compulsory, as was proposed by Sub-section (a) of Clause 2. It was proposed also, that the name and address of the owner should be on the collar. It came to this, that dogs were really not ordinary animals at all. They were ' a luxury, but they were not so much a luxury in Ireland as in England. A dog licence in England was 7s. 6d. and in Ireland 2s. 6d. [An HON. MEMBER: Another injustice to Ireland.] That was absolutely the only benefit Ireland got from the Imperial connection. He thought the dog tax of 2s. 6d. was quite enough to pay without having to buy collars as well. He did not object to the name and address of the owner being on the collar, but why not go a step further and have the owner's photograph on the collar? Sub-section (b) of Clause 2 empowered the Board of Agriculture to make orders— With a view to the prevention of worrying of sheep, for preventing dogs or any class of dogs from straying during all, or any of, the hours between sunset and sunrise. That was a very ridiculous proposal. It seemed to him the resurrection of the curfew bell for dogs. Great inconvenience would be caused by having dogs chained up in the house all night. He entirely approved of Clause 1 which provided that— The owner of a dog shall be liable in damages for injury done to any cattle by that dog. If a man could afford the luxury of keeping a dog, he should have the luxury of paying damages for injury caused by the dog. He hoped the Government would not press the Bill. He would recommend them to introduce a simpler measure of one clause placing on the owner of a dog responsibility for any damage the animal did. This complicated Bill dealt with many matters which, in his opinion, were entirely foreign to its real object and character, and that being so, he must cordially support the Motion for its rejection. He objected to Clause 4, which proposed that, in order to obtain exemption from the Excise licence in respect of sheep dogs, the owner should require the previous consent of a Petty Sessional Court. The men who kept sheep dogs lived far away from the Petty Sessional Courts, and rather than waste a day going there it would be much more convenient to pay the tax and not seek exemption at all. The Bill altogether was unwise and unsatisfactory.

SIR J. FERGUSSON (Manchester, N. E.)

thought that this question should be considered seriously. Those who were acquainted with the damage done by stray dogs in country districts were perfectly aware that the Board of Agriculture had done no more than their duty in introducing this Bill to check that mischief. There were certain details of the Bill which would require reconsideration in Committee, but on the whole it would be a useful measure. He did not think that the provision in Clause 2 in regard to confining dogs between sunset and sunrise, would be sufficient. No doubt in some parts of the country the damage done by dogs to sheep was after dark, bat in Scotland summer nights were very short. Two tenants of his own lost 100 lambs by worrying dogs, although the shepherds had been watching all night. It was found that a dog came from several miles off in early daylight. He thought it would be better to give the local authorities power to fix the hours during which dogs should not be allowed to be at large.

MR. BLACK (Banffshire)

said that this was not a very brave Government, but he thought it was to be congratulated in having taken courage in both hands and brought in this Bill. Some hon. Members had expressed surprise that it had taken precedence of the Licensing Bill and the Scotch Education Bill, which the Prime Minister had said were of the first importance; but the very great necessity for the Bill had been explained by the hon. Gentleman who introduced it. Very interesting statistics had been made available to him for the North-east of Scotland in regard to sheep worrying by dogs. In one district, for the four years ending 1901, twenty-nine sheep had been killed by dogs, and fifty-four injured—quite independent of the injury done by the chasing of the sheep. That was a very serious matter for the crofter and small farmer, and it quite over-rode any feeling which hon. Members and others outside the House might have as to the inconvenience to which dogs were to be subjected. It was found in the district in the North-east of Scotland to which he had referred, that out of fifty-eight cases of sheep worrying in three years, twenty had occurred during the day and thirty-eight during the night. That showed that the period of confinement of the doss under Section 2 should be made longer, although if they were confined during the night the number of cases of injury would be diminished by two-thirds. The second remedy proposed was that the dogs should wear collars bearing the names of their owners. Now, in the district to which he had referred, out of 101 cases dealt with, in only seventy-five could the owner be identified. There was one clause which he ventured to hope the Government would reconsider: he meant that dealing with exemption from duty. The hon. Gentleman could not have had in his mind when that clause was drafted the enormous distances which shepherds and small farmers in Inverness-shire, Argyle, Ross and Cromarty, and the Orkneys would have to travel to get to the Petty Sessions Court. It would take a whole week's work to get exemption, and the provision as it stood was quite out of the question. There was another particular in which the Government might improve the Bill. Farmers should be bound to bury sheep that had died, at such a depth as to prevent dogs getting at the carcase.

SIR FREDERICK BANBURY (Camberwell, Peckham)

said he thought the Bill was in many ways necessary, but there were a few small details which would have to be amended. For instance, Sub-section 4 of Clause I., referring to the chasing of dogs, would have to come out; it was quite an impossible provision. Another section stated that where the police had seized a dog it might be destroyed after five days. That was rather too short a time, and he suggested that it should be ten days. In regard to the provision that dogs must be confined between sunset and sunrise, he thought it would be better if the hours of confinement were fixed by the Board of Agriculture, because, if left to the local authorities, in some cases tyrannical rules might be laid down.

SIR CHARLES DILKE (Gloucestershire, Forest of Dean)

said that in his constituency there were a large number of small freeholders, almost all of whom had both sheep and sheep dogs, and he took the view that the Bill would be very oppressive to such small owners, and greatly increase their expenses. The special points which weighed in his mind against the Bill were three in number. They were not mere details, but went to the substance of the Bill. If the Bill were made optional he would withdraw his opposition to it, but if it were passed as it stood, it would be virtually forced on the country. Clause 2, which provided that every dog should wear a collar with badge, meant considerable cost and inconvenience to the small owner. Clause 3, which gave power to the police to seize and destroy dogs, and Clause 4, which dealt with exemptions, he was sure would be most oppressive to the poor owners or tenants. This application to magistrates was an additional step. The present exemption was an exemption based on legal grounds. The Excise officers would not be doing their duty if they did not refuse all exemptions which they thought could be legally refused. Were the magistrates, who were now to be put in to act on the same grounds? If so, were the Excise officers to be directed to throw the responsibility on the magistrates and to accept their finding of fact as to whether the exemption must be given or not? The additional step would tend to become a mere form, but it would cause an additional difficulty to the poor owners.

SIR MARK STEWART (Kirkcudbrightshire)

pointed out that a sheep dog would not work at all with a muzzle on. It was well known that a dog in such a case would not move from his master's heel. With regard to the sub-section of Clause 2, it is a well-known fact that the dogs were always turned out of the farmhouse at night, that they were never by any chance allowed indoors, and some care should be taken on the part of the owners of such dogs to see that they did not stray, because it would be admitted by many that very often the worst devastation and damage was caused by those dogs which lay still all day and went out and worried sheep and cattle at night. He hoped this Bill would, when it was amended, pass through the House and come into force, not on the 1st January next, when the time it could be of any use was nearly over, but on the 1st August next.

MR. BROADHURST (Leicester)

said he was a great admirer of dogs and kept more than he was justified in doing. Yes, but he paid the licence for all of them. At the same time he was in favour of the principle of the Bill. All who had had any experience of the devastation that night dogs could make: must desire some further restriction of their liberty. He would shoot the greatest pet he had if he thought he was a danger to his neighbours. Coming to the provisions of the Bill he asserted that anybody who knew anything of the subject was well aware that a dog could chase a flock of sheep without biting them and commit untold injury, especially at lambing time.


said the hon. Gentleman could not have read the Bill, because if a dog caused injury by chasing it came under the Act.


replied that he did not think the hon. Gentleman had had much experience of that sort of dog in his constituency. He (the speaker) had seen evidence of enormous injury to sheep and cattle by chasing. He did not see why fowls should not come within the scope of the Bill. Indeed, all property should be protected against vicious dogs, and every person keeping a dog should be made responsible for its control. But, while giving the fullest protection to the farmer and flock-owner, they should insist at the same time that no one should be liable for injury caused to flocks if they were unattended on the public highway or escaped through the negligence of the owners or of those in charge of them.

MR. WHITMORE (Chelsea)

thought it was unnecessary to say very much upon this Bill, because the House was apparently prepared to accept the principle of it, and the criticisms that had been brought against it were directed to matters of detail which could be better dealt with in Committee. But as Chairman of the Departmental Committee on whose recommendations this Bill was largely based, he ought to say this. That Committee was a very large Committee, and composed of gentlemen from all parts of the United Kingdom. They had come to the unanimous conclusion that the damage done to stock and sheep in the hill districts of Govern-Great Britain was really serious in extent and magnitude; they were also impressed with the fact that the present law was far from adequate for the prevention of this damage, and that the existing system of obtaining exemptions from licences from the Inland Revenue was such as to lead to the evasion of the law. This system must be fortified in some such way as that proposed by the Bill. He thanked the Government and the House for the way they had attempted to deal with these very real evils and cordially supported the Second Reading of the Bill.

MR. CROMBIE (Kincardineshire)

said he had been a member of the Departmental Committee whose recommendations this Bill gave effect to. They had taken a considerable amount of evidence which was overwhelming as to the necessity for such a Bill as this. The Committee, no doubt, would not care to be responsible for the whole of the details, but, so far as the general principle of the Bill was concerned, they would gladly be held responsible for it. People in agricultural parts of the country held, not that the Bill went too far but that it did not go half far enough, and he was certain that it would be welcomed by the small farmers. The question they asked was why they should not have the right to shoot dogs that worried their sheep. The whole tendency of the evidence taken before the Committee was that the mischief was mainly done by dogs who were either ownerless or whose ownership was of a more or less nebulous character, and the general tendency of the Bill was to try to remedy that state of things. The existing right of exemption had been very largely abused. The original idea was that the farmer should not be taxed for a dog that was necessary to his trade, but a great many of those who were exempted were not farmers at all but persons who owned a cow, a sheep, or a goat. It would be a great hardship on Scotch farmers to have to go to the Sheriff, but no doubt the machinery in that respect could easily be amended. It had been said that the Bill ought to apply to localities and not to the country generally, but the whole intention of the Bill was that it should apply to localities though it was necessary that discretion should be left with the Board of Agriculture in order to secure uniformity in the case of two farming localities adjoining each other.

MR. SPEAR (Devonshire, Tavistock)

expressed his appreciation of the action of the Board of Agriculture in bringing in the Bill. It afforded necessary and just protection to farmers, and would not seriously inconvenience any other section of the community. They often heard of cattle being killed and destroyed by dogs at night, but there was another very serious injury caused to sheep and cows through worrying by dogs just before the lambing and calving seasons. The precautions of the measure were very necessary indeed. One indirect advantage was that it would prevent night poaching.


thought his hon. friend might very well be satisfied with the reception the Bill had met with. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Forest of Dean called attention to the power to seize stray dogs. He would remind him that that power already existed in the Metropolis, and, if it was necessary there, it was probably more necessary in the country. The other objection of the right hon. Gentleman was as to the difficulty of obtaining exemption. He certainly thought no difficulty should be thrown in the way of a farmer from getting exemption for a sheep dog, but at the same time it was quite clear that the exemption had been very largely abused, and it was necessary to consider how it could be confined to bonâ fide claimants. That, however, was a point which could very well be dealt with in Grand Committee. He submitted that the other objections taken were really objections of detail, and, as the great majority of the House appeared to be satisfied that some Bill ought to be passed on the lines proposed by the Government, he thought they might now take a division on the Second Reading.

MR. CATHCART WASON (Orkney and Shetland)

said that if this Bill was the result of the noble Lord's experiment in taking the advice and calling to his councils, farmers who should not be gentlemen, as he openly avowed in Scotland would be the policy of his Department, he could not congratulate him on the result, for a more stupid, impracticable Bill could hardly have been printed. He could not think that the advice of a practical farmer or gentleman in Scotland had been taken about the Bill. The Bill was certainly wanted, and all that was required now was to hand the management of it over to the county councils, and compel every dog to wear a collar with an invertifying number which the local authorities could well provide without throwing any cost on the owners; such a thing would entail little or no cost whatever. Clause 4 of the Bill could never have been considered by the Chairman of the Committee or the Solicitor-General. In some parts of the, Highlands and Islands with I which he was acquainted having to go and see the Sheriff in order to obtain an exemption would necesistate the absence of the crofter or farmer for six weeks and therefore so far as Scotland was concerned this Bill was not worth the paper on which it was written.

And, it being half-past Seven of the clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed to-morrow.