HC Deb 27 March 1906 vol 154 cc1143-8

Order for the Second Reading read.

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

MR. CATHCART WASON (Orkney and Shetland)

said he did not propose to move the Amendment which stood in his name upon the Paper as he had received a sympathetic assurance from the Government with reference to his principal objections. He merely wished to offer a few remarks upon the measure. He objected to the Bill on various grounds, the principal one being that Clause 4 took away from the small farmers and crofters of the country the privilege which they had enjoyed for a very long time of keeping a sheep dog on the ground that it was essential to their trade. Under this clause that right was practically entirely set aside, and therefore those who represented agricultural constituencies were perfectly justified in opposing the Bill. He had an assurance that this question would be considered in Committee. In his judgment the matter was dealt with by the Bill in a most objectionable manner. Farmers and crofters could not and should not be asked to appear before a petty sessions court or sheriff substitute to get what was theirs by right. He cordially sympathised with the idea that the exemption which farmers had enjoyed for a long time past should not be abused, but he thought that, although safeguards might be introduced, the privilege should not altogether be taken away. The second part of the Bill was not quite so objectionable, and as he had obtained an assurance that the question about sheep dog licences would be considered an open one in Committee, he would not act upon his notice to move the rejection of the Bill. He complained that in Clause 2 the Board of Agriculture took power to compel certain dogs to wear collars, showing the name of their owners. If a rule of that kind was to be laid down, the House ought to enact that every dog should wear a collar. There should be no favouritism in this matter. He understood that that clause would not apply to sporting dogs; they were to be allowed to roam over the country without collars. It was not fair to the farmers that their dogs should have to go about with this badge and that other dogs should not. He would be quite content if the President of the Board of Agriculture laid down the principle that every dog should wear a collar with the name of the county and a number on it, by which the owner might be identified. The experience in the north was that sheep worrying was done not by the farmers' dogs, but by wandering dogs belonging to other people. The principal offenders were sporting dogs and pet dogs. These were the principal matters to which he took exception, and he trusted that the Government would, when the matter came before the Committee on Trade, give a sympathetic and attentive hearing to those who represented the small farmers in the country, and put this Bill on a fairer and more equitable basis.

MR. COCHRANE (Ayrshire, N.)

said the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland had found fault with Clause 4 of this Bill, but the hon. Member had not paid sufficient attention to the gravity of this question or to the feeling in Scotland and other parts of the country with regard to it. The enormous number of exemptions granted, and the free and easy manner in which they were obtained, had resulted in a great amount of evil. When the President of the Board of Agriculture addressed the House on this question last year he showed that in the county of Montgomeryshire there were 1,747 licences issued and no less than 6,220 exemptions granted. In the county of Dumfries there were 4,471 licences issued and 1,200 exemptions granted. Such a state of affairs called for remedy. In the county of Inverness there were 2,743 licences issued and 17,772 exemptions granted. He thought the hon. Member in charge of this Bill was right in bringing something forward to deal with that serious state of affairs. The feeling in the country districts of Scotland was very strong upon this matter. The ravages committed among the flocks of sheep and the cruel destruction of valuable ewes by wandering collies getting among the sheep and massacring vast numbers of them was a matter that required some remedy, and he did not think it was too much to ask a man before he obtained an exemption to show that his collie was a bona fide sheep dog. The Bill, in his opinion, was one that was well worthy of the attention of agriculturalists in this country, and he hoped it would receive the assent of this House.

MR. MARNHAM (Surrey, Chertsey)

gave the Bill hearty support. Its necessity was shown not only in Scotland but in this country as well. Two or three weeks ago there was a case in Surrey—one of a series of cases—in which a farmer during one night lost no less than fifty ewes and lambs from dog-worrying. It was a very serious thing for a comparatively small farmer to have such a terrible loss inflicted and no means of recompense. Too often no trace of the dog was left and therefore no damages could be applied for. Of course, if they could detect the dog, and the owner was a man of substance, some satisfaction might be obtained; but if, as unfortunately was very often the case, the dog belonged to a poor man the sheep-owner had no means of recompense. If anything could be done to check this growing evil and to lessen the serious loss to which farmers were often put now, he did not think any dog-owner ought to mind a little inconvenience He hoped the Bill would receive the unanimous support of the House.

SIR EDWARD STRACHEY (Somersetshire, S.)

said it was apparent that the House was in favour of the Second Reading of this Bill. He gathered that the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland agreed that it was desirable that something ought to be done. It was quite clear that the objections were matters for Committee, and he could assure the hon. Member that his objections would be considered by the Board of Agriculture in the most sympathetic spirit. He agreed that the exemptions that had been allowed had been abused both in Scotland and in England, and that more stringent regulations in this respect were required. The Board of Agriculture had power to delegate the making of regulations to local authorities, and he thought that that power would be largely exercised. Might he appeal to the House to give the Bill a Second Reading at once, as all were agreed on the merits, and it was hardly necessary to go into details now? The Bill would be sent to the Standing Committee, where all objections would be considered. There was not the slightest desire on the part of the Board of Agriculture to treat the Bill as an inspired document. Quite the contrary. Suggestions for improvements would be considered with fullest sympathy. The object of the Government was to get a good Bill, and to protect the country from the great curse of sheep-worrying.

COLONEL KENYON-SLANEY (Shropshire, Newport)

said an idea had been expressed that the great danger from which the Bill was supposed to protect sheep-owners was one arising from dogs which lived in a state of luxury and occasionally went out on the rampage. In his experience, however, the sheep-worrying dogs generally hunted in couples, and they were not dogs kept in luxury, but professional mutton-killers. The man-eating tiger was an analogy. He agreed with the suggestion that it would be wrong to discriminate between the dog of one person and that of another, and he could not see why it should not be to the public advantage to have some distinctive collar so that the owner could be identified if need be. He hoped the Bill would diminish the large number of casual dogs kept often for mischievous purposes, besides diminishing the damage done to farmers by the distraction of their sheep.

SIR EDWARD CARSON (Dublin University)

said he was not going to speak upon the merits of this Bill. Last year he was associated with the then President of the Board of Agriculture In trying to pass it through this House. He merely rose to ask the hon. Baronet if he would reconsider his decision to send the Bill to a Committee upstairs. If the hon. Baronet inquired he would find that there was a good deal of feeling about the Bill in various quarters of the House.

LORD R. CECIL (Marylebone, E.)

said the main purpose of the Bill was to make owners of dogs responsible for damage done to flocks, but it left untouched the very important question, which ought to be dealt with by Parliament, as to the responsibility of owners for injuries done by their dogs to men. He hoped the Government would consider whether they could not amend the Bill in Committee, so that the owner of a dog which injured a man should be responsible for the injury.


I do not think the hon. Member can bring "man" within the term "live stock."


said the Bill was also "otherwise to amend the law relating to dogs." It was on that part of the title that he ventured respectfully to submit that he was entitled to raise the point he had. The condition of the law on the subject at present was an absurdity. Whereas a man was responsible for anything that his human servant did, even if it were done in spite of the direct instructions given to that servant, that did not apply to a dog unless it could be shown that the dog was vicious, in the knowledge of its owner. Yet a dog's bite might destroy the power of a bread-winner for weeks and months. It was sometimes put in a crude but incorrect way that every dog was entitled to one bite. That was an absurd position, and he asked the Government to consider the advisability of amending the law.

MR. WILLIAM RUTHERFORD (Liverpool, West Derby)

said he did not know any statute that had ever made a definition of "cattle," and it had always been a moot point whether the term included sheep. He should certainly not think it would include ponies, and he would therefore suggest that the words "to any cattle" should be left out in Clause 1, so that it would be quite clear that damage done to ponies by dogs would permit of a remedy. Section 2 seemed to introduce an entirely new principle into English law by which the person against whom damages were claimed would have to prove that he was not the person who ought to pay those damages.

Questoin put and agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed to the Standing Committee on Trade, etc.