HC Deb 12 April 1910 vol 16 cc1079-82

I have to ask for the indulgence of the House for a very few minutes in order to ask leave to bring in a Bill to deal with the trade or traffic in old and worn-out horses—a traffic which has been justly described as a disgrace to this country. I am extremely reluctant to take up the time of the House, but seeing the great interest which is taken in this subject on both sides of the House and outside, I hope I may be excused for doing so, and perhaps I may be allowed to add that I am taking this course not only with the unanimous approval of the Council of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, on which I have the honour to serve, but by their express desire and request. What is this traffic in old and worn-out horses? It is a trade which has lately been assuming very large proportions, and one in which large profits are made. According to the figures supplied by the Board of Agriculture, there are every year sent to Belgium and Holland over 40,000 horses which are valued, but I do not know who fixes the value, as of £10 or under £10, and, of those, 16,000 are valued at under £5. These old horses are sent out to Belgium and Holland, where they are used for human food; but with this distinction, that whereas all those which go to Holland are used for food unless they are too diseased to be so used, many of those that go to Belgium, if there is any work in them, are taken many miles into the interior and there worked before they are finally slaughtered. I may just mention here that both Governments forbid the importation of dead meat. These old horses when they come to the great Belgian port of Antwerp are disembarked from the vessel, but they are not allowed to be disembarked, however late at night they come in, until six o'clock in the morning. Then they are made to walk four and a half miles to the Government quarantine stables, where they are examined for glanders and other diseases. Those that can do any work are sent, many of them twenty-four miles, to Brussels, Liege, and Ghent, and other places, under no supervision, and their sufferings are terrible; in fact this horrible journey into the interior has been called by a Belgian councillor, who has studied this question, "the horses calvary." The Belgian College of Veterinary Surgeons actually sends students to the docks to study the diseases of horses on these old worn out animals from England.

The House can easily imagine that the sufferings of these animals on board ship ate very great, and I need not dwell upon them. There is an Order issued by the Board of Agriculture in 1898, and I am free to admit that if that Order could be strictly carried into effect and operation, there might be no need for further legislation, because that provides that no horse which cannot be shipped without cruelty shall be shipped. But our contention is, and there is cogent evidence for it, that this Order is only partially brought into play, and is very largely inoperative. There is no machinery for carrying it out. There is only one veterinary inspector appointed by the Board of Agriculture for all the ports, and he cannot supervise this enormous trade as a great part of his time is occupied abroad; and I pray in aid the convictions which the Society is constantly obtaining against men who are sending these old horses. They send them by night, and sometimes in carts and ambulances, and the profits are such that they can afford to take the risk of many convictions, and there must be many cases which escape detection altogether. Then we have the evidence at the ports that many of the horses arrive dead, and after the voyage many of them have to 'be killed on arrival, and many others are in such a pitiable condition that they have to be taken to the Government slaughter houses, or to the stables by wagons provided for the purpose, and this is not on account of accident or stress of weather, but, simply, because these horses were shipped in a state utterly unfit to be shipped at all. I know that it is said that there has been exaggeration in this matter, but I would allude to a very impartial and, I think, unimpeachable witness, the secretary of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, whose pamphlet I hold in my hand. He went in 1906 to study this traffic, and he went again in February last, and if I had time I think I could convince hon. Members of the sickening and revolting sights that he saw, which show that it is futile to contend that this Order of the Board of Agriculture is operative. For example, he saw a Hull boat come in with 157 horses on board, and thirty-one had died on the voyage and seventeen of them -were in such a condition that their throats were cut by the inspector of the society. Certainly there was a bad storm, but, I think, everyone would agree that if those animals had not been shipped in a state of infirmity and disease, and in a state in which they should not have been shipped, there would not have been this mortality amongst the horses, nor would so many have had to be killed on. arrival.

That is only one instance of very many that I could give, and I can only refer hon. Members to this very interesting pamphlet for further details. I may say this, that the dealers are so much afraid of their doings being made manifest that they hustled the secretary, who had a camera with him, which they stole, so that he has lost not only that, but the photographs of horses that he had taken. Coming to the Bill that we propose, it is a very simple one. It only applies to Great Britain, because there is, so far as I know, no decrepit horse traffic from Ireland. What is asked is that the Board of Agriculture should appoint an approved veterinary inspector at all the ports, and the Bill provides that no horses can be shipped unless a written certificate of one of those inspecting veterinary surgeons, appointed by the Board for that purpose, is obtained, setting out that the horse is capable of being conveyed without cruelty both during the intended voyage and after being disembarked. That is the main provision of the Bill. Then a duty is thrown upon the master of the vessel if a horse gets into a state in which it is cruelty to keep it alive when it is on board, of seeing that it is killed. The ship has to carry a humane killer for that purpose. Then it is proposed that there should be a charge of 5s. for the examination, and, on the figures for 1908, that would give £9,900, which is quite sufficient for the inspection. We believe that if these simple provisions are carried into effect we shall be able to get rid of this great abuse, for if these provisions are enacted the dealers would not dare to send the horses in such a state as some of them are now sent in. In our opinion these proposals are reasonable, practical, necessary, urgent, and adequate to put a stop to the gross cruelties and abuses of this traffic. We believe that nothing less is sufficient, and we devoutly hope that the Board of Agriculture will give us their help, so as to pass these necessary provisions into law.

Bill to amend the Diseases of Animals Acts, 1894 and 1896, in respect of the exportation of horses, ordered to be brought in by Mr. Greenwood, Sir Frederick Ban-bury, Colonel Lockwood, Mr. Shackleton, Mr. Lehmann, Mr. Winfrey, Sir Gilbert Parker, Mr. Bathurst, Mr. Byles, and Mr. William Younger. Presented accordingly, and read the first time. (To be read a second time upon Tuesday next.)