HC Deb 30 June 1911 vol 27 cc744-8

If any person shall use, or cause or procure, or being the owner permit, to be used, any dog for the purpose of drawing or helping to draw any cart, carriage, truck, or barrow, on any public highway, he shall be liable upon summary convic- tion in respect of the first offence to a fine not exceeding two pounds, and in respect of the second or any subsequent offence to a fine not exceeding five pounds.


I beg to move to leave out the Clause.

When the Clause was before the Committee I drafted an Amendment which I thought the promoters of the Bill might have accepted. It was with the view of exempting the case of a dog harnessed to a toy cart in a procession or in a fete of some kind. It is a common thing for children to go out with a dog harnessed to a toy cart, and I think some words might have been put in to provide that where a dog is dressed up to represent a horse the case should be exempt from the operation of the Clause. I have often seen dogs used in that way when there was a collection being made for a hospital fund or a private nursing home. I would have accepted any words which the promoters of the Bill would have been willing to put in to safeguard people in these circumstances. But as I read this Clause, if there is a procession in connection with a village fete and some children take out a big dog in a toy cart in order that coppers may be collected or thrown into the cart for some charitable purpose, those in charge of the dog would be liable to conviction. I think we should have Bills very carefully drawn. It is a matter of great surprise to me that the promoters of the Bill should have opposed my Amendment. They made no effort at all to meet this point.


I beg to second the proposal to omit Clause 7 from the Bill. The proposal contained in this Clause to render it illegal to harness any dog to any sort of cart, carriage or truck in this country is a very drastic one. There can be no objection to harnessing a dog to a toy cart for the amusement of a lot of children, and for the amusement, I am sure, of the dog as well as of the children. There are many instances in which dogs are used perfectly legitimately for draught purposes. In the whole of the flat countries, in the Netherlands and elsewhere, dogs are so used, and they certainly appear to enjoy it as much as horses do. I may remind the hon. Baronet that various heroic explorers setting out from this country are hoping to reach the South Pole or the North Pole, or it may be both, with the assistance of dogs.


May I point out to my hon. Friend that this Bill does not apply to the North Pole.


I am merely giving instances in which dogs are legitimately, and, I hope, kindly used in this particular way, and to make an offence punishable by law, as this Bill does, the harnessing of dogs by children to a toy cart is certainly objectionable. There are certainly in this country a certain number of kindly people, though I venture to think some of them occasionally mistaken, who would prosecute a man for almost anything, not necessarily cruelty, but even such an act as the harnessing of a dog to a toy cart. If you place in their hands such a weapon as this they are just the class of people who will resort to its use. On the whole, I think that the Bill would be equally valuable if the Clause were omitted, and I therefore support the proposal of the hon. Member for Pontefract.


I hope that the House will not consent to take this Clause out. I have no personal recollection of any agreement made that an Amendment would be accepted. The hon. Member who has just sat down has spoken as if this was some new proposal for an enactment which might lead to the prosecution of innocent people who harness a dog to a toy cart. But this is a consolidating Bill. We did not like to introduce into it any amendment which was not necessary. This provision has been the law of the land since 1854, and I have heard no complaint of injustice being done under it. I think if a little dog is harnessed to a toy cart it is a case of de minimis non curat lex. In this consolidating Bill we have simply followed the words which are found in 17 and 18 Victoria, Chap. 6, Section 2, and if this Clause were to be left out people could use dogs for the purposes of drawing vehicles on the public highways in this country, and I do not think that public opinion would like to see that.


The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down seems to think that because a certain offence exists under the present law, therefore it is necessary to continue to maintain it as an offence. That does not follow at all. The fact that it is an existing offence does not prevent the House from discussing it. Personally I have a perfectly open mind on the subject. Last year I paid two or three visits to Belgium, where dogs are absolutely used as beasts of draught. As far as I could observe, the animals did not seem to be in any way oppressed or distressed, but as a fact, they seemed to be extremely well cared for, and their owners seemed to be very fond of them. What I would like to hear are arguments to prove that harnessing dogs to simple loads does destroy their health, and would be injurious to them. No such arguments have been put forward. Therefore I shall be obliged to support the hon. Member for Pontefract, who moved this Amendment, because unless some reason is given why dogs should not be harnessed in this way and used over public roads I cannot see why we should maintain the existing law.


I wish briefly to support the Amendment. With regard to dogs in other countries I may say that in that part of Canada from which I come they use dogs all the time, for the simple reason that no other animal can travel in the snow. Horses cannot be used, and so they use dogs, who are brought up for this very purpose. They are very fine animals. They are apparently happy and contented, well fed and well looked after. It has become very common in London and other parts of the United Kingdom to have exhibitions of the customs of various parts of the Empire and foreign countries. Suppose a number of these husky dogs, as they are called, are brought over here, as I believe they have been, to be shown in exhibitions here, according to this section they cannot be used.


The hon. Member has not read the Bill. It says a public highway. An exhibition is not a public highway.


Why should not it be a public highway? You could not have a proper exhibition of their ability unless it was a public highway. I do not see why the hon. Gentleman should say I have not read the Bill. How does he know I have not read it? I may not have understood it so well as he, but that does not entitle him to say I have not read it. Kind-hearted people who look after animals, when they get a law in their favour, are often most despotic and narrow-minded in the way they enforce it. That is most unfortunate; still I do not think we ought to leave it to them to make the law absolute in this manner. The hon. Member for Pontefract (Mr. Booth) said he put forward an Amendment in Committee, and the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. Greenwood) states that he has no recollection of it. Between the two, I think we had better accept the positive rather than the negative statement, and I should be very pleased indeed to vote in favour of leaving out the Clause.


When abroad I have often seen dogs harnessed to small carts, and frequently they do no work at all beyond guarding the owner's possessions. Supposing a dog were harnessed to a trap, it need not necessarily do any of the pulling; but what would be the position of the owner who fastened his dog to his conveyance in this way? Occasionally a dog might pull, but on the other hand, it might merely serve the useful purpose of guarding property.


Though I have not done much in the way of continental travel, I have often seen dogs harnessed to carts. I do not think there is any reason whatever for altering the law and making it worse than it is at the present time in regard to draught animals. I suggest that the House should support the Clause as it stands.


The small Amendment which I proposed in Committee was of a, very simple nature, but if I have to choose between my Amendment and taking the Clause out, giving protection against the use of dogs, that is a step I do not feel at liberty to take. On the Continent I have seen dogs harnessed to carts, and I have stood for some time watching the miserable animals. Just outside the Cathedral in Antwerp I saw one or two dogs attached to carts, but when I came to look at other carts I found dogs underneath them, lying in the dirt of the road and the oil from the wheels. I pitied the poor brutes, and I would not like to see anything of that kind in this country. My action in the Committee was rather in favour of dogs than against them. Having made that clear, I ask leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.