HC Deb 02 May 1919 vol 115 cc536-49

Order for Second Heading read.


I beg to move That the Bill be now lead a second time. This measure is designed to deal with a very remarkable omission in our present law regarding cruelty to animals. More than forty years ago it was provided that, in cutting operations performed for purposes of experiment, anæsthetics should be used. Where, therefore, live animals are cut, or, as it is generally called, vivisected, for purposes of research, anæsthetics are now compulsory. But in the far larger number of cases, where no research enters into the matter, and the operation is merely carried out for the convenience and profit of the owner of the animal, no anæsthetics of any kind, no humane device for preventing pain, is laid down. The advance of medical science has not brought any alleviation of suffering to animals in the way that it has to human beings. It has, indeed, too often greatly increased their sufferings, because there are now performed on animals surgical operations which were never dreamed of in the days before the discovery of anæsthetics revolutionised surgery. There are, no doubt, many humane owners who make a point of demanding the use of anæsthetics for their animals, but in the enormous majority of cases horses and dogs do not have the benefit of anæsthetics in the complicated and severe operations in which they would invariably be used as a matter of course in the case of human beings. This Bill has never been discussed in the House of Commons, but it has been very considerably discussed in the country, and has been modified to meet the views of agriculturists and of the veterinary profession. I first drafted a Bill on this subject in 1912, as the result of myself seeing a great many veterinary operations at the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and elsewhere. In its original form the Bill, besides making anæsthetics compulsory in the case of certain scheduled operations, forbade the castration of pigs and bulls over the age of six months except in the case of disease. This was strongly opposed by agriculturists, and to meet their views I reintroduced the Bill in 1913 without the provision as to pigs and bulls, and, in the case of horses, limiting the compulsory use of anæsthetics to the gelding of two-year-olds and upwards, where, owing to the larger size of the blood vessels, the operation is more protracted and painful than in the case of colts. In this way agricultural opposition was disarmed, and in 1913 the. Cattle Diseases Committee of the Central Chamber of Agriculture wrote approving of the Bill in its amended form. Clause 3 would enable the Board of Agriculture to extend the Schedules and to apply them to other domestic animals, after fulfilling certain necessary provisions to secure that agricultural interests are not forgotten. Ill-luck in the ballot prevented any progress with the Bill in 1913, and in 1914 further changes were male in the scheduled operations to meet criticisms which had been developed by a very considerable correspondence in the columns of the "Veterinary Record," the "Veterinary News," the "Veterinary Journal," and elsewhere. I mention these details of the history of the Bill to show that the proposal in its present form has been very carefully discussed, and that it is the result of an agreement to meet those agricultural and veterinary interests which had the best claim to be considered. The scheduled operations are limited to those on horses and dogs, and a distinction is drawn between operations which should be performed under a general anæsthetic and those for which only a local anæsthetic is required. I know it may seem rather curious to lay down anything stringent in the way of distinction between local and general anæsthetics, but I am told by young and progressive members of the veterinary profession that there is so much prejudice among certain of the older men against the use of anæsthetics that, unless it is definitely laid down what shall be used, many operators will go on with the present practice of using no effective anæsthetic whatever. I may perhaps quote the opinion of the "Veterinary Journal" on these Schedules. It says: We know full well that all the operations named in the three Schedules, and other is besides, would almost invariably be performed under anæsthesia if the veterinary surgeon were able to please-himself. Unfortunately, however, the owner of the patient frequently refuses to pay for it, and, as the veterinary surgeon is dependent upon fees for his livelihood, he cannot afford the additional time and expenditure without compensation. He has consequently either to perform the operation without the anæsthetic or, by refusing, to allow it, to be done, with the probable infliction of greater pain, by a quack, and to run the risk of offending and losing a client. Having quoted the "Veterinary Journal" and referred to other veterinary publications, I ought perhaps to say that this Bill was in no way suggested by the veterinary profession. Obviously, it would be a very invidious matter for them to bring forward. I have, however, had the help of veterinary surgeons, who have been good enough to give very valuable criticism and advice. This Bill has from the first, met with strong support among horse-owners. It is going, I hope, to be seconded to-day by an hon. Member who takes a great interest in racing, and I am quite certain that, unless the measure was considered imperative in the interests of humanity, we should not have had the support which has boon forthcoming in the past. More than one veterinary surgeon has confessed to me his feelings of horror at the sufferings he has had to inflict owing to the refusal of owners to allow the use of anæsthetics. In view of the fact that it has long been recognised that, if a horse is unfit for work, no financial consideration shall absolve its owner from liability to a charge of cruelty if he does work it, it is surely not too much to provide that where owners for their own convenience and profit subject their helpless animals to severe and painful surgical operations, they should be compelled to find the few shillings which are necessary to secure the use of an anæsthetic.


I have the privilege of seconding this Motion.

I venture to think that the time is particularly opportune for the introduction of such a Bill as this. Ever since the Armistice was inaugurated we appear to have been almost exclusively considering the bettering of our own conditions in the new order of things which is to come after the War. I am glad to see, by reference to the Order Book of the House, that there are indications of the recognition of the claim to some better treatment and better lives of the four-legged section of the world, especially in the case of horses—and dogs—which have undoubtedly done their bit in the recent War. Quite apart from that somewhat remote consideration, I, as one who, as my hon. and gallant Friend has said, has something to do with horses—I may mention they possess the courtesy title of race-horses, and there is no other legal category in which they can be placed—had a good deal of personal experience of the conditions which prevail. I say without hesitation that in the case of many of the operations included in these schedules the present system is barbarous and inhumane in the highest degree. Especially is this so in the country districts where anæsthetics are not easily obtainable, and where quack operators compete with qualified men. Unless you have statutory compulsion of this kind the same condition of things will prevail for all time.

So far as I am concerned, when this Bill gets into Committee I think I shall propose its extension to one or two operations not included in it. Of course we know that legally the process of docking is not permissible, but it is a matter of common knowledge—and the hon. and gallant Gentleman who represents the Home Office (Sir Hamar Greenwood) knows it—that the system of docking prevails to an enormous extent, because, in view of all the circumstances, you cannot be there to prevent it. Inasmuch as in some cases docking is a legitimate and necessary operation, I will throw out the suggestion in Committee that docking might be legalised, provided the same provisions concerning anæsthetics are made to apply to it. In the case of firing horses some such provision might also be made. I have known one or two dear old creatures among the race-horses to which I have just referred who have been fired so often that every time the door of their box is opened they simply and instinctively lift their legs.

Lieutenant-Colonel GUINNESS

The hon. Member will see line firing is already provided for in the Bill.


I am not sure it should not be further extended. My point is this: That this Bill recognises that the time has come to extend these humanitarian principles to the dumb creation, which is helpless without our intervention. I think it would be a very fine tribute to one of the better aspects of the War if instead of brutalising us it left us in possession of these views and practices that humanise and make us recognise the sufferings of the dumb creation as we have recognised human suffering, so that we will do all in our power in future to prevent it. I do not know that it requires any special argument or appeal to commend this Bill to the Government.


Unfortunately, I had not the pleasure of hearing the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend as I did not know the Bill was coming on just at the moment. I should, however, like to congratulate him on his persistent and painstaking effort to get this particular piece of legislation passed. This, I think, is the second or the third Session in which he has introduced this Bill. I think that all who have the interests of animals at heart must be very glad that the opportunity has arisen on this Friday afternoon for, at least, discussing the Bill. I would like to say that I agree most sincerely with what has just fallen from the lips of the hon. Member for South Hackney. I think in this, as in so many other matters, one of the most valuable lessons that we can learn from the War, both as individuals and as a nation, is that we ought to do everything we can to lessen the sum-total of animal suffering, and especially in the cases with which this Bill will deal, of suffering which is largely avoidable. No one who has been in the East, as I have recently, can fail to be saddened and disgusted by the amount of avoidable cruelty to animals. Personally, it is the kind of thing that always—in my case at all events—tinges my feelings with a depression that I otherwise should not have felt in those wonderful sunlit lands to realise that daily, almost hourly, all kinds of unnecessary cruelty was being done to animals. It may be asked, How that particular phase of animal cruelty is affected by this Bill? It is affected in this way: We in this country have always been what I may describe as the "standard bearer" of the prevention of cruelty to animals. It is really action that has been taken in this country which has enabled the world generally, by successive and progressive stages, to arrive at a higher standard of the treatment of animals. I believe I am historically correct in saying it was in this country that the first Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was formed so long ago as the beginning of the nineteenth century, and the example which was set by this country has been followed, I am glad to say, by almost every other country in the world. Invariably the laws regarding animals in this country and their treatment is accepted by other countries as the model for the laws they should make and the treatment they should accord. Therefore it is most important that we should continue to be in the van of progress in the matter of our relations to, and the treatment of, animals.

As regards the present state of affairs in operation, I am bound to say that having studied some literature which my hon. and gallant Friend was good enough to give me—quotations from the various veterinary journals, and papers connected with the veterinary service and Press, everything I have read confirms me in the opinion which I have formed in my personal and private experience that the law in regard to operations upon animals, apart altogether from the question of experimental research, is very unsatisfactory. There is a case given in one of these veterinary journals where a man who had a horse with a tumour asked his veterinary surgeon if, when the tumour could be removed, the horse could be put under chloroform. The reply of the veterinary surgeon was that it was quite impossible to use chloroform for the operation, and that the tumour could not be taken out if the horse was so anæsthetised. The owner was very much surprised, and consulted another veterinary surgeon, or wrote to a college of veterinary surgeons, and was informed that the operation was perfectly possible under chloroform, and that it had constantly been performed under chloroform at the veterinary colleges. Owing, unfortunately, to his obtaining this information rather late the operation had meanwhile been performed without chloroform. The tumour had been removed, but in order to stop the bleeding a red-hot iron had been applied to the place. This journal—devoted to the interests of the veterinary profession—that I am quoting comments very severely—and very properly I think—upon this entire lack of knowledge, and indeed brutality, which was displayed by this veterinary surgeon. They add this comment: Upon the whole there is nothing to be gained by cloaking matters of this kind, and, unfortunately, the incident is not an isolated one. When such language is found in a veterinary journal and such strong comment is made on the action of veterinary surgeons, it shows that there is a need for an alteration in the law. I gather from what I have read that these proposals are accepted by the veterinary Press practically with unanimity, and I thank my hon. and gallant Friend for his public-spirited action in bringing the Bill forward I think this measure is necessary to stop the ignorant or careless veterinary surgeon from pretending that it is not possible to perform an operation on animals under anaesthetics. Even in this country, where I believe the standard of kindness to animals is higher than in any other country in the world, there always will be found a few brutal, callous, or careless men, and owners of animals, who will refuse to administer anæsthetics unless they are compelled to spend the small sum which is necessary to provide an anæsthetic.

Often if a veterinary surgeon insists upon there being an operation, the owner of the animal frequently goes to some kind of quack, or what we call a cow doctor in the South of England, who is not a certified veterinary surgeon, but who performs veterinary work for poorer clients. The work of these cow-doctors will be curtailed under this Bill, and the work will be given to properly certified veterinary surgeons. That is another point which is made by the veterinary journals, and there are a great many operations performed on animals which can be done with greater efficiency under anæsthetics. I have been associated on a large scale with the use of horses and camels in the Army in my regiment, and I have seen a vast number of operations on animals, and what I have seen, geneally resolves itself into a sort of gymnastics, and if you get an ignorant man operating; without an anæsthetic, he generally puts the animal into a state of terror from which it does not recover for months or even years. I have served in the Camel Corps during the War, and I may say that the Imperial Camel Corps was the first example where operations were performed with anæsthetics, and this has been done on a very extensive scale. I know that in this way certain operations have been performed which could not otherwise have been carried out.

It is not necessary for me to glorify this Bill any further, because I am sure the present House of Commons will be ready to show its sympathy with this measure, and hon. Members will be only too ready to pass it into law. I support this measure because I think it is going to do away with a lot of avoidable cruelty which takes place during operations on animals, although I am a strong opponent of another Bill which will shortly come before the House. That measure, however, has nothing to do with this Bill, which is simply a question of alleviating animal suffering, and it ought to enlist the sympathy of all who have had experience of operations on animals.


I desire to express my cordial sympathy with this Bill. Perhaps on this question I feel more sympathetic than many other people, because one of the great grievances of those who have been employed trying to discover the secrets of nature by experiments on animals has been the persecution we have been put to by people who, in their dealings with animals for gain or pleasure, have had no regard whatever to suffering. I have been horrified to learn that so much is being done in the way of operations by a qualified set of men without anæsthetics. I have seen operations of this kind on animals, and my impression was that they were generally given anæsthetics, but I see from the journals I have read that that is not always so. I am glad to say that on this occasion I am in accord with one or two of my hon. Friends with whom I am afraid I shall not be in such close accord in connection with another Bill, which will probably be dealt with a few weeks hence. I am glad my hon. Friends are paying attention to this matter, and are trying to stop these practices. They have a very big work to do, because when you are only dealing with this question for research purposes only a small number of animals are affected, but when you come to deal with all these operations which are done with a view of making animals more valuable, you will find that you have got a much larger matter to deal with.

I have no real criticisms to offer, but one thing which strikes me is that in speaking of anæsthetics in this Bill there is only mention made of local anæsthesia, which has developed very much of late years, and operations can be performed in that way without the patient suffering any pain. Personally, I never did like operating under a local anæsthesia, because I could never divest myself from the idea that I was hurting the patient, and consequently I was inclined to bustle over the operation. In recent years local anæsthesia has been developed to such an extent that I believe many of these operations could be performed under that head. There is just another point which strikes me. Anti-vivisectionists are the most unbelieving people in the world; they have a suspicion whether the animals which are experimented upon are under an anæsthetic: they say that they are only under morphine or some other means of keeping them quiet and that they really feel pain all the time. I see by Clause 4 that the general anaesthetic shall include choral hydrate, and, in the case of a dog, morphine. They are extremely useful because they enable you to get the patient unconscious and free from pain with a very much smaller quantity of anæsthetic. I do not, therefore, say that they ought not to be used, but I do say that a dog who has been given morphine will not be entirely free from feeling pain unless you give him a dose which is absolutely poisonous. These, however, are really Committee points, and I only wish to say again that I have no doubt that all medical men cordially support the Bill.


My hon and gallant Friend who introduced this Bill is heartily to be congratulated not only upon its introduction, but upon having obtained practically the unanimous assent of the House to its provisions. It is satisfactory to know that he has the support of men acquainted with horses, such as my hon. Friend the Member for South Hackney (Mr. Bottomley), who, I hope, is going to win some races to-morrow. I am not generally a supporter of his, but he owns racehorses and as such is interested in the breeding of horses. My hon, and gallant Friend also has the support of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton), who has the advantage of having studied horses as a Master of Foxhounds, and also in his gallant services during the War. I want to refer to a subject which is not included in the Bill, but which I think ought to be included when it comes to the Committee stage, and that is the question of docking. If docking is to be performed at all, it ought to be performed under an anæsthetic. For my part, I think docking for almost every class of horse, if not all, is a stupid and ignorant and pernicious practice. A hundred years ago they used not only to dock horses' tails but to dock their ears as well and disfigure one of the most beautiful features of a horse. The practice of docking the ears of a horse, I am glad to say, has disappeared and the practice of docking horses' tails is also disappearing. If you look at old prints you will find that racehorses were docked. Personally, I cannot over remember myself seeing a race in modern times were racehorses' tails were docked, and now it is the universal practice not to dock racehorses. I remember, in my younger days, that it was very common to have hunters with their tails docked, but it is very rare now. If you keep a tail reasonably short, it not only looks far better, but it is far more useful to the horse, because physiologically the tail acts as a rudder to the horse when it is galloping and jumping. I cannot, therefore, conceive that there is any useful object in docking racehorses and hunters. It was thought to look well, but, as a matter of fact, it looks exceedingly bad. There may be certain classes of trappers which are apt to kick if they get the reins under their tails with inexperienced drivers, and it may be convenient to dock them. Personally, I do not think it is necessary. It is quite sufficient to keep the tails reasonably short. If, however, you are to allow it at all I do urge upon my hon. and gallant Friend to support an Amendment in Committee including docking in the Schedule as one of those operations which require an anæsthetic. Let me quote the "Veterinary Journal," a paper of acknowledged importance and authority. They do not take quite such an unfavourable view as I do, because they seem to think that in some cases it is necessary, but they say: There is no reference in this Bill to the vexed question of docking. In our opinion the practice of chopping off portions of the tails of certain breeds of dogs and of horses, with the possible exception of hackneys and light trappers, is absolutely indefensible as a routine practice. There are certain occasions when it must be done, but when it is necessary it should be under the influence either of an anæsthetic or a narcotic. To anyone who has had experience of how docking is done in country districts, that statement will carry conviction and command agreement. In country districts it is done by putting the horse's tail over the stable door or on a wall and chopping it off at one of the joints with a hatchet, and then using some hot iron in older to stop the bleeding. A most gratuitous, unnecessary, and cruel performance, very difficult to discover. Unless you have an inspector present, it is impossible afterwards to bring up that man, because he will say that it was done with the utmost care and attention, and that there was no cruelty whatever. Docking is not illegal, but cruelty is, and the difficulty is to prove the cruelty. I therefore hope that the representative of the Home Office will give his cordial support to this Bill, and will be willing, when it comes to Committee, to insert docking in the Schedule as one of the operations to be performed under an anæsthetic,


I just want to say that I do not believe that you would get one dissentient voice among the 25,000 medical men. I believe that they would all accept this Bill with satisfaction and with very great pleasure. I want to associate myself with all that has fallen from the hon. and gallant Member who introduced the Bill. As regards the point raised by the hon. Member for South Hackney, who told us that he only represents the class of racehorses—I think he also ably represents the class of hackneys—


South Hackney!


I think he may be perfectly satisfied that, docking can be adequately dealt with by the use of local anæsthetics, and if on the Committee stage of the Bill docking is included among the operations to be dealt with in that manner, I think that is all that is required. The Bill should also be applied to dogs. If there is one fault in the Bill it is that it does not go far enough. I cannot see why colts under two years should be exempted.

Lieutenant-Colonel GUINNESS

The reason is that you cannot under a general anæsthetic perform the operation which is now almost universally applied to colts standing. There was a tremendous amount of opposition to the Bill in its original form because it applies to colts.


But surely the operation can be done under a local anæsthetic, and there is no reason why animals should be allowed to suffer pain for one moment.

Lieutenant-Colonel RAW

I should like to give my unqualified support to this Bill. I think the whole course of our training is to try as far as possible to reduce pain to an absolute minimum, not only so far as human beings are concerned, but also in the case of animals. I congratulate the hon. and gallant Gentleman who has introduced this Bill, but may I suggest that in Committee its provisions should be extended to other animals than those mentioned in the Schedule, and that the question of docking should be taken into serious consideration by the framers of the measure? I agree with my colleagues that a very large number of operations can be performed efficiently with local anæsthetics instead of with general anæsthetics. There is no doubt about that. I should like to ask the hon. and gallant Gentleman if he is quite satisfied that it would be possible to give general anæsthetics to animals in all the cases mentioned in the Bill. The progress of veterinary science and veterinary surgery has been extraordinarily great during the last few years. We all know the difficulty of giving animals, and especially horses, general anæsthetics, and it might be that the extension of the list of operations under local anæsthesia might be less harmful to some animals than an attempt to give general anæsthetics. I hope that in Committee the principle of the Bill will be extended not only to dogs but to other animals. With these suggestions, I should like to congratulate the hon. and gallant Member upon introducing a measure which will greatly mitigate cruelty to animals.

2.0 P.M.


May I say at once, on behalf of the Home Office and of the Board of Agriculture, that we do not oppose the Second Reading of this Bill? The measure itself is backed by Members sitting in all quarters of the House, and those who have spoken in support of it have done so with a special knowledge of the animals to which it refers. I would also congratulate the hon. and gallant Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Lieutenant-Colonel Guinness) on having succeeded in getting this Bill on the Paper to-day. He will certainly be successful in securing its Second Reading. But I want him and the hon. Gentlemen who support him to allow the Board of Agriculture or the Home Office when the Bill gets into Committee to make certain Amendments not with the object of affecting the principle of the Bill, but with the object, in the first place, of bringing the penalty and appeal Clauses into line with the Criminal Justice Administration Act, 1914. I must also qualify my acceptance of the Bill by retaining the right to introduce at the proper time words or a new Clause to this effect: that nothing in the Act shall apply to any experiment to which the: Cruelty to Animals Act, 1876 applies I am sure I shall have the hon. and gallant Member's support in that Amendment. There may be other Amendments in Committee put forward by the Departments for which I speak to-day to more clearly define or qualify certain words and phrases and to make the Bill more accurately secure an object which I think is most laudable. I have nothing further to say, except that I whole-heartedly agree with what was said by the hon. and gallant Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton), to the effect that this great country has always set the standard of humanity in the animal world. There is no finer characteristic surely than this, that wherever the Britisher goes he is a missionary to the dumb creation. He carries his sense of justice and fair play into the animal world. We have our reward for that in the fact that we do produce the finest animals the world knows.


I wish to support my medical colleagues who have already spoken on this subject. As the hon. and gallant Member for Wavertree (Lieutenant-Colonel Raw) has just remarked, our one object in life is to endeavour to alleviate pain in any direction we can, no matter whether it be in the case of human beings or in the case of animals. I would like to point out to the framers of this Bill one anomaly which to my mind is embodied in it, if we take it in association with the Dogs Bill. It is that under the Dogs Bill anæsthetics are to be given for the purpose of operations, and if the pain continues after the operation the dog is to be destroyed. Under this Bill the anæsthetic is to be given, but apparently there is no provision with regard to the suffering of the animal after the operation. I strongly support the Bill in every way.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.