HC Deb 03 June 1921 vol 142 cc1461-72

As amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.

Colonel BURN

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."

I hope the House will give the Bill a Third Reading. It is a very simple Measure. Its object is to stop a loophole which now exists by which horses can be imported to the Continent via the Channel Islands.


I understood that we were on the Report stage of the Bill.


No Amendments were handed in. Therefore we proceeded at once to the Third Reading.

Colonel BURN

Everybody in the House knows of the agitation that has been carried on throughout the country against this pernicious traffic of the export of old and worn-out horses. This loophole does exist by which horses without examination can be sent to the Channel Islands, and from there pass on to various Continental stations. Everybody in the House considers it to be a national disgrace that these old horses, which have done their work and done it well in this country, should end their days under cruel treatment, let alone the disgraceful conditions under which they travel to the Continent. If they are capable of any work at all, old and wornout though they may be, they have to do that work on the Continent. Moreover, they have very often to be marched a great many miles, lame and miserable, to the place where they are going to be killed, and they end in the knacker's yard.


I do not wish to say a word against the intentions of the Bill as explained by the hon. and gallant Member, but I would ask for some explanation as to what the Bill really does. I have no doubt that it is the intention of the promoters to prevent the exportation of these horses viâ the Channel Islands, but anybody who has to consult Statutes of this kind for the pur-of advising people, or finding out what the law is, are caused the greatest possible consternation by a Bill of this sort. There are 20 lines entirely of legislation by reference. It takes an extraordinarily able man to decipher what changes the Bill effects. Does it in any way affect Ireland or the Isle of Man, or is it confined entirely to the Channel Islands? I have not looked up these statutes, otherwise I may be able to answer some of these questions myself.

Major Sir B. FALLE

My hon. and gallant Friend (Colonel Burn) is not certain in his facts. No horse can be sent to the Channel Islands without a veterinary certificate being given before it is put on board. On its arrival in the Channel Islands it must be immediately looked at by the Island veterinary surgeon, a man well known in his profession, and a very capable man, who gives his whole time, energy and ability in looking after these matters. It is practically impossible for any old or injured horse to arrive in the Channel Islands. I do not think the hon. Member knows the Channel Islands as well as I do. There is only one port at which the animals can be landed, and there is a public abbatoir there, to which they are taken if the local veterinary surgeon thinks they are not fit to undertake journeys, or work. The importation of horses is really from France rather than from this side. Every precaution is taken in the Channel Islands, that any lame, injured or worn-out horse should be slaughtered on arrival. I say that with knowledge of the place.


I have done my best to understand this Bill, but have failed. This is legislation by reference, against which the right hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury) protests, and yet I see his name at the baek of the Bill. It reminds me of a practice in Scotland on All Fool's Day, when you get a note from somebody which says that the note must not be opened until you get to a certain place, and inside are the lines Do not laugh, do not smile, But send the fool another mile. In this Bill you are sent on from one Act to another, and then you come back to the place where you started just as wise as you were before you started. The hon. Member (Mr. Bawlinson) was justified in appealing for an explanation of the Bill. Another hon. Member (Sir B. Falle) protested against the implication of cruelty in the Channel Islands. He knows as well as I do that the Island people are the most humane people, and if the Bill suggests that the people in the Channel Islands are more cruel than they are in any other part of the country, I join in protesting against a suggestion of that sort. It shows the confusion of mind which a Bill of this sort creates when it is passed upon the principle of legislation by reference. I hope that the right hon. Baronet will explain what the Bill does. With the glimmerings of intelligence which I possess, I think I am in favour of the intentions of the promoters, but I should like them more clearly expressed than they have been up to the present.


I really think the last speaker has done himself less than justice when he says that with the faint glimmerings of intelligence which he possesses he cannot understand the Bill. The hon. Member possesses one of the shrewdest minds in this House, and if he had wanted he could have mastered this somewhat stupidly drawn Clause 1. I believe the draftsman is to blame and I think the promoters should have pursued a much more modern method than has been employed. The mischief is we have a continuous recital of two Acts of Parliament. If you omitted the whole portion of the Bill down to line 18 and said that so-and-so in the previous Act shall be deemed to mean so-and-so, it would have done all that was necessary. All the Bill seeks to do is to substitute the words "United Kingdom" for the words which have been hitherto used—"Great Britain." My hon. and gallant Friend (Colonel Burn) in moving the Third Reading of this Bill, though it was denied very vehemently by the hon. and gallant Baronet who sits beside me (Sir B. Falle) said that this traffic, though forbidden as between ports of Great Britain, is not forbidden in the wider sense between ports in the United Kingdom, and in the result that the traffic was carried on without the supervision which the Act requires between the ports of this country and the Channel Islands. I only rise to say that, although Clause 1 is clumsily drawn, it is really quite clear in the end. If as is alleged there is this unregulated traffic proceeding between the ports of this country and the Channel Islands, this Bill if it were passed would stop it.


I would like to ask my hon. and learned Friend if he understands this Bill. You are going to alter "Great Britain" to the "United Kingdom," that is, you prohibit exports from the Channel Islands to France. Have you any powers to legislate for the Channel Islands? I did not propose to divide against the Bill, but I cannot support a measure which none of the promoters seems to understand.


I do not know if my hon. Friend the Member for the Western Isles (Dr. Murray) will be flattered by the words used by the hon. and learned Member who has just spoken. He tells us that this Bill is absolutely vital and we ought to understand it, and at the same time says it is a most imperfect Bill marred by the stupidity of the draftsman, and altogether one requires to read it in the most careful way. Now we have two eminent lawyers, the hon. Member for the Ealing Division (Sir H. Nield) and the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. Rawlinson) who take different views on the subject. By means of this discussion we have arrived at some glimmering of what the Bill really means. When I first read this Bill I thought it was going to touch something much more important and fundamental in regard to which, in common with all other Members of this House, I have been inundated with letters and literature as to the iniquity of this traffic. This Bill is not going to touch that at all. It is merely a piece of legislation to bring within the rules that now regulate the ports of Great Britain, the ports of the Channel Islands. When we ask what about Ireland, we get no answer. I wonder if there are any Irish Members present who are prepared to say that special legislation has to be passed in order to protect this country against the iniquity that may be wrought in Ireland as well as in the Channel Islands. I find that, as far as the Channel Islands are concerned, the Member most closely connected with them repudiates entirely the view taken by the hon. and gallant Gentleman who moved the Third Reading. It seems a matter of considerable importance that we should find out whether there is such extreme laxity in the Channel Islands, and whether they do in fact take so very little care and have so very little regard for those things that they require this special legislation. The promoters of the Bill have no doubt good reasons for pressing it, but I think we should have some further explanation. I am really surprised my right hon. Friend the Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury) has nothing to tell us about this Bill. Why is that? The hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Sir T. Bennett) is also here, but not another one of the long list of Members who support the Bill feels sufficiently anxious or sufficiently zealous to take the trouble to explain it. Except the hon. Member for Torquay (Colonel Burn) and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London and the hon. Member for Sevenoaks none of the other supporters of the Bill are here. If the right hon. Member for the City of London prefers to remain silent, I beg the hon. Member for Sevenoaks to give us the advantage of a lucid statement on the Bill.


I have been appealed to three times by the last speaker, and that appeal I cannot resist even had it been made only once. He asked me to explain the details of this Bill. I am in sympathy with the general purposes of the Bill, but I make the frank confession that I trusted so fully to the good feeling and the capacity of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Torquay (Colonel Burn) that I have not taken a very prominent part either in the promotion or the drafting of the Bill; in fact, in the drafting of the Bill I have taken no part whatever. It seems to me that this discussion has given us an opportunity for enlarging our elementary knowledge of political geography. We may be able to ascertain whether Guernsey and the Channel Islands are within the limits of the United Kingdom, and when we have cleared up that point probably the whole question will appear clearer to us. I am under the impression that there has been a loophole which has allowed a great deal of this traffic to go forward from one of the Channel Islands. Those are the facts or the assumed facts on which I form my judgment of the Bill. An hon. Member has told us that the assumed facts are no facts, and that the premises on which the Bill is based do not exist. I am sure there are Members of the House who can either confirm or refute that statement I have no information on the subject. If it be the case that there is a loophole through which a great deal of this traffic is allowed to pass, it is obviously necessary that some such Bill as this should be passed. On that understanding I give the Bill my full support.


I did not intend to say anything until the hon. and learned Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Rawlinson) and the hon. and learned Member for Ealing (Sir H. Nield) stated that they could not understand the Bill. I do not know whether this is the Bill which is to stop the export of old horses to the Continent. If it is, I should like to give it my whole-hearted support. I cannot understand the Bill because the hon. and gallant Member for Torquay (Colonel Burn) did not explain it very fully. Several Members who are backing the Bill know a great deal about the procedure of the House, but they are remaining silent. I think we ought to have some explanation of the Bill, and I ask either that it be explained or that it be postponed.


I do not pretend to be a lawyer, either professional or amateur, I am only an ordinary human being. Just as I protested against cruelty to human beings in the War, so I protest against this traffic in animals. It means that those who are not able to speak for themselves are made the victims of others who desire to make profit out of their necessity and sufferings. I come from a constituency where there is considerable traffic in these unfortunate animals. Those concerned have got the best they can out of the animals and they then make the animals a matter of trade, regardless of the conditions of export or the conditions under which the animals may be used in future. As trade unionists we have done our best to protect our members from any possibility of ill-treatment in any connection, and we certainly think it is wrong that dumb animals should be treated as mere machines for the purpose of producing profits and afterwards be used for the convenience of those who would trade on their sufferings. I cannot explain the law, but I do not believe that Irishmen, or even people in the Channel Islands, desire to use animals cruelly. I do not care what the technicalities of the law may be, I think the Bill ought to pass. I am sure that the people of Ireland and of the Channel Islands will not protest against the measure because of any technicalities which may arise. We are against cruelty, whether to animals or to human beings, and we shall exercise what influence we possess to protect animals as well as human beings.

Lieut.-Colonel HURST

I do not happen to be a promoter of the Bill, but I am a lawyer, and since the question was raised I have looked up the legal definition of "United Kingdom." The suggestion has teen made that the United Kingdom includes the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, and that in that event it would be ultra vires for this House to legislate for those islands. The legal meaning of "United Kingdom" is, as a matter of fact, England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, and the Isle of Wight, but the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man are excluded from the definition. Bearing that in mind the effect of this Bill is to extend the prohibition of this traffic from the United Kingdom, in the sense of Great Britain, to the United Kingdom and Ireland, that is to say, the only alterations of the law are the extension of the existing restrictions on this traffic from the United Kingdom to Ireland and the inclusion of the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man among the ports of destination. Therefore, I submit that the objections raised against the passage of the Bill are really irrelevant.


I came to the House with the definite intention of supporting this Bill. No one can view the traffic in these worn-out horses without realising that it is an abominable traffic. Some drastic legislation should be framed immediately to deal with the matter. I cannot understand the silence of the promoters of the Bill. What is the right hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury) doing? If Members on this side of the House had introduced a Bill in which he was particularly interested and no Member on this side had risen to support the Bill, he would have been one of the first to repudiate them and would have spoken, probably, words that would have filled the OFFICIAL REPORT to the extent of six or seven columns. I appeal to the right hon. Baronet to give us some information as to his intentions. What is his interpretation of the Bill? I do not suppose that he himself or the hon. and gallant Member for Torquay (Colonel Burn) have any idea of camouflaging this matter, or have any desire to rush the Bill through without fully explaining it to the House. The organisation which has done so much in the interests of worn-out horses would not like that this Debate should close without some expression of opinion from the hon. Member to whom I have referred. I therefore appeal to my hon. Friends to rise—if I may say so respectfully, to manfully and courageously rise to an occasion of this description. The interpretation given by the previous speaker has confused me and I want to be a little more enlightened. I am reminded of the fact that certain Acts of Parliament have been made applicable to the Channel Islands, but in one case brought before my notice this week, that of the Industrial and Provident Societies Act, I am told it has been made applicable in the Channel Islands, but that the authorities have refused to utilise their power under that particular Act. Supposing the Channel Islands are not to come within the scope of the Bill, what is to prevent an unscrupulous individual, anxious for pecuniary profit, from shipping worn-out horses to the Channel Islands, and then, by the process known by those engaged in transport as re-shipping, to continue to carry on this trade?

Lieut.-Colonel HURST

This Bill does in terms prohibit shipment from any port in the United Kingdom to any port outside the United Kingdom, which would include the Channel Islands ports.


I only want to be perfectly clear. My sole desire is to stop this traffic, and that is why I appeal to the promoters for more illumination, for more light, in order that we may give a definite decision. Their silence in this Debate astounds me. I am sure they have no desire to rush the Bill through without elucidating it. They have watched the Bill through Committee and utilised the best that was in them to promote its object, and surely they are not going to allow this Debate to close without giving the House the benefit of their views and their knowledge.

4.0 P.M.


There is no need now to appeal to the hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury) because he has cleared out. I think the hon. Member for Kettering (Mr. Waterson) deserves credit for being the only one who has the power to move him out of his place. This Bill has created more intense satisfaction throughout the country than any other Bill I have ever known to come before the House. We have been deluged with correspondence asking us to support it, and therefore the silence which prevails is strange to us all. Can the promoter have inadvertently put something into the Bill which some vested interest is up against? I do not know if that is so, but it does not matter so far as I am concerned, because what I am out for is to prevent this traffic in worn-out horses, no matter what interest is concerned. Nor does it matter to me who the promoters of the Bill are. The outstanding fact remains that an inhuman traffic is being carried on in this country which is a disgrace to everybody concerned. It is a traffic which makes our blood boil, and our spirits revolt, and we have an opportunity to-day of putting a stop to it. When these horses are worn out, why cannot they be put out of their misery in a proper and scientific manner? To trade and make profit out of their suffering is a brutal thing, and that is what we protest against. I hope there is no possible subterfuge or undercurrent which has produced the silence of the right hon. Baronet (Sir F. Banbury), and even his exclusion from the House. If he has run away from the Bill we will stand by it and destroy this abominable traffic.


It is amazing to me that the outstanding supporter of the Bill and the champion of dumb animals should run away when he gets an opportunity of saying a word in favour of that cause. If he were here, I should say—


He is here!


The return of the warrior!


I am pleased to see he is here, because I have an opportunity of saying when the right hon. Gentleman is present what I did not care to say when he was absent. It seems to me his outlook is so bound up in things human that he has fastened upon the championship of dumb animals in order to satisfy that little craving sense of justice and sympathy which will arise even in the hardest heart. I am pleased to see he has supported a cause like this, but it seems to me that having found a cause to champion, and having got an opportunity to-day of championing it, he is now giving the impression to the House and the country that he has only been playing with the matter. If he is not prepared to say a word in support of this Bill, but only to sit there quietly while it passes, we have a right to doubt his genuineness. I am pleased that we have a Bill of this kind before us to-day. We have heard with great surprise of the shameful traffic that is taking place in worn-out horses, and it seemed to me almost incredible that it was possible for people, having used horses and been served by them faithfully, to seek to make a profit out of them in this way. I heard with great surprise that some of the animals that were being used in that way were animals that have come out of the mines, and it seemed to me almost incredible that a horse that has worked in a mine and laboured under dark and dismal conditions in the lonely caverns below ground, sometimes miles away from a pit shaft, that may have been down there for years without seeing the light of day, animals that appeal to the sympathy of those who know them, and who are apt sometimes to be hardened by similar conditions—it seemed incredible they should be used in this way for the purpose of making profit. The kinder way surely would be to bring these animals to the surface—


Really this is not the time to go into questions of that sort. The scope of this Bill is limited to traffic with the Channel Islands.


I am obliged for your ruling. I think the champions of the Bill ought to give some explanation of its more technical side, but I am pleased at any rate that it is at least a measure of justice to dumb animals which has been resisted up to the present time. At any rate, we are making a beginning, and this Bill is therefore a good omen, and we may be able to improve upon it as time goes on. I do think the right hon. Baronet should say a few words in support of the Bill. I should be sorry to set aside some of the opinions I have held about him, although I do not suppose he would be very much disturbed about that. It has been a consolation to me since I came into the House that at least he has shown some enthusiasm in this direction, and unless he expresses himself on behalf of these dumb creatures that cannot speak for themselves, creatures that have worked in their day and generation, and sometimes given more service than not only some of the workers but some of the people who are directing these organisations, I shall be disappointed. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will redeem his reputation and save the British public from putting an interpretation upon his silence that I am sure they will be likely to do in view of the attitude he has taken up to-day. I shall support the Bill, but I not only want to feel that I am going into the Lobby on behalf of a good cause, but that I am going in with a Member of this House who has a good deal of leeway to make up in things humane. Before I came to this House I thought he was beyond redemption, and that is the general opinion of Labour outside the House of Commons. I should not like to think he was only half-hearted in his sympathy with the things that he sup- ports, and I hope, therefore, he will say a word on behalf of these animals, to save his reputation and to save the public putting a wrong interpretation upon his silence.


I only rise to remove, perhaps, an objection to this Bill. The authority of this House to legislate for the Channel Islands has been questioned, and I should like to read what Professor Dicey says in regard to that matter. I think we shall all agree he is an eminent authority upon constitutional practice.


On a point of Order. I understand this Bill does not attempt to legislate for the Channel Islands, and, therefore, is it in order to go into the law on this subject?


The lawyers appear to differ. So it is not for me to give an opinion.


I think it would clear the matter up. He said: The Crown can legislate by Proclamations or Orders in Council for a newly-conquered territory, and has claimed the right, although the validity is always doubtful, to legislate for the Channel Islands by Order on Council. Acts of Parliament further applying to the Channel Islands are, I am told, as a matter of custom, extended to the Islands by Order in Council. There is, however, of course, no doubt that an Act of Parliament can, in any case, override the effect of an Order in Council, and that such an Act is of effect in any part of the British Dominions to which it extends.