HC Deb 19 June 1925 vol 185 cc967-70

Lords Amendments: In page 4, lines 29 and 30, leave out "includes bird, reptile and fish," and insert "does not include invertebrates."

Brigadier-General COCKERILL

I beg to move,

"That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment."

This particular Amendment may, perhaps, not be held to be a drafting Amendment. I do not know whether it can be held to be an Amendment of substance. The House will observe that the definition of the word "animal" is being altered so that it shall not include "invertebrates." The effect of that is that it leaves out the performing flea. This Amendment is deliberately intended by its authors to exclude the performing flea from any possible benefit under this Act. I am not sure, but I think that the Home Office must accept the responsibility for excluding the flea from all the benefits which it otherwise might have enjoyed. I believe it was the Home Office that put this Amendment down, and I suppose it acted on the well-known legal maxim—

De minimis non curat lex.

Translated, that means that fleas do not worry the Home Secretary, or that about little things like fleas the law is careless. Of course that lays the responsibility upon the Home Secretary, but hon. Members opposite cannot be held free from all responsibility in this matter. In another place the flea had no friends, and the Members of the Liberal party even in this House are not now present to support it.

As hon. Members know, a flea can jump 30 times its own height, and it displays the greatest possible alacrity in rising in its place. This reason alone, I should have thought, would have commended it to Members of the Liberal party who would have been here when we are considering its hard case. But no! Nor do the other benches of the Opposition come any better out of it. The House is aware that the flea can draw 80 times its own weight. It is the most persistent and wonderful worker in the world. What is more it is absolutely independent of the capitalist, and needs no machinery to help it. I should have thought that this fact would have endeared it to the Socialist. Up to the present it has found no protector either on the Socialist or the Liberal benches. It may be "cabin'd, cribbed, confined" in an environment wholly uncongenial to it and yet we cannot now protect the flea under this Bill. It may be flogged and deprived of its natural sustenance, and yet no Liberal has held out a hand to it; no Socialist has offered it an arm. I am sorry to say that the case is even worse than that, because the Noble Lord who led the vendetta against the flea in another place was your predecessor in the Chair, Mr. Speaker. I trust there is nothing in that Chair to explain the ferocity with which the Noble Lord pursued the flea. Had it been the Woolsack, there might have been something in it.

Perhaps hon. Members may be surprised, and would like to know, why I accept this Amendment. It is only apparently changing the status of the performing flea. No Court of Law could have held under this Act that the performing flea was a performing animal, because under this Bill the animal must be trained, and I am assured that the performing flea is not trained. Hon. Members will no doubt recollect the performing flea, dressed in its little jacket, flourishing a little whip and driving a state coach which was dragged around on a glass surface by six or eight other fleas. To do that, I am informed that there is no training at all required for the flea, because you simply confine it in its strait-waistcoat with silk thread, or perhaps it is artificial silk, and its own struggles to be free agitates the whip and puts the state coach in motion. There is no training required in that respect, and in no case therefore could the performing flea have possibly come under this Bill. On this ground I think we may safely accept this Amendment.

This Bill does not include invertebrates. Perhaps hon. Members would like to know what will be included. The answer is the craniate vertebrates—mammals, birds, reptiles, batrachians, fish and cyclostomes. Hon. Members will be pleased to know that cyclostomes will be protected, because these are animals which, through some constitutional defect, are unable to keep their mouths shut. On all these grounds I think we ought to accept this Amendment. Finally, there is no reason why we should precipitate a conflict with another place over the body of a performing flea.


I think we should all, as far as the Chair is concerned, whether occupied by you, Mr. Speaker, or your predecessor, feel that we need not be anxious about it. What we are anxious about is in regard to fleas that perform on cocks, hens, and even on cockerels.


In view of the general character of the discussion which has taken place on this Amendment perhaps I may be allowed to make a few remarks. There are humane officials dealing with legislation and the administration of the law in connection with performing animals, and therefore we need not show any excessive zeal in regard to the provisions of this Bill. I feel strongly that those workers who earn their living in connection with performing animals should not be subjected to penalties which will inflict upon them a far greater hardship than they inflict on performing animals. I feel that on no occasion of this sort should a man be deprived of his liberty or the means of providing for his wife and family. I think we should be very careful in administering punishment in connection with what might be a mistake in regard to the treatment of performing animals. I hope these few remarks will be noted, and that those who administer this Bill when it becomes an Act will recognice that the rights of man are superior to the rights of fleas or any vertebrate animals.

Question, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment," put, and agreed to.

Subsequent Lords Amendments agreed to.