HC Deb 14 March 1930 vol 236 cc1665-72

Order for Second Reading read.


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

I have had such misfortune with this Bill, not in this House, but in the earlier Parliament of which I was a Member, that I am a little aghast at the luck turning so suddenly in my direction. It is with some confidence that I submit the Bill to the consideration of the House, although, had I known how things would have developed this morning, I would have taken a little more time to polish up my rhetorical phrases. The Protection of Animals Act, 1911, is the standard Act upon which this Bill is based. That Act shows that there are exemptions from its penalties for the coursing and hunting of any captive animal, unless such animal is liberated in an injured, mutilated or exhausted condition. Then there came the amending Act of 1921, which contained a provision making illegal the coursing or hunting of an animal in an enclosed space from which it had no reasonable chance of escape. Unfortunately, the amending Act of 1921 has not accomplished its purpose. Certain prosecutions have been instituted under that amending Act, but those prosecutions have generally proved futile, because of the difficulty which the Courts have experienced in interpreting the words "a reasonable chance of escape." This Bill seeks to repeal the ineffective amending Act of 1921 and substitutes a simple and straightforward Measure which, it is thought, will prevent any further difficulties in the courts of law.

The Bill will affect in particular two pursuits, one rabbit coursing and the other the hunting of the carted stag. I would draw the attention of the House to the anomalous position of the law relating to the protection of animals at the present time. About 100 years ago an Act was passed to stop the baiting of animals. A case came before the High Court in 1874 in which the suffering that had been caused to a rabbit came up for the consideration of the judges. It was then held that the term "baiting" could not be applied to the rabbit, because it could not defend itself, and that it applied only where an animal was attacked with violence and where it had the power to protect itself. As a result of that decision, we were left face to face with this anomalous conclusion that the bear, the badger, and the rat, or any animal that can protect itself, is protected by law, but the rabbit, which is defenceless, has no real protection. In this country, we pride ourselves on having got rid—as we were reminded the other day by the hon. Member who introduced a Bill dealing with another aspect of this same subject—of cock fighting and bear baiting, and we affect to despise the people of Spain for continuing bull fighting, but we still allow to be perpetrated in this country the coursing of the rabbit that has been brought into captivity, and the hunting of the carted stag.

Hon. Members will note that penalties will be invoked in the case of any person who promotes, arranges, conducts, assists or takes part in the hunting or coursing of any animal which is or has to his knowledge been kept in captivity or confinement and upon conviction he shall be liable to a penalty not exceeding £25 or a term of imprisonment. There are limitations. It will be seen, in Clause 4, that This Act 6hall not apply to the bona fide pursuit for the purpose of recapturing it of any animal which has escaped from confinement, or to the destruction of rats and mice under the provisions of the Rats and Mice (Destruction) Act, 1919. It may commend this Measure to the favourable consideration of the House if I say something of its history. A Bill somewhat on similar lines was introduced a quarter of a century ago, in 1906, and I am glad to observe that upon the back of that Bill was the name of the present Prime Minister. Therefore, for a quarter of a century this subject has been under consideration. In the year 1924, when I had the honour to be a Member of this House, I introduced the Bill under the Ten Minutes Rule, and obtained the consent of the House to its introduction. It was opposed at that time, but the matter was not carried to a Division. I tried on 60 evenings during that Session to get a Second Heading of the Bill, and on the 50th occasion or thereabouts the House kindly gave consent to the Second Heading. It would then have gone upstairs to receive, I hope, favourable consideration at the hands of a Standing Committee, but there came a political crisis, and, I am sorry to say, those who had the handling of that crisis had no concern for my Measure, and it fell in the general calamity.

I was not in the House in the subsequent Parliament, but I watched from afar what was done, and I would refer hon. Members who sit above the Gangway on this side of the House to the fact that in 1925, when I was not in this House, the same Bill was taken up by the then Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade, a member of the last Government, and he secured a Second Reading for the Bill. The Bill went upstairs to Standing Committee, where it received a very full and exhaustive criticism, and it came back to the House, where, on the Third Reading, the Debate was adjourned. I suggest that as this is not a new Measure and has already been exhaustively considered it might be given a, Second Reading to-day. In the year 1926, and in 1927, and in 1928, this Bill was brought forward, and, showing how these proposals cut across party differences in this House, a fact which is borne out by the names on the back of this Bill, the conduct of the Measure was undertaken during the first two years by Sir Wilfrid Sugden, a member of the Conservative party, and in the other year by the hon. Member who is now Under-Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs. In these circumstances I think the Bill might pass with general consent.

There are two arguments that I should like to meet. I have heard from some of my friends that we should give the time and care of this House to the protection of human beings rather than the protection of animals. There is not much force in that argument. The interest in the protection of animals, which has been quite marked of recent years, is the sign of a healthy social life, and, if one goes into the history of this country, it will be found that wherever there has been a move forward in the relief of the burdens on men and women at the same time the social conscience has been quickened as to its responsibility towards the animals under our care and attention. As interest was raised in the protection of animals in the early part of the last century so there was a movement to wipe out the penal laws which were at that time a scandal. It has been said that this House exists for the defence of the interests of the people and the whole community and, particularly, the most defenceless. The most defenceless things in our general community are the animals committed to our care, and their claims should receive consideration.

I have a suggestion to make to the Conservative party. Generally, upon these occasions, it is suggested that such Bills as this are only brought forward by those who have not sufficient regard to our national sentiment, and that proposals of this kind are not really in accordance with out national traditions. I only say this, that I cannot imagine any Bill brought forward in this House in support of which so many names can be invoked which represent all that is best in our English history and national character. There are some names on the back of this Bill, but sometimes I wish it might be possible to put on the back of a Bill the names of the great British people of past years who would have been associated with the Measure. If that had been possible, I should have put on the back of this Bill such names as these: Robert Burns, William Wordsworth—and I am prepared to give chapter and verse that it was in accordance with their writings—William Cowper, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Sir Walter Scott, Robert Browning, Thomas Hardy, John Galsworthy, John Masefield, and, if I might extend the list, I would include Harry Lauder and the Apostle Paul. The list is quite long enough, and all those names are seriously invoked. I would suggest also the names of one of the earliest of our English poets, George Gascoigne, who wrote his poem "The Hunted Hare": Are mlindes of men become so voyde of sense That they can joye to hurt a harmless thing; A sillie beast which cannot make defence? If that be so I thanke my Maker than For makyng me a beast and not a man.


What about Shakespeare?


I considered Shakespeare, but, as is generally the case, there is something in Shakespeare to be said on both sides. If I may go back earlier than Shakespeare to one of the greatest books in the world of literature, to the Book of Jonah, which ends with an unanswered question: And shall I not have pity upon Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than six score thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand, and also much cattle?

Colonel ASHLEY

This is an. excellent Bill, but I think we ought to have some explanation as to the attitude of the Government. We come down here and find, most unexpectedly, that the three previous Orders on the Paper cannot be taken for different reasons. The first Order has already been covered by another Bill; the second has not been printed, and in the case of the third Order no reason is given.


The reason given in the case of the third Order was that it is covered by another Bill.

Colonel ASHLEY

I was not in the House at the time. I am not criticising the decisions, but I am trying to point out that those who may be interested in this particular Bill have been unfairly restricted in their opportunity of criticism owing to the fact that the other three Bills, which would in the ordinary course have taken up all the time until four o'clock, have for one reason or another not come on. Naturally, one has great sympathy with the views of the hon. Member who has moved the Second Reading. One of the names he cited as likely to support a Bill of this kind was my great uncle William Cowper, who was a great supporter of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.


I quoted his name.

Colonel ASHLEY

I know. He started an institution for promoting kindness to wards dumb animals. Therefore, I am disposed by heredity to support the Bill. The only trouble I have with Bills which commend themselves to the House as a whole, and whose provisions are not unreasonable, is that I always feel it may be dangerous to support a Bill with excellent intentions, and then we would be asked to support another Bill which does not commend itself in the same way. No true sportsman would wish to chase, or hurt, or course any animal held in captivity and let out for the purpose of exercising skill in riding, or hunting. Therefore, I think that the Bill is one that we ought to support. But when one comes to a Bill such as that which was introduced a little time ago, and which said that you were not to chase or hunt an animal that is mentioned, simply because the promoters of the Bill seemed to think that the animal was more worthy of protection than any other, you come to a clearly defined line of demarcation. If an animal is held in captivity it is not sportsmanlike, not kind—it is cruel in a way—to chase that animal; but when you deal with wild animals which are not in captivity at all, and single them out, as the Bill referred to singled out a particular animal for protection, even though it is wild you embark upon a slippery slope where you may find yourselves stopping all hunting and shooting in this country.

My constituents in the New Forest are deeply interested in that particular form of sport, namely, hunting the wild deer. While I do not say that great improvements ought not to be and could not be made in the mode of killing deer, I think that stopping hunting altogether would be wrong, because it would involve gross interference with the liberty of the subject. This Bill goes about as far as you can go without interfering with legitimate sport. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] That is a matter of opinion. I shall support the Bill, and I hope that it will receive a Second Reading.


The House will welcome the sympathetic tone of the speech that we have just heard. The Mover of the Second Reading of the Bill, in a very graceful and interesting speech, set out the law upon this subject, and it is therefore unnecessary for me to go into that intricate matter. He also gave the history of previous legislation introduced into the House. It is true that a previous Bill received a Second Reading and had reached the Committee stage, but was not proceeded with further.


It was adjourned on Third Reading.


Reference has been made to the growth of public opinion, and I have no doubt that since the time to which I have just referred there has been an advance in public opinion in so far as the consideration of supposed cruelty to animals is concerned. The Government will offer no opposition, at this stage, to the Bill, which we prefer to leave entirely to the free vote of the House. When the Bill reaches Committee, as we expect it will after the unanimity expressed to-day, it may be necessary to move some Amendments, but that is the course which the Government generally adopt in regard to Bills.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.

Whereupon Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 3.

Adjourned at Half after Eleven o'Clock until Monday next, 17th March.