HC Deb 13 April 1934 vol 288 cc670-84

Order for Second Reading read.

2.8 p.m.


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

In moving the Second Reading, it is unnecessary for me to speak at any length, because I am glad to believe that the principle of the Bill meets with the unanimous support of the whole House and I am convinced that it will conform to the almost unreserved conscience of the nation. The Bill is in effect a three-Clause Bill, and its sole intent—and I would emphasise this—is to prohibit a repetition of the three features of a rodeo exhibition to which general exception was taken when there was a rodeo in this country 10 years ago, that is, the lassoing, the wrestling and the riding of beasts exhibited as unmanageable. The general opinion of the House is well informed on this question. There can be no doubt that incidents such as those which this Bill seeks to prohibit do and must unnecessarily impose a great deal of suffering upon the animals involved, and this House should take the earliest possible opportunity of passing legislation to prevent a repetition of what took place 10 years ago. Then the whole Press of the country was unanimous in condemning the incidents which took place then. Will the House permit me to read a description of a rodeo performance which was witnessed by Mr. H. W. Nevinson, the well known war correspondent. He wrote: I have been an 'eye-witness' of a rodeo, and the part which had to do with bullocks was, to me, a cruel and disgusting spectacle. The game was for a cowboy to seize the bullock by the horns and twist its head and neck round till the agony compelled the creature to lie down, just as the pain compels a man or boy to lie down if you twist his arm long enough…. We should unite in protesting against this part of the cowboy performance. With regard, however, to the particular rodeo of Wembley held in 1924 the following is an extract from an article which appeared in the "Sporting Life," which is essentially a sporting paper and no accusation of crankiness can be made against the editor or those connected with it. It said: In the lassoing and throwing of steer, and in the wrestling with them, the rodeo challenged criticism strongly; it was a direct challenge to the British idea of sport and of fair play for the dumb animals and the under dog…. It is not sport—which is what visitors to the rodeo were asked to believe. The lassoing and throwing of domestic animals more or less tame in a comparatively confined place like the Wembley Stadium, big though it is, is comparable with the coursing of rabbits in a field in which all the bolt-holes are stopped—the kind of 'sport' which is forbidden by law in this country. I am informed that more than 50 per cent. of the animals, particularly the steers which were used in connection with the rodeo in 1924, were injured. May I give the House a few instances? On the evening of 17th June one steer had its leg broken, two steers were found to be very lame, and one had its left horn broken. On 18th June one steer had its neck broken, two were very lame and eight were bleeding from the nostrils. On 19th June one had its neck broken after being thrown several times, one had the right horn broken, one had the left ear badly lacerated and two were very lame. On 16th June two steers had their horns broken. On 17th June at the afternoon performance one steer had a horn broken, another had a horn loosened and was bleeding from the mouth and had a bleeding wound on the rump. At the evening performance one steer after being thrown had the left horn broken. On 20th June at the afternoon performance two steers were bleeding at the nose after wrestling and at the evening performance two others were in the same condition.

It is significant in connection with these incidents that the public were not lacking in expressing their disapproval of what they were witnessing, and adverse reports appeared in most of the responsible papers of this country. The House may ask why it is necessary for this Bill to be presented to-day. A few weeks ago advertisements appeared in our national Press that another rodeo exhibition was to be held. The Society, of which I am chairman, at once wrote to the promoters of the proposed exhibition and asked for an assurance that no turns—if I may be permitted for using that term—similar to those to which I have referred should be permitted. In reply a letter was received from Mr. Lionel Bettinson, the managing director of the National Sporting Club, in which, while he emphatically disputed the contention that cruelty was necessarily involved, said: No assurance therefore can be given of the character that you ask. It is too early yet for the detailed programmes to have in any way been worked out, but it is quite certain that a number of matters and I lay emphasis on these words— to which your letter relates will form part and parcel of the rodeo, indeed, they are inherent in its very inception. That letter was written on the 5th of last month. It has been represented to me that, in consequence of a communication which has been addressed by my right hon. Friend's Department after I had raised the question in the House, to the solicitors acting for the promoters, in all probability the idea of holding the proposed rodeo would be abandoned. In fact, it has been represented to me that no application has been made to the Ministry of Labour during the last week or so for a permit for any of the necessary performers—there are a large number of them—to come from abroad to this country. I have caused inquiries to be made, and I can assure the House that the arrangements for the holding of this rodeo in June are being actively proceeded with, and personally I have no doubt at all that unless this Bill is put on to the Statute Book of the Realm the rodeo will be held.

I have said that I believe that, in principle, this Bill has the unanimous and informed support of every hon. Member of this House, and it is therefore unnecessary for me to dilate at any great length upon the question, namely, whether or not cruelty is involved. There can be no doubt that it is. Another aspect of the matter has been represented to me. It has been suggested that the existing law is sufficient to punish any acts of cruelty which may take place in connection with an exhibition of this nature. It has been suggested, particularly in another place, that Section 1 of the Protection of Animals Act, 1911, is sufficient. I would point out to the House that in 1924 the Society over which I have the honour to preside instituted before the Hendon magistrates a prosecution which arose out of certain admittedly most deplorable incidents which took place in connection with the rodeo of that year. I have been at pains to read through the shorthand note of the proceedings before the justices. There can be no doubt that it was proved up to the hilt, in fact, it was, in effect really not seriously denied by the defendants, that suffering has been caused to many animals, but the point was taken by the late Sir Edward Marshall Hall, then Mr. Marshall Hall, that no cruelty had taken place within the meaning of the Act.

The point which was taken and emphasised was that within the meaning of this particular Section no case of cruelty had been established. Another point was pressed in that case, which was to the effect that if a prosecution was to be brought against anyone at all, it should not have been brought against those who were actually summoned, but against those responsible for the exhibition. The result was that by a majority of one—the voting was six to five—the summons was dismissed. I emphasise this point to-day because it has been represented to me in very strong terms that a Bill of this nature is not necessary as it is contended that the present law is sufficient to deal with any case of cruelty which may arise. I ask the House to give this Bill a Second Beading to-day. It would be deplorable, not only in the interests of animals, but in the interest of human beings, if a disgusting exhibition similar to that which took place in the year 1924 were allowed to be shown again in this country. I would refer to the circumstance that in three of our great national newspapers leading articles have appeared emphasising that this Bill should be passed, and undoubtedly the public conscience has been aroused that it is proposed to hold again a rodeo in this country.

I would say that it is definitely not the desire of the promoters of this Bill that it should operate in any way other than to prevent a repetition of the incidents which took place when the last rodeo was held in 1924. I understand that certain of my hon. Friends, although agreeing in principle with the Bill, although being anxious that the advertised rodeo should not take place, are rather apprehensive that the wording of the Bill may go a little beyond the objects of the memorandum of the Bill. Let me say this, that the sole intention of the Bill is to stop those incidents which involved cruelty at the last rodeo from taking place at the forthcoming one, if indeed it is permitted to be held. I would assure my hon. Friends who object to the wording of some of the Clauses in this Bill, because they consider that they go too far, that if they will allow a Second Reading of the Bill to-day there will, I am sure, be no difficulty at all in our arranging a form of words which will limit the operation of the Bill to the cases which I have already mentioned. I give that definite undertaking.

It is not necessary for me, in moving the Second Reading, to say much more. I would, however, make this comment, that we who are responsible for this Bill regard it as being in the nature of an emergency Measure. We believe that the rodeo, if it is permitted, will be held in June or, at the latest, at the beginning of July of this year, and that instances of cruelty will occur. I am glad indeed to see my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary here this afternoon, and I would appeal to him as strongly as I can to support this Bill, and I would also appeal to the Government to do what I believe they will do, namely, give facilities for the Bill to pass on to the Statute Book of the Realm at an early date. It is my intention, if the House gives a Second Reading to this Bill, to ask that it may be referred to a Committee of the Whole House, and be put down for Committee stage on Friday next. I have endeavoured in a very few words to state the case for this Bill, and I sincerely hope the House will give it a unanimous Second Reading, because there can be no doubt at all that every Member of this House would regret it, as also would the country, if the scandal of similar incidents to what took place in 1924 were again permitted here.

2.25 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel MOORE

I beg to second the Motion.

The hon. Member for Gillingham (Sir R. Gower) has put the case so convincingly and lucidly that little is left to be said. I dissociate myself from any charge of supporting a crankish Bill. This is a Bill designed simply to retain clean sport for the British people. We want to prevent any unnecessary cruelty of the kind which we saw 10 years ago, and we want to prevent British taste in sport from being shocked again by cruelties such as we saw at Wembley in 1924. Many hon. Members witnessed that exhibition and saw those broken legs, broken backs, broken necks, bleeding nostrils, and bleeding eyes, and the frightened eyes looking out through the blood. That is not the sort of sport for British people.

We can all admire a good horse race. I love seeing a horse race and the perfectly bred animals competing with the honest desire to win. Anyone who saw Brown Jack at Ascot has never been more thrilled; they saw a contest in which there was no fear on the part either of the jockey or the horse, or any antagonism even on the part of those who lost. I reinforce the plea made by my hon. Friend to those hon. Members who may have slight doubts. We undertake to devise a form of words, before the Committee stage, which will take place next Friday, to ensure that only the rodeo is affected by this Bill and no other form of sport will be antagonised or upset by it. [HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear"!] From the cheers, and the good will which is apparent in every part of the House, the case is already accepted, and as the time is late I will not take up any more time. I ask for unanimous consent to the Second Reading of the Bill.

2.28 p.m.


We do not desire to oppose the Bill, but I wish to draw attention to a provision which is contained in it. The Bill is designed to prevent the rodeo, but Clause I says: No person shall promote, produce, exhibit, or take part in, any public contest, public performance, or public exhibition which consists of—

  1. (a) throwing, casting, roping, or catching, with ropes or other appliances, any animal; or
  2. (b) wrestling, fighting, or struggling with any animal; or
  3. (c) riding or attempting to ride any untamable or uncontrollable animal."
My immediate duty is to call attention to—perhaps I may also use the word used by the promoter—a turn which has interested thousands of people in this country, that is, the boxing kangaroo. It is a perfectly simple and amusing turn, and involves no cruelty. The Bill, as introduced, will make this exhibition illegal. I feel that it is not the intention of the promoters to preclude any public exhibition in which an animal in no sense suffers cruelty, or contains anything which the ordinary Britisher would taboo. I call attention particularly to the words riding or attempting to ride any untamable or uncontrollable animal. It is very difficult in this country to explain what we mean by an untamable or uncontrollable animal. Many of us have been to exhibitions at the Olympia or the Agricultural Hall, and have been interested and highly amused to see a young girl, after putting six lions or lionesses through their paces, ride one. I do not mean ride it round the ring, but she sat on it and did a form of ride. I do not believe that the promoters intend to preclude any such exhibition, and that the only intention is specifically to exclude the rodeo performance. The Bill contains words which have greater meaning and more far-reaching consequences, but the categorical assurances given have been very satisfactory. If it is understood and recorded that the intention of the promoters is in no way to extend the powers of the Bill but to limit them to the rodeo performance, we propose not to offer any objection.

2.30 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel APPLIN

As one who has spent most of his life in training horses, breaking horses and generally dealing with horses, I want to add my word of protest against that abominable show which I witnessed and in which wild horses were supposed to be broken and ridden by a rough rider. Those horses were really perfectly tame and might have been ridden by anybody, but they had a certain part of their body which is unmentionable tied up with a rope. The agony caused them was so great that even before they were mounted two men had to hold them, an they were kicking, struggling and squealing, while the men got on their backs. Then, of course, the horses did their best to get rid of their riders, because of the terrible agony that they were suffering. I have seen that with my own eyes, and it is in order to protest against that terrible agony to horses that I have stood up. With regard to the boxing kangaroo; the Bill will not stop in that any way. There is no word about boxing in the Bill; the word is "fighting." Fighting is an illegal amusement, whereas boxing is legal. The word "fighting" means what it says, and is not like boxing, and therefore there will be no need to alter that part of the Bill.


Has not the hon. and gallant Member seen many boxing contests which are struggles?

Lieut.-Colonel APPLIN

In struggling with an animal you must catch hold of it. The whole point of a boxing kangaroo is that you do not touch him except to hit him on the nose. That point can be dealt with in Committee. We have the assurances of the promoters of the Bill, of which I express my very warm approval and my hearty support.

2.34. p.m.

Colonel ROPNER

I support the principle of the Bill. Public opinion as to what constitutes an act of cruelty varies very largely between one country and another and between one generation and another, but I feel sure that it is the unanimous opinion of the House that, in this generation and in this country, such exhibitions as the rodeo should be stopped as soon as possible.

2.35 p.m.


When one looks at the backing of the Bill, one cannot help seeing that it is backed by the more-sporting hon. Members. I came down to the House with the intention of opposing this Bill to the extreme limit, but, after hearing what has been said by the Mover and Seconder of the Bill, I am prepared, having had a vast experience in entertainment circles, to accept their assurance that the interests of the entertainment industry in this country will be safeguarded. One thing that strikes me as rather strange is that there should be any necessity for this Bill at all. My experience, which extends over many years, suggests that the Home Office have sufficient powers to deal with the whole of this matter without a Bill of any kind, and I find that, particularly in the Provinces, any act of cruelty that may occur is taken notice of more rapidly than in London. I think that the Home Office are able to prevent a bullfight in this country. The rodeo is a bullfight, and is just as repugnant, just as cruel, and just as degrading as any bullfight in Spain.

I think it has been said in another place that there is at present no Act of Parliament to restrict or prevent the carrying out of such performances in this country, but the Act of 1911 makes it an offence to torture, infuriate, terrify or bait any animal, or to keep, use, manage, or assist in the management of any premises or place where such degrading exhibitions take place. Surely all sensible men must agree that that gives to the Home Office power to say what shall or shall not take place in London or its environs, and it would be quite possible to give the promoters of these rodeo performances to understand that their performance as originally given in this country will not be tolerated again—not even the abbreviated performance which took place afterwards, when the case was brought before certain magistrates and a division of opinion arose which resulted in the dismissal of the case. It is not commonly known that that case which was brought before the magistrates was nothing like the case that could have been brought had proceedings been taken much earlier. The promoters of the contest got wind of what was going to happen, and, when they were prosecuted, the exhibition was not half as cruel as, the original performance.

The entertainment industry, and the League which includes almost every industry in the entertainment world in this country, look upon these rodeo performances as degrading and they consider—and I do not think there is any showman in the country who would not say the same—that the police have power to stop these things. It the promoters of such performances knew that, if they came here, they would not be allowed to "get away with it", they would not come to this country. Again, there is the Ministry of Labour. Surely there would be no difficulty in action such as they took with regard to a certain circus being taken in connection with rodeo performances. I believe it has been suggested that some of these performances emanate from Canada, but I hope that no part of His Majesty's Dominions has such a blot on its national character as the country that sent such a degrading exhibition here 10 years ago. I welcome the Bill, and hope that it will be so amended as not to interfere with the liberty and the entertainment of the British public.

2.40 p.m.


This Bill, which has been brought in for the prevention of unnecessary suffering to animals, has the interest of us all and the sympathy of us all, and I do not think that there is any Member in the House this afternoon who would obstruct the rapid passage of such a Bill into law. I detain the House for but a very few minutes to comment very shortly on a deficiency in the arguments that have been presented in favour of the Bill. We have been told at considerable length in pitiful words about the sufferings of animals, but I would suggest that one of the most compelling reasons for passing such a Bill into law is the need of maintaining the eminent and supreme dignity of man. The dignity of man is a greater consideration and merits even more attention than that due to the suffering of the lower animals. Another point worth considering is, that while we must tolerate suffering, and, indeed, at times must tolerate cruelty, we cannot tolerate suffering and we cannot tolerate cruelty for private gain. Surgical operations are lamentable occasions; they are very often cruel in act, and shocking even to those who take part in them; but, if it were suggested that surgical operations should be performed in public in order that those who like to see painful and bloody scenes might satisfy their appetite for a price, it would be shocking, and public opinion would at once stop it.

From the point of view of making profit and gain out of suffering, this Bill has everybody's sympathy and support. I do, however, wish to utter one gentle word of protest that what is not allowable in considering the suffering of human beings should be pressed in considering the sufferings of animals. Those who have had the experience of attending before coroners and courts of law to deal, for instance, with motor-car injuries, know that, in dealing with cases in which human beings have been killed, both judges and eminent lawyers stop the medical witnesses when they begin to relate the sufferings and injuries of the dead person. "Multiple injuries" is considered sufficient. The courts do not like their feelings to be harrowed, and justice pursues its course best when it is not clouded by feelings of sympathy which have been strained by tales of blood and suffering. I think that this Bill can stand on its merits. The dignity of man is outraged when profit is made out of the sufferings of our lowly dumb fellow creatures. Whether we need have our feelings hurt is a matter on which I would like the House to allow me to express a gentle protest. There are cruelties in industry; there are cruelties upon the roads; and yet, if I were to try in this House, during the discussion on another Bill, to spend time in dilating upon the sufferings of little children, there would be Members of the House who would think that there were many other matters connected with motor cars and traffic which were worthy of more prolonged attention. I am glad, however, that this Bill has been presented, and I am pleased to support it.

2.44 p.m.


The object of this Bill, as explained in such clear and concise terms by the promoters and as set out clearly in the Memorandum attached to the Bill, is to prevent certain things from taking place which form part of the performance known as rodeo. My hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Sir R. Gower) has stated that there was very considerable feeling when the rodeo show was produced at the British Empire Exhibition in 1924, especially in regard to the lassoing and throwing of a steer. The result was that, as he has told us, proceedings were taken at that time by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, but unfortunately, my hon. Friend said, the case then brought forward was dismissed by a majority of the magistrates. Only a short time ago, in March of this year, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was asked in the House whether he would take steps to prevent the holding of the rodeo contest which it was proposed should take place at the White City from the 9th June to the 6th July this year. My hon. Friend was told that there was no power to prohibit such a performance. I take it that the Bill is brought forward in consequence of that reply and its object is to prevent the rodeo taking place by definitely declaring it to be illegal.

May I say a few words on the existing law? Although there is no power to prohibit a rodeo at present, there is a remedy available to deal with any cruelty that may occur. Reference has been made already to the Protection of Animals Act, 1911 which makes it an offence to torture, infuriate or terrify any animal"— and moreover it is an offence to— cause, procure or assist at the fighting or baiting of any animal or to keep, use, manage, or act or assist in the management of any premises or place for the purpose of or partly for the purpose of fighting or baiting any animal or to permit any premises or place to be so kept, managed or used. It has been suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle Central (Mr. Denville) that those powers might be sufficient, but before any action could be taken with regard to cruelty in respect of this Act that cruelty would have had to have taken place, and I take it that the object of the promotors is definitely to prevent cruelty taking place—to give no apportunity for the cruelty to occur.


I instanced a bull fight and said there is power to prohibit bull-fighting in any shape or form.


Even if that is so, I doubt very much whether that Act would cover such a performance as a rodeo. There is, at any rate, considerable doubt.

Since the last rodeo show took place there has been passed the Performing Animals (Regulation) Act, 1925, for the purpose of restricting the exhibition and training of performing animals. It is, however, still a question for legal decision whether this Act would in fact apply to a rodeo show.


We are advised that it would not.


I said it was a question for legal decision, and because there is that doubt I do not desire to say anything more in connection with that Act. I only want the House to realise that the Act is on the Statute Book.

Now may I turn to the necessity for this Bill. As previously indicated, in the event of any cruelty having taken place the existing law provides a remedy. Furthermore, it is understood that the majority of the cowboys taking part in the rodeo performance will be aliens. My right hon. Friend has in this connection made two statements to the House. He has made two things clear: Firstly, that it would not be a proper exercise of his statutory powers under the Aliens Order to exclude persons from this country merely because the object of their visit is to take part in a rodeo, and secondly—I desire to stress this on his behalf—under his existing powers he would be free to require the promoters of any rodeo show to remove the aliens either wholly or individually from this country if any sufficient reason should arise through the presence of alien participants in the rodeo. Moreover my right hon. Friend has made it clear to the House in very strong terms that he would not hesitate to take action in this respect if in his opinion it should become necessary. I only mention these powers so that the House shall know that there are existing powers which could in some measure deal with a rodeo performance. They should not be disregarded. I put it no higher than that.

It only remains to state the Government's intentions towards this Measure. It has a very representative backing. The Government, in accordance with their usual practice, do not intend to oppose the principle of the Bill. They will leave it to a free vote of the House to decide whether or not it should receive a Second Reading. I must, however, warn the House that, should it receive a Second Reading, its drafting will have to be very carefully considered. For instance, it provides in its present form that no person is to ride or attempt to ride any untameable or uncontrollable animal. If a horse at a circus took fright and became uncontrollable, I know what some of the consequences might be, but I am not sure what the consequences under the Bill might be. The promoters have given an assurance that the Measure will be strictly confined to proceedings at a rodeo. It is clearly not intended that a rider in such a case as I have mentioned should be liable to the full penalties of the Bill—a fine of £100 or imprisonment with hard labour for three months. But he might be so liable under the terms of the Bill as drafted. That is the type of thing we have to put right in Committee. The Government, then, have no objection to the Bill going before a Committee of the Whole House and gettings its further stages as soon as practicable, consistent with full consideration being given to details. They will certainly not oppose the Second Reading, and my right hon. Friend will give sympathetic consideration and attention to its further progress.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House for Friday next.—[Sir E. Gower.]

The remaining Order was read, and postponed.

Whereupon Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 2.

Adjourned at Six Minutes before Three o'Clock until Monday next, 16th April.