§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 11.7 a.m.
§ Mr. Russell (Wembley, South)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
This is the second attempt which has been made since the war to persuade Parliament to pass a Bill to regulate the sale of pet animals. The first Bill was introduced two years ago by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Devon, North (Brigadier Peto). The Second Reading of that Bill was unopposed and it passed through the Committee stage with some Amendments, but unfortunately after that no more time could be found for it and that was the end of it. I think I can safely say that the principles of that Bill had the support of the whole House, and it is a great pity that it did not become law that year. I think I can also safely say that there is no controversy over this Bill, and as evidence of that the hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood) is to second this Motion.
The Bill now before the House is almost identical with the former Bill after it had been amended in Committee. I am only sorry that the name of my hon. and gallant Friend who sponsored the Bill two years ago is not attached to the present Bill. This is because, unfortunately, I was unable to make contact with him in the few hours available on the day the Ballot took place, when we were anxious to secure as many names as possible. I hope that my hon. and gallant Friend will forgive that unfortunate omission.
The object of this Bill, briefly, is to prevent cruelty or suffering from being caused at all to pet animals rather than merely prosecuting people after an offence has been committed. In other words, if I may change the metaphore but not the animal, the object is to shut the stable door before the horse has bolted. The present law was laid down mainly by the Protection of Animals Act, 1911, and the Protection of Birds Act, 1933. The first of those two Acts gave power to the courts to punish anybody guilty of cruelty, but it gave no power to inspect pet shops or stores or any 521 market place so as to stop suffering or cruelty occurring at all.
The operative Section of that Act is rather a good example of Parliamentary legislation. The main point of it reads;If any person shall cruelly beat, kick, ill-treat, over-ride, over-drive, over-load, torture infuriate, or terrify any animal…such person shall be guilty of an offence of cruelty within the meaning of this Act.I think that is a very simple piece of phraseology which deserves great commendation. The experience of the R.S.P.C.A.—who, I may say, are responsible for having drafted the present Bill—is that unless animals offered for sale at pet shops or in a street are in a really bad physical condition as a result of prolonged suffering, proceedings under the 1911 Act very rarely succeed.
The Bill lays down that pet shops shall be licensed, including under the heading of "pet shops" stalls in market places. It seeks also to make reasonable regulations regarding the conditions in which animals are kept. It provides for the regular inspection of the premises, and it forbids the sale of puppies, kittens and chicks by men in the streets, which is probably the worst evil concerning the sale of pet animals today. It proposes also to forbid the sale of animals to children under 12 years of age. I had better explain that the definition "animal" includes any bird, beast, reptile or fish.
Clause 1 is the licensing Clause. At present anybody can start a pet shop. He may have no knowledge whatever of animals. He may be even a bad-tempered bully who has been prosecuted for cruelty to animals. I will in a moment quote a case in which that occurred. The premises in which the animals are kept may be entirely unsuitable for animals. There was a case reported by an inspector of the R.S.P.C.A. as recently as 11th January of this year of a man who had been convicted for cruelty. The report reads:This man has had three convictions for cruelty to dogs. On his last conviction, he was deprived for a year from keeping a dog. He left court, went straight back to his shop and put up a notice, 'Under New Management,' and he carried on the business under the name of his daughter.I think that hon. Members will agree that it is a very unsatisfactory state of affairs when a man can get round the law by doing that sort of thing.
522 I want to make quite clear that some pet shops are entirely satisfactory in every way, and it is only those which are not satisfactory which will suffer under this Bill. The only way to ensure that unqualified people do not run pet shop businesses is by a system of licensing. Therefore, under this Bill no one may keep a pet shop unless he is granted a licence to do so by a local authority. Of course, there will be a right of appeal against the refusal of the local authority to grant a licence.
Clause 3 deals with the inspection of pet shops, etc. It lays down that pet animals shall be sold only at approved premises. It will prevent the sale of animals from barrows or stalls—except in a market place—and by men in the streets. I think that most hon. Members have seen men in the streets with puppies tucked into voluminous coat pockets. I always believe in trying to see things for myself, and last Sunday morning I went to Club Row in the East End, in company with the Parliamentary organiser of the R.S.P.C.A. and one of their superintendents.
There were a large number of dogs, cats and other animals of all ages for sale. There were puppies shivering in children's cots—not a very suitable place for keeping puppies and showing them for sale. There was a litter of puppies and of kittens as well. Some were shivering so much that obviously they had been taken away from their mothers too soon. It was the usual wet morning, and some of the animals were damp and bedraggled. Another noteworthy thing was the appearance of the men selling the animals. Some of them had a very furtive look as if they were keeping a close watch for police officers. Some had fully grown dogs on leads or chains or even on bits of string. I rather gathered that a good many stolen dogs find their way to that market in due course. I spent a couple of hours there.
There are many other markets where pet animals are sold in various parts of the country. I think that hon. Members, if they have not seen that market, would derive a great benefit from a visit there. I have no confirmation concerning this particular market, but I have a report from an inspector of the R.S.P.C.A., dated 12th January, 1951, about other markets, and he says this: 523I say without hesitation that this puppy trade, or, I should say, racket, should be stopped by law. These dealers sell bitch puppies for dogs, forge pedigrees and palm them off on innocent buyers, mostly women, who pay anything to get a nice looking dog—and in nine cases out of ten they are taken in.One way of ending that is by this Bill.
Clause 4 deals with the inspection of pet shops. The trouble is that most pet shops are on private property, and no officer of the R.S.P.C.A. or any veterinary surgeon or practitioner has any right to enter the premises unless he is invited in. Therefore, he cannot see the conditions under which the animals are kept behind the scenes or in cellars. In addition to visiting Club Row, I have been round a number of pet shops in the London area, and I would have gone round more if time had been available. I should have liked to visit pet shops in the provinces as well, and to see the conditions there, but other hon. Members will, no doubt, be able to say something about them.
I saw a good number of premises where the conditions were unsuitable for the keeping of pets. Some had little ventilation; some had no form of heating. Others had no blinds over the shop windows, or over the doors—which may not be necessary at the moment, but which we hope will be some time this year—to protect the animals from the burning heat of the sun shining through glass into the stores. One shop had not only dogs and cats, but white mice, hens, chicks, guinea pigs, rabbits, fish, a pheasant, a tortoise, a goat and even a monkey for sale. It was rather appropriately named "Jungle Pet Stores."
In this particular shop one dog had very raw legs through constant scratching. Although it was in a separate cage, it was next door to a cage in which there were healthy looking dogs, and there was nothing to prevent it from nosing the other dogs and spreading infection. The guinea pigs were rubbing their noses up against broken glass—it was thick broken glass, it is true, but it looked rather dangerous. The shop had a glass roof giving no protection whatever from the sun.
Another shop was so full of sacks of dog biscuits, birdseed, etc., that one had great difficulty in getting in and out. There were more sacks on the pavement 524 outside, which presumably were moved in when the shop was locked up at night. The floor space of the shop would then be covered by sacks at night and in the event of an emergency, such as a fire, the fire brigade would have difficulty in getting in and putting out the fire quickly.
Another had cages dumped irregularly all over the place, and among them were a couple of car batteries and a tin of oil. The floor of the shop looked as if it had not been washed for a year. The only blind was a piece of dirty sacking over the door and there was nothing at all over the much larger space of the window. In another, a puppy was brought to us from what the owner described as a fireplace somewhere behind the scenes. It may have been a satisfactory fireplace, but one could not see it. Surely it is desirable that people should be able to see in what kind of conditions puppies are kept behind the scenes.
There is another example from a report by a senior inspector of the R.S.P.C.A., dated January, 1951. It says:The pet shop premises consisted of two upstairs rooms and two downstairs. They have been condemned as living accommodation. Woodwork is old and rotten and ventilation and light is bad. It is impossible to keep the premises in sanitary condition on account of the worn and old wooden floors.I suggest that under a system of inspection that would not occur, and that is why this Bill provides that local authorities may authorise an inspection of premises at which pet animals are kept for sale at reasonable times. I emphasise the word "may"; there is nothing about "must," and it allows one of the local authority's own officers, a veterinary surgeon, a constable or an inspector of the R.S.P.C.A. to carry out an inspection at reasonable times.
In connection with the constable I may say that it is not intended that he shall inspect except in special cases where a cause of complaint has been lodged, the point being, as most hon. Members will agree, that the police have got enough to do already to prevent crime against human beings without having to cope with crime against animals. In many cases forces are under-manned, and I think I am correct in saying that the police have no special training in animal welfare, whereas veterinary surgeons and 525 inspectors of the R.S.P.C.A. definitely have.
Clause 5 provides the penalty for offences under this Bill. Since the Bill has been circulated I have had representations from several Members that the maximum penalty of a £25 fine is too little. That might be borne out by the fact that the owner whose case I read out earlier, who went back and started a shop again under his daughter's name, was prosecuted three times for cruelty. It suggests that this punishment is not great enough if that can happen. The £25 fine and three months dates originally from the Act of 1911, and whereas three months in 1911 are still three months today, most hon. Members will agree that £25 has rather a different value. Today it is something like £75.
§ Brigadier Peto (Devon, North)
Speaking from memory, in the original Bill the fine was put at £50. The present Minister of State, who at that time was Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, in his speech of 18th March said:It is, of course, desirable that there should be persons on the premises where pets are kept, but to say that if any pet of whatever nature is left alone for five minutes, as a consequence a person is liable to a fine of £50, is going rather a long way."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th March, 1949; Vol. 462, c. 2471.]It was on account of the hon. Gentleman's objection to the £50 fine that it was reduced to £25 in Committee.
§ Mr. Russell
am grateful to my hon. and gallant Friend and I appreciate his point. I was not suggesting definitely that the fine should be raised, but I should like to have the opinion of the House on this matter for it is one that wants looking into.
If I may pass to the Schedule, the first paragraph is fairly self-explanatory. The object of the first one is to ensure quick access in case of fire or possibly animals suddenly being caused to suffer under a hot sun. It does not mean, however, that owners must have a sort of night watchman available with nothing else to do but wait in case something happens. It is rather that a key should be available somewhere near, so that the shop can be entered at short notice.
The second paragraph deals with the question of visits every 12 hours. I have also had representations made on this 526 point by the pet shop owners that 12 hours is perhaps expecting rather too much, because it might mean that a shop, which was shut up at 6 o'clock on Saturday evening, would have to be visited by 6 a.m. on Sunday morning. It has been suggested that 15 hours would be quite ample without making it likely that more suffering would occur. I am quite prepared to move an Amendment to that extent if the Bill reaches the Committee Stage. That would enable people to go at the more pleasant hour of 9 a.m. on Sunday morning if they shut their shop at 6 on Saturday evening.
It is essential that we should have some regulation for making a visit during the weekend necessary, because there was a shocking case only a few months ago which resulted in prosecution and I must read this to the House:The case came to light because 40 tame mice displayed in the window were fighting each other for lack of food. They were struggling in a seething mass to eat a dead one of their number. Passers-by were very upset, the sight was horrible, especially for children. When the shop was broken into, the pelts and remains were found of 11 mice that had been completely consumed. In another cage were nine live white mice and the remains of six. The bottom of their cage was covered with litter and there was no food or water. Shut in a lavatory were two female tabby kittens about seven to eight weeks old. For bedding they had a cardboard box with damp sacking, and two empty dishes on the floor. The defendant said that he left the premises at 7 p.m. on Saturdays. He usually returned on the Sunday afternoon about 4 o'clock. This would mean that the animals were left unattended for 19 hours or longer. But for the fact that the mice were kept in the window and were seen fighting by the public, including children, they would have continued in this suffering state until the owner arrived in the late afternoon.I may say that the owner was prosecuted and was fined £10 on each of two charges of cruelty to the mice and £5 on a charge of cruelty to the kittens. The sum of £25 does not seem to be very adequate for the offence committed.
§ Mr. H. Hynd (Accrington)
The hon. Member has twice referred to the penalty of £25. May I emphasise the alternative penalty of imprisonment and suggest that if the alternative penalty were used more frequently in repeated cases or specially severe cases it might be more effective than a fine?
§ Mr. Russell
I am clearly with the hon. Member in what he has said, and possibly £50 might be more suitable. I am only 527 trying to find out what is the opinion of the House on this matter.
§ Squadron Leader Burden (Gillingham)
I think the Clause to which my hon. Friends refers says that both the fine and the imprisonment may be imposed.
§ Mr. Russell
I quite appreciate that there is both a fine and imprisonment, but I do not think there are cases in which both have been imposed. All we want to make sure of is that the penalty is a deterrent, rather than a curative, for we want to stop these cases occurring at all.
Paragraph 4 uses the phrase, "an inadequate space." I agree that "an inadequate space" may be rather vague, but one finds it very difficult to define what is adequate space when one is trying to cover types of animals of varying sizes. One has to leave this definition to the discretion and common sense of inspecting officers or of magistrates if it goes to a court case. Not only does the question of space between the animals in the cage arise, but there is the question of space between each cage to prevent infection spreading.
Paragraph 7 deals with the question of unweaned animals. I definitely saw at Club Row last week, puppies weaned at an age when they ought not to have been weaned. The object of the register in paragraph 8 is to try to prevent stealing. Paragraph 9 deals with children under 12 years of age. I have had representations made to me that puppies, kittens or day-old chicks should not be sold to children of 12 years of age. I am in the hands of the House, and I do not mind if anyone should suggest the age of 15.
The local authorities, as defined in the Bill at present, are county councils and county boroughs. I have had representations from the county districts and non-county boroughs that they and not the county councils ought to be the licensing authorities. I do not think that is unreasonable in view of the licensing permission given to non-county boroughs and county districts in other spheres. Therefore, if the Bill reaches the Committee stage, I shall move an Amendment to substitute council of any county borough, non-county borough or county district.
The Bill does not apply to Scotland or to Northern Ireland. The reason is that 528 the Protection of Animals Act, 1911, does not now apply to Scotland. The Bill also mentions the R.S.P.C.A. in many places, and they have no jurisdiction in Scotland or Northern Ireland. It would involve a great number of legal complications if any attempt were made to make the Bill apply to Scotland or Northern Ireland. The best way of covering Scotland and Northern Ireland would be by a separate Bill. Nor does the Bill cover breeding kennels, boarding kennels or His Majesty's quarantine kennels. It would be difficult to bring in legislation as comprehensive as that.
Two years ago the then Undersecretary of State had doubts about the necessity for the Bill at that time. If he had doubts he was very right in being lukewarm. I am a great believer in Burke's saying:If it is not necessary to change, it is necessary not to change.I hope that if any doubts still linger in the mind of the present Secretary of State I may have done something to dispel them. The then Under-Secretary of State quoted the Metropolitan Police as being rather of the opinion that there was no need for the Bill. But the Bill applies to the whole of England and Wales, and there are examples of cruelty and suffering which come from the provinces as well as from the London area. I hope that this point will be borne in mind, and that if it is necessary to take the opinion of the police, the opinion of the police in the counties and county boroughs outside London will also be taken into consideration.
The Bill is welcomed by the proprietors of reputable pet shops. I have had letters from some, including a particularly reputable one in Birmingham, who says:Only too anxious to support its provisions, because I know full well that a pet shop that is kept properly need have nothing to fear from the provisions of the Bill.If at the end of the debate the Undersecretary of State or the Home Secretary still has any doubts, I shall be willing, in company with officers of the R.S.P.C.A., to take either of them round Club Row or to any pet shops to see the conditions for themselves. There is one that is only a quarter of an hour's ride from the House which I think they will agree is not satisfactory. I hope that the Bill will be given a Second Reading, and 529 that time can be found to complete all the stages so that it can go to another place and become law before the Session ends and be put into force next January.
§ Colonel Clarke (East Grinstead)
Is my hon. Friend satisfied that the definition of "animal" includes animals like tree frogs and salamanders, because in the eyes of the law they may be reptiles but in the eyes of naturalists they are not? I am wondering whether the additional word "amphibian" might be put in. It is a Committee point, but I think it is wise to raise it as this stage.
§ Mr. Russell
I am afraid that I cannot answer that question without seeking technical advice, but I will certainly bear that point in mind.
§ 11.36 a.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Greenwood (Rossendale)
I beg to second the Motion.
I should like to thank the hon. Member for Wembley, South (Mr. Russell) for allowing me the privilege of seconding this Motion. I think that we should all want to join in congratulating him, both on the humanity which has prompted him to introduce this Measure and also on the great clarity with which he has explained it. I should like to go further than that and to say how much everyone appreciates the enormous energy he has shown in the past few months in making himself the master of the subject he has proved himself to be this morning.
The hon. Member has spent a great deal of time going round pet shops and visiting places like Club Row, and I think that the House and the animal kingdom will benefit from the exertions he has made. I should like also to associate myself with the tribute he paid to the hon. and gallant Member for Devon, North (Brigadier Peto) who pioneered the Bill two years ago. The Measure we have before us today shows the valuable results which can flow from all-party cooperation on a very limited front and with strictly defined objectives.
The spate of legislation about animals during the past two years and the setting up of a committee of inquiry into the law relating to cruelty to wild animals has shown what a great interest Members in all parties today take in this subject of animal welfare. It was very different 130 years ago when Richard Martin, one of the founders of the R.S.P.C.A., was intro- 530 ducing his first Measure for the protection of domestic animals. His efforts to promote legslation for domestic animals and for improvements in the conditions at knackers' yards were spread over a period of just over five years, and during that time he was the only Member who took the initiative in Measures of this kind.
Today, we find that Members in all parties are anxious to protect the interests of living creatures that are unable to speak for themselves. I hope that today the Government will appreciate the very wide support which this Measure has obtained both among hon. Members and also in the country. I trust that the Government will give it their blessing, and perhaps I might express the further hope that when the Bill is on the Statute Book they will see fit to go ahead with a general consolidation of the law relating to cruelty to animals.
It is not easy for a Member in the position of the hon. Member for Wembley, South, to draft, frame and introduce a Measure of this kind. Many of us would agree that it would have been desirable if it had been possible for the Government to have introduced a similar Measure, and during the summer the Parliamentary Animal Welfare Group attempted to persuade the Home Secretary to act on these lines. We had a friendly and helpful reception from the Home Secretary, and a number of the suggestions and criticisms which he made on that occasion have been taken advantage of, and suitable changes have been made in the Bill before the House this morning.
I think hon. Members who were in the last Parliament will agree that this is a better Bill than it was when introduced originally. Certainly the hon. Member for Wembley, South, has shown that he will be just as reasonable as his predecessor in accepting helpful Amendments on the Committee stage. I only hope that the Government will do their best to improve this Bill when it reaches the Standing Committee. At present we are a little in the dark as to the Government's attitude. Many hon. Members will remember the speech which my right hon. Friend the present Minister of State made on the Bill two years ago. I hope the Under-Secretary will appreciate that many of the criticisms which his predecessor made on that occasion have been met since the Second Reading, and that 531 there was not perhaps a great deal of substance in some of the other points made by his predecessor.
I remember my right hon. Friend alleging that there was no need for this Bill because the law as it stood was perfectly adequate. But almost the same reason was advanced against Richard Martin when he introduced the first Animal Protection Bill. I remember that, in reply to a point made from the Government side, the present Minister of State argued that it was already an offence to convey animals in a manner likely to cause suffering, and therefore that there was no need to amend legislation on the lines suggested. On paper, of course, he was perfectly right, and yet only last month we had the Minister of Agriculture bringing into operation a Transport of Horses Order amending the conditions under which it is permitted to transport horses. So, on many aspects of animal legislation, although on paper the law is adequate, in practice it is woefully inadequate.
I remember the Under-Secretary at that time also making the point to which the hon. Member for Wembley, South referred, that in some respects this Bill may seem a little vague and difficult to enforce. He drew special attention to Regulation 4, to which the hon. Gentleman opposite has referred, relating to keeping animals in what is considered to be an inadequate space. I have been doing a little historical research and I find that the Annual Register of 1822 complained of what it called the vagueness and indeterminateness of Richard Martin's original Bill. Hon. Members at that time asked what constituted cruelty to a horse and how it would be possible for a magistrate to decide what weight was suited to the strength of a horse. In spite of those objections, Richard Martin's Act worked well, and I believe that if this Measure goes on to the Statute Book it also will work well. Surely hon. Members will agree that it is within the competence of an average magistrate with a little common sense and with the advantage of expert advice to find no difficulty in deciding what constitutes inadequate space for the animal concerned.
I am quite convinced that there is need for this Bill. It may seem to the advisers of the Home Office that the 532 law is adequate, but it seems terribly inadequate to the inspectors of the R.S.P.C.A. and other animal welfare societies. And there must be something radically wrong with a situation in which it is possible for anyone to start a pet shop regardless of whether he has any knowledge or experience of animals and any previous convictions of cruelty to his discredit.
§ Mr. Greenwood
It would be difficult to lay down any hard and fast criterion as to what constitutes experience, especially in the form of a statutory provision, but nevertheless it is planned in this Bill that local authorities shall have the right to license individuals and it is hoped—I think it is almost inevitable—that they will consult specialist advice, such as that of veterinary surgeons, local inspectors of the R.S.P.C.A., and other duly qualified persons, to decide whether an individual should be granted or refused a licence. I am sure that in practice it should be easy to decide whether a person should or should not have a licence to conduct a pet shop.
§ Brigadier Peto
Is it not a fact that under the present law, anybody, whether convicted of cruelty or not, can run a pet shop, and that under the present proposal a licence would not be issued to somebody who had already suffered conviction and punishment for cruelty?
§ Mr. Greenwood
Yes, I am grateful to the hon. and gallant Gentleman, but that does not quite meet the point of the hon. Member for Luton (Dr. Hill), which is-how one could decide whether an applicant for a licence had sufficient experience to qualify for that work. It is a difficulty, but on the Committee stage we shall have an opportunity of considering whether anything can be done towards meeting that point.
We are trying to eradicate in this Bill two sources of cruelty. First, there is the deliberate callous cruelty of the pet shop proprietor who wants to get rich quickly. Therefore, he sells animals when they are too young, he keeps them in overcrowded 533 conditions and probably deprives them of sufficient food. That is the kind of deliberate cruelty to animals which none of us would try to justify. The second type of cruelty we want to eradicate is the unintentional cruelty of the inexperienced trader such as, for example, a pet shop proprietor in a Lancashire seaside resort who was selling puppies of five weeks before they had been weaned. When the R.S.P.C.A. inspector visited the proprietor and complained to him of this practice, he admitted in his own words that his knowledge of animals was practically nil.
I am quite sure it is possible for this House to devise some method by which it is possible to prevent anybody as inexperienced as that from having animals entrusted to him. We want to ensure that anybody who sets up a pet shop is qualified both by humanity and experience to undertake the welfare of animals. I cannot emphasise too strongly what the mover of this Bill has said, that the good pet shop proprietor has nothing to fear from this Measure. Most of them welcome it, and certainly most of them have nothing to lose and everything to gain from the passing of the Bill.
I want also to emphasise that we want to see animals housed and sold under reasonable conditions. Therefore, the Bill proposes to prevent the sale of animals from barrows or stalls except in market places, and to prohibit their sale by men in the streets. That is why we are proposing the licensing of premises and powers of inspection by local authorities at reasonable hours.
I am glad the hon. Gentleman gave us the benefit of his visits to Club Row. That is a sorry state of affairs but, unfortunately, that kind of thing can be seen, although on a less concentrated scale, in many parts of the country at the present time. It is a common sight in market places and streets in other parts of the country to see animals and birds being sold on barrows in overcrowded conditions, exposed to the weather, and sometimes with no provision for food or water for many hours on end. That state of affairs is bad enough, but there is reason to believe that conditions at the back of pet shops are probably even worse than they are in those public places. The trouble is that, generally speaking, there is no power of inspection.
534 I should like to read to the House the report of a R.S.P.C.A. inspector about a pet shop in an industrial town in the West Riding of Yorkshire. There had been a complaint to the Society about the conditions in which puppies were being kept in the window of a pet shop, and the inspector reported in these words:These animals had not been cleaned out for five days and the animals were paddling in their excreta and urine…I examined this man's cellar where he usually keeps his animals. I managed to do this by means of a hole. I could see the ceilings and walls covered with cobwebs and the smell from the place was overpowering. I contacted the sanitary inspector and we visited the pet shop. The inspector and myself examined the house from cellar to attic. The cellar was in a shocking state, cobwebs, old lumber, dirty, filthy hay matted with animals' excreta and the place smelled abominably. The owner was served with an order by the sanitary inspector to lime-wash the premises from top to bottom…This pet shop…is a shocking establishment…The important thing about that report is that it was possible to inspect those conditions only because the R.S.P.C.A. inspector was able to persuade the sanitary inspector that a nuisance under the Public Health Act was likely to arise from those conditions. There is no power to inspect conditions at the back of pet shops in order to assure animal welfare societies or local authorities that animals are not being kept in conditions likely to cause them unnecessary suffering. It is just that right of inspection which we want to provide to local authorities and to their authorised agents.
As the hon. Gentleman has indicated, this Bill covers quite a wide field in the sphere of animal welfare. I hope that hon. Members in all parts of the House will be able to bring to the attention of the Under-Secretary such evidence as he may require. I hope they will tell him about the high mortality rate among the cats and dogs which are bought in pet shops. I hope they will tell him about the extent to which unweaned puppies are sold on stalls and in the streets. I hope that they will bring forcibly to his attention the practice of selling day-old chicks in paper bags to children who are not old enough or responsible enough to look after them. There is abundant evidence of the prevalence of all these practices, and I hope that when the Under-Secretary speaks he will not tell us that the Home Office is not convinced 535 that there is sufficient evidence to justify a Measure of this kind.
Today it is almost impossible for us to realise that at one time in this country we were prepared to tolerate the employment of boy chimney sweeps, of women to pull tubs in coal mines, and of children aged six or seven in the cotton mills of Lancashire. It is almost impossible to believe today that those things were tolerated. I believe that in 50 years' time the people of that day will find it almost equally impossible to believe that as late as 1951 the people of a civilised community were prepared to tolerate such conditions with regard to animals as those to which the hon. Gentleman has referred so movingly this morning.
§ 11.53 a.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Sir Thomas Moore (Ayr)
I should like to join with the hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood) in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Wembley, South (Mr. Russell), not only for bringing in this Bill but for the factual and unemotional way in which he presented it to the House. One of the great difficulties of all those who are interested in animal welfare is to avoid being carried away by undue sentiment or emotion. There are so many people who would properly smack their child for misbehaviour, but who, if they saw anyone else smacking a dog or a puppy, would hold up their hands in horror at what they would regard as an act of cruelty and would immediately write to the R.S.P.C.A. or their Member of Parliament—in my experience generally their Member of Parliament.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Wembley, South, said, this is a most admirable Bill, but, as he explained, it suffers from one supreme defect, which is that it does not apply to Scotland. My hon. Friend tried to justify that omission by referring to the legal difficulties that might be involved in framing the Bill. But how many Bills have we passed in this House which apply both to England and Scotland and in which the same legal difficulties, have been faced and overcome? My own impression is that the sponsors of the Bill were so aware of the position in Scotland, and of the fact that Scotland has long been known and accepted as the 536 leader in animal protection and welfare, that they thought it quite unnecessary and inappropriate to include Scotland, and thereby to give the impression that Scotland needed any such legal attention.
But there is need for the Bill in Scotland as elsewhere. In spite of the fact that Scotland introduced the Slaughter of Animals Act many years before England followed suit, there are today throughout many of our big cities in Scotland exactly the same conditions as those described by my hon. Friend. I do not wish to cast any reflections on the people whom my colleagues and I have the honour to represent in this House, but nevertheless we have to admit that fact. We shall have to see whether this point can be met in Committee or by the introduction of another Bill; no doubt when we come to the Committee stage the Law Officers for Scotland will be there to advise us on the subject. But if we cannot alter the Bill in Committee, the suggestion made by my hon. Friend will undoubtedly have to be adopted.
One would always like to think, and I am glad that the hon. Member for Rossendale referred to this, that the cases of deliberate cruelty are rare and that the cases of unintentional cruelty probably exceed in number the deliberate cases. The unintentional cruelty aspect of the matter should perhaps be stressed. I imagine that few children or grown-ups would willingly harm or hurt a pet animal but they do so continually through ignorance—ignorance of the habits of animals, ignorance of the requirements of animals and ignorance of the antagonisms of animals.
As has been said, many pet shops are owned by people who scarcely know the difference between two types of terrior—say the Border and the Yorkshire—and who could not describe by naturalist expressions the difference between various types of canaries and other birds. As both my hon. Friend the Member for Wembley, South, and the hon. Member for Rossendale have explained, such people can, by going to a market, or by adopting less legal methods, acquire by stealing or otherwise a number of pet animals. They can take shop premises for a few months, make possibly quite a substantial living by means of forged certificates, and then, either through con- 537 viction or otherwise, disappear and subsequently open up somewhere else or return under another name.
I find that few children have any elementary education in the need for constant fresh water for their pets. Disliking fresh water themselves, I suppose that they think that animals should be of the same opinion. One of my earliest and most painful recollections was when I was given two canaries with strict instructions that I was to be solely responsible for their welfare. I fed them wrongly, I failed to supply them with a continuous and adequate supply of fresh water, and they pined and died. I was only eight years old at the time, but it taught me a lesson. I am extremely glad that my hon. Friend has put in his Bill a provision that no pet animal of any sort shall be sold to a child under the age of 12. I think that 12 is a reasonable age because by then one is beginning to develop a sense of responsibility, especially towards animals. I think that 15 is putting the minimum age rather high.
Another case occurs to me. I do not suppose that one would describe an orangoutang as a pet animal, but just before the last war one was shown at Olympia. It was housed in a great cage—but not nearly great enough—and at each corner of the cage was an are light, dazzling it. The misery of that wretched sub-human beast as it tried to avoid the piercing glare was unforgettable. Yet, as has been pointed out, one can see the same thing in many pet shops today—dark, airless back rooms and cellars, with penetrating artificial light or unshaded sunlight, when there is any sun, causing perpetual discomfort to the unfortunate beasts or birds imprisoned there. The Nazis and the Bolsheviks used this very method of excessive artificial light to enforce confessions. Yet we allow that very thing to happen with animals without legislation to prevent it. If the Nazis were confident that piercing artificial light was sufficient to destroy the will of a human being, what little chance have these much weaker animals to keep their sanity, or their comfort or happiness, under such conditions?
There are certain criticisms of the Bill which have been mentioned. I referred to one, the fact that the Bill does not apply to Scotland. That is something we hope to remedy. There is also the question of inspection every 12 hours, and my 538 hon. Friend has explained that in Committee he will introduce an Amendment to make that more reasonable. I think he is right. There is the point about someone being available during the weekends. My hon. Friend gave an alternative to that proposition. I do not think the alternative was a good one. If pet shops and the sale of pet animals are conducted by a man as his livelihood, then it is up to him, in his own interests as well as the interests of the animals, to see that they are properly fed, watered and cared for during the week-end. Therefore, I say that we should stick to the necessity of enforcing on the owner of every pet shop the responsibility of looking after his animals during the week-end.
When such Bills as this have been introduced, the criticism has been advanced that we are adding to the army of "snoopers" by giving permission to officials of the R.S.P.C.A. to enter and inspect premises. My answer to that is that today, and for many years past, we have factory inspectors to inspect the conditions under which workers carry out their duties. Why therefore should we deny the right to animal inspectors to see that animals are properly cared for and protected? That seems to me to be a logical sequence to our present policy on this subject.
A point was raised by an hon. Gentleman opposite regarding the penalties of a fine or imprisonment, or both. He said that imprisonment was rarely imposed. That cannot of course be dealt with by Act of Parliament; it is a matter for the wisdom and discretion of magistrates' courts. I put down a Question yesterday to the Home Secretary, asking whether he would issue a circular advising magistrates to adopt a stronger attitude towards people who commit these offences. The Home Secretary refused to interfere with the duties of the magistrates and therefore we come back to the question of what we are to do about the magistrates. I believe that their attitude is adopted largely because they are of opinion that many of these offences are unintentional, and they do not feel that they can impose such a harsh penalty as imprisonment for what might have been an unintentional crime.
Barring those few criticisms, most of which can be dealt with in Committee, I feel that the Bill is one which has been 539 long needed. It is one which I hope—I am sure that hope is shared by all hon. Members in this House—will be unanimously passed, and that we shall have from the representative of the Home Office an enthusiastic welcome and a promise of his support in its further stages.
§ 12.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Hayman (Falmouth and Camborne)
This Bill has aroused widespread interest throughout the whole country. One hon. Member referred to the statement in the debate on the previous Bill that the then Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department had had consultations with the Metropolitan Police. There is no doubt that there is widespread feeling throughout the country, and I think that most right hon. and hon. Members feel just as keenly on this subject, as other people. In my own constituency, I have had petitions or individual letters signed by 238 people. Of those, 72 signatures came from the Falmouth area at the southern end of my constituency, and 166 from the north—Camborne-Redruth and Hayle—which is an industrial area. Those petitions and letters have come both from workers and from the well-to-do. They have been signed by members of every section of society, which I think is an indication of how strongly ordinary people feel about this dreadful practice of selling animals, under indefensible conditions.
I hold very strong personal views about the matter. The hon. and gallant Member for Ayr (Sir T. Moore) congratulated previous speakers on the unemotional way in which they presented their case. Perhaps I may be forgiven if I now introduce an emotional tone, though it was proper that those introducing the Bill should present it as they did, so that everybody might be familiar in an ordinary way with what is involved in the Bill itself.
I should like to see legislation for the protection of animals go very much further than this Bill. This is merely a Bill to regulate the sale of pet animals and does not go beyond that. It is, after all, as has been said, merely something to prevent cruelty, and is not primarily concerned with the penalties to be imposed when cruelty has taken place. I agree entirely that much of this cruelty is due to the simple acceptance of a 540 barbarous and degrading custom. Very largely it is unintentional, and it is only exceptionally that we find people who perform deliberate acts of cruelty. Nevertheless, the conscience of the nation should be roused to this cruelty, and I think that this House should take steps to eliminate it so far as possible. I would pay tribute to the hon. and gallant Member for Devon, North (Brigadier Peto) who introduced the previous Bill in 1949.
Reference has been made to the customs of a century ago, but it seems to me that a good analogy would be the public executions in this country which took place until round about a century ago. Thackeray mentioned in "The London Anthology" a public execution he had witnessed, and said:I must confess that the sight has left on my mind an extraordinary feeling of terror and shameIf we substitute "horror" for "terror," that would apply to what has been exposed as the practice of some people engaged in the sale of pet animals.
The purpose of this Bill is to remedy a small sector of the problem. That will prevent the exploitation of the natural fascination of small animals or birds for children, which can be but a passing whim. In our personal experience we have all come across cases where a child has an animal, or something of the kind. After a short time the care of it devolves on the child's mother, who may be harassed by many other occupations and responsibilities. The animal is ill-treated, quite unintentionally and without any desire that such ill-treatment should occur. There is no hardship in this Bill on anyone. Children up to the age of 12, as the Bill now stands would not be permitted to buy pet animals, but that would impose no hardship on the children. My view is that the age should be raised to 15. If the Bill gets as far as the Committee stage, I would support an Amendment to that effect. Our object is to prevent cruelty.
I also wish to emphasise what other hon. Members have said about how widespread this trouble is. Reports come from all parts of the country. I am ashamed to say that they come from the West Country, to which I belong. There have been reports from Truro, and even from Redruth, the town in which I live. The R.S.P.C.A. inspector at Truro said: 541The man buys puppies and dogs from anyone and is even given puppies by people just to get rid of them, and these he brings to Truro market and Redruth cattle market. I have had several complaints of selling puppies too young against him, but have been unable to prosecute.The Plymouth inspector said:At two of the shops, puppies and kittens were bought and sold before being properly weaned; consequently the animals fall sick and usually die, and there have been numerous complaints made to me by the public.As an indication of how this type of thing can happen without ordinary people even noticing it, I would point out that Redruth cattle market is within 250 yards of the office in which I worked for many years, but I never heard of or saw anything of this kind. Indeed, I did not know of it until I saw the report of the R.S.P.C.A. inspector. This is an example of a cruel practice taking place almost within the range of a person's vision without his knowing anything about it.
I beg the Under-Secretary not to allow his Department to over-emphasise the difficulties of putting this Bill into operation. I ask lawyers not to lose their souls in the maze of legal precedents, or lack of them. I ask all hon. and right hon. Gentlemen not to allow their better judgment to be strangled because this Bill will interfere with an ancient and hoary practice. Let us facilitate the passage of this simple Bill, so that it may become an Act of which we shall all be proud, an example to the world of humane legislation, and something for which posterity will thank us.
§ 12.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Bowen (Cardigan)
I support the Second Reading of this Bill. I am certain that no one would in any way doubt the motives which have prompted its sponsors. At the same time, there are one or two qualifications which I wish to make about the Bill as drafted. The hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Hayman) spoke about the need for lawyers not to lose their souls.
§ Mr. Bowen
I think that the lawyer can contribute something to ensure that, if this Bill is passed, it will become an effective Measure in practice. The sentiments of the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne are noble and edifying, 542 but if they are to be translated into practical form they will need a legal interpretation with the force of law behind them. One of the difficulties about present legislation for the protection of animals is that in many instances the exact nature of the protection and of the power of magistrates is not as clear as it might be.
The regulations laid down in this Bill to be observed by occupiers of pet shops are admirable, though I do not say that some of them might not be amended in detail. The general basis of the regulations and the form which they take will commend them to the House. I do not see any difficulty in, for example, the phrase, "inadequate space." The magistrates will continue to interpret questions of adequacy or inadequacy in a given set of circumstances.
I also welcome what is, of course, the essential element if we are to have these regulations, and that is the power of the local authority to see that the regulations are observed. There is adequate power of inspection and supervision of premises which are pet shops. I give my wholehearted support to that part of the Bill which concerns regulations about how pet shops should be conducted and gives power to enable the local authority to ensure that they are conducted in that way.
I am not clear about the licensing provision mentioned in Clause 1. The Bill proposes that before a person can keep a pet shop he must obtain a licence for the premises in which the business is to be conducted. There is nothing in the Bill to guide the local authority or to give them any indication of the basis on which a licence should be given or refused. What will happen is that either we shall have a lot of close inquiry beforehand, or we shall simply have licences given relatively freely by local authorities.
Far more important than the basis on which a licence is given is the need to ensure that those who conduct the businesses conduct them in accordance with certain standards. I should not be averse to the Bill being amended to provide that licences should be granted automatically. Then we should have a system of registration; we should know of the existence of the premises, and it 543 would be far easier for the local authority to see that regulations relating to such premises were observed.
We are putting on to local authorities an extremely difficult task if we ask them to pick and choose between different people and decide whether or not they are appropriate persons to keep pet shops. There may be some people who are obviously unsuitable. They may be in a limited class. But in the majority of cases, there is nothing to indicate initially whether people are suitable or not, unless we are to confine this trade to a highly expert class, which I think would be a mistake.
One of the suggestions of the Bill is that if someone is convicted for an offence under it, his licence may be cancelled and he may be disqualified from holding a licence for a given period. On the face of it, that is a perfectly reasonable provision; but for myself I look with suspicion on all regulations or legal provisions which have in mind the exclusion of a person from a trade or profession as part of the punishment. I would prefer to have the other penalties strengthened and this one omitted.
I would not object to the fine being increased very considerably. I do not think that £25 is an adequate maximum penalty. We must remember that that is the maximum. The magistrates have complete discretion. There may well be some outrageous instance where it would be far more appropriate to inflict a very much higher penalty than a fine of £25. I would support the raising of the monetary penalty and, for that matter, also the penalty of imprisonment.
My general reaction is against exclusion from a trade or profession. I hold the same view about the food regulations where, if a person is convicted of a breach of the regulations, he is put into the position that he cannot enter the trade again. I am not happy about this. Another reason I do not favour this course is that a penalty of this kind can be easily overcome. If a person who has a pet shop is convicted, his wife can conduct the business instead of him. It is easy to overcome the penalty. It is far more important to have adequate penalties in the form of fines and imprisonment.
544 There is one other matter to which I wish to refer. It is a matter which can be dealt with quite easily on the Committee stage. It is the definition of "pet shop" and "premises." I am not clear what will be brought in by the phrase "pet shop." For example, in my constituency, which is largely an agricultural constituency, many farmers keep dogs and sell puppies. They have to keep dogs in connection with their work, and often, in addition, they keep a dog of a breed to which they are particularly attached and sell its puppies. So far as I understand it, they would come within the definition of "pet shop" unless their sales were casual. The definition given in the Bill is:Pet shop means any premises of whatever nature (including a private dwelling) at which pet animals are kept for the purpose of trade,and that would include a farm.
§ Mr. Bowen
The definition of "pet animal" says that'Pet animal' does not include an animal which is kept for agricultural or scientific purposes.In my area they may well keep two or three sheep dogs and a Sealyham which would not be used on the farm and would not therefore come within that definition. I think this definition Clause could be strengthened. I am not against farms being subject to inspection, but I think that to require a farmhouse to become a licensed shop and to keep a daily register would be taking things rather too far. Subject to those qualifyications, I welcome the introduction of this Bill and sincerely hope that the House will give it a Second Reading. I look forward to taking part with others in trying to improve it in some respects on the Committee stage.
§ 12.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Somerville Hastings (Barking)
I believe that if this Bill reaches the Statute Book and becomes law, it will be looked upon as the pet animals' charter. At the present time there is more unkindness to pet animals in pet shops than anywhere else. Most people who own pets and keep them do so because they are fond of the creatures. Occasionally, of course, the pets are badly treated, partly in the way of training. I remember going out with a man who had a dog and when the dog chased sheep he broke a stick—un- 545 fortunately my stick—over the back of the dog. Generally, however, people who keep pets keep them because they are fond of them, and accordingly they treat them quite kindly.
But there is one place where a pet is not a pet and that is in a pet shop, because people who keep a pet shop have not time to get attached to the animals. It is a shifting population, besides which it would be rather disastrous if they did get attached to the pets, for then they would not want to sell them. Because it is a purely commercial undertaking and because the love of pets really does not enter into the transaction, I submit that is the spot where there is the greatest danger of cruelty taking place.
I believe that adults who have pets are generally careful of them and kind to them and look after them well, but unfortunately this is not the case with children. I remember taking some town children into the country and they filled their pockets with frogs. I remember that my own children, when they had a dog and were putting away their toys in a drawer, the teddy bear and other things, put the dog away as well. It is only when they get to know these creatures and are taught actually what cruelty is, that children learn to look after animals.
Therefore, I look with great suspicion on the ninth paragraph of the Schedule It says:Neither the occupier nor any person employed at the shop shall sell an animal to a person whom he has reasonable cause to believe to be under the age of twelve years.Then it goes on to say:This paragraph applies to cats and dogs irrespective of their age and to chicks not more than seven days old.The presumption is that a chick of eight or nine days old, or any other animal, can be sold to a child under 12, and that a child can go to a shop and buy white mice and birds and take them home. I look upon that as a very dangerous practice. I think children should be accompanied by their parents or an older brother or sister in order to be quite sure that the family agrees to their keeping such pets. What happens in practice is that these young children buy white mice and take them home and mother gets a little frightened, or objects to them strongly. Then there are two courses available to the child. The child either 546 tries to keep them clandestinely and hide them, or tries to get rid of them. The child may let the animal go into the woods or fields, but a pet animal is not capable of looking after itself. In any case it seems very wrong that children under 12 without older people, should be allowed to purchase any animal, and I should like to see this paragraph amended.
Because I raise these difficulties, I would not like the House to feel that I disagree in any way with the general principles of the Bill. But these are points which the promoters ought to have put right on the Committee stage if there is any doubt about them. It is common for certain undesirable people to go into the country and catch wild birds—singing birds such as greenfinches, linnets and even black-caps. They put them in microscopic cages and take them to various public houses, usually on a Sunday morning, and try to sell them there. Do such public houses then become pet shops under this Measure, and ought they to be licensed for the selling of pets? That is a question which the promoters of the Bill would do well to take into consideration.
Probably the most valuable part of the Bill is that which prevents the itinerant vendor from selling animals. We have all seen attractive-faced puppies, sweet little balls of fluff, protruding their heads through the pockets or between the lapels of the coats of such vendors, and those who are fond of animals are attracted by the pathetic condition of these little creatures. Perhaps they are more pathetic because they have not been properly weaned. They are bought with disastrous results, for they soon die, and the buyers try to find the vendor again, but he does not appear in the same spot, perhaps, for several months. I am glad that that practice is being got rid of, and it is most desirable that it should be. I remember reading not long ago of a case in which an itinerant vendor, presumably because he could not sell them, dumped his tortoises in some public place and they were left to fend for themselves. We hope that will become actionable under this Bill.
If I read the Bill aright, stalls in markets would also become pet shops and would be subject to inspection, and so on. But what happens to the animals not sold between the markets? I know that the 547 people who sell pets go from one market to another. They do not sell out at the end of the day and they have some residual stock. They take these home and put the animals in a cellar or out-house. Is the place where they keep these animals between the times when their stalls are open, a pet shop or not under the Bill? That needs very careful consideration. I raise these points merely because they are points of difficulty and not because I am in any way opposed to the Bill, which I think will prove a great assistance and become, as I said, the pet animals' charter.
§ 12.32 p.m.
§ Mrs. Hill (Manchester, Wythenshaw)
I am very glad to have the opportunity of supporting this Bill, not only because of my own personal feelings but on behalf of all those people who have written to me on this subject. It is perfectly true that all of us who live in big cities, and I speak as a city dweller, have seen the very undesirable conditions under which animals are offered for sale. I am quite certain that local authorities will be more than delighted to be able to help regulate the conditions under which these animals are held in these so-called pet shops. They will also be more than delighted to be able to do away with the conditions under which animals are sold in the streets.
I have it from my own local authority that they will be delighted to help in this way. We are particularly anxious that the sale of puppies in streets, already mentioned in this debate, should be very greatly controlled or, better still, done away with altogether. The hon. Member for Barking (Mr. Hastings) has mentioned what happens to animals in the time between their being displayed in one place and taken back and displayed elsewhere for sale. Probably we shall need to tighten up the Bill to deal with this problem and registration might go even further than shops where the animals are sold. It might also be applied to the places where the animals are kept in these circumstances.
We have many regulations dealing with animals that are to be slaughtered and surely this is the moment—and a rather late moment—when we might take particularly strong steps to deal with conditions in which animals are expected to 548 live. It is to be hoped that the Bill will secure a Second Reading today. Any slight amendments that may be needed can then be discussed in Committee.
It is perfectly true that the R.S.P.C.A. has done noble work in looking after these matters but they and the police are hampered in that work. In common with other police authorities, I am sure that the police authorities in my area will say that the proposed legislation will allow prosecutions in many cases in which investigation has shown that the circumstances, though deplorable, do not amount to cruelty. The Bill lays emphasis throughout on prevention and I sincerely hope that will be borne in mind. I hope there will be no restrictions from the Home Office, or whatever Department deals with this matter, and that through this Bill we shall put something into operation which will be a great help.
§ 12.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Bing (Hornchurch)
It is very pleasant indeed to follow the hon. Member for Wythenshaw (Mrs. Hill) and to say to the House, as she has done, that I, too, hope that this Bill will be passed. It seems to me to be one of the real non-party Measures to which it is desirable that we should occasionally devote our time on these valuable Private Member Fridays.
It certainly is a Measure which has aroused very great interest in my own constituency. To show that my own Labour Party can take an all-party view on occasions, I may say they have themselves passed a resolution in favour of the Bill and asking me to support it. I have received from my constituents 421 letters, or letters signed jointly. If I do not read them all to the House it is because I am not the hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams) nor am I moving a Prayer at 4 o'clock in the morning.
These letters seem to be representative of the general strata of my constituency. Hon. Members receive a great number of petitions at other times. I received far more signatures on the Licensing Bill. I was interested to receive on that Measure a petition signed apparently by the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill), the Archbishop of Canterbury, a gentleman called Mr. Charlie Peace who said he was on ticket-of-leave, and Marshal Stalin. If I have not had similar 549 representations on this Bill it may be in part due to the fact that when I replied to the particular publican who organised that petition, I said that however distinguished his foreign guests were, they should not interfere in our internal affairs, and that in the other three cases the gentlemen concerned should approach their own Members of Parliament.
In this case, the signatures are more representative because they are far more genuine. They are not organised by anybody but come from the natural good feeling of the people in the area. It is a great tribute to my constituents that they are so anxious that animals should have far more space for movement and far more comfort than they themselves enjoy when they travel on the District Railway.
I should like to deal with various points in the Bill as they affect my own constituency. I am glad to see the hon. and gallant Member for Romford (Lieut.-Colonel Lockwood) on the benches opposite because, as he and I know, Romford market is one of the places where a great deal of this traffic goes on. If, as I think, both of us would be in agreement that we want to see the utmost regulation of this traffic, we would also be the last to condemn those stallholders who perform the important task of seeing that there are available the kind of pets that local working-class people require. We know that many of these people have been known for a long time in the area for their interest in animal welfare. When we come to the Bill and consider conditions in the places where stock of such market vendors is kept in the intervals between its being shown in the markets, we should see, at the same time, that we do not penalise people who very often provide one of the most effective means whereby working-class people get the pets of their choice.
One of the worst features in the streets of Romford and Hornchurch is the sale of young unweaned puppies. I had a most pathetic letter from a constituent describing how he and his wife tried for a long time to save the life of a puppy sold in an unweaned state to a child and which the child, not understanding things, tried to feed in the ordinary way. These are pathetic cases. A child often saves money to buy a puppy and then is 550 deprived of its pet. I am sure that we are all agreed that this is a trade which ought to be put down.
When I look at this Bill in detail I see difficulties in it and I hope hon. Members will not think that I am just being a lawyer when I call attention to one or two of those difficulties. If we look at those difficulties now before the Bill goes to Committee it gives everybody a chance to get together and put some of them right. First, I should like to deal with the question of fish breeding. I do so because it is a matter which particularly affects my constituency. In Hornchurch there are a couple of excellent breeding places for pet fish. It is indeed, an important trade in this country. Before the war practically all the pet fish that were sold were bred in Germany. I suppose pet fish tanks do not stand up very well to bombing. At any rate, it is one of the trades which have left Germany, and there is a chance that this country may take the place of Germany in this small but very important export trade. We do not want to put unnecessary barriers in the way of breeding pet fish.
I do not think we need worry so much about the shops themselves, the big commercial establishments. But there are private persons who breed pet fish, and the definition in the Bill seems to me to leave very much in doubt the point at which, if those people sell their fish they ought to register their homes as pet shops. If I may give an example, we have every year in Hornchurch, Dagenham and Romford a Three Towns Show, and, as the hon. and gallant Member for Romford will know, one of the most interesting and valuable exhibits there are the fish exhibits which are contributed mainly by residents of the three boroughs. Those fish are for sale, if not actually at the show itself; there is a little notice saying that the fish may be obtained at a certain place and at a certain price. It is important that we should ensure that this trade is not adversely affected.
The hon. and gallant Member for Ayr (Sir T. Moore) laid great stress on the subject of fresh water. While fresh water is admirable for some kinds of fish, it is the last thing that other kinds of fish require, just as, in the same way, for 551 certain illnesses fresh air is the last thing the patient requires. I remember a doctor once saying "The best place for fresh air is outside." The same thing may be true with regard to fish in certain circumstances, and it is important to see that when we give powers to local authorities, those powers are only in the hands of people who understand the problem of fish breeding.
Perhaps I may now pass to the question of the definition dealing with genuine pedigree animals. We do not want on any side of the House to have one law for the rich and one for the poor, but undoubtedly when it comes to the sale of really expensive animals, they are always "genuine pedigree" animals. I am not making any attack upon those people who do produce genuine pedigree animals; I am sure that the conditions in which they are bred are quite all right; but it would be unfortunate and unfair if they were excluded merely because they claimed that they were breeding genuine pedigree animals.
Let me take one example. In "The Times" of 30th March there were advertisements by a number of kennels and various private people, offering puppies at prices between 10 and 25 guineas. Just because someone sells a puppy for 5s. there is no reason why he should be inspected, while someone who sells puppies for 25 guineas should be excluded because he describes them as pedigree puppies. In the same way, the Bill does not make clear what is meant by "appropriate club or society." It is only too easy for undesirable pet shop owners to get out of the whole thing by banding themselves together and making themselves into a club so that they can say, "You cannot prosecute us, we are the such-and-such club."
To come to the licensing procedure, I think the House would want to avoid being unjust to the existing pet shops, and we should be careful to see that these regulations are not drawn in such a form that they would do that. The Bill does not make any provision for dealing ex-peditiously with pet shops existing at the moment, and I think the promoters of the Bill should consider some provision to deal with pet shops which are in existence 552 now, as distinct from those which come into existence for the first time.
There is then the question of the annual licensing of pet shops. I think the promoters have followed the precedents of the Licensing Acts in regard to drink. I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Mr. Hastings) is not here at the moment, because I am sure he would be the last to suggest that any precedent relating to drink should be followed in regard to pets. Whether or not that is a good thing I do not know, but I think the promoters might well consider whether the licensing period should not be, for example, once in every three years or something of that sort.
§ Major Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
We had a considerable discussion on this matter in the Committee stage of another Bill. I think I am right in saying that the promoter of this Bill has so drafted it as to coincide as far as possible with the views which were expressed then.
§ Mr. Bing
I only threw it out as a suggestion. I am sorry if I did not follow the discussion in the Committee stage as closely as I thought I had. I feel, however, that it is a point worth bearing in mind. I do not press it. If the great balance of opinion is in favour of annual licences, then I agree, provided that we give the licensing power to district councils and not to county councils. The Hornchurch Urban District Council, for example, is to my mind an admirable body for dealing with this matter.
There is one point, however, which the hon. and gallant Member for Romford will appreciate, and that is that the licensing might be done in Hornchurch, for example, whereas the actual sales take place just over the border in Romford. It is desirable, therefore, to have some machinery for joint consultation between the authorities. Otherwise, we should have the ridiculous position of one rule applying to one branch of a pet shop and another rule applying to another branch a quarter of a mile away.
§ Mr. Pannell (Leeds, West)
What would my hon. and learned Friend do in the case of a shop in Northern Ireland?
§ Mr. Bing
I do not know whether the hon. and gallant Gentleman is insisting that I should bring it in.
Perhaps I may turn to Clause 3 (2) which seems to me to place too much emphasis upon responsibility. It makes absolute the responsibility of the owner of a pet shop for any act or omission caused by anybody in that shop. As will be known by hon. Members who have studied the licensing Acts, there is always considerable difficulty in ascertaining where the responsibility of the licensee ends. Under Section 69 of the Licensing (Consolidation) Act, 1910, there have been many discussions about whether, when a potman who was left on duty permitted gambling in a skittle alley, the proprietor was or was not liable. It seems hard that he should be absolutely liable on every occasion for what may be the unauthorised act of someone who may have been left temporarily in charge. I suggest that we might consider the provision of some reasonable safeguard.
§ Mr. Gilbert Longden (Hertfordshire, South-West)
It is with great trepidation that I challenge the hon. and learned Gentleman's interpretation of a document like this Bill, but I should like to revert to his point that the Bill does not make provision for existing pet shops. I should have thought that the intention of the promoters is that it shall relate to existing pet shops, and that Clauses 1(1) and 3 (3) between them cover the point.
§ Mr. Bing
I am sorry if I did not make myself clear. What I meant was that it does apply to existing pet shops, but there is a difference between requiring existing pet shops suddenly to acquire a licence and requiring pet shops to acquire a licence when they come into existence. We should consider whether we should make one provision for existing pet shops and another provision for new pet shops. When somebody wants to start a pet shop there is a simple licensing machinery.
If the Bill suddenly becomes law nobody can carry on a pet shop until he has obtained a licence. With the best will in the world, local authorities cannot adequately examine all local pet shops at once, so that the result will probably be the issue of a general licence. If there are some provisions to enable pet shops which have existed for a certain 554 time to carry on irrespective of the fact that they have no licence for a specific period of time, that will enable local authorities to examine existing pet shops much more thoroughly. At the same time, new pet shops would have to apply for a licence.
It has been said that Clause 4 is the Clause most likely to arouse opposition. I agree here with hon. Members opposite; public inspection is very often necessary in the public need, and I have never subscribed to any of these doctrines which say, "Here are all these snoopers". For every snooper there are probably about 20 or 30 crimes prevented—crimes which would react very unfavourably on all sorts of people. I therefore accept the Clause as it is. There is, however, one slight difficulty, which is the duty imposed upon veterinary surgeons and veterinary practitioners. As hon. Gentlemen may know, at the moment these people are extremely busy in one way or another and it might be said that it is unfair to take them away from work which might be more urgent in order to put them on to inspection work at the request of local authorities.
Perhaps I might say a few words about Clause 6. In a way I consider myself to be the father of this Clause, if only by proxy. As the hon. and gallant Member for Ayr (Sir T. Moore) will remember, he and I were engaged together on a Bill called the Baiting of Animals Bill, the name of which I wished to change to the Baiting of Birds Bill. Eventually we compromised and changed it to the Cock-fighting Bill. In that case a Clause was introduced at my instigation to protect the Zoo and other organisations of a similar character. We had some correspondence with the Zoo and, after argument in Committee, we withdrew the Clause on the ground that it seemed rather unfair to put into a special category bodies which happened to have been incorporated by charter or by Act of Parliament and to leave out of that category other zoos, such as Chessington Zoo.
There is no reason why the regulations should not apply to zoos. Everybody knows how well the Zoological Gardens are run, and the introduction of these regulations will be no hardship on them. This is a small point, but if the promoters wish to get the Bill quickly through Committee—and that is one of our problems 555 when we are so late in the Session—it may be worth their while considering whether they could not shorten it by agreeing to drop this Clause.
I would, too, say a few words about Clause 8, as many hon. Members apparently expect me to say something about it. I agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Ayr that Scotland was omitted from the Bill probably because the Scots already have much better legislation dealing with animals than we have ourselves. I am sorry that that point did not occur to him when he was dealing with the Baiting of Animals Bill, which included not only Scotland but also Northern Ireland. I suggest that Northern Ireland is omitted from this Bill because hon. Members on all sides realise that human freedom must there have priority.
Before I leave the subject, may I say a few words about what is one of the most important parts of the Bill—the Schedule which contains the regulations to be observed by occupiers of pet shops. On this depends practically the whole of the effective part of the Bill. I hope that the regulations do not carry things too far. I want the promoters to think this over: whether it would not be proper to subtract some of these regulations from the Schedule, to put some of them into the body of the Bill, to drop a number of the others altogether, and to leave it to local authorities to make their own regulations when they issue the licence.
In that way, we should give local authorities power to issue a licence subject to such regulations as they like to make. Local conditions vary, and to take such a step as I suggest has this great advantage—that local authorities can inspect the premises and can decide in each case what kind of standard is required. They could say, "Yes; your premises can be licensed provided you put in another window in the cellar, provided you have a fan here, provided you have running water here, provided you take away this or that," and so on.
Let me for a moment consider the regulations themselves. Regulation No. 1 shows the sort of difficulty we meet in laying down hard and fast rules. I agree that it is desirable, as the hon. Member for Wembley, South (Mr. Russell) said in opening the debate, to have some means of dealing with the situation in 556 case of fire, but what is meant by "other emergency"? If it is not a fire, what is the "other emergency"?
§ Mr. Russell
There is, as the hon. Gentleman said, the possibility of flooding and I think I also mentioned the case of the sun constantly beating on a glass roof.
§ Mr. Bing
The difficulty is this. While it is possible to make arrangements for somebody to deal with the situation in case of fire, that is the sort of external occurrence which people notice and with which they can quickly deal, but it is much more difficult to deal with other emergencies, such as the sudden illness of one of the animals. I do not press the point, however, but I should like the hon. Member to look at it again.
I am glad that in explaining the Bill the hon. Member for Wembley, South, said that the period, given in the Bill as 12 hours, could be a little elastic. That is true. If a pet shop closes at 6 p.m. it is unreasonable to expect somebody to be there at six o'clock in the morning. Again, regulations 3, 4 and 5 are open to the sort of difficulty which one finds all along in such matters. What is the standard of adequate ventilation. My hon. Friends will reply that exactly the same thing was said about horses, but I would point out that the weight which a horse can draw and things of that sort are much more within the general knowledge of magistrates than are such things as the correct ventilation for a cellar in which tropical fish are kept in tanks, or what is excessive warmth or excessive sunshine or excessive artificial light. When we are dealing with pets which are not common pets those are rather difficult subjects to define.
I do not want to raise any unnecessary difficulties because, from my own small experience of drafting Measures, I know how extraordinarily difficult it is to draft anything in which people will not immediately poke a series of holes. Nevertheless, these are practical difficulties which I think we should consider before we reach the Committee stage so as to see whether it is possible to deal with them.
The same sort of comment is true of regulation 6. Who is to determine what precautions are reasonable in order to 557 prevent the spread of infectious diseases? It is difficult enough to define that in the case of humans. Consider the technical knowledge necessary to decide it in this case. Who is to decide how we should prevent some rather obscure disease spreading between fish or reptiles? Such a problem presents great difficulties.
Turning to regulation 7, here it is difficult to decide at what stage an animal should be weaned. Regulation 8, too, provides a good example of the sort of difficulty we face. I do not know whether any hon. Member has ever thought of trying to decide what is a sufficient description of a cat or of a dog. It is indeed difficult to put on paper a description of a cat or dog which will enable anybody to recognise it afterwards and to pick out one cat or dog from others. Owners are always claiming other people's cats or dogs as their own; sometimes they are quite certain that the animals are their own. Such a problem as this is not easy to solve.
What is the object of requiring the name of the person to be taken? I agree that that is some safeguard against stealing, but the trouble is that a person who wants to get, say, a passport, improperly, is the last person to give his right name. The only people who give their right names and addresses in hotel registers, and so on, are those who are genuine, not those who would pass off stolen animals. But it may be some protection, and I do not press the point unduly.
On regulation 9, I endorse the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Barking. If this paragraph is to apply to chicks, why should it be only to chicks which are not more than seven days old? I think that if the last words were left out, this would make a much better regulation, and merely provide thatneither the occupier nor any person employed at the shop shall sell an animal to a person whom he has reasonable cause to believe to be under the age of twelve years.I hope that will be done. I should also like to see local authorities given adequate powers to deal with licences in such a way that they can demand specific alterations to specific premises.
Having made all those, as it were, criticisms of the Bill, I should like to say once again that I am very glad this Measure has been introduced. It is a 558 mark of the humane feelings on both sides of the House. What is even more interesting and remarkable is the warmth of response it has met with in the country. I wish it the greatest success, and I should like to add my humble congratulations to those hon. Members who have promoted it.
§ 1.3 p.m.
§ Sir Jocelyn Lucas (Portsmouth, South)
I must first follow the custom of declaring an interest, in that I breed pedigree dogs and am on the Kennel Club Committee. Needless to say, I have no interest in any pet shop.
I know that most of the more reputable pet shops welcome this Bill. As a rule the better-class shops have very few puppies and make their main income from trimming terriers, clipping and washing poodles, and selling such things as dog food, cooked meat, and dog leads, and appliances. Their stock of puppies being very small, there is only a small chance of infection. On the other hand, there are shops which carry a large stock of cheap puppies, many of them on sale or return, and the risk of infection is extremely high; a large number of them die within a week or two of their sale or of their return to the owners.
Reputable shops will not take puppies until they have been properly weaned. Many of these other shops take puppies at five or six weeks old; they buy them cheap because the owners have never bothered to hand-feed them; as soon as the mother gives them no more milk, they are sent straight into the shop for what they will fetch, and if they go to someone who does not know how to look after them, nine out of ten die within a week or two.
Personally, I always advise people never to buy a puppy under eight or nine weeks old, by which time, if they are looking well, they are over their weaning period. I understand that the authorities would like the same sort of regulations applied to kittens, which are not considered properly weaned unless they are at least seven to eight weeks old. If some regulation could be framed to ensure that no puppy under eight weeks old can be sold from pet shops or stalls, that would go a long way to meet the difficulty. Even if the pedigree is not accurate it is comparatively easy to tell the age by the teeth; any veterinary surgeon would be able to do so.
559 I suggest that an approved feeding chart should be given with every puppy or kitten sold. That is not very difficult. After all, on the back of the dog licence is a printed form showing how to tell if a dog has rabies. Why not have a feeding chart when a dog is sold? Most reputable kennels supply a printed chart. That saves them a lot of trouble in every way, because there is no come-back afterwards.
Let me give one particular reason. Very few people seem to be aware that dog's milk is three times as strong as cow's milk. Consequently, if the puppy is to get the proper amount of nourishment, it must either drink three times as much or have it boiled down or fortified in some way. I am told that in rearing a "dolly" pig, which is one that gets only what is left over when the mother has not got sufficient teats to feed all the pigs at the same time, cow's milk has to be watered down. Those are things which perhaps the ordinary person does not know, and a feeding chart for young animals such as that would make a great deal of difference.
There should be a regulation providing that if a puppy falls sick within, say, a week of its sale and is taken to a veterinary surgeon within the week and certified to be suffering from some infectious disease it should be returnable and the money refunded. For the protection of the pet shop or the breeder, certification should be given within a week and the shop promptly notified, because it is easy for an animal to contract a disease, particularly a very young one, and it should not necessarily be considered that the animal had the disease at the time of sale because it becomes ill a week or two later.
It is suggested that a police constable should be one of the people qualified to inspect premises for the licensing of pet shops. With great respect to the police, although many of them do know about dogs, not all of them do, and I think the inspection should be carried out by somebody, not necessarily a constable, who understands animals and pets. A shop which is passed for the sale of pets may be suitable for a limited number but unsuitable for a large number.
I should also like something to be done about licensing the owners according to 560 their character. A conviction for cruelty, certainly gross cruelty, should be a bar, and that should be taken into consideration by the local authority in considering granting a licence. So also should the fact that a man has been warned off by the Kennel Club for repeated dishonest practices. After all, no warning off takes place without publication in the canine Press, and a reference to the Kennel Club would soon show whether a man had anything against him. No dog or puppy owned or bred by a disqualified person can be registered, nor can their progeny.
In inspecting premises to see that everything is all right, we must also protect the breeder or owner. I would never object to anybody coming to see my kennels, but I would object strongly to his going round other places first and possibly bringing in infection. On the other hand, if a breeder has on his premises animals with distemper or hard pad, for example, it would be very wrong to allow anybody to inspect his premises and then to go on to somewhere else where they might carry the infection. In that case the breeder concerned could tell the inspector. It is the same as somebody visiting a farm where there is foot and mouth disease. The most stringent precautions should be taken to prevent the spread of disease from one shop to another or one kennel to another.
The promoters of this Bill have taken a great deal of trouble in seeing a number of these shops. I think that we are all very grateful to them for what they have done. I would like to pay my tribute to the hon. and gallant Member for Devon, North (Brigadier Peto) and other hon. Members who promoted a similar Bill in the last Parliament. I feel sure that on the Committee stage points can be put forward which will make this an even better Bill that it is now.
§ 1.11 p.m.
§ Mr. L. M. Lever (Manchester, Ardwick)
I rise with pleasure to add my voice to those of the many other hon. Members who have spoken in support of this Bill. I, too, would extend to it a most hearty welcome. It is significant that not one hon. Member has said one word in derogation of the spirit of the Bill. It would be true to say that not only does the spirit of this Bill command the universal support of all hon. Members and indicate their common 561 humanity, but it also commands the overwhelming support of our fellow countrymen from one end of the country to the other.
This Measure is a further chapter in the history of humanity so far as the treatment of animals in this country is concerned. I hope that the Home Office will recognise that this Measure is one which ought to receive their support and one to which the Government ought to give time-to see that it reaches the Statute Book. I feel that while there may be criticism of certain wording in this Measure, it is an easy matter to rectify any faults on the Committee stage. Therefore, let us with one voice accept the spirit of the Bill as a further contribution towards safeguarding the lives and welfare of those who are not capable of expressing themselves.
When one looks at the Bill, one is pleased to see that the local authority is being made to play a useful part in regard to it. There is a tendency for some people throughout the country to say, "The poor local authority is being shorn of its responsibilities and powers; the whole of the powers of the local authority are being vested in the executive and the poor old local authority is going to be left high and dry with nothing to do." This is eminently a question which the local authority, by virtue of its local knowledge and by virtue of its proximity to the pet shops situated within its area, is best able to discharge.
I come from the City of Manchester, and I should like to join with the hon. Lady the Member for Wythenshawe (Mrs. Hill) in saying that we, as members of the Manchester local authority, would welcome the discharge of duties of this kind in order to see that animals are safe and sound and are being well cared for within our borders. I am very pleased that, in spite of what the hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) has said, the licensing is to be confined merely to a period of one year, and that the licensing of pet shops is not merely to be automatic.
If it were suggested that licensing should be granted for a period of three years, that would not have the same psychological effect of urgency in regard to the care of animals as the knowledge by the licensee that at the end of the period of one year he would be again subject to 562 the scrutiny of the licensing authority, and his period of business would be limited in that way. I favour the period of one year which puts the pet shop proprietor on probation for each year. He then has to satisfy the authorities that his conduct during the past year has been such as to justify him receiving a renewal of the licence.
Not all pet shop proprietors are the villains of the piece. The vast majority of them are law abiding and possessed of the same humanity as other decent people, but as inevitably happens, a law has to be passed in order to safeguard the community against the actions of the minority.
I am glad to see that by Clause 1 of this Bill an occupier of one of these pet shops will not be able to shelve or shuffle off his responsibilities. He will not be able to say, "I left this man in charge and it is his fault if these animals have been maltreated or neglected." On the contrary, it will put upon the pet shop proprietor the responsibility which he ought to carry if he holds himself out to the community as a person fit to carry or capable of carrying on a properly conducted pet shop in which animals are being well cared for.
I am glad that this Clause will make it obligatory not only on the pet shop proprietor but on those persons assisting him in order to ensure that their conduct is satisfactory in regard to the care of animals. I am glad that the R.S.P.C.A. are being given the additional means to act in a practical way. The Society render great service, and if they are to perform satisfactorily the responsibilities which devolve upon them, they must be given adequate powers or sanctions to ensure that the regulations contained in the Bill are carried out.
I have some misgivings about the penalties. I do not think that Clause 5, in which the penalties are set forth, is adequate to safeguard the animals concerned. After all, there is no reason why the penalties should not be higher, because if a person does not commit an offence he will not have to pay the penalty, but if anyone does wish to commit an offence, the penalty must be a sufficient deterrent. Therefore, I hope that the monetary penalty, and indeed the term of imprisonment, will be extended to safeguard the care and welfare of these 563 animals. So far as the penalties are concerned, the Clause provides that a person convicted may be deprived of his licence. The words are:…the court by which he is convicted may cancel any licence held by him under this Act, and may, whether or not he is the holder of such a licence, disqualify him from keeping a pet shop for such period as the court thinks fit.I would say, not "may" but "shall" cancel any licence held by him, and thereby disqualify him from keeping a pet shop. That, again, would strengthen the law in regard to the protection of these animals. If we had the word "shall" instead of "may," quite obviously the person would still have the ordinary right of appeal. In the meantime, unless we had the word "shall" instead of "may," that person might continue, pending the appeal, to carry on the same offence as that for which he was convicted by the original court. Therefore, I would strengthen the Bill in that way and by putting in the word "shall" deprive him of his licence if he fails to satisfy the court of appeal that the original conviction should be quashed.
I am not happy about this question of casual sales. There are so many casual sales these days, and we have to be wary about those people who indulge in them. The fact that a person indulges in casual sales should not mean that he should be less subject to the regulations to which a genuine pet shop proprietor is liable. The regulations set forth in the Schedule are based on the rich experience of those concerned in relation to the welfare of pet animals. Therefore, I think that they might well be adopted as a basis. They may be amended in some respects during the Committee stage, but by and large they are a charter for the safety and welfare of pet animals.
I hope that the Government will accept the Bill, which will be appreciated throughout the country and be a model to other countries in regard to the treatment of animals. There is a tendency in this material age, particularly in an age when there is so much cruelty in many parts of the world, and when we are faced by so many turbulent events in different parts of the globe, to forget the true, fundamental humanity with which this is concerned.
564 Therefore, I welcome the Bill wholeheartedly and hope that the House will be able to celebrate this new charter of security for the welfare of animals. Let us treasure them, because they are God's creatures, and show that men living in this great democracy, possessed of warm human instincts, are ready to give further practical proof of those instincts, by the adoption of this Bill.
§ 1.23 p.m.
§ Squadron Leader Burden (Gillingham)
It is indeed a pleasure that there is such general accord in the House. This has not always been the case recently, and it is a pleasure that we can reach such general agreement on the subject of animals, when we cannot always see eye to eye on legislation proposed for human beings. I must refer to the hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing). In looking at the Oxford Dictionary last night, I saw that "pet animals" are described as being "any little animal fondled and indulged." The hon. and learned Member described fish as pets, but I cannot believe that any fish would like to be fondled—it would very soon become a poor fish rather than a happy one.
Every hon. Member must acclaim the agreement which has been shown on the Bill. It is a fact that we as a nation are renowned throughout the world for our love of animals. I have made investigations, quite apart from my hon. Friend the Member for Wembley, South (Mr. Russell), in order to try to get a different viewpoint. I found that not only were the ordinary people in full agreement with the Bill, but that owners of pet shops that were really well run, fully supported it. That support was also unanimous among members of the veterinary profession whose opinion I sought.
I found that the most important reason for the licensing of pet shops given by owners and members of the veterinary profession was that pet shops were the greatest source of infection in the spreading of disease among animals. Because of that they welcome wholeheartedly some control over pet shops. It was pointed out that animals are frequently found in filthy conditions, without sufficient food and water, and sometimes left for many hours without attention. These conditions are known to the R.S.P.C.A. and are deplored by them and the veter- 565 inary profession, but at the moment they have no powers to intervene except when the conditions become flagrant. The powers of entry to determine whether these conditions exist are extremely inadequate.
The spread of disease is brought about not only by the lack of knowledge, although fundamentally it always arises out of that, but in many cases because the premises and the appliances are unsuitable. Sometimes it is not due to the ignorance of pet shop owners that disease and filthy conditions prevail, but to the callous behaviour of those who look upon dumb animals merely as a means to make profit. Many of these conditions might be abolished if the Bill is put on the Statute Book and provision is made to ensure that licences are not issued until after a thorough investigation has been made of the suitability of the premises and of the person applying for the licence.
My hon. Friend the Member for Luton (Dr. Hill) referred to the fact that there was no provision in the Bill regarding the terms on which licences should be issued, that there was no investigation carried out before a licence was issued. I agree with him. I am rather doubtful of the adequacy of the measures proposed at the moment without some safeguard in this direction. I was appalled when the hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Bowen) suggested that there should be automatic licences. That would be inviting trouble, and I hope that the sponsors of the Bill will resist any such suggestion.
The Bill is a step in the right direction, but before a licence is granted there should be an investigation. The Bill provides for the withdrawal of a licence after an offence has been committed, and then only says that it "may" be withdrawn. I suggest that the people in the country will prefer preventive measures, rather than penal measures after an offence has taken place. I believe it would be wise to ensure that licences shall not be issued until the premises and appliances have been examined and the applicant is known to be qualified to take charge and not because he is a person who merely looks upon his possession and the pet shop as a means of a decent livelihood.
Advice should and could be given—and it would be accepted freely by real 566 animal lovers—about the selection of the premises and the gathering together of the animals. It may be our view that there would be difficulty about that, but no person really desiring to run a pet shop and caring for the animals would take the premises before applying for the licence. Certainly local authorities should be able to go through the premises and advise applicants on the type of internal appliances that they might need.
In view of the spread of disease through the close association of animals in pet shops, it should be ensured that some sick quarters are available for animals suspected of being sick, so that they can be segregated and kept in some sort of isolation in the pet shop until the veterinary surgeon has been called in. One of the greatest features of the pet shops under this new Bill should be to prevent the spreading of disease, which is a very grave matter at the moment.
I do not believe that the premises should be examined by an ordinary borough council official. He has not sufficient knowledge and is not qualified to examine and advise on the premises and on the person applying for a licence. A veterinary surgeon might well be the person called upon to examine both the premises and the applicant. A point made by an eminent veterinary surgeon is that the person making the examination should be a man or woman who would not profit by a licence being given for a pet shop other than by the fee that may be given to him by the licensing authority for his attendance. It may be that there is a kennels for which a licence is sought and the person is well-known to the veterinary surgeon. He says to him, "If you will help me to get this licence, then I will ensure that my dogs are sent to you for inoculation and so on." That was a point raised by a veterinary surgeon.
It may well be that the Ministry of Agriculture could assist in this matter by allowing veterinary officers who are working with the Ministry of Agriculture, and who move about the country, to carry out these investigations and so assist in this scheme. They are men with considerable knowledge of the care required by animals, and they would be under Government control.
567 I thought a very good point for the need of this Bill was that given by my hon. Friend the Member for Wembley, South when he said he had visited a pet shop and there found amongst other animals a live pheasant. It is an extraordinary thing that a poultry and game dealer must have a licence to sell a dead pheasant, which is beyond all feeling and cannot suffer any further hurt; while a man can without a licence sell and keep a live pheasant, which can suffer and which has feeling because it has not gone the usual way of all game birds. It is quite anomalous that that position should remain.
Paragraph 4 of the Schedule is admirable as far as it goes. I hold the view that a written notice to enter a shop should not be given. If the Ministry of Agriculture would co-operate in this matter and the Government veterinary officers were given the power, then they should have the authority to enter and examine these pet shops without prior notice or application to a local authority.
Hon. Members on both sides and a great majority of people in the country, the veterinary profession and those who earn their living and in most cases take great pleasure out of running pet shops, welcome this Bill. Most of us feel that it can be strengthened during the Committee stage, but we hope that the Government will give it their blessing. It will be welcomed by all animal lovers, and it may well set a standard which will penetrate to some of those countries overseas, especially countries in the East, where animals suffer dreadfully. It would be a great thing if this House could start a crusade, which I believe we may well do through bringing in this charter, for improving the lot of the dumb animals we love so much, which give us so much pleasure and which are so helpless of themselves.
§ 1.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Pargiter (Southall)
I feel sure that this Bill is going to receive the unanimous approval of the House, and I welcome it because of the purposes for which it stands. There have been certain criticisms of it, but these are merely criticisms of detail and certainly not criticisms of principle. In fact, having regard to the unsatisfactory state of the legislation dealing with animals generally, I 568 am sorry that the present Bill is not wider in its scope, though I appreciate that the wider it goes, the greater are the difficulties.
I should like to support my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Horn-church (Mr. Bing) in regard to the sale of pedigree animals. It is possible that such shops may be able to contract out of licensing as a pet shop. I do not know whether it is the intention of the promoters that they should do so, because that is somewhat contradictory as between owners who deal with the breeding of genuine pedigree animals and those who do not. Presumably they would have to be dealt with under Clause 3 and under the regulations made thereunder.
§ Mr. Pargiter
I hope that if there is any question of doubt it will be remedied on the Committee stage. I am not happy about the definition in Clause 7 of "local authority." I think I can say on behalf of the county councils that, while not objecting to this Bill as such, they do not want administrative responsibility for it. Their difficulty is that they are too remote. Equally, of course, they are not the sanitary authority, and this question deals largely with shops inspection and sanitary arrangements. If that is so, it will not be in the best interests of the Bill to keep the word "county" here.
§ Mr. Russell
I said I would move an Amendment during the Committee stage substituting "county district and non-county borough" for "county borough."
§ Mr. Pargiter
The term "county district council" would be adequate because that would cover rural district councils, urban district councils, and non-county borough councils. If that is the intention, any objection I have to the Bill is withdrawn.
I believe that if the appropriate local authorities are responsible for its operation, it can be operated. It ought to be possible to do so without much additional staff, which is always a problem facing local authorities. Whenever Parliament puts some new responsibility on a local authority they ask for more staff. Having regard to the economy of the country today, we must think carefully before we 569 pass Acts of Parliament requiring additional manpower. I am sure, however, that the number of pet shops required within the boundaries of any non-county borough would not be very large and ought not to provide great difficulty over inspection.
Licensing ought not to present undue difficulties, but I should like to know who will receive the benefit of the licensing fee? It does not appear to be one of those licences which have to be paid into the Exchequer, so I hope any doubt on that will be cleared up, because the local authority ought to retain the licensing fee in these cases. I hope also, that at the appropriate stage there will be consultation between the Home Office and the local authority associations before regulations are made, so that there may be agreement on what is an appropriate fee. While it should not be too onerous for any person wishing genuinely to carry on a pet shop, it should be sufficient to cover the administrative costs of dealing with the licences, apart from any question of inspection.
I hope the Bill will receive its Second Reading and that, provided criticisms made today are remedied in the Committee stage, it will find its way on to the Statute Book.
§ 1.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Vaughan-Morgan (Reigate)
As one of those whose names appear on the back of the Bill, I support this admirable Measure, which I hope will achieve the major success denied to a similar Bill on a previous occasion when my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Devon, North (Brigadier Peto) brought it forward. Reading the debates on that occasion I find that the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg), who is not here today, described it as being simple but not sloppy. I do not think the language was elegant but, at the same time, that is a reasonable description even of this Bill.
The hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) gave it his blessing and that, from the hon. Member, is in itself a worthwhile certificate, because the only other occasion on which he is likely to align himself with Members of this party is when he puts his name to a Prayer. I cannot say that the amount of correspondence I have had is anywhere near the 400 letters received by the hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch, 570 but no doubt it is because my constituents know that their Member is certain to support a humanitarian Measure of this kind.
I should like to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Wembley, South (Mr. Russell) for having brought forward this Bill and also to congratulate the R.S.P.C.A., if this Bill becomes law, on having achieved a further stage in their great task of the education and mobilisation of public opinion against cruelty. As other hon. Members have said, the majority of good pet shop owners will support this Measure, and this is a clear case where the majority need protection against the minority.
I agree strongly with the hon. Member for Southall (Mr. Pargiter) that we must not delude ourselves that controls necessary under this Bill will in any way involve hordes of bureaucrats. I entirely agree with the Amendment suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Wembley, South, which will transfer these powers to the lower-tier authorities. However, as he and I are both members of the London County Council, he ought in loyalty to that body to consider whether London is not in a slightly different category. There is a strong case for the London County Council being the authority in this case. I do not know their views, but I think it works in well with the work of the Public Control Committee of that body.
I shall comment on only one of the regulations. I support strongly what the hon. Member for Barking (Mr. Hastings) said with regard to regulation 9. The age of 12 years is far too low. It ought to be raised, and it ought equally to be stipulated that the child should be accompanied by an adult when the sale is made. That is the only flaw in the Bill. We cannot go into too many details now, but what this Bill will do is to establish a code of good conduct which will be an example to all. That is what really matters. We can learn from experience as the Act is administered. I hope that this Bill, above all other private Members Bills that have come forward, will become law before very long.
§ 1.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Percy Wells (Faversham)
The hon. Member for Wembley, South (Mr. Russell) and my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood) 571 made such an excellent case for this Bill that I have no doubt they will succeed in securing its Second Reading. They, and other hon. Members who have followed them, have described in detail abuses of which we all have knowledge, so I will not take up the time of the House in detailing instances which have come to my notice or have reached me through the medium of constituents. There is no doubt that the Bill has aroused considerable interest in the country, and I am exceedingly pleased to be able to give it my full support. Like every hon. and right hon. Gentleman, I have received a large number of letters in connection with the Bill, and I am, therefore, pleased that it has the sincere and genuine support of Members on all sides of the House.
There is little one can criticise in the Bill. Indeed, the only criticism that I have heard outside the House has been about the effect that it may have on local authorities. It is said that it will not only increase their work but will also increase their expenses. I should imagine, however, that any extra work which will be involved if this Bill becomes law could be undertaken by the existing staff of local authorities, and that there will be little, if any, additional financial burden imposed on the local rates. That is all the more so as the services of the R.S.P.C.A. can be called upon to assist the local authorities in the duties imposed on them by the Bill, if the local authorities are inclined to use those services.
If I have any complaint to make about the Bill, it is that it does not go far enough. I regret that it will still be legal to sell pet animals from barrows in market places, although it will be forbidden to do so in streets and other public places. I suppose there is a reason for that, but it is one which I fail to understand. I have seen as much lack of consideration for and cruelty to animals offered for sale at registered market places as I have seen in streets and other public places, and Club Row is not unknown to me. If it is thought that the police and the veterinary surgeons would, by their presence in registered market places, be able to supervise and prevent cruelty, I can only say that from my experience that will not be so. They are too busily engaged upon duties which they would consider to be 572 much more urgent, and certainly much more important.
In any event, they cannot exercise supervision over animals which are in transit, and great cruelty is often inflicted upon animals while they are being conveyed from one place to another. What happens to them while in transit is anyone's guess. They often lack water and food, and are confined in small cases or cages. I know that that is an offence already, but it is frequently not discovered, and often when it is discovered the harm has already been done. That is why I feel it is a pity that when tackling an evil of this kind we have not gone the whole hog and done away with the necessity for carrying these poor creatures from one place to another.
The proposal to license pet shops is a long overdue reform. I am certain that the sponsors of this Bill will win the gratitude of a large number of people, people who detest cruelty to animals whether in the oases which this Bill aims to prevent, or by trapping them in gin traps or by shooting them or setting hounds upon them. I hope that the Bill will become law on the date stated.
§ 1.55 p.m.
§ Mr. McKibbin (Belfast, East)
I had no intention of speaking in this debate, as the Bill does not apply to Ulster, but Ulster has been mentioned by several hon. Members. My hon. Friend the Member for Wembley, South (Mr. Russell), in moving the Second Reading of the Bill, said that it did not apply to Ulster because the R.S.P.CA. have no jurisdiction there. But we have an Ulster Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, to which I should like to pay tribute, as they do an excellent job and work very hard. I did not know until today that the R.S.P.C.A. had nothing to do with them.
There are very few pet shops in Ulster. Practically all pet animals are sold by large dealers in the country, a great many of whom are veterinary surgeons, so it may not be necessary for the Bill to apply there. But if it is necessary, and if the Bill becomes law here, as I am sure it will, I am certain there will be a demand in Ulster, as I have had a great many letters from there, that its provisions should be made applicable there. The hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) said that the 573 reason the Bill did not apply to Northern Ireland was that what is required there is a Bill to ensure kindly feelings towards people instead of animals. I may be notorious for having friendly feelings towards both animals and people, and I have kindly feelings towards even the hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Horn-church is not present, may I say that I think that the point he made was that if there was a Bill dealing with the baiting of animals in Ulster, he would have considerably less scope in this House?
§ Mr. McKibbin
It was perhaps later, when the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) was not present, that the hon. and learned Member referred to the other matter that I have mentioned. I have no ill-feelings towards the hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch. I regard him with very friendly feelings indeed, in fact rather as a pet, although I would not wish to fondle him, which one of my hon. Friends said was one of the definitions of "pet." The reason I regard him as a pet is that I consider that the untrue statements which he continues to make about Ulster on every conceivable occasion, are worth at least 5,000 votes to me at the next election.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Colonel Sir Charles MacAndrew)
I do not think that that arises on this Bill.
§ Mr. McKibbin
I am sorry that I said that, and I am also sorry that the hon. and learned Member is not present, but that is what I mean, and I have said it. I support the Bill.
§ 1.59 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Lipton (Brixton)
I think it is true to say that animals are probably better treated in this country than in any other country in the world. I read the literature that is printed by various groups and organisations which seek to make out that other countries are in almost every respect better than this one, but in the course of those studies I have never come across any claim made on behalf of those prejudiced partisans that there is any other country in which animals are better treated than in this country. Nevertheless the Bill does represent a long overdue reform, and as such it will be welcomed, as indeed it has been 574 in every quarter of the House, and by most people in the country.
Like other hon. Members, I have received a number of representations on this matter from my constituents, including a petition signed by 54 people. I have also received five or six letters from constituents, about which I would observe that they are all from housewives. That, of course, does not mean that men are not just as interested as women in this matter, but it is in my opinion refreshing to note that in the midst of all the cares and anxieties and preoccupations which affect the day-to-day life of the housewife, some of them have found the time and interest to write to their Member of Parliament on this subject. As soon as I received these communications, I was very pleased to assure them that if I had the opportunity of catching your eye, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I should lend my support to this Measure.
Reference has ben made to what might develop into a grievous burden on local authorities who are to be entrusted with the task of seeing that this Bill is put into effect. I do not know how the figures work out in other parts of the country, but I conducted some personal investigations into the matter in my own constituency. I found that there are some four or five pet shops in my constituency, some of which have been conducting business for a considerable time. My constituency represents only about one-third of the Metropolitan Borough of Lambeth and in those circumstances I can say that there are probably not more than 15 to 20 pet shops in the whole of the borough. In my view, that would not add very considerably to the burden imposed on whatever officer is to be-entrusted with seeing that this Bill is carried into effect when it becomes an Act.
Although I have no authority for saying so, I am of opinion that the R.S.P.C.A. could handle this matter off their own bat. I am quite sure that in my own area the local inspector could easily take in his stride the task of looking at these pet shops to see whether they comply with the reasonable provisions which the promoters of this Bill seek to impose. I do not believe there will be any great difficulty so far as local authorities are concerned. If there is, I am sure that the R.S.P.C.A., which has been doing excellent work in this 575 matter for so many years, will be more than glad to co-operate and to ease any burden if it materialises.
I hope to follow the example of most hon. Members who have already spoken and to keep my remarks as brief as possible. I do not intend to dilate at great length on the merits of the Bill, because the Bill speaks for itself. It needs very little additional support from me or anyone else at this stage of the proceedings. I am well aware that this Bill does not satisfy all the requirements of the situation; but I have learned since I became a Member of this House in 1945 to be very thankful for small mercies—especially on Fridays when Private Members' Bills are discussed.
I hope that the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department will be able to allay whatever anxieties may still exist in the minds of hon. Members by giving a very simple assurance on behalf of the Government that they will provide the very modest amount of time that will be required to bring this Bill on to the Statute Book. That is all he needs to say if he wishes to abbreviate the proceedings—that he will use his influence with his colleagues, and in particular with his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, to ensure that the very little amount of time which will be necessary to get this Bill on the Statute Book will be forthcoming.
The demand which has manifested itself up and down the country in support of the Bill is as genuine as, if not more genuine than, the demands sometimes made much more vociferously for less worthy objects. I hope, therefore, that my hon. Friend will give us that assurance, which will prevent a repetition of what unfortunately happened when the hon. and gallant Member for Devon, North (Brigadier Peto) introduced a similar Measure in 1949. We were all in favour of it, but for purely technical reasons in connection with the Parliamentary time-table, his efforts on that occasion did not reach fruition. I am quite sure that if it is a question of providing time, the usual channels—which according to the latest reports have now been "unclogged"—will find a way, even it the expense of somebody—though that expense will not be great—to bring this very much needed Measure on to the Statute Book.
§ 2.8 p.m.
§ Wing Commander Bullus (Wembley, North)
I think that most matters in connection with this Bill have already been ventilated, but I yield to no one in my desire to be associated with my hon. Friend and co-Member for Wembley in his desire to get through these initial stages and eventually to see this very necessary Measure on the Statute Book. With characteristic modesty my hon. Friend has indicated that this Bill is almost identical with the Bill introduced by the hon. and gallant Member for Devon, North (Brigadier Peto) two years ago; but much credit is due to the hon. Member for Wembley, South, for his keen interest in the subject and the amount of time and effort he has devoted to getting first-hand experience and knowledge of conditions in pet shops and stores.
All hon. Members are in favour of the principle of this Bill—the prevention of cruelty to and the suffering of animals. Everyone will be in sympathy with that object. I have been impressed with the great public interest in the Bill. It has received widespread support from all parts of the country and I, in common with other hon. Members, have received many letters from constituents in support of the Bill. I have not received one communication complaining about or opposing the Bill. Much of this public interest is undoubtedly due to the publicity given in the national Press, and in this respect the "Sunday Pictorial," the "Sunday Graphic" and the "News of the World" have rendered real service in giving much space to the subject. They have quoted cases similar to those instanced by my hon. Friend, and have awakened public conscience to the necessity for such a Bill as this.
Indeed, I have heard no real criticism of the Bill. Such points as have been raised today can no doubt be resolved in Committee. It may be that some, while in sympathy with the objects of the Bill, will resent the extension of the power of officials to examine property and even private homes which is proposed to be given. Some may even suggest that such powers mean more "snooping" and more "snoopers."
In this connection, I remember during the war conferring with other officers about a research project which would have been an expensive one in terms of 577 finance, but after much discussion one officer pointed out that lives might be saved by the project. I always remember that this ended the discussion at once. We were all agreed that no expense should be allowed to count when lives were involved. I make that point because a similar principle is involved in this Bill. Inconvenience to some animal keepers is offset by the probability of preventing cruelty and death to a number of helpless pet animals. It is worth much inconvenience to prevent suffering and to save life.
This Bill should cause no difficulty to the good pet shops. Indeed, it is likely to be welcomed by those who keep well-conducted shops, for they have nothing to fear. It is the keepers of the less reputable ones who will have to put their stalls in order or be put out of business. I have read the debate which took place two years ago, and I have talked with several R.S.P.C.A. inspectors. One inspector told me recently of the death of a number of animals caused by fire on private premises. The Society could not act because the animals were on private property not actually used for the sale of such animals. This Bill, I think, makes provision for such cases where animals have been transferred from the shop or the stall. But if there is any uncertainty about the interpretation of the Clause, I hope that it will be cleared up during the Committee stage. I hope that there will be a right of entry to such premises, even if they are private property, if there is any possibility or likelihood of fire.
The restriction of age, whereby children under 12 years of age cannot purchase a pet, should not discourage young children. The reverse may be the case, for children will realise more fully the responsibility of owning pets. There are many pet clubs in the country, and they should be encouraged. I have a pet club in my divsion and, through the schools, competition is held for the annual award of a silver cup. The local authority can be a real help in encouraging in the young a sense of responsibility in pet ownership.
No one can be satisfied that all possible steps have yet been taken to prevent unnecessary suffering to animals. We know of the recent instance of the suffering of horses in a Channel crossing. Some of us have seen the circulated pamphlet showing the rabbits which have been snared. They are terrible pictures. 578 This Bill is one step in the right direction. We congratulate the hon. Member for Wembley, South on his work on the Bill, and I am sure that the House will be inspired to go forward with other similar legislation if this Bill reaches the Statute Book.
§ 2.14 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Geoffrey de Freitas)
I intervene now before the end of the debate because my speech is in no way intended to sum up the debate, but is an intervention to say clearly that the Government are in sympathy with the main purpose of the Bill. I have had the advantage of hearing all but 10 minutes of this debate, and I agree with a great deal of what has been said in the excellent speeches which have been made, especially by the hon. Member for Wembley, South (Mr. Russell) and by my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood).
The Bill raises two important general questions. The first is whether the existing law is adequate for the purpose of preventing cruelty. The second is whether the procedure proposed in the Bill is a suitable means of achieving this. To assist the House in considering the first point, I think it will help if I state briefly the origins and scope of the law relating to cruelty to animals, and, to consider the second point, I shall have to refer, not at great length, to the Bill itself.
In this country—that is to say, in England and Wales, because this Bill refers to England and Wales, and not even the ingenuity of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) succeeded in extending it across the Irish Sea—the general law relating to cruelty to animals is contained in the Protection of Animals Act, 1911, as amended in 1912, 1921 and 1927. All these Acts originated as Private Member's Bills. It is a fact that almost every Act on the subject of cruelty to animals, except the Cruelty to Animals Act, 1867, which has to do with vivisection, originated as a Private Member's Bill.
Between the wars, Private Members' Bills dealing with animal welfare were a regular feature of the business of this House. Even those hon. Members who were not here then know that. It is certainly interesting to note that immediately Private Members' Bills came back again 579 after the war, seven out of the first 23 Measures put forward by Private Members concerned the welfare of animals. I mention this to show the great interest which Parliament has always taken in these matters. Hon. Members may recall that the very first debate which took place in this new Chamber last autumn was a debate on the Motion for the Adjournment during which it fell to me to reply to the hon Member for Newport (Mr. Peter Freeman) on one important aspect of animal welfare, that is to say, vivisection.
The fact that proposals for the alteration and extension of the law in this field have always come from Private Members, often as a result of public concern on some aspect of the problem, makes it most necessary that each proposal should be considered in the light of the general law on the subject, to avoid unnecessary complication of the law. That is why my predecessors as Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department have so often appeared, as I appear at this Box today, in the unpopular rôle of having to point out to the House the difficulties and disadvantages of doing what is sought to be done in the way in which the Bill seeks to do it.
Like my predecessors at the Home Office who have had to handle matters relating to animal welfare, I have received a considerable number of abusive letters charging me with being callous in my regard for animals. Nothing could be further from the truth. In my general attitude towards animals, I have an aversion, which even my friends cannot understand, to visiting a zoo and seeing animals in cages. It has been the fact that successive Under-Secretaries of State have had these accusations made against them because it has been their task to show the disadvantages and difficulties when a particular Private Member's Bill on the subject of animal welfare has been introduced.
The provisions of the existing law which are applicable to the present problem are those in Section 1 of the Protection of Animals Act, 1911, and in Sections 91 and 92 of the Public Health Act, 1936. The provision of the Protection of Animals Act is very wide indeed. It has been suggested that the penalties provided in that Act are inade- 580 quate. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department on many occasions—and I myself, on a smaller number of occasions—has had to deal with answers to Questions on that matter in this House.
I should mention that the penalty provided in the Act of 191I was a fine not exceeding £25 and/or imprisonment for not more than six months. The next year it was amended, reducing the maximum term of imprisonment to three months and it appears from the debates on the Bill that the purpose was to facilitate the enforcement of the Measure. When the penalty was six months it was open to the accused to elect to go for trial by jury. The reduction removed this power of election and these are now matters for summary jurisdiction. There is no evidence that benches find penalties in the Acts of Parliament inadequate. Short of having minimum penalties, which is entirely contrary to the principles of our law, there is nothing we can do in our capacity as legislators to force benches to give increased sentences.
In the Public Health Act, 1936, there are certain provisions for the control of nuisances, for proceedings for the inspection of premises and serving of notices for abatement where necessary.
It has been suggested that however effective the Protection of Animals Act may be in preventing cruelty to animals generally, it cannot be enforced in regard to animals in pet shops owing to the difficulty of obtaining the necessary evidence. Before 1947 the Home Office had never received any complaint about unsatisfactory conditions in pet shops. I shall certainly accept the invitation of the hon. Member for Wembley, South, to visit any pet shops or areas we can visit together.
So far as the Home Office is aware, there is only one case in which the proprietor of a pet shop was prosecuted under the Protection of Animals Act, 1911, and in that case there was a conviction. It may be said that this shows that the Act cannot be effectively enforced in this field, but it may also be considered to be an indication that the abuses to which many hon. Members have referred are not in fact as general as has been suggested.
This conclusion is supported by the argument that many of the cases of 581 cruelty which are said to occur in pet shops occur in public parts of the pet shop and are not in any way difficult to detect. In such cases there need be no difficulty in securing the necessary evidence to support a prosecution under the present law. This would apply to the practices which have been mentioned, such as keeping animals for a long time in a sunny window. The Bill does not in any way strengthen the law except by providing specific offences in place of the general offence of causing unnecessary suffering.
Many hon. Members maintain that the main object of this Bill is to enable the law to be applied to practices which are said to be carried on in those parts of pet shops which are not accessible to the general public. The suggestion is that a great deal of cruelty takes place which cannot at present be brought before the courts. This, from the nature of things, is a matter of conjecture. If it is accepted, as it is, that it is impossible to produce evidence on which a prosecution could be based, those practices may occur, but we cannot overlook the fact—which has been mentioned—that the vast majority of people who keep pet shops are people who love animals and obviously keep them in a condition which is best for their business.
Hon. Members have not only referred to pet shops, but to markets and stalls in open places. This is pre-eminently the type of case in which the existing law is fully adequate to prevent cruelty. The exhibition for sale of these animals takes place in the open and there is no reason at all why proceedings should not be brought if there is justification for them. There is nothing in the present Bill which would make it easier to bring such proceedings.
On the first of the two general questions, whether the existing law is adequate for the purpose of preventing cruelty in this way: I submit that the general conclusion seems to be that there is no obstacle in the way of the enforcement of the law in so far as a large part of the trade is concerned, that is, the public exhibition of animals. There is no overwhelming evidence that in those sections of the trade where it is at present difficult to obtain evidence to support a prosecution there is cruelty on a large scale.
582 This Bill follows the general lines of the 1949 Bill. As hon. Members know, the Home Secretary received a deputation in August which included hon. Members of this House, led by my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood). That deputation discussed the suggestion that the Government should take over responsibility for the Bill. My right hon. Friend pointed out to the deputation some of the difficulties in the Bill, including those of principle, and also some of detail. He pointed out that among the principal objections to the Bill was the fact that in many respects it simply duplicated existing legal powers.
He made certain specific suggestions and I shall refer to one of them only. That is the suggestion that the definition of "animal protection society" in the 1949 Bill was not precise enough and might give rise to difficulty. In Clause 4 of the Bill before us today it is defined and the only animal protection society which is given powers is the R.S.P.C.A. It is for consideration at a later stage whether this is not going too far in one direction because, if powers are given to inspectors of the R.S.P.C.A., it may well be felt that they should be given to officials of other efficient, well-established and well-known societies in this field.
§ Mr. Anthony Greenwood
On that point, certainly the impression which the deputation brought away after seeing the Home Secretary was that it was his view that it was much better to specify one particular society, rather than to leave it as it was before. But if we did not understand the Home Secretary on that point, that is the sort of thing which could be rectified on Committee stage.
§ Mr. de Freitas
That is what I said. I am sorry if there was some misunderstanding, but certainly what my right hon. Friend intended to convey was that it should be defined but not in any way that it should be restricted to one particular society. That is a point which can be cleared up at a later stage.
Most of the other points of alteration are of relatively minor importance but the alteration in Clause 1 which gives the licensing authority absolute authority to grant or refuse licences is a big change, as is recognised and acknowledged in all parts of the House. Of course we shall have to consider that. The diffi- 583 culty which I have to put before the House is that this Bill seeks to create a system of licensing and inspection and a number of new criminal offences in order to deal with practices which are already subject to statutory penalties. Whether that is justified or not is a matter for the House.
I have questioned the necessity for the Bill and I now turn shortly to the machinery which the Bill proposes to operate. The machinery includes the licensing and inspection of all premises, including a private dwelling at which pet animals are kept for the purposes of trade. It includes the laying down of regulations for the conduct of such premises, the breach of which would be a criminal offence.
To take first the question of licensing, the hon. Lady the Member for Wythenshawe (Mrs. Hill) said she thought local authorities would be delighted to have these additional duties. But it is a fact—I do not say it is an overwhelming fact but we must bear it in mind—that local authorities are indeed hard pressed in matters of staff. In other fields with which I am also concerned, for example, in matters of Civil Defence, they say they find the central Government and Parliament are giving them more and more to do. I do not know the official views of the local authorities' associations on this, but I know the County Councils' Associations do not want the task, and that is recognised by the hon. Member for Wembley, South (Mr. Russell) who is to move an Amendment to the Bill at a later stage.
The duties of inspection will have to be considered, and there may well be strong objection to the proposal that an official of a local authority, a veterinary surgeon, a constable or an inspector of the R.S.P.C.A. or whatever society is added to the Bill in Committee, should be empowered, on the written authority of a local council, to enter a private house which, for the purposes of this Bill, is a pet shop. Generally speaking, it seems open to question whether local authority officials and inspectors should be empowered to enter private houses for the purpose of enforcing the provisions of this Bill. That is certainly a matter for consideration. We are all agreed on the need to protect animals but we must be careful that in providing for it there 584 is not an unreasonable intrusion into the liberties of the owners of those animals.
The other provisions of this Bill which are open to objections are the Schedules, many of which, it is admitted, are far from precise. Generally speaking, it is not a good way of dealing with this problem to attempt to lay down a code of the manner in which pets should be kept. I submit that generally speaking it is preferable to follow the practice of the existing law, Which is to leave it to the courts to decide on the evidence on each case whether or not an offence of cruelty has been committed.
I have questioned the necessity for the Bill. I have pointed out what I consider to be the difficulties of the Bill, difficulties in principle and some of the difficulties in detail. I have discharged what I set out to do and I am sure that in due course the House will give this Bill a Second Reading and that we shall then consider it in great detail in Committee.
§ 2.34 p.m.
§ Brigadier Peto (Devon, North)
As has already been said in this debate, over two years ago I introduced a very similar Bill. It was a Bill that covered exactly these grounds. It was given a Second Reading on 18th March, 1949, and got as far as the Committee stage, but, as has been mentioned today, it was refused Government time, even for the nod of a head, on a technical point.
I rise to give wholehearted support to this Bill, the Second Reading of which has been most ably moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Wembley, South (Mr Russell). In doing so, I wish him better luck than I had on a previous occasion. I should like also to take the opportunity of saying how much I appreciated the able, fluent and effective speech of the hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood). We are accustomed to hearing such speeches from him, and I always envy him his fluency. He raised many points of considerable interest. One that interested me particularly was the reference to Richard Martin's Bill. He said that when that Bill was introduced, people—probably including the Under-Secretary of that day—tried to throw cold water on it and to show how it was unnecessary.
I hope very much that this Bill will become an Act in due course. As has been stated already by my hon. Friend 585 the Member for Wembley, South, the object of the Bill is to shut the door before the horse bolts. That, in fact, was a paraphrase of what I said was the object of my Bill, though my speech on that occasion was not nearly so ably worded. I said then:The object of this Bill is to prevent unnecessary suffering to animals while they are in the premises of pet shops, and also to prohibit the casual sale of pet animals in the streets."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th March, 1949; Vol. 462, c. 2444.]In that sentence, with the definition that follows of pet shops and pet animals, the whole principle of this Bill is contained.
No one on either side of the House, either now or two years ago, has quarrelled with the principle behind this Bill, the principle that, if we can, we want to see that no unnecessary suffering is caused to animals whether they are sold in pet shops or elsewhere. When the Under-Secretary replied, he said that there were many minor objections to the Bill from the point of view of his Department. He raised two main questions. Is the Bill necessary—in other words, in the way he put it, is the existing law adequate—and does this Bill produce the required result?
I think all Members who have spoken, and many who have not spoken, will agree that there is a very real necessity for a Bill of this sort and that the existing regulations are not enough to cover the cases we have in mind. Both now and on a previous occasion the Undersecretary of State for the Home Department said that though many cases had been quoted, in practice in no case did prosecution result in effective punishment. I would say that the reason no prosecution resulted in effective punishment was that there was no power of inspection; and there is no power of inspection now.
What the public sees in the windows of the pet shops has very little to do with what goes on behind in the backyards and in the cellars and upstairs. I think the case quoted by the hon. Member for Rossendale, where the R.S.P.C.A. called in the sanitary inspector and had permission to look at the premises from a sanitary point of view, was the only case where a prosecution resulted in a conviction. Under this Bill it will be possible to inspect all premises which are suspect and of which complaint has been 586 made to local authorities, and, as anyone knows who has served in the Forces, when it is known that there is to be an inspection, the turn-out is better than it is when there is no inspection.
I should like to mention, in passing, that for a few months after my Bill was first introduced, in London and in my own area the standard of the windows, at any rate, in pet shops improved remarkably. I went and looked at them. If the owners of bad pet shops, who I admit are by no means in the majority, know that they are subject to complaint and that their shops may be inspected, I believe that half the battle is won. I do not believe that under the existing law that can be effected.
The necessity for the Bill is really under three headings. It seeks, first, to bring about prosecutions of bad pet shop owners and second, to prevent promiscuous trading in the streets without licence—nearly in every case there is some form of cruelty—and third, perhaps the best of all reasons for having this Bill is the force of public opinion in the matter. Public opinion is deeply stirred, although I do not think it is easily stirred unless there is good reason.
I should like to reiterate what has been said on several occasions, that this Bill does not affect any owner of a shop who runs it in a humane and proper manner. Nor is it aimed at those who are engaged in hobbies such as rearing peculiarly coloured fish or, in fact, any fish, or fancy bird rearing or pigeon fancying. During the Second Reading and Committee stage of my Bill, I received many deputations from people in those categories, and I gave them my assurance at that time that the Bill was not aimed at people engaged in hobbies such as I have described, whose premises could in no sense be called a pet shop. In that Bill such people were expressly excluded, as were breeders of Sealyhams in an Amendment moved by one of my hon. Friends.
I think it is obvious from the speeches which have been made that when this Bill goes to Committee there are many small Amendments which could well be effected to make this a better Bill. The Committee stage of my Bill was not hurried. It took one whole morning and it was attended by the then Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, 587 who at the end, I thought, was satisfied with the Amendments which had been made. However, others have been mentioned. I should like to say that, although I may have been disappointed from a personal and perhaps selfish point of view that my Bill did not achieve anything, I shall be more than recompensed if, as the result of further consideration, this Bill becomes a better Bill and achieves its object.
The Under-Secretary asked whether the existing law was adequate and whether this Bill would achieve its object. I am trying to show that the existing law is not adequate, and that this Bill will, at any rate, help to achieve the object which we are so anxious it shall achieve. The Under-Secretary pointed out the difficult situation in which he and all Under-Secretaries stand when replying on Private Members' Bills, particularly when they refer to matters such as this. I do not think anybody could possibly quarrel with the fair-minded way in which the hon. Gentleman dealt with the points raised. He mentioned that only one case before 1947 had resulted in a conviction under the existing law. That same case was also mentioned by the former Under-Secretary.
One of the main points that should be mentioned is that it is because there was no right to inspect, that there were no convictions. It is not possible to convict without the right to go in and get the evidence. It is no good saying that the present legislation is adequate because there have been no convictions. The point is exactly the opposite. It is necessary to have a Bill which makes it possible to secure convictions in appropriate cases. The Under-Secretary said that market places are now covered by existing legislation. They may be, but street trading is not so covered, and I want to see street traders who deal in illicit goods such as stolen puppies, and who are never moved by feelings of humanity towards those animals, placed under licence in market places or pet shops if they want to carry on their trade. The Under-Secretary said that there was no obstacle to obtaining evidence which would result in prosecution. I entirely disagree with that.
§ Mr. de Freitas
Would the hon. and gallant Gentleman allow me? I was 588 saying that street trading and market trading—trading in pets in full public view—was pre-eminently the type of case in which, under the existing law, prosecutions could be successfully carried out because the evidence was there for all to see. That was one category. The question of inspection was, of course, another one.
§ Brigadier Peto
I follow that, but that point was also made by the then hon. Member for Tynemouth, Miss Colman, in the last Parliament. The fact is that when one thinks that one can catch these people, they go off when they know they are suspected, and they cannot be caught.
§ Mr. Keenan (Liverpool, Kirkdale)
Is it not a fact that at present it is nobody's responsibility to bring them to heel?
§ Brigadier Peto
I am obliged to you, Mr. Speaker, for allowing me to catch your eye, and also to those of my hon. Friends who suggested that I should wind up this debate. It is a privilege. I feel bound to say that the winding-up may take longer than you may think, Mr. Speaker, although I have to leave shortly because I have another engagement.
§ Brigadier Peto
The hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) can go into that rather more detailed question on the Committee stage. He can discuss then whether live bait should be included or not.
§ Squadron Leader Burden
Surely the concern of the hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch should not be in connection with the people who sell the live bait but in connection with those who put it on the hook. It is treated perfectly well in the pet shop and does not receive any damage until it is put on the hook.
§ Brigadier Peto
I congratulate the hon. and learned Member upon his ingenious thoughts, but I am afraid I cannot deal with the point on this occasion. I must leave it until the Committee stage, when he can move an Amendment to include or exclude the selling of live bait if he wishes.
The hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Bowen) raised the question of penalties and licences and urged that there should be higher penalties. This point was very carefully argued two years ago in Committee and, if he will read the OFFICIAL REPORT, he will see the arguments advanced for and against one penalty or another and for and against one age or another—12 years or 15 years. I do not say whether those were the right conclusions. I found that the most difficult stage of such a Bill was that of making the definitions clear, and much good work can be done in that respect in Committee. It seems to me that in some cases the definitions are far too wide, as, for example, the definition of a pet shop.
I am grateful to my hon. Friends for giving me this opportunity today. Although this may be a small Bill, it is by no means unimportant. No one has challenged the principle behind it, nor could it be challenged. Love of animals and pride in animal management has for many years been one of our national characteristics—a characteristic of which I am very proud. Anything we can do by this Bill or by similar Bills to improve the lot of animals, whether pets or otherwise, is a good thing. I contend that this Bill is necessary and that administrative difficulties will not make it impossible to 590 operate its provisions. I do not believe there is any great difficulty which cannot be overcome. May I express my personal hope that the Bill will commend itself to the great majority of Members of this honourable House?
§ 2.54 p.m.
§ Mr. James Hudson (Ealing, North)
The hon. and gallant Member for Devon, North (Brigadier Peto), assured us that he was winding up the debate. Perhaps I should have been content to leave it at that, but I felt he was over-generous in his winding-up speech in view of what happened to the last Bill on this subject, following the speech made on that occasion by the representative of the Home Office. The hon. and gallant Gentleman assumes that we shall go forward to the Committee stage of this Bill, but on that occasion we did not reach the Committee stage at all.
§ Brigadier Peto
Not only did we reach the Committee stage on 19th July, 1949, but we discussed every point made and every Amendment and we concluded the Committee stage.
§ Mr. Hudson
I accept that correction. At any rate, we failed to obtain a succeeding opportunity for the completion of the Bill and, after having heard my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, I am afraid that we may have a similar process awaiting us on this occasion.
Together with other hon. Members who have spoken today, I am seriously concerned that this Bill should become law. I do not accept the Under-Secretary's view that the law as it stands is adequate and that we can rely upon the Protection of Animals Act and other Acts under which various actions of a limited kind can be taken. It is necessary to tone up the law in this respect, if only to bring it more into harmony with the developing humanitarianism of public opinion today.
People will not tolerate this callous treatment of animals as they tolerated it in the past. No doubt the feelings of the Under-Secretary are shared by a large number of people when he says, for example, that he no longer likes to go to the Zoo because he does not care to see animals in captivity there. If it were his duty to go to the Zoo as Under-Secretary, then he would have to go and he would have to put up with it. I suggest that it is his duty to go to the cellars and 591 back rooms of the shops where these pets are kept, very often in great misery because of our carelessness about the law which is supposed to protect them.
If we look back through the history of the law dealing with humanitarian issues, we find that this sort of problem has regularly arisen. For example, when the first Factory Acts were passed, the principle was that children should be protected against the worst exploitation of the people who then employed them. But nothing was done to see that the law was carried out. There were provisions, for example, stating that the poor children—for they were then the victims—should have some sort of education afforded to them, but no inspectors went round to see that this education was afforded and for years after the passing of the early Factory Acts inhuman treatment was the lot of our children, just as inhuman treatment will continue to be the lot of these animals until we provide for a proper system of inspection and for the right of examination of places where the facts can be found.
The Under-Secretary produced to us very much the same account as his predecessor. It was almost the same gramophone record. I wonder that the Home Office should provide such briefs for capable young men, who I am sure would make a better case if where there is a better case to be made. Yet they come along with the old worn-out stuff. My hon. Friend told us today that he had not learned whether any local authority would be willing to take on their shoulders the duty of the proposed inspection. His predecessor said precisely that two years ago, since when they have had plenty of time in which to find out about that matter. Several of my hon. Friends who have spoken today have indicated that there would be no valid objection on the part of their own local authorities to carrying out this necessary work. Yet the gramophone record had to be played.
§ Mr. de Freitas
We have heard from only one association of local authorities, and that one was very anxious that they should not have these powers. I am not saying that there are not particular local authorities who would welcome the power, but we have heard from only one local authority association.
§ Mr. Hudson
Apparently the Home Office have been making some enquires, and I am glad to hear it. I am certain that if a real effort were made by the Home Office to discover the feelings of local authorities, who are pressed by the same public opinion as we are, there would soon emerge a willingness to cooperate on any reasonably worked out basis.
We have now reached a time when the animals for which we are responsible speak to us in a different way from that in which animals spoke to the deaf ears of our forefathers. I hope I shall not be accused of mere sentimentalising, although if I am it is a healthy process. We ought to be able to visualise and to feel to a greater extent that we do, the sufferings of the animals for which we are responsible. If we cannot do that, we shall never realise the sufferings of the people for whom we are responsible. I believe that the whole humanitarian drive which is at the back of our social legislation today will lose in its power and enthusiasm if we show ourselves unwilling to deal with the fate of animals not properly tended and looked after.
I say to the Government: Take less note of the Home Office and what it tells the Under-Secretary about these matters. The Home Office is the great refrigerator of all warm-hearted movements, and is incapable of thinking out the claims made upon it. If we make the claim today, as we did two years ago, that there shall be proper inspection—and it is upon that point that I place the main emphasis—of places where these pet animals are kept, I am sure we shall be doing something that is worthy of and in accordance with the best traditions of this House.
The Under-Secretary concluded his speech by saying that he was sure the House would give this Bill a Second Reading, though why on earth he was sure after the arguments he advanced is beyond me. I should have thought all his arguments were in the direction of the House turning the Bill down. Still, he was sure the House would give it a Second Reading. I hope that he and the rest of the Government will also be sure that adequate time must be found 593 for the passage of this Bill through all its remaining stages.
§ 3.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Braine (Billericay)
I am sure that every hon. Member, not least the Undersecretary, will endorse the sentiments expressed by the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson). Quite early in his speech, I thought it was a great pity that he had not been fortunate enough to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, before the Under-Secretary spoke.
§ Mr. J. Hudson
To be fair to Mr. Speaker, I never gave him a chance, because I was anxious to see whether the same gramophone record was going to be played.
§ Mr. Braine
I am quite sure, Mr. Speaker, that had the hon. Member been fortunate enough to catch your eye and had his speech been delivered before the gramophone record was put on, the Under-Secretary, with all the great qualities of heart and mind which we know him to possess, would have been moved to tear up the brief which he brought to this House and would have addressed himself to the many well-thought out speeches which were delivered earlier in the debate.
As I understood it, the broad argument of the Under-Secretary, or rather the argument that was put into his mouth, was that this matter was better left to the existing law, that it was better left to the court to decide whether an act of cruelty had in fact been committed. There is no doubt in my mind, and I am quite certain that there is no doubt in the mind of any hon. Member, that the existing law is quite inadequate, that this Bill is long overdue, and that the hon. Member for Wembley, South (Mr. Russell), has done this House and the country a great service in bringing the Bill before us.
For example, under the existing law it is possible to prosecute only where suffering or a specific act of cruelty has been caused. In cases where suffering has led to a prosecution, how much suffering has gone on before undetected; how many small animals have perished; how many small animals have been sold and have then perished within a short time of the sale? Surely the whole motive of the promoters of this Bill is that prevention is better than cure.
594 I have no doubt—and I shall give the House some illustrations in a moment—that this Bill, if it becomes law, modified perhaps here and there, will prevent a great deal of cruelty and suffering. It will put a lot of unpleasant people out of business and it will certainly stop a great deal of business that is exceedingly unpleasant I have been astonished to find, not from hon. Members but from a great number of people to whom I have spoken about this matter outside this House, that there are some who, while they are as keen to protect the interests of animals as anyone else, genuinely believe that there is no need for this Bill.
I made it my business to find out what the conditions were like in the locality where I myself live. Like gold, evil is where you find it, and sometimes you find it only when you go to look for it. There is no doubt that there is need for this Bill, that the evils it seeks to remedy do exist. The illustrations which I want to give to the House have all occurred within two or three miles of my own home. Here is a statement made to me by the local inspector of the R.S.P.C.A. He says:Late in 1947 I discovered that a man, who already had a bad reputation and who ran a pet shop in a Southend market, was offering puppies for sale that were suffering from distemper. I carried out an inspection. Of three puppies I found one dead exposed for sale in a filthy cage. A second was in a condition of hysteria. The third was in a semi-comatose state, its eyes sealed up with mucus. This shop is in the open market. It is opened-fronted and the wind on a cold day blows through and would cause suffering even to fit animals. I prosecuted this man.The inspector in this particular case was able to act only after an act of cruelty had been perpetrated. Had that shop been licensed, had it been open to inspection, this act of cruelty probably would never have taken place. But there is a sequal to that story.
On 28th November the following year a 10-year old boy went into the same shop, which was now under a different proprietor, to buy a puppy for his birthday. He selected a six weeks old puppy just weaned, but he said that he would have preferred a puppy with a short tail, a not unreasonable request for a small boy. The inspector continues:The pet shop proprietor took the puppy from the boy, turned his back on him, placed the puppy on the table and hacked its tail 595 off with a pocket knife. He then got a paper bag, jammed it over the tail, and said, 'That will soon heal up.' The puppy died that night from shock and loss of blood.That man was prosecuted and fined £10 and costs. But if that pet shop had had to conform to the conditions laid down in the Bill, this sort of thing would not have happened. It is reasonable to assume that this kind of proprietor would not long have remained in business. But under the existing law this proprietor is still in business today in the same shop.
My third example, in respect of which I have a certificate from a leading veterinary surgeon in Rochford, Essex, refers to something that took place in Southend only last Friday. The veterinary surgeon states:I visited the parcels office, Victoria Station, Southend-on-Sea. I was shown five live parti-coloured stock dog pups and one black and white dead pup, all approximately nine or 10 weeks' old. These pups were all in poor or emaciated condition and covered with lice and scurf.I apologise for giving these unpleasant details and would not have done so but for the speech of the Under-Secretary, as I thought that up to the moment he rose the whole House was on the side of the Bill and the Government were going to give it their blessing. I am advised that these puppies were consigned to a dealer in Southend in this diseased condition and were to be offered for sale. Three of the five had to be destroyed immediately, and together with the puppy that had already died were taken to the premises of the veterinary surgeon where a post-mortem examination was carried out. It revealed that these animals had had no food in their stomachs except for a little milk which had been provided by the kindly railway officials. One had been visibly ill for at least three days.
I mention these cases because this sort of thing could not happen if the Bill were law. It would not be profitable for anyone to consign diseased animals for sale in a regulated and licensed pet shop. I do not wish to detain the House, because I know that there is further business of an important nature to follow, but I ask the Under-Secretary to think again on this subject and to realise the intensity of feeling there is, not only in the country among dog lovers and humanitarians, but among hon. Members, and to see that when the Bill goes to Committee, as I 596 hope it will, the Government will look more kindly upon it.
§ 3.15 p.m.
§ Mr. H. Hynd (Accrington)
The unanimity of the support given to this Bill must have given great pleasure to the hon. Member for Wembley, South (Mr. Russell) and probably even more to my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood), because it must have been a pleasant experience for him in contrast to the frigid reception that he met with when he tried to deal with cruelty to animals that were still free. There is a division of opinion here which I fail to understand about how far we should be kind to animals in captivity but how much less we need worry about animals not yet in captivity.
It is pleasant to hear the opinion which has been expressed today in the House, and I hope it can be extended even further. Even my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) has shown his depth of humanitarian feeling as he talked about the suffering of the worm on the hook. That is in pleasant contrast to the usual attitude of my hon. and learned Friend, because I have sometimes squirmed on seeing the suffering of the hon. Members in this House from Northern Ireland when my hon. and learned Friend has been dealing so cruelly with them here.
The feelings of the House today have done credit to everyone, including my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department. My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson) was rather condemnatory of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary. I felt sure that while the Under-Secretary was speaking, the hand was the hand of the Home Office, but the voice was the voice of my hon. Friend. If he had not been shackled by a departmental brief I am quite certain he would have delivered the most eloquent speech of all hon. Members in this House in support of this Bill. It was noticeable at the finish, when he saw from his notes that he was permitted to say that he hoped the Bill would go to Second Reading, that real relief and joy came into his voice. I feel that he had far more satisfaction in uttering that sentence than in anything else in his speech.
It is obvious that the defects mentioned by the Under-Secretary can be put right 597 comparatively easily, in the Committee stage of the Bill, and the promoters have shown their willingness to accept those necessary Amendments. My hon. Friend said that one of the departmental arguments against the Bill was that the complaints were not as general as had been suggested. That is no argument against the principle of the Bill. The fact that there have not been many complaints is a tribute to the growth of public opinion. The fact that there are abuses and cruelty still going on, is something that we in this House cannot afford to ignore, even if the actual cases reported have not been very numerous.
The Under-Secretary said that the vast majority of pet shops were well conducted. I think that point was emphasised by the hon. Member for Wembley, South, when he moved the Second Reading of the Bill. It is a point upon which everyone will agree, but it does not excuse the minority of badly conducted shops with which this Bill is designed to deal. My hon. Friend also drew attention to the fact that when cases had been brought, they had been cases that occurred in the public view in the shop. The whole purpose of the Bill is to deal with the cases that cannot be seen in the public view, the cases that occur in the cellars, in the back shop, under the counter and in the most unsatisfactory conditions, particularly when the shop is not open to the public. That may be the time when the animals suffer even more than usual.
The Under-Secretary finally suggested that the existing law was fully adequate. I agree that it is adequate as far as it goes, but it has been pointed out over and over again today, that the existing law does not permit proper inspection of those shops by people who have reason to believe that there are or may be cases of cruelty or neglect taking place on the premises. That is the whole purpose of the Bill, and I suggest that any law framed by this House should always be directed mainly to preventing abuses rather than trying to cure them after they have occurred. If this Bill becomes law, it will go a long way towards preventing cruelty and neglect and the other abuses mentioned today. I should be far more interested in that, than in attempting to discuss what should be done with the 598 people who have broken the law and violated public opinion.
As to whether local authorities want to take on these responsibilities, the Under-Secretary said he had received representations from the County Councils' Association that they did not want this additional responsibility. Any one who has municipal experience, as I claim to have, could well understand that point of view coming from the County Councils' Association. The tendency today in local government is to shift responsibility from the county districts to the county council level, and the county councils are getting overloaded with duties.
It has been suggested, and the mover accepted the suggestion, that the responsibility should also be given to the non-county boroughs, to the urban districts, and perhaps to other local authorities. In those cases the complaint for the last year or two has been consistently that they have been losing responsibilities—except when the town clerks are establishing a case for increased salaries. Therefore, there is a pretty clear case for saying there could be no possible objection from that angle that they were being overloaded, if the sanitary inspector or some other person were told to call at the pet shop when inspecting other shops on their round. So there is nothing in that argument, and we ought to dismiss it from our minds when discussing this question.
I have said that the prevention of abuse and cruelty is the important point. If prevention is not sufficient and breaches occur, then we have to face the question of penalties. It has been suggested that the present penalties are not sufficient. I am not sure that they are not sufficient. This Bill mentions £25 and/or three months imprisonment. How seldom is imprisonment given? I suggest all too seldom, and that if people are prosecuted two and three times it is not sufficient to go to the maximum fine. The second or third time imprisonment should be applied. That would be a good deterrent against any repetition of the offence. Sometimes people pay fines very lightly, but I have often watched from the bench the faces of people given even a short term of imprisonment. It has a very different effect. So the existing law, if the full penalties were enforced, might be adequate to deal with people of the type we have in mind.
599 Finally, may I mention one aspect which may not have been sufficiently stressed in discussing this Bill? I refer to children being allowed to buy pets at these stores. In the course of our educational and general development in recent years, children have been learning to have a real love for animals which can be found in this country as nowhere else. I had a rather horrible experience in another country, the name of which I shall not mention. There some children came up to me with a bird with a string round its leg. A boy swung it round his head and asked me if I wanted to buy it. When I said that I did not, he said that he would stick a pin in its eye if I did not do so. I cannot imagine that sort of thing happening in this country. Children are brought up to love animals. They are also taught to do so at school and in the Boy Scout movement one of the laws of which is that a scout is a friend to animals. Most children have developed a real Jove for animals.
Unfortunately there are certain excepttions. Children nowadays have a fair amount of pocket money, and it is regrettable that as the law stands any child can go into one of these shops, buy an animal without any question being asked, and can take it away and perhaps be very cruel to it out of sight, where no one can see him and no one can take action. That is a position which exists and should be dealt with, as I think it can be under this Bill. It is just one example of the type of abuse that is possible against dumb animals today, a type of abuse which this humanitarian Bill is designed to end. In bringing it before the House the hon. Member for Wembley, South (Mr. Russell) and others have rendered a real public service and reflected the growing public opinion on this subject.
I do not intend to attempt to go into details at this moment; I do not think it is necesary to do so. If we can get the Bill before us in Committee upstairs we can then go into it with the Home Office, face all the difficulties, dubieties and reservations of the Home Office. I am certain that they can be adequately dealt with by acceptable Amendments, and that this Bill will go on to the Statute Book as a new charter in the history of animals in this country.
§ 3.27 p.m.
§ Sir Peter Bennett (Birmingham, Edgbaston)
Most of the points that I had intended to raise have already been dealt with, and my reason for rising is enthusiastically to support the attitude of the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson). I agree with him entirely in saying that unless we make our views very clear, we shall not get this Bill.
I listened carefully to the speech of the Under-Secretary. Hon. Members opposite asked for the blessing of the Home Office, but if that was a blessing I would sooner have down-right opposition. If ever I heard anything damned with faint praise, it was this Bill. But I do not blame the Under-Secretary for his attitude; it was really that of his officials. As the hon. Member for Ealing, North, said, we have heard the same story before—"This Bill is unnecessary. The existing law is really quite sufficient, and even if you do need legislation, this Bill is not a very good one."
My point of view is that if half the stories which have been told today are true—and I am sure that no one will contradict them—then something is wrong with the law or with the people who administer it. Surely we are not going to say that the law today is adequate if it is allowing the cruelties of which we have heard to continue. We say that the powers are not sufficient, and the Under-Secretary, in his statement, did not make it clear that the powers were adequate, because if they are, some people are neglecting their duty.
The Under-Secretary finished with a pious hope that the Bill would receive a Second Reading. I have no doubt that he did hope that, but there was no promise of any subsequent assistance. The Bill will be lost in the "murder of the innocents," at the end of the Session, unless this House makes its views quite clear. If my postbag and those of other Members are any sort of guide, the country generally expects us to pass this Bill. I hate the thought of having to face my constituents with regard to this Bill. They will say to me, "We thought you promised to get that Bill through. You said you supported it. What happens next?" It is difficult to explain to people that we are in the hands of the Government; that we can go so far and then they stop us. I think we ought to make our views 601 very clear, and in doing what we believe we are doing—reflecting the views of the country—we ought to press the Government to help us to get this Bill through.
There are one or two points I wish to raise. I support the hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) regarding licensing. By all means make the licences rigid for the new shops, but give the local authorities a little time to deal with the existing ones. One hon. Member said there were only a few pet shops in his constituency, but in a big city like Birmingham there are a large number; and we do not want this to be a case of rubber stamping documents. We want time to be given to look into the matter properly, and so I support the hon. and learned Member for Horn-church; I am glad of the opportunity of doing so for once.
The hon. Member for Barking (Mr. Hastings) called attention to the Schedule and the activities of children. I do not know why dogs and cats and chickens are especially mentioned. My lawyer always tells me that if I want something general, I should not give specific instances. The reason I mention children specifically is my own experience. I remember as a schoolboy getting hold of some white mice and taking them home. I do not know now from where I got them, but I know that my mother had to take care of them, because I was off to play cricket and do other things. I suppose there are children who love animals but who do not make them their sole charge. The hon. Member for Ealing, North, mentioned schools and another hon. Member talked about the Boy Scouts, but from my experience with my white mice, I can say that my mother had to deal with them. Later on when my brother and I wanted to keep rabbits she would not have them, because she knew she would have to deal with them too.
I suggest to the promoters of this Bill that we should take all the care we can to see that children cannot get hold of animals and take them home if there is no way of ascertaining whether the animals are wanted there. Once they get them home, this Bill says nothing whatever about mother or somebody else taking care of the animals; and women are hard-worked enough now without landing them with the job of looking 602 after pets which have been forgotten by the children. Therefore, I should like to see something introduced to prevent children from acquiring pets which will not be properly looked after when they get them home.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Wembley, South (Mr. Russell), on introducing this Bill, and I hope he will have the satisfaction of seeing it on the Statute Book. But that will be achieved Only if we make it clear to the Government that we are in deadly earnest about it.
§ 3.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Harry Wallace (Walthamstow, East)
I had not intended to say anything in this debate until I heard the reply of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department.
§ Mr. Wallace
He is quite popular with me. I think he had a difficult job to do and did it quite well. He will probably reveal his sympathy on the Committee stage. Regarding the question of an inquiry of the local authorities, I have no objection to the County Councils Association being asked for an opinion, but I should like to know why the Standing Joint Committee of the Metropolitan Boroughs was not consulted. There are other local authorities and I am sure that they are entitled to express an opinion about this matter.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Brixton (Lieut.-Colonel Lipton) spoke about this question as it affected his constituency. I have sat on the council of the Metropolitan Borough of Lambeth for a good many years, and: I should be amazed if any officer of that council told me that there was any difficulty about inspecting these shops. Indeed, I should be prepared to inspect them myself. It would not be very difficult. I am not impressed by what has been said about the reply of the county councils. The point I want to emphasise is that I think that the Home Office should extend its inquiries when it wants to get the opinion of local government. I make that as a general point, as distinct from this Bill.
The hon. Member for Edgbaston (Sir P. Bennett) spoke about his mother and the pet mice. I thought that he was going to talk about pet rabbits. I do not know which causes more annoyance at 603 home—the pet rabbit or the pet mouse. I think that we see sufficient of the pet shops; we know the localities in which they are placed; we know the types of property, and we have a very good idea that there cannot be adequate and proper accommodation in many cases. This is not a good example for the children. In their interest, something ought to be done.
I did not intend to intervene in this debate, but I wanted to question my hon. Friend about this method of getting the opinion of local authorities. I think that the inquiry should be extended beyond the county council.
§ Mr. de Freitas
It has been extended beyond the county council. The only people who replied to us in writing were the County Councils' Association, and they did not want it.
§ Mr. Wallace
I am glad to know that other authorities were asked. I got the impression that only the county councils had been asked. Was the Standing Joint Committee of Metropolitan Boroughs asked?
§ Mr. de Freitas
I do not know about the Standing Joint Committee, but I do know about the A.M.C., for instance.
§ Mr. Wallace
My hon. Friend will realise that we do not take the opinion of the London County Council.
§ Mr. de Freitas
No, but after all, there are places outside the Metropolis. I know the London County Council does not speak for the Metropolitan Boroughs of London.
§ Mr. Wallace
I think that the Standing Joint Committee might have been consulted on this matter. It was consulted on the matter of town clerks' salaries which, I agree, is a totally different question. I hope I have made the point clear. Finally, this Bill has my support. I hope that, when it gets to the Committee stage, the Government will do their best to see that a success is made of this Measure and that it is placed on the Statute Book.
§ 3.38 p.m.
§ Miss Hornsby-Smith (Chislehurst)
I wish to support the Second Reading of this Bill. I, too, share the disappointment expressed at the rather lukewarm reception which it has received from the 604 Home Office. Hon. Members in all parts of the House have had an impressively large mail upon this subject not only from humanitarians generally, but from people who run reputable pet shops and who, being lovers of animals themselves, are most anxious to see that suffering and cruelty are prevented. I am not impressed by the argument that, because there have been few convictions, cruelty is not as widespread as some hon. Members who have spoken today would lead one to believe.
I have been impressed by the large number of concrete cases about which hon. Members on both sides of the House have been prepared to produce evidence, which proves conclusively that there is a racket in pets among people whom, I should like to term "back-yard spivs" who breed mongrel litters in order that they make a quick return. Some of them have very little knowledge of the care of animals and they care even less about their future, or even whether they live or die, once they have made a few pounds from the sale of the puppies.
The R.S.P.C.A., which has done yeoman work in this direction, is handicapped by not having right of entry into many of these premises. They have an enormous record of people whom they know could be prosecuted if only the powers existed or they had power to enter the premises at a time when they could prove their case. We ask that premises in which live animals are to be kept should be inspected to see that there is decent humane consideration for these poor dumb animals, not only in the interests of the animals themselves, but in the general interests of public health. There are many cases recorded by the R.S.P.C.A. from hundreds of areas where their inspector gives evidence of shops where animals are not properly looked after and where there is very inadequate attention to their needs.
We believe that the public as a whole is whole-heartedly behind some measure to prevent this suffering of animals, either in pet shops or in the case of street pedlars. We have had examples of animals left over long periods at the weekend, examples of animals kept in basements, damp, ill-cared for, ill-lit and often ill-fitted for their care. We believe this is a matter which should come under public inspection, particularly in regard to 605 the periods when the shops are closed and the animals left with precious little attention. If a man or woman is to set up in business as a vendor of live animals and to run a pet shop, he or she must accept the responsibility for seeing that those animals are aired, exercised and fed properly.
Some of the cases which have been brought to the attention of hon. Members show very plainly that pavement pedlars in some markets of our towns, with two or three puppies tucked in their pockets, make a quick sale and then get away. Later, when the poor weak puppy or kitten is taken home, it cannot feed itself. Often it has been bought by someone with no great knowledge, but perhaps a great love, of animals and it falls sick and dies. We believe that the local authority should have power to deny licences where it is considered that the conditions are unsuitable for marketing.
I endorse the remarks of those who complained of children in their enthusiasm and love of animals going to shops or markets or being persuaded to buy from street pedlars animals which they were not quite sure would be acceptable at home. It is essential that we should see that pets are not sold to young children, unless the children are accompanied by a parent when the purchase is made. If the parent approves of the purchase, there is some future for the pet; it will be more carefully chosen and will be provided for. But, if the child spends its pocket money and is fobbed off with a weak or sickly animal at a cut price in the market square, the pet may not only be unwelcome at home, but may be diseased and be turned out from the home, or the child will dispose of it as best he can.
There are hundreds of examples of cruelty to day-old chicks recorded in the annals of the R.S.P.C.A. We all know the fascination of these small fluffy yellow bundles. Children think how wonderful it would be to have one. At the close of the market day the few chicks left are sold singly to children, many of them town children. The danger would not be so great if they were country children who know more about the care of living creatures. The child takes a chick home, often in the freezing cold, and shows it proudly to other children who join with the child in admiring it. The poor thing 606 has no hope at all of surviving this treatment. We have many reports, and particularly unhappy ones which I have read from the R.S.P.C.A. in Stockton-on-Tees, from Newcastle and from Strood in my own county. I believe the people are behind hon. Members of this House in wishing to see these unnecessary cruelties prevented. I do not accept the suggestion that there are not many of these cases.
I believe that we on all sides of the House, supported by constituents throughout the country, desire to see some authority insisting that there should be suitable premises run by reputable people. A system of licensing should be carried out by those competent to judge the premises. We would thus ensure that these "spivs" are not allowed to continue in this base and cruel trade. I believe that by so doing we shall encourage the genuine dealer, maintain the high standards of those people who conduct reputable pet shops, and hearten those who wish to see animals safeguarded and reared happily.
§ 3.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Moyle (Oldbury and Halesowen)
This Bill reminds me very much of a conversation I had with a German engineer before the war. He visited this country for some months. We were talking about our respective countries and he said to me that the two impressions he would carry from this country were of the British people's love for animals and their love for old people. The interest that has been manifested here today is certainly indicative of the very deep concern of our people for the welfare of animals.
I support this Bill wholeheartedly. As other hon. Members have indicated there are, of course, certain difficulties about the way in which it is proposed that these powers should be carried out: but with the receptivity on either side of the House, those difficulties are cap able of being put right in Committee.
I was very interested in the speech of the hon. Lady the Member for Chislehurst (Miss Hornsby-Smith) and I was very glad that she referred to the backyard "spivs." I want to draw the attention of the House to places which I think have not been referred to today. We keep on speaking about pet shops as 607 if they all existed in towns and cities like London and Birmingham, but from my own experience greater cruelties are inflicted upon animals in places where we would expect least to find them.
I refer to places in rural districts where animals are kept. I am speaking not of bona fide farmers but of rural district "spivs" who may be carrying on certain kinds of business of a miscellaneous character and to whom the breeding of pet animals is part of the stock in trade. I remember on one occasion I wanted to purchase a good mongrel terrier. I saw an advertisement in a local paper. I called upon the advertiser, to find there was no one at home, but I heard a terrific din going on in the back yard. There I found two disused stables in which were housed dogs of various descriptions, and there was not a single person in charge of those animals. They had been left for the weekend. When we speak of pet shops, we ought to bear in mind that kind of cruelty which goes on in the countryside without the knowledge of the Home Office or of any voluntary organisation.
It might be advisable to get the cooperation of all local authorities, particularly rural district councils, so that when we get a system of inspection, as I hope we shall, we shall at least prevent cruelty rather than discover it after it has occurred. What has delighted me more than anything in recent weeks is the remarkable post bag I have had dealing with this question. Young people from almost every grammar school in my constituency have written to me, and the main reason I am speaking this afternoon is wholeheartedly to identify myself with the principles of this Bill. I add my congratulations to the many which have already been expressed to the sponsors of this Bill, and I wish it a happy career.
§ 3.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Colegate (Burton)
I must apologise to the House for intervening for a minute in this debate, during most of which I have not, unfortunately, been able to be present. I merely rise to emphasise one point, because it is clear that the House is in favour of the Bill. I hope that in Committee the Bill will be amended so that the licensing 608 authority will rest with rural district councils and not with county councils.
The hon. Member for Oldbury and Halesowen (Mr. Moyle) said that rural district councils are more interested in this matter than are the county councils, and I am glad to be able to say officially, on the authority of the Rural District Councils Association, that they have been in touch with the other local authority associations, and that it is felt that the licensing authority should be with the district councils, and that with this view the County Councils Association concur. I hope that when the Bill goes to Committee the Under-Secretary will agree to that alteration.
§ 3.54 p.m.
§ Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)
I had intended to speak earlier in this debate, and I regret that I shall now have to condense my remarks considerably. I have listened with sympathy to the speeches in support of the Bill and at times with horror to the cases cited. I do not think it is necessary for me to duplicate in any way the cases which have been mentioned as examples of cruelty. I very much regret, in view of all the cases that have been mentioned, that the Under-Secretary should have been so half-hearted and apologetic in his attitude to the Bill. In considering whether the existing law is adequate, how could he listen with patience to case after case of cruelty to animals? It is not enough to punish cruelty adequately. We want to prevent it from occurring altogether, and the steps proposed under the Bill would do that.
The Bill has one grievous disappointment for me. It is a good Bill. Why, therefore, should Scotland be denied it? Scotland is denied it in specific terms by Clause 8 (2):This Act shall not extend to Scotland.Scotland might take that as an insult. [HON. MEMBERS: "A compliment."] In any event, if the hon. Member for Wembley, South (Mr. Russell), discovers next Saturday thousands of irate Scots decending upon his constituency, he will know that it has nothing to do with a football match.
It has been suggested that this decision is a compliment to Scotland. It was a 609 Scottish poet who, addressing a field mouse, called himself the mouse's…poor earth-born companion An' fellow mortal.He regretted that…man's dominionHas broken Nature's social union.This Bill is an expression, 100 years later, of the same kind of feeling against cruelty to animals, and I hope that on the Committee stage it will be applied to Scotland, because the conditions which have been mentioned today also exist North of the Border.
I had only two letters on the subject, although it may be that in Scotland we look at 2½d. two or three times before we write a letter. Two letters from Scotland may be worth 200 from England. Both letters supported the Bill. One was from the West of Scotland branch of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, deploring the fact that the Bill did not extend to Scotland. The other was from the owner of a pet shop in my constituency, which proves that those who are interested in doing business properly are wholeheartedly in favour of the Bill. They have nothing to fear and they want to prevent these practices which are so evil in spirit and so contrary to all the traditions of this country.
It seemed today that the Under-Secretary's better judgment won when he spoke, because he hoped that the Bill would get a Second Reading; and I hope he will do everything in his power to ensure that it will get a Third Reading.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Committed to a Standing Committee.