HC Deb 04 May 1951 vol 487 cc1522-37
Sir J. Lucas

I beg to move, in page 4, line 3, at the end, to insert: (b) where a person carries on a business of selling animals as pets in conjunction with a business of breeding pedigree animals, and the local authority are satisfied that the animals so sold by him (in so far as they are not pedigree animals bred by him) are animals which were acquired by him with a view to being used, if suitable, for breeding or show purposes but have subsequently been found by him not to be suitable or required for such use, the local authority may if they think fit direct that the said person shall not be deemed to keep a pet shop by reason only of his carrying on the first-mentioned business. I am not responsible for the wording of the Amendment; it was suggested that the wording I had originally proposed was too elastic. The purpose of the Amendment is to ensure that a genuine breeder, who occasionally buys outside stock with the idea of a change of blood or for other purposes—who perhaps buys a litter of puppies, keeps them for a while, picks out the best to keep for himself and sells the rest—is not liable to be licensed as a pet shop, which would appear to be the case if the Amendment were not inserted in the Clause. I do not think that anyone objects to the principle underlying the Amendment, but there is an old West Country saying, "There is reason in roasting eggs."

It would appear that the right principle to adopt would be to ask: What is the object of the person conducting the business? If its main purpose is the buying and selling of pet animals or birds, quite obviously it is a pet shop. But if it is a genuine breeding establishment, the majority of which do not make any money, and are conducted purely as a hobby, it comes within a different category. Apart from breeding, these establishments normally buy young stock purely for exhibition purposes and sell later if it is not of a sufficiently high standard. Establishments of this kind should not be included within the definition of pet shops.

Mr. Gilbert Longden (Hertfordshire, South-West)

I beg to second the Amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

11.35 a.m.

Mr. Russell (Wembley, South)

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

As the Bill has been amended rather considerably in Standing Committee, it is perhaps fitting that I should say a few words about the changes which have been made. I make it clear at the outset that most of the Amendments which have been made are due to the Home Office, and I thank the Home Secretary and the Under-Secretary for all their help in this direction. It was thought by some hon. Members that the Under-Secretary of State was perhaps a little lukewarm towards the Bill during the Second Reading debate. He is now, however, very enthusiastic, has given every possible help since the Second Reading, and is as anxious as everybody else for it to become law. I am grateful for the help and guidance I have had from him and his advisers in drafting the Amendments which have been made in Standing Committee and which, I think, have improved the Bill considerably.

The first big change affects Clause 1. The Schedule which was included in the Bill as it was originally drawn has been removed, most of its points now being included in Clause 1 (3), in the guidance which is given to local authorities. Discretion is left to local authorities to decide upon the conditions which are suitable for individual pet shops in their area. In other words, a local authority will be able to lay down conditions which may be applicable to one pet shop only and not to another. They are given greater elasticity in averting the evil which we are all anxious to avoid. The failure to comply with any conditions laid down by a local authority becomes a punishable offence.

Clauses 2 and 3 are new Clauses, the former providing that no sale of pets shall take place in streets or public places. This was originally part of the Schedule. Clause 3 prohibits the selling of pet animals of all kinds to children under the age of 12 years and makes it an offence to do so. Scotland has been included in the Bill, largely due to the help of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ayr (Sir T. Moore), who is as pleased as I am that this inclusion has been made. I think that the hon. Member for Ayrshire, South (Mr. Emrys Hughes), who raised this matter on Second Reading, will be equally pleased.

Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)

Do all the provisions of the Bill now extend to Scotland?

Mr. Russell

I think I am right in saying that they do. The exclusion of Scotland from the Bill would have led to legal complications.

Among the officials whom local authorities may authorise to inspect pet shops, constables and inspectors of the R.S.P.C.A. have now been excluded. We are all agreed that the exclusion of constables is a sensible arrangement, because, of all a council's officials—I say this with no disrespect whatever—they are, perhaps, the least suitable because they have not been trained in any way in animal welfare. I am sorry, however, that R.S.P.C.A. inspectors have been excluded. I appreciate the difficulty which necessitated this change and I realise the precedent which their inclusion might have created. I accept the position, albeit with a certain reluctance. We would all prefer the Bill to become law without R.S.P.C.A. inspectors being eligible for authorisation, rather than that the Bill should not become law at all.

Another valuable improvement in this connection is that inspection will now include not only premises, but anything inside them—namely, kennels, cages and anything else in which animals may be kept. The definition of the word "animal" has been simplified to mean "any description of vertebrate." This change will meet the criticisms which were made on Second Reading that amphibians might not have been included in the original definition. The definition of a local authority has been amended, as I undertook to do during the Second Reading, by the deletion of county councils and the substitution of county boroughs, county district councils and, I think, the councils of burghs in Scotland.

The date of operation of the Bill has been deferred from 1st January, 1952, to 1st April, 1952. There is no significance in the new date; it merely happened to be convenient. It was thought that if the Bill, as we hope, becomes law before the end of the summer, the earlier date would not give sufficient time to local authorities to carry out all their inspections and to issue all the requisite conditions and regulations. The new date of 1st April will give them a little more time. I hope that the Bill will be given a Third Reading unanimously like its two predecessors today, and that it will be speeded along to another place so that it can become law within a month or so.

11.40 a.m.

Mr. Anthony Greenwood (Rossendale)

I should like to support the plea of the hon. Member for Wembley, South (Mr. Russell) that the Bill should be speeded on its way to another place. It was suggested that because of the visit of His Majesty to the South Bank Exhibition this morning it perhaps would be a good thing if the House did not meet today. I did not agree with that point of view myself because I held strongly that there could not be a better way of celebrating the Festival of Britain than by the House devoting today to the consideration of legislation brought forward by Private Members. It is a vindication of the democracy of which we are so proud in this country.

Indeed, I do not think we could have had a happier selection of Bills than those which have appeared on the Order Paper today. We began with the Bill brought forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn, East (Mrs. Castle)—a Bill which reminded us that however mean or however unrespectable a citizen of this country may be, she is nevertheless entitled to the full protection of the law. Then we had the Bill moved by the hon. and learned Member for Chertsey (Mr. Heald) which reminded visitors from abroad that the citizens of this country do not like busybodies interfering in their private affairs, whatever the motives for which it is done. It is good that this morning we should determine to put an end to the rights of private individuals to find loopholes in the law and to exploit them to their own material advantage.

Now we come to what is perhaps the most typically British of all the Measures before us today—the Animals Bill. It will precede a Bill to be moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldbury and Halesowen (Mr. Moyle), which reminds us that the British do not like excessive excitement of any kind, especially since the days when the protagonist of fireworks, Guy Fawkes, sought to elevate the proceedings of this House.

Mr. Speaker

I do not think we can discuss all the other Bills now. This is the Third Reading of one Bill.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

May I ask whether Guy Fawkes has ever been in order in this House?

Mr. Speaker

I really cannot answer that; I do not know. I should say he was out of order.

Mr. Greenwood

I am grateful for your guidance on that point, Mr. Speaker, and I will turn now with considerable pleasure to the Measure before us this morning. This Bill is remarkable for the fact that it reminds visitors to this country that in the middle of all our difficulties we are prepared to devote time and energy to considering a matter which in many parts of the world would be regarded as of little importance but which to many of us is of great importance.

This Bill is the first major piece of animal legislation since the Animal Protection Act was introduced in 1911 and it covers a wide range of domestic animals. Even when it becomes law there will still be gaps in our animal legislation, and I should like once again to urge upon the Under-Secretary of State the desirability of consolidating the law relating to the protection of animals at a very early date. It is a matter to which the Home Office should be devoting attention and I hope that in the next Session of Parliament the Home Secre- tary may be in a position to introduce such legislation.

Whatever gaps may still remain, I think we should all be grateful to the hon. Member for Wembley, South for the Measure before us this morning. I had the privilege of joining him in a number of discussions and negotiations which have taken place and I should like to say how much I have admired his thoroughness, his patience, and his transparently conscientious desire to do what was right but not to get lost in a sea of details or a sea of legalities, but rather to do what he believed to be in the interests of strengthening the Measure he had introduced.

I join with the hon. Member for Wembley, South in thanking my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State. I am afraid that on the occasion of the Second Reading my hon. Friend was the object of some unkind words by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson), who I am sorry to see is not in his place this morning. My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North referred to the Home Office as being the great refrigerator of all warm-hearted causes, but in the discussions we have had my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State has not played the role of iceman in this great refrigerator. If there are reindeers roaming about the icy corridors of the Home Office, I am sure that at any rate they will get a friendly pat and an occasional lump of sugar from my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State.

Our thanks are due not only to him but also to his officials and to the Parliamentary draftsmen who helped us so much with this Measure. May I say, speaking personally, that it was a delightful experience to come across Parliamentary draftsmen who really understood the material with which we were dealing and who obviously had a genuine feeling for tortoises and other animals brought within the scope of the Measure. Indeed, I think they have improved the Bill almost beyond recognition.

I am bound to confess that the Bill as it was introduced was not very well worded. Indeed, curiously enough it would have meant, if the Bill had been passed in its original form, that it would have been illegal to sell fish in pet shops, because the definition of an animal in the original Bill included "any bird, beast, or reptile or fish." It was provided under Regulation 7 that no animal should be sold unweaned and as, of course, fish are not mammals and therefore cannot be weaned, it would automatically have followed from the passing of the Bill in its original form that it would have been impossible to sell fish because they had not been weaned.

As a result of the efforts of the Parliamentary draftsmen and of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, a number of improvements of that kind have been introduced. I know that the hon. and gallant Member for East Grin-stead (Colonel Clarke), for example, will be delighted to know that as a result of the efforts of the Parliamentary draftsmen it has been possible to give the axolotl that statutory recognition which has already been given to the golden hamster and the guinea pig.

The hon. Member for Wembley, South, spoke of a number of changes which have been made, and perhaps I may mention three which I regard as being of the greatest importance. These changes were made in the Standing Committee. In the first place, I am glad we have got rid of the regulations and incorporated in the body of the Bill those which were regarded as being the most important.

It is a good thing, too, that we have introduced Clause 3 into the Bill, making it illegal to sell an animal as a pet to a child under the age of 12. That, of course, does not seek to deprive children under 12 of the opportunity of having pets. Indeed, I think all hon. Members who have been associated with this Measure would like to encourage the keeping of pets by all children, regardless of their age, provided they were doing so under the supervision of older people and, most of all, with the approval of older people. This Clause makes it illegal to sell pets to children under 12 unless they have the approval of their parents. If a child goes to a pet shop with his parents and it is quite clear that he has the approval of his parents, then there will be nothing in the Bill to stop him having a pet.

Another change which I regard as of very great importance is that which has been made in strengthening the inspection powers of local authorities. The hon. Member for Wembley, South, referred to one particularly important change—that it is now possible not only to inspect the pet shops but also to inspect the "animals thereon and anything therein," which means that it will be left to the local authority to decide whether adequate space is being given to the animals in their cages and whether adequate space is being given between the cages themselves. At the same time, while we have sought to strengthen the powers of local authorities, we have added further protection for private householders so that it will be less easy under the amended Bill than it was under the Bill as originally drafted for the inspection of private houses to take place.

Like the hon. Member for Wembley, South, I regret the fact that in Standing Committee we found it necessary to drop the R.S.P.C.A. inspectors from the Bill. I think all hon. Members in the Committee understood the difficulty in which the Home Office found itself, especially on the general principle of allowing inspectors of voluntary organisations to have powers of inspection. Although I regret the dropping of the R.S.P.C.A. inspectors, I agree with the hon. Member for Wembley, South, that it was better to have the Bill without the inspectors than to lose the Bill including the inspectors. All of us who were on the Standing Committee agreed with the desirability of dropping the powers of inspection granted in the Bill to constables.

The third change which I believe has improved the Bill enormously is the strengthening of the licensing powers of local authorities. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman did move an Amendment extending to the county districts some of the powers which, in the original Bill, were reserved to the county councils. In Clause 1 now we have put a list of the points which a local authority should take into consideration in granting a licence, and it was due to the kindly initiative of the Home Office that we did include in Clause 1 (3, b) provision that animals should be adequately supplied with suitable food and drink. That was a point which, I think perhaps quite inexcusably, we all of us failed to notice when the Bill was originally introduced; and as further evidence of the warmhearted interest of the Home Office I think it is fair to point out that the improvement was made at its suggestion.

I think that, perhaps, the most important part of the Clause is that where we say that the local authorities should in particular have regard to the need for considering various requirements but without prejudice to their discretion to withhold a licence on other grounds. I hope that when a local authority is considering whether to grant an application for a licence to keep a pet shop they will take into consideration for example the applicant's previous record and make quite sure that he has the necessary knowledge and that he has no convictions for cruelty against him.

Of course, in the operation of this Measure when it becomes an Act, as I hope and trust it will, a lot will depend on the keenness and thoroughness with which local authorities interpret and apply the powers which we are giving to them. It would obviously be most unsuitable in a Measure of this kind to be too detailed and too niggling about considerations and suggestions which we give to the local authorities, but I hope that with that tact for which it is so well known the Home Office, when this Measure becomes an Act, will give the local authorities guidance as to the way in which they in their wisdom shall apply and interpret the powers which we are giving them.

11.53 a.m.

Lieut.-Colonel Sir Thomas Moore (Ayr)

Even at the risk of giving an undue and false sense of complacency to the Government in regard to their popularity, I should like to join with my hon. Friends on both sides of the House in thanking the Government for their assistance with this Bill. I, of course, am particularly happy that the Bill has been made to extend to Scotland. We had grave doubts whether this was technically possible at first, but when I approached the Lord Advocate I found him very receptive; indeed, he went so far as to assist in drafting the necessary Amendments to make the Bill so applicable. The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland was also in her place to facilitate the passage of the Bill in Committee.

In honesty and fairness I would say that the Bill has been accorded a widespread welcome from all sections of the community in Scotland. The distinguished animal protection societies, of which there are four in Scotland, are all also extremely delighted with the passage of the Bill. While I share the disappointment that those great societies, including the R.S.P.C.A., are not permitted to play a more prominent part in the administration of the Measure, I can see the difficulties that were likely to have arisen if they had been so included.

The Bill is a great step—a very considerable step—forward. As I see it, animals are broadly divided into two groups in their relationship with man. One group consists of animals for our food; and the other of animals for our pleasure. The hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood), who is sitting besides his distinguished father—his more distinguished father: age must have its recognition—said that the Bill must be the major animals' protection Bill launched since the Animals Protection Act of 1912. That is, of course, not true. The Slaughter of Animals Act, 1933, was a far more substantial Act in that it removed the terror of the pole axe and the knife from animals to be slaughtered, and it affected 16 million animals a year.

Mr. Anthony Greenwood

I apologise if I exaggerated the importance of this Measure, and, perhaps, I may take this opportunity of saying that I am sorry that I did not refer to the two Slaughter of Animals Acts for which the hon. and gallant Member himself was responsible.

Sir T. Moore

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kindly reference. In those Acts, the English and the Scottish, we legislated for the humane treatment—in their death, anyhow—of animals for our food; but we had hitherto, until the introduction of this Bill, neglected making arrangements for the care of animals for our pleasure. In this Bill we legislate for animals that are sources of pleasure to ourselves and our families including our children, and by this Bill, I believe, we give the greatest protection possible within the law—because, of course, the real protection lies with the individuals who own animals. We can legislate for the handing over of the animals in a healthy, happy, clean, and well fed condition to the owner; but the owner then assumes the responsibility for bird, chick, canary, rabbit—whatever it may be.

I do hope that in the administration of this Measure, education will be assumed to be one of the most prominent requirements of the Measure so as to ensure that children—and grown-ups, too—will take care, and have the knowledge to take care, of the animals in their possession. I hope that the beneficial provisions of the Bill will be fully implemented, so that these animals live happy lives. I need scarcely say that I have the greatest pleasure in supporting the Bill.

11.58 a.m.

Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)

I think this is the one occasion in the history of the House that I have been able to endorse every word—indeed, every comma and every semicolon—that has come from the hon. and gallant Member for Ayr (Sir T. Moore) who is my neighbour in that county. I am sure the citizens of Ayrshire will be very glad to know that at least two members of Parliament have resisted the attraction of the South Bank of the Thames this day in order to support this Bill. I am not so sure whether, if Ascot had been on this day, the hon. and gallant Member would have been able to resist the attraction.

The hon. and gallant Gentleman said that animals were broadly divided into two groups. Well, there may be some doubt about that assertion. I was once told that the king of animals was the lion. The bear was afraid of the lion, but the wolf was afraid of the bear, and the dog was afraid of the wolf, and the cat was afraid of the dog, and the mouse was afraid of the cat—and my wife is afraid of the mouse, and I am afraid of my wife. So the circle is complete.

This House has performed a very useful piece of legislation, and in that respect I entirely agree with the remarks of the hon. and gallant Gentleman and with those of other hon. Gentlemen who have spoken. I am not quite sure about one thing, and, perhaps, the hon. Member for Wembley, South (Mr. Russell), who introduced the Bill, will be able to enlighten me on the point, and that is in Clause 5. It lays down penalties—a fine of £25 or a term of imprisonment for three months, or both. I am glad that Scotland has been included in the Bill because one of the cases which will come under the Bill is a rather big store in Argyle Street, Glasgow. I wish to know who has to be prosecuted, the person who sells the pets, or, if the shop is owned by a company, the managing director? Who is to be liable to fine or imprisonments?

This large store has a pets department and the store is owned by the firm of Lewis. Recently I was discussing the case of a small pet dog which was bought in Lewis's shop in Glasgow. It was covered with lice and was in a very bad condition when bought. It was bought under conditions of which hon. Members who have promoted this Bill would not approve. What is to happen if that store still maintains its pets department and a prosecution is instituted? Who is to be prosecuted? Is it to be the unfortunate person who looks after the pets, or the managing director of the firm? I hope it will be the managing director and I hope that this three months will be imposed previous to the next General Election, because the managing director happens to be Lord Woolton.

I am quite sure Lord Woolton knows nothing about this and I am quite sure he will welcome this Measure. I should be glad to know exactly who is to be prosecuted under this provision. I do not believe there will be many prosecutions necessary because I believe that public opinion, with the support of all hon. Members of this House, has been so concentrated on this particular evil that it will be very difficult for the sort of cruelty that has gone on in the past to be continued when this Measure is on the Statute Book.

I am glad to know that tortoises are included. Tortoises are slow; I know, I live among them. I am sure that the National Union of Tortoises will be glad to know that its kindred spirit the National Union of Legislators is moving a little faster than the tortoises' organisation. I welcome the Bill and I know it will become another Act which will help to make cruelty to animals in this country very difficult and. I hope, impossible.

12.4 p.m.

Sir Jocelyn Lucas (Portsmouth, South)

I am glad to say that the Kennel Club welcomes this Bill, as I understand do all reputable pet shops. I hope now that subsection (1) of Clause 1 has been widened in giving a local authority power to withhold a licence (but without prejudice to their discretion to withhold a licence on other grounds), that those "other grounds" will be held to include dishonesty. There are people known to be crooks who have been convicted a number of times and who are on the Kennel Club black list who take part in this trade. If a man on the black list sells a dog, it cannot be registered, nor can its progeny, for the pedigrees are probably false. If a man is licensed it is like giving a licence to a publican—it is more or less a guarantee of character. I hope that local authorities will use their discretion in this matter and take character into account.

I congratulate the sponsors of the Bill, although I am sorry that one suggestion I made has not been adopted. That was that the provision of feeding charts should be compulsory when selling young animals. I hope that the R.S.P.C.A. will take the hint, and provide feeding charts, on payment if necessary. That would save the breeder and the pet shop owner a great deal of trouble. Very few private breeders would ever object to allowing someone to come and look at their kennels to see that they are properly kept. Personally, I would welcome that, but I think the vast majority would strongly resent their premises being called a "pet shop" and that is why I moved my second Amendment during the Report Stage.

12.6 p.m.

Mr. Hoy (Leith)

I wish to support the Bill and to say to my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) that this occasion is certainly unique, because, not only did he find himself in agreement with the hon. and gallant Member for Ayr (Sir T. Moore), but even in agreement with a Bill supported by the Government. Never did we in our wildest expectations——

Mr. Emrys Hughes

I am one of the pet animals.

Mr. Hoy

—expect to find a South Ayrshire in a Government pet shop. I was a little surprised that my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood) should have overlooked the occasion when the hon. and gallant Member for Ayr introduced his Bill to deal with the humane slaughter of animals. He should have remembered that great occasion because the hon. and gallant Member brought a humane killer into the House and demonstrated how it would work, even holding it to his forehead. The fact that he is here today is, of course, a tribute to his bad marksmanship.

Sir T. Moore

A former popular Member of this House, the late Mr. Jack Jones, expressed his disappointment that I missed.

Mr. Hoy

I have read of the occasion and I attempted to recall the incident, which I am certain the hon. and gallant Member remembers with pleasure. We in Scotland are glad that the provisions of the Bill have been extended to our country. It was kind of the hon. and gallant Member to refer to the assistance given by the Lord Advocate and the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland in drafting Amendments. We have not in it what has been so violently objected to by the hon. and gallant Member in other Bills, a Scottish Application Clause. We are grateful to have these benefits extended to us and I am certain they will work well in Scotland.

It is true that there were some exceedingly bad pet shops where animals suffered when suffering could have been avoided, but there was also a very large number of good pet shops. The fact that we are getting rid of bad pet shops by this Measure is something which will be welcomed by every hon. Member.

12.10 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Geoffrey de Freitas)

It must seem strange to many foreigners when there is war in the East and threats of war in the West that we should find time to debate this matter of the care of animals, not only today but some weeks ago and last week in Committee. Our care for animals is part of our national characteristic and it would be false if we in this House did not in this way reflect the character of the people we represent.

This is now a very much better Bill than it was when we considered it on Second Reading. My hon. Friend has mentioned the fact that on the Second Reading the Bill, as it then left us, would have forbidden the sale of fish before they had been weaned. As one who has kept goldfish for a number of years, I thought that I had been singularly unobservant, but it was realised during the debate that this had no deep significance and was merely a drafting error. Matters of detail like this have now been put right.

There was one point of principle in particular on which it was impossible for the Committee at first to agree, and it was a matter on which everyone was against me. I refer to the question of the deletion of the reference to an inspector of the R.S.P.C.A., which raised a very important point of principle. I am sorry that I had to disturb the harmony of the Committee by sticking out on that matter, but it was a matter of the greatest importance. We considered that no private society should have powers given to it in this way by Parliament. However, the Committee were good enough to agree that this reference should be deleted, and I think that we can generally all share the credit for the transformation scene in Committee. When I say that we can all share the credit, that is true, but the greater part must, of course, go the hon. Member for Wembley, South (Mr. Russell) and to my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood).

On the Second Reading, in connection with the inclusion of Scotland, it was said by an hon. Member on this side of the House that tens of thousands of Scotsmen were going to swarm across the Border and invade the constituency of the hon. Member for Wembley, South, and the direct result of that would be the inclusion of Scotland in the Bill. The fact is that today Scotland is included in the Bill.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

I should like a reassurance on this point. Can the hon. Gentleman assure us that in the definition of pet animals "the Stone" is not included?

Mr. de Freitas

I can assure my hon. Friend that we will leave no stone unturned and no avenue unexplored. Anything which gives my hon. Friend pleasure gives us all pleasure today, because he is with us for once, and perhaps, I should say, for the first time. Scotland is in the Bill, and it is quite a different Bill from that which I was rather lukewarm about on Second Reading. I can say today on behalf of His Majesty's Government how much we like this Bill. It is now a real charter of pet shops, and I hope that when the Bill reaches the Statute Book all reputable and responsible proprietors of pet shops will realise that they have nothing to fear from the Bill.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.