HC Deb 12 June 1953 vol 516 cc671-84
Mr. Hurd

I beg to move, in page 2, line 13, to leave out from "it," to the end of line 15.

The purpose of this Amendment is to make it more practicable for a police officer to take charge of a dog when he has reasonable cause to believe that the dog has been worrying livestock. We felt that whether or not there was a collar on the dog bearing the name of someone, the police should have this authority to apprehend the dog and they should not be worried in deciding whether or not the name on the collar was that of the owner.

2.45 p.m.

This Amendment simplifies the Bill to the extent that the police will be able to seize the dog whether or not it is wearing a collar with a name and address on it if there is no person who admits to being the owner of the animal or in charge of it. We feel that the task of the police will be made more straightforward, and it is wholly desirable that a dog, which has been worrying livestock, or is worrying livestock, should be caught hold of merely as a preventive measure to stop the animal continuing its worrying, quite apart from the possibility of the owner of the dog being pursued and possibly fined.

We felt that it was introducing good sense so to propose, because this Bill is intended to stop cruelty to animals, and an animal, which was causing cruelty to other animals, should, as quickly as possible and with the least possible complication, be apprehended and stopped from pursuing that activity.

Mr. R. Bell

I beg to second the Amendment.

Mr. West

I welcome this Amendment. I think it is a sensible provision and improves the Bill. The Bill as originally drawn created this situation, that if a police officer, who had reasonable grounds for believing an offence was committed, seized the dog, if the dog were wearing a collar with the name and address of the owner upon it, then he had to let it go. He had no right of seizure, and it mattered not whether the name and address on the collar was a false name and address or not, the dog had to be released. That seemed to be an absurdity in the circumstances, and I am very glad that this Amendment has been brought forward, because it gives the police officer the power of seizure and detention until the true owner can be ascertained. We on this side of the House think it improves the Bill.

Sir T. Moore

I wonder whether my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd) and the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. West) are quite right about this. Surely it cannot be the intention of the promoters of the Bill to prevent the police from carrying out the provisions of the law. As I understand it, it is the law that every dog is to wear a collar with the name and address of the owner upon it. We should be teaching people to observe and carry out the law, but if we cut out these words freedom is implied to the owner of the dog not to observe the law by putting on the animal a collar with the name and address of the owner upon it. I am open to conviction, but it does not seem to me to do any harm to leave the words in the Bill and it gives the police a stronger backing in their attempts to ensure that the law is carried out.

Mr. West

Does the hon. and gallant Gentleman believe that a dog which has a collar round its neck, bearing the name and address of a person who may or may not be its owner, should be released or that the police officer should have power to retain it if it has been guilty of worrying livestock?

Sir T. Moore

If those words are not inserted and the police seize the dog, they will retain it until the owner claims it. They do not know who the owner is and the owner may be conscious of the fact that he is now open to penalty and therefore refuses to claim the dog. The dog is then left in the unhappy position of being at the police station for the rest of his life.

Mr. West

If a police officer seizes a dog which he has reason to believe has been worrying sheep, and the dog is wearing a collar upon which may be a true or false name, does the hon. and gallant Gentleman believe that the dog should be released or should be detained by the police officer if there is no other person there to take charge of it?

Sir T. Moore

I think that is the intention of the Bill, but I will not pursue the matter.

Amendment agreed to.

2.52 p.m.

Mr. Hurd

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

On behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Teeling), may I say that it is only through the cooperation and understanding which he has received from all parties in the House that this small but important Bill now goes on its way. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Champion) will recall that the Minister of Agriculture, not only in the time of this Government but in that of the previous Government, has been much concerned about the losses of sheep caused by dogs, and the bad psychological effect that sheep worrying has had on an important section of food production. In my view the psychological effect is greater than the practical effect.

In my own part of the country we have now only a little more than one-third of the sheep we had before the war. In other counties where perhaps everybody is better behaved, Hereford, for instance, they have about two-thirds of the numbers they had pre-war, but, taking the country as a whole, we have far fewer sheep, although lamb, mutton and wool are products of which we want more. One of the reasons always put forward by farmers when asked why the numbers of sheep have fallen is that there is so much anxiety caused by the activities of vicious dogs, particularly in the neighbourhood of towns.

We have all read newspaper accounts, with some pretty gruesome photographs, of the horrible cruelty which vicious dogs can cause to sheep. Sometimes these cases occur near south coast towns and sometimes close to industrial centres in the Midlands. The damage is not only immediate in the mauling and death of the sheep but, if they are ewes in lamb, the damage may not become evident until a month or so afterwards. The increased losses which farmers have suffered, and the greater worries attaching to sheep-keeping, have undoubtedly militated against sheep, alone among farm livestock, increasing since pre-war days, whereas we have many more pigs, poultry and cows.

I believe, therefore, that not only in the cause of the humane treatment and prevention of cruelty to animals, but also in the cause of increased food production this House is performing a useful function by passing this Bill and hoping that another place will give it a speedy passage into law. It is not the baby of any one organisation. The National Farmers' Union, for instance, would like a much more comprehensive Measure and asked the Government to take other steps to ensure that all dog owners take their responsibilities more seriously. They have suggested increases in the dog licence fee and so on. The Canine Defence League and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals have both been conscious of this problem and, in principle, have been willing to help to find means of overcoming it.

This is a modest and short Measure but it probably achieves the greatest possible agreement between the various people and organisations concerned with farm livestock and with dogs. It will have a good effect in so far as it brings home to the public that livestock-worrying is an offence which can be punished by a fine of£10 in the first instance and up to£50for subsequent offences, and particularly that it is a criminal offence to have a dog which causes cruelty to sheep. This Measure, in addition to the Dogs Acts, will strengthen the law.

It is also important that magistrates should consider these cases carefully and search their powers of punishment a little more thoroughly than they have done in the past. The fanning community have often felt it to be hardly worth while to bring forward a case under the Dogs Act because the punishment awarded has often seemed almost derisory and had not the desired effect of making the local people realise that a vicious dog, or even a mischievous dog that took its pleasure in worrying and harrying sheep, was a responsibility and that it was not fair to the community to let that dog have its run without proper care being taken.

I say on behalf of the farming community that the Bill is welcome. Many farmers would like Parliament to go much further. In fact, they take the law into their own hands, as they are fully entitled to do, in safeguarding their sheep. They take out a gun with them and if a dog is worrying, harrying or killing their sheep, they shoot the dog to save further cruelty to the sheep.

Sir T. Moore

They break the law.

Mr. Hurd

As long as they kill the dog clean, I say that that is the right way of settling the problem, The dog ought to be out of the way and might very well have been the subject of a court order under the Dogs Acts.

The Bill gives a further way of dealing with the problem. Farmers will feel that the courts have this additional power and they need not so often take out a gun. I do not myself care for the idea of shepherds and farmers always stalking about with guns, for some of them are not very safe shots. I should not care for my own shepherd always to be out with a gun. I would much rather he knew that he had the law on his side and that a case could be brought if he found that a dog was worrying or harrying the sheep in his charge. I hope that the Bill will achieve some further education of those dog owners who are not always as careful as they should be.

3.1 p.m.

Mr. W. M. F. Vane (Westmorland)

As a Member who represents a constituency where sheep farming is a most important industry, I am sure I can say that the Bill will be very widely welcomed and that there will be many people who are grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Teeling) and others who have taken so much trouble to bring the Bill forward and get it into its present shape.

There is no doubt whatever that greater protection was needed for the owner of sheep. I can take an objective view, because I am both a dog and sheep owner. The Bill provides that greater protection which was needed, and it is not unduly weighted against the dog owner. The dog owner must accept certain responsibilities. In far more cases than many dog owners are anxious to recognise, a dog can quite easily become a great nuisance and worse.

There is, however, one part of the Bill to which I should like to draw attention before we part with it. That is Clause 1 (3), which is a kind of escape Clause. During the Committee stage, reference was made to this subsection and I understood that it was not—at least, at present —the intention of the Government to call this subsection in aid except, perhaps, where there might be some special areas on the outskirts of towns traditionally favoured by the inhabitants of those towns as exercise places for their animals and where the agricultural value was only very small.

But there is another very large area which we ought to consider, the sort of area that forms a large part of my constituency. That is the heathland and moorland of the national park. Whereas lip-service is frequently paid to the importance of maintaining agriculture in its fullest possible extent in those areas, there is also the feeling that it is endangered by the many other interests, claiming first one privilege and then another. I hope that as the years go by, we will not give way on this point, but I am quite certain that attempts will be made.

The large areas of moorland—some common land, and some in single ownership—all offer facilities for grazing of varying quality. Practically all of them could carry more stock than they do at present. It would be a great pity if it ever came to be recognised that the Bill would not operation in all its strength, and, at the same time, in all its fairness, in such areas.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd) has mentioned, we have not at present the same number of sheep as we had a few years ago. My hon. Friend suggested that this was possibly due to the reasons I have given. Another reason is that farmers in counties such as his no longer have as many sheep between the hurdles on the arable land as they used. But do not let us forget to consider subsection (3) of Clause I as applied to national parks and their special circumstances, and remember that increased agricultural production in those areas does come first.

3.5 p.m.

Mr. West

I am glad to have been called at this time because it may perhaps relieve some anxieties with regard to the outcome of the Bill. Remembering the unfortunate experience we had on Second Reading, I might perhaps say a word about that. It will be remembered that on that occasion, as the result of an intervention of mine, the debate was adjourned. I hope I shall not have many interruptions this afternoon. I had no intention of preventing a vote on that occasion, but I was anxious to put before the House certain arguments in regard to the Bill which I thought the House ought to consider.

I am very glad to say that in Committee and in discussions out of Committee the points of view which I wanted expressed to the House have been expressed. The criticisms I offered on that occasion—that it was ill-considered —have been amply justified because the Amendments which have now been moved indicate that the Bill has to some extent been improved over and above the Bill which was originally considered on Second Reading. Having said that, I wish to take the opportunity of congratulating the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Teeling) on his good fortune in having the privilege of bringing forward the Bill and being successful in getting to Third Reading today.

I do not think the cause of the farmer is served by hon. Members expressing the view in this House that it is dogs which are causing the diminution in sheep farming, or the reduction in stock. It does not do a scrap of good to exaggerate the case. I think the hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Vane) indicated that there were other reasons for this fall in stock than that of sheep worrying by dogs.

Mr. Hurd

I think we are all of one mind on this. I was very careful to say that that was one of the reasons always put forward and I thought it was more a psychological than a practical reason. Those are the words I used.

Mr. West

I am glad the hon. Member has at this stage vindicated the dog, because that is one of the things we have been seeking to achieve. There has been far too much exaggeration on the question of dogs worrying sheep. On Second Reading I indicated that if this Bill, or any other Bill, would succeed in preventing a single case of cruelty to an animal, I would support it, and I support it on that basis today. If this Bill may in its result prevent suffering being caused to any livestock I wholeheartedly support it.

But the fundamental problem which has been posed by hon. Members opposite with regard to sheep and livestock generally and the worrying of them by dogs has not been touched by this Bill. This Bill does not deal with the fundamental problem of the unidentified dog. That is the problem with which the House ought to deal. All we are seeking to do in this Bill is to inflict certain penalties upon the keeper of a dog if his dog in fact worries sheep. No one has any objection to that, but that does not meet the point of the reasons for the Bill being brought forward——

Mr. Hurd

To the extent of nine-tenths.

Mr. West

With great respect, I do not think that is so. I hope the Government will view the matter with a little more seriousness than does this Private Member's Bill and will give serious consideration to the Report of the Committee which considered the matter and will bring forward legislation to deal with it. I hope they will deal with the question of trespassing by sheep. I do not intend to deal with that question further because that would be out of order on Third Reading. The Minister knows the problem which exists in South Wales about that, and something must be done about it. I hope that when the Report of the Committee is considered, some provisions will be introduced to bring home to farmers their responsibility in the matter.

Having said that, however, I can only express the hope that, as a result of the passage of this Bill, we shall find that there have been at all events some cases in which suffering to animals has been prevented. In those circumstances, I most heartily support the Bill.

3.11 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture (Mr. G. R. H. Nugent)

I wish to make a short intervention to offer my congratulations to the promoters of the Bill for sending on its way what I think will be a small but very valuable piece of legislation. I should like to combine with my congratulations and thanks to them, as this is a Measure in which the Government are very interested, my thanks to the Opposition for the help and co-operation they have given in bringing the Bill into the shape it is in now. I think that in the difficult matter of sentiment which is involved in any legislation dealing with dogs it is of the greatest value that when the Bill leaves the House it should go with the support of all sides of the House, as in doing so it will carry a great deal more weight in influencing public opinion in the way we wish it to go.

I believe that this Bill will have considerable value in reducing the amount of worrying of livestock by dogs, and particularly, as my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd) has said, of sheep worrying. While I agree with the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. West) that the serious decrease in sheep numbers which we have today compared with pre-war—from about 18 million in England and Wales in 1938 to about 13½ million today—is not entirely due to the increase in worrying, it is right to say that the amount of worrying which there is today is quite a serious factor in the picture. I think all sides of the House would agree on that.

In the Home Counties in particular and near big towns dogs stray, and there are many farmers today who in weighing up the proposition whether they will start keeping sheep again, are influenced considerably by the additional danger and worry which they have to cope with from the marauding dog. Therefore, it is an important factor. If I again cite the figures to the House they add weight to what I have said. Annually there are about 5,000 sheep killed and an equal number injured by dogs, and between 20,000 and 30,000 poultry are either killed or injured annually through worrying. These figures are quite large enough to indicate that the scale of the visible injury or death of livestock is substantial indeed, and anything we can do to reduce it we naturally wish to do.

It would be wrong to convey the impression that we or that I think that all dog owners are irresponsible; they certainly are not. I am quite certain that the average dog owner is a most responsible person, that he is anxious to make his dog's life a happy one and that he looks after it, gives it exercise, takes care of it and takes every care to see that the dog does not get into mischief of this kind.

What we are particularly concerned with in the Bill is to try to educate and influence the minds of the relatively small section of dog owners who do not have a sufficiently responsible state of mind in taking care of their dogs—who do not take their dogs out for exercise but leave them to roam about on their own so that eventually they get into mischief of this kind. The fact that there is a penalty overhanging the dog owner who behaves in such an irresponsible way will have a restraining effect.

On all sides we have heard expressions of concern about animal suffering. We are pre-eminently a nation of animal lovers and it is reassuring that those who are fond of dogs have on this occasion thought equally of the suffering of livestock and, particularly, of sheep. I am certain that if we could influence public opinion, particularly the very large section of public opinion comprised of dog lovers, to think and feel about sheep as they do about dogs, we should get a very different climate of opinion in the consideration they would show and the care they would take in restraining their dogs from this kind of violence and attack.

I believe that this small Measure, which has the support of all sides of the House, will make a small but valuable contribution towards educating and influencing public opinion so that those who in the past have not been quite as careful as they might have been in taking care of their dogs will be more careful in the future and, in so doing, will not only reduce animal suffering but will make a valuable contribution to increasing the food stocks of this country.

3.17 p.m.

Mr. A. J. Champion (Derbyshire, South-East)

I should like to join those who have already spoken in congratulating the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Teeling) on his selection of this as a Private Member's Bill. I should also like to thank him for the way in which he has received the Amendments moved to his Bill on Committee stage. He was most helpful; promises of further consideration were made and have resulted in some of the Amendments we have had before us today.

I join with the Parliamentary Secretary in saying that this is a small but very useful Measure. I believe its effect will be psychological, and I hope it will do something to check this menace—I certainly regard it as a menace—to sheep-keeping in this country. I have seen the result of worrying upon the animal and I have seen something of the result to the sheep owner. I realise that the Bill will not put an end to the problem. All we can hope is that it will make dog owners a little more careful and cause them to act in such a way as to look after the animals which are in their charge in a reasonable way. In this connection I have some diffidence in supporting the Bill because I fear that as a result of it some dog owners might chain up their dogs for long periods. I hope that will not be the effect although I realise that it enters into the consideration of the prevention of sheep-worrying.

We are glad that, despite a worrying start, the Bill has reached its Third Reading. It was certainly a worrying start for some of us, but in the long run everything has turned out for the best. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd), who moved the Third Reading, for his reference to my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams), who was interested in this subject when he was at the Ministry and who expressly charged me yesterday with wishing the Bill welcome. It is the sort of thing he would very much desire to support.

I thank my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes) for the way in which he helped us in our efforts to improve the Measure. I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. West). We are glad that he did nothing at all— as he might have done—to block the progress of the Bill. Instead he set about the task of improving it. That is something for which the House as a whole should be grateful. My hon. Friend gave a great deal of his valuable time to a consideration of these provisions and their effect. He brought to that consideration a wide experience in the courts and of life in an area where people suffer tremendously from these difficulties.

I wish to add my thanks to all sorts of people. This is a day when we thank all those who have assisted. I should like to say how grateful we are to the Parliamentary Secretary for his assistance. Finally I thank the hon. Member for Newbury who has guided us through the Report stage. I wish the Bill well and I hope that it will have the result which we all wish to see.

3.22 p.m.

Sir T. Moore

Mr. Speaker, as you gave an indication that you intended to call me just before the Parliamentary Secretary rose, I should like to express a few valedictory words before this Bill finally leaves us. I support it from two points of view, one as the representative of farmers and as a farmer myself whose sheep are worried; and, two, as the owner of dogs who worry those sheep. I feel that I can bring a dispassionate view to bear on the problem. I also speak on behalf of the great humane societies which have spent many years trying to find a solution to the problem of sheep worrying.

Just as the last Bill which we discussed about an hour ago completed the task of releasing some 16 million animals a year from the torture of the pole-axe, so this Bill will go a step further and release sheep from the mauling, the hardship and pain of indiscriminate worrying. I believe that we have done a good job of work, but I hope that it will not be thought that anything in this Bill seeks to attack dogs. That is not the purpose of the Bill. We are anxious only to attack the few irresponsible owners of dogs who do not carry out their proper functions in respect of their ownership.

Speaking on behalf of the humane societies, I would say that we care for all animals irrespective of whether they are dogs or sheep. They all have their claims and we seek to do our best to protect them. With those valedictory words, I hope that the Bill will get to its final conclusion without further difficulty.

3.25 p.m.

Mr. R. Bell

My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ayr (Sir T. Moore) rightly described this Bill when he said that it was not wholly against dogs. It is primarily a Measure to help sheep and other livestock, but in its outward form it is pre-eminently a Bill to punish bad or careless dog owners. In that respect it marks a departure in the law. Up till now we have always punished the dog. If a dog attacked sheep, then under the Dogs Acts it was possible only to discipline it or to order the destruction of the dog. The owner escaped scot-free.

Under this Bill, in relation to the same offences, we impose fines upon owners, and this will have an effect, not only by virtue of the fines, but because it will show in clear form to the public that Parliament feels that the responsibilities of dog owners in this Measure ought to be underlined at the present time, and that, both for the sake of food production and of avoiding cruelty to animals, there should be a very great diminution in attacks upon livestock.

I think we axe also grateful to the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. West) first of all, for his forbearance, and, later on, for his active and useful support. We all know the propensities of the sheep in Pontypool, but it would have been a pity if sheep in other parts of the Kingdom had had to suffer for the ingrained wickedness of sheep in Pontypool. After that, perhaps I should say that, if the hon. Gentleman is fortunate in the Ballot for Private Members' Bills in the next Session, he can bring forward a Sheep (Protection of Horticultural Produce) Bill, and I can promise him that hon. Members in all parts of the House will do their very best to improve that Bill in every imaginable way.

It is quite true that the scope of this Bill is rather narrow. It is primarily a Bill to impose monetary penalties on the owners of dogs which would be subject to the provisions of the Dogs Act, and, because that is its real nature, it is bound to miss one of the worst causes of the slaughter of livestock, which is the dog that is not caught. That is the great problem, and it is not, of course, peculiar to dogs. We have not yet passed legislation which successfully deals with burglars who are not caught, and, indeed, it is one of the perennial difficulties of those who try to repress crime.

This Bill is, at any rate, one step forward, and I join in the hopes which have been expressed that the Government will shortly turn to the consideration of the Report of the Goddard Committee and the very valuable comments and suggestions which it contains, because the production of food in this country is very important, and we ought not to neglect any steps that will encourage it.

With these few words, I wish only to join in the already expressed congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Teeling) on having chosen this extremely useful Measure, and upon the skill with which he has manoeuvred it past the not inconsiderable obstacles which it has met in its course and on having brought it reasonably close to haven so that the sheep, represented by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ayr can, in his own phrase, feel less worried.