HC Deb 13 March 1953 vol 512 cc1757-84

Order for Second Reading read.

2.36 p.m.

Mr. William Teeling (Brighton, Pavilion)

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

I realise that a number of hon. Members wish to speak on this subject and, therefore, I will try to keep my speech short. I listened to the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison), who produced the Bill to which we have just given a Second Reading, and to what he said about the problem of getting the Bill ready and out in time. My problem has been somewhat similar. It is my hope that we shall be able to give the Bill a Second Reading in time for us to give the hon. Member for Willesden, West (Mr. Viant) an opportunity to explain his Bill, and what he has in mind.

There is very little controversial about the Bill now before us. There are points which will have to be taken up in the Committee stage, and that will give time for societies and organisations which feel that they have not had enough time to discuss this matter to bring their problems forward. Otherwise there is not much to give cause for serious alarm. There has been some slight misunderstanding, to judge from the number of letters that I and other hon. Members have received concerning the link-up between my Bill with the White Paper—the Report of the Committee on the Law of Civil Liability for Damage done by Animals. My Bill was out long before then, and has nothing whatever to do with the White Paper, which has in no way affected what I am trying to bring up; nor have I in any way altered my Bill because of it.

Some people have shown strong objection to recommendations of the Committee, but these are not in my Bill at all. The Bill has been on the stocks since last November, at least the first part of it. A Bill must as far as possible be in accordance with its long Title. For that reason a number of suggestions which have been made to me from all over the country about dogs in general have nothing to do with my Bill, and I am in no way able to include them, either here or during the Committee stage.

I have brought the Bill forward for two reasons. The first is the question of cruelty and the second is food. I do not want to go into the question of cruelty too much. Many hon. Members know the horrors if they have ever seen a dog worrying a sheep, or cattle, for that matter. I think that the spring is one reason why dogs are apt to worry other animals, and there has, therefore, been considerably more publicity just now. I must mention one or two cases, because of the general sentimental feeling that the dog is getting a raw deal. We should think of the wretched animal that has been tortured.

I should like to bring to the notice of the House the following case which appeared in my own local paper the "Evening Argus": Police radio cars were today broadcasting appeals for information from anyone who might have seen a dog roaming the Downs. The dog—as reported on page 3—ran amok among a flock of sheep near Willingdon and was responsible for the deaths of six. 'Whoever that dog belongs to must know about it,' said Chief Inspector G. A. Watkins. 'From the condition in which it went home it must have been obvious that it had been in a fight of some sort. If these people call themselves animal lovers they ought to have seen the sheep. If a dog had suffered like that there would have been an outcry. …' R.S.P.C.A. Inspector E. Winn, who destroyed the three injured sheep, said: 'I have never seen anything so terrible.' 'One of the sheep,' he said, 'was standing up conscious with its skull split and its throat almost severed.' Inspector Winn thought there were two dogs in the raid. 'They rarely chase sheep singly,' he said. 'There are usually two or more and the excitement carries them away. '… Chief Inspector Watkins added: 'It is almost like trying to patrol an Australian sheep farm. The only people who can stop this sort of thing are the owners of the dogs.' I have had further letters on this instance and on one or two others that have happened in different parts of Sussex. I shall not read them to the House, but I would point out that in one case last week a butcher is said to have calculated that the sheep killed one day locally were the equivalent of 3,000 meat rations for human beings.

So much for sheep. Not everybody realises that the same agony is caused to cattle. Here I quote from Cricklade in Gloucestershire: On 18th May at the same farm a bunch of 37, 12 to 15-month old heifers were worried and driven through the Thames to a neighbouring farm. The animals were exhausted and terrified. They refused to be driven back into the field they had been grazing in and lorries had to be sent to bring them home. One animal had been bitten on the nose, the wounds penetrating both nostrils, but this heifer recovered. Another heifer was missing and was eventually found in a ditch terribly mutilated and it was destroyed immediately to end its suffering. The damage to this heifer is almost indescribable. The left nostril was torn out, and all the flesh was ripped off the right side of the face, exposing the lower jawbone completely. Half the tongue was torn out and on the shoulders, two huge wounds were made, large enough to put one's fist in. There were teeth marks over most of the body, and the thought of what that animal must have suffered makes one shudder. This last attack took place in the early morning just about dawn and obviously the dogs had been out all night. Unfortunately they have not been traced, and there is no knowing where this will end. Those are one or two of the crueller cases. One must look at the matter also from the point of view of the meat situation of the country. In my area of Sussex, especially in the districts between Brighton and Worthing, sheep farming has to a large extent been given up, and I am sure the same applies in many other parts of the country. Farmers just cannot afford to go on unless some form of protection against these losses can be found.

At a Press conference some time ago figures were given covering not only sheep but cattle and poultry. I shall not go into those figures in detail but they were the official ones from the Ministry of Agriculture. From those figures it can be seen that the worrying of livestock is increasing. In 1949 the number of cases of sheep worrying numbered 3,038. In 1952 there were 4,267. In 1949 there were 4,203 sheep killed, and in 1952. 5,844. In 1949 there were 3,624 sheep injured, and in 1952, 5,086. It is interesting to find that the dogs traced in 1949 numbered 3,042, and in 1952, 3,601. There were 2,025 dogs destroyed in 1949, and 2,407 in 1952. As regards poultry, in 1949 the number of poultry killed was 17,161, and was 20,692 in 1952. As regards cattle, there were 17 killed in 1952 and 52 injured.

I have also a list of figures relating to the different counties showing the numbers of sheep and lambs kept in the country in 1938 compared with 1952. There was a period when about 30 million sheep were kept, but in England and Wales alone the numbers are down to 13 million. I believe that the total, including Scotland, may be about 19 million. The increases have been in Wales, and have been quite considerable in the valleys that are farthest away from urban areas, whereas in the districts near to London or other urban areas the numbers have dropped considerably.

In Essex, whereas in 1938 there were 170,000 sheep and lambs, there are today only 42,900. In Surrey, where there were 34,400, there are today just over 11,000. In my own county, in East Sussex, there were 157,000 in 1938 and now there are 97,000; and in West Sussex there were 82,000 in 1938, whereas now there are only 28,000. So much for the figures. I understand that in one year, when about 7,000 sheep were killed, it meant that a million meat rations were lost.

Mr. Granville West (Pontypool)

Before the hon. Gentleman leaves that point about the loss of food to the country, could he tell the House the numbers of straying sheep killed during the same period on the railway lines and on the public highways?

Mr. Teeling

I am afraid I have not those figures with me, but that question could be asked on another occasion.

What are the reasons for this? To a large extent it means carelessness on the part of the dog owners, especially in urban areas. Various other reasons have been given me by "Our Dumb Friends' League." They suggest that it has now become more fashionable to have bigger dogs of the Chow and Alsatian types. There is also the question of training dogs for military and police purposes for attack, some of which subsequently go to private owners. There is also the question of the stray dog and of the lack of licences. There is also the question of the lack of regulations in regard to dog collars. Other people speak of the problem of dogs not getting enough meat today, and it has been suggested that dehydrated meat should be provided, especially for sheep dogs.

As one goes through the literature on this subject one finds every kind of suggestion brought forward and discussed. I have myself discussed it with most of the societies interested in the subject, or with Members of Parliament closely connected with them. Like other hon. Members, I have received from the Canine Defence League a circular about which no doubt other hon. Members will be thinking. I have read it carefully. I discussed this matter with the secretary of the League only two days ago. It was the first time he had approached me although my Bill has been in preparation since last November. Great advantage would be derived by discussing the Bill with all Societies.

Incidentally Sir Robert Gower, who died only a few days ago, was their President and formerly a Member of Parliament, who came to speak for me on the eve of the poll at my first By-election, and may have been partially responsible for my being here today. Whether that would make the poor gentleman turn in his grave I do not know. We can, however, all quite easily work together, especially when it comes to dealing with the matter during the Committee stage.

Whatever Bill we introduce, I feel that it will be of no use unless we get public support and opinion behind us. Therefore, I suggest that the Canine Defence League, the National Sheep Breeders' Association and the R.S.P.C.A. could well get together among themselves to see whether we cannot give more publicity to this problem, especially on the B.B.C., in television and in other ways.

People are suggesting that it may be necessary only to localise the regulations that are made under the Bill; that action need only be taken during certain seasons and in certain parts of the country. There have been suggestions from the north of England that helicopters should be used to try to find dogs. All kinds of suggestions are being brought forward, and they can be considered in due course. For the moment, I think we are going quite far enough if we can get the Bill through.

I should like to run quickly through the Bill. The long title keeps solely to the question of leading with livestock, and livestock only. This is of interest from the point of view of allotment holders. It has been suggested that we should do all sorts of things to help with regard to dogs on allotments and their general nuisance in connection with seeds and so forth, but I must adhere to my original view concerning only the worrying of livestock.

The question of fines has also caused some criticism, and people say that the amounts proposed may be too much. I do not hold that view, but this, too, can be discussed in Committee. We are anxious as will be seen from Clause 2 (1), to stop the nuisance of the common informer. Therefore, we have tried to define as clearly as possible who can prosecute and bring proceedings. In Clause 3 (1) the definition "agricultural land" includes allotments.

I do not think that the Bill needs any more detailed explanation at the moment. Its purpose is clear. Clause 1, in which penalties are stipulated, is to some people, perhaps, the most worrying part of the Bill. I see no reason why the few people who are the nuisances with their dogs should get away with it, and I think that we can probably pin them down.

The support which I have obtained comes from nearly all over the country, and I wish to quote from one or two letters. One is from Sir William Prince-Smith, who is this year's President of the National Sheep Breeders' Association. He says: Every sheep breed society in Great Britain is affiliated to the N.S.B.A., and therefore this body can speak with authority as representing the whole sheep breeding industry of Great Britain. The question of sheep worrying by dogs has been brought up at practically every meeting we have held during recent years, and Mr. Teeling's Bill has the unanimous support of our Association. The opinion has been expressed on many occasions by delegates from different breed societies that the dog menace is the most serious deterrent there is today to an increase in our sheep population, which is so desirable in view of the world shortage of meat. Many farmers, particularly those living near to large industrial centres, frankly state that they have given up keeping sheep, and will not restart, because of the dog menace, although their farms are capable of producing a considerable number of lambs each year from food which is otherwise wasted. The number of sheep worried each year receives considerable publicity, but unfortunately in many cases the dog which is responsible for the damage is never traced, or if it is the owner is financially incapable of paying compensation to the farmer concerned, with the result that in most cases of sheep worrying the whole loss, which may be very considerable, falls on the farmer himself. I do feel that this Bill deals with the matter in a very reasonable and moderate way, and I may say that on many occasions far more drastic and severe action has been proposed at meetings of the N.S.B.A. The National Farmers' Union, Carmarthenshire County Branch, who say that they are speaking with the authority of something like 5,000 farmers within the county, write: There has been a demand for such measure as you propose to introduce before the House of Commons on 13th March next —a demand too long remained unsatisfied, if, we are called upon to satisfy the needs of the consumer; then we must be offered every facility to fulfil that need. Sheep worrying by dogs has been the source of grievous loss to our nation in terms of carcase meat. Such loss could have been averted through courageous action such as you are now embarked upon. Such measure will fortify the food producers in their quest for greater productivity and meet the demand of an increasing population for more food. I will not bother the House with further quotations.

At the present moment, when the country is in serious need of more and more food production here, we should take very great care to ensure that everything possible is done to increase that food production. We are assured by so many people who know what they are talking about that if something is done on these lines, if considerable publicity is given to the appalling cruelty that takes place and if in certain areas greater possibility of protection is given to those who need it, we shall in this way increase the sheep population and, therefore, get increased production.

It is proposed that in the areas around certain towns and rural areas the Minister would have power not to enforce the Act. This is because those particular districts have become almost entirely recreational. We do not want to stop people going out with their dogs to have a quiet time, and we want to allow them to have as much fun as possible. We must, however, look first to the food situation; and, second, we must realise the appalling torture that can be caused to poor animals, not only to sheep but to cattle also, for the quesion has a vital connection with milk production. In short, it is intended to provide protection for cattle, sheep, poultry and allotments.

2.57 p.m.

Mr. E. G. Gooch (Norfolk, North)

I beg to second the Motion.

In moving the Second Reading of the Bill, the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Teeling) has shown political courage, and I also compliment him upon the way in which he has brought it forward. No doubt the introduction of the Bill will lead dog defenders to raise many arguments that can be used to justify the existence of dogs. I think that most hon. Members have during the last few days been supplied with views for and against the Bill. A good many correspondents have been at pains to point out that dogs bring happiness and pleasure to parents and children alike; that they are watchdogs and companions of elderly people who without a dog would live in utter loneliness; that they are guide dogs for the blind and they perform work of social value, such as vermin killing, with all of which views I entirely agree.

All these and other arguments can be used by those who feel that the proposals of the Bill will increase the difficulties of those for whom a dog is not a luxury. It would be quite wrong for anyone, either inside the House or outside it, to assume that those who support the Bill are not dog lovers.

It is safe to say that this Bill has the support of the whole of the farming community. I am certain that the farmers are in favour of it. I believe that I am expressing the opinion of farm workers in saying that they are in favour of it, too. Both farmers and farm workers are as fond of their dogs as those who do not farm, and probably fonder because they understand livestock better. A farmer or farm worker would suffer if he heard that his dog had been shot. They realise the nature of a dog and know that it must be amenable to strict discipline.

Among documents which have been circulated to hon. Members in the last few days there is a statement which purports to give the dog's side of the case. I will only quote a few words from it. It states: As dog lovers we have no objection to the present Bill, provided it is not the start of a long chain of repressive measures. As far as I am concerned, the Bill stands by itself. I have met a good many people who would want to go much further than does this Bill, but at the moment I am satisfied with the Bill and I hope that it commends itself to the House.

At a time like the present, when agriculture is making tremendous efforts to increase the output of food for home consumption, it is essential in the public interest to protect sheep, lambs and poultry from the domestic dog. Damage by dogs has now gone beyond the stage of personal loss, grim as that has been at times. Now it is affecting the whole animal husbandry of the country.

In the "Farmers' Weekly" of 6th March it was stated that, in 1952, losses caused by dog worrying included 5,430 sheep killed, and 4,729 injured; 20,273 poultry killed and 3,021 injured; and 17 cattle killed and 15 injured. These figures do not include losses in three counties for which no returns were available. In one year, it has been reported, no fewer than 7,000 sheep were killed which, as has already been pointed out, would have been enough to provide one million meat rations.

As those who live in country districts know, the suffering inflicted by dog worrying on sheep and lambs is appalling and should be deeply disturbing to anyone with a love for animals. They may be disembowelled or torn to shreds. It is often assumed that when the sheep is uninjured no harm is done, but as any countryman knows the loss can be considerable if the sheep are merely harried. They cannot graze and they do not put on weight. The damage to pregnant ewes may be grave. Hundreds of lambs are still-born as a result of ewes being chased by dogs.

The owner of a playful but not vicious dog may say, "Dear Fido would not hurt a lamb." Or the owner of a little terrier, which can squeeze through fences or gates, may look on indulgently when his pet barks at sheep— "because it cannot hurt them." But the sheep do not know that and their first reaction is to run about. Killer dogs usually start by playfully chasing sheep around. If they are allowed to continue they often start pulling out wool and in time, draw blood. And the natural instinct of a dog, which is that of a hunter, is developed, so that the animal becomes a menace.

One of the worst effects of worrying and killing by dogs is that it acts as a deterrent to sheep farming. Sheep are being driven away from all districts adjacent to an industrial population. Many farmers in the vicinity of towns have given up keeping sheep because of the losses they have sustained. The suffering caused to the animals, the loss of potential meat and clothing, which are vital needs today, the incalculable effects on breeding, and the wastage of labour involved in precautionary measures—all these render necessary strict legislation to induce owners to keep their dogs under appropriate control.

People who own dogs must learn to exercise sufficient control over them. Few people take the trouble to train their dogs. I venture to say that half the dogs in the country are not under what a sheep farmer would call control. The losses and suffering caused by dogs could be avoided to a large extent if the owners would restrain them from wandering all over the place and would not allow them to pass through or close to flocks of sheep unless they are on the lead.

Our existence as a nation now depends very much upon how much we can increase the output from our farms. There is a social and moral obligation on us to do everything possible to avoid the wastage of food. This Bill will help towards that end, and I have the utmost pleasure in commending it to the House.

3.5 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel Sir Thomas Moore (Ayr)

I want to assure my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Teeling) that I believe this is a good Bill and will be welcomed not only by the sheep farming community but also by all those great societies whose concern is to protect animals.

I have seen two criticisms, and they were mentioned in "The Times" this morning. One was from Sir Alfred Munnings, who demanded that the fee for keeping a dog should be raised to £5. I do not imagine that any of us would agree with that because it would take away the only solace and comfort of many of our old age pensioners and others who are living lonely lives segregated from human contact. Therefore, we can eliminate that criticism. The second criticism comes from the Secretary of the National Canine Defence League. I have been associated with the National Canine Defence League, on its council and in various other ways, for the past 25 years, but I was never consulted about whether this protest should be made, and I wonder how many other office bearers were consulted.

The R.S.P.C.A., for whom I have authority to speak, are warmly in support of the principle of the Bill. Should it receive the support of this House and reach its Committee stage, there may be one or two minor Amendments moved but they will not in any way destroy the character of the Bill. The R.S.P.C.A. believe that they have a duty to the sheep as well as to the dogs, and certainly to the expectant ewes and lambs which are suffering and have suffered so much in the past.

I have had personal experience of this problem. We have a Pekinese at home who, once he sees a sheep, apparently has an overwhelming feeling that that sheep must be the subject of his persecution. Fortunately they are our own sheep, so it is purely a domestic matter.

Mr. Ede (South Shields)

What about the sheep?

Sir T. Moore

It is a domestic matter. I do not say it is a matter that we do not deplore, but at any rate it does not come within the scope of this Bill because the action which would be taken would be taken by me against the dog and not by the police.

As we know, there is a law at the moment which makes it clear that a dog should have a collar bearing the name of the owner, and if that law could be upheld it would solve a great many of our difficulties.

Mr. John Morrison (Salisbury)

Would not my hon. and gallant Friend agree that a tattoo mark on the ear would be much better than a collar? It would give the dog freedom, and in addition it would be there for life.

Sir T. Moore

I agree, but I am referring to the law which at present states that every dog should have a collar bearing the owner's name. If that were carried out it would solve many of our problems inasmuch as a prosecution could take place and could be directed towards the right person, because it is the owner and not the dog who is responsible. A dog is a natural hunter. That is why, in my opinion, the Bill is right, in that it puts the responsibility on the owner of the dog.

I noticed in "The Times" this morning that the Secretary of the National Canine Defence League demanded that the Bill should be withdrawn so that it could be the subject of more discussion and negotiation. As has already been said today, this matter has been the subject of discussion by the farming community and the National Farmers' Union for a long time—as long as I can remember. It has been the subject of discussion by the R.S.P.C.A. and many other societies for the last 25 or 30 years. So far no solution has been found, and it is because I think that this Bill goes a long way towards finding that solution that I commend it to the House.

3.10 p.m.

Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

I venture to suggest that the House should not allow themselves to be stampeded into approving an unnecessary Bill by gruesome and gory stories of sheep-worrying such as those which have been related by the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Teeling) and the hon. Member for Norfolk. North (Mr. Gooch).

Mr. Gooch

They are true. We have seen this kind of thing happen.

Mr. Hughes

They are true, but they are in a minority, and the House should not be stampeded by them. Neither should the House allow themselves to be stampeded by the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion that the nation's meat supply is in danger because of dogs worrying sheep. That is to take a very exaggerated and extreme view of a problem which should be considered calmly and dispassionately.

Any Bill attempting to deal with problems relating to dogs demands a careful scrutiny and a realisation of the fact that the law in this respect has already been well settled. In addition, from the time of Saint Bernard to the time of Rudyard Kipling, it has been realised that the dog is not only a friend of man but also a very useful and charming member of society. He is a friend of the lonely, a guardian of our security, a guide to the blind and a playmate for the child. The dog and its owner are entitled to fair treatment, which this Bill would not give them.

Mr. Charles Pannell (Leeds, West)

What about the sheep?

Mr. Hughes

Of course, there are delinquent dogs, just as there are delinquent human beings; but the fact that there are delinquent human beings does not induce this House to rush into such unnecessary and exaggerated legislation as that proposed here in the case of dogs. It will be realised that dogs are as various as human beings. There are educated dogs and uneducated dogs; there are stupid dogs and clever dogs, and there are dogs which are good citizens and bad dogs which are delinquents.

Lieut.-Colonel Marcus Lipton (Brixton) rose——

Mr. Hughes

I cannot give way. Time is short. The hon. and gallant Member has already made a speech upon the Bill which preceded this one and I do not see why he should help me to talk this Bill out.

The law has recognised the position of dogs in our society and has dealt with it in a very careful way by statutes which protect society against delinquent dogs, just as society is protected against delinquent human beings. The Dogs Acts from 1906 to 1928 comprise a comprehensive set of statutes, but they are not invidious, as this Bill is. They impose an absolute civil liability on the owner of a dog which causes damage to cattle, sheep or poultry. They give great protection to farmers and others.

The onus is, therefore, on any persons who seek any further change in the law. That onus has not been discharged by those hon. Members who have spoken in favour of this Bill. At present a farmer may shoot an erring dog if that is a reasonable course to adopt, and "reasonable" has been construed in a way which is adverse to the dog and favourable to the farmer. A farmer may shoot an erring dog if, in his opinion, the dog is a danger to himself or to his farm stock. For instance, he might do so if a dog attacked either himself or a member of his family or his stock; and that, too, is construed in a very wide manner. "Attack" has been construed as meaning merely chasing cattle or sheep. Further, at present he is entitled to shoot a dog which is stigmatised as a confirmed "worrier" of cattle or sheep.

The advantage in this existing legislation is all in favour of the farmer and against the dog, and yet the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion suggests that that is not enough. A committee recently sat upon this—the Committee on the Law of Civil Liability for Damage done by Animals. That Committee recommended, in effect, that an owner of animals should be entitled to shoot a dog for merely trespassing on his land, even though no actual attack could be proved, if he reasonably believed his animals had been or would be attacked and if, after shooting the dog, he gave notice to the police within 48 hours. I submit that this would be liable to grave abuse. It is too arbitrary a power of life and death.

That is not the proposal in the Bill. If I were in order I should like to refer to the recommendations of the Committee, but I fear I should not be in order in doing so. This Bill approaches the problem in a different way. It seeks to create new offences for dog owners. Clause 1 provides a penalty where a dog is found straying or not under control … and is or has been worrying livestock. In words which are not either sufficiently apt or free from ambiguity, the Bill seeks to impose new obligations and new liabilities upon the owners of dogs. In my submission, the Bill is couched in phrases which would create new grievances and which would reduce the rights of dogs—and dogs have rights—to less than those of many wild animals. The Goddard Committee is much more reasonable in its recommendations on this aspect of trespass than the proposals of the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion.

The Bill would not touch what is one of the essential and fundamental problems of the delinquent dog—the identification of the accused dog. I venture to make three practical suggestions about this. I think that each dog should carry its own licence in the form of a disc attached to its collar. This would cover not only the case of the delinquent dog but also the case of the delinquent owner.

Mr. Ronald Bell (Bucks, South) rose——

Mr. Hughes

Time is short and I do not want to steal the time of any other hon. Member who wishes to speak later.

The second suggestion I would make is that licences should be issued by the police, and not, as at present, by the Post Office. The third suggestion is that there should be official dog collectors in this country, as there are in other countries, who would go about collecting the unlicensed dogs. I should like to join the hon. and gallant Member for Ayr (Sir T. Moore) in saying that in no circumstances should licence duty be payable by blind persons, old age pensioners, Forces pensioners or anyone else who is dependent on the services and guidance of his dog.

In my submission, this Bill is too hastily prepared. It is prepared without due regard to existing legislation, which meets the needs of the situation, and, indeed, without due regard to the Goddard Report which so recently considered the relevant problems. I oppose the Bill, and I hope that it will be defeated.

3.20 p.m.

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

I should like now to make a short intervention to say a word of support for the Bill on behalf of the Government. Personally, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Teeling) on bringing forward this very useful Measure. I believe that it will make a valuable contribution in the field of food production, and, indeed, as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ayr (Sir T. Moore) said, in the field of reducing the sufferings of sheep and other livestock.

It is true that in the past year my right hon. Friend has had consultations with the organisations and associations concerned with the welfare of dogs and other animals, and also consultations with the farming interests, to consider this problem which, I believe, is recognised on all sides as one to which we must give thought and find some solution, and it was a matter of great satisfaction to my right hon. Friend that in those discussions we achieved a very fair measure of agreement that something of this kind was probably the right approach, and if it were not for the heavy legislative programme the Government already have it might well have been possible for them to have brought such a Measure forward themselves. We are, therefore, particularly grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing this Bill forward now.

My hon. Friend cited in his speech the figures for livestock losses and sheep worrying, and I should like to confirm that those are reliable figures. They have been questioned in some quarters, particularly by the Canine Defence League, as to whether they are reliable. Well, they are in fact, and I am glad to have the opportunity of confirming them now.

Mr. Granville West (Pontypool)

Is the hon. Gentleman able to give me the information I asked the hon. Gentleman to give—the number of sheep killed through straying either on to railway lines or the public highways?

Mr. Nugent

Even if I had that information I think that you, Mr. Speaker, would rule me out of order if I tried to give it.

Mr. Ede

But this is Second Reading.

Mr. Nugent

All I wish to do, as my hon. Friend has given the figures he has, is to say that they are reliable, and that the House can accept them as reflecting the true position. The real truth of the matter in the food production picture is that the actual losses of livestock and the number of cases of livestock worrying are relatively only a small aspect of the losses of food production involved.

A far more serious point is that on an increasing number of farms our farmers simply will not keep sheep because of the danger of sheep worrying. In my own village, which is a typical one, in one of the counties near London, there is only one farmer who still keeps sheep. He is a very determined Scotsman, who has been accustomed to keeping sheep all his life, and he goes on doing so, but every year I have been there for the last 20 years he has had cases of sheep worrying, and the losses must be very considerable.

For my own part, in 1935, after a serious case of sheep worrying, I decided to keep sheep no more on my farm, and my instance is typical of not only hundreds but of thousands of farms up and down the country. That is the serious aspect which the Government and hon. Members on both sides of the House are concerned to see checked. This Bill, by increasing the sense of general responsibility of dog owners, will prove a check on the amount of sheep worrying which goes on.

Everyone who has ever seen a sheep which has been worried, or seen the live animal actually being eaten by a dog, will feel extremely strongly about the humanitarian aspect. It is no more than reasonable to ask dog owners who, after all, are animal lovers, to show the same feeling for other animals as they show for their own dogs. The Government, I would make it plain, give their full support to this Bill. They thank my hon. Friend for bringing it forward, and hope that the House will give it a Second Reading.

3.27 p.m.

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

I should add to the congratulations already extended to the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Teeling). I welcome this Bill with the qualification that I am by no means satisfied that it will provide the remedy for a serious and difficult problem. There is no doubt that such a problem exists, both from the agricultural production point of view and from the humanitarian point of view.

It is a horrible experience to see this sort of thing happening, but it is not new. As a small boy I remember an uncle of mine who owned a beautiful collie dog. One day the dog came home with its mouth covered with blood and a certain amount of wool on it. I never saw the dog again, because my uncle did the right thing and shot it. It is a problem which we have never managed to solve but we should endeavour to do so, and this Bill may be a way to cause dog owners to exercise more care.

We in this House have to be careful about anything which may be interpreted as anti-dog legislation. There are three million dog owners in this country. I do not look upon them merely as potential voters, but, as was pointed out by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes), dogs do give great pleasure and assistance to many people. I consider that this Measure is one which should have been introduced by the Government rather than by a Private Member. The Ministry of Agriculture have been in consultation with the National Farmers' Union for a long time and should by now have made up their minds. A Bill could have been brought in and discussed in Government time. If it is argued that there is no time to do that I suggest that we might have sent the Iron and Steel Bill upstairs and thus made time to discuss a Measure such as this. But I do not wish to enter into a controversy about that now.

This Bill, in its Committee stage, must be subjected to the most careful scrutiny and a number of Amendments proposed. I have doubts about some of the penalties. I think that the National Canine Defence League said something of importance which we shall have to consider. But having said that, it is my intention to vote for this Bill and I hope that my hon. Friends will do the same. I also hope that we shall all go very carefully into the provisions of this Bill and try to amend it in such a way as to make it a better Bill than it is.

3.30 p.m.

Mr. John Baldock (Harborough)

I should like to join in the congratulations of the House to my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Teeling) for presenting this Bill in such a moderate way, which I should have thought was very far from attempting to stampede the House into supporting a Bill which is in no way unreasonable.

I believe that if many hon. Members, of this House had personal experience, as a few of us have, of the distressing and sickening sight of calves, poultry or sheep being persecuted by dogs, a Measure of this kind would have been presented long ago. Perhaps I should remind the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Champion) that the first time he spoke from the Dispatch Box was in reply to an Adjournment debate on this subject, at a time when his party was in office, when he said that he could not see that anything could be done in this matter except by legislation. I do not think that any legislation was ever put before the House when the Labour Government were in office.

Indeed, I believe that successive Governments have shied off this problem because of the fear of public opinion of dog owners in urban areas, who perhaps have not the experience of the distressing results this kind of thing can have. From my own experience as a result of the Adjournment debate and of speaking in the country, I think that a great many people are concerned about this matter and would welcome a Bill which brings home penalties to irresponsible dog owners.

There has been a question of increasing the amount of the licence for a dog and that has been dealt with already by my hon. Friends on this side of the House. I think that some increase might have the effect of reducing the large number of dogs kept by some owners—more dogs than they appear to be capable of keeping under proper control. I think that a moderate increase would have a good effect and it need not bear hardly on old people, as they might very well be given some kind of exemption, such as the farmer is given now for sheep dogs, or some kind of concession such as are granted to old age pensioners in other connections. I think that a small increase in the amount of a dog licence might have a good effect in other ways.

The most important thing in this aspect is the drop in the sheep population in urban areas, particularly in the Midlands, around London and wherever there is a high concentration of large towns and cities. There are a large number of farms in that type of area where sheep are no longer kept because farmers dare not do so. The most recent case of that has already been referred to today. At Willingdon, a farmer said that he had lost £1,000 worth of sheep in the last 13 years, and as a result of this loss he had definitely decided not to keep sheep any longer. That is one more instance of what is occurring every day in every part of the country.

It is not only a matter of the loss of meat. This has a very serious aspect concerning the good hubandry of the farmland of Britain. Sheep are a most essential part of good husbandry on most farms and certainly on mixed farms. There is no more valuable asset to a farm than a good flock of sheep. Farms which are not carrying these flocks of sheep are not only depriving the country of mutton and lamb, but also of the agricultural production which follows in the trend of a good flock of sheep. There is also the aspect that other forms of livestock, particularly poultry, cannot be kept in many areas round large towns because of fear of attack by dogs.

I hope that the debate and the Bill will focus the attention of the general public on the importance of controlling dogs more effectively, particularly at this time of the year when more and more people are going into the countryside with their dogs and larger areas of the countryside are being made available to the general public. It is becoming ever more important that dog owners should understand how necessary it is to keep their animals under control.

The debate will perhaps also bring home to local authorities the fact that they have powers to order that dogs should be kept under proper control in their areas, and perhaps the police will be more diligent in the way they check dog licences and will make certain that dogs have collars, as is required by statute. There is a great deal in the suggestion that dogs should be tattooed in the ear. The mark would be permanent, and it would cause no discomfort, as a collar may do. When a dog licence was taken out, reference could be made on it to the tattooing of the dog. This would make the work of the police easier in checking whether dogs were licensed and in other respects.

I congratulate my hon. Friend upon the Bill. I believe that it is entirely in the interest of increased food supplies for the country, of good agriculture and of everyone who really has the welfare of any kind of animal at heart.

3.37 p.m.

Mr. Granville West (Pontypool)

Those who have been blaming the loss of food production on dogs have been talking humbug. I and other hon. Members would deplore any single case of suffering caused to any animal through its being ravaged by a dog, and we should like to do everything we possibly can to prevent unnecessary suffering to any animal, and if I thought the Bill would do anything to prevent that I should wholeheartedly support it. But I agree with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes), who said that the Bill has been hastily drawn. I go further; I believe it is also vague and quite unworkable.

Hon. Members representing farming constituencies should remember that the Bill will put their farmer constituents in considerable difficulty. In saying that the Bill is vague and ill-considered, I want hon. Members to realise what they are doing if they pass it. It has been said that food production has been lost because of worrying by dogs, but I suggest to the Minister that the loss of food production has more largely been caused by farmers who have failed to keep in their sheep. I have had many complaints from constituents that their allotments and gardens have been despoiled by sheep which have been allowed to stray. Very many sheep have been killed upon railway lines and public highways because farmers have failed to control them and keep them within bounds.

The Bill contains another danger to the farming community. It provide that if straying sheep go on to the agricultural land of a neighbouring farmer and his dog seeks to chase them away he would be committing an offence under this Bill [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] If that is disputed, let me read what it says: If a dog is found straying or not under control, on any agricultural land, being either a field or other enclosure in which there is livestock, or an expanse of mountain, hill, moor, heath or down land … Even if it is on its own farm and the sheep stray on to agricultural land and either the dog chases the sheep out of the land or the farmer himself sends the dog to chase them out, then it seems to me an offence has been committed.

Mr. Percy Wells (Faversham)

My hon. Friend should read on.

Mr. West

I will read on: … and the dog is or has been worrying livestock on that land. … If it is chasing sheep it is worrying sheep on that land. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Of course it is. Let us see what subsection (2) says: For the purposes of the preceding subsection worrying livestock means causing, or behaving in a way likely to cause, injury or suffering to livestock. Nobody suggests that a dog which is chasing sheep and making the sheep run is not likely to cause it suffering.

Mr. Wells

These are trained sheep dogs.

Mr. West

I say that this Bill has not been fully considered.

Mr. Hector Hughes

Read on as to females.

Mr. West

Yes, and if a female is hurried and an abortion takes place, suffering is caused in that way.

It is obvious that this Bill has been ill-considered, though there is a real problem. The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Teeling) and my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Gooch) spoke about the serious suffering which we all deplore, but neither of them gave a reason to show how this Bill, in itself, would prevent that. In the very cases that they were citing of dogs causing damage and worrying cattle, these dogs could not be traced. Therefore, if the dogs could not be traced how will this Bill help to trace them? Because the hon. Members sponsoring the Bill have not given this matter full consideration and because there is a vital problem here, I think that the Bill ought to be withdrawn.

The Committee on the Law of Civil Liability for Damage done by Animals gave serious consideration to the issues involved and they say, like the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion and my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North, that the great problem was to identify the dogs. If this Bill dealt with certainty with the problem of identifying the killer dog then, of course, there would be no objection to it. But it does not do anything of the sort.

This very learned Committee gave consideration to this problem, and they recognise what the practical difficulty was. What they suggested in their Report was something that the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion ought to have considered in framing this Bill. This is what they said: We cannot envisage any statutory provivision which would obviate or lessen this difficulty. Neither would this Bill lessen or obviate the difficulty. They further state: We cannot envisage any statutory provivision which would obviate or lessen this difficulty, though possibly a more rigorous enforcement of the law as to the provision and marking of collars might afford some degree of protection. If the hon. Gentleman had come forward with a Bill insisting that there should be a more rigorous enforcement of the law with regard to the marking of collars, he would have been achieving something for the protection of sheep. The Bill does not do that. Therefore I suggest that the hon. Gentleman ought to think again about it. He ought to take it back and give it second thoughts. Then perhaps he could bring forward a worthwhile Bill which would be of advantage to the farming community and would not be offensive to dog lovers.

Let us remember that those who keep dogs do not do so for the purpose of having them chasing or causing damage to sheep. The number of cases where people do not control their dogs, which chase sheep in the field are not as numerous as hon. Gentlemen have been suggesting this afternoon. When the hon. Member said that many farmers were not keeping sheep because the latter were being worried by dogs, surely he does not believe that. The reason many people are not keeping sheep today is that they cannot get enough shepherds. If the farming community would pay higher wages to attract shepherds into the jobs there would not be the loss that has been complained of. Blaming it all upon the dogs is nonsense. I ask hon. Gentlemen to be a little reasonable about this problem.

The Bill in itself does nothing to deal with the serious and important problem that is being posed by the hon. Gentlemen who have spoken on the Bill. The solution of the problem is to be found in the Report of the Civil Liability Committee. A Bill brought in to deal with the problem piecemeal and in isolation is not the right approach. The promoters of the Bill ought to take it back and let the Government consider the report of that Committee and bring in legislation to deal with liability in respect of animals.

They should also consider the liability of the farmers who allow their sheep to stray. Farmers are very negligent in that way, and I cannot too strongly emphasise the loss that has been caused by sheep devouring produce in allotments and gardens. Hon. Gentlemen may smile. They may remember that I referred the problem to the Minister, who recognised that there was a problem. Hon. Gentlemen Are ill-advised to smile when I draw attention to the matter in the House of Commons, because it is a problem that must be dealt with.

The whole problem of food production should be dealt with in its entirety. Let us have regard to the recommendations and bring in general provisions in respect of them. If we did that——

Mr. Gooch

Shoot the dogs.

Mr. West

That was exactly the burden of the hon. Gentleman's argument. That is nonsense.

Mr. Gooch

Read the Report of the Committee.

Mr. West

The hon. Gentleman is confusing himself in trying to confuse me. The argument of those who have supported the Bill is that the solution to their problem, as they would have it, is that all the dogs should be destroyed. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Certainly. Hon. Gentlemen have been blaming it all upon the dogs. They referred to the loss of food production, and said that people were giving up sheep farming because dogs were worrying and chasing the sheep, and therefore the only logical solution was that all dogs should be destroyed.

The Bill does not do a single thing to enable farmers to keep their sheep in greater security than they have done in the past. What does it propose to do? All that it purports to do is to make a person guilty of an offence in the circumstances which I quoted earlier and then he is liable to a fine not exceeding £20. Yet the fundamental problem with which hon. Members have been dealing is that of the unidentified dog and the dog has to be identified before the owner can be convicted. How are we to convict the owner if we cannot identify the dog? I am in wholehearted support of anything that can be done to identify the dog, but this Measure does nothing at all to prove either the identity of the dog or the dog owner, so it is useless. Therefore, this Bill ought to be taken back and thought out again. There are certain other matters in connection with it——

Mr. C. S. Taylor (Eastbourne)

What about voting on it?

Mr. West

I am not proposing to prevent the hon. Gentleman from voting. All I am seeking to do is to give an opportunity to other hon. Members to hear some arguments in opposition to the fundamental principles of this Bill. If any hon. Gentleman has the answer to the fundamental problem of the identification of the dog, I shall be glad if he will intervene. Does the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Sir J. Lucas) wish to intervene?

Sir Jocelyn Lucas (Portsmouth, South)

The answer is complete third party insurance, such as the Alsatian Societies provide now. For a compulsory 1s. stamp a year on the licence, every dog in the country could be covered by third party insurance in a pool system, which would pay for damage whether the dog or his owner was identified or not.

Mr. West

That is an entirely different thing and is not dealt with by the Bill. If the Bill were proposing something along those lines, I should support it. Even the hon. Gentleman for Portsmouth, South has not made any suggestion as to how the dog is to be identified, which is the basic problem. When it comes to the question of civil liability, no one will suggest that the law does not give adequate safeguards to the farmer who can prove the ownership of the dog, so that he has his remedy before the courts in that case.

Mr. Baldock rose——

Sir T. Moore

Let him finish.

Mr. West

The suggestion put forward is that all dogs should be insured compulsorily. I see no objection to that, if dog owners would like to have insurance. If I had a dog which was causing damage, I should like to have it insured because I would not like any person to suffer loss as a result of actions on my part or on the part of my dog. In this matter we have to consider not only the interest of the sheep farmer, but also the position of the dog owner. I do not think that hon. Mambers have given consideration to the dog owner. I gather by the interventions of hon. Gentlemen that they are now saying, have this Bill or have the dogs shot.

Mr. Gooch indicated dissent.

Mr. West

Is no one suggesting that? I am quite certain that neither the mover nor the seconder of the Bill has understood its implications. When it is now suggested that I am in favour of all dogs being shot, quite clearly the purpose of the Bill is not understood.

Mr. P. Wells

We are not suggesting anything of the sort.

Mr. West

My hon. Friend now says that they are not suggesting anything of the sort, but I thought a moment ago that my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North was suggesting that either the Bill would deal with the problem or it would be necessary for dogs to be shot.

I ask hon. Members to give this matter reasonable consideration. It is one of great importance to all dog lovers as well as to owners of sheep. I am not convinced, on the case put forward by those who have spoken in favour of the Bill, that there is any substance in the argument that the Bill would in any way remove their fears and anxieties concerning the farming community. I trust, therefore, that hon. Members will give the matter further thought.

I should like to draw the attention of the House to a matter which I regard as of some importance. Although the Minister was smiling when I referred to the damage caused by sheep, the learned Committee which is dealing with the question say, under the heading of "Protection against trespassing dogs": Before leaving this subject we may say that our attention has been called to the somewhat analogous matter of damage caused by wintering sheep, that is flocks brought down from the hills for the winter in certain parts of the country which do damage to gardens or other lands. Here again the difficulty that arises is in the identification of the sheep which have done the damage. If their identity and that of their owner can be established the law relating to cattle trespass provides an adequate remedy but neither we nor the National Farmers' Union can suggest any statutory remedy for facilitating the proof. Therefore, we are in this position. On the one hand, there is the damage caused by dogs, in which the learned Committee say that the fundamental problem is the proof of identity. They also say that there is undoubtedly the case of damage caused by sheep, when the fundamental question is identity and proof of ownership. While they come forward with their case against the dog-owners, they do nothing at all to deal with the problem of the damage caused by other animals—namely, sheep —when the identity of the sheep cannot be proved. It is obvious, I suggest, that this is a problem which must be considered in its entirety in accordance with the provisions of the Report of the Committee.

If the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion will take the Bill back and give consideration to the recommendations which are set out in the Report, I am sure that the Bill which he would then be able to bring forward would meet the satisfaction of hon. Members on both sides of the House. But we believe that the present Bill is vague, uncertain, ill-considered, ambiguous and too hastily drawn, and we urge the hon. Member to give it further consideration.

Perhaps I may ask the hon. Gentleman whether he is prepared to follow that course. If he is willing to withdraw the Bill and to give it further consideration, and to bring it forward at a time when, perhaps, we can have an opportunity of giving it our unqualified blessing, I am quite sure he will be able to get a Bill on the Statute Book which would be quite satisfactory to him and to all other Members, on both sides of the House. If the hon. Gentleman is prepared to do that——

It being Four o'Clock Mr. SPEAKER proceeded to interrupt the Business; whereupon Mr. TEELING rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put," but Mr. SPEAKER withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question.

Major Tufton Beamish (Lewes)

On a point of order. The hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. West), in my hearing and in the hearing of all of us, gave a very clear pledge to this House that he was going to allow a vote on this Bill. When an hon. Member gives that pledge, is there any way of making sure that he honours it, Sir?

Mr. Speaker

That is a matter for the hon. Member and not for me. My duty is to enforce the Standing Order.

Mr. Teeling

The hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. West) asked me to give an answer to a question. When I rose to do so he refused to sit down.

Mr. West

I said it was not my intention to prevent a vote, and it was not my intention at that time, but it was the interruptions that caused——

Hon. Members


Debate adjourned.

Debate to be resumed upon Friday next.