HC Deb 12 February 1954 vol 523 cc1538-55

Order for Second Reading read.

12.25 p.m.

Mr. Peter Remnant (Wokingham)

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

Judging by past experience, I should declare my interest, if it is an interest, to the extent that I own one dog, three pigs and some poultry, though some of my critical friends may be inclined to say that on occasions the dog has the custody of the hon. Member for Wokingham.

This Bill, which has been alive for some time, owes a debt of gratitude to a number of hon. and right hon. Members of this House. It began, I believe, in the fertile brain of the hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood), who, but for a most pressing engagement, and to his regret, would have been here today to give it his strong support. It was introduced about a year ago by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Lewes (Major Beamish), and I must pay tribute to what I believe to be the large amount of work done on it by my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department and his officials.

As on all these matters, I have had a large amount of correspondence, some ofit from as far away as Alberta, showing interest in the subject, but it is not the number of letters that I have received which impresses me so much as the fact that every single one of them has been in favour of the Bill, or even of some stronger steps than those proposed in the Bill itself. Although some may wish to change the methods, to make them stronger or even slightly weaker, these are points which can be argued in Committee, and I therefore hope the proposals in the Bill will be given the support of the House today.

I do not propose to spend any time on the aspects of cruelty as such. I think it is quite unnecessary to be sentimental about this matter, because cruelty is abhorred and hated by all decent persons and I think we can start by discussing whether it is right or wrong to adopt the measures proposed in this Bill in order to correct it. I do not dissent from the views expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams) or the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) in wanting a comprehensive Bill to deal with the whole matter, but I do say that, until such time as such a Bill can be introduced, this House has a moral duty anyway to see that such cruelty as does exist shall toe stopped, so far as it is possible to do so.

The question is whether the magistrates have sufficient powers not only to check cruelty, but to stop it in those extreme cases in which there are persistent offenders. I take it that my duty is to show to the satisfaction of the House that there is sufficient persistent cruelty, and that the measures that I am proposing are the right and correct way to deal with it adequately. To me, at any rate, while it may be said that the number of cases of cruelty is less than it was 10, 20 or even 30 years ago, that does not satisfy me so long as cruelty, and particularly persistent cruelty, is still going on.

Perhaps here I might emphasise that the Bill, in my view, makes no attempt whatever to interfere with the discretion of the magistrates. It seeks only to give them increased powers to use if they so decide and think proper. The Bill seeks to give magistrates power to bar any person on second conviction or afterwards from keeping any animal or any type of animal for such period as they think fit. It also seeks to increase the maximum fine from £25 to £50, the £25 having remained unaltered since the original Act of 1911.

I would again stress that it is not the single or small case of cruelty that I have in mind in the Bill; it is the persistent offender. As far as I can see, no power exists at present to stop the persistent offender from continuing. It is true that existing provisions give magistrates power to take away and dispose of the animal which has been the subject of cruelty, but they do nothing whatever to stop the individual going round the corner and buying another animal of the same type and starting his cruelty all over again.

The cases which I shall cite to justify the Bill—I must mention a few later—are authentic, and more can be instanced if anyone so desires. They do not include police cases, for such records are not, readily at any rate, available to the ordinary person. The existing law lies in the Protection of Animals Act, 1911, amended by the 1912 Act so far as imprisonment is concerned, and thus the provision is for a maximum penalty of £25 and/or three months' imprisonment, and also the Protection of Animals (Cruelty to Dogs) Act, 1933, which, it should be noted, gives the court power to order a convicted person to be disqualified from keeping a dog or holding a dog licence on first conviction.

It may be argued that the fact that a licence is required to keep a dog affords some protection against a convicted person continuing his offence. I do not think that that is a very strong argument. Is it really suggested that there is any tie-up between the taking out of a licence and the individual? If I happen to be in Liverpool, there is nothing to stop me taking out a licence there in order to keep a dog in Oxfordshire. Is it really suggested that the licence will be followed through by the Post Office, the police and the Home Office? I should much prefer to rely on the local police and the R.S.P.C.A. inspectors to see whether a convicted person was contravening an order of the courts.

An interesting point in relation to the Act relating to dogs is that as soon as the ban became law the magistrates began to use the power. I would also add that the record for 1953 shows that 120 persons were disqualified for various periods from keeping a dog, and 33 of them were disqualified for life. Those are authentic cases, and they can be proved if need be. Is there any reason to suggest that magistrates who appear to like that power would not use it if it were extended to other animals?

In the Bill I am seeking disqualification in the case of other animals only on or after second conviction, because the animals in respect of which there may be cruelty are, by their very nature, likely to be the means of livelihood of the individual, such as cattle, sheep, pigs, and so on, and I think it is fair to provide an opportunity for the individual offender to be given a sharp reminder if the first offence is a bad case rather than to disqualify him.

The cases which I am about to mention are mostly of recent date. There was the case of a mill owner who was convicted eight times between 1948 and 1952, and up to 550 animals were involved in a single charge. He was fined the maximum six times. It did not seem to have much effect in stopping the cruelty. There was a farmer who was convicted 17 times, the last three convictions being in 1948, 1950 and 1951, and the cases involved pigs and sheep. In 1948, he was fined £25; in 1950, he was sentenced to three months' imprisonment; and, in 1951, he was put on probation for two years provided that he entered an old people's home.

Another farmer was convicted eight times between 1924 and 1937. He was fined the maximum and also sentenced to three months' imprisonment on a number of occasions. Another farmer convicted 11 times between 1935 and 1953 was fined the maximum and sentenced to three months' imprisonment.

After hearing those few cases, surely it cannot be argued that cruelty and persistent cruelty do not still continue.

Mr. Percy Wells (Faversham)

Has the hon. Gentleman a record of any convictions of pet shop proprietors?

Mr. Remnant

I have none here. I consider that adequate measures were taken in recent legislation to deal with pet shop proprietors, and I have not included such convictions in my notes.

Now we come to the question whether the two proposed Measures are adequate and correct, and I hope right and hon. Gentlemen will agree with me that they are certainly deserving of acceptance in an attempt to overcome the difficulty.

It is interesting to note that, whereas we in this country are often inclined to say that we are ahead of the rest of the world in matters relating to dumb animals, South Australia, in 1949, provided the same power for banning as is contained in the Bill, and in 1952 Queensland passed similar legislation, making the maximum fine £100. We shall have to argue in Committee whether £50 is the right maximum or not. My information is that South Australia is using the power to ban, and I have little doubt that when records are available we shall find that Queensland is also using its newfound power.

This Bill makes the same provisions. I do not take into consideration the value of the pound. I am content to rely on what I believe to be the case, that the present maximum fine has been proved to be insufficient as a deterrent today by the cases which I have mentioned and others which could be cited. That is the reason I want the maximum fine increased, and, with the additional power of disqualification given to the magistrates, I hope and believe that we shall have done much to curb and to stop the persistent offender.

I seek only to give the magistrates that greater choice. I believe that this Bill will achieve that, and that there is ample and full justification for the two additional powers to be given to the magistrates. I therefore commend the Bill to the House and hope it will receive a Second Reading.

12.41 p.m.

Mr. Bernard Braine (Billericay)

I beg to second the Motion.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Remnant) has made a strong and moving case for the Bill. It is perhaps a sad commentary on our times that such a Bill is necessary but a careful study of the records of convictions in previous years leads one to two conclusions. First, that there has been no real diminution in the number of cases of cruelty to animals, certainly since 1945. The figures show no decrease and even the pattern of cruelty has not changed over much. Second, that there are persistent offenders who are deterred neither by the existing maximum fine nor by terms of imprisonment.

What is needed to cope with this situation is a greater deterrent where there is a chance of reformation and power to be given to the courts to deprive persons convicted of cruelty of the custody of any animals in cases where the court is clearly of opinion that such persons are unfit to have animals in their possession. These two objectives are precisely which this Bill seeks to achieve.

I wish to emphasise what has been said by my hon. Friend that this Bill does not seek to force magistrates to impose greater penalties. It merely gives them greater powers to deal more effectively with the worst cases. It may well be, of course, that the existing penalties provided by law are sufficient to deal with the first offender who is guilty of no more than stupidity, or of a sudden act of savagery which may not be repeated, or of neglect due to circumstances with some mitigating feature.

However, I can think of innumerable cases where a person has been prosecuted many times for cruelty or neglect to animals and may have been fined four, five or six times the maximum of £25. In such circumstances it is clear that the fine is inadequate. The fact is that where the persistent offender is concerned the existing law—except in the case of dogs—is woefully inadequate.

My hon. Friend referred to the Protection of Animals (Cruelty to Dogs) Act, 1933, under which a person convicted of cruelty to a dog can be deprived by the courts of keeping a dog, either for life or for such a period as the court

may deem fit. So far as I can discover, the courts have not been slow to use that power since the Act was passed in 1933. But I cannot understand why other dumb animals cannot be accorded the same protection.

Like many hon. Members, I have had a whole series of animals in my care, and in the care of members of my family, over the course of years. Is a cat or a horse less sensitive to pain and feeling than adog? Of course not. One has only to state it in order to see how ridiculous is such a contention. I remember someone saying some years ago that we in this country are not governed by logic, but by Acts of Parliament, and I agree with hon. Members this morning who observed what a pity it is that we have to deal with this question of animal protection step by step, and that we cannot have one consolidating Measure covering the whole field.

As the law now stands, the courts are powerless to deprive a person of the custody of animals other than dogs. There have been cases where people have been deprived by the courts of the custody of dogs, but subsequently have been convicted of cruelty to other animals. Take the case of a woman who, in 1946, was convicted and fined for omitting to provide proper care and attention to no fewer than six dogs.

The magistrates considered it a pretty bad case. They fined her and disqualified her for life from keeping dogs. But six years later the same woman was brought before the court and convicted of omitting to provide proper care and attention this time to four horses. She was fined again, and could have been sent to prison. But the case need never have arisen at all had the magistrates had power six years earlier to deprive her of the custody of any animal.

My hon. Friend has cited a number of cases and I do not wish to weary the House by referring to many more. Unhappily no one has a monopoly of cruelty. But there is one case which was brought to my attention recently, a truly shocking case, which illustrates the point more forcibly than any other. On 13th January of this year the R.S.P.C.A. prosecuted a dealer for permitting a cow to travel in an unfit condition. He was fined £15 and ordered to pay £11 16s. costs.

On the face of it that does not sound a terribly serious offence and might possibly be attributed to neglect or ignorance. But this man was 78 years of age. He had had 17 previous convictions, going back over a period of 57 years. He was first convicted of cruelty to a horse as long ago as June, 1897. Nobody can measure the toll of animal suffering which that man has caused throughout his life.

I hope we shall not hear the argument—I do not think for one moment that we shall—that were such an unfeeling wretch deprived by the courts of the custody of any animal—as would be the case if this Bill becomes law—his livelihood would be taken away. As the law now stands, a farmer may be deprived of his farm for bad husbandry. I will not argue whether that is a good or a bad thing. It is one of the great arguments of our time— public need versus private rights and I will not enter into that. But is the proper use of the land rated higher in our scale of values than the proper care of living creatures? I should have thought not. Nobody in his senses would say "Aye" to that. In any event, this is the sort of matter which can be left to the good sense of the magistrates themselves.

It may be asked why the Bill does not seek to increase the maximum prison sentence of three months. My hon. Friend and I considered this question most carefully. We found from the records of convictions that magistrates are not generally disposed to impose prison sentences even in bad cases, though they possess power to do so under existing legislation. From examination of the records of the R.S.P.C.A. we found that, in November, 85 persons were convicted, 84 were fined and one went to prison. In December, 77 persons were convicted, 74 were fined and three went to prison. Last month 71 were convicted, 70 were fined and one went to prison.

One must say at once that a high proportion of these cases would be first offences, but I do not want hon. Members to assume that they were all trivial matters which did not warrant heavier penalties. I will not sicken the House with the details, but they included cases of animals having been battered to death, burned alive and left to die in agony.

The truth is that magistrates are well aware that in the worst cases, in which they have to deal with a persistent offender who has been before them many times, neither imprisonment nor a fine is a sufficient deterrent.

There is the case of a dealer who has paid a total of over £170 in fines and costs and been to prison more than once. Of him the R.S.P.C.A. inspector said: This man loses pounds buying stock and neglecting them, but does not bother. He likes prison life and during the last three weeks there he had an old-standing rupture cured. During his previous three months in prison they cured his rheumatism, and the magistrates would have welcomed powers to disqualify him from keeping any living thing again. There are similar instances well known to those who have experience of the courts.

There was a case some time ago of an elderly man who pleaded guilty to a charge of gross neglect of a number of farm animals. The R.S.P.C.A. inspector reports: This man appeared pleased to go off to prison. He asked for his glasses as he would be doing a lot of reading. He told me he always had the front seat at the prison chapel as he was deaf and was usually allowed to stay in bed until 10 a.m. and could please himself what he did. He appeared in court dressed like a tramp, but he pays £1,000 yearly in Income Tax.

Mr. P. Wells

What is the name of the prison?

Mr. Braine

I cannot say, but what is the use of sending a man like that to prison? What is the use of fining him? A fine is no deterrent.

Surely attention should be drawn to the fact that as the law now stands that man cannot be deprived of the custody of animals, and as soon as he is released from prison he can start his activities again. I emphasise that this is a Bill to protect animals rather than to punish brutes. For that reason, we thought that there was little purpose in seeking to increase the prison sentence, though there is plenty of evidence that public opinion would welcome an increase in penalties.

As the Bill provides for a heavier fine and for powers to be given to the courts to disqualify persons from having the custody of animals, it will go a long way toward reducing the terrible toll of animal suffering which still disgraces this land of ours, and so I commend the Bill to the House.

12.55 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Moyle (Oldbury and Halesowen)

First, I wish to congratulate the hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Remnant) and the hon. Member for Billericay (Mr. Braine) on the manner in which they have introduced this Measure. The hon. Member for Billericay spoke of the piecemeal nature of this type of legislation. The difficulty is that this is the only field in which a private Member can move. Once we begin to deal with comprehensive Measures, the Government of the day step in and say, "We reserve all major Bills to ourselves and, of course, we leave the piecemeal Bills to the private Member." Therefore, the field in which the Private Member works is exceedingly small.

Since I have been in this House I have been inspired by the laudable ambition to introduce a perfect Bill. I have had two shots at it, but I fear that in both cases I have not yet succeeded. When I read the first two Clauses of this Measure I at once said to myself, "I wish I had had the foresight to conceive both Clauses. I should certainly have married them with my Bill." That would have made the Measure which I recently introduced a much clearer conception of the ideal Bill. Of course, the Government's good will must be enlisted. If the Government were sympathetic towards the two Clauses I have mentioned and sought to make an Amendment in my Bill in Standing Committee, I should be happy to accept the suggestion.

The hon. Member for Billericay has explained why the machine works in a way he indicated. Magistrates do not even exercise the powers which they already possess. That is because they are aware of local circumstances which are not common knowledge to people who live outside the district. Though punishment may not appear to be the right kind to those who do not know the circumstances, when one understands them one can appreciate how difficult it is for the magistrate to exercise the right kind of justice. In this connection, I am all for making the punishment fit the crime. I sincerely hope that the purpose of the Bill will be realised very soon.

12.59 p.m.

Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)

I join in the congratulations which are due to my hon. Friends the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Remnant) and Billericay (Mr. Braine) on introducing this Measure. There is a growing consciousness among hon. Members of the cruelty that is shown to animals and the need for a reform in our legislation on the subject. Indeed, it seems that on both sides of the House we are anxious to help. The unanimity which has been reached on the treatment of animals is thrown into sharp relief by the disagreement which sometimes exists on the treatment of humans.

We have already had one Bill this morning, proposed by the noble Lady the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Viscountess Davidson), and I particularly welcome this Bill because I have vivid memories of cruelty to animals when I was a very much younger man. In one particular case I followed, and reported, the driver of a horse-drawn railway van who was beating the animal absolutely unmercifully with a stick. Under this Bill, the magistrates could ensure that such a man should no longer have custody of an animal.

The hon. Member for Billericay has cited examples of bestial cruelty to animals. In the past, magistrates have had certain powers, but not the power to deny to the man persistently cruel to farm animals the right to own them. If, as my hon. Friend pointed out, it is right and proper that the fanning community, in the interests of the nation, should have the right to say that a man growing crops should be evicted from his farm and so denied his livelihood, I believe that it is much more important, in common humanity, that a man persistently cruel to animals should have his living denied if otherwise it is to be obtained at the expense of the well-being of animals. I hope that this Bill will make that possible in future.

Although this Bill deals with pets and farm animals, I think that most of us would like to see an extension of its provisions to the treatment of wild animals. I know that there are many like myself who will never be satisfied until the use of the abominable gin trap is completely forbidden. That its use should be allowed is one of the most foul blots on our treatment of animals. I hope steps will be taken to speed up the legislation that will abolish its use altogether.

Since being in this House I have come constantly into closer touch with the veterinary profession, and know how much its members welcome the passage of such Bills as this. Indeed, I have found that the "vets," above all others, have done very much to promote the understanding of ordinary people in their treatment of domestic animals, and, in particular, pets. I feel that practically all of them are great animal lovers themselves.

I recently had an example of their efficiency and kindness. I have a particularly nervous dog and when he had to have an operation we were all rather fearful as to the way he would take it, but he most willingly returned to the veterinary surgeon's for treatment after the initial operation. The wording of his bill was an indication, I think, of the way in which the animal was treated. There was not the terse request for two guineas, such as one receives from a doctor but, "To the removal of growth from Bimbo's ear— two guineas." That he remembered the dog's name and put it on the bill is a slight indication of the attitude of "vets" towards the animals they treat. I have no doubt, too, that among good farmers there is considerable enlightenment in regard to the benefits they derive from proper treatment of farm animals, and that farmers will welcome this Bill.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Under Secretary will assure my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham that it will receive the support of the Ministry. I do not doubt that any amendments that may be put forward in Committee will strengthen its object, which is to remove what I believe to be a blot on our present treatment of animals, and that those people found to be persistent in their cruelty to animals under their care shall no longer have the right to keep them.

1.6 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel Marcus Lipton (Brixton)

I am happy to associate myself with the hon. Members who have already spoken, because I think that a very strong case has been made for the passage of the Bill into law. Another reason I am glad to have an opportunity to take part in the discussion is that the hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Remnant), who introduced the Bill, happens to be—for better or worse—my Parliamentary representative. If I may say so without offence, this is probably the first occasion when remarks which he has addressed to the House have been completely acceptable to me. It is, therefore a particular pleasure to be associated to some extent with him in asking the House to agree to this Measure.

The hon. Gentleman took care, of course, to steer clear of any discussion about the diminishing value of the £. That is a factor to be taken into account in assessing whether the present scale of fines generally is now adequate. I hesitate to suggest as a comprehensive measure that the scale of fines should be in any way tied to the Interim Index of Retail Prices; but occasions do arise, as in this instance, when the House has to consider whether the maximum financial penalty is really adequate in all circumstances.

It has been pointed out that the Bill does not interfere with the maximum sentences of imprisonment which can be imposed. Time is still, apparently, a more or less stable factor. The length of a month now is about as long as it was when the maximum penalty of three months was imposed in cases of cruelty.

It has always been rather curious that a higher degree of protection should be afforded to dogs than is extended to other dumb animals. I do not quite know the explanation, unless it is that dogs are regarded as the aristocracy of the animal world or that the Government and the Treasury have a financial interest in them as the only animals which have to be licensed. That may possibly explain why dogs have hitherto enjoyed a privileged position.

As the hon. Member for Billericay (Mr. Braine) pointed out, cats and other animals are entitled to the same degree of protection. I happen to be the owner of three cats. I never seem to have fewer than three; as soon as one dies of old age another mysteriously appears from somewhere.

Mr. Ede (South Shields)


Lieut.-Colonel Lipton: As is well known, cats have a much greater contempt for human beings than any other animal, and that may be another reason for the low legislative status that they now enjoy. Although the Bill does not cover the whole subject—it does not deal with wild animals, as the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) pointed out, and it does not abolish the gin trap, which many of us would like to see completely extinguished—it goes some way along the road which most of us want to travel. Everything depends on the Joint Under-Secretary of State. He is the man whom we have to convince. We have been convinced, for a long time, of the need for something like this. If the Joint Under-Secretary is in one of his better moods today, I hope that he will be able to say that the Government will provide the Bill with all the facilities which are necessary to allow it to reach the Statute Book as quickly as possible.

1.11 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Remnant) on his success in the Ballot, and on the way in which he has presented the Bill. He has picked up the mantle from two other of my hon. Friends—the hon. and gallant Member for Lewes (Major Beamish) and the hon. Member for Croydon, North (Mr. F. Harris)—who were unsuccessful with similar Bills last Session. The offence of cruelty to animals is properly regarded with detestation, and it is right that hon. Members should wish to be assured that the penalties available to the courts are both adequate and appropriate for their purpose.

In the debate on the Protection of Animals (Anaesthetics) Bill, which has just received a Second Reading, the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) referred to the great variety of Measures dealing with cruelty to animals, and suggested that the time had arrived when consolidation should be considered. I cannot give him a direct answer to that, but I can assure him that a plea which comes from such a source will certainly receive the consideration of my right hon. and learned Friend.

The Bill seeks to do two things. It seeks, first, to give the courts power to disqualify a person who has been twice convicted under the Protection of Animals Act, 1911, and, second, to increase from £25 to £50 the maximum penalty which may be inflicted for the offence of cruelty to animals. It does not seek to increase the maximum prison sentence for that offence, which is three months. These proposals must be considered in the light of the facts, which, in this case, are provided by statistics, and I must, therefore, trouble the House, very briefly, with some relevant figures.

The number of prosecutions for the offence of cruelty to animals during the 1920s averaged about 6,000 a year. During the 1930s the average fell to 3,000 a year, and since the war it has been around 1,000.

Mr. Braine

Cannot my hon. Friend relate those figures to the very sharp decline in the horse population in the'20s and'30s?

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

I do not wish to relate the figures to any particular factor. I quite agree that many factors have to be taken into account, but, broadly speaking, there has been a considerable fall in the number of prosecutions for this offence.

To be a little more particular, between 1945 and 1949 convictions stood at around 750 a year. The number was 20 or 30 on either side of that figure. Since 1949 there has been a slight rise. In 1952—the last year for which I have complete figures—the total was just under 900, but I am advised that no real deductions can be drawn from the increase, partly for the kind of reason which my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mr. Braine) has indicated, and partly because the rise is small in relation to what is a fairly small figure.

The rise in the number of prosecutions has not been remarkable. In 1951 there were 1,021 prosecutions, and in 1952 there were 1,023, so that no great inference can be drawn from those figures. Moreover, there is nothing to indicate that the courts have found the existing penalties inadequate. It is right that I should tell the House that when it is coming to a conclusion on this proposal.

Mr. Remnant

Does my hon. Friend mean that he has had no representations from the magistrates to suggest that the powers are inadequate? The fact remains that individual offenders have been given the maximum fine and the maximum imprisonment a number of times without their ceasing to be cruel to animals.

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

I am not saying that there are not cases of the kind which my hon. Friend has mentioned, but the broad picture is that the magistrates have not found the penalties inadequate. In fact, since 1945 only just over 20 offenders have been sent to prison, on an average, each year.

The Bill increases only the monetary penalty which may be imposed: that is to say, the punishment appropriate, not for the grave cases which have been mentioned, but for what may be called the general run of cases—I do not like to use such a phrase in this context, but I think the House will see what I mean—those cases which are likely to be dealt with by the imposition of a fine. I cannot say that this increase is essential. On the other hand, I can advise the House that a maximum of £50 would not be out of relation to other offences of the same kind.

For the same offence in Scotland, I understand that the limit is already £50, so in that respect this Bill would tend towards a more uniform law on this matter, and there may be merit in it from that point of view. If the House thinks fit to increase the maximum fine to £50, the Government certainly have no objection to that part of the Bill.

The disqualification provisions contained in Clause 1are not without precedent. The Protection of Animals (Cruelty to Dogs) Act, 1933, has been mentioned by several Members. I have no official statistics which would help the House, but I understand from the R.S.P.C.A. that in 1951 that Act was used in 139 cases, and my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham has said that in 1953 it was used in 120 cases, so the House can see the kind of use that has been made of it.

Again, I have no official statistics of the number of cases where a person has been convicted more than once of cruelty to animals generally, but I am told that, so far as the R.S.P.C.A. knows, there have been 34 such cases since 1935. No doubt, there are others that have not come to the Society's notice. There is the case that has been mentioned of a person who had 17 convictions; in 17 other cases there were from three to eight convictions; and in 16 cases two convictions. That is the size of the problem we are confronting now.

The enforcement of a general power to disqualify will necessarily be rather more difficult than in the case of dogs because dogs are licensed and other animals are not, but I think that point can quite properly be considered in Committee. There is certainly no objection to the proposal in principle, and if the House sees fit to give the Bill a Second Reading we shall do our best to make it a workable Bill.

1.21 p.m.

Mr. Ede (South Shields)

I should like to join in the congratulations extended to the hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Remnant) on introducing this Bill and on the manner in which he presented it to us. We can express gratification at the view that has been taken of the Bill by the Joint Under-Secretary of State. There is only one point I want to mention that has not been touched on so far. Clause 1 (2) enables an appeal to be taken to quarter sessions when an order is made and the defendant against whom it is made thinks that justice has not been done. That is to be welcomed because it is one of the peculiar things that orders similar to this cannot be the subject of an appeal unless there is special provision in the statute.

However, I should have liked to have seen a further discretion vested in the justices by which they might reconsider an order after the lapse of a certain amount of time if the defendant who had been placed under the order should have shown signs of reformation. Hon. Members will know that if a man is disqualified from driving a vehicle and his licence is suspended he can, after six months, apply to the magistrates who made the order of suspension to have his licence restored. I do not think we want to say, in dealing with cases of this kind, that any person is incapable of reform.

I admit that I should want a good deal convincing were I sitting on a bench on the sort of case mentioned, of the gentleman who used convictions under this type of Measure as an opportunity for getting free medical attention from the prison service. I suppose that what he really objects to is having to pay 1s. for his prescription when he takes it to the chemist outside prison, for to my knowledge no charge is made for a prescription given inside prison. Of course, a man who pays £1,000 a year in Income Tax is apt to be very economical in small matters, and this is one of the ways in which that is shown.

I suggest to the hon. Member that the case I have put to him is one well worthy of consideration in Committee. My hon. Friend the Member for Oldbury and Halesowen (Mr. Moyle) said that he believed in making the punishment fit the crime. It seems to me that this Bill does the far more desirable thing of making the punishment fit the criminal where the person is shown to be one temperamentally incapable of looking after animals. A great many of the cases that arise do arise more from ignorance and fecklessness than from the deliberate determination to be cruel. In such cases the proper steps can be taken to make a repetition of the offence impossible if the order that is made is observed.

I welcome the Bill. I hope it may have a speedy transition to the Statute Book, and I hope that the few suggestions I have made, which, I assure the hon. Member, I have made in a constructive spirit, will receive his consideration.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.

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