HC Deb 29 April 1960 vol 622 cc555-62

As amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.

11.6 a.m.

Mr. J. Langford-Holt (Shrewsbury)

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

The House will, perhaps, be aware that, as is not unusual on these occasions, the Bill has altered its shape during its passage through Standing Committee. I should like briefly to explain to the House, as it is entitled to know, exactly what took place on that occasion. The effect of the substantive Amendment of the Bill was quite simple. It brought the Bill within the scope of the Protection of Animals Act, 1911, as amended by this House in 1954, in all respects. That had the advantage, first, of simplicity and, secondly, that it conformed to enactments which the House had already passed.

There were aspects of the Bill about which some hon. Members felt uneasy, but I was advised, and I felt able to accept the view, that by bringing it within the scope of the 1911 Act we would make the Bill clearer in both scope and intention.

In the world of politics, one often hears it said that when private Members get an opportunity to introduce a Bill into Parliament, all they do is to introduce a small and rather footling little Bill and it is asked why they cannot deal with some of the major problems of the world, such as refugees. Although an explanation is not necessary to hon. Members, as one's words sometimes go further than this Chamber it is worth remembering that a private Member, having little facilities both as to drafting and other forms of aid, is limited to trying to put right some of the small wrongs which one finds in this world, especially as to put right the bigger wrongs usually requires money and a Financial Resolution, which one is seldom able to get. That is the reason why I saw fit to introduce this small Bill in the hope that it would put right a small wrong, which I dealt with on Second Reading and in Committee. Another of the reasons why one introduces a small Bill is that, perhaps for personal vanity, one hopes ultimately to have helped to put an Act of Parliament on the Statute Book.

In that sense and in that spirit, I commend the Bill to the House. It is a small Bill. It is what is often described in this House as a modest Bill, but I believe firmly that it is a Bill which needed to be brought forward. I hope and feel sure that it will achieve the aims which I and my hon. Friends had in mind.

I should like to thank the House as a whole for its indulgence to me and to those of us who have tried to put the Bill before the House and send it on its way to another place. I thank my right hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department and those who have helped in drafting and amendment, and I commend the Bill to the House.

11.12 a.m.

Dr. Horace King (Southampton, Itchen)

Those of us who put our names to the Bill, and, indeed, all animal lovers, congratulate the hon. Member for Shrewsbury (Mr. Langford-Holt) on introducing it and safely piloting it through Committee. I was interested in what the hon. Member said about private Members and their Bills. This is an example of a Bill which, though excellent in intention, had certain minor defects, which were pointed out on Second Reading by the hon. and gallant Member for Cheltenham (Major Hicks Beach), to whom the promoter of the Bill will, I am certain, be grateful for his suggestion on Second Reading, as a result of which, in Committee, we were able to tidy up the Bill.

It is, as the hon. Member for Shrewsbury has said, a tiny Measure. It is a useful Measure. It adds a little to the long series of laws which the House of Commons has passed in the last hundred years in the spirit of caring for animals. When the world cares for its children as this House seeks to care for animals, we shall, indeed, have achieved a wonderful world. I congratulate the hon. Member for Shrewsbury on having introduced the Bill and I hope that the House will give it a unanimous Third Reading.

11.14 a.m.

Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)

I join in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury (Mr. Langford-Holt). I, too, consider that this is a useful Measure. I should also like to say that this House is very jealous of the care of children and animals. If that care of those who are not able to look after themselves could spread throughout the world, it would be a much better place than it is now. I have found since I have been here that there is an almost unanimous desire to protect animals and children from many of the difficulties, hardships and cruelties that might sometimes otherwise be inflicted upon them.

My hon. Friend has implied that some people might consider this to be a footling Bill. It may be a small Measure, but it is by no means footling. That impression which my hon. Friend might have conveyed is due probably to his modesty, which has shown itself very much in the way he has conducted this Measure through the House.

I have always found that just as one useful Measure comes on to the Statute Book concerning animals, evidence frequently becomes available of some other cruelty which the House should try to do something to restrict. I have been shocked recently to find that calves are now being "forced" in a most inhuman and cruel way for the production of veal. They are literally being drained of their blood so that they shall grow rapidly and produce white meat. I feel sure that the House will take very great interest in the production of veal under those circumstances—a process which, I understand, has been imported from Holland—in seeing whether that practice should not be subjected to some control to ensure that this cruelty if there is cruelty, is abolished.

I join in the congratulations of the House to my hon. Friend for introducing this very useful Measure.

11.16 a.m.

Mr. Frederick Peart (Workington)

I should like to add my congratulations to the hon. Member for Shrewsbury (Mr. Langford-Holt). I followed the Bill through all its proceedings in Committee and I do not think that the hon. Member need apologise for it being a small, footling Bill.

Mr. Langford-Holt

Not footling in that sense.

Mr. Peart

I used the word "footling" in the sense that some people regard it, but not the hon. Member for Shrewsbury. I should have thought that any Bill which seeks to end cruelty is important. I sincerely congratulate the hon. Member and I am sure that view is shared by all my colleagues on this side of the House.

The hon. Member has explained how this little Measure seeks to improve the Protection of Animals Act, 1911, and the subsequent Act which amended it in 1954, and why he accepted a substantive Amendment in Committee. I was glad that he did. Because of that there was unanimity, and now that the Bill is going through its Third Reading he can be very proud, as a private Member, of bringing in a Measure which will be part of our English law.

Public opinion will support the hon. Member. I know that many people say that those who are preoccupied with animal welfare sometimes verge on being cranks. It may well be that some people think more of animals than of human beings, but, generally, a person who is kind to animals is kind to children, and the British people, as was quite rightly said by my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Dr. King), are a kind people. We are tolerant and on the question of animal welfare we have brought in many Acts of Parliament. We can only hope that other people will reach the standards that we have achieved.

I would only say, in conclusion, because I do not want to delay the passage of the Bill, that I have always found that the standards of conduct in this matter abroad are not comparable with those in our own country. My own experience of living abroad was when I was in the Army and I found that the British "Tommy", caring for animals as he did and resenting cruelty, was also the person who resented cruelty to children in other countries.

I welcome the little Bill and I congratulate the hon. Member for Shrewsbury. I know that he has been helped with it by the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden), who has helped him considerably, and we are pleased that the Bill will have its Third Reading.

11.19 a.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Dennis Vosper)

As one who persuaded my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury (Mr. Langford-Holt) to alter the form of the Bill in Committee, I should, perhaps, add a word in its concluding stages. I said on Second Reading that any Measure which came before the House dealing with animals always had the sympathy of hon. Members on both sides of the House, and this has proved to be the case.

I said, too, on that occasion, concerning this offence, that the Home Office had not received any particular representations about it, but I understood that the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals had, in fact, received some. I agree with what the hon. Gentleman the Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) has said about the British nation's love for animals. That is perfectly true. Unfortunately, there must be some exceptions and it is to the exceptions that this Bill is directed.

The need for this Bill is enhanced by articles which have recently appeared in some of the national newspapers, regarding the destruction of animals prior to the Easter holidays. I should be out of order if I dealt with this point, because the Bill does not cover it; nor do I think that it could have covered it; but the fact that there are large numbers of people who choose pet animals and destroy them prior to the Easter holidays indicates that there may be others who take a course against which this Bill is directed. I think that hon. Members on both sides of the House will deplore the fact that people take an animal as a pet and then have it destroyed because they go on holiday.

I told the House on Second Reading that, if the House gave the Bill a Second Reading, the Government would support it and would help to amend the Bill in Committee. That happened. As my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury said, the Bill was amended in Committee. I think that the House will agree that it is a step forward from the 1911 Act. That Act makes it an offence to do anything likely to cause or permit suffering to an animal. The Bill goes a step further in that it provides that to abandon an animal is also an offence. It enables the authorities to act in advance of suffering being caused. That is an important point.

I would add to what my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury said about the Amendments made in Committee, because they may not be entirely clear. He made the point that the Amendments make the new offence, of abandonment of an animal, cruelty within the meaning of the original Act. The offence of abandonment, instead of being a separate offence in a separate Clause in the original Bill, is now moved into and incorporated in Clause 1.

The words "whether permanently or not" have been inserted to take care of my hon. Friend's desire that the Bill should apply to those who go away for a short period, such as a holiday. My opening words in this respect I think emphasised the need for this provision. The Bill now takes the definition of "animal" in the original Act of 1911.

I think that a point which my hon. Friend has not made clear, possibly, and which should be made clear—I did not myself do this in Committee—is that by being made an offence under the original Act it becomes an additional offence which attracts the sanctions now available under the principal Act. These are that a court will have power, in certain circumstances, to order the destruction of an animal. It will have power to deprive a convicted owner of an animal. It will have power to order that a convicted person be disqualified from having the custody of any animal or from holding a dog licence. It will have power to award compensation up to £10 for damages done by cruelty to an animal. These are powers existing under the original Act. They always have existed. They will now apply to this additional offence. I thought I ought to make that clear.

Mr. Burden

Will the original Act operate against persons who may be causing cruelty to calves in the circumstances which I dealt with briefly earlier? Because, if so, it would, I am sure, give certain organisations, such as the R.S.P.C.A. and others, an opportunity, if they are convinced that there is cruelty, of bringing before the courts those people who force veal production.

Mr. Vosper

Listening to my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden), I rather thought that that would not qualify as an offence, but, of course, in respect of this or any other Measures, it is up to the courts to interpret the law, and I should not wish to usurp their functions. My present understanding is that probably that offence would not be covered. I will certainly look at that point for my hon. Friend and others interested in this problem.

There are only two other points that I ought to make. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Major Hicks Beach), who is not here today, was very interested in and very worried about people who take a badger into captivity and make a pet of it and then release it again so that it may go back to living in its original surroundings. He thought that that might be an offence under the Bill. I think that the new draft of Clause 1 covers the point. There are the words "cause … unnecessary suffering", and "without reasonable cause". Those words mean it would not be an offence under the Bill, and, therefore, I hope that my hon. and gallant Friend will be reassured on that point.

It is, of course, as I have just told my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham, for the courts to determine the offences in the light of the Measure, but I think that it will give them additional powers. It will not be easy—let us face it—to enforce this particular provision. It is not easy to enforce the original Statute, but I think that the mere fact of having the Measure on the Statute Book, as I hope it will be, will discourage some of those who at the moment do take the easy way out in getting rid of their animals.

I told my hon. Friend on Second Reading that I would certainly support the Measure if the House did so. I am glad to have been able to assist him. I know my hon. Friend's constituency, the delightful town of Shrewsbury, a town and county which love their animals, and I think that it is highly appropriate that their representative should have introduced this Bill into the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill read the Third time and passed.