HC Deb 09 May 1969 vol 783 cc890-922
Mr. Farr

I beg to move Amendment No. 21, in page 3, line 20, at end insert: (2) This Act shall come into force on 1st January, 1970. (3) In section 11 of the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1954 and in Schedule 2 to that Act (which provide for the adaptation to air transport of the Diseases of Animals Act 1950) any reference to the said Act of 1950 shall include a reference to that Act as amended by this Act. The House will see that the Amendment comprises two subsections. The first contains the commencement date for the Act, as, I trust, the Bill will become very soon. Hon. Members may consider it strange to specify a clear starting date. It is very often provided in legislation that it shall come into force six months after Royal Assent. We have chosen to be a little more emphatic because we feel that this worthy Bill will have an unimpeded passage in its remaining stages through the House and also through another place. We are hopeful that it will reach the Statute Book towards the end of the summer.

We have consulted the relevant authorities and officials who will have to try to make the Bill work. They are the people who have to put it into operation. Their advice is that they would like about six months' notice to put into effect the various provisions contained in the Bill.

Therefore, on the assumption that Royal Assent will be granted towards the end of the summer, we suggest a clear commencement date of 1st January, 1970. Although this is not necessarily the usual course, it is a useful one to adopt. It will avoid a certain amount of confusion and will make it clear to those who have to operate the Act and, more important, those who will be affected by its working, that they must conform to the provisions laid down in the Bill by the beginning of 1970.

Mr. Bagier

For the very reasons explained by the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr), I hope that the Amendment is acceptable to the House, even though it is slightly unusual to include such a provision in a Bill, if for no other reason than that for which I briefly intervened earlier.

It has been stated by the National Coal Board that 2,000 pit ponies will be released from the pits by the end of 1970. When I saw the date of 1st January, 1970, I hoped that an even earlier date might be possible. That is the reason for my presence here today. Therefore, I certainly hope that if it is not possible to include a date earlier than the one suggested, the Amendment will be acceptable in preference to any later date.

Amendment agreed to.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

1.23 p.m.

Mr. Grimond

I do not want to delay the House long, but I should like to make one or two points before we part with the Bill. I am greatly relieved that we have been able to reduce the figure in Clause 1, otherwise I would certainly have been forced to vote against the Bill. This would have meant considerable heart-searching, both in view of the respect in which I hold its original sponsor, the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Sir R. Cary), who is unfortunately unable to be with us today, and also because there are certain objects of the Bill with which I fully sympathise. I still maintain, however, that £40 is not low enough, although it is a great improvement on the original figure.

It has been mentioned that the Minister still retains his discretion to alter the figure. I was glad to hear the Government say that they viewed this type of discretion, not with hostility, but with doubt about how often it should be used, because I do not think that any hon. Member would exactly welcome wide use of such discretion. I am glad to have it in the Bill, however, because it gives the Government residual power to alter the figure should it become apparent that this provision will inflict unnecessary hardship for no good purpose upon people such as the crofters of Unst.

Two points in the Bill have always worried me and I should like the sponsors to consider them with a view possibly, to introducing changes when the Bill reaches another place. I have had considerable support for my original points from the petition by the crofters, which states: Owing to the climatic conditions and the geographical position of the Islands it is not feasible for mares to foal earlier than May—June and consequently some foals sold at the annual sale in the third week of October are just four months old. Again for climatic and geographical reasons, the sale cannot be held later. A number of these foals are sold for export and if the age limit is to be a minimum of five months, an appreciable quantity will remain unsold. As the Bill places a minimum price for export of £70"— which it no longer does— on any pony, many colt foals will remain unsold for this reason and we would suggest that a minimum of £30 is a far more reasonable figure. Failing this Amendment being accepted—the Amendment to reduce the figure to £40 has been accepted—the petitioners ask for the Shetland Isles to be excluded from the provisions of the Bill.

As I read the relevant Clause in regard to the age at which foals may be sold and exported, it is Clause 3(1,b), which takes effect, I understand, at the moment of export. That is to say, a foal may be sold for export at the annual sales in Unst when it is four months old as long as it is not exported until it is five months old. This may do something to reassure the crofters, but it means that the animal must be kept somewhere for a month. The sponsors might, perhaps, look at this again. It seems to me to be another case in which discretion might be left to the inspectors.

Mr. Burden

As the Clause is now drawn, the specific age in both cases is withdrawn and it is a matter of whether the foal is too young to travel.

Mr. Grimond

I am obliged. That meets the point. I may not have read the Bill sufficiently closely in its new form to understand that that point is wholly covered.

The other point which has been mentioned in previous debates is the question of the movement of these animals. We all share the same object that the minimum hardship or cruelty should be inflicted upon animals. When I say that it is the view of the Shetland Stud Book Society, as it is, that these animals should be moved quickly from Unst, that is the view of people who are much concerned about the welfare of these animals and also it is the view of the crofters. Of course, there should be adequate rest periods and they should be looked after on the voyage. I want to correct any impression which I may have given that they should be pushed through willy nilly in any sort of condition.

Not only is this a matter on which the welfare societies, the local representatives of the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and the stud book society feel deeply, but I do not know whether the sponsors of the Bill realise that the facilities we require do not exist. I think I am right in saying that there is no lairage adequate to the Bill at any Scottish port. I am glad to see that that is confirmed by the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. This is a matter which causes us concern.

I understand the sponsors of the Bill to say that the exporters, or private enterprise, must put up the lairage. I think I am right in saying that the Government will not provide it. This is a point which the sponsors should consider. We have no power to order people to provide adequate lairage facilities. Attention should be given to this.

Mention was made also of the question of slaughter—

Mr. Burden

Is it not a fact that when cattle, pigs and sheep are exported, it is mandatory for them to rest in lairage before being shipped abroad? Whoever provided that lairage for those animals— it was considered that they must be given proper lairage—must equally provide it under the Bill.

Mr. Grimond

I agree with the hon. Member, but I do not think that this is of much satisfaction for the Shetland pony, to say that we need lairage and it ought to be there; though it is not. We have no sanction, as I said, to produce it. That is all I am saying. If it can be produced, possibly it will be. Certainly it is as important and ought to be provided, but I do not think it is at the moment.

On the question of slaughter, I am sure that the sponsors of the Bill do not want to give the impression that they view with equanimity the need for large-scale slaughter of Unst ponies. This would be most unfortunate, because there is a perfectly good market for those ponies for riding and so on, and there is no need to slaughter these unfortunate ponies.

It may be that slaughter will have to come about, and I have some suggestions from Mrs. Cox, who is active in this matter, and who says It would be desirable if surplus scrub animals should be sold for slaughter, and that they should be slaughtered in registered, Government sponsored or approved, slaughterhouses. But I do not want to encourage this in general.

When it is suggested that the Highlands and Islands Development Board should put up an abattoir in Shetland I think we must be realistic. Someone very kindly said that I am in touch with the Board, and, indeed, I am, and it has done good work in the North Isles, but it has a limited amount of money, and it has a great many calls upon its money, and I would have some sympathy with the Board in saying, "You are putting us in an awkward position if Parliament passes a Bill which, in our view, is not necessary." I think, broadly speaking, this is the Board's view. I would have some sympathy with the Board in saying, "The Bill puts crofters in Shetland into difficulties which we think need not be inflicted upon them, and we do not see why you should come to us and say that we must get them out of those difficulties by spending a large part of our money on a slaughterhouse."

Even if there should be as there might well be an addition to the abattoirs in Orkney or Shetland, we would still have to dispose of hides etc., and this would have to be a general undertaking for slaughter of all herds of animals not necessarily confined to ponies. However, the point I want to make is that, like lairage, at the moment it does not exist, and it will not exist unless some entrepreneur thinks it worth while to put it up. Therefore I do not think the sponsors should stress this possibility too much as regards my constituency, though I agree that in other parts of the country, as was pointed out by the hon. Member for Tavistock (Mr. Michael Heseltine), the slaughter of ponies may increase and that that may be inevitable.

So I am not opposed to the whole Bill, but I say as a matter of fact that there are certain difficulties which will have to be got over, and, at any rate, these facilities do not exist just now.

I am greatly relieved that the figure has been reduced to £40. Again I give good wishes to the sponsors of the Bill for their objectives. But I do believe it would have been wiser if they had consulted the relevant societies before the Bill was introduced, and I think that the Bill will lead to great difficulty in administration Therefore, I would ask them and the Government and all concerned, when this Bill goes to another place, to look at some of these points which I have raised.

1.34 p.m.

Mr. John Mackie

I should like to say a word or two about the Bill at this point. I think it must be perfectly plain to the sponsors of the Bill that during our debates upon it, including the debates in Committee, the Government have not given the Bill support because we have always said that there is a wealth of legislation which can deal with most of the points—nearly all of the points—which hon. Members have brought forward. However, all that does not detract from the Government's appreciation of the objectives which the sponsors of the Bill have had in mind, and particularly the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Sir R. Cary). We are all very sorry that he will not see his Bill get its Third Reading today, and I would like to associate myself with the remarks made earlier today, that we all wish him a speedy recovery.

I do not want to say much more than this, but I would say that if the Bill gets its Third Reading in the form in which it has been amended it will be the Ministry's job to administer the Bill, and it will be administered.

The points which the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) raised are very real ones. The Government do not have to provide lairage. It has to be provided by the shippers or exporters. There is some lairage in some of the ports of Scotland. Whether it is suitable for ponies I do not know. If some of the lairage that is there at present were made suitable for the job, that would be all to the good, but I should make the point that it is not the Government's job to do this. Nor is it the Government's job to be valuers. I presume that the sponsors of the Bill have looked into all this and have appreciated the added costs which by this Bill they are putting on the pony trade, and I am sure that the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) does appreciate this.

As to the Amendment which was carried just now, I would say to the sponsors that I think it should have been carried. I think that there might have been a better Amendment if there had been some association between the three Amendments, but I appreciate the technicalities of trying to amend a Clause by amending Amendments to it. I know that a bit of difficulty can be caused by that, as someone has said, there is still another place, and we may manage there to make the Bill a little better.

Meantime, it is essential to protect a genuine trade. I do not think the hon. Member for Gillingham should shake his head.

Mr. Burden

I am not shaking my head.

Mr. Mackie

This is a genuine trade, and, as the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland said, the Shetland pony trade is a genuine trade, and, for that matter, as the hon. Member for Tavistock (Mr. Michael Heseltine) said, the genuine small pony trade should be protected.

There were various points raised, and I do not want again to cross swords with the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) on the question of prices. It is a genuine point which can be made by either party, just what price will stop slaughter? As for ponies and the limit of 14½ hands, we must make it clear that it is not 14.2 but 14½, for these figures have been a little mixed up. The hon. Member for Harborough may argue about £40, but that will not detract from the market for many people, because small ponies of that size really kill out very badly indeed: they are potbellied. I do not think it would be an attractive proposition at all to slaughter them. So we had to make that Amendment to protect a genuine trade.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Bagier) raised the question of the Coal Board's ponies at the pits. I understand that the Coal Board tries to see that retired ponies go to good homes, and I understand that the large bulk of the ponies will be retired from the pits by 1970. I understand that Lord Robens has said that there will be no more ponies in the pits after 1970. I think my hon. Friend mentioned the figure of 2,000 ponies to be released by that time. No doubt, some special effort will be necessary to see that they go to good homes, but it would be inappropriate to let that point be an influence against the Bill. Anyway, it is the Minister of Power who has responsibility for the welfare of pit ponies, and the Ministry of Power has not asked for anything special to be done about them by means of this Bill.

Mr. Bagier

What Lord Robens said to me was that his organisation was doing its utmost to see that ponies go to the best homes possible—riding schools, etc. He went on to say that it would be impossible to control resale of ponies. This is what worries me. This is a very large number of ponies to go on the market all at once, and he specifically referred me to this Bill as a means of stopping their possible export.

Mr. Mackie

These ponies will come under the general aegis of the Bill when it comes into force at the beginning of 1970 if they cannot be dealt with otherwise.

As I say, the Government have not been supporting the Bill through all its various stages, but, nevertheless, when it gets its Third Reading it will be operated, and I hope it will succeed in what is, as I have said, the very worthy objective of its sponsors in preventing cruelty to animals. Of course, the Government are with them in that respect.

1.40 p.m.

Mr. Patrick McNair-Wilson

It is sad that my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Withington (Sir R. Cary) who did so much original work on the Bill, is not here today, because I believe that we are now within sight of a great milestone in the story of the prevention of cruelty to animals. It is never easy to get Parliament to take firm measures in this field. The unanimity which has prevailed throughout today and in Committee has shown the real determination on the part of hon. Members, and particularly on the part of the Minister, who has been generous in his help, to ensure that something which was clearly wrong should be put right.

The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) has tried to belittle the Bill and to point to difficulties. Unfortunately, even the Minisster has on occasions said that the Bill is unnecessary. I do not believe that it is. Too many facts and stories about cruelty are available for the House to ignore them. Today we are setting upon its final course a Bill which in my constituency of the New Forest will be welcomed. There will be real rejoicing amongst animal lovers, particularly children, and pony societies in that constituency. This will be true all over the country. The Bill is a great step forward, but it is not the end of the road. Other action will have to be taken. By giving the Bill a Third Reading we shall make a major contribution to solving the problems of animal cruelty in Britain.

1.42 p.m.

Mr. W. A. Wilkins (Bristol, South)

I do not think that my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary went very far to allay the fears felt by some of us about what is to happen to pet ponies. The Long Title says that this is A Bill to improve the conditions under which ponies are exported; to prohibit or retrict the export of certain ponies". Generally speaking, the ponies referred to in the Bill are the famous names which we all know. I suppose that it never occurred to the sponsors of the Bill to think about what will happen to pit ponies when evenually their useful lives in the pits have ended and they are brought to the surface.

We hope that someone—perhaps the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden)—will tell us exactly what will happen as a result of the operation of the Bill. Already several hundred—perhaps thousands—of ponies have been taken out of the pits. So far the National Coal Board has been reasonably successful in ensuring that the ponies have gone to people who can provide for them, care for them, and treat them as almost members of their families. We were advised by the Press recently that practically all the ponies now working in the mines were likely to be withdrawn within the next two years. The figure is estimated at about 2,000. I have been down a number of mines in South Wales, including the Naval Colliery at Pen-y-Graig.

Mr. Alec Jones (Rhondda, West)

My hon. Friend will not be able to do so again, because it is now closed.

Mr. Wilkins

I never regret hearing that a mine has been closed, provided that reasonable alternative employment is provided. On my visits to mines in South Wales I have seen ponies. Working in a mine is not a pleasant occupation for an animal, let alone for a man. I have been enormously impressed by the great care that is lavished on the ponies by those who have to attend them and drive them in the mines. The men concerned accord the ponies treatment which is almost equivalent to that which they would accord to their own children. I believe that I speak for these men when I say that it is vitally important that a comfortable future is assured for these ponies when their labour in the mines is dispensed with. These ponies have spent the whole of their working lives in darkness.

Mr. James Dempsey (Coatbridge and Airdrie)

Coming from a mining community I, too, am interested in the employment of ponies in the darkness of the pits. Can my hon. Friend give us an idea of when "eventually" will be? In this age of modernisation, should not these ponies have already been brought up from the pits to enjoy the sunlight?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harry Gourlay)

Order. We cannot pursue the question of pit ponies too far, unless it can be related to the export of pit ponies, which is covered by the Bill.

Mr. Wilkins

I referred to this matter because I read in the Press that it was expected that they would be brought up within two years. I was hoping to relate this to the Bill by expressing my anxiety as to how successful the Board will be in placing these ponies. The Coal Board deserves our admiration in that it has said that it wants to be assured that these ponies will go to good homes where they can be cared for for the rest of their lives. Do the sponsors of the Bill consider that the Bill provides some protection? There may be some difficulties about these ponies being placed. What will happen then? Somebody may acquire them and attempt to sell them to somebody on the Continent.

Mr. Burden

There should be a declaration that negotiations will be opened between the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the National Coal Board so that every pony coming from the pits is marked in some way which can be clearly detected or that a certificate is issued.

Mr. Simon Mahon (Bootle)

Would there not be a feeling of tremendous abhorrence and revulsion on the part of the ordinary general public, in an industrial country which has depended for centuries on pit ponies, if these little animals were to be treated in an inhuman way?

Mr. Farr

I would not interrupt the hon. Gentleman if I did not think that I could set his genuine fears at rest. The new subsection which has been agreed to provides in line 6 that the Minister or, in Scotland, the Secretary of State must be satisfied that the pony is intended for breeding, riding or exhibition".

Mr. Wilkins

I was about to come to a conclusion because, as I have said, my interest is principally on the question of the pit ponies. I am not knowledgeable on the other aspects. I think that I have succeeded in my objective. It is obvious from the interjections that I have at least focused some attention on the problem. I am delighted to have been reassured by the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) that he thinks that there is protection in the Bill. When I put my name to the Motion calling for a Third Reading debate, it was because I wanted an opportunity to raise the case of the pit ponies. I welcome the Bill and I hope that it will get its Third Reading and become quickly operative.

1.50 p.m.

Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine

I hope that when the news is sent to my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Withington (Sir R. Cary) that the Bill has received Third Reading, if that is the case, it will be received by him with pleasure and make a contribution to his speedy return to the House. He feels very keenly about the Bill and about the difficulties it is meant to deal with. We all appreciate, too, the work done by my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) when my hon. Friend the Member for Withington was unable to go on with the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham has put in a great deal of work on the Bill. He has been supported by a number of hon. Members and I want particularly to mention two of them—my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) and my hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston (Mr. Body). While, as I have said, a number of others have played an active part, I think they will agree that those two deserve special mention.

I am sorry that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has left us. There are not many occasions on which I find myself able to agree with him and support what he has said, and I should have liked the opportunity to say in his presence that I think that he has been most helpful in the end with the Bill. In his speech on Second Reading, when he outlined all the difficulties he could foresee in the Bill as drafted, I had the impression that he was about to say that the Bill would be opposed root and branch, but in fact many of the difficulties he then raised have been overcome and we have been able to produce a Measure which has met the points worrying him.

It has been suggested that there is no real evidence that the Bill is needed. On Second Reading, the Joint Parliamentary Secretary twice said that he had no reason to believe that any such organised trade existed. In Committee, on four occasions he reinforced that view. Most of us associated with the Bill have received a considerable volume of what at least appears to be evidence that there is just such a trade. Those who have studied that evidence and have consulted breeders and others associated with the pony trade feel fairly satisfied that there is a genuine need for the Bill and that the anxieties which have been widely expressed are based on a solid foundation. I mentioned in Committee the increase in the number of Welsh cob ponies exported in recent years. In 1957, there was no export of Welsh ponies but in 1966 there was an export of 1,302. I do not believe that that could have been due entirely to a great upsurge of interest in riding ponies.

The point I found most difficult to follow throughout the development of the Bill was that ponies were excluded from the Diseases of Animals Act. It seemed illogical that, whereas in the Act, three types of horses were prescribed, we were assured on Second Reading that, in the Joint Parliamentary Secretary's view, it would be impossible to extend the provision to ponies. That illogicality has been removed and I know that the work we have done on this has received the support not only of breeders but of the National Ponies Society and many others. The Bill is not aimed at breeders of ponies but at those who deal with ponies in a way which demonstrates that they are not interested in the welfare of the animals.

Mr. Peter Mahon (Preston, South)

Is the hon. Gentleman satisfied that, within the categories of … breeding, riding or exhibition … particularly that of exhibition, no cruelty will ensue?

Mr. Godman Irvine

I think I can say that I am satisfied on that point.

1.56 p.m.

Mr. Bagier

I will not detain the House long—just long enough to say how much I welcome the sympathy and support of my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Wilkins), together with what seems to be some of the pending support of some of our colleagues who have come in to take notice of our proceedings.

Mr. Simon Mahon

Perhaps I can point out to my hon. Friend that I promised my support for the Bill to the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Sir R. Cary), for whom I have the highest possible regard.

Mr. Bagier

I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle (Mr. Simon Mahon) is a great humanitarian and has been following the interests of the Bill for some time. I want to make clear that my principal interest is in pit ponies. One of the difficulties which has been facing me in my correspondence and in working with the National Coal Board has been that of stopping pit ponies being exported for slaughter. This is repugnant not only to the Chairman of the Board and me but to many people throughout the country, as my correspondence shows.

The Board goes to considerable lengths to ensure that the pit ponies, loved and respected by miners who have worked with them and by people who have always found it rather strange that ponies should live the existence they do down the pit, are not turned loose on the market without protection against conditions which would be an inhumane and certainly a poor reward for a lifetime of hard work down the pits.

The figures are somewhat involved. Since 1947, when about 20,000 ponies were down the pits, the number has been reduced until now we are reaching the last 2,000, and it is the intention of the Board to see that, by the end of next year, no more ponies will be working below ground. However, it was foreseen that there would be difficulty with such a large number of ponies coming on to the market in a comparatively short time.

The Board naturally wants to do all it can to see that the ponies are looked after properly, and in this it naturally has the full co-operation of the R.S.P.C.A. in finding suitable stabling, even in private homes. I should point out that a private individual cannot just get a pit pony for the asking. There has to be a complete examination of the conditions in which the pony would be kept because it is not unusual for pit ponies to be neglected in private homes just because of ignorance of how to look after them properly. The Board has done all in its power to see that ponies released from the pits are looked after.

However, the Board has pointed out one large loophole to me—that it cannot guarantee that resale after the first sale will not take place and that it cannot be expected to accept responsibility for what takes place afterwards. This has been a loophole through which ponies have been sent abroad to the slaughter market.

Mr. Peter Mahon

Does not my hon. Friend consider that the good auspices of the R.S.P.C.A. could be invoked?

Mr. Bagier

I accept that, and the National Coal Board goes to great lengths to ensure that in the first instance of sale its ponies go to a decent environment.

The difficulty has arisen over the possibility of exporting them, and I am grateful that the Bill takes care of that loophole. Its only fault lies in its timing. We are told that it will come into force on 1st January. 1970. I hope that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will consult with the Coal Board to ensure that not too many ponies are turned on to the market prior to this legislation coming into force.

I welcome the Bill, I hope that it will impose strict controls on the disposal of pit ponies. I want to see it given a speedy passage through the other place and become operative on the date proposed.

2.0 p.m.

Mr. Farr

I, too, welcome the Bill and take this opportunity of paying tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Withington (Sir R. Cary). I am sure that its passage through the House will do a great deal of good to my hon. Friend and help expedite his return to our deliberations.

The picture has been changed somewhat by the evidence to which the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Bagier) and others have drawn attention about the imminent possibility of a large number of pit ponies being released by the National Coal Board before the end of the year. After all, a horse or pony in a pit does not have much of a life. It is no more natural than life for a human being in a pit. We welcome the mechanisation of the coal mining industry and want to see it proceed apace. At the same time, it is our duty to see that ponies which have kept the wheels of industry turning below ground are safeguarded in terms of their future destinations and treatment.

I feel that insufficient emphasis has been given to the power of the Minister in connection with Clause 1, as amended. The right hon. Gentleman has the power by order to vary the values contained in the Clause. That is a very real safeguard. Not only is there the possibility that those values may be wrong today. It is almost certain that in a few years' time the figures in the Clause will be hopelessly out of date. We have seen a rapid fall in the value of the £ since the last war, and there is not much chance of it coming to an end. In a very short time there will be a real case for considering whether the values are adequate.

I want also to draw attention to the requirements relating to lairage. The point has been touched on by the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond). The lairage requirements are to be found in Clause 2, and there is a reference there to the manner in which ponies in transport shall be treated. However, the Clause is ineffective, because we are only paying lip-service to the requirements until the relevant Orders are made.

1 hope that the Minister will not heed the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman that it is not a matter which is of great urgency—

Mr. Grimond

I would not like that to go on the record unchallenged. The point is that the Minister has said that he does not regard it as the Government's business to provide the lairage. Obviously, that is the fact. As I under-it, we are dependent upon private enterprise, possibly assisted by Government grants.

Mr. Farr

It is provided in Clause 2(1): The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food shall"— not "may"— by order make such provision as he thinks necessary or expedient …", and there follow three paragraphs, the first referring to prohibiting the export of ponies by sea or air, the second prescribing the premises at which and the periods during which ponies are to be rested, and the third regulating the cleansing and supervision of the premises. Whether the Minister likes it or not, the Bill says emphatically that it is and will be his responsibility to see that adequate lairage is provided.

Mr. Buchan

I think that the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) is correct. It is the function of the Minister to prescribe the premises. There is no reference to providing them. He is responsible for prescribing them. Clearly it is not the function of the Minister to provide lairage, as the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) made clear earlier.

Dr. Gray

Before my hon. Friend sits down, would he allow me—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Harry Gourlay)

Order. If the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) wishes to give way, the hon. Member for Yarmouth (Dr. Gray) may intervene, but he cannot ask the Minister to give way.

Mr. Farr

I think that I had better pass from the point. I was attempting to say that the powers are in the Bill if the Minister uses them.

A great deal will depend on the evidence that the Minister receives from hon. Members, members of the public and the different societies, about the adequacy or otherwise of the facilities available in the Orkneys and Shetlands, because presumably no such orders will be made if they are adequate. However, if he considers that ponies are being caused unnecessary suffering because there is no apparent assembly point before they are shipped and there is no apparent assembly point at the other end after they have travelled 250 miles, he may consider that a sufficient reason to lay an order before the House to alter the position.

There is one disturbing point in something that I was told by the Minister the other day. We were having a number of consultations and meetings with him. I had understood that the Bill was to be the subject of a free vote. However, the last division was decided by a narrow majority of five or six, and I was distressed to learn that the Labour Whips were directing hon. Members opposite into the "Aye" Lobby. I am sure that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary would not be a party to that, because he gave a clear undertaking that there would be a free vote. Nevertheless, it should be recorded that a number of hon. Members voted in the "Aye" Lobby because they were directed into it by a Government Whip.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. We cannot pursue this matter too far. We are concerned, not with procedure, but with the Third Reading of the Bill.

Mr. Buchan

Further to the point of order.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

It was not a point of order.

Mr. Buchan

One cannot have it both ways. One cannot exonerate my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary and then suggest that somebody has betrayed him. There were views on both sides of the House, and clearly the Government and Opposition Whips are entitled to enter either Lobby as they wish.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I have said that a discussion on the procedure of the House is out of order.

Mr. Buchan

I thought that I was being allowed to intervene.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Very shortly.

Mr. Buchan

I did not make the suggestion which hon. Members opposite thought I made. I said that the Whips had the right to vote as they saw fit.

Mr. Farr

My point is that the whole character and complexion of the Bill has been changed by the slight Amendments to the figures in Clause 1. It must be a cause for concern that, despite a clear undertaking to the contrary, Government Whips directed Government Members to vote in the "Aye" Lobby. I have chapter and verse from more than one Member who took that action.

Mr. Peter Mahon

May I assure the hon. Gentleman that the directors had inconspicuous success.

Mr. Farr

For a long time the hon. Gentleman has been respected on both sides of the House as a man of character and independence, but I can tell him that some of his colleagues who have occupied more illustrious positions than any he has yet held were not so independently-minded and took the directions which they were afforded by their Whips' office.

Mr. Biggs-Davidson

In view of the confusing observation of the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, it should be clearly put on the record that there was no intervention by Opposition Whips in the Division. The impression was given that the Whips on both sides of the House were at work.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

This is becoming quite irregular. The hon. Member for Harborough must not pursue it.

Mr. Farr

I submit, with the greatest respect, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that the whole character of the Bill was changed by the Division which was settled by five votes.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I respect the hon. Gentleman's view, but it would be out of order to discuss what happened during a Division.

Mr. Farr

I will not pursue the matter further, Mr. Deputy Speaker, except to make it clear that there were no Whips on the Opposition side. None of my colleagues would for a moment identify me with the Whips' office, although I stood for a moment or two at the entrance to the "No" Lobby.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, who has paid considerable attention to the Bill, has been of great assistance to us. He indicated that the ponies affected by the figure of £40 would be fairly small. He gave an indication of their size by putting his hand down to his knee. They are not as small as that. By an Amendment, the height has been raised from 12 to 12½ hands. A pony of that height would stand about 4 ft. 2in., which is not an inconsiderable animal to get in a cart.

Mr. Buchan

I do not think the hon. Gentleman is correct. The size remains at 12 hands. The Amendment of the hon. Member for Tavistock (Mr. Michael Heseltine) was not allowed for technical reasons. May I point out that, even if my hon. Friend put his hand down to his knee, he is a very tall man.

Mr. Farr

It is nice to be able to preserve a sense of humour.

One or two hon. Members opposite have asked what would happen to retired pit ponies. No hon. Member intends to allow any retired pit ponies to be exported for consumption on the continent. But we are very much in the hands of the Ministry and the Ministry's veterinary service who will interpret the Bill. A considerable amount of discretion is allowed in Clause 1 as amended. Paragraph (a) of Amendment No. 1 provides that a pony may not be exported if the Minister is not satisfied that it is intended for breeding, riding, or exhibition. It is difficult to lay down chapter and verse. We must rely on the good will, knowledge and skill of the officers in the Ministry service who will interpret the Clause. The Clause lays a great responsibility on their shoulders.

Paragraph (b) of Amendment No. 1 provides that before shipment the pony shall be individually inspected by a veterinary inspector and certified in writing by the inspector to be capable of being conveyed to the Port to which it is to be shipped … Again, we are asking the Ministry's veterinary inspectors to use their discretion, not only in inspecting the animal to ensure that it is fit to travel, but in rejecting it if he is of the opinion that the animal is heavy in foal, showing fullness of udder or too old to travel or, being a foal, is … too young to travel". A great responsibility is being put on the Ministry officials and veterinary staff. I welcome the Bill, but the House should realise the extent to which we shall rely upon these men to play their part in implementing the Bill.

2.18 p.m.

Mr. Simon Mahon

I am delighted to be able to say a few words on this most important and humane Bill. I think that I am the only Lancastrian who has had the pleasure of speaking today. The House has tremendous esteem and regard for the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Sir R. Cary). We are pleased that the Bill has been successful and we hope it will receive a unanimous Third Reading. Some months ago I undertook to the hon. Gentleman to give the Bill what support I could It may be thought that the question of ponies is a far cry from the port of Bootle or Liverpol. As has been said, Bootle is part of the biggest port in Lancashire. Contrary to general belief, Lancashire is not only a great industrial centre but, I believe, the second largest producer of agricultural goods in the country. Both above and below ground, ponies have played a tremendous part in the history and life of Lancashire. We applaud the work that my hon. Friend has done and we are delighted that the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) has given him such wonderful support. I say, without any degree of over-emphasis, that we are grateful to both hon. Members.

Measures have been passed in this House which have upset the conscience of this country to a great degree in recent years. When people see that the contents of the Bill are receiving the witness and the application of Members of the House of Commons, they will applaud the kindness and the consideration that is being shown for dumb animals. This is a sign of how far civilisation is extending. Some of us feel that children do not get sufficient care either before or after they are born. Nevertheless, we will not be churlish in our admiration for a House of Commons that can display such sympathy for these dumb animals.

I am sure that we all thank the Government and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food for what they have done towards the passing of the Bill. It has been said that the Whips were on this morning. I can assure the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) that no Whips were on me. I have known my right hon. Friends to be wrong only three times in 15 years and I have recorded my vote against them on those occasions. There was no application to the reverse this morning. I saw no Whips being placed on the Lobby. I went into the other Lobby of my own free will.

Those of us in Lancashire who know the history of coal would like to be reassured that the wishes of the National Coal Board that the remaining 2,000 pit ponies should be carefully looked after and should end their days in proper animal dignity, will be met. We have been told that this will be done, but we know that between the passing of the Bill and the execution of what the Bill enacts, many things can change. This comes down to the human application of the Bill. It can be very difficult, because it is a long way from the Orkneys to the Port of Liverpool, and many things can happen. We have been told that the Port of Yarmouth is also being used. People want to be assured that we will maintain proper standards wherever these little animals are concerned.

People say that we are being over-emotive about the pit ponies. How many times has any Member of Parliament, when he has shown adequate and proper concern for some aspect of his Parliamentary life, had the experience that those who do not agree with him say, "He is over-emotionally concerned"? My own party has accused me of this so many times in my lifetime that it is becoming almost nauseous. But we are concerned with animals which have done so much for society. They have had to live a completely unnatural life for our benefit. Without extending the point too far, I want to re-emphasise what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Wilkins) and by other right hon. and hon. Members. We applaud the regard that is being given to these little servants of industry who have done so much, and we hope that these 2,000 ponies will be found adequate homes.

A point has been raised about the people in the crofting islands of this country. We are concerned about their aspect of life and the way that the Bill can possibly affect them. Those of us who know how hard and difficult their life can be were concerned when the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond), quite properly, put the case for his constituents. One wonders why the export of one or two ponies should make such a tremendous difference to the economic life of those people who have a tremendous struggle to live. It may be a reminder to Her Majesty's Government that these people, who have given such tremendous culture to these islands and always add lustre to any part of the country to which they go, have a right and are owed a duty to have their conditions looked at.

The hon. Member for Harborough spoke about the containment and shipment of animals. I know something about this. I have been appalled in Liverpool so many times at the conditions in which animals of all kinds have been either imported or exported. The hon. Gentleman dealt with that matter adequately up to the point of shipment. But what about the sea vessel which is to take the animals out of the country? Would it not be an omission in the Bill if we enacted here that we should follow an animal from the Orkneys to the Port of Liverpool and then the inspector responsible should inspect the animal's condition and pass it over, having done all that humane work, to be put into conditions which would be impossible if they obtained on land? No doubt it could be argued that the provisions could be covered by the Board of Trade. But right hon. and hon. Members may not know—or they may know—that there have been appalling instances of cruelty to animals in transit and at sea which have passed unnoticed. This applies not only to ponies, but to other animals including horses and dogs.

We should like to be assured that what happened in Ireland recently will not happen here. People in this country were appalled at the situation in Ireland. It got tremendous international publicity. The passage at sea of many of these animals required a great deal of investigation.

Mr. Burden

Under the original Export of Horses Act there are regulations, I think the Minister will agree, whereby the conditions under which animals are shipped and the partitioning and so on must be of certain standards. If these regulations are carried out they must be all right, but we do not know whether they are.

Mr. Mahon

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for pointing that out. He says, correctly, that under the Export of Horses Act we thought this would be the position. But we want to be certain that the details of the Bill and details of the Act which the hon. Gentleman has just mentioned are put into practice. Often we get evidence about things that happen at sea, even to human beings, because Board of Trade standards are not kept. I should be out of order if I said that even between Larne and Stranraer tremendous things have happened which denote and prove the point that often Board of Trade standards are completely ignored, particularly concerning animals. I speak with knowledge of this. I was born on ships and I have lived on ships for most of my life. Often, for economic and other reasons, these things are not—

Mr. Wilkins

May I ask my hon Friend's nationality?

Mr. Mahon

I say I was born on ships. I was born and bred on ships. If any hon. Member in this House knows more about ships coming in and out of Liverpool, I am prepared to give way. I shall not pursue that point because it would be out of order. I have done fairly well up to now.

The conscience of the country has been shocked by what has happened in the past. People will applaud the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington and the hon. Member for Gillingham, who have done so much. I thank the Government for what they have done, and I am very pleased to be here today to redeem a promise that I made to the hon. Member.

2.32 p.m.

Mr. John Biggs-Davison (Chigwell)

The ground has been well ridden over and it is not necessary for me to say more than a few words in support of the Bill. Some people may think it strange that at a time when Government are in confusion and our national finances are so precarious the House of Comons should be spending the better part of a Friday discussing ponies. But this is an important Measure, and I am glad to be able to support it.

It is very much a matter of conscience for our constituents. I agree with the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Simon Mahon); this is a matter about which people can wax emotional—and they are not to be criticised for that. I cannot verify the exact quotation, but it was Winston Churchill who said: Never apologise for emotion; to do so is to apologise for truth. Therefore, the hon. Member for Bootle is quite justified in feeling emotional about this question.

There are no pit ponies in my constituency but there are plenty of ponies. There are plenty of pony lovers, both children and older people, as my post has informed me. My constituency is on the fringes of Epping Forest and Grange Farm, Chigwell, pony riding for the disabled is provided. I have received considerable correspondence on this matter. I am glad to be at one with my constituents in pressing support for the Bill, despite the imperfections mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr). If we give the Bill a Third Reading the news will be a splendid "Get well" present for the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Sir R. Cary) to whom the Bill owes so much. To him my constituents, among others, will be grateful.

2.34 p.m.

Dr. Gray

At a time when factory farming is increasing and the Government have not accepted the Bramble Report people might think it misplaced for us to deal with ponies today, but I do not think it is. People in this country do not eat dogs; they are eaten in Malaysia. People in this country do not eat ponies, although they are eaten on the continent of Europe. In our community these animals are held in extremly high esteem, and people have become deeply indignant about the fact that hundreds of ponies are exported each year from Great Yarmouth. In all my discussions concerning this question with constituents and local officers of different kinds none has maintained that these ponies were not exported to be eaten.

The Bill is to be welcomed because it meets the sentiments and emotions of many of our people. A campaign has been conducted in my constituency by a Mrs. B. Hamilton of Bungay, who lives in the constituency of Lowestoft, and a Mrs. M. Kelly of Acle, who lives in my constituency. Further, many ordinary people who are not concerned with the welfare of animals in general have written to me about the conditions under which ponies are exported from Gorleston-on-Sea, and when I took this matter up with the Port and Haven Commissioners they wrote as follows: The Commissioners are not actively concerned with the shipping of ponies as that is carried out by Superior International Limited"— that being a firm with an extremely good reputation with imports of fruit through the Port of Great Yarmouth. Its vessels would return in ballast to Holland if they did not take ponies on the return journey. The letter continues: The company informs me that the vessels are inspected and certificated by the Ministry of Transport as to ventilation, lighting, etc., and each shipment is under the supervision of the R.S.P.C.A., the police and … a veterinary surgeon. The Minister, in a letter, told me that he had asked the R.S.P.C.A. to inspect the accommodation for ponies and that the Society had replied to the effect that in its view there was no ground for complaint. The lairage itself is built and maintained to the strictest Ministry of Agriculture demands. The Minister has been to look at the lairage himself.

According to the Port and Haven Commissioners, any misdemeanour—even to the smallest degree—would mean severe censure or the loss of the certificate. Ponies have a minimum of 10 hours in the lairage, and it is open to representatives of the Port and Haven Commissioners at any time.

Nevertheless widespread alarm exists in the constituency, as is shown by a letter written to a local newspaper by Mrs. Kelly, of Acle. She says: It is our business, however, when they buy British animals and transport them under appalling inhumane conditions—and subject them to vile acts of brutality. Then there is a description of a pony which had been starved and beaten to death. It was alleged to have come from the South-West of England. Mrs. Hamilton refers to allegations that 100 ponies have been put out to grass on 7 acres of marsh, and she also refers to mares foaling in crowded boxes. This letter is not written in extreme terms. She says: No doubt some of these reports may be exaggerated but she feels that there is ground for considerable alarm.

I am grateful to the promoters of the Bill, which will go a long way towards allaying the anxieties that many of my constituents feel, because they have observed this transport of ponies month after month. I hope that the Minister will describe what he has seen in Great Yarmouth, which will reassure people who have the misfortune to live in other ports where this taffic takes place, unless the Minister saw anything untoward.

2.38 p.m.

Mr. Dance

I shall be brief. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Withington (Sir R. Cary). I pay tribute, too, to my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden), who has taken over. He has been very courteous and helpful. We all owe him a debt of gratitude. I also thank the Minister for the courtesy that we received from his officials in the Ministry when we saw them the other day. They were very helpful.

Mention has been made of pit ponies. I entirely agree with the view put forward about them, but I would have thought that to some extent the remedy lay with the National Coal Board. If a pony is getting on in years, surely the best way to deal with the problem would be for it to be humanely slaughtered in this country. Perhaps its carcase could then be exported. I do not suggest that we should slaughter young ponies. They would be of use and could have a happy life for some time. But after a pony has reached a certain age it might be best to have it humanely killed.

A word ought to be said about the statement made on Report by the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan), namely, that he had no evidence of any cruelty taking place to ponies in transit. I have here a letter which came up when the Export of Ponies Bill was going through another place. It is rather a terrifying letter, but I do not believe that it is exaggerated. On Thursday, 20th June, I went on behalf of the above Society to Germany to verify some ponies for their Export Certificates, which were exported to Herr Klaus Wagner of … West Germany. These ponies went from Great Yarmouth either the 17th or the 19th April This is in 1968. They were all Welsh mountain ponies, and with the exception of one or two were all in foal. There were 15 in the consignment. One mare foaled in transit, and 6 others within 10 days of arrival. All were in very bad condition on arrival, and the one that had foaled in transit very nearly died. Herr Wagner told me that they were in fact in such a deplorable condition that had he not known a good deal about horses, and knew how to look after them, several would have died. This is the sort of thing from which we are trying to protect these ponies which we love so much.

Fixing this limit will go some way towards solving the problem. If one pays a reasonable price for a pony for riding or training or for exhibition purposes, one will take more trouble to see that it arrives in a healthy and sound condition than if it is an unfortunate animal which is to end up in some restaurant. I therefore give the Bill the greatest support and hope that it goes through without a Division.

2.42 p.m.

Mr. Alfred Morris

There will be many well-deserved tributes to the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Sir R. Cary) who will, I know, be heartened by all that has been said about his industry and dedication in promoting the Bill. As a principal sponsor of the Bill, I warmly acknowledge the work of the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) in difficult circumstances. The Bill could not have made the progress which many of us are happy that it has made without his hard work. He has done a great deal of detailed study. Those who have sponsored the Bill with him would like to extend our appreciation as the debate closes.

It is, of course, very difficult to balance legitimate economic interests against the important claims of animal welfare. The Parliamentary Secretary has contributed greatly to a compromise which both sides of the House and the country should welcome. I am certain that we all owe him also a debt of gratitude.

2.44 p.m.

Sir Cyril Black (Wimbledon)

I add my support to and welcome for the Bill to the other similar expressions of opinion. I would also like, with real warmth of feeling, to express the gratitude which others have expressed to my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Withington (Sir R. Cary). I am sure that he must tremendously regret that he cannot be with us today, and our thoughts and sympathies should be with him in the deprivation which he thereby suffers. We are also greatly indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) for having taken on the task of piloting the Bill through the House, which I am sure in a few moments he will bring to a final and triumphant conclusion.

I do not claim to be an expert on the matters with which the Bill deals, but I can claim a twofold constituency interest in them. Of all open spaces within easy reach of the centre of London, Wimbledon Common in my constituency is as widely known as any as a place on which over many years riding and kindred activities have taken place to the great pleasure of the neighbourhood. In particular, there are few more pleasant and delightful scenes than bands of happy children riding on ponies on the tracks provided for the purpose on the premier open space.

This has resulted in a lively interest among my constituents in everything connected with riding, particularly ponies, and a real concern has been aroused in the reports from time to time about the export business which have involved even the suggestion of bad treatment or cruelty to ponies or other animals. This concern is expressed in the form of a large number of letters which I have received from constituents asking me to be sure to give my support to the Bill and to do everything in my power to ensure that it gets on to the Statute Book as early as possible. I have the greatest pleasure in agreeing entirely with my constituents, and I am here today to fulfil my promises to them.

The hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Alfred Morris) referred to the dilemma of the framers and promoters of the Bill in striking the right balance between affording proper protection from cruelty to ponies on the one hand, and, on the other, avoiding unnecessary interference with legitimate commercial interests. It is not always easy to resolve this dilemma, but, in this conflict of interest, the consideration which should ultimately prevail is the welfare of the animals. No commercial or money interest can be argued as a sufficient reason for the House or the nation withholding from ponies or other animals the protection which the circumstances show they need.

Although there may be some doubt as to whether the Bill comes down decisively in every respect on the side of the ponies' welfare. I believe that on the whole it comes down on the right side. About one thing the House need have no doubt—when this Bill gets to the Statute Book it will reduce the volume of cruelty to ponies, and that is something for which every one of us should be sincerely grateful.

This is an occasion on which the House appears in a very satisfactory light, as an assembly which can turn aside from what some would regard as more weighty matters to ensure the well-being and preservation from cruelty of animals. For this reason, I welcome the Bill and I hope that after my hon. Friend has wound up we shall give it a Third Reading not only without opposition but with enthusiasm.

2.50 p.m.

Mr. Body

I hope that I might be allowed to pay my tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden). The law relating to animals can be very intricate, but my hon. Friend has mastered this branch of the law supremely well, and all those who support the Bill are very much indebted to him.

The Bill is an attack on cruelty, and cruelty is the causing of unnecessary suffering. We all recognise that ponies must at some stage be slaughtered, but that act of death should be accompanied by the least amount of suffering. There is no doubt that thousands of ponies which have been shipped across the North Sea to Rotterdam and other ports during the last few years have met their end with a great degree of unnecessary suffering. I say "unnecessary" because we who support the Bill urge that their slaughter should be carried out in this country. That is why we are enthusiastic about the idea of slaughterhouses being built in this country if this form of meat trade must continue.

Some ponies will benefit as a result of the Bill. We have heard about scrub ponies. The market for them will be very much reduced. I have reservations about the Shetland foals which will still be exported. I very much regret the way in which the Bill was mutilated by the acceptance of an Amendment earlier today. This part of the trade will continue, and I fear that the House may one day regret having accepted that Amendment. Perhaps it can be looked at again in another place.

The re-export of some of these animals will not come to an end. This is one of the most evil parts of the traffic. Some of these ponies have not merely gone to Rotterdam and to other ports and not been slaughtered there, but at the age of four or five months have been re-exported to other countries. They have had to undergo a long and wretched journey before meeting their deaths. I think that the price tag imposed by the Bill will avoid much of the re-export trade.

With those few misgivings, I add my support to the Bill, and I again congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham on all that he has done to get it through the House.

2.54 p.m.

Mr. Burden

I hope that in a few minutes the House will come to a decision and I shall have the pleasure of telephoning my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Withington (Sir R. Cary) to tell him that the Bill in which he has taken such a tremendous interest has gone through the House. I have no doubt that that will be the best tonic that he could possibly want.

I think the House will realise that one of the most important matters raised in support of the Bill was the entirely unexpected issue raised by the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Bagier), when—and he was later supported by his hon. Friends later—he gave us information about ponies belonging to the National Coal Board. The hon. Gentleman told us that 2,000 pit ponies would have to be disposed of by the end of 1970. That emphasises more than anything else that has been said the need for the Bill, because if 2,000 ponies were to be put on to the market without any control or restriction not only would they go abroad for slaughter, but doing that would debase the pony export trade right across the board, and many other ponies would go for slaughter at much lower prices.

We are all greatly concerned about what should happen to the pit ponies, and I hope that the Minister will give us an assurance that as far as possible he will co-operate with the N.C.B. and treat these ponies as a separate subject for consideration. It is clear that there will be a great deal of feeling in mining communities—and this has been evidenced this after-by speeches of hon. Members from mining constituencies—if it is felt that these ponies will be going abroad for slaughter.

We come back to the point that inevitably at some time in their lives all farm animals are faced with a premature death. We get a tremendous bonus from our farm animals and from the animals which work for us. We therefore have a duty to ensure that while they are alive they are treated as humanely as possible, and that when it is necessary for them to die, they are disposed of as humanely as possible.

The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) made great play with the petition which had been received from the crofters. The position of the Shetland breeders has been given special consideration. The right hon. Gentleman referred to a petition containing 184 signatures which had been sent to him and to the Minister. But of those 184 signatories only 152 owned any ponies at all, 14 were wives, and two owned unregistered ponies Between them those 184 signatories own only 233 ponies. Let us therefore get this into perspective. These people have been treated this afternoon as a very special case, and if everybody had been absolutely realistic it would have been understood that they should not have been so treated.

The right hon. Gentleman, perhaps unwittingly, made the strongest case for ensuring that ponies and all animals sent from this country should be rested before going abroad and conveyed abroad in ships in proper circumstances. He said that the journey is 250 miles from Aberdeen. We must assume that Aberdeen was the port from which these ponies were despatched abroad after travelling by sea from the island to the mainland and then going across the country in trucks. The Minister made clear that very few ponies go from Scottish ports. They go from Yarmouth. It is a tremendous journey by sea and several hundred miles by land for foals and mares-in-foal.

Is it right that, having travelled those hundreds of miles without proper rest—how can they get proper rest on a bumpy journey by truck and then shoved straight on to shijs? It may be in the middle of winter in shocking conditions and they would then be transferred from Holland probably to slaughterhouses in Brussels or elsewhere on the Continent. This Bill is needed for purely humanitarian reasons, apart from anything else. By his pleading the right hon. Gentleman reinforced rather than diminished the necessity for it.

It has been stated that the Ministry is not responsible for the lairage which will have to be provided. I think the House is prepared to accept that, but the Bill lays down that that lairage shall be provided. I believe it is provided at present in Yarmouth. The circumstances which lead to the need for lairage, the time spent in travelling, should surely make clear to the Minister that although he may not have direct responsibility for providing it he has responsibility for ensuring that it is provided. The Bill makes that clear.

Despite the Minister's original concern about its original form, we have every hope that he will be able to implement it when it is on the Statute Book. I extend thanks to the members of his Ministry who have been extremely kind and helpful to my colleagues and me. We ask them to implement the Bill in the same spirit in which they discussed it with us. On the way in which it is implemented will depend the success which hon. Members who have supported it hope for. It will depend on instructions sent to Ministry officials whose job it will be to carry out the Bill's intentions. From all I have seen I have no doubt that the Minister and the Ministry will interpret the Bill in the way in which its sponsors wish.

I thank my hon. Friends the Members for Harborough (Mr. Farr), Holland with Boston (Mr. Body), Bromsgrove (Mr. Dance) and New Forest (Mr. Patrick McNair-Wilson) and the hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Alfred Morris) for all the help they have given. I thank the organisations and societies which have provided us with a considerable amount of information. I pay particular tribute to a person who has done a great deal of work behind the scenes in providing information, Miss Glenda Spooner of Ponies of Britain.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.

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