HC Deb 24 April 1987 vol 114 cc895-909

As amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.

Order for Third Reading read.

9.35 am
Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

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

It is but a few months since the first case of dog fighting became public news and the conviction of 11 people was obtained following an abhorrent, disgusting, disgraceful and barbaric case of dog fighting at Enfield. In that case, the police and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals discovered a dog fight in progress between a Staffordshire bull terrier and an English bull terrier, with other dogs waiting to be put up for fights. There were crowds aiding and abetting and it is believed that there had been heavy betting.

Although that fight was stopped well before it finished, one of the dogs was found to have many tooth lacerations and teeth hanging from its jaw. It was necessary to put the dog down to save it from appalling suffering. I believe, and it widely believed, that if it had not been for the merciful intervention of the RSPCA and the police, those dogs would have been pushed and pressurised to fight to the death of one of them. That is the situation with which my Bill seeks to deal.

In its broadened form, the Bill will deal not only with penalties for those who are convicted of promoting dog fights, but with those who are convicted of promoting cock fighting. Recently, there was a case of cock fighting at a remote farm. Other cases of dog fights promoted by individuals are coming before the courts, but it is believed that the cases which have been before the courts and which are due to be brought are but the tip of the iceberg of this wicked practice. Therefore, it is essential to hit those who are convicted of promoting this so-called sport — when they can be found — as hard as possible as a means of stamping it out altogether.

Since there has been no other debate on the Bill in the House, I shall say a few words about what the Bill seeks to achieve and why I brought it before the House. The Great Britain of 1911 was different from the country in which we live today. In many respects we now live in a more violent society, but attitudes have changed and many matters which were accepted in 1911—when there were other substantial forms of animal protection—we do not tolerate today. One of them is cruelty to animals on today's scale.

Why is it that we still use laws on animal cruelty that were passed 76 years ago? That was a time when suffragettes were chaining themselves to Downing street railings. How can a law which was enacted in 1911 be adequate for the 1980s? The truth is that it cannot. Reforms of the Protection of Animals Act 1911 are required, and my Bill seeks to bring them into existence.

First, there is the need for a search warrant facility. The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 allows for search warrants to be issued where an offence is suspected, but there is no corresponding provision in the 1911 Act. It is incredible that the warrant facility is available if there is a suspicion that wild birds are being taken or are being kept illegally, but where there is a suspicion that domestic animals are being left to suffer nothing can be done without the co-operation of the offending owners.

The disqualification or banning from keeping animals after first conviction is worth a thought, if I may be allowed it. While there is provision in the present legislation for the courts to disqualify someone from keeping a dog after a first conviction, the same is not true of any other animal. For instance, in one case a young foal was fitted with a halter that was too tight. The foal was judged to have suffered for at least a month from the resulting wounds. These were 1 in deep, maggot-infested and, according to a vet, could be smelt from a distance of 8 m. The vet was amazed that the foal had been able to eat or drink at all. Although the owner was found guilty of causing unnecessary suffering, he got off with a conditional discharge and retained possession of the foal.

In another recent case, eight kittens were found suffering from flu ringworm, fleas, lice and other infestations. They were suffering so gravely that a vet said: I was obliged to euthanase them as a matter of humanity. The same owner refused to seek veterinary treatment for a cat with an injured eye. After 14 days, an RSPCA inspector took the cat to a vet where it had to have its eye surgically removed. Despite being found guilty of nine cruelty offences, the woman was allowed to keep the cat, plus at least 10 others whose condition gave cause for concern.

Many people share the fears of animal lovers and of the RSPCA for the future of animals like the cat abandoned without food or water for 35 days, which was returned to its owner after payment of a £1.20 fine. Like the society, people wonder whether a £200 fine is a sufficient penalty for a farmer who castrated a bull without any anaesthetic, and using a pair of pliers. What barbaric behaviour.

There are dozens more cases like these of people clearly showing themselves to be unfit to assume the responsibility of ownership of animals but being allowed to retain ownership of them. I hope and believe that anyone who agrees that the law must be changed will support my Bill today, which seeks to give greater protection for animals.

We have all read about, and I have mentioned, the horrific dog fighting cases brought before the courts in the past year or so. Because of the revitalisation of this medieval so-called sport — I say "sport" advisedly — I have introduced this Bill so that those who blatantly cause unnecessary suffering to animals may be realistically punished. The Protection of Animals Act 1911 has fallen far behind modern needs, and no longer does the penalty fit the crime. Violence has increased over the years, but there are those in our society who have sunk to a new low. They are the undesirables who have, with their atrocious acts, taken us back to the middle ages when fighting between animals for pleasure was commonplace. It is always heart-rending when one hears or reads of animal neglect, but fighting promoted between animals goes much further than neglect. It is a deep evil, and wanton and deliberate cruelty which causes the animals concerned tremendous suffering and, on occasions, leads to death.

If the so-called sport of dog fighting had been mentioned in the House a few years ago, I am sure that many of those present would have merely raised an eyebrow, because it was not heard of. It was heard of early in the last century, but it was not heard of in the 1980s. Late in the 1970s, a trickle of American pit bull terriers began to appear in Britain. This caused officers of the special investigations department of the RSPCA to take an interest in those arrivals. Due to their persistence—and I pay great tribute to them—it has been proved beyond doubt that many of the more unsavoury characters of our populace accept dog fighting as a sport and readily import pit bull terriers from America for that purpose. Using this breed, together with our indigenous Staffordshire bull terrier and bull terrier breeds, they have bred and sold copious numbers of progeny. Hundreds of young "fighting machines" are now on the circuit, or available for new ownership throughout the nation.

If these dogs take a hold with their teeth on another dog — or even on a human being, if they have been provoked to that extent — they will not let go until death. That basic ferocity in them can be brought out and they can be dangerous. I read in the press recently of a pit bull terrier trained to fight which tore a human being to death in the United States. It is clear that people may be training dogs but then not controlling them. There is a great danger in that which should be noted.

Proof is available that those involved in this diabolical sport are quite often known criminals who take very good care to cover their tracks. Perseverance brought the first breakthrough in such investigations, when a dog fight venue in Potters Bar was raided in 1985 by five RSPCA officers and two police officers. This was the first such raid of the century, and it overcame the skill which promoters of dog fights have shown in recent years when the sport has been increasing of having look-outs and of finding distant and remote places for dog fights. Sometimes they use remote buildings, and sometimes fights between dogs have been promoted in deep pits in the ground as well as in other areas. The promoters cover themselves extremely cleverly by having people look out for police and anyone else who may pay attention so that they get quick warning of any difficulty. Things are covered over very fast and prosecution has been almost impossible.

This was the first prosecution, and it was a great achievement. The prosecution and the ensuing publicity brought more help from the public and consequently three more groups of dog fighters were arrested. In all, 29 persons have been taken into custody and 20 of them have been convicted in the courts. One case in Derbyshire, the result of which should have been known today, has been postponed, so unfortunately we do not know the result.

There can be no excuse for anyone taking part in this sport. Only heavy fines with a longer available prison sentence can be the right deterrent. The parent Protection of Animals Act is dated 1911. That is a long time ago and the social scene was very different then. There have been some amendments to the Act over the years, but public opinion now demands an overdue update.

The officers investigating this wicked business are well aware that, although there have been successes in the past two years, they have touched only the tip of the iceberg. They have prepared themselves for a protracted investigation and this House should offer them and the courts every assistance possible by strengthening the legislation and by increasing the penalties within that legislation. In this way, perhaps some of these criminals will be persuaded to stop their unnecessary activities. In this Bill, I ask that the penalties be increased from level 4 to level 5. There are other provisions in the Act which must be revised in due course, but the penalties I have mentioned require change now.

I shall mention one other idea which could assist when offenders are before the courts in future and which my hon. Friend the Minister might consider. Section 1(1)(c) of the Protection of Animals Act 1911 states that if any person shall cause, procure or assist at the fighting or baiting of any animal he will be guilty of an offence. I believe that the word "attend" should be added. This would have the effect of dealing with any person found at the scene of a dog fight and it would alleviate legal battles during court hearings when people have been charged with assisting. My hon. Friend the Minister may like to consider this, but I realise that it is likely to be outside the scope of the Bill.

The United States faces an even worse problem with dog fighting, but most states have made the offence a felony with heavy fines and up to two years imprisonment. In those states people are arrested for attending without legal argument. I believe that people who attend the cruel spectacle of dog fighting are just as guilty as those who stage the fights.

From the point of view of animal welfare, I believe that it would be ideal to include the names of RSPCA inspectors in the wording of animal legislation. After all, this fine organisation was formed in 1824 — prior to Robert Peel and the police force. Whatever is said regarding animal welfare, the inspectors of the society have been the mainstay for animal protection and law enforcement since the society's inception. Other countries have provisions for animal welfare organisations that are offsprings from our RSPCA. Is it not time that we recognised the oldest and largest animal welfare organisation in the world?

I have been informed by Chief Superintendent Frank Milner, who heads the special investigations department of the RSPCA, that reports have reached him, emanating from the dog fighting fraternity, which suggest that they are dreading any increased penalties. That is a most encouraging prospect for the Bill that I am inviting the House to pass on Third Reading today. The word is getting about among the promoters of dog fights and they are worried. Mr. Milner tells me that information received from reliable sources suggests that promoters believe that a fine is one thing, but they dread increased prison sentences. That is all the more reason why the Bill must proceed.

The Bill has a straightforward aim — to double the maximum penalties for offences under the Protection of Animals Act 1911. The present maxima are a fine not exceeding £1,000, or three months imprisonment, or both. That fine would become £2,000, which is level 5 on the standard scale, or six months imprisonment, or both. Since the Second Reading of the Bill, substantial drafting amendments have been made in Committee. I believe that it is appropriate to explain the amendments to the House.

Clause 1 is the heart of the Bill, but unfortunately the original drafting of the clause requires alteration. Clause 1 of the original Bill referred to the words "Fifty pounds" in section 1(1) of the 1911 Act. The Bill proposed to substitute for those words level 5 on the standard scale". However, section 1(1) of the 1911 Act no longer contains the words "fifty pounds". The maximum £50 fine was replaced by first a £500 maximum, which under the Criminal Justice Act 1982 became level 4 on the standard scale—that level was increased to the current maximum of £1,000 in 1984. Obviously, nothing can be substituted for the words "fifty pounds" if they are no longer in section (1) of the 1911 Act. The amendment therefore changed this clause of the Bill to ensure that the proposed new maximum penalties of imprisonment for up to six months or a fine not exceeding level 5, or both, were inserted.

The second amendment altered clause 1 of the Bill so that the changes in the maximum penalties under the Protection of Animals Act 1911 which this Bill provides for cannot apply in relation to offences committed before the Bill takes effect. We all respect the reasons for not having retrospective legislation. The House will readily appreciate that it is important that everyone should know clearly what are the likely consequences of their actions if they commit a criminal offence. The maximum penalty that may be imposed if they are convicted of any offence must be certain at the time that that offence is committed. The law cannot shift the goal posts during the match. That is an important principle and, as well as being good practice, I understand that a provision of that sort is contained in article 7(1) of the European Convention on Human Rights. It is clearly right to maintain that point of principle and also to comply with our obligations under the convention.

The third amendment changed the short title of the Bill so that it now reads "Protection of Animals (Penalties) Bill 1987". That is to reflect the fact that the Bill seeks to amend the penalties for all offences of cruelty under the 1911 Act, not just for dog lighting. Although my central remarks have been related to dog fighting, how it is promoted and the effects of such fighting, I have an equally strong, determined and powerful condemnation of the promoters of fights between any animals. I welcome the agreement of the Committee to broaden the Bill to protect all animals. That can do nothing but good.

The fourth amendment inserted a new subsection in clause 2 providing for the repeal of two items of associated legislation that are made redundant by the Bill. The first repeal is the Protection of Animals Act (1911) Amendment Act 1912. That Act has a lengthy title, but it had only one effect—to reduce from six months to three months the maximum sentence of imprisonment that could be imposed under section 1(1) of the 1911 Act. The second change is to schedule 6 of the Criminal Law Act 1977. The 1977 Act provides for increases in the maximum fines that could be imposed under a variety of other statutes. For offences under section 1(1) of the Protection of Animals Act 1911, the maximum fine was increased from £50 to £500. That was set out in schedule 6 to the 1977 Act. The Bill seeks to repeal that provision. I believe that those repeals are helpful changes that will remove any possible ambiguity in the law.

The final amendment agreed in Committee was to make a minor drafting change to the extent provision in the Bill clause 2(3). As presented on Second Reading, the clause referred to "Scotland and Northern Ireland". The amendment changed the wording to "Scotland or Northern Ireland", which is the customary formulation.

The Bill has a long history. My original concern had been to obtain increased maximum penalties for the barbaric activity of dog fighting. I originally proposed 10 years imprisonment and a fine of £10,000 for each conviction. I strongly believe that the country would like to see that happen. None the less, it would be a great jump from the present penalties. I appreciate that we must move progressively in such matters. I believe that the Bill, as amended in Committee, is a proper compromise and I am happy with it.

In the past year or so a number of well-publicised cases of dog fighting and cock fighting have come to court. They have served to throw the spotlight on the brutality involved in such activities. There is parliamentary and public concern about those and other forms of ill treatment of animals.

I greatly appreciate the support and encouragement of hon. Members on both sides of the House in the move to enable the penalties imposed on those found guilty of such offences to reflect more fully the public revulsion of those activities. I believe that the proper penalties proposed in the Bill will act as a positive deterrent to all forms of cruelty to animals.

I should like to thank all the hon. Members who helped to take the Bill through Committee, in particular the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) whose timely assistance facilitated the passage of the Bill. I also warmly thank the RSPCA; its support has been invaluable. Without question there is a need for the Bill.

It is frequently said that the test of civilisation in any country is the treatment meted out to dumb animals who cannot retaliate or speak for themselves. I regret to say that on occasions in our society, and in others which are much worse than ours, dumb animals are treated as if they have no feelings and no right to reasonable treatment. That is wrong, inhuman and wicked. Anyone who treats animals in an inhumane way, particularly by pushing them against their will into practising the most lurid aspects of their nature, such as being driven to fight to the death, is guilty of a grave sin and serious evil against society. The Bill will go a substantial way towards remedying that, and I commend it to the House.

10.1 am

Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith)

I am glad that I was present when the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) made his speech. I strongly support his views, as does my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), who cannot be here today.

We heard the hon. Gentleman's comments about cruelty to animals with all the horror that we feel when hearing such stories. When I was a child playing on waste ground I remember finding kittens or puppies tied up in a sack ready to be thorwn into a pond to be drowned. Such incidents had a profound effect on me and on other young people who found cruelty to animals unacceptable. I am encouraged that in the London area teachers are spending more time teaching young people about the importance of respect for life and of not deriving enjoyment from suffering.

I hope that the hon. Member for Ealing, North agrees that further action must be taken in due course. I think in particular of some aspects of hunting. I find it difficult to justify condemning dog fighting while not being critical of hunting for pleasure. I can understand killing for food or to control animal populations, but when it is for sheer sport there is something unhealthy about it. It must be wrong for a person to enjoy killing or the pursuit of the kill.

We should also examine the powers of the police and RSPCA inspectors to enter premises with a warrant when they believe that an animal is suffering unduly. Such powers must be exercised carefully, because civil rights are involved. Appalling suffering can be experienced by an animal but the RSPCA and the police are unable to gain entry to relieve the animal's suffering.

The hon. Gentleman was right to accept the relatively small increase in the fine and prison sentence. The answer to the problem is not be to be found simply in bunging up the fine or sentence. That will not work as a deterrent. We must have a more sophisticated approach to education. We should also consider the appointment by local authorities of dog wardens and others with powers to look after, protect and pick up strays. Dog wardens are already appointed by Northern Ireland authorities.

A variety of animals are at risk, as well as dogs. Our society is full of contradictions and double standards. We make great play of our love of dogs, cats and horses, yet we spend enormous sums killing horses so that their meat can be fed to the dogs and cats who appear so regularly on television advertisements.

It is right to move in the direction proposed by the Bill and to use the law to ensure that animals are not cruelly treated. The Bill is a small step in that direction.

10.5 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Douglas Hogg)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) on his initiative in introducing the Bill. There is no doubt that it might have been some time before the Government were able to give time for such an important Bill. I also congratulate my hon. Friend on bringing the problem before the House upon so many occasions. His reputation in this area is unparalleled in the House. His knowledge of animals, particularly horses, is based on deep experience. He understands these matters in a way that few other hon. Members understand them. I am glad to pay my hon. Friend that tribute on behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench, because without him I doubt whether such a Bill would have been introduced at this time.

The Government are pleased to support my hon. Friend. His Bill is an important part of the programme for improving the protection of animals. The Government have a distinguished record in extending protection under the law for animals. An obvious and important example is the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986, as is the extensive protection provided under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. They are two major statutory vehicles by which this Government have been able to extend general protection for animals.

A host of other actions have been taken by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. The Government have taken many executive and administrative actions and have a continuing programme for the protection of animals.

Mr. Greenway

I much appreciate my hon. Friend's tribute and the Government's support for the Bill. I thank the Minister and his staff.

Will my hon. Friend comment on the fact that it took from 1911 to the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 to update legislation to protect animals? It is sad that there was such an enormous gap when nothing was done. Can my hon. Friend account for that?

Mr. Hogg

That is an interesting question, but it is not correct to say that there were no changes during the long time between 1911 and today. Changes were made to statutes from time to time. For example, legislation was introduced in 1933. I forget the name of the Act, but it enabled the courts to disqualify a person from keeping a dog if that person was proved guilty of cruelty to a dog. There are other examples of amending legislation introduced between 1911 and 1987.

My hon. Friend asks why no other major amending legislation has been introduced. I cannot answer that, except to say that I have a feeling that we are only now, perhaps rather late in the day, beginning to see disturbing evidence of an increase in cruelty to animals. Perhaps that has not been the case for a number of years. My hon. Friend mentioned dog fighting—

Mr. Greenway

On the important point of disqualification, my hon. Friend rightly said that it has been possible since the 1930s to disqualify people from keeping dogs. However, is he aware that, when someone has been banned from keeping a dog following conviction for promoting dog fighting, his wife can keep that dog in the same house? Hence that individual can be found walking the dog, and only after that can the dog be removed. So the position is not wholly satisfactory. Will the Home Office consider extending disqualification from keeping animals to the disqualification of two people who are found guilty of cruelty to horses, cats or other domestic animals?

Mr. Hogg

I was going to come to that important point, but if my hon. Friend will forgive me, I shall deal with it now.

First, it is necessary to define the present position. On first conviction for cruelty to a dog, a person may be disqualified from keeping it. That power does not extend to owners of other animals on a first conviction. For other animals, the power of disqualification arises only on second or subsequent convictions. It is interesting that it was not until 1954 that the power to disqualify for other animals came into being. The power to disqualify in respect of dogs was introduced in the Protection of Animals (Cruelty to Dogs) Act 1933. For other animals, such protection was not available until the 1954 Act.

I am sorry that our right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) is not here today, because he played a prominent part way back in 1954—all of 33 years ago—in extending the protection to other animals. Under the Protection of Animals (Amendment) Act 1954, a magistrates court on second or subsequent conviction of an offender under the 1911 Act can disqualify a person from keeping any animal covered by the Act. However, that power applies only on second or subsequent convictions.

That legislation started as a private Member's Bill and it is interesting to note why the power of disqualification was so limited. That limitation was promoted mainly by a member of the Conservative party, Mr. Remnant, who was then the hon. Member for Wokingham. He explained the reasons for a limited power of disqualification in these terms: 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." — [Official Report, 12 February 1954; Vol. 523, c. 1541.] He continued by saying that it would be wrong to deprive such an individual of his livelihood on first conviction.

Perhaps public sensitivity has changed on these matters. I am inclined to agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North that we should consider amending the 1911 and 1954 legislation to give the courts a power upon first conviction for cruelty to disqualify any person from keeping any animal. In other words, we should be extending the power of disqualification from keeping any animal to make it the same as the power of disqualification from keeping a dog. Clearly, that would require primary legislation.

We have a choice: Government legislation or private Members' legislation. Of course, I could not promise at this stage that Government legislation would be introduced because that would depend on a suitable slot in the programme, the agreement of my colleagues and so on. If my hon. Friend is again successful in the private Members' ballot — I hope he will be — perhaps he will consider introducing a private Members' Bill to amend the 1954 Act so that the power of disqualification in respect of other animals can apply on first conviction. He might then find that the Home Office was able to give him enthusiastic support, and I am sure that most hon. Members on both sides of the House would be minded to support such legislation.

Mr. Greenway

I am grateful.

Mr. Hogg

My hon. Friend raised an interesting point that I was beginning to answer on banning powers. He asked me why, in my opinion, the penalties had not been increased until now. Probably that is because there has been an increase in cruelty to animals, which has brought the matter to the attention of Parliament. There is some evidence for that: the figures show that, over six years, there has been a gradual increase in the number of offences brought before the courts.

In 1980. proceedings were brought against 809 persons. In 1981, the number had increased to 833. In 1982, there was a small decline to 822. In 1983, the figure increased to 839 and in 1984 to 875. In 1985, there was a further increase to 989. I regret to say that I cannot give the figure for 1986, but the point is that there has been a gradual increase in the number of persons against whom proceedings have been taken.

There is some evidence of an increase in the number of offences committed. So much can he extrapolated from the figures. Perhaps just as important, there is evidence of increased consciousness of the need to take proceedings against people who are discovered to have committed offences against animals. People who are guilty of these sorts of offence must expect to have proceedings instituted against them in the courts. In that context, my hon. Friend's Bill is of great significance.

It might be of interest to know something about the penalties that the courts have been imposing on those found guilty. There has been a steady increase in the number of cases in which a prison sentence has been imposed. Again, a few figures might illustrate that proposition. In 1980, 11 people were sentenced to prison; in 1981, 10 people were sentenced to prison; in 1982, six people were thus sentenced; and in 1983, there were 10. In both 1984 and 1985, 19 people were sentenced to prison. I cannot give the figures for 1986, but I shall try to make them available to my hon. Friend.

I have a great deal of sympathy with the point the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) would make at this stage — that one should be chary of imposing prison sentences on people for non-violent offences. The hon. Gentleman and I have spoken frequently on this subject at different venues, but most notably in Committee. I think that he probably supports the view that. when dealing with cruelty to animals, there must be a residuary power in the hands of the courts to sentence individuals to a period of imprisonment when they are dealing with gross offences, and I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has been able to give the Bill his support. One of the effects of the Bill is to increase the maximum period of imprisonment to six months. I do not expect, however, that that maximum period will be imposed too often.

Mr. Soley

I agree that there is a need for the residual power of imprisonment, but I think that the hon. Gentleman will agree with my argument that educating society, and especially young people, to have respect for animals and to treat them properly is all-important. Education, the ability to withdraw a licence where a person has abused the terms of it, and the power of entry will probably be more useful means of prevention than the occasional imposition of imprisonment when a person needs to be locked up as an example of society's disapprobation of an especially cruel offence.

Mr. Hogg

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. He has said that he advanced three propositions, and I think that courtesy demands that I should try to deal with them. The first proposition was education, the second licensing, and the third right of entry. Education is important because cruelty to animals is a manifestation of a sickness in the individual. I hesitate to generalise, but for all I know it may be a manifestation of sickness in society. The broader application of education that is not merely confined to schools is an important instrument in trying to persuade people of the social obligations that they owe both to their neighbours and their animals. I agree that education must be an important instrument.

I approach licensing with great reservation because I am not quite sure what the hon. Gentleman means by it in this context. There are banning provisions in respect of dogs in the 1933 legislation and in the 1954 legislation for other animals. When a person has been found guilty of an offence of cruelty to animals, it is right that there should be a power to ban that person from keeping an animal. To that extent the hon. Gentleman and I are speaking as one. I think that he might support legislation to extend banning powers to ensure that they apply to all animals on first conviction. I note that the hon. Gentleman is nodding.

Mr. Soley

I am considering licensing in the wider sense. The Government should be considering—I believe that they did consider this at one time—extending the dog warden scheme that exists in Northern Ireland to the rest of the United Kingdom, which would involve making the necessary facilities available to local authorities. That would be an important way of making the existing licensing scheme more effective.

Secondly, I would be sympathetic to the idea of extending banning, but I think that there should be a more flexible system than a total ban. There might be cases where the cruelty is of a marginal sort, or particular circumstances might attach to it. We might want to make a certain type of licence available or to provide that a person will be able to recover his licence if he satisfies certain conditions. There are a number of approaches to consider; that is why I think that the Minister is right to offer the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) the opportunity of legislating, if he is lucky enough to secure a high place in the ballot, by means of a private Member's Bill to ensure that there is a flexible system and not a blunderbuss either/or approach.

Mr. Hogg

To extend the banning powers by amending the 1954 Act—that Act is substantially the same as the 1933 Act but its scope is broader — is only to give a discretionary power to the court. Therefore, the court could implement the banning power and make a prohibition order. Alternatively, it could choose not to do so. We would not he imposing any obligation on the court.

With great respect to the hon. Gentleman, I am chary of what he says about licensing. I am beginning to visualise that the Opposition are coming forward with an extensive bureaucracy of control, one from which I shrink as a matter of general policy — and I am sure rightly. I believe that we should avoid bureaucratic controls whereever possible. Therefore, I am sceptical about an elaborate licensing system which itself can be used as a mechanism for preventing people from keeping animals.

Mr. Greenway

My hon. Friend's offer of Home Office support if I were to introduce a further private Member's Bill is generous and I shall take it up at the earliest possible opportunity. From my experience, it is clear that those who are found to have been consistently cruel to animals—cruelty that could lead to a ban on first conviction of the sort that my hon. Friend has described — do not change their ways. Therefore, the power to ban on first conviction would be appropriate. That leads me to believe that bureaucracy would be unhelpful, although I appreciate that the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) is bending over backwards in trying to be fair. I wish to add merely that I strongly support what my hon. Friend says and that I think that he has my point precisely.

Mr. Hogg

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, because I value his support in these matters. I am conscious that he has unparalleled experience of the matters to which we are addressing ourselves. When he says that we should avoid bureaucracy in the introduction of licensing as a means of controlling those who own dogs, I take that to be a powerful argument on which I would rely.

Mr. Soley

Let us try to clarify what is becoming an increasingly complex issue that might better be dealt with in Committee when we come to examine a future Bill. The dog warden system was introduced by the Government in Northern Ireland with the support of the Opposition, and I am saying that the system needs to be introduced to the rest of the United Kingdom, with the necessary resources being made available to local authorities. That would be no great extension of bureaucracy. The system is a sensible one and it seems to be working well in Northern Ireland.

The suggestion that a conviction of cruelty to an animal should lead to all other animals being banned to the individual or to the rest of the family raises complex considerations. The hon. Member for Ealing, North used the phrase "consistently cruel", but that is only part of the problem. If the other partner, the husband or wife, or perhaps a child of the family, cannot have an animal because of what one other member of the family has done, we are entering a difficult area.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

Order. Briefly, please.

Mr. Soley

I wish to say as briefly as possible, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that the Government would need carefully to examine the way in which legislation was drafted if they were not to introduce a system that would be so black and white as to he inappropriate to the needs of the day.

Mr. Hogg

I heard your call for order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, so I shall be brief in dealing with the matter that the hon. Gentleman has been kind enough to raise. The complexity of his arguments suggests that these are considerations that we should be examining in Committee rather than on the Floor of the House.

The hon. Gentleman's third proposition was the right of entry, which I know has received some support from my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North. It is being asked whether it would be right to give an extended power of entry to private dwelling houses where there is evidence of cruelty to animals. This is an emotive and difficult subject, but we are dealing with an issue of considerable importance. I am the first to recognise that in some instances it is not easy to obtain evidence of the sort that would satisfy the court unless there is a right of entry into a dwelling house. It is in that context that one must consider the propositions that have been put forward.

In substance, there are two propositions: first, that an official of the RSPCA should have a right of entry into a private house, subject, of course, to authority of the court; secondly, that police officers should be given an extended power. There are problems with both propositions. We must begin by recognising — the hon. Member for Hammersmith, my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North and I, recognise it—that a power of entry of that kind is a major infringement of liberty. We must never under-estimate the importance of the privacy that people have in their own homes, and we should infringe it only if there is a powerful and compelling reason for doing so and if the House is prepared to justify it to the nation.

Let us consider the proposed power for RSPCA officials. I have the highest regard for the credibility, hard work and integrity of officials employed by the Royal Society for the Prevention to Cruelty to Animals, but we must ask whether it is right to give people, who are only officials of a private institution, powers of entry into another person's home. I am not persuaded that it would be right to give officials of a private institution, however good that institution may be, the right of entry into a person's dwelling. It would be difficult to persuade the House that such an infringement was right. It is not easy—indeed, it may be impossible—to think of precedents. I am instinctively hostile to that suggestion, not because I under-estimate the importance of the work or disparage the RSPCA in any way, but because I do not think that the principle involved could properly be commended to the House.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I must draw the attention of the hon. Member to the fact that the debate is going rather wide of the Bill. I hope that we will get back to the Bill.

Mr. Hogg

I am grateful, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was conscious, too, that my remarks were wandering a little wide. Perhaps you will permit me to deal with the other point that was raised—about police officers. I should be sorry not to have the opportunity of considering that matter.

The question that then arises is whether one should give police officers extended powers of entry. Again, I have considerable reservations. The power of entry and the power to issue search warrants were considered at length during the debate on the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, and that power is confined to the more serious arrestable offences. As the hon. Member for Hammersmith. my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North and you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, know, offences under the 1911 Act are not classified as arrestable offences. Even if they were arrestable offences, it would be extremely difficult, in all conscience, to hold that they were serious arrestable offences in the context of that phrase as it is used by the House. Therefore, we would be contemplating a major extension of the existing legislation, which I would find it difficult to support.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North raised an important point about persons who attend dog fights. He asked whether, in this Bill or in some subsequent legislation, we should create an offence of attending dog fighting. To some extent, I can satisfy him by reference to existing legislation. A little research has been done and the position is rather clearer than it was when the matter was first debated by my hon. Friend.

Section 47 of the Metropolitan Police Act 1839 and section 36 of the Town Police Clauses Act 1847 already provide that any person found without lawful excuse in any house, room, pit or other place kept or used for the purpose of fighting or baiting any animal shall be liable to a fine not exceeding level one on the standard scale. The effect of that legislation is that attending a dog fight would be an unlawful activity, both in areas covered by the Metropolitan Police Act 1839 and elsewhere in the country. Therefore, legislation is already in place, which meets the point that my hon. Friend raised. He will raise with me a difficulty—the fact that the maximum penalty is only a scale 1 penalty, of £50.

So I have another suggestion to make to my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North—that he should introduce another private Member's Bill. Of course, unless, the Government have a suitable vehicle, it would not be possible for us to amend either piece of legislation, but my hon. Friend already has in mind a private Members' Bill to extend the banning powers. We have already discussed that matter. It would be perfectly possible for my hon. Friend to tag on that Bill a clause to increase the scale—it could be scale 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5—and apply it to the two pieces of legislation to which I have drawn attention.

Mr. Greenway

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the important point that he has made in response to my request to look at the possibility of making attendance at dog fights or any other promoted fights between animals a convictable offence. I am glad to have the information that he has put before the House. I shall certainly take up his offer of introducing amending legislation to increase the scale of penalties for those who are found guilty of attendance at animal baiting. I appreciate what he has said, and I shall act upon it as soon as possible.

Mr. Hogg

I am encouraged to hear that. The hon. Member for Hammersmith would want to lend his support to that legislation. He may be able to bring some members of his party with him when he does so.

I ask my hon. Friend, when he contemplates that legislation, not to introduce legislation that would make any such offences triable on indictment. In effect, my hon. Friend called for the legislation to be beefed up. I hope that he will take the view that we should leave such offences as summary offences. I should be sorry if he were to consider making such offences triable on indictment, partly because the Crown courts are already heavily overloaded, and partly, too, because the swiftness of justice and the swiftness of the administration of a penalty is a powerful deterrent. If a person has the opportunity to go to the Crown court, naturally it will make for a delay. Indeed, if one considers the penalties that have been imposed by the courts in recent years, one would be right to question whether it would be right to take such matters to the Crown court.

I have a few figures about the imposition of fines. In 1985, of those fined under the Protection of Animals Act. 1911, 514 people were fined less than £100, 148 were fined between £100 and £200, 35 were fined between £200 and £500, and only six were fined between £500 and £1,000. The great majority of fines, over 500 of them, were under £100.

I think that my hon. Friend would say, and I echo the view, that the courts should attach to offences of this kind a greater significance than;perhaps they have done hitherto. Although it is probably not necessary in terms of meeting justice to extend the penalties in the way that my hon. Friend has in mind, nevertheless we are today sending an important signal to the courts. It is that Parliament believes that these are very serious offences and that the courts should punish offenders in the context of the penalties that we are setting out.

Mr. Greenway

Does my hon. Friend accept my argument that those who attend animal baiting meetings and bet at them are as guilty as those evil men and women who promote the fights between the animals in the first place? If they are, does my hon. Friend accept my argument that they should be hit at least as hard as the promoters?

Mr. Hogg

I cannot give a conclusive view on the matter because I have not directed my mind to what should be the appropriate maximum penalty under the legislation to which I have drawn attention—the two statutes which make attendance at dog fighting unlawful. In principle, I think that the maximum of scale 1 is too low. Although I should have to take advice and find the opinion of colleagues and go through all the hoops that junior Ministers have to hop through, I can see no objection in principle to extending the maximum penalties to scale 5 and to six months' imprisonment for offenders.

That does not answer the question whether there is the same degree of culpability between the promoter and the person who attends. I do not think that one can answer that question sensibly. There is probably not the same degree of culpability, certainly not in every case. There is a whole range of reasons why people attend. In some cases they attend out of idle curiosity. A person who attends for that reason is not doing a very attractive thing, but his moral culpability is probably less than that of the promoter.

A person might attend because he is a trainer of fighting dogs—if such a person exists. His degree of culpability is certainly the same as that of the promoter. Then there is the person who attends because he is brought along by the promoter, someone who just tags along. His degree of culpability is less than that of the promoter. I am not able to give a conclusive answer to my hon. Friend, save to say that there is a broad spectrum of motive. Sometimes those who attend are as guilty as the promoter and sometimes they are not as guilty.

You have been extremely forbearing, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and have allowed me to extend the range of debate rather wider than perhaps I should have done. However, a number of important points have been raised, including some by the hon. Member for Hammersmith. I am grateful to him for his support. I wish that the Labour party would give us more support more frequently, but it was nice to see the hon. Gentleman supporting us in this debate. I have also been asked a large number of important questions by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North. Therefore, it was important for me to have an opportunity to respond in detail. However, I am grateful to you, Sir, because I know that I have trespassed somewhat on your patience.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North deserves tribute from the House because he has directed his efforts and his skills to meeting a problem which is of increasing significance. By way of his Bill he has sent an important message to the courts and, much more important, to those who are involved in these activities. It is an important message which I hope that both will heed. As part of our programme of extending protection to animals, the Government are very pleased not only to support the Bill but even to improve it in parts. We have an extremely good record in animal protection. My hon. Friend, Home Office officials and the Government in general working together have introduced an important piece of legislation and I hope that it will receive the support of the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.