HC Deb 22 April 1988 vol 131 cc1108-49
Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)

I beg to move amendment No. 5, in page 2, line 7, at end, insert 'and in this section being present shall include knowingly advertising such fights'.

Mr. Speaker

With this it will be convenient to take amendment No. 6, in page 2, line 14, at end insert 'and in this section being present shall include knowingly advertising such fights'.

Mr. Cohen

You rather caught me by surprise, Mr. Speaker, because I thought that the promoter of the Bill would make a formal statement about it. Clearly I was mistaken about the procedure.

I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Browne), who has done a very good job. I congratulate him, first, on winning the ballot and, secondly, on seeing the Bill through Committee with great tenacity, despite many difficulties. The Bill amends the legislation governing the protection of animals, and, although the amendment that it makes is a small one, it is extremely worth while. I hope that the Bill will have a smooth passage today and in another place, and that it will become law, although I hope, too, that a few improvements will be made to it, if not here, then in another place. Even then, I do not think that it will be an end of the matter. I am sure that the hon. Member for Winchester will acknowledge that many further improvements will be needed to ensure proper animal welfare and protection. The amendments deal with the advertising of these horrendous and. atrocious dog fights. Perhaps on Third Reading we shall refer in detail to some instances—some very close to my constituency—of this barbaric activity; I would not call it a sport. Some people place a great deal of money in bets on the fights and therefore they have a vested interest in them. This House has been too slow to deal with the problem.

The amendments seek to tighten up the Bill by including advertising. The matter was raised during the third sitting of the Standing Committee on an amendment that I had tabled. Unfortunately, owing to circumstances beyond my control, I could not move the amendment; I was detained at Mr. Speaker's pleasure at the time. I am therefore grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett) for moving the amendment and to the hon. Member for Harborough (Sir J. Farr) who made some useful comments about it.

Formal advertisements promoting fights have been known to appear in hunting newspapers, such as Shooting News and Weekly, and advertising is also carried out by less formal means, informing those interested in gambling on these wicked events of where they are to take place.

Mr. Greg Knight (Derby, North)

Does the hon. Gentleman intend—perhaps he would wish it to be done in the other place—to introduce a definition of the word "advertisement"? I am rather worried about this. Let us consider an example. Two people may be chatting in a public house and one may say, "Do you know there's a dog fight due to take place in the barn down the road on Saturday?" That may be overhead by an RSPCA inspector and, if he is over-zealous he may construe those remarks, which involve the passing of information from one person to another, as an advertisement.

Mr. Cohen

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's point, although he is somewhat pre-empting the development of my argument. I hope that the conversation would, indeed be overhead by an RSPCA inspector, but I trust that he would take action not against the two people at the bar, but to stop the dog fight. On the hon. Gentleman's main point, it would be for the courts to decide. In the example that he gave, I do not think that any court would treat the passing of the information by word of mouth as a case for prosecution. However, some advertising is done not by word of mouth, but by leaflets and advertisements, subtly worded though they may be, and in those cases the courts could justly decide that the offence of "knowingly advertising" had been committed and was punishable by the law.

Mr. James Paice (Cambridgeshire, South-East)

Let me press the hon. Gentleman on the question of advertisements, some of them, as he put it, subtly worded. A few moments ago he mentioned the name of a well-known sporting journal, and it would be of great value to the House if he could present us with an example of an advertisement that he alleges advertises this barbaric sport, as he calls it.

Mr. Cohen

Again, the hon. Gentleman is trying to pre-empt the later part of my speech, but I am happy to give the information off the cuff.

Mr. Tom Cox (Tooting)

I sympathise with my hon. Friend's argument, but I share the concern about clarification of "advertising".

My hon. Friend will be aware that often we discuss legislation that we believe clearly outlines what we as a Parliament seek to achieve and makes it clear how we hope the courts will interpret cases, but find that that is not the case. Today we are talking about animal welfare. I am sure that my hon. Friend will be aware of the dilemma in the animal world about people who go badger digging and about what happens to the dogs used in that barbaric practice. Learned judges say, "That is not what Parliament meant when it said that dogs used in badger baiting should be confiscated". Therefore, while I am extremely sympathetic to my hon. Friend, I hope that we shall get a clear definition of "advertising".

Mr. Cohen

I appreciate what my hon. Friend has said about the law being tight and the problems about badger digging. I will come to that point later. An amendment that I tabled on that topic has not been selected, but it contains elements which would be appropriate for discussion on Third Reading and I hope to refer to them then.

At the moment the courts cannot pick up any offence of advertising dog fights. Therefore, people will not be prosecuted for advertising such activities. We should have a tightly drawn law on this point, and this amendment is a step in the right direction in that it makes advertising dog fights a criminal offence. Indeed, under my amendment the offence of advertising would be similar to that of being present at a dog fight and the courts would treat an advertiser of such an activity in the way that they would treat someone who was present at a fight.

10 am

The hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, South-East (Mr. Paice) asked for an example of an advertisement for dog fights. I have a copy of Shooting News and Weekly dated 6 December 1985, which admittedly is a while ago. Part 40 of that issue contains an advertisement which states: Now available! Badger Digging With Terriers by David Harcombe. A fair and balanced view of the latest field sport to be banned. The true story and a convincing account of a recent terrier work. The advertisement then states where the book is available and that it contains information on how to hunt badgers with dogs. That is significant, because that activity was banned. When the advertisement appeared, hunting badgers with dogs—in many cases the same dogs as are used in dog fighting—was banned. However, that book, describing an illegal activity, was advertised in that magazine. The advertisement referred to a recent incident of that illegal activity.

It is hard to reconcile that advertisement with the law. Such adverts and those that relate specifically to the precise locations of dog fights should be banned. I do not expect Shooting News and Weekly, Shooting Times and Country Magazine or any other magazine or pamphlet to state that a dog fight will take place at a certain location on a certain date. They will not do that. However, they may contain information about where the details may be obtained. Indeed, informal publications may contain the information about dog fights or have details on how people can learn where such barbaric activities occur.

We should take a strong line against such advertisements. We should make it clear in law that they are not acceptable. In the Bill, we have increased the penalties for those who organise these activities although we have not increased them as much as I would have liked. We have created the new offence of being present at dog fights and set severe penalties for those convicted of being present. I pay tribute to all hon. Members who improved the law by supporting the amendments which increased the penalties for the organisers and those who were present at dog fights. We should also put pressure on the advertisers of these activities. That loophole should not exist.

The advertisement of dog fights was raised in Committee and the hon. Member for Harborough and my hon. Friend the Member for Erdington gave examples. In reply to the points raised, the Minister said on 24 February: The section which, in certain circumstances, is capable of including advertising, is section 1(1)(c) of the Protection of Animals Act 1911, which makes it an offence to 'cause, procure, or assist at the fighting or baiting of any animal' and thereafter various general words are used. I do not believe that advertising per se falls within the scope of section 1(1)(c), although it sometimes will do, but I believe that there is merit in considering whether advertising per se should be an offence. I am clear in my own mind that it should not be an absolute offence. I disagree with the Minister there. It would not he right to prosecute a publisher who carried in his newspaper an advertisement which was not obviously an advertisement for dog fighting, but which turned out to be for the reasons described by my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough … there is merit in an offence of knowingly advertising"— and these were the Minister's words— of knowingly advertising. That then has to be spelt out and conceivably a statutory defence given." —[Official Report, Standing Committee C, 24 February 1988; c. 78.] The Minister gave a commitment to reflect on that, and I was grateful for his commitment. He sent a letter to the hon. Member for Winchester on 20 April and I am grateful to him for sending me a copy of that letter in which the Minister referred to his commitment to review the matter. In the letter the Minister states: I have now looked into this point, but it would seem that such an amendment would add little in practical terms to the provisions already contained in the 1911 Act. 'Section 1(1)(c) of that Act makes it an offence to 'cause, procure, or assist at the fighting or baiting of any animal'. I understand that 'procure' can cover a number of activities, including notifying and transporting spectators to the site of a fight. Advertising by a promoter of a fight might be good evidence of procuring but advertising by someone who is otherwise unconnected with the fight itself is probably not. There might in fact be serious difficulties in sustaining a charge of advertising against such persons because the element of knowledge is an integral part of the offence. It is doubtful whether there would be many advertisers of animal fights, outside of those who could be said to procure, who would not benefit from a defence based on lack of requisite knowledge. Bearing all this in mind and the possibility of prejudicing the Bill's progress if an amendment is introduced at this stage, I would prefer not to proceed further with the proposed amendment. I appreciate that point. However, as the Minister said, advertising by someone otherwise unconnected with the fight will not be covered—"probably not" are the Minister's words—under section 1(1)(c) of the 1911 Act which deals with procuring. Therefore, a gaping loophole in the law will still exist. The Minister said that it will be hard to sustain a charge of advertising against such persons because the element of knowledge is an integral part of the offence.

The Minister said that the defence could be based on the level of knowledge. That must be a matter for the courts to decide. At the moment people frequently come before the courts and claim that they did not know that an offence was being committed, or use a similar defence. However, the courts decide whether that defence is sufficient or whether the person is guilty of the offence as charged. That point should not preclude us from accepting amendment No. 5.

I have deliberately used the words "knowingly advertising" because the Minister said that he would consider that concept. In Committee I simply used the word "advertised", but I have used the term "knowingly advertising" in amendment No. 5 in accordance with what the Minister has said.

It is a reasonable amendment. I note that in the last sentence of his letter the Minister said that he did not want to prejudice the progress of the Bill at this stage. I appreciate that and understand it. I, too, do not want to prejudice the Bill. I hope that by saying that the Minister is leaving the door open a little to reconsider the matter. If the House does not want to accept my amendment today—I do not want to prejudge that because I hope that every hon. Member here will speak in support of it—I hope that the other place will consider a similar amendment so that we can close the loophole and get the people who advertise the fights as well as those who organise and attend them.

I am pleased to commend my amendment to the House. I hope that the House will consider it sympathetically. I give a final word of praise to the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Browne). I hope that we shall make progress on his Bill.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

It gives me pleasure to speak on this important Bill and to add my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Mr. Browne) on introducing it and on the way in which he has taken it through the House. I declare my interest in that a few months ago I produced a Bill to give courts the power to disqualify the owners of animals from keeping them once they had been convicted of cruelty. That measure is subsumed in this Bill. In addition, I took through the House last year the Protection of Animals (Penalties) Bill, which doubled the penalties in terms of fines and imprisonment for those promoting the wicked practice of dog fighting. This Bill takes that measure further.

I respect the sincerity of the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen), but I cannot agree with what he said. I receive many letters from people who know of my interest in the protection of animals and the punishment of people who abuse them. Quite often I receive through the post subtle advertisements that people pick up indicating obliquely that there will perhaps be a dog fight at a certain location. The people who send those advertisements have read that information into them. I have no reason to doubt that there is a subtle process going on around the country in small advertisements that are understood by those who follow dog fights so that they know that there will be a dog fight at such and such a place at such and such a time. We know that that evil practice is growing.

I would not make the advertisements illegal because they provide the police and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals with some clues as to where they might pick up a dog fight. We know that the RSPCA and the police are gradually getting better at detecting where dog fights might take place. Often they anticipate the fights, and the fact that they are around means that no fight occurs. That is a great gain and it comes about through the advertising process. It is a valuable source of intelligence.

The process of advertising is particularly obnoxious when it is so subtle as to be unreadable by the police and those who have a trained eye to detect what is intended by the advertisement. However, I believe that intelligence will improve with time and the advertisers and promoters of dog fights by that subtle but evil means will be picked up.

10.15 am

I also oppose the amendment because by following advertisements—for example, advertisements for pit bull terriers and the cost of them—we can know how the market is going, where the animals are being bred, who is breeding them and what they are asking for them. A lady sent me a minute advertisement this week that was found in a local freebie paper. It invited people to buy American pit bull terriers, which are those used almost exclusively for dog fights, at a cost of £350 a puppy. A high price for a thoroughbred Rottweiler puppy would be £150. That provides us with information. First, it tells us the high cost of pit bull terriers, and we know that the reason for the high price is that they are tremendous earners for their evil masters. They are trained for fighting and their teeth are filed down. It is valuable to be aware of those high prices in advertisements as a means of seeing how the market is going.

Another reason for the high price is that dog fights attract a large number of spectators and a great deal of gambling takes place. That all adds to the value of pit bull terriers. What an evil and wicked practice it is. I must make these points in order to demonstrate why I cannot agree with the hon. Member for Leyton.

Mr. Wilshire

Before my hon. Friend leaves the point about pit bull terriers, may I ask him whether he thinks that the ownership of those particularly obnoxious animals ought to be made illegal? If I follow him correctly, his argument that we should allow advertising of criminal offences so that we may know what is going on could lead to some spectacular examples of things appearing in newspapers if we took his point to the extreme and allowed any criminal activity to be advertised. I suggest that pit bull terriers should be banned. I wonder whether my hon. Friend agrees with me. The Today newspaper of 28 July 1987—my hon. Friend may have seen this—said that 12 of the last 18 deaths caused by dogs were down to those animals.

Mr. Greenway

I thank my hon. Friend for making that important point. I do not think that at this stage I would go so far as to ban people from owning American pit bull terriers, but I would ban the import of them. I wish that the Home Office could find some way of banning their importation from America. I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to look for a way to do that. They are being brought into this country in increasing numbers and are being advertised as being brought in. In America pit bull terriers have become so vicious as to attack people. Two people have been killed by pit bull terriers that have been trained to fight. It is a sad abuse of pit bull terriers, which, if properly trained, can be normal, sensible and reasonably passive animals. They can be trained to associate normally with other dogs and with human beings and other animals.

The lady who sent me the advertisement for the sale of pit bull terriers at £350 runs a dog training club. Every week at the club she has a vet who keeps a weather eye on what is going on. The vet has advised the lady that the dog training club should not allow the owners of pit bull terriers to take their dogs along for training. As it has been discovered that in some cases the dogs do not behave normally, and that is a danger to the class, the vet has advised that pit bull terriers cannot be taken into a public class for dogs, and that is sad.

I do not know what Mrs. Woodhouse would have done in such a situation. She could have wrenched and pulled, but she would not have got very far as the dogs are trained to be so vicious and anti-social that they are unacceptable in a dog training class. That is sad. The dogs are not only being abused by being promoted to fight and having their teeth filed down for that purpose, but they are being isolated as individuals, and that is no way to treat any animal.

It would be a mistake to ban the advertising because there are various ways in which dog fights can be detected—by examing the trends in advertising, breeding, values and sales. Matters associated with the wicked sport of dog fighting can be detected through advertising and for that reason it would be a mistake to ban it.

Mr. Robin Corbett (Birmingham, Erdington)

I have listened with great care to the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway), and in spite of what he has said, I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) has a good point.

I am interested in the proposition that action should be taken against the advertiser and not against the editor or owner of the medium used to carry that advertisement. I have a background as a modest pencil journalist, and if I had anything to do with the publication to which such advertisements were offered, I would refuse to publish not the advertisement for the dog but those advertisements which are concerned with the setting up of a bogus club or association and which announce that the AGM of that association will be held near the junction of a particular motorway at a particular time on a particular day. I understand that that is one of the codes used to pass around the announcement of what is, to everyone who understands those words, a dog fight.

I would look to the editors and advertising managers of the newspapers and magazines to deal with the carrying of such advertisements, which can do nothing to enhance the integrity and reputation of the publications.

Mr. Harry Greenway

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that I am not attacking reasonable, reputable newspapers and journals? From the evidence I have received, it seems that most of those advertisements appear in freebies. Many freebies certainly have very high standards, but others are of a disgracefully low standard, and that should be looked into.

Mr. Corbett

I accept what the hon. Gentleman says. Now that he has raised the point about freebies, I have to get in a plug for the Erdington and Sutton News, which serves part of my constituency and which won an award as Britain's best community newspaper. I cannot imagine the editor of that publication, which I consider to use proper editorial standards, allowing such advertisements to be carried.

The hon. Member for Ealing, North mentioned that the publications which carry such developments assist such bodies as the RSPCA to keep an eye on what is happening. That is bound to be the case, but it is not a good enough reason to allow such advertisements to be carried. I have no direct knowledge of the subject, but I suspect that one of the main ways in which those horrendous events are advertised is by word of mouth in the bar or the lounge of a pub. Again, this is no criticism of publicans or breweries, but it is well know that certain pubs in certain areas attract certain groups of people who have a shared interest. Some of those shared interests may be totally acceptable and innocent, but I suspect that others are not.

We have made a distinction between the advertiser and those in charge of the publications which are presently carrying the advertisements. The advertiser himself—I am not being sexist, but my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton will agree that it is mainly fellows who are mixed up in this kind of evil—is likely to be an official of a bogus club or association set up for this vile purpose. If that is the case, that person would be caught under the Bill in any event. However, that does not totally dispose of my hon. Friend's point. I hope, on the basis of what has been said so far, that before we consider the amendment, the Minister might feel able to say at least that it is worth looking again at this so that the Bill can make progress today and that perhaps it might be considered anew in another place.

Mr. John Browne (Winchester)

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) and the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) for their kind words. The hon. Member for Leyton said quite correctly in his speech putting forward the amendment that my hon. and learned Friend the Minister had agreed after the Committee stage to look into the question of knowing advertisements. I quite understand the views of the hon. Gentleman and I have very strong sympathy with his intentions. In fact, I think that it is a very valid point. I agree with the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett). I think that it is a very valid point, and I urge my hon. and learned Friend to continue to investigate this facet with the view, if we come to a joint conclusion, that it should be introduced into the Bill in its passage through another place in a few weeks' time.

As I said, I sympathise very strongly with the views of the hon. Member for Leyton, but my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North has raised a very interesting question which I must admit I had not thought about before—the question of intelligence, monitoring and the very difficult job of finding out what is going on in this underworld, where and when.

I think that that is a very interesting point and I know my hon. Friend's tremendous expertise in the area of animal welfare from what he has already done, and I will allude to that in my Third Reading speech. I urge my hon. and learned Friend to take real account of that, and possibly to consult the RSPCA, the police and people who are actively engaged in finding out the times and locations of the fights to check out that point, because I think that we can come to a decision. Although I sympathise with the hon. Member for Leyton in that it may be to the advantage of trying to curb and destroy this so-called sport that it would be better to leave the situation as it is.

My hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) raised the point of whether we should ban the import of pit bull terriers. Again, I would support that. Although my natural instinct is for the freedom to allow people to have what dogs they like, if these dogs are proven statistically to be outrageously dangerous to the community at large, as in the two incidents that my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North has quoted, and/or are used exclusively for a so-called sport that we are again trying to eradicate, I agree with my hon. Friend.

Mr. Wilshire

I am not advocating a ban on the import of pit bull terriers. I am advocating a ban on owning them. That goes much further, and it would better achieve what we require.

Mr. Browne

I take my hon. Friend's point.

Mr. Harry Greenway

Perhaps I could help my hon. Friend. It was I who advocated a ban on the importation of pit bull terriers.

Mr. Browne

I thank my hon. Friend for clearing up that point. I agree that action should be taken in both respects—both ownership and, even more draconian, the importation of pit bull terriers—if that is thought to be necessary and if the statistics can be proved. Otherwise, I should lean more on the side of freedom.

10.30 am

I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to think about both points: first, the carrying of advertisements, thereby wishing to destroy the sport, and, secondly, the ownership of pit bull terriers and the banning of their importation. We may be able to get together between now and discussion of the Bill in another place to see whether the Government could table appropriate amendments at that time.

Mr. Wilshire

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Mr. Browne) for his sterling work in bringing this problem before Parliament. The hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) has my support, but I wish to go further and to seek a tighter definition of the activities to which he alluded. He referred to advertising, but as I am not a lawyer I do not know whether that would involve "encouraging". I should be grateful if my hon. Friend the Minister would comment on that point. Advertising is a specific activity, whereas the discussion in the pub is most certainly encouraging someone to attend something. That in itself should constitute an offence.

I raised a point of order earlier to explain that, because had been locked up in the Standing Committee on the Local Government Finance Bill earlier this year, it had been impossible for me to find the time to take part in the Standing Committee proceedings on this Bill but that, had it been possible, I should have wished to do so. I am strongly of the opinion that the practice of animal fighting of any sort is wrong. I include in this category bull fighting in Spain. I wonder whether my hon. Friend the Minister could enlighten me as to whether, when we Brits go abroad and watch bull fights, we might be committing an offence. That might be one way of doing something about dog fighting. I understand that the bull-fighting trade in Spain is now maintained by tourist interest rather than by local interest.

If my mail bag is anything to go by, my constituents feel more strongly about this activity than they do about the National Health Service, the social security changes or the community charge. I have had more correspondence, approaches and visits to my surgery from constituents about cruelty to animals, particularly dog fighting, than about those three subjects. On their behalf, too, therefore, I am taking part in this debate.

I am also spurred into action by an article on 16 February in The Independent. I see that by a whisker I avoided being the Member of Parliament who had the ignominy of having a dog fight in his constituency. To give some idea of what is happening at the moment, The Independent said that 10 men were to appear at Uxbridge magistrates court on 1 March 1988, charged under the Protection of Animals Act 1911 with organising a dog fight. The article said: The charges follow a raid yesterday in which police stopped a fight on open ground near the M25 and M4 interchange. The land in question only just avoids being in my constituency.

It would help if we knew exactly what we were discussing when we are considering the advertising of dog fights. We ought to remind ourselves of what happens at dog fights. One example will make the point. The Independent carried an article on 10 February 1988 that read: In one article"— the publication referred to is Pit Bull News, to which sleazy publication I shall turn in due course— in a 1987 issue of the magazine it reports that a dog called Boss 'literally ate alive' another dog. Another dog called General 'took the leg almost completely off Bart. This particularly sick magazine then had this to say about such things: 'It is a tribute to Bart that during the whole of his destruction he never made a whimper.'

The photographs that are sent to me and other hon. Members are sickening. I would prefer the word "encouraging" in relation to advertising because anybody who writes items like that, or who publishes prints or distributes items like that, or who has them in his or her possession should be considered as having committed an offence.

Mr. Corbett

I urge the hon. Gentleman not to make a distinction between what appears in the editorial columns and what appears in advertisements. He may wish to prevent the publication of paid-for advertisements, but he may also think that the printing of such descriptions in the editorial columns is just as repugnant.

Mr. Wilshire

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. If I was not making that point clear, he has given me the chance to do so. I am opposed to advertisements, both paid and otherwise, and to editorial matter. It should not be a defence for anybody to say, "I happened to print this item without knowing what it was." It must surely be right that the printer, the distributor, the seller and the owner of that kind of literature, whether it be editorial matter or advertisements, knows what is going on; otherwise they are in dereliction of their duty as printers and distributors.

Mr. Paice

I am fascinated by my hon. Friend's use of the word "encourage." I endorse my hon. Friend's point, but if he is asking the Government to introduce such an amendment in the other place, I wonder whether, rather than using "encourage," which is a vague word, he might consider using another word that my hon. Friend was successful in having written into another Bill. The word "promote" would better define both areas to which he has referred.

Mr. Wilshire

I deliberately steered away from the word "promote. I thought that it might excite a few hon. Members if I referred to clause 28 of the Local Government Act, which imposes a ban on the promotion of homosexuality. When the hon. Member for Leyton was challenged about the definition of "advertising" and whether we should seek to table an amendment to have the word written into the Bill, he said that that was for the courts to decide. Opposition Members challenged me on that occasion about the use of the word "promote". I said that the courts exist to define such words, but I was ridiculed.

As I support the hon. Member for Leyton, I am sure that he will be only too pleased to support me when I say that the use of the word "promote" in such circumstances is admirable and that the courts should protect society on such occasions. However, I am sure that you, Madam Deputy Speaker, are about to tell me that I digress.

As well as describing what happens at dog fights, we ought to understand that they are not a mere whim of a few mentally sick people—though I consider them to be something along those lines. Dog fighting is not just a hobby—there is a lot of money at stake. My hon. Friend spoke about the value of the dogs. The RSPCA, when earlier this year seeking to lend support to this measure, pointed out that bets of up to £50,000 have been known. We are talking big money, and that means that the organisation could be national or even international. Money and profit could become the motive for causing such cruelty to animals, and where one is dealing with a practice that generates a large amount of financial interest and activity, it is proper that we should take action. I hope that nobody who hears or reads this debate will think that we are trying to use draconian measures against a few people who are minding their own business. We are trying to do more because it is not just a matter of a few people minding their own business.

When I first took an interest in this matter, I thought that a dog fight involved just a few minutes' savagery and cruelty, and then it was over. However, the more I hear about what takes place, the more I learn of dogs mauling and biting each other, and tearing each other to pieces for lengths of time of between one and two hours. That compounds the whole question and provides us with every reason for supporting the hon. Member for Leyton.

I have also tried to establish how frequent dog fights are. If they are an aberration that occurs only rarely, there might be some justification for saying that we should not go down this track. The best estimate I have from those who have researched the matter in any depth is that fights are held at least weekly somewhere in this country, where such cruelty goes on for a good few hours. That does us no credit and we should take action.

If we cannot clarify the matter today with amendments Nos. 5 and 6, it would be better to withdraw them and get the wording right for another place. I believe we should be more specific in some respects. The Pit Bull News is one specialised magazine that has been mentioned. It is not a matter of advertisements and casual snippets of information appearing here and there. There are magazines produced and circulated—albeit, thank goodness, they are not on sale in W. H. Smith—that specialise in the subject. Far from allowing them to be published so that there will be available trade intelligence about dog fights, we should be making it possible for the police to go in pursuit of those who publish them, so that they may be stamped out once and for all. The best way might be to make it an offence to be in possession of such a publication, as well as advertising in it. It is for those reasons that I support the amendments.

Mr. Greg Knight

I agree with hon. Friend about the need to support the amendment of the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen). However, does he agree with my earlier comment that we need to define the word "advertisement"? It would be going too far if it were held that "advertisement" covered conversation.

Mr. Wilshire

I fall back on my excuse of not being a lawyer. I suspect that there are many arguments why the word "advertisement" should not include conversation. However, I would not haul myself back from that, which is why I said that the word "encourage", or, as it is being used now, the word "promote ", is much nearer to what I had in mind. I believe that, if one person says to another, "There is a dog fight going on near the M25 interchange—why don't you come because it will be tremendous fun?", such a conversation should be caught within the meaning of encouraging people to take part. If Britons going to Spain teaches us anything. it is that there would be many more people interested in the barbaric spectacle of dog fights if they knew how to go about attending them.

Mr. Knight

I am sorry to labour the point. I agree with my hon. Friend, but I am concerned that the innocent person in conversation in a pub with two or three others, who says "Do you know that there is a dog fight happening?", without indicating any encouragement or approval, could be said to be advertising that event.

Mr. Wilshire

This interesting discussion takes me back to clause 28 of the Local Government Act. When we debated whether the correct word was "promote" or "encourage", the same points were made. Therefore, I ought to stand corrected and say that I would want to adopt the wording "intended to promote" or "intention to promote". I accept my hon. Friend's point, just as I accepted it in relation to clause 28. Nevertheless, provided that one establishes that the purpose of a conversation is to promote dog fights or any other type of animal fights, it should be brought within the offences that can be committed under the Act. It is for those reasons that I support the hon. Member for Leyton. although I say once again that, if it is necessary to withdraw the amendments to devise a better form of wording for consideration by another place, that would be a better course of action.

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

This has been an interesting debate, in which there has been much unanimity. You, Madam Deputy Speaker, have permitted a certain laxity by allowing various points to be raised that did not fall narrowly within the two selected amendments. It may be helpful if I respond briefly to one of them. It relates to the ownership and transportation of dogs and was raised by my hon. Friends the Members for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire), for Winchester (Mr. Browne), and for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway).

I have considerable difficulties, both in principle and in practice, with the concept of banning imports or ownership of certain classes of dog. It is a mistake to suppose that only American pit bull terriers are fighting dogs; that is not so. A variety of dogs can be and have been used for fighting. One example is the Staffordshire bull terrier.

My history master at school had a beastly little dog which he called the hog dog. I do not know who its mother and father were, but they came from quite distinct breeds. It was a nasty little beast and plainly a fighting dog. My point is that if one prohibits imports of American pit bull terriers, one must in all conscience extend the ban to all other classes of fighting dogs. There then arises the interesting question of mongrels, which are perfectly capable of being fighting dogs because they might have inherited part of their mother's or father's disposition. There would be a difficulty in having an extensive ban.

Another difficulty is that, in banning imports of fighting dogs, one would probably also have to ban the ownership and private breeding of them, for two reasons. First, if one did not do that, one would breach the Treaty of Rome. Secondly, it would not be right in principle. Yet I understand that some people want to possess pit bull terriers or Staffordshire bull terriers as pets; for all I know, some may make very agreeable pets. I would be slow to support a prohibition on the private ownership of such animals.

Mr. Cohen

The Minister is making some interesting points, but the logic of his argument seems to be that specific licensing should be brought in for the ownership of American pit bull terriers as with, for example, the ownership of firearms. Someone who breaches the conditions may not be allowed to own a firearm. Is that what the Minister is saying?

Mr. Hogg

It is impossible to establish a licensing system without bureaucracy, tests, criteria, people to administer the system, and the payment of fees. Before long there would be a statutory consultative committee, a class 1 certificate, a class 2 certificate and so forth. I understand the hon. Gentleman's point but I recoil from it, having spent many days in the Standing Committee on the Firearms Bill discussing similar questions. I certainly would not support the idea of a class 1 certificate for the ownership of a dog.

Mr. Wilshire

If my hon. Friend is looking for a definition of pit bull terriers, I can offer him one. They differ from other dogs in having jaws that lock on their victims with 1,800 lbs of pressure. Perhaps my hon. Friend could find a bureaucrat who would go around offering his arm to see whether the dog locked its jaws on him. That would provide him with his definition.

Mr. Hogg

That is a very interesting point, but it is not a definition; it is a characteristic. What happens when the dog is a cross breed which may have that characteristic, but does not satisfy any other element within the definition?

Mr. Greg Knight

Like my hon. Friend the Minister, I do not believe in excessive and unnecessary bureaucracy. I ask him, however, not to be so immediately dismissive of the point made by the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen). Of course, a licensing system exists under the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976 which empowers the district authority to grant or refuse a licence. It may not be as costly to introduce a licensing system as my hon. Friend suggested.

Mr. Hogg

I fancy that if I go on talking about imports of these animals for much longer I shall be called to order by you, Madam Deputy Speaker. Let me just say, however, that I was not being cavalier about the suggestion of the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen). In the end, we are all paid for our opinions, not for our doubts, although I can see that quite a nice little argument could be constructed along the lines suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Knight). Ultimately, we are all here to say whether we think that this is right or wrong.

I do not wish to contemplate an elaborate bureaucracy to determine whether Miss A or Mr. B should possess a particular kind of dog. That kind of control is disproportionate to the mischief that we are seeking to prevent and, as it would, in my judgment, inevitably involve the police, I have to say that I would consider it a misdeployment of police resources. I am not being cavalier. I am expressing my considered, concluded view.

Having said that—with the greatest respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North, but not wishing to trespass further on your patience, Madam Deputy Speaker—I shall proceed to the amendments. I feel that they are of some importance. There are two elements within them: knowledge and promotion. What is being suggested—although the language is not quite along these lines—is that we should make it an offence knowingly to promote the holding of a dog fight or another animal fight. For our present purposes, we would have to contemplate both.

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, South-East (Mr. Paice), who used the word "promote". I had already written the word in my notes before he touched on it. That is what we are seeking to strike at. I hope that the hon. Member for Leyton will forgive me if I say that I consider the word "advertising" too wide.

The first element that we must consider is the extent to which the activity of knowingly promoting is already covered by existing legislation. If we are merely duplicating existing law, we are wasting our time. We also have to consider whether, if we are not duplicating our provision, is right in principle and likely to get through. The hon. Member for Leyton referred to section 1(1)(c) of the Protection of Animals Act 1911, which makes it an offence to cause, procure, or assist at the fighting or baiting of any animal", or to keep, use, manage, or act or assist in the management of, any premises … for the purpose, or partly for the purpose, of fighting or baiting any animal". The word "procure" strikes me as the most apt to include the kind of activity that has been referred to in the debate. In many cases, "procure" includes promotion.

My hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North referred to word of mouth. If someone goes along to a public house and says that there is to be a dog fight at a particular junction on a motorway, that probably falls within the concept of procuring—not certainly, but probably. If an advertisement is put up on a card in a public house saying, "Come along to the annual general meeting of whatever, wherever", that again is probably procurement. The person responsible is certainly in danger of being charged with conspiracy.

That is the second point that I wanted to make. When two or more people agree to promote the undertaking of an unlawful activity, they are guilty of conspiracy. I can easily see how, in carrying out an advertising campaign to promote a particular activity of this kind, a person would be committing the offence of conspiracy. Existing law probably covers many of the activities that we are seeking to outlaw. I rely very much on the use of the conspiracy laws and on the definition of the offence in section 1(1)(c) of the 1911 Act.

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett) is right when he says that there is already considerable practical control in the hands of newspaper advertising managers. If an advertising manager received an advertisement which, on the face of it, appears to be an encouragement to an unlawful activity, it would be perfectly within his capacity—advertising managers are not naive in this respect—to say, "This is intolerable, and I will not have it in my family newspaper."

I suspect, however, that there is a residue of cases that is not covered by the existing law. Let me put that differently. Even if it is so covered, there is some doubt, and there is in any case the problem of proof. I feel, therefore, that, in view of what has been said there is some merit in looking at the law again to see whether we need to modify it.

There are other considerations, however. First—as the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) may well find—private Members' Bills are fragile vessels. If we try to put too much into them, we find that we lose the lot. A prohibition directed at promotion could be unacceptable to the national or the local press. We must construct an offence that is broadly acceptable in this place and in another place. If we do not do that, the ship will hit a rock and sink. I am therefore not concerned exclusively with the merit of what has been debated, although it is important. I am also concerned with the effect of such a change on the Bill.

I shall consider whether it is a good thing to introduce into the Protection of Animals Act 1911 a prohibition directed against an offence of "knowingly to promote". I shall explore the merit of doing that in the abstract, but I shall also consider the pragmatic argument whether the inclusion of such a change would threaten the Bill's viability. It is common ground that it would be a misfortune if, out of a sense of undue purity or ambition, we included something that sank the Bill.

11 am

Mr. Harry Greenway

When my hon. Friend considers the pragmatic aspects, will he take account of the fact that advertisements can be a valuable source of intelligence to the police and the Royal Society for the Protection of Animals when they are trying to detect when and where fights take place?

Mr. Hogg

That is an extremely interesting argument and it lives up to my high expectations of my hon. Friend. I understand that the fact that someone promotes an activity at a certain place enables the police or the RSPCA to make useful arrests. That is an undoubted plus, but my hon. Friend will accept that the activity of knowingly promoting is pretty distasteful and will result in the holding of many dog fights which will not be attended by the police or the RSPCA and, therefore, will be fights in which animals are injured. We have to make a decision on balance. There is no question about the principle. It is entirely a matter for pragmatic decision making.

If we made a change such as is proposed, I would wish to consider the views of the police and the RSPCA. To do otherwise would be foolish. I should also wish to draw attention to the argument advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway). I shall take account of his argument, but my inclination is that his argument is not so conclusive as to lead me to think that we should allow people knowingly to promote these activities if, having regard to the other considerations that I have mentioned, it would be wrong to do so.

The hon. Member for Leyton, supported by my hon. Friends the Members for Winchester, for Spelthorne, for Ealing, North and for Derby, North raised a powerful argument in favour of our considering whether we should create an offence of knowingly promoting dog fighting. We must get the definitions right. It is important to ensure that the only offence is the one which involves the necessary knowledge. There cannot be an absolute ban for the reasons that the hon. Member for Birmingham Erdington would he ready to advance. The mental element of "knowingly" must be incorporated into the offence.

We also have to take account of the pragmatic consideration of whether the inclusion of such an amendment would imperil the Bill. If it would imperil the Bill, we should not pursue it. I hope that, on the basis of such an approach, the hon. Member for Leyton will feel able to withdraw his amendment. We were sorry that his third appearance in Committee was so rudely interrupted. My recollection is that, with such a notable omission, the morning's business proceeded with unusual dispatch. The hon. Gentleman has made a serious point which I respect. It merits serious attention and he may feel that, in view of what I have said, he need not press his amendment to a Division.

Mr. Cohen

This has been a constructive debate and I am grateful for the support that the amendment has received. Some appallingly sickening examples of what we are trying to prevent have been given, notably by the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire). He is right: we are talking about big money. These are savage and barbaric activities which demand action. I take the point about my not having got the wording right. I would welcome any improvement in that respect.

Much advertising is going on. The article in The Guardian of 16 February, to which the hon. Member for Spelthorne referred and which reported bets of up to £50,000, also reported that the RSPCA said that a ring had its own magazine and videos. I hope that they would be covered by my amendment or a similar one.

I understand what the Minister said about the importation of pit bull terriers. We have three choices. First, we can ban them. They are the type of dog principally involved. Since their importation was allowed in the early 1970s, the amount of dog fighting has increased substantially. It is all very well for the Minister to say that other animals can be involved. That is true, but pit bull terriers are most commonly used. Secondly, we could license ownership, thus controlling how the dogs are used. The hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Knight) was right when he said that such a course would not be bureaucratically difficult. Thirdly, we can do nothing, in which case the fighting will continue. I have presented a Bill proposing that the importation of such dogs be banned, but I would not object to licensing. It would be quite wrong, however, to do nothing. 1 am sure that we shall return to this matter.

The hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) made an interesting and legitimate point about intelligence and the ability of the RSPCA and the police to bring dog fighters to book. The hon. Gentleman would have a point, if he was suggesting that fighting would go underground because we took action against advertisements, but it is already underground.

Mr. Greg Knight

Badgers are underground.

Mr. Cohen

As the hon. Gentleman says, badgers are already underground. We shall deal with that point later.

These activities are already underground because they are illegal. Advertising will go on as long as the activity goes on, so there will still be opportunities for intelligence. If we allow advertising, we effectively allow the fight to take place, even though it is illegal. As the Minister rightly pointed out, more fights then take place than would take place if there were a block on advertising.

I understand the hon. Gentleman's point about intelligence, but we can take a stronger line. We must keep strong intelligence networks in the police and the RSPCA, but we can take a stronger line on the advertising and not destroy the intelligence aspect. I am not sure whether that will allay the hon. Gentleman's fears, but I hope that it will go some way towards doing so.

As I have said, I am happy for the matter to be reviewed in another place. I want the wording to be right so that we catch as many barbarians as we can. I am not opposed to the use of the phrase "knowingly promote", and no doubt the Minister will consider that.

Mr. Douglas Hogg

When I used the words "knowingly promote", I was expressing a concept. I was not giving a commitment that those were the words that should be used, but they appear to be apt in respect of what we are trying to prohibit.

Mr. Cohen

I should be happy for the concept to be incorporated, and I hope that the matter will be considered in that light in another place.

The Minister said that he would conduct the review on two aspects: first, on its merits—I welcome that, because an improvement in the law would be merited—and, secondly, on the pragmatic aspect of the viability of the Bill. I understand that and, as I said in my initial comments, I want the Bill to find its way on to the statute book, However, the Minister should not be misled into thinking that the Bill is too fragile to make improvements. Strong processes can be used, and there is a great deal of support for animal welfare legislation. A sensible amendment can be achieved, as the public want.

I am grateful for all the contributions of hon. Members to this constructive debate and I hope that the Bill will achieve the change that I am seeking when it reaches another place.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

11.15 am
Mr. Greg Knight

I beg to move amendment No. 7, in page 2, line 7, at end insert— '(5AA) The Court shall have the power on summary conviction in addition to any other penalty imposed to order the forfeiture of any animal, equipment or conveyance used or found at the scene of the offence.'. I welcome the Bill so far as it goes, and I am delighted to see that, for the first time, attendance at animal rights is to be an offence. However, the House must ask itself a question. Surely, for the measure to be effective, the punishment provided by the Bill must act as a deterrent. As the Bill stands, I am not sure whether that is the case. It may be so in some cases, but I am doubtful whether it is so in others.

The House should not underestimate the scale of the problem. Only this week, I have received a letter from the RSPCA which states: You will have read recently in the Press how dog-fighting appears to be on the increase, with gambling being a huge incentive to those attending, even though they do not own dogs themselves. The RSPCA has worked, with the Police, tirelessly to bring to justice all those involved in such cruel activities. I should like to commend the excellent job done by the RSPCA, but it is clear that that is not enough, because of the deficiencies in our existing law. In my view, the answer is to give the courts more power. As hon. Members will observe, my amendment seeks to give the courts power on summary conviction in addition to any other penalty imposed to order the forfeiture of any animal, equipment or conveyance used or found at the scene of the offence. I accept that some hon. Members may be concerned about supporting my amendment. They may believe that it goes too far. They may claim that, if the amendment were approved, an innocent bystander might lose his dog, his car and all the equipment in his car. In answer to such criticism, I would say that that would not be the case. One needs to consider the Bill, particularly the suggested new section 5A of the 1911 Act, which would provide: A person who, without reasonable excuse, is present when animals are placed together for the purpose of their fighting each other shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 4 on the standard scale. The words "without reasonable excuse" would also apply to the amendment, if it were accepted. In other words, the amendment would apply only after conviction. It seeks to give the courts the power of forfeiture.

I accept that some hon. Members may take the view that this is too draconian a power and that a fine is sufficient, but, in answer to that, I would say that power is to be given to the courts, which is not a compulsory power. It will be a matter for the courts, in determining each case, to decide whether they think that forfeiture is necessary. In other words, the power does not have to be used. For example, if the court were dealing with a fringe spectator, someone who just happened upon the scene, I do not think that he would be convicted of the offence. If the court took the view that he was playing a minor part in the activity, I would not expect to see that power invoked.

Some hon. Members may ask, therefore, why I have tabled the amendment. Those who organise such events and take a positive, active part in instigating the dog fights, who are organising the show or intend to do so, deserve the most serious punishment. I take the view that the Bill does not go far enough.

The huge wealth of many of the participants was mentioned on a number of occasions in Committee. My hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Sir J. Farr) said: Many of the animals are imported from the United States at great expense or they are bred for the purpose in kennels in Britain. My hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) said that he was worried about the level 4 penalty that will he imposed. He went on to say: As hon. Members have said, very wealthy people are involved. He added that he took the view that it would be nice if some were sent to prison for long periods."—[Official Report, Standing Committee C, 24 February 1988; c. 73–75.] Many hon. Members believe that that would perhaps be going too far, but I do not believe that it would be going too far to ensure that the dogs employed in the fights were confiscated and that, if a man had turned up in his Land Rover full of equipment to set out the arena for the fight, that should also be impounded by the courts.

I am also concerned about this scenario. The RSPCA or the police may turn up at the scene of a dog fight when there are those who are merely watching events, but who have their own dogs ready to start a second or third fight after the first has ended. As I understand the Bill as presently drafted, for such persons there would be no power of forfeiture. Therefore, the amendment would strengthen and, if hon. Members will excuse the phrase, give teeth to the powers available to the court.

My hon. Friend the Minister may say that the courts may have this power already, and he may refer to the Criminal Justice Bill, which is before the House, and in particular to clause 68. That provides that, if a court has convicted a person of an offence, and is satisfied that any property which has been lawfully seized from him or which was in his possession or under his control at the time when he was apprehended for the offence … has been used for the purpose of committing, or facilitating the commission of, any offence", that property may be forfeited, subject to the safeguards that the Bill contains. Those are that the court would have to have regard to the value of the property; and (b) to the likely financial or other effects on the offender of the making of the order". However, my amendment goes a little wider than that, because it would provide that, where a person was charged with merely being in attendance at a dog fight, but it was shown that he had equipment which suggested that, at a later stage, he might be going to stage a further fight—in other words, to put on the second fight of the day—it would give the court power to order forfeiture. Furthermore, it is by no means certain that, under the Criminal Justice Bill, if I have read it correctly, that property would include an animal. By passing this amendment, the House would be making it clear to the courts that the forfeiture of an animal was intended and was permissible under the Bill's provisions.

I know that when my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Sir J. Farr) started to raise this matter in Committee, he was properly ruled out of order because, at that stage, the Committee had no amendment dealing with forfeiture. However, in answer to some brief points made by my hon. Friend, my hon. Friend the Minister said that he was not in favour of going around and, willy-nilly, giving powers of forfeiture in Acts of Parliament. I accept that, but because of the reasons that I have outlined, it is I believe necessary in this case to include such a power in the Bill, and there is precedent for so doing. The Deer Act 1980 specifically mentions a power of forfeiture. It is appropriate that we see that the courts are aware of and are left in no doubt as to the powers that we wish them to have. For those reasons, I hope that my amendment is acceptable.

Mr. Tom Cox (Tooting)

I warmly support the amendment moved by the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Knight). In a Bill of this nature it is right to define clearly what we are seeking to achieve. 1 pay the warmest tribute to the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Browne) for the introduction of this Bill. This is not a political issue. It is one about which all of us must have received correspondence from our constituents, who express deep concern at what they read about and at what is now, sadly, available on video. Despite legislation about the type of videos that can be purchased, we know that there is a market for videos of these horrendous dog-fighting activities. Sadly, cruelty is very much on the increase; we see this in all aspects of animal welfare and the concerns of those who are associated with it.

This amendment is of crucial importance. It refers to forfeiture of any animal, equipment or conveyance. Recent events give us ample grounds for being extremely concerned about the actions of our courts. The hon. Member for Derby, North mentioned some comments that I made in Committee, showing my belief that people convicted of being involved in dog fighting should be sent to prison. However, I have to be realistic, and I know about the overcrowding in our prisons, so, however warranted that may be in the eyes of many hon. Members and many members of the general public, it will not take place.

Therefore, we have to look at alternative forms of punishment. Fines are one measure, but one despairs at times of the attitudes of the courts. The hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway), who we know has a long-standing record on this issue, spoke about the price that is paid for American pit bull terriers. If people are paying that amount of money, they are hoping to recover, by whatever means, the large sums of money that they have laid out.

I understand that today, because the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) has not been selected, we shall be somewhat restricted in debating the wider issues which I am sure that many hon. Members on both sides of the House would have liked to bring up. It is crucial by important to have this point clearly defined in legislation. That is shown by a recent case involving dogs used in badger baiting. Under the Badgers Act 1973, at a recent magistrates court, conviction led to the penalty of forfeiture of the dogs that had been used. I should have thought that that would have been welcomed by those who had followed the case, by the RSPCA, and by all groups that work specifically with the protection of badgers, and so on. However, the judgment made in the magistrates court was overturned by a learned judge. He said that, had Parliament intended that people convicted under the Badgers Act should forfeit the dogs that they used in this activity, that would have been set out in the legislation. Perhaps the Minister can clear up that point.

I was not on the Standing Committee on the Bill, but one of its members was my hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy), who is not in the Chamber today but has a long history of activity in the House related to the protection of badgers. If my hon. Friend had been in that court when the case was heard, he would have said that it was most certainly the intention of Parliament when the Act was discussed and passed that the dogs being used, in that case terrier dogs, should be confiscated. There is confusion in the courts because magistrates take a certain course of action and, on appeal, the learned judge sometimes says that the magistrates' action was not what Parliament intended.

Mr. Greg Knight

The hon. Gentleman has put his finger on a specific problem. Is he aware that courts are not normally entitled to look at Hansard to see what we intended? They have to look at the Act. That is why, in the case referred to by the hon. Gentleman, this amendment would help.

Mr. Cox

I am grateful for that intervention, because it strengthens my argument. The amendment is clearly designed to leave the courts in doubt about Parliament's wishes. If the courts find people guilty of these offences, they will be clear about the kind of action that Parliament wishes to see taken. In moving amendment No. 5, my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton, in his usual warmhearted way, accepted the advice and the assurances given by the Under-Secretary of State. I hope that the House will give overwhelming support to the very important definition contained in the amendment, and that it will be added to the Bill.

11.30 am
Mr. Harry Greenway

It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox). I wish to take a slightly different path, although of course I am expected to speak to the amendment.

When I promoted my Bill, now an Act, my wish about the penalties to be imposed on those convicted of cruelty to animals—including those who promote dog fights—was for fines of at least £10,000 and 20 years in prison or a combination of both. If the Government had been prepared to accept that suggestion I would have been very happy because these are heinous crimes.

Mr. Douglas Hogg

Twenty years?

Mr. Greenway

I would certainly have given 20 years to such people and many people would give them life because of the nature of the cruelty involved. It is easy to look at the issue in a slightly lighthearted way, but it is a serious matter. It is part of any civilised society's duty to respect dumb animals and, when they are severely abused, as they are in dog fights, something serious must be done about it. I would settle for doubling the present penalties; that would make an impact.

Those who promote dog fights value their liberty more than anything and do not like being imprisoned for a long time. We know that big money is involved and that bets of £50,000 are made. I have heard of bets of £100,000. The money involved is incredible and most of it is said to be cash. If we take away the liberty of the people who promote dog fights and abuse animals we shall really hit them. My hon. Friend the Minister should bear that in mind when thinking about the punishment of those who are guilty of extreme cruelty to animals.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Knight) on his amendment. Some people have sadistic and unpleasant tendencies. If they tried hard they could curb them, but they fail to do so because they do not exercise the self-discipline that is required. Sometimes, alas, they have not been taught to exercise self-discipline and to overcome sadistic tendencies. Many of those who promote dog fights are doing it for the money. In some of the owners and in many of the spectators there is a very unpleasant sadism that needs to be ruthlessly stamped out.

The House will be aware of my interest in the welfare of horses, ponies and donkeys—equine interests. I was up early this morning and had a good ride in Hyde park on a very nicely kept horse. I enjoyed it very much and I am sure that the horse did too. That was because the horse knew that he was respected and was ridden carefully and efficiently and given clear and kind directions.

Mr. Douglas Hogg

My hon. Friend's description of his activities accords with the description of the Government Whips' approach to these matters.

Mr. Greenway

Government Whips give many descriptions of themselves, but I do not quite see them in the category of the description of my morning ride.

There are, alas, some people who will drive or ride a horse to exhaustion and abuse it very severely. Very often the owner who drives or rides a horse in that way half starves it by not feeding and watering it properly and does not give it the right sort of exercise. Such a horse may be taken out between shafts for work. It may be a rag pony. I have great respect for totters because on the whole they look after their ponies very well. However, some drive their ponies and horses to utter exhaustion, having half starved them first. Some riders do the same.

The amendment will give courts the power to take horses and harnesses from such people and, if the animals are working horses, the courts can take the cart or the vehicle that they are pulling. Such powers are admirable and welcome and could do much to clear up unrelenting beating and horse whipping and other abuses of man's best friend. For those and many other reasons I warmly support the amendment.

Mr. John Bowis (Battersea)

I shall be brief. I warmly support the Bill and welcome the spirit of the amendment. It is interesting to note that the measure is attracting amendments that seek to strengthen it. That is in the spirit of the debate because all hon. Members wish to bring in a measure that strengthens the law against people who indulge in these bestial practices against animals.

The amendment deals with dog fighting and the people who are involved with it. Involvement in dog fighting is the sign of a sick mind, but it is not an offence that a person commits on his own. It is an offence in which other people are encouraged to participate, and we have heard many of the reasons why people take part in it, including the financial incentive. For that reason, we want sentences that will stop people encouraging others to participate. There must be a deterrent to those who weakly participate in these activities.

Hon. Members have referred to the discussions in Committee and expressed preference for lengthy imprisonment as the appropriate penalty. Most of us would say that that punishment is mild and that hanging, drawing and quartering would be more in tune with what society would like. Perhaps on a mild day, we would allow those people to be hung upside down by their toes in the nearest banyan tree. Sadly, we do not go in for such measures, even for this type of bestial behaviour. We should like the penalties strengthened.

The amendment provides for additional measures. I hope that the Government will respond positively to the spirit of the amendment. Forfeiture of the animals involved must be the first priority. My hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Knight) and the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) rightly said that the animals must be clearly defined in the Bill as liable for forfeiture. The Bill should say also—I am not sure that the amendment quite says this—that any animals that are clearly to be used in any such practices should be liable for forfeiture. I accept the point made about the equipment and conveyances used. If that means that the family car is taken, so be it.

Mr. Greg Knight

My hon. Friend said that he was not sure whether the amendment would allow the forfeiture of an animal about to be used. My reading is that it would. The power is given to the court to order the forfeiture of any animal, equipment or conveyance used or found at the scene of the offence. On my understanding of the amendment, if a person were with his dog, which was in a cage in a Land Rover, that vehicle would be included.

Mr. Bowis

I am grateful for that explanation. I might go a little further, allowing authorities to visit the owners' premises away from the scene of the crime to discover whether animals there might be about to be used to commit this sort of offence.

My hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North rightly mentioned the word "found". I should like clarification on that point. Items found at the scene of the offence do not appear to have to be linked to the actual offence. Let us suppose that the offence is perpetrated in a farmyard. The farmer involved in the offence could be brought to book and fined and his animals would be confiscated. Would any equipment in the farmyard be liable to forfeiture? I ask for clarification because we need to be careful about our definitions to ensure that in deterring and punishing crime we do not take the punishments beyond an acceptable level. The courts could allow for the taking away of all the animals in a farmyard, but, clearly, we want only the ropes, equipment and animals used in the offence to be confiscated.

I am very much in favour of the amendment. I hope that my hon. Friends will accept its spirit and move more strongly against this bestial behaviour.

11.45 am
Mr. John Browne

I agree with the spirit of the amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Knight). As he said, it reflects an initiative in Committee by my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Sir J. Farr) which, sadly, was ruled out of order. Forfeiture is an important and realistic deterrent. My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) has told us that pups sell for £350. I hear that a top mature dog will sell for about £10,000. If a person waiting for his to participate in the next fight, or the one after, stands by forfeiture, to lose a dog or even two worth£10,000 apiece, even to the people who place heavy bets that would be a serious deterrent.

My hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North put forward some interesting points in support of his amendment. His point about reasonable excuse was important and interesting and he cited the Deer Act 1980 as a precedent. I understand the wish of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State—of course I entirely support him in not wishing to sink the ship—not to take too much into the Bill and arouse the counter-lobbies. It is important to give courts the power of forfeiture, and I urge my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State to be bold.

I was slightly disturbed to see the amazement that greeted the comment by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North on what he considered justified punishments. There are various grades of cruelty. After looking at just some of the photographs in newspapers such as the Yorkshire Evening Post of 21 March 1988, it would not take long for others to support me in saying that we are dealing with nothing short of torture. They are not fights: they amount to animal torture. Many hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people would strongly support the type of punishment advocated by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North. I say that in urging my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State to be bold in further investigating the Bill.

Mr. Cohen

There is a broad measure of support across the Floor of the House for a sensible improvement in the law, and 1 welcome the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Knight).

When the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) spoke about his ride in the park this morning, I thought that it would have been a ride in a horse-drawn carriage. That would he in line with class politics, the Conservatives being the party of the landau gentry—excuse the pun.

I welcome the central part of the amendment, relating to: the forfeiture of any animal, equipment or conveyance of those involved in animal cruelty, especially dog fighting. It is right that dogs should he confiscated if someone is found guilty of such offence. The hon. Member for Derby, North was correct when he said that some spectators at such fights are no doubt involved in subsequent fights—they may have their dogs on hand for the second or third fight. Those dogs should be confiscated.

In Committee, the hon. Member for Harborough (Sir J. Farr) spoke of people going by car to take part in animal fights. He quoted the example—it was repeated today—of the fight that took place on the waste land close to the junction between the M25 and M4. Such conveyances are an integral part of dog fights and I believe that it is sensible to take people's cars away as punishment. It may not be the punishment that fits the crime, but it would help to stop the crime being committed again.

I believe that there should be a consistent approach to the confiscation of animals in our animal legislation. The hon. Member for Derby, North has already pointed out that the Deer Act 1980 allowed for such confiscation. If his amendment is agreed, this Bill will allow for such confiscation. No such confiscation however, is available for badger baiting, and that is a grave loophole in the current law. I tried to move an amendment to allow the confiscation of animals to be extended to badger baiting. but that was ruled to be outside the scope of the Bill. I hope that that matter will be picked up and that the Minister will consider extending the law in that respect.

There are many examples of dogs being used for badger baiting. The National Federation of Badger Groups has given an example of the same people, using the same dogs, being up before the courts four times for illegal activity relating to badger baiting. My hon. Friend the Member For Tooting (Mr. Cox) has already said that the magistrates court tried to get the dogs confiscated, but that attempt was overturned in the county court. If those dogs had been confiscated, those people would not have found it so easy repeatedly to perpetrate the crime of badger baiting.

I appreciate that time is short, but there are plenty of examples—I could give chapter and verse—of badger baiting. One such example was recorded in my local newspaper, the Waltham Forest Extra. On 22 March 1988, that paper had an article about badger baiting under the headline On the Scent of the Badger Tormentors". That article recorded that those responsible for badger baiting just missed being caught. I have numerous press cuttings from all sorts of newspapers relating to badger baiting, as well as to the people and organisations that support measures to confiscate the dogs from badger diggers. The RSPCA has made a case against badger baiting, as has the National Federation of Badger Groups, the Derbyshire police, Cheshire county council, which has passed a resolution in that respect, the Clwyd badger group, the chairman of the west Gloucestershire police consultative committee, with the support of the hon. Member for Gloucestershire. West (Mr. Marland), and the Badger Protection Society. So there are many calls for a provision to be extended.

A cross-party early-day motion signed by a considerable number of hon. Members was tabled on 21 March this year, calling for the Government to bring forward suitable amendments to the Badgers Act 1973 and the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1987 to afford protection to badger setts as a matter of urgency. Such legislation should include the confiscation of dogs that take part in this activity. That would put it on a par with the other legislation and with the amendment.

I think that the Minister will use the Criminal Justice Bill as his main argument against extending this legislation, about which there has been a great deal of correspondence with, for example, the National Federation of Badger Groups. In a letter to the Home Office of 18 April, the federation stated: the Criminal Justice Bill (extract enclosed)"— I believe that the hon. Member for Derby, North read it out— will not, in fact, make good the lack of power on magistrates to confiscate dogs used in badger-digging offences …

Our experience has been that unless there is evidence of severe injury to dogs, the RSPCA and the Crown Prosecution Service will not invoke the Protection of Animals Act (which allows for dog confiscation). It does seem ironic that the provisions of the 1911 Act can only he brought to bear when the damage and suffering has been done, rather than at a stage when it is a foreseeable consequence of an illegal act. It seems to us that the greater the vigilance of the public and the prompter the response of the police, the more likely badger-diggers will be able to retain their dogs for continued exploitation and further badger persecution. Clearly that cannot be right, and I am sure that the House would not think it so.

I hope that the Minister and the Home Office will look again at the possibility of tightening up the law to extend confiscation. I do not think that the Criminal Justice Bill is enough. However, I welcome the amendment as another measure to combat dog fighting and cruelty to animals.

Mr. Douglas Hogg

As one would expect from the identity of the hon. Members who participated in it, this debate has been an interesting argument directed to an issue of considerable importance.

The central question that the House must decide is whether it would be right to incorporate in the 1911 Act the amendment so ably moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Knight). That essentially raises two questions for the House to consider. First, what is the existing law? Is the mischief that my hon. Friend seeks to cure adequately covered by present legislation? The second related, although different, question is whether, if the mischief is not adequately dealt with by existing legislation, the amendment is the appropriate way forward.

First, I propose to consider whether the existing legislation is adequate to deal with the mischief described by my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North. The first statutory provision that we must consider is section 3 of the 1911 Act, which provides that: If the owner of any animal shall be guilty of cruelty within the meaning of this Act to the animal, the court, upon his conviction thereof, may, if they think fit, in addition to any other punishment, deprive such person of the ownership of the animal, and may make such order as to the disposal of the animal as they think fit under the circumstances". There is a proviso to that section: Provided that no order shall be made under this section, unless it is shown by evidence as to a previous conviction, or as to the character of the owner, or otherwise, that the animal, if left with the owner, is likely to be exposed to further cruelty. Thus, there is provision in existing statute—section 3 of the 1911 Act—for the courts to deprive of ownership of the animal a person convicted of cruelty.

12 noon

The second statutory provision of which we need to take account is in this Bill, so ably introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Mr. Browne). Clause 1 greatly extends the powers of the court to disqualify a person from possessing an animal. Hitherto, save in the case of a dog, the power of disqualification arose only on a second or subsequent conviction. Under the Bill, however, the right to disqualify arises on a first conviction. Therefore, we not only have section 3 of the 1911 Act in place already, but if the House approves the Bill and it proceeds through another place satisfactorily, it will greatly enhance the power of disqualification, which will apply on first conviction in respect of all offences under the 1911 Act and in respect of all animals treated with cruelty under the terms of that Act. That is the existing law touching on narrow questions of disqualification.

Further legislation of which the House needs to be aware—perhaps the most important provision relevant to the question—is clause 68 of the Criminal Justice Bill, which is speedily proceeding through Parliament. Because it is so important, I shall remind the House in some detail of its terms. It provides: The following subsections shall be substituted for section 43(1) of the Powers of Criminal Courts Act 1973

  1. (a) the court by or before which he is convicted is satisfied that any property which has been lawfully seized from him or which was in his possession or under his control at the time when he was apprehended for the offence or when a summons in respect of it was issued—
    1. (i) has been used for the purpose of committing, or facilitating the commission of, any offence; or
    2. (ii) was intended by him to be used for that purpose.'''.
There is then a further provision, to which I need not draw the attention of the House, and the clause continues: In considering whether to make such an order"— a forfeiture order— in respect of any property, a court shall have regard—
  1. (a) to the value of the property; and
  2. (b) to the likely financial and other effects on the offender of the making of the order (taken together with any other order that the courts contemplate making)."
As the House will immediately appreciate, clause 68 has wide implications and covers almost precisely the circumstances that have exercised hon. Members' minds during the debate.

The phrase "any property" is wide enough to include animals. That point was raised specifically and understandably by my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North. A power exists in clause 68 of the Criminal Justice Bill to make a forfeiture order in respect of any animal, including a dog. Moreover—and this is very important —clause 68 replaced clause 43(1) of the Powers of Criminal Courts Act 1973. The powers in that clause covered very much the same ground, subject to one important proviso—that the power of forfeiture under the Powers of Criminal Courts Act 1973 applied only, as I recall, to those offences that attracted a minimum of two years' imprisonment. That is very interesting. Precedent has been cited already in the form of the Deer Act 1980, and it was quite right that it should be cited to the House. The criteria and considerations in place when the Deer Act 1980 was enacted have been superseded by the Criminal Justice Bill.

The Criminal Justice Bill is not limited by the two-year imprisonment limitation. When in 1980, Parliament had to consider whether a forfeiture provision should be incorporated in the Deer Bill, Parliament did not have the advantage of a general forfeiture provision available in law. The offence under section 1 of the Deer Act 1980 provided a penalty which involved a sentence of imprisonment of less than two years' imprisonment. Consequently, the powers in the Powers of Criminal Courts Act 1973 did not apply in respect of the Deer Act 1980. Therefore, to give a forefeiture power, Parliament had to build it directly into the Deer Act rather than rely on general legislation. However, that does not apply now.

The limitation on the powers of clause 43(1) of the Powers of Criminal Courts Act 1973 have been lifted and the provisions have been re-enacted in substance in clause 68 of the Criminal Justice Bill without limitation. Therefore, we can rely on the general law. That seems to put a very different complexion on today's debate.

A conviction under the Protection of Animals Act 1911, as amended by the Bill, if it is enacted, will mean that the courts will have all the powers conferred on them by clause 68 of the Criminal Justice Bill. The arguments and considerations that have been raised today are satisfied by the powers that the courts will possess under clause 68 of the Criminal Justice Bill.

Let us test that. What would happen to a dog involved in fighting? It may be forfeited, if it has survived, under clause 3 of the Protection of Animals Act 1911. However, it may also be forfeited under clause 68 of the Criminal Justice Bill, if that is enacted. What about the car which conveyed a person convicted of attending a —[Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd)

Order. It is customary for hon. Members not to intervene between the Member who has the floor and the Chair.

Mr. Hogg

I was talking about cars.

Madam Deputy Speaker

Yes. I was listening very carefully.

Mr. Hogg

If you, Madam Deputy Speaker, drove to a dog fight—I am sure that you would not do such a beastly thing—and were duly convicted of the offence, your car could be forfeited under clause 68 of the Criminal Justice Bill because it had been used to facilitate the commission of an offence—your presence at a dog fight. If you were attending the dog fight with a pack of dogs behind you that you intended to involve in that beastly activity, they could be forfeited because, clearly, you would have it in mind to use them in the dog fight.

If we test each of the questions that have been raised it seems that they are met by clause 68 of the Criminal Justice Bill.

Mr. Cohen

I am listening to what the Minister is saying, but, as I have said, there is some dispute as to whether the Criminal Justice Bill will do those things when it is enacted. If the Bill does not operate in the way that he has said, and if a situation occurs such as that mentioned by my hon. Friend the member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) where a county court rejected a request for confiscation, and if pressure for confiscation persists in badger baiting cases, will the Minister give a commitment to the House that he will bring forward legislation to give effect to what he has said?

Mr. Hogg

The hon. Member has asked two questions. First, he asked whether clause 68 will have the consequences that I have said it will, and, secondly, what happens if it does not. On the first question, as I understood the hon. Gentleman's speech, his concern was directed at badger baiting. His fear was that clause 68 of the Criminal Justice Bill would not enable the courts to forfeit a dog used for the purposes of badger baiting—or was it badger digging because there is a difference?

Mr. Cohen

Badger baiting.

Mr. Hogg

Clause 68 applies to property that is used in the commission of an offence or is to be used in the commission of an offence. Therefore, the question has to be dealt with in relation to the property involved. I do not know as much as the hon. Gentleman might wish me to know about badger baiting. I am not quite sure whether it is badgers fighting with badgers or badgers fighting with dogs. If it is badgers fighting with dogs, I should have thought that the dog, being a piece of property for the purposes of clause 68 of the Criminal Justice Bill, could be forfeited. I would not have much doubt about that. Therefore, I suspect that the hon. Gentleman's anxieties are misconceived.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether, if I am wrong on that point—all Ministers are fallible—we will do something about it. That is a different question. I am a humble Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State—at least, I am a Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State; I am not sure whether I am humble, but that is a different matter. I do not have within my capacity the ability to give any commitments about the introduction of legislation. It has to be cleared with such grandees as are sitting on the Front Bench now; Lord high Tinky-Pooh or whoever he is; I mean my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones), the representative from Whips' Office. It has to go through the usual channels. I am being flippant but it is not in my ability to give an undertaking of the sort requested by the hon. Gentleman. Therefore, I do not do so.

Is my argument that clause 68 of the Criminal Justice Bill is sufficiently wide to deal with this mischief conclusive of the matter? I think that it is, but there are one or two other points that need to be addressed, if only because my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North moved his amendment with such eloquence and achieved a great deal of support from other hon. Members.

I have already touched on the question of precedents, so I can deal with it briefly. The Deer Act 1980, the Video Recordings Act 1984 and one or two other pieces of legislation contain specific forfeiture powers. It is worth repeating that all those measures were enacted before clause 68 of the Criminal Justice Bill existed, and when the only general forfeiture powers were contained in clause 43 of the Powers of Criminal Courts Act 1973. Those powers did not arise unless the criminal offence attracted a sentence of imprisonment of not less than two years. Broadly speaking—I have not checked every particular —I suspect that the individual forfeiture power was enacted only because the general power could not be applied to the offence under a particular Act. That certainly must have been true of the Deer Act, which I had the opportunity to examine while my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North was making his speech.

12.15 pm

I feel quite strongly about the second matter. You, Madam Deputy Speaker, may feel that I argue in a very pragmatic way, but occasionally I feel strongly about things and this is one such occasion. It seems to me that in principle it is not a good idea to incorporate into legislation a lot of ad hoc provisions the criteria for the exercise of which do not accord with the general criteria applied to general powers.

As a general proposition, I am in favour of a power of forfeiture. That is provided for in clause 68 of the Criminal Justice Bill. The criteria whose consideration is relevant to the courts when exercising that general forfeiture power are set out in detail in clause 68 of the Criminal Justice Bill. I would not commend to the House or to anyone else a specific power of forfeiture which was similar in its consequences to the general power but which involved no criteria for its exercise, or different criteria, because, frankly, that would be nonsense.

The courts had better get used to dealing with the general power. They had better get acquainted with the general power which provides uniformity and consistency. It is bad business to provide a specific power which is not fettered or constrained by the general considerations. I do not like the feel of that, and that is what my hon. Friend is doing. For that reason, standing by itself, I cannot commend the amendment to the House.

There is a further small point which involves definition. I do not know what is meant by "equipment". I fancy that very few people would know what equipment was. Save in the Factories Acts, I do not think that I have seen the word "equipment" in legislation. Is a watch equipment? Neither my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North nor I can answer that question as it depends on the context. Therefore, I am reluctant to accept some of his definitions.

The power to forfeit under my hon. Friend's amendment is not restricted to those items of property which have been used in the commission of some relevant offence or are about to be used in the commission of some relevant offence. In other words, the amendment goes wide.

Therefore, taking all those things together, and pulling together the threads as I have sought to do, I am in favour of powers of forfeiture, but I believe that the legislation now in place is sufficient to meet the concern that has been expressed by the House. I am also in favour of a general, uniform and consistent approach to the exercise of powers of forfeiture, and I am afraid that the ad hoc approach adopted by my hon. Friend, though admirable in its sentiments, would defeat what I regard as a strategic objective.

Mr. Greg Knight

This has been a very interesting debate, characterised by consensus. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) for supporting the amendment. He referred to the wealth of those who pursue this disgusting so-called sport and to his desire to ensure that they are relieved, on conviction, of some of that wealth. This is probably the only occasion on which I shall support the attempts of a Labour Member of Parliament to attack the wealthy. I am grateful to him for what he said.

The hon. Gentleman quoted a disturbing case. A judge said that, if Parliament had intended that dogs should be forfeited, such a provision would have been included in the legislation. That gave us something to think about. He developed a weighty argument in favour of acceptance of my amendment.

My hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Sir J. Farr) wanted to be here today, but because of a constituency engagement he is unable to take part in the debate. I know that he strongly supports this measure, and I am grateful to him for doing so.

I am also grateful for the support of my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway), a seasoned campaigner on animal welfare matters. I am sure that the whole House was delighted to see him riding into town today to offer his support. I do not know whether his yellow socks are part of his riding garb but, like his speech, they are most illuminating.

One of the most famous dogs' homes in the country is in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis) He is aware of some of the problems, and I am delighted that he has been able to attend the debate and to offer his support. He referred to the need for deterrent sentences. How right he is. If we are ever to stamp out this vile and evil practice, the courts must have power in appropriate cases to impose deterrent sentences. My hon. Friend said that he thought that my amendment was drawn too wide and asked whether a farmer could be arrested for watching a fight on his land. He inquired whether other animals—by which I presume my hon. Friend had in mind pigs and cows—would also be confiscated by the court. That is highly unlikely. We have to trust the courts. If a court were to make such an odd order, should this amendment be passed into law, I would regard such a decision as perverse. I am sure that, on appeal, the matter would be put right.

I was delighted, too, that my hon. Friend the Member or Winchester (Mr. Browne) said that he supported the principle of forfeiture. It is his Bill. The fact that he agrees with what I said is most heartening.

The hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) was a little unfair on my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North when, as a swipe at the Conservative party, he referred to the landau gentry. As he is a Labour Member of Parliament, I have to say that I wondered whether he arrived here in a rickshaw. But we are used to his puns and I accept them, as I do his support for the amendment.

The hon. Gentleman made some interesting points about badger baiting and badger digging, which causes me great concern, as I represent a Derbyshire constituency. I am grateful for the work of the Derby branch of the RSPCA, of the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust and of a member of that trust, Mr. Varty. Together they have campaigned vigorously to try to stamp out badger baiting in Derbyshire. I wish them continued success in the future.

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett) did not contribute to the debate, but I observed him nodding from time to time. I trust that, despite his silence, his nods can be taken to mean that he supports the amendment.

My hon. Friend the Minister is a formidable advocate. I now know what he meant by his earlier reference to a hog dog. He referred to the existing law and rightly cited the 1911 Act and the power under the Bill to disqualify a person from keeping a dog. His most telling points came when he referred to clause 68 of the Criminal Justice Bill. I alluded to that legislation in my opening remarks and I am aware of the wide powers that it gives.

My hon. Friend the Minister made some fair points in that regard. I am heartened to have his assurance that the word "property" includes animals, and he made a convincing case that the present law is adequate. However, I still have doubts, not about the accuracy of my hon. Friend's speech or his points concerning the Criminal Justice Bill, but about whether the courts will use to the full the powers which that Bill provides. That is a matter which those of us concerned with animal welfare will wish to keep under review.

My hon. Friend referred also to the drafting of my amendment and to my use of the word "equipment", which he thought went rather wide. He asked whether his watch would be thought of as equipment. I would argue that it would if used, say, to time the length of a dog fight or how long it took one dog to break the jaw of another. If a watch is used for the purpose of assisting betting or the furtherance of a dog fight, it should be included in the definition of equipment; what is wrong with that? I make no apology for drafting the amendment in the widest possible terms. Dog fighting is a vile practice and anything the House can do to stamp it out and to ensure that those who participate are punished by the courts will be warmly welcomed the length and breadth of the country.

However, I am conscious of the comments made by my hon. Friend the Minister in relation to the previous amendment, when he said that private Members' Bills are fragile vessels.

Mr. Corbett

They are fragile as flagships sometimes prove to be.

Mr. Knight

I believe that this measure has the widespread support of the House and I do not wish its progress to be impeded by the addition of new clauses or amendments that are regarded in some quarters as being superfluous. I say to my hon. Friend that those of us who are concerned and who pursue animal welfare matters in this House will be keeping a close watch on the situation. If we feel that the powers available to the courts are not being used, we shall return and present other measures to ensure that the courts use those powers fully. However, on the basis of what my hon. Friend has told the House today, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Order for Third Reading read.

12.28 pm
Mr. John Browne

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

I am pleased to introduce legislation which, if it becomes law, will do something to improve the lot of animals in our country. I take this opportunity of thanking my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary and the civil servants in the Home Office and the Scottish Office, who have been of tremendous help to me in all aspects of steering through this Bill.

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has been especially constructive in his flexibility, not least in Committee, when he accepted a substantial increase in the level of fines for attendance at dog fights. He has exhibited his flexibility again today in promising to consider further the amendments of the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) and of my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Knight). One does not always find the Government and Ministers so willing to be flexible, and it is a tribute to my hon. Friend that he has been so disposed.

I thank also the Clerks of the House, who have been magnificent in helping me with procedure and drafting, and who very speedily drafted manuscript amendments at Committee stage. I thank the RSPCA for all its help, and for educating me and other members of the Committee. Some of the eduction was nothing short of revolting, but it was entirely necessary for us to understand the depths of depravity reached in these so-called sports.

I also thank those right hon. and hon. Members who have supported the Bill, especially those who served for three days on the Committee. I particularly mention the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett) who steered the Opposition so constructively, and the hon. Member for Leyton, whose long but valuable and well-meant contributions have added to the strength of the Bill.

I thank again my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, who even gave up the chance of attending the unveiling of a portrait of his father, Lord Hailsham, in the other place to be present in Committee. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Sir J. Farr) for his initiatives on the advertising clause, which led to the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Leyton, and my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Forth), who put considerable force behind the idea of increasing fines for attendance at these events. Lastly, I thank my Whip my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Mr. Durant), who—in true John Pele style—has been a compassionate guide and supporter.

We are dealing here with what some people call dumb animals. I agree that animals do not speak in conventional language as we understand it, but they are far from dumb. Animals are in the main highly intelligent, very sensitive and much more noble than mankind. Our countrymen have the name—and, I believe, the habit—of animal lovers, but cruelty nevertheless exists.

There are three basic types of cruelty to animals. First, owners may give their pets the wrong food or environment out of sheer ignorance. None the less, that is still cruelty. Secondly, there is neglect. People leave their dogs in parked cars on a hot summer's day with the windows shut. A dog, in its fur coat, is thus reduced to a state of oppression and torment. Finally, there is a grade of cruelty that I term calculated, and in many instances near to torture. Examples are animal fights and baiting, from which there is no escape. The animals experience long-drawn-out, unnatural suffering, and many are tortured unto death.

What does this awful practice achieve? Apparently, it is done for some base, bent thrill, and for money. It is quite disgusting. But not only does cruelty exist in our country; sadly, it is on the increase. Home Office statistics show that, in 1980, 809 cases were brought under the Protection of Animals Act 1911, which the Bill seeks to amend. In 1986, the figure had risen to 1,026, an increase of some 25 per cent. What is worse is that the recorded statistics are probably only the tip of an iceberg of cruelty, neglect arid torture. The RSPCA, for example, has long emphasised the amount of cruelty to animals that is extremely difficult to prosecute. For those who would like a graphic picture, to say nothing of the awful videos, I should demonstrate the picture which appears in the Yorkshire Evening Post of 21 March 1988. It is a dreadful picture and will live in the mind of anybody who sees it—and it is in black and white.

The figures for prosecutions and convictions are only a partial reflection of the cruelty shown to animals and they fail to convey the horrific nature of many of these offences. We get only a glimpse of the horror in reports of cruelty in newspapers. Moreover, there is often the compensating relief that the report is of a successful prosecution. Unfortunately, that is not always the case.

That is why, last year, I followed with great interest the successful passage of the Protection of Animals (Penalties) Act 1987 introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway), which doubled the maximum penalties which the courts may impose in cases of animal cruelty when charges are brought under the Protection of Animals Act 1911 and related legislation. Thanks to my hon. Friend's sterling efforts , the courts can now impose a maximum fine of £2,000 or a prison term not exceeding six months or both on those convicted of such offences. The Bill was a great step forward for animal welfare and I am pleased that it received the support of the Government and both Houses of Parliament and received Royal Assent.

I and other right hon. and hon. Members are worried about dog fighting and similar barbaric practices. The RSPCA and other welfare organisations share our anxiety. They are also worried by the apparent increase in other forms of cruelty to animals. I am sure that we all hope that the much needed strengthening of the courts' powers will deter many of those people who might have committed acts of cruelty to animals, and that full justice can be meted out to those who are caught committing acts of cruelty.

Mr. Rupert Allason (Torbay)

Although many people will welcome the additional penalties, surely it is the certainty of being caught that is the deterrent. One of the sources of anxiety must be the number of times that people have been caught and convicted but the courts have declined to take advantage of these severe maximum penalties.

Mr. Browne

I agree. If, however, my hon. Friend studies recent sentencing policy, he will find that the courts have taken the message from the people and Parliament and that they are being a bit tougher.

The Bill is designed to give the courts new powers, not just increased powers. Clause 2 also provides greater powers of apprehension and prosecution by bodies such as the RSPCA and ordinary citizens. I hope that there will be more prosecutions which are dealt with more strictly. I take my hon. Friend's point. I hope that those who read the Bill will read Hansard and also take my hon. Friend's point.

As seems so often to be the case, the hard work of improving matters in one area of legislation, as was done by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North, uncovers the potential for further improvements in other parts of the law. During the passage of the Protection of Animals (Penalties) Bill last year, light was shone on two other areas where the protection which the law affords animals against cruelty is deficient.

My attention was brought to the complicated situation regarding the courts' powers to disqualify people from keeping animals after conviction of an offence involving cruelty to an animal. The courts are able to disqualify a person from having custody of any animal after being convicted of an offence under the Protection of Animals Act 1911, which applies to England and Wales, or the Protection of Animals (Scotland) Act 1912, which is the comparable legislation for Scotland.

However, in most cases, the courts cannot impose disqualification, except where it is the second or subsequent conviction for the persons concerned. The only exception to that is in respect of offences involving a dog. In such cases, the courts can disqualify the person from having custody of any dog, whether or not on a first or subsequent conviction.

Upon first conviction, under either of those Acts, the person concerned can have the animal in question, which he has abused, removed from his custody, but the court cannot disqualify him from having custody of other animals. There is an exception to that. Under the Protection of Animals (Cruelty to Dogs) Act 1933, where a person has been convicted of an offence under the Protection of Animals Act 1911 or the Protection of Animals (Scotland) Act 1912, involving a dog, then, on first or any subsequent conviction, the court may disqualify the person from having custody of any dog.

Obviously, that position is muddled and unhelpful to the courts. Although there have been reservations in the past, reflected in the Protection of Animals (Amendment) Act 1954, there is now no reason whatsoever why the courts should not be able to disqualify a person from having custody of any animal on first or subsequent conviction for an offence of cruelty against animals. The Bill provides for that.

In essence, the Bill has four aims. First, as I have already said, it seeks to simplify and extend the powers of the courts to disqualify a person from having custody of any animal after having been convicted of an offence of cruelty to animals, even on a first offence. Secondly, it seeks to increase the penalties for attendance at animal fights or baits, for example, cock fights, dog fights and badger baits. Thirdly, it seeks to give the RSPCA and other bodies, and, indeed, individual citizens, powers to bring prosecutions under the 1911 Act for offences of attendance at animal fights or baits. Finally, it seeks to extend the offence of unlawful attendance at an animal fight, to bring Scotland into line with England and Wales.

The Bill achieves its effect, first, by amending section 1(1) of the Protection of Animals (Amendment) Act 1954, by removing the words which restrict the use of the power of disqualification to second or subsequent convictions and inserting words which allow disqualification after any conviction of an offence under the 1911 or 1912 Acts. Clause 1(2) provides that that change is not retrospective in its effect. If the courts are sentencing a person who has been convicted for any offence committed before the enactment of the Bill, the restriction on the power of disqualification will still apply. That reflects the age-old and vital general principle of our law that it should be possible for any person who might commit a criminal offence to know, at the time of committing the offence, precisely the penalties to which he is exposing himself.

In short, clause 1 greatly clarifies the grounds for disqualification and further strengthens the powers of the courts in dealing with those who commit acts of cruelty to animals. That change will apply in England, Scotland and Wales and it will affect organisers, participants and owners in cock fights, dog fights and badger baits.

The second major area calling for further legislative attention concerns the penalties for attendance at animal fights. Under the present law, the maximum penalty for that offence is a fine not exceeding level 1, or £50 on a standard scale.

Curiously enough, attendance is currently not even considered an offence in Scotland. Some individuals choose to use the phrase "mere attendance" and qualify this offence as somehow innocent and excusable. I do not consider attendance to be "mere", because even if it is innocent, it is likely to give the organiser of the fight more money.

Fights are big money for the organisers. In America, they make big money out of the number of people who attend these fights. Although it has not been finally proved in Britain, it is pretty certain that the same thing happens here. I have some figures and examples. A referee can be paid £1,000 per fight. We have already heard that a pit bull terrier pup is worth about £350 and that a good mature dog will fetch £10,000. We have heard of bets of between £50,000 and £100,000 at these fights. The evidence is that there is big money in this animal cruelty, and I am sure that right hon. and hon. Members will agree that it is our duty to stop it.

If hon. Members think about these dreadful scenes, they will not accept that those who attend are innocent strollers in the wood. Very few people accidentally bump into a dog fight, a badger bait or a cock fight when they are innocently out for a stroll. If the average person came across such a fight, he would be utterly disgusted and either try to stop the fight or, if he were intimidated, go immediately to the police and report the matter. Those who attend such fights are not innocent. They are there to watch these dreadful acts, and are effectively in cahoots with the organisers.

Furthermore, these people are interchangeable. On one day, A and B will be organising the fight and X and Y will be watching. The next week it will be the other way round. As my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough said in Committee, these people have plenty of cash; on the whole, they are not hard up. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Forth) said in Committee that we must remember the value of money. The fine of £5 under the old Act should, if inflation were taken into account, be some 30 to 40 times greater in today's values. It is not just the value of money that we should be taking into account but the amount of disposable income that these people have. Therefore, there is a legitimate reason for substantially raising the existing fines.

Clause 2 successfully addresses this point. It makes three changes to the law on animal fights. First, subsection (1) increases the penalty for attendance at animal fights. Attendance at animal fights in England and Wales is an offence under section 47 of the Metropolitan Police Act 1839 and section 36 of the Town Police Clauses Act 1847. The penalty under these two acts is the same—a maximum fine not exceeding level 1 on the standard scale, currently £50. As this is now thought certainly to he far too low, clause 2(1) will increase the maximum penalty under both these Acts to a fine not exceeding level 4 on the standard scale, which is currently £1,000. This constitutes an increase of 20 times and will be seen as a parliamentary effort to take action to curb these dreadful practices.

Neither the Metropolitan Police Act 1839 nor the Town Police Clauses Act 1847 applies to the area of the City of London, but an offence of unlawful attendance at an animal fight in the area of the City of London is provided for in the City of London Police Act 1839. At present, the maximum penalty is a fine not exceeding level 1, £50. The Bill was amended in Committee to add a reference to the City of London Police Act 1839, so that the maximum penalty under the Act would be increased to level 4, in line with the rest of England and Wales.

Secondly, subsection (2) of the Bill makes a further improvement to animal welfare. At present, the 1911 Act contains no offence of unlawful attendance at animal fights or baiting. The offence is, as I have explained, contained in the City of London Police Act, the Metropolitan Police Act 1839 and the Town Police Clauses Act 1847. However, only the police may bring a prosecution for offences relating to animal fighting or baiting under those Acts. This can sometimes cause great difficulties for organisations such as the RSPCA, which often initiates prosecutions for involvement in the organisation of animal fights or baiting under the Protection of Animals Act 1911.

Any person or organisation may initiate prosecution under the 1911 Act, so the Bill will rectify this anomaly and allow the RSPCA and any citizen to prosecute for unlawful attendance at animal fights as well as involvement in their organisation. However, the new offence includes a defence for a person charged, that he had a reasonable excuse for being present at the animal fight. This is essential, because we have to give proper protection to all those who may have a good reason to be present at an animal fight. I think here of people such as vets, doctors, coach drivers and firemen.

Thirdly, subsection (3) extends to Scotland the offence of attendance at an animal fight. Because the offence is identical to the existing offence of attendance at an animal fight in England and Wales, the maximum penalty provided for the new Scottish offence is the same—that is, level 4 or £1,000. The creation of an offence of attendance at an animal fight in Scotland is necessary because there has been no offence of this sort since the repeal of certain provisions of the Burgh Police (Scotland) Act 1892 by the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982.

Clause 2(4) of the Bill provides that the increase in penalties for attendance at an animal fight in England and Wales brought about by subsection (1) are not retrospective. Again, that is for the reasons that I described earlier, that a person committing an offence must be sure of, or be able to know, the punishments and maximum penalty that may be imposed upon his actions.

Of course, we must ask ourselves whether the levels proposed in the Bill are within the normal range of fines for other offences or wholly disproportionate in terms of the types of fine and punishment that we exact for other and unrelated offences. My personal view is that public opinion is as revolted as I am by such activities as badger baiting and dog fighting. One need only look at some of the videos now available of these fights to be almost physically sick. It is a sickening thing to have a dog, specially bred and trained to fight, enclosed in an unnatural area or pit so that it has no opportunity to escape. Normally, animals in the wild fight over mates or over food and such fights are usually only a skirmish. That is because one animal will give way and run off, leaving the other animal to take over. If it is a predatory fight for food, usually one animal is much larger than the other and the whole thing is over very quickly.

The activities with which we are concerned are deliberately drawn out over hours. It may take four hours to kill a badger in a badger baiting. It is abhorrent. The animal tries to do the natural thing, which is to get away. One sees on these films the people who are organising and running these fights deliberately pushing the animal back into the pit and egging on not just one dog at the cornered badger, but two and sometimes three or four dogs at once.

Dog fighting was almost eradicated in this country only a few years ago but, sadly, it is not only back but on the increase, with a lucrative trade in pit bulls imported from the United States. In order to turn back this wholly inhumane tide, it is essential that the new, stiffer fines proposed in clause 2 be implemented. Only then can we hope to strike back firmly at these cruel and thoroughly sickening individuals and their warped ideas of sport.

Clause 3 contains necessary technical provisions—the short title; provision for the repeals in the schedule; and provision for the Bill, including the repeals, to come into force two months after the day on which it is passed. It may sound boring, but I shall emphasise the titles of the Acts which will be repealed just to give an idea how wide is the encompassing power of this apparent mouse of a Bill: the Protection of Animals (Cruelty to Dogs) Act 1933; the Protection of Animals (Cruelty to Dogs) (Scotland) Act 1934; the Protection of Animals (Amendment) Act 1954; the Animal Boarding Establishments Act 1963; the Riding Establishments Act 1964; and the Breeding of Dogs Act 1973.

To reiterate, the Bill will enable a court to disqualify a person from having custody of any animal on a first or subsequent conviction under the Protection of Animals Act 1911 or the Protection of Animals (Scotland) Act 1912. The Bill will increase from £50 to £1,000 the maximum penalties for unlawful attendance at animal fights in England and Wales; that is provided for in clause 2(1). The Bill will greatly improve the ability of the RSPCA, other organisations and ordinary citizens to bring prosecutions by creating an offence of attendance at animal fights under the Protection of Animals Act 1911; that is provided for in clause 2(2). The Bill will extend the offence of attending animal fights to Scotland, with a maximum penalty of a fine of £1,000; that is provided for in clause 2(3).

It has been said many times that one of the tests of a civilised society is the way in which it treats its animals. All the signs are that our society is far from being as civilised as we would wish, judged by this test alone. Deliberate suffering inflicted on animals is a stain on the conscience of our nation. I believe that the changes included in the legislation will be welcomed by all those who are truly concerned for the welfare of animals. I therefore hope that right hon. and hon. Members will feel able to support the Bill.

12.57 pm
Mr. Cohen

I shall try to be brief since I spoke at length in Committee and my views are well known.

I again congratulate the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Browne), who has done his homework and has done an effective job in steering the Bill through the House. Like him, I pay tribute to the work of the RSPCA in combating animal cruelty. The inspectors put their lives on the line fighting those involved in illegal dog fighting and they deserve the accolades of the House. I pay tribute also to the League against Cruel Sports, which campaigns against this atrocious activity.

There is a great deal of animal cruelty. We are known as a nation of animal lovers, but that is not true. According to an RSPCA leaflet, the latest figures, for 1986, show that in the two preceding years animal cruelty had increased by more than 75 per cent. The second highest cruelty rating was in the north-west, where cautions and convictions had increased by 48.25 per cent. By far the greatest increase in animal cruelty was in the south-east, where cautions and convictions had increased by 177.8 per cent. The figures are alarming. The House must take them into account and take the appropriate action whenever it can, particularly against dog fighting, which has been on the increase since the early 1970s. Such fighting involves big money.

Part of my research when I was a member of the Committee was to look up the word "bait". I noticed from a dictionary that the word "bet" derives from the word "bait". Now betting has a different connotation and it is perfectly legitimate. Indeed, I sometimes bet on the horses on Saturdays. It is clear, however, that the word "bet" derives from the cruel animal fights that we have been describing.

I could quote all sorts of horrendous examples to the House, but I shall quote only one, from the Waltham Forest Guardian of 25 April 1986. The paper described how a bull terrier's body had been found in the grounds of a primary school. The paper stated: A dead bull terrier was found in a plastic bag in a boiler room after a dog fight in a primary school The body was still warm when the police found it. In the culprit's garden various equipment was found, including treadmills for training the dogs. The report goes on to say: Bloodstains were found around the children's swimming pool and on school tables … People had travelled from as far afield as Cheshire and Lincolnshire for the fight. That demonstrates the organisation behind such dog fighting.

It is right that we should strengthen the law against dog fighting. I agree with those who believe that those who are involved in it have sick minds. I believe that it is a Fascist activity, and the message from this House must be that it is socially and legally unacceptable. We must clamp down on it wherever we can.

I believe that the measures should apply to Northern Ireland. I have a report from the Belfast Telegraph of 13 August 1987 with the headline: "Dogfighting 'sport' on the rise, warns USPCA". Much animal cruelty takes place in the Province, and I believe that the Government are lax in not taking measures in that respect, given that they claim responsibility for in the Province. After the Bill has been passed, I hope that the Minister will introduce a statutory instrument to extend its provisions to Northern Ireland. That would be reasonable; I do not believe that anyone, including the Members representing Northen Ireland, would object. Indeed, in the past they have passed resolutions saying that they want stronger measures to be taken against animal cruelty and dog fighting.

Mr. John Browne

My research has shown that Northern Ireland already has related legislation on both issues. Section 27 of the Welfare of Animals Act (Northern Ireland) 1972 already provides for disqualification from keeping an animal after conviction for a first or subsequent offence of cruelty. The current maximum penalty in Northern Ireland for attending an animal fight is £1,000—the equivalent to level 4—and that is what we are proposing in the Bill.

Mr. Cohen

I welcome that. My general point was that cruelty-to-animals measures to combat this problem should be extended to Northern Ireland while the Government still take responsibility for the Province.

Although I welcome the Bill, I do not think that its penalties are adequate. Even so, it is good that there has been substantial improvement. Under the present law, someone organising a dog fight can be fined a maximum of £2,000, but big money is involved and that is not a big fine, given that the Video Recordings Act 1984 includes fines of up to £20,000 for an illegal video. There should be some sort of comparability.

Fines alone are not enough; other measures are needed to improve the law against cruelty to animals, particularly as it relates to badgers. If the Criminal Justice Bill does not apply to the confiscation of dogs involved in badger baiting, I hope that the House will pass legislation that does.

The Bill is a move in the right direction. It gives the right message to the public, and I speed it on its way to the statute book.

1.7 pm

Mr. Harry Greenway

I hope that the House will forgive me if I leave after speaking. I am due to lunch with some mentally handicapped people in Northolt and I am already late. However, I must speak in support of the excellent measure of my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Mr. Browne). I thank him for his kind remarks about me and about my Protection of Animals (Penalties) Act 1987, which I think set the scene for this important Bill.

The central and most important part of the Bill deals with disqualification. It has been a serious defect of our society that people have been convicted of cruelty to animals but allowed to continue owning them. It is a major achievement to have stopped that. I included such a provision in my Bill, and it has been subsumed in this one, which I welcome.

The hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) spoke of the need for much stronger penalties, as I did earlier. I hope that fines will be increased greatly if they are found to be inadequate under the Bill.

An important aspect of animal welfare is the need for children in school to be taught to be considerate to animals. That should be part of their religious and moral education, and the sad thing is that religious education is in such a weak state. Moral education is non-existent in many schools for children above the age of 14 or 15, and it is weak even before then. Many children are not taught the importance of kindness to animals. Animals respond properly to humans only if people know how to be kind to them.

I heard the other day of a 10-year-old boy who tied a banger to the tail of a cat and laughed with his friends as it ran away in terror. The cat had to be destroyed after the banger exploded and did it a great deal of damage. A boy of 12 took the claws out of a kitten.

Both boys were nice children whom I have met, but they had no idea that they had done an evil, wicked thing. They thought that it was all right and great fun, and provided some entertainment for their friends. Any civilising education in moral and religious matters would show them that that was wrong. Schools need to deal with this problem much more than they do now. It is sad to say that Britain is no longer a nation of animal lovers—but it is true. Cases of cruelty by neglect and by direct cruelty have greatly increased, as the latest report by the RSPCA has shown. We must re-examine ways of overcoming what is becoming a savage attitude towards animals on the part of many of our fellow citizens.

Animals are exploited for gain, as in dog fights, and for entertainment. People get a sadistic pleasure from seeing dogs tear each other apart. The fact that in 1988 dogs are prepared carefully to improve their fighting prowess is quite appalling. I read of the conviction of the owner of a bull terrier whose dog was reduced to a pulp by constant fighting. Its teeth had been pared down virtually to nothing and the dog had been used as a training animal in teaching other dogs to fight. That is utterly appalling.

In one case, a dog's teeth were filed right down so that it could not fight back. It was taught to be strong and powerful so that it could take the aggression and attacks of other dogs, but eventually it was subjected to one too many attacks and it broke down completely. There was blood everywhere, it had broken bones and broken jaw and it had to be put down. It is dreadful to think that that could happen today.

We know that fights take place in pubs, and a school in Enfield was cited as the scene of a dog fight in a recent conviction. There is a careful system of look-outs, and all look-outs will now be treated as spectators and punished accordingly under the Bill, I trust, although perhaps the Minister will clarify that.

I worked in schools for 23 years and I found that the best way to stop fights was to punish the spectators. If one got rid of the spectators and punished them, the fights dissolved instantly. The fact that the Bill ensures that spectators at dog fights are punished severely will be a major weapon in overcoming this wicked so-called sport.

It is dreadful that there should be so much cruelty by neglect. On some land in my constituency recently four horses were starved almost to death. Their owner did not feed them and they had only the bark of trees to eat. The owner was fined £150 and he got his horses back. The Bill will make sure that that does not happen again. If the owner is convicted of cruelty by neglect or of deliberate cruelty, the animals can and should be taken away from him for good under the Bill. I warmly welcome the Bill.

1.12 pm
Mr. Corbett

While I am happy to congratulate the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Browne), I regret the need for the Bill—as, I suspect, does he. It is a sad comment on our times, although I suppose that as people seem still to find it easy to send each other to an early grave in various parts of the world, it is not really surprising that animals should be abused by the human animal for the purposes of sport.

We know that these events are organised in great secrecy, and that is one of the problems in dealing with them. But the message that the Bill will send out today is that there will now be stiffer penalties for those organising and attending these dreadful fights and that there will be new forfeiture powers which, the Minister reminded us, are contained in the Criminal Justice Bill.

I know that the police force, within the limits of its manpower constraints, will want to respond to sustained and growing public concern over these vile events. Especially in the country and edge-of-town areas where the barbarities take place, I would expect the police, in the knowledge of the provisions, to consider seriously what further steps they can take to catch, charge and convict people acting in an illegal and unacceptable manner.

The Bill is a relation of the Protection of Animals Act 1911. Efforts are being made to build a consensus, so that an approach can be made to the Government urging them to update the 1911 Act and strengthen the protections offered in that Act, which is generally admitted to be out of date. That bid for consensus on animal welfare matters separates the pragmatists from the preachers.

There was consensus between the animal welfare societies and the British Veterinary Association, which was the basis, I am glad to say with Labour support, on which the Government were able to propose the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 which replaced the Cruelty to Animals Act 1876. On that basis of common sense, Government time was found to deal with animal experiments, and the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Bill was enacted. Many of us want a similar procedure to happen with the Protection of Animals Act 1911. I hope that the Minister, like his predecessor, will be properly responsive when the time comes.

In wishing the Bill well, and hoping that it becomes law, may I quote from the person who made the consensus on the animal experiments legislation possible? In his book "Compassion is the Bugler", Clive Hollands defines animal welfare as: dignity—according to animals the natural dignity which is due to them as living, sentient creatures. Mr. Hollands continues—perhaps these words in part sum up the purpose of this Bill— My only concern is the suffering we inflict on animals, whether it be for food, clothing, knowledge, sport or pleasure. If we could learn to respect and accord to animals the dignity which is their due as living beings, then suffering, pain and torment would end. That is what we all want to happen over fighting dogs, and those who train them to fight.

1.16 pm
Mr. Douglas Hogg

This is an important piece of animal welfare legislation. My hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Mr. Browne) has done a great service to animal lovers and to animals in the way in which he has introduced this legislation and carried it through. Winchester has every reason to be proud of its Member, and I wish the Bill well.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed.

Back to