HC Deb 08 July 1988 vol 136 cc1357-68

Lords amendment: No. 1, in page 1, line 27, at end insert—

"Advertising of animal fights 5B. If a person who publishes or causes to be published an advertisement for a fight between animals knows that it is such an advertisement he shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 4 on the standard scale.

1.36 pm
Mr. John Browne (Winchester)

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd)

With this, it will be convenient to take Lords amendment No. 2.

Mr. Browne

Madam Deputy Speaker, you may remember that the Bill was introduced into this House on 28 October 1987, was given a Second Reading on 11 December, and spent some three days in Committee, finishing on 24 February of this year, and one day on Report, receiving its Third Reading on 27 April. In the other place, it was given a First Reading on 25 April, a Second Reading on 23 May, the Committee stage was on 8 June, Report was on 16 June, and the Bill was given a Third Reading on 27 June. It is now before us for consideration of Lords amendments.

I shall—I hope, helpfully—outline to the House the main points of the Bill.

Clause 1 enables a court to disqualify a person from having custody—not merely the ownership but the custody—of any animal upon first conviction under the Protection of Animals Act 1911 or the Protection of Animals (Scotland) Act 1912.

Clause 2(1) increases the penalties for unlawful attendance at animal fights in England and Wales from level 1, which, is £50, to level 4, which is £1,000. That is a 20 fold increase in fine.

Clause 2(2) extends to any individual or group such as the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals authority to prosecute those unlawfully attending animal fights. That clause is terribly important. It opens to the RSPCA and to any individual the ability to bring such prosecutions which, previously, were limited to the police under the three mid-19th century police Acts. It is a great opening up of the power of the individual citizen to start to hammer people engaged particularly in attending such events as animal baits and animal fights.

Clause 2(3) creates the offence of unlawful attendance at animal fights in Scotland.

The two Lords amendments, taken together, make it a specific offence knowingly to advertise an animal fight.

To be helpful, I shall retrace some of the background to the Lords amendments. Right hon. and hon. Members may remember that, in an amendment tabled during the Commons Committee stage, it was proposed that the advertising of animal fights should be made an offence. There was general sympathy for the intention behind the amendment, but it was thought that such advertising might already be covered by the provisions of the Protection of Animals Act 1911. My hon. Friend the Minister undertook to consider the matter further, and, on that basis, the amendment was withdrawn.

Subsequently, it became apparent that advertising, when the advertiser was also the organiser, was covered by the term "procure" in section 1(1)(c) of the 1911 Act, which makes it an offence to cause, procure, or assist at the fighting or baiting, of any animal". Advertising by a person otherwise unconnected with the fight, however, is too far removed from the fight to constitute procuring and may thus not be an offence under existing law.

The introduction of a new offence to cover such advertising was not a straightforward option. For instance, it would not be acceptable unless it included the defence that an advertisement was placed unknowingly. As the House knows, advertisements in newspaper are often couched in veiled terms. It was also necessary to consider whether there were likely to be many advertisers not directly involved in the organisation of fights who would nevertheless have sufficient knowledge of the nature of the advertisement, despite its being in veiled form, to be guilty of knowingly advertising a fight. Given also that such an amendment at that stage might have prejudiced the progress of the Bill, it was decided to proceed no further at that time.

On Report in this House, an amendment was again moved to include an offence of advertising. It became clear that the term "advertising" was intended to mean the relaying of information by any means, from word of mouth to advertisement in newspapers and journals, usually subtly disguised. Advertisements for books describing the illegal activities of animal fighting or baiting, and editorials describing such fights in detail were also mentioned as possible targets for a new offence, as was any material which might encourage animal fighting by publicising it. It was suggested that the amendment should aim to make it illegal to promote animal fights.

In the light of that debate, my hon. Friend the Minister agreed to reconsider whether a suitable form of words could be found for a new offence which would adequately reflect the essence of the concern of hon. Members. The matter was referred to parliamentary counsel, who advised that the general law of incitement should already be sufficient to deal with persons orally encouraging others to attend animal fights and to cover written advertisements. Nevertheless, it was decided that as there were already numerous specific statutory provisions dealing with unlawful written advertisements, it would be inappropriate for an offence of advertising to be included in the Protection of Animals Act 1911.

The Lords amendments' which were moved in Committee in another place, include the words: knows that it is such an advertisement". In the case of a coded advertisement, it would be for the prosecution to produce evidence to establish that the advertisement was related to animal fighting and would have been so understood by devotees of that activity. Those amendments were welcomed and agreed by the Committee in another place on 8 June.

One point should be brought to the attention of the House before a decision is reached. Such advertisements, even in coded or veiled form, are often used by the police and the RSPCA as a form of intelligence to discover where offences are likely to take place. Having reviewed the situation and reflected on the matter, I am persuaded on balance, that the Lords amendments should stand. I therefore support them and urge the House to accept them.

1.45 pm

I am greatly pleased by the reception given to the Bill from all quarters of both Houses of Parliament. I have received a large amount of mail in support of the Bill—not just from my constituency but from throughout the country. It all shows that there is enormous goodwill towards animals and a very great deal of concern for animal welfare in our country. That concern has been reflected in Government legislation, in the Scientific Procedures Act 1986; the Pet Animals (Amendment) Act 1983 and the Protection of Animals (Penalties) Act 1987. We have also seen the passing of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1980. Furthermore, we have seen the Government support a large number of private Members' Bills on animal protection and welfare. All that goes to show that what is felt generally in the country is in fact being reflected by legislation in the House, not only from private Members but from the Government.

Having said that, I regret the need to bring in such a Bill. Why does animal cruelty exist in our country, to the extent that such legislation is necessary? What is worse, cruelty is actually on the increase.

There are three types of animal cruelty. The first is brought about by ignorance, when people either feed or keep an animal or pet in conditions that are effectively cruel, but they just do not see it. Secondly, there is the cruelty brought about by negligence, such as when people leave a dearly loved pet dog in a car park, in the summer sunshine, in a motor car, with all the windows closed. It is cruel, but people are just neglectful. This is particularly important because more and more pets are now being kept and therefore cruelty, whether it be by ignorance or negligence, has to be watched.

Here, we are dealing with the third type of cruelty, which is quite deliberate and calculated. It stems from two main attitudes. One is an attitude of carelessness for the feelings and suffering of animals. The other, which is much more serious, is from a warped sense of enjoyment at the degradation and repulsive torture of animals. It is something quite outrageous when one considers that we think of ourselves as a nation of animal lovers, which in general we are. It might involve a relatively small proportion of the population, but it is so disgusting that legislation is necessary to stamp on it, and to stamp on it hard. I am thinking particularly of things such as animal fights involving cocks or dogs, and badger baiting.

It is true that many animals fight and even kill in the wild—usually over mates, over food and over hunting territories, but the loser of one of those contests is either pretty rapidly killed or can run away. In an animal fight or in a bait, the loser cannot run away—there is no question of retreat. The animals are put in a pit or in a ring, and it is this natural instinct of the one who is defeated to run away, often without any blood lost that is totally eliminated in a dog or cock fight, or in a badger bait.

Animals also fight and kill in the wild, in order to eat. Usually this event is quick. The predator is usually either much larger or much more efficient in terms of its killing ability than its prey, and the death is usually fast. Unfortunately, in animal fights—particularly with dogs and badgers-—deaths are long and drawn out; usually about four hours. Often, the badger has not just one but two or three dogs put against it, and when one of the terriers gets wounded, a fresh terrier is put in, to keep the number up. It is the most galling sight that you will ever have seen, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is revolting. Worse still, it is on the increase. Indeed, the RSPCA experience shows that it is on the increase. Prosecutions brought under the 1911 Act have risen by 25 per cent. in the past six years, and 5 per cent. of those convictions were such bad cases that the individuals concerned were put into custody immediately. I fear that this is only the tip of the iceberg: for every person prosecuted and convicted, several more probably go unseen. The import of pit bull terriers from the United States, bred specifically for dog fighting, is also a very sinister sign of the need for the legislation.

During my researches, it was suggested to me that ready cash bets for as much as £100,000 are being put on dog fights, that a mature pit bull terrier sells for £1 0,000, and that there are indications that drug money is finding its way into these illegal fights. I have to say that I have seen no proof of that. However, given that money plays a significant part in dog fights in the form of heavy betting, given that those who take part in their organisation or attend them are the type of person likely to be involved in other crimes and given that illicit drug dealing is currently one of the more prevalent types of moneymaking crime, it is perhaps to be expected that a proportion of the money directed towards animal fights should derive from drug dealing. I should therefore appreciate it if my hon. Friend the Minister would agree to alert the police forces at least to keep a weather eye open for the phenomenon.

We all know that private Members' Bills are very delicate and are easily killed at any of their 11 stages. I have been very lucky not only to have drawn the 12th position in the ballot but to have been given four days of parliamentary time in this House alone, and to have had the support of hon. Members on both sides. I should like to close by thanking my sponsors, who came from all the major parties, and the members of the Committee, who gave up three days of their time without any Government whipping. I see that my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Forth) is present. He made some valuable contributions in Committee in helping to get the fines increased, and I am grateful to him for that. I also thank Lord Houghton of Sowerby, who, as you know, Madam Deputy Speaker, is a very experienced parliamentarian. He took on and piloted the Bill in another place in a very professional, skilled and charming manner.

I thank right hon. and hon. Members and noble Lords in all quarters of both Houses for supporting the Bill, the civil servants from the Home Office and the Clerks Department for their help and advice, and, of course, my Whip, my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Mr. Durant). Last but not least, I thank my hon. Friend the Minister, who has been not only constantly helpful but creatively flexible. As you know from your experience on the Back Benches, Madam Deputy Speaker, for a Minister really to listen to Back-Bench feeling, to accept amendments put forward when the Government have had a pretty solid line and to start to mould Government opinion on his feet from the Front Bench, is not altogether common in this place, and should be mentioned. Such creative flexibility should not be taken for granted: it reflects the confidence of an hon. Gentleman who is right on top of his job, and the House and the nation should be grateful for it. Finally, I thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, your fellow Deputy Speakers and the Chairman of the Committee for all the patience that you have exhibited.

The Bill has shown all quarters of both Houses at their best in Parliament. It has also shown Government at their best—in other words, willing to listen to Back-Bench opinion and to make adjustments to their planned course. The Bill has taken a considerable amount of parliamentary time, and has been steadily improved throughout its passage—as I think it will be today by the acceptance of these amendments.

I urge the House to accept the Lords amendments and to commend the Bill humbly to Her Majesty for Royal Assent.

Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)

The House can say, "Well done" to the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Browne). After today, I very much hope that the Bill will reach the statute book. I have been working to improve it all along the way. It could be said that I have dogged the promoter all along the way. I do not know whether that is the right word. Perhaps, on this issue only, I have been a faithful friend in ensuring that the Bill reaches the statute book.

As we are discussing dogs and dog fighting, I am very pleased that my hon. Friend the member for Barking (Ms. Richardson) is in her place. I hope that the House will excuse my poor play on words at the beginning of the debate.

Ms. Jo Richardson (Barking)

If my hon. Friend allows enough time, we will get on to donkeys and asses as well.

Mr. Cohen

I take my hon. Friend's intervention as a reprimand for being so asinine and I apologise for that.

I thank the sponsor, and I also thank the Minister for his commitment to review the amendment that I tabled at an earlier stage. He was most helpful and constructive in getting it incorporated into the Bill in another place. He gets my accolade and my support when he is helpful and constructive; I only wish that he was more helpful and constructive on other issues. He is not, not because of any personal defect, but because of his own narrow party political interests. However, in this case I congratulate him on getting into the Bill my amendment making knowingly to promote a fight between animals an offence. He was concerned as he thought that the Bill was a fragile vessel, but I am pleased to say that he got it in and the Bill is still afloat.

The amendments are an improvement to the Bill and close an important loophole. The amendments would make it an offence to know that it is such an advertisement". There is still the excuse of not knowing. The publisher of such an advertisement could say that he did not know that it was such an advertisement. Clearly it would be for the courts to decide whether the publishers knew. In many such instances there would be a pretence by the publishers of such advertisements. They might claim that they did not know, when really they were not too bothered, and were more interested in taking the money for the advertisement. In most cases they will have known but it will be for the courts to decide the extent of their knowledge.

The amendments deal with a person … publishing or causing to be published an advertisement for a fight between animals". If the person who actually published the advertisement did not know that it was such an advertisement, it will be the duty of the police to find the person who initiated the advertisement and caused it to be published, as, under the amendments, that person will be guilty of an offence. Even if the person publishing the advertisement was duped, under the amendments the person behind the advertisement should be taken to court.

The newspaper publishers and the freesheets which contain such advertisements should be more aware of them and not accept them.

2 pm

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

What about the level of fine?

Mr. Cohen

I am just coming to that. The Bill says that a person shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 4 on the standard scale.

Mr. Skinner

That is £1,000.

Mr. Cohen

That is right. It is an appallingly low fine, especially since the RSPCA has reported that sometimes a bet of £50,000 can be put on an animal or dog fight. When one is talking about such large amounts of money, £1,000 does not seem an adequate fine. The inadequacy of the fine also applies to those who organise the fight. They should be hit really hard and sent to prison for a long time. However, at least it is the first step on the ladder. I hope that in future we will increase the fine for people who knowingly take part in advertising such fights.

Mr. John Browne

The hon. Gentleman said "take part". It should be emphasised that the participation and organisation of such fights is subject to a fine of £2,000 and/or six months' imprisonment.

Mr. Cohen

That is absolutely right. I was referring to those who take an active part in advertising such fights.

On 22 April in columns 1103 and 1104 of Hansard I referred to "formal advertisements" appearing in magazines such as Shooting News and Weekly. Since then I and other hon. Members have received a letter from that magazine, which is concerned about what I said at that time. I am considering the letter and will give a proper response. I acknowledge that the magazine has not contained "formal advertisements" recently. Perhaps I should have been a little more careful when choosing my language. Perhaps I should have said that the adverts were more informal, offering encouragement to those who take part in animal fights.

In column 1104 I quoted an advertisement that appeared in Shooting News and Weekly on 6 December 1985. The advertisement was for a book entitled, "Badger Digging with Terriers". It contained information on how to hunt badgers with dogs, an activity that is banned under the law of the land. The book clearly encourages that activity and that was a genuine point to make.

That advertisement was taken to the magistrates court, but the case was lost. The people who initiated the case ran out of money and could not take the matter further. According to the magistrates it was a book on a historical activity and dealt with badger baiting in the past. That was a feeble basis for the decision. If someone published a book on the history of child pornography and used it as an excuse to show child pornography or published the history of terrorism and showed how to make bombs or how to become a terrorist, the House and the courts would move in quickly and say that it was not appropriate. It was therefore wrong for that decision to be made about that advertisement. It will indirectly allow people to advertise animal fights.

The amendments close a gaping loophole. Mention was made in a previous debate of an Order in Council. I know that this legislation will not apply to Northern Ireland, but I hope that that will be corrected by an Order in Council. I do not know what can be done about verbal advertising in public houses of where dog fights will take place. I hope that the problem will be tackled by future legislation. If people are paid to advertise dog fights we must introduce legislation to tackle that problem.

I welcome the Bill, but we will need more Bills to tackle the extensive level of cruelty in this country. We also need Bills to abolish blood sports, the murderous season of which is in full cry. I hope that the House will consider badger baiting, hare coursing and fox and stag hunting in the future and introduce bans on those activities. I shall certainly try to introduce legislation to impose an unequivocal ban on all hunting with dogs.

There is a connection between fox hunting and dog fighting. We are all united against dog fighting, but too many Conservative Members support fox hunting. Those who take part in fox hunting are upper-class vicious thugs but those who take part in dog fighting are the rural-working class—but only a stratum of it that is trying to emulate the upper-class thugs. In many cases, the working-class thugs are linked to the hunt and get a bit of extra murderous pleasure from dog fighting. One problem cannot be tackled without tackling the other, which is why we must get rid of fox hunting.

Ms. Mildred Gordon (Bow and Poplar)

Does my hon. Friend agree that reports of the royal family's children being blooded with the brush of the fox are offensive to everybody who cares about the welfare of animals?

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. I should be obliged if the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) would refer to the amendments.

Mr. Cohen

My hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Poplar (Ms. Gordon) makes a good and genuine point, which I fully support. I do not intend to say any more on that point, unless my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) wants to question me about it.

Mr. Skinner

I do not know how far the Bill extends. I am occupying what used to be known as the Liberal Bench—

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. I should be obliged if I could see the hon. Gentleman's handsome face.

Mr. Skinner

You are a friend of mine, Madam Deputy Speaker, and you sat on the NEC. Who knows, you might be putting up for the top job. You might be doing a bit of canvassing, similar to the letters from the Whips that I have received recently.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) remembers that there used to be dog fights between the leader of the SDP and the leader of the Liberal party. Are they included in the Bill?

Mr. Cohen

Unfortunately they are not. They are not in alliance now, but those dog fights are still going on. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for drawing the House's attention the other day to the fact that it is no longer an alliance party and that they are not now entitled to the Supply days that they previously enjoyed. The Supply days have gone to the Ulster Unionists.

The Bill does refer not to my hon. Friend's point, but to the most serious and heinous crime of dog fighting, which is substantially on the increase. It needs to be stamped out in the most consistent and effective way. The Bill is a step towards that aim. More steps will be needed. Nevertheless, I welcome the Bill.

Mr. Greg Knight (Derby, North)

I warmly welcome the Lords amendments. I know that they will also be welcomed by the Derbyshire Wildlife trust and the Derby branch of the RSPCA. I part company from my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Mr. Browne) who said that the Bill had received support from all sides of the House. It is worth mentioning that not one SLD or SDP Member has bothered to attend this important debate. They are conspicuous by their absence.

Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill)

I think that the hon. Gentleman needs a pair of spectacles.

Mr. Knight

I apologise to the hon. Gentleman, who has just wandered into the Chamber and who—

Mr. Alton

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Knight

If the hon. Gentleman will allow me to finish this point I shall then give way. He was not present during our consideration of the Bill, but I am aware that he flitted in and out earlier, no doubt with an eye on his own Bill that is set down for debate later today.

Mr. Alton

The hon. Gentleman should not make remarks like that unless he can justify them. I have been in the Chamber for most of the morning and I listened to many of the contributions—most of them fascinating but many of them pretty irrelevant.

Mr. Knight

The hon. Gentleman is an expert in what is irrelevant. He has only just walked into the Chamber. He has taken no interest in the Bill, nor have any of his colleagues. I hope that he will decide to remain in the Chamber and listen to the rest of the debate.

Mr. Alton

The hon. Gentleman was not in the Chamber earlier when my hon. Friend the Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) introduced his very important Bill that provides for freedom for information and access to medical records. I am sorry that he was not present for that debate.

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. I must ask the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Knight) to refer to amendments Nos. 1 and 2 that we are now debating.

Mr. Knight

The hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) has confirmed my view that he is ignorant of many of the issues that have been discussed in this Chamber.

Mr. Skinner

Will the hon. Gentleman give way, just for a moment?

Mr. Knight

Yes, provided that it is to make a relevant point.

Mr. Skinner

Yes, it is. I have a sneaking suspicion that at the end of the debate the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) will trot out of the Chamber to speak to the BBC and LBC—

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. That is not at all relevant to the amendments that we are debating. I must ask the hon. Gentleman to resume his seat.

Mr. Skinner

All I want to say is that the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill has intervened three times. If any hon. Member is filibustering, it is he.

Mr. Knight

I am sure that you would not permit me, Madam Deputy Speaker, to respond to that point. But I have noted what the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) said, and there is something in it.

The amendments passed by another place correct a flaw in the Bill. They catch those who knowingly advertise such functions, but I want my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester or my hon. Friend the Minister to answer two points.

I listened attentively to the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) who said that he hoped that on some future occasion we would deal with legislation to catch the person who advertises dog fights by word of mouth. I have looked in the Hansard of another place, which I shall paraphrase as you, Madam Deputy Speaker, would rule me out of order if I quoted it. The peer who moved the amendment said that it would include the written word, the poster, the leaflet, the flyposter and the oral communication. I am somewhat confused by the comments of Opposition Members, and I now wonder whether the amendment covers oral communication. If it does, we shall need to take care.

2.15 pm
Mr. Cohen

As I read it, the amendment does not cover oral advertisement—the more is the pity in many respects. I referred to it because I think we need to come back to that at some future date, especially if someone is paid to advertise dog fighting by word of mouth

Mr. Knight

When reading the Lords amendment, I believe that a layman would come to the conclusion that we are talking only about a written advertisement, because it refers to publishing. However, the "Shorter Oxford English Dictionary" defines publication as: The action of making publicly known; public notification or announcement". There is no mention of its having to be in writing.

In view of the comments made in another place, will my hon. Friend the Minister, or my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester say whether the amendment catches the oral advertisement? I am thinking of the example of someone in a public house, who, when discussing various matters occurring in the community, says to someone else, "There is a disgusting dog fight at Skinners farm on Saturday at 12 o'clock." Would that fall within the scope of the Bill? According to what was said in another place, it would; yet from the comments of the hon. Member for Leyton, perhaps it would not. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister can answer that point.

Mr. Eric Forth (Mid-Worcestershire)

Has my hon. Friend considered the other possibility, which I do not think has been mentioned? Someone, either by post or verbally, might say, "Do not attend this disgraceful meeting where dog fighting will take place." Will that come under the scope of the amendment? The person would ostensibly be saying, "I am an animal lover, I urge you not to go to this event because it will harm animals." If such behaviour were included, it would cause some difficulty.

Mr. Knight

My hon. Friend has touched on the point that I am coming to. The amendment refers only to publishing or causing to be published an advertisement for a fight. It does not say that one has to exhort the public to attend. There is a severe danger that animal welfare groups telling people not to go to a dog fight, or people who oppose dog fighting having a discussion in a pub could be considered to be advertising that event. The House needs some reassurance that a person who opposes this vile practice, and is merely telling friends or colleagues not to attend, will not end up in court charged with an offence. Apart from these two areas of concern, I warmly welcome the amendment.

Mr. Robin Corbett (Birmingham, Erdington)

I welcome the Bill back to this place, and congratulate the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Browne) and the all-party sponsors, who will be especially pleased and flattered by the presence of the illustrious and hon. Gentleman, the Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones). He is known throughout the length and breadth of these islands as one of the strongest supporters of this Bill, given his well-known support for anything to do with animal welfare.

The amendments are important. They strengthen the armoury that the Bill seeks to provide to try to stamp out this vile and evil practice to get at those who advertise these events or cause them to be advertised and also those who take part in them. I want to echo a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen). Although a person who causes an advertisement to be published—I take that to be someone who walks into a newspaper or magazine office and puts an advert in coded form across the counter—may be caught by the Bill, I hope that no publishers, editors or advertising managers of newspapers or magazines will use that as an excuse to be casual or careless about accepting advertisements.

I was a journalist for some years and I think that all those concerned with the preparation, publication and distribution of newspapers and magazines have a responsibility to ensure that if they are not absolutely clear about the purpose of an advertisement, they should not publish or accept it until its purpose has been clarified. If prosecutions are brought against publishers, editors or advertising managers under the Bill. I hope that no court will be impressed by the defence that those people did not understand what the advertisement was about or that it seemed like a bit of a joke at the time. That would be irresponsible in the extreme.

I have no reason to believe that that happens, but in this narrow area of publishing one is justified in holding the suspicion that there are people in publishing who know what is happening and do nothing about it. On the back of some money which a publication may receive, those people may accept advertisements which the Bill will rule out.

We are concerned with a vile, disgusting and degrading sport, not only for the dogs and other animals concerned, but more importantly for the adults who take part. God only knows what effect that must have on them and their families. I hope that the amendments are accepted.

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

I entirely agree with the concluding remarks of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett). He is quite right to say that this is a violent and degrading sport, most particularly for those who participate. It is the kind of thing that is unworthy by any definition of that word

Against that background, the House would want to congratulate and thank my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Mr. Browne) on several counts. The first is his perceptive and very generous remarks about me. That seemed to show him to be a very clear-sighted Member of the House of Commons. On behalf of the whole Government Front Bench, I thank him for his comments.

I suppose that one should also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester for introducing the Bill. We must get our priorities right. Therefore, he is to be thanked first for his kind words and then for introducing his Bill. He is also to be thanked for his very clear explanation of the purpose behind the Bill and his explanation of the genesis of the amendments.

My hon. Friend raised the question of a connection between drug money and dog fighting. I am not aware that dog fighting has been used as a method for laundering drug money. I am not aware of any police report to that effect. However, if there is any evidence of such a connection, I would expect that to be brought to my attention and, because of the interest of my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones) in this matter, I will bring it to his attention also.

On behalf of the House, I should say that we are indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester for introducing the Bill and we are also indebted to the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen). I frequently disagree with the hon. Gentleman, as he is aware. However, he has been a powerful exponent of the argument to extend the Bill to include the concept of knowingly to advertise. There is no doubt that he played a prominent part in Committee, when he was able to attend. I make that point because although the Committee met three times, he was unable to attend on one occasion because of an unhappy incident in the Chamber; he was unable to be present because of Mr. Speaker's ruling. However, the hon. Gentleman has been prominent in bringing a gap in the law to the attention of the House and it is right that we should acknowledge what he has done.

There is a range of existing statutory and common law offences which touch on the issue, such as the offences of procuring, inciting and conspiracy, but it is highly desirable that we should introduce a specific statutory offence to deal with advertising. That is why the Lords agreed to the amendments, which I commend to the House.

The position of a publisher has always been difficult in law. The question is whether the offence should be absolute or require proof of knowledge. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett) and I share the view that it is essential that the act of knowingly publishing should be rendered criminal. It should not be an absolute offence and that is why the Lords amendment was drafted in its present form. The proof of knowledge is an essential element in the commission of the offence and I hope that. that will reassure the newspaper industry and others who will come within the scope of the Bill.

Mr. Corbett

I agree with the Minister, but I hope that he will take on board my point that none of that absolves the publisher, editor or advertising manager of publications from ensuring as far as possible that they understand the nature of the advertisement that they are publishing.

Mr. Hogg

I entirely agree. I was going to make that point because, as a number of hon. Members have said, some advertisements are of a veiled kind. It is certainly the responsibility of an editor to scrutinise carefully advertisements that are capable of giving a message of the kind that we wish to strike at in the Bill. The Lords amendment will not only prohibit express advertisements, which are obvious, but will oblige editors and sub-editors to look more closely at the veiled advertisements, which might carry a similar message.

My hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Knight) asked two questions, in his perceptive and challenging way, one of which causes me some concern. I shall deal first with the one that causes me no concern. My hon. Friend asked what would happen if a person sought to advise others not to attend a dog fight and, in so doing, mentioned the existence or prospective existence of a dog fight. I have a number of answers to that. First, I doubt whether that would fall within the scope of the Bill. Secondly, there is always discretion about whether to prosecute, and, thirdly, if a court believed that a person was acting for the reason that my hon. Friend has described, an absolute discharge would be the appropriate penalty, even though an offence had been committed.

As for whether the publication needs to be in writing or can also be oral, my present feeling is that a publication must be in writing, but other forms of advertisement will be covered by the other kinds of offences that I have described.

We are dealing with an important amendment, which aims to meet a particular problem. For that reason, I commend it to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Lords amendment No. 2 agreed to.

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