HL Deb 18 July 1898 vol 62 cc58-61

The House resumed; and the LORD CHANCELLOR took his seat on the Woolsack.

A Bill to make further provision for the prevention of cruelty to animals, presented by Lord HERSCIIELL.


I beg to call attention to the law relating to the prevention of cruelty to animals, and to present a Bill. I need detain your Lord ships but a few moments in presenting this Bill to call attention to the present state of the law and the change which it proposes to make. As your Lordships are aware, the Acts for the prevention of cruelty to animals are at present limited to domestic animals. Now, a number of cases have arisen during the last few years from time to time in which prosecutions have been instituted with a view to checking some gross acts of brutality and cruelty, but those prosecutions have been unsuccessful because the animals were not domestic animals, although I believe that in every case the tribunal before which the case came expressed great regret that it was impossible to punish because the offences were precisely of the same character as those which were punished under the Act for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. In one case gross acts of brutality were committed on caged lions. The question was considered by the count, and although it was argued that the lions had been for a considerable time in confinement and deprived of their liberty, it was nevertheless held that they were wild animals, and not domestic animals, and therefore did not come under the Act. The other cases were one of gross cruelty to a performing bear, and another was a tame sea gull which for several years a person had tamed with such success that it would come and feed out of her hand. It followed the owner about, and was used in her business as a photographer. Now, this sea gull was brutally ill-treated, and there was a prosecution, and the court held that it was a wild animal, although she had it tamed in this way for some years; and it was held that by law cruelty could be inflicted with perfect impunity. There are other prosecutions in the case of parrots, and also a swan, which was horribly ill-treated; but the man who owned it insisted upon pursuing his ill-treatment because he knew perfectly well that he could not be punished for it. These cases are enough to show the nature of the mischief with which it is intended to deal. There has been a wide consensus of opinion that cases such as these should have the same protection as applies in the case of domestic animals. Undoubtedly it is obvious that such a Measure as this has no chance of passing into law if any attempt were made to extend it to all animals under all situations. I mean all wild animals. The Bill, therefore, proposes to deal with cases of this description by limiting it to cases in which animals are deprived of their liberty, or tamed, or kept upon ornamental waters. Those will meet all the cases to which I have called your Lordships' attention. Of course one is quite aware that if you were to extend the Bill as many would desire you would meet with difficulties in two directions. You would touch upon the region of what is commonly called legitimate sport, and you might touch upon another region in which certain agriculturists are interested. It is therefore very necessary to be careful to safeguard these provisions if it is intended to pass it into law, so as to limit it to the particular class of cases in which the evil has been found to exist, without seeking to have a general and more sweeping provision which might be more logical, but which it would be perfectly impossible to pass into law. Therefore the Bill which I have introduced at the instance of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animal's is limited in this way. I have no doubt some will find fault with the Bill in its limited scope, but I think it is better to deal with it in this way, because there is a general consensus of opinion in favour of it, and any attempt to introduce a wider Act would be certain to give rise to a great difference of opinion. I do not think, limited as this Measure is, there is likely to be any difference of opinion with regard to it. This is a matter in which it would be hopeless to attempt to legislate in advance of public opinion, and it would be very undesirable. I believe as the Bill is now framed it will not do otherwise than follow the course of public opinion, and although I cannot hope that at this period of the Session the Bill will pass into law, I have thought it desirable to introduce it in order that its terms may become public and subject to criticism, and it is possible there may be some extension of it in the spirit which I have indicated, although personally I should deprecate any attempt widely to extend its operation, for I am quite sure that the only result would be to destroy all chance of amending the law to the extent to which public opinion I am satisfied is prepared for it. I must say that on more than one occasion I have been very much impressed by the circumstances that the uncompromising and enthusiastic advocates of a cause are often more deadly foes to it than some pronounced opponents. My Lords, although I have said that the Bill is limited in its scope, I think it will cover these cases which have been shown by public opinion to be desirable, and which it has been found impossible to deal with under the present law.


I have no doubt the House will be sure to give the most careful consideration to the Bill of the noble and learned Lord. I think, however, it is trespassing upon rather dangerous ground, and I would mention for his consideration the following cases—those of bagged foxes, a deer-buck kept for the spout of the buck-hounds, and the pigeons which are shot at Hurlingham. All these three cases would be cases of animals kept in confinement, and would come under the Act of the noble Lord. I think I should recommend the noble Lord, if he goes on with this Measure, that he should refer it to a Select Committee, where it could be fully considered.


I am inclined to think that this Bill will not touch those cases which have been referred to by the noble Marquess, because in the case of the bagged fox it is not deprived of its liberty.


Not when it is in a bag?


That is the reason why I wish to avoid all questions of sport, and so it provides for them when deprived of their liberty.


I have no sympathy whatever with people who hunt the bagged fox. I hunt foxes, but they are not bogged, and I think if the practice of hunting bagged foxes were terminated it would not be regretted by any true sportsmen. I agree that there are serious difficulties, but that should not prevent us from framing some Bill which will put an end to it.


I am afraid the noble Earl is one of the extreme advocates of a cause which has been denounced by the noble and learned Lord.


I think the cruelty is just the same to the bagged fox as to the wild fox when once it is being hunted.

Bill read a first time.

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