HL Deb 29 July 1909 vol 2 cc845-51

*The EARL OF MAYO rose to call attention to the exportation of decrepit horses to the Continent, and to move for Papers. The noble Earl said: My Lords, there is no doubt that this traffic exists, and that the reason why the exportation of horses to Holland and Belgium is so large is that it is an imperative necessity for the poorer classes in those countries to have cheap animal food. The Dutch Government prohibit the transit of meat across their frontier, and the Belgian Government, by an Act passed in 1905, allow only live animals to enter their country. This is no new subject. It has claimed the attention of Parliament before. A Bill was introduced in the House of Commons in December, 1908, by Mr. George Greenwood, and supported by eleven other Members of Parliament. In February, 1908, a Bill was presented by Sir Howard Vincent, and another one just before he died in March, 1908.

But before these dates, as long ago as 1898, a deputation was received by Mr. Walter Long, who was then President of the Board of Agriculture. The result of that interview was that the Board of Agriculture issued an Order, dated November 25, 1898, regarding the prohibition of the exportation of unfit horses. That Order pro- vided that it should not be lawful to convey in a vessel from any port in Great Britain any horse which, owing to age, infirmity, illness, injury, fatigue, or any other reason, could not be so conveyed without cruelty during the intended passage and on landing; and penalties were provided if anything were done or omitted in contravention of any of the provisions of the Order. I do not wish to make any comment on that Order. I had thought that that Order would have covered everything, and I was going to urge the noble Earl to put it in force; but I am informed that it only deals with horses on board ship in the direction of seeing that they are properly treated there.

Now let me tell your Lordships what is going on at the present moment. Horses of £5 and under were exported to Belgium in 1904 to the number of 2,475, and in 1907 the number fell to 1,777. The figure in regard to Holland in 1904 was 2,333, but in 1907 that number rose to 15,719. There is a larger number of horses classified by the Board of Agriculture as of £5 in value and under shipped to Holland. This is easily explained because Holland imports these horses only for food; they are under the supervision of the Dutch police, and are slaughtered at the port of entry. The Dutch traffic compares favourably with that to Belgium. The larger proportion of the horses that are sent to Belgium are of the value of £10 and under, as many of them are worked before they are slaughtered. I make no appeal to sentiment, but will let the House draw its own conclusions from the facts.

The ports from which these old and decrepit horses, many of which suffer from horrible complaints, are sent abroad are Hull, Goole, Newcastle, Leith, and the London docks. The traffic has nearly ceased in the London docks owing to the action of the metropolitan magistrates, who have not only enforced fines but have put people in prison for dragging these wretched horses through the streets. On one occasion when an inspector of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals came up to some ruffians who were dragging a horse through the streets they fled, leaving the horse, which had to be taken away and slaughtered. I ought to mention that the Wilson Line, one of the largest shipowners in the world, carry the greatest number of these horses. A gentleman who returned from Antwerp yesterday, having been sent there by responsible persons, and who is prepared to corroborate the facts in a Court of Law, states in his report that four boats from Hull, Goole, Newcastle and Leith respectively disembark horses every Monday at Antwerp. Some are in such a bad condition that they have to be taken in wagons to the market, three miles distant from the quay; some are slaughtered on the quay; and some die on the voyage, mainly during the winter months. Before I proceed let me say that the noble Earl the President of the Board of Agriculture has all these facts before him. I am not springing anything upon him.

The following is a record taken from the report of the Antwerp Society for the Prevention of Cruelty 'to Animals, which has been signed by M. Henri Duflon, the Society's inspector who watches these boats— From January 4, 1909, to July 19, 1909. Horses conveyed from the quay in wagons: Hull boat, 86; Goole boat, 34; Newcastle boat, 21; Leith boat, 21—total 162. Horses arrived dead: Hull boat, 9; Leith boat, 2; Goole boat, 2; Newcastle boat, 1—total 14. Horses killed on quay: Hull boat, 2; Leith boat,2— total, 4. I think that those are terrible statistics. M. Duflon states that— On every Monday this year the Hull boat has disembarked horses in such a state as to need transport to the market"; and that the total number of horses shipped to Antwerp from January 4 to July 19 of the present year was—From Hull, 3,305; from Goole, 2,086; from Newcastle, 1,237; from Leith, 408—total, 7,036. That is a not unimportant trade which brings large profits to the people who deal in it. These men go round the country and when they find wasted and broken-down horses, suffering, it may be, from horrible complaints, they purchase them for very small sums indeed.

M. Joseph Moulekers, the secretary of the Antwerp Society, states that twenty per cent. of the horses arriving in Antwerp are in a lamentable state and unable to stand transport. I must now dot my i's and cross my t's in this matter, and I will therefore read to your Lordships exactly what this gentleman, who returned from Antwerp yesterday, saw. He states— The following cases I saw myself on Antwerp quay this week: Roan gelding with much swollen sore foot hound up with sacking, and stinking horribly. Dark brown mare in similar condition. Grey mare with neglected open tumour on elbow. Horse with open wound on fetlock, discharging freely and much flyblown. Horse with overshot fetlock. Pony in similar condition, and must have been so for some months. Bay gelding with bind fetlock bowed. Horse very lame through deformity of foot. Horse with foreleg bowed. He also saw a black gelding about sixteen years old, blind in both eyes, lame in both hind legs, and in an extreme state of exhaustion. Owing to blindness it had knocked itself about badly on the boat, and its head was covered with bleeding cuts. When led on the quay it walked into an iron pillar and gave itself another wound on the nose. The Antwerp officials were astonished that such an animal should have been embarked. This gentleman spent four and a-half days making inquiries as to the fate of the animals when purchased, and he asserts that beyond doubt many of them ate put to do more work. The dealers travel regularly, some of them weekly, between Belgium and Great Britain, and one man of East Dereham admitted to this gentleman that he had a slaughterer's licence. That is not fair, because, of course, men with these licences can purchase horses presumably for slaughter and can then convey them to the docks and ship them abroad. The three points which my informant lately from Antwerp wishes to emphasise are—

  1. "(1) That many sellers of old horses in England are deceived by the dealers who ostensibly purchase the animals for slaughter.
  2. (2) That in the case of about 75 or 80 per cent. of the animals shipped to Antwerp there is cruelty in England in subjecting them to the risk of being put to Further work.
  3. (3) That many of the horses I have seen arrive at Antwerp must have been suffering in England for a considerable time."
I do not wish it to be thought for a moment that I desire to interfere with the trade in old horses for food if they are sound and if the Belgian and, Dutch people choose to eat this meat; but it is disgusting to think that these diseased and stinking horses should be made into sausages.

I feel a certain amount of shame at having to mention it in public that Great Britain should permit such a horrible trade as that to which I have called attention to go on, but I have thought it my duty to bring it before this House, and I hope we shall have a satisfactory statement on the subject from the noble Earl. We in Ireland are lovers of horses. The breeding and training of horses is one of our chief industries. Two years ago I was asked to call attention to this matter in Parliament because of the gathering together of a lot of "old crocks" for this purpose on a certain field near Dublin. The attention of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was directed to the matter, but the horses disappeared and the people could not be got at. This is a traffic which is carried on in the early morning and late at night, and your Lordships can imagine the sort of low-class horse "copers" who do this work. I will not detain your Lordships longer, but will conclude by thanking the noble Earl the President of the Board of Agriculture for affording me the opportunity of directing his attention to this matter, and by moving for the Return asked for in my Motion.

Moved, That there be laid before the House a Return relating to the export of decrepit horses to the Continent in the following form:—

Number of Horses at each Port. Shipping Firm. Exporter. Whether Inspected or not.
—(The Earl of Mayo.)


My Lords, the noble Earl has gone so fully into this matter that it will be necessary for me to say very little. But as a member of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals I desire to say that we welcome the Motion which the noble Earl has moved, and that I endorse all he has said. The noble Earl gave the credit for the great reduction in this traffic at the London docks to the metropolitan magistrates, but I should like to say that great credit is due also to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, as nearly all these cases are brought forward by their inspectors. The inspectors are greatly hampered in their work because, as the noble Earl has said, these horses are often moved at midnight and in the early morning to avoid public scandal and also to avoid the inspectors. Moreover, the inspectors cannot follow the horses beyond the dock gates, as they are then on private ground. But, in spite of the difficulties under which their inspectors work, the Society have since 1902 obtained no fewer than 635 convictions in this trade alone. I do not wish to say more, but I would urge the noble Earl the President of the Board of Agriculture to provide several qualified veterinary inspectors to put an end to this disgraceful traffic.


My Lords, I must confess that since I have been at the Board of Agriculture I have been rather uneasy about this trade, owing to the unsatisfactory reports about it which have reached the Office. I honestly think we owe a debt of gratitude to the noble Earl for having brought this matter forward. The Motion of the noble Earl and the action which has been taken by the newspaper Press, by those public-spirited men and women who have spared no pains to elicit the truth in the matter, and last, but not least, by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, have enormously strengthened the hands of the Board in dealing with it, and I can assure the House that we shall make the fullest possible use of the assistance which has thus been afforded us.

I may say that this morning, with the sanction of the Treasury and the approbation of the Prime Minister, I have been empowered to obtain the services of a special veterinary inspector, who will be appointed at once, and the whole of whose time will be devoted to the enforcement of the provisions of the Order and the supervision of the work of the local authorities. This inspector will begin his work, I hope, during the present week. We have got our eye upon a man specially qualified, and I think he will make a very valuable official. The requirements of the Order are emphatic enough, but everything depends upon the manner in which those requirements are interpreted and carried out in practice. There have been cases, I must admit, in which much too sanguine a view has been taken of the capacity of a horse to travel during the intended passage and on landing without cruelty, and I am determined that these cases shall not recur. The special inspector will, therefore, be instructed to secure the adoption of a much higher standard of capacity to travel than has hitherto been the case and to bring about a uniform inspection at all the ports.

I am confident that I can count on the co-operation of the shipowners, and I am pleased to say that from no source have I received any complaints as to the way these old horses are carried when once they are on board ship. I think I may say that the shipowners have so far satisfactorily carried out the regulations as regards accommodation on board ship. We shall also press upon the local authorities the necessity of employing an increased number of veterinary inspectors for the purpose of enabling them to enforce the Order; and our own inspectors will be instructed to take more frequent voyages in order to see for themselves the condition of the horses on arrival. I hope the House will see that we are in absolute earnest in this matter, and I am hopeful, indeed confident, that the measures we have taken will secure the required result. If not, I shall be prepared to ask Parliament for further powers. In conclusion I may say, not only on behalf of my own Office, but the whole Government, that we are determined that nothing shall be done to impair the reputation which this country happily enjoys throughout the civilised world for its humanity and sense of what is right in all matters in which animals are concerned. I shall be glad to give any Papers that we possess.


My Lords, the answer which the noble Earl has just given is, in my opinion, very reassuring. I set great importance upon more veterinary inspectors being appointed, and the further statement of the noble Earl that if the steps he has now foreshadowed do not achieve the desired result he will ask Parliament for further powers is absolutely satisfactory.

On Question, Motion agreed to, and ordered accordingly.