HL Deb 19 May 1909 vol 1 cc1080-5

had a Notice on the Paper, "to call attention to the overtaxing of contractors' horses in the streets of London." The noble Lord said: My Lords, as there is a great deal of important business before the House this evening I will get through what I have to say as quickly as possible. I do not altogether like the wording of the Notice as it appears on the Paper. The word "overtaxing" just now has a rather sinister sound. The word I had suggested was "overfacing," which I thought was fairly well understood, but I was informed at the Table that if I used that word hardly anybody in your Lordships' House would understand what I meant. I therefore altered it to overtaxing.

I was led to put this Notice on the Paper by what has been going on now for some time on the site of the old War Office, which building is being removed for the new premises of the Automobile Club. The site belonged to the Woods and Forests Department, and the old buildings were sold, I believe, to Mr. Trollope, who I suppose is the builder for the Automobile Club, and Mr. Trollope let the sub-contract for carrying away the materials to Mr. Henry Boyer. That introduces your Lordships to the locality where I say this is going on, for although the Notice is drawn rather broadly, I do not in any way wish to enter upon a sort of roving commission against all the contractors of London. On June 3 last year, just outside Brooks's Club, two or three of Mr. Boyer's carts got into very considerable confusion. One horse was down through not being equal to its load; it was a game horse and did its best, but it fell. There were one or two other carts following, drawn by over-faced horses.

There were a good many people in the club at the time, and. we were all much displeased and disquieted about it. I myself spoke to the carter in charge of the horse which seemed least able to get up the hill—not the horse that was down, but an overfaced horse which was quite unable to pull the load up the steep hill. I have been watching Mr. Boyer's operations ever since that time, and have spoken to several of his carters; and I should here like to pay a high tribute to those carters. I never met a carter in charge of one of Mr. Boyer's carts who was not anxious to do his best for his horse, and I never saw one of those men strike a horse. One carter said that if they only had trace horses they could get up the hill, but as it was they had to depend. on people putting their shoulders to the wheel and helping them. I believe that is not altogether due to the affectionate regard and respect which everybody feels for the splendid strength and docility of the English cart horse. It may have something to do with that, but I think it is mainly due to the increased consideration and improved attitude in all these matters which have come about during the last twenty years. I have noticed it in connection with hansom cabs. The hansom cab horse is not so good an animal now as he used to be, and the living of the cabdriver is net so easy to get, but the whips which the drivers use are much shorter, less pliant, and much less active than they used to be. Indeed, I can say for all the drivers in London that they now realise what a horse can do and what it cannot do.

On the occasion to which I have referred three or four of us in the club were very much upset. I myself went round at once to the offices of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, where I was most kindly received. One of their officers, a very capable man he seemed, came round to the club, and I was able to show him three or four of these carts anchored in more or less unbecoming positions in St. James's Street and the streets leading out of St. James's Street. The society took the matter up. They at once wrote to Mr. Boyer, and I have seen the correspondence that passed. It does credit to all parties. Mr. Boyer accepted all the chastenings he received at the hands of the society in a very kindly spirit, and promised amendment. He also promised that trace horses would be supplied. Things certainly got a good;deal better, but I kept my eye more or less on what was going on, and I saw that horses occasionally found a difficulty with their loads. But you will see that anywhere. The class of horse which Mr. Boyer employed for this work improved very much. Previously the horses were poor, overfaced animals, but now good carthorses are used.

But on Saturday, the 8th instant, which happened to be a hot day, we again had two or three carts stuck just outside Brooks's. I at once went to the site where these operations were going on to try and find whether trace horses were there to help the cart horses up the hill. I found thirty or forty carts, with excellent high-class cart horses attached, being loaded, but Mr. Boyer had not a single man there to regulate the loading of the carts, although the horses were of a different weight and different power. I saw Mr. Trollope's foreman, who seemed to me a very good type of Englishman of this class. He told me he had nothing to do with the carts but that they were all loaded on the contractor's rule, which amounted to a load of something between 24 cwt. and 30 cwt. I inquired if that was an inexorable rule whether the load was to be drawn along Pall Mall or the Strand or whether it had to go up St. James's Street or Notting Hill. I asked if an old horse was put to the same work as a five-year-old or six-year-old horse, which could pull two or three tons. The foreman replied that the rule was an inexorable one, and that all the horses had to pull this load. I inquired where the trace horses were, and he said he would telephone to Trollope's and inquire. It turned out that no trace horses were being allowed on that day—a Saturday—until 2.30.

Then I went again to my old friend the society. I got to the society's office at 12 o'clock, but found only a clerk and a messenger there. I was informed that all the officers and everybody connected with the society were away at the Crystal Palace. I was under the impression that some atrocity against the animal world was being organised at the Crystal Palace and that consequently all the officers had gone there to see what they could do about it. But it turned out that this Saturday was a particular day in the history of the society of which we are all proud, and the officials had gone to the Crystal Palace to a gathering I believe of a semi-convivial character. I then had to consider what should be done next. I thought that if I could make the Government responsible I should very much like to do it, and I had a sort of idea that it was possible that part of the contract with Mr. Trollope was that the Government should remove some of the materials. So I rushed off to the War Office to see Lord Lucas, as I thought it might have something to do with him. I also went to the Department of Woods and Forests. But it turned out that the whole of the responsibility came back to Mr. Boyer.

As the Government cannot be harassed upon this it may be asked what is the use of bringing this sort of question before the House of Lords, when, as a matter of fact there is no one to give a reply. That is a perfectly fair and businesslike view to take, but it is not the view I take myself. I think this is just the kind of case where we can occasionally do a little good by appealing to public opinion. I desire to be fair to everybody. In what I am urging I do not contend that there is any actual cruelty. The carters avoid that. The carts do ultimately get up the hill even if over-loaded, but that is due, I am afraid, not to the provision made by the contractor, but to the good-natured people who render assistance. It seems to me that this particular contractor, at all events, and I daresay a good many more, in their resolution to get the maximum of work out of the minimum of horseflesh, are not so amenable to those general considerations of clemency and fair treatment to which I alluded just now, and which, as I say, agreeably distinguish the present day from, say, twenty years ago. I think that in all these cases trace horses should be provided as in Paris, where they are not supposed to be quite so particular about horses as we are; and if anything of that sort is done as the result of what I have said in your Lordships' House this afternoon I shall be very pleased.


My Lords, although there has been no censure on the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, yet I think, as a member of the executive body of that society, I ought to give a few words of explanation. The noble Lord complained to the society regarding the horses of Mr. Boyer being overfaced, and from that day the officers of the society have been carefully watching the loading on the site of the old War Office; and the veterinary officer has also been there and looked at the horses. We all know that there is no better judge of horses than Lord Ribblesdale, and therefore we felt quite sure that when the noble Lord told us that the horses he saw were unequal to their work he was stating what was the fact. Our officers have been down there regularly ever since, and they state that they cannot substantiate any case of cruelty. Therefore the assumption is that the action of the noble Lord in making this complaint has been completely successful, and that all the horses that were unable to do their work have been eliminated.

With regard to the horse that fell in front of Brooks's Club, I suppose, as is often the case, there was a check in the traffic at the time, and a horse that is obliged to stand still with a heavy load often, on making a fresh start, falls. I am assured that the loads have lately not been more than twenty-four hundredweight, which is not too much for an, ordinary contractor's horse to manage. At the same time I should like to say that the society are only too glad when people in the position of Lord Ribblesdale come forward with these complaints and so help the society. As to all the officers being away on the particular Saturday and also to what Lord Ribblesdale said about the conviviality on that occasion, I may say that this is the hardest day's work the men have in the year. A prize is given to every school in and near London for the best essay on kindness to animals, and the result on this Saturday was that 1,620 schools competed; that number of prizes were awarded and also a similar number of certificates were given to other children. These 3,000 odd children had to be marshalled in the Crystal Palace, and, in addition, over 20,000 adults and children were there to witness the scene. Unless the very greatest care was taken on these occasions there might be a catastrophe, and although we withdrew all our men on that day we had not sufficient and had to fall back on the police pensioners for assistance. I hope this thoroughly explains the absence of any inspectors at the society's offices on the occasion to which the noble Lord inferred.


I should like to explain that by the word convivial I meant that it was a pleasant gathering. With regard to this matter, I hope the society will insist that trace horses are provided. Mr. Boyer promises that, if full loads were put on, trace horses should be used to pull the carts up St. James's Street. What I complain of is that the trace horses are not there.


My Lords, I only rise to say that the Home Office will, of course, note the noble Lord's complaint and will take steps to see that contractors' horses are watched. I am sure the noble Lord realises that action can only be taken if definite cruelty is caused, and he himself has admitted that even in his opinion there was no real cruelty. I am sure we all feel glad that the horses of London have a friend so ready to take trouble on their behalf as the noble Lord, and we wish him success in his efforts.