HL Deb 14 July 1910 vol 5 cc1045-58


Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, it will not, I think, be necessary to occupy much of your Lordships' time over this little Bill, which your Lordships will see at once is as simple as it is necessary. It deals with and seeks to make less hideous the traffic in decrepit horses. The Board of Agriculture classifies these horses under two heads—as of £5 and under, and as of £10 and under—and the tables show that while Belgium and Holland import from this country some 40,000 between them, by far the greater number of the ten-pounders go to Belgium while by far the greater number of the five-pounders go to Holland. This at once stamps the traffic with Belgium as being far more vicious than that with Holland, because whereas the five-pounders—in fact, all those which go to Holland—are used entirely for food and are under police supervision from the moment of arrival until they are slaughtered, those which are landed at Antwerp are walked four miles to the Government stables to be examined for glanders and other diseases, and then either the last ounce of work is dragged out of the poor brutes in country labour, or they are consigned to the butcher, which often entails a further march of suffering.

This Bill seeks to ensure the compulsory examination by a veterinary surgeon appointed by the Board of Agriculture for that purpose of every single horse on arrival at the dock, and to forbid the captain or master of any vessel accepting any horse for exportation unless a certificate from the veterinary surgeon is produced to the effect that the animal is capable of being conveyed to its destination without suffering, not only during the intended voyage but after being disembarked. In 1898, as a result of a deputation from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Exportation of Horses Order was issued, by the Board of Agriculture, and so far as it affects the horses when once on board ship, it has greatly tended to improve their condition. But the contention of the promoters of this. Bill—and I hope to amply prove it to your Lordships—is that unfit horses are actually shipped, and that the Order which says it shall not be lawful to convey in a vessel from any port in Great Britain any horse which, owing to age, infirmity, illness, injury, or any other reason, cannot be so conveyed without cruelty during the intended passage and on landing, is a dead letter.

In proof of this, I would draw attention, first, to the fact that since 1902 the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has obtained 700 convictions against persons for travelling lame and decrepit horses on the road to the docks for shipment abroad, and I would suggest that these simple folk—the horse dealers—would not incur the trouble and expense of driving those horses from long distances to the port of exportation if they did not think there was a good chance of getting them on board. And, secondly, I would draw attention to the evidence of Mr. Smart, M.R.C.V.S., Superintending Veterinary Inspector of the Board of Agriculture, which he gave at the monthly meeting of the Veterinary Society on April 7 last. With your Lordships' permission I will read it. Mr. Smart said— It had occurred to him that the society might like some clear indication from a veterinary surgeon who was somewhat intimately acquainted with the traffic as to the conditions under which it had been carried out, and was now carried out….In February, 1909, he received instructions from the Assistant Secretary of the Board to visit all the ports to see exactly what the local authorities were doing as to administering the Exportation of Horses Order of 1898, and to report to the Board. The Exportation of Horses Order, 1898, provided for the proper treatment of horses en route, and left the duty of carrying out the provisions to the various local authorities. When that Order was first passed, it was assumed by the Board that the local authorities would place the inspection of the horses in the hands of veterinary surgeons, presumably their local inspectors. When he went to the various ports he found there was no uniformity in the way in which the order was being administered. At a few ports the veterinary inspector of the local authority was inspecting horses before shipment; at some of the other ports they were inspected on behalf of the shipping companies by a veterinary surgeon in the employment of the company; in other cases there was a comic opera sort of arrangement, by which the veterinary surgeon was paid a fee for inspecting the horses he passed fit for shipment but was not paid any fee for the horses he rejected as unfit for shipment; and at some other ports a perfunctory inspection was made by the police. So far then, my Lords, we have dealt with the decrepit horse on this side of the water, and attempted to make certain that it shall not leave this country in a state of suffering. A further clause in the Bill provides that every ship engaged in this traffic shall carry a proper and humane killing instrument, and gives the master of the ship power to order its use to end the sufferings of any of his equine passengers without making himself pecuniarily liable. Again I will quote the evidence of Mr. Smart before the Veterinary Society. He said— The Board had received reports from time to time from their lay inspectors, who for several years past had occasionally made voyages on the ships with the object of seeing that the fittings of the ship were in order and that the animals were properly fed and watered on the voyage. These inspectors were allotted certain stations, where they remained for some years, and it was quite likely they became known to the persons engaged in the trade, and that during the particular voyage they were on board the horses were better attended to than at other times. This is borne out by the evidence of the secretary of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, who with a Daily Mail correspondent travelled on one of these ships to Antwerp last February, and reported as follows:— No food or water was, so I was informed, to be given to the old horses unless desired. I took care to inquire on arrival if such a wish had been expressed by the dealers, and was told that none of these poor old animals had been either fed or watered on the passage. Bearing those words in mind your Lordships will, perhaps, not be surprised to hear the following facts: 16,373 horses were exported to Antwerp between January, 1909, and January, 1910. Of these, 317 had to be removed on arrival in wagons; nine had to be killed at once; and forty-one arrived dead. When I remember a voyage which I made with the King's Dragoon Guards in 1879, taking many weeks, and that at the end of it the King's Dragoon Guards and 17th Lancers landed their horses practically intact at Durban and shortly after marched up country, I can only come to the conclusion that such casualties as I have read to your Lordships in the little voyage to Antwerp must mean that a large percentage of those horses would never have been shipped had they been subjected to a proper veterinary examination, and that, if shipped, many would have been destroyed on the voyage to avoid suffering but for the Belgian law of 1895, which loses to the consignor the value of an animal killed en route.

Once more I must draw on Mr. Smart. He said— The Board also received information that horses not in a fit condition to endure the voyage were shipped from time to time, and some rather disquieting information as to the treatment of horses on the other side was also brought to the notice of the Board. Disquieting information, indeed, my Lords, because the Secretary of the Society who, with the Daily Mail correspondent, went to Antwerp, reports as follows— We saw horses with such deformities and diseases that it was gross cruelty to have allowed them to undergo the sufferings entailed by the journey—horses which were so lame that on arrival they could hardly hobble along the dock side, and had to be conveyed to the Government stables in wagons, or were so weak that they had to be sandwiched between two less decrepit animals so that they might receive their support during the painful walk of four and a-half miles to the Government stables. Your Lordships may say, with so much cruelty on foot, Why are these horses not either killed before embarkation or the traffic stopped altogether? The first of those is not possible, because Belgium and Holland do not allow dead meat across their borders; and the second is an unattainable ideal, not practicable because a large amount of money is involved in this trade and the supply in this country meets the demand of Holland and Belgium. Therefore I feel that we must be content with the provisions of this little Bill. It has come from another place practically with unanimous approval, and I ask your Lordships to give it a Second Reading.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Saye and Sele.)


My Lords, I do not think there are any of your Lordships who will not be in general agreement with the principle of this Bill. Certainly I am myself, and nothing that I shall say and no Amendment that I shall move can be taken as being against the principle as a whole. But it seems to me that the Bill is too general in its application. We admit at once that there are abuses, but this seems like employing a steam hammer to crack a nut. In trying to stop admitted abuses you are going to interfere with the legitimate horse trade of the United Kingdom. We want to stop the abuses of which the noble Lord has spoken, but I think he will agree that we should do nothing to stop the legitimate horse traffic between this country and the Continent. Naturally I shall not oppose the Second Reading of the Bill, but there are one or two Amendments which I shall move in Committee, and which I hope the noble Lord will see his way to accept.

I will take, in the first place, Clause 1, in which appear the words— Except in such cases as may be prescribed by Order of the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries. Great as is my admiration for that Board and its President, I would infinitely prefer to have the powers which the Board are to exercise more clearly defined in the Bill. We then come to the words— From any port in Great Britain to any place outside Great Britain. I do not think the noble Lord would wish that the restrictions which he rightly desires to impose in the case of the traffic between England and Holland and Belgium should be imposed in the same way in the case of the trade between England and Ireland. The two are on different footings, and restrictions which would rightly apply to the one ought not to apply to the other. I shall, therefore, when the Bill reaches Committee, move to leave out the words "Great Britain" and to insert "British Isles." Next there is the word "immediately" ["unless immediately before shipment the horse has been examined by a veterinary surgeon appointed by the Board"]. This seems to me far too indefinite, and I should like to propose, when the time comes, that instead of the word "immediately" there should be substituted the words "within forty-eight hours." Clause 2 I confess I do not understand at all, but we shall probably get some information upon it in Committee. When we come to Clause 3, there is a much more serious restriction on the exportation and importation of horses. In the first place, I should propose to leave out the words "during the voyage" and to substitute the words "while on board," because it might be very difficult to prove that a horse was injured during the voyage, whereas it would be perfectly easy to prove that it was injured "while on board."

But the biggest controversy I have with this Bill is that every class of horse is included. I propose, by a new clause which I will place on the Paper, to exclude that class of horse with which, perhaps, I am more intimately concerned than with any other—the racehorse. The rule that applies in the case of a decrepit horse ought not to apply in the case of a racehorse. Let me give your Lordships one instance. It would be prefectly easy for a racehorse or brood mare going abroad to split a pastern on board. The master of the vessel has no veterinary knowledge, but he sees that the animal is quite lame and has apparently broken a limb. Under this Bill he could destroy that animal at once, without any compensation to the owner. An animal which had split a pastern, although not so valuable for racing purposes, is quite as valuable for breeding purposes. Therefore I should propose to exclude entirely from the provisions of this Bill any horse sent abroad bona fide for racing purposes, or any horse that may come from abroad to England and return after racing. I should exclude also all brood mares going abroad, requiring in each instance that there should be given to them a certificate on behalf of the ruling authority of the turf—the Jockey Club—to the effect that they were going abroad for genuine racing purposes or purposes connected with racing. If the noble Lord can see his way to insert such provisions as I have mentioned in the Bill, from the point of view of racehorse owners I see no objection to it, and I should be prepared to give the Bill otherwise my most hearty support.


My Lords, I hope I may be allowed to congratulate the noble Lord opposite on the introduction of this Bill, the effect of which, in my opinion, will be entirely to stop this traffic in decrepit horses, of which we have read so much lately in the newspapers. This traffic is a disgrace, and it is positively cruel. If the Belgian and Dutch people want horse flesh to eat, we can provide them with that food, but it need not entail any cruelty whatever on this or on the other side of the water. As the noble Lord said, Dutchmen eat these decrepit horses at once. I mean that they are slaughtered at the port of entry. The Belgians, on the other hand, if there is any work left in these old and decrepit animals, take them into the interior of the country and work them as long as they can last. That, in my opinion and I am sure in the opinion of your Lordships generally, is excessively cruel.

It is dreadful to reflect that this country is responsible for all this. We are responsible for every bit of this traffic that has been going on for many years now, and for every bit of suffering that these old horses have had inflicted upon them, because there has not been stringent legislation to stop their being sent in this disgraceful state to the Continent. The only people who will not rejoice at the passing of this Bill are those callous ruffians who drive the halt and the lame of the horse world to our ports and ship them abroad. The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals must be delighted at the passage of this Bill through the House of Commons without any word of opposition. The Society, I may say, have had no difficulty with regard to this traffic at the Port of London, because London magistrates have dealt in the most stringent manner with offenders. Let me give one instance. A butcher from abroad—he came from Antwerp, I think—was caught driving one of these horses through the London streets. The horse was in such a condition that it was slaughtered at once. The man was summoned, and was sentenced to a month's imprisonment without the option of a fine. I read the account in The Times, and it was stated that he wept on being sentenced and said his wife and children would suffer because he would not be able to carry on this traffic. I should like to know, if the old and miserable horse could have spoken, like Balam's ass did, what he would have said. In other ports magistrates who have had to deal with this question have not been so stringent as the London magistrates. The consequence is that the traffic has gone on, and is going on at this moment.

The noble Earl the President of the Board of Agriculture, when I had the honour of speaking to your Lordships before on this subject, announced the appointment of a veterinary inspector, but it is quite impossible that one single inspector can deal with all the ports in Great Britain. What is more, this traffic is carried on in what I may call a sneaking sort of way. That is to say, on dark winter nights these horses are collected together and driven along the roads and put on board ship without anybody finding it out, and they arrive at their destination in a condition which is really a disgrace and a shame to this country. In my opinion the great point in the Bill is contained in Clause 1. I refer to the prohibition of the exportation of unfit horses and the appointment of veterinary surgeons to examine them, and the further provision that the expenses are to be borne by the owners of the horses. I think that is an excellent provision, and I am sure your Lordships will pass it without any amendment. The noble Earl the President of the Board of Agriculture has always said that there is difficulty with regard to funds, but here it is provided that the people who choose to export these wretched horses shall themselves pay for the veterinary inspection, and that will, I am sure, have a very deterrent effect upon these ruffians. I need not say anything with regard to the remarks of the noble Earl, Lord Derby, because I am perfectly certain that a certificate from the Jockey Club would be quite sufficient to prove that the horse was a racehorse sent abroad for purposes connected with racing; and with regard to brood mares and any accident that might happen to them while on board, there would be no difficulty, I think, in introducing an Amendment on that subject to prevent confusion. I congratulate the noble Lord again on the introduction of this Bill, and I hope your Lordships will give it a Second Reading.


My Lords, I do not know whether any members of your Lordships' House have had the painful experience which I happen to have had of seeing the embarkation of some of these horses to the Continent. A public duty took me to Hull two years ago. I had just landed from the steamboat and was walking along the docks when I witnessed the most shocking sight I ever saw in my life. A number of these horses were being put on board ship. One was in a terrible state, so bad that I can scarcely describe it to your Lordships. Among other things I may mention that one of its forelegs was enormously enlarged and was about the size of its neck. This horse, I was told, and the other horses were being put on board for the purpose of being transported across the North Sea to a port in Belgium or Holland, I forget which, to provide food for some of our neighbours across the water. I do not know what the authorities had been doing, but any person of authority at Hull, seeing what I saw, certainly ought to have been armed with powers to prevent embarkation. I congratulate my noble friend on having brought this Bill forward, and I am quite sure, whatever Amendments it may need, that the House will unanimously wish that it should be passed into law.


My Lords, I desire to associate myself entirely with the expressions of sympathy with decrepit horses which have just been uttered by the noble Lord, and I should like to assure noble Lords opposite, with great respect, that if they showed the same sympathy to the victims of cattle-driving in Ireland they would receive an equal measure of gratitude. I do not know what line it is that undertakes this very unscrupulous traffic in dumb animals which are in such a deplorable condition, but it seems to me that responsibility lies at that door almost as much as it does with the perhaps thoughtless and ignorant people who are responsible for the shipment of horses in the first instance. A good many horses go from the part of the world where I come from to be eaten by the Belgians. Therefore I shall certainly support this Bill and do the best I can to make it a success. I have always ventured to think that the right, legitimate, and honourable end of a horse was to be eaten by the hounds. Still, if the Belgians prefer to eat the horses that we cannot finish up, we certainly ought to see that no cruelty is experienced in shipping them to that country.

I have a suggestion to make. It has been abundantly proved that there is a considerable traffic in horses which are not fit to stand the journey, and upon which the infliction of the journey involves very great cruelty. It is therefore proposed to put an end to this by having veterinary inspection of these horses at the port of embarkation. If you are going to have veterinary inspection there, that presupposes the idea, which is perfectly well founded, that somebody or other will yield to the temptation to send to the port horses that are not in a fit state. I therefore suggest that between now and the Committee stage some machinery should be devised by the noble Lord whereby the onus of producing the certificate should be placed upon the owner of the horse in his own home, so that the animal should not be put to the pain of the journey from, say, Birmingham to Liverpool, or from any other place inland to the port from which it is going to be shipped. If you were to stop this traffic at its source you would absolutely shut down the possibility of any unfit horse having to undergo a journey on the road from its home to the port of embarkation. I venture with every respect to make this suggestion to the noble Lord.


My Lords, with the object of the Bill now before the House I need hardly say that the Government entirely agree, and it is very satisfactory to the Government to see the great interest that is taken on both sides of the House in this question. I am in complete agreement with the noble Earl, Lord Derby, that there should be no interference at all with the legitimate horse trade of this country or with the traffic between England and Ireland. I also entirely agree that the rule applying to decrepit horses should not apply to racehorses. It would be, of course, a want of common sense to inspect and to vet Lemberg when he was going over to run for the Grand Prix, and to put a permit round the neck of a horse of that description. The noble Earl was quite right when he pointed out that it might be possible, as the Bill now stands, for an ignorant and stupid captain to destroy a valuable brood mare, racehorse, or carriage horse that was being taken abroad, because some trifling accident had happened. Such a valuable animal could very well be put in slings. I agree that that is a point that has been overlooked, but I do not think it would be very difficult to find words of some sort to meet this.

The noble Earl, Lord Mayo, has taken great interest in this subject; everybody ought to be obliged to him for the good work he has done in this matter, and I think he must be very satisfied to see his efforts so near completion. As regards the experience—the horrible experience—of my noble friend behind me, Lord Shuttleworth, I hope that under the Order which is at present in force, as well as under this Bill, which I hope will become law, it will never be repeated. The House knows that the traffic in these decrepit horses is confined to certain ports. In Scotland the traffic is from Grangemouth and Leith, and in England it is from Newcastle, Hull, Goole, Grimsby, London, and a few from King's Lynn. Forty thousand horses are sent to Belgium and Holland annually. The port of Harwich does not export horses intended for slaughter, and I think from Harwich itself 5,000 horses are annually exported. In answer to Lord Willoughby de Broke, I think I ought, in common fairness, to say that we have reason to be grateful to the shipping companies, because they have always fallen in at once with any conditions that the Board of Agriculture have thought fit to impose upon them, and it is generally admitted by the public Press, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and on all sides that of late years there has been very little to complain of as to the way in which horses are carried at sea.

The Government quite approve of the object of the Bill, but as it stands there are some administrative difficulties, though they are not serious, which could be removed by Amendments which I hope my noble friend behind me will see his way to accept. I am also glad to be able to say that this Bill on the whole runs on all fours with our Order of April 16 last, which I hope and believe has given general satisfaction. I welcome the Bill, and I hope that after the adoption of practical Amendments it will prove a satisfactory and final stoppage of this traffic, which I need hardly say has created great indignation in the public mind, and to deal with which very strong measures were needed.


My Lords, I have only risen to say that I am very glad the noble Lord has introduced this Bill, because although the Orders of the Board of Agriculture to a considerable extent cover the ground, the Acts under which those Orders were issued were not designed to stop this particular sort of traffic. I think the noble Earl the President of the Board of Agriculture will agree with me that there are powers which the Board would be glad to use but which they cannot exercise because the general Act does not give them power to issue Orders in that direction. The country is indebted to the noble Earl the President of the Board of Agriculture for the steps which he has taken in that direction so far as his powers admitted, but I do not think they went far enough, and I therefore welcome this Bill because I believe it will be more efficacious than any Order of the Board of Agriculture.

It has been suggested that the procedure is not quite the right one which ought to have been adopted, and that, instead of an inspector of the Board of Agriculture being made responsible for the fitness of the animal for shipment, the examination ought to be made, I think my noble friend Lord Willoughby said, at the source—namely, upon the premises of the person shipping the horse. I suppose I am prejudiced from having had the honour of at one time occupying the position now filled by the noble Earl, Lord Carrington, but I venture to think there is much greater safeguard against abuse of this kind by entrusting these powers to an inspector of the Board of Agriculture than to an ordinary veterinary surgeon. Therefore I think the provisions of the Bill are preferable to the suggestion which fell from Lord Willoughby.

I quite agree with the noble Earl that the great shipping companies have done all they could to mitigate the suffering which might be inflicted on these animals when they have found them consigned to their care, but I do not think that that is quite all that has to be done. I confess that I should like to have seen a clause in the Bill which would have imposed a penalty not only on the person who shipped the horse, but also on the carriers. That has proved most efficacious in the case of the Aliens Act in America. If a pauper alien taken on board a ship and conveyed to America is not allowed to land, and if he has been shipped under conditions under which he ought not to have been shipped, it is the shipping company which has to bear the expense, and I do not think it would be a bad thing if some penalty were imposed on the shipping company for any breach of this Bill. At any rate I welcome the Bill as a step in the right direction and I think the noble Lord is to be congratulated on the general consensus of approval which his Bill has met with on all sides of the House.


My Lords, two things, I think, have emerged from this conversation. One is that the Bill has the general approval of the House so far as its principles—principles which must commend themselves to all humane persons—are concerned. The other, I think, is that the machinery of the Bill requires very careful examination before we can think of passing it into law as it stands. I rise merely for the purpose of expressing the hope that one suggestion which I shall venture to lay before the noble Lord opposite may be considered before the Bill is dealt with in Committee. I gather from the noble Earl the President of the Board of Agriculture that this traffic in disabled horses is carried on at certain ports and at certain ports only.


That is so.


If that is so, will it not be simpler and better that the Board over which the noble Earl presides should lay down regulations which can be made applicable to those particular ports at which the abuse is known to take place, rather than, as under the Bill, that the stringent procedure of Clause I should be made universally applicable to all ports and then that special exception should be made by the Board of Agriculture, in regard to certain places? I suggest that for the noble Earl's consideration. If that suggestion were to be adopted it would then be comparatively easy to appoint a veterinary surgeon at the particular ports from which these broken-down horses are shipped, and you would get over some of the difficulties which, I think, may arise in deputing Veterinary surgeons ad hoc for every particular case where a horse is moved. I hope the noble Lord who is in charge of the Bill will confer with the Department of Agriculture, and that we may have these matters considered before we are asked to proceed further with the Bill.


My Lords, with regard to the observations of Lord Derby, I may say that if the noble Earl can frame an Amendment that will protect racehorses and brood mares while not jeopardising the case of the horses for whose benefit this Bill has been devised, I have no doubt the Amendment will be accepted. As to the Amendments foreshadowed by the noble Earl the President of the Board of Agriculture, he has not vouchsafed what they are, but I am generally in accord with him, and I expect his Amendments will be such as can be accepted by the promoters of the Bill. I will certainly adopt the suggestion of the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition, and confer with the President of the Board of Agriculture upon the point to which the noble Marquess referred.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.