HL Deb 25 July 1922 vol 51 cc767-77

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I have met with such kindness and sympathy on the part of noble Lords with the two Bills which I have introduced in this House for the purpose of diminishing the suffering of dumb animals that I have been encouraged to bring forward another Bill for your Lordships' consideration. This is a very small and simple Bill, which is intended to mitigate the enormous amount of suffering endured by horses which are exported for so-called butchery purposes, though they are, in fact, imported by other countries not only for butchery purposes but also for the purpose of being used for work for which they are not at all capable. I am sure the bare facts will commend this Bill to the House. There may be one or two points in the Bill on which your Lordships may require some information—information which I shall be only too glad to give, and which I believe is thoroughly trustworthy.

This traffic in live horses in Belgium and Holland for butchery purposes has been going on for many years, and has been the cause of great scandal, and, on the part of the community, of the greatest dislike. We English have certainly acquired a very high name as being the most humane people in the treatment of animals, and especially of horses, but I am inclined to think that a great deal of that care with which animals are treated is owing to the work of many societies in England which devote themselves entirely to bringing to light, and punishing where possible, according to law, people who ill-treat dumb animals.

This question of the exportation of horses was first dealt with, I believe, in 1910, when the Diseases of Animals Act was passed to prohibit the export of unfit horses and to appoint veterinary surgeons to examine such horses before shipping, on payment of a certain fee to the Ministry of Agriculture. Subsequent reports from eye-witnesses who specially visited the ports of embarkation and disembarkation, including reports from the secretary of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, resulted in the passage of the Exportation of Horses Act, 1914, which made the first Act still stronger by adding certain words to the relevant section. The 1910 Act prohibited the exportation of horses unless, immediately before shipment, the animals were examined by a veterinary inspector and certified in writing by him— that is, the inspector of the Ministry of Agriculture— to be capable of being conveyed to such port and disembarked without cruelty. The 1914 Act added the words— and to be capable of being worked without suffering. On the outbreak of hostilities this traffic was forbidden and was entirely stopped, and therefore the whole of the suffering caused to these horses ceased.

As a result of public agitation and the continued allegation that horses after the war were still being shipped, though totally unfit, in spite of the Exportation of Horses Act, 1914, the Minister of Agriculture instructed one of his own inspectors to pay surprise visits. Before that time we had been told that these Government inspections were absolutely fair, absolutely thorough, and properly carried out, and that, therefore, it would be impossible for these poor horses, these suffering animals, to be shipped abroad. The result of those visits was published by the Ministry in a White Paper in March, 1921. Of this Report the Minister himself—who, I must say, has taken a great interest in this matter—stated in Parliament that it filled him with horror. In consequence, half-time inspectors were done away with and whole-time inspectors appointed at the special port from which the shipment of horses was authorised. That is an acknowledgment on the part of the authorities that the inspections which they believed to be thorough and good were absolutely at fault.

We are not satisfied—when I say "we" I mean the society of which I have the honour to be President, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals—that this cruelty has been ended. We believe that these horses are shipped not only to meet a cruel end in the countries to which they are shipped, but, when kept alive, an; put to work for which they are totally unfit. We believe also that the only way of putting an end to these inevitable cruelties is to ensure that these horses which are intended for butchery shall be slaughtered on this side and the carcasses exported.

We are fortunate in having been able to retain the services of a lady, Miss Cole, who is not by any means young and has devoted her whole life to the alleviation of the sufferings of these unfortunate animals. This lady, being dissatisfied with the reports from the officials, actually travelled in the boat with these poor animals. She saw them embarked, she saw them landed, and, where possible, followed them to their destinations. Shortly stated, her evidence, which we look upon as conclusive and very trustworthy, is such as should determine all Englishmen to try to put a stop to this trade, which certainly does not reflect credit on our humanity.

Against the suggestion that these horses shall be slaughtered on this side and their carcasses exported, there are two objections made. The first is that the dealer does not get such a good price as he would for a live animal. The live animal fetches a far bigger price than the carcass because the Belgians, who take the majority of these horses, prefer the meat of more recently killed animals, and the byproducts are a valuable asset. The Belgian law provides that the carcass shall have the lung and part of the trachea attached. The shipment, of carcasses in that state is naturally cumbersome, and it is said that any attempt to meet the increased demands for this meat is handicapped by the necessity of complying with this law. We have endeavoured to overcome this by getting the Minister of Agriculture to try to come to some arrangement with the Belgian Government as to the appointment of Belgian inspectors resident in this country, but I fear that no headway at all has been made in that direction.

Now, in order to deprive the dealers of profit on the live horse and so force the trade to take the dead meat—the whole of the societies, so far as I can make out, are at one on this question and we want to put a stop to this cruelty—we have come to the conclusion that the only way to do it is to ask for a much heavier tax on the export of all horses and mules. At the present time the Government tax for examination is 5s., and we ask that it shall be raised to £20, believing that that would stop the traffic in unfit animals, and that any person exporting animals fit for breeding or of a certain value would not hesitate to pay the £20. That would do no injury to the ordinary trade in horses for remounts and working purposes, the fear of doing which appears to weigh a great deal with the Government. With regard to the fee now payable—namely 5s. per horse—it is interesting to note that in 1920 these fees brought to the Treasury a total sum of £14,600, while the cost of the examinations amounted only to £4,006, giving a clear profit of over £10,000. But I would ask noble Lords to consider whether this profit of £10,000 is fairly and honourably gained by this great country at the expense of the horrible sufferings entailed upon these unfortunate animals. I recognise that the larger fee would tend to reduce the number of horses shipped, but when it comes to the question of profit the profit gained would be greater.

The importance of Clause 1 of this Bill is that at the present time the horses, when rejected—there are not many rejected now—can be doctored up for a fresh examination. Those who are accustomed to, and know something of, horse-dealing know that it is a frequent practice in that profession (and that a great deal of suffering is entailed thereby) to try to make an apparently sound animal of an unsound one. Now if a horse is rejected it can be doctored up for a future examination, or it might be travelled to another port in the hope that at that port the examination might be less strict, and the horse might get through. By this Bill we ask that a horse, if rejected, should be compulsorily killed under the order and supervision of the inspector without the leave of the owners being obtained.

In 1921, 4,389 horses were rejected, but only two were slaughtered, because in the opinion of the veterinary inspector those two were found to be in such a condition that it was cruel to keep them alive. The argument for not ordering the slaughter of all rejected horses is that they may suffer from a temporary unfitness only. Against that it should be remembered that nobody knows more of the condition of horses than the dealer does, and that he would not go to the expense of travelling them to a port or offering them for examination in ignorance of their state. The objection here is that they may be sent back to work in this country, as was proved to be the case, at one of the Northern ports, and then sent up again and pass the examination. If the dealers knew they were to be slaughtered when they were rejected they would not run the risk of anything like that happening. Therefore, we believe that this clause would prevent an enormous amount of unnecessary suffering. It would prevent the necessity of keeping unfit horses.

Clause 4 is of particular importance because under the Act of 1914 horses can be shipped from England to the Channel Islands without examination, and then be re-shipped from the Channel Islands without examination. Therefore, to avoid the Ministry's inspection of unfit horses, the animals are shipped to the Channel Isles or to Ireland, and transhipped to other places. Under Clause 4 all horses shipped from any port would have, to pass an examination.

Here I should like to remark that there are many people who say that if we conduct the trade with all due humanity on this side of the Channel we really cannot help what takes place on the other side, and the way to effect that is to secure adequate legislation to enforce the slaughter of old horses in this country under British jurisdiction. Surely, it cannot be to the credit of England that we should allow these animals to go to countries where the treatment they meet with is so terrible, where they are worked though unfit for work, where they are put to a most cruel death by bleeding instead of by the humane killer, and where they are walked distances which they are quite unfit to walk. I do not want to quote any more than I. can help from the report of Miss Cole. She has reported very fully on the subject, and has come to the conclusion, as anybody would do who saw the sufferings of these horses, that it is time this traffic was altogether put a stop to.


What is the date of her report?


It begins on March 30 of this year. She has been travelling about with the animals on the boats, and therefore what she has reported is what she has actually seen. I will take the latest instance which occurred on July 10. She reports:— On Monday, July 10, a horse was landed at Antwerp, from the 'Alt' (Goole), with a swelling on one hind leg. The port veterinary inspector ordered his slaughter at Antwerp. On inquiry I learned that the swelling was due to elephantiasis. At the quarantine stables I saw him sold for 1,040 francs (change that day 59 or 60 francs to the £1). He was a cart-horse, about fifteen years old, and in fair condition. Late in the afternoon I found him in a slaughterhouse stable, with no straw, empty racks, and dry water trough. When I went in he put his nose up to the empty rack to show that he was hungry. By appeal to the chief veterinary inspector I got water for him; and I thought a man was sent for hay. But at 6 p.m., the hour for closing the abattoir, none had come, and I had to leave. The next day I went again, to make sure that he was fed, or dead. I saw his quarters hanging up, That is the only case I want to quote at the present time, but on various other occasions she has seen horses starting out, and led from the ports to their various destinations suffering, lame, miserable and probably hungry.

I suppose I shall be met with the reply that we cannot help what goes on in Belgium, but I contend that we can help it by refusing, except under certain conditions, to export horses which would be submitted to so cruel a fate. Miss Cole says— Economic conditions abroad, and strict inspection at home, have reduced the number, and improved the condition of horses exported for butchery, but these exceptions are temporary. Economic conditions will change, the inspection will slacken, then the butchery traffic will revive to its former dimensions and infamy. At home the system of inspection, under the present Act, is a direct cause of suffering to horses. Cruel trickery is used to deceive inspectors into passing unfit horses. Those rejected at the ports are taken away by the dealers; some to be treated and offered at the same, or another port; some to be sold again for work. Also, the worst horses are kept at work, and those just lit to pass inspection are exported. I ask your Lordships kindly to assist me in passing this Bill, which will at all events make certain that the horses that are exported will not be dragged to work for which they are totally unfit. I think they should be slaughtered on this side, and their carcasses exported.

Until now I cannot see that the Government have done anything to improve matters. They have been content to let these horses go abroad to be worked, or put to death in the most inhuman manner. Miss Cole herself saw a horse being bled to death in a most cruel way instead of the humane killer being used. She has also seen a horse injured and eventually killed with the pole axe. I believe your Lordships will consider that I have not exceeded my right in bringing this question before you, and I implore your assistance to relieve, these animals of their sufferings. We pride ourselves on the way in which we treat our horses. Surely, it should not be said that when a horse is unfit for work, or when it is past hard work, it is to be exported and left to the mercy of others who do not treat their horses, asses or mules with the same; kindness that we do. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.— (Lord Lambourne.)


My Lords, my remarks will not be lengthy. A question like this must receive a very great amount of sympathy from your Lordships, for all of us, I believe, are lovers of horses. I do not think the Memorandum attached to the noble Lord's Bill exactly explains what the effect of the Bill will be. The speech which the noble Lord has just delivered dealt with two separate subjects. In the Memorandum it is stated that the object of the Bill is to restrict the exportation of aged, worn-out, and partly worn-out horses from this country, and in order to do that he puts on an exorbitant fee of £20 to be paid to the veterinary surgeon to allow any horse to be exported. The only exception he, makes is of a horse which happens to be in the stud book, or under five years of age. It must be known to all that there are hundreds of thousands of horses in this country which are not all worn-out, and which are more than five years of age.

It seems to me that the title of the Bill ought to be "The Prohibition of Export of Horses." If that is the intention of the noble Lord, I think he ought, in fairness, to state it. I confess that when he began his speech I found it a little difficult to know whether I ought to deal with the question of the export of horses for sale, or with the export of horses at all. I shall be able to show, by a few figures with which I will trouble your Lordships at the end of my remarks, that practically, the Bill is a Bill for the prohibition of the export of horses from this country. I do not know whether your Lordships will think that is a good thing or not. It is a trade amounting to £3,000,000 a year, and considering that agriculturists have had to put up with a good deal in the past, and may have to put up with something more in the future as regards cattle, it is rather hard to give the horse-breeding industry, which is not in a very satisfactory position, another blow by a Bill which prohibits the export of working horses from this country. A number of racehorse stallions and valuable horses, will, of course, still be exported, but the great bulk of the export trade of horses from this country will be absolutely knocked on the head by this Bill.

A great deal is being done, and has been done, to stop the trade to which the noble Lord has referred. In the early part of 1921, when most of these harrowing cases were brought forward, there was an unfortunate grave dereliction of duty on the part of two inspectors of the Ministry of Agriculture. Those two officials were dismissed, and since then I do not think there has been any grave charge, especially as the Regulations have been considerably tightened. There are only seven ports in this country from which horses can be exported. At every one of those ports, with one exception, Newhaven I think, there is a whole-time inspector. He is a fully-paid official of the State. Previously, there was only a half-time inspector who, naturally, was much more inclined to err and did not give the same attention as the fully-paid official gives. Every horse has to be inspected by an official of the Ministry and he does not give a certificate unless the veterinary surgeon passes the horse as fit to travel and fit to work as well.

The noble Lord proposes that any horse which arrives for export which the veterinary surgeon says is not fit to travel and work is instantly to be, killed without any compensation to the owner. At the present moment, if a horse is unfit to work or travel it is immediately killed by the humane killer. If, on the other hand, the inspector believes the animal is only suffering from temporary injury it is sent to a veterinary's place in the neighbourhood, where it is treated, and then comes up again for examination. There is not much cruelty in that. If a horse which is unfit to travel is sent to another part the owner is instantly subject to a prosecution under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act; and it is a strong order to say, in a Bill, that if a man sells a valuable horse worth £500 or £5,000 which meets with an accident in its box and is not fit to be put on ship, it should be slaughtered on the spot without a single penny compensation to the owner. Yet that is what (he Bill says. Not only is the strictest inspection carried out by whole-time officials of the Ministry, but the ships are also inspected and it is seen that there are proper food and water on board for these animals. In fact, everything is done to see that there is no cruelty in this export trade.

The chief point in the Bill is the payment to the veterinary surgeon of £20 if you wish to export a horse. That would absolutely put a stop to a perfectly legitimate trade. It would be a grave blow to horse-breeding in this country. Many suggestions have been made to the Ministry. It was suggested that there should be the payment of a £20 tax. The noble Lord could not bring in a Bill imposing a tax of £20 on the exporter; that would be a breach of privilege. No one can levy a tax on the people of this country without the assent of Parliament, and it must be done by the Government. Now it is sought to get rid of that difficulty by saying that a man should pay the veterinary surgeon £20 if he wishes to send the horse abroad.

Let me give some figures showing how the trade would be affected. In 1921, the number of horses between the value of £5 and £10 exported was only seven; between the value of £10 and £20 only 313, and the great bulk of the export was of horses between £20 and £100 in value; ninety per cent, of the horses exported came; between those figures. A tax of £20 on about 45,000 horses which were examined would mean that the export of these horses would be absolutely finished. I do not know whether your Lordships are prepared to take so big a step. The Ministry has taken

every step possible by examination to see that no cruelty occurs, and if the noble Lord thinks that horses going abroad are likely to receive bad treatment he should come forward and propose that no horse should be exported. I admit that we do not know whether the horse is to be humanely treated, or killed, after it gets abroad, but if he wishes to prevent the export of horses from this country he had better say so and bring in a Bill to that effect.

The noble Lord talked about the number and variety of societies interested in this question. There are a large number of societies, and the aim and object of every one of them is to try to rake up every case where a horse is lame or unfit, for the simple reason that they must live by agitation. If one society can find a case and become active, it receives subscriptions; then the other society has to take action. I hope your Lordships will consider that this matter is receiving the most careful attention of the Ministry. I do not believe there is any cruelty in this export trade at present. When a horse has gone abroad, I admit that we do not know what happens to it, or how it will be treated, but I do not think that on that ground alone you should stop a large and important industry.

On Question, Whether the Bill shall be now read 2a?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 62; Not-Contents, 45.

Canterbury, L. Abp. Hardinge, V. Hindlip, L.
Long, V. Kilmarnock, L. (E. Erroll.)
Bedford, D. Knaresborough, L.
Wellington, D. Southwark, L. Bp. Lambourne, L. [Teller.]
Aberdeen and Temair, M. Aberdare, L. Leigh, L. [Teller.]
Crewe, M. Anslow, L. MacDonnell, L.
Lansdowne, M. Barrymore, L. Merthyr, L.
Lincolnshire, M. (L. Great Chamberlain.) Braye, L. Phillimore, L.
Brownlow, L. Redesdale, L.
Chalmers, L. Ritchie of Dundee, L.
Buxton, E. Channing of Wellingborough, L. Sandys, L.
Clarendon, E. Charnwood, L. Saye and Sele, L.
Eldon, E. Clwyd, L Somerleyton, L.
Hardwieke, E. Dynevor, L. Stanmore, L.
Lindsey, E. Dunmore, L. (E. Dunmore.) Stewart of Garlies, L.
Malmesbury, E. Ernle, L. Strathspey, L.
Mar and Kellie, E. Erskine, L. Stuart of Wortley, L.
Midleton, E. Fingall, L. (E. Fingall) Sudeley, L.
Onslow, E. Gorell, L. Sudley L. (E. Arran.)
Portsmouth, E. Grey de Ruthyn, L. Sydenham, L.
Powis, E. Harris, L. Wigan, L. (E. Crawford.)
Stamford, E. Hemphill, L. Wolverton, L.
Birkenhead, V. (L. Chancellor.) Allendale, V. Cullen of Ashbourne, L.
Chilston, V. Donington, L.
Rutland, D.
Sutherland, D. De Vesci, V. Hastings, L.
Hood, V. Inchcape, L.
Strange, L. (Atholl, D.) (L. Chamberlain.) Novar, V. Islington, L.
Lamington, L. [Teller.]
Worcester, L. Bp.
Ancaster, E. [Teller.] Methuen, L.
Bathurst, E. Annesley, L. (V. Valentia.) Mostyn, L.
Bradford, E. Avebury, L. Newton, L.
Cromer, E. Blyth, L. Parmoor, L.
Devon, E. Brancepeth, L. (V. Boyne.) Ponsonby, L. (E. Bessborough.)
Lovelace, E. Chaworth, L. (E. Meath.) Shandon, L.
Lucan, E. Clinton, L. Templemore, L.
Morton, E. Cochrane of Cults, L. Wemyss, L. (E. Wemyss.)
Scarbrough, K. Colebrooke, L. Wharton, L.
Strafford, E. Crawshaw, L. Wrenbury, L.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Resolved in the affirmative: Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.