HL Deb 04 June 1924 vol 57 cc903-11

LORD CHARNWOOD rose to call attention to the announcement in connection with the British Empire Exhibition of a public entertainment of the kind known in America as a" Rodeo," in which (it appears) various operations, incidental to Western cattlefarming and legitimate and necessary therein, are reproduced under artificial conditions likely to aggravate any suffering caused to the animals concerned, and in a manner which converts such performances into displays of needless cruelty; and to ask His Majesty's Government whether they will use any influence or power of control which they may possess over the British Empire Exhibition and the entertainments connected therewith, so as to prevent any entertainment which is fairly open to the imputation of cruelty.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the shortness of my notice, I hope, has not inconvenienced my noble and learned friend in any way. The public entertainment to which the Question refers is not, so far as I can gather, connected in any way with the British Empire Exhibition. To the best of my belief it is one of the least desirable of the cultures of the United States. I understand that some of the more exciting incidents connected with cattle ranching are artificially got up and reproduced for the purposes of display. The sort of thing that will be done, I imagine, will be that a steer, more or less wild and scared, is roped, thrown, and after a more or less exciting struggle—the more exciting the better—exhausted, intimidated and subdued. That kind of exhibition, of course, involves the display of a good deal of courage and nerve on the part of the men concerned. Those qualities, though good, are common enough in the English people, and there is no particular reason why they should be exhibited as matters of curiosity. On the side of the animals concerned obviously a certain amount of terror and suffering must be involved, and when the thing is got up and artificially performed, day after day or night after night, with the intention on the part of the management that the performance shall be as exciting as possible, obviously, in a variety of ways, whatever suffering is involved is going to be aggravated. If, for example, a bucking horse is going to play up his best day after day in the same spot, making a good show every time, we can easily make a guess as to the sort of inducement that is applied to it.

There is another side of the matter at which my question glances, and it is this. Surely, there are heaps of things that are perfectly unobjectionable when they occur naturally, but which at once become more or less contemptible and degrading when they are artificially got up to create a stir in the breasts of a lot of idle spectators. It is a matter in which lines are difficult to draw, and it is not well that we should be over squeamish or censorious, but there is one pretty easy distinction of principle of which I will give a possibly absurd, but a plain, example. Most, if not all, of us have often seen a fox broken up by hounds—I hope I may see it again—but if one can imagine people collected round a relatively small enclosure, and a bagged fox, or several, turned out in that enclosure, and hounds turned on to them to break them up for the amusement of a few curious townspeople, such an attraction as so silly a performance might possess for some minds would entirely consist in the debased pleasure of seeing a wild thing wiped out. But that would make too dull a show to draw. What I am referring to is going to be a far more exciting kind of performance. But the analogy is good enough to suggest to your Lordships the distinction which I think is to be drawn between what necessarily, naturally and wholesomely occurs in the way of sport and agriculture, and cattle raising, and the same thing when artificially performed as an attraction to a gaping crowd.

I confess I am disposed to look very critically on all public performances in which animals take part, and, when a considerable amount of struggle, terror, exhaustion, and actual suffering on the part of animals is a necessary ingredient in the performance, I think it is not Pharisaical or squeamish that we should draw the line at it. I am sure I shall be assured by the Government that these performances, which I understand are now irrevocably fixed, will be carefully watched, so that nothing is done that would justify a bench of Justices in convicting anybody of cruelty to animals. But that does quite satisfy me. I confess to a feeling, which, I think, some of your Lordships will share, that all this class of performance is rather low down, and, to some appreciable extent, demoralising, and I could have wished that the Government authorities responsible had not sanctioned this particular addition to the attractions of this great and noble Exhibition. I should rather like to hope that the Government's reply will encourage me to expect that in future, where a Government Department has to exercise discrimination in some question of this kind, it will scrutinise the matter with the good judgment and feeling which most English gentlemen would apply to it.


My Lords, after reading the Question which the noble Lord has put on the Paper and after listening to the speech which he has made, I am not sure whether he is a judge of horses and horsemen, but I am sure that he has discovered a mare's nest of no usual dimensions. For my part, I confess I have never seen a Question, nor listened to a speech, so remote from the actual facts of the case. I will tell your Lordships what these rodeos or "round-ups" really are. They are competitions which are held in America, in Canada, and, not so frequently but still fairly frequently, in Australia. They are tests of skill, of courage, of strength, and of horsemanship. The horses used in these competitions are well known outlaws. They are vicious horses—so vicious that their vice has become a positive virtue—and they are kept for that purpose, and for that purpose only. The noble Lord said that inducements were offered to these bucking horses to become still more fractious. He did not say what inducements were offered. I confess I should rather like to see the noble Lord himself offering an inducement to one of these bucking horses to buck even worse than they generally do. I think the spectacle might be rather remarkable.

The cattle that are used are rounded up wild from the ranches. I submit that they undergo no more cruelty than, probably not so much cruelty as, cattle which are in the ordinary course rounded up from the plains or the ranches and despatched by rail or steamship to their destinations in other parts of the world. If there be danger in these competitions it is to the men and women who take part in them. These men and women are not salaried performers; they are really amateurs. Part of their travelling expenses, but I believe only a part, is paid for them. Their expenses while they are here are paid by themselves. They may, if they are successful, win money prizes—at this particular round-up, money prizes of considerable value—and also cups and trophies. But I venture to say that the renown that they attain in their own country, if they are fortunate in winning these prizes, is a far greater inducement to them to take part in the competitions than any actual gain.

Now I come to the Question which the noble Lord has on the Paper. He speaks of displays of needless cruelty on the part of these persons. I do not know these people, but I have travelled in different parts of the world, and I know men of their type. I am sure that they are just as kindly and humane people as are to be found anywhere. I am sure also that they will bitterly resent the imputation of cruelty which is contained in the Question. I submit that it is stretching the privileges of your Lordships' House rather far when the noble Lord makes an imputation of this kind upon men and women who obviously cannot speak for themselves.

With regard to this particular competition, I understand that about forty competitors are coming from Canada, several from Australia, and fifty or more from the United States and Mexico. Among the competitors, I may mention, is one well-known rider from Canada who lately won a cup given by the Prince of Wales at Calgary. I think your Lordships know the Prince of Wales well enough to agree that he is certainly not likely to encourage a sport against which cruelty can fairly be alleged. If cruelty can be alleged against this sport, it could be alleged with equal force against racing, steeple-chasing, polo, and almost any field sport in this country.

I do not desire to weary your Lordships, but in to-day's isue of The Times there is an advertisement of the British Charities Association, who are, I believe, to receive the takings from the first day of the exhibition of this rodeo. The promoter carefully told these gentlemen exactly what it was proposed to do. They went into the matter very carefully, and I think we may be quite sure that they would not have consented to take money for British charities—for hospitals or any other purpose—if it was earned by cruelty to animals. There is a further point that I would venture to make about the Wembley Exhibition. I have no sort of financial or other interest in this rodeo nor in the Exhibition itself. It is obviously to the interest of the Exhibition that as many people as possible should go to see these competitions, and I submit that we ought to be very careful not to say anything here which would prejudice the public from going to witness these competitions and the displays of skill and courage which are to be seen there. It is scarcely fair that the noble Lord, by the Question he has placed on the Paper and the speech he has made this evening, should prejudice the public against these exhibitions by statements about the cruelty and so forth which is supposed to be going to take place, before he really knows very much about it or, as it seems to me, has inquired very much into the matter.

I have two further criticisms to offer upon his speech. I submit that it is not customary in your Lordships' House to belittle or asperse sports and pastimes which are in vogue in any of our Overseas Dominions. Nor is it customary in this House to make imputations regarding visitors to our shores. The noble Lord, in his Question, has made rather serious imputations regarding men and women who ought to be regarded as our honoured guests. I have one practical suggestion to make to the noble Lord. I suggest that he might go to Wembley to see what is to be seen there and ask these cowboys to allow him to ride one of their buck-jumping horses. After what he has said I am sure that they would willingly agree. And if, most unfortunately, there was any cruelty in this particular instance, I am sure that it would not be the horse that would suffer.


My Lords, my noble friend Lord Lambourne, who is the President of the Council of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, has asked me to inform your Lordships that the promoters of this show have refused to allow his inspectors to examine at any time the horses or animals employed in the show.


I do not wish to interrupt my noble friend. I would have stated that, but in the interest of time I did not go into it. What really happened was that the society approached the promoter of the show, and he said that he was very willing for their inspectors to go there.


My noble friend Lord Lambourne, who is well-known to your Lordships, tells me that the promoters of the show have deliberately refused to allow the inspector of the society at any time to examine, and have refused to give him any facilities to examine, any of the animals. My noble friend has sent me this extract which I will read to your Lordships. It is an extract from a letter which appeared in all the papers— It is desirable the public should know that the promoters of the 'rodeo' contests at the Empire Exhibition have definitely refused to allow any facilities to the inspectors of my society to examine the animals engaged in these contests at any time. The only reason given for this refusal by the promoters is that the attitude of the society is 'unfair,' because it has publicly objected to the introduction of the 'rodeo' contests into this country, and has not waited until the contests actually commenced before it raised any objection. That is signed by my noble friend Lord Lambourne. It appeared, as I say, in The Times, where I saw it, in the Morning Post, and I believe in all the morning papers to-day.

Now that looks as if there was something to conceal, and as if these particular people were not desirous that the inspectors of the society should see what was going on. At this late hour I do not wish to take up your Lordships' time unnecessarily, but I might observe—I do not profess to be a rough rider such as I am sure my noble friend Lord Denman is—that I have had experience of horses for over fifty years. I had in my charge over 3,000 horses when I was chairman of the horse committee of the Great Northern Railway. I break all my own young cart horses and harness horses, though I am not a good enough horseman to break my hunters. It is my experience that after you have dealt with a horse and had him in the stable for a certain time he becomes quiet. That is true of nearly every horse. These horses were brought from America or Canada. They were confined on a ship for ten or fifteen days and probably longer, and they must have been sufficiently tractable for the men in charge to feed and water them and to deal with them. In those circumstances it is very unlikely that they are really like the wild horses which are caught on the prairie and elsewhere and mounted for the first time. I agree with the noble Lord that these excellent feats of horsemanship are all very well in their proper place, but their proper place is the country and not in a small and confined space in a town.


My Lords, although the notice is short I think that the noble Lord, Lord Charnwood, was well advised to bring this matter before your Lordships' House because before your Lordships meet again after the Recess the rodeo show will be in operation. In the first instance I should like to say a word in reference to what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Banbury, because in my view, and I think I may say in the view of the Government, a great safeguard would be provided if every facility was given to the inspectors of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in order that the supervision might be as good as could possibly be obtained.


And that would end the matter.


I do not think that the noble Lord quite stated all the conditions which attached to the refusal to which the noble Lord, Lord Lambourne, whom we all honour in these matters, referred in his letter of to-day. On March 21 when this matter was first brought to the notice of the people responsible for this show—who are really the Stadium Contests Syndicate, Limited—this answer was made; to Captain Fairholme, who is the Secretary of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. I will read one extract from it:— I should be most happy to give you any information that you desire in regard to the contests and every facility for yourself and your inspectors to see them; also to see the animals before and during the contests. Now I understand it to be satisfactory to the noble Lord in those terms. Unfortunately, that offer was withdrawn, and it is to the withdrawal of the offer that the noble Lord has really referred and to which Lord Lambourne referred in his letter.

The reply which we got, on this Question being put down by the noble Lord, was that, in the letter to which I have referred, he offered the society every facility for satisfying themselves that no cruelty would occur. Their only reply to his offer was to attack him in the Press, and he has, therefore, felt obliged to withdraw his offer. His correspondence with the society subsequent to that included another document to which I need not refer. Speaking on behalf of the Government, who do not desire in any way to interfere with a show of this kind if it can be properly conducted, I may say that we do attach enormous weight to proper supervision, and I sincerely hope that any interference of any sort with inspection by the Royal Society will be withdrawn. I do not think there could be any greater safeguard than that the society's inspectors should have access to these shows at all times, and be able to see what the condition of the animals may be.

So far as the Government are concerned, our powers are extremely limited; in fact, we have no powers of interference at all. Of course, the ordinary law applies. If animals are treated with cruelty those who are liable for such cruel treatment can be brought before the magistrate and subjected to appropriate penalties, but that, of course, is after the deed, and is not the protection that I understand the noble Lord desires. He wishes to prevent the evil, or at any rate to reduce the possibility of it to a minimum. I am representing here the Overseas Department of the Board of Trade. The only powers which the Board of Trade have under the Act of 1920, which sets out the conditions which we are empowered to enforce when the sum of £100,000 was subscribed towards Wembley, are these. We can approve the executive council and the general manager, and we can ask for the supply of information, but beyond those two points we have no powers at all.


You have influence.


Subsequent Acts do not give any increased powers, but merely apply the same powers, although the date at which the show was to be held is altered. I can only say further, on behalf of the Government, that we sincerely hope that the inspection will be allowed. We think it ought to be allowed, and, so far as the Government are concerned, of course we should use our influence to prevent cruelty. The problem is: Is there cruelty? One of your Lordships took the view that there is not cruelty, while Lord Charnwood expressed a contrary opinion. It ought to be decided whether or not there is cruelty, and the proper persons to decide it are the inspectors of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. So far as the Government can influence the matter they earnestly urge those responsible for this show to permit inspectors to have full opportunity of supervision.