§ Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.
§ Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Banbury of Southam.)
§ LORD DESBOROUGH
My Lords, on the Motion that has just been made I rise to say a few words on behalf of the Government to explain their position in case at future stages of this Bill any silence on their part might be misinterpreted. On the occasion of the Second Reading of this Bill I did my best to show that the Government were not at all enthusiastic about it and really considered that its provisions were not of a workable character. My noble friend Lord Banbury has had more than one interview with the Home Office and I am sorry to say that he has not been successful in removing the objections which they previously entertained. In their view this is an attempt to raise a large superstructure on a very simple little piece of revenue machinery—namely, the Dog Tax. If this Bill were carried it would really make a very drastic alteration in the present law relating to dogs into which I need not go at the moment. I may add that no complaints have been received by the Home Office that Section 3 of the Protection of Animals Act, 1911, has not worked satisfactorily up to the present, and I should like to add that in the view of the Home Office the present Bill cannot be amended so as to make it a workable measure.
My Lords, the object of this Bill, as the noble Lord told your 422 Lordships, is one with which we all sympathise. It is to prevent a man who has been cruel to dogs from owning dogs in future so that he might not be cruel again, and I think your Lordships showed your sympathy with that principle by giving a Second Reading to the Bill. But your Lordships were told by the Government on the Second Reading, and you have been told again this afternoon, that the Bill as it stands is hopeless and that it cannot possibly be allowed to come into force in its present shape. The noble Lord has put down the Committee stage for to-day and there are no Amendments in his name to bring this Bill into conformity with the views of the Home Office. I submit to your Lordships that it would be a waste of time, and that it would really be hardly respectful, to ask your Lordships to go on with a Bill which the Government have told you is quite unworkable and cannot be brought into force so as to effect the desired object. Not only would this be a waste of your Lordships' time, but I think it would not be very respectful on the part of this House to send down to another place the Bill in a form that is entirely unworkable. Therefore I desire to move that this debate be now adjourned. I think that this is the best way of dealing with the matter.
§ Moved, That the debate be now adjourned.—(Earl Russell.)
§ EARL BEAUCHAMP
My Lords, I think I have never heard from the Government of the day so inept a performance as that which we have heard from the noble Lord. Surely he has some responsibility towards this House. It is surely quite impossible for the Government of the day to allow legislation to pass which they say cannot possibly be carried into operation. This is most dis-respectful to your Lordships' House, and I am very sorry that there is no more responsible member of His Majesty's Government sitting upon the Treasury Bench in order to listen to our protests. This House is entitled to better treatment than that on the part of His Majesty's Government, and I hope that the least that your Lordships will do will be to carry the Motion quite properly moved by the noble Earl that the debate be now adjourned. The idea that your Lordships should be asked to 423 proceed with a Bill that the Government itself calls an impossible Bill, which cannot be put into operation, is to treat this House with less respect than we are entitled to receive, at any rate from a Conservative Government. I am quite sure that proceedings of this kind would never be tolerated in another place and I hope that your Lordships will agree not to allow them on the present occasion.
§ LORD BANBURY OF SOUTHAM
My Lords, as my noble friend Lord Desborough said, I have had several interviews with the Home Office. I had an interview yesterday afternoon with Sir Vivian Henderson, the Under-Secretary of State, and he told me that the Government would not oppose the Bill. I had that interview only yesterday afternoon at a little before 4 o'clock. I asked him distinctly: "Do I understand that you will not oppose the Bill?" His answer was: "No, we shall not oppose the Bill." The objection of the Home Office is that the Bill enforces a penalty which might be difficult to carry out. The illustration given to me was that in the event of a court finding that a man had been cruel to a dog and forbidding him to hold a licence for such a period as they might decide, it would be possible for the man, if he had a wife or a servant, to get the wife or servant to take out the licence for that dog. I asked the Parliamentary Secretary if he was a married man. He said that he was and I told him that I had been a married man for a good number of years and my experience was that it was by no means certain that if a husband asked his wife to do a thing the wife would immediately do it. Sir Vivian Henderson agreed with me.
I would point out to your Lordships, as I pointed out to Sir Vivian Henderson, that in bringing in a Bill which creates a new offence, it would be utterly wrong to create that new offence if it were thought that it would be impossible to convict people of that offence. But I ventured to say that the creation of a penalty is in an entirely different position. The penalty is imposed, not in the hope that it will be always enforced, but in the hope that it will not have to be enforced but will act as a deterrent. If this Bill were carried it would be quite easy for the police to 424 operate it. In fact I am informed that the police are generally notified by the Post Office in their district as to who has or has not taken out a licence, and therefore it would be quite easy for the police to enforce, this Bill. I venture to ask your Lordships to allow the Committee stage to proceed, in view of the fact that the Home Office told me yesterday—I having been asked by the Home Secretary to see the Under-Secretary—that they did not intend to oppose the Bill. If they have changed their mind then, on the Third Reading, it is possible for your Lordships to take what action you think right. I venture to say that it would be far simpler now to pass the Committee stage, and then we can get a definite understanding from the Home Office as to whether they have, in fact, changed their mind.
§ LORD PARMOOR
The Motion of the noble Earl beside me was that the debate be adjourned. That might be of advantage to the noble Lord from his point of view, although it seems to me that there is no chance of successfully proceeding with the Bill after what has been said by the noble Lord who represents the Government. Certainly I think the debate should be adjourned, and nothing which has been said controverts that view in any way. We are not saying now that we will not at any time go into Committee, but after the statement by the noble Lord who represents the Government I think that the House ought to entertain no doubt whatever that the proper way of dealing with the question now is to adjourn the debate.
I want to add only one word. The noble Lord knows that I have already said that this House sympathises with his object, but it is perfectly clear that the authorities do not think that this is the proper way of carrying out that object. I think that is abundantly clear, and if the noble Lord has not yet come to an agreement what could be better than to provide time in which he can come to an agreement? I think I ought to insist upon my Motion.
§ On Question, Motion to adjourn the debate agreed to: Debate adjourned accordingly.