HL Deb 05 February 1929 vol 72 cc851-9

Amendments reported (according to Order).

Clause 1:

Power of court to prevent person convicted of cruelty to a dog from obtaining a licence.

1. The Protection of Animals Act, 1911, shall be and is hereby amended as follows:—

After the proviso in section three of the said Act this further enactment shall be inserted: Further, if the owner of any dog shall be guilty of cruelty to that animal within the meaning of this Act, the court upon the owner's conviction thereof, may, if they think fit, in addition to any other punishment, order that such owner shall not thereafter for such time as they may order, apply for or be granted any licence for keeping a dog or dogs.

LORD BANBURY OF SOUTHAM moved to omit all words after the last "shall" and to insert: for such period as they may determine be incapable of holding a licence for keeping a dog; and thereupon during such period any such licence then held, or thereafter during such period obtained, by such person shall be null and void for all purposes whatsoever. If any such person shall during such period keep any dog, he shall be guilty of an offence and for every such offence shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding five pounds in addition to any penalties incurred under the Dog Licences Act, 1867, or any Acts amending the same.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the Amendments which are down in my name are designed to give effect to the suggestions made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Atkin, during the Committee stage. As a matter of fact they are not my Amendments at all they are Amendments which were sent to me by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Atkin, who prefers that they should be put down in my name instead of his own. I beg to offer him my sincere thanks for the trouble he has taken in drawing up the Amendments and sending them to me. The effect of the Amendment I am now moving is to render the process extremely simple. All that will happen now will be that if a magistrate decides that John Smith is not to hold a, licence for a dog and John Smith goes to a Post Office and takes out a licence, nobody in the Post Office need do anything except receive his 7s. 6d., but when John Smith has the licence that licence will be null and void. He will still not be able to keep a dog, and all that will happen will be that the Government will receive the 7s. 6d., which will be something in these hard times. I therefore beg to move the first Amendment.

Amendment moved— Page 1, line 15, leave out from ("shall") to the end of the clause and insert the said words.—(Lord Banbury of Southam.)


Your Lordships were good enough to accept provisionally during the Committee stage certain Amendments which I moved, but, as the House will remember, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Atkin, pointed out that there was a better way of achieving the object which we all had in common. That better way having been now embodied in the Amendments which Lord Banbury of Southam has moved or is about to move, I can only say the Amendments are far better than those which I carried in Committee and I am only too happy to support them.


My Lords, it is only courteouss to my noble friends and indeed to the noble and learned Lord [Lord Atkin], who took so much part in the discussion in Committee, that I should indicate in a few sentences the point of view from which the Government regard these Amendments. I need not say that any Amendments inspired by so distinguished a Judge as the noble and learned Lord deserve very careful consideration, and I can assure my noble friend [Lord Banbury of Southam] that the Amendment of the noble and learned Lord in his name would make his Bill at any rate workable, which it was not before. Something could be done with it in that sense by this Amendment, but I am afraid that it does not render the Bill enforceable. It would be very difficult to enforce the Bill even with the Amendments—indeed, it would be impossible to enforce it. I take that view and I could elaborate it if the House thought it worth while, but. I do not think your Lordships will regard it as worth while in a moment. That is one reason why, although we as members of your Lordships' House welcome this Amendment, it cannot be said to remove our objection to the Bill as a whole.

Another difficulty is this. How differently is the man treated in this Bill who is guilty of this offence of cruelty to a dog compared with the way in which he is treated under the law as it stands. The Bill would not be consistent with the law actually in force to-day. As your Lordships are probably aware, under the existing law before a man can be deprived of a dog—I am not defending the existing law—he must be convicted twice of cruelty to a dog, whereas the effect of this Bill would be to deprive him of the dog in fact by taking away his licence, even if he had been convicted of cruelty only once. I am not here to pronounce before your Lordships an opinion as to which of the two courses is right, but the Act—I think it is the Act of 1911—which is upon the Statute Book and was I suppose carefully considered by Parliament at the time, does prescribe that before a man can be deprived of a dog he must have been convicted twice of cruelty. There is an obvious inconsistency between the policy of the existing Act and the policy of my noble friend's Bill. That is another great objection to the Bill as it stands.

In those circumstances, though I welcome this Amendment and hope your Lordships will insert it in the Bill, yet I am afraid I cannot pretend that it eliminates all the objections which I find to the Bill as it stands. I will not discuss the Bill any further apart from this Amendment—indeed, it would not be in order to do so—but I thought it only courteous to say that, though the Government are most willing to see this Amendment inserted in the Bill at this stage, they cannot pretend that they think the result will be to convert it into a proper measure.


My Lords, I still find it extremely difficult to understand what is supposed to be the great difficulty of enforcing such a provision as this. Here is a man who, owing to having been convicted before a magistrate of cruelty to his dog, is rendered incapable of having a licence. There you have a man keeping a dog without a licence and he is in precisely the same position as any other person who keeps dog without a licence. The police or the Revenue officers, I do not know which, are supposed to look after such persons. The point made by the noble Marquess does not seem to me to be of the slightest weight. I wish I knew what was the cat in the bag, or the dog in the bag, that made such difficulties in enforcing the law. As regards the second point I think the noble and learned Lord's Amendment is an improvement in the law. I do not see why a man should be allowed to illtreat a dog twice. A man may not have an opportunity of being cruel to a dog twice for his cruelty may have killed the dog on the first occasion. Such a man, I think, ought to be rendered incapable of having a licence for a dog and I entirely support the Amendment which has been moved. A man should be rendered incapable of keeping a dog whether he is convicted under the old law or under this Bill as it is proposed to amend it.


My Lords, it is surly not beyond the ingenuity of Parliamentary draftsmen on Third Reading to introduce an Amendment which would bring this Bill into conformity with the present law?


My Lords, I listened with very great attention to the remarks made by my noble friend the Leader of the House. May I point out to him in the first place that this is a penalty which is entirely in the discretion of the magistrates. The magistrates, if they do not think that a man has committed a sufficient—shall I call it a crime? in being cruel to a dog to warrant them depriving him of a licence, will not do it. It is entirely in their hands. It is absolutely optional for the magistrates. Why should not that option be put in the hands of the magistrates? In the Protection of Animals Act, 1911, there is a clause which says that before a man can be deprived of the ownership of a dog he must be convicted twice. I am not sure that it would not have been better if that Act had provided that, if a man had been convicted once and the magistrates thought the offence so grave that he ought to be deprived of the custody of the animal, it should be done then. It seems to me, as the noble Lord opposite says, that is rather an improvement on the existing law. I do not know that we must never make an alteration in the law because eighteen years ago something took place.

As to the difficulty of enforcing it, what is the difference, as the noble Lord opposite asked, between saying that a man shall not hold a licence and saying, as the law does at the present moment, that a man may not keep a dog unless he gets a licence? It seems to me exactly the same thing. As a magistrate I sometimes have before me a man who is summoned for keeping a dog without a licence. He is summoned by the police. What takes place? The magistrates say: "Have you taken out a licence?" Sometimes the man says, "Yes," and in that case at my Petty Sessional Court we do not inflict a heavy fine. Sometimes he says he has not taken out a licence and then we inflict a heavier fine and inform him that unless he takes out a licence he will be summoned again. It seems to me that the same course would be pursued under the proposed Bill

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 2:

Penalty for breach of foregoing provision.

2. If the person against whom such order is made applies for or obtains a licence for keeping a dog in breach of such order, the licence so obtained shall be null and void, and such person shall on conviction for such breach be liable to a penalty not exceeding five pounds, and proceedings may be taken against him on the ground of keeping a dog without a licence.

LORD BANBURY OF SOUTHAM moved to leave out Clause 2. The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is only a drafting Amendment. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Leave out Clause 2.—(Lord Banbury of Southam.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 3:

Declaration to be signed by applicant for dog licence.

3. A person applying for a dog licence shall be required to sign a declaration that the licence so applied for is neither directly nor indirectly on behalf of a person whose licence has been revoked or suspended under an order of the court.

VISCOUNT BERTIE OF THAME moved to add to the clause:— and (b) whether any person who resides in the same house with him and with whom he is connected or under whose orders or control he is, is to his knowledge, under any disability from holding a clog licence under Clause 1 hereof, and if so, the postmaster to whom application for the licence is made shall, before issuing such licence, communicate the fact to the Home Secretary who shall give to him such directions as to granting or withholding such licence, subject to the consent of the Postmaster-General, as shall seem to him fit. And the postmaster shall obey any such directions given to him by the Home Secretary.

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, the object of this Amendment is further to meet the point raised by my noble friend Lord Desborough, that the Bill would be very easy to evade. I am afraid the Amendment is rather long-winded and I must ask your Lordships' leave to deal with it piece by piece rather gently. If it gets into the hands of the noble Marquess [Lord Salisbury] it may be torn very severely to pieces. In the first place, the expression "with whom he is connected" is intended to meet the relationship of father and child, or nether and child, or brother and sister. The words "under whose orders or control he is" meet the case of a servant. Then again it must be "to his knowledge." If it is not to his knowledge no prosecution could succeed. Then, I suppose, the consent of the Postmaster-General would be necessary to any order given by the Home Secretary to a postmaster, because I remember many years ago a certain rather pompous gentleman in one of the Government offices is reported to have said: "We all know Pontius Pilate, but who is Titus Oates?" I can imagine a postmaster saying: "We have all heard of the Postmaster-General, but who is the Home Secretary" It may be objected that some people may not like to make such a declaration, but surely anybody who is fond of animals would not mind signing such a declaration in order to prevent somebody else keeping an animal to which he behaved brutally. As for the people who are not fond of animals, I do not think it much matters whether they are offended or not. Another point which may be raised is that too much power would be given to a Government Department, but the clause would only give the power to investigate the circumstances and, if thought fit, to refuse a licence. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 2, line 5, at end insert the said words.—(Viscount Bertie of Thame.)


My Lords, I have been waiting for my noble friend who is in charge of the Bill fo explain to your Lordships whether or not he accepts the Amendment.


I was waiting to hear what you had to say.


My noble friend is most, courteous. May I extend to him my respectful advice not to accept this Amendment? I have shrunk from trying to amend this Bill, which, as your Lordships are aware, I do not feel is quite capable of that process, but at the same time I should wish your Lordships to consider for a moment the tenour of the present Amendment. Apparently anybody who wants to take out a dog licence will have to say whether any relation of his, his sister, his brother, his son, his niece—I do not know to what extent the relationship goes—or any of his servants has been convicted of cruelty to a dog before he can get a licence.


The noble Marquess is mistaken. It is the person who goes on behalf of the owner to obtain a licence. The point was raised by my noble friend Lord Desborough, who said a man might send his butler. If the butler goes to obtain a licence when he knows that his employer has been convicted of cruelty, he would have to make this declaration and then the Home Secretary would be put on his guard.


Does my noble friend contemplate that all these licences would be obtained by persons sent on behalf of the cruel owner?


No, it was Lord Desborough who raised the point.


My noble friend having got this declaration thinks it should be decided by the Home Office. How is the Home Secretary to give a decision upon the matter? Why should it be left to the Home Secretary? And what has the Postmaster-General to do with it? I really think it is impossible to expect, when there are these very numerous licences—I hope there will not be very numerous cases of cruelty—that there should be thrown upon the Home Office the obligation to enquire into the circumstances under which this declaration is made by the butler, or whoever it happens to be, and to decide whether, in those circumstances, the licence ought to be issued. I quite understand that my noble friend is anxious to make the Bill water-tight. He is quite right to try to make it water-tight, but I ant afraid he will not succeed in this way. I have a strong conviction that the particular method proposed is not, the right one, and I suggest to my noble friend that it would not improve the Bill to insert this Amendment.


My Lords, I always—or very nearly always—follow the advice of my Leader, and after what he has said I will ask my noble friend not to press the Amendment. I hope I shall receive the reward which is due to me for doing what I am told.


If you will only indicate what that is.


My Lords, I am sorry I cannot support this Amendment to reinforce the Bill still further. It seems to me to throw too onerous duties upon the village postmaster. We know he is already supposed to know all the private affairs of everybody in the village, and I hesitate to encourage that habit. Moreover, it seems to me that from the Departmental point of view grave objection might be taken to this clause. It proposes that the postmaster of a little village should write direct to the Home Secretary. Surely that is a revolutionary proposal. His first duty is to write to his district postmaster, the district postmaster then writes to the Postmaster-General and the Postmaster-General communicates with his right hon. friend the Home Secretary. The instructions given will then go back again from the Home Secretary to the Postmaster-General, from the Postmaster-General to the district postmaster and from the district postmaster to the village postmaster. That is the proper Departmental procedure, and I am sure that those of your Lordships who are cognisant of Departmental methods will see that this Amendment is an entirely improper one.


My Lords, having regard to the views expressed on all sides of the House, I do not propose to trouble your Lordships further with this Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.