HL Deb 07 February 1929 vol 72 cc871-81

Order of the Day for the Third Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a third time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3ª.—(Lord Banbury of Southam.)


My Lords, when this Bill was under discussion on the last occasion your Lordships thought fit to insert an Amendment upon the Motion of my noble friend who is in charge of the Bill which he frankly told us had been drafted by, or at any rate under the influence of, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Atkin, who had taken part in the Committee stage. That Amendment was inserted and we were very unlucky on that day in that we did not have the honour of the presence of the noble and learned Lord, no doubt for the very best possible reasons. Accordingly we had to take the recommendation of this Amendment—I say it with all respect—at second hand, when we should naturally have preferred to have it from the author of the Amendment himself. I do not desire to dwell upon that point further than to congratulate your Lordships upon the fact that this evening we have the noble and learned Lord with us, and he will be able to tell us what he thinks of the Bill as it now stands, improved no doubt by the Amendment which he drafted.

The Government have been placed in a great difficulty in respect of this Bill from the very beginning. We were unwilling to volunteer opposition to this Bill, partly because it was in the charge of the noble Lord who is a great personal and political friend of most of us who sit on this side of the House, and partly because the main object of the Bill was to prevent the odious sin of cruelty. From the very beginning, however, the Government were aware that the Bill, though conceived with the very best intentions, was unworkable, and my noble friend Lord Desborough, who was representing the Home Office at that time, explained to your Lordships how much the Government sympathised with the object of the Bill but how convinced they were from the information at their dis- posal that the Bill would not work. My noble friend Lord Banbury was not convinced. He proceeded with his Bill and certain Amendments were introduced into it during its several stages, some of them being to the advantage of the Bill—namely, those to which I have already referred—while others I think made some of the clauses towards the end of the Bill as it now stands even more unworkable than they were.

We have now upon the Motion for the Third Reading to take the Bill as it stands as a whole. Speaking on behalf of the Government I am afraid I cannot pretend that the Bill as it stands is likely to be an effective piece of legislation. On the question of whether it is workable or not, I shall have a word to say in a moment, but I should like, if I may, to dwell briefly upon the question whether it is going to be an effective piece of legislation. It is very easy to say that the Bill will not do any harm and that we may as well pass it. Is that really a suitable attitude for your Lordships to adopt? Let me call your Lordships' attention to the fact that even if the Bill is barely workable it will give a vast amount of trouble to a number of servants of the Crown without any result. I refer to the Post Office officials, the postmasters in all the villages and hamlets in the country, and to the police officials whose business it is to see, if they can, that the law is effective. If you present these officials with an unworkable law you are not merely doing nothing, but you are really doing positive harm because you are loading upon the shoulders of these public servants, who are already charged with a very heavy burden, work which they cannot effectively carry out.

If I may say so with respect to your Lordships, let us not be misled by a compassionate feeling for the object of the Bill and the sufferings of these unfortunate dogs into passing legislation which I venture to say we cannot pretend to be effective. I am afraid that as the Bill stands it is undoubtedly ineffective. Its object, of course, is to deprive a man who has been convicted of cruelty to a dog of the right of keeping any dog in the future. He is not to have a licence at all; that is to say, it is in the power of the magistrate, in addition to the penalty which he inflicts, to add that further penalty. Is that penalty a work- able penalty? It has been, of course, pointed out over and over again that anybody can take out a licence and it is not, as Lord Bertie of Thame seems to think, that the person who represents the other will come and say: "I collie on behalf of this person who has been convicted of cruelty to a dog, and I wish to take out a licence in his name." The person who takes out the licence will take it out in his own name, and the dog will quite as effectively belong to the cruel man who employs the man who takes out the licence as if the criminal himself had taken out the licence. It is obvious that that must happen over and over again. A relation or a butler—that is the suggested gentleman, though it need not necessarily be a butler but anybody—any dependent or friend or relative could and would, of course, take out the licence, not in the name of the criminal but in his or her own name, and for all effective purposes the dog would be in the hands of the cruel man just as if he had himself taken out the licence.

It is obvious that the thing could not work effectively, and therefore I venture to say it is ineffective. It is not only ineffective but it is very cumbrous because, in order to try to meet these difficulties which have been put to the House on the various stages of the Bill, my noble friend put in a clause which prescribes that a declaration must be signed by the person who takes out the licence. That clause is as follows:— 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. So everybody who takes out a licence, even where there has been no cruelty at all, will have to sign this declaration. I forget how many hundreds of thousands of licences are issued every year: I think they run into millions; and in every case the local postmaster will have to have a form and this form will have to be signed by the applicant for a Licence in the terms that I have read from the Bill. It may be said to be a very small thing and in any one case it is very small, but when it is multiplied by the number of licences issued and when you think of all this machinery and the printing of the forms and all the other things which have to be gone through, then one must neces- sarily pause and ask these questions: (1) Is it likely to be effective when it is done? I have already answered that question. (2) Is there such an enormous number of cases of cruelty that cumbrous legislation of this kind is called for? I do not think there is a very large number of cases.


Oh, yes, I have any number.


My noble friend has not communicated them up to now to the House, and although he may have a certain number, I think it is not extravagant to say that, having regard to the millions of dogs in this country and the hundreds of thousands of people who hold licences for them, the number of cases of cruelty to dogs in Great Britain is very small indeed. I would venture to say that even if my noble friend should produce a score or two of cases amongst the great mass of dogs, considering what the feeling is in England towards animals, and especially towards dogs and horses which stand quite by themselves in British public opinion—I venture to say that the number of cases of cruelty of the kind with which the noble Lord is dealing and which calls for a remedy of this sort, if possible, is very few indeed. I suggest that to apply a very cumbrous remedy of this kind, which incidentally is also a very ineffective one, to a very small number of cases is not good legislation. You are going to throw a duty upon the police throughout the country to try to make the measure work and to try to make inquiries as to whether it is being obeyed and the law enforced, and I say that you are throwing a burden upon servants of the Crown throughout the length and breadth of the country which is not defensible. It is for those reasons that the Government have shrunk all along from giving their support to this Bill, and no doubt the noble and learned Lord will say what he thinks as to its practicability. I would suggest to your Lordships that it is not wise and that it is not really becoming in this House to pass legislation which you know to be ineffective merely because you happen to think it can do no harm or will never get through another place.


My Lords, I must express apology to the House if I caused any embarrassment to anybody by being absent, as I was absent on rather urgent private business, when the Report, stage was taken. I have to admit paternity of the Amendment to the first clause, but I thought that perhaps the presence of the apparent father, Lord Banbury, would have been sufficient. I must also admit that I still have the affection for this first clause that a father is generally supposed to possess. As I understand the object of the Bill it is a very simple one, which I think would appeal to the ordinary man and it is this: that there are and may be such cases of cruelty as to make it reasonable that a bench of justices before whom a man is convicted of cruelty to a dog, may say that that man is not fit to keep a dog at all or is not fit to keep a dog for a particular time. If that can be carried out with any degree of reasonableness, it appears to me that that is quite an effective weapon against cruelty with which to arm the justices.

I cannot help thinking that as far as the first clause is concerned it is a clause which may do some good. I think it is perfectly true, as the noble Marquess has said, that it is a clause which may in some cases be evaded, but that unfortunately applies to a great many laws and I think there must be a considerable residue of cases in which it could not be evaded and in which the power would be a useful power. I should like to point out that it does not necessarily defeat the clause in the Bill for some representative of the person, whether a butler or a brother-in-law, to go and obtain a licence, because the offence created by the Bill, after all, is keeping a dog after such an order has been made. The brother-in-law may hold the licence, but the convicted person is still keeping the dog, and that is the subject matter of the offence and it is a matter in which the bench of magistrates are very competent to discern what is the real truth. My own view—and I have some little experience of the working of a bench of magistrates in a country district—is that there would be no difficulty of administration. The magistrates themselves are very fit to deal with this class of case, they will get assistance from the police, and there is the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and members of the society, who are on the look out for cases of cruelty. I think myself that the clause is workable. I do not think it is going to operate in very many cases, but there is a residue of cases in which the powers will be useful and in which the cause of desiring to prevent cruelty to animals could be furthered.

But I am bound to say that I am put in a considerable difficulty by the remainder of the Bill. As I pointed out, on a former occasion, the last two clauses appear to me to have the objection which the noble Marquess has imputed to them. Clause I really provides that no dog licence, even if granted, shall be operative during the period which I may call the period of suspension, and it seems to me with great respect to be unnecessary to go on to provide that such a person shall not apply for a licence or that the person should have to make a declaration that no such order has been made against him. Let us see the position. I do not contemplate—I do not think the noble Lord who promoted the Bill can contemplate—that very many orders are likely to be made in the course of a year. They would probably not amount to a score. We are told that there are about 3,000,000 dog licences issued every year. Surely it is quite unpractical that three million persons should make declarations that they have not had an order of this kind made against them. It involves the altering of the form. It involves that every person who applies for his dog licence, as he does for other licences, shall fill up this declaration. The Government have to see that all the forms are reprinted with this declaration included, or that separate declarations are made, and a great deal of formality is gone through which I venture to think is quite unnecessary and really, from a working point of view, quite unpractical. I am bound to say that as long as these clauses exist the public disadvantages outweigh the public advantage of the first clause. If my noble friend would undertake that elsewhere these clauses shall not be persisted in one would feel a different view about it, but at the present moment as long as these clauses remain in the Bill, I am bound to say that however much I approve of the main feature of the Bill I think it is a Bill which the House should not pass.


My Lords, the only reason why I moved these two offending clauses was that the noble Lord, Lord Desborough, raised the point. The late Lord Cave said that the Report stage was the proper time and opportunity for correcting any Amendments which had been passed in the Committee stage. Surely it was almost the duty of the noble Marquess, if I may say so, to move the deletion of these clauses on Report. No voice was raised against these two clauses in Committee; they went, as it were, by default. Your Lordships had the opportunity on Report of revising the first decision and failed to do so. As I have told your Lordships on many occasions, I am never jealous of my own drafting or of my own ideas of the language used in a Bill. I probably should not have opposed the deletion of the clauses. As it is the noble Marquess waits till now and uses this as a sort of extra stick to defeat the Bill with. If the Bill were now altered in another place I should certainly not think of attempting to oppose that alteration when the Bill returned to this House.


My Lords, if in another place the Home Office still think that Clauses 2 and 3 should be left out I should have no objection whatever to their being left out. They were not in the original Bill, they were nut in by my noble friend Lord Bertie of Thame, in order to meet the abjection of the Home Office—an objection which has been raised again by the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, when he talks about the butler going and taking out a licence which the owner of the dog is prevented from taking out. I do not see that there is very much trouble, when a form is sent you on January 1 to fill up regarding men servants, armorial bearings, carriages, motor cars and dogs, in saying that you are not taking out your licence for somebody who has been prevented from taking out a licence, or in going to a post office and filling up a form which is handed to you across the counter. When one considers the enormous number of forms which Government Departments are always pouring upon you—much to my objection—I do not think that a small form of this sort really matters very much. But, as I say, these clauses were not in the original Bill and I understand that my noble friend would not object if the Home Office in another place were to say that in their opinion these clauses had better be left out and that the Bill would be better without them. I should myself be only too glad to consent.

My noble friend Lord Salisbury said he did not think there were many cases. Only to-day in The Times I read this:— At the Kingston County Police Court yesterday, Arthur George Richardson, an omnibus conductor"— he would not have a butler at least I do not think so— described as of Radnor Road, Weybridge, was fined £3 for causing unnecessary suffering to a dog. A policeman stated that the dog was found tied up outside a bungalow next to a dwelling which Richardson had left ten days previously, at Field Common, Walton. The dog, a large lurcher, was starving. Inspector Bowskin, of the R.S.P.C.A., said that the dog, which had since been destroyed, had been exposed to the wind and frost for ten nights. Richardson said that when he left the premises the dog was running about, and he thought a woman in one of the bungalows would look after it. The Chairman (Mr. F. Brown) said the defendant almost deserved to go to prison. In a case of that sort surely it ought to have been in the power of the magistrates to say: "We shall not allow you either in the next year or the next two years or for any time to have another dog to treat in that way."

That is one case. Here is another one, last Tuesday week:—

For cruelty to a wire-haired fox terrier, Dorothy Faulconer, a lodging-house keeper, of Cavendish Road, Leeds, was fined £25, with £10s. costs, and was sent to prison for three months. Mr. R. C. Davies, prosecuting for the R.S.P.C.A., said that an inspector of the society visited the woman's house, and was told by her that she had held up the dog by the tail because it flew at her. She said: You can summon me, and I will pay any fine you like.' An examination of the dog revealed severe and recent scalds and burns. The dog was destroyed. Faulconer, continued Mr. Davies, was seen holding the dog and a poker, which, he would suggest, was red-hot. She held the dog before a red-hot fire and made it howl in agony. She then let hot water run over it, still holding it by the tail, and left it in an exhausted condition in the sink with the cold water tap running. The Magistrate said Faulconer appeared to have acted with devilish cruelty. I have several cases here, but I do not wish to weary the House with them.

My noble friend Lord Salisbury—I know, of course, inadvertently—made a mistake when he informed your Lordships a few days ago, on the Report stage, that this Bill interfered with and altered the existing law. He said that under the existing law a man had to be convicted twice of cruelty before he could be deprived of an animal. My noble friend is mistaken. I have here the Statute, the Protection of Animals Act, 1911, and Section 3 provides:— If the owner of any animal shall be guilty of cruelty within the meaning of this Act to the animal, the court, upon his conviction thereof"— exactly the same words as those in my Bill— may, if they think fit, in addition to any other punishment, deprive such person of the ownership of the animal, and may make such order as to the disposal of the animal as they think fit under the circumstances. Those words are practicaly the same as the words in my Bill. Then there comes this proviso:— Provided that no order shall be made under this section, unless it is shown by evidence as to a previous conviction, or as to the character of the owner, or otherwise, that the animal, if left with the owner, is likely to be exposed to further cruelty. Your Lordships will see, therefore, that all that is necessary is that there should have been a conviction. If there has been a conviction it is then in the option of the magistrates to deprive the owner of the animal, provided that there has been a second conviction or if they do not like his character or otherwise Those are vague words which a noble and learned Lord has told me mean that the magistrates can do anything they like. I thought I would like to read that section to your Lordships because the statement made by the noble Marquess has gone out to the Press and has not been contradicted. Therefore I think it is well that the position should be known.


My Lords, the noble Marquess in the earlier part of his observations seemed to me rather to have been dealing with the Bill as it was introduced than with the Bill as it is now, because some of them seemed to me hardly to apply to the Bill in its present form. Of course, there is the objection to making these unnecessary declarations by millions of persons, and in that I share entirely the view of the noble and learned Lord who is responsible for the form of Clause 1. After all, declara- tions are required now for very small things. I do not know whether your Lordships are aware, but if you venture to buy a health insurance stamp which extends to 13 weeks instead of to one week, you are expected to make a declaration at the Post Office that you do not intend to use it illegally, which seems rather unnecessary. I dare say your Lordships may not know that it is an offence of which the police are expected to take cognisance for an itinerant hawker to give toys to children in exchange for rags. There are really very small things of which the law now takes cognisance. But I am not saying that I do not entirely agree with the noble Marquess's criticism of the last two clauses of the Bill. I really only rose to suggest to your Lordships that it is not too late by consent of the House to delete those clauses even at this stage. There should, of course, be Notice, but I think—


It cannot be done.


Not even by consent?


It is never done. You can put off the Third Reading if you like.


It seems to me it would be better, as the general feeling surely is that those clauses make the Bill a less workable measure and are undesirable clauses, that the Bill should leave this House in the state in which it is desired that it should be considered by another place. I only rose to suggest that to your Lordships. Whether it is done by moving the adjournment of the debate and putting down a Motion or otherwise, I must leave to the House.


My Lords, with the leave of the House, would it not be possible, if Third Reading was agreed to, on the Question that the Bill do now pass for me to move to leave out these two clauses?


It has been settled by a long series of precedents, and there is no question about it, that you must give Notice of any Amendment on Third Reading. I might tell your Lordships something that happened in my own experience. I was not responsible, but there was an occa- sion when an Amendment not of very great importance was found to be wanted in a Government Bill and of which Notice had not been given on Third Reading. The then Government made a great piece of work about the practice of your Lordships' House and said that this was obviously a case for an exception. I was opposing the Bill. They appealed to me not to use the power which the Standing Orders, or rather the equivalent of Standing Orders, gave me to prevent it being put in. I was weak, I did not object, and the Amendment was put in. Within twenty minutes the Minister hurried round to me and said: "We have put in the Amendment in the wrong place." It was the last occasion. I will not finish the story as to what happened. I only tell your Lordships that to show how vitally important it is on the last stage of a Bill that no Amendment should be put in without Notice. It is open to the House to adjourn, as the noble Earl has said.


To adjourn the debate.




My Lords, I do not know whether I have the

Resolved in the negative disagreed to accordingly.