HL Deb 23 July 1929 vol 75 cc190-9

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, this Bill ought to have come on before the noble Lord opposite dealt with his Bill, but owing to a mistake it was not called and I did not like to interrupt him. Your Lordships may remember that I introduced last Session a Bill to amend the Protection of Animals Act, 1911. On the Report Stage two new clauses were inserted, and on Third Reading the noble and learned Lord, Lord Atkin, who had given me some assistance before, objected to those two clauses. I have now left out those two clauses. Therefore, the Bill is now a small and simple Bill of one clause which, I think I have his leave to say, has the approval of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Atkin, whom I am glad to see in his place. There was some little discussion by my noble friend Lord Salisbury as to whether or not there were any instances of cruelty to dogs which made a Bill of this kind advisable. I have in my pocket a large number of cases. I think I sent him two or three which occurred after the last Session was over. It is not necessary, I think, for me to read them unless they are disputed. The Bill can do no harm. It may do some little good. With those few words I beg to move that it be read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Banbury of Southam.)


My Lords, this Bill or a Bill rather like it was, as your Lordships will remember, before the House last Session. I then expressed my sympathy with the objects of the noble Lord. I am still quite prepared to express my sympathy with his objects; but I am afraid the objection that was taken by the Home Office last year still survives in spite of the modified form of his Bill. It is perfectly true that it has now been reduced to only one clause. But there is still the difficulty, first, as to the Bill being effective and, secondly, as to the desirability of creating a new offence if you are merely thereby expressing a point of view.

The Bill provides that the Court may prohibit the owner who has been convicted of cruelty from having a licence to keep a dog. The object of the noble Lord, with which I am sure all your Lordships sympathise, is that a man who has been cruel to a dog should not have a chance of being cruel to another or the same dog. That is an object with which we all sympathise, but it is a provision which it will be impossible to enforce. That is the view of the Home Office. There are 12,000 places, I am told, where dog licences can be obtained, and if a man moved to another part of the country, unless he was an extremely prominent and well-known person, he would be quite easily able to obtain a licence there, and no ordinary means at the disposal of the police—nothing but special roving and constant inquiries by detectives—would enable them to know he had taken out a new licence in another part of the country. Further than that, even supposing he did not move and desired to go on keeping the same dog, there would be nothing to prevent his wife, or his daughter, or any servant of his taking out a licence and the dog continuing to be kept in the same house. The police will then go to the house, one assumes, if they are anxious to enforce the provisions of this Bill, and will challenge the authority under which that dog is kept. They will be met by the licence held by the wife or servant, as the case may be, and they will be powerless. The original owner of the dog has committed no offence; the new holder of the licence has committed no offence; and, therefore, the clause will be entirely nugatory.

The view taken by the Home Office is that it is very undesirable to create new criminal offences unless they really serve some useful purpose, and are likely to be effective. The view they ask me to put before your Lordships this afternoon is that it would be unwise to pass a Bill of this sort which would be bound to fail in being effective, which would put a duty upon the police that it would be almost impossible for them to fulfil effectively, and which could be evaded with the utmost ease. It is not, as the noble Lord who has moved the Bill well knows, any want of personal sympathy on my part with the object he has in view, nor is it any want of sympathy on the part of your Lordships that makes me ask your Lordships to say that it would not be wise for this House to read this Bill a second time because it would fail to effect the object which is aimed at. I ought to add, should your Lordships think fit to pass it, that it is not very convenient in any case to introduce in this very short series of sittings, that we are having now, a Private Bill of this disputed character; but, even if your Lordships should think fit to pass it, I could not hold out the slightest hope of its succeeding elsewhere. In all those circumstances, unless the noble Lord really thinks and believes that this is going to serve some useful purpose, I hope he will see his way to withdraw his Motion for the Second Reading, and, if not, I hope your Lordships will think it wise not to proceed further with the measure. Those views are felt very strongly by the Home Office, and I have been asked to put them before your Lordships.


My Lords, I have heard with very considerable astonishment the speech of the noble Lord opposite, because he voted with me only last Session. The noble Earl being a person of very strong character, I do not understand how it is he has so very suddenly changed his views. Not only did he vote with me last Session, but only last week, when I told him I had dropped the two clauses to which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Atkin, objected, the noble Earl said—


I think the noble Lord had better not refer to that conversation if he does not mind.


If the noble Earl objects I of course do not wish to say anything, but his vote was not private, and, unless I am very much mistaken—I have not referred to the OFFICIAL REPORT—the noble Earl, last Session, not only voted but spoke in favour of the Bill. That was not a private conversation and, therefore, I think I am justified in referring to it. Now the old arguments are repeated that a man might get his wife or his servant to take out a licence. As I said before, it does not at all follow that a man can get his wife to do certain things. In all probability the mere fact that a man asked his wife to take out a licence would result in her refusing to do so. The people who are likely to be affected by this Bill are not people with servants but are people who live in a humble way and have no servants; but, even supposing they had servants, I do not think it is at all likely—at all events there is no certainty about it—that a servant would take out a licence when his employer asked him to do so, if he did not think it was right. The sympathy of the servant is very often with an animal that is badly treated.

The Bill has been challenged. Let me quote from The Times of May 17, 1929:— When Cecil Smith, described as a ' canine and feline expert ' was fined £2, and ordered to pay costs, at Bristol on Wednesday, it was stated that although he promised to put a terrier to death by chloroform for a fee paid by the owner, he threw it on the soft mud bank of the River Avon, and left it to drown. When the tide came in the animal struggled out and returned to the owner's house in a very distressed condition. Smith said that he first chloroformed the dog. Why should that man be allowed to keep a dog merely because the Home Office, or some official of the Home Office, says that in his opinion the law can be evaded?


He was not keeping the dog.


Can the noble Earl tell me what law cannot be evaded? The noble and learned Lord, Lord Atkin, who is in his place now, stated that many laws can be evaded. We know perfectly well that they can. If a person living in the country is convicted by the justices, and they refuse to allow him to take out a licence for a given period, that person, if he goes to London, for instance, may be able to take out a licence there and the police may not know of him. But it remains that a man is not likely to go and leave his house and his employment, etc., and if he remains at home the police know perfectly well what is going on and who has or who has not the right to take out a licence.

May I quote from another report in The Times of May 30, this year:— At Rye yesterday, Tom Barton, a hawker, was fined £1 for causing unnecessary suffering to a dog by attempting to kill it improperly. Evidence was given by a farm labourer of finding the dog in some hushes with its four legs tied together. He heard it howling for three hours. Barton said the animal was run over. He had held it in a pond for fifteen minutes and thought it was dead before he put it in the bushes. Surely for the sake of some small technical objection on the part of some official of the Home Office a man of that sort ought not to be given the opportunity of keeping a dog? Not to deprive him of the opportunity of keeping a dog seems to me to be utterly incomprehensible. By the way, that was a hawker. I do not think hawkers as a rule keep servants, but possibly, under the administration of a Socialist Government, hawkers will have servants.


They may at least have wives.


He may or may not have a wife; I am not sure, for I have not the pleasure of his acquaintance. There is one other case I should like to quote to your Lordships. This is from The Times of April 6 this year:— Henry J. Clarke and Jennie Clarke, his wife, of Culver's Way, Carshalton, were summoned at the Croydon County Police Court on Wednesday, for neglecting a whippet dog…the dog was kept out of doors in a roughly-made, draughty kennel, and was found dead and frozen stiff from exposure. In this case there is a wife, and as she also was brought before the Court she would be prevented from keeping a dog if the magistrate thought it right to enforce a prohibition. Therefore the wife in such a case could not assist her husband to evade the law. I have other cases, but I will not weary your Lordships with them. I will merely add that last Session there was no Division on this Bill until the Third Reading. Then, on Third Reading, if I had agreed to the Bill being postponed in order to have these two clauses left out, I should have got the Bill. I thought I would have them left out in the Commons, and consequently I lost the Bill by a very small majority. I have now done all I can to meet your Lordships. I have left out the two clauses to which the noble and learned Lord objected, and the Bill is now a simple one which can do no harm and may do good.


My Lords, since my name has been mentioned and I seem in some way to have been brought into the position of having a sort of foster-father's relation to this proposal, perhaps I may be allowed to say a few words. As I understand the proposal of my noble friend, it corresponds to the provision of a good many Acts of Parliament—namely, that where a person can keep a chattel or animal only by licence, if he misuses the licence it can be suspended. We are very familiar with this in the case of a motor car. A man has to have a licence to keep a motor car and, if he misuses the motor car in relation to the public, his licence can be suspended. That seems a very simple proposition, and I should have thought that it was an a fortiori proposition in the case of a dog, which is the only animal for which you have to have a licence, partly, no doubt, for revenue purposes and partly to keep down the number of dogs. Why should not this proposal be carried out? What is there objectionable in saying that a person who is the owner of a dog and can keep it only if he has a licence, and who is really cruel to that dog, should for a certain time have his licence suspended and should be deemed incapable of keeping a dog? I venture to think that your Lordships would be putting yourselves in rather a difficult position in relation to the public and to those numerous people—I am glad to say that the feeling is almost universal—who have a detestation of cruelty to animals and to dogs in particular, if you rejected a very simple proposal of this kind without some really sufficient ground for doing so.

I agree that this proposal, like other provisions as to licences, passports and so on, can be evaded. The fact that it can be evaded is, I suggest, no reason why you should reject the proposal if it is capable of being made effective to some extent. If a person owning a dog goes to another locality after having a conviction recorded against him for cruelty to a dog he may be able to evade it, but in the vast majority of cases, in the country districts where this kind of offence arises, there is no difficulty at all. I venture to say, speaking from a small experience as Chairman of a bench of magistrates, that in our district in Wales it would be known to everybody, if a man had had a licence taken away from him, whether he was keeping a dog without one. The suggestion that the provision can be evaded by a wife taking out a licence raises a pure question of fact as to whether she is, in fact, keeping the dog or whether the husband is still keeping it. If it were the case that the husband had kept a dog for months or years and then suddenly the wife professes to be keeping it, it would not be very difficult to draw the inference that it was really the man who was still keeping it. These are perfectly easy matters to deal with. I venture to think that Lord Banbury has put before the House a humane proposal, a reasonable proposal and a useful addition to the weapons which magistrates have against a very detestable offence. I venture to think that your Lordships should give this Bill at any rate a Second Reading. It can do no harm and, as I say, I think it may in certain cases do very substantial good.


My Lords, the noble Earl is not quite correct when he says that this Bill creates a new offence. It is simply making a new penalty for a very old offence.


My Lords, I had not intended to inflict a maiden speech upon the House for some months to come, but, as this Bill has come before the House and as I was responsible as Home Secretary for the opposition which I gave the Bill through my officials on the last occasion, I feel that I ought to accept the responsibility for that advice. The noble Earl opposite has mentioned to-day that the Home Office is opposed to the Bill. I do not know the views of the present Home Secretary, but as Home Secretary in the last Government I accept the fullest responsibility for the opposition that we made to the Bill on the last occasion. I cannot help feeling that my noble friend, who, I know, is keenly opposed to any form of cruelty—and I am quite sure that he will accept my statement that I am as much opposed to any form of cruelty to dogs or any other animals as he is—is going rather too far in this Bill. It seems to me that under the present law there is ample punishment for a man who is convicted of cruelty to a dog or any other animal. He may now be fined £25 or sentenced to three months imprisonment with hard labour. Before my noble friend can convince the House that this Bill should be passed, he must show the need for additional penalties. His intention is to prevent a man of this sort from keeping a dog. He must convince the House that his proposed penalty of preventing a man from keeping a dog is a necessary addition to the present law. His method of preventing a man from holding a licence is only another way of saying that no man convicted of this offence shall be allowed, for a definite period, to keep a dog. The licence, if I may say so without offence, is only dragged in as a means of making the matter easier and is a simple way of providing that no man so convicted shall keep a dog for the period laid down by the bench. Is this penalty as likely to have the effect of preventing cruelty as the penalties already provided by the law? At the present time cruelty to any animal may be punished, by the same bench of magistrates to whom my noble friend desires to give these additional powers, with a fine of £25 or three months imprisonment. I suggest to my noble friend that this is really the stronger penalty of the two and is likely to be far more effective in preventing a man from being cruel to his dog.

There is a further objection to the Bill. I will not deal with the difficulties of the police, because the noble Earl opposite has dealt with them; but I cannot for the life of me see why cruelty to a dog, though very distressing to lovers of dogs, should be put in a different category from cruelty to a horse, a cow or any other animal.


You do not take out a licence for them.


That will not quite do, if I may say so with respect. My noble friend has assented to the position that the withholding of the licence is merely a form, and that his real object is to prevent a man keeping a dog if he has been convicted of cruelty to it. He has brought in the licence merely as an easy way of preventing such a man from keeping a dog again. That is my noble friend's admission. I want to know why he thinks it right to make this new and additional offence of keeping a dog after a conviction for cruelty without applying it to horses, cows or any other animals. You find just as many instances of cruelty to horses. One of the instances that my noble friend read was clearly not the case of a man who had a licence for the dog. It was somebody who had been paid to put a dog to death and who attempted to do so by very cruel means. This Bill would not affect him at all.

I felt bound to make this statement to your Lordships, because I did not want the Government, and particularly the present Home Secretary, in opposing this Bill to feel that I was ashamed of the position I had taken up on the last occasion, though I was not then, of course, in this House. I concur in the appeal which the noble Earl opposite has made to my noble friend not to press this Bill, though he might, if he liked, consider whether the principle of the Bill could not quite rightly be extended to all animals. I cannot see how you can logically and reasonably say that because a man is convicted of cruelty to a dog he should not be allowed to have a licence and in effect not be allowed to keep a dog, while at the same time a man guilty of the most fiendish cruelty to a horse is to have no additional penalty of this kind placed upon him. I was certainly advised in the earlier part of the year by my legal advisers and the police that it would be exceedingly difficult to enforce this provision. It creates a new crime unknown to the law at present and I should have thought my noble friend, with whom I worked many years in another place, would be the last man to desire to do that. I think he might rest content with the penalties which the law now places upon those guilty of cruelty to dogs. As my noble and learned friend has pointed out, the magistrates have in their hands a much more effective way of stopping cruelty by sentencing a man to two or three months imprisonment.


My Lords, I wish that the noble Viscount whom we are so pleased to listen to in this House had had the opportunity of making his maiden speech upon a theme which appealed more to our sympathies. I only rise for the purpose of making two observations with regard to the subject. He told us that under the existing law it is possible for magistrates to deal with this offence by inflicting as much as three months imprisonment. It is not proposed by the Bill to do away with that power. It is not suggested that an alternative penalty to imprisonment or fine should be introduced, but that in addition to what can properly be called the penalty for the man a measure of protection for the dog should be put in the hands of the magistrates. I say that because the noble Viscount might have created the impression that in some way or other the Bill weakened the hands of the magistrates, which I submit it manifestly does not do. The main argument of the noble Viscount took the form of a question: "You do this for the protection of dogs, why not for horses?" I think the answer to that is very simple. It is easy to do it in the case of horses. It is a good thing, and it is a thing which can be done, then why not do it? But when you propose to extend it to horses it is almost manifest that cases of great difficulty might arise. I think most of us here have been magistrates and we must be aware that sometimes in cases of cruelty to horses, lamentable as they are, we are dealing with a poor