HL Deb 31 May 1948 vol 156 cc1-6

4.6 p.m.

Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(The Earl of Huntingdon.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly:

[The EARL OF DROGHEDA in the Chair.]

Clauses 1 to 6 agreed to.

Clause 7:

Power to order slaughter or castration of stallions.

7.—(1) The Minister may, by notice served in the prescribed manner and in accordance with this section, require that any stallion which has attained the prescribed age at the date when the notice is served and in respect of which no licence or permit is for the time being in force, shall be slaughtered or castrated within such time after the notice takes effect as may be specified in the notice:

Provided that this subsection shall not apply to—

  1. (a) any stallion which attained the age of four years before the coming into operation of this Part of this Act; or
  2. (b) a stallion being a thoroughbred or a pony of a prescribed breed.

LORD DOWDING moved to add to the proviso to subsection (1), and provided that such castration shall not be effected otherwise than under a local or general anæsthetic. The noble Lord said: It may be maintained that this Amendment should not be made to the Animals Bill but to the Animals (Anæsthetics) Act, 1919, to which it is perhaps more appropriate. In answer to that, I would say two things. First, there seems no reasonable probability that an opportunity will arise of making an amendment to that Act and, secondly, the fact that this clause is not part of that Act is, in my opinion, a grave and serious omission. The Animals (Anæsthetics) Act protects some animals almost to a ridiculous extent. Puppy dogs are protected when their tails are cut off, or their dew claws are cut; horses are protected against the pain of operations which are much less painful than those which we are discussing. It seems quite inexplicable that there should be no protection for them in this agonising operation. Nor do I think our recent deliberations on the Veterinary Surgeons Bill have tended towards the reduction of operations which unqualified persons may conduct. When we notice that the castration of horses may be carried out up to the age of two years by unqualified persons, I hope that I may have the opinion of your Lordships' House behind me in pressing for the insertion of this Amendent into the Bill. Even if this Bill is not the ideal place for such an Amendment, at any rate it deals mainly with horses and the permission which is granted for the keeping of stallions. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 5, line 30, at end insert the said words.—(Lord Dowding.)


I think we all have sympathy with the principle of the Amendment which has been moved by the noble Lord, Lord Dowding, but I do not think this is the appropriate place to insert it; nor is this the Bill to carry the Amendment. The Bill deals only with certain classes of stallions. It does not deal with horses generally; it does not deal with thoroughbred horses, wild ponies and other breeds of stallion. I think it would be injudicious—and unfair—to bring this Amendment into a Bill which does not deal with all stallions. The obvious place for this Amendment, as the noble Lord himself suggested, would be the Animals (Anæsthetics) Act of 1919, which covers the whole field. It may well be argued that that Act should be revised, but this is not the right time for such an argument. I should also like to point out that under the Veterinary Surgeons Bill, which is now in another place, no stallion over the age of two years may be castrated by anyone except a qualified veterinary practitioner or a qualified veterinary surgeon. This would put the matter in the hands of expert men who, one understands, would have the duty of using an anæsthetic if the case demanded it. There is a further safeguard under the Protection of Animals Act, 1911, Section 1 of which says: If any person…shall subject, or cause or procure, or being the owner permit, to be subjected, any animal to any operation which is performed without due care and humanity, such person shall be guilty of an offence of cruelty within the meaning of this Act, and shall be liable, upon summary conviction to a fine not exceeding twenty-five pounds, or alternatively, or in addition thereto, to be imprisoned, with or without hard labour, for any term not exceeding six months. I would suggest that to a very large extent that covers what the noble Lord has in mind. If at some later date it is found necessary to introduce further provisions, I suggest that the Animals (Anæsthetics) Act should be amended, rather than that this Amendment should be inserted in this Bill.


I have only two points to add. The first is that, unless I have misread the Animals (Anæsthetics) Act, the situation which has been described by the noble Earl exists at the present time; that is to say, that the operation of castration may not be performed on an animal which is over two years old, but may be performed on an animal which is under two years old. The second point is this. With all due respect, I do not see that the last part of my noble friend's statement covers the case at all. The question is whether or not an operation of castration on a horse is a cruel act. If the horse does not receive protection under the Animals (Anæsthetics) Act, or some other Act such as this, it must be assumed that the act of castration is not a cruel act and, therefore, it would be impossible to bring a prosecution under that heading.


Does the noble Lord propose to withdraw the Amendment? The Protection of Animals Act uses the words "without due care and humanity." If, in particular circumstances and at a particular age, it were deemed to be inhumane or without due care not to give the animal an anæsthetic, I should have thought that an action would lie. I would not like to pronounce on the law, of course, in front of the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor, or the other noble and learned Lords opposite, but it seems to me that it would cover the particular point. I hope the noble Lord will withdraw his Amendment as I do not feel that this is the appropriate measure in which to include it. It may later be possible to amend the Protection of Animals Act.


I hope the noble Lord will withdraw his Amendment, as it does not seem quite relevant to this Bill, or to this particular clause in the Bill. I am certain that if, as the law is at present or as it will be shortly, none but a qualified veterinary surgeon may undertake an operation of this character, he will, in the light of the quotation from the other Act, using due care and out of humane considerations, ensure that in such a case an anæsthetic is used. In any case, I do not think that this is the right Bill in which to insert this rather one-sided Amendment.


I would like to ask the noble Earl in charge of the Bill whether he can give us any assurance that the Animals (Anæsthetics) Act will be amended in the near future. If he can assure us that that will be done, then many of us will be quite content for my noble friend to withdraw his Amendment. If, on the other hand, the matter is to sink into oblivion I, for one, shall be loath to let it go, even though I agree that this is not the best measure in which to insert the Amendment.


I am afraid that I cannot give the noble Lord that assurance. The amount of legislation before both Houses, as the noble Lord will know, is enormous, and, obviously, without consultation I cannot give any assurance as to when that Act may be amended. I would like to stress the point that this is not a suitable place for the Amendment, as the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, has said; and even if it were—and this is the main point—it would deal only with a limited category of stallions. It would seem to be unwise to put in an Amendment which would not cover stallions in general.


I have only recently come into the House. I had hoped that the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor could give us an assurance. The noble Earl in charge of the Bill, quite rightly, spoke in a tentative manner. I apprehend that the proceedings would be proceedings of a criminal character—it is for cruelty—just as I suppose such proceedings are possible under the existing law if, for example, a dog's tail is docked in an inhumane way. I should have supposed that the same considerations would exist, even though there is authority here to perform the act of castration. I am offering no opinion to the House—I am not the right person to do so—but I think there are a good many noble Lords who feel most acutely, and rightly so, on the subject of unnecessary cruelty to animals. It would be a great relief to be told authoritatively, on behalf of the Government, whether that is the view which is taken.


I cannot speak in any authoritative way, because I did not know about this matter until I heard it just now. I should certainly have thought that if you could eliminate and avoid pain in any particular case by giving a local anæsthetic, and you performed the operation without giving such anæsthetic, you would be guilty of causing unnecessary suffering. I should be prepared so to advise, on the spur of the moment.


If I may say so, I feel that the matter has not been dealt with very logically. If it is a cruel act to perform this operation without an anæsthetic, surely it ought to be stated in some Act. A puppy dog is actually protected by the Animals (Anæsthetics) Act. After the puppy has opened its eyes you are not allowed to cut off its tail without giving it some form of anæsthetic. Castration is a much more serious operation, causing a great deal of pain, and I should have thought the mere fact that the animal is not protected by the law prevented any action for cruelty. If I must, I will reluctantly withdraw my Amendment, but I would do so with greater pleasure if I thought that there was some chance of this gap in the law being filled in some way in the near future.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 7 agreed to.

Remaining clauses and Schedule agreed to.

House resumed.