HL Deb 07 June 1951 vol 171 cc1187-98

5.35 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, in rising to move the Second Reading of this Bill I am in the happy position, I think and hope, of asking your Lordships' consideration for a measure which is entirely nonpolitical and, therefore, nonParty— and, in so far as that is possible in this imperfect world, non-controversial. It deals with a subject which will, I am confident, whatever may be our preoccupations at this difficult period in world affairs, appeal to all of your Lordships, and, unless I am much mistaken, it will enlist your wholehearted sympathy and support. The Bill has come up from another place after passing through all its stages in a matter of four weeks. It aroused there universal interest and approval, and has reached your Lordships' House with, I am glad to say, the blessing of His Majesty's Government. As was pointed out by the honourable Member for Wembley South, in introducing the measure in another place on April 6, this is not the first attempt to be made since the war to persuade Parliament to pass a Bill regulating the sale of animals. A Bill was introduced two years ago by the honourable and gallant Member for Devon North; but after an unopposed Second Reading, and passing through the Committee stage with certain Amendments, no more time could be found for it. To-day we have a Bill about which the Government spokesman in another place said on the Third Reading: I can say on behalf of His Majesty's Government how much we like this Bill. The object of the Bill, briefly, is so to regulate the sale of pets as to eliminate cruelty and prevent suffering to the animals concerned. The sale of animals at pet shops, at markets and in the streets, has been a continual source of concern to the R.S.P.C.A. for many years. A very large number of complaints are received from the general public as to the conditions under which animals are kept at some of these stalls and establishments. The existing law resides in the Protection of Animals Act, 1911, and its counterpart, the Protection of Animals (Scotland) Act, 1912. These two Acts give power to the courts to punish anybody guilty of cruelty, but give no power to inspect pet shops, stores or markets in order to ensure that conditions are reasonable and humane.

The operative section of the Protection of Animals Act reads as follows: If any person (a) shall cruelly beat, kick, illtreat, override, overdrive, overload, torture, infuriate or terrify any animal … such person shall be guilty of an offence of cruelty within the meaning of this Act. The experience of the R.S.P.C.A., who are responsible for the initiation and the original drafting of the present Bill, is that unless animals offered for sale at pet shops, or in the street, are in a really bad physical condition as a result of illtreatment or prolonged suffering, proceedings under this Act very rarely succeed. In other words, the law as it stands is inadequate to deal with any but the crudest or most glaring forms of cruelty. This Bill, therefore, provides for the licensing of all pet shops, including stalls in markets. It provides for the inspection of all such places as and when local authorities desire. It prohibits the sale of animals in the streets; it forbids the sale of pets to children under twelve years of age; and it authorises local authorities to prosecute for offences under the Act.

Having given your Lordships briefly the history and objects of the Bill, may I now turn to the various clauses? Clause 1 is the licensing clause. The fact that under this Bill any person who desires to keep a pet shop will have first to obtain a licence from his local authority will go a long way towards ensuring that only reputable people, with suitable premises, are authorised to do so. The local authority will satisfy themselves as to the accommodation, lighting, ventilation, cleanliness, and so on, of the proposed pet shop premises. They will pay regard to the need for securing that animals are adequately supplied with food and water; that they will not be left untended for lengthy periods; that mammals are not to be sold before they are properly weaned; that reasonable precautions are taken to prevent the spread of infectious diseases amongst the animals; and that there are efficient means of dealing with fire or other emergency.

It will be noticed that local authorities may grant a licence: they are not bound to do so, should they consider that the applicant or his premises, or both, are unsuitable. There will be a right of appeal against the refusal of a local authority to grant a licence. Your Lordships will realise that at the present moment anybody who so wishes can start a pet shop business. He may be utterly ignorant of animals and their care and maintenance. He may be a sadist or a halfwit; he may be a pervert or a clown. Even when prosecuted and convicted for cruelty to animals, he may continue with his business without infringing the law. There was a case as recently as January 11 this year. An R.S.P.C.A. inspector reported that the man concerned had had three convictions for cruelty to dogs. On his last conviction he was forbidden to keep a dog for a year. He left the court, went straight back to his shop, put up a notice "Under new management" and carried on the business under the name of his daughter. Your Lordships will agree that this is a very unsatisfactory state of affairs, and the only effective way of putting an end to such a situation is, I submit, to adopt this licensing procedure.

Clause 2 prohibits the sale of animals as pets in the streets, or in the highways and byways. They may be sold only on premises, or at a stall or barrow in a market, provided always that the vendor is in possession of a licence from the local authority. Under present conditions, this arbitrary selling of puppies, kittens and so on in the streets is one of the worst features of the sale of pet animals today. In this connection, with a view to arming myself with visual evidence, last Sunday morning I went along with the Parliamentary organiser of the R.S.P.C.A. to a notorious locality called Club Row, in the East End of London. I wish that some of your Lordships who may not have visited this Sunday market could have accompanied me. There, among a milling crowd of jostling human beings, on every Sunday throughout the year, winter and summer, wet weather or dry, you find displayed for sale by a queer assortment of men, and occasionally women, dogs of every size and description, cats and other animals, and hundreds of birds in cages. It is the dogs that rivet the attention: there is everything from a fullgrown Alsatian to a four or five weeks' old puppy. One man will have a single dog on a string; another a litter of puppies in a soap-box; another a small puppy in each hand, and several more in his pockets; another a couple of greyhounds. Many of the puppies, and kittens too, are clearly unweaned with, one would imagine, considerably less than a 50 per cent. chance of survival.

One has to observe that scene to appreciate the full iniquity of it all. It was a bright sunny spring morning the day I was there, yet many of the animals were languishing and panting from lack of air in the middle of the seething mass of humanity crowding round them. One shudders at the thought of the suffering that must go on in rain or snow, or in midsummer heat. One must not be emotional or over-sentimental about these things. I am trying to give your Lordships the view as I saw it. I saw pigeons being bundled into canvas bags, rabbits packed into suffocating boxes, young day-old chicks being handed out in paper bags to children; a boxful of tortoises crowded on top of each other, three and four deep. This is what goes on at Club Row. If the selling of pet animals in the streets were confined to this one market alone, the provisions of Clause 2 would, I submit, be thoroughly justified. But, in fact, this kind of thing, I am told, goes on in varying degree all over the country.

Clause 3 forbids the sale of animals as pets to children under twelve years of age. I think your Lordships will agree that this is a reasonable provision. Children of tender years seldom know how to handle animals and, with all the good will and affection in the world, will inadvertently cause suffering to dumb creatures. Cases are occurring all the time of young children purchasing puppies, kittens, and day-old chicks, and taking them home where parents more often than not have no wish for them in the house, and take no interest in their welfare. There are countless reports from R.S.P.C.A. inspectors referring to the sale of day-old chicks, in particular to children—handed out to them in paper bags, for the most part. A small child often looks on such a thing as a toy, with the almost inevitable result that comparatively few of them survive. This clause will at least limit the sale of animals to children who are beginning to think and understand, and who have a certain responsibility.

Clause 4 deals with the inspection of pet shops. It gives power to the local authority to authorise a veterinary surgeon or other officer to visit and inspect premises for which a licence has been granted for the keeping of a pet shop. In this way, the health and wellbeing of the animals will be safeguarded; unsuitable conditions will be revealed; ventilation, heating, protection from the sun, where necessary, adequate drinking facilities, and so on, will all receive attention. Many pet shops to-day leave nothing to be desired, and reputable and highly qualified pet shop proprietors will have nothing whatever to fear from this power of inspection or, indeed, from the Bill as a whole. There are other shops, on the contrary, which leave a very great deal to be desired, and one of the worst I visited was a horrible place away down in South-East London, where every sort of domestic animal was living in unsavoury and miserable conditions. There were lifeless puppies (and a puppy has to be very miserable to be lifeless), unweaned kittens, rabbits, guinea pigs, chicks, mice, tortoises. Many of the cages had open fronts, and the inmates were crawling out of them and entering the cages of their next-door neighbours —so that any animal with an infectious disease among this sorry population was able to pass on its complaint to (and indeed could not avoid infecting) all and sundry. People walked in and out, handling the animals, and children fondled the healthy and the diseased at will. It is in respect of places like this that the Bill before your Lordships will have such a beneficial effect, and I am told that there are already signs of many of the questionable pet shops being cleaned up against the time when licensing and inspection become the law of the land.

Clause 5 lays down a maximum penalty of £25, or three months imprisonment, or both, on summary conviction of an offence under the Act. A fine of £25, only, is the maximum penalty for wilfully obstructing authorised entry and inspection. The court may cancel a man's licence, or disqualify him from keeping a pet shop for such period as they think fit, if he is convicted of an offence. Right of appeal is given under Clause 4. Clause 6 is self-explanatory. Clause 7 deals with interpretation. Subsection (1) defines what is meant by a pet shop, and its two paragraphs safeguard genuine breeders of pedigree animals. It was never the intention of the promoters of this measure that it should cover breeders of pedigree animals, and the definition of "pedigree animal" is given under subsection (3) of this clause. Clause 8 needs no explanation, I think, other than to say that since it is desired to give local authorities ample time to inspect and make inquiries about all pet shops in their area, April 1, 1952, appears to be a convenient date for this Act, as we hope it will become, to come into operation.

I hope that I have said enough in this brief survey to convince your Lordships of the need for this Bill. May I add that I understand the Bill will be welcomed by the proprietors of reputable pet shops? They know that they have nothing to fear from its provisions. We in this country are generally credited with showing greater kindness and consideration to animals than the majority of other countries. That may well be so; I think probably it is so. But all things are relative in this world. And certainly while we have in our midst such black spots as Club Row, and the pet shop which I have already described to your Lordships—to quote only two examples which happen to have come under my personal observation —and while last year there were no fewer than 894 convictions for cruelty and 11,839 cautions by inspectors of the R.S.P.C.A., your Lordships will agree that there is no room for complacency on our part.

It is at least good to know that in the midst of perplexing world affairs, and in times of great and increasing anxiety, the British Parliament still finds time to devote an hour or two to the considera- tion and care of our dumb animal friends. In this connection it would perhaps not be out of place, or ungraceful, to pay a tribute here to the honourable Member for Wembley South, who introduced this Bill in another place from one side of the House, and to the honourable Member for Rossendale who supported it from the opposite side of the House. It is of interest to note that, of the twenty-eight speeches in the debate on Second Reading, not a single speaker opposed the Bill. I think we may take this as a measure of the universal interest and approval which all Parties feel for the Bill, and as an indication of the overwhelming support of the people of this country for what may well become a Charter for Pet Animals. I therefore commend this Bill to your Lordships' consideration, and I beg to move that it be read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a. —(Lord Ailwyn.)

5.53 p.m.


My Lords, I think noble Lords on all sides of the House will welcome this Bill and pay tribute to the honourable Member who first introduced it in another place, and to the noble Lord, Lord Ailwyn, who is piloting it through your Lordships' House. I, for one, welcome it very much. My hobby being aviculture, I have seen more than my fair share of some of these pet shops, and I can assure your Lordships that the description of the scenes given by the noble Lord is in a large number of cases by no means exaggerated. Such cases are far too frequent. So many of these people who earn their living from the sale of birds and animals have no affection for or knowledge of them. Somehow or other they have slipped into that form of earning their livelihood. They really do not care or bother about them at all.

There are two questions that I should like to raise and which the noble Lord may be able to answer. In regard to this Bill I am not quite clear how a man stands who does not earn his living primarily by selling pets—a man such as a gamekeeper, or the people employed in the mining areas who breed pigeons as a hobby and sell them to make a little extra money. I am not sure how they come in under this Bill, or even whether they come within its terms at all. With regard to my second point, I should like to hear from the noble Lord whether it would be possible to incorporate in the Bill a clause dealing with and tidying up the present regulations concerning the importation of animals. As your Lordships may know, largely owing to the war a number of restrictions on importation, particularly relating to birds, have been brought about and are in force. However, many dealers, most of them reputable, say that there are as many of the restricted birds coming into the country as ever before. The average Englishman likes pets, and in flats and smaller houses a bird is a more convenient and easier pet to keep than perhaps a cat or dog. The result is that there is a very ready market for birds, and particularly the hardier ones and those of pretty plumage. These birds are being smuggled in in great numbers and in the most disgusting condition. They go first to the worst type of pet shops that have been mentioned, and the places in the port towns. Those which survive are bought by the more reputable firms and so come into the hands of private individuals. Whether there is any means of dealing with this matter I do not know, but I think it is one which should be looked into, and if some provision covering it could be incorporated in this Bill, I think it would be most useful.

I myself have wasted quite a large amount of money salvaging some of these creatures, and my amateur veterinary knowledge has been defeated. Apart from the cruelty inflicted on these birds and animals there is the real danger of disease being imported, particularly psittacosis. If proper arrangements are made in regard to the importation by private importers and the more reputable professional importers of birds and animals, so that they come into the country in a much better condition and in the open, cruelty would be largely abolished, prices would drop, and the very real danger of serious disease being introduced would be nearly if not completely nullified. I do not wish to detain your Lordships any longer, and I have great pleasure in supporting this Bill.

5.58 p.m.


My Lords, I rise for only a few moments to commend this Bill to the House. I do not think it needs much commendation. Anybody who has had access to the information in regard to the condition of some of these pet shops will realise that they are a disgrace to the country, and the proposal that steps shall be taken to cope with this matter is one which I believe will commend itself not only to members of this House, but also to the public. Many of the things that go on are not generally known, and often the perspective of those who possess the information is distorted by sentimental reasons. In the case of the problem that is being dealt with by this Bill, however, the facts are blatant and are very well known, in particular, of course, to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. I happen to be connected with that Society, and I think that probably everybody is aware of the extraordinarily valuable and useful work it does.

This Bill comes to your Lordships' House as a result of the care and attention given to the matter by those who possess the greatest amount of knowledge of it. They have backed this Bill, and, as your Lordships have already been told, it received support from every Party in the State during its passage through the House of Commons. As my noble friend Lord Ailwyn said, it found favour with Members on all sides, and I am especially glad that it had the support of the Home Office. In fact, thanks largely to the cooperation of the Under-Secretary for the Home Office, great assistance has been given in redrafting and putting on a more effective footing provisions that were originally in the Bill. I should like to pay my tribute to him and to the two gentlemen who proposed and seconded the Second Reading of the Bill in the House of Commons. I should also like to express gratitude to members of this House and to the Society which is in the background of this Bill, for all the help which has been given.

I have here quantities of reports disclosing the state of affairs that exists in many pet shops, but I do not think it is necessary for me to go into them. Whether these establishments are situated in Cumberland, Bath, Bristol, or Southampton, or whether they are in that part of the Metropolis which my noble friend mentioned and in regard to which he described so vividly the conditions that obtain, there can, I think, be no question of the need for this Bill. I do not wish to harrow your Lordships feelings; and, indeed, these matters are so widely known, that I do not think it is in the least necessary for me to enter into any further details in order to induce you to vote that the Bill be given a Second Reading.

There are one or two features of the Bill which strike me as being very important. The necessity for these pet shops to be licensed by the local authorities concerned and to be subject to inspection emerges clearly from what is known to anyone who has gone into this matter at all. One aspect of the Bill which I think particularly valuable is that it is made an offence to sell to children under twelve years of age. Allusion has already been made to that point and I do not wish to do more now than to emphasise the importance which I think should be attached to it. It is all very well for children under twelve, at the discretion of their parents, to have pets in their homes, the influence of the parents being such that the pets are properly looked after and adequately safeguarded. It is quite a different thing that a child who has a few shillings should go—as a child may now do—to any of these shops, or should approach a street dealer, and purchase mice or birds or some other small creatures, which are then taken home into conditions which make it impossible for them to be properly looked after. In many cases these creatures are taken into homes where they are not welcomed by the parents of the children. I think the part of the Bill which deals with that matter is of great importance.

Like other noble Lords who know something of the selling of pets in the streets, I am very glad that that is now to be dealt with. We have often seen men with tiny puppies under the lapels of their coats trying to dispose of them for a few shillings. Frequently, these puppies are not weaned, and the conditions under which this trade takes place makes it almost certain that the animals will suffer very greatly when purchased by children. I am glad to see that street sale is to be made an offence under the Bill. I think that is a very good provision. I do not wish to delay your Lordships further in considering this measure. I hope very much that the Bill will receive a Second Reading because I feel it is important that having got so far with the consent of all political Parties —indeed, this is a nonpolitical matter altogether—it should now go on to the Statute Book in the shortest possible time. I have great pleasure in supporting my noble friend's Motion.

6.6 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that the promoters of this Bill will be grateful for the welcome which it has received to-day, and for the speeches of the noble Lords to whom we have just listened. If there is one outstanding trait of the people of all classes, of this country, it is a love for, and an inherent kindness towards, animals. It is, therefore, I suggest, of great importance that trade in animals should be carried on under decent and humane conditions. This Bill, seeks to ensure that these decent and humane conditions, are enforced. It is clear from the speeches which have already been made that the Bill was considerably improved during the Committee stage in another place. A number of Amendments were made, and those Amendments were the subject of consultation between the promoters of the Bill, Parliamentary Counsel and the Home Office. In the debate on the Third Reading, the promoters of the Bill made it clear that they were in agreement with the Amendments made in Committee, and that they felt that the Bill had been greatly improved. I am glad to be able to assure your Lordships that the Government are in sympathy with the objects of the Bill which, as previous speakers have stated, was widely supported by all Parties in another place. During the Third Reading, the Parliamentary Undersecretary of State expressed the view that the Bill, when it became an Act, would be "a real Charter of Pet Shops." I am therefore able, without reservation, to commend the Bill to the House. I sincerely trust that it will receive a Second Reading by the unanimous assent of your Lordships.

6.9 p.m.


My Lords, if, by your Lordships' leave, I may be allowed to speak again, I should like to thank the House sincerely for the welcome which has been given to the Bill. I wish particularly to express my gratitude to those noble Lords who have spoken. With regard to the two questions raised by the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, may I say this? I think the answer to his first point, which referred to an individual such as a gamekeeper, is to be found in Clause 7 (1). Unless that man is setting up a business of selling dogs, the fact that he sells one or two does not bring him within the category of keeper of a pet shop. As regards the importation of birds and animals, the noble Earl has my full sympathy and agreement, but I do not think it will be possible to include this matter within the present Bill, which deals essentially with pet shops in this country. I shall, however, be very happy at any time to discuss with him the possibility of dealing with the question he has in mind. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Burden, for giving us the assurance of Government support, and I thank the House as a whole for their reception of the Bill.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.