HL Deb 22 July 1952 vol 178 cc91-4

2.45 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.—(Lord Amulree.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly:

[The LORD MERTHYR in the Chair]

Clause 1 [Possession of domestic fowl and appliances for use in fighting rendered unlawful]:

LORD AMULREE moved to add to the clause: (4) In the application of this section to Scotland, for the proviso to subsection (2) there shall be substituted the following proviso:— 'Provided that such an order shall not take effect until the expiration of the period of five days within which an application for a stated case may be made by virtue of section sixty of the Summary jurisdiction (Scotland) Act, 1908, and, if such an application is made within that period, the order shall not take effect unless and until the appeal is dismissed or abandoned.'. The noble Lord said: I beg to move the Amendment standing in my name. It is a purely technical, drafting Amendment, its purpose being that the Bill when passed shall apply to Scotland. I beg to move.

Amendment moved—

Page 2, line 12, at end insert the said subsection.—(Lord Amulree.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

On Question, Whether Clause 1 as amended shall stand part of the Bill?


I informed the noble Lord, who, I know, feels very strongly on the subject of cockfighting, that I desired to raise a point on the form of Clause 1 of this Bill. It is the same point that was raised by Lord Balfour of Inchrye and Lord Llewellin, when the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, introduced a similar Bill in 1949. I venture to think that the point which they put forward then should be ventilated again, and I very much hope that between now and the next stage the noble Lord in charge of the Bill will consider whether he cannot do something to put this matter right, because, at the present moment, I object to this principle altogether. I should perhaps make it quite plain that I have never seen a cockfight in my life. I think it very unlikely that I ever shall. I do not know where they take place, or how you can see one. I am not bound to answer whether I should go if I did know. I gather that the cocks like fighting very much; I gather that the noble Lord does not approve of it at all. For all I know, the noble Lord may be perfectly right. But this is a Bill creating a new criminal offence. Subsection (1) says this: If any person has in his possession—

  1. (a) any domestic fowl prepared for use in fighting …
he shall, if the court be satisfied that he had it in his possession for the purpose of using it or permitting it to be used as aforesaid, be guilty of an offence … If I were a magistrate, and I had to sit and adjudicate in a case relating to cock-fighting I should want to know, never having seen any cockfighting, what was the criterion of a "domestic fowl prepared for use in fighting." I think it is entirely wrong that we should pass measures of this sort without giving those who have to decide such cases the slightest criterion as to what is the test.

That was the point which Lord Balfour of Inchrye and Lord Llewellin made on the occasion to which I have referred. Lord Amulree then gave us some of the criteria, and this is substantially what he said: The kind of preparation which is made for a fowl before it fights is that the wattle and comb are cut … A certain amount of cutting is done to the neck and tail feathers … and the natural spurs of the bird are cut off and metal spurs are fixed to the stumps by means of leather straps. It may be more cruel to have metal spurs than not to have metal spurs. It may be more cruel to have a duel to the death with knives than to have a duel to the death with revolvers—I confess that I should prefer the revolver method. But that is by the way. In subsection (3) of Clause 1 of the present Bill we are told what does not constitute "preparation for use in fighting." The Bill says: For the purposes of this section a domestic fowl shall not be deemed to be prepared for use in fighting by reason only that it has been subjected to all or any of the following operations, that is to say—

  1. (a) the removal of its comb or wattle,
  2. (b) the cutting or clipping of its wings or wing feathers."
Though the noble Lord is careful to tell us what does not constitute a domestic fowl prepared for fighting, nowhere does he tell us what does constitute a domestic fowl "prepared for use in fighting." I think that is exactly the wrong sort of way to legislate.

It seems that the promoters of the Bill have no very clear idea as to what constitutes "prepared for use in fighting," so they leave it for the court to decide. It is not fair to do that. The Legislature ought to say what is the test. If the test is simply that the spurs have been cut off (because the noble Lord has knocked out all the things he told us on the last occasion except that one), he can say so. He can say, if he likes, that a bird is prepared for fighting if its spurs are cut off. If your Lordships are proposing to enact to make criminal something which is not criminal to-day, you should do it in clear language and not in ambiguous language, leaving it to the unfortunate magistrate who may have to try the case to decide what he has to do. You should tell him what constitutes "prepared for use in fighting." I raise the matter now, because I hope that the noble Lord will be able to consider this matter between now and the next stage of the Bill. If he can do that, well and good. I have no objection to the principle of the Bill—none whatever. I hope that he will be able to consider this point, because I do not think it is fair to the courts to leave the matter in this ambiguous state, and that between now and the next stage he will be able to devise some method of telling the courts not what is not "prepared for use in fighting" but what is.


Perhaps I may say a word to reinforce what has been said by the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt. I should have thought it would be sufficient to make the new criminal offence the keeping of an appliance, because, so far as I am aware, no cock-fighting takes place without some additional appliances such as steel spurs. Therefore, if we limit the clause to subsection (1) (b) and eliminate subsection (1) (a), I believe that we shall have done all that is necessary. That would avoid the point which has been so concisely put by the noble and learned Earl, and which I should like to support. In the way the Bill is drafted in that respect, the matter is put completely the wrong way round. I think it would be well if, before the Report stage is taken, some of us put down an Amendment to leave out subsection (1) (a), unless the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, can find the appropriate words to put the whole matter the other way round.


I should like to thank the two noble Lords who have spoken for their helpful criticism. Before Report stage I will certainly try to get something worked out which I hope will meet their criticisms.

Clause 1, as amended, agreed to.

Remaining clause agreed to.

House resumed.

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